There Are Few Immigrants in Congress. Is That Why These Inhumane Policies Are Continuing?

Like 44 million people in the United States, I am a proud, first-generation immigrant. But the United States has only 11 people serving in the U.S. House of Representatives today with firsthand experience immigrating here. Only one is Republican. Mazie Hirono, a Democrat representing Hawaii, is the only immigrant serving in the U.S. Senate.

Maybe that explains why Congress still has not ended the brutal family separation policies turning the stomachs and calling to the moral conscience of so many—and why it has taken weeks to convince President Donald Trump to take any action at all.

The North of Ireland was my first homeland, but I chose to leave after it was torn asunder by violent civil war. I still remember the soldiers who came into my home when I was 10 years old and separated me and my siblings from each other and our parents. I can still feel the terror of not knowing whether I’d ever see them again.

This is the fear and agony more than 2,300 children have felt since April as a result of the Trump administration’s inhumane zero-tolerance policies for families crossing the southern border. These children have been ripped from the arms of their mothers and fathers because this administration has decided to separate all families. And experts say the new executive order is unlikely to make a substantial difference for the rights of immigrant families; nor will it help those children already separated from their parents.

When I escaped the Troubles of the North of Ireland I found the United States, fell in love with a U.S. soldier named Steven Browning, married, and settled on Long Island. Coming to the United States presented opportunities unimaginable as a scared young girl in the midst of civil war. I was welcomed and felt safe. The sight of soldiers filled me with confidence rather than dread, and the U.S. flag was a reminder that I was, at last, safe and secure.

Many of those now risking the arduous journey to our country are following the promise of the same flag, guided by the same promise that I once imagined: a chance for a better life, a safer home, a future filled with opportunity. Instead of accepting and welcoming them, we have torn apart their families and terrorized them with uncertainty.

Today, violence frighteningly similar to the kind I experienced as a young girl in the North of Ireland dominates life in much of Central and South America. It is no more surprising that those parents are seeking refuge than it was that thousands of Irish came here to escape famine and civil war. They are doing what we would all do for our families, what many of our ancestors did: coming to the United States in search of a better life.

When I came to the United States I was afforded the opportunity to join a community and grow a family. I became a school bus driver, trusted with the care of children. I became part of the bedrock of my community, and ran for local political office—me! An immigrant! For 20 years I served the Suffolk County Legislature’s 3rd Legislative District, where people of many races and nationalities mingled in a single community. And now I am running for Congress.

It is time for Congress to look like the United States. Americans are people who have come from many places carrying our dreams in our hearts and our children in our arms. Think how different our laws could be if our lawmakers were those people.

I believe we are a nation of infinite possibilities. At the same time, I understand we are not a nation of infinite resources. This is the time for common-sense immigration reform that strikes a balance between openness and security; between our desire to help and our realistic ability to absorb new arrivals. Zero tolerance is not common sense. Family separation is not common sense.

The stakes are too high to offer easy solutions to tough problems. Given that children are not at the table to speak for themselves, we must never play politics with their future, no matter how tough it is to get to the solutions we need. Take health care, which affects everyone in the country, including immigrants. As a former school bus driver and steward with the union, I know how difficult it is to negotiate for fair and affordable care. Everyone must be at the table in these discussions—insurance companies, employers, and workers.

Furthermore, the public policies supported by elected officials reveal the truth of where they stand on family. For example, the Trump administration has been dividing families at the border, even as many who profess to be against abortion and for “family” remain silent. Along with believing in keeping immigrant families together, I am 100 percent pro-choice; we should never compromise on reproductive health or allow the congressional attacks on Planned Parenthood to continue. I stood with Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) as he announced the country’s most comprehensive paid family leave policy, so families don’t have to choose between food and caring for their loved ones.

And when it comes to children’s continued needs, I can say that growing up in Belfast during armed conflict taught me that seeing a tank or an armed soldier in front of your school does not make you feel safer. As the wife of a veteran and decorated New York City Police Detective and the mother of two active duty soldiers, I support the Second Amendment. And yes, I know how to shoot a gun too. But we must stand with students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and others across the country. I believe common sense means supporting bans on military-style assault weapons, and expanding the criminal background check system to cover all commercial firearm sales, including those at gun shows and over the internet.

I am an immigrant. I am an American. I remember what brought me here. I am ready to work together to move forward into a more secure and just future.

Experts Warn Trump’s New Health Rule Will Raise Premiums for Quality Care

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) on Tuesday released a new health care rule expanding access to association health plans (AHPs) that wouldn’t be subject to the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) requirements on essential health benefits coverage—despite warnings that the rule will raise premiums for anyone who needs comprehensive health coverage.

Agency Sec. Alexander Acosta touted the supposed flexibility and potential savings of AHPs in a statement announcing the new rule. “AHPs are about more choice, more access, and more coverage,” he claimed. “The President’s decision helps working Americans—and their families—purchase quality, affordable health coverage.”

But health experts say the new rule could make the more comprehensive ACA marketplace plans more expensive for those who are sick or have regular health needs, including women, people with pre-existing conditions, and anyone who uses prescription medication.

“I think when you boil a lot of it away, what you’re left with is the administration has made it possible for self-employed individuals and for small employers to have a parallel market where they can seek health benefits,” said Karen Pollitz, senior fellow for health reform and private insurance for the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation. “That will be called an association health plan, and in the association health plan market, not all of the rules would apply that currently apply in the individual and small group market.”

Association health plans are a way for a “group of small businesses [to] pool together to have more purchasing power and get access to cheaper premiums,” according to Vox’s Sarah Kliff. “Before the ACA, national associations could pick and choose which states’ insurance rules they wanted to follow, and use those nationwide,” explained Kliff in 2017. “The result was often health insurance that skirted state rules and advantaged businesses with young and healthy employees, who are likely to prefer skimpier health plans.”

Prior to the new rule, AHPs were regulated under the ACA in the same way as individual and small groups, meaning they must cover ten essential basic health care needs such as maternity care, prescription drugs, emergency services, mental health services, preventive care (including contraceptives), and hospitalization. Previous to this rule, individuals and self-employed people were generally not allowed to buy AHPs, a restriction which has now been lifted.

However, the new Trump administration rule allows small businesses and self-employed people to bind together solely for the purposes of buying health insurance and be regulated as a large group plan not subject to the ACA’s minimum coverage requirements. The new rule “does not affect previously existing AHPs,” according to the DOL’s press release.

While AHPs might be an appropriate option for perfectly healthy people who don’t need comprehensive coverage, the new rule essentially creates a second insurance market for healthy people. It’s a change that Pollitz, who worked on implementation of the ACA while employed at the Department of Health and Human Services, says will drive up premiums for people who need the comprehensive coverage of an ACA plan because they are pregnant, have a pre-existing condition, or need mental health care, among other reasons.

“When healthy people leave the pool for the ACA-regulated plans, the premium for that coverage goes up,” she said. “Risk pools only work if everyone participates all the time. Most of us are healthy most of the time but we all get sick or need health care some of the time. For insurance to be affordable, you need most of the policyholders to be paying premiums and not using very many services. This [rule] messes up that arrangement, and it lets people go someplace else while they think they can afford lesser coverage.”

In addition to exemptions from the comprehensive coverage requirements, since they will be considered large group plans, AHPs will be allowed to charge different rates based on gender, age, occupation, and geography. So for example, women could be charged higher premiums because they may eventually become pregnant, or we could see a return to redlining—a practice where people from neighborhoods where marginalized people live may end up being charged more for the same health care coverage.

In a statement regarding the new rule, Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chair Lamar Alexander (R-TN) touted it as a needed expansion of affordable health policies. “To the plumber in Memphis, the songwriter in Nashville, or the bakery owner in Chattanooga, who have been paying through the nose since Obamacare took effect, who might be making $60,000 dollars per year and paying $20,000 for health insurance and who is very likely not receiving a subsidy, the Trump Administration appears to have found a potential solution.”

Democratic lawmakers have countered, arguing that the Trump administration has authorized the sale of low-quality health insurance policies. “By allowing the sale of junk plans, the rule will remove younger, healthier individuals from insurance pools, which will drive up the cost of coverage for all other Americans,” said Reps. Bobby Scott (D-VA), Richard Neal (D-MA), and Frank Pallone Jr. (D-NJ) in a joint statement released Tuesday. “When people in these low-quality health plans unexpectedly need care, they are often surprised by excessive out-of-pocket costs, which can drive families into bankruptcy and force everyone else to absorb the cost of unpaid medical bills.”

AHPs have a controversial history of fraud due to their lack of essential services coverage. California announced this week that AHPs won’t be allowed to operate in the state because they are considered as a type of Multiple Employer Welfare Arrangement (MEWA), which were banned in the state 1995. “Some MEWAs have had a troubling history in California, including cases of MEWA fiscal insolvency, inability to pay consumer claims, and allegations of fraud, so California law prohibits the formation of any new MEWAS,” California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones said in a statement.

The New York and Massachusetts attorneys general have already announced a lawsuit challenging the new rule.

The rule, which allows companies to begin selling AHPs on September 1st, is the latest in a series of regulatory moves meant to undermine the ACA after efforts by Congress to repeal the law fell short.

On World Refugee Day, a Battle Between Pluralism and Xenophobia

The “homeless, tempest-tost” “masses” that Emma Lazarus invoked in her seminal poem, “The New Colossus”: Send these to me.

The privilege of caring for our world’s vulnerable populations drives my work as an infectious disease/tropical medicine physician. Moreover, as a founding member of the New York City Refugee and Asylee Health Coalition (NYCRAHC), it is my basic duty to speak out against the extreme vetting that refugees and asylee-seekers endure when resettling in the United States.

While medicine allows me to treat the newly arrived with the dignity and compassion they deserve, I know it is not enough to protect them against the xenophobic attacks of the current Trump administration. As a resident of this country, I know that we are failing them, and in doing so we harm our core American identity. In other words, we merely hurt ourselves. A virulent and nationalistic impulse threatens both our new neighbors and the health of our democracy, and it is time we take prescriptive action in support of refugees.

Under the current regime, cultural pride is acceptable only when it tips its red-brimmed allegiance to “America First.” But signs of hostility—particularly toward migrants fleeing war-torn conditions—haven’t just suddenly appeared. According to the Pew Research Center, the U.S. public has shown a consistent distaste for refugees and asylees since the 1950s.

So why do we continue to parade such inflammatory contradictions of welcoming cultural pluralism while masking xenophobia? Digesting these contradictions leads to a sociopolitical ulcer, which, I’m convinced, is caused by a basic misunderstanding of what a refugee actually is.

Refugees have been forced to flee their country because of a well-founded fear of persecution, war, and violence due to reasons related to race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group. International organizations, including the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM), use this legal definition to determine who can be moved to places of safe refuge. Asylees follow a different path; their trauma is (at first) self-recognized and they must present their claims upon arrival in the receiving countries.

Refugees are the most vetted migrants of any group traveling into the United States, and the vetting process can sometimes take a decade. It begins with the IOM declaring certain conflicts (national, tribal, or otherwise) improper for repatriation of certain groups and thereby assigning the protected “refugee” definition to members of this group. They then undergo a number of screenings (taking approximately 18-24 months) before the U.S. State Department begins its own extensive screening process (including a health screening that is performed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Division of Global Migration and Quarantine). As a result, they pose absolutely no security or infectious risk. 

Yet despite refugees being among the most heavily screened and “benign” migrants to enter our country, many U.S. residents perceive them as a threat to our safety and way of life. Right-wing media such as Fox News label them as “narcotraffickers,” “communists,” or “Islamic fundamentalists.” These stereotypes are only amplified by social media that prefers propaganda to news and presidential tweets that spread misinformation. In one prime example, President Trump has famously claimed that the country has resettled more Muslims than Christians—a fact that’s easily refuted by statistics that show the United States has resettled far more Christians since the 2002 fiscal year.

So why do we remain so disdainful of folks seeking protection from a world that has eviscerated their lives and identities? Many are coming from nations where they may never have seen a physician. Up to 30 percent of them have experienced some form of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and even more are experiencing a form of depression. They need help, and we have the bandwidth to provide assistance. To refuse or delay such help adversely impacts their health and violates our humanitarian imperative. However, the provision of care for our newly arrived guests is often met with hostility, even if the usual (conservative) suspects are not included.

One case comes to mind. I recall treating an Afghan family in my South Bronx community infectious disease clinic. Their appointment ran slightly over the allotted time, but this commonly happens in community health medicine. In response, a U.S.-born patient began hurling vile, racially-charged accusations at the family for “stealing” her time. The female patient had almost certainly experienced multiple dimensions of stigma during her life, yet she reserved one privilege: her U.S. birth.

Somehow, aggregate trauma did not amount to empathy but instead fed into an aggressive form of antipathy. So how do we exorcise these nationalist demons? What course of action do we follow to respect cultural pluralism—to truly open our arms and our conscience to the suffering and dispossessed?

As a doctor, I urge U.S. residents to better understand unfamiliar populations before they begin blaming them for their troubles and cause vulnerable people more possible harm.

Together, we must reconnect with the spirit and voice of Emma Lazarus. “Making America Great Again” means that we must look beyond our world view, constructed by our immediate community and influences, and assess the facts to understand how our decisions and actions affect people in need. Abdicating our duty to protect the homeless, the “tempest-tost,” and the marginalized does anything but make this nation great. It is cowardly. Cruel. Inhumane. And it’s certainly not the America I know or hope to treat.

Lawsuit Challenges Virginia GOP’s Web of Anti-Choice Restrictions

Reproductive rights advocates on Wednesday filed a federal lawsuit in Virginia seeking to overturn a series of restrictions they say unduly burden abortion rights throughout the state.

The lawsuit, brought by the Center for Reproductive Rights, the ACLU of Virginia, and Planned Parenthood Federation of America, challenges several anti-choice restrictions passed by the state’s Republican-held legislature, including a targeted regulation of abortion provider law, which treats like a hospital any medical facility that provides five or more first trimester abortions per month, a law that criminalizes second trimester abortions performed outside of a licensed hospital, and a “physician only” requirement that forbids advanced practice clinicians from providing abortion care.

Advocates also challenged Virginia’s mandatory ultrasound law that requires patients seeking abortion care undergo an ultrasound 24 hours before an abortion and receive medically inaccurate and misleading information, including materials containing irrelevant, misleading information, which collectively require each patient to make two trips to a facility, delaying their care.

Between 2009 and 2016, the number of medical facilities providing abortion care in Virginia has declined by more than half, a decline that coincides with an increase in Republican-backed laws aiming to restrict abortion access, according to advocates.

“The laws we are challenging today are shutting down clinics, delaying care, increasing costs, and piling one burden on top of another in an attempt to regulate the fundamental protections of Roe v. Wade out of existence,” Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement.

Wednesday’s lawsuit seeks to block the laws and have them declared unconstitutional.

According to the allegations in the complaint, over the course of decades Virginia has adopted what advocates describe as “an array of unnecessary and discriminatory laws,” that target abortion rights “without any meaningful improvement to safety or health, or any other benefits” to patients. Instead, advocates claim, the laws “serve only to negatively impact Virginians’ access to reproductive health care.”

Wednesday’s lawsuit is the latest by advocates looking to build off the 2016 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Whole Woman’s Health v Hellerstedt. That decision struck as unconstitutional a series of Texas anti-choice restrictions similar to some at issue in the Virginia litigation. 

“The Whole Woman’s Health Supreme Court victory from 2016 was game-changing—affirming that abortion laws must be based on medical evidence,” said Amy Hagstrom Miller, president of Whole Woman’s Health Alliance and a plaintiff in Wednesday’s lawsuit. “We’re using this new standard to affirmatively strike at the core of the Commonwealth’s burdensome restrictions, some dating back decades, that are based on ideology, not health or science.”

Since the Whole Woman’s Health decision, advocates have filed challenges to anti-choice restrictions in states like Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas.

Attorneys for the Commonwealth of Virginia have not yet responded to the lawsuit.

Cherry-Picking the Bible to Mistreat the Stranger: Religion on Family Separation

Last week, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders gave us a textbook example of how easily religion can be weaponized to oppress others when she said “it is very biblical to enforce the law” when answering reporters’ questions about the Trump administration’s policy of separating children from families seeking asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Doubling down in her use of Scripture to defend an indefensible policy, Sanders continued that enforcing the law “is actually repeated a number of times throughout the Bible.” When media pressed her to elaborate, she could only vaguely reference the number of times upholding the law is mentioned in the Bible.

We should not be surprised. It’s not the first time that a Trump administration official has cherry-picked the Bible, taking a few key words out of context and without considering that those words or ideas were more applicable to the historical time when it was written than the present.

It’s not even the first time this month.

Sanders’ failed attempt to draw moral justification from the Bible for the Trump administration’s cruel family separation policy follows on the heels of Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ erroneous interpretation of Romans 13. In that New Testament passage, the Apostle Paul offers counsel about obeying laws created by the government: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God” (Romans 13:1).

But what are the laws that Sanders and Sessions are so fond of invoking with blanket assertions about what the Bible says? While enforcement of the law is referenced numerous times throughout both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible, it is not one law. Are we talking about the law as outlined in the words of the covenant given to Moses by God, in the form of the Ten Commandments, which were to be followed by the children of Israel? Or are we talking about the laws instituted by man and carried out through governmental authorities? Sanders herself seemed unclear about the distinction, and yet she readily offered a biblical interpretation of the moral validity of separating children from their families.

For his part, Sessions’ argument that “orderly and lawful processes are good in themselves and protect the weak and lawful” has little merit, because the law as applied lacks any sense of goodwill. The primary motivations behind this administration’s commitment to separating immigrant children from their families are to scare and deter would-be immigrants and to push Congress to support the administration’s proposed immigration policies. Both motivations are grounded in retribution and punishment.

There is nothing moral about mistreating the stranger. In fact, separating children from their families goes against the ultimate law of God. If Sanders and Sessions had thoroughly comprehended the text (and read the entire text, including all of the additional Scripture referenced), they would have understood that God’s law overrules man’s law. In his letters to the Galatians, Paul argues that the overarching teaching of the law was that “you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Galatians 5:14). In Romans 13:8, Paul observes that we “owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” Finally, he repeats in Romans 13:10 that “love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is [emphasis mine] the fulfilling of the law.”

From this perspective, the Trump administration’s policy falls horribly short of observing the law and has no moral standing. Both Sanders’ and Sessions’ use of religion to justify this iniquitous immigration policy sheds further light on the administration’s exploitation of religion to provide cover for its immoral and inhumane policies that infringe upon human rights.

It also is important to note this is not the first time Romans 13 has been used to silence those who challenge corruption and the evil government officials perpetuate upon the disenfranchised. We need only look at its use to argue in support of Southern slaveowners. Slavery may have been legal, but there was nothing good or moral about it. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. referenced Romans 13 in his Letter From Birmingham City Jail, calling upon white religious leaders to be attentive to the difference between obeying just laws and our responsibility to resist unjust ones.

Sanders and Sessions fail to note Paul’s teachings on how those who follow the Christian tradition should live with and treat each other as brothers and sisters in Christ and extend hospitality to the stranger. Romans 13 should not be understood as Paul’s advocacy of complete abdication of our responsibility to challenge the injustices propagated by empire. The dismantling of immigrant families is a xenophobic attack against people who look and are different from those of the dominant European culture. This attack is grounded in American nationalism, white supremacy, and Christian exceptionalism, all of which should sound deafening alarms for anyone who believes in democracy, human rights, and individual autonomy.

Sanders and Sessions’ misuse of biblical text raises the question of why politicians are using religion to craft and set policy in the first place. The First Amendment protects the populace from Congress making and imposing any laws respecting an establishment of religion or that prohibit the free exercise of religion. When politicians and public officials apply the doctrines and dogma of particular religious tradition to public policy, it skirts up against the boundaries set by the Constitution to protect individual freedom of religion. The religious teachings applied by Sanders and Sessions come from the Christian tradition, and while Christianity may by the predominant tradition practice in the United States, it is not the only tradition. We must interrogate the motives of politicians and public officials who craft and implement public policies that they justify with religion. That is not democracy, but rather moves dangerously close to the realm of theocracy.

Sanders and Sessions would do well to stop trying to slyly impose one religious tradition (Christianity) upon everyone. But they would also do well to pick up a Bible commentary, in which religious scholars explain the meanings of a passage of Scripture. And they should read some of the scholarly writings from Christian ethicists, who use Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience to develop and critique ethical norms.

Even better, they should just leave the exegetical interpretations to those trained to unearth meanings of biblical text.

But then again, we don’t need formal training to know how we ought to treat each other—and how we ought not. All we need to do is practice reasoning skills and compassion.

Trump Signs Executive Order Claiming to End Immigrant Family Separations

After weeks of growing outrage over the separation of children from their parents coming to the United States seeking asylum and to immigrate, President Trump today signed an executive order “ending” family separation at the border. As many experts have noted, however, the order does not change Trump’s mass deportation and “zero-tolerance” policy, though it does create a range of other problems.

In a statement, United We Dream, an immigration rights advocacy group, said Trump’s order “does not change his mass deportation and “zero tolerance” policy, which wrongly labels people fleeing violence and poverty as criminals, or their mass deportation agenda, which has unleashed deportation agents to target our communities everywhere.

Natalia Cornelio, director of criminal justice reform at the Texas Civil Rights Project, told MSNBC’s Kasie Hunt today that families and children will still be incarcerated and also separated. Because the zero-tolerance policy is resulting in the criminalization even of those seeking asylum, families will be incarcerated together, placing children in prison, she said. And “so long as parents are prosecuted criminally, children will still be separated from their parents for a few days, and they will have to remain under the custody of [Immigration and Customs Enforcement].”

Parents are taken to court “where they are chained up [with] cuffs around ankles as they are prosecuted for coming into this country,” said Cornelio, while the children are left with agents, resulting in the same conditions of traumatic separation. Moreover, family detention will now take place in federal prison or in military detention camps.

Writing at Talking Points Memo, Josh Marshall noted that “the actual aim seems to be to pick a fight with the courts and allow separations to continue while blaming judges …. The problem is that [the executive order] violates a 1997 consent decree saying that you can’t detain/imprison children for more than 20 days (technically what’s currently happening isn’t detention). It straight up violates that order. So what will almost inevitably happen is that a court will step in, say you can’t do that and then Trump will announce that the judge is forcing him to keep separating families.”

Cristina Jimenez, executive director and co-founder of United We Dream, said in a statement, “The world has now seen the brutality of the racist deportation force and a Trump order to lock up families in detention camps doesn’t change that.”

“The ICE and CBP deportation force is a dangerous and racist cancer on the liberties of all people. They operate detention camps all over the country and have outposts in nearly every city. They exist for the purpose of enforcing the racist doctrine of mass deportation,” she said. “Members of Congress must immediately stop voting to give billions of dollars to the deportation force. There are no more excuses. Immigrant youth and our families and friends are determined to resist the deportation force and call on all people of principle to rise up and stop them.”

This is another Trump stunt with devastating consequences for real people. The order does not end Trump’s zero-tolerance policy. It would not end the detentions of children or their parents and does not secure the rights of asylum seekers or other immigrants. It does not resolve the crisis of the 2,300 children who have already been separated from their families. It does not treat immigrant families or individuals with dignity.

In short, it does little to address the massive crisis created by the administration itself, except perhaps as another effort at gaslighting.

Supporters Ask Brooklyn DA to Drop All Charges Against Trans Woman Charged With Felony Offenses

Last August, Rewire.News published an investigation into the case of Merci Chrisette, a Black transgender woman who had been charged with felony offenses following an altercation on the New York City subway. Chrisette was captured on video arguing with and lunging at a man and a woman, a response her supporters say was triggered by transphobic remarks and the rational fear that street-based violence could end her life. (Some witnesses deny that any harassment occurred.)

In May, the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office finally permitted Chrisette’s case to be moved from criminal court into the borough’s Mental Health Court. It was an important development, but ultimately not enough to do Chrisette justice, say her supporters. In the last few weeks, over a dozen organizations, and over 130 individuals—including writer and transgender activist Janet Mock—have signed a petition calling for the charges against Chrisette to be dropped completely. Her next court date is scheduled for June 26.

“The Brooklyn District Attorney may not understand Merci’s actions on that crowded subway car in 2015, but we know her actions were valid and may even have kept her alive that day,” a #Fight4Merci spokesperson said in a statement released via email. “The recent decision to move Merci’s case to the mental health court is a continuation of a historical practice to pathologize Black transwomen and criminalize self-defense.”

Pleading into Brooklyn’s Mental Health Court would enable Chrisette to avoid prison time, as long as she followed the court’s mandated treatment program and other requirements. But supporters point out that Chrisette will still be tied to the criminal justice system, facing the possibility of being incarcerated if she fails to comply with the court’s demands.

The real issue at stake, add #Fight4Merci activists and others, isn’t the harm allegedly perpetrated by Chrisette but the threat of violence that permeates her everyday life. On the outside, transgender women of color are being murdered at record numbers. Meanwhile, trans folks who are incarcerated—an experience that nearly 50 percent of Black trans people reportedly endure at some point—are subject to long stints in solitary confinement as well as frequent physical and sexual assaults. Transgender women are particularly vulnerable to this violence, since they are almost always locked up in men’s facilities.

Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez has endeavored to build a national reputation for a commitment to criminal justice reform and the protection of vulnerable communities. About a year ago, during 2017’s June Pride Month, Gonzalez launched an initiative to “establish a safe space for the LGBTQ community to report when they are victims of crime, especially since crimes against this community have historically been underreported and violence against transgender women of color continues to rise.”

Chrisette’s supporters say that the district attorney’s refusal to drop the charges against her—even though no one needed medical attention as a result of the incident—belies his office’s stated commitment to protecting LGBTQ communities, especially given the immense amount of LGBTQ community support for Chrisette’s case. Rewire.News reached out to the Brooklyn DA’s office for comment but did not receive an immediate response.

“We, the undersigned, ask you: how does charging Ms. Chrisette create safety for the LGBTQ community? What message do these charges send to transwomen of color who experience harassment?” queries the petition, which has been signed by a host of criminal justice reform and LGBT organizations, including the Transgender Law Center, the Gay Men’s Health Crisis, and the NYC Anti-Violence Project.

It continues: “Eric, are you listening?”

As Fake Clinics Trick People in Online Searches, Google Is Silent

Google is remaining mum in the wake of an ongoing public campaign criticizing the search giant over misleading search results and maps.

Google has faced mounting pressure from activists to crack down on its paid ads, search, and map results that direct people who are searching for abortion services instead to crisis pregnancy centers, fake clinics that don’t offer abortion services and advocate against abortion.

“We’ve had folks tell us as recently as last week that advertisements and listings for fake clinics are still showing up,” said Karin Roland, chief campaigns officer with UltraViolet, one of the advocacy groups lobbying Google. “We think it’s about time they did something,” Roland said of the Mountain View-based company. Google did not respond to repeated requests for comment on the campaign and its ad policies.

Earlier reports from Rewire.News, Gizmodo, and the advocacy group NARAL Pro-Choice America revealed that so-called crisis pregnancy centers, which are run by abortion foes, routinely appear in Google searches, ads, and maps when searchers type in terms such as, “where can I get an abortion near me?”

Activists call the search results, ads, and map results deceptive and a violation of Google’s policy against misrepresentation.

The fact that Google has proven unable to rein in the inaccurate search results and ads, Roland believes, makes the tech company “complicit in misleading women about abortion options.”

Google previously said it removed misleading crisis pregnancy center search listings following a Rewire.News report late last year. At the time, a spokesperson for the search giant couldn’t say how many it had removed. Google’s policy bars “giving misleading information about products, services, or businesses” and “making offers that aren’t actually available.”

“In a perfect world I think Google would stick to their policy and their word,” Roland told Rewire.News.

The advocacy groups’ months-long campaign has included bike billboards that followed Google employees’ morning commute routes, light projections outside a developer’s conference, airplanes flying over an annual shareholders’ meeting, and a letter to Google CEO Sundar Pichai signed by 20 organizations. The campaign this month delivered a petition with more than 100,000 signatures, demanding the company remove its fake clinic search ads and map results.

The campaign comes as a 2015 California law regulating fake clinics faces an uncertain future. The U.S. Supreme Court is poised to decide the constitutionality of requiring pregnancy centers to post a notice about how to access to free and low-cost abortions and other services through state programs.

It’s unknown how many pregnant people are misdirected by Google ads and searches to one of the several thousand fake clinics in the United States. But crisis pregnancy center operators regard Google searches and ads, and social media platforms like Facebook, as vital to reach their target audience of “abortion minded women.”

National conferences for fake clinics routinely supply instruction on digital marketing and Google ads. A session at a recent Heartbeat International conference in California, for example, included a case study on a Google campaign by a fake clinic called Choices Pregnancy Services. The Google campaign reportedly generated about 414 click-throughs and 61 calls and emails per month for the clinic. In another example, a fake clinic increased its contacts by nearly half by using search optimization, meaning using keywords such as “abortion” or “abortion clinic.”

As recently as February, the CEO of RealOptions, a chain of California fake clinics, told the San Jose Mercury News that it buys Google keywords for the terms “abortion” and “pregnancy” and “unplanned pregnancy.”

UltraViolet’s Roland said the organization is monitoring Google’s response and planning their next steps.

Trump’s Ransom: Trading Child Hostages for White Supremacist Immigration Policy

For at least 15 years, hard-right members of the GOP have tried but failed to pass legislation profoundly restricting immigration to the United States. Now, the Trump administration believes it has found a way to achieve this goal: Separating the children of asylum seekers and unauthorized immigrants from their parents and holding them for ransom. The price? Passage of one of two bills that would sharply limit legal immigration to the United States, make the range of countries from which immigrants can obtain visas or apply for citizenship narrower and whiter, criminalize and prioritize for deportation virtually all undocumented persons now residing in the country, and further militarize U.S. borders.

Both bills could be brought to the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives as early as Thursday, June 21st. To force a vote, the administration has separated at least 2,300 children—ranging in age from under a year to 18 years old—from parents crossing the border. These babies, toddlers, pre-schoolers, and teens are now being held hostage in detention camps across Arizona, California, Florida, Texas, and other states. The children don’t know where their parents are nor do their parents don’t know where they are. The administration admits it has no plans in place for identifying and returning these children to their parents.

In early May, the administration formalized a policy publicly discussed by administration officials for over a year and until then pursued in practice for months, mostly under-the-radar. The policy flouts both U.S. and international law on several levels.

To begin, the administration insisted that asylum seekers present themselves only at ports of entry, even though according to both U.S. and international law, a claim for asylum can be sought by anyone, irrespective of how they enter the country. Then, it reduced staffing and hours at ports of entry, making it difficult for people to actually comply with the policy. Customs and Border Patrol agents are also creating human walls preventing people—the vast majority with children—in line at ports of entry from taking a step onto U.S. soil, a step that is consequential because it gives them the right to an asylum hearing. And when those turned away from ports of entry—after waiting as many as three weeks or more outside or in overcrowded and sometimes dangerous shelters to present themselves to officials for asylum—instead cross the border through other means, they are arrested and charged as criminals with illegal entry.

The vast majority are being denied due process for asylum claims. They are then forcibly separated from their children and prosecuted in federal court for what otherwise would be a misdemeanor for those entering the country the first time. Finally, many are being put into an expedited deportation system and sent back to their home countries without their children.

The result is calamitous, though apparently purposefully so. In what is now being widely reported as a deliberate tactic, the administration ratcheted up this policy in May to generate the crisis now faced by these children and their parents as a means of pressuring congressional GOP members to pass severe restrictions on immigration and to build Trump’s border wall. The policy does not require a legislative fix, but the administration is attempting to use it to force much deeper changes in law.

Though House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) has claimed his bill, the Ryan-Trump bill, will keep families together, neither of the GOP’s so-called legislative fixes would do so nor would they advance basic human rights. Experts say that both of these bills decimate protections for unaccompanied children, asylum seekers, and other vulnerable immigrants and refugees, leave Dreamers vulnerable, and imperil thousands of unaccompanied children and asylum seekers, resulting in families being held in custody for prolonged periods including young children, and limit their access to legal protection.

The first bill is Republican Virginia Congressman Bob Goodlatte’s “Securing America’s Future Act,” (HR 4760), which contains what one analyst has called “a laundry list of enforcement provisions that [White House Senior Policy Adviser] Stephen Miller puts under his pillow each night.” Miller is well-known for his hard-line white supremacist views.

Goodlatte’s bill contains proposals that have been floated by the far right in Congress and by anti-immigrant advocacy groups for decades and have legislative roots going back at least as far as 2003 when then-Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) introduced a bill with similar provisions. Goodlatte’s bill also mirrors provisions in a Senate bill sponsored by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and supported by Trump that received only 39 votes in the chamber in February. Among other things, the Goodlatte bill would:

  • Eliminate entire categories of visas. The bill would eliminate visas currently allocated to U.S. citizens seeking to sponsor their parents, their adult children, and their siblings for green cards. If passed, the bill would void the applications already filed by people who have been waiting “in line” for years to receive green cards. It would also eliminate the diversity visa lottery system. Under this system, 50,000 visas are allotted each year to countries from which few people otherwise migrate to the United States. By some estimates, these changes alone would reduce future legal immigration by 40 percent and, according to the Center for American Progress‘s (CAP) Tom Jawetz and his colleague Phillip E. Wolgin, make our legal immigration system “smaller and whiter, increasing the share of Norwegians able to enter the United States, for example, while decreasing the share from places deemed ‘shithole’ countries by the president.”
  • Criminalize all undocumented immigrants. Goodlatte’s bill would fundamentally alter long-standing immigration law to turn undocumented status from a civil into a criminal violation, literally turning the 11 million undocumented persons now in the country into criminals with the stroke of a pen. This, of course, then leads to accelerated deportation. It would quite literally be a legislated form of ethnic cleansing.
  • Leave the majority of Dreamers unprotected. Goodlatte’s bill offers what Jawetz and his colleague Wolgin from CAP define as “only a tenuous second-class status to a small subset” of Dreamers, categorizing hundreds of thousands of others as undocumented immigrants also subject to criminal prosecution, imprisonment, and deportation.
  • Eliminate asylum protections. Effectively, Goodlatte’s legislation would make Trump’s current policy into law by making it easier to deport asylum seekers, including unaccompanied children, without basic due process.
  • Authorizes $25 billion for a border wall. This bill provides for the authorization of $25 billion in funding for a border wall. Money to fulfill this authorization would have to be appropriated (and be available for spending) through a budget bill or other means.

Jawetz told Rewire.News, this bill risks returning children to danger or even death in their home countries by requiring all unaccompanied children be processed through expedited procedures under which toddlers are expected to represent themselves and by denying everyone seeking asylum due process. This bill would also allow unaccompanied children to be held in custody in inappropriate, overcrowded, and unsanitary adult facilities for extended periods of time.

The second bill, Ryan-Trump, also known as the ‘‘Border Security and Immigration Reform Act of 2018,” includes many of the same provisions as the Goodlatte bill as well as other provisions widely opposed by immigration rights advocates and a range of other groups. Critics across the board have assailed Ryan for suggesting it is a “compromise.”

Both bills would “keep families together” by effectively imprisoning children and their parents in indefinitely in the same place while undermining processes for asylum and leaving their fate to the whims of the Department of Homeland Security. It also does not “solve” problems for Dreamers as Ryan has claimed. CAP’s Phillip Wolgin and Nicole Prchal Svajlenka wrote that “the Ryan bill includes a complicated points system detailing which individuals eligible for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) can access permanent residence sooner and which recipients may have to wait years, if not decades. Because the points system is heavily weighted toward education and years of employment, the bill will disproportionately affect mothers and other caregivers, primarily women, managing or forgoing education and/or career advancement while caring for their loved ones.”

Finally, the Ryan-Trump bill, the Border Security and Immigration Reform Act of 2018, includes $25 billion for Trump’s border wall in actual appropriations—and would hold immigrants’ legal status hostage to spending on the wall. Dreamers who are made eligible for legal status in the United States under this bill would have to wait until the wall is completed to have formal protections. (Ryan’s bill has been undergoing changes “by the minute,” one Democratic House staffer told Rewire.News so it is difficult to predict what the bill that is brought to the floor will contain.)

A number of groups, including the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) are adamantly against both measures. In a statement, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus said Ryan’s bill “would hold Dreamer protections hostage for Trump’s purely political and wasteful $25 billion border wall. It would further militarize the border and make devastating changes to the Flores Agreement, which would legislate the policies that are currently separating families at the border by making it more difficult for asylum seekers to legally claim asylum, and make it easier to deport children and jail asylum seekers indefinitely.  It would also make drastic cuts to family-based visas and terminate the diversity visa lottery.”

CHC Chair Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-NM) said called Ryan’s bill a betrayal of “our most fundamental American values.”

This latest package is a reflection of the xenophobic and nativist agenda of the Trump White House, which prioritizes billions upon billions on a wasteful wall, cuts legal immigration and ends our obligation to protect vulnerable children, mothers and families lawfully seeking asylum. It is the latest example of Republicans putting Trump’s anti-immigrant demands above moral decency, families, Dreamers and the will of the American people. House Republican Leadership has done a disservice to the nation by crafting a political dog and pony show with two appalling legislative optionsboth hyper-partisan and both intended to fail. The antics we are witnessing are why the American people have lost faith that their Representatives can find bipartisan solutions to our nation’s most pressing issues. I will continue fighting for a truly bipartisan compromise that upholds our values and protects children, families and Dreamers.

In their statement, the American Academy of Pediatrics said in part that it “strongly opposes the Border Security and Immigration Reform Act” because:

Instead of putting children first by ending the harmful policy of family separation at the border once and for all, this legislation strips children of protections designed for their safety and well-being and exposes more children, not fewer, to detention, including long-term detention. Pediatricians have repeatedly spoken out against the detention of immigrant children; this legislation is not the answer and puts children at greater risk of harm.

It is not clear whether either bill can pass the House. It is almost certain neither one can pass the Senate. What is clear is that Paul Ryan and the House GOP are fully on board with a white supremacist immigration agenda that 20 years ago was considered a relatively fringe position. They are willing to pass legislation effectively sealing the fate of 11 million people now living, working, and raising families in this country and to sign the death warrants of countless others to pursue a whiter and less diverse America. What is also clear is that because neither bill is likely to make it to Trump’s desk and because the administration has shown it has absolutely no intention of ending forced separations, we may end the summer with an estimated 20,000 children—hostages of the Trump administration—separated from their parents and in detention camps.

Speaking of the current policy on MSNBC, Texas Democratic state Rep. Terry Canales said of Trump’s policy: “This is not biblical, this is diabolical.” The same can be said of these bills. They are indeed diabolical.