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The partial government shutdown is entering it seventh day today, and it appears it will drag into the new year as President Trump insists on including $5 billion for border wall funding before he’ll agree to sign any spending measure. He doubled down Thursday, tweeting, “Have the Democrats finally realized that we desperately need Border Security and a Wall on the Southern Border. Need to stop Drugs, Human Trafficking,Gang Members & Criminals from coming into our Country. Do the Dems realize that most of the people not getting paid are Democrats?” Trump has yet to acknowledge the recent deaths of two migrant children in U.S. custody. He previously said he would be proud to own the shutdown over the border wall, before shifting blame to the Democrats.
Democrats are set to take control of the House in January, which could make passage of a bill which includes border wall funding even more difficult. Eight hundred thousand government workers have been furloughed or are working without pay.
The mother of Felipe Gómez Alonzo, the 8-year-old Guatemalan boy who died while in the custody of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, has spoken out about her son’s death. This is Catarina Alonzo.
Catarina Alonzo: “It was a surprise when my husband said that my son died. When I said goodbye to him, he was healthy. But then my husband said he died peacefully. They left because of poverty. My husband called me from Mexico. He said that they had no problem and they were well.”
Gómez Alonzo, who died on Christmas Eve after becoming ill and feverish while detained at a highway checkpoint with his father, is the second child to die in U.S. Border Patrol custody this month. A 7-year-old indigenous Guatemalan girl, Jakelin Caal Maquín, died on December 8, two days after she and her father presented themselves at the border in a bid for asylum.
A recent report by the Center for Migration Studies found that immigration officials systematically and disproportionately deny medical assistance to migrants who speak indigenous languages. Both Jakelin Caal Maquín and Felipe Gómez Alonzo came from indigenous communities in Guatemala.
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen is reportedly set to visit the U.S.-Mexico border today as outrage is growing over the deaths of the two migrant children. She came under renewed fire after releasing a statement Wednesday placing blame on Congress and “activist judges” for failing to “secure our borders.” On Thursday, California Senator Dianne Feinstein called for the Judiciary Committee to hold a hearing, a day after presumptive incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called for investigations by Congress and the Department of Homeland Security.
In more immigration news, a federal judge in Washington, D.C., Thursday denied a Trump administration request to delay deadlines in an asylum ban case involving six people who were barred from seeking asylum after entering the United States in between legal ports of entry. The Trump administration sought to delay the deadlines, citing the government shutdown, but Judge Randolph Moss said the deadlines would stand because the case affected the safety of the plaintiffs.
In Saudi Arabia, King Salman has consolidated power for Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, ordering a reshuffle of the Cabinet, nearly three months after the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, which caused international uproar and brought Saudi leadership under close scrutiny. Notably, Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir was demoted to the position of minister of state for foreign affairs. Al-Jubeir blamed Khashoggi’s killing on rogue Saudi agents; he also previously characterized the international outcry over Khashoggi’s murder as “fairly hysterical.” The Cabinet shakeup is seen as a boon for the crown prince by placing loyalists in key positions. Bin Salman will retain his roles in the government, including deputy prime minister and defense minister.
Earlier this month, the Senate passed a resolution saying it believes the crown prince is responsible for Khashoggi’s murder. Khashoggi, a U.S. resident and columnist for The Washington Post, was killed by Saudi agents after entering the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on October 2.
In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, political unrest is growing ahead of Sunday’s planned presidential election. On Wednesday, the election commission said voting in three cities would be postponed until March, due to the threats of the Ebola virus spreading and ongoing violence in those areas. Protesters took to the streets in response to the news, with many saying their votes may not be counted if election results are announced as planned in January. President Joseph Kabila was due to step down in 2016, but elections have been repeatedly postponed. This comes as the government ordered the European Union ambassador to the DRC to leave after the EU extended sanctions against a group of officials, including Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, the ruling party’s presidential candidate, for their violent response to protests and for repeatedly delaying elections.
The DRC is experiencing one of its deadliest outbreaks of Ebola, with health officials reporting over 350 dead.
In Sudan, scores of people have been killed in anti-government protests that erupted last week. Government officials put the number of dead at 19, though Amnesty International said earlier this week the number of dead reached 37. The government has declared a state of emergency and reportedly censored or shut down newspapers who were covering the demonstrations. The protests, which were triggered by a sharp rise in the price of bread, are taking aim at the worsening economic situation of the country and the military regime of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, with many calling for the overthrow of the ruling National Congress Party.
On Thursday, a Philadelphia judge ruled that imprisoned former Black Panther Mumia Abu-Jamal can reargue his appeal in his case before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. The judge cited then-Chief Justice Ronald Castille’s failure to excuse himself from the case due to his prior role as Philadelphia district attorney when Abu-Jamal was appealing his case. Abu-Jamal was convicted of the 1981 murder of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner but has always maintained his innocence. Abu-Jamal’s lawyers argued that statements Castille made about people accused of killing police officers indicated he should have recused himself. In 2011, Abu-Jamal was sentenced to life without parole. We’ll have more on this story after headlines with one of the coordinators of the Campaign to Bring Mumia Home, Johanna Fernandez.
In Ohio, Republican state legislators failed to muster enough votes to pass the ultra-restrictive abortion law known as the heartbeat bill by overriding outgoing Republican Governor John Kasich’s veto of the bill last week. Kasich, who has signed over 20 anti-abortion bills while in office, argued the legislation would be considered unconstitutional. The heartbeat bill would prohibit abortions after a fetal heartbeat is heard, which can happen as early as six weeks into a pregnancy. Last week, Kasich signed a bill banning dilation and evacuation—the most commonly used abortion method in the second trimester.
Outgoing Republican Congressmember Bob Goodlatte has blocked legislation aimed at improving federal response to the murders and disappearances of Native American women. The bill was sponsored by Senator Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and passed unanimously in the Senate this month, but Goodlatte’s role as chair of the Judiciary Committee allows him to block voting on it in the House. Senator Heitkamp is exiting the Senate after losing her re-election bid last month, but Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska has vowed to bring the bill back in the new year. The bill is called Savanna’s Act, named after Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind, a member of the Spirit Lake Tribe who was brutally murdered last year when she was eight months pregnant, her unborn baby cut out of her womb while she was reportedly still alive.
The failure to pass Savanna’s Act comes as funding expired for the Violence Against Women Act—which is aimed at helping women who’ve survived domestic violence and sexual assault—amid the ongoing government shutdown.
In Mississippi, the family of a 37-year-old African-American woman who died Sunday while in jail is demanding answers and says they suspect foul play. Lanekia Michelle Brown was arrested during a traffic stop in November and was awaiting trial on drug trafficking charges in prison. Brown reportedly complained of stomach pains shortly before her death. Her family says she was in the early stages of a pregnancy.
And in New York City, the famed Times Square New Year’s Eve celebration will honor the Committee to Protect Journalists this year. Tim Tompkins, president of the Times Square Alliance, said the group chose CPJ to “celebrate the free press and journalism and those who work to protect, preserve and practice it.” Journalists will join in the celebrations, helping to kick off the anticipated “ball drop” countdown to the new year. In its recently released annual report on murdered journalists, CPJ found that at least 53 journalists were killed on the job this year, 34 in reprisal for their work, almost doubling the number of targeted murders against journalists in 2017.