Troops sent to border

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FILE - In this Friday, Nov. 16, 2018, file photo, members of the U.S. military install multiple tiers of concertina wire along the banks of the Rio Grande near the Juarez-Lincoln Bridge at the U.S.-Mexico border, in Laredo, Texas. The Pentagon said Sunday, Feb. 3, 2019, it will send 3,750 more troops to the U.S.-Mexico border to put up another 150 miles of concertina wire and provide other support for Customs and Border Protection. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)

FILE - In this Friday, Nov. 16, 2018, file photo, members of the U.S. military install multiple tiers of concertina wire along the banks of the Rio Grande near the Juarez-Lincoln Bridge at the U.S.-Mexico border, in Laredo, Texas. The Pentagon said Sunday, Feb. 3, 2019, it will send 3,750 more troops to the U.S.-Mexico border to put up another 150 miles of concertina wire and provide other support for Customs and Border Protection. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)

Pentagon sending another 3,750 troops to Southwest border

Monday, February 4

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Pentagon said Sunday it will send 3,750 more troops to the U.S.-Mexico border to put up another 150 miles of concertina wire and provide other support for Customs and Border Protection.

The additions will bring the total number of active-duty troops on the border to 4,350.

The announcement is in line with what Acting Defense Secretary Pat Shanahan had said on Tuesday when he provided estimates for the next phase of a military mission that has grown in size and length. Critics have derided it as a political ploy by the White House as President Donald Trump seeks billions to build a border wall.

Shanahan said on Tuesday that several thousand more troops would be sent mainly to install additional wire barriers and provide a large new system of mobile surveillance and monitoring of the border area. Sunday’s announcement said the mobile surveillance mission would last through Sept. 30.

Members of Congress have question whether the border mission is distracting troops from their main work of fighting extremists abroad and training for combat. The first active-duty troops were sent to the border on about Oct. 30 for a mission that was to end Dec. 15. It has since been extended twice.

“What impact does it have to readiness to send several thousand troops down to the Southern border? It interrupts their training. It interrupts their dwell time,” Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee said at a hearing on Tuesday.

Vice Adm. Mike Gilday, the director of operations for the Joint Staff, told the panel that he does not believe military readiness has been significantly affected. He said some units have missed training opportunities because of the deployment and others have seen less time at home between deployments than the military likes to provide.

But he said there is an effort to rotate service members in and out of the mission every six to eight weeks in order to minimize any impact.

US prepares to start building portion of Texas border wall


Associated Press

Monday, February 4

HOUSTON (AP) — The U.S. government is preparing to begin construction of more border walls and fencing in South Texas’ Rio Grande Valley, likely on federally owned land set aside as wildlife refuge property.

Heavy construction equipment was expected to arrive starting Monday, U.S. Customs and Border Protection said. A photo posted by the nonprofit National Butterfly Center shows an excavator parked next to its property.

Congress last March approved more than $600 million for 33 miles (53 kilometers) of new barriers in the Rio Grande Valley. While President Donald Trump and top Democrats remain in a standoff over Trump’s demand for $5.7 billion in border wall funding, U.S. Customs and Border Protection has pushed ahead with building what’s already funded.

That construction was often described as fencing, and the government funding bill that included construction was supported by some Democrats in the House and Senate. CBP refers to what it plans to build as a “border wall system.”

According to designs it released in September, CBP intends to build 25 miles (40 kilometers) of concrete walls to the height of the existing flood-control levee in Hidalgo County next to the Rio Grande, the river that forms the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas. On top of the concrete walls, CBP will install 18-foot (5.5-meter) steel posts and clear a 150-foot (45-meter) enforcement zone in front.

Maps released by CBP show construction would cut through the butterfly center, a nearby state park, and a century-old Catholic chapel next to the river.

Many landowners oppose a border wall and have vowed to fight the U.S. government if it tries to seize their property through eminent domain. Court fights over condemning land could take months.

CBP said in its statement that it intends to start construction on federally owned land. Environmental advocates expect the government to use land that’s part of the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge.

The refuge consists of dozens of parcels of land purchased over the last 40 years to create a corridor for endangered species and other wildlife.

The Department of Homeland Security can waive environmental restrictions to construct a border wall and issued its waiver for Hidalgo County in October . A coalition of environmental groups has sued DHS over its use of waivers. That lawsuit is still pending.

Congress last March required CBP not to build in the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge after a public outcry. But it didn’t exempt the Lower Rio Grande Valley refuge.

“Santa Ana was not a big enough refuge to sustain all the wildlife down here,” said Jim Chapman, a longtime resident of the Rio Grande Valley and member of the group Friends of the Wildlife Corridor.

The National Butterfly Center released the text of an email sent by an attorney from the U.S. Department of Justice. The lawyer, Cliff Stevens, says in the email that construction will begin in mid-February “on federally owned land east of Bentsen State Park.”

Directly east of Bentsen State Park is a refuge tract called El Morillo Banco, which is between the state park and the butterfly center. DOJ declined to comment on the email, and CBP did not respond to several requests for comment.

Land already in the hands of the government becomes an easier place to start construction quickly, said U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo. Cuellar has introduced a proposal that would instruct CBP not to build border walls in several places that have environmental and cultural significance.

“The easiest way, historically, is to go to public lands, because who’s going to fight them?” he said.

Several dozen protesters were walking Monday along the river levee where CBP intends to start construction. The butterfly center said on Facebook that a local police officer had declared all their property south of the levee to be off limits. The center says it intends to take legal action.

Chapman said that despite months of protests and meetings, he hadn’t seen “any attempt” from the U.S. government “to acknowledge and to take the needs of wildlife into account.”

“If you were going to design a border wall with maximal impact, you would do exactly what they were doing,” Chapman said. “You couldn’t do it worse.”

Lawsuit: Power failure at federal jail a humanitarian crisis

Monday, February 4

NEW YORK (AP) — A power failure at a federal detention center in New York City spawned a humanitarian crisis worsened by authorities’ response as guards wearing scarves and layers of clothing policed inmates who coped with “very cold” conditions in short-sleeve shirts and light pants, a lawsuit charged Monday.

The lawsuit filed in Brooklyn federal court by the Federal Defenders of New York cited numerous disruptions caused by the outage that resulted from a Jan. 27 fire at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn.

Defense lawyers have not been able to visit inmates who were reporting little or no heat, little or no hot water, minimal electricity, near total lack of access to some medical services, or access to telephones, televisions, computers, laundry or commissary, it said.

Inmates also reported smelling noxious fumes and seeing prison officers wearing masks even though none were supplied to inmates, the lawsuit said.

The Justice Department said that power was restored around 6:30 p.m. Sunday and that it was working to prevent future problems.

A message was left with the U.S. Justice Department seeking comment on behalf of the Federal Bureau of Prisons and Warden Herman Quay.

Authorities violated the constitutional rights of over 1,600 inmates by denying legal visits, the lawsuit alleges. Protesters gathered outside after news reports that inmates had largely been without heat or power for a week.

The power failure caused “inhumane” conditions for inmates, and the response was “woefully inadequate” as authorities were slow to acknowledge the problem and failed to take adequate steps to obtain temporary supplies of electricity or heat and to repair damage, the lawsuit said.

It called for the appointment of a special master to inspect the lockup and unspecified damages.

The lawsuit also accused the federal government of making misleading statements to the public and courts about conditions inmates faced.

And it said prison officials were largely unresponsive when lawyers sought information about “troubling reports” by inmates.

An upbeat report from the warden about the conditions for inmates was belied by what Deirdre von Dornum, attorney-in-chief of the federal defenders office, saw when she toured the facility Friday, the lawsuit said.

She found the facility to be “very cold,” according to the lawsuit, learned some inmates received only cold food for days after the fire, and observed guards in warm clothing while many inmates were in short-sleeve shirts and light cotton pants.

She also saw that lighting outages left some cells in the dark and encountered inmates who reported untreated serious medical conditions and said they had not received clean clothing or bedding since the fire, forcing one inmate to sleep on bloody bedding, the lawsuit said.

Changed Supreme Court weighing Louisiana abortion clinic law


Associated Press

Monday, February 4

WASHINGTON (AP) — The outcome of a fight over a Louisiana law regulating abortion providers could signal whether a fortified conservative majority on the Supreme Court is willing to cut back on abortion rights.

The high court is expected to decide in the next few days whether the state can begin enforcing a law requiring doctors who work at abortion clinics to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. It was passed in 2014, but has never taken effect.

The Supreme Court struck down a similar law in Texas three years ago. But the court’s lineup has changed since then. Two appointees of President Donald Trump have joined the bench and Justice Anthony Kennedy has retired. Kennedy voted to strike down the Texas law.

The law was to have taken effect on Monday, but Justice Samuel Alito issued a brief order last week that pushed back the effective date at least to Thursday because, Alito said, the justices needed more time to consider an emergency appeal from Louisiana abortion providers. Alito handles those appeals from Louisiana.

The issue before the court is whether the law may be enforced even as appeals over its validity continue, so the impending vote may not be the justices’ last word on the matter.

But it is expected to be a window on the court’s views of abortion rights.

A vote to allow the law to take effect “will be a really good sign that the modified Court will not police states or lower courts’ compliance with” the Texas decision or an earlier ruling in 1992 that reaffirmed a woman’s right to an abortion that the court first announced in the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973, University of California, Irvine law professor Leah Litman wrote on the progressive Take Care blog.

Abortion opponents have been awaiting that signal since Trump’s election, particularly after he promised during the 2016 campaign to appoint “pro-life justices.” Justice Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s first appointee, took the seat of the late Justice Antonin Scalia, who opposed abortion rights. The president’s second pick, Justice Brett Kavanaugh, replaced Kennedy.

The current situation bears some resemblance to the court’s shift on a particular abortion method that its opponents call partial-birth abortion.

In 2000, the Supreme Court struck down Nebraska’s ban on the procedure by a 5-4 vote. Seven years later, the court upheld a federal partial-birth abortion ban by an identical vote. The makeup of the court had changed, with John Roberts replacing William Rehnquist as chief justice and, crucially, Alito taking Sandra Day O’Connor’s place on the bench. O’Connor voted to strike down the state law; Alito voted to uphold the federal ban.

In the majority opinion that upheld the federal law, Kennedy wrote that the law did not impose an “undue burden” on a woman’s right to an abortion, the standard laid out in the 1992 abortion-rights ruling, and that it was sufficiently different from the Nebraska law that had been struck down in 2000, even though neither law contained a provision allowing the method to be used if a doctor decided it was necessary to preserve the mother’s health.

Rachel Morrison, litigation counsel for the anti-abortion group Americans United for Life, said the court also could find differences between Texas and Louisiana in the situations confronting women seeking abortions in the two states. The court’s ruling invalidating the Texas law “does not mean that all admitting privileges laws are per se unconstitutional or that there is sufficient evidence that Louisiana’s law will lead to the closure of a large number of abortion clinics in Louisiana,” Morrison wrote on her group’s website.

Differences in the two state laws were at the heart of last year’s 2-1 ruling by the federal appeals court in New Orleans that upheld the Louisiana measure. The appeals court rejected a trial judge’s conclusions at least one and possibly two of the state’s three abortion clinics would have to close and, at most, two doctors would remain authorized to perform abortions in Louisiana.

In January, the full appeals court voted 9-6 not to get involved in the case, setting up the Supreme Court appeal.

The appellate ruling “brazenly ignored recent U.S. Supreme Court precedent squarely on point,” said?Nancy Northup, head of the Center for Reproductive Rights. The group represents the clinics in court fight.

More alarming to abortion rights supporters is that high court action allowing the law to take effect could provide a road map to lower courts that are considering, or may soon weigh, other state efforts to restrict abortion.

Judges will be able to whittle away at abortion rights “by distinguishing away any decision favorable to reproductive justice, and refusing to meaningfully scrutinize any law that affects abortion access or abortion providers,” Litman wrote.

The case is June Medical Services v. Gee.

The Conversation

3 ways to improve education about slavery in the US

February 1, 2019

Author: Tiffany Mitchell Patterson, Assistant Professor of Secondary Social Studies, West Virginia University

Disclosure statement: Tiffany Mitchell Patterson does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Partners: West Virginia University provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.

When it comes to teaching students about slavery in the United States, teachers often stumble through the topic. In the worst cases, they use poorly conceived lessons that end up inflaming students, parents and communities about a subject that is already difficult to deal with because of the inhumanity involved.

For instance, in 2018 a Bronx middle school teacher “shocked and traumatized” her social studies class when she had black students lie on the floor, then “stepped on their backs to show them what slavery felt like.”

In 2012 in Georgia, a third-grade teacher resigned after an investigation found the teacher and three others had assigned math homework with word problems about slavery, such as, “If Frederick got two beatings each day, how many beatings did he get in one week?”

As a former social studies teacher and now as an assistant professor who helps prepare educators to teach social studies, I have no shortage of ideas on how educators – or parents or anyone who is interested in learning more about slavery in the United States – can do a better job of understanding the subject and presenting it to others. Here are three of those ideas:

1. Identify the slaveholding presidents

Every American should know that several U.S. presidents – including some of the Founding Fathers – were slaveholders. Twelve U.S. presidents held anywhere from one to hundreds of people as slaves. The nation’s first president, George Washington, enslaved over 300 people and held slaves for 56 years. Thomas Jefferson, the nation’s third president, held 600 persons as slaves.

This often comes as a surprise to students. In my experience, many students have also been taught that the presidents were nice and humane to their slaves. I would emphasize to students that treating a person as property is neither nice nor humane.

About two years ago, critics prompted Scholastic to stop distribution of a book, “A Birthday Cake for George Washington,” that depicted “happy” slaves and which Scholastic itself admits may have given a “false impression of the reality of the lives of slaves.”

Slavery should be taught from the perspectives of those who were enslaved. For example, the young reader’s edition of “Never Caught, The Story of Ona Judge: George and Martha Washington’s Courageous Slave Who Dared to Run Away,” sheds light on an aspect of George Washington’s life as a slaveholder that is not widely told to children.

Similarly, students should contemplate the life of Sally Hemings, an enslaved house servant with whom Thomas Jefferson – author of the Declaration of Independence – fathered six children, beginning when she was 16. Jefferson never publicly acknowledged his children with Hemings.

2. Move beyond textbooks

When it comes to dealing with slavery, textbooks often use inadequate or inaccurate descriptions. For instance, in 2015, a high school freshman noticed that his geography textbook referred to Africans brought to plantations in the United States between the 1500s and 1800s as “workers” instead of as slaves. This sparked widespread outrage as McGraw-Hill is a major textbook publishing company. McGraw-Hill apologized and agreed to revise the textbooks.

The McGraw-Hill textbook controversy was hardly an isolated issue. In 2018, the Southern Law Poverty Center found that when it comes to teaching students about American slavery, “textbooks do not have enough material about it.” Even the best textbook examined in the center’s analysis scored just 70 percent on a rubric designed to assess how good the textbooks were teaching various aspects of U.S. slavery, such as how the nation’s founding documents – the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution – contain protections for slavery, or how slave labor was critical to the nation’s economy. The average book scored 46 percent.

Parents and educators would be wise to encourage the use of primary sources to fill in what the textbooks are missing. Primary sources include records and firsthand accounts.

Since slavery in the U.S. was not formally abolished until the 13th Amendment was ratified in 1865, today’s student might think there’s no way they could actually hear the voices of former slaves. But as demonstrated by Voices from the Days of Slavery: Former Slaves tell their Stories – a collection on file at the Library of Congress and available online – a person can actually hear firsthand accounts of life during slavery.

Hearing the voices of those who were enslaved is more powerful than what could ever be captured in a textbook.

Similar primary sources can be found in in the Framework for Teaching Hard History of American Slavery. Picture books and novels, such as those on a list titled “Slavery, Resistance and Reparations,” are also a great way to engage children of all ages.

3. Get out of the classroom

Another way to learn about slavery is to visit museums and historic sites. Smaller state and local museums with exhibits, plantations, cemeteries, auction blocks and historical markers might be located in your state or local community. A librarian or archivist at a local library might be able to share unique local histories of slavery.

Plan family trips or field trips to larger national museums that highlight the histories of slavery. In Washington, D.C., the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture has a “Slavery and Freedom” exhibition. There is also the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site.

The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati, Ohio, Lest We Forget Black Holocaust Museum of Slavery in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and the Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration in Montgomery, Alabama, all provide a more comprehensive lens on the systemic oppression of slavery.

FILE – In this Friday, Nov. 16, 2018, file photo, members of the U.S. military install multiple tiers of concertina wire along the banks of the Rio Grande near the Juarez-Lincoln Bridge at the U.S.-Mexico border, in Laredo, Texas. The Pentagon said Sunday, Feb. 3, 2019, it will send 3,750 more troops to the U.S.-Mexico border to put up another 150 miles of concertina wire and provide other support for Customs and Border Protection. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File) – In this Friday, Nov. 16, 2018, file photo, members of the U.S. military install multiple tiers of concertina wire along the banks of the Rio Grande near the Juarez-Lincoln Bridge at the U.S.-Mexico border, in Laredo, Texas. The Pentagon said Sunday, Feb. 3, 2019, it will send 3,750 more troops to the U.S.-Mexico border to put up another 150 miles of concertina wire and provide other support for Customs and Border Protection. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)
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