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State Department Slammed as Thousands of Americans Are Left Stranded Abroad

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  • A State Department official said Wednesday that as many as 50,000 Americans are stuck in other countries due to coronavirus-related travel restrictions. 
  • The Department has pledged to get as many citizens home as possible, but many are frustrated by inconsistent communication and lack of responses.
  • Americans in Peru are facing many issues in particular and have resorted to forming their own communication channels to maintain adequate updates. 
  • Politicians have also spoken out about their frustration with the State Department, accusing them of not doing enough and reacting too slowly.

Thousands of Americans Stuck

As the coronavirus pandemic escalates, many nations have been put on lockdown and thousands of flights have been cancelled as a result, leaving many stranded in foreign countries. According to the U.S. State Department, as many as 50,000 Americans are stuck overseas, trying to return home. 

A State Department official said Wednesday that it has brought about 9,000 Americans home from 28 countries since the beginning of the outbreak, and plans to bring at least 9,000 more back in the next week or so on chartered flights. 

“Our posts around the world have received requests for assistance for getting back to the United States from over 50,000 U.S. citizens,” Ian Brownlee, who runs the Department’s repatriation task force, told reporters. “And we’re committed to bringing home as many Americans as we possibly can.”

But the commitment hasn’t been totally reassuring, and many Americans have felt frustrated by the lack of communication and help from the U.S. government. Some have even taken matters into their own hands through measures like riskily crossing the border from Guatemala to Mexico and bringing money to pay off customs officials, according to reports from Politico

Brownlee says the Department has not been getting a heads up about border closes and flight cancellations, leaving them overwhelmed. He also said that vulnerable populations, like the sick and elderly, are given priority on limited flights. U.S. officials have been urging Americans to return home if they’re not ready to remain overseas for an extended period of time.   

Trapped in Peru

The situation is arguably the worst for those stuck in Peru, a nation that is now on lockdown and has closed its international borders in attempts to curb the spread of the deadly virus. The country closed its international airport in Lima on Sunday. 

“There were some [COVID19] infections in the civil aviation authority and on the civilian side of the airport and they’re trying to run it on a bit of a shoestring from the military side of the airport,” Brownlee told NPR

Because the situation intensified so quickly, many were unable to get home before this shutdown. On Twitter, the hashtag #stuckinPeru has been making its rounds. 

Information from the U.S. government has been conflicting. Last week, the Pentagon said it would fly military aircraft to retrieve Americans in Peru, but the trip was canceled and reconsidered. 

According to State Department officials, the Peruvian government denied permission for two U.S. chartered flights to land on Tuesday. Earlier this week, an American Airlines plane was actually on its way to retrieve Americans stranded in Lima, but had to turn around mid-way after the Peruvian government refused to give it permission to land, according to Politico

Many are upset by the absence of help from the U.S. government. 

“We are being held hostage here, and we don’t know by whom or why,” said Michael Katz, a New York resident stranded in Cusco, told The Wall Street Journal. “The State Department is completely useless and totally incompetent.”

Others have compared America’s failed repatriation efforts to the successes of other countries.

To combat their frustration, citizens have taken their own measures to try to spread accurate information, like making a Facebook page called “Americans Stuck in Peru.” The group has almost 5,000 members.

U.S. politicians have also placed blame on the State Department for failing to get everybody home. 

“#AmericansStuckInPeru is due to lack [of] urgency by some in mid-level of @StateDept,” Sen Marco Rubio tweeted on Tuesday. “We didn’t need you to ‘track’ this, we needed you to solve this.”

Frustrations with State Department Continue

Rubio wasn’t the only senator to speak out about the State Department’s inability to get every American stuck abroad home. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, pointed fingers at the department as well. 

“If this administration, including Secretary Pompeo and his senior leadership team, had taken the coronavirus threat seriously and planned ahead, we may have been able to avoid some of the confusion and chaos Americans abroad encountered,” Menendez told Politico. “Unfortunately, that simply did not happen. As a result, the State Department now has to try to catch up and make up for lost time.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has faced heat in particular. Over the weekend, he tweeted a photo of his wife at home as they did a puzzle together, and Arizona Rep. Ruben Gallego had a heated reply.

“I have constituents stuck overseas can you get off your ass and get them home?” Gallego wrote.

On Thursday, Pompeo defended the official efforts to bring Americans home. 

“There’s still a lot of work to do. We’ve got a lot of people who are trying to get back this way, and with travel shut down in many of these countries without any notice or little notice, there’s still a major undertaking,” Pompeo told radio host Hugh Hewitt

“But the team has mashaled the resources. It’s an airlift back home like we’ve not seen in an awfully long time, and I’m really proud of the way our team has responded,” Pompeo said. 

See what others are saying: (Politico) (NBC) (NPR)

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Amanda Gorman Wows Nation With “The Hill We Climb”

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  • Amanda Gorman, a 22-year-old poet, impressed the nation when she read “The Hill We Climb” at President Biden’s inauguration, making her the youngest inaugural poet in the nation’s history.
  • Gorman’s said the Jan. 6 attack on the nation’s Capitol inspired her to focus on a message of hope, community, and healing in her poem.
  • Big names like Oprah Winfrey, Anderson Cooper, Barack Obama, and Lin-Manuel Miranda have all praised her work.

Amanda Gorman Becomes Youngest Inaugural Poet

Inaugural poet Amanda Gorman wowed the nation on Wednesday as she spoke of healing, unity, hope, and what it means to be American while reading her poem, “The Hill We Climb.”

At 22-years-old Gorman is the youngest inaugural poet in the nation’s history. Born and raised in Los Angeles, she was the youth poet laureate of Los Angeles in 2014 at the age of 16. She then became the first national youth poet laureate in 2017. 

Now, her books are topping Amazon’s Best Sellers list and they are not even scheduled to be released until the fall.

First Lady Dr. Jill Biden became a fan of Gorman after watching her give a reading at the Library of Congress. She then suggested that Gorman be a part of the ceremony. 

“Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true: That even as we grieved, we grew. That even as we hurt, we hoped That even as we tired, we tried,” Gorman recited during inauguration. “That we’ll forever be tied together, victorious. Not because we will never again know defeat but because we will never again sow division.”

Like President Biden, Gorman has struggled with a speech impediment and has been open about her experience overcoming it. She actually used poetry as a tool to correct it. First, she used it as a way of expressing herself without having to speak. Then she used it to bring her poems to life.

“Once I arrived at the point in my life in high school, where I said, ‘you know what? Writing my poems on the page isn’t enough for me,” she told CBS News. “I have to give them breath, and life, I have to perform them as I am.’ That was the moment that I was able to grow past my speech impediment.”

What Inspired “The Hill We Climb”

Gorman said the inaugural committee gave her freedom and flexibility when it came to choosing what to write about. She was well on her way before the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Those events then influenced her writing. 

“It energized me even more to believe that much more firmly in a message of hope, community and healing. I felt like that was the type of poem that I needed to write and it was the type of poem that the country and the world needed to hear,” she told CNN’s Anderson Cooper.  

That message came across clearly and the insurrection was depicted in part of “The Hill We Climb.”

“It’s because being American is more than a pride we inherit. It’s the past we step into and how we repair it. We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation rather than share it, would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy and this effort very nearly succeeded,” she said. “But while democracy can be periodically delayed it can never be permanently defeated. In this truth, in this faith we trust. For while we have our eyes on the future history has its eyes on us.”

Nation Impressed by Gorman

“Wow…Wow, I just, wow you’re awesome,” Cooper said when closing his interview with her. “I am so transfixed.” 

Lin-Manuel Miranda also cheered Gorman on. “The Hill We Climb” notably references a line of scripture that appears in a “Hamilton” song. Gorman also said she used to sing the song “Aaron Burr, Sir” to help her say her R sounds and correct her speech impediment. 

“I have never been prouder to see another young woman rise!” Oprah Winfrey wrote. “Brava Brava Amanda Gorman! Maya Angelou is cheering—and so am I.”

Winfrey also gave Gorman a ring with a caged bird on it—a reference to the famous Angelou poem— which Gorman wore during the inauguration. 

Actor Mark Ruffalo joined the onslaught of praise, saying that her words will lead the nation. 

Former President Barack Obama echoed that idea as well, and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Gorman promised to run for president one day. 

See what others are saying: (CBS News) (New York Times) (Los Angeles Times)

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SAT Drops Subject Tests and Optional Essay Section

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  • The College Board will discontinue SAT subject tests effective immediately and will scrap the optional essay section in June. 
  • The organization cited the coronavirus pandemic as part of the reason for accelerating these changes.
  • Regarding subject tests, the College Board said the other half of the decision rested on the fact that Advanced Placement tests are now more accessible to low-income students and students of color, making subject tests unnecessary. 
  • It also said it plans to launch a digital version of the SAT in the near future, despite failing to implement such a plan last year after a previous announcement.

College Board Ends Subject Tests and Optional Essay

College Board announced Tuesday that it will scrap the SAT’s optional essay section, as well as subject tests.

Officials at the organization cited the COVID-19 pandemic as part of the reason for these changes, saying is has “accelerated a process already underway at the College Board to simplify our work and reduce demands on students.”

The decision was also made in part because Advanced Placement tests, which College Board also administers, are now available to more low-income students and students of color. Thus, College Board has said this makes SAT subject tests unnecessary. 

While subject tests will be phased out for international students, they have been discontinued effective immediately in the U.S. 

Regarding the optional essay, College Board said high school students are now able to express their writing skills in a variety of ways, a factor which has made the essay section less necessary.

With several exceptions, it will be discontinued in June.

The Board Will Implement an Online SAT Test

In its announcement, College Board also said it plans to launch a revised version of the SAT that’s aimed at making it “more flexible” and “streamlined” for students to take the test online.

In April 2020, College Board announced it would be launching a digital SAT test in the fall if schools didn’t reopen. The College Board then backtracked on its plans for a digital test in June, before many schools even decided they would remain closed.

According to College Board, technological challenges led to the decision to postpone that plan.

For now, no other details about the current plan have been released, though more are expected to be revealed in April. 

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NPR) (The New York Times)

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Biden To Block Trump’s Order Lifting COVID-19 Travel Ban

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  • President Trump issued an executive order Monday lifting a ban on travelers from the Schengen area of Europe, the U.K., Ireland, and Brazil. 
  • Trump said the policy will no longer be needed starting Jan. 26, when the CDC will start requiring all passengers from abroad to present proof of a negative coronavirus test before boarding a flight.
  • The move was cheered by the travel industry; however, incoming White House press secretary Jennifer Psaki warned that Biden’s administration does not intend to lift the travel restrictions. 

Trump Order End To COVID-19 Travel Ban

President Donald Trump issued an executive order Monday ending his administration’s ban on travelers from the Schengen area of Europe, the U.K., Ireland, and Brazil.

That ban was put in place last spring in an effort to curb the spread of coronavirus in the U.S. In his announcement, however, Trump said the policy will no longer be needed starting Jan. 26, when new rules from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention go into effect.

Starting that day, the CDC will require all passengers from abroad to present proof of a negative coronavirus test before boarding a flight.

The recommendation to lift the ban reportedly came from Alex Azar, the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services. According to Trump’s proclamation, “the Secretary reports high confidence that these jurisdictions will cooperate with the United States in the implementation of CDC’s January 12, 2021, order and that tests administered there will yield accurate results.”

It’s worth noting that the ban will stay in place for travelers from Iran and China. Still, Trump’s announcement was generally cheered by members of the travel industry who have been pushing to lift the ban and require preflight testing instead. 

Biden To Block Trump’s Order

Soon after the news broke, the incoming White House press secretary for President-elect Joe Biden, Jennifer Psaki, warned that Biden would block Trump’s order.

“With the pandemic worsening, and more contagious variants emerging around the world, this is not the time to be lifting restrictions on international travel,” she wrote on Twitter.

“On the advice of our medical team, the Administration does not intend to lift these restrictions on 1/26.  In fact, we plan to strengthen public health measures around international travel in order to further mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” she added.

With that, it seems unlikely that Trump’s order will actually take effect. 

It’s also worth noting that this is one of many executive orders Trump has issued just before inauguration day.

Source: Whitehouse.gov/presidential-actions

Some of these orders could soon be overturned once Biden takes office Wednesday. Biden is also expected to roll out his own wave of executive orders in his first 10 days as president.

See what others are saying: (The Wall Street Journal) (The New York Times) (CNN)

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