It's not like tying kids to chairs and putting bags over their heads makes us the baddies. Does it?
In Part Nine Million of our series "the cruelty is the point" (credit Adam Serwer), we bring you this story from Mother Jones about the treatment of migrant kids at a juvenile detention center in Virginia, one of just two juvie lockups where the government stores "unaccompanied minors who are deemed threatening." The story, by Samantha Michaels, traces the ongoing legal case against the Shenandoah Valley Juvenile Center, which started with a lawsuit in 2017 accusing the facility of using harsh disciplinary methods against migrant teens who haven't committed any crimes but are locked up because of their immigration status. (Not that harsh discipline is healthy for any kids in lockup, regardless of their rap sheets!) This week, the case is getting new attention because a crowd of nationally recognized prosecutors and even a few state attorneys general have filed an amicus brief as the case moves forward on appeal. We'll get to those details in a moment.
The suit argued that instead of getting the kids necessary mental health care for PTSD and other disorders stemming from their experiences as migrants, staff at the facility instead subjected them to punishments like being routinely tied to chairs for misbehavior, sometimes with a bag over their heads so they could get the full Gitmo Jr. experience.
A federal judge in Maryland ruled Wednesday that Donald Trump's executive order giving state and local officials the power to reject refugee resettlement is "unlawful" and doesn't "appear to serve the overall public interest." The executive order, issued in September when the Stephen Miller administration announced the US would slash refugee admissions to the lowest level in modern history, had required that before any refugees can be resettled, state governors or local officials would have to give their express written consent.
In his ruling, US District Judge Peter J. Messitte wrote that
Giving states and local governments the power to consent to the resettlement of refugees — which is to say veto power to determine whether refugees will be received in their midst — flies in the face of clear Congressional intent.
If you're a nerd who enjoys reading court decisions, check it out. It's very clearly argued, and you get the sense Judge Messitte found the government's arguments insultingly bad.
You want this disaster aid, don't you?
We were skeptical yesterday when we saw the Trump administration had finally ended its illegal delay of disaster relief to Puerto Rico. The $8.2 billion in aid was appropriated by Congress last year to pay for rebuilding after Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017, and the funds should have been made available in September. But the Department of Housing and Urban Development refused to release it, citing worries about "corruption" in the Puerto Rican government. No, it probably wasn't legal to hold the aid, either.
Then, last Tuesday, the island was hit by a 6.4 magnitude earthquake that killed one person and has done at least $110 million in damage, though that amount is expected to rise as Puerto Rico continues to be hit with aftershocks. Yesterday, HUD officials announced they were very generously releasing the aid that should have been distributed months ago, and we wondered what new fuckery might follow.
Puerto Rico, if there's anything to magical thinking, we're sorry. There's new fuckery. For Puerto Rico to actually get the aid, it will have to jump through a whole bunch of new hoops imposed by the administration -- conditions that states on the mainland haven't had imposed on them following disasters. Gosh, why could it possibly be that Puerto Rico was singled out for special treatment? If only we could guess. It just might be because Trump's a goddamn racist and a petty asshole.
That's our working theory at least.
For the 2017 disaster, not the earthquake this month.
A week after a 6.4 magnitude earthquake hit Puerto Rico on January 7, the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development has decided it will finally release $8.2 billion in aid that Congress appropriated to help the island rebuild after Hurricane Maria in 2017. HUD officials readily admitted to Congress in October that they'd blown right past a September deadline to release the aid, because the department was worried about "corruption" in the territory's government. Since then, the department hasn't said anything at all about the continuing delays.
Fun trivia fact: When Congress appropriates money, federal agencies have to spend it. It's the law, as you may remember from other Trump administration abuses of power as one of the very things for which Donald Trump is being impeached. Agencies aren't allowed to withhold aid because the "president" has a racist rage-boner over Puerto Rican officials who fail to recognize his response to a hurricane was perfect.
Are they Mexican troops? They are not!
We're building the wall! And who's gonna pay for it? That's right, it's our military and their families. PROMISES KEPT!
Last year, after a 35-day shutdown, Donald Trump agreed to accept just $1.4 billion in WALLbux from Congress. After which, he promptly declared a state of emergency to justify raiding military construction funds for another $3.6 billion and demanded that congressional Democrats "backfill" the money to prove they don't "hate the troops." And now he'd like to steal that money again, plus a whole lot more. The Washington Post reports that this year's heist will net $7.2 billion of Pentagon funding that had been allocated to anti-narcotic programming and military construction.
Trump took $2.5 billion from military counterdrug programs for border barrier construction in 2019, but this year his administration is planning to take significantly more — $3.5 billion. Trump administration officials also are planning to take $3.7 billion in military construction funding, slightly more than the $3.6 billion diverted in 2019.
Emboldened by the green light from the US Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, which lifted a lower court stay on spending the filched cash, the White House is racing to get some substantial portion of the border fencing up so that Trump can claim credit for it at his pitchfork rallies. They're no longer even bothering to pretend that Mexico will foot the bill.
'The Puerto Rico Earthquakes? What sport do they even play? Get back to me if they make the playoffs.'
Puerto Rico was hit by a 6.4 magnitude earthquake Tuesday, followed by a series of aftershocks that have left many residents of the island sleeping outside or in shelters. The territory's still-fragile electrical grid was entirely offline for much of the day following the pre-dawn quake, but is being restored more quickly than following Hurricane Maria in 2017, which left much of Puerto Rico without electricity for months. Guess the grifters from Montana weren't involved this time out. The territory's power authority said today that power had been restored to 80 percent of customers, but NBC News reports it might take a year to fully fix one generating station that provides about a quarter of Puerto Rico's electricity.
Donald Trump has so far not made any public comment on the earthquake, although he may be vaguely aware it happened since he did at least sign an emergency declaration Tuesday evening, and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar declared a public health emergency to help get emergency aid to people who need it. But no tweets or statements to the press, or at his big slob picnic last night in Ohio, although he did find time to mention he beat Abraham Lincoln as Best President Ever. Today, he found time to retweet a Republican senator's praise for Colorado firefighters heading to Australia, but not a word about the latest American disaster that isn't him.
Stephen Miller pushes to declare Moon a 'safe third country.'
The Trump administration's efforts to eliminate the asylum process continues, this time into downright bizarre territory. Yr Wonkette likes to joke about how all rightwingers seem to think everyone from Latin America is from "Mexico," and as the above 100 percent real Fox News chyron demonstrates, the Right is pretty helpful in creating that impression. But now the administration is out to deter asylum applicants who really are from Mexico by sending them to Guatemala, which makes all kinds of sense. Buzzfeed News reports that, under an expansion of an already controversial program aimed at preventing anyone from gaining asylum at the southern border, the US will begin sending Mexican asylum-seekers to Guatemala instead of allowing them to seek refuge in the US.
Well sure it's probably a violation of US and international law. Why would that stop this bunch? Besides, look at all the federal judges Mitch is getting confirmed!
He LOVES the Republican Party, and doesn't see what he did wrong.
They finally found a voter frauder! Gustavo Araujo Lerma, 64, was sentenced Tuesday in federal court in Sacramento to three years and nine months in federal prison after being found guilty in August of passport fraud, voting by an alien, and aggravated identity theft. Lerma was almost everything the paranoid rightwing rants about in-person voting fraud and illegal immigration are obsessed with: a Mexican national who bought a US citizen's birth certificate and Social Security card in 1992 and has voted illegally in federal elections ever since then. But only once per election, not changing clothes, putting on glasses, and voting again and again. That guy still has yet to be sighted in the wild. Until then, white nationalists will have to chase church buses around on election day, because elderly black people are probably frauding like crazy.
Oh yes, and he's a very loyal Republican who not only voted for Donald Trump, he also donated to the party and got some nice swag, like
letters of thanks from the president, former Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus and current RNC chairwoman Ronna McDaniel.
Or their autopens, at least. Stands to reason a fake Trump voter would collect a bunch of fake autographs, no?
She really is a goddamn legislative virtuoso.
Republicans have claimed all year that the Democratic-controlled House is so obsessed with harassing Donald Trump it won't focus on the "important business of the American people." Democrats aren't funding the troops or helping keep America great. They're getting their Columbo on against the president. The GOP likes to mention a specific piece of legislation that Democrats have neglected: USMCA, Trump's warmed-up, week-old Thanksgiving leftovers of NAFTA.
Yeah, Nancy Pelosi, where is USMCA? Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst wonders when you'll "stop the shenanigans" and get this bill passed. Americans don't want to see politicians squabbling in Washington and holding impeachment trials against a criminal president. They want to see their elected officials passing bipartisan legislation that makes no one happy. Well, Speaker Pelosi has listened to their earnest pleas and plans to announce a deal to advance USMCA this morning. This is happening just a couple hours after House Democrats are expected to drop two articles of impeachment -- abuse of power and obstruction of Congress -- on the president's fuzzy head. During her press conference today, Pelosi rubbed Trump's face in it some more.
PELOSI: There is no question, of course, that this trade agreement is much better than NAFTA. But in terms of our work here, it is infinitely better than what was initially proposed by the administration.
America: The Great Again Chronicles.
ProPublica has published a horrifying investigative piece on the last day in the life of Carlos Gregorio Hernandez Vasquez, the 16-year-old Guatemalan boy who died in Border Patrol detention May 20. Carlos was the sixth detained child to die in less than a year -- following a decade of no child deaths in immigration detention. And while the other kids at least made it to a hospital before they died, Carlos was the only child to die in a Border Patrol facility. This story includes some gruesome details and may make you want to throw your computer out a window.
And here's a surprise: Video of the cell where Carlos died shows US Customs and Border Protection flat-out lied about important aspects of his death. CBP said in a press release that he was found dead by CPB officers during a routine safety check, about an hour after a prior check confirmed he was just fine.
The cellblock video shows Carlos writhing for at least 25 minutes on the floor and a concrete bench. It shows him staggering to the toilet and collapsing on the floor, where he remained in the same position for the next four and a half hours.
Agents didn't discover the death during a safety check; rather, Carlos's cellmate woke in the morning, found him dead, a pool of blood around his head, and got the attention of guards. CBP logs show an agent "checked" on him three times in the early morning hours, but apparently didn't enter the cell, even though Carlos was seriously ill.
The video shows the only way CBP officials could have missed Carlos' crisis is that they weren't looking. His agony was apparent, even in grainy black and white, making clear the agent charged with monitoring him failed to perform adequate checks, if he even checked at all. The coroner who performed an autopsy on Carlos said she was told the agent occasionally looked into the cell through the window
Carlos's teacher back in Guatemala, Jose Morales Pereira, didn't see the video, but told ProPublica that if someone had a sick animal, they'd at least check on it to make sure it was breathing and not in distress.
America safe at last from 250 people paying big bucks to overstay their visas.
We sure wouldn't want this story to be lost in the Thanksgiving news crater. Friday, while we were all digesting our cranberry business or sliding off roads after Google Maps lied to us (no injury, minor damage, we have insurance), the Detroit Free Press was bringing America an update on a sleazy sting operation ICE used to arrest some 250 immigrants, mostly students who'd legally entered the US from India and then lost their student visas. (The Washington Post also wrote it up Saturday.)
The scam was simple enough, as WaPo summarizes:
The University of Farmington, a fictitious school that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement marketed as a hub for STEM students who wanted to enroll and not "interrupt their careers," had a fake name, a fake website and a fake motto on its fake seal. "Scientia et Labor," the seal said, which means "Knowledge and Work."
Also, despite having a fake seal just like Trump University did, you can't blame Trump or even Stephen Miller for this one, since as the Free Press reports, the "University of Farmington" sting got rolling under the Obama administration, in 2015.
But in 2017, with Trump's Deport Everyone agenda in full swing, Homeland Security expanded the operation, with agents from ICE's Homeland Security Investigations division (HSI) setting up a fake office for the university and hiring "recruiters" to help sell the fake school to immigrants trying to stay in the USA. Lawyers for some of the recruiters have argued their clients were victims of entrapment, since they were told the university was perfectly legitimate.
As of Friday, the scheme has resulted in 250 arrests. Out of those, ICE says 80 percent "voluntarily" left the USA; 10 percent have been given final deportation orders, and the rest are contesting their deportation in one forum or another. The eight recruiters all pleaded guilty, too, despite the iffy tactics employed by ICE in the investigation, which included telling the recruiters they'd get tuition credit for recruiting other students.
Again, the government insists this is all excellent law enforcement, since those the scam caught really did have expired visas, and should have known the school was fraudulent since there were no classes, no classrooms, and no real degrees. Therefore, we should overlook some of the scummier parts of the operation, like the real-looking website, the agents posing as administrators and even assuring the "recruiters" it was all legal, or the lengths HSI went to to make it seem like the university might be a real school, or at least a fake school that had really fooled the feds.
Why yes, dude's also involved with the private WALL enthusiasts.
After Donald Trump personally lobbied the Army Corps of Engineers to award WALL contracts to a North Dakota contractor who repeatedly promoted his business on Fox News, the Defense Department announced Monday it had given that company a $400 million contract to build some WALL in an Arizona wildlife refuge. The Washington Post reports the company, North Dakota-based Fisher Sand and Gravel, got a contract to build 31 miles of new WALL in the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge in Yuma County, Arizona. And you just know this was a triumph of the free market, where the best jobs get done by the best people!
Or possibly not!
Trump has repeatedly pushed for Fisher to get a wall-building contract, urging officials with the Army Corps of Engineers to pick the firm — only to be told that Fisher's bids did not meet standards. Trump's entreaties on behalf of the company have concerned some officials who are unaccustomed to a president getting personally involved in the intricacies of government contracting.
Trump has been enamored with Tommy Fisher, the company's chief executive, who has made multiple appearances on Fox News to promote his firm and insists that it would do a better job than those the government had already chosen. The company's attorneys did not immediately respond to requests for comment late Monday.
Sometimes the Invisible Hand needs a bit of guidance, is all.
Hey now hey now don't dream it's over.
On Tuesday, the Supreme Court held oral arguments in a trio of cases about Trump's decision to terminate Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA): Department of Homeland Security (DHS) v. Regents of the University of California, Trump v. NAACP, and McAleenan v. Vidal.
Outside, there were so many pro-DACA demonstrators that police shut down the street in front of the Supreme Court. Inside, the courtroom was packed with Dreamers -- the people who were brought to the US as children, who just about everyone agrees are American and belong here. Just about.
Trump Solicitor General Noel Francisco went up against George W. Bush Solicitor General Theodore Olson and California Solicitor General Michael Mongan as the three argued about whether Trump's decision to terminate DACA was legal.
This case is incredibly important. Roughly 700,000 Dreamers currently have DACA status. DACA allows undocumented people who came to the US as children to live and work here legally, provided they register with the government and meet a number of criteria.
The average DACA recipient came to the US at age three. People who have been working here legally under the program could once again find themselves eligible for deportation.
And right now, Dreamers' chances don't look good.
The Southern Poverty Law Center published what it promises will be the first in a multi-part series of articles examining emails Stephen Miller sent to Dead Breitbart's Home For Plausibly Deniable White Supremacy in 2015 and 2016, when Miller was working for then-Sen. Jeff Sessions and later the Trump campaign. In the emails, Miller pitched story ideas about how dangerous immigrants and minorities are and touted articles from white supremacist websites. He also urged the site to write about In the Camp of the Saints, a notoriously racist 1973 novel that's become hugely popular with white nationalists. (Steve Bannon thought it was much better than Cats, and read it again and again!)
Pope Francis made Miller think of that novel, which depicts Europe being literally invaded by hordes of filthy browns (who in one scene rape a white woman to death). While visiting the US in 2015, Francis called on Congress to treat immigrants with decency. So Miller asked his contact at Breitbart, "[Did] you see the Pope saying west must, in effect, get rid of borders. Someone should point out the parallels to Camp of the Saints." Fact check: Pope Francis never called for the elimination of national borders. But Breitbart published a story (archive link, so as not to pollute your computer) on the eerie parallels between Francis's views and the novel. That author, Julia Hahn, is now an aide to Donald Trump.
The emails were given to the SPLC by former Breitbart writer and editor Katie McHugh, who was shitcanned by Dead Breitbart in 2017 after she sent an anti-Muslim tweet that sounded exactly like 97.4 percent of Breitbart comments. The SPLC says McHugh "has since renounced the far right" (more on that in this Buzzfeed piece), and gosh, we sure hope she's managed to sign up for Obamacare, too. It appears McHugh kept receipts from her time at Breitbart, and shared with the SPLC over 900 Miller emails, sent to her and others at the outlet.
So here's the shocking surprise: Stephen Miller writes like a racist dickhead, and a number of issues that animated his emails have translated into Trump administration policy. The vile stuff Miller said in those emails is already being dismissed by those on the Right, because while it's soaked in white nationalist themes, he never actually uses the n-word, and also he can't be a white nationalist because he's Jewish, didn't you know that? So let's take a look at all the article's evidence showing Stephen Miller can't be a white nationalist, shall we?
You know who's really a 'hardened criminal'? Half his administration!
With the Trump administration's attempt to shut down the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program being argued before the Supreme Court today, the Great Man took the opportunity to tweet about it. Remember how he used to say his "heart just breaks" for the plight of folks who were brought to the US as little kids and through no fault of their own don't have legal status because of their illegally border-crossing parents (who are of course scum)? He even briefly said this about DACA kids, shortly after he decided to end DACA and then found out that wasn't popular.
Trump's opinion of those fine young men and women is as variable as anything else rattling around in his head, so of course this morning he decided the best strategy would be to simply lie through his teeth about DACA recipients:
You know how it is: Sure, they may be cute and innocent-looking when they're young, but whatever country in Mexico they're from Donald Trump knows they're murderers and rapists, they sell drugs, and some, he supposes, are good people, although that last bit is open to revision for the 2020 campaign.
Hugs not drugs.
A horrible massacre took place in northern Mexico Monday. A drug cartel (probably, but it's not clear which one) murdered three women and six children who belonged to a fundamentalist Mormon-offshoot community in Mexico; the youngest was a 10-month-old baby. The victims, who had dual US-Mexican citizenship, were traveling in a caravan of three cars when they were ambushed by criminal gangs. It's not yet clear, but there's speculation the killings were the result of mistaken identity, just innocent people caught up in a gang war. In any case, the killers kept shooting, then burned the vehicles. Over 200 bullet casings were found on the ground. Seven children who survived the attack were flown across the border to a hospital in Douglas, Arizona.
As with any terrible situation, Donald Trump showed up on Twitter Tuesday morning to make things worse. The solution, he suggested, was to go Full Duterte:
Trump likes to pretend he doesn't like war, but as long as someone else is doing the killing, he sure loves the idea of wiping some people off the face of the earth, and assumes only bad guys would get killed, because he's a fucking idiot who thinks most problems can be solved by killing the right people. After all, if the cartels have no respect for innocent lives, why should we?
War! What is it good for? Guaranteed turnout for a rally, tell you what.
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