On Wednesday, in the face of rising public outcry, President Trump issued an executive order to stop the separation of immigrant families. The vaguely worded order suggests that the administration’s policy going forward will be to detain families together, which is expected to run afoul of the 1997 Flores settlement agreement that children cannot be held in government detention for more than 20 days. An alternative would be dropping the “zero-tolerance” policy that criminally prosecutes undocumented immigrants for crossing the border. At this point, there are no public plans to reunite more than 2,342 children with their parents. A psychologist who studies how trauma affects child development wrote that, “Forcible separation places these children at elevated risk for mental health disorders, including post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and conduct problems. Epidemiological data suggest that as many as 30 percent of mental health disorders are related to childhood adversity, highlighting the widespread impact of early trauma on public health. In many cases, the trauma of being separated from their parents could be one in a long line of stressful experiences for a migrant child. Many families seeking asylum are already fleeing danger, and many children have already endured a harrowing journey upon arriving at the border. Exposure to multiple traumatic events places these children at even greater risk for mental health disorders.” In the Atlantic, reporter Adam Serwer observed that “the crisis, to the extent that one exists, is of the administration’s own making. The people fleeing to the U.S. border are a threat neither to American economic prosperity nor to public safety, there is not a great surge of border crossers requiring an extreme response. There are a variety of options for dealing with them short of amnesty, and the separation of families is not legally required. The policy’s cruelty is its purpose: By inflicting irreparable trauma on children and their families, the administration intends to persuade those looking to America for a better life to stay home.”
The Atlantic’s Vann Newkirk II reports extensively on how Attorney General Jeff Sessions is rolling back civil rights protections at the Department of Justice, from immigration and the asylum process to voting rights, drug policy, policing, private prisons, and much more: “The sense among several longtime civil-rights advocates and even former DOJ officials is that many of the signature victories of the civil-rights movement are now more precarious than ever.” “Under Holder and then his successor, Loretta Lynch, the department moved to address some racial disparities and the most punitive federally enforced crime policies. In addition to rolling back private prisons; moving toward more systemic civil-rights enforcement of police departments and brutality; and leveraging that move for arranging consent decrees, court-enforced agreements between a municipality and the DOJ to implement recommendations for improvement; one of the most consequential policies of Holder’s DOJ was the Smart on Crime initiative, which began in early 2013. That initiative was intended to give federal prosecutors more discretion to avoid triggering mandatory minimum sentences for low-level drug offenses. Additionally, DOJ memos dialed back federal marijuana prosecutions where state law had decriminalized or legalized the drug, and the department ended a federal-asset-forfeiture program that in its final year of operation had netted local, state, and federal officials $65 million in cash, homes, and other property—even from some suspects who’d never been charged with a crime… In his tenure as attorney general, Jeff Sessions has made it a point to end each of these policies. In fact, he has expressed deep suspicion of the very idea of criminal-justice reform, and of any scrutiny of police actions. Instead of the aggressive “patterns and practice” investigations of whole police departments, the DOJ has emphasized “local control and accountability” in its collaborative initiatives. The department has ramped up the surveillance of black activists—even as the ranks of white-supremacist extremism and hate crimes surge—and brought to bear a narrative that crime in America increased under previous reforms. Sessions has led the DOJ away from some of its most expansive voting-rights enforcement, and reinvigorated the War on Drugs. And he has placed undocumented immigration as a major part of the problem in all phases of his criminal-justice, drug, and voting-rights changes. “The attorney general is advancing a vision of America that is narrow and abdicating some of the Justice Department’s core responsibilities and mandate to ensure equal rights and access to justice for all,” Vanita Gupta said.”
Berkeley Media Studies Group released a new issue brief on gun violence narratives in California news: “The public, and the policymakers whose actions and decisions shape our communities, need to understand what everyday, all-too-common gun violence looks like, where it happens, and how it harms people. More than that, they need to know what could be done to end it — and what is being done, in hospitals and homes, in communities and courtrooms, in schools and on streets around the country… Because news provides such an important window into the discourse and has a strong influence on what people and policymakers understand, we wanted to know: How do the three most common types of gun violence — suicide, domestic violence, and community violence — appear in news coverage? How, if at all, do solutions appear? Whose voices are part of the stories, and whose are absent? How does coverage of these distinct aspects of gun violence differ, and how is it similar?... We found 3,815 articles about gun violence relating to community violence, domestic violence, or suicide in California newspapers between October 15, 2016, and October 14, 2017. The amount of news about community violence and guns dwarfed that about domestic violence or suicide and guns.”
A new study published in The Lancet uses mental health survey data to track self-reported mental health after police shootings of unarmed black civilians and found that these shootings undermine the mental health of black Americans. “‘Having seen something so horrific and traumatic that happened to someone else, I’m reminded in a very painful and salient way that the deck might be stacked against me,’” Atheendar S. Venkataramani, one of the study’s authors, said of how black people might perceive police killings. “It’s really about all the kinds of insidious ways that structural racism can make people sick.”
On its second attempt, the House passed a Farm Bill that imposes stricter work requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. No Democrats voted for the bill. The Washington Post reports that the SNAP provisions “are dead on arrival in the Senate…The tense divide [within the Republican party] has huge implications for the future of food and farm policy in the United States... Even as the bill advances from the House, political analysts said, the tensions revealed in its lurching, divisive journey are likely to persist… The most divisive element of the legislation passed Thursday are new, stricter work rules for most able-bodied adults in the food stamp program, the federal safety net that provides an average of $125 per month in grocery money to 42.3 million Americans. Under the proposal, adults will have to spend 20 hours per week either working or participating in a state-run training program to receive benefits. Democrats and anti-hunger advocates say most states do not have the capacity to scale up case management or training programs to this extent. As a result, they argue, hundreds of thousands of low-income adults could end up losing benefits.” The Senate version would not apply stricter work requirements or significantly change SNAP eligibility.
House Republicans released a deficit-reduction plan this week that would force cuts over at least $302 billion over the next 10 years, including steep cuts to Medicare and Medicaid. Politico reports that the proposal potentially “lay[s] the groundwork for another repeal vote on Obamacare.”