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Trump Administration Announces New DACA Restrictions

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  • The Trump administration has rolled back key aspects of DACA in order to review the future of the policy, including preventing new applicants and limiting other benefits for current recipients.
  • In a memo, Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf said he was making the changes “in light of the Supreme Court’s decision.”
  • Last month, the Supreme Court rejected President Donald Trump’s 2017 decision to end DACA, a move that put similar restrictions in place, including preventing new applicants.
  • After numerous reports of new applicants being rejected, a federal judge ruled that the SCOTUS decision meant that DACA needed to be restored to its full status and that the application process must be reopened.
  • As a result, the new decision by DHS appears to violate the appellate court’s decision and will almost certainly face legal challenges.

DACA Revisited

The Trump administration on Tuesday announced a series of new restrictions to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) including prohibiting new applicants and limiting renewals of current recipients in a move that appears to directly violate a federal court ruling.

The move marks the latest attack by the Trump administration on the program, which was created via executive action by President Barack Obama in 2012 to help young immigrants who were brought to the U.S. illegally before the age of 16, also known as DREAMers.

In September 2017, President Donald Trump announced that he was going to wind down DACA and blocked all new applications, claiming that it was unconstitutional because Obama acted outside his executive powers by creating the program without Congress’ approval.

The Supreme Court rejected that attempt last month in a 5-4 decision. Notably, the Court specifically did not say whether or not DACA was legal or illegal.

Instead, it said Trump could not end DACA because the administration did not give adequate legal reasoning to justify scrapping the program; however, the court did not prevent the Trump administration from getting rid of the program if it came up with more sound legal reasoning.

While Trump did say that he still wanted to end DACA, most legal experts believed that SCOTUS ruling meant that the program, which had been diminished under Trump, had to be restored to its full version before Trump rescinded it in September 2017.

Not only would that mean that the 650,000 DREAMers whose futures had been in limbo for nearly three years would now have security, it also meant that the Trump administration would now have to reopen DACA applications for the estimated 300,000 young immigrants who qualified for the program but were unable to apply since 2017.

Court Rulings

But about a month after the Supreme Court decision, numerous reports began to circulate claiming that the Trump administration was rejecting new DACA applications.

As a result, on July 17, U.S. District Judge Paul Grimm ruled that the Supreme Court decision meant DACA had to be restored to its full status before Trump tried to scrap it, meaning the Trump administration must accept new applicants.

In a court hearing Friday, Trump administration officials said for the first time that they had not “granted nor rejected” any applications, but instead, had put them all “on hold” while the administration decides on the future of the DACA program; however, they also said that some applications were rejected because of an error like missing information or an incorrect fee.

Judge Grimm responded to that new information by condemning the Trump administration for not explaining to applicants why they were being rejected. He also criticized them for not updating the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service website, which still said the government was not accepting new applications over a month after the Supreme Court ruling.

The Trump administration said that the website had “outdated and inaccurate information” that didn’t reflect their current policies. That did not satisfy Grimm.

“That is a problem,” he said. “As for the inaccuracy on the website, that has to change and that should be able to change very quickly… It creates a feeling and a belief that the agency is disregarding binding decisions by appellate and the Supreme Court.”

Grimm also told the administration that it must clarify the status of the program in the next 30 days.

DHS Memo

That clarification came in the form of a memo issued by Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf on Tuesday, where he announced that he was “making certain immediate changes to the DACA policy to facilitate my thorough consideration of how to address DACA in light of the Supreme Court’s decision.”

Those changes included rejecting all new DACA applicants, rejecting almost all requests for current DACA recipients to travel outside the U.S. except in “exceptional circumstances,” and requiring current DACA recipients to renew their deferred action and work authorizations every year instead of every two years.

Wolf did say that he was “determined to give careful consideration to whether the DACA policy should be maintained, rescinded, or modified,” but added that based on the evidence he has seen: “I have concluded that the DACA policy, at a minimum, presents serious policy concerns that may warrant its full rescission. At the same time, I have concluded that fully rescinding the policy would be a significant administration decision that warrants additional careful consideration.”

Wolf then went on to outline several reasons why he believes the program is problematic.

First, he said he has “serious doubts” about the legality of offering undocumented immigrants protection from deportation. He argued that Congress should be responsible for deciding legal protections for immigrants and that the executive action that created DACA should not be considered permanent.

Wolf also said he was worried about sending “mixed messages” on the enforcement of immigration laws.

“DACA makes clear that, for certain large classes of individuals, DHS will at least tolerate, if not affirmatively sanction, their ongoing violation of the immigration laws,” he said.

“I am deeply troubled that the message communicated by non-enforcement policies like DACA may contribute to the general problem of illegal immigration in a manner that is inconsistent with DHS’s law enforcement mission.”

Next Steps

Wolf’s memo is highly significant not only because it represents the Trump administration’s first official attack on DACA since the Supreme Court ruling, but also because the ruling appears to directly go against Grimm’s ruling. As a result, it is almost certain to face legal challenges.

“We obviously have no choice but to go back to court,” Mark Rosenbaum, a lawyer who argued against the Trump administration’s move to get rid of DACA in the Supreme Court told the New York Times. “It was illegal the first time, and now it’s a constitutional crisis. It’s as if a Supreme Court decision was written with invisible ink.”

The Trump administration is already on the defense. On Tuesday, unidentified administration officials gave different and even contradictory explanations to different media outlets.

One official told the Wall Street Journal that the interim rules do not go against Grimm’s order because they “constitute a new DHS policy that replaces the DACA cancellation invalidated by the Supreme Court.”

But another administration official also told ABC News that the memo did not create a new program, but served as an “intervening action” while the administration reviewed the policy. 

Right now, an exact timeline is unclear. Officials declined to answer whether or not the review would be completed before the election in November when asked by the Times.

Many experts believe that while Trump is positioning DACA as a key immigration issue in the election, he is unlikely to move on the question before then.

DACA is a complicated issue for Trump, who has long said the program is illegal, but DACA has been unusually popular among conservatives. Last month, a Pew Research Center poll found that 74% of Americans said they support the program, including 54% of Republicans.

By making this announcement but pushing this issue, Trump still can still energize his anti-immigrant base, while also avoiding at least some backlash from people who support the DREAMers—a point Trump himself seemed to hit on that point in a press conference Tuesday.

“We are going to make DACA happy and the DACA people and representatives happy, and also end up with a fantastic merit-based immigration system,” he said, adding that the Supreme Court’s DACA ruling gave him “more power,” though the decision said nothing about extending executive powers. 

Over the last few weeks, Trump has also said that he will deal with DACA through an executive order on immigration. While his team has tried to backtrack those comments, the remarks are still quite ironic, given the fact Trump’s entire reasoning for getting rid of the program is because he claims it was executive overreach. 

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

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U.S. Cracks Down on Flying With Emotional Support Animals

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  • The Department of Transportation announced new rules Wednesday that only allow dogs to be considered “service animals” for the purposes of flying on a plane.
  • This means airlines will soon no longer need to accommodate emotional support animals and can block them from getting free airfare as well as cabin space.
  • In the past, the department treated service animals and emotional support animals largely the same, despite there being a difference.
  • The rule change has been celebrated by airline groups and passengers who argue that emotional support animals are often used as a way to game the system and transport an animal for free.
  • However, critics of the rule said it would be better to more strictly regulate what qualifies as an emotional support animal and to require training that is more in-line with what service animals go through.

No More Peacocks on Planes

The U.S. Department of Transportation announced new rules on Wednesday that more clearly define what qualifies as a service animal, allowing airlines to turn away hundreds of thousands of animals classified as emotional support animals.

In the past, the Department of Transportation (DOT) treated service animals and emotional support animals largely the same, despite there being a difference. Service animals are trained to help someone with a disability; with certain types of animals being defined under the Americans With Disabilities Act. Emotional support animals are prescribed by a mental health professional and have no training requirements.

For U.S. airlines, there will now be a fundamental difference. According to the DOT’s new rules, airlines will only be required to allow “a dog, regardless of breed or type, that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a qualified individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability.”

This means no more turkeys, cats, peacocks, parrots, squirrels, or any other animal being allowed, free-of-charge and outside a secure carrier in the cabin of the plane.

Rule Has Long Been in the Works

This new rule wasn’t a spur of the moment decision. For years airlines have asked the DOT to regulate the issue out of concern that people were passing off their pets as emotional support animals. With the lack of regulation about what an ’emotional support animal’ actually is, there was little recourse for airlines.

Rules around emotional support animals have proven to be much more relaxed. In fact, there are mental health companies that will give such a classification online without ever physically seeing the patient or the animal. On top of people trying to get their pets onto flights for free, according to the DOT, airlines were fed up with “requests to transport unusual species of animals onboard aircraft.”

These animals often lacked specific training to be transported in planes, in a cramped space, and surrounded by people for hours on end, leading to animals misbehaving on planes.

According to American Airlines, between 2016 and 2017, the number of emotional support animals being brought on planes went from 481,000 to over 750,000.

The new rule isn’t a blank check for service animal owners.

Under the new rule, airlines are allowed to block certain service dogs from being on a plane if they’re obnoxious to passengers – a rare occurrence considering how well-trained the dogs are.

Additionally, they can ask that owners fill out a new form “attesting to the animal’s training and good behavior, and certifying the animal’s good health.”

Another stand-out in the new ruling was the decision to exclude other highly trained service animals. The DOT considered expanding the rules to allow more than just dogs to be qualified as service animals, which are by far the most common type of service animal.

However, The American With Disabilities Act (ADA) also includes miniature horses as service animals. Those horses can often be smaller than some of the largest breed of dogs. Still, there’s nothing in the ADA that conflicts with the DOT’s decision, as it allows for some restrictions to be placed on miniature horses.

While the ADA only recognizes dogs and miniature horses, there are other intelligent animals that have been used as service animals, such as Capuchin monkeys. These monkeys are increasingly used as service animals because of their dexterity for people with mobility impairments.

Airlines and Services Speak Out

Airlines for America, a trade group for U.S. airlines, was happy with the new rule.

“The Department of Transportation’s final rule will protect the traveling public and airline crewmembers from untrained animals in the cabin, as well as improve air travel accessibility for passengers with disabilities that travel with trained service dogs,” it said in a statement.

American Airlines made a similar statement, with a spokesperson telling outlets: “This new rule reflects a respect for individuals with disabilities who travel with legitimate service animals, which we share while providing clear and practical guidelines that will eliminate the abuse of the system that has been a source of concern for our team members and customers.”

CertaPet, a company that will screen animals and provides letters saying they are emotional support, said in a statement that the rule is “a great disservice to those facing mental health challenges that get emotional support from their animal.” 

The company thinks a better approach would have been to more strictly regulate what qualifies as an emotional support animal and to require training more in-line with what service animals go through.

We understand that there have been incidents that have discredited emotional support animals and the service they provide, but those situations could be prevented by increased regulation,” CertaPet added.

“We think emotional support peacocks are ridiculous too.”

The new rules aren’t in place quite yet. They’re set to go into effect 30 days after they enter the Federal Registrar, which still hasn’t happened. Additionally, this ruling doesn’t preclude airlines from freely allowing emotional support animals on their flights.

It’s recommended to check with your airline before expecting your emotional support animal will get free airfare.

See What Others Are saying: (NPR) (CNN) (BBC)

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Former Presidents Pledge To Get COVID-19 Vaccine Publicly To Prove It’s Safe

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  • Former presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and Bill Clinton have pledged to take a coronavirus vaccine once it is made available to the general public.
  • Their promise comes as a vaccine is on the horizon, but many are unwilling to take it. According to a Gallop poll, 42% of Americans do not want to take the vaccine, with many feeling uneasy about how quickly it has been developed and others wanting to wait and see how safe it is.
  • The three former presidents hope their willingness to take it will boost public trust in the vaccine. Facebook is also engaging in efforts to promote that trust by removing posts with misinformation about coronavirus vaccines.
  • The timing for a vaccine could not be any more crucial. On Wednesday the U.S. broke two devastating records, reporting over 2,800 deaths in a day and 100,000 hospitalizations.

Presidents Pledge To Take Vaccine

The three most recent former U.S. presidents have pledged to take the COVID-19 vaccine once it is available to the general public. 

During an interview Barack Obama did on the Joe Madison Show that was published Wednesday, the 44th president said that as long as Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases thinks it’s safe, so does he. 

“I promise you that when it’s been made for people who are less at risk, I will be taking it,” he added. “I may end up taking it on TV or having it filmed, just so that people know that I trust this science.” 

Representatives for George W. Bush and Bill Clinton told CNN that both would be willing to participate in any effort to encourage people to vaccinate themselves against the deadly coronavirus, which has sickened 14 million Americans and killed over 274,000.

“A few weeks ago President Bush asked me to let Dr. Fauci and Dr. Birx know that, when the time is right, he wants to do what he can to help encourage his fellow citizens to get vaccinated,” Bush’s Chief of Staff Freddy Ford told CNN. “First, the vaccines need to be deemed safe and administered to the priority populations. Then, President Bush will get in line for his, and will gladly do so on camera.”

Angel Urena, Clinton’s press secretary, said that he will “definitely take a vaccine as soon as available to him, based on the priorities determined by public health officials. And he will do it in a public setting if it will help urge all Americans to do the same.”

Americans Skeptical of Vaccine

This comes as a vaccine for COVID-19 is on the horizon. Both Pfizer and Moderna have submitted their vaccines for FDA approval and expect to get the go-ahead in just a few weeks. Healthcare workers and vulnerable populations could get shots this month, but many Americans are unwilling to get this vaccine. 

A mid-November Gallup poll asked participants: “If an FDA-approved vaccine to prevent coronavirus/COVID-19 was available right now at no cost, would you agree to be vaccinated?”

In response, 58% said they would, and 42% said they would not. This shows slightly more interest in the vaccine now than in the fall, when Americans were at a 50/50 split on the subject. However, it shows less enthusiasm than in the summer, when 66% of people said they would get the vaccine and only 36% said they would not. 

As far as why so many people would turn down the vaccine, 37% of those who said ‘no’ claimed they felt the vaccine timeline and development was rushed. Another 26% said they wanted to wait to confirm it was safe, while 10% said they wanted to wait to see how effective it is. Many of these people could likely come around and choose to take the vaccine later on. Still, 12% of those who responded ‘no’ said that they do not trust vaccines in general.

Combatting Vaccine Hesitancy

Health officials are working hard on messaging that aims to limit vaccine hesitancy. During a Wednesday appearance on Fox News, Dr. Fauci criticized the fast pace in which the U.K. approved Pfizer’s vaccine, claiming that a turnaround that fast will lead to people questioning whether or not they should take it. 

“If you go quickly and you do it superficially, people are not going to want to get vaccinated,” he explained. “We have the gold standard of a regulatory approach with the FDA. The U.K. did not do it as carefully and they got a couple of days ahead, I don’t think that makes much difference.” 

Social media companies like Facebook are also working on vaccine messaging. On Thursday, the company put out a blog post promising to remove COVID-19 vaccine misinformation. This could involve taking down conspiracy theories and false claims about the safety, efficacy, ingredients or side effects of the vaccines.

The need for a coronavirus vaccine has never been greater. On Wednesday, for the first time since the pandemic began, hospitalizations for COVID-19 topped 100,000, which is a 26% jump from two weeks ago. The U.S. also reported over 2,800 deaths, another pandemic record. Some experts believe the country is on track to regularly surpass 2,000 or 3,000 deaths a day, and even approach 4,000.

See what others are saying: (CNN) (NPR) (Axios)

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COVID-19 May Have Been in the U.S. December 2019, New Study Shows

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  • A new government report found that the coronavirus may have been in the United States in December 2019, weeks before the first confirmed case.
  • For the study, the CDC looked at over 7,000 blood samples taken in nine states between December 13, 2019 and January 12, 2020.
  • Researches found COVID-19 antibodies in 106 of those samples, with at least one sample per state having antibodies.
  • These findings are in line with several other studies in the U.S. and well other countries which have found that the coronavirus was likely spreading globally before health officials were aware of it.

Report Shows Potential U.S. Cases in December

COVID-19 may have made its way to the United States in December of 2019, weeks earlier than previously thought, according to a new government study. 

That study was published Monday in the Clinical Infectious Diseases journal. The first coronavirus case was reported in Wuhan, China at the end of December. The first case in the United States was not reported until mid-January, but health experts have long wondered if the disease had been spreading sooner than that. 

For the study, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention looked at 7,389 blood donations collected by the American Red Cross between December 13, 2019 and January 17, 2020 from donors across nine states.  Of those samples, antibodies showed up in 106. Antibodies came up from people in each state, with 39 coming from California, Oregon and Washington and the other 67 coming from Massachusetts, Wisconsin, Iowa, Michigan, Connecticut or Rhode Island.

Further testing was done on a majority of these samples to confirm that these antibodies were related to this specific outbreak and not part of other common coronaviruses. The data showed that they “were obviously from SARSCoV-2 infected individuals.”

“The findings of this report suggest that SARS-CoV-2 infections may have been present in the U.S. in December 2019, earlier than previously recognized,” the authors wrote. 

The study provides major context about the virus and the way it may have been spreading, completely unknown to public health officials for quite some time. The authors of the study believe this information will kelp experts better understand the pandemic, how it started, and how it can be mitigated. 

“Understanding the dynamics of SARS-CoV-2 pandemic from early introduction throughout further progression will advance understanding of the epidemiology of this novel virus and inform allocation of resources and public health prevention interventions to mitigate morbidity and mortality associated with COVID-19,” the report said.

While the study provides incredible insight into the start of the coronavirus, the authors did also note there are limitations to what can be learned from it. For example, the data in the study should not be used to measure the magnitude of infections on a state or national level. It also cannot determine if these people came into contact with the virus from traveling, community spread, or another means of transmission. Though, a previous study of blood donors indicated that only around 3% had traveled outside of the U.S. in the 28 days prior to their donation.

Other Studies Suggest Earlier Spread

This is not the first study to suggest that COVID-19 was spreading this widely so soon. Dr. Eric Feigl-Ding, an epidemiologist and health economist explained on Twitter that this news matches up with a wastewater analysis, which found that the virus was potentially in Europe, specifically in Northern Italy, in mid-December. It also matches early indicator data that found excess flu illnesses in the province Wuhan is in during early December. 

Additionally, a separate report published in the Clinical Infectious Diseases journal last week found that the United States may have had significantly more COVID-19 cases than recorded. Since so many cases go unreported and undetected because many have no or mild symptoms, the study aimed to find the true number of cases the country may have seen at this point. 

“To estimate the cumulative incidence SARS-CoV-2 infections, symptomatic illnesses, and hospitalizations, we adapted a simple probabilistic multiplier model,” the study explained. “Laboratory-confirmed case counts that were reported nationally were adjusted for sources of under-detection based on testing practices in inpatient and outpatient settings and assay sensitivity.”

The authors found that only one out of every 2.5 hospitalized infections and one out of every seven non-hospitalized illnesses may have been nationally reported. This means that between February 27 and September 30, there may have been 52.9 million total infections in the U.S.

These cases, however, are unconfirmed and based on the model created. Currently, the U.S. has seen 13.6 million confirmed cases and lost 268,626 lives to the coronavirus.

See what others are saying: (Wall Street Journal) (NPR) (Bloomberg)

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