- More than 100 people from the Bahamas seeking humanitarian refuge in the U.S. were kicked off a ferry going to Florida for not having proper documentation.
- The ferry operator said Customs and Border Protection had directed them to remove the undocumented passengers, but CBP officials disputed that claim and said the operator just did not want to wait the time required to process the refugees.
- Acting Head of the CBP Mark Morgan doubled down on the CBP’s claim Monday, saying that Bahamians could enter the U.S. “whether you have travel documents or not.”
- President Trump, however, seemed to contradict that claim later in the day, telling reporters that “Everybody needs totally proper documentation.”
Refugees Turned Away By Ferry Operator
President Donald Trump caused confusion Monday when he told reporters Bahamian victims of Hurricane Dorian needed travel documents to enter the United States, directly contradicting a statement the acting head of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Mark Morgan made earlier in the day.
The United Nations has estimated that around 76,000 people in the Bahamas have been left homeless just over a week after Dorian tore through the country.
Now, thousands and thousands of people are being evacuated to the U.S., as well as islands in the Bahamas that were not hit as hard by Dorian.
The confusion over evacuee restrictions first started on Sunday when more than 100 people seeking humanitarian refuge in the U.S. were ordered off a ferry that was carrying people from the Bahamas to Florida.
In a video of the incident, a crew member on the Balearia Caribbean cruise ship can be heard telling all passengers who did not have U.S. visas to get off the boat.
Under a standing CBP rule, Bahamian citizens traveling to the U.S. who have a passport, police certification, and no criminal record can enter the U.S. without a visa as long as they are pre-cleared to leave from two specific airports in the Bahamas.
Balearia Caribbean & CBP Point Fingers
Reporter Brian Entin said in a tweet that Balearia Caribbean crew members had explicitly told him they were directed to extend that rule to the people on the boat.
“They say they were told it was ok to accept Bahamian evacuees with passport and copy of police record,” Entin wrote. “They boarded boat. Then when they sent manifest to US Customs and Border Patrol — they were told those without visas would not be accepted.”
On Monday, Balearia Caribbean also pinned the blame on the CBP in a statement to the Miami Herald.
“We boarded these passengers with the understanding that they could travel to the United States without visas, only to later having been advised that in order to travel to Ft. Lauderdale they required prior in-person authorization from the immigration authorities in Nassau,” the statement said.
However, CBP officials denied that claim saying it was the ferry operators that made the decision and not them.
“Their decision to make all those people get off board had nothing to do with CBP,” a CBP spokesperson told the Herald. “The company knew the U.S. would have welcomed all of them even if they didn’t have the documentation.”
“The ferry would have just had to just wait at Port Everglades for about 12 hours for every passenger to be processed and that didn’t make good business sense for them,” the spokesperson added. “So they shifted the blame on CBP.”
Trump Contradicts CBP Head
On Monday, acting head of the CBP Mark Morgan also attempted to clear up the incident in a White House briefing.
“We are not working and telling a cruise line that you cannot allow anyone without documents, that’s just not being done,” Morgan said. “We will accept anyone on humanitarian reasons that needs to come here, we’re going to process them expeditedly.”
“This is a humanitarian mission,” he added. “If your life is in jeopardy and you’re in the Bahamas and you want to get to the United States, you’re going to be allowed to come to the United States, right, whether you have travel document’s or not.”
Morgan also noted that people with criminal records would need extra vetting.
A few hours after that briefing, President Trump contradicted Morgan’s statement and told reporters that refugees from the Bahamas did need documents.
“We have to be very careful. Everybody needs totally proper documentation,” the president said.
“The Bahamas had some tremendous problems with people going to the Bahamas that weren’t supposed to be there.”
“I don’t want to allow people that weren’t supposed to be in the Bahamas to come into the United States — including some very bad people and some very bad gang members, and some very, very bad drug dealers,” he added, before going on to argue that “large sections” of the Bahamas had not been hit by Dorian.
Just hours after Morgan indicated that the U.S. was loosening visa restrictions, Trump seemed to say the U.S. will tighten the same restrictions.
Department of Homeland Security Statement
Following Trump’s remarks, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a statement clarifying visas requirements.
In that statement, the agency essentially reiterated the CBP rule that people from the Bahamas can apply to enter the U.S. without a visa from two specific airports as long as they meet the stated requirements.
However, the statement also added that: “Bahamians arriving to the United States by vessel must be in possession of a valid passport AND valid travel visa.”
DHS’s statement appears to contradict both Morgan’s statement about refugees not needing travel documents, as well as Trump’s statement that all refugees must have travel documents, ultimately making the situation even murkier.
See what others are saying: (NPR) (The Washington Post) (Miami Herald)
#BoycottABC Spreads After Network Aires Ad Burning Picture of AOC
- Social media users called for a boycott of ABC after it aired an ad that showed a picture of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez being set on fire.
- The ad was paid for by the Republican political action committee New Faces GOP, which is run by former congressional candidate Elizabeth Heng.
- In the video, Heng describes the “horrors of socialism” as pictures of the Khmer Rouge death camps in Cambodia appear on the screen. “This is the face of socialism,” Heng says as the picture of Ocasio-Cortez burns.
- Ocasio-Cortez responded on Twitter and called the ad “a love letter to the GOP’s white supremacist case.”
New Faces GOP Ad
The hashtag #BoycottABC circulated all over social media Thursday after the network aired an advertisement during the Democratic Debates that featured a photo of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) catching on fire.
The ad was paid for by New Faces GOP, a Republican political action committee run by Elizabeth Heng, who unsuccessfully ran for Congress in California during the 2018 midterm elections.
“This is the face of socialism and ignorance. Does Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez know the horror of socialism?” Heng says in the ad, while a picture of Ocasio-Cortez burns away to reveal a photo of skulls at a Khmer Rouge death camp in Cambodia.
“My father was minutes from death in Cambodia before a forced marriage saved his life. That’s socialism: Forced obedience, starvation,” she continues, as images from the communist regime under the Khmer Rouge flash on the screen.
“Mine is a face of freedom. My skin is not white, I’m not outrageous, racist, nor socialist. I’m a Republican,” Heng concludes as the ad ends.
Twitter users responded to the ad on Thursday and Friday, calling for boycotts of ABC.
Some said that the ad was racist or that it promoted violence.
Horrible hate speech which could lead to violence. #BoycottABC !— Gretchen Berger (@gretchbrgr) September 13, 2019
Others pointed out that the ad was aired by an ABC affiliate owned by Sinclair Broadcast Group and called for a boycott of Sinclair as well.
Some users also called for a boycott of Disney, which owns ABC.
Other people defended the ad and criticized the boycott.
This was about the negative effects of socialism. It does not surprise me to see the inner drama queen in every Democrat come out and call for the most irrelevant boycotts that amount to nothing.— SAChallenger (@challengersma) September 13, 2019
Everyone is entitled to an opinion, unless the opinion differs from theirs. #snowflakes No outrage when celebrities threaten to bomb the White House, behead the president, etc., spread hate & lies. But the #truth & #facts offends them.#dontboycottABC— CherylinMass (@CherylinMass) September 13, 2019
Ocasio-Cortez and Heng Respond
Ocasio-Cortez responded to the ad in a series of Tweets.
“Republicans are running TV ads setting pictures of me on fire to convince people they aren’t racist,” she wrote. “Life is weird!”
“What you just watched was a love letter to the GOP’s white supremacist case,” she said in another tweet.
Heng responded to one of Ocasio-Cortez’s tweets.
“Are you really calling me a racist?” she wrote. “I’m calling all Democrats out for supporting an evil ideology.”
In a later tweet, Heng added that Ocasio-Cortez’s response to the ad “is the Democratic party in a nutshell. They are more offended by truthful words than the acts of their political ideology that has killed millions of innocent victims.”
Heng also defended the ad in a statement to Roll Call.
“This ad is about fighting the socialist agenda that has taken over the Democratic Party,” she said. “I am not afraid to engage in a debate of ideas, and it is the AOC extremists that have to resort in name calling because they don’t have real solutions for our country.”
ABC and Sinclair have not made public comments on the incident.
See what others are saying: (New York Times) (The Hill) (Newsweek)
Dan Bishop Wins Closely Watched North Carolina Special Election
- Republican candidate Dan Bishop beat Democrat Dan McCready in a competitive special election race for North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District.
- The election comes after an election fraud scandal in the 2018 midterms, where a man hired by the Republican candidate was found to have illegally collected and in some cases filled out absentee ballots.
- The scandal prompted the state’s Board of Elections to throw out the results of the 2018 midterm election, which Harris had won by 905 votes.
North Carolina’s 9th District
Republican Dan Bishop narrowly won a special congressional election in North Carolina’s 9th District Tuesday, marking the end of a race marred by scandal.
With all precincts reporting, Bishop won 50.74% of the vote while his Democratic opponent Dan McCready won 48.66%, according to the official results from the state elections board. Bishop won by 3,937 votes out of 189,363 votes cast.
The election closes the book on a nearly 10-month long process to choose a representative for the district. This after the discovery of a massive election fraud scheme prompted the state’s Board of Elections to throw out the results of the 2018 midterm and call for a new election to be held.
During the first election in November, Republican Mark Harris appeared to beat Democrat Dan McCready by only 905 votes. Just 0.3% of the vote in a district where about 280,000 votes were cast.
However, the North Carolina State Board of Elections, which consisted of four Democrats, four Republicans, and one Independent, voted unanimously not to certify Harris as the winner and launched an investigation into the election.
Investigation & Hearing
At first, the public was not told the reason for the investigation.
Then, local media outlets discovered that Harris had hired a man for his campaign named McCrae Dowless.
Dowless had directed people to illegally collect absentee ballots, falsify absentee witness certifications, and even at times fill out absentee ballots for voters in rural Bladen County, parts of which are in the 9th District.
According to reports and interviews with people who worked for Dowless, he had basically set up a functional mill of people he directed to commit massive election fraud. Some of his employees were reportedly members of his own family, and some were high on opioids while they were at work.
Harris, for his part, later confirmed that he had hired Dowless to do what Dowless had told him was pretty standard voter outreach, but that he was not aware of the coordinated illegal scheme Dowless was running.
Fast forward to February when a new election board of three Democrats and two Republicans was convened and held a multi-day evidentiary hearing to decide whether to certify the election or call for new elections.
Notably, at that hearing, Harris’ son gave surprise testimony, and told the board that he had sent his dad emails warning him not to hire Dowless.
Harris’ son said he sent the emails after he found that Dowless had run the absentee campaign in a 2016 congressional race where there had been recorded absentee voting irregularities in Bladen County.
With the information that Harris had, in fact, been warned by his own son about Dowless’ questionable tactics, Harris told the board to call for a new election, and the board agreed, voting unanimously to do so.
Shortly after that decision was announced, Dowless was arrested and indicted on seven counts, and the FBI launched its own investigation into the election fraud.
McCready chose to stay in the race, but Harris decided to drop out. Republicans chose Bishop, a state senator who ran as a close ally of President Donald Trump. Trump himself held a rally for Bishop Monday, the day before the special election was set to take place.
In a victory speech last night, Bishop thanked Trump for supporting him and said his win was a “first step toward taking back the House of Representatives in 2020.”
“I hope the Democrats in Washington are watching this incredible victory and realize what they’re doing is not working,” Bishop continued. “Let’s hope they see this as an opportunity to stop playing presidential politics and come to the table to work with us and work with this president.”
McCready, who now has been campaigning for 27 months, conceded the election in a speech Tuesday night.
“The people of North Carolina stood up, and we faced down the full force of election fraud and voter suppression,” he said.
“When the people in power . . . perpetrated the largest case of election fraud in recent American history, we fought back, and we won. We were not successful tonight, but I want you to remember that victory postponed is not defeat.”
Trump also chimed in, celebrating the win on Twitter.
“Dan Bishop was down 17 points 3 weeks ago. He then asked me for help, we changed his strategy together, and he ran a great race. Big Rally last night. Now it looks like he is going to win,” he wrote, later referring to the victory as a “big night for the Republican Party.”
However, as NPR pointed out, there were no public or private polls that showed Bishop behind by 17 points, and both parties have said that the race was very close throughout the whole process.
Potential Implications for 2020
Many have noted that the closeness of the race is actually concerning for Republicans, who have held the congressional seat in District 9 for more than 50 years since 1962.
Some have also argued the 2% margin should be especially concerning for Trump, who won District 9 easily by 12% in 2016.
According to the election results, McCready performed better in the district’s suburbs than he did in the last race. A fact that numerous experts have argued shows the growing shift away from Trump and the GOP among suburban voters, who largely drove the Democratic victory in the 2018 midterms that lead the Democrats to flip the House.
Now, many Democratic leaders and pollsters say that is a good sign for Democrats, especially because District 9 is historically conservative.
As Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairwoman Cheri Bustos told NPR, District 9 is a far more conservative seat than most of the seats Democrats flipped in 2018.
“There are 34 Republican-held districts that are more favorable to Democrats than North Carolina’s Ninth,” she said.
“Tonight’s razor-thin result in this ruby-red district solidifies the fact that Democrats are pushing further into Republican strongholds and are in a commanding position to protect and expand our House Majority in 2020.”
On the other side, McCready actually lost ground in some rural areas compared to last race, which experts have said shows that Trump and Republicans have not lost their strongholds in rural areas.
National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Emmer said in a statement that Bishop’s victory shows that the GOP’s messaging in the 2020 cycle is working so far.
“North Carolinians rejected the Democrats’ socialist agenda and elected a representative who will defend North Carolina values, and will always fight for freedom and against socialism,” he said.
Regardless of the implications for 2020, the approximately 778,000 people of North Carolina’s 9th District now have a someone to represent them in Congress for the first time in almost a year.
See what others are saying: (NPR) (The Charlotte Observer) (The Washington Post)
Hasan Minhaj Testifies as House Committee Debates Protections for Student Loan Borrowers
- The House Financial Services Committee held a hearing on Tuesday to discuss protections for student loan borrowers, as well as other proposals that would ease student loan burdens.
- Comedian Hasan Minhaj testified during the hearing, noting that two-thirds of jobs require some college experience and that the cost of tuition has exponentially increased since the previous generation.
- Minhaj also blasted loan providers for “predatory” behaviors like convincing students to take out higher-costing loans.
House Committee Looks at Student Loan Protection Bills
The U.S. House Financial Services Committee listened to testimony in a hearing on Tuesday as they debated nine different potential bills that would afford stronger protections to people taking out student loans.
Though the committee did not vote on any of the bills, if passed, they would create a borrower bill of rights and would help borrowers buy their first homes.
Another bill, the CFPB Student Loan Integrity and Transparency Act, would strengthen the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s oversight by requiring it and the U.S. Department of Education to share student loan information with each other. It would also force lenders to work with an ombudsman, which is a government advocate for students struggling to repay federal education loans.
The Student Loan Servicing Reform and Consumer Protection Act, another proposed bill, would require lenders to provide accurate repayment options and resources for struggling student borrowers. It would also prevent lenders from omitting or misrepresenting loan serving information and would set minimum industry standards for all student loan transactions.
Currently, U.S. student debt sits at $1.6 trillion dollars, according to Forbes. The business magazine also reports the number of people taking out student loans in the U.S. at just under 45 million. Student loans are the second-highest consumer debt behind mortgages, and 20% of borrowers are behind on their loans.
Lawsuits and student loan providers are not a new combination. Common types of student loan lawsuits involve allegations of lenders convincing students to take out higher-costing payment plans or convincing them to overuse their forbearance, which is a process that allows students to postpone their payments if they’re struggling through other financial issues.
Under U.S. law, Congress sets the repayment terms for loans.
At the hearing yesterday, Chair of the House Financial Services Committee Maxine Waters criticized the current ombudsman, who is a former top official at the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency, which is a loan provider that’s been the subject of similar lawsuits and state investigations.
On the other side of the aisle, Republican Andy Barr blamed Democratic policies for the debt.
“I know everyone wants a bogeyman,” he said, “and the student loan servicers are a convenient bogeyman, but guess what — look in the mirror Congress. Congress created this crisis.”
Democrats and Republicans, however, agree that there are serious issues surrounding student borrowers and debt. On Sep. 26, the House Financial Services Committee will discuss debt collection practices.
Hasan Minhaj Testimony
During the hearing, comedian and host of Patriot Act Hasan Minhaj testified before Congress, saying that even though he himself isn’t in debt, it is a serious issue facing his generation.
“I’m 33, and growing up, it was drilled into our heads: you gotta go to college if you want a middle-class job. And we even tell kids today, ‘Look, if you don’t go to college, you might as well get a face tattoo.’ And then they point to Post Malone, and we’re like, ‘Okay, that’s one guy.’”
Minhaj also argued that degrees are becoming a basic requirement for most jobs and that the previous generation spent far less on college.
“Two-thirds of all jobs require at least some college,” Netflix’s Patriot Act host said. “This is the standard now, and that wasn’t the case when most members of this committee were in school. And you paid far less for your degrees. That’s not speculation. We looked up where the 60 members of this committee went to college and what your school’s tuition was at that time, even adjusting for inflation, college cost way less across the board.”
Minhaj then went on to say a lot of borrowers are “treated like deadbeats, and he blamed the government for allowing “predatory” for-profit lenders to mislead borrowers. He noted that the Department of Education chooses what lenders a student uses. In turn, he said that means there’s no competition to create better services.
In February, Minhaj reported on student loans in Patriot Act, where he found that his audience, at the time of recording, had a student loan debt of over $6 million dollars.
Minhaj also referenced how desperate some people are becoming by going up to celebrities and asking them to pay off their student debt, a reference to announcements that both Taylor Swift and Lil Uzi Vert would both be paying off a few of their fans’ debt.
I think it’s a huge problem that the youth of America have to bombard their favorite rapper or pop musician and ask them to pay back their student loans. They’re not even asking for selfies anymore,” Minhaj said. “That’s how desperate student borrowers are.”
On average, the committee graduated college 33 years ago, but one representative in the room isn’t even that old yet.
During the hearing, Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, 29, said she’s still paying off her college debt and made a display by reading her payment in front of the committee.
“I literally made a student loan payment while I was sitting here at this chair,” she said, “and I looked at my balance, and it was $20,237.16. I just made a payment that took me down to $19,000, so I feel really accomplished right now.”
According to Roll Call, her debt is actually less than the average student loan debt for a Congress member. Currently, 68 members of Congress have student loan debt either for themselves or a dependent, with the average debt being around $37,000. Eight members of Congress have more than $100,000 in debt.