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Lawmakers Condemn Border Facility Conditions & Agent Behaviors After Touring Several Centers

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  • A group of lawmakers toured several border facilities on Monday, where they found separated families, dirty and unsafe conditions, and some people who had been in the centers for more than 50 days.
  • Several representatives reported that multiple women were packed in a cell with no running water, where Border Patrol agents allegedly told them to drink from the toilet if they wanted water.
  • The same day, ProPublica released a report about a secret Facebook group for Border Patrol agents, where they posted vulgar pictures of Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and joked about migrants dying and throwing burritos at Latino members of Congress.

Lawmakers Tour Border Facilities 

Lawmakers are condemning the living conditions and treatment of migrants at Border Patrol facilities after touring several centers in Clint and El Paso, Texas on Monday. 

The tours came after a facility in Clint faced widespread backlash over reports that said about 350 children were being held in unsafe and unsanitary conditions.

A group of lawyers who went to the facility and interviewed the children said that the children were hungry and many did not have access to showers, soap, or toothbrushes. Babies were said to have been left unattended or cared for by other children. There were also reported outbreaks of the flu and lice. 

Some of those children, who under the law can only be held in these facilities for no more than 72 hours, had been there for three weeks.

The lawmakers who toured the facilities on Monday said that most of the children had been moved from the Clint facility. However, they were still horrified by the conditions at the El Paso facility, where they said several hundred people are still detained.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Responds

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was one of the people who toured the facilities.

“There’s abuse in these facilities, there’s abuse,” she told reporters after going to the El Paso center. “This was them on their best behavior, and they put them in a room with no running water, and these women were being told by CPB officers to drink out of the toilet.” 

Ocasio-Cortez also took to Twitter to describe what she saw, specifically noting how the Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) agents behaved. 

“Officers laughing in front of members Congress,” she wrote. “I brought it up to their superiors. They said ‘officers are under stress & act out sometimes.’ No accountability.”

In another tweet, Ocasio-Cortez said that she spoke to a woman in the center who “described their treatment at the hands of officers as ‘psychological warfare’ – waking them at odd hours for no reason, calling them wh*res, etc.”

After leaving El Paso, Ocasio-Cortez also told CNN, “In the last facility, I was not safe from the officers.” In a tweet, she said that the Border Patrol officers were being “physically &sexually threatening” towards her.

The Washington Examiner later reported that Ocasio-Cortez had screamed at Border Patrol agents. The Congresswoman’s communications office responded to the article in a statement to the Washington Post, calling it “inaccurate depiction of events.”

“The Congresswoman spoke sternly to a CBP agent that tried to take a stealth selfie with the Congresswoman in a mocking manner, despite the gravity of the situation,” the statement said.

Other Lawmakers Respond

Other lawmakers who toured the facilities also confirmed what Ocasio-Cortez said about detainees being told to drink from toilets.

However, Border Patrol officials denied those accusations, with Border Patrol Chief of Operations telling CNN, there are “ample supplies” and adding “a lot of our stations look like Costco.”

The lawmakers also spoke out about their experiences during the tour.

Representative Madeleine Dean described women being separated from their families, going weeks without showers, and sleeping on concrete floors, writing “This is a human rights crisis.”

Representative Joe Kennedy told reporters that the facility “feels like a jail, and they’re treating them like they’re in jail.” Kennedy also said in a tweet that the Border Patrol agents “tried to restrict what we saw, take our phones, block photos and video.”

“Atmosphere was contentious and uncooperative,” he added.

Despite the fact that their cellphones were taken away, Representative Joaquin Castro was able to sneak in a device. Later he tweeted out a video he took of several women detained in a cramped cell.

“This moment captures what it’s like for women in CBP custody to share a cramped cell—some held for 50 days—for them to be denied showers for up to 15 days and life-saving medication,” Castro wrote. “For some, it also means being separated from their children. This is El Paso Border Station #1.”

After touring the facilities, the lawmakers held a news conference. The entire time they spoke, protestors yelled over them, forcing them to yell to be heard. Some protestors reportedly yelled racist and sexist slurs at a few of the congresswomen.

Representative Rashida Tlaib gave an emotional speech while protestors yelled, “We don’t want Sharia law here. We don’t care about Sharia law, we care about Jesus Christ.”

ProPublica Report

The visits to the Border Patrol facilities were made more contentious by a ProPublica report published right before the lawmakers toured the facilities, which detailed a Facebook group where Border Patrol agents reportedly joked about migrant deaths and posted sexist memes.

According to ProPublica, the group is called “I’m 10-15” which is the Border Patrol code for “aliens in custody.” It was created in August of 2016 and consists of 9,500 current and former agents.

The report stated that members of the group “joked about the deaths of migrants, discussed throwing burritos at Latino members of Congress visiting a detention facility in Texas on Monday and posted a vulgar illustration depicting Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez engaged in oral sex with a detained migrant.”

The picture in question had the caption, “Lucky Illegal Immigrant Glory Hole Special Starring AOC.” ProPublica also provided a screenshot of a doctored photo where Ocasio-Cortez is engaging in oral sex with Donald Trump. 

Another screenshot from the group showed an article with a picture of Ocasio-Cortez and Representative Veronica Escobar with a comment, “Let’s start a go fund me for one CTX agent brave enough to throw a 10-15 burrito at one of these bitches.”

Source: ProPublica

The report also said that agents joked about a 16-year-old Guatemalan boy who died in CBP custody in May. In another post, one agent made fun of a viral picture of a father and daughter who drowned trying to cross the Rio Grande.

ProPublica stated that they were able to “link the participants in those online conversations to apparently legitimate Facebook profiles belonging to Border Patrol agents, including a supervisor based in El Paso, Texas, and an agent in Eagle Pass, Texas.”

Response to ProPublica Report

CBP quickly responded to the report in a statement and said that they had contacted the DHS Office of the Inspector General and initiated an investigation.

“These posts are completely inappropriate and contrary to the honor and integrity I see—and expect—from our agents day in and day out,” U.S. Border Patrol Chief Carla Provost was quoted as saying in the statement. “Any employees found to have violated our standards of conduct will be held accountable.”

The lawmakers who were touring the facilities also responded to the report.

“If they have these kind of derogatory feelings about us, you can only imagine what they’re thinking about these detainees,” Representative Judy Chu said in a video on Twitter. “There are the ones who are in charge of them. Well, there seriously has to be some changes.”

Representative Castro also spoke about the page during the press conference. “That was a vulgar, disgusting, and vile page,” he said. “That shows, unfortunately, that there are many within CBP who become desensitized to the point of being dangerous to the migrants in their care and to their co-workers.”

Ocasio-Cortez responded to the report on Twitter, writing “This isn’t about ‘a few bad eggs.’ This is a violent culture.”

ProPublica also said that the Facebook page is only one recent example of the kind of behavior described in their report. 

They noted that other investigations have shown enforcement officers engaging in extremist, anti-government, and white supremacist Facebook Groups, specifically citing a border agent who hit a migrant with a truck and was found sending texts using racial slurs. 

See what others are saying: (Washington Post) (CNN) (Fox News)

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New York City Moves to Ban Cashless Businesses

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  • New York City’s Council passed a bill on Thursday that prohibits businesses from going cashless.
  • Supporters argue this approach discriminates against low-income groups, undocumented individuals, and people of color who are less likely to have bank accounts.
  • Meanwhile, opponents of the cashless ban argue it is more convenient for workers to only deal with digital transactions.
  • If New York’s Mayor Bill de Blasio approves the bill, businesses will face a fine for refusing to accept cash as payment.  
  • San Francisco, Philadelphia, and New Jersey all approved cashless bans in businesses last year.

Cashless Ban Approved by City Council

New York City’s Council approved a bill on Thursday that bans businesses from going cashless.

The measure was almost unanimously passed and is an effort to decrease discrimination of low-income groups, undocumented individuals, and people of color who are less likely to have bank accounts or access to credit. 

Councilmember Ritchie Torres was the bill’s lead sponsor. 

“We in the City Council have real concerns that an increasingly cashless marketplace could have a real-world discriminatory effect on low-income communities, especially communities of color, that lack access to credit and debit,” Torres said at a press conference right before the bill was passed. 

Just over 11% of households in New York — about 354,000 — do not have a bank account, according to a 2019 report by New York City’s Department of Consumer and Worker Protection. An additional 21.8% of households are underbanked, meaning they have a bank account but use alternative financial methods for some needs.  

Torres also noted that even those who do have access to bank accounts might still prefer cash because of its familiarity and its nature of allowing more privacy. 

“Whatever your reasons, consumers should have the power to choose their preferred method of payment,” Torres said. 

If the bill is approved by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, restaurants, stores, and other retail outlets will be required to accept cash as payment. If any businesses do refuse hard currency, they will be subject to a fine of $1,000 and $1,500 for each following offense. 

Businesses will have the option of adopting cash conversion machines as long as the machines do not charge any extra fees. In the case that one of these machines is not working, the business must directly accept cash. 

A spokesperson for Mayor de Blasio told The New York Times on Wednesday that he supported “the intent” of the bill, but still planned to go over it.

Cashless Ban Movement

New York City is the latest to pass legislation prohibiting businesses from refusing cash. In 2019, San Francisco, Philadelphia, and New Jersey all approved these bans for similar reasons. 

While many are in favor of cashless bans, the idea has received pushback from others. Business owners have argued the method is more convenient for their workers. Leo Kremer, co-founder of the Dos Toros Taqueria chain that runs through New York City, has previously expressed this take. 

“We are only interested in being cashless because it allows us to make our restaurant more seamless,” Kremer said at a hearing on the bill in February.

Kalman Yeger, a councilman from Brooklyn, thought those who voted for the bill were “overreaching.”  

“We are inserting ourselves in the business of business in a way that we don’t have the right to,” Yeger told The New York Times.  

See what others are saying: (ABC) (The New York Times) (Guardian)

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U.S. Announces New Visa Rule Targeting “Birth Tourism”

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  • The Department of State unveiled a new rule aiming to stop pregnant women from coming to the U.S. to give birth so their children get American citizenship.
  • The rule states that this practice — commonly referred to as “birth tourism” — “poses risks to national security.” 
  • The new regulation allows consular officers to deny visas to visitors if they believe they’re traveling to the U.S. for this purpose. 
  • It also requires those traveling to the U.S. for medical purposes to prove to consular officers that they can pay for the treatment they seek.  
  • The changes will go into effect as of Friday, Jan. 24.

Crackdown on Birth Tourism  

The U.S. Department of State announced on Thursday plans to stop pregnant women from entering the country to give birth so their children are granted American citizenship, a practice commonly referred to as “birth tourism.” 

Under the new rule, consular officers can deny visas to visitors if they believe their travel to the country is primarily for this purpose.  

“The Department considers birth tourism an inappropriate basis for the issuance of temporary visitor visas,” the rule states.  

The visas that this new regulation covers are those categorized as “B nonimmigrant visas,” issued for pleasure, medical purposes, or to visit friends or family. 

“This rule reflects a better policy, as birth tourism poses risks to national security,” the Department of State said in the document. “The birth tourism industry is also rife with criminal activity, including international criminal schemes.”

By the law of the 14th Amendment, “all persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States.”

President Donald Trump has spoken out about his disapproval of this policy before. In the past, he has called it a “magnet for illegal immigration,” and last August he expressed his wish to remove it.

The State Department’s new rule will officially take effect on Friday, Jan. 24. It will only affect those from countries who need a visa to visit the United States. 

Further Changes

In addition to cracking down on birth tourism, the State Department’s new rule also tightens qualifications for those seeking medical treatment in the U.S.

It requires that those seeking a nonimmigrant visa for this reason “must demonstrate, to the satisfaction of the consular officer,” their ability to pay for their sought-after medical services, as well as proof that a medical practitioner has already agreed to help. 

Reactions to the New Rule

After the Department of State’s new rule was made public, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham gave it her nod of approval. 

“It will also defend American taxpayers from having their hard-earned dollars siphoned away to finance the direct and downstream costs associated with birth tourism,” Grisham said in a statement. “The integrity of American citizenship must be protected.”

Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona tweeted a link to The New York Times article on the story and added a simple word of support: “Good.”

Others, like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, were not happy about the change.

 “This administration is now targeting pregnant. women.” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted. “When you single out the most vulnerable, the cruelty is the point.”

See what others are saying: (NPR) (BBC) (Time)

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Supreme Court Hears Landmark Case Regarding Scholarships for Religious Schools

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  • The U.S. Supreme Court is considering a potential landmark case that could allow religious schools to receive publicly-funded scholarships, even if a state’s constitution says they can’t.
  • The case involves a Montana program that was ended after the state realized it was unintentionally being used to aid religious schools using taxpayer money.
  • Opponents argue that the provision, which prohibits public funds from going to religious organizations, is rooted in religious discrimination.

Montana Sparks Lawsuit After Ending Scholarship Program

The Supreme Court of the United States began hearing Wednesday what could potentially be a landmark case concerning the separation of church and state for schools.

Specifically, the Court is considering a case out of Montana that could allow religious schools to receive publicly-funded scholarships, even if a state’s constitution prohibits such a move.

The situation that now sits upon SCOTUS’s doorstep began in 2015 when the Montana state legislature created a tax-credit program for people wanting to donate to a scholarship fund. 

That program allowed people to donate dollar-for-dollar tax credits up to $150.

An organization named Big Sky then capitalized on the program and created a fund to help parents wanting to send their children to private schools; however, there was a catch: 12 of the 13 schools that Big Sky sent money to were religious. In fact, about 70% of private schools in the state are religious schools.

Those donations directly conflict with Montana’s state constitution, which says the state cannot set aside public money for “…any sectarian purpose or to aid any church, school, academy, seminary, college, university, or other literary or scientific institution, controlled in whole or in part by any church, sect, or denomination.”

Such a law is known as a “no-aid” provision. 

Montana later decided to cut the program before eventually being sued on the basis of religious discrimination. One attorney argued that the only reason Montana shut down the program was because it included religious schools. That attorney also argued that the U.S. Constitution mandates equal protection under the law. In other words, Montana must apply the tax-credit program equally between private schools, both religious and nonreligious. 

“Once you have these programs, you have to treat families going to religious schools equal to families going to nonreligious schools,” that attorney, Erica Smith, told NPR.

The case’s lead plaintiff—Kendra Espinoza— had also been vocal about her need for such a program. 

In an interview with The Washington Post, Espinoza said not only did she have to pick up extra jobs but she also “pretty much sold everything in my house that wasn’t tied down” just to afford to send her two daughters to a religious private school. In addition to that, her two daughters took on jobs mowing lawns and cleaning offices to raise money.

Espinoza’s accounts are a far cry from the common stereotype that only rich people send their children to private schools, with Espinoza even directly saying that her family needs assistance to be able to afford private school.

“Baby” Blaine Amendments

While Montana didn’t introduce its tax-credit program until 2015, Espinoza’s case is also rooted in law that dates back to the 1800s. 

In 1875, a politician by the name James G. Blaine introduced a similar “no-aid” amendment to the U.S. Constitution. That ended up failing, but different versions of it were adopted in most states, with Montana passing theirs in 1889.

Most historians have referred to the original proposed amendment as the “Blaine Amendment,” with the later ones being dubbed “baby” Blaine Amendments. Historians also agree that such amendments were only adopted in a bigoted retaliation to the mass immigration of Catholics into the U.S.

Thus, since the law was borne of bigotry against Catholics, Espinoza and her lawyers argued that it violates the U.S. Constitution by discriminating against religion.

On the other hand, the state of Montana disputed the discrimination claim, pointing out that its “no-aid” provision was revised and rewritten in 1972

The state even had all but one of the surviving delegates at that 1972 convention submit a brief discussing how the revised Constitution was debated. According to NPR, one delegate even says that a number of the delegates were also ministers, with many of them speaking “very ardently in favor of public funds not going to religious education.”

That delegate, Mae Nan Ellingson, also argued that the state passed the “no-aid” provision to “protect religious liberty,” saying the state feared that if religious organizations were included, someone in the future might try to attach conditions to the aid. 

The case eventually made its way to the Montana Supreme Court, where the Court ruled the state had not violated religious protections granted by the U.S. Constitution. 

U.S. Supreme Court Takes Up the Case

That decision, however, was then appealed to the SCOTUS, which began hearing arguments Wednesday. 

In its brief, Montana continued to defend its no-aid provision, saying, “The No-Aid Clause does not prohibit any religious practice. Nor does it authorize any discriminatory benefits program. It simply says that Montana will not financially aid religious schools.”

On Espinoza’s side, the Trump Administration and Education Secretary Betsy Devos have backed her. The move is not an unexpected one for Devos, who attended private school herself and later sent her kids to private schools. Devos is also a heavy advocate of “faith-based education.”

With this case now reaching SCOTUS, any decision could have far-reaching effects. Including Montana, 38 states have no-aid provisions. 

If Montana wins, its tax-credit program would remain shut down. It would then continue to be able to keep public money away from religious schools, but religious schools would still be able to receive federal funds.

However, if the state loses, religious schools across the country—regardless of previous state law—might be able to access scholarship funds paid for by taxes. 

Currently, the latter decision appears to be the more likely outcome. In recent years, the Court has become more conservative on church vs. state issues. In 2017, it decided that Missouri couldn’t ban a church school for applying for a state grant that fixes up playgrounds. Since then, the court has only grown more conservative, with Justice Brett Kavanaugh joining the bench.

See what others are saying: (NPR) (The Washington Post) (Reuters)

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