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Man Drives From Ohio Hoping to Help Haitian Friend at Border

As Haitian migrants stepped off a white U.S. Border Patrol van in the Texas border city of Del Rio after learning they’d be allowed to stay in the country for now, a man in a neon yellow vest stood nearby and quietly surveyed them. 

Some carried sleeping babies, and one toddler walked behind her mother wrapped in a silver heat blanket. As they passed by to be processed by a local nonprofit that provides migrants with basic essentials and helps them reach family in the U.S., many smiled — happy to be starting a new leg of their journey after a chaotic spell in a crowded camp near a border bridge that links Del Rio with Ciudad Acuña, Mexico. 

Dave, who didn’t want to share his last name because he feared a backlash for trying to help people who entered the U.S. illegally, didn’t see his friend Ruth in this group. But he wore the bright safety vest so she would be able to spot him in the crowd when she arrived with her husband and 3-year-old daughter. 

“I feel like my friend is worth my time to come down and help,” he told The Associated Press on Friday. 

On Tuesday, Dave set out from his hometown of Toledo, Ohio, and made the nearly 1,300-mile (2,092-kilometer) drive to Del Rio, where up to 15,000 migrants suddenly crossed in from Mexico this month, most of them Haitian and many seeking asylum.

The 64-year-old met Ruth over a decade ago during a Christian mission to Haiti. Over the years, Dave would send Ruth money for a little girl he met in an orphanage whom he’d promised himself he’d support. Ruth always made sure the girl had what she needed. 

Last month, Ruth and her family left South America, where they briefly lived after leaving their impoverished Caribbean homeland, to try to make it to the United States. Dave told her he’d be there when they arrived to drive them to her sister’s house in Ohio. 

“I just see it as an opportunity to serve somebody,” he said. “We have so much.” 

The nonprofit, the Val Verde Border Humanitarian Coalition, has received dozens of drop-offs from U.S. Border Patrol agents since the sudden influx of migrants to Del Rio became the country’s most pressing immigration challenge. Its director, Tiffany Burrow, said the group processed more than 1,600 Haitian migrants from Monday through when the camp was completely cleared Friday, assisting them with travel and resettlement necessities. 

This is nothing new for Burrow, who has watched Haitian migrants cross into Del Rio in smaller numbers since January. But this recent wave overwhelmed her small group. 

“It’s a different volume. And the eyes of the world are on us this time,” Burrow told the AP. 

As Dave waited Friday for the next bus to arrive, he shimmied a child seat into place in the back seat of his vehicle. It was for Ruth’s toddler and was the first thing he spotted when he stopped at a thrift store on his way out of Toledo. He viewed it as a little sign he was doing the right thing. 

Ruth and her family had spent the past week at the bridge camp and Dave had been communicating with her through WhatsApp. But all communication stopped Thursday around noon, and he said Ruth’s sister in Ohio also hadn’t heard from her. 

Still, Dave waited, scrolling through a list of “what ifs.” He wondered aloud if her phone died or if she was in a Border Patrol facility with strict rules about electronic devices. “I’m putting a lot of faith in my phone,” he said, laughing.

Like Dave, Dr. Pierre Moreau made the trip to Del Rio from Miami to help. A Haitian immigrant himself and U.S. Navy veteran, he saw the images unfolding from the camp and booked a flight. 

“That was devastating. My heart was crying,” Moreau said. “And I told my wife I’m coming. And she said go.” 

Moreau didn’t have a plan, just a rental car full of toiletries and supplies he hoped to pass out to any migrants he came across. 

“I’m concerned about my brothers and sisters. And I was concerned with the way they were treated,” he said. 

Dave said he hates how politicized the border issue has become. He considers himself a supporter of former President Donald Trump but said he’s more complicated than a single label.

As he waited in his car, Dave gushed over how hard Ruth had worked as a nurse to get to the United States — a dream she’s held for over a decade. He said he knows she’ll do the same in the U.S. and that all he’s doing is giving her and her small family a leg up. 

“I help them with their first step,” Dave said. “And like a little child, next time you see them, they’ll be running.” 

Every time a Border Patrol bus or van pulled up to the coalition, Dave and his yellow vest would cross the street. He waited as each migrant climbed out, hoping to see Ruth, and he even darted over to one woman, thinking it was her. “That sounded just like Ruth’s voice,” he said. 

As news broke Friday that the camp had been cleared, Dave still held out hope that she’d arrive. But 10 hours after he pulled up, the coalition announced it had received its last busload and that no more migrants would be arriving from the camp. 

This wave, at least for now, was over for Del Rio. But Burrow said there will likely be others. 

“Right now, we’re in a cycle,” she said. “We’re learning to work with it.”

Dave stood up from his folding chair and started walking back to his car. He still hadn’t heard anything from Ruth and he again speculated as to where she and her family might be, including that they could have been sent on a deportation flight back to Haiti. 

He looked defeated but said he didn’t plan to drive back to Ohio until he heard from Ruth — not until he knew his friend was OK. 

“I cringe when I hear the beep that it’s going to be the wrong message,” Dave said. “But I try to keep hoping. I don’t know what else I can do.” 

Texas Border Crossing Where Migrants Made Camp to Reopen 

The Texas border crossing where thousands of Haitian migrants converged in recent weeks was set to partly reopen Saturday afternoon, U.S. Customs and Border Protection said. 

Federal and local officials said no migrants remained at the makeshift encampment as of Friday, after some of the nearly 15,000 people were expelled from the country and many others were allowed to remain in the U.S., at least temporarily, as they try to seek asylum. 

In a statement, officials said trade and travel operations were to resume at the Del Rio Port of Entry for passenger traffic at 4 p.m. Saturday. It will be reopened for cargo traffic on Monday morning. CBP temporarily closed the border crossing between Del Rio and Ciudad Acuña, Mexico, on September 17 after the migrants suddenly crossed into Del Rio and made camp around the U.S. side of the border bridge. 

CBP agents on Saturday searched the brush along the Rio Grande to ensure that no one was hiding near the site. Bruno Lozano, the mayor of Del Rio, said officials also wanted to be sure no other large groups of migrants were making their way to the Del Rio area to try to set up a similar camp.

The Department of Homeland Security planned to continue flights to Haiti throughout the weekend, ignoring criticism from Democratic lawmakers and human rights groups who say Haitian migrants are being sent back to a troubled country that some left more than a decade ago. 

The number of people at the Del Rio encampment peaked last Saturday as migrants driven by confusion over the Biden administration’s policies and misinformation on social media converged at the border crossing.

The U.S. and Mexico worked swiftly, appearing eager to end the humanitarian situation that prompted the resignation of the U.S. special envoy to Haiti and widespread outrage after images emerged of border agents maneuvering their horses to forcibly block and move migrants. 

Many migrants face expulsion because they are not covered by protections recently extended by the Biden administration to the more than 100,000 Haitian migrants already in the U.S., citing security concerns and social unrest in the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country. A devastating 2010 earthquake forced many from their homeland. 

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said Friday that about 2,000 Haitians had been rapidly expelled on 17 flights since Sunday and more could be expelled in coming days under pandemic powers that deny people the chance to seek asylum. 

The Trump administration enacted the policy, called Title 42, in March 2020 to justify restrictive immigration policies in an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. The Biden administration has used it to justify the deportation of Haitian migrants. 

A federal judge late last week ruled that the rule was improper and gave the government two weeks to halt it, but the Biden administration appealed. 

Officials said the U.S. State Department was in talks with Brazil and Chile to allow some Haitians who had previously resided in those countries to return, but it’s complicated because some of them no longer have legal status there. 

Mayorkas said the U.S. had allowed about 12,400 migrants to enter the country, at least temporarily, while they make claims before an immigration judge to stay in the country under the asylum laws or for some other legal reason. They could ultimately be denied and would be subject to removal. 

Mayorkas said about 5,000 were in DHS custody and being processed to determine whether they will be expelled or allowed to press their claim for legal residency. Some returned to Mexico. 

A U.S. official with direct knowledge of the situation said seven flights were scheduled to Haiti on Saturday and six on Sunday, though that was subject to change. The official was not authorized to speak publicly. 

10 Years After ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ US Cadets See Progress

Kelli Normoyle was nervous as she arrived at the Coast Guard Academy campus in Connecticut in 2008. She had come out as a lesbian to a few friends near the end of high school, but she faced a military environment where “don’t ask, don’t tell” was still the policy prohibiting gay people from serving openly.

 

She kept quiet about her sexuality for her freshman year, fearing expulsion and the ruin of her not-yet-begun career. She started testing the waters her second year.

 

“OK, maybe this is somebody that I can trust, maybe this is somebody that identifies the way I do,” said Normoyle, now a lieutenant on the cutter Sanibel, based in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. “But then you always have that moment that was that kind of leap of faith.”

 

Marking the 10th anniversary this week of the end of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” a new generation of military academy students say that their campuses are now tolerant, welcoming and inclusive for the most part — but that more work needs to be done.

 

Homophobic or ignorant comments still arise occasionally. Many transgender students still do not feel comfortable coming out. And advocates say the military needs to do more to include people with HIV, as well as nonbinary and intersex people.

 

Normoyle, 32, of Mount Laurel, New Jersey, and fellow cadet Chip Hall led the formation of the Coast Guard Academy’s Spectrum Diversity Council, the first advocacy group for LGBTQ students at a U.S. military academy, a few months after “don’t ask, don’t tell” ended on Sept. 20, 2011. Similar groups later formed at the other four service academies.

 

Gays and lesbians were banned in the military until the 1993 approval of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” which allowed them to serve only if they did not openly acknowledge their sexual orientation. Rather than helping, advocates say, the policy actually created more problems. In its entire history, the military dismissed more than 100,000 service members based on their sexual or gender identities — 14,000 of them during “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

 

Repeal of the law was approved by Congress and President Barack Obama in late 2010 and took effect nine months later, allowing lesbian, gay and bisexual people to serve openly.

 

At the Air Force Academy in Colorado, second-year cadet Marissa Howard, who came out as a lesbian a few years ago, said she admires LGBTQ service members who struggled under the former policy.

 

“I commend them,” said Howard, of San Antonio, a member of the academy’s Spectrum group. “I feel very included in the environment, and it’s just a good place to feel like my identity is seen and I don’t have to hide who I am here.”

 

Some fellow cadets, however, don’t support their LGBTQ classmates, she said. Once, during an online class, someone called her “weird” for being gay, perhaps thinking they were muted, she said.

 

The Coast Guard Academy in New London was the only U.S. military academy to hold a public event Monday to mark the 10th anniversary. About 100 people attended a dinner that included a viewing of a documentary on “don’t ask, don’t tell,” followed by a discussion.

 

For many cadets, it is difficult to imagine what it was like because their generation has been more accepting, said K.C. Commins, a bisexual Coast Guard Academy senior from Altoona, Iowa, and current Spectrum Diversity Council president.

 

“There are so many of us now. It’s hard to ignore that we’re here and … it is the new normal,” said Commins.

 

Rear Adm. William G. Kelly, the Coast Guard Academy’s superintendent, told the crowd Monday that officials have worked hard on LGBTQ inclusion and are developing a campus policy for transgender students.

 

Transgender people were allowed to serve openly in the military beginning in 2016, but the Trump administration largely banned them in 2019. Although President Joe Biden overturned the ban earlier this year, formal policies are still being drafted at some locations.

 

At the U.S. Naval Academy, sexual orientation is mostly a nonissue, said Andre Rascoe, a senior midshipman who is gay.

 

“In my experience, you always have the one or two people who kind of feel uncomfortable either rooming with or being on, like, a sports team with someone who’s in the queer community, but they are anomalies,” he said.

 

After students graduate, they will face a military environment where sexual assault and harassment continue to be pervasive and where lesbian, gay and bisexual service members are disproportionately victimized, according to an independent review commission’s report submitted to Biden in June.

 

In its latest annual report on sexual assaults and harassment at West Point and the Air Force and Naval academies, the Defense Department said 129 sexual assaults were reported during the 2019-20 school year, down from 149 the year before. Twelve complaints of sexual harassment were received, down from 17 the previous year.

 

“Obviously there’s a lot more room to grow,” said Jennifer Dane, chief executive and director of the Modern Military Association of America, an LGBTQ advocacy group.

 

Dane, who served in the Air Force from 2010 to 2016, said the Air Force began investigating her sexuality during her first year but dropped the probe after “don’t ask, don’t tell” was repealed.

 

“When it was repealed … I was finally able to be my authentic self, and it was very empowering,” she said.

 

Interactive Broadway Exhibit Opens in NYC

Showstoppers! – a bright and colorful exhibit of Broadway theatre has opened in New York City. Vladimir Lenski visited the exhibit which displays designs that are always in sight but seldom get the spotlight. Anna Rice narrates his story.

Oregon School Board Ban on Anti-Racist, LGBT Signs Draws Ire

An Oregon school board has banned educators from displaying Black Lives Matter and gay pride symbols, prompting a torrent of recriminations and threats to boycott the town and its businesses.

Newberg, a town of 25,000 residents 40 kilometers southwest of Portland in Oregon’s wine country, has become an unlikely focal point of a battle between the left and right across the nation over schooling.

The City Council has condemned the action by the Newberg School Board. So did members of color of the Oregon Legislature and House and Senate Democrats. The American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon is threatening to sue. The Oregon State Board of Education called on the school board to reverse course, saying student identities should be welcomed and affirmed.

But the four conservative members of the seven-member board are digging in their heels. Member Brian Shannon, who proposed the ban, said lawmakers from Portland should keep out of the school district’s business and instead focus on Portland, where homelessness is an issue.

Opponents say the board has emboldened racists. On Sept. 17, a special education staffer at a Newberg elementary school showed up for work in blackface, saying she was portraying anti-segregation icon Rosa Parks in order to protest a statewide vaccine mandate for educators. She was immediately placed on administrative leave.

The same week, word emerged that some Newberg students had participated in a Snapchat group in which participants pretended to buy and sell Black fellow students. Newberg Public Schools Superintendent Joe Morelock said there will be an investigation and disciplinary action meted out.

Underscoring how deeply the board’s action has cut, raw emotion was on display during a virtual public hearing of the board Wednesday night. Some speakers said the board’s action is harmful. Others said the signs have no place in schools, saying they’re political.

Local resident Peggy Kilburg said they should be banned from schools, as well as signs supporting any political position, like National Rifle Association posters.

Robert Till, who is gay and a sophomore at Newberg High School, said he is embarrassed to live in Newberg. He cited an estimate from the Trevor Project, a group that aims to end suicide among LGBTQ young people, that at least one LGBTQ person between the ages of 13–24 attempts suicide every 45 seconds in the U.S.

“A simple pride or BLM flag in a classroom shows the love and acceptance that we need,” Till said, his voice shaking with anger. “Pride flags can literally save someone’s life, and you’re just going to take that away?”

 

School board chairman Dave Brown, who voted for the sign ban, declared in an earlier Zoom meeting that “I’m not a racist.”

“I work with and will always accept those around me no matter what,” Brown said, an American flag pinned behind him. “I don’t care if they’re gay. I don’t care if they’re white or brown or Black. I work with everybody.”

Shannon defended the ban, which hasn’t been imposed yet.

“I don’t think any of us can deny the fact that these symbols are divisive,” Shannon said. “They’ve divided our community and gotten our attention away from where it needs to be, just teaching the basic fundamentals of education.”

Opponents of the ban say it is the board that is being divisive and distracting from the challenges as educators begin in-person instruction with safety protocols after a year of remote teaching because of COVID-19.

“It has been difficult to see a community divided. You can see the anguish on both sides. It makes being an educator harder than it already was,” said a faculty member at Newberg High School.

Speaking on condition she not be named for fear of being harassed online, she said more students than ever are displaying gay pride and Black Lives Matter symbols on lockers, water bottles and laptops since the board took its vote in August. The ban does not apply to students.

Alexis Small, a 15-year-old high school junior who is Black, believes the members who endorsed the ban simply don’t approve of people who aren’t like them.

“The message that I feel is hate,” Small said in a telephone interview. “I mean, I can’t say that this decision was made out of love or made out of what’s best for people. I genuinely think that they did this out of hate.”

In June 2020 — as Black Lives Matter protests roiled the nation after the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis — the board took a completely different stance, condemning racism and committing to being an anti-racist school district. But conservatives gained a majority in school board elections last May amid a light turnout, and everything changed.

Tai Harden-Moore, a Black candidate who lost, recalls a nasty election. Comments on social media supporting her opponent called Harden-Moore un-American and claimed she hated whites, she said. Her campaign signs were ripped from the ground or left in place — with tree branches placed on top.

“My sign, I’ve got my face on it, and so for them to put the branches on it, it was like this weird link to lynching for me,” Harden-Moore said.

Harden-Moore has joined a group called Newberg Equity in Education, which is advocating for inclusion and equity in Newberg schools.

The Chehalem Valley Chamber of Commerce told the school board that it has received numerous phone calls and emails from people saying they will boycott Newberg, the valley’s main town.

“As business leaders and owners, we are very concerned about the impact this has on our businesses and on the reputation of our community,” the chamber said, the Newberg Graphic newspaper reported.

Newberg Mayor Rick Rogers told the four conservative board members their actions can hurt the town, which features a dozen wine tasting rooms and a university founded by Quakers.

“While you may believe your actions only affect the school district, please know in truth your actions impact us all. To thrive, Newberg must be welcoming to all,” he wrote. 

 

Quad Announces Agreements Aimed at China

U.S. President Joe Biden on Friday hosted the leaders of India, Japan and Australia for a meeting of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or the Quad, part of his foreign policy push to focus on the Indo-Pacific region and counter a rising China. White House Bureau Chief Patsy Widakuswara has this report.

Republican Review Finds No Proof Arizona Election Stolen from Trump

A Republican-backed review of the 2020 presidential election in Arizona’s largest county ended Friday without producing proof to support former President Donald Trump’s false claims of a stolen election.

After six months of searching for evidence of fraud, the firm hired by Republican lawmakers issued a report that experts described as riddled with errors, bias and flawed methodology. Still, even that partisan review came up with a vote tally that would not have altered the outcome, finding that Biden won by 360 more votes than the official results certified last year.

The finding was an embarrassing end to a widely criticized, and at times bizarre, quest to prove allegations that election officials and courts have rejected. It has no bearing on the final, certified results. Previous reviews by nonpartisan professionals that followed state law found no significant problem with the vote count in Maricopa County, home to Phoenix.

Still, for many critics, the conclusions reached by the firm Cyber Ninjas and presented at a hearing Friday underscored the dangerous futility of the exercise, which has helped fuel skepticism about the validity of the 2020 election and spawned copycat audits nationwide.

“We haven’t learned anything new,” said Matt Masterson, a top U.S. election security official in the Trump administration. “What we have learned from all this is that the Ninjas were paid millions of dollars, politicians raised millions of dollars and Americans’ trust in democracy is lower.”

‘They are trying to scare people’

Other critics said the true purpose of the audit may have already succeeded. It spread complex allegations about ballot irregularities and software issues, fueling doubts about elections, said Adrian Fontes, a Democrat who oversaw the Maricopa County election office last year.

“They are trying to scare people into doubting the system is actually working,” he said. “That is their motive. They want to destroy public confidence in our systems.”

The review was authorized by the Republican-controlled state Senate, which subpoenaed the election records from Maricopa County and selected the inexperienced, pro-Trump auditors. On Friday, Senate President Karen Fann sent a letter to Republican Attorney General Mark Brnovich, urging him to investigate issues the report flagged. However, she noted the review found the official count matched the ballots.

“This is the most important and encouraging finding of the audit,” Fann wrote.

Trump issued statements Friday falsely claiming the results demonstrated “fraud.”

Despite being widely pilloried, the Arizona review has become a model that Trump supporters are pushing to replicate in other swing states where Biden won. Pennsylvania’s Democratic attorney general sued Thursday to block a GOP-issued subpoena for a wide array of election materials. In Wisconsin, a retired conservative state Supreme Court justice is leading a Republican-ordered investigation into the 2020 election, and this week threatened to subpoena election officials who don’t comply.

None of the reviews can change Biden’s victory, which was certified by officials in each of the swing states he won and by Congress on Jan. 6 — after Trump’s supporters, fueled by the same false charges that generated the audits, stormed the U.S. Capitol to try to prevent certification of his loss.

The Arizona report claims a number of shortcomings in election procedures and suggests the final tally still could not be relied upon. Several claims were challenged by election experts, while members of the Republican-led county Board of Supervisors, which oversees elections, disputed claims on Twitter.

“Unfortunately, the report is also littered with errors & faulty conclusions about how Maricopa County conducted the 2020 General Election,” county officials tweeted.

Election officials say that’s because the review team is biased, ignored the detailed vote-counting procedures in Arizona law and had no experience in the complex field of election audits.

‘The Senate’s contractors don’t understand election processes’

Two of the report’s recommendations stood out because they showed its authors misunderstood election procedures — that there should be paper ballot backups and that voting machines should not be connected to the internet. All Maricopa ballots are already paper, with machines only used to tabulate the votes, and those tabulators are not connected to the internet.

The review also checked the names of voters against a commercial database, finding 23,344 reported moving before ballots went out in October. While the review suggests something improper, election officials note that voters like college students, those who own vacation homes or military members can move to temporary locations while still legally voting at the address where they are registered.

“A competent reviewer of an election would not make a claim like that,” said Trey Grayson, a former Republican secretary of state in Kentucky.

The election review was run by Cyber Ninjas CEO Doug Logan, whose firm has never conducted an election audit before. Logan previously worked with attorneys and Trump supporters trying to overturn the 2020 election and appeared in a film questioning the results of the contest while the ballot review was ongoing.

Logan and others involved with the review presented their findings to two Arizona senators Friday. It kicked off with Shiva Ayyadurai, a COVID-19 vaccine skeptic who claims to have invented email, presenting an analysis relying on “pattern recognition” that flagged purported anomalies in the way mail ballots were processed at the end of the election.

Maricopa County tweeted that the pattern was simply the election office following state law.

“‘Anomaly’ seems to be another way of saying the Senate’s contractors don’t understand election processes,” the county posted during the testimony.

Logan followed up by acknowledging “the ballots that were provided for us to count … very accurately correlated with the official canvass.” He then continued to flag statistical discrepancies — including the voters who moved — that he said merited further investigation.

The review has a history of exploring outlandish conspiracy theories, dedicating time to checking for bamboo fibers on ballots to see if they were secretly shipped in from Asia. It’s also served as a content-generation machine for Trump’s effort to sow skepticism about his loss, pumping out misleading and out-of-context information that the former president circulates long after it’s been debunked.

In July, for example, Logan laid out a series of claims stemming from his misunderstanding of the election data he was analyzing, including that 74,000 mail ballots were recorded as received but not sent. Trump repeatedly amplified the claims.Logan had compared two databases that track different things.

Arizona’s Senate agreed to spend $150,000 on the review, plus security and facility costs. That pales in comparison to the nearly $5.7 million contributed as of late July by Trump allies.

Maricopa County’s official vote count was conducted in front of bipartisan observers, as were legally required audits meant to ensure voting machines work properly. A partial hand-count spot check found a perfect match.

Two extra post-election reviews by federally certified election experts also found no evidence that voting machines switched votes or were connected to the internet. The county Board of Supervisors commissioned the extraordinary reviews in an effort to prove to Trump backers that there were no problems. 

Female Leaders Deliver Messages to UN General Assembly

The prime minister of the tiny island nation of Barbados gave a stirring address to the U.N. General Assembly on Friday, asking who would stand up for people across the world and bring badly needed action.

“In the words of Robert Nestor Marley, who will get up and stand up?” Barbados Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley asked the annual gathering of leaders, quoting the famous Jamaican singer. “Who will get up and stand up for the rights of our people?”

Reading a speech on her mobile phone, the prime minister went through a long list of challenges that included COVID-19 vaccine distribution inequities, unemployment, transportation issues and climate change. She said it is not beyond the international community to solve them; it is just that leaders tire of facing them year after year and seeing nothing change.

“If we can find the will to send people to the moon and solve male baldness, as I’ve said over and over, we can solve simple problems like letting our people eat affordably and making sure we have transport,” she said.

Female leaders have been few this week, making up less than one-tenth of the speakers so far. Eight were due to speak on Friday. Their thin ranks highlight the obstacles women in both developing and developed countries face in reaching the highest levels of government.

The climate crisis has been a recurrent urgent theme this week. South Sudan Vice President Rebecca Nyandeng de Mabior said it has impacted some 800,000 people across her country.

De Mabior said that “torrential rains” resulted in the worst flooding in 60 years and submerged villages, towns, land and livestock. “Therefore, I call on the international community to help save the lives of more than 5.5 million people in need of humanitarian assistance,” she added.

While much of the world has been struggling with the COVID-19 pandemic, its effect on New Zealand has not been as severe because its leaders were proactive in containing the virus. The country has seen just over 4,000 confirmed cases and 27 deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, which tracks the pandemic globally. New Zealand also has an active national vaccination campaign.

“We have placed our trust in the actions of neighbors and strangers — to wear masks, to distance, to get vaccinated and support others to do so, and we live collectively with the consequences,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said. “It has been a privilege for me as a leader to witness the practical application of New Zealanders’ values to these challenges.”

Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said that “the United Nations stands as our best hope” in pursuing a collaborative and inclusive recovery from the pandemic.

On the sidelines of the annual session, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres announced $400 billion in new commitments to increase access to clean, renewable energy for millions of people living in “energy poverty” across the world.

“Investing in clean, affordable energy for all will improve the well-being of billions of people,” Guterres said.

“And it is the single most important solution to avert climate catastrophe.”

The annual meeting of leaders continues through Monday. On Saturday, India, Russia, Ethiopia and Haiti, among others, will deliver addresses.

Biden Won’t Shield Trump Records From House’s January 6 Inquiry

President Joe Biden will not invoke executive privilege to shield former President Donald Trump’s records in relation to an investigation into the deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Friday. 

“The president has already concluded that it would not be appropriate to assert executive privilege,” Psaki said. “And so, we will respond promptly to these questions as they arise.” 

The U.S. House of Representatives Select Committee investigating the deadly January 6 riot at the Capitol has subpoenaed four former members of Donald Trump’s administration, including Mark Meadows and Steve Bannon, the panel’s chairman said on Thursday. 

A mob of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol on January 6 as Congress was meeting to certify Democrat Biden’s presidential election victory, delaying that process for several hours as then-Vice President Mike Pence, members of Congress, staff and journalists fled from rioters. 

Trump said he would fight the subpoenas “on executive privilege and other grounds.” 

Executive privilege allows the White House to refuse to comply with demands for records such as congressional subpoenas or Freedom of Information Act requests. The legal principle is rooted in the idea that some privacy should be given to presidential advisers so they can have candid discussions. 

A sitting president has in the past used executive privilege to keep records and communications from an earlier administration secret, but it is rare. 

With Biden nixing executive privilege, it was widely expected that Trump would file a legal challenge. 

Representatives for the former president were not immediately available for comment.

US House Votes to Protect Abortion Rights Amid State Challenges

The House passed legislation Friday that would guarantee a woman’s right to an abortion, an effort by Democrats to circumvent a new Texas law that has placed that access under threat.  

The bill’s 218-211 approval is mostly symbolic, as Republican opposition will doom it in the Senate.  

Still, Democrats say they are doing all they can to codify the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision after the Supreme Court recently allowed the Texas law banning most abortions in the state to take effect. The court will hear arguments in December in a separate Mississippi bid to overturn the landmark decision.  

Despite the long odds in his chamber, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a statement after the vote that “Congress must assert its role to protect the constitutional right to abortion” and that the Senate would hold a vote “in the very near future.”  

Codifying the Roe ruling would mean creating a right to abortion in federal law, a monumental change that would make it harder for courts and states to impose restrictions.  

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said that congressional action would make a “tremendous difference” in Democrats’ efforts to maintain access to abortion rights. She called the Supreme Court’s decision “shameful” and counter to its own precedent.  

Pelosi said just ahead of Friday’s vote that it should “send a very positive message to the women of our country — but not just the women, to the women and their families, to everyone who values freedom, honors our Constitution and respects women.”  

No Republicans voted for the legislation, which would supersede state laws on the subject, give health care providers the right to perform abortions and patients the right to receive them. Republicans argue it would prevent states from setting requirements like parental involvement and could weaken laws that allow doctors to refuse to perform an abortion.  

The legislation “isn’t about freedom for women, it’s about death for babies,” said Republican Rep. Vicky Hartzler of Missouri. She said it would eliminate protections for women and girls who may be coerced into having abortions.  

“It ends the life of a living human being with a plan and a purpose from God and who deserves to live,” Hartzler said.  

Only one member crossed party lines — Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar of Texas, who voted against the bill.  

The vote came as Democrats have spoken boldly about fighting the Supreme Court — which has a more conservative tilt after Justice Amy Coney Barrett was confirmed last year — but struggled privately to find an effective strategy. They control Congress by the slimmest of margins, including the evenly split 50-50 Senate, making the prospects of a successful legislative response difficult.

The party has split, in some cases, over how far Washington must go to preserve access to abortions. Liberal lawmakers backed by advocates of reproductive rights who helped power President Joe Biden to office want to expand the number of justices on the Supreme Court to rebalance power, changing the rules if needed to lower the 60-vote threshold typically required in the Senate to advance legislation.  

“Democrats can either abolish the filibuster and expand the court, or do nothing as millions of peoples’ bodies, rights, and lives are sacrificed for far-right minority rule,” tweeted Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y. “This shouldn’t be a difficult decision.”  

But other Democrats — Biden among them — have been wary of such a move.  

Biden supports the House bill and called the court’s ruling on Texas an “unprecedented assault on a woman’s constitutional rights.” He has directed multiple agencies to conduct a government-wide effort to ensure women have abortion access and to protect health care providers. But he has not endorsed the idea of adding justices to the Supreme Court, instead forming a commission to study the idea.  

The court’s decisions on abortion could prompt political tensions among Republicans, as well.  

Former President Donald Trump was able to secure three new conservative Supreme Court justices because Republican leadership in Congress led by GOP leader Mitch McConnell paved the way. Now, as the court upheld the strict new Texas law outlawing most abortions in the state, the political fallout will test the limits of that strategy.  

Women and advocates of abortion rights are quickly mobilizing to take on not just those Republicans, but also the big businesses that backed them, aiming squarely at those that contributed to many of the Texas Republicans behind the abortion law.

“They will be met with a fierce response from women and people across the country,” said Sonja Spoo, director of Reproductive Rights Campaigns at UltraViolet, an advocacy organization, in an interview.

Maine Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican who supports abortion rights, says the Texas law is “harmful and extreme” and she supports codifying Roe.

But she says the House bill goes “way beyond” that and could threaten the rights of doctors who refuse to perform abortions on religious or moral grounds, for example.  

“I support codifying Roe, and I am working with some of my colleagues in the Senate on legislation that would do so,” Collins said in a statement.

 

Biden Calls Treatment of Haitian Migrants ‘an Embarrassment’

U.S. President Joe Biden said on Friday he takes full responsibility for the treatment of Haitian migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border. Biden called the ongoing situation, which days ago saw mounted U.S. Border Patrol agents aggressively confront migrants, an “embarrassment” to the country. 

Speaking to reporters at the White House, Biden said it was horrible to see people being “treated like they did.” 

“Of course, I take responsibility. I’m president,” he said, adding there will be an investigation and consequences for Border Patrol officers whose actions prompted widespread condemnation.

“It’s an embarrassment. But beyond embarrassment, it is dangerous. It’s wrong. It sends the wrong message around the world. … It’s simply not who we are,” he said.

The president’s comments came near the end of a week that plunged the Biden administration into crisis mode over the treatment of thousands of Haitian migrants encamped at the border town of Del Rio, Texas, desperate to enter the United States. 

Of some 15,000 Haitians who initially gathered there — two-thirds of them families — only several thousand now remain, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). While some have been paroled into the United States for eventual consideration of asylum claims, many others have been sent to U.S. Customs and Border Protection stations to be expelled or otherwise removed from the United States. 

DHS reports roughly 2,000 Haitian nationals have been returned to Haiti on 17 flights, with repatriation flights still ongoing.

U.S. officials believe several thousand Haitian migrants have crossed back into Mexico.

The situation has provoked fierce outcries from the administration’s political allies and adversaries alike. Ambassador Daniel Foote, who served as U.S. special envoy to Haiti since July, submitted his resignation on Wednesday to protest the Biden administration’s handling of the crisis. 

Foote said the U.S. approach to Haiti “remains deeply flawed,” adding that his advice had been “ignored and dismissed” in Washington “when not edited to project a different narrative from my own.”

State Department spokesperson Ned Price denied Foote’s complaints, saying Foote’s views “were fully considered in a rigorous and transparent policy process. Some of those proposals were determined to be harmful to our commitment to the promotion of democracy in Haiti and were rejected during the policy process. For him to say his proposals were ignored is simply false.”

While many have expressed shock and horror over the tactics Border Patrol agents deployed against Haitian migrants, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina took to Twitter with a different take. 

“God bless the men and women of our Border Patrol who are being asked to do the impossible,” Graham tweeted. “All the while they are being scapegoated and demagogued by the most incompetent Administration in modern American history.” 

Graham called on DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to resign, saying America’s border is being “surrendered.”

Leaders From US, Australia, Japan, India to Meet Friday in Washington

Leaders of the United States, Japan, Australia and India are to meet in person Friday in Washington to discuss cooperation in the Indo-Pacific in the face of China’s growing power in the region.

Leaders of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or the Quad – U.S. President Joe Biden, Prime Minister Scott Morrison of Australia, Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India, and Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga of Japan – met virtually in March, but Friday marks their first face-to-face summit. 

“The Quad Leaders will be focused on deepening our ties and advancing practical cooperation on areas such as combatting COVID-19, addressing the climate crisis, partnering on emerging technologies and cyberspace, and promoting a free and open Indo-Pacific,” White House spokesman Jenn Psaki said in a statement.

China has been steadily building military outposts in the region and using them to back claims it controls vital sea lanes.

The Washington meeting comes in the wake of a recently announced agreement among the U.S., Britain and Australia to supply Australia with nuclear submarines.  

The deal angered France by undercutting a deal it had with Australia to supply it with diesel submarines. France recalled its ambassadors from both the U.S. and Australia in protest.

China condemned the deal, calling it damaging to regional peace.

The Quad meeting also comes amid stronger talk by the U.S. and its allies in support of Taiwan, which China views as a rogue province, and a renewed effort by the European Union to “enhance” its naval presence in the region.

Sam in South Atlantic, Expected to Become Major Hurricane

The U.S. National Hurricane Center says Hurricane Sam has formed in the southern Atlantic. It is the seventh hurricane of the season and is likely to become a major hurricane in the next 24 hours.

In their latest report, forecasters at the hurricane center say Sam is still a long way from land, more than 2,300 kilometers east-northeast of the northern Leeward Islands of the Caribbean.

But its maximum sustained winds are at 120 km/h and rapid intensification is forecast to continue. Sam is likely to become a Category 3 hurricane late Friday or early Saturday, with winds of at least 178 km/h.

Colorado State University Meteorologist and hurricane specialist Philip Klotzbach, on Twitter, said that if Sam reaches major hurricane status, it will be the fourth storm to do so this season. Since satellite forecasting began in 1966, there have been only seven previous years with four or more major Atlantic hurricanes.  

Klotzbach says the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season is already trending more active than average, with 18 named storms and seven hurricanes, compared to the average of 10 and four. There have been nearly 56 days with active named storms compared to the average of about 47 per season.  

Klotzbach also notes that the average date for the seventh Atlantic hurricane to form is November 16, putting this season way ahead of normal.

Forecasters remain unsure if Sam’s track poses a threat to land as some forecast models have it tracking safely northward, while others put it closer to the Leeward Islands by early next week.

Arizona County says Cyber Ninjas Election Review Shows Biden Win

Arizona’s most populous county has confirmed that a draft report of a partisan audit of its vote count in the 2020 presidential election declares Joe Biden as the winner.

The report by Cyber Ninjas, a little known Florida-based cybersecurity company, shows Maricopa County’s result in November was correct, the county tweeted late Thursday.

“The #azaudit draft report from Cyber Ninjas confirms the county’s canvass of the 2020 General Election was accurate and the candidates certified as the winners did, in fact, win,” it wrote.

The conclusion, which is expected to be released publicly Friday, effectively ends the discredited Republican-led bid to throw out Biden’s victory there in favor of former president Donald Trump.

Maricopa County did not publish the draft report and Cyber Ninjas did not immediately respond to an AFP request.

Biden’s victory in the key Arizona county was the first by a Democratic presidential nominee in decades.

Trump supporters and organizations who claim he was cheated out of an election win, including some who have also peddled wild conspiracy theories, funded the review to the tune of millions of dollars.

Since his crushing election defeat, Trump has resurfaced to criticize his successor.

In July, at his first campaign-style rally since leaving the White House, he repeated the lie that he won November’s election and that Biden prevailed only through fraud.

Trump, who has been booted from social media and was impeached for inciting the deadly Jan. 6 riot at the US Capitol, may yet seek reelection in 2024 but has not announced his plans. 

 

Female Leaders to Speak at UN General Assembly

Eight women – three vice presidents and five prime ministers – are scheduled to speak Friday at the United Nations General Assembly.

“We cannot save our planet if we leave out the vulnerable – the women, the girls the minorities,” Slovakian President Zuzana Caputova told the assembly earlier in the week.

“COVID-19 is threatening to roll back the gains that we have made,” Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu Hassan, the first female president of her country, told the U.N. body Thursday.

Also Thursday, the U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres warned at a food summit that seeks to improve global food production and access that nearly half the planet cannot afford healthy food.

“Food is life. But in countries, communities and households in every corner of the world, this essential need — this human right — is going unfulfilled,” Guterres told the virtual Food Systems Summit on the sidelines of the General Assembly’s annual gathering.

Guterres said that 3 billion people cannot afford nutritious food.

“Every day, hundreds of millions of people go to bed hungry. Children are starving,” he said.

While millions starve and famine is a reality in parts of Yemen and Ethiopia, nearly one-third of all food production is lost or wasted.

The summit, in the works for more than a year, aims to take a fresh look at every aspect of food production to make it more environmentally friendly, safe, nutritious and accessible. It is also part of advancing the U.N.’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals, among which “zero hunger” is a top priority.

Pandemic increases challenge

“The COVID-19 pandemic has made this challenge much greater,” Guterres said. “It has deepened inequalities, decimated economies [and] plunged millions into extreme poverty.”

The virus was also on the minds of the leaders who addressed the General Assembly Thursday — particularly the African leaders, who made up a large portion of the day’s speakers. Many appeared by video message because of the pandemic.

“It is an indictment on humanity that more than 82% of the world’s vaccine doses have been acquired by wealthy countries, while less than 1% has gone to low-income countries,” South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said in a video address.

The African Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 4% of Africa’s population is fully vaccinated.

“The hoarding and inequitable distribution with the resultant uneven vaccination patterns across the globe is not acceptable,” Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa said in a prerecorded message. “Vaccine nationalism is self-defeating and contrary to the mantra that ‘no one is safe until everyone is safe.’ Whether in the global North or South, rich or poor, old or young, all people of the world deserve access to vaccines.”

There was also concern about the trend toward coups in Africa. In the past year, military coups have taken place in Chad, Mali and Guinea. Sudan’s military said it put down an attempted coup there just this week. In Tunisia, some argue that President Kais Saied essentially pulled off a coup, invoking emergency powers, firing the prime minister and suspending the parliament to consolidate his authority.

Angolan President João Gonçalves Lourenço said there has not been sufficient reaction from other countries to discourage these coups.

“We consider it necessary that the international community act with resolve and does not simply issue statements of condemnation in order to force those actors to return power to the legitimately established institutions,” he told the gathering. “We cannot continue to allow recent examples, such as those of Guinea and others, to succeed in Africa and other continents.”

In the Middle East, Iraqi President Barham Salih expressed concern about terrorism in his country and the wider region.

“We cannot understate the danger posed by terrorism. If we become lax and distracted by regional conflicts, we will simply see the return of obscurantist forces that will threaten our people and our security,” he said. “Cooperation and solidarity are our only choice in our fight against international terrorism and the groups that support it.”

Other speakers Thursday included Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez, President Nayib Bukele of El Salvador and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi.

Reconciliation

Meanwhile, the opportunities provided this week for intensive diplomacy helped ease a rare rift in U.S.-French relations.

French officials were outraged by a security pact made between Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States earlier this month. Under the arrangement, Australia will receive at least eight nuclear-powered submarines, to be built in Australia using American technology. The agreement came as Australia pulled out of an earlier deal for French submarines worth tens of billions of dollars.

A phone meeting between Presidents Joe Biden and Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday and an in-person meeting Thursday between their top diplomats on the margins of the General Assembly in New York appear to have gone a long way to calming Paris and rebuilding confidence.

Some information in this report came from the Associated Press. 

 

UN Spotlights Need for Producing Healthy Food for All

Nearly half the planet cannot afford healthy food, the United Nations secretary-general warned at a food summit Thursday that seeks to improve global food production and access.

“Food is life. But in countries, communities and households in every corner of the world, this essential need — this human right — is going unfulfilled,” Antonio Guterres told the virtual Food Systems Summit on the sidelines of the General Assembly’s annual gathering.

Guterres noted that 3 billion people cannot afford nutritious food.

“Every day, hundreds of millions of people go to bed hungry. Children are starving,” he said.

While millions starve and famine is a reality in parts of Yemen and Ethiopia, nearly one-third of all food production is lost or wasted.

The summit, in the works for more than a year, aims to take a fresh look at every aspect of food production to make it more environmentally friendly, safe, nutritious and accessible. It is also part of advancing the U.N.’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals, among which “zero hunger” is a top priority.

Pandemic increases challenge

“The COVID-19 pandemic has made this challenge much greater,” Guterres said. “It has deepened inequalities, decimated economies [and] plunged millions into extreme poverty.”

The virus was also on the minds of the leaders who addressed the General Assembly Thursday — particularly the African leaders, who made up a large portion of the day’s speakers. Many appeared by video message because of the pandemic.

“It is an indictment on humanity that more than 82% of the world’s vaccine doses have been acquired by wealthy countries, while less than 1% has gone to low-income countries,” South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said in a video address.

The African Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 4% of Africa’s population is fully vaccinated.

“The hoarding and inequitable distribution with the resultant uneven vaccination patterns across the globe is not acceptable,” Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa said in a prerecorded message. “Vaccine nationalism is self-defeating and contrary to the mantra that ‘no one is safe until everyone is safe.’ Whether in the global North or South, rich or poor, old or young, all people of the world deserve access to vaccines.”

There was also concern about the trend toward coups in Africa. In the past year, military coups have taken place in Chad, Mali and Guinea. Sudan’s military said it put down an attempted coup there just this week. And in Tunisia, some argue that President Kais Saied essentially pulled off a coup, invoking emergency powers, firing the prime minister and suspending the parliament to consolidate his authority.

Angolan President João Gonçalves Lourenço said there has not been sufficient reaction from the international community to discourage these coups from happening.

“We consider it necessary that the international community act with resolve and does not simply issue statements of condemnation in order to force those actors to return power to the legitimately established institutions,” he told the gathering. “We cannot continue to allow recent examples, such as those of Guinea and others, to succeed in Africa and other continents.”

In the Middle East, Iraqi President Barham Salih expressed concern about terrorism in his country and the wider region.

“We cannot understate the danger posed by terrorism. If we become lax and distracted by regional conflicts, we will simply see the return of obscurantist forces that will threaten our people and our security,” he warned. “Cooperation and solidarity are our only choice in our fight against international terrorism and the groups that support it.”

Other speakers Thursday included Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez, President Nayib Bukele of El Salvador and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi.

Reconciliation

Meanwhile, the opportunities provided this week for intensive diplomacy helped ease a rare rift in U.S.-Franco relations.

French officials were outraged by a security pact made between Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States (AUKUS) earlier this month. Under the arrangement, Australia will receive at least eight nuclear-powered submarines, to be built in Australia using American technology. The agreement came as Australia pulled out of an earlier deal for French submarines worth tens of billions of dollars.

A phone meeting between Presidents Joe Biden and Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday and an in-person meeting Thursday between their top diplomats on the margins of the General Assembly in New York appear to have gone a long way to calming Paris and rebuilding confidence.

VOA’s Chris Hannas contributed to this report. 

Rights Groups Say US Has Long History of Mistreating Haitian Migrants

Images of U.S. Border Patrol agents pursuing Haitian migrants on horseback to prevent thousands of asylum seekers from entering the U.S. have sparked widespread condemnation. But human rights advocates say the mistreatment of Haitian migrants is nothing new and that the recent incident at the U.S.-Mexico border is just the latest example of discrimination Haitians face as they seek safety in the United States.

 

“The Biden administration should actively confront and address the history of systemic racism in U.S. immigration enforcement, and urgently overhaul racially discriminatory policies,” said Alison Parker, managing director of Human Rights Watch’s U.S. Program, in an email to VOA. 

 

Testifying before Congress this week, U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas promised a swift investigation of the tactics Border Patrol agents deployed against Haitian migrants. 

 

“DHS does not tolerate the abuse of migrants in our custody and we take these allegations very seriously,” the department said in a statement. “We are committed to processing migrants in a safe, orderly, and humane way. We can and must do this in a way that ensures the safety and dignity of migrants.”

For more than a year, migrants of all nationalities have been turned back at the U.S. border under a federal health code, Title 42, that precludes them from filing asylum claims during the coronavirus pandemic. Implemented by the former Trump administration, Title 42 has been retained by the Biden administration with exemptions for unaccompanied minors and some families with very young children.

While U.S. authorities have used Title 42 to expel thousands of Haitian migrants encamped on the banks of the Rio Grande near an international bridge in Del Rio, Texas, immigrant rights advocates say rapid mass expulsions of Haitians long predate the pandemic.

Immediate expulsions

During the Francois and Jean-Claude Duvalier regimes, which lasted more than two decades and ended in 1986, hundreds of thousands fled Haiti. And through the years, immigration watchers say, the U.S. government under successive administrations created policies that blocked, expelled and deported Haitians.

The Haitian Bridge Alliance and Human Rights First said that in 1978, the former Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) established a program to expel Haitian asylum applicants as rapidly as possible, resulting in more than 4,000 Haitians being removed from the U.S.

Yet, Haitian asylum seekers continued to come to the United States. Between 1981 and 1991, about 25,000 Haitians were interdicted at sea and many returned to Haiti without being screened for asylum relief.

More than a decade later, under the Obama administration, the government adopted the policy of metering, a practice that limited the number of migrants entering U.S. territory, and immediately turned back asylum seekers at ports of entry. The method was solidified under the Trump administration, which eventually adopted a policy called Migrant Protection Policy (MPP), which required asylum-seekers to await their proceedings in Mexico, often in the country’s dangerous northern border cities.

Relying on a health code

Immigrant advocates have sued the U.S. government over the use of Title 42, and a federal judge earlier this month ordered a halt to the expulsion of migrant families. The Biden administration is appealing the decision, which would go into effect Sept. 30.

In the meantime, U.S. immigration officials are continuing the repatriation flights. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security said that since Sunday, 1,949 Haitian nationals had been returned to Haiti on 17 flights.

According to the DHS, 3,100 migrants remained in the Del Rio sector and 3,901 Haitian nationals had been moved from the Del Rio camp to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) custody or to other sectors of the United States border to either be expelled via Title 42 or placed into removal proceedings.

 

Officials also said they believe “several thousand” Haitian migrants crossed back to Mexico. At one point, there were 15,000 people at the camp, two-thirds of them parents and children traveling as families.

A DHS spokesperson told VOA repatriation flights will continue on a regular basis and migrants who cannot be expelled under Title 42 or do not have a legal basis to remain in the U.S. are being placed in expedited or full removal proceedings.

“Individuals who are not immediately repatriated are either placed in Alternatives to Detention, detained in an ICE facility, or released with a legal document (either a Notice to Appear in court or a notice to report to an ICE office for further immigration processing),” the spokesperson said.

Denise Bell, researcher for refugee and migrant rights at Amnesty International USA, said the U.S. is “flouting” not only international human rights standards and international treaties, but also “our own law.”

“And that’s what’s so shocking and disgraceful,” Bell said.

Bell sees the low rate of asylum case approvals for Haitian migrants as symptomatic of systemic racism that immigrants of color, especially Black immigrants, face generally in U.S. society.

“And if we look at the rates of approval, particularly for people from Haiti, for example, they’re just not given the same equitable fair access to asylum as other people because their claims are summarily not considered eligible instead of actually probing to see if they would meet a standard,” she said.

DHS did not respond to repeated VOA requests for comment.

However, while historically rejecting many migrants at sea and on land, the United States has given more than 50,000 Haitians Temporary Protected Status, a designation that allows individuals from nations suffering armed conflict or natural disasters to live and work in the United States for a limited period of time.

According to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University, so far in fiscal year 2021, 10,721 Haitian nationals have been put into the deportation process in the immigration court system, a significant spike over last year’s number of 4,537.

Horses and migrants

Responding to the firestorm created by the actions of mounted Border Patrol agents, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Thursday the U.S. government is working with the International Organization on Migration to ensure that returning migrants are met at Haitian airports and provided immediate assistance.

Psaki said President Joe Biden has been horrified by the photos of the border patrol officers on horseback and added they have “taken very specific action” and launched an investigation.

On Thursday, DHS suspended the use of horse patrols in Del Rio, Texas.

 

 

Police: Shooter in Tennessee Kills 1, Injures 12, Apparently Kills Self

A shooting at a Tennessee grocery store left one person dead and 12 others injured Thursday afternoon, and the shooter was subsequently found dead of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound at the store east of Memphis, authorities said.

Collierville Police Chief Dale Lane said the shooting broke out at a Kroger store in his suburban community about 30 miles (50 kilometers) east of Memphis. He said 13 people in all were shot and 12 of them were taken to hospitals, some with very serious injuries.

He said a police SWAT team and other officers went aisle to aisle in the store to find people who had sought cover or were in hiding, removing them to safety.

“We found people hiding in freezers, in locked offices. They were doing what they had been trained to do: run, hide, fight,” the chief said.

The identities of the shooter and the victims were not immediately released.

Lane said it was a sad day for his department as he spoke at a news conference after the shooting near the scene.

“I’ve been involved in this for 34 years and I’ve never seen anything like it,” he told reporters.

He added investigators were working to sort out what happened, adding, “It’s going to take a little bit before we know what happened.”

French Foreign Minister to US: Repairing Ties Will Take ‘Time’ 

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday that it would take “time” and “actions” to repair ties with the U.S. in the wake of a submarine deal that undercut a French agreement to supply Australia with diesel subs. 

Last week, the United States, United Kingdom and Australia announced a deal under which the U.K. and U.S. will instead supply Australia with nuclear-powered submarines. 

The move angered France, which withdrew its ambassadors from the U.S. and Australia. 

Earlier in the week, Le Drian expressed concern about what he characterized as “deceit” by one of its oldest allies. 

He told reporters at the United Nations this week that the United States had gone behind France’s back and had hidden the new deal for months. 

According to State Department spokesperson Ned Price, Le Drian and Blinken “spoke about plans for in-depth bilateral consultations on issues of strategic importance. They discussed the EU strategy for cooperation in the Indo-Pacific.” 

On Wednesday, President Joe Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron spoke by phone in an attempt to rebuild trust between the NATO allies. 

Some information for this report came from Reuters. 

Chinese Officials Warn of Fallout from Potential Evergrande Default 

Chinese officials are bracing for a potential financial crisis as giant real estate conglomerate China Evergrande Group appears to be unable to make good on bond payments due on Thursday. 

According to the Wall Street Journal, the central government has instructed local officials across the country to begin “getting ready for the possible storm,” if the firm is unable to come to an agreement with creditors. Evergrande is currently carrying a staggering load of more than $300 billion in debts and other liabilities. 

The central government in China is concerned about civil unrest because of both the size and the nature of Evergrande. The company has more than 800 construction projects spread across every province in the country, employing thousands of Chinese workers and engaging with an untold number of suppliers.

Many of the projects are housing units for which individual buyers paid large sums of money in advance. In some cases, construction has already been halted because the company has been unable to pay suppliers.

In addition to angry homeowners, the company is facing complaints from individual investors who have placed money in the company’s publicly traded shares. Since July of 2020, the company’s share price has plummeted by 91%, to about 34 cents a share today. 

Actual default may be postponed 

Evergrande had two major bond payments due Thursday. One, denominated in U.S. dollars, was for $83.5 million. The agreement with creditors gives the company a 30-day grace period before it is officially considered to be in default. However, failure to make payment on the due date will be seen as a very bad sign by the financial markets. 

The second bond payment was denominated in Chinese renminbi, and the company announced Wednesday that the debt had been “resolved through off-exchange negotiations” — though what exactly that means and how much the company actually paid is not clear. 

In addition to its real estate holdings, Evergrande has a wide array of subsidiaries, including an electric vehicle manufacturer, a soccer team, two theme parks, and a life insurance company, among other things. The company has been trying to sell off some of those assets to help pay its debts, but so far it does not appear to have been successful in raising enough cash to satisfy its creditors. 

The company’s chairman, Hui Ka Yan, has been striving to instill confidence in the company. In a memo to employees this week, he praised the company’s workforce as “an invincible army that is loyal and bears hardship without complaint.”

Hui added, “I firmly believe that Evergrande people’s spirit of never admitting defeat, and becoming stronger when the going gets tough, is our source of strength in overcoming all difficulties!” He promised that the company would emerge from its “darkest hour.” 

Government intervention possible 

Signals from the Chinese government about its intentions toward Evergrande have been mixed. In recent weeks, the government has not suggested that it intends to help the company. On Wednesday, the government issued a vaguely worded statement urging the company to “avoid near-term default” on its dollar-denominated bonds. 

Many experts believe the Chinese government will step in if it appears that Evergrande is facing collapse — deeming it too big to fail. However, that does not mean that all stakeholders in the company will be made whole. Most likely to be hurt are those holding the company’s U.S. dollar-denominated debt, who will face a “haircut” — meaning that they will be forced to accept payments of less than they are owed by the massive company. 

“It’s unlikely that the Chinese government will allow chaos to ensue,” said Doug Barry, a spokesman for the U.S.-China Business Council. “They have plenty of money to cover the losses, though foreign bond holders may receive a sizable haircut.” 

Major restructuring possible 

Experts expect that the Chinese government eventually will organize a major restructuring of the company. That would involve selling off large parts of Evergrande to other Chinese companies — probably state-owned firms. Those transactions would likely be facilitated by funding from state-owned banks. 

The goal, experts say, would be to avoid the collapse of housing projects that the company has already sold to Chinese buyers, and the related loss of construction jobs and related economic activity that would entail. 

“The government may help in restructuring Evergrande with shareholders and bondholders taking a big hit,” said Robert Dekle, a professor of economics at the University of Southern California. “This is overall good for China, reducing over-borrowing and moral hazard in the future.” 

A positive change 

Although a restructuring of Evergrande would be painful — especially for its investors — it could have important positive implications for the future of the Chinese economy. The country is currently dotted with thousands of “zombie” companies that have been kept solvent only by continued infusions of cash from state-owned banks. By refusing to bail out Evergrande’s bondholders and investors, the Chinese government may be signaling that in the future, companies will be expected to stand — or fall — on their own. 

“Longer term, China needs to get its financial house in order, especially throwing light on the shadow economy where even more debt bombs and zombie companies may lurk,” said Barry, of the U.S.-China Business Council. “Odds are good that the government will get on top of things without serious damage to the domestic or global economy. It’s a sobering reminder of the role China plays and the need for more transparency and fewer shadows and casino activities.” 

Global contagion seen as unlikely 

Evergrande’s troubles have caused investors in other high-yield Chinese debt to become cautious, demanding much higher interest rates to compensate for the perception of increased risk. 

However, experts believe that the fallout from the company’s troubles will have limited impact outside of China.

“Apparently there are other Chinese property developers in trouble,” said Dekle, the USC economist. “But the fact that Chinese authorities have allowed the firm to reach near bankruptcy suggests that the fallout will be self contained.” 

Voice of America Mandarin Service reporter Mo Yu contributed to this story. 

 

US Envoy to Haiti Quits Over ‘Inhumane’ Deportation of Migrants

The special U.S. envoy to Haiti has abruptly resigned, attacking the administration of President Joe Biden for what he characterized as its “inhumane” and “counterproductive” decision to deport thousands of Haitian migrants back to the Caribbean country.

 

Ambassador Daniel Foote, who has held the position for just two months, sent his resignation Wednesday to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, contending the U.S. approach to Haiti “remains deeply flawed.” He said his advice had been “ignored and dismissed” in Washington “when not edited to project a different narrative from my own.”

Since Sunday, the U.S. has been flying hundreds of Haitian migrants back to their homeland after they flocked to the U.S.-Mexican border in Del Rio, Texas, in hopes of entering and then staying in the United States. Many of the migrants, however, have not lived in Haiti for a decade, having moved to Chile, Brazil or other South American countries after escaping the rubble of Haiti’s massive 2010 earthquake.

 

The U.S. has allowed thousands of the Haitian migrants into the U.S. to seek asylum but is sending others back on up to seven flights a day to Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital, or to the country’s second-biggest city, Cap-Haitien.

 

‘Simply false’

State Department spokesperson Ned Price rebuffed Foote’s complaints, saying his views, along with those of others, “were fully considered in a rigorous and transparent policy process. Some of those proposals were determined to be harmful to our commitment to the promotion of democracy in Haiti and were rejected during the policy process. For him to say his proposals were ignored is simply false.”

 

The top U.S. diplomatic agency said it was “unfortunate that instead of participating in a solutions-oriented policy process, Special Envoy Foote has both resigned and mischaracterized the circumstances of his resignation. He failed to take advantage of ample opportunity to raise concerns about migration during his tenure and chose to resign instead.”

In his resignation letter, Foote, a career diplomat, said, “The people of Haiti, mired in poverty, hostage to terror, kidnappings, robberies, and massacres of armed gangs and suffering under a corrupt government with gang alliances, simply cannot support the forced infusion of thousands of returned migrants lacking food, shelter, and money without additional, avoidable human tragedy.”

 

Foote’s attack on the government’s Haitian deportations is the latest complaint about the chaotic scene at the border at Del Rio, where as many as 14,000 Haitians encamped last weekend under an international bridge between the U.S. and Mexico.

 

The number now has been sharply cut with the deportations of hundreds of Haitians and the U.S. processing of even more migrants to stay on U.S. soil on the promise they will report to an immigration office within 60 days for asylum claims.

Numerous human rights groups have called for ending the deportations, while conservative Republican critics of Biden have assailed his administration for allowing thousands of Haitians into the U.S. rather than forcing them to make their asylum claims from wherever they were living before trekking through Mexico to reach the United States.

 

Horse patrols suspended

Meanwhile, U.S. immigration officials are investigating widely viewed videos and photographs of U.S. border agents on horseback corralling some Haitian migrants last Sunday to push them back toward Mexico.

 

The actions of the agents have been widely condemned by the White House and top government officials, but no conclusions have been reached yet about how the agents were performing their jobs. On Thursday, the Department of Homeland Security temporarily suspended use of horse patrols at the border.

 

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Wednesday the U.S. is deporting Haitians to their homeland under a health code provision citing the coronavirus pandemic as a reason to clear the border as quickly as possible.

These deportees are being sent home without the opportunity to request asylum proceedings, while others are being registered and permitted, at least for weeks, to stay on U.S. soil. Officials say there are various reasons why individuals may not be expelled.  

 

Seven flights to Haiti are set for Thursday.  

 

Immigration activists say the migrants being deported should be allowed to make asylum claims to stay in the U.S.

Leading Democrat speaks out

 

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, normally an ally of Biden, this week urged the U.S. leader and Homeland Security chief Alejandro Mayorkas “to immediately put a stop to these expulsions,” contending the flights echoed “the hateful and xenophobic” policies of former president Donald Trump “that disregard our refugee laws.”  

 

Mayorkas told a congressional hearing that government officials hope to clear out the migrant camp under the bridge at Del Rio within the next nine or 10 days.  

 

“We expect to see dramatic results in the next 48 to 96 hours, and we’ll have a far better sense in the next two days,” he said.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott, a staunch critic of Biden’s administration and its handling of migrants at the border, ordered state workers to line up dozens of state-owned cars in a kilometers-long “steel wall” to prevent more migrants from surging past overwhelmed U.S. border agents into Texas.  

 

The Texas governor blamed the Biden administration for the chaos at the border.  

 

“When you have an administration that is not enforcing the law in this country, when you have an administration that has abandoned any pretense of securing the border and securing our sovereignty, you see the onrush of people,” Abbott said earlier this week at a news conference in Del Rio.

 

US Jobless Benefit Claims Unexpectedly Increase, but Still Near Pandemic Low

First-time claims for U.S. unemployment compensation unexpectedly increased again last week but remained near the low point during the 18-month coronavirus pandemic, the Labor Department reported Thursday.

 

A total of 351,000 jobless workers filed for assistance, up 16,000 from the revised figure of the week before, the second straight week the figure moved higher. The increase was at odds with projections of economists, who had predicted a declining number.

 

Still, the claims figures for the last month have been on the whole the lowest since the pandemic swept through the U.S. in March 2020, although they remain above the 218,000 average in 2019.

 

The jobless claims total has fallen steadily but unevenly since topping 900,000 in early January. Filings for unemployment compensation have often been seen as a current reading of the country’s economic health, but other statistics also are relevant barometers.

 

Even as the U.S. said last month that its world-leading economy grew at an annualized rate of 6.6% in the April-to-June period, it added only a disappointing 235,000 more jobs in August, a figure economists said was partly reflective of the surging Delta variant of the coronavirus inhibiting job growth.

 

The number of new jobs was down sharply from the more than 2 million combined figure added in June and July. The unemployment rate dipped to 5.2%, which is still nearly two percentage points higher than before the pandemic started in March 2020.

 

About 8.7 million workers remain unemployed in the U.S. There are nearly 11 million available jobs in the country, but the skills of the available workers often do not match what employers want, or the job openings are not where the unemployed live.

 

The size of the U.S. economy – nearly $23 trillion – now exceeds its pre-pandemic level as it recovers faster than many economists had predicted during the worst of the business closings more than a year ago.

 

Policy makers at the Federal Reserve, the country’s central bank, on Wednesday signaled that in November it could start reversing its pandemic stimulus programs and next year could begin to increase its benchmark interest rate.

 

How fast the U.S. economy will continue to grow is unclear.

 

For months, the national government had sent an extra $300 a week in unemployment compensation, on top of often less generous state aid, to jobless workers. But that extra assistance ended earlier this month, with about 7.5 million jobless workers affected by the cutoff in extra funding.

 

The delta variant of the coronavirus also poses a new threat to the economy.  

Political disputes have erupted in numerous states between conservative Republican governors who have resisted imposing mandatory face mask and vaccination rules in their states at schools and businesses, although some education and municipal leaders are advocating tougher rules to try to prevent the spread of the Delta variant.

 

U.S. President Joe Biden has ordered workers at companies with 100 or more employees to get vaccinated or be tested weekly for the coronavirus. In addition, he is requiring 2.5 million national government workers and contractors who work for the government to get vaccinated if they haven’t already been inoculated.

 

In recent weeks, about 150,000 new cases have been identified each day in the U.S. and more than 2,000 people are dying from COVID-19 every day.    

 

More than 66% of U.S. adults now have been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, and overall, 54.9% of the U.S. population of 332 million have completed their shots, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

 

Mandates Give Rise to Booming Black Market for Fake Vaccine Cards

As more businesses, universities, and federal and local governments demand proof of inoculation against COVID-19, the black market for fake vaccine cards appears to be booming.

U.S. Customs officials in Cincinnati, Ohio, intercepted five shipments containing 1,683 counterfeit COVID-19 vaccination cards and 2,034 fake Pfizer inoculation stickers since August 16. The shipments from China were headed to private homes and apartments in the states o Illinois, Maryland, Missouri, New York and Texas.

In August, a Chicago pharmacist was arrested after being accused of selling dozens of authentic Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) COVID-19 vaccination cards on eBay. In July, a naturopathic physician in Northern California was arrested for allegedly selling fake COVID-19 immunization treatments and forged vaccination cards. 

‘A type of fraud’

Legal experts compare phony vaccine cards to counterfeit money or fake drivers’ licenses. 

“It’s a type of fraud,” says Wesley Oliver, professor of law at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. “There’s another theory that you are stealing from the government their insignia and their imprimatur that you are in fact vaccinated, and both are just sort of different styles of the same crime.”

President Joe Biden recently called on all businesses with 100 or more employees to require their workers either be vaccinated or tested for COVID-19 once a week. A global cybersecurity company reports that the price of fake vaccine cards and the numbers of people selling them shot up since Biden announced the vaccine mandate in early September.

Pretending to be vaccinated trespasses on other people’s rights, according to Boston University law professor Christopher Robertson. 

“Part of the free enterprise system is we decide where we want to go, and who we want to interact with and on what terms. And so, it really is an invasion of everyone else’s bodily integrity, their security, and knowing that they can be safe going into a place that’s requiring proof of vaccination,” Robertson says. “It’s kind of similar to battery in exposing someone to risk that they didn’t consent to be exposed to.” 

Exposing others to risk

Last month, 15 people in New York were charged in connection with selling and buying phony COVID-19 vaccine cards. A woman who called herself @AntiVaxMomma on Instagram stands accused of selling 250 fake vaccination certificates for about $200 per card. A second suspect, a 27-year-old medical clinic worker, allegedly charged an extra $250 to enter fake vaccine data for at least 10 people into New York’s immunization database. Front-line health care and essential workers are among the people accused of buying the phony cards. 

The idea of health care workers falsifying their vaccination status terrifies cancer patient Diana Martinez, who lives in California. She is one of millions of Americans with an impaired immune system, which makes it harder for her body to fight off disease.

She dreads the thought of getting on an elevator with an unmasked, unvaccinated person. 

“They don’t understand how they look to me. It’s like someone has jumped on with a loaded gun,” Martinez says. “Those few moments when I’m just trying to get up to my doctor’s floor, they may have infected me. They may have ended my life because my immune system is so compromised that I’m more vulnerable to whatever they might be spreading.” 

Martinez could be especially vulnerable because the COVID-19 vaccines may not be as effective in people with suppressed immune systems. For example, Martinez’s physician finds that patients with multiple myeloma, a type of blood cancer, don’t respond as well as healthy people do to mRNA vaccines, like the ones produced by Pfizer and Moderna.

“We found that in the patients who got the vaccination, that 45% had a normal response, 22% had an impaired response, and 33% had no response,” says Dr. James Berenson, founder and president of the Institute for Myeloma and Bone Cancer Research in West Hollywood, California. 

Berenson adds that the list of people with compromised immune systems include “older folks, those who are on immunosuppressive therapies like patients with lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, psoriatic arthritis, people on therapies that are trying to tamp down the immune system.”

‘Wide latitude’ for penalties 

When it comes to suspects charged with buying and selling phony vaccination certificates, the judges are certain to look at who was harmed by the alleged crime, according to Oliver. 

“Basically, people are buying the right to take a risk with other people’s lives. That’s not something that we typically see in criminal law,” Oliver says. “The real harm that you’ve done is create a risk to the population. And with most crimes, the degree of harm that you create, or the risk of physical harm, is part of the sentencing scheme.” 

Which could mean that health care workers, or those who work in nursing homes, involved in the buying or selling of forged vaccine cards could face worse penalties. 

“The more people you put at risk, the more vulnerable the population put at risk, clearly, the more harshly you’re going to be sentenced,” Oliver says. 

The integrity of the entire vaccination card system is at stake, Robertson says. 

“It’s similar to forging money. If half of all the currency in circulation was actually fake, then nobody could trust the currency at all,” he says. “When we do detect it, we really have to drop the hammer and make that deterrent signal clear to the public, that we’re not messing around, that lives are at stake.” 

Judges have wide latitude when it comes to sentencing. When making their decision, they consider both physical and financial harm caused by the perpetrator, according to Oliver. He estimates that if convicted, vaccine card fakers could face anywhere from probation to up to 20 years in prison. 

Berenson hopes judges will deliver harsh punishments that encourage people in the broader community to look beyond themselves and focus on the big picture. 

 

“We’re all in this together. It’s not about you — it’s about the bigger good. You need to think about the bigger good,” the cancer physician says. “So, if you get vaccinated, we can get rid of this. And if you actually wear a mask and socially distance, there’s no place for the virus to go. If you don’t, this is going to go on and on and on for years.” 

Florida Changes Quarantine Guidelines for Students Exposed to COVID-19

The southeastern U.S. state of Florida says parents or legal guardians can decide whether or not to quarantine their children if they have been exposed to someone who tested positive for COVID-19.

Dr. Joseph Lapado, the state’s newly appointed surgeon general, signed new guidelines Thursday that will allow students to continue attending in-person classes “without restrictions or disparate treatment” as long as they have no symptoms of the virus. The parent or legal guardian can decide to keep their child at home for seven days from the date of last contact with someone who tested positive.

The new guidelines replace a previous one that mandated students enter quarantine for at least four days after being exposed to someone who had tested positive. It does maintain the previous rule that students who test positive either quarantine for 10 days, test negative for the disease and remain free of symptoms or show a doctor’s note giving them permission before returning to school.

Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis defended the new guidelines during a press conference Wednesday.

“Quarantining healthy students is incredibly damaging for their educational achievement,” DeSantis said.

“It’s also disruptive for families,” he added, saying the state would follow a “symptoms-based approach.”

The new guidelines run counter to recommendations issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control for unvaccinated people to isolate for 14 days if they have been within 2 meters of someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.

The new guidelines also prompted a judge to dismiss a court challenge brought by five local school districts against the state’s ban on local school districts to impose mandatory face masks. The DeSantis administration has withheld funding to school districts and withheld salaries of local superintendents and school board members who went against the governor’s order banning such mandates.

Some information for this report came from the Associated Press.