Press Releases

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) announced $17,735,349.43 in federal funding from the U.S. Department of Education to Hampton University to establish the Virginia Workforce Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center (VWIEC), a statewide small business incubator project. This grant will expand the capability and capacity of Virginia’s current and aspiring entrepreneurs to aid with economic recovery in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re pleased that these federal dollars will assist Hampton University in continuing to serve their students in the face of the current health and economic crisis,” said the Senators. “Historically Black Colleges and Universities help provide a first-rate education for so many students from traditionally underserved communities. We will continue to advocate for them as they support their students during this ongoing crisis.”

This grant was awarded through the Department of Education’s Education Stabilization Fund, which seeks to provide support to state educational agencies in addressing the specific educational needs of students, parents, and teachers in elementary and secondary schools, and higher education institutions. Sens. Warner and Kaine are strong supporters of Virginia’s HBCUs. Last year, the Senators successfully pushed to get the FUTURE Act signed into law to restore $255 million in federal funding for these critical institutions. They also secured $93 million in critical funding to strengthen HBCUs as part of the December government spending deal.

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner, Tim Kaine, and Patty Murray wrote a letter to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of the Inspector General (OIG) requesting an investigation into the June 2020 transfer of immigrants in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention to Farmville, Virginia. The transfer, which was reportedly part of the Trump Administration’s efforts to send more federal agents to Washington, D.C., to end racial justice protests, led to a dramatic spike in COVID-19 infections at the Farmville facility, managed by the private contractor Immigration Centers of America (ICA). The Senators write that ICE, ICA, and DHS’s mishandling of the situation fits the pattern of abuse behind ICE detention.

“While ICE said they transferred ‘larger detention populations to facilities with fewer detainees’ to ‘promote social distancing,’ according to recently released information, ICE’s own statistics showed the facilities from where the detainees came on June 1 were not near capacity when the transfers were arranged,” the Senators wrote. “ICE and ICA’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak in Farmville raises the alarm about people’s safety and the nature of ICE detention. And ICE and DHS’s disregard of Senate inquiry in the face of clear mishandling of the situation and people’s lives is unacceptable. It is critical for the OIG to investigate the transfer of individuals in ICE custody during the COVID-19 pandemic in the context of the pattern and practice of abuse and the lack of accountability within ICE facilities.”

The Senators noted that, while the Farmville facility was 57 percent full the day of the transfer, the Arizona facility from which the migrants were transferred was only 35 percent full. “The statistics indicate that ICE has misled Congress about the reasons for transferring individuals during the pandemic,” wrote the Senators.

Senators Warner and Kaine have repeatedly pushed the Administration to prevent and mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in Virginia detention facilities. After the June transfer resulted in a spike of more than 50 COVID-19 cases at Farmville, the Senators urged the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to prioritize the health of detainees and workers by stopping the transfer of people in ICE custody and increasing COVID-19 testing at the facilities. Nearly a month later, with approximately 80 percent of the Farmville population testing positive for COVID-19, the Senators once again pressed ICE and DHS to stop transfers between facilities. They also posed a series of questions regarding the measures in place to safeguard the health of people in custody, staff members, and the community. In July, the Senators also insisted that the Trump Administration work with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to create and deploy teams of epidemiologists to conduct an assessment of the pandemic’s impact at the facility after nearly every detained person in the Farmville facility contracted COVID-19. At the Senators’ urging, the CDC deployed its teams to the Farmville facility in August to conduct an assessment of the rate of infection among workers and detainees, risk factors for infection among workers and detainees, infection control and prevention practices in the facility, and transmission dynamics among workers, detainees, and the surrounding community. Additionally, following reports that two detained individuals tested positive for COVID-19 at the Caroline County Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention facility, the Senators sent a letter today pressing for answers on what ICE is doing to protect the health of individuals in custody, staff members, and the Bowling Green community.

You can read the full letter here and below:

Inspector General Joseph V. Cuffari
Office of Inspector General
Department of Homeland Security
245 Murray Lane SW
Washington, DC 20528-0305

Dear Inspector General Joseph V. Cuffari,

We write to request that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of the Inspector General (OIG) investigate the transfer of individuals in detention by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to Virginia via ICE Air in June 2020 as part of the administration’s efforts to send more federal agents to end racial justice protests in Washington, D.C.[1] The transfer led to the worst outbreak of COVID-19 in the ICE detention center in Farmville, Virginia, run by the private contractor Immigration Centers of America (ICA) and fits into the pattern of abuse behind ICE detention during the pandemic. We ask that your office incorporate an investigation into the June 2020 transfer to Virginia into the ongoing investigation into “ICE’s Efforts to Prevent and Mitigate the Spread of COVID-19 in its Facilities.”[2]

On June 2, ICE transferred over 70 detainees to ICA-Farmville from COVID-19 hotspots in Florida and Arizona. According to testimony at a Farmville town council meeting in August, ICE officials in the Washington field office objected to the transfer of detainees. The transfer, compounded by the inability to appropriately socially distance within the facility, led to a dramatic spike in infections. Within two weeks of the June 2020 transfer, more than half of these detainees tested positive for COVID-19. At least six people inside have been hospitalized with severe symptoms. In August, the Farmville facility had at times a nearly 90% infection rate among detainees, including James Thomas Hill, a Canadian national who tragically died on August 5.

While ICE said they transferred “larger detention populations to facilities with fewer detainees” to “promote social distancing,” according to recently released information, ICE’s own statistics showed the facilities from where the detainees came on June 1 were not near capacity when the transfers were arranged. The detention facility in Arizona from where detainees were transferred, CCA Florence, has space for approximately 550 detainees but was only about 35 percent full that day, while Farmville was 57 percent full. The statistics indicate that ICE has misled Congress about the reasons for transferring individuals during the pandemic, in violation of the CDC guidelines indicating that people should not be transferred between facilities “unless necessary for medical evaluation, medical isolation/quarantine, clinical care, extenuating security concerns, release, or to prevent overcrowding.”[3]

We have consistently raised alarm with DHS about the surging number of COVID-19 cases at the Farmville detention facility as a result of ICE’s decision to continue transferring detainees.[4] Yet both DHS and ICE have refused to respond to our questions concerning how ICE is protecting the health of individuals in their custody, staff members, and the Farmville community. We request that you investigate the following:

?      Whether ICE and DHS shared information with Farmville officials (including local elected officials like the mayor and members of the town council) about the June transfer and the subsequent outbreaks at Farmville-ICA in an effort to protect against community spread;

?      The objection to the transfer by the Washington field office and any other objections made prior to the transfer of detainees to Farmville;

?      The role of the company in charge of the facility, ICA, in the June 2020 transfer;

?      Whether the ICE agents aboard the ICE Air flight in question were tested for COVID-19 prior to boarding and ICE’s general policies around testing prior to boarding flights with detainees;

?      All information pertaining to the planned flight, including whether the flight was postponed or altered to accommodate agents;

?      The capacity at each ICE facility on June 2, 2020;

?      Whether any detainees transferred to Farmville on June 2, 2020, were subject to the Title 42 expulsions conducted by the Administration;

?      The I-216 of each detainee transferred to Farmville on June 2, 2020;

?      The number of ICE transfers during the entirety of the coronavirus pandemic, the justifications behind the transfers, the capacity at the facilities individuals were transferred from and to, and the result of any COVID-19 spread at the facilities to which detainees were transferred;

?      The decision-making process that went into making the June 2 transfer and all other transfers during the pandemic, including communication between ICE headquarters, field offices, private contractors, and local officials involved in the management of the facilities where transfers have taken place as well as agency and administration guidance, memos, and any other information guiding ICE’s decision process to embark on transfers during the pandemic;

?      Whether any assessments or inquiries were made of the local hospital and medical capacity to handle possibly infected detainees prior to transfer;

?      ICE’s use of “ICE Air” charter flights to transfer detainees during the pandemic.

ICE and ICA’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak in Farmville raises the alarm about people’s safety and the nature of ICE detention. And ICE and DHS’s disregard of Senate inquiry in the face of clear mishandling of the situation and people’s lives is unacceptable. It is critical for the OIG to investigate the transfer of individuals in ICE custody during the COVID-19 pandemic in the context of the pattern and practice of abuse and the lack of accountability within ICE facilities.

Sincerely,

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WASHINGTON U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) joined Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and 29 senators today in calling on the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general to expeditiously investigate a whistleblower complaint alleging forced hysterectomies at the Irwin County Detention Center (ICDC) in Ocilla, Ga.

“Forced sterilizations infringe on reproductive rights and autonomy,” the senators wrote. “To understand whether such violations may have been committed against immigrants in our federal government’s custody, the Inspector General’s Office should immediately investigate the reproductive health policies and practices at the ICDC and at other facilities, including but not limited to, all instances of forced, coerced, or medically unnecessary hysterectomies.”

 In addition to Senators Feinstein, Leahy, Murray, Casey and Booker, the letter was signed by Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Angus King (I-Maine), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Jack Reed (D-R.I), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).

Full text of the letter follows:

 

September 17, 2020

Hon. Joseph V. Cuffari

Inspector General

Department of Homeland Security

245 Murray Lane SW

Washington, DC 20528-0305

Dear Mr. Cuffari:

The Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General should expeditiously conduct a thorough investigation into a whistleblower complaint alleging forced hysterectomies and other egregious abuses at the Irwin County Detention Center (ICDC) in Ocilla, Georgia. LaSalle Corrections operates that facility for the federal government, including for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The alleged abuses detailed in the complaint and in related reports must be thoroughly and swiftly investigated to protect the rights and safety of women and patients in our nation’s care.

 The whistleblower expressed alarm about the “rate at which the hysterectomies have occurred” at the facility. Specifically, the complaint alleges that between October and December 2019 at least five women detained at the ICDC received hysterectomies. When asked about the procedures, however, the women “reacted confused when explaining why they had one done.” The complaint also describes how a gynecologist once removed the wrong ovary on a young woman, causing her “to go back to take out the left and she wound up with a total hysterectomy,” leaving her unable to bear children.

Another detained woman who received a hysterectomy recounted that medical personnel “did not properly explain to her what procedure she was going to have done.” Although she asked for more information about why she was receiving a hysterectomy, she was “given three different responses by three different individuals.” When the woman told a nurse that the procedure “isn’t for me,” the nurse “responded by getting angry and agitated.”

Forced sterilizations infringe on reproductive rights and autonomy. To understand whether such violations may have been committed against immigrants in our federal government’s custody, the Inspector General’s Office should immediately investigate the reproductive health policies and practices at the ICDC and at other ICE facilities, including but not limited to, all instances of forced, coerced, or medically unnecessary hysterectomies.

 In addition to thoroughly investigating the recent alleged abuses at the ICDC, we urge you to immediately conduct a national review of reproductive health policies and practices at ICE facilities to ensure that the human rights of women in federal immigration custody are assured.

Sincerely,

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 WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine joined Senator Chris Coons and House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn to introduce legislation to honor and commemorate the historic sites that contributed to the 1954 landmark Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. The bill would recognize the importance of the additional sites that catalyzed litigation in Delaware, South Carolina, Kansas, Virginia, and Washington, D.C., -- including the Robert Russa Moton Museum in Farmville – by designating them as National Park Service (NPS) Affiliated Areas and expand the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site in Topeka, Kansas. The legislation was crafted in partnership with the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The bill is also cosponsored by Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Tim Scott (R-SC), and Tom Carper (D-DE).

“On April 23, 1951, a 16-year-old Barbara Johns led a walkout of students at the Robert Russa Moton High School in Farmville, Virginia, to protest school segregation and poor education conditions. The student-led strike in Virginia and the subsequent lawsuit became one of the five cases combined into Brown v. Board of Education.  As our country continues to grapple with the need to reckon with our past and present, it is more important than ever to highlight those Americans who time and time again have stood up and pulled our nation towards progress,” said Senator Warner. “I’m proud to join my colleagues on this bipartisan bill to expand the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site and recognize the vital role played by the Moton School in Farmville in ending school segregation.”

“I am proud to join this bipartisan bill to honor and protect historic sites connected to Brown v. Board of Education—a watershed case in our nation’s progress toward equality for all,” said Senator Kaine. “One of the sites that will benefit is the Moton Museum, former home of the Moton School, where Barbara Johns led a protest over the intolerable conditions for Black students. It’s so important that we preserve these sites for all to reflect on the sacrifice and patriotism of leaders like Johns, Spottswood Robinson, and Oliver Hill.” 

“The Robert R. Moton Museum is excited to join with communities involved in the historic Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka decision. In seeking to become an affiliated area of the National Park Service, we know this affiliation will allow us the opportunity to better collaborate with other communities involved in the historic Brown decision as we work to ensure that countless individuals have the opportunity to know of the courage and sacrifice that citizens made towards equality in education,” said Cameron D. Patterson, Executive Director of the Robert R. Moton Museum. “The Moton Museum Board of Trustees, Moton Museum Community Council, and our partner institution Longwood University in offering their support towards this effort, recognize that the resources and benefits offered from this affiliation with the National Park Service will only strengthen our ability to fulfill our mission as a museum.”

The 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka was described by constitutional scholar Louis H. Pollak as “probably the most important American government act of any kind since the Emancipation Proclamation.” The Brown decision transformed the United States, striking down the separate-but-equal doctrine established by Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896The Plessy decision was the linchpin that condoned and entrenched legalized segregation across the South despite liberty and equality protections clearly stated in the U.S. Constitution and underscored by the 14th and 15th Amendments.   

These laws stayed in placed for nearly 100 years after Reconstruction, but pioneering civil rights lawyers Charles Hamilton Houston, Thurgood Marshall, William Hastie, Constance Baker Motley, Louis Lorenzo Redding, and others challenged the constitutionality of segregation and won. The Brown decision ended the practice of legalized segregation in educational facilities and was a major catalyst of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 60s.  

The history of Brown v. Board of Education is represented in our national consciousness by a single building, Monroe School, which is a National Historic Site located in Topeka, Kansas. This limited geographic scope condenses public memory of these events and inadvertently fails to recognize the contributions of the other communities in Claymont, Delaware; Hockessin, Delaware; Wilmington, Delaware; Summerton, South Carolina; Farmville, Virginia; and the District of Columbia that were also important to the fight for equality and that saw their cases consolidated with the Brown case. The geographic dispersion of these locations demonstrates that Brown v. Board of Education is truly a story of a national struggle with national significance.

The creation of NPS Affiliated Areas in Delaware, Virginia, and the District of Columbia for sites associated with the Brown v. Board of Education case and an expansion of the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site to include the related sites in South Carolina provides an opportunity for these sites to tell their own uplifting, under-recognized stories of students, parents, and their allies who helped shape American society. 

Enactment of this legislation has the potential to appropriately recognize the sites associated with the other four court cases and help them to combine current uses with preservation and public education.  In collaboration with local partners and other stakeholders, the National Trust will continue their collective work to bring recognition to communities that fought for school integration, helping these sites to tell their own history of the Brown v. Board of Education case and make connections to other communities engaged in the fight for educational equity, past and present.  

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) today pushed to protect thousands of essential workers in the National Capital Region including those with Temporary Protected Status (TPS), whose eligibility is in question due to ongoing legal efforts by the Trump Administration to terminate the program. In a letter, the Senators urged Senate leaders to include an automatic extension of work authorizations for TPS recipients, such as those from El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Honduras, in the next COVID-19 legislation, citing TPS recipients’ critical work to help combat COVID-19. This letter comes on the heels of yesterday’s Ninth Circuit decision in Ramos v. Nielsen, which ruled that the Trump Administration can move forward with ending TPS for El Salvadorans. 

“As the nation and region continue to grapple with the health and economic consequences of COVID-19, TPS holders are on the front lines, serving our communities,” wrote the Senators. “In Virginia alone, an estimated 6,700 TPS holders work in industries deemed by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) as “essential critical infrastructure” including health care, agriculture, and manufacturing. Automatically extending work authorization for TPS holders is not only the morally correct thing to do, but also in the best interest of the National Capital Region’s, and the United States’ public health.”

“While DHS has automatically extended status and associated EADs for TPS holders from these nations through at least March 6, 2021, such assurances should be built upon as we quickly near DHS’s expiration deadline. In a moment where their essential services are needed most, we would be unwise to turn our back on TPS holders,” they continued. “The quickest means to retain the critical talent and work of TPS holders in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic is to automatically extend all work authorizations.  This would mitigate any processing backlogs at United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and help TPS holders and their families weather this uncertain time.”

Virginia is home to more than 27,500 recipients of TPS – a temporary legal status granted to foreign citizens fleeing violence or disaster in their home countries. Many TPS residents, whose home countries remain too dangerous to return, have lived in the United States for decades, developing strong ties and making countless contributions to their local communities.

Sens. Warner and Kaine have been long-time supporters of TPS protections and comprehensive immigration legislation. In June, they joined their Democratic colleagues in a letter calling on the Senate Majority Leader to bring the House-passed American Dream and Promise Act to the Senate floor. In April, they joined their colleagues in urging the President to automatically extend work authorizations for TPS and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients.

A copy of the letter can be downloaded here and text is available below. 

 

Dear Leader McConnell and Leader Schumer:

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, we write to urge you to protect thousands of members of Virginia’s essential workforce, including those with Temporary Protected Status (TPS).  Temporary Protected Status is a temporary, legal status granted to foreign citizens fleeing violence or disaster in their home countries.  Many TPS residents have lived in the United States for decades because their home countries remain too dangerous to return. During their time in the United States, these American residents have made countless contributions to our communities.  Our House colleagues have taken steps to protect TPS residents by including an automatic extension for TPS holders’ Employment Authorization Documents (EADs) in the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act. 

We are proud to represent over 27,500 TPS holders in Virginia.[1] As the nation and region continue to grapple with the health and economic consequences of COVID-19, TPS holders are on the front lines, serving our communities.  In Virginia alone, an estimated 6,700 TPS holders work in industries deemed by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) as “essential critical infrastructure” including health care, agriculture, and manufacturing.[2]Automatically extending work authorization for TPS holders is not only the morally correct thing to do, but also in the best interest of the National Capitol Region’s, and the United States’ public health.

In Virginia, the vast majority of TPS holders come from El Salvador and Honduras, nations for whom TPS eligibility is in question due to ongoing litigation in Ramos v. Nielsen and Bhattarai v. Nielsen.[3]  Yesterday’s Ninth Circuit decision in Ramos v. Nielsen, which allows the Trump administration to move forward with ending TPS for El Salvadorans, further intensifies the need to provide stability for TPS recipients.  While DHS has automatically extended status and associated EADs for TPS holders from these nations through at least March 6, 2021, such assurances should be built upon as we quickly near DHS’s expiration deadline.  In a moment where their essential services are needed most, we would be unwise to turn our back on TPS holders.  The quickest means to retain the critical talent and work of TPS holders in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic is to automatically extend all work authorizations.  This would mitigate any processing backlogs at United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and help TPS holders and their families weather this uncertain time.

The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the reality that our nation relies on immigrant communities to disproportionately serve in critical industries, something we see in Virginia daily.  We urge you to prioritize the nation’s health and safety by including an automatic extension of work authorizations for TPS recipients in the next COVID-19 legislation.  We must take the necessary steps, including this one, to strengthen our essential workforce, not weaken it. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) celebrated that the bill to rename a Hopewell, Va. post office as the “Reverend Curtis West Harris Post Office Building” passed in the U.S. House of Representatives today. The bill, introduced by U.S. Representative A. Donald McEachin (D-VA), honors the life and legacy of Reverend Curtis West Harris, who long fought for racial justice and equity. Reverend Harris served as pastor of Hopewell’s Union Baptist Church for nearly fifty years, was the first African-American Mayor of Hopewell, and was also elected to serve in the Hopewell City Council from 1986 to 2012. He passed away in 2017 and was buried in Appomattox Cemetery, a site he first fought to integrate in 1960.

“Reverend Curtis West Harris is a Virginian who was a fierce champion for civil rights. He not only served Union Baptist Church faithfully, but he was also devoted to the fight against racial discrimination during the Civil Rights Movement,” said the Senators. “From participating in the 1965 March from Selma to Montgomery to leading sit-ins against segregated Hopewell lunch counters, Reverend Harris helped pursue change against racial inequities. With today’s House passage, we are one step closer to paying tribute to a man who inspired all to do their part in the fight for social justice.”

The United States Postal Service (USPS) facility is located at 117 West Poythress Street in Hopewell, Virginia. In July, the Senators wrote to the Chair and Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, the Senate Committee that oversees USPS, voicing their support for renaming the post office.

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), a former technology and telecommunications entrepreneur, urged prominent tech companies to contribute to a whole-of-society effort to contain the economic and societal impact of COVID-19 by helping ensure that Virginia students can properly participate in distance learning this fall.  

In letters to DellAppleHPSamsungGoogleMicrosoftAcer America, and ASUS USA, Sen. Warner asked companies to do what they can to help bridge the “homework gap” – the lack of reliable computer or internet access that prevents school-aged children from being able to do school work from home. 

“While the CARES Act provided essential funding for schools to purchase equipment for home learning, significant challenges remain to provide students with appropriate devices,” wrote Sen. Warner. “Any primary and secondary school districts report that computers and tablets suitable for student use are not readily available for them to purchase in bulk. In other areas where the district doesn’t provide items, families are not able to afford purchasing their own devices. Vulnerable students who already face numerous hardships are then further disadvantaged when they cannot access a remote education due to device unavailability.”

He continued, “In light of these circumstances, I urge you take immediate action to help close this new education gap created by the health crisis as the school year commences. There are a range of actions your company can take, including educational product discounts, the provision of complimentary or donated computers (including for home lending programs many educational institutions operate), and the provision of refurbished or returned products in good working condition for school districts and higher education institutions to distribute to educators and students. While I understand the strains placed on the global supply chain, your prioritization of these matters would greatly assist struggling families at this challenging time.” 

According to findings from a Pew Research study, the homework gap is more pronounced among Black, Hispanic and lower-income households. The economic cost of this gap has been identified by McKinsey and Company as having deprived the economy of at least $426 billion between 2009 and 2019.

In his letter, Sen. Warner noted that the necessary distance-learning measures that schools have adopted during this public health crisis have likely exacerbated this gap and highlighted the heavy reliance on now-inaccessible school computer labs.

Sen. Warner also expressed his willingness to facilitate the effort to support students by offering to help connect the companies to local education officials and administrators in Virginia.

Sen. Warner has continued to be a strong advocate for education during the COVID-19 crisis. Last month, he introduced legislation to prevent the Trump Administration from reducing or redirecting critical education funding for schools that determine they cannot safely reopen for in-person instruction in the fall. He has also joined his Senate colleagues in introducing a bill to ensure K-12 students have adequate home internet connectivity and devices and has also repeatedly advocated for robust funding and distance learning resources for K-12 students. 

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) joined Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and 22 Senate colleagues in submitting an amicus brief in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, an impending Supreme Court case focused on anti-LGBTQ discrimination in the foster care and adoption system. In March 2018, the City of Philadelphia learned that two of the agencies it partners with to provide foster care services to children in the public child welfare system would not allow same-sex couples to be foster parents, based on the agencies’ religious beliefs. The city subsequently stopped referring children to the agencies and informed them that city contracts prohibit such discrimination. One agency, Catholic Social Services, sued the city with claims that the right to free exercise of religion entitles it to a taxpayer-funded contract to perform a government service, even though it is unwilling to comply with the city’s requirement that contract agencies accept all qualified families. Senator Gillibrand and her colleagues are calling for an end to anti-LGBTQ discrimination in the adoption and foster care systems because itdenies countless vulnerable children the opportunity to find a safe and loving home. 

“Government assumes a grave responsibility when it takes custody of children through the operation of the child welfare system. Its highest charge for children in its care is to always put their best interests first.  Turning away a loving and qualified family because of a parent’s sexual orientation or gender identity hurts these children by denying or delaying their placement in loving homes. This brief, led by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Congresswoman Angie Craig spells out in sharp relief the government’s compelling interest in eliminating discrimination in the child welfare system and thus advancing the best interests of children. Family Equality is grateful for this leadership and this clarion call to the Supreme Court to do the right thing for vulnerable foster children in America,” said Denise Brogan-Kator, Interim Chief Executive Officer of Family Equality.

In addition to Sens. Warner and Gillibrand, the amicus brief was submitted by Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Diane Feinstein (D-CA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Patty Murray (D-WA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Charles Schumer (D-NY), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Ed Markey (D-MA), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Chris Coons (D-DE), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Tina Smith (D-MN), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and Mazie Hirono (D-HI). The effort was led in the House by Representative Angie Craig, Co-Chair of the Congressional LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus and the first lesbian mom to serve in Congress.  

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI), Bob Casey (D-PA), Kamala Harris (D-CA), and other colleagues introduced the Coronavirus Language Access Act, which expands access to coronavirus-related resources by increasing language access services and supporting culturally appropriate COVID-19 response programs to help older Americans, those who have limited English proficiency (LEP), and people with disabilities.

The pandemic has magnified language access issues and disparities in health care, as more than 25 million people in the United States have limited English proficiency—15 percent of whom are age 65 or older. For many limited English proficient individuals, their work on the front lines of the pandemic response leaves them more vulnerable and subject to greater risks of contracting COVID-19.

The Coronavirus Language Access Act would:

  • Require federal agencies receiving COVID-19 funding to provide translated materials for COVID-19-related programs and opportunities within 7 business days after the English version is available.
  • Require federal agencies receiving COVID-19 funding to provide oral language assistance services for COVID-19-related programs and opportunities.
  • Require the head of every federal agency affected by the bill to submit a report about its compliance with the requirements of the bill to the relevant congressional Committees.
  • Provide $200 million for coronavirus-related language access services – $150 million of which must be for state (including DC), Tribal, and territorial health departments and community-based organizations to support culturally appropriate coronavirus response programs.
  • Require the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to create a coronavirus informational hotline with trained interpreters that provides COVID-19 information to the public.
  • Require CDC to provide translated materials relating to COVID-19 screening, testing, treatment, and educational information to state (including DC), Tribal, and territorial agencies.
  • Provide $20 million to states for Area Agencies on Aging and $10 million to states for Statewide Independent Living Councils to support older LEP individuals and LEP individuals with disabilities, respectively, in accessing COVID-19 information through partnerships with community-based organizations.

“We’ve seen that the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated the existing disparities in our public health system. Given that communities of color have been particularly hard-hit by this crisis, we need to make sure that language is no barrier to seeking and accessing care and resources related to COVID-19,” said Senator Warner.

“Coronavirus cases in the United States have topped five million infections, and the devastation caused by the pandemic has reached every corner of our country. We must do more so that all communities – regardless of English proficiency, age, or disability – have access to the federal government’s coronavirus-related services and resources in culturally appropriate and understandable ways,” Senator Hirono said.

“The coronavirus pandemic has exposed and exacerbated many obstacles and disparities in our health care system, including language barriers,” said Senator Baldwin. “Our legislation will require the federal government to deploy culturally-appropriate coronavirus-related information and resources that are accessible for everyone, regardless of their primary language.”

“This bill makes vital COVID-19 information accessible to countless Americans who face obstacles of age, disability, or language fluency. It provides language assistance and translation services so that lifesaving facts are available to everyone. While physical distancing is essential, information distancing or isolation can be devastating,” Senator Blumenthal said.

“For too many Nevadans coronavirus-related resources like testing information, and basic updates about how to keep families safe aren’t available in their native languages,” said Senator Cortez Masto. “I’m proud to cosponsor legislation that will require federal agencies to provide accessible, translated materials for millions of hardworking Americans with disabilities or limited English proficiency, many of whom are frontline workers. Every Nevadan should be able to easily access everything from coronavirus prevention tips to information about relief programs.”

“Ensuring that individuals with disabilities and those with Limited English Proficiency have equal access to accurate, culturally appropriate, up-to-date and easily understandable information regarding federal programs, health information and services available to them is common sense, period. Amid a public health crisis like the coronavirus pandemic, when emergencies are more likely, we must uphold our commitment to civil rights by ensuring all communities have equal access to information to prevent further spread of the virus,” said Senator Brown.

“We cannot overcome this crisis until we can speak to all Americans. At the beginning of the pandemic, I launched a portal on my website with information and assistance in different languages so that all Nevadans can access the resources they need as we navigate COVID-19. But the federal government must work harder to communicate with the nearly 25 million Americans who have limited English proficiency,” Senator Rosen said. “This legislation will ensure that coronavirus-related information, services, and relief programs are clear and accessible to all. By ensuring that all Americans have access to these much-needed resources, we can help stop the spread of coronavirus in our communities and put workers and families on the road to recovery.”

“We cannot expect to end this pandemic if 25 million American s who are Limited English Proficient cannot meaningfully communicate with their health care provider or receive lifesaving public health information about COVID-19,” said Juliet K. Choi, Executive Vice President at the Asian and Pacific Islander American Health Forum. “This badly-needed legislation would address language barriers and systemic inequities by ensuring federal agencies provide translation and interpretation services, as well as provide funding to state health departments and community based organizations. We especially applaud the leadership of Senators Hirono, Casey and Harris for championing this Coronavirus Language Access Act.”

“UnidosUS is proud to support the Coronavirus Language Access Act and we thank Sens. Hirono, Casey, and Harris for their leadership in introducing this vital health equity legislation. The bill makes critical investments, including by targeting resources to trusted community-based organizations which sensitively and effectively provide services in their diverse communities. Language access is an issue that has long been a priority for UnidosUS and during a pandemic it is particularly important that the tens of millions of Americans who speak a language other than English have the information and resources they need to stay safe and healthy,” said Eric Rodriguez, Senior Vice President of Policy and Advocacy, UnidosUS.

“Older adults who are immigrants have been among the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic and the hardest to reach. This legislation takes important and practical steps to ensure that everyone in our communities has the vital information and resources we all need to protect ourselves and our families,” said Kevin Prindiville, Executive Director of Justice in Aging.

“DREDF knows that LEP communities have faced many of the same communication and information barriers that have confronted Deaf, hard-of-hearing, blind and other persons with disabilities seeking COVID-19 testing and treatment. Every person in our country has been affected by this virus and we must give everyone the equal chance to understand how to avoid, fight, and recover physically and economically from it,” said Silvia Yee, senior staff attorney at the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF).

“Use of our native languages in accessing health care and resources, especially during these times, is a step in uplifting and empowering Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander communities in Hawaii and across the country. Papa Ola Lokahi strongly supports the efforts of Senator Hirono and her colleagues Senators Casey & Harris in standing up for the rights of our Native peoples. E Ola Ka Olelo Hawaii!” said Dr. Sheri-Ann Daniels, Executive Director of Papa Ola Lokahi.

"The Legal Clinic is tremendously grateful for the steadfast leadership and care that our Senator Hirono, the only immigrant in the Senate, has demonstrated in filing the Coronavirus Language Access Act. This bill would ensure that those with Limited English Proficiency, many of whom are kupuna (seniors), receive the critical public health information they need to protect themselves and their families from COVID-19. With the recent spike in cases in our state and the disproportionate impact the virus has had on Pacific Islanders, especially Micronesian communities, it is imperative that every effort is made to get translated materials into the hands of trusted community leaders for further distribution and that resources are allocated to culturally-appropriate health services. We strongly urge the Senate to pass this measure and protect all people, regardless of language ability, from the deadly threat of this virus," said Amy Agbayani and Liza Ryan Gill, Advocacy Committee of The Legal Clinic Hawaii.  

“One of the most powerful ways to understand the needs of our 70,000 Medicaid members is through their own language. Navigating the coronavirus means community health plans like AlohaCare having access to culturally appropriate coronavirus-related informational materials. We commend Senators Hirono, Casey, and Harris for introducing the Coronavirus Language Access Act to provide our members and the communities we serve with essential information, services, and relief programs to meet Hawaii’s urgent needs during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Francoise Culley-Trotman, Interim Chief Executive Officer of AlohaCare.

“It is critical for the federal government to ensure that LEP individuals have access to culturally appropriate coronavirus-related informational materials, including in written and verbal formats. For our island, Lanai, an island comprised of many immigrants, we are seeing first-hand how important use of culturally appropriate information material is to reaching various community members. All you have to do is look at the location of positive clusters – and you can clearly see there is a relationship between different cultures understanding of the virus. With this Act, we have an opportunity to address this issue and decrease exposure to the virus,” said Dr. Diana M V Shaw, Executive Director of Lanai Community Health Center.

"Language accessibility is important to ensure that everyone can understand and take advantage of the programs that the federal government has made available to the public, particularly as COVID-19 cases continue to mount. Maui Economic Opportunity touches more than 58,000 lives through various programs for early education, youth services, underserved families, entrepreneurship and business development, the incarcerated, specialized transportation, senior groups, and so many others, and additional resources properly translated into multiple languages would help us more effectively serve those in the community who need the help,” said Debbie Cabebe, Chief Executive Officer of Maui Economic Opportunity, Inc.

“The ongoing COVID-19 case surge in Hawaii underscores the critically urgent need for providing translated informational materials, language-specific hotlines, and other language access services to help curb the pandemic. Pacific Islanders have seen a dramatic rise in transmission rates in recent weeks. Over 10% of Hawaii’s population is limited English proficient, with a large number of residents born outside of the U.S. Lack of reliable science-based information in their original language places their households, their neighborhoods, and the larger community at increased risk of COVID-19 transmission. As such, the Coronavirus Language Access Act is a life-affirming response to a life-threatening pandemic that has already hit underserved populations particularly hard in Hawaii and across the nation,” said Heather Lusk, Executive Director of Hawaii Health & Harm Reduction Center.

In addition to Senators Warner, Hirono, Casey, and Harris, the bill was also cosponsored by Senators Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.).

The Coronavirus Language Access Act is supported by more than 160 national and local organizations, including the Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum; Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC; UnidosUS; NAACP; National Immigration Law Center (NILC); Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF); Families USA; Justice in Aging National Association of State Long Term Care Ombudsman Programs; GLMA: Health Professionals Advancing LGBTQ Equality; Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP); Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Tahirih Justice Center, AlohaCare, Hawaii Health & Harm Reduction Center, Hep Free Hawaii, Lanai Community Health Center, Maui Economic Opportunity, Inc., NH&PI Hawaii COVID19 3R Team, Papa Ola Lokahi, and The Legal Clinic Hawaii. Click here to see the full list of supporting organizations.

 

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WASHINGTON – Today, Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee sent a letter demanding that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) provide information to the Committee about the role that its Office of Intelligence and Analysis (I&A) has played in responding to the protests in Portland, OR. The letter was signed by Committee Vice Chairman Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) and Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Angus King (I-ME), Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Michael Bennet (D-CO).

“We have grown increasingly concerned about the role and operations of the Department of Homeland Security, and the Office of Intelligence and Analysis (I&A) in particular, with regard to the protests in Portland, Oregon.  As a member of the Intelligence Community, I&A is obligated by statute to keep the congressional intelligence committees fully and currently informed of its operations.  Given the intense national as well as congressional interest in DHS activities related to protests in Portland and around the country, documents and other information related to I&A’s operations should be provided to the Committee pro-actively, and not merely in response to repeated requests or following revelations in the press,” wrote the Senators in the letter, which was addressed to Acting Under Secretary of Homeland Security for Intelligence and Analysis Brian Murphy.

The Senators posed a series of 25 questions to the Department, setting an August 6, 2020 deadline to reply:

1.      Of the I&A personnel deployed to, or otherwise who have been assigned to missions connected to the Portland protests, how many are analysts and how many are collectors?  What I&A mission centers do they work for?  What backgrounds and training do they have that are relevant to the Portland mission? 

2.      Has I&A employed any contractors for the Portland mission?  If yes, please describe their roles.

3.      Where have I&A personnel in Portland physically worked and with whom have they been co-located?

4.      Please provide a breakdown of the DHS components I&A personnel have supported and a description of the support provided to each such component.  To what extent does the chain of command of I&A personnel include those components, as opposed to I&A Headquarters?

5.      Please describe interactions and coordination between I&A personnel in Portland and state and local law enforcement and political authorities.

6.      Please describe interactions and coordination between I&A personnel in Portland and federal law enforcement, including elements of the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security.

7.      A July 9, 2020, I&A document describing “Portland Surge Operation” states that I&A personnel may “collect from incarcerated, detained, or arrested persons” so long as the collection is conducted overtly.  You stated during a briefing for Committee staff on July 23, 2020, that I&A personnel have not engaged in custodial debriefings.  Please confirm.  Have I&A personnel been indirectly engaged with detainee operations, for example, by providing collection requirements or requests, or suggested lines of questioning, to detaining authorities or otherwise requesting or receiving information related to detainees?

8.      You also stated during the July 23, 2020, briefing that I&A personnel have not interacted with protesters in any way.  Please confirm.

9.      During the July 23, 2020, briefing, you stated that I&A had neither collected nor exploited or analyzed information obtained from the devices or accounts of protesters or detainees.  Please confirm.

10.  Please describe I&A’s open source collection.  What rules of engagement apply to open source collection in the context of protests in which the vast majority of participants are exercising their First Amendment rights?  What rules or guidance does I&A follow to distinguish actual threats of violence or vandalism from political hyperbole, and what training do I&A personnel receive on the implementation of that guidance?

11.  What processes does I&A have to vet the authenticity of open source threat reporting?  What processes does I&A have to vet the authenticity of social media accounts in which individuals take credit for acts of violence or vandalism, on their own behalf or on behalf of an ideology?  How has this vetting been conducted prior to disseminating this information, or using it as a basis for analysis?

12.  Have I&A operations in connection with the Portland protests been reviewed by an I&A Intelligence Oversight Officer, DHS’s Privacy Office and Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, or any other DHS personnel responsible for reviewing the impact of I&A operations on the privacy and civil liberties of U.S. persons?  If yes, please describe those reviews.

13.  The “Job Aid” document authorizes collection of information that “informs an overall assessment that threats to [law enforcement] personnel, facilities, or resources will materialize.”  The document includes a similar explicit authorization with regard to public monuments, memorials and statues.  Can I&A collect information on U.S. persons who are not threatening violence and, if so, under what circumstances?

14.  Has I&A conducted network analysis linking individuals suspected of violence?  If yes, please describe how that analysis has been conducted while not collecting on U.S. persons not suspected of violence?  Please provide any such analysis.

15.  During the July 23, 2020, briefing, you stated that I&A is able to track those who engage in violent acts because “it is the same people who come out after midnight.”  Please describe how I&A is able to differentiate between peaceful protesters exercising their First Amendment rights and those individuals who have planned or conducted acts of violence, and what information or intelligence is used in making this determination.

16.  Has I&A produced or contributed to targeting packages or dossiers on particular suspects?  If yes, please provide these to the Committee.

17.  On July 16, 2020, the FAA put in place flight restrictions over Portland to prevent drones from flying below 1000 feet.  The FAA cited a DHS conclusion that private drone use presented a threat.  Please provide any intelligence to support that conclusion.

18.  Have I&A personnel obtained or analyzed data from overhead surveillance of protests?  If yes, please describe.

19.  On July 25, 2020, you sent a memo to I&A personnel in which you stated that individuals in Portland committing acts of violence are “VIOLENT ANTIFA ANARCHIST INSPIRED (VAAI).”  Please describe the origin of this designation and the analytical process whereby it was developed and applied.

20.  Your July 25, 2020, memo stated that the VAAI designation was informed by FIRs, OSIRs, “baseball cards” and FINTEL.  Please provide these documents to the Committee.

21.  Please describe how I&A has applied its retention guidelines to information related to the Portland protests.  What information has been marked for indefinite retention?  How has I&A sought to apply its 180-day retention limitation to information it has disseminated?

22.  Please describe what I&A raw reporting has been disseminated to what entities, whether DHS, federal law enforcement, state or local or municipal law enforcement, or the Intelligence Community.

23.  Are there limits to I&A’s role in protecting public monuments, memorials or statues absent threat of violence to persons?  Does it matter whether such monuments, memorials or statues are on federal, state, local, or private property?

24.  What other cities has I&A deployed to, or plans to deploy to in response to protests or associated threats of violence?  Please provide any documentation or guidance related to any such deployments.

25.  According to press accounts, I&A disseminated Open Source Intelligence Reports on a journalist and a legal scholar who had written about I&A.  If that is accurate, provide those reports, a complete description of who they were disseminated to, and an explanation of the purpose and basis for the reports and their dissemination under law and I&A’s intelligence oversight guidelines, including with regard to the identification of any U.S. persons within them.

A copy of the letter is available here

 

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) urged President Trump to work with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to create and deploy teams of epidemiologists to the immigration detention center in Farmville, Va., where nearly every detainee has contracted COVID-19. This disastrous situation comes despite repeated requests by Sens. Warner and Kaine, who have urged the Trump Administration time and time again to cease the transfer of detained individuals during the current public health crisis.

“In early June, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, ICE transferred over 70 detainees to Farmville ICA from COVID-19 hotspots in Florida and Arizona. Within two weeks of their transfer, more than half of these detainees tested positive for COVID-19. There are now 287 confirmed cases of COVID-19 amongst detainees, which is approximately 80% of the population housed at Farmville, and 26 confirmed cases amongst staff members,” wrote the Senators.

They continued, “The Farmville ICE facility and surrounding community now face a dire situation where almost every detainee at the Farmville facility has tested positive for COVID-19. This presents a clear risk to individuals within the facility, but also endangers the broader community as facility staff and released detainees have interaction with the general public.”

In the letter, the Senators requested that the Trump Administration bring teams of epidemiologists to Farmville to conduct an overall assessment of the situation at the immigration detention facility – a request that has been backed by Virginia Governor Ralph S. Northam. 

Sens. Warner and Kaine have repeatedly pushed this Administration to prevent and mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in Virginia detention facilities. In June, after a transfer that resulted in a spike of more than 50 COVID-19 cases at Farmville, the Senators urged the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to prioritize the health of detainees and workers. Nearly a month later, with approximately 80 percent of the Farmville population testing positive for COVID-19, the Senators once again pressed ICE and DHS to stop transfers between facilities. They also posed a series of questions regarding the measures in place to safeguard the health of people in custody, staff members, and the community.

Full text of today’s letter is available here or below.

 

The Honorable Donald J. Trump

President of the United States

The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Ave., NW

Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear President Trump: 

On July 16, 2020, we sent a letter to Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Acting Secretary Chad Wolf and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Acting Director Matthew Albence regarding the outbreak of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) at the ICE detention facility in Farmville, Virginia.  Among other things, we asked Acting Secretary Wolf and Acting Secretary Albence to work with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to create and deploy teams of epidemiologists to conduct an overall assessment of the situation at the Farmville facility.  We write today to reiterate that request, which Virginia Governor Ralph S. Northam also supported in a July 22, 2020 letter to you.

In early June, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, ICE transferred over 70 detainees to Farmville ICA from COVID-19 hotspots in Florida and Arizona. Within two weeks of their transfer, more than half of these detainees tested positive for COVID-19. There are now 287 confirmed cases of COVID-19 amongst detainees, which is approximately 80% of the population housed at Farmville, and 26 confirmed cases amongst staff members. 

The Farmville ICE facility and surrounding community now face a dire situation where almost every detainee at the Farmville facility has tested positive for COVID-19.  This presents a clear risk to individuals within the facility but also endangers the broader community as facility staff and released detainees have interaction with the general public.  It is incumbent upon your administration to work with the CDC to create and deploy teams of epidemiologists to conduct an assessment of the pandemic’s impact at the Farmville ICE facility. State and local officials stand ready to support the CDC in efforts to help contain the current outbreak before it spreads to the surrounding Farmville community.

We must prioritize the health and well-being of the detainees and staff at the Farmville ICE facility as well as the Farmville community. We appreciate your attention to these issues and look forward to working together to address the public health crisis at the ICA Farmville detention facility.

Sincerely,

Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine

Cc: Dr. Robert Redfield, Director of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) issued the following statement today in response to the release of the Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection and Schools (HEALS) Act – the proposal put forward by the White House and Senate Republican leaders as a starting point for bipartisan, bicameral negotiations on another COVID-19 relief package:

“The Democratic House passed the HEROES Act ten weeks ago. Since then, the health and economic crisis has continued unabated. Millions of Americans are facing eviction or foreclosure; state and local governments are drowning in red ink; and 30 million Americans relying on unemployment to survive are facing the expiration of expanded benefits this week. Instead of taking urgently needed steps to address these problems, the White House and Senate Republican leaders have put forward a bill that fails to match the scale of the crisis or the needs of the American people. Instead, their proposal focuses on liability protections for businesses, as though that is our country’s most urgent challenge right now, and bizarrely includes money for a new FBI building in Washington, D.C. that has no connection to the current crisis and which the FBI neither wants or needs, having already spent millions planning for a new headquarters building in Virginia or Maryland.

“In our conversations with the Administration and our colleagues from both parties, we will be strongly advocating for a bill that funds critical priorities like healthcare and testing, rental and mortgage assistance, broadband access, child care, K-12 and higher education, job training, election security, hunger assistance, and help for communities of color that have been disproportionately hard-hit by the effects of COVID-19. The American people simply cannot afford for the Senate to waste any more time in addressing these urgent crises, and we are eager to work with anyone, Republican or Democrat, who is ready to do something about these serious challenges.” 

The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act on May 15 by a vote of 208 - 199.

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) continued to seek answers from the National Park Service (NPS) regarding the killing of Fairfax County resident Bijan Ghaisar by U.S. Park Police (USPP) officers in 2017. For over two years, Sen. Warner has sought transparency into the circumstances surrounding the use of deadly force, the FBI’s review of the case, and the handling of the incident by the Department of the Interior.

“I am deeply disappointed in the lack of actual information provided in your letter, especially considering it took over seven months to receive a response to my original correspondence. The response and recent public comments made by the Department of the Interior raise some additional questions that require further clarification,” wrote Sen. Warner. “One specific aspect of NPS and USPP’s handling of the Bijan Ghaisar case that has not been adequately explained is the status of an internal affairs investigation related to the Park Police officers involved in the incident.”

In his letter, Sen. Warner pointed to contradictory comments from USPP regarding the status of an internal affairs investigation into the officers that were involved in the incident. In response, Sen. Warner requested answers to a number of questions regarding the Department of the Interior’s position on such an investigation: 

  1. Is the Park Service and the Park Police relying on written guidance within the USPP Internal Affairs Unit or elsewhere within NPS when claiming it is the position of the agency that it does not pursue internal affairs investigations while criminal investigations are ongoing or could potentially be forthcoming? If such written guidance exists, I request that you provide my office with a copy of this policy. If no such written policy exists, I ask that you provide a fulsome explanation as to how this became the current position of USPP and NPS, including the legal justification for the agency’s position on this matter. 
  1. Are there previous examples where the USPP Internal Affairs Unit has conducted an internal affairs investigation regarding the use of force by Park Police officers while outside civil or criminal investigations were ongoing or potentially forthcoming? If there are such instances, I request that you provide my office with documentation regarding these investigations and an explanation of how they differ from the situation regarding Mr. Ghaisar.
  1. In the updated USPP General Order on Use of Force policy (#3615), a section is included regarding the reporting of use of force incidents. In this section, it states that an officer “shall immediately report all uses of force beyond Cooperative or Contact controls to an immediate supervisor,” and that “[t]he supervisor shall submit a copy of all reports within 24 hours to the Commander, Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR), and the appropriate Division Commander through the appropriate chain of command.” It continues, “[t]he Commander, OPR, shall ensure all use of force incidents are properly investigated,” and provides the OPR Commander authority to assign the Internal Affairs Unit to conduct a thorough investigation of an incident if deemed necessary.[1]

    How do these new reporting requirements compare to the guidelines in place at the time of the Bijan Ghaisar incident? The updated guidelines appear to have no qualifications that would prevent the Internal Affairs Unit from conducting an investigation concurrently with any potential civil or criminal investigation associated with an incident pertaining to the use of force by a Park Police officer. Would these reporting requirements spelled out in the updated General Orders on Use of Force be subjected to USPP’s current stated policy that it does not initiate internal affairs investigations if a criminal investigation is possible, even if the OPR Commander determines an incident is worthy of an internal affairs investigation? 
  1. When the Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney makes a formal decision of whether or not to bring criminal charges against the two Park Police officers involved in the shooting of Bijan Ghaisar, what is the anticipated timeline for the USPP Internal Affairs Unit to determine if any violations of USPP policy occurred?

In January of 2018, Warner, along with Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA), pushed the FBI for an update on the status of its investigation into the fatal 2017 shooting. In October of that year, Warner sent a letterto the head of the National Park Service (NPS) regarding the circumstances under which U.S. Park Police officers engaged with Mr. Ghaisar.

In June of 2019, Sen. Warner along with Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) decried the opaque and drawn-out nature of the review in letters to both the FBI and NPS. Two months later, the FBI provided a brief response, leaving many questions unanswered. In October, NPS provided a partial response, which prompted a follow-up letter from the Senators seeking more information.

In November 2019, the Senators pledged to seek greater transparency and formally requested an FBI briefing on its investigation into the shooting – shortly after the FBI concluded its lengthy investigation without fully explain its findings, including why the two officers opened fire on Ghaisar. Earlier this year, Sen. Warner voted against the nomination of Katharine MacGregor to be Deputy Secretary of the Interior, and in May, announced that he would place a hold on future Department of the Interior nominees until he receives adequate responses to his questions surrounding the Park Service’s handling of the shooting.

A copy of today’s letter is available here and below.

 

July 24, 2020

The Honorable David Vela

Acting Director

National Park Service

1849 C Street NW

Washington, D.C. 20240 

Dear Acting Director Vela: 

Thank you for the letter, sent June 3, 2020, which aimed to respond to a letter Senator Grassley and I sent to you on November 1, 2019, that raised serious questions regarding the National Park Service’s (NPS) and United States Park Police’s (USPP) handling of the Bijan Ghaisar case. While I appreciate that you responded, I am deeply disappointed in the lack of actual information provided in your letter, especially considering it took over seven months to receive a response to my original correspondence. The response and recent public comments made by the Department of the Interior raise some additional questions that require further clarification.

One specific aspect of NPS and USPP’s handling of the Bijan Ghaisar case that has not been adequately explained is the status of an internal affairs investigation related to the Park Police officers involved in the incident. In response to my question regarding the status of a potential internal affairs investigation, you replied that “the National Park Service (NPS) does not typically comment on the substance or specific aspect of such reviews before they are complete,” and “[w]e can confirm that the Department has begun evaluating next steps in the context of pending cases and possible criminal action by the Fairfax County Prosecutor’s Office.” However, on May 20, 2020, a representative for USPP commented, “no internal affairs investigation of this case will begin until after a decision is made by Fairfax on filing criminal charges.”  While other questions remain surrounding the Department’s handling of Bijan’s shooting, I have a number of specific questions regarding the Department’s position on a potential internal affairs investigation.

1.           Is the Park Service and the Park Police relying on written guidance within the USPP Internal Affairs Unit or elsewhere within NPS when claiming it is the position of the agency that it does not pursue internal affairs investigations while criminal investigations are ongoing or could potentially be forthcoming? If such written guidance exists, I request that you provide my office with a copy of this policy. If no such written policy exists, I ask that you provide a fulsome explanation as to how this became the current position of USPP and NPS, including the legal justification for the agency’s position on this matter.

2.           Are there previous examples where the USPP Internal Affairs Unit has conducted an internal affairs investigation regarding the use of force by Park Police officers while outside civil or criminal investigations were ongoing or potentially forthcoming? If there are such instances, I request that you provide my office with documentation regarding these investigations and an explanation of how they differ from the situation regarding Mr. Ghaisar.

3.           In the updated USPP General Order on Use of Force policy (#3615), a section is included regarding the reporting of use of force incidents. In this section, it states that an officer “shall immediately report all uses of force beyond Cooperative or Contact controls to an immediate supervisor,” and that “[t]he supervisor shall submit a copy of all reports within 24 hours to the Commander, Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR), and the appropriate Division Commander through the appropriate chain of command.” It continues, “[t]he Commander, OPR, shall ensure all use of force incidents are properly investigated,” and provides the OPR Commander authority to assign the Internal Affairs Unit to conduct a thorough investigation of an incident if deemed necessary.  

How do these new reporting requirements compare to the guidelines in place at the time of the Bijan Ghaisar incident? The updated guidelines appear to have no qualifications that would prevent the Internal Affairs Unit from conducting an investigation concurrently with any potential civil or criminal investigation associated with an incident pertaining to the use of force by a Park Police officer. Would these reporting requirements spelled out in the updated General Orders on Use of Force be subjected to USPP’s current stated policy that it does not initiate internal affairs investigations if a criminal investigation is possible, even if the OPR Commander determines an incident is worthy of an internal affairs investigation? 

4.           When the Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney makes a formal decision of whether or not to bring criminal charges against the two Park Police officers involved in the shooting of Bijan Ghaisar, what is the anticipated timeline for the USPP Internal Affairs Unit to determine if any violations of USPP policy occurred?

Thank you for your attention to the questions outlined above. Should you or your staff have any questions regarding this request, please contact my staff.

Thank you for your attention to this matter. I look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

 

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) released the following statement after the Senate approved the FY21 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA):

“I’m pleased that the defense bill I voted for provides a 3 percent pay raise for our servicemembers in addition to supporting many critical priorities for the Commonwealth. The legislation authorizes $240 million in military construction projects throughout Virginia and funds advance procurement for a second Virginia-class submarine to support our nation’s military readiness – something I pushed for after it was originally excluded from the President’s defense budget,” said Sen. Warner.

After successfully passing into law reforms to fix the deplorable housing conditions in privatized military housing across the Commonwealth, I have been keeping the pressure up to ensure servicemembers and their families can feel safe in their homes. I’m pleased to report that the defense bill includes language to help guarantee that the private housing companies and the military services meet their obligations,” Sen. Warner said. But our work to ensure our servicemembers feel safe also extends to their time on-duty. That’s why I successfully pushed for a provision mandating reporting on instances of racism and discrimination that our men and women in uniform may encounter while serving our country, and why I’ve been outspoken about giving our military leadership the tools and information they need to combat these destructive biases.”

“And after pushing the Administration for years to extend benefits to Vietnam veterans suffering from health conditions associated with their exposure to Agent Orange, I commend my colleagues for joining me in successfully pushing to add Bladder Cancer, Hypothyroidism, and Parkinsonism to the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) list of service-connected presumptive conditions related to Agent Orange exposure,” continued Sen. Warner, who has repeatedly urged the Trump Administration to stop stonewalling critical benefits to Vietnam veterans suffering from health conditions associated with their exposure to Agent Orange.

In March, a U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) study found deficiencies in the Department of Defense’s (DoD) oversight of privatized military housing, concluding that the DoD lacked reliable information to provide a full picture of the conditions of privatized housing. Currently, the military departments use a range of project-specific performance metrics to monitor private housing companies’ performance. However, the metrics used, while designed to focus on resident satisfaction and on the quality of the maintenance conducted on housing units, do not always provide meaningful information or reflect actual housing conditions. For example, the GAO found that a common indicator is how quickly the private partner responded to a work order, rather than whether the issue was actually addressed. Ultimately, these metrics matter because they feed into decisions around whether privatized housing companies earn performance incentive fees.

To improve this gap in housing condition metrics, Sen. Warner’s provision in the defense bill requires that the military services review the indicators underlying the privatized housing project performance metrics to ensure they adequately measure the condition and quality of the home. Additionally, the provision requires the Secretary of Defense to publish in DoD’s Military Housing Privatization Initiative Performance Evaluation Report underlying performance metrics for each project, in order for Congress to provide effective oversight. 

In the wake of nationwide protests on racial injustice and reports of growing white nationalist extremism, Sen. Warner pushed to mandate reporting on whether servicemembers have faced “racist, anti-Semitic, or supremacist activity” while on duty. Sen. Warner’s bipartisan amendment builds upon an existing DoD requirement to include in appropriate surveys more detailed information on whether military personnel “have ever experienced or witnessed [or reported] extremist activity in the workplace.” Additionally, in an effort to create a more inclusive and diverse workforce within the Pentagon, Sen. Warner successfully included a provision that would require the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to do a diversity and inclusion study to analyze the makeup of the workforce, as well as differences in rates of promotion by race, ethnicity and gender, to help develop a stronger and more diverse pipeline of career professionals.

Warner, the Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, also applauded the inclusion in this year’s defense bill of the Intelligence Authorization Act (IAA), as well as his legislation to bolster America’s 5G capabilities and secure the semiconductor supply chain. Additionally, the Senate NDAA includes Vice Chairman Warner’s amendment to provide a secure Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF) space for flexible use across the intelligence community, DoD agencies and their contractors. Currently, each agency's SCIF space can only be used by its own personnel and contractors, leaving many secure spaces underutilized.

“This bill also makes critical investments in competing with China when it comes to next-generation 5G wireless technology by providing funding and a model for alternative, Western-driven innovation using an open-architecture, or Open-RAN, model,” said Warner, who co-founded the wireless company Nextel before entering public service. “I’m also pleased that Congress recognizes the need to secure our supply chain and bolster domestic manufacturing of semiconductors.”

The defense bill prioritizes U.S. innovation and technology development in the area of 5G and semiconductors, to compete with countries like China. As a former technology and telecommunications executive, Sen. Warner has pushed the Administration to develop a strategy to maintain our advantages in technological innovation, as well as to lead on 5G. Earlier this year, Sen. Warner teamed up with a bipartisan group of leading national security Senators to introduce the Utilizing Strategic Allied (USA) Telecommunications Act, a bill that would provide a $1 billion investment in Western-based alternatives to Chinese equipment providers such as Huawei and ZTE. Last month, Sen. Warner along with Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) introduced legislation to bring semiconductor manufacturing back to American soil by increasing federal incentives to stimulate advanced chip manufacturing, enable cutting-edge research and development, secure the supply chain, bring greater transparency to the microelectronics ecosystem, create American jobs, and ensure long-term national security. Language drawing on both proposals was included in the Senate-passed NDAA.

And while I’m glad this bill includes most of the Intelligence Authorization Act as it passed the Committee last month, with just 103 days until the presidential election, I am deeply disappointed that the Senate has failed to take one easy step to protect our democracy. By stripping the FIRE Act from this year’s defense bill, we’re essentially giving a green light to campaigns to accept foreign assistance,added Sen. Warner.

As the Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Sen. Warner pushed to include the Committee’s annual Intelligence Authorization Act (IAA) within the annual defense bill. The IAA includes several key priorities, including a bipartisan provision championed by Sen. Warner to protect the integrity of the security clearance process from being abused for political purposes, and to enhance contractor insider threat programs.

Sen. Warner’s legislation, the FIRE Act, which would require campaigns to report to the appropriate federal authorities any contacts from foreign nationals seeking to interfere in a presidential election, was included in the Committee-passed version of the IAA that passed on June 30. However, Senate Republicans forced the provision to be dropped from the bill before adding it to the NDAA. In addition, Senate Republicans stripped critical protections for whistleblowers who step forward to report wrongdoing within the intelligence community.

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) joined Sens. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and group of Senate colleagues in introducing the COVID-19 Health Disparities Action Act to address the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on communities of color. The bill would require  targeted testing, contract tracing, public awareness campaigns and outreach efforts specifically directed at racial and ethnic minority communities and other populations that have been made vulnerable to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“COVID-19 has had a particularly devastating impact on racial minorities across America,” said Sen. Menendez. “The fact is black and brown Americans suffer higher rates of chronic disease, inequitable access to health care, fewer economic opportunities, and in some cases real language barriers. Add to that the lack of testing, tracing and education efforts by the Trump Administration targeting communities of color during this pandemic and the impact is deadly. The COVID-19 Health Disparities Action Act would create a much needed plan of action specifically designed to address this issue at the federal, state and local levels.”

“COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted communities of color and the Trump administration’s response has failed to address the needs of these vulnerable populations,” said Sen. Cardin. “Health disparities for people of color is rooted in systemic racism, racial discrimination, and record-high levels of income inequality. The COVID-19 Health Disparities Action Act will ensure that future public health response efforts, including testing, contact tracing, and potential vaccine distributions are tailored for diverse communities. Our bill will help racial and ethnic minorities in the ongoing fight against this pandemic, and will help inform future reform efforts to reverse long-standing systemic racism in medical research, testing and delivery of care.”

According to the COVID Racial Data Tracker, the pandemic has a disproportionate impact on communities of color. Nationwide, African Americans are dying from COVID-19 at approximately 2.5 times the rate of white people. American Indian, Alaska Native, Hispanic, and Asian American communities are also facing disproportionate rates of COVID-19.

In New Jersey, 21.3 percent of COVID-19 deaths involve African Americans, although they make up just 14 percent of the state’s population. Hispanics account for 25.7 percent of COVID-19 cases despite making up 20.6 percent of the state’s population.

In Maryland, 40.6 percent of COVID-19 deaths involve African Americans, although they make up 30 percent of the state’s population. Hispanics account 25.9 percent of COVID-19 cases despite making up just 10 percent of the state’s population.

The bill is supported by Families USA, the National Hispanic Medical Association (NHMA), the National Alliance against Disparities in Patient Health (NADPH) the Friends of the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD), the National Council of Urban Indian Health (NCUIH) and UnidosUS.

“Families USA thanks Senator Menendez and Senator Cardin for their leadership at such a critical time in our country and for championing health equity. The COVID-19 Health Disparities Action Act of 2020 centers the needs of historically marginalized communities who have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19,” said Amber A. Hewitt, Ph.D., Director of Health Equity, Families USA. “This bill addresses the need for complete and accurate data collection on COVID-19 health outcomes, to better inform and tailor testing and contact tracing efforts, and eventually equitable distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine, which will be dependent upon culturally and linguistically appropriate messaging. This pandemic has not only exacerbated disparities in health and health care outcomes, but also health inequities, which are unjust and avoidable.”

“Latino communities continue to have high rates of infections, hospitalizations, and deaths from COVID-19. NHMA strongly supports the COVID-19 Health Disparities Action Act because it will support targeted strategies to reduce health disparities for COVID-19 and future public health emergencies,” said Elena Rios, MD, MSPH, FACP, President & CEO of the National Hispanic Medical Association.

“As the impact of COVID-19 health disparities has shown all too well, whether from a public health or an economic perspective, the effect of health disparities is a National crisis,” said Alex J. Carlisle, Ph.D.; Founder, Chair, & CEO, National Alliance against Disparities in Patient Health (NADPH). “By allocating resources to the communities most severely impacted by COVID-19, and the agencies and stakeholders with recognized and demonstrated commitments to serving these communities, the COVID-19 Health Disparities Action Act of 2020 provides the National leadership and response needed to help our Nation overcome this crisis.” 

The COVID-19 Health Disparities Action Act would:

  • Require the Trump Administration to develop an action plan to address the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 among racial and ethnic minority, rural, and other vulnerable populations.
  • Require states to revise testing and contact tracing plans to address racial and ethnic minority, rural, and other vulnerable populations experiencing health disparities related to COVID-19.
  • Authorize the development of targeted public awareness campaigns about COVID-19 symptoms, testing, and treatment directed at racial and ethnic minority, rural, and other socially vulnerable populations disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.
  • Ensure that federally funded contact-tracing efforts are tailored to the racial and ethnic diversity of local communities.  

Joining Sens. Warner, Menendez and Cardin as co-sponsors of the legislation are Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Ed Markey (D-Ore.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.).

“We’ve seen that communities of color all over the country have been disproportionately affected by this pandemic. In many cases, these disparities have been exacerbated by factors like overrepresentation in front-line jobs, higher rates of chronic health conditions, inequitable access to health care, and bias within the health care system itself. That’s why we need to be doing everything possible to make sure the hardest hit communities have access to the targeted tools they need to respond to the COVID-19 crisis,” said Sen. Mark R. Warner.  

“Structural racism continues to plague our country, and its impact can be seen in the pandemic’s disproportionate toll on Black and Latino neighborhoods and in Indian Country,” said Sen. Warren. “Addressing the public health impacts of systemic racism must be at the very heart of the federal government's response to this pandemic, and that starts with quickly passing the COVID-19 Health Disparities Action Act.”

“COVID-19 has ravaged communities of color in Maryland and throughout our country. This pandemic has laid bare the deep-seated health and socioeconomic inequities that many Black and Latino Americans face and their deadly impacts. As they experience higher rates of COVID-19 and are disproportionately working on the front lines of the COVID response, it is unacceptable that the Trump Administration has no plan to tackle this crisis. Our bill will concentrate resources where they’re needed most and ensure that our response to COVID-19 is tailored to best reach these communities,” said Sen. Van Hollen.

“The coronavirus pandemic is a public health and economic crisis without precedent in our lifetimes, and it is abundantly clear that this virus has not only exposed, but also exacerbated, the deep, structural racial inequalities that have been taking the lives and livelihoods of people of color and Black Americans in particular for centuries,” said Sen. Booker. “Our bill seeks to create a much-needed national strategy for addressing the deadly disparities exacerbated by COVID-19 and any future public health crises by directing resources that are accessible and responsive to the communities that need them the most.”    

“Growing data on COVID-19 is making one thing clear: communities of color are being disproportionately affected by this pandemic,” said Sen. Cortez Masto. “Many are frontline workers who don’t have the luxury of working from home and for those who live in multigenerational homes, social distancing is nearly impossible. We cannot hope to get ahead of the curve without addressing the racial inequities that exist in how COVID-19 spreads and how we respond. This bill does exactly that by developing a different approach to COVID-19 to address the health disparities that exist in our communities.”

“The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the grim reality of persistent disparities in our health care system. Nationwide, racial and ethnic minorities have experienced higher rates of infection and worse health outcomes, and in Hawaii, our Pacific Islander community has been disproportionately impacted by the virus,” said Sen. Hirono. “This legislation takes important steps to address COVID-19 health disparities with a clear strategy to tailor testing, contact tracing, and outreach to communities of color.”

“COVID-19 has taken a particularly devastating toll on communities of color while the administration has failed at remedying this tragedy,” said Sen. Blumenthal. “I’m proud to co-sponsor this legislation to help address existing health disparities which have acutely exacerbated this crisis. This bill will ensure a robust investment in a public health approach tailored to communities of color and help combat deeply-rooted racism in medical research and the health care delivery system, strengthening our public health system for generations to come.”

“Longstanding inequities have caused communities of color to be disproportionately affected by the coronavirus,” said Sen. Rosen. “In Nevada, our state’s Latino population is being devastatingly impacted at a higher rate from COVID-19 than any other group. This legislation will help address racial and ethnic health disparities by increasing testing, contact tracing, and outreach to our most affected communities. We must take concrete steps to overcome these health inequalities now and for the future. I will continue working to protect the well-being of all Nevadans.”

“People of color represent 10 percent of New Hampshire’s population, but 25 percent of our COVID-19 cases – and similar health care disparities have existed for far too long,” Sen. Hassan said. “I recently spoke with public health leaders in New Hampshire about the racial disparities in health care outcomes and this legislation is a good first step to help address these unacceptable inequities in our health care system.” 

Earlier this year, Sen. Menendez called on the Trump Administration to do more to help minority communities that are seeing a disproportionately higher impact from the COVID-19 pandemic, and also urged pharmaceutical companies to include patients from diverse backgrounds in clinical trials for a COVID-19 vaccine.

The text of the bill can be downloaded here and a one pager is available here.

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WASHINGTON – Today U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) are introducing the Jobs and Neighborhood Investment Act, legislation to make a new, $17.9 billion investment in low-income and minority communities that have been especially hard-hit by the COVID-19 crisis. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY) will introduce companion legislation in the House.

The legislation would provide eligible community development financial institutions (CDFIs) and Minority Depository Institutions (MDIs) with capital, liquidity, and operational capacity, to expand the flow of credit into underserved, minority, and historically disadvantaged communities, helping small businesses stay afloat and expand operations, while providing affordable access to credit for lower income borrowers. The Senators are seeking to include the Jobs and Neighborhood Investment Act in any upcoming COVID-19 relief legislation to help hard-hit communities weather and recover from the economic blow of the pandemic.

“We know that Black and Latino Americans are disproportionately suffering from the dual health and economic effects of COVID-19, putting many low-income and minority neighborhoods at risk of sustained economic damage that will last far beyond the current crisis. Steps like PPP loans, expanded UI, and one-time stimulus payments helped to soften the blow in some places, but not enough. Jobs that supported these neighborhoods are disappearing overnight, and if we don’t act now, we could see a hemorrhaging of already-limited economic opportunities from these communities that will take generations to recover,” said Sen. Warner. “The Jobs and Neighborhood Investment Act directs billions in new investments to help low- income and minority communities withstand this unprecedented economic downturn and emerge stronger with increased access to capital and new economic opportunities.”

“Even before the pandemic, communities of color and low-income communities were facing deep- seated challenges and structural inequities in accessing capital and economic opportunity,” said Sen. Booker. “Now, as the Coronavirus crisis exposes and exacerbates these inequities, it’s past time we act boldly, by investing in the families, businesses, and communities that have been most impacted and providing them with the resources they need to recover and rebuild.”

“We are in the midst of multiple crises in our country: a public health crisis, which is disproportionately impacting people of color in America; and the resulting economic crisis that is causing financial hardship for our small and minority-owned institutions. As we work to secure additional funding for the survival of businesses across the country, I am proud to work with my colleagues on this next step in not only lifting up the hardest hit communities, but ensuring they thrive in the coming months,” said Sen. Harris.

“Since long before they were hit with the recession created by the COVID-19 pandemic, Black families and business owners have struggled to gain access to capital and banking services necessary to build and maintain strong communities and opportunities for growth. The Jobs and Neighborhood Investment Act would mean billions in resources for the institutions that serve the underfunded and underbanked and provide minority and low income neighborhoods with the resources they need to help them not just weather the storm but thrive over the long-term,” said Sen. Schumer. “If our Republicans colleagues are serious about addressing inequity and getting aid to those who need it most, they should stop focusing on providing immunity to big corporations and make sure our truly small and minority owned businesses, and the institutions that truly seek to serve them, have access to the resources and funding they need to survive and thrive.”

“As Chairman of the House Financial Service Subcommittee on Consumer Protection and Financial Institutions, my focus has been squarely on address the inequities faced by unbanked and underbanked communities, and communities of color that continue to be discriminated against to this day, including in banking and financial services. The COVID19 pandemic has laid bare the vulnerability of these communities, and the urgency of addressing the failures of the financial system that leave these communities behind. Achieving a balanced and sustainable economic recovery requires inclusion of, and investments in minority banks, community development financial institutions, and those banks and lenders that reach marginalized communities,” said Rep. Meeks.

A summary of the bill is available here. Text of the bill is available here.

“The compounding effects of COVID-19 will put many low-income and minority neighborhoods at risk of sustained economic damage,” said David Clunie, Executive Director, Black Economic Alliance. “The Jobs and Neighborhood Investment Act seeks to mitigate economic damage and break down some of the economic barriers Black communities face by strengthening the financial institutions that serve communities of color so they can boost operational capacity and increase lending to Black businesses and lower-income borrowers. By improving access to capital and providing new economic opportunities, this legislation will help Black Americans emerge stronger from the economic downturn that is harming Black communities disproportionately. BEA is proud to have helped shape this billWe are grateful to Senators Schumer, Warner, Harris, and Booker and Rep. Meeks for their leadership, and we look forward to swift passage of this proposal.”

“In this critical moment, our communities are in dire need of being supported and uplifted,” said Derrick Johnson, President and CEO, NAACP. “The disproportionate impact and strain COVID-19 has placed on low-income neighborhoods has been devastating, and the relief Jobs and Neighborhood Act will provide is sorely needed. I am encouraged by the organizations, elected officials and community leaders that continue to step up and fill in the gap amid this turbulent time; and the NAACP will continue to lead in this fight.”  

 “Underserved communities require specific actions to inject resources that impact families and businesses. The Jobs and Neighborhood Investment Act as Senator Warner proposes must be pointed to these communities as the data proves that there is a disproportionate impact from COVID-19. Therefore, we must itemize the need to repair, restore, and regenerate economic vitality in these communities,” said Kenneth Kelly, Chairman, National Bankers Association.

“The pandemic has illuminated the barriers faced by Black borrowers, business owners and their employees like nothing else in recent memory,” said Marc H. Morial, President and CEO, National Urban League. “The Jobs and Neighborhood Investment Act is a step toward not only reclaiming the economic ground that has been lost over the last few months, but revitalizing the Black communities that still lag behind because of systemic racism and lack of opportunity. The National Urban League recommends passage of this legislation.”

“This bill provides critical support for  CDFIs and MDIs and is a good step toward expanding the flow of credit into underserved and historically disadvantaged communities. This is especially important for communities of color, which have been hit hardest by the current crisis. This legislation will enable business owners of color to survive and expand operations,” said Ashley Harrington, Director of Federal Advocacy and Senior Counsel at the Center for Responsible Lending. “This is a commonsense approach to help local economies, and we look forward to continuing our partnership with Senators Warner, Harris, and Booker and Congressman Meeks in further strengthening this legislation and in getting it passed into law.”

“The African American Alliance of CDFI CEOs supports the Jobs and Neighborhood Investment Act. We believe it is a positive step to ensuring that small businesses most impacted by the pandemic will receive funding- through CDFIs and minority lenders- to assist with restoring and rebuilding communities,” said Donna Gambrell, Chair, and Calvin Holmes, Vice-Chair, The African American Alliance of CDFI CEOs.

“The Jobs and Neighborhood Investment Act has the potential to dramatically increase the flow of responsible investment capital into communities of color. This could be a game changer for community development institutions that are helping underserved communities emerge from the current economic crisis,” said Noel Andrés Poyo, Executive Director, National Association for Latino Community Asset Builders.

“This legislation proposed by Sen. Mark Warner (VA) works to provide the needed capital investments in Black communities that will help families in crises due to the devastating economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. These resources will strengthen businesses, increase employment and provide access to affordable credit for many hardworking residents in our country’s most underserved communities,” said Dr. W. Franklyn Richardson, Chairman, Conference of National Black Churches (CNBC).

“Prosperity Now has been honored to work with Senators Warner, Booker, Harris and Congressman Meeks on their Jobs and Neighborhood Investment Act, a comprehensive plan to capitalize and strengthen Minority-Owned Banks and CDFIs, which are fundamental to our communities and their recovery from COVID-19. A key value of this legislation is that it would also prepare us for and respond to the next economic crisis. We fully endorse this bill,” said Doug Ryan, Senior Fellow, Prosperity Now.

“The Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) applauds Senator Warner and the other co-sponsors for recognizing the critical role that CDFIs and Minority Depository Institutions play in providing capital to underserved borrowers and communities, and for providing them with the resources needed to meet the scale of the challenge that is facing the country as we recover from both the health and economic impacts of COVID-19. There is little doubt that the communities served by CDFIs and MDIs are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, and this legislation provides a thoughtful means of ensuring that scarce federal resources get to the businesses and residents of those communities,” said Maurice Jones, President and CEO, Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC).

“The Jobs and Neighborhood Investment Act’s support of minority-owned and minority-led lenders is a great step forward for promoting access to capital for underserved communities and the country at large. We look forward to bipartisan passage and working with all stakeholders to ensure its intent is realized,” said Aron Betru, Managing Director, Milken Institute Center for Financial Markets.

“The current global pandemic has made plain that our financial system is stronger and more dynamic when community development financial institutions grow and thrive.  We applaud the work of Senators Warner, Booker, Harris and Congressman Meeks in advancing the Jobs and Neighborhood Investment Act to strengthen the efforts of community-based lenders by providing them with additional tools to continue reaching those most deeply affected by this crisis,” said Cathie Mahon, President and CEO, Inclusiv.

“Black and Brown communities have been disproportionately impacted by the health and economic effects of the pandemic. More than 40% of black businesses already have shut down. We need urgent investments to change this trajectory, empower a banking system that reaches deep into our minority communities, and help us reach the urgent goal of economic justice. This legislation provides vital support to community and minority-owned banks. Eliminating the racial wealth gap would add more than $1 trillion to our country’s GDP, benefitting all communities. This isn’t a political issue, and I’m hopeful leaders across both parties will come together to drive real change forward, without delay,” said Robert F. Smith, Founder, Chairman and CEO, Vista Equity Partners.

“The Jobs and Neighborhood Investment Act recognizes the critical role CDFIs play in serving communities struggling against persistent racial and economic inequality.  In particular, the Opportunity Finance Network applauds the inclusion of $1 billion in immediate CDFI Fund grants to strengthen CDFIs to do more in the challenging months ahead,” said Jennifer A. Vasiloff, Chief External Affairs Officer Opportunity Finance Network.

“The Jobs and Neighborhood Investment Act will inject vital resources into families, businesses and communities that have been hardest hit by COVID and the economic crisis. By prioritizing investments that increase and leverage the capacity of minority lenders and CDFIs, the Act will significantly advance economic opportunity among America’s most underserved people and places,” said Bill Bynum, CEO, Hope Credit Union.

“Over the past four months, we have watched in awe as CDFIs and MDIs across the country have mobilized any and all available resources at their disposal to mitigate the devastating effects of COVID- 19. We have seen their willingness and ability to ensure that the communities they serve weather this crisis, restart and recover quickly, and build back stronger and with more resilience. The Jobs and Neighborhood Investment Act would provide the necessary capital and operating support so that these community-based lenders can significantly grow their efforts to meet the incredible need across urban, rural, and Native communities,” said Jennifer Pryce, President & CEO, and Frederick “Bart” Harvey, Chairman of the Board, Calvert Impact Capital.

“This initiative is exactly what is needed to help low-income and communities of color rebuild. CDFIs have long been committed to racial and economic justice. This set of programs will provide the tools for CDFIs to help small businesses survive and thrive and communities to recover,” said Jeannine Jacokes, Chief Executive Officer, Community Development Bankers Association.

“The Jobs and Neighborhood Investment Act will put resources and financial mechanisms into the communities where they can do the most good. Senators Warner, Booker and Harris, and Congressman Meeks, have introduced a measure that, if enacted, will catalyze growth and opportunity for underrepresented groups by unleashing the potential of small businesses in minority communities too often left behind by broader economic growth,” said David Grain, Founder and CEO, Grain Management.

“The Jobs and Neighborhood Investment Act will help get needed funds into communities hardest hit by the crisis, by supporting community development financial institutions and minority depository institutions – those with the on-the-ground expertise and track record to get the job done,” said Professor Michael S. Barr, Joan and Sanford Weill Dean of Public Policy, Frank Murphy Collegiate Professor of Public Policy, Roy F. and Jean Humphrey Proffitt Professor of Law, University of Michigan.

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) raised alarm with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for continuing to transfer individuals in custody between detention facilities, even as approximately 80 percent of the population at the Farmville, Va. detention center tests positive for COVID-19. In a letter, the Senators urged ICE and DHS to prioritize the health and well-being of detained individuals and staff, and to protect the communities that surround these facilities. This letter follows a previous June 26 letter sent by Sens. Warner and Kaine urging ICE to stop transfers, following a spike of 50 COVID-19 cases at the Farmville detention center.

“Despite the recent surge in cases of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) across the country, it is our understanding that ICE has not halted interstate detainee transfers between facilities,” wrote the Senators. “If this is true, ICE is continuing to endanger the health and safety of detainees and workers, as evidenced by the recent outbreak at the Immigration Centers of America Farmville (Farmville ICA) facility.”

They continued, “In early June, ICE transferred over 70 detainees to Farmville ICA from COVID-19 hotspots in Florida and Arizona. Within two weeks of their transfer, more than half of these detainees tested positive for COVID-19. As we stated in our June 26 letter, prior to the transfers, the facility had only a few cases of the virus. ICE is endangering a staggering number of lives of detainees, staff, and the surrounding Farmville community because of its decision to transfer detainees during the pandemic.” 

In the letter, the Senators requested that Acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf and Acting Director of ICE Matthew Albence work with the Centers for Disease Control Prevention (CDC) to create and deploy teams of epidemiologists to conduct an overall assessment of the situation and confirm the seriousness of the spread in the Farmville facility. They also posed the following series of questions in order to understand what ICE is doing to protect the health of individuals in custody, staff members, and the community:

  1. Has ICE halted all transfers of detainees among detention facilities? If not, when was the last detainee or group of detainees transferred, and what were the original and final destinations?
    1. If all transfers have been halted, does ICE plan to resume transfers anytime soon? If so, please provide details, including when ICE expects to begin transfers and at which facilities.
  2. Did ICE distribute its COVID-19 Pandemic Response guidance to all detention facilities, and if so, on what date?
    1. How does ICE ensure detention facilities are implementing proper quarantine and isolation protocols?
    2. How does a detention center solicit help in containing a COVID-19 outbreak?
  1. Please explain in detail how ICE tracks COVID-19 cases in detention facilities and how quickly ICE updates its website with new numbers of cases.
  2. Is ICE notifying state and local health departments when a detainee who previously tested positive is released so that community experts can ensure appropriate contract tracing?  If so, what are the procedures for such notifications? If not, why is ICE choosing not to share this information with state and local health departments?

Sens. Warner and Kaine have previously pushed ICE to prevent and mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in its facilities. In May, the Senators joined a letter calling on the DHS Inspector General to examine ICE detention facilities nationwide to evaluate whether the facilities’ operations, management, standards, and conditions have adapted to address the threat of COVID-19 to both the staff and detainees. 

Full text of today’s letter is available here or below.

 

Dear Acting Secretary Wolf and Acting Director Albence:

We write to follow up on our June 26, 2020 letter regarding detainee transfers and conditions at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention facilities in Farmville, Virginia, and Bowling Green, Virginia, to which we have not received a response.  There are now 287 confirmed cases of COVID-19 amongst detainees, which is approximately 80% of the population housed at Farmville, and 26 confirmed cases amongst staff members. 

Despite the recent surge in cases of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) across the country, it is our understanding that ICE has not halted interstate detainee transfers between facilities. If this is true, ICE is continuing to endanger the health and safety of detainees and workers, as evidenced by the recent outbreak at the Immigration Centers of America Farmville (Farmville ICA) facility.

In early June, ICE transferred over 70 detainees to Farmville ICA from COVID-19 hotspots in Florida and Arizona. Within two weeks of their transfer, more than half of these detainees tested positive for COVID-19. As we stated in our June 26 letter, prior to the transfers, the facility had only a few cases of the virus.  ICE is endangering a staggering number of lives of detainees, staff, and the surrounding Farmville community because of its decision to transfer detainees during the pandemic. 

In order to assist in keeping the Commonwealth safe, we have several questions concerning how ICE is protecting the health of individuals in your custody, staff members, and the community.  Due to the rapidly rising number of COVID-19 cases at the Farmville detention facility, please reply by July 31, 2020.

  1. Has ICE halted all transfers of detainees among detention facilities? If not, when was the last detainee or group of detainees transferred, and what were the original and final destinations?
    1. If all transfers have been halted, does ICE plan to resume transfers anytime soon? If so, please provide details, including when ICE expects to begin transfers and at which facilities.
  2. Did ICE distribute its COVID-19 Pandemic Response guidance to all detention facilities, and if so, on what date?
    1. How does ICE ensure detention facilities are implementing proper quarantine and isolation protocols?
    2. How does a detention center solicit help in containing a COVID-19 outbreak?
  1. Please explain in detail how ICE tracks COVID-19 cases in detention facilities and how quickly ICE updates its website with new numbers of cases.
  2. Is ICE notifying state and local health departments when a detainee who previously tested positive is released so that community experts can ensure appropriate contact tracing?  If so, what are the procedures for such notifications? If not, why is ICE choosing not to share this information with state and local health departments?

Finally, as we witness almost the entire detainee population at Farmville testing positive for COVID-19, we ask that you work with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to create and deploy teams of epidemiologists to conduct an overall assessment of the situation and confirm the seriousness of the spread in the Farmville facility. 

It is incumbent upon ICE to prioritize the health and well-being of its detainees and staff, and at the same time it must also protect the communities that its facilities inhabit. ICE must not view its facilities as silos in the fight to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and should allow local health authorities access and information to protect our communities.

We appreciate your attention to these issues and look forward to hearing from you soon.

Sincerely,

 

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (VA) joined Sens. Gary Peters (MI), Bob Casey (PA) and Jacky Rosen (NV) in introducing legislation to increase awareness and understanding of African American history across our schools through expanded access to programming from the National Museum of African American History and Culture. The 1619 Act would provide federal funding to support African American History educational programs through workshops and professional development activities for educators. 

“Michiganders and Americans across the country are demanding we work together to address bigotry, hatred and systemic racism. While I know we can meet this moment by working together, a central part of that effort must include ensuring that this generation – and future generations – of students can learn about and fully understand American history, including the African American experience,” said Senator Peters. “Black history should not only be recognized in our public schools as something that happens one month a year, each February but something that is a larger part of the curriculum throughout the year. I’m proud to introduce the 1619 Act, whichwould help educators overcome barriers to teaching about African American history by providing federal funding and promote awareness and understanding among students.”

“For far too long, our education system has taught an incomplete version of American history, which downplays the oppression that the Black community has experienced and continues to experience,” said Senator Casey. “The 1619 Act is long overdue and would provide educators with the tools to strengthen the American history curriculum—because Black history is American history. We must address systematic inequality through education and understanding of the barriers and bigotry that the Black community has faced since 1619. I urge my colleagues to support this bill to help future generations learn to bridge the racial divide.”

“One step toward healing the racial divide in our nation and working to dismantle systemic racism is through education,” said Senator Rosen. “This legislation would create opportunities for public school teachers to partner with the National Museum of African American History and Culture in order to provide comprehensive African American history programs throughout the country. I will continue advocating for educational programs and working towards passing meaningful reform to root out the injustices that have taken far too many Black lives and caused so much suffering.”

Joining Warner, Peters, Casey and Rosen in introducing the 1619 Act were: Sens. Tammy Duckworth (IL), Ron Wyden (OR), Tammy Baldwin (WI), Kirsten Gillibrand (NY), Richard Blumenthal (CT), Debbie Stabenow (MI), Krysten Sinema (AZ), Bernie Sanders (VT), Sheldon Whitehouse (RI), Sherrod Brown (OH), Amy Klobuchar (MN) and Elizabeth Warren (MA).

The legislation has broad support, including from:

“As we search for ways to come together in order to tackle the systemic racism that has stained our society for centuries, reimagining how we teach our students about African American history and culture is a top priority,” said Hilary O. Shelton, Senior Vice President for Advocacy and Policy & Director of the Washington Bureau, NAACP. “Providing more of our educators the opportunity to access the resources needed to impart these lessons on their students is critical to securing any progress we are able to make, and we commend Senator Peters, Senator Casey and Senator Rosen for spearheading this effort.

“For too long, our educational system has withheld students from further exploring the triumphs, horrors and heroes of African American history that are so integral to our nation’s story,” said Ebonie C. Riley, DC Bureau Chief, National Action Network. “The 1619 Act would be a first step in ensuring that the next generation of students can immerse themselves in this important historical narrative, and we look forward to continue working with the Senators to ensure it is enacted into law.”

“NEA commends Senator Peters, Senator Rosen and Senator Casey for introducing the 1619 Act,” said Lily Eskelsen Garcia, President, National Education Association. “We are happy to see a bill that bolsters and helps public school educators utilize the already amazing materials at the National Museum of African American History and Culture. It is vitally important that our students from all backgrounds learn about and understand African-American history and the African-American experience in the United States. That African-American story is rich, amazing, and heart wrenching. It is inextricably intertwined with the origin story of the founding of our country. Knowledge and information about the critical role of African Americans in this country is also a step in helping to end systemic racism. Making sure our educators have the training and information necessary to share is critical and we think this bill will help to make that happen.”

We are constantly working to improve educational programs for our students and assist our educators and administrators in ensuring they have all the available resources to do so,” said Dr. Wanda Cook-Robinson, Superintendent of Oakland County Schools. “There is no question that our schools can do more to increase awareness and understanding of African American history. Senator Peters’ 1619 Act is common sense, much-needed legislation and I believe dedicated federal funding to expand African American history educational programs would make a difference.”

Many schools are not required to teach students about African American history and educators can face barriers including a lack of funding to access quality resources, a lack of awareness of where to find resources, or a lack of knowledge of how to develop or incorporate curricula. The 1619 Act would recognize the importance of African American history at the federal level, provide $10 million in funding over a five-year period and expand the National Museum of African American History and Culture’s education programming to teachers across the country.

This funding would specifically be available to support high school teachers, middle school teachers, school administrators and prospective teachers engage with quality resources on African American history. This in turn would help allow students in schools across the nation to learn more about African American history as well as teach valuable lessons from the African American experience along with the economic, political, social, cultural and other contributions generations of African American leaders have made to our nation. 

The 1619 Act would additionally: 

  • Expand the National Museum of African American History and Culture professional development programs, through activities such as local, regional, and national workshops, teacher trainings with African American history education partners, and engagement with local educational agencies and schools.
  • Require the museum to create and maintain a centralized website for African American history, where educators can find curriculum materials, best practice and resources. 
  • Prioritize support for schools that currently do not offer African American history education programs;
  • Organize and promote local, regional and national workshops and teacher trainings with African American history education partners, and;
  • Encourage individual states’ education agencies to work with schools in order to integrate these programs within their course curriculum.

###

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) urged U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to stop the transfer of individuals in ICE custody – such as the ones that recently resulted in a spike of more than 50 COVID-19 cases at the ICE detention facility in Farmville, Va. 

In a letter to Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf, the Senators urged the Secretary to prioritize the health of detainees and workers at ICE detention centers and to work with the Virginia Department of Health to increase COVID-19 testing at these facilities.

“In early June, ICE transferred over 70 detainees from Arizona and Florida to the Immigration Centers of America Farmville (Farmville ICA) detention facility. While Farmville ICA appears to have followed appropriate quarantine measures, it seems the decision to transfer detainees between facilities has instead resulted in over 50 positive COVID-19 cases at Farmville ICA. Additionally, at least two staff members at Farmville ICA have tested positive for COVID-19,” wrote the Senators. “The situation in Virginia highlights the inherent danger of such interstate transfers at this time. We believe further transfers between local, state, and federal jails and detention centers would risk accelerating COVID-19 cases in facilities nationwide, along with putting surrounding communities at heightened risk and must be ceased at this time.” 

In the letter, the Senators called for widespread testing in the facilities in order to reduce further spread of the virus. Specifically, they pushed ICE to work with the Virginia Department of Health following a May offer by Virginia Governor Ralph Northam,  to provide testing support to the federally-controlled ICE detention facilities in both Farmville and Bowling Green.

Sens. Warner and Kaine have previously pushed ICE to prevent and mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in its facilities. In May, the Senators joined a letter calling on the DHS Inspector General to examine ICE detention facilities nationwide to evaluate whether the facilities’ operations, management, standards, and conditions have adapted to address the threat of COVID-19 to both the staff and detainees. 

 

Full text of the letter is available here or below.

Dear Acting Secretary Wolf:

We write to seek immediate review of the conditions at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention facilities in Farmville, Virginia and Bowling Green, Virginia. It is our understanding that despite the ongoing 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, ICE is continuing its practice of interstate detainee transfer among facilities.  Not unsurprisingly, as a result of such transfers, the facility in Farmville, Virginia recently took in detainees and then found a spike in positive cases of COVID-19 at the facility. The health and well-being of detainees and the workers should be the priority of ICE.  We urge ICE to immediately halt transferring individuals in ICE custody, and in the case of the two facilities in the Commonwealth, work quickly with the Virginia Department of Health to increase testing at each facility. 

In early June, ICE transferred over 70 detainees from Arizona and Florida to the Immigration Centers of America Farmville (Farmville ICA) detention facility. While Farmville ICA appears to have followed appropriate quarantine measures, it seems the decision to transfer detainees between facilities has instead resulted in over 50 positive COVID-19 cases at Farmville ICA. Additionally, at least two staff members at Farmville ICA have tested positive for COVID-19. The situation in Virginia highlights the inherent danger of such interstate transfers at this time. We believe further transfers between local, state, and federal jails and detention centers would risk accelerating COVID-19 cases in facilities nationwide, along with putting surrounding communities at heightened risk and must be ceased at this time.

Further, it is important that there be more widespread testing at the facilities in the Commonwealth now to stop any further spread of the virus. Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, in a May 14, 2020, letter to the Virginia Congressional Delegation offered to provide testing support to the federally-controlled ICE detention facilities in both Farmville and Bowling Green. We encourage ICE to take the offer from the Governor and allow the State Health Commissioner and the Virginia Department of Health access to these facilities. Increased screening and testing within these detention centers will undoubtedly help curb the outbreaks that have resulted from transfers. 

Until ICE discontinues the practice of transfers and expands testing accessibility and resources, ICE will only continue to exacerbate conditions for individuals in its custody as well as staff members. We appreciate your attention to these issues, and we look forward to hearing from you soon.

Sincerely,

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WASHINGTON – In the wake of nationwide protests on racial injustice, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) introduced an amendment to the FY21 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to mandate reporting on whether servicemembers have faced “racist, anti-Semitic, or supremacist activity” while on duty. Sen. Warner’s bipartisan amendment builds upon an existing requirement for the Department of Defense (DoD) to include in appropriate surveys whether military personnel “have ever experienced or witnessed [or reported] extremist activity in the workplace.”

“There is no question that Americans have encountered racism and discrimination while on the job, but we don’t have a clear and comprehensive picture of how prevalent these unacceptable and destructive biases are in the military,” said Sen. Warner. “Like the country it serves, our military is made stronger by the diversity of its people. And just as in every other aspect of society, attitudes of discrimination and bias for any reason – certainly race or religion – only serve to weaken our military. Our men and women in uniform who pledge to faithfully serve our country shouldn’t also have to face discrimination or threat from any of their peers. Our nation’s military leaders have committed to facing these issues head on. We have to give them the information and tools to do so. It is my hope that this critical bipartisan provision will be included in the final defense bill.”

In 2019, The Military Times surveyed 1,630 active servicemembers on their experience with extremist activity within their military ranks. Of the respondents, more than one-third of all active-duty troops and more than half of minority service members say they have personally witnessed examples of white nationalism or ideological-driven racism. Additionally, there has been a recent increase in reporting of servicemembers with affiliation to white supremacist and neo-Nazi organizations. In July 2018, Lance Cpl. Vasillios Pistolis was kicked out of the Marine Corps after it was revealed that he had connections to a violent neo-Nazi organization and participated in the deadly “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va. In January 2020, the FBI arrested three alleged members of the white-supremacist group “The Base,” one of which had served as a member of the U.S. Army, on gun charges for plotting deadly attacks ahead of a gun rights rally in Richmond, Va. Text of Sen. Warner’s amendment, which mirrors a bill by U.S. Rep. Anthony Brown (D-MD),can be found here.

After having successfully worked to pass into law reforms to fix the deplorable housing conditions in privatized military housing across the Commonwealth, Sen. Warner is keeping up the pressure in Congress to ensure servicemembers and their families can feel safe in their on-base housing. Sen. Warner introduced a provision for the FY21 NDAA to provide greater oversight of privatized military housing.

“Last year, the President signed into law critical measures I championed to give military families new tools to hold private housing companies accountable for substandard living conditions. After meeting with countless military families and hearing the poor housing conditions that these families have been exposed to, I’ve heard the same question over and over: how do we make sure these privatized housing companies are held accountable for failing to fulfill their basic obligations?” said Sen. Warner. “This amendment will build upon the work we’ve done to improve military oversight and increase accountability to make sure our servicemembers feel safe in their homes.”

In March, a U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) study found deficiencies in the DoD’s oversight of privatized military housing, concluding that the DoD lacked reliable information to provide a full picture of the conditions of privatized housing. Currently, the military departments use a range of project-specific performance metrics to monitor private housing companies’ performance. However, the metrics used are designed to focus on resident satisfaction and on the quality of the maintenance conducted on housing units, and do not always provide meaningful information or reflect actual housing conditions. For example, the GAO found that a common indicator is how quickly the private partner responded to a work order, not whether the issue was actually addressed. Ultimately, these metrics matter because they feed into decisions around whether privatized housing companies earn performance incentive fees.

To improve this gap in housing condition metrics, Sen. Warner’s amendment would require that the military services review the indicators underlying the privatized housing project performance metrics to ensure they adequately measure the condition and quality of the home. Additionally, the provision would require the Secretary of Defense to publish in DoD’s Military Housing Privatization Initiative Performance Evaluation Report these underlying indicators for performance metrics for each project, in order for Congress to provide effective oversight. Text of Sen. Warner’s military housing amendment is available here.

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) led all Democrats on the Senate Rules Committee in calling for the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), the National Association of State Election Directors, and the National Association of Secretaries of State to work proactively to counter any attempts to suppress vulnerable and historically-disenfranchised voters during the COVID-19 crisis.

In letters to Assistant Attorney General Eric S. Dreiband, head of the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, and to the presidents of the National Association of State Election Directors and the National Association of Secretaries of State, the Senators affirmed that no American should have to choose between their franchise and their health, and stressed the importance of ensuring that any public health measures do not discourage voter participation or limit access to the polls for vulnerable groups, including communities of color and people with disabilities. To best ensure the safety of voters, the Senators encouraged the adoption of convenience voting measures such as vote-by-mail and curbside voting.

“While precincts nationwide can and should actively encourage measures like the use of PPE, substantial sanitation and social distancing in-line with recommendations from the CDC, reasonable modifications must be made to ensure equal opportunity for individuals with disabilities,” wrote the Senators. “For example, persons with autism are often unable to wear a mask for any extended period. In cases like this, it is critical that guidance interpreting the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act be issued to clarify that reasonable modifications must be made to ensure that social distancing measures do not serve as a barrier to the polls for individuals with disabilities.”

“The risk that novel procedures may deter voters is further complicated by the disturbing racial disparities in Coronavirus cases. In almost every state, evidence suggests that African Americans have been disproportionately affected by the virus,” they continued. “Communities of color have frequently faced active efforts to inhibit their franchise – unfortunately, it is likely that there are those who will attempt to use COVID-19 safety procedures as a pretext to suppress voters and undermine the political voice of these communities. We must proactively take steps to safeguard these communities and other vulnerable groups from voter suppression and intimidation.”

In their letters, the Senators noted the increased vulnerabilities facing the 2020 general election in light of the COVID-19 crisis. They highlighted delays and dangerous voting conditions reported in places like Wisconsin, where an in-person election with inadequate procedures resulted in at least 50 cases of COVID-19 during the spring primary season.

The Senators also issued a series of recommendations to prevent voter suppression. These include announcing any safety procedures months ahead of the November election, communicating voting and safety procedures in a variety of languages and formats, issuing strong privacy and security testing months ahead of the deployment of any screening tools, evaluating policies for compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, ensuring that any polling places with accessibility problems are made accessible and that reasonable modifications are made to meet the needs of voters with disabilities, training poll workers on how to operate accessible voting machines and on how to interact with voters with disabilities, providing the opportunity for voters with a suspected illness to cast their ballots swiftly and securely, and conducting meaningful engagement with community leaders when determining the impact of any measures on historically disenfranchised communities.

In addition to Sen. Warner, the letters were signed by Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Angus King (I-ME), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Tom Udall (D-NM), Dick Durbin (D-IL), and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA). 

A copy of the letter to the National Association of State Election Directors and the National Association of Secretaries of State is available here.

A copy of the letter to the DOJ Assistant Attorney General is available here

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WASHINGTON— Following yesterday’s historic Supreme Court ruling rejecting President Donald Trump’s repeal of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) joined Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Immigration Subcommittee, and 42 of his Senate Democratic colleagues in a letter to President Trump urging him to finally end his cruel attempts to deport DACA recipients, who are commonly known as Dreamers.  

“As the Supreme Court has recognized, it is well within your executive authority to protect Dreamers.  By contrast, going ahead with your Administration’s efforts to deport DACA recipients would be needlessly cruel and would weaken our nation’s essential workforce,” the Senators wrote to President Trump.  “Only Congress can provide a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers, but it is up to you whether to use your Administration’s authority to allow these young immigrants who have benefitted America in countless ways to continue contributing to our nation, or to continue your efforts to deport them.”

Today, President Trump tweeted, “I have wanted to take care of DACA recipients better than the Do Nothing Democrats, but for two years they refused to negotiate.”  In fact, the President has rejected numerous bipartisan deals to protect Dreamers.  For example, on January 11, 2018, in a meeting in the Oval Office, he rejected a bipartisan immigration agreement that included protection for Dreamers.  On February 15, 2018, the Senate considered a bipartisan amendment offered by Senators Mike Rounds (R-SD) and Angus King (I-ME), which included a path to citizenship for Dreamers.  A bipartisan majority supported the amendment, but it failed to reach the 60 votes needed to pass because the Trump Administration issued a statement of opposition.  On the same day, the Senate rejected the President’s immigration proposal by a bipartisan supermajority of 39-60. 

In their letter to President Trump, the Senators also noted that in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 200,000 DACA recipients are working in occupational areas that the Trump Administration’s Department of Homeland Security (DHS) identifies as part of the “essential critical infrastructure workforce.”  This includes an estimated 41,700 DACA recipients working in the health care industry, including physicians and physicians in training, intensive care nurses, paramedics, respiratory therapists, nursing assistants, and health technicians.  

The Dream Act was included in the 2013 comprehensive immigration reform bill that Durbin and Graham coauthored as part of the “Gang of Eight” – four Democrats and four Republicans.  The 2013 bill passed the Senate on a strong bipartisan vote of 68-32, but the Republican leadership of the House of Representatives refused to consider it.

Along with Durbin, today’s letter was also signed by Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Patty Murray (D-WA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Jack Reed (D-RI), Tom Carper (D-DE), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Bob Casey (D-PA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Tom Udall (D-NM), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Chris Coons (D-DE), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Angus King (I-ME), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Ed Markey (D-MA), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Tina Smith (D-MN), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), and Doug Jones (D-AL).

Full text of today’s letter to President Trump is available here and below: 

 

June 19, 2020 

Dear President Trump:

Following the Supreme Court’s landmark decision on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), today you tweeted, “We will be submitting enhanced papers shortly in order to properly fulfil the Supreme Court’s ruling & request of yesterday”  We strongly urge you to change course and use your executive authority to protect, not deport, the young immigrants who are eligible for DACA. 

Eight years ago, following bipartisan requests from Congress, President Obama used his legal authority to establish DACA.  DACA provides temporary protection from deportation on an individualized basis to immigrants who arrived in the United States as children if they register with the government, pay a fee, and pass criminal and national security background checks.  The young people who are eligible for DACA, known as Dreamers, are American in every way except for their immigration status.  More than 800,000 Dreamers have come forward and received DACA.  DACA has been vital for Dreamers, who are contributing to our country as soldiers, nurses, teachers, and small business owners, and in many other ways. 

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 200,000 DACA recipients are working in occupational areas that your Administration’s Department of Homeland Security (DHS) identifies as part of the “essential critical infrastructure workforce.”  This includes an estimated 41,700 DACA recipients working in the health care industry, including physicians and physicians in training, intensive care nurses, paramedics, respiratory therapists, nursing assistants, and health technicians.  It makes no sense to continue your efforts to deport these essential workers to countries they barely remember even as our nation grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic.

When you announced your repeal of DACA, you called on Congress to “legalize DACA,” and today you tweeted, “I have wanted to take care of DACA recipients better than the Do Nothing Democrats, but for two years they refused to negotiate.” In fact, you have rejected numerous bipartisan deals to protect Dreamers. For example, on January 11, 2018, in a meeting in the Oval Office, you rejected a bipartisan immigration agreement that included protection for Dreamers.  On February 15, 2018, the Senate considered a bipartisan amendment offered by Senators Mike Rounds (R-SD) and Angus King (I-ME) which included a path to citizenship for Dreamers.  A bipartisan majority supported the amendment, but it failed to reach the 60 votes needed to pass because your Administration issued a statement of opposition.  On the same day, the Senate rejected your immigration proposal by a bipartisan supermajority of 39-60.

On June 4, 2019, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 6, the American Dream and Promise Act, legislation that would give Dreamers a path to citizenship, on a strong bipartisan vote of 237-187.  The American Dream and Promise Act has now been pending in the Senate for more than a year. 

Mr. President, it is not too late for you to do the right thing.  Specifically, we call on you to immediately:

  1. Publicly announce that you will not make another attempt to repeal DACA;
  2. Direct DHS to reopen DACA to eligible individuals who have been unable to apply due to your decision to terminate DACA; and.
  3. Endorse the American Dream and Promise Act, which would pass the Senate on a strong bipartisan vote if you simply called on Leader McConnell to bring it to a vote. 

As the Supreme Court has recognized, it is well within your executive authority to protect Dreamers.  By contrast, going ahead with your Administration’s efforts to deport DACA recipients would be needlessly cruel and would weaken our nation’s essential workforce.  Only Congress can provide a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers, but it is up to you whether to use your Administration’s authority to allow these young immigrants who have benefitted America in countless ways to continue contributing to our nation, or to continue your efforts to deport them.

It would be an American tragedy to deport DACA recipients who are saving lives in the midst of this pandemic.   We must ensure these talented young immigrants are not forced to stop working when the need for their public service has never been greater.  And we must give them the chance they deserve to become American citizens.

We, and hundreds of thousands of Dreamers, await your response.

Sincerely,

WASHINGTON - Following last week’s historic Supreme Court ruling rejecting President Donald Trump’s repeal of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) joined Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Immigration Subcommittee and author of the Dream Act, and the entire Senate Democratic Caucus in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) calling on him to immediately take up the bipartisan House-passed American Dream and Promise Act, which will establish a path to citizenship for Dreamers and immigrants with Temporary Protected Status (TPS) or Deferred Enforced Departure (DED). 

In their letter, the Senators noted that with Republicans in the majority, the Senate has failed to address our nation’s immigration challenges.  In the 116th Congress, the Border Security and Immigration Subcommittee has held only one hearing; the Senate Judiciary Committee has voted on only one immigration bill – the Trump Administration’s anti-asylum bill – and the Republican majority limited debate to only one hour and did not allow a single amendment to be offered; and McConnell has not brought a single immigration bill to the floor of the Senate. 

“It is not too late to change course.  As Majority Leader, you can immediately schedule a vote in the Senate for the American Dream and Promise Act,” the Senators wrote to McConnell.  “It would be an American tragedy to deport DACA recipients who are saving lives in the midst of this pandemic.   We must ensure these talented young immigrants are not forced to stop working when the need for their public service has never been greater.  And we must give them the chance they deserve to become American citizens.”

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 200,000 DACA recipients are working in occupational areas that the Trump Administration’s Department of Homeland Security (DHS) identifies as part of the “essential critical infrastructure workforce.”  This includes an estimated 41,700 DACA recipients working in the health care industry, including physicians and physicians in training, intensive care nurses, paramedics, respiratory therapists, nursing assistants, and health technicians. 

The Dream Act was included in the 2013 comprehensive immigration reform bill that Durbin and Graham coauthored as part of the “Gang of Eight” – four Democrats and four Republicans.  The 2013 bill passed the Senate on a strong bipartisan vote of 68-32, but the Republican leadership of the House of Representatives refused to consider it.

Along with Warner and Durbin, today’s letter was also signed by Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Patty Murray (D-WA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Jack Reed (D-RI), Tom Carper (D-DE), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Bob Casey (D-PA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Tom Udall (D-NM), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Chris Coons (D-DE), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Angus King (I-ME), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Ed Markey (D-MA), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Tina Smith (D-MN), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Doug Jones (D-AL), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Gary Peters (D-MI), Jon Tester (D-MT), and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ).

Full text of today’s letter to Leader McConnell is available here and below: 

 

June 22, 2020 

Dear Leader McConnell:

Following the Supreme Court’s landmark decision on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), last week President Trump tweeted, “We will be submitting enhanced papers shortly in order to properly fulfil the Supreme Court’s ruling & request of yesterday.”  The Senate has a responsibility to consider legislation to protect the young immigrants who are eligible for DACA.  We call on you to immediately schedule a vote in the Senate on H.R. 6, the American Dream and Promise Act, legislation to give DACA recipients a path to citizenship that passed the House of Representatives more than a year ago. 

Eight years ago, following bipartisan requests from Congress, President Obama used his legal authority to establish DACA.  DACA provides temporary protection from deportation on an individualized basis to immigrants who arrived in the United States as children if they register with the government, pay a fee, and pass criminal and national security background checks.

The young people who are eligible for DACA, known as Dreamers, are American in every way except for their immigration status.  More than 800,000 Dreamers have come forward and received DACA.  DACA has been vital for Dreamers, who are contributing to our country as soldiers, nurses, teachers, and small business owners, and in many other ways. 

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 200,000 DACA recipients are working in occupational areas that the Trump Administration’s Department of Homeland Security (DHS) identifies as part of the “essential critical infrastructure workforce.”  This includes an estimated 41,700 DACA recipients working in the health care industry, including physicians and physicians in training, intensive care nurses, paramedics, respiratory therapists, nursing assistants, and health technicians.  Congress must take action to ensure these essential workers are not deported to countries they barely remember even as our nation grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic.  

When President Trump announced his repeal of DACA, he called on Congress to “legalize DACA,” and last week he tweeted, “I have wanted to take care of DACA recipients better than the Do Nothing Democrats, but for two years they refused to negotiate.” In fact, the President has rejected numerous bipartisan deals to protect Dreamers. For example, on January 11, 2018, in a meeting in the Oval Office, he rejected a bipartisan immigration agreement that included protection for Dreamers.  On February 15, 2018, the Senate considered a bipartisan amendment offered by Senators Mike Rounds (R-SD) and Angus King (I-ME), which included a path to citizenship for Dreamers.  A bipartisan majority supported the amendment, but it failed to reach the 60 votes needed to pass because the Trump Administration issued a statement of opposition.  On the same day, the Senate rejected the President’s immigration proposal by a bipartisan supermajority of 39-60. 

With Republicans in the majority, the United States Senate has failed to address our immigration challenges.  In the 116th Congress, the Border Security and Immigration Subcommittee has held only one hearing; the Senate Judiciary Committee has voted on only one immigration bill – the Trump Administration’s anti-asylum bill – and the Republican majority limited debate to only one hour and did not allow a single amendment to be offered; and you, as Majority Leader, have not brought a single immigration bill to the floor of the Senate. 

It is not too late to change course.  As Majority Leader, you can immediately schedule a vote in the Senate for the American Dream and Promise Act.  It would be an American tragedy to deport DACA recipients who are saving lives in the midst of this pandemic.   We must ensure these talented young immigrants are not forced to stop working when the need for their public service has never been greater.  And we must give them the chance they deserve to become American citizens.

We, and hundreds of thousands of Dreamers, await your response.

Sincerely,

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) joined Sen. Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii) and 19 Senate Democrats in requesting that Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz open an investigation into the conduct of Attorney General William Barr and the Department of Justice in directing the use of force against peaceful protestors around Lafayette Square on June 1, 2020. 

The Senators also called on the Inspector General to probe the deployment of federal law enforcement to suppress protests and intimidate protestors across the country and the temporary expansion of the Drug Enforcement Agency’s authority to “conduct covert surveillance” on Americans participating in protests.

“We write to request an immediate investigation into Attorney General William Barr’s and the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) roles in directing the use of force – including the use of tear gas or a similar gas, rubber bullets, pepper balls, and batons – to suppress peaceful protesters around Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C., on June 1, 2020,” the Senators wrote. “This misuse of force is all the more alarming given that the Attorney General appears to have issued this order to allow President Trump to walk across the street from the White House for a political photo-op in front of St. John’s Church. Notably, Attorney General Barr was not only on the scene less than an hour before the use of force to clear peaceful protesters, but he also participated in President Trump’s photo op, posing for pictures in front of the church.” 

The Senators continued: “We believe that the concerning actions we have identified warrant immediate investigation by your office, as they raise serious questions about misconduct, abuse of power, and waste by the Justice Department. Moreover, there appears to be no question about your office’s jurisdiction in this matter.

“Therefore, as detailed above, we urge your office to investigate the roles of Attorney General Barr and the Department of Justice in directing the use of force, including tear gas and rubber bullets, against peaceful protesters near Lafayette Square on June 1, 2020; deploying federal agents to suppress protests and intimidate peaceful protesters; and expanding the authority of DEA to conduct covert surveillance of protesters.”

Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), also signed the letter. 

The full letter can be downloaded here or viewed below:

 

Dear Inspector General Horowitz, 

We write to request an immediate investigation into Attorney General William Barr’s and the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) roles in directing the use of force – including the use of tear gas or a similar gas, rubber bullets, pepper balls, and batons – to suppress peaceful protesters around Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C., on June 1, 2020. This misuse of force is all the more alarming given that the Attorney General appears to have issued this order to allow President Trump to walk across the street from the White House for a political photo-op in front of St. John’s Church. Notably, Attorney General Barr was not only on the scene less than an hour before the use of force to clear peaceful protesters, but he also participated in President Trump’s photo op, posing for pictures in front of the church.

We further ask that you investigate Attorney General Barr’s and DOJ’s role in deploying federal law enforcement and security agencies to seemingly suppress protests and intimidate protesters throughout the country who are peacefully exercising their First Amendment rights. In the wake of the brutal murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, Americans all across our country are calling for an end to police brutality and a transformation of systems that perpetuate injustice and inequality. In response, President Trump has vowed to “dominate” the protesters.

The Attorney General and his Justice Department appear to be following through on the President’s vow by mobilizing agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI); the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP); the U.S. Marshals; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosive; Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA); and possibly other agencies, against peaceful protests. Some of these federal agents appear to have participated in using force to remove protesters from the area around Lafayette Square on June 1, 2020. According to eyewitness accounts and video footage, federal agents from these agencies, and other agencies, advanced on peaceful protesters with smoke canisters, pepper balls, riot shields, batons, and officers on horseback, with little warning before the 7 p.m. curfew. They fired rubber bullets at protesters, even as the protesters were retreating. They dropped canisters of gas to explode within several feet of a hundred people or more. They pushed protestors over and even struck a news camera crew with batons. These actions warrant an immediate investigation. 

Moreover, we are concerned by the deployment of federal agents who are trained to deal with prison riots, hostage situations, or other similar circumstances, but not adequately trained in protecting the constitutional rights of Americans engaged in peaceful protests. These concerns are amplified by the fact that some of federal officers were deployed in generic riot gear without displaying any identifying insignia and refused to identify themselves when asked. The lack of identifying information undermines accountability and furthers the distrust of law enforcement.

We are also deeply troubled by reports that the Justice Department has temporarily expanded the authority of DEA to “conduct covert surveillance” and collect intelligence on Americans exercising their constitutional rights to protest the murder of George Floyd. According to Buzzfeed News, the Justice Department also authorized DEA to share intelligence with local and state law enforcement authorities and intervene in a law enforcement role at protests. This expansion of DEA authority appears to be a misuse of DOJ’s powers that warrants further investigation.

We believe that the concerning actions we have identified warrant immediate investigation by your office, as they raise serious questions about misconduct, abuse of power, and waste by the Justice Department. Moreover, there appears to be no question about your office’s jurisdiction in this matter.

Therefore, as detailed above, we urge your office to investigate the roles of Attorney General Barr and the Department of Justice in directing the use of force, including tear gas and rubber bullets, against peaceful protesters near Lafayette Square on June 1, 2020; deploying federal agents to suppress protests and intimidate peaceful protesters; and expanding the authority of DEA to conduct covert surveillance of protesters. 

Sincerely,

 

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WASHINGTON - Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Vice Chairman Mark Warner (D-VA), Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), and Senate Committee on the Judiciary Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), released a new letter sent to FBI Director Christopher Wray and Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe demanding they promptly inform the public of any information supporting the President’s recent, inflammatory claims regarding nationwide protests of the police killing of George Floyd. 

Sens. Warner, Schumer, and Feinstein stress that over the past week, President Trump has asserted—without providing factual support or evidence—that “our nation has been gripped” by, among others, “professional anarchists” and “Antifa.” President Trump further attributed instances of violence and property damage to “acts of domestic terror.”  Versions of these claims have been echoed by other members of the Trump administration, and appear intended to frame the legitimate peaceful protests taking place around the country as terrorist threats in order to justify unnecessary federal, even military, intervention and the excessive use of force.

The Senators urge Director Wray and Director Ratcliffe to immediately release to the public any information they may have supporting the President’s statements and respond to questions from the press.

The letter can be found here and below:

Dear Director Wray and Director Ratcliffe,

We write to request that you promptly inform the public of any information that supports recent claims made by the President related to protests of the police killing of George Floyd.  

On June 1, 2020, President Trump asserted that “our nation has been gripped” by, among others, “professional anarchists” and “Antifa.” He further attributed instances of violence and property damage to “acts of domestic terror.”  These statements are similar to those made by other members of the Administration.

These claims are highly inflammatory.  They also appear intended to frame the legitimate peaceful protests taking place around the country as terrorist threats in order to justify unnecessary federal, even military, intervention and the excessive use of force. Worse still, the President and others have made these assertions without any factual support or evidence. 

These vague and unsubstantiated claims do not justify the extraordinary measures taken in response to these protests.  In recent days, the Administration has deployed numerous federal agencies to the streets of our cities, considered the use of active duty troops against Americans, attacked peaceful protesters, and instigated tensions with state and municipal authorities.  These actions are not sustainable in a democracy. 

We therefore urge that you immediately release to the public any information you may have supporting the President’s statements and respond to questions from the press. 

Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter. 

Sincerely, 

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