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1 month ago

Trump administration to deport man to Haiti who has never been there

Julian Borger

US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Ice) is to carry out a final deportation flight of the Trump era on Tuesday, with a plane bound for Haiti whose passengers include a man who is not a Haitian citizen, and who has never been there.

Paul Pierrilus, a 40-year-old financial consultant from Rockland County, New York, was born in the French Caribbean territory of Saint Martin, according to a birth certificate supplied by his family, who said he came to the US with his parents when he was five. His sister and parents are US citizens.

He was picked up on 11 January, as part of what human rights advocates say is a last sweep of black migrants in the final days of the Trump administration. He has told his family he was being transferred to an Ice holding facility in Alexandria, Louisiana, which is a typical precursor to deportation.

According to his sister, Neomie, he was seized when he went to an immigration office on Federal Plaza in Manhattan on 11 January, for what he thought would be a routine visit.

“He went there for the appointment and while he was there, he was detained, and he was informed that they have documents stating that he’s a Haitian citizen,” Neomie Pierrilus said.

She said their parents were Haitian but never applied for Paul’s Haitian citizenship. “We don’t really understand how documents were obtained to say that my brother was a citizen of Haiti.

“My brother has never even been to Haiti,” she said. “He has the bare minimum of the language, he doesn’t know the culture, he doesn’t know anyone there. So my brother cannot go there.”

Neomie Pierrilus supplied copies of emails last year from the then Haitian ambassador, Hervé Denis, confirming that her brother was not a Haitian citizen. Nor did Paul’s birth in Saint Martin confer French citizenship, making him stateless.

Guerline Jozef, head of the community group Haitian Bridge Alliance, said that the intense level of political violence in Haiti represented a serious threat to Pierrilus’s life.

“Sending him to Haiti, first of all, is not legal,” Jozef said. “And with what’s going on in Haiti right now, there is no way they should be deporting people there period, especially him because he is not Haitian, has never been there and has no connections there. So they cannot just drop him at the airport.”

Ice has been running removal flights to Haiti every second Tuesday, and appears ready to press ahead with this week’s scheduled flight on the eve of Joe Biden’s inauguration. Biden has promised a 100-day suspension of deportations on taking office, while immigration and Ice procedures are reviewed.

There have been calls for the agency to be dissolved for its role in enforcing Trump’s anti-immigration policies, including the separation of migrant children from their parents. Ice has also been accused of torturing African asylum-seekers to make them sign waivers allowing for their deportation, as part of a sweep particularly targeting African and Caribbean migrants.

Read more:

Joe Biden is expected to unveil sweeping immigration reform plans on his first day in office, the Washington Post reports:

Biden will roll out a sweeping overhaul of nation’s immigration laws the day he is inaugurated, including an eight-year pathway to citizenship for immigrants without legal status and an expansion of refugee admissions, alongside an enforcement plan that deploys technology to patrol the border.

Biden’s legislative proposal, which will be sent to Congress on Wednesday, also includes a heavy focus on addressing the root causes of migration from Central America, a key part of Biden’s foreign policy portfolio when he served as vice president.

The centerpiece of the plan from Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala D. Harris is the eight-year pathway, which would put millions of qualifying immigrants in a temporary status for five years, and then grant them a green card once they meet certain requirements such as a background check and payment of taxes. They would be able to apply for citizenship three years later.

To qualify, immigrants must have been in the United States as of Jan. 1, a move meant to blunt any rush to the border.

Beneficiaries of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — which granted key protections for so-called “dreamers” — and the temporary protected status program for migrants from disaster-ravaged nations could apply for a green card immediately. The details were described by multiple transition officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly

The Biden administration’s immigration plans – both the ones he will push during his first day in office and expected changes to refugee admissions, a reversal of Trump’s Muslim-ban, and other moves are in line with campaign promises Biden made.

US coronavirus deaths will hit half a million in February, experts predict

Jessica Glenza

Experts predict 500,000 Americans will probably be killed by Covid-19 before the end of February, and perhaps before, in an acceleration of deaths expected to crest in March.

The warning comes as an increasing number of experts see February and March as peak months for Covid-19 disease transmission in the US, with a more contagious variant circulating in most states and mass vaccination off to a slow start.

“We have a combination of factors that allowed a very bad situation to get worse,” said Dr Steven Woolf, a population health expert and a professor at Virginia Commonwealth University. “The pattern of escalation in this winter surge has been under way for a while.”

At each inflection point, Woolf said, the United States had failed to respond effectively, beginning with reducing viral transmission before the fall when a winter surge was expected. That was followed by a failure to heed warnings against winter travel. Then, a failure to efficiently implement a mass vaccination campaign.

“Everyone is in agreement there is light at the end of the tunnel,” said Woolf. “Eventually, once we get the vaccination up to a certain level and we get to herd immunity, things are going to get better.”

However, to minimize loss of life now, Americans must double down on the same protective measures that have proved difficult, or impossible for some essential workers, in the past.

“There’s so many thousands of people who will die in the interim between now and when we achieve that sought-after moment in our country,” said Woolf.

A forecast assembled by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) predicts up to 477,000 people could die by 6 February. The possibility that the US could hit 500,000 deaths comes as mortality has accelerated amid a winter peak.

It took more than 16 weeks for the US to reach 100,000 deaths, but less than five weeks for the death toll to leap from 300,000 to 400,000. Many experts expect the US will reach 500,000 deaths in February.

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Donald Trump plans to rescind entry restrictions on travelers coming from Brazil, the UK, Ireland and Schengen area, Reuters reports in an exclusive:

The restrictions are set to end under a new proclamation from Trump the same day that new COVID-19 test requirements take effect for all international visitors. The White House did not immediately comment.

The restrictions have barred nearly all non-U.S. citizens who within the last 14 days have been in Brazil, the United Kingdom, Ireland and the 26 countries of the Schengen area in Europe that allow travel across open borders.

The U.S. restrictions barring most visitors from Europe have been in place since mid-March, while the Brazilian entry ban was imposed in May.

The restrictions would lift on 26 January, Reuters reports. By then, the Biden administration will be inaugurated and could issue its own directives. New variants of the coronavirus that are concerning scientists are spreading through the UK and Brazil - fueling calls to restrict travel to slow the spread.

Updated at 6.20pm EST

Hi there, I’m Maanvi Singh, picking up the blog from the West Coast.

In the lead-up to Inauguration Day, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are hosting events in recognition of the Black, Latino and Asian American, and Pacific Islander (AAPI) voters who helped elect them to the White House.

The AAPI celebration will feature remarks from US representatives Ami Bera, Pramila Jayapal, Andy Kim, and Raja Krishnamoorthi, and from former Olympian Michelle Kwan and actors Kal Penn, John Cho, Kumail Nanjiani, and Chloe Bennet.

The “Black Community Inaugural” will feature comedian Leslie Jones, organizer Stacey Abrams, House whip Jim Clyburn, Representative Cedric Richmond, Congressional Black Caucus Chairwoman Joyce Beatty, senator Cory Booker, and senator-elect Rev. Raphael Warnock - among others.

And the “Latino Inaugural” will be hosted by actor Longoria and feature “Hamilton” creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, actors John Leguizamo, Rita Moreno, Edward James Olmos and others.

Biden Inaugural Committee (@BidenInaugural)

Join us for:

AAPI Inaugural Celebration: Breaking Barriers at 7pm ET
We Are One: A Black Community Inaugural Celebration at 8pm ET
Latino Inaugural 2021: Inheritance & Promise 9:30pm ET

January 18, 2021

New York Democratic senator Kirsten Gillibrand says she will work with colleagues on legislation giving US troops the same legal protections against discrimination as civilian employees.

United Statees National Guard at the US Capitol.
United Statees National Guard at the US Capitol. Photograph: Leigh Vogel/UPI/REX/Shutterstock

It’s a move advocates say could be a game-changer for minorities in America’s armed forces, Reuters writes.

The effort by Gillibrand, who is expected to lead a Senate subcommittee responsible for US military personnel, follows a 2020 Reuters investigation that showed US troops were far less likely to file racial discrimination complaints than their civilian counterparts.

That is despite data from a long-withheld Pentagon survey that showed nearly a third of Black service members and a significant percentage of Asian and Hispanic service members experience racial harassment, discrimination, or both. The survey was first reported by Reuters last week.

“Disturbing new data shows that our service members are suffering due to a lack of meaningful civil rights protections, while their civilian colleagues in the Department of Defense and across the government enjoy robust rights enshrined in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act,” Gillibrand told Reuters.

Kirsten Gillibrand in New York City at the weekend.
Kirsten Gillibrand in New York City at the weekend. Photograph: Lev Radin/Pacific Press/REX/Shutterstock

Gillibrand, a longtime advocate of women in the military, who has championed reforms to address sexual assault in the ranks, added that it was “long past time for Congress to act”.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 bars employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex or religion.

But the US government has long maintained that military service members are outside the scope of Title VII because they are not technically federal employees, a view upheld by courts. Instead, troops have a separate system to file complaints of discrimination.

Any move to extend Title VII guarantees to troops could potentially also benefit women, lesbian, gay and transgender service members who suffer gender discrimination.

Don Christensen, who served as a chief prosecutor for the air force and who has worked to expose discrimination in the military at the Protect Our Defenders advocacy group, said extending Title VII protections to US troops “would be a big deal” that could affect everything from who reviews a discrimination complaint to whether troops can seek monetary damages, as civilians do.

Updated at 6.01pm EST

Afternoon summary

It’s been a calm day on the streets of state capitals as the Trump administration winds down to its close in a heavily fortified downtown Washington, DC, but plenty of news in US politics. Do stay tuned for the coming hours as we bring you all the developments.

Here’s how the afternoon has gone:

Donald Trump is still claiming he won the presidential election, shouting (metaphorically) over the sound of moving trucks emptying his stuff from the White House. Bill Barr told him to his face that his claims of election fraud were “bullshit”, according to reports. Rudy Giuliani, Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, will apparently not be a part of Trump’s defense team during the Senate trial for his second impeachment. The incoming vice-president, Kamala Harris, has written an op-ed for the San Francisco Chronicle about the challenges and threats to the nation, as she formally resigned from the US Senate in order to become Joe Biden’s veep.

Updated at 6.02pm EST

Trump administration claims to present 'definitive' version of US history

The Trump administration’s 1776 commission released a report on Wednesday claiming to have presented “a definitive chronicle of the American founding”.

The commission was convened by Trump amid the nationwide Black Lives Matter protests against systemic racism. Feeding his base’s fury at calls for a more honest accounting of American history to be taught at school, Trump called for a “pro-American” curriculum and promised to do everything he could to rebut what he said was a narrative that “America is a wicked and racist nation”.

Chris Megerian (@ChrisMegerian)

This is basically a taxpayer-funded right-wing blogging dressed up as academic research, including a whole section about why “progressivism” is bad.

January 18, 2021

Trump and his allies were particularly incensed by the New York Times Magazine’s 1619 Project, named after the first enslaved Africans who arrived in Virginia. The Pulitzer Prize-winning audio series, which Trump denounced as “propaganda”, has been adopted into the curriculum of several schools for its deep exploration of the enduring consequences of slavery.

Trump claimed the 1776 Commission would help restore “patriotic education” to the nation’s classrooms. Indeed, the description of the report states that it provides a “dispositive rebuttal of reckless ‘re-education’ attempts that seek to reframe American history around the idea that the United States is not an exceptional country but an evil one”.

Updated at 6.26pm EST

Lois Beckett

A year ago, a gun rights rally at Virginia’s capitol drew more than 20,000 activists, many of them armed, virtually all of them furious at their state’s newly elected Democratic state government and its pledge to pass stricter gun laws, writes the Guardian reporter Lois Beckett in Richmond, Virginia.

This year, the streets around the capitol in Richmond were empty, with journalists far outnumbering the scattered protesters, many of whom were masked and armed.

Lois Beckett (@loisbeckett)

Gun rights activists at Richmond Lobby Day 2020 (left) vs 2021 (right)

January 18, 2021

Outside the locked-down, guarded grounds of the capitol, there were 11 members of the Roanoke County Militia, a small local group formed around the “Lobby Day” gun rights protest last year; three or four Proud Boys; a small group of armed activists in Black Panther shirts, and scattered other demonstrators, including a woman carrying a sign advertising that she was a nurse and wanted to talk about gun rights.

Several members of the armed Roanoke County Militia, most of whom who refused to give their names, said they thought so few people had shown up to the gun rights protest this year not only because of the coronavirus, but because of the aftermath of the 6 January invasion of the Capitol in DC. The young, masked militia members said they believed people did not want to show up at any event that they worried might turn into a repeat of 6 January, or that might prompt more scrutiny from law enforcement officials. They said they did not approve of the storming of the Capitol building, and that they were concerned about what might happen on inauguration day.

A larger number of local gun rights activists protested without getting out of their cars, as part of caravans of vehicles organized by the Virginia Citizens Defense League (VCDL), the gun rights group that organizes a “Lobby Day” demonstration every year on Martin Luther King Day, which in more normal years is a chance to meet with legislators at the statehouse and discuss policy.

On the highway headed into Richmond around noon, there were at least 110 cars and trucks flying “Don’t Tread on Me” flags, most of them embellished with “Guns save lives” stickers, as well as a large orange bus emblazoned with a similar slogan. VCDL organized four main caravans from different parts of the state; it was not immediately clear how many people participated in the caravans in all.

Lois Beckett (@loisbeckett)

En route to Richmond, passed a caravan of 110+ cars and trucks covered in “Guns save lives” stickers and flying US and Gasden flags, part of the @VCDL_ORG mobile lobby day for gun rights at Virginia’s capital.

January 18, 2021

Many of the tiny number of people who showed up to demonstrate in Richmond on Monday were heavily armed, including one young man who refused to give his name and had a 75-round drum magazine attached to his rifle.

Other journalists at Richmond’s capitol said a small number of anti-government boogaloo bois also made an appearance in the street. Several journalists noted that the scene felt less like an actual protest than series of bizarre press conferences for a tiny number of extremists or provocateurs.

molly conger (@socialistdogmom)

this is just a mobile press conference for some guys in hawaiian shirts. a far cry from last year’s gun lobby day.

January 18, 2021

Throughout the afternoon, dozens of cars with pro-gun flags and VCDL stickers drove, honking, through the streets of Richmond.

Updated at 4.28pm EST

Melania Trump on Monday delivered a farewell address, calling it the “greatest honor of my life” to serve as first lady.

“The past four years have been unforgettable,” she said in a nearly seven-minute long video posted on Twitter. “As Donald and I conclude our time in the White House, I think of all of the people I have taken home in my heart, and their incredible stories of love, patriotism and determination.”

Though she did not explicitly mention the assault on the Capitol, Trump said: “Be passionate in everything you do, but always remember that violence is never the answer and will never be justified.”

Melania Trump (@FLOTUS)

A Farewell Message from First Lady Melania Trump

January 18, 2021

Trump belatedly condemned the violence on Capitol Hill in a statement issued days after the riot. It made no reference to her husband’s role in inciting the violence and bemoaned the fact that the violence had led to “salacious gossip, unwarranted personal attacks, and false misleading accusations on me”.

During her time as first lady, Trump focused on combatting cyberbullying through her campaign “Be Best”. Her tenure ends with her husband’s permanent suspension from Twitter “due to the risk of further incitement of violence”.

Updated at 3.57pm EST

In honor of MLK Day, vice-president-elect Kamala Harris and her husband, Doug Emhoff, are volunteering at Martha’s Table in Washington. The soon-to-be second couple filled plastic bags with potatoes, oranges, and a box of macaroni and cheese, which would then be distributed to those in need.

At one point, Harris teased the high school volunteers working alongside her: “You guys are moving slowly!”

But she also took a few questions.

Alexandra Jaffe (@ajjaffe)

Asked Kamala Harris if we she was at all concerned about the security threats @ inauguration. “I am very much looking forward to being sworn in as the next Vice President of the United States, and I will walk there, to that moment, proudly with my head up and my shoulders back.”

January 18, 2021

“I am very much looking forward to be sworn in as the next vice president of the United States and I will walk there to that moment proudly with my head up and my shoulders back,” she said.

Harris will make history several times over when she is sworn in as vice-president on Wednesday: the first woman, the first Black woman and the first Asian American woman to serve in the role.

Updated at 3.35pm EST

With less than 48 hours left of his presidency, Trump has continued to claim he won the election, New York Times White House reporter Maggie Haberman reports.

No matter that his claims of election fraud have been rejected by dozens of courts, members of his administration (see below), and Republican leaders. Congress certified Biden’s electoral victory, after Trump supporters stormed Capitol Hill in a bloody riot with the aim of preventing them from doing so.

Maggie Haberman (@maggieNYT)

The president has continued to tell advisers and allies he really won the election, with less than 48 hours to go before he leaves office. On the current GOP rift, the president's anger is with every Republican who voted for impeachment but singular for McCarthy, aides say.

January 18, 2021

In a preview of the internecine Republican battles to come, Trump is reportedly furious at the 10 Republicans who voted in favor of his impeachment. But he is also directing his anger at the House minority leader, Kevin McCarthy, a staunch ally of the president who voted against impeachment but said that Trump bore some responsibility for the violence on Capitol Hill.

Haberman adds: “Associates who’ve spoken with Trump say he’s used the same vulgarity he used about [vice-president Mike] Pence to describe McCarthy, saying he bowed to pressure with his House floor speech.”

Updated at 3.36pm EST

Barr to Trump: election fraud claims are 'bullshit' – report

Nearly a month after the presidential election, former attorney general Bill Barr told Donald Trump that his repeated claims of a stolen election were “bullshit,” according to a new report in Axios.

Per Axios, the exchange unfolded in the Oval Office, where Trump summoned Barr for a meeting after seeing a story by the Associated Press in which his attorney general told the agency there was no evidence of widespread voter fraud in the presidential election.

White House counsel Pat Cipollone and a few other aides were there to witness the back-and-forth, in which Barr told the president that the legal team he had brought on to validate his baseless claims was “clownish.”

For much of his tenure, Barr was one of Trump’s most loyal cabinet officials. But it wasn’t enough for Trump, writes Jonathan Swan, and their relationship slowly disintegrated. Barr stepped down shortly after Christmas.

Read the full story here.

Updated at 3.22pm EST

Census director to resign before term ends

Steve Dillingham, the director of the US census, is resigning effective on Wednesday, according to Talking Points Memo’s Tierney Sneed. That’s ahead of the end of Dillingham’s term and comes as he faces calls to resign.

Per Sneed:

Census Director Steve Dillingham will be stepping down on Jan. 20, cutting short by nearly a year the five-year director term, which was scheduled to expire on Dec 31.

Dillingham announced his resignation plans in an internal Census Bureau email obtained by TPM.

Dillingham’s tenure atop the bureau was plagued by myriad controversies since his confirmation in Jan. 2019. His refusal to publicly push back on the efforts by the President and his allies to politicize the 2020 census has long prompted criticism from both within and outside the bureau. In recent days, the scrutiny intensified with the revelation of his involvement in a pressure campaign to push the bureau’s experts to produce data on noncitizens and undocumented immigrants before the end of Trump’s presidency.

Several Democratic members of Congress called for his resignation after the demand for the data was disclosed last week. Commerce Department Inspector General Peggy Gustafson, who revealed the gambit in a letter to Dillingham last week, is reviewing the matter.

It’s unclear whether the inspector general’s review played a role in Dillingham’s decision to step down. Last week, Gustafson requested written answers from Dillingham about the circumstances of the data project and suggested she might seek to question Dillingham under oath as well. Dillingham has since clarified that work on the data projected has been ceased.

Updated at 2.41pm EST

Antony Blinken, Biden’s nominee for secretary of state, plans to flesh out a bit more of the Biden administration’s foreign policy approach during Blinken’s upcoming confirmation hearings. Per the Wall Street Journal:

In his Tuesday hearing before the Senate foreign relations committee, Mr Blinken plans to sketch out a vision in which the US has a central role in wrestling with global problems, uses alliances and international institutions to try to expand its leverage and pursues policies that it can argue benefit the American middle class.

That approach is intended to supplant President Trump’s “America First” doctrine as an organizing principle for foreign policy while also seeking to draw popular support for the Biden agenda from voters who might otherwise be sympathetic to Mr Trump’s approach.

That testimony will be among a series of confirmation hearings in which Mr. Biden’s national security picks are expected to underscore their government experience. Some former officials caution, however, that the team may be so like-minded that it may leave aside some unorthodox options to dealing with adversaries in Tehran, Beijing, Moscow and Pyongyang.

“It’s not a ‘team of rivals,’” said Aaron David Miller, who served both Republican and Democratic secretaries of state and is now at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Updated at 2.46pm EST

As I noted below, the shuffle over Kamala Harris’s Senate seat is in full swing. Here’s California governor Gavin Newsom nominating Dr. Shirley Weber to be California’s new secretary of state, a position made vacant through Newsom nominating Alex Padilla to succeed Harris in the Senate:

Daniel Strauss (@DanielStrauss4)

Inbox: "Governor Newsom Formally Appoints Alex Padilla to the U.S. Senate and Nominates Dr. Shirley Weber as Secretary of State"

January 18, 2021

Updated at 2.03pm EST

The FBI is looking into whether one of the rioters who stole a laptop from House speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office was planning to sell it to Russians.

Here’s more from Buzzfeed’s Lauren Strapagiel:

The claim, which is still under investigation, is detailed in an affidavit filed by the FBI on Sunday, outlining the case against Riley June Williams, a Pennsylvania woman who was seen in footage of the insurrection inside the Capitol directing crowds.

According to the affidavit, a person identified as Williams’ former romantic partner called the FBI tip line to identify Williams. The tipster told the FBI that they had spoken to friends of Williams who showed them a video of the woman taking a laptop or hard drive from Pelosi’s office, the affidavit states.

The tipster “stated that Williams intended to send the computer device to a friend in Russia, who then planned to sell the device to SVR, Russia’s foreign intelligence service.”

It also notes that, “for unknown reasons,” that sale fell through and that Williams either still has the device or has since destroyed it.

The FBI said in the affidavit that the tip remains under investigations. Williams is facing charges related to entering a restricted building and disorderly conduct.

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