Congressman: Youth Shelter Reflects Flawed US Immigration Plan

A Republican congressman from Texas who toured a tent-like shelter for hundreds of minors who had entered the country illegally said Saturday that the facility was a byproduct of a flawed immigration strategy.

U.S. Representative Will Hurd said the shelter near the Tornillo port of entry in far West Texas would house about 360 boys who are 16 and 17.

The teens began arriving Friday, the same day Hurd toured the shelter, he said, noting that they were being moved from other shelters to make way for younger immigrant children taken into custody at the border.

Federal authorities are separating children from their parents as families arrive at the border.

Hurd, however, said the treatment of minors shouldn’t be used as a threatening means to prevent others from entering the U.S.

“This is a symptom of a flawed strategy, and in the land of the free and home of the brave we shouldn’t use kids as deterrence,” said Hurd, who represents a vast border district that includes the port of entry.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced earlier in the week that it intended to open the shelter.

The port is located about 40 miles (64 kilometers) southeast of El Paso, in an area that’s mostly desert and where temperatures routinely approach 100 degrees Fahrenheit (37 degrees Celsius). The tent-like structures that comprise the shelter have air conditioning.

Federal figures show nearly 2,000 children were separated from adults from April 19 to May 31 as part of President Donald Trump’s immigration crackdown.

The administration’s decision to separate children, combined with the flow of unaccompanied minors attempting to cross the border illegally, has prompted a surge in the number of children in U.S. shelters.

“How do these kids know where their parents are going, and how do the parents know where their children went?” Hurd asked.

A smarter immigration strategy would address root problems such as economic instability and a breakdown in the rule of law in Central America, he said, while noting the need to use advanced technology and manpower to guard the border.

“Building a 30-foot-high wall is a fourth-century solution to a 21st-century problem,” he said, referring to Trump’s call to build a wall along every mile of the border with Mexico.

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California Moves to Clear Coffee of Cancer-Risk Stigma

California officials, having concluded coffee drinking is not a risky pastime, are proposing a regulation that will essentially tell consumers of America’s favorite beverage they can drink up without fear.

The unprecedented action Friday by the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment to propose a regulation to clear coffee of the stigma that it could pose a toxic risk followed a review of more than 1,000 studies published this week by the World Health Organization that found inadequate evidence that coffee causes cancer.

The state agency implements a law passed by voters in 1986 that requires warnings of chemicals known to cause cancer and birth defects. One of those chemicals is acrylamide, which is found in many things and is a byproduct of coffee roasting and brewing present in every cup of joe.

Win for coffee industry 

If the regulation is adopted, it would be a huge win for the coffee industry, which faces potentially massive civil penalties after recently losing an 8-year-old lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court that could require scary warnings on all coffee packaging sold in California.

Judge Elihu Berle found that Starbucks and other coffee roasters and retailers had failed to show that benefits from drinking coffee outweighed any cancer risks. He had previously ruled the companies hadn’t shown the threat from the chemical was insignificant.

The state’s action rejects that ruling.

“The proposed regulation would state that drinking coffee does not pose a significant cancer risk, despite the presence of chemicals created during the roasting and brewing process that are listed under Proposition 65 as known carcinogens,” the agency said in a statement. “The proposed regulation is based on extensive scientific evidence that drinking coffee has not been shown to increase the risk of cancer and may reduce the risk of some types of cancer.”

​Unprecedented move

Attorney Raphael Metzger, who won the court case on behalf of The Council for Education and Research on Toxics, said he was shocked the agency would move to nullify the court decision and undermine its own report more than a decade ago that drinking even small amounts of coffee resulted in a significant cancer risk.

“The takeaway is that the state is proposing a rule contrary to its own scientific conclusion. That’s unprecedented and bad,” Metzger said. “The whole thing stinks to high hell.”

The National Coffee Association had no comment on the proposed change. In the past, the organization has said coffee has health benefits and that the lawsuit made a mockery of the state law intended to protect people from toxics.

Scientific evidence on coffee has gone back and forth over many years, but concerns have eased recently about possible dangers, with some studies finding health benefits.

Big Coffee didn’t deny that acrylamide was found in the coffee, but argued it was only found at low levels and was outweighed by other benefits such as antioxidants that reduce cancer risk.

Congress

The state agency’s action comes about a week after bipartisan bills were introduced in both houses of Congress to require science-based criteria for labels on food and other products. One of the sponsors, Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Oregon, alluded to the California coffee lawsuit as an example of misleading warnings.

“When we have mandatory cancer warnings on a cup of coffee, something has gone seriously wrong with the process,” Schrader said in a news release. “We now have so many warnings unrelated to the actual health risk posed to consumers, that most people just ignore them.”

The lawsuit against Starbucks and 90 companies was brought by the tiny nonprofit under a law that allows private citizens, advocacy groups and attorneys to sue on behalf of the state and collect a portion of civil penalties for failure to provide warnings.

The Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act, better known as Proposition 65, requires warning labels for about 900 chemicals known to cause cancer or birth defects.

The law has been credited with reducing cancer-causing chemicals, but it has been criticized for leading to quick settlement shakedowns and vague warnings that are often ignored.

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World Bank: Remittance Flows Rising After Years of Decline

After two consecutive years of decline, remittances, the money migrant workers send home, increased in 2017 according to figures released by the World Bank. Remittances are a significant financial contribution to the well-being of families of migrant workers and to the sustainable development of their countries of origin. The U.N. recognizes their importance every year on June 16, designated International Day of Family Remittances. VOA’s Cristina Caicedo Smit reports on this vital lifeline.

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IG Faults Comey’s Judgement, But Sees No Bias

The U.S. Justice Department’s watchdog on Thursday criticized former FBI director James Comey for bypassing long-standing protocols in his handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation during the 2016 U.S. presidential election, but said it found no evidence of “political bias” or an attempt by Comey to sway the outcome of the vote.

In a long-awaited report, the department’s inspector general, Michael Horowitz, wrote that Comey made a “serious error of judgement” in publicly disclosing the findings of the probe during the contested election between then candidate Donald Trump and former secretary of state Clinton.

“While we did not find that these decisions were the result of political bias on Comey’s part, we nevertheless concluded that by departing so clearly and dramatically from FBI and department norms, the decisions negatively impacted the perception of the FBI and the department as fair administrators of justice,” Horowitz wrote.

The inspector general’s probe focused on decisions made by Comey, at key moments during the campaign, to go public with the FBI’s findings, sidestepping then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch.

On July 5, 2016, Comey publicly announced that he was not bringing criminal charges against Clinton for her handling of classified information in her emails.

Then, on October 28, less than two weeks before the election, Comey informed members of Congress that he was reopening the investigation after discovering a new cache of emails, before closing it a second time just two days before the election.

Comey came in for harsh criticism for his actions in the run up to the election. While Republicans blasted his initial decision to exonerate Clinton, Democrats blamed the former FBI director for costing them the presidential election by reopening the investigation so close to the election.

Trump, who had praised the relaunch of the probe on the even of the election, last year cited Comey’s handling of the investigation when he abruptly dismissed him as FBI director. The president later said that he had the “Russia thing” in mind when he let go of Comey.

Comey has long defended his actions during the election, writing in a recently released book that he did “something I could never imagine” to protect the bureau’s independence after concluding that Lynch “appeared politically compromised.”

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Immigrant Candidates ‘Running Everywhere’ in Upcoming US Elections

When Colombia-born Catalina Cruz stepped toward the podium in Jackson Heights, Queens, officially launching her campaign for New York State Legislature, a few dozen supporters stood nearby with fluorescent blue, green and red signs — #VoteCatalina, #ElectADreamer.

Like other first-generation American candidates for local, state and nationwide office, Cruz had overcome a series of obstacles to get to that morning in June. Many can relate in her diverse community — including her opponent, a daughter of Dominican immigrants.

“We have many people who understand the struggle of the immigrant, who understand that we do not come here to steal opportunities or take advantage of the system, but to work, to fight,” Cruz told VOA.

“My mom had to take any job — handing out leaflets, making empanadas (meat pies), selling food, babysitting,” she said of her childhood era, a near 13-year-span during which she and her family lived under the radar, undocumented.

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Years later, after Cruz completed college, married her high school beau (a U.S. citizen), gained citizenship, and attended law school, she set out to defy the odds again by entering American politics — an arena that has never reflected the diversity of the general population, particularly outside progressive urban centers.

But 2018 may be a tipping point; immigrants are running “everywhere,” says Sayu Bhojwani, founder and president of New American Leaders (NAL), a national non-partisan organization which prepares first and second-generation Americans for political office.

“You’re seeing people run [for office] wherever they are, without the burden of, ‘Oh, well, I’m not in a district that necessarily quote-unquote looks like me,’” Bhojwani said in an interview with VOA.

Barriers

On the one hand, Bhojwani predicts immigrant candidates will face “subtle and not-so-subtle references to (their) backgrounds and affiliations,” like Abdul El-Sayed, who is hoping to become the country’s first Muslim governor in Michigan, and has faced the kind of anti-immigrant rhetoric that is pervasive nationwide.

Yet, despite increasing partisan polarization, Bhojwani says immigrant candidates are beginning to “claim their space” across a range of offices and not just in progressive bubbles like Queens.

Ahead of the 2018 elections in November, NAL has tracked at least 100 foreign-born candidates running for U.S. Congress, where a smaller share of immigrants currently holds seats than during either of the country’s 19th and early 20th century waves of European immigration.

And immigrant candidates have been quietly making headway in both local and state elections, where fewer than two percent of 500,000 seats were held in 2015 by either Asian-Americans or Latinos — the two most populous groups of first and second-generation Americans — according to a report by NAL.

Positions like school board and local city council member “are often stepping stones” to higher office for women, candidates of color and immigrant candidates, says Paru Shah, professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, whose research examines the characteristics of first and second-generation Americans running for political office.

Would-be candidates all face the difficulties of financing a campaign and finding the time to run. But additionally, immigrant candidates often have their own psychological barriers, according to Shaw.

“Historically it’s a little bit of a chicken and egg situation, where people don’t see themselves in those positions,” Shah told VOA by phone, a situation of “that’s not for me.”

Changing the equation

According to a report by Shah and UCLA PhD candidate Tyler Reny, published in Social Science Quarterly (SSQ), race or foreignness was the most frequently cited barrier among immigrant leader respondents.

“I will have to overcome those who challenge how American I am because I was not born here,” read one recorded statement from the SSQ report.

“I imagine that my ability to lead and my loyalty to the nation would be questioned by the electorate,” read another.

According to Pew Research Center, the share of Asian-American and Hispanic Americans who think of themselves as “typical Americans” approximately doubles from the first-generation (Americans born outside the U.S. or U.S. territories) to 61 percent among the second (US-born with at least one immigrant parent).

For support, Asian-American and Latino candidates for state legislature often rely more heavily on labor unions and community-based groups than their white counterparts, according to NAL data. In return, the groups benefit from better representation.

“There is a lot that you can do to create an environment that is supportive and welcoming,” Bhojwani said. “People are stepping up and saying, ‘Look, I can represent my community and ensure that our schools feel safe and that our cities are welcoming.”

“We are not going to forget how we have lived up this point,” said candidate Catalina Cruz. “Many people might think, ‘Oh, she managed to get her papers and forgot.’ No, this is something you carry with you in your heart and in your blood.”

Laura Sepúlveda, of VOA’s Spanish Service, contributed to this report.

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US Lawmakers Set for Annual Bipartisan Charity Baseball Game

Republican and Democratic lawmakers are set to play in their annual congressional charity baseball game Thursday, which falls on the first anniversary of a shooting spree at a practice last year that almost killed House Majority Whip Steve Scalise.

Scalise, who returned to work last fall, is expected to start at second base in what is expected to be an emotional game that will be played in Washington’s Nationals Park.

The coach of the Republican team, Congressman Roger Williams of Texas, said he asked President Donald Trump to attend the game. Williams said Trump, whose 72nd birthday is Thursday, agreed to attend, although the White House has not confirmed it.

Since Scalise and others were shot last year at a Republican practice in nearby Alexandria, Virginia, and after several subsequent mass shootings in the U.S., Republican lawmakers, including Scalise, have largely maintained their support for gun rights.

Scalise says the mass shooting in which he was severely wounded “deepened my appreciation for the Second Amendment because it was people with guns who saved my life and every other member out there.”

Special Agents Crystal Griner and David Bailey, members of Scalise’s security team credited by the congressman with saving his life, were wounded, as were congressional staffer Zack Barth and lobbyist Matt Mika.

The gunman was 66-year-old James Hodgkinson, who was killed in a shootout with police. Hodgkinson apparently had been in the Washington area for several months stalking his targets.

The contest is a summertime tradition in Washington dating to 1909, a time for friendly competition between Republicans and Democrats even in years when fractious political debates are the norm on Capitol Hill. The game typically raises hundreds of thousands of dollars for charity.

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