In the News

By: Niv Elis

The House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday approved an amendment that would limit the use of shackles on pregnant women detained by immigration and border patrol.

“ICE has recently reported it has detained more than 500 pregnant women since December, and they are using shackling of pregnant women,” said Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.), the amendment’s sponsor.

The American Medical Association, she continued, recommends against shackling pregnant women in their second or third trimester because it can increase chances of harming the fetus.

The practice of shackling women was uncommon until the Trump administration imposed its zero-tolerance border crossing policy, Clark said, in part because women were not regularly detained prior to that.

The amendment would still allow the use of shackling in extreme circumstances, such as for women who pose a clear flight risk or a danger to themselves or others.

The committee adopted the amendment to the Homeland Security Appropriations bill by a voice vote with no opposition. The bill is expected to advance later in the evening.

The committee also adopted an amendment from Clark that would prevent ICE from destroying records related to potential sexual assault or other forms of abuse of individuals in ICE custody.

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Original story here.

By: The Editorial Board

A person who has abused animals is five times more likely to commit violence against people, according to decades-old research. That stark correlation suggests policy opportunities for violence prevention that deserve to be more fully explored.

For instance, some individuals who have been convicted of animal cruelty are allowed to obtain a gun permit in some states, despite a federal law that prohibits those with a felony conviction from owning a firearm. That’s because some states treat some types of animal abuse as a lesser offense, charging only the most egregious incidents as felonies (like dog fighting or cock fighting).

A bill introduced by US Representative Katherine Clark on Capitol Hill would add misdemeanor convictions of animal cruelty in the federal gun ownership ban. It’s a common-sense measure that Congress should embrace.

“Much like the way domestic violence used to be thought of, violence against animals has historically been considered a private matter,” said Clark. “Those are your animals and you’re sort of allowed to do what you want in your property. But the research around the direct link between mass gun violence and a history of animal abuse has evolved and become more compelling.”Indeed, scientists have been studying animal abuse as a predictor of future mass violence since the 1960s. A 2013 study, coauthored by Northeastern University professor Arnold Arluke, found that about 40 percent of school shooters from 1988 to 2012 committed a particular type of abuse: flagrant, “up-close and personal” violence against animals, like “strangling, bludgeoning, burning, or mutilating” them.

Nikolas Cruz, the shooter who killed 17 people at the Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., with an AR-15 rifle, repeatedly abused animals. He reportedly shot chickens and squirrels with a pellet gun. He also boasted of killing toads to the point of noting that the toads would run away when they saw him because “I killed a lot of them.” Devin Kelley, the gunman who killed 26 people at a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, last year, had been previously charged with a misdemeanor after beating his malnourished husky with his fists and then throwing him onto the ground.

Until two years ago, the FBI didn’t formally track animal abuse crimes. Federal authorities used to lump all crimes involving animals into one generic category. Now the FBI is gathering detailed data on “gross neglect, torture, organized abuse, and sexual abuse” involving animals.

As more sophisticated data become available, analysis of cruelty to animals will further inform our understanding of future patterns of violence — for instance, pet abuse and domestic violence often go together. For now, Congress should act on the clear connections between animal violence and human violence to ensure guns stay out of the hands of animal abusers.

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Original story here.

By: Katherine Clark/Guest Columnist

At 19, Jen was diagnosed with Lupus. She had to navigate her way into adulthood balancing doctors’ visits and frequent prescription refills. Jen knew health insurance was critical for managing her chronic disease, but never more so than when she became pregnant with her first child. Her diagnosis meant additional pre- and post-natal care to support the health of her baby. Fortunately, the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) guaranteed coverage for anyone with a pre-existing condition, like Lupus, required Jen’s health insurer to cover her and her child’s care.

Thanks to the ACA 130 million Americans with pre-existing conditions can no longer be discriminated against when it comes to health care coverage. Despite this success, President Trump and Republican leadership on Capitol Hill have started taking an axe to this vital provision of the ACA. In June, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the Department of Justice would no longer defend coverage for pre-existing conditions in Texas v. United States, a court case brought by Republican-led states arguing that the guaranteed issue provision of the ACA is unconstitutional.

The Trump administration’s decision not to defend the law has a devastating effect: millions of Americans with pre-existing conditions could be unable to access health insurance. It could also sabotage the health care system as a whole.

Reacting to the administration’s announcement that they would not defend protections for those with pre-existing conditions, Matt Eyles, president of America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) said, “Removing those provisions will result in renewed uncertainty in the individual market, create a patchwork of requirements in the states, cause rates to go even higher for older Americans and sicker patients, and make it challenging to introduce products and rates for 2019.”

As many as half of all Americans have an illness or condition that is considered a pre-existing condition by insurance companies. That’s one in every two Americans who rely on non-discriminatory care from their insurer to cover everything from asthma, to diabetes, to cancer, to mental health, to substance use disorder. For older Americans, the percentage is even higher: about 86 percent of Americans between the ages of 55 and 64 have at least one pre-existing condition, according to government estimates.

Yet another astounding fact is that prior to the ACA, being a woman was considered a pre-existing condition, allowing insurers to deny coverage to women or charge women more for coverage. A recent study found that nearly 68 million women and girls nationwide have a pre-existing condition, including the 6 million pregnancies that occur each year in the United States.

The reality is this that at one point or another we all experience a health scare and there is little planning that can prepare any of us for the heartache of a medical emergency. But what we can prevent is a family bankruptcy when someone gets sick. This risk is significantly reduced when health insurance providers can’t use our health conditions to prevent us from accessing care or charge us additional out-of-pocket expenses. But we can’t achieve this if the Trump administration and a Republican-led Congress continue to dismantle policies that are working for the American people.

Unfortunately, attacking Americans’ basic right to health care isn’t a new play for the Republican leadership. Just last summer, House Republicans voted to repeal the ACA in its entirety, but were stopped, thankfully, by the U.S. Senate. More recently, the Republican tax bill, a significant giveaway to the wealthiest corporations, added $2 trillion to our deficit. To balance the cost, my Republican colleagues are now proposing cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid – benefits that hardworking Americans have earned.

Every American family should be able to access health insurance that is reliable and affordable. We must also lower prescription drug costs, lower premiums and deductibles, protect Medicare and Social Security, and defend coverage for pre-existing conditions. We know that the security of the American family starts with the ability to access affordable, quality health care, and I will never stop fighting until health care is a right for all, rather than a privilege for a few.

Katherine Clark is the U.S. representative for Massachusetts’ 5th congressional district.

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Original story here.

By: Shannon Young

With studies suggesting a link between animal abuse and future violence, a Massachusetts congresswoman announced legislation Thursday that seeks to keep guns out of the hands of individuals convicted of animal cruelty charges.

U.S. Rep. Katherine Clark, a Melrose Democrat who has sponsored other legislation to protect domestic violence victims and their pets, said her new bill seeks to close a loophole that allows those convicted of animal cruelty to have firearms.

Although federal law prohibits individuals convicted of a felony from having firearms, Clark noted that many states prosecute animal abuse as a misdemeanor offense. That, she argued, has led people who have committed violent crimes that are predictive of future violence to still posses guns.

The congresswoman said her proposed "Animal Violence Exposes Real Threat of Future Gun Violence Act" would end gun access for those with misdemeanor animal cruelty convictions.

The bill, she added, is modeled on legislation Congress passed in 1996 to bar individuals convicted on misdemeanor domestic violence charges from accessing firearms.

Pointing to data from the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and Northeastern University, Clark argued that such a measure is needed given the ties between animal abuse cases and recent mass shootings.

"There is a well-documented link between animal abuse and future violence," the congresswoman said in a statement. "From Columbine to Parkland to Sutherland Springs, these perpetrators of mass gun violence had a history of animal abuse, and addressing this pattern of behavior is part of the solution when it comes to preventing gun violence and saving lives."

The MSPCA and Northeastern University study found that individuals who commit animal abuse are five times more likely to commit violence against people than those who do not abuse animals.

According to Clark's office, data further suggests that about half of all school shooting perpetrators between 1988 and 2012 engaged in some form of animal cruelty, while seven in 10 convicted animal abusers will commit another crime in 10 years.

T. Christian Heyne, the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence legislative director, lauded Clark's bill, offering that past violent behavior is often "the greatest indicator of future violence."

"Cruelty toward and abuse of animals is often seen as a warning sign for domestic abuse and other violent behavior," he said in a statement. "The AVERT Future Gun Violence Act of 2018 identifies this warning sign and takes the important step of prohibiting the possession of a gun for someone convicted of animal abuse."

Sara Amundson, president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund, praised the congresswoman for "highlighting the link between animal cruelty and violence toward people," noting that the FBI has long profiled mass shooters who had early connections to animal cruelty.

"Cruelty in any form must be taken seriously and stopped. Law enforcement has long recognized this link, and this legislation would make communities safer by taking action to intervene early," she said.

The FBI amended the National Incident-Based Reporting System in 2016 to start collecting data specifically on animal abuse, in part, to study the connection between such actions and future violent behavior.

The congresswoman formally introduced the measure in late June. It has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee for further consideration.

U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Worcester, has signed on as a co-sponsor of the legislation.

The American Psychological Association has also come out in support of Clark's bill.

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Original story here.

By: Lissandra Villa

Federal contractors working to reunite families separated at the border asked about the religious affiliation of at least two immigrant women seeking to get their children back, according to court documents and an attorney involved in one of the interviews.

The women, both currently living in the Boston area, were recently separated from their children under President Donald Trump’s “zero-tolerance” policy. Both of the women are asylum seekers, and one has already been reunited with her daughter.

Massachusetts Rep. Katherine Clark, who has been working with both mothers to reunite them with their children, told BuzzFeed News Friday that both women had been asked “what is your religion,” calling the question “outrageous.”

“Both of the families we’re working with are Christians,” Clark said. “But what if they weren’t? Are we saying now you can’t be reunified with your own child if you don’t share the religious preference of this particular vendor who runs these detainment centers for children?”

It’s not clear how widespread the practice of asking immigrant parents seeking to be reunited with their children about their religion is. The Administration for Children and Families, which oversees the office responsible for the separated children (the Office of Refugee Resettlement), didn’t respond to questions about whether it is a policy for ORR and its contractors to ask all immigrant parents about their religious affiliation or what the information is used for. The two federal contractors who housed the women’s children deferred questions to ORR. The executive director of the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES), which has worked to help reunite families, also said he was not familiar with the issue.

But according to Clark, court documents filed on behalf of one of the women and an attorney for the other, the questions about religion came up during phone interviews with caseworkers responsible for determining whether the two mothers were suitable sponsors for their own kids.

Angelica Rebeca Gonzalez-Garcia was reunited with her daughter in Boston last week after more than 50 days apart. She filed a lawsuit last month to get her daughter back but dropped the case after they were reunited. A clip of Gonzalez-Garcia in tears while hugging her daughter and asking for forgiveness for leaving her alone has been played repeatedly on CNN.

Susan Church, who was on the team of attorneys representing Gonzalez-Garcia, told BuzzFeed News she was asked about Gonzalez-Garcias’ religion during an interview with a representative from Southwest Key, where Gonzalez-Garcias’ daughter was being held. Southwest Key is a nonprofit with a government contract from ORR to provide emergency shelter for children who have been separated from their parents.

Church said she spoke with the Southwest Key representative to complete an ORR “verbal questionnaire” on behalf of Gonzalez-Garcia, but said that it is usually done by the client.

“One of the very first questions I was asked on that second interview was, ‘what is her religion?’” Susan Church said. “I said Christian, but why does that matter?”

Church said they tried to clarify what type of Christianity Gonzalez-Garcia practices, but Church said she responded, “I don’t understand why that matters.” She described the official as a “bureaucrat” who was just “following the form” and didn’t have “any power over the situation.”

But Church noted, “I don’t have evidence that had the answer been Muslim that the child would not be returned to the mom.”

Clark declined to name the other woman she is working with because the mother has not yet been reunited with her son. But the mother has also filed a lawsuit in federal court asking that he be immediately released into her care. The court papers say they were separated at the end of May.

The woman, identified only as W.R. in her complaint, alleges in the case that in June she was instructed to fill out a “Family Reunification Packet” and was asked by a caseworker from BCFS, a Christian non-profit that serves as another government contractor, about her religious affiliation.

“The case worker’s very first question to W.R. was whether she is religious, and if so, what religion she practices,” according to the complaint. “The case worker then asked W.R. whether she was Christian and attended church and how often. W.R. replied that she is religious and attends church regularly, the case worker responded, ‘Great!.’”

The complaint says W.R. was then asked a range of questions by the caseworker, from her marital status to how she would “discipline” her son.

“W.R. answered all questions without objection, because she feared that any objection would jeopardize or further delay A.R.’s release,” the complaint states.

Clark pointed to BCFS’s website which lists attending a Christian church as a requirement for foster and adoptive parents. A BCFS spokesperson told BuzzFeed News that the family reunification process, including questions that are asked of parents, is all done “at the direction” of the Office of Refugee Resettlement.

The spokesperson added that BCFS’s list of requirements (including the requirement that they attend a Christian church) is completely unrelated to the reunification process, which BCFS said it runs according to ORR's guidelines. The spokesperson referred all other questions to ORR, which did not comment on the religion question.

BuzzFeed News reached out to ACF, which runs ORR and falls under the Department of Health and Human Services, for comment on an extensive list of questions, including what the information about the women’s religion was being used for and for what reason the women were directed to specific vendors for fingerprints. “As a matter of policy, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services does not comment on matters related to pending litigation,” was the emailed response.

ORR is currently run by E. Scott Lloyd, a devout Catholic with a history of controversial statements on abortion and contraception. He has made headlines this year for preventing minors in immigration detention from getting abortions and has personally lobbied some minors not to get the procedure.

ORR had been using the process meant to place unaccompanied minors with sponsors in order to reunite parents with their children, which includes lengthy vetting. But on Tuesday a judge ruled that process couldn’t be used in these situations, calling it too time consuming.

Throughout the process of applying to be reunited with her child, W.R. was identified as the “sponsor” for her son, according to her lawsuit. The BCFS caseworker also referred to her as a “sponsor” during a phone interview, according to the court filing.

“We have to start treating these parents as parents,” Clark said. “We separated them from their children, and we have to do everything we can to bring them back together as quickly as possible. And asking a religious test to receive your own child back, are we saying that if you are not Christian you may not have your child returned to you? I find that shockingly — ‘inappropriate’ wouldn’t even begin to cover it — it’s just shocking that we would ask that question of parents.”

On Capitol Hill, several other Democrats told BuzzFeed News they had not heard about such questions being asked during the family reunification process, but raised concerns about asking families for their religious affiliation and the lack of transparency around the process of reuniting families more broadly.

“It’s not in the bounds of normal casework,” New Mexico Sen. Martin Heinrich told BuzzFeed News about questions concerning religion. “But this is why we need to do oversight hearings. This is why we need to actually understand what it is they’re doing and how they’re organizing it.”

Heinrich said he hadn’t heard of these questions until BuzzFeed News brought it to his attention but said the family separation situation “is all existing relatively in a blackbox.”

Sen. Kamala Harris told BuzzFeed News she wasn’t familiar with the religion question either, but called it “deeply disturbing.”

“We don’t make decisions about whether someone is a citizen, whether they enter the country, or — it’s called freedom of religion, it’s one of the basic tenants of our government and who we are as a country and the priorities we’ve created,” Harris said.

BuzzFeed News also asked Jonathan Ryan, the executive director of RAICES, about these questions, who also said he had not heard of them.

"There should be no religious test to reunification with these unaccompanied children. This is about families first and not about any kind of litmus test," Ryan told BuzzFeed News.

Clark offered an amendment Wednesday that would prohibit ORR or its contractors from asking any question related to religion as part of the assessment "for any potential sponsor or adoptive or foster parent” of an unaccompanied minor or during the process of reunifying a child with a parent.

In addition to the question about religious affiliation, Clark raised concerns that both women had been asked to travel long distances at their own expense to get fingerprinted in order to be reunited with their children.

According to her lawsuit, W.R. was told that in order to complete her reunification paperwork she would need to be fingerprinted at a specific location in Massachusetts, more than 50 miles away, before her reunification case could be evaluated. The lawsuit states W.R. offered to have fingerprints taken at a US Citizens and Immigration Services site in Boston, but was told that she could not go there.

Clark said Gonzalez-Garcia was also initially told to travel from where she now lives in the Boston area to a specific site in New Jersey for fingerprints and would have to bear the cost of the travel. Both women, the lawmaker added, had already had fingerprints taken at the border. Asked what the justification was for traveling to a specific site for the fingerprints, Clark said, “We could never get a clear answer on that.”

“Nobody can tell me where the policy is from. I’ve asked everyone,” Clark said. “Can you send me the policy that says these moms need to be re-fingerprinted even though … Border Patrol has them, and why we can’t be sharing that information to get this process moving? And nobody can point me to a policy, an email, a meeting, a phone conversation.”

“It is chaos,” Clark said. “And who’s paying the price for it are the children.”

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Original story here.

By: The Associated Press

Angelica Rebeca Gonzalez-Garcia, who is living in Framingham, was reunited with her 8-year-old daughter at Logan International Airport in Boston Thursday. The pair were separated in May after crossing the U.S. border in Arizona. Gonzalez-Garcia told the Daily News she is seeking asylum in the U.S. to escape the violence in Guatemala.

BOSTON — A Guatemalan woman seeking asylum was reunited with her 8-year-old daughter Thursday, nearly two months after they were forcibly separated when they crossed the U.S.-Mexico border.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts tweeted that the daughter, who was identified only as S.K., arrived at Boston’s Logan Airport Thursday afternoon, where she was greeted by her mother, Angelica Rebeca Gonzalez-Garcia, and a crowd of supporters. Gonzales-Garcia has been living with friends in Framingham since the U.S. Immigation and Customs Enforcement allowed her case for asylum to go forward.

“Forgive me, my child, forgive me,” Gonzalez-Garcia can be heard sobbing to her daughter in Spanish as the two embraced in a short video posted on Twitter.

The ACLU and two Boston-area law firms filed an emergency lawsuit in federal court demanding the immediate reunification of the family last week. The suit was among dozens filed across the country after Republican President Donald Trump ended his administration’s controversial practice of separating migrant children from their parents.

Gonzalez-Garcia said at the time the lawsuit was filed that the two had been apprehended crossing the border in Arizona in May and were later sent to separate facilities. Gonzalez-Garcia was eventually released in Colorado and settled in Massachusetts, but her daughter remained in a Texas shelter.

The girl was returned to her mother after her legal team, with the help of U.S. Rep. Katherine Clark, a Massachusetts Democrat, pushed to expedite the process of designating Gonzalez-Garcia as the girl’s legal sponsor, said Matthew Segal, legal director for the ACLU of Massachusetts.

Immigration officials had deemed the girl an “unaccompanied minor” and required Gonzalez-Garcia to go through fingerprinting and other screening measures that her legal team argued would take weeks if not months.

“The big obstacle has been that the government was treating them as strangers and making them go through procedures that were not at all appropriate” in this situation, Segal said. “There was never any dispute that she was this girl’s mother and that this was her daughter.”

In an interview with the Daily News on Saturday, Gonzales-Garcia said she and her daughter entered the U.S. on May 9. They were placed in a detention center together with 40 other women, she said through Diego Low, who interpreted her comments from Spanish to English.

Gonzales-Garcia’s daughter, then 7, was taken from her two days later on Mother’s Day. She said she had no idea where her daughter was taken only that she was somewhere in Texas. At the time of her interview with the Daily News, she had spoken by phone with her daughter five times since they were separated.

“I came here to save my life, and my daughter’s life from aggression and violence (in Guatemala), she said through Low, who is the director of Casa del Trabajador in Framingham, an organization that supports immigrant workers.

On Saturday she said she feared the Trump Administration’s zero-tolerance immigration policy would lead to her deportation back to Guatemala without her daughter.

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Original story here.

By: Ray Sanchez and Linh Tran

Angelica Gonzalez-Garcia waited 55 days for this moment.


She wept as she embraced her 8-year-old daughter Thursday afternoon at Boston's Logan Airport, more than 2,500 miles from the Arizona detention center where Gonzalez-Garcia said an immigration agent wished her a "Happy Mother's Day" before the girl was taken from her without explanation.


"Forgive me for leaving you all alone," Gonzalez-Garcia cried. "Forgive me, my daughter. Forgive me."


The long-awaited reunion came on the same day Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar raised the number of minors in the agency's care who were possibly children from separated families. He said there may be just under 3,000 children, with about 100 children under the age of 5.

"You know that I love you, right?" said Gonzalez-Garcia, on her knees, sobbing and holding the girl.


"You know that I missed you. You are the gift that God gave me. I'll never leave you alone again. Never. Forgive me my darling for leaving you alone. Forgive me. I didn't want to."


The embrace lasted minutes, with Gonzalez-Garcia and her daughter both on their knees -- the way she said the two knelt in prayer every morning since their separation. Later, the girl played with a talking doll that was given to her.


"I was very nervous," Gonzalez-Garcia told CNN in an exclusive interview. "I was waiting for the moment she walked through that door. ... She is all I have. She is my whole life. It's been so long."


Gonzalez-Garcia, 31, ran her fingers through the girl's hair. Lawyers and supporters stood around them. Some dabbed tears.
"There was a time I thought I would never see her again," she said.


"But I got on my knees every day and prayed. She says she also prayed every day that we would be together again. ... The wait was like an eternity. I'm the happiest woman in the world right now."


The reunion was made possible by lawyers from two firms and the ACLU of Massachusetts. Rep. Katherine Clark, D-Massachusetts, helped speed up the reunification process.


"The frustrating thing for everyone involved in this ... is there are no answers," Clark told CNN.


"There's never been a plan to get these families back together. ... There is no policy. It is a matter of chance, and we are so full of joy to see this reunion, but there are thousand of families out there. Some who don't know where their children are. And these are the actions of the US government."


Gonzalez-Garcia was fortunate in some ways. Only a trickle of children have been reunited with their parents.


"My baby came back to me," she cried Thursday, holding her daughter tightly. "I knew that we wouldn't be alone. Lord, how can I repay you for this beautiful gift?"


The long journey to the airport reunion has taken Gonzalez-Garcia from her native Guatemala, which she and her daughter fled in late April to seek asylum in the US because of severe abuse and domestic violence at home, according to lawsuit the mother filed against the federal government last week.


"When I felt I could no longer live safely in my country, I left," she said in an affidavit.


Mother and child endured the sometimes perilous route from southern Mexico to the US border, where in early May they were taken into custody in Arizona, according to the lawsuit.


Gonzalez-Garcia and her daughter were held in a room with 30 to 40 other women and children, the lawsuit said. Days later, immigration officers took her daughter away, telling her she would "never see" the girl again.


The day before the separation, an immigration officer asked Gonzalez-Garcia a question, according to the affidavit.
"In Guatemala, do they celebrate Mother's Day?"


"When I answered yes, he said: 'Then Happy Mother's Day' because the next Sunday was Mother's Day," Gonzalez-Garcia recalled. "I lowered my head so that my daughter would not see the tears forming in my eyes."


Gonzalez-Garcia was eventually transferred to a detention center in Colorado, the lawsuit said. She was released on bond June 19 after filing an asylum application. She is now staying with friends in Massachusetts.


Her supporters launched an online fundraising campaign to help support the mother and child until Gonzalez-Garcia can obtain a work permit.


When she was finally able to reach her daughter by phone, Gonzalez-Garcia learned the girl feared for her safety after having been bruised and injured by another child at a shelter in Texas, according to the lawsuit. Her daughter turned 8 while at the shelter.


The fate of thousands of children separated from their families at the southern border under the Trump administration's widely condemned zero tolerance policy remains unclear.


Azar, the Health and Human Services secretary, told reporters Thursday that under 3,000 children separated from their parents are in government custody -- a figure far higher than the one his department released nine days ago.


HHS had previously reported having 2,047 children separated from parents in its care.


Azar said "a review and comprehensive audit of multiple data sets" by HHS and the Department of Homeland Security "has identified under 3,000 children in total, including approximately 100 children under the age of 5" in the care of Office of Refugee Resettlement-funded grantees.


The HHS secretary said that number refers to children "who may have been separated from their purported parents who were taken into DHS custody for having crossed illegally or for other reasons like concerns for the safety of the child."


The Trump administration is grappling with a series of court-imposed deadlines after a judge ordered the US government to halt most family separations at the border and the reunification of separated families.

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Original story here.

By: Aamer Madhani and Jessica Guynn

The police knew about his threats. The newspaper he assailed considered him a danger. And in tweets available for anyone to see, the man suspected of killing five at a Maryland newspaper this week broadcast his hate with a stream of invective.

The failure to stop Jarrod Ramos, charged with five counts of first-degree murder for Thursday’s deadly rampage at the Capital Gazette newspaper in Annapolis, shows the blind spots that foil law enforcement and internet companies — even as the social media gusher puts the warning signs in plain sight.

“The terror and violence that we saw at Capital Gazette is another horrible example why our laws need to be updated to reflect modern-day crime,” said Rep. Katherine Clark, D-Mass., who has been pushing for years to bolster federal online harassment laws and increase cybertraining for police departments around the country.

Ramos, 38, posted harassing social media messages that alarmed editors at the newspaper and led police to investigate but fell short of leading authorities to pursue charges or Twitter to ban him. Twitter suspended Ramos’ account Friday. It declined to comment on it.

Ramos’ grudge with the Capital Gazette dated back to a July 2011 article in which the paper chronicled his guilty plea for harassing a former high school classmate by email, phone and on Facebook.

A year later Ramos filed a defamation lawsuit against the newspaper in a Maryland state court and later added a charge of invasion of privacy over the newspaper’s coverage of his conviction.

The lawsuit eventually was dismissed, but that did not stop Ramos from launching a Twitter campaign in which he unleashed vitriol against the paper and its staff, including threats against the former staff reporter who wrote about his harassment conviction, Eric Thomas Hartley, and the retired publisher, Tom Marquardt.

In one haunting tweet in February 2015, Ramos’ account said, “I'll enjoy seeing @capgaznews cease publication, but it would be nicer to see Hartley and Marquardt cease breathing.”

Ramos' Twitter account featured journalist Hartley's picture as its avatar and included the tagline "making corpses of corrupt careers." On Hartley's forehead was an image inserted from the Japanese manga and anime series "Berserk," which recounts the ritual murder of people marked with it. Ramos also placed the symbol on Marquardt's head.

Since Nov. 20, 2011, Ramos mentioned in tweets @ethartley or his last name 107 times, Marquardt by name or as "Evil Tom" nearly 100 times and @capgaznews more than 50 times, according to a USA TODAY analysis.

The account regularly attacked the newspaper and its journalists, including a reference to the deadly shooting at the French newspaper Charlie Hebdo in 2015.

It had been dormant since January 2016. Shortly before the shooting on Thursday, it posted a message: “F--- you, leave me alone.” That was the same message it posted the day after the state’s second-highest court upheld a ruling in favor of the newspaper.
Marquardt told the Capital Gazette that he called Anne Arundel County police years ago to express his concerns about Ramos' attacks on the newspaper and its journalists on social media.

"I was seriously concerned he would threaten us with physical violence," Marquardt said. "I even told my wife: 'We have to be concerned. This guy could really hurt us.'"

Anne Arundel County Police Chief Timothy Altomare said that a detective was assigned to investigate the matter in May 2013 but that the newspaper ultimately declined to pursue criminal charges.

"There was a fear that doing so would exacerbate an already flammable situation," Altomare said.

Some law enforcement experts questioned whether Ramos’ online posts crossed a legal threshold that would have allowed police to file charges.

“His statements may be defamatory, they may be libelous, they may be obnoxious. … But the question is: Are his statements credible threats? In retrospect, it’s easy to say yes. But we have a lot of crazy people in this world saying things," said Peter Scharf, co-founder of the Gulf Coast Computer Forensics Laboratory and a criminologist at Louisiana State University.

“You now have people saying, ‘Police should be patrolling the internet,’” Scharf said. “But really what’s here that would trigger a rational law enforcement intervention?”
Twitter's scourge

Online harassment has become an epic problem. Four in  10 Americans have personally experienced online harassment, and 18 percent of Americans said they have been subjected to particularly severe forms of harassment online, such as physical threats, harassment over a sustained period, sexual harassment or stalking, a 2017 Pew Research Center survey shows.

The harassment happens on Facebook, Instagram or anywhere users can comment publicly on another's update. But Twitter, Ramos' apparent platform of choice, has long been dogged by rampant abuse problems.

For years Twitter was reluctant to limit freedom of expression on the service.

People don’t have to use their real names on Twitter. And with that anonymity has come racist, sexist and anti-Semitic taunts and attacks, as well as full-fledged campaigns from trolls, individuals or groups whose primary intent is to sow discord on social media platforms. Ineffective efforts to police that behavior have driven some users, including prominent ones, from the platform.

Twitter now concedes it did not move quickly enough to curb abuse and harassment. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey has pledged Twitter would work to make sure it becomes a healthier environment for users – at the same time abuse on Twitter intensified during and after the presidential election.

The company has taken more forceful steps to curbing harassment, such as reducing the visibility of accounts that are disruptive or abusive, giving users new tools to block content they don't want to see, and beefing up training of employees who review harassment complaints from Twitter users.

It's unclear whether the tweets on the Ramos account violated Twitter's rules.

According to its terms of service, Twitter bans "abusive behavior and hateful conduct," and it bans specific threats of violence of physical harm, death or disease. The threats have to be "explicit statements of one's intent to kill or inflict serious physical harm against another person."

New tools to identify harmful behavior would not not have alerted Twitter to Ramos, whose account had been dormant for more than two years until Thursday, when he made a final menacing tweet. Before Twitter began using the new tools, an individual user would have had to flag Ramos' tweets as a problem. Even when users flag such abuse, Twitter has had a patchy track record of acting on the complaint.

Facebook and Twitter are still not dedicating enough resources to content moderation and are not imposing stiff enough penalties on those who break the rules, fueling the behavior of online trolls, said Jennifer Grygiel, a Syracuse University communications professor who studies social media.

"What we are seeing, too, is that online trolls know exactly the limits in content moderation, how far they can push things before content gets flagged," she said. "Often aggressive comments fall short of content moderation language."
Police often lack tools, know-how

Clark, the Massachusetts congresswoman, said the scourge of online harassment is further complicated by the fact that many law enforcement agencies – particularly small and midsized ones – have little capacity to train officers on how to investigate incidents.

She has proposed legislation in the House that includes a $20-million-a-year grant to assist state and local law enforcement in cybercrimes training and a $4-million-a-year  grant to establish a National Resource Center on Cybercrimes Against Individuals that would provide departments technical assistance.

On the federal level, prosecution of cybercrimes has been inconsistent, analysts say. Clark said  cybercrime has simply been a lower priority for federal prosecutors.

"With the training of law enforcement, we have seen some progress. Indeed, there are prosecutors who specialize in online abuse,” said Danielle Citron, University of Maryland law professor who advises Twitter on safety. “But the gains have been modest, and online stalking laws remain seriously underenforced around the country."

Brianna Wu, a computer programmer who faced death and rape threats from supporters of a militant online movement known as Gamergate that targeted feminist criticism of the gaming scene, said  the Capital Gazette massacre underscored that all stakeholders – law enforcement, lawmakers, social media platforms and their users – need to act.

The FBI identified four men who sent threats of rape and murder to women, including Wu. The U.S. attorney for Massachusetts, however, declined to prosecute.

“Everyone has a role to play – myself included,” said Wu, who is now running for Congress in Massachusetts. “We need to stop feeling powerless, and we need to start getting it done.”

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Original story here.


By: Shannon Young

A Massachusetts congresswoman condemned the U.S. Supreme Court Tuesday for blocking a state law that requires "crisis pregnancy centers" to provide women with information about abortion.

U.S. Rep. Katherine Clark, D-Melrose, slammed the high court's 5 to 4 ruling in National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra, which found that a California law requiring centers operated by abortion opponents to offer information about the procedure likely violates the First Amendment.

The Melrose Democrat argued that the decision to allow crisis pregnancy centers to operate "unchecked" represents "a devastating blow to the rights and health of women."

"These so-called health centers manipulate, shame and scare women away from comprehensive family planning services using false and medically inaccurate information," she said in a statement. "The appropriate role of government is to ensure patients receive accurate information on health services."

Clark argued that the high court's ruling "flies in the face of that and gives priority to those looking to spread misinformation over the needs of women looking for care."

The California law, known as the Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care and Transparency Act, sought to require centers to inform women that free or low-cost abortion, contraception and prenatal care are available through public programs -- a policy which supporters argued attempted to combat misleading information.

It also required unlicensed clinics to disclose they are not licensed by the state, but did not require them to notify women about the availability of abortion, according to the New York Times.

The crisis pregnancy centers, however, contended that the law violated their right to free speech as it required them to provide information that went against their beliefs.

The Supreme Court held that the FACT Act "unduly burdens protected speech" and "imposes a government-scripted, speaker-based disclosure requirement that is wholly disconnected from the state's informational interest."

The court's ruling reversed that of an appeals court and remanded the case for further proceedings.

Justice Clarence Thomas authored the court's majority opinion, joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Anthony Kennedy, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch.

Justices Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg dissented.

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Original story here.

By: Liz Goodwin

WASHINGTON — Congressional Democrats are flocking to the border, investigating conditions in immigrant detention centers and denouncing President Trump.

Senator Elizabeth Warren and Representatives Katherine Clark and Mike Capuano of Massachusetts were among the more than two dozen Democratic lawmakers who traveled to the Southern border this weekend in a blue wave of outrage.

But they were unable to extract many answers from front-line US Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers, who are awaiting directions from Washington on how to accomplish the daunting task of reuniting the thousands of children the government separated from their parents as part of a “zero tolerance” policy on the border. They also gave little information on where families and children would be held together under Trump’s revised policy — and for how long.
“Every question I asked seemed to have a complicated answer that led to two more questions,” Warren told the Globe in a phone interview Sunday. Even though Trump reversed his policy of forced family separations and says he is now planning to detain families together, Democrats are keeping up intense pressure on Trump and his Republican allies over a volatile issue that has become a political crisis for the GOP heading into the mid-term congressional elections.

Polls show that Trump’s devoted base is sticking with him and supports his decision to criminally prosecute everyone who crosses the border. But the Trump administration’s handling of the mass detentions and the resulting chaos are energizing the opposition and risk weakening support for the GOP from independents and suburban Republicans.

The Department of Homeland Security released a fact sheet Saturday claiming it had reunited 523 children with their parents so far, and had a “well coordinated” plan for how to reunite the remaining 2,053 children who have been distributed across the country to far-flung shelters and foster homes while their parents were deported or held in detention centers on the border. DHS added that it is working to “ensure communication” between parents and their children.

Tearful mothers in one detention center, however, told lawmakers they hadn’t spoken to their children and didn’t know where they were being held.

“We met with dozens of moms who don’t know where their children are, have not been allowed to contact them, and are simply heartbroken and grief-stricken that they haven’t been able to find their children,” Clark told the Globe by phone on Saturday.

On Wednesday, Trump signed an executive order ending his policy of separating parents and their children for now, asking the courts for permission to hold them together indefinitely while they await their immigration court dates. Children and parents appeared to no longer be separated at a Border Patrol facility in McAllen, Texas, according to Clark and Warren. Children were kept with their parents in the caged-off areas, rather than being held separately and then transferred to shelters.

Warren said she was told by Border Patrol agents while touring the facility that under the new plan, men with children were for the most part being released to relatives in the United States to await their court dates. Women with children were more likely to remain detained in an ICE facility. The agents told her this was for the women’s safety, and because of a lack of detention space for adult men with children. Warren was also told that aunts, uncles, grandparents, or adult siblings traveling with minor relatives will still be separated from them under the new policy.

“This processing center is a tough thing to see,” Warren said. “I’ve just seen thousands of people held in cages.”

When lawmakers met with about 25 mothers later Saturday at the Port Isabel Detention Center, they were told the Trump administration has a long way to go before reuniting parents with the children who were taken from them.

“The reunification seems to be totally rudderless and without a strategy or a plan on how they’re going to put these families back together,” Clark said.

“A lot of people are not being told what’s happening to their children,” Capuano said.

Some parents complained they were being charged for phone calls, which made it harder for them to locate their children, according to Clark and Capuano. An ICE spokeswoman, Sarah Rodriguez, said in a statement that ICE detainees are able to call their children free of charge, once ICE has coordinated the call with HHS. The agency has not disclosed what percent of separated parents have been able to talk to their children.

Sleepy border towns have been transformed into hot spots for Democrats in the past few weeks, and the visits do not appear to be slowing. While Clark and Capuano were in McAllen, another group of lawmakers, including Representative Beto O’Rourke of Texas, who is running to unseat Senator Ted Cruz, visited Tornillo, near El Paso, to inspect the “tent city” built for children there. On Thursday, a group of 19 mayors traveled to Tornillo as well, including Mayor Bill DeBlasio of New York and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, a rumored Democratic presidential candidate in 2020. On Friday, Senator Kamala Harris of California, another potential 2020 Democratic presidential hopeful, toured a detention center in her state. And 12 members of Congress plan to fast for a day to show solidarity with the separated children, including Massachusetts lawmakers Senator Ed Markey and Representatives Joe Kennedy and Clark.

The president has accused Democrats of seizing on his separation of thousands of children from their parents, which has been widely denounced as inhumane, for their own political gain. But the president also boasted that cracking down on immigrants was a political winner for Republicans. “They want to use the issue,” Trump said of Democrats at a rally in Nevada Saturday night. “I like the issue for our election, too.”

A Republican senator accused the Trump administration of taking drastic action on immigration in order to motivate its base before the midterms.

“The administration obviously made a very large mistake,” Senator Bob Corker, a Republican from Tennessee, said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” Sunday. “I know that some in the White House want to use the immigration issue as a force to activate the base for elections.”

But a recent CBS News poll suggests that the issue is more favorable politically for Democrats than Republicans. Seventy-two percent of Americans disapprove of separating parents from their children at the border, including about half of Republicans. Eighty-four percent of Democrats and 55 percent of independents claim the issue will be a factor in their vote in the 2018 midterms, with just 43 percent of Republicans saying the same.

Clark said Democratic members of Congress have been inundated with calls from constituents who are fired up about stopping the separations. Her trip, organized by the Democratic Women’s Working Group, expanded to include male members because of the intense demand.

“All of us have received so many phone calls, so many e-mails from our constituents, and it’s so frustrating and frightening, the stories that were coming out of the border, that I’m not surprised that members wanted to come and bear witness to this and get answers to their questions,” she said.

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Original story here.