The Trump administration is working to slash the wages of migrant farmworkers, even as it works to send direct aid to farmers and ranchers hurt by the coronavirus pandemic. The plan, led by White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, would lower pay for some 250,000 foreign guest laborers, even though they’ve been declared “essential workers.” The immigrant rights group Movimiento Cosecha tweeted in response, “The lives of essential workers feeding the country during this pandemic simply do not matter to the agriculture industry or to the government.”
The United States Postal Service is appealing to Congress for $89 billion in federal grants, warning that without assistance, the coronavirus pandemic will leave the agency insolvent by September. The appeal came after the Trump administration successfully blocked a $13 billion direct grant to the Postal Service in the $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief bill, instead offering the agency a $10 billion loan. Postmaster General Megan Brennan says that’s not enough to prevent disruption of regular mail delivery by the fall. The looming crisis comes as many states are looking to expand voting by mail ahead of the November election. In a tweet, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders urged Congress to act to save the USPS.
In Philadelphia, over 200 nonviolent prisoners were released from jails in the first week of judges holding emergency hearings aimed at reducing the prison population amid the coronavirus outbreak. Protesters have been calling for prisoners to be freed since the lockdowns started. On Friday, hundreds of cars rallied outside Philadelphia jails for a #FreeOurPeople rally.
In Arizona, over 700 people joined a car rally Friday outside the privately owned Eloy Detention Center and La Palma Correctional Facility near Phoenix, demanding the immediate release of all immigrants in custody as COVID-19 cases continue to rise. As of last week, there were five confirmed cases in Arizona immigration jails, including two inside La Palma, though activists say the numbers are likely much higher. This is Stephanie Figgins Ramirez, an activist with Trans Queer Pueblo at Friday’s rally.
Stephanie Figgins Ramirez: “We call on Governor Ducey to publicly pressure ICE to shut down detention centers, to free all migrants and stop removal operations. We also call on Governor Ducey to stop funneling more people into ICE centers by ending sheriff and ICE collaboration in county jails.”
In related news, women imprisoned at the Otay Mesa Detention Center near San Diego say CoreCivic — the private company that runs Otay Mesa — sent a shipment of surgical masks to the facility last week, but that prisoners were told they first had to sign a contract protecting CoreCivic from liability if they became sick. When the women refused to sign, ICE guards reportedly pepper-sprayed them. The contract requirement has since been withdrawn. Activists held a car rally outside Otay Mesa Saturday protesting the attack.
The coronavirus outbreak has hit workers in the food processing industry hard, with meatpacking plants reporting explosions in coronavirus cases. In Sioux Falls, South Dakota, a Smithfield Foods pork processing plant closed down after nearly 240 workers tested positive — representing over half the active COVID-19 cases in the state. One hundred thirty workers at a Cargill Meat Solutions plant in Pennsylvania tested positive for COVID-19, with many others calling in sick.
Elsewhere in Pennsylvania, a union steward at the JBS Beef slaughterhouse died last Friday of a coronavirus infection. Deaths of slaughterhouse workers have also been reported in Georgia and Colorado. Many meat processing facilities employ large numbers of immigrants, including undocumented workers. Smithfield’s CEO warned the pandemic is pushing U.S. meat supplies “perilously close to the edge”.
In Guam, the U.S. Navy says nearly 600 sailors have tested positive for COVID-19 after evacuating the USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier. Former acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly was forced to resign last week, after he called the former captain of the nuclear-powered vessel, Brett Crozier, “too naive or too stupid” to run the ship. The insult came after Crozier sent a memo to naval commanders pleading for help as his crew started testing positive for the coronavirus.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was released from the hospital Sunday as he continues to recover from COVID-19. In a video message, he thanked the National Health Service staff who took care of him.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson:: “I have today left hospital after a week in which the NHS has saved my life, no question. It’s hard to find words to express my debt.”
This comes as criticism mounts over the Johnson government’s response to the coronavirus crisis, including failure to get enough PPE and tests to NHS workers. Britain’s official coronavirus death toll has now topped 10,000, and officials warned it could end up with the highest number of fatalities in Europe.
At the Vatican, Pope Francis delivered an Easter sermon via video stream from a nearly empty Saint Peter’s Basilica on Sunday.
Pope Francis: “The whole world is suffering and needs to be united in facing the pandemic. May the risen Jesus grant hope to all the poor, to those living on the peripheries, to refugees and the homeless.”
With over 20,000 deaths, Italy has suffered the highest death toll in Europe, and the second highest globally after the United States. Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte extended the country’s lockdown to May 3; it was originally set to expire today.
Meanwhile, Spain, which now has over 17,000 COVID-19 deaths, is slowly reopening some sectors of its economy. Spain’s daily death toll rose again over the weekend but then fell to 517 on Monday. Authorities say the rate of new infections in Spain continues to fall.
In Russia, Moscow hospitals say they are seeing a major spike in cases and have been overwhelmed with admissions in recent days as Russia’s death toll topped 100. Winding lines of ambulances were reported at one Moscow hospital Saturday, where one ambulance driver said he had to wait 15 hours to drop off a patient.
China has reported over 100 new COVID-19 cases over the past day, the highest number of new infections in over a month. Chinese authorities say most of the cases are so-called imported infections involving people returning from other countries. The increase has stoked fears of a second wave of infections in China.
In Brazil, a Yanomami teenager has reportedly died of COVID-19, making him the first member of the community to succumb to the coronavirus. Yanomami leaders say they suspect illegal gold miners may be responsible for bringing the coronavirus into the community. The teen’s passing is the second death of an indigenous person in Brazil, as fears mount of a massive deadly outbreak among isolated indigenous groups living deep in the Amazon.
In Brazil, a study involving chloroquine’s effect on coronavirus patients was stopped after 11 of the 81 participants died, and others developed irregular heart rates, which can increase the risk of potentially fatal arrhythmia. President Trump has repeatedly touted hydroxychloroquine, a derivative of chloroquine, to treat COVID-19.
In Liberia, police in riot gear used truncheons and sticks to beat people who remained in the streets of the capital Monrovia Saturday as a lockdown for the city of 1 million people went into effect. Many residents said the threat of hunger far outstripped the threat of the coronavirus.
Jettroy Kolleh: “If today you tell them that tomorrow will be a state of emergency, that everyone should stay in and quarantine themselves, then how do you expect them to be fed? You know what’s going to kill many people? Corona is not going to kill many people. It’s the hunger that will kill many Liberians.”
OPEC members, Russia, and other oil-producing countries have made an agreement to cut oil production by 10 million barrels per day — or a tenth of global supply — in response to the oil price crash as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and an oil price war between Russia and Saudi Arabia. The cuts may not be enough, however, to boost prices, since the output would still significantly exceed current demand.
May Boeve, executive director of 350.org, condemned the agreement, saying, “it does not address the structural overproduction of oil and it doesn’t get us towards what’s really needed, a managed decline of the fossil fuel industry. The oil price collapse is a stark warning to any investor who thinks that they can still profit from funding fossil fuel companies.”
The partner of Julian Assange is calling on British authorities to release the WikiLeaks founder over fears of coronavirus infection, as she reveals the pair had two children together and got engaged while Assange was taking refuge in the Ecuadorian Embassy. In a video released by WikiLeaks, lawyer Stella Moris says she met Assange when she started helping with his extradition case. He faces up to 175 years in prison for his role in publishing U.S. classified documents exposing U.S. war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan. Assange is currently locked up at London’s Belmarsh prison for bail violations and is scheduled to face extradition hearings next month.
Tara Reade, who has accused Joe Biden of sexually assaulting her when she worked in his Senate office in 1993, has filed a report with the Washington, D.C., police. Although the statute of limitations has expired, Reade said she filed the report for “safety reasons.” Over the weekend, The New York Times published a piece in which several witnesses corroborate elements of Reade’s account. The Times came under fire for then deleting a sentence in the article — which was also tweeted out — detailing previous accusations against Biden. The New York Times originally wrote, “We found no pattern of sexual misconduct by Biden, beyond hugs, kisses and touching that women previously said made them uncomfortable.” The Times then removed the phrase “beyond hugs, kisses and touching that women previously said made them uncomfortable.”