President Joe Biden is signing three executive orders on immigration today. The first establishes a task force that will aim to reunite hundreds of asylum-seeking families separated by the Trump administration. The two other orders will look into Trump’s disruption of the asylum process, restore funding to Central American countries aimed at combating the root causes of why people flee, and review Trump’s controversial “Remain in Mexico” program and other Trump-era policies that made it harder for immigrants to get permanent residency if they used public aid such as food stamps.
This comes as immigration advocates are condemning the deportation of hundreds of asylum seekers within the first few days of Biden’s presidency — after a federal judge temporarily blocked Biden’s 100-day moratorium on many removals. A U.S. deportation flight departed to Haiti Monday — the first day of Black History Month. The Guardian reports nearly two dozen African asylum seekers are scheduled for deportation as early as today.
In international news, South Africa received its first batch of coronavirus vaccines on Monday. The 1 million AstraZeneca-Oxford shots will be used for healthcare workers as they respond to an overwhelming surge linked to a variant that is believed to be more infectious and potentially more resistant to current vaccines.
In Brazil, hospitals in the Amazonian city Manaus report continued shortages of oxygen amid a second, massive surge in COVID-19 cases. In October, medical researchers found about 75% of Manaus’s population had already been infected; many of the new infections are from a coronavirus variant known as P.1 that appears to have evolved to become more likely to reinfect people. A case of the P.1 variant was recently reported in the United States for the first time, in Minnesota.
In Hubei, China, a team of World Health Organization experts are continuing their investigation into the origins of COVID-19, with visits to local disease control centers on Monday. On Sunday, they went to the Wuhan seafood market where the virus was first detected.
Around 2 million people in Western Australia abruptly went into a five-day full lockdown Sunday, after one coronavirus case was identified in a hotel worker in Perth.
Back in the U.S., Congressmember Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has opened up about being a sexual assault survivor, and traumatic memories that resurfaced on January 6, when a violent mob incited by President Trump attacked the U.S. Capitol. In a powerful Instagram Live video broadcast Monday, Ocasio-Cortez said she hid in the bathroom of her Capitol Hill office fearing for her life as a man barged in repeatedly shouting, “Where is she?” The man turned out to be a Capitol Police officer who had not identified himself. Ocasio-Cortez says she and a staffer were unsure whether the officer was there to help them or hurt them. She says she ultimately ended up barricaded in the office of California Congressmember Katie Porter with furniture pushed up against the doors. Ocasio-Cortez said she decided to share her story after Republican colleagues asked her to forget about the insurrection and move on.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: “The reason I say this, and the reason I’m getting emotional in this moment, is because these folks who tell us to move on, that it’s not a big deal, that we should forget what’s happened, or even telling us to apologize, these are the same tactics of abusers. And I’m a survivor of sexual assault. And I haven’t told many people that in my life.”
President Trump has assembled a new legal team to mount his defense at next week’s Senate impeachment trial, after five members of his previous team quit. Trump has hired Bruce Castor, a former district attorney from Pennsylvania who in 2005 decided not to prosecute Bill Cosby after Andrea Constand accused him of drugging and sexually assaulting her. Cosby went on to be convicted of that crime in 2018. Another lawyer hired by Trump, David Schoen, previously represented Trump ally Roger Stone, as well as Russian and Italian mafia bosses. Schoen met with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein a few days before he died in jail.
House Democrats introduced a resolution Monday to remove Georgia Republican Marjorie Taylor Greene from her committee assignments over her history of violent threats and racist, anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic comments.
On Monday, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell did not mention Greene directly by name, but referred to her “loony lies and conspiracy theories” — describing them as a cancer for the Republican Party. McConnell told The Hill, “Somebody who’s suggested that perhaps no airplane hit the Pentagon on 9/11, that horrifying school shootings were pre-staged, and that the Clintons crashed JFK Jr.’s airplane is not living in reality.”
In El Salvador, two activists were killed Sunday and five others wounded after gunmen opened fire on a group of supporters of the leftist political party FMLN in the capital San Salvador. Gloria Rogel del Cid and Juan de Dios Tejada were members of FMLN and survivors of the U.S.-backed war in El Salvador. The group had been campaigning all day as El Salvador prepares to hold local and legislative elections at the end of the month. FMLN lawmakers and Salvadoran advocates blamed conservative President Nayib Bukele for instigating political violence after Bukele insinuated the FMLN had planned the attack against its own people.
In a statement, the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador wrote, “It is heartbreaking and terrifying to see a return to this type of overt political violence in El Salvador, which had largely ended after the Peace Accords were signed in 1992, but it’s not necessarily a surprise. Social movements and international solidarity organizations have been warning that behind the president’s discourse of hate is a Machiavellian strategy to legitimize violent state repression and the consolidation of power.”
The United Nations is calling for the restoration of democracy in Burma, after the military seized power just hours before a new parliament was set to convene on Monday. President Joe Biden said the U.S. might reimpose sanctions on Burma, calling the coup “a direct assault on the country’s transition to democracy and the rule of law.”
In Turkey, massive student protests continued in Istanbul Monday following the arrest of four university students over artwork that depicted the LGBTQ rainbow flag alongside the image of a sacred Islamic site. Over 150 protesters were arrested. Mobilizations have been ongoing for over a month after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan appointed one of his allies to head a major University in Istanbul. The Turkish interior minister referred to the four arrested students as ”LGBT freaks,” while Erdogan accused the LGBTQ movement of “vandalism.”
Seven men who were formerly incarcerated at Guantánamo are urging President Biden to shut down the military prison. The men were released during the Bush and Obama presidencies.
In an open letter published last week, the men write, “Many of us were abducted from our homes, in front of our families, and sold for bounties to the U.S. by nations that cared little for the rule of law. … Some of us had children who were born in our absence and grew up without fathers. Others experienced the pain of learning that our close relatives died back home waiting in vain for news of our return. Waiting in vain for justice. … That is what you must contend with and change.”
This comes as The New York Times reports the Pentagon has suspended plans to provide coronavirus vaccines to the 40 remaining prisoners at Guantánamo. They were originally scheduled to receive them this week.
The Biden administration plans to release $1.3 billion in delayed aid for Puerto Rico’s recovery efforts after 2017’s Hurricane Maria. The aid is also meant to help protect the island against future climate disasters. The federal government will also remove Trump-era restrictions on an additional $4.9 billion in aid to Puerto Rico. The funds are part of a $20 billion package that Congress gave to the Department of Housing and Urban Development to help Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. The New York Times reports less than 1% of the money has been disbursed.
In Rochester, New York, one police officer has been suspended and two officers placed on administrative leave pending an internal investigation, after body camera video showed them handcuffing and pepper-spraying a 9-year-old girl. The video, taken last Friday, shows the officers pressing the girl face-down into the snow as she cries out for her father. One officer says, “You’re acting like a child,” to which she responds, “I am a child.” When the girl refuses to sit in the back of a patrol car, an officer pepper-sprays her in the face.
Rochester police union president Mike Mazzeo on Sunday defended the officer’s actions.
Mike Mazzeo: “He made a decision there that he thought was the best action to take. You know, it resulted in her — no injury to her.”
Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren said Monday that state law and a police union contract prevented her from taking stronger action against the officers. She said the incident had left her community rattled.
Mayor Lovely Warren: “I have a 10-year-old daughter, so she’s a child. She’s a baby. And I can tell you that this video, as a mother, is not anything that you want to see.”
Last year, Mayor Warren fired Rochester’s police chief, La’Ron Singletary, after internal documents showed he sought to cover up the police killing of Daniel Prude. Prude was a 41-year-old Black man who died from asphyxiation in March after Rochester officers handcuffed him, put a hood over his head and pushed his face into the freezing cold ground for two minutes while kneeling on his back.
In Oregon, a voter-approved ballot measure went into effect Monday, making it the first state to decriminalize low-level possession of all drugs. Oregon will use the savings from reduced prison time to fund crime prevention and addiction treatment programs.
Drug Policy Alliance director Kassandra Frederique wrote, “Today, the first domino of our cruel and inhumane war on drugs has fallen — setting off what we expect to be a cascade of other efforts centering health over criminalization.”