Democrat Politics

U.S. internment camp survivors urge release of families from migrant jail in Pennsylvania

Japanese Americans who were imprisoned in U.S. internment camps as children were among the activists and elected leaders who last week called for the release of kids and parents jailed at the notorious Berks County Residential Center in Pennsylvania, and who condemned the migrant family jail as “problematic at all levels, and that was before the pandemic,” Reading Eagle reports.

Reading Eagle reports that while Shut Down Berks Coalition members and others cited the novel coronavirus crisis and the facility’s chronically poor conditions in their calls for families’ releases, Japanese American activists pointed to a painful past they’re seeing mirrored at Berks. “When I think of the children today that are being held, I think of them 50 to 70 years from now,” said psychotherapist Dr. Satsuki Ina, who was born in an internment camp in California. “I feel very distraught.” 

As Tina Vasquez previously reported over at Prism, “Japanese survivors of internment camps and people currently being targeted for deportation have been organizing together for months, working in partnership to fight the detention and deportation of immigrants” targeted today by the Trump administration. “The parallels are unmistakable,” Vasquez continues, “going beyond the government-run internment camps and detention centers—and even beyond the targeting of specific racial and ethnic groups.”

Reading Eagle reports these activists have focused their efforts on urging Pennsylvania to shut down the facility, which is also the target of a recent lawsuit demanding families’ releases. “The state Department of Human Services in February 2016 declined to renew the center’s license to house children and moved to revoke it, saying the license was not being used as it was intended,” Reading Eagle said. “The center was permitted to operate while it appealed the action. An administrative law judge said in April 2017 that the agency lacked grounds to revoke the license. The state chose to review that decision as the center continues to operate.”

What’s continued is cruelty, plain and simple. It was just days ago that Berks finally released a 7-year-old child and her dad after a horrific 250 days in detention, Philadelphia Inquirer said, reporting that “Maddie had spent more time inside than any child currently held in the country’s three family detention centers, the two others are in Texas.” Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials had previously offered to release Maddie, but only if her dad stayed behind. Because somehow family separation isn’t as bad as indefinite detention?

“They shouldn’t suffer a whole lifetime of consequences,” Ina said according to Reading Eagle. “The developing brain can be permanently altered by living in a state of stress such as living in a prison camp.” Hiro Nishikawa, another Japanese American survivor of U.S. internment camps, told Reading Eagle that the experience of seeing their kids detained may be even more traumatic for parents. “I realized later that my parents probably experienced PTSD,” he said.

Groups suing for the release of families from Berks and two other migrant family jails say officials continue to jail these families under added harm due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. “The families are trapped and at risk of serious irreparable physical harm,” the lawsuit states. “Their placement in family detention has created a dangerous situation that imminently threatens their lives, the lives of those in the surrounding communities, and the general public should a COVID-19 crisis spark within family detention.”

While two federal judges so far have now called on ICE officials to release migrant kids as quickly and safely as possible, far too many continue to remain in custody and at risk. “Our message is clear: We have to free our families,” Philadelphia council member Helen Gym said according to Reading Eagle. “We have to free our families because it is unjust and inhumane.”

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Russian fascist paramilitary group earns United States’ international terrorist designation

One of the most dangerous organizations on the international far-right scene—the Russian Imperial Movement (RIM), an explicitly fascist paramilitary group that sponsors weapons-training sessions for neo-Nazis around Europe, and has cultivated connections with the American racist right—was designated an international terrorist organization on Monday by the U.S. Department of State, the first such white-supremacist outfit ever to earn that distinction.

The designation comes with sanctions against its members, and it outlaws any transactions between Americans and the RIM. However, while the group’s extreme militarism and its ongoing paramilitary training sessions are a real concern, RIM’s lack of global reach and its relatively small size raise questions about the designation’s real impact.

“These designations are unprecedented,” Nathan Sales, the State Department’s coordinator for terrorism, told reporters. “This is the first time the United States has ever designated white supremacist terrorists, illustrating how seriously this administration takes the threat. We are taking actions no previous administration has taken to counter this threat.”

Previously, the counterterrorism sanctions system overwhelmingly had been used against Islamist extremist groups. Mary McCord, a former head of the Justice Department’s National Security Division, told The New York Times that its expansion to a white supremacist group is significant.

“It is important,” she said. “Far-right extremist causes, in particular white supremacy and white nationalism, have become more international. It is appropriate for the State Department to have been scrutinizing whether there are organizations that meet the criteria for that designation because with it, the organization becomes poison in terms of doing business with it or providing funds, goods or services to it.”

National security sources told Times reporters that, amid rising concerns about the international aspect of white-supremacist terrorism created by attacks in Europe and New Zealand as well as the U.S., officials “have been searching for a neo-Nazi-style group that the U.S. government could designate as a foreign terrorist organization.”

In order to find an appropriate candidate, these officials had to search for a group lacking in significant American ties, since a group with such connections could presented major First Amendment issues. The Russian Imperial Movement largely met that criteria because its American connections were so thin.

While the RIM has a long and well-publicized record of sponsoring far-right activities throughout Europe, its presence in North America has been limited. Matthew Heimbach, former leader of the neo-Nazi Traditional Workers Party (TWP), at one time hosted a RIM leader and visited with him at historic sites in Washington, D.C., and Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

Heimbach continued to cultivate those ties, traveling to Russia to return the favor by meeting with RIM leaders at their annual gathering, the World National Conservative Movement conference. “I see Russia as kind of the axis for nationalists,” said Heimbach. “And that’s not just nationalists that are white—that’s all nationalists.”

Eventually, however, Heimbach’s TWP exploded into joke nonentity after he was caught in a tryst with the wife of his father-in-law, another TWP cofounder, and Heimbach was arrested for battery. Among outside observers, the incident became known derisively as the “Night of the Wrong Wives.” TWP eventually became inactive.

The designation of RIM as a terrorist group gives the Trump administration some evidence that it takes the threat of white-nationalist terrorism seriously, but it probably will have little effect on terrorism in the United States since RIM does not appear to have had any role in paramilitary training here. However, security officials told the Times that those links continue to be investigated.

A neo-Nazi organization that recruited members online, The Base, does have potential ties to Russian intelligence, and its American founder currently resides in Russia. That group also held paramilitary training sessions in the Pacific Northwest.

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USNS Comfort crew member tests positive for COVID-19, is in isolation

A week into its deployment in New York City, a crew member abroad the Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort has tested positive for COVID-19, Politico reports, and is in isolation.

This is not unexpected or surprising, and given that the Comfort was until last Friday not even taking pandemic patients, only other patients in an effort to relieve overwhelmed local hospitals, it seems possible or even likely that the crew member came aboard with the virus before the ship deployed. But it is another reminder that even highly trained professionals who know proper safety precautions are, despite those precautions, becoming infected themselves in large numbers.

On a more controversial note, it also may be a reminder of the limited usefulness of ship-based medical care for, of all things, an infectious disease outbreak. The rapid spread of the virus on the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt is due to the inherently crowded conditions on any large-crew vessel. The Comfort was not originally slated to take pandemic patients in New York because of the relative inability to isolate those patients, a decision that was overridden amid local fury when the 1,000 bed ship had, as of last Thursday, only 20 total patients.

We can only wait to see whether the infected crew member’s condition was caught in time to avoid further crew contamination, but it is a certainty that the Comfort’s crew, like all other healthcare heroes working to save American lives in the pandemic, are knowingly risking their own health and safety to care for the rest of us.

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To keep coronavirus from spreading, we must reduce the jail population, report says

A new report released last week from The Justice Collaborative and Data for Progress taps into the concerns that have been arising over the past month about the impact that COVID-19 will have on U.S. correctional institutions. The report, “Local officials should quickly reduce jail populations to slow the spread of coronavirus,”  highlights the role jails will play in spreading COVID-19 while offering up suggestions on what local leaders can do to mitigate that spread.

Public health officials have warned that correctional facilities are tinderboxes for COVID-19 because many of those incarcerated have chronic health conditions or are elderly, and the facilities themselves do not allow for social distancing or maintaining good hygiene. While many of these concerns are present across the board, from long-term prisons to local jails, the report hones in on how jails in particular are “powerful vectors of disease.” The report notes the rapid spread of the novel coronavirus within American jails in just a few weeks, especially those in New York state. Rikers Island, for example—a jail complex that houses over 5,000 people—currently has the highest rate of COVID-19 infection of any community in the world.

John Pfaff is a professor of law at Fordham University who authored a report says that jails pose a particular threat to public health because the populations that they detain are far less stagnant. However, in conversation about incarceration, jails tend to be overlooked “because the number of people in jails seems deceptively low.”

“On any given night, our jails hold about 750,000 people, our prisons about 1.5 million—so prisons have always seemed more important,” said Pfaff. “But jails churn through so many more people: While we admit about 600,000 people to prisons, we admit over ten million to jails, made up of about five million unique people. This churn makes jails particularly relevant when confronting a highly infectious disease.”

Jails—even more so than prisons, the report argues—pose a threat to public health because the populations that they detain are far less stagnant. Jails hold people who are either serving sentences of less than a year, or those who are on pretrial detention and can have average stays of anywhere from two to three months to just a few days. That “churn,” or constant movement in and out of facilities, results in over 10 million annual admissions to jails nationwide and can easily introduce diseases like COVID-19 into these facilities, as well as to the general public when the inmates return home. 

To combat the spread of disease through jail churn, the report advocates for the mass release of people from jail, arguing it will pose little threat to public safety since the majority of those who are detained pretrial are only there because of their inability to pay bail. Data from New York City shows that releasing people without bail did not decrease their likelihood of returning for their court date. In fact, longer stays in pretrial detention only serve to raise an individual’s likelihood of later rearrest.

The report also outlines specific decisions that local leaders, namely prosecutors, can take to decrease jail populations at this critical moment. Among the recommendations for prosecutors are dropping charges against defendants, dismissing cases without prejudice so that they can be refiled at a later date when the pandemic is over, and asking judges to reconsider bail decisions for defendants. For judges, in addition to requesting lower or no bail, the report encourages them to directly authorize their sheriffs to release people from jail.

Throughout the past month, organizers and advocates across the country have been crafting a series of local, state, and national demands, and urging leaders to consider how COVID-19 will impact incarcerated communities. Many of these demands have been relatively uniform, highlighting the need to release those most vulnerable to the virus, either due to their age or preexisting health conditions. Interestingly, the report asks leaders to widen that net and release those who are young and presumably healthy as well. “The focus must be on how the disease spreads,” the report explains, and those who might be at less of a risk for falling seriously ill from the virus can still easily infect others inside of their facilities and compromise any efforts to truly flatten the curve.

“Reducing jail populations isn’t just about reducing exposure of those in jails, but about reducing exposure in the communities those people come from,” said Pfaff.

The report is optimistic about not only the efficacy of these policy recommendations but the likelihood that they can be achieved. Examples of local leaders in California, Florida, and Colorado who have taken steps to decrease their jail populations are cited. The report also features illuminating polling that reveals growing public support for mass release and alternatives to incarceration in the wake of the pandemic. The polling, conducted by Data for Progress and The Justice Collaborative, assessed voters’ opinions both within New York state and nationally and found broad bipartisan support for the release of incarcerated people in a variety of different subcategories, from the elderly to those who have only months left in their sentences. Similarly, there was majority support for police to begin issuing summons or tickets as opposed to incarcerating people in jails just to ensure that they will appear in court.

Pfaff expects this bipartisan support to continue when the pandemic ends as criminal justice reform has been a more widely accepted issue across the political aisle even before the world began grappling with the novel coronavirus. However, he does point to groups that continue to oppose decarceration even in the face of the pandemic.

“It is important to note that those who have opposed reforms, such as state district attorney associations and law enforcement unions, have maintained their fierce opposition to decarceration even during the pandemic,” said Pfaff. “But I am hopeful that the mobilization efforts that have taken place during the pandemic will continue after it passes.”

Ultimately, the report underscores the urgent need for local leaders to not only take these drastic efforts, but to take them as soon as possible. Not only is the health of people inside being compromised every day that leaders remain inactive, but as the pandemic changes how the criminal legal system operates, courts are being shut down or scaled back, narrowing the window within which these measures can even be implemented.

Tamar Sarai Davis is Prism’s criminal justice staff reporter. Follow her on Twitter @TheRealTamar.

Prism is a nonprofit affiliate of Daily Kos. Our mission is to make visible the people, places, and issues currently underrepresented in our democracy. By amplifying the voices and leadership of people closest to the problems, Prism tells the stories no one else is telling. Follow us on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

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ACLU sues ICE for release of vulnerable detainees from California facilities amid pandemic

A number of American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) affiliates have sued Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for the release of four people from two privately operated immigration detention facilities in southern California, the latest in a slew of lawsuits filed by advocates in the state and nationwide in recent weeks demanding the urgent release of detainees from ICE custody amid the novel coronavirus pandemic. 

“Because of their acute medical conditions—including leukemia, lung disease and HIV infection—the plaintiffs are at increased danger of contracting and dying from COVID-19 in these ICE detention centers, where as many as 60-100 people share living quarters,” a statement said. “Detainees sleep in bunk beds only a few feet apart and share common areas, such as eating tables, showers, toilets and sinks. The recent positive test of a staff member at the Otay Mesa Detention Center heightens the risks and puts lives in immediate danger.”

The ACLU Foundation of San Diego & Imperial Counties, ACLU Foundation Immigrants’ Rights Project, ACLU Foundation National Prison Project, and the ACLU Foundation Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender & HIV Project say in the complaint that while “the COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally changed most aspects of everyday life, with public and private institutions dramatically altering daily operations” at Otay Mesa and Imperial Regional Detention Facility, “ICE has failed to meaningfully respond to protect the health and safety of people in its custody.”

“People in congregate environments—places where people live, eat, and sleep in close proximity—face increased risk of contracting COVID-19, as already evidenced by the rapid spread of the virus in cruise ships, nursing homes, and jails,” the complaint said. There’s no such thing as being able to social distance in a crowded detention facility, with the groups saying detainees are not being provided with enough soap, hand sanitizer, or cleaning supplies to stay safe. Conditions, the groups continue, “are tinderboxes for rapid widespread infection within and beyond the facilities.”

A lawsuit filed by the ACLU Foundations of Northern California and Southern California, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office, and Lakin & Wille LLP late last month urged the release of 13 people due to their advanced age and underlying medical conditions from two other facilities in the state, noting similar crowded conditions that leave detainees within arm’s reach of each other. “Facility staff have rebuffed their inquiries about COVID-19 risks and precautions,” the lawsuit said, “and Defendants have rejected their attorneys’ requests for humanitarian release.”

Meanwhile, the count of ICE detainees confirmed to have tested positive for COVID-19 continues to grow, with officials reporting 13 cases spread across detention facilities in five states, including Otay Mesa. The San Diego Union-Tribune reported earlier this month that detainees there “had already reached new levels of anxiety” following a second staffer testing positive when they found out a detainee had as well. “One of them was Alex, an asylum seeker from El Salvador who described himself and his unit-mates as being distraught over the announcement,” The San Diego Union-Tribune continued.

“Unless this Court intervenes to order the releases of the Plaintiffs, they, along with many other detained individuals, will face dramatically increased chances of contracting COVID-19, becoming seriously ill, and dying,” the lawsuit continues. With ICE continuing to act much too slowly, it’s the courts that must help save lives. “ICE detention is cruel and unnecessary under ordinary circumstances,” Monika Langarica, immigrants’ rights staff attorney with the ACLU Foundation of San Diego & Imperial Counties, said in the statement. “During this global pandemic, it can be a death sentence for people with health problems and serious illnesses.”

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Trump’s new press secretary on Feb. 25: ‘We will not see diseases like the coronavirus come here’

On Tuesday the White House announced that scam artist phantom Stephanie Grisham was out as press secretary. Vapid right-wing talking head Kayleigh McEnany was announced as the new White House lying machine. While Grisham decided to be mysteriously invisible during her time as the White House’s main liaison to the media, McEnany has a more boisterous personality with a more storied history of spewing lies and wrongheaded predictions. For example, here she is on Fox News with now-fired Trish Regan on Feb. 25 of this year. What’s she predicting? That Trump will stop the spread of COVID-19 by way of a travel ban on China? Yes. Let’s hear about it, Kayleigh!

KAYLEIGH MCENANY: This president will always put America first. He will always protect American citizens. We will not see diseases like the coronavirus come here. We will not see terrorism come here, and isn’t it refreshing when contrasting it with the awful presidency of President Obama.

You can even watch her saying it!

On the same day Larry Kudlow said coronavirus was âÂ�Â�containedâÂ�Â� on Feb. 25th, TrumpâÂ�Â�s campaign spox made an even more bold claim. âÂ�Â�We will not see diseases like the coronavirus come here..and isn’t it refreshing when contrasting it with the awful presidency of President Obama.” pic.twitter.com/O0DDH3Rvkw— andrew kaczynskiðÂ�¤Â� (@KFILE) April 4, 2020

McEnany has been auditioning for this part for some time now, as has virtually everyone who appears regularly on state misinformation channel Fox News. She’s checked all of requisite boxes of fealty, like saying impeachment proceedings—and in fact any criticism of Donald Trump—amounted to participating in a coup d’etat of our government. 

McEnany began her right-wing career speaking on CNN as a talking head, but quickly found that running into even the most modest of pushback on her talking points led to her stressing out and blinking strangely, as can be seen in this clip from a couple of years ago.

YouTube Video

McEnany has done all the things one expects. She’s called the Mueller report an “exoneration” of Donald Trump; she’s done the softball interviews of truly awful Trump cabinet members like Betsy DeVos; and she’s tweeted out real through-the-looking-glass misinformation, like this:

BIG NEWS from President @realDonaldTrumpâÂ�Â�s Chinese Virus task force briefing! Dr. Birx shared that 40% of the country now have “EXTRAORDINARY LOW NUMBERS” of casesâÂ�¼ï¸Â� 19 of 50 states have less than 200 cases!— Kayleigh McEnany (@kayleighmcenany) March 26, 2020

But what may have finally gotten Kayleigh the job is her loud, fact-free, and enthusiastic delivery of conservative talking points with seemingly no shame whatsoever. But let’s never forget McEnany’s humble, racist, beginnings.

The new White House press secretary, ladies and gentlemen pic.twitter.com/y3m9YAPtAr— Brandon Friedman (@BFriedmanDC) April 7, 2020

Tuesday, Apr 7, 2020 · 7:44:15 PM +00:00 · Walter Einenkel

This quote from Grisham, given to Axios before she was officially replaced, is worth adding here: “Sounds like more palace intrigue to me, but I’ve also been in quarantine. If true, how ironic that the press secretary would hear about being replaced in the press.”

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COVID-19 news: Wisconsin elections become ‘Sh-t Show,’ Trump removes top watchdog, Navy sec. resigns

In Wisconsin, statewide elections proceeded after the conservative state Supreme Court blocked an emergency two-month postponement of in-person voting by Gov. Tony Evers. Risking infection, voters were forced to line up “literally around the block” at the few still-open polling places despite social distancing rules—which will likely lead to elevated COVID-19 infections two weeks from now. “Welcome to the Shit Show,” tweeted Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes.

In a move indistinguishable from parody, the Republican speaker of the Wisconsin State Assembly assured voters that “you are incredibly safe to go out” to vote—while wearing a facemask and full surgical gown.

In other pandemic news:

• Donald Trump today ousted the Pentagon inspector general in a clear move to erase oversight of the $2 trillion pandemic relief funding provided by Congress, which had designated that inspector general as the top watchdog for the funds. The administration’s impetus for eliminating public oversight of how the money is spent, for a president recently impeached for attempting to exchange congressionally controlled funding to demand a foreign government provide him personal favors, remains self-evident.

• In a now-familiar attack on anyone who presents or compiles data conflicting with his own propaganda-laced statements to the public, Donald Trump lashed out at the Health and Human Services inspector general for a report summarizing the severe challenges hospitals are facing in responding to the pandemic.

• The federal government’s role in providing medical supplies during the pandemic continues to be ill-defined, with Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner having a particularly ill-defined role in an effort that so far has seemed to actively hinder states’ own efforts to get those supplies.

• Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly resigned today, one day after issuing an apology for an address to the crew of the USS Theodore Roosevelt demeaning and insulting their former captain, who had been removed by Modly for authoring a letter urgently requesting quarantine facilities for COVID-19-infected crew members and the temporary removal of most ship personnel.

• A crew member of the USNS Comfort, dispatched to provide relief for overcrowded New York City hospitals, has tested positive for the virus.

• It is becoming increasingly clear that official counts of COVID-19 victims are substantially understating the true death toll, either intentionally or through confusion. This may be especially true in locations like New York City, with now-overwhelmed hospital systems.

• Former President Barack Obama singled out Sen. Elizabeth Warren for providing “a cogent summary of how federal policymakers should be thinking about the pandemic in the coming months.”

• Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer named a longtime aide to Sen. Warren to the Congressional Oversight Commission responsible for monitoring pandemic relief funding.

• Even Trump trade adviser Peter Navarro warned the White House, on Jan. 29 and Feb. 23, that there was an elevated risk of the virus “evolving into a full-blown pandemic, imperiling the lives of millions of Americans.” These memos, which also warned of equipment shortages, appear to also have been ignored.

• As the Trump administration response to the pandemic continues to be sluggish, incompetent, lie-filled, self-serving, and possibly motivated by Trump and Kushner’s personal and business interests, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi noted that “what we need is a central command” in the pandemic response, and “we don’t have that.”

• Donald Trump took to Twitter to bash the World Health Organization in yet another provably dishonest attempt by the impeached president and his team to deflect blame for allowing the pandemic to take hold in the United States, despite at least two months of prior warnings.

• Trump is now identified as having a personal stake in the company that manufactures a drug he has been praising, without evidence, as potentially beneficial for COVID-19 patients.

• Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell reversed himself, yet again, to propose additional money for small business lending programs included in previous pandemic relief legislation. But the current small business program has swiftly become a fiasco, with both banks and borrowers “overwhelmed and confused” by the near-invisible, mostly unexplained program.

• In a discovery that will further complicate social distancing efforts—and further highlights the need for near-universal testing before those efforts can be lifted—a new paper estimates that 80% of the COVID-19 cases in the pandemic’s presumed origin point, China’s Hubei province, were contracted via contact with people who showed either light or no symptoms of infection.

• As the Wisconsin legislature continued to swerve between incompetence and outright malevolence in its own decision-making, state community organizers and voting rights groups had to quickly convert to “digital and phone-based operation” to respond to the pandemic, not only providing election information but “letting people know about resources for things like food.”

• COVID-19 cases in Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention centers continue to climb—but are likely higher than reported amid suspected ICE attempts to “fudge the numbers.” The American Civil Liberties Union is now suing ICE for the release of vulnerable detainees from crowded California detention facilities.

• In Pennsylvania, Japanese American survivors of the U.S. internment camps of World War II are urging the release of immigrant families held at the notorious Berks County Residential Center.

• A new Justice Collaborative and Data for Progress report urges local officials to “quickly reduce jail populations to slow the spread” of the virus.

• Discovered in the previously passed $2 trillion federal relief package: a provision that allows churches and faith-based organizations to be designated as “businesses,” thereby granting them access to the relief package’s small business loans. Granting such funds would appear to directly conflict with the First Amendment.

• Farm workers are “essential labor” during the pandemic, and are continuing to work through the crisis. But they’re still being left out of congressional relief efforts.

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Small business lifeline tied up in Trump administration knots

Before the weekend was even out, Wells Fargo had announced that it had taken all the loan applications it intended to through the Paycheck Protection Program created in the $2 trillion coronavirus economic relief package, and was cutting off applications. The intent of the program is to provide loans for small businesses to keep their employees paid through the crisis. Wells Fargo said it had set a limit of $10 billion and had received applications to that threshold as of Sunday, cutting out many of its small business customers. Aside from Wells Fargo, banks and borrowers have been overwhelmed and confused by the program set up by the Small Business Administration (SBA). The rollout of the program has been as chaotic as banks warned it would be last week.

In response, Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Edward Markey have urged SBA Administrator Jovita Carranza and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin to step up to rectify the fiasco and ensure small businesses get the help they need. “We urge you to move quickly to issue additional guidelines and clarifications to ensure that loans are disbursed quickly, that all businesses can participate and that lenders give mom and pop businesses the same access to loans that they give their more sophisticated small business clients. All small businesses need to have equal access to this help,” the senators wrote.

Because the Trump administration hasn’t provided adequate guidance, many banks haven’t been able to prepare their systems to even start acceptation the applications, and community bankers in particular faced problems even getting into the SBA system to process the loans. Warren and Markey quote a letter from community bankers saying that two days into the launch of the program “hundreds of lenders are still trying to get approval to access the SBA system so they can process loans” and that both “existing SBA lenders and non-SBA lenders are experiencing massive delays and inability to process loans or even access the SBA to become an SBA lender.” Small community banks, large national banks—all of them are struggling with the simple logistics of this, much less the lack of guidance in providing the loans.

The Federal Reserve announced Monday that it would enter the program to provide a backstop for banks, which don’t want to end up filling their balance sheets with small business loans to the exclusion of other borrowers. The Fed says it could either lend directly to the banks to provide the cash influx they need or buy the loans once they’re originated to get them off the banks’ books. It’s critical relief to the banks to know they won’t be left holding the bag here, but it doesn’t do much about the immediate logistical and information problems small businesses and banks have.

The whole point of this provision of the relief package was to keep small businesses—and the people they employ—afloat through the crisis, making sure that critical part of the economy doesn’t collapse. It’s literally a lifeline, one that the Trump administration is proving incapable of creating. The program began on Friday, but banks didn’t even have the basic information about how it was supposed to work until late Thursday.

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Schumer taps key Warren staffer as watchdog on stimulus spending

Sen. Chuck Schumer made a critical appointment Monday, naming Bharat Ramamurti to the Congressional Oversight Commission. This commission is one of the layers of oversight Democrats built into the $2 trillion stimulus package, otherwise known as the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Ramamurti is a longtime aide to Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and, Schumer says, “a ferocious advocate for consumers who will fight for transparency and hold bad actors accountable.”

Ramamurti has been working with Warren since 2013, when he joined her staff to work on banking and economic policy—specifically the implementation of Dodd-Frank, the Wall Street reform law. So the guy who helped oversee the government, the Federal Reserve, and the Wall Street response to the Great Recession is now going to be doing the same thing in this economic upheaval, and that’s a good thing. He’s going to be there, carrying on Warren’s laser focus on the American consumer.

We know this is true because Ramamurti’s last job was as Warren’s deputy policy director in her presidential campaign. You know all those plans she had, including the three plans for a response to an epidemic? He helped write them, and, Mother Jones reports, “was a key voice in creating Warren’s ‘two cent’ wealth tax on households with assets greater than $50 million, and particularly instrumental in devising her corporate accountability agenda.”

Mother Jones’ Kara Voght spoke with Ramamurti following Schumer’s announcement. He told her: “We’re looking at a huge sum of money [in the emergency relief bill], and we’re in an unprecedented crisis. The question we need to ask is, ‘What impact does that money have in the functioning of our economy?’ That’s the goal of the commission.

“It ultimately gets to the question of, ‘What is the corporation and what is it going to do with that money?’” Ramamurti told Voght. “Is it going to be used to keep people on payroll? If not, is it being used in the short term to provide some amount of compensation? There’s a possibility for the Treasury to put limits on buybacks—is it going to do that?”

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As coronavirus cases in ICE custody keep climbing, advocates worry agency is fudging the numbers

Mother Jones reports that according to a social media posting by a Louisiana sheriff, two people detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement in the state have now tested positive for COVID-19. “ICE spokesman Bryan Cox did not confirm the new case, but said the agency is updating the number of people in its custody who have tested positive on a daily basis.”

Except that’s not true. As of publishing time, ICE’s public tally of confirmed cases hasn’t been updated since the evening of April 4, which said that 13 detainees in eight facilities across five states have tested positive for the novel coronavirus. While Mother Jones’ report pushes that number to 14 people across nine facilities, BuzzFeed News’ Hamed Aleaziz said confirmed cases are as high as 20. And yet another report raises even more fears ICE is actively trying to fudge numbers during a pandemic.

The Miami Herald reported that while ICE has claimed “for weeks” that no one in their custody in Florida has tested positive for COVID-19, a now-hospitalized detainee at a facility in Miami-Dade has tested positive. ICE “got around having to disclose that any detainee was sick with COVID-19 because the detainee was technically no longer on the premises, federal sources say.” It’s this shady behavior that’s leading advocates to fear ICE will try to disguise numbers and hide detainee deaths—because the agency has already engaged in this shady behavior before, an immigration policy expert tweets.

To be fair, ICE is not unique among jailers in trying to hide in-custody deaths by “releasing” people as they lay dying in a hospital. It’s a practice that local police have also been documented carrying out. Expect it to be used during COVID-19. https://t.co/Qxa3CN6m2G— Aaron Reichlin-Melnick (@ReichlinMelnick) April 7, 2020

ICE has done this multiple times. Jose Luis Ibarra suffered a brain hemorrhage in detention in February 2019. ICE transferred him to a hospital, then “released” him as he lay in a coma. When he died, ICE didn’t have to report his death as “in custody.”https://t.co/uVcxsxKz8Y— Aaron Reichlin-Melnick (@ReichlinMelnick) April 7, 2020

In another example, Reichlin-Melnick writes that “Saliou Ndiaye sought asylum from Senegal. He was held in detention for a year. After his case was denied, he tried to kill himself. Kept on life support in a hospital, ICE ‘released’ him—getting themselves off the hook.” And while she didn’t die in custody, Yazmin Juárez said officials failed to provide proper medical treatment when her daughter Mariee became sick while at a migrant family jail in 2018. Yazmin said ICE released them only after the child had deteriorated and had become limp. Mariee died at a hospital six weeks later. She was just two years old.

ICE cannot be trusted with lives—and the No. 1 way to immediately lessen the harm facing detained people is to free them. “People in congregate environments—places where people live, eat, and sleep in close proximity—face increased risk of contracting COVID-19, as already evidenced by the rapid spread of the virus in cruise ships, nursing homes, and jails,” states a new lawsuit demanding the release of vulnerable detainees in California. These conditions, plaintiffs said, “are tinderboxes for rapid widespread infection within and beyond the facilities.”

UPDATE #1:

Senior policy analyst Jesse Franzblau tweeted ICE has updated its public tally to 19, though that number doesn’t match up with BuzzFeed News’ earlier count of 20. “We know they are hiding other confirmed cases, and there are countless more people who they haven’t tested,” he said. “ICE says they’ve identified 600 identified as ‘vulnerable’ but only around 160 have been released custody since March 30 2020.”

They just bumped it to 19. We know they are hiding other confirmed cases, and there are countless more people who they haven’t tested. ICE says they’ve identified 600 identified as âÂ�Â�vulnerable” but only around 160 have been released custody since March 30 2020. pic.twitter.com/F2UeZFr4Ex— Jesse Franzblau (@JFranzblau) April 7, 2020

UPDATE #2:

BuzzFeed News’ Hamed Aleaziz is standing by his count of 20 ICE detainees with confirmed coronavirus—and of course it ties back to the case from Florida that ICE is trying to disguise:

Actual count is 20 — strange that the ICE site does not include the case of the ICE detainee who is at a hospital in the Miami area. https://t.co/0Us6QbV1ln— Hamed Aleaziz (@Haleaziz) April 7, 2020

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