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Rep. Judy Chu: witness to inhumanity

Lawmaker also worries about trans asylum seekers in ICE custody

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Rep. Judy Chu en route from El Paso to Clint, Texas. (Screen grab from Twitter video)

Three days before Independence Day, California Rep. Judy Chu and 14 other Democratic lawmakers visited Border Patrol facilities in El Paso and Clint, Texas. The Congressional Hispanic Caucus organized the trip after doctors and attorneys monitoring migrant children under the Flores Agreement broke their professional silence and reported on the horrific conditions being endured by 250 infants and children locked up for days in squalid conditions without access to sufficient food, clean water or adequate sanitation at the Clint detention facility.

One researcher told “CBS This Morning” that “young girls were taking care of a sick two-year-old boy who was in filthy clothing without a diaper, and that the children said they were fed uncooked frozen food and had gone weeks without bathing,” CBS News reported. Under the Flores rules, children must only be held for 72 hours before being transferred to Health and Human Services. 

There has been no reporting on whether any of these children or adults identify as LGBT, how they are treated by Border Patrol agents and their fellow detainees, or if any of them may have asked for asylum. Bamby Salcedo, CEO of the [email protected] Coalition, told the Los Angeles Blade that female trans asylum seekers are now being placed in ICE detention centers for deportation since the “trans pod” in New Mexico’s Cibola County Correctional Center is reportedly overcrowded. ICE has been blamed for its inhumane treatment of trans women after the deaths of Roxsana Hernandez Rodriguez and Johana Medina Leon and denial of medical treatment to Alejandra Barrera.

But it was the plight of the children that prompted Chu and her fellow investigators to journey to Texas on July 1, the same day ProPublica published a report about a secret Facebook group of roughly 9,500 current and former U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CPB) agents who use the forum to make cruel, racists jokes about migrants, including their deaths. One member posted the tragic AP photo of a drowned father and his 23-month-old daughter lying face down in the Rio Grande, asking if the photo was fake because the “floaters” bodies were so “clean.”

ProPublica also reported on two disgusting photo-shopped images debasing Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, one showing a smirking Donald Trump forcing her into oral sex.

“If they have these kind of derogatory feelings about us, you can only imagine what they’re thinking about these detainees. These are the ones in charge of them. There seriously has to be some change,” Chu said directly to camera for a Twitter post after leaving the El Paso center bound for Clint.

In a phone interview with the Los Angeles Blade, Chu described the experience as “very shocking.” Border Patrol agents told the delegation they could not speak with the women and children being detained in cinder block cells.

“Nonetheless, we did,” Chu says. “And as soon as we got in to talk to the women, tears were flowing down their faces as they described their miserable conditions. They had been detained for over 50 days and had no idea when they were going to be let out. They were separated from their children.

“Some of them had very serious conditions such as epilepsy and another had an aneurysm,” Chu continues.They’d been asking for medications, but had gotten none of it. They also said that there was no running water. One woman said that she asked for it from the CBP agent and he said, ‘Well, drink out of the toilet bowls.’”

From the El Paso center they drove to the Clint Border Station where the unaccompanied minors are warehoused, at one point holding up to 700 youth, Chu says.  There were between 100-200 youth during their visit.

“It was like a giant steel garden shed with no air conditioning. This is in an area where the temperatures routinely get over 100 degrees,” she says, adding that the facility supposedly had air conditioning but “we were so hot, we just couldn’t stand it.”

Youth slept on the warehouse floors in cinder block cells. “What really was heartbreaking was a toddler who looked so miserable. But, when we got there and waved to him, he came and pressed his face to the glass door. He was just so relieved to see people who were showing care and concern for him,” Chu says.

“It makes me so angry that kids are being treated this way,” she says. “Their world now is just being behind bars. There is no justification for it. They have the right to an asylum hearing. The only reason that they are being detained is because of the policies of CBP. But in reality, they can be released on a program that is called Alternative to Detention until they get a fair hearing in court. They could be released on electronic monitoring or to a nonprofit group that is responsible for them.

“Many of the youth, by the way, actually have relatives that are in the United States, so they could be released to them,” Chu says. “But the Trump administration has been making it more difficult for them to be placed with them by requiring fingerprints and background checks on every single person living in that house.”

Inspector General photo of migrant crowding

The most immediate issue “is the medical, nutrition and the hygiene standards for the kids,” noting the reports from immigration attorneys and the New York Times that exposed “appalling conditions of kids that hadn’t been able to get showers or to brush their teeth or where their clothes were caked with snot and tears, where they didn’t have proper meals for days,” Chu notes. “And when we questioned the CBP officials, they actually denied it all. They denied that any of those reports were true. I kid you not! They denied the entire collection of reports about the appalling conditions. They, in fact, took great pains to show us the storage rooms with all the supplies and basically implied that any of those kids could have had access to that at any point in time.

“Clearly CBP was sanitizing the place before we came,” Chu says, noting they only saw 25 kids. But the Flores attorneys interviewed 60 children who “all those miserable conditions where toddlers were walking around soiling their pants, because there were no diapers. Where eight year olds were taking care of three year olds. Where kids were just sleeping on the cold concrete floor. The Flores attorneys said that each of the kids reported, in essence, the same thing. So, I believe the kids. 60 kids cannot be telling falsehoods.”

In addition to the children, Chu is “really concerned” about trans women falling ill and dying in ICE custody, such as Johana Leon. “These trans people face injury, abuse, and neglect in ICE detention centers. And, it’s unacceptable. Leon complained about her chest pains and she was transported to hospital and she spent weeks pleading for medical help,” Chu says.

“We have to keep on pushing,” she says, noting that she voted against the just- passed $4.6 million border supplemental bill, preferring the House version. She’s concerned about how CBP might spend the money on more beds rather than caring for children and migrants’ medical needs. 

“There should be alternatives to detention,” Chu says. “And there needs to be a way for these migrants to have their day in court, so that they can actually plead their case. The system could be improved and changed. We are so much against the idea of building more detention centers just to have this whole unwieldy and oppressive system of prisons in essence, throughout the United States.”

She is also concerned about how the de facto prisons are privately run. “We have one here in California. Adelanto. It is just such a travesty. It’s a horrendous kind of situation where these migrants go in there for months on end, if not years. They make a profit off of denying care to these migrants,” Chu says.

“Every time I’ve gone there, they have denied that anything wrong is going on,” Chu says. “It wasn’t until the Inspector General report this past year that there was great detail about the lack of medical care— as well as the nooses that they allowed to continue up there just as a way of creating even greater misery. There were migrants that tried to hang themselves and some did hang themselves. They just left the nooses up there as a way of even greater mental depression for these migrants.”

Chu says the media dispute between Speaker Nancy Pelosi and members of Congress, such as herself, who opposed the Senate version of the border bill “is a false dispute. Pelosi also wants to make sure that there are standards of care for the children. She keeps on pressing it. We are putting our pressure on as a Democratic Caucus to continue on those amendments that were not approved in the Senate version—basic standards of care that has to do with medical care, nutrition and hygiene and addressing the fact that the money should go to where it’s targeted.”

Additionally, Congressmembers should be able to inspect facilities unannounced and receive all reports, such as the latest report detailing sexual assault on a 15-year-old girl in a Yuma, Arizona facility.

“I want to make sure that everybody is safe and treated humanely in the detention centers, including trans people. I know that they are the most vulnerable and it just saddens and angers me to see how Miss Leon was treated,” Chu says. “The LGBT community has to be concerned about this, especially with regard to the treatment of transgender people.”

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California

Following Newsom’s vaccination measures, California employers follow suit

We will work with the governor on additional ways we can help encourage vaccines without negatively impacting economic recovery

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Los Angeles Blade Graphic

SACRAMENTO – Throughout the past week, some of California’s largest employers – both private businesses and local governments – have followed Governor Newsom’s lead in implementing vaccine and testing measures for employees. After California implemented new vaccine verification and testing requirements for state and health care workers on Monday, and with President Biden following suit this past Thursday, employers have implemented similar measures for thousands of employees throughout the state.

  • City of Los Angeles: “Mayor Eric Garcetti and City Council President Nury Martinez announced today that they would push for mandatory COVID-19 vaccines for City employees, beginning with a requirement that workers either submit proof of vaccination or a weekly negative test.”
  • City of San Francisco: “City officials said that the requirement would promote safety in municipal workplaces and among the general public, given that police officers, firefighters, building inspectors and other city workers come into regular contact with members of the community. ‘With those two things in mind — the safety of our employees and the safety of the public we serve — we made this decision,’ said Carol Isen, San Francisco’s director of human resources. ‘We believe this step is a simple one to take. It’s safe, it’s very effective, and it’s going to guarantee the safety of all.’”
  • San Diego County: “The County will begin requiring its employees to verify COVID-19 vaccination or undergo regular testing. Details being worked out but implementation expected by mid-August. Vaccination is the key to fully and safely reopening the economy.”
  • City of Long Beach: “We are announcing today that all @LongBeachCity employees will need a mandatory vaccination or be required to show a weekly negative COVID-19 test. Thank you to the 72% of employees who are already vaccinated. It’s important that public institutions model responsible leadership. I strongly support Governor @GavinNewsom’s action to do the same for state employees. The standard for those who serve the public must follow the best science available. I hope that cities and counties across the state will take similar actions. It’s time we beat this pandemic.”
  • Google: “‘Getting vaccinated is one of the most important ways to keep ourselves and our communities healthy in the months ahead,’ Mr. Pichai wrote. He added that the vaccine mandate would apply to U.S. office locations ‘in the coming weeks’ and to other regions ‘in the coming months.’”
  • Facebook: “‘As our offices reopen, we will be requiring anyone coming to work at any of our US campuses to be vaccinated,’ VP of People Lori Goler said in a statement. ‘How we implement this policy will depend on local conditions and regulations.’”
  • Netflix: “Netflix has become the first major studio to implement a mandatory vaccination policy for its U.S. productions. The move comes after studios and Hollywood unions last week finalized an agreement that allows producers to require vaccines for the people who are potentially at highest risk of spreading and contracting COVID-19 on set: actors and the crew who work most closely with them. Netflix was particularly quick to implement the policy. More major studios are expected to follow in the coming weeks as they work out the challenging logistics of overhauling their approaches to pandemic safety on set.”
  • Lyft: “As of August 2, all employees working in Lyft’s offices are required to be vaccinated, according to an email Lyft (LYFT) CEO Logan Green sent to staffers that was viewed by CNN Business.”
  • Uber: “Uber Technologies Inc (UBER.N) is pushing back its back-to-office date to late October globally, and all employees in the United States will have to be fully vaccinated before returning to office, a spokesperson said on Thursday.”
  • California Business Roundtable: “The governor’s approach will allow economic recovery to continue while redoubling efforts to encourage vaccinations. From the beginning of the pandemic, the business community has been a partner with the governor and public health officials by implementing mitigation protocols and testing, hosting vaccination clinics, communicating the need to get vaccinated, promoting the vaccine through its own PSA, and offering incentives to employees and customers. We will continue to look to work with the governor on additional ways we can help encourage vaccines without negatively impacting employment opportunities or our economic recovery at this critical stage, while paying special attention to continued outreach to Black and Latino communities, of which 51 percent and 49 percent remain unvaccinated, respectively.”
    • The coalition includes:
      • California Business Properties Association
      • California Hotel and Lodging Association
      • California Manufacturers and Technology Association
      • California Retailers Association
      • California Restaurant Association
      • Orange County Business Council
      • Los Angeles County BizFed
      • Central Valley BizFed
      • Inland Empire Economic Partnership

Here’s what health, labor, and other local leaders have also said about Governor Newsom’s vaccine and testing measures:

  • California Hospital Association President & CEO Carmela Coyle: “The new public health order announced today by Gov. Newsom will help ensure that California remains ahead of the curve in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. The unfortunate reality is that COVID-19 is again on the rise nationally, and in California, driven by the highly infectious Delta variant. It is imperative that we all do everything possible to protect patients and our communities from COVID-19 illnesses and death. Everyone should get vaccinated. The COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective — and they are free. The evidence is clear — vaccination against COVID-19 has prevented people from becoming seriously ill, requiring hospitalization, or dying from the virus, as well as spreading it to others. To date, 75% of eligible Californians have received at least one dose, with minimal side effects. Requiring health care settings, including hospitals, to verify the vaccination status of all health care workers — and to expect those who are unvaccinated to wear masks and be tested regularly — are important and necessary steps that must be taken in this extraordinary situation. The Governor’s announcement is essential to keeping patients and those who care for them safe.”
  • California Primary Care Association Vice President & Chief Medical Officer Dr. Mike Witte: “The California Primary Care Association supports twice weekly COVID-19 testing for unvaccinated healthcare workers. The science is clear: the vaccines work, and they are safe. Over 97% of people seriously sick or dying from COVID-19 viral infections are unvaccinated. This trend is completely preventable with increased vaccination, to the point of herd immunity of our population, when we can begin to look at the pandemic ending. Twice weekly PCR testing for all unvaccinated healthcare workers fits the model for good prevention: accessible, accurate, inexpensive and easy to administer. This is an important addition to prevention of COVID-19 infections. CPCA is in full support.”
  • Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California President/CEO Jodi Hicks: “Once again, the state of California is leading by example, using data, and following best scientific practices to protect millions of people from COVID-19. We commend Governor Newsom for today’s announcement: implementing a vaccination verification system for employees in high-risk environments – a critical step in helping curb the recent uptick in spread across the state and get us back on track. Planned Parenthood continues to work closely with providers and government officials across the state to ensure access remains equitable and the communities hardest hit by the pandemic have access to correct information about the vaccine. COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective, and Planned Parenthood will continue to encourage every Californian who can to get vaccinated as soon as possible.”
  • California Medical Association President Peter N. Bretan, Jr., M.D.: “Throughout this crisis, health care workers have been a source of strength, sacrifice and perseverance. Ensuring all of us are vaccinated against COVID-19 sends a strong message that the safety of our patients and our colleagues is top priority. It is a duty that comes with our responsibility as people who care for others. We can all do more to keep each other safe, and health care workers in particular have a moral and ethical obligation to do all we can to protect our patients. When someone comes into a health care setting, they deserve to know the medical personnel who care for them are doing everything in their power to keep them safe. Ensuring that all health care workers are protected against COVID-19 will help put patients at ease and will help us bring this deadly pandemic to an end. So many physicians, nurses and medical workers have sacrificed so much over this last 18 months. We know what this virus can do. Many of us have witnessed the devastation first-hand. After going through so much, it is heartbreaking to see cases rise once again, especially when we have vaccines that can stop the spread of this deadly disease. We’ve come too far to ease up now in our fight against COVID-19. It makes sense for the health care community to lead the way in requiring vaccines for our employees. We will continue to do all we can to help convince all Californians that vaccines are safe, effective and critical as we come together to bring this pandemic to an end.”
  • SEIU-UHW Executive Committee Member Gabe Montoya, EMT: “California’s frontline workers in health care and frontline jobs serving the public are growing increasingly concerned as the number of COVID-19 cases rises. We support Governor Newsom’s efforts to ensure vaccinations reach more Californians because these life-saving shots not only prevent death and grave illness from the virus but also prevent more dangerous variants from taking hold. Since this pandemic began, belonging to a union has given workers the strength we needed to speak up for our own safety and the communities we serve, from demanding PPE to creating the conditions for students to return to schools safely. For this reason, we will continue to bargain with our employers to ensure that implementation of the policy includes workers’ voices and push for recognition of all essential workers who have risked their lives during the pandemic.”
  • United Nurses Association of California/Union of Health Care Professionals President Denise Duncan, RN: “COVID-19 transmissions are high, we’re in a fourth surge, and we know that unvaccinated people are suffering the most. This is a forward-thinking order from Governor Newsom which will save lives by protecting patients and caregivers both. Our nurses and health care professionals are still reeling from the last year and a half of the pandemic, including staffing shortages. This is a proactive step to protect patients, workers, and the broader community.”
  • California Statewide Law Enforcement Association: “The California Statewide Law Enforcement Association, which represents peace officers across the state, responded to the order by sending a message to members reiterating the state requirements and pledging to follow up on outstanding questions. ‘CSLEA is in the process of confirming that testing will be done at no cost to the employee and on State time and how employees will be compensated for self-quarantine if mandated to do so,’ the union said in a statement. … ‘Further, the State is not presently mandating proof of vaccine, though it would likely be legal if it did. Employees can elect to decline to provide proof of vaccination if they are willing to adhere to the masking and testing requirements,’ the union said in a memo to members.”
  • California Correctional Peace Officers Association: “Glen Stailey, the union’s president, said in a statement, Gov. ‘Newsom’s new vaccine policy is a reasonable compromise that we can get behind. It provides for regular testing at work for those who have chosen not to get vaccinated — this will prevent the spread of the virus among correctional officers and incarcerated individuals alike.’”
  • Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg: “I support Gov. @GavinNewsom in requiring #Covid vaccination or regular testing of employees. I believe we should do the same in @TheCityofSac for the sake of our employees and customers.”
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California

Employees of statewide LGBTQ+ group Equality California form union

Employees at other progressive and LGBTQ+ nonprofit organizations, including the ACLU and Lambda Legal have formed unions in recent years.

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Equality California staff volunteer for congressional candidate Christy Smith, March 2020 (Photo Credit: EQ Calif. Facebook)

LOS ANGELES – A supermajority of workers at Equality California, the nation’s largest statewide LGBTQ+ civil rights organization, announced the formation of a union, Equality Unites, with the Communications Workers of America (CWA).

In a letter sent via email Thursday, the staff urged Executive Director Rick Chavez Zbur, who is leaving his post at the end of 2021, and Executive Director-designate Tony Hoang to voluntarily recognize their union, inclusive of all non-Director level employees.

The union organizers laid out issues that merit the need for the union and what is felt to be critical concerns including addressing employee hiring and retention — particularly among employees of color, trans, gender nonconforming and intersex people — salary, raise, and promotion transparency, guidelines around overtime and fair compensation, a healthy culture of feedback, and any decisions that impact their health, safety and lives.

Organizers also pointed out that the staff at the non-profit organization had exceeded all expectations and kept the organization afloat during the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. The organizers also want to ensure that all employees have a voice as the organization undergoes a change in and restructuring of leadership, as well as a shift in goals and mission.

“CWA Local 9003 is proud to welcome our newest bargaining unit, Equality Unites,” said CWA Local 9003 President Marisa Remiski. “We are urging management to voluntarily recognize them and CWA Local 9003 as their Union. We look forward to working together!”

Late Thursday afternoon Executive Director Rick Chavez Zbur and Executive Director-designate Tony Hoang responded in a written statement;

“This morning, Equality California received notice from our employees that they intend to organize a collective bargaining unit and a request that we voluntarily recognize it. As a progressive civil rights organization, Equality California has always stood shoulder-to-shoulder with unions in support of workers’ rights to organize and collectively bargain,” the statement read.

“We remain fully committed to these pro-worker values, and we intend to support our employees’ organizational efforts and voluntarily recognize a bargaining unit. We look forward to continuing to provide a supportive and equitable environment for all of our employees and to working collaboratively with them going forward,” Zbur and Hoag added.

Zbur and Hoang’s voluntary recognition of the union is significant. Employers often resist efforts to unionize by forcing employees to vote or engaging in other practices to dissuade workers from organizing.

But the outgoing and incoming executive directors of the nation’s largest statewide LGBTQ+ civil rights organization immediately made clear that they have no intent to do so, and instead will support the employees’ efforts.

Employees at other progressive and LGBTQ+ nonprofit organizations, including the ACLU, Lambda Legal and the Center for Reproductive Rights, have formed unions in recent years.

Throughout the LGBTQ+ civil rights movement, labor unions have played an important role in advocating for LGBTQ+ Americans. In 2007, Pride at Work — an official constituency of the AFL-CIO — signed onto an amicus brief in support of marriage equality in In re marriage cases.

Unions like the Communications Workers of America, California Teachers Association, United Food and Commercial Workers, and more staunchly opposed California Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which sought to prohibit marriage equality.

More recently, unions have played a crucial part in advancing protections for LGBTQ+ workers, including the overwhelming 90% of union support for the Equality Act (H.R. 5) and celebration of the historic Supreme Court decision in Bostock, which affirmed that LGBTQ+ workers are protected from discrimination under federal law.

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Los Angeles

BNT: Buck case highlights intersection of race & sexual orientation

Journalist Jasmyne Cannick, said that the case “intersected race.” She joins “Black News Tonight” to discuss the case and its impact.

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Screen shot via Black News Tonight

PHILADELPHIA – Appearing on BNC’s Black News Tonight anchored by journalist Marc Lamont Hill Wednesday, Los Angeles based political strategist and journalist Jasmyne Cannick, who has covered the Ed Buck case, told Hill that the case intersected race and sexual orientation.

“As much as this case is about Ed Buck, it’s also about our housing crisis, and what it makes people feel they have to do — play Russian roulette with their lives just to have a roof over their heads,” Cannick stressed.

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