President Biden has raised the cap on the number of refugees admitted to the United States to 62,500 this year. The president’s announcement comes after weeks of backlash from refugee rights groups and some Democrats who condemned Biden’s previous decision to keep the Trump-era refugee cap of 15,000 — a record low. Biden also ended Trump’s restrictions on refugees from Syria, Yemen and Somalia, and added more slots for refugees from Central America, Africa and the Middle East.
Rights groups applauded Biden’s move, as it’s expected it could pave the way for the U.S. to raise its cap to Biden’s original campaign promise of 125,000 refugees by the next fiscal year. However, Biden admitted Monday the U.S. would likely not be able to reach either target this year or next due to the pandemic and roadblocks in the resettlement process, which Biden attributes to the Trump administration.
The humanitarian group World Relief said last month the Biden administration’s claims it needed to fully rebuild the refugee resettlement process were “a completely false narrative” and “a purely political calculation.” Only about 2,000 refugees were resettled in the U.S. between October and March.
In more immigration news, four parents — from Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico — will be reunited with their children in the U.S. after being separated under former President Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy. They are the first families to be reunited on U.S. soil since the Biden administration began its reunification process. At least two of the mothers have been separated from their children since 2017. The Biden administration has initially agreed to reunite 35 parents with their children, out of more than 1,000 youths who remain separated.
The immigrant justice group Al Otro Lado, “The Other Side,” said the Homeland Security Department had done nothing to facilitate the return of the four parents. It was Al Otro Lado which negotiated their travel visas, paid for their airline tickets and arranged the reunification. In a statement, the group said, “These mothers have been waiting, in danger in Mexico, for over three years. … We represent over 30 other parents who, like these mothers, were ready for return on day 1 of the Biden presidency. … There is no reason, other than lack of political will, for DHS to make these families undergo even one more day of separation and torture.”
India reported another 357,000 new coronavirus cases and nearly 3,500 deaths Tuesday, as India’s total caseload during the pandemic passed 20 million. A critical shortage of oxygen showed no signs of abating, with residents turning to social media to appeal for oxygen canisters for sick relatives and friends. Meanwhile, long lines at crematoriums and overflowing hospitals across India suggest the government is vastly underreporting the extent of India’s crisis. This is a worker at a crematorium in India’s capital, New Delhi.
Om Prakash: “People have to wait for at least five to seven hours before getting a chance to cremate the bodies. The bodies are not even being cremated properly because there are only four to five priests who are performing the rituals. Although, as you can see, the bodies are being cremated rapidly, there is still a long queue of ambulances carrying bodies of COVID-19 victims outside the crematorium.”
India’s COVID crisis has spilled into neighboring Nepal, which reported a record one-day high of daily infections Tuesday. Nepal’s Army began cremating the remains of COVID victims in open areas of Kathmandu after temples and crematoriums ran out of space. Nepal’s Ministry of Health has issued an urgent appeal for millions of vaccine doses, calling the crisis “unmanageable.”
South America’s COVID crisis shows little sign of abating. Argentina’s total caseload reached 3 million this week, with many intensive care units and hospital beds filled to capacity. In Brazil, where COVID-19 has caused one in three deaths this year, officials have begun delaying appointments for second doses of vaccines amid shortages.
The Biden administration is under increasing pressure to support a waiver of patent rights for COVID-19 vaccines, as the World Trade Organization prepares to meet Wednesday and Thursday. Dozens of countries from the Global South, led by India and South Africa, are pushing for a waiver to allow countries to ramp up production, vaccinate more people and bring the pandemic to an end sooner. On Monday, the head of the World Health Organization said a WTO rule allowing for a temporary suspension of intellectual property rights was written specifically to address global emergencies like the pandemic.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus: “The provision of waiving IP was meant for this condition, for emergencies, and this is unprecedented.”
On Monday, Moderna said it would make 500 million doses of its vaccine available to poorer countries beginning late this year. Kate Elder, senior vaccines policy adviser for Doctors Without Borders, welcomed Moderna’s announcement but noted the vast bulk of the doses are scheduled for 2022. She tweeted, ”DOSES ARE NEEDED NOW.”
In North Carolina, Andrew Brown Jr. was laid to rest Monday amid growing questions over why sheriff’s deputies shot him to death on April 21. Brown was a 42-year-old Black father from Elizabeth City who was shot five times by officers serving an arrest warrant. One bullet struck Brown in the back of the head. Brown’s family has only seen a 20-second snippet of police body-camera video, which they say shows Brown had his hands on the steering wheel of his car when he was killed. On Monday, the Reverend Al Sharpton delivered the eulogy at Andrew Brown’s funeral.
Rev. Al Sharpton: “I know a con game when I see it. Release the whole tape and let the folk see what happened to Andrew Brown. … This must stop! Enough is enough! How many funerals do we have to have before we tell the Congress and the Senate that you’ve got to do something in these times?”
The Environmental Protection Agency moved Monday to phase out the use of hydrofluorocarbons, highly potent greenhouse gases commonly used in refrigerants. The EPA’s plan calls for an 85% reduction in the use of the chemicals over the next 15 years. Climate scientists say a rapid phase-out of hydrofluorocarbons worldwide would help prevent a global temperature rise of one-half of one degree Celsius by the end of the century.
In West Virginia, a landmark trial kicked off in federal court Monday as local governments seek accountability from drug companies over the opioid crisis. The city of Huntington and Cabell County in West Virginia are seeking over $1 billion from the nation’s three largest drug distributors: McKesson, AmerisourceBergen and Cardinal Health. Plaintiffs say the companies flooded their communities with addictive pain medications despite their known dangers, causing a “public nuisance” and fueling the country’s devastating opioid epidemic, which has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives. If the case is successful, it could have major implications for thousands of similar lawsuits around the country, brought by cities, counties, Native American tribes and other plaintiffs.
In Colombia, the family of 17-year-old Marcelo Agredo is demanding justice after a police officer fatally shot the boy while he joined a protest against the government’s proposed tax reforms last week. New disturbing video shows Agredo kicking an officer, then running away as the officer draws a pistol and shoots the teen in the back. Agredo was at the march with his brother. His father is a retired taxi driver. At least 19 people have been killed and hundreds more wounded during the days-long demonstrations.
Massive protests continue even after President Iván Duque withdrew the planned tax reforms, as anger mounts against his right-wing government and worsening poverty, unemployment and inequity in Colombia.
In El Salvador, rights groups are warning of a worsening political crisis after the Salvadoran Legislative Assembly, which is controlled by the political party of President Nayib Bukele, voted to unseat five Supreme Court judges. The Salvadoran attorney general has also been dismissed. The Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador, or CISPES, is calling their ousting illegal and an assault on democratic institutions. Other Salvadoran groups condemned the move.
José Marinero: “We categorically condemn this coup d’état endorsed by President Bukele and executed by lawmakers of the New Ideas party and other parties, who, through the cooptation of justice, are trying to consummate an unquestionable authoritarian political project in which all powers respond to a single person.”
In response, CISPES is demanding the U.S. withdraw funding for the Salvadoran military and police and stop sending aid that they argue only benefits the economic interests of the corrupt elite.
In Mexico City, at least 23 people were killed and dozens more injured Monday night after a subway overpass collapsed while a train was passing over it. Two subway cars were left dangling precariously from the ruined bridge. Rescue operations were halted overnight while authorities brought in a crane to help stabilize the wreckage. Local residents had reported cracks in the bridge after a powerful earthquake in 2017.
Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz is under fire for threatening to punish corporations whose CEOs have spoken out against voter suppression efforts like Georgia’s recently passed election law. In a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed titled “Your Woke Money Is No Good Here,” Senator Cruz writes, “This time, we won’t look the other way on Coca-Cola’s $12 billion in back taxes owed. This time, when Major League Baseball lobbies to preserve its multibillion-dollar antitrust exception, we’ll say no thank you.” Walter Shaub, the former director of the Office of Government Ethics, responded, “This may be the most openly corrupt thing any Senator has said.”
Republican lawmakers in Kansas have failed to enact legislation that would have banned transgender athletes from participating in girls’ and women’s sports. Monday’s 26-14 vote by the Kansas state Senate was one vote shy of the two-thirds majority needed to override Democratic Governor Laura Kelly’s veto. Similar anti-trans bills have recently become law in Alabama, Arkansas, Idaho, Mississippi, Tennessee and West Virginia.
The transgender community is mourning the loss of ballroom legend and activist Jahaira DeAlto, who was fatally stabbed in Boston Sunday. She was 43 years old. DeAlto belonged to the House of Balenciaga, which said in a statement, “Let us not forget her ongoing work against domestic abuse and continue to uplift her name and ensure her memory lives on in this ironic twist of fate.”
DeAlto was also a caregiver for other members of the trans community. Last year on Mother’s Day, DeAlto wrote on Twitter, “I am the mother who raised the children whose rainbow sparkled too brightly and blinded their birth moms. I cherished what they discarded. … For their babies who still needed raising. I did that.”
DeAlto is at least the 21st trans person to be killed in the U.S. in 2021, with activists worrying this year is on track to become the deadliest for trans people.