Press Releases

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.

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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 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— 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 – 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, 

###

WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) joined Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and 17 colleagues in a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue to express concerns about how a lack of access to healthy, affordable food is hurting low-income communities and communities of color during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. To help address the disproportionate impact of the virus on these communities, the senators are urging Secretary Perdue to identify and prioritize programs at the Department of Agriculture intended to minimize food deserts — areas where people have limited access to a variety of healthy and affordable food — and support local and regional food development projects.

Approximately 23.5 million Americans live in a food desert where the absence of a grocery store within one mile of their home makes it more difficult to purchase fresh, healthy, and nutritious food. Additionally, in some of the more rural regions of the country, individuals may have to travel further than 10 miles to the nearest grocer. Low-income Americans and people of color are more likely to live in neighborhoods with few healthy food options, and studies have shown that a significant barrier to the consumption of healthy foods in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods is limited access to a grocery store. Consequently, many in these communities are at a higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19 due to underlying health conditions like heart disease, obesity, and diabetes. In addition, many people in these neighborhoods do not have access to food or meal delivery services and must rely on public transportation or shared rides to purchase healthy food, increasing their potential exposure to the virus,”the lawmakers wrote. 

“As part of a comprehensive response to the coronavirus pandemic, we urge you to identify and prioritize programs intended to minimize food deserts and support local and regional food development projects.” 

Warner, Klobuchar and Brown were joined on the letter by Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Bob Casey (D-PA), Tina Smith (D-MN), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Patty Murray (D-WA), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Chris Coons (D-DE), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), and Joe Manchin (D-WV).

As a senior member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Klobuchar successfully pushed for key provisions in the 2018 Farm Bill that provided support for local food systems, farmers’ markets, urban agriculture, and loan financing for food-related projects in rural and urban areas. These included provisions that created an urban agriculture program at the Department of Agriculture, strengthened local food economies by securing permanent funding for farmers’ markets, local food systems, and value-added production, and ensured adequate and equitable access to credit and training opportunities for new, beginning, and minority farmers.  

Full text of the letter can be found HERE and below:

 

Dear Secretary Perdue:

We write to express concerns about how a lack of access to healthy, affordable food is hurting low-income communities and communities of color during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. To help address the disproportionate impact of the virus on these communities, we urge you to identify and prioritize programs at the Department of Agriculture intended to minimize food deserts and support local and regional food development projects.

Initial research has identified several factors contributing to the disproportionate adverse health outcomes for low-income and communities of color during the pandemic, including a lack of access to health care services, a higher incidence of pre-existing conditions, and a greater likelihood of working in a front line job.Several of these factors are exacerbated by lack of access to healthy, affordable food.

Approximately 23.5 million Americans live in a food desert where the absence of a grocery store within one mile of their home makes it more difficult to purchase fresh, healthy, and nutritious food. Additionally, in some of the more rural regions of the country, individuals may have to travel further than 10 miles to the nearest grocer. Low-income Americans and people of color are more likely to live in neighborhoods with few healthy food options, and studies have shown that a significant barrier to the consumption of healthy foods in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods is limited access to a grocery store. Consequently, many in these communities are at a higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19 due to underlying health conditions like heart disease, obesity, and diabetes. In addition, many people in these neighborhoods do not have access to food or meal delivery services and must rely on public transportation or shared rides to purchase healthy food, increasing their potential exposure to the virus.

To combat this public health crisis, we need a proactive approach that emphasizes the prevention of underlying health conditions and minimizes potential exposure to the virus while traveling to purchase food by expanding healthy food options in low-income communities and communities of color. Congress has provided the Department of Agriculture authority and funding to address the prevalence of food deserts and to support local food systems through such programs as the Healthy Food Financing Initiative, the Local Agriculture Market Program, and the Urban Agriculture Program. Additionally, Rural Development has several business and industry loan guarantee and community facilities grant programs that can be applied to food development projects in underserved food desert areas.

As part of a comprehensive response to the coronavirus pandemic, we urge you to identify and prioritize programs intended to minimize food deserts and support local and regional food development projects.

Sincerely,

###

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) joined Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Kamala Harris (D-CA) and 31 of their Senate colleagues in introducing sweeping police reform legislation. The Justice in Policing Act of 2020 is the first comprehensive legislative approach to ending police brutality and changing the culture of law enforcement departments by holding police accountable in court for misconduct, increasing transparency through better data collection, and improving police practices and training. The bill was introduced in the House of Representatives by Congressional Black Caucus Chair Karen Bass (D-CA), House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and 165 cosponsors.

“Our national conversation about systemic racism is long overdue. Over and over, in communities across the country, we see Black men, women, and even children treated with violence and suspicion that white Americans never experience. There is not one single policy to address this crisis. It will take sustained effort at every level of government and society. However, the Justice in Policing Act of 2020 can begin to create the kind of systematic change we need,” said Sen. Warner. “Policing is a local issue, and much of the change we need to see will come at the state and local level. But there are areas where we can take action at the federal level. This bill may not be perfect, and as the legislative process proceeds we should be open to further improvements. We should also continue to engage the many members of law enforcement who are working tirelessly to bring change to their own neighborhoods and communities. But today’s introduction is a vital first step to ensuring that the principle of equal justice under the law is realized for all Americans, and I am proud to stand with Senators Booker and Harris to support this effort.”

“Far too many Americans, particularly Black Americans, have been victims of police brutality, and Congress can no longer be bystanders,” Sen. Kaine said. “This legislation will improve police training, transparency, and practices to help address systemic racism. We must enact meaningful change to make clear that police misconduct has no place in America.”

“America has a serious and deadly problem when it comes to the discriminatory and excessive policing of communities of color - and that policing exists within a system that time and again refuses to hold police accountable for their brutality,” Sen. Booker said. “For too long, this has been accepted as a cruel reality of being black in this country. We are forced to figure out how to keep ourselves safe from law enforcement and we are viewed as a threat to be protected against instead of people worth protecting.”

“And for too long, Congress has failed to act. That ends today with the landmark Justice in Policing Act which, for the first time in history, will take a comprehensive approach to ending police brutality. On the back-end, the bill fixes our federal laws so law enforcement officers are held accountable for egregious misconduct and police abuses are better tracked and reported. And on the front-end, the bill improves police practices and training to prevent these injustices from happening in the first place.”

“America’s sidewalks are stained with Black blood,” Sen. Harris said. “In the wake of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor’s murders, we must ask ourselves: how many more times must our families and our communities be put through the trauma of an unarmed Black man or woman’s killing at the hands of the very police who are sworn to protect and serve them? As a career prosecutor and former Attorney General of California, I know that real public safety requires community trust and police accountability. I am proud to join my colleagues in introducing this historic legislation that will get our country on a path forward.”

Specifically, the Justice in Policing Act of 2020 would:

 

  • Hold police accountable in our courts by: 
    • Amending the mens rea requirement in 18 U.S.C. Section 242, the federal criminal statute to prosecute police misconduct, from “willfulness” to a “recklessness” standard;
    • Reforming qualified immunity, a legal doctrine that as currently interpreted shields law enforcement officers from being held legally liable for violating an individual’s constitutional rights. 
    • Improving the use of pattern and practice investigations at the federal level by granting the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division subpoena power and incentivizing state attorneys general to conduct pattern and practice investigations; 
    • Incentivizing states to create independent investigative structures for police involved deaths through grants; and
    • Creating best practices recommendations based on President Obama’s 21st Century Policing Task Force 
  • Improve transparency into policing by collecting better and more accurate data of police misconduct and use-of-force by:
    • Creating a National Police Misconduct Registry to prevent problem-officers from changing jurisdictions to avoid accountability; and
    • Mandating state and local law enforcement agencies report use of force data, disaggregated by race, sex, disability, religion, and age
  • Improve police training and practices by:
    • Ending racial and religious profiling;
    • Mandating training on racial bias and the duty to intervene; 
    • Banning no-knock warrants in drug cases;
    • Banning chokeholds and carotid holds;
    • Changing the use of force standard for federal officers from reasonableness to only when necessary to prevent death or serious bodily injury;
    • Limiting the transfer of military-grade equipment to state and local law enforcement;
    • Requiring federal uniformed police officers to wear body cameras; and
    • Requiring state and local law enforcement to use existing federal funds to ensure the use of police body camera          
  • Make lynching a federal crime by:
    • Making it a federal crime to conspire to violate existing federal hate crimes laws

The Justice in Policing Act of 2020 has the support of a broad coalition of civil rights organizations including: Demand Progress, Lawyers' Committee For Civil Rights Under Law, Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, National Action Network, National African American Clergy Network, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF), The National Coalition on Black Civic Participation (NCBCP), Black Millennial Convention, and the National Urban League.

"The National African American Clergy Network supports the Justice in Policing Bill.  It affirms sacred scripture that everyone is created in the image of God and deserves to be protected by police sworn to value and safeguard all lives. Failure by police to uphold this sacred trust with Black Americans lives, requires systemic changes in policing nationwide," said Dr. Barbara Williams-Skinner, Dr. Otis Moss, Jr., Dr. T. DeWitt Smith, Jr., Co-Conveners, The National African American Clergy Network (NAACN). 

"It's time to close the chapter on a dark era of unchecked police violence in our country that has wreaked havoc on African American families across the country. The Justice in Policing Act is historic and long overdue legislation that will put our country on a path to reform.  This Act is responsive to many of the urgent demands being pressed for by our communities and by the people protesting for racial justice and equity across our nation. The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law commends the Congressional Black Caucus for their leadership on policing reform and this critical legislation, including Chair Karen Bass, Senator Cory Booker and Senator Kamala Harris," said Kristen Clarke, President and Executive Director, the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

"Sometimes difficult circumstances present a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to bring about historic change," said Marc H. Morial, President and CEO, the National Urban League. "The brutal actions of police in George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis, along with botched execution of a no-knock warrant that killed Breonna Taylor in Louisville, and the brazen vigilante execution of Ahmaud Arbery in Glynn County, Georgia, have pushed the nation to the tipping point."

"For the past four-plus centuries, Black people have continuously been made to endure unfair, unjust, and inhumane treatment in this country. We have been made to believe in that if we worked hard, never complained, and accepted what the world offered that would be enough. What the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and countless others have taught us is that obedience will never be enough; liberty and justice for all applies to everyone but us; and by us, we mean Black Americans, African Americans, Afro-Americans, or plainly put, Black people," said Waikinya J.S.Clanton, MBA Black Millennial Convention. 

In addition to Sens. Warner, Kaine, Booker and Harris, the bill was cosponsored by Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-NY), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Tom Carper (D-DE), Bob Casey (D-PA), Chris Coons (D-DE), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Chris Murphy (D-CA), Patty Murray (D-WA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Tina Smith (D-MN), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Tom Udall (D-NM), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Ron Wyden (D-OR). 

In addition to Reps. Bass and Nadler, the bill was cosponored in the House by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD), Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-SC), Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), Katherine Clark (D-MA), Barbara Lee (D-CA), John Lewis (D-GA), Alma Adams (D-NC), Pete Aguilar (D-CA), Collin Allred (D-TX), Nanette Barragán (D-CA), Joyce Beatty (D-OH), Ami Bera (D-CA), Don Beyer (D-VA), Sanford D. Bishop, Jr. (D-GA), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE), Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR), Brendan Boyle (D-PA), Anthony G. Brown (D-MD), Julia Brownley (D-CA), G.K. Butterfield (D-NC), Cheri Bustos (D-IL), Salud Carbajal (D-CA), Tony Cárdenas (D-CA), Andre Carson (D-IN), Matt Cartwright (D-PA), Kathy Castor (D-FL), Joaquin Castro (D-TX), Judy Chu (D-CA), David N. Cicilline (D-RI), Yvette D. Clarke (D-NY), Wm. Lacy Clay (D-MO), Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO), Steve Cohen (D-TN), Gerry Connolly (D-VA), Joe Courtney (D-CT), J. Luis Correa (D-CA), Jason Crow (D-CO), Danny K. Davis (D-IL), Susan Davis (D-CA), Madeleine Dean (D-PA), Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Diana DeGette (D-CO), Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Suzan DelBene (D-WA), Antonio Delgado (D-NY), Val B. Demings (D-FL), Mark DeSaulnier (D-CA), Ted Deutch (D-FL), Debbie Dingell (D-MI), Lloyd Doggett (D-TX), Mike Doyle (D-PA), Eliot L. Engel (D-NY), Veronica Escobar (D-TX), Anna G. Eshoo (D-CA), Adriano Espaillat (D-NY), Dwight Evans (D-PA), Lois Frankel (D-FL), Marcia L. Fudge (D-OH), Ruben Gallego (D-AZ), Jesús “Chuy” García (D-IL), Sylvia R. García, (D-TX), Al Green (D-TX), Jimmy Gomez (D-CA), Vicente Gonzalez (D-TX), Deb Haaland (D-NM), Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), Jahana Hayes (D-CT), Denny Heck (D-WA), Brian Higgins (D-NY), Steven Horsford (D-NV), Jared Huffman (D-CA), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), Henry C. "Hank" Johnson, Jr. (D-GA), Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), Bill Keating (D-MA) Robin Kelly (D-IL), Joseph P. Kennedy III (D-MA), Ro Khanna (D-CA), Dan Kildee (D-MI), Derek Kilmer (D-WA), Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL), Annie Kuster (D-NH), Jim Langevin (D-RI), Brenda L. Lawrence (D-MI), Al Lawson (D-FL), Ted Lieu (D-CA), Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Alan Lowenthal (D-CA), Nita Lowey (D-NY), Stephen F. Lynch (D-MA), Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY), Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY), Lucy McBath (D-GA), Betty McCollum (D-MN), A. Donald McEachin (D-VA), James P. McGovern (D-MA), Jerry McNerney (D-CA), Gregory W. Meeks (D-NY), Grace Meng (D-NY), Kweisi Mfume (D-MD), Gwen Moore (D-WI), Seth Moulton (D-MA), Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (D-FL), Grace F. Napolitano (D-CA), Richard E. Neal (D-MA), Joe Neguse (D-CO), Donald Norcross (D-NJ), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), Jimmy Panetta (D-CA), Donald M. Payne, Jr. (D-NJ),  Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), Scott Peters (D-CA), Chellie Pingree (D-ME), Stacey E. Plaskett (D-V.I.), Mark Pocan (D-WI), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), David E. Price (D-NC), Jamie Raskin, (D-MD), Cedric L. Richmond (D-LA), Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA), Bobby L. Rush (D-IL), Tim Ryan (D-OH), Linda Sánchez (D-CA), John Sarbanes (D-MD), Mary Gay Scanlon (D-PA), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Adam Schiff (D-CA), Bradley Scott Schneider (D-IL), Bobby Scott (D-VA), David Scott (D-GA), Jose Serrano (D-NY), Terri Sewell (D-AL), Donna Shalala (D-FL), Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ), Brad Sherman (D-CA), Jackie Speier (D-CA), Albio Sires (D-NJ), Adam Smith (D-WA), Greg Stanton (D-AZ), Tom Suozzi (D-NY), Eric Swalwell (D-CA), Mark Takano (D-CA), Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS), Mike Thompson (D-CA), Dina Titus (D-NV), Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), Paul Tonko (D-NY), Norma Torres (D-CA), Lori Trahan (D-MA), David Trone (D-MD), Lauren Underwood (D-IL), Marc Veasey (D-TX), Filemon Vela (D-TX), Nydia Velázquez (D-NY), Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), Maxine Waters (D-CA), Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ), Peter Welch (D-VT), Frederica Wilson (D-FL) and John Yarmuth (D-KY).

Full text of the bill is available here

###

WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) joined Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-CA) and U.S. Reps. James E. Clyburn (D-SC) and Marcia Fudge (D-OH) in introducing the VoteSafe Act, legislation to expand voting options and improve the safety and accessibility of polling places across the country during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“As our country combats COVID-19, we’re also in the middle of an election year,” said Sen. Harris. “It is critical that we meet voters where they are and ensure that all forms of voting are safe and accessible. That is why I am proud to partner with House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn and Rep. Marcia Fudge to introduce the VoteSafe Act, which is centered on the experiences of communities that have long struggled with access to the ballot box.”

“The right to vote is a basic American right and our democracy depends on our citizens having access to the ballot box,”said House Majority Whip Clyburn. “The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the many challenges Americans face while voting, which is why I’m proud to join Senator Harris and Congresswoman Fudge to introduce the VoteSafe Act today, because it expands voting options to include no-excuse vote by mail and early voting, as well as improve access to voter registration. This legislation ensures that polling locations and its workers have the resources they need to not only keep themselves safe, but also keep the public safe during this public health crisis. We must act now to protect every American’s basic right to vote and guarantee that when people do vote, they are safe and have equal access to the ballot box.” 

“While the health and safety of voters is a top priority during the current public health emergency, we must make sure the pandemic does not impede full, unfettered access to the ballot box,” said Rep. Fudge, Chair of the House Administration Subcommittee on Elections. “Voters must have safe, accessible options and sufficient time to cast their ballots without unnecessary confusion and potential voter disenchantment. Congress has the responsibility to ensure every eligible American can exercise their right to vote. I am proud to cosponsor the VoteSafe Act and any legislation preventing and removing barriers to the ballot box; barriers that have plagued our democracy for far too long.”      

This year, multiple primary elections were besieged by public health concerns as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Most recently, in Wisconsin, voters experienced long lines and hours-long wait times, after the U.S. Supreme Court blocked a court order that would have extended the period for voters to return absentee ballots—forcing many voters to vote in-person at a limited number of polling places. Multiple voters tested positive for COVID-19 after this election.

The VoteSafe Act would:

  • Require states to provide no-excuse mail-in absentee voting for the 2020 elections and guarantee minimum due process protections for these voters;
  • Require states to maintain an early in-person voting period of at least 20 days for the 2020 elections;
  • Authorize $2.5 billion for states to meet their obligations to offer no-excuse absentee voting and early in-person voting; and
  • Provide $2.5 billion in additional discretionary grant funding for states to further improve the safety and accessibility of voting options during the pandemic, including:
  • Ensuring that elections are accessible to individuals with disabilities.
  • Ensuring adequate protections for language minority voters.
  • Ensuring voting access for American Indian, Alaska Native, and rural voters.
  • Implementing and promoting curbside voting.
  • Implementing and meeting a maximum wait time standard or publishing current wait times for voters.
  • Providing for the training and recruitment of poll workers.
  • Improving access to voter registration.

In addition to Warner, Harris, Clyburn, and Fudge, the VoteSafe Act is co-sponsored by Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI), Edward Markey (D-MA), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Ron Wyden (D-OR); and Representatives Alma Adams (D-NC), Joyce Beatty (D-OH), G.K. Butterfield (D-NC), Tony Cardenas (D-CA), Andre’ Carson (D-IN), David Cicilline (D-RI), Gilbert Cisneros (D-CA), Yvette Clarke (D-NY), Wm. Lacy Clay (D-MO), Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ), Danny Davis (D-IL), Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Diana DeGette (D-CO), Val Demings (D-FL), Ted Deutch (D-FL), Eliot Engel (D-NY), Adriano Espaillat (D-NY), Dwight Evans (D-PA), Chuy Garcia (D-IL), Sylvia Garcia (D-TX), Deb Haaland (D-NM), Alcee Hastings (D-FL), Jahana Hayes (D-CT), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), Hank Johnson (D-GA), Joe Kennedy (D-MA), Ro Khanna (D-CA), Daniel Kildee (D-MI), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Andy Levin (D-MI), Ted Lieu (D-CA), Alan Lowenthal (D-CA), Steven Lynch (D-MA), James McGovern (D-MA), Grace Meng (D-NY), Gwen Moore (D-WI), Grace Napolitano (D-CA), Joe Neguse (D-CO), Jamie Raskin (D-MD), Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA), Tim Ryan (D-OH), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Terri Sewell (D-AL), Donna Shalala (D-FL), Darren Soto (D-FL), Mark Takano (D-CA), and Mike Thompson (D-CA).

The bill is endorsed by Alex Padilla, California Secretary of State, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Areva Martin, civil rights attorney, author, and founder of Special Needs Network, Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC), Asian Law Alliance, Asian Pacific Islander Initiative, Asian Pacific Islander American Vote, Building Healthy Communities East Salinas, California Black Chamber of Commerce, Center for American Progress (CAP), Common Cause, The Daniel Initiative, David Ryu, Los Angeles City Councilmember, End Citizens United Action Fund and Let America Vote, Environmental Health Coalition, Fresno Barrios Unidos, Greater Los Angeles African American Chamber of Commerce, Greater Sacramento Urban League, Homeboy Industries, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, Los Angeles Regional Reentry Partnership, Marc Elias, election and voting rights attorney, Mi Familia Vota, Mid-City Community Action Network (Mid-City CAN), Mission Economic Development Agency, MoveOn, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO Educational Fund), National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA), Native American Rights Fund (NARF), National Disability Rights Network (NDRN), National Education Association (NEA),New Breath Foundation, Rainbow PUSH Coalition, Sacramento LGBT Center, San Diego Organizing Project, San Francisco Faith Community, San Francisco NAACP, Service Employees International Union (SEIU), SEIU Local 2015, UnidosUS, UNITE HERE Local 11, United Farm Workers (UFW), Urban League of San Diego County, Voto Latino,and Working Partnerships USA.

“Our right to vote is a central pillar of our democracy,” said California Secretary of State Alex Padilla. “Yet despite the hard-fought history to secure voting rights, too many Americans still face unnecessary barriers when trying participate in our democracy. Senator Harris’ VoteSafe Act proposes long overdue election reforms to ensure access to the ballot for all eligible Americans. These common-sense proven policies will be critical to ensuring that our elections in November are accessible, secure, and safe amid the COVID-19 pandemic. More voters who vote early, by mail or safely in-person — along with thoughtful public health protocols at voting locations — means shorter lines and a safer voting experience on Election Day for voters, all poll workers, and elections staff alike.”

“Even before this devastating pandemic, our nation was experiencing a sustained period of voter suppression across the states, triggered by the Supreme Court's decision in Shelby County v. Holder,” said Kristen Clarke, President & Executive Director of the Lawyers' Committee. “Now, more than ever, we need bold and comprehensive legislation like Senator Harris' VoteSafe Act, which would both expand options for safe in-person voting and facilitate the expansion of vote by mail in the states. This is critical to protecting the right to vote during this pandemic, especially for African Americans and other people of color.” 

“Unless Congress takes immediate action to help upgrade state election systems, the chaos and potentially deadly consequences observed in Wisconsin will likely repeat themselves in states across the country,” said Neera Tanden, president and CEO of the Center for American Progress. “States must act now to expand vote by mail and ensure safe in-person voting so Americans can exercise the fundamental right to vote without risking their health.”

“It’s shocking that even during the COVID-19 pandemic, some states and localities are actively trying to disenfranchise certain voters, especially from communities of color. If Congress doesn’t act to protect our right to vote, millions of Americans could be disenfranchised, and thousands more Americans could get sick by showing up to vote. No one should have to decide between their health and their right to vote,” said Karen Hobert Flynn, President of Common Cause. “We appreciate Senator Harris’ leadership in introducing the VoteSafe Act to help ensure that all Americans can safely have their voices heard and votes counted in this year’s elections.”

“No one should ever have to choose between their health and their right to vote,” said Tiffany Muller, President of Let America Vote and End Citizens United. “Senator Kamala Harris’ VoteSafe Act of 2020 is a comprehensive solution to ensure there are safe voting options while also protecting Americans’ access to the ballot box in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. By expanding absentee vote-by-mail options, guaranteeing adequate assistance for language minority voters, and improving polling place management and safety, the VoteSafe Act of 2020 provides the necessary measures and funding for election preparedness during these challenging times. Let America Vote and End Citizens United Action Funds applaud Senator Harris for her bold leadership on a critical issue impacting Americans across the country, and we urge the Senate to act now to pass this bill.”   

“The COVID-19 pandemic reaffirms that all people, regardless of the color of their skin or where they were born, need a strong voice in our democracy. Voting is one of the fastest, most efficient ways to voice our vision for the path we want our communities to take in 2020 and beyond. SEIU members applaud Senator Harris for introducing the VoteSafe Act to help states prepare for holding elections during the pandemic in a way that’s safe and accessible for all voters. Having an election that is safe and healthy for every voter no matter where they live is vital to creating a democracy that works for us all,” said Service Employees International Union International (SEIU) President Mary Kay Henry. 

Bill text can be found here.

A one pager on the bill can be found here.

Additional supportive quotes can be found here.

 

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) led a group of 15 colleagues in sending a letter to Vice President Mike Pence urging the Administration to ensure persons with Limited English Proficiency (LEP) and Persons with Disabilities can access the necessary information to receive the COVID-19 benefits that Congress has passed with fully accessible, and multilingual information and benefits available for them. Today, Sen. Menedez joined advocates and community members to discuss the COVID-19 public health crisis and its impact to New Jerseyans with disabilities in a conference call.

“Recent news stories highlight the life-threatening consequences to persons of color and persons with disabilities because of lacking access to culturally competent, language specific and/ or disability-sensitive materials to protect themselves from the dangers of COVID-19. We believe the Taskforce has a critical responsibility to fix this,” the senators wrote to Vice President Pence. “Understanding the barriers to information created by language and access impediments is critical to the success of the Taskforce and our nation’s ability to most effectively fight COVID-19.”

More than 60 million people in the U.S. speak a language other than English of which more than 40% have limited English proficiency. Additionally, approximately 38 million individuals in the U.S. are deaf or hard of hearing, 7.5 million have vision loss, and 15 million live with an intellectual disability and require multiple formats of the same information.

The senators urged the White House Coronavirus Taskforce to encourage every federal agency to create culturally sensitive informational materials that are accessible in various formats and multiple languages, including for those with low or no literacy.

“Making federal programs accessible for persons with LEP and for persons with disabilities is a core civil rights requirement under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964,” the senators continued. “During a public health emergency current law requires the ‘distribution of supplies, the processing of applications, and other relief and assistance activities [to] be accomplished in an equitable and impartial manner, without discrimination on the grounds of race, color, religion, nationality, sex, age, disability, English proficiency, or economic status’  by the federal government.”

“To ensure accuracy, information must be short, culturally appropriate, flexible to serve different platforms (oral, captions, visual, picture infographics, transcriptions with video descriptions, and plain language for those with low literacy), and most importantly created with qualified deaf and hearing interpreters, stakeholders from disability led organizations, and skilled media analysts that can create inclusive content,”the senators concluded before asking a series of questions to understand what actions the Taskforce is taking to ensure fully accessible, and multilingual resources about available COVID-19 benefits and relief.

Joining Sen. Menendez in sending this letter were Senators Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Edward Markey (D-Mass.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Bob Casey, Jr. (D-Penn.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.).

Full text of the letter can be found here and below.

Dear Vice President Pence, 

We write to inquire what the taskforce is doing to ensure persons with limited English proficiency (LEP) and persons with disabilities can access accurate information and updates on COVID-19 including information on benefits and programs included in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act and the Family First Response Act.  In order to ensure their health and livelihoods are not further compromised due to language barriers, we strongly urge the White House Coronavirus Taskforce to encourage every federal agency to create culturally sensitive informational materials that are accessible in various formats and multiple languages, including for those with low or no literacy. 

Recent news stories highlight the life-threatening consequences to people of color  and people with disabilities  of lacking access to culturally competent, language specific and/ or disability-sensitive materials to protect themselves from the dangers of COVID-19.  We believe the Taskforce has a critical responsibility to fix this. The role of the Taskforce is to “monitor, contain, and mitigate the spread of the virus, while ensuring that the American people have the most accurate and up-to-date health and travel information” . Understanding the barriers to information created by language and access impediments is critical to the success of the Taskforce and our nation’s ability to most effectively fight COVID-19.  

More than 60 million people in the United States speak a language other than English of which more than 40% have limited English proficiency.   Additionally, approximately 38 million individuals living in the United States are deaf or hard of hearing,  7.5 million have vision loss, and 15 million live with an intellectual disability and require multiple formats of the same information. The need for expanded language assistance increases as Congress continues to pass legislation in response to COVID-19.  The Taskforce must address language access issues to ensure these marginalized communities access the benefits to which they are entitled.  Our national response cannot be successful if whole sections of our society are unable to access timely and accurate information about the virus, health information, and services that may benefit them during the pandemic.

Making federal programs accessible for persons with LEP and for persons with disabilities is a core civil rights requirement under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.   During a public health emergency current law requires the “distribution of supplies, the processing of applications, and other relief and assistance activities [to] be accomplished in an equitable and impartial manner, without discrimination on the grounds of race, color, religion, nationality, sex, age, disability, English proficiency, or economic status”  by the federal government.  While many states and territories have disseminated multilingual and sign language interpreted information on COVID-19, there is a lack of federal guidance with the same accessibility.  Many of the increased benefits available to Americans during the COVID-19 crisis require individuals to read and fill out forms, and engage in online and verbal phone communications.  Interpretation and translation is not enough; the incorporation of multilingual staff, accessibility media analysts, language inclusion evaluations, and additional funding for language services is necessary.  To meet these needs, the Taskforce must also work with and include representatives from LEP communities, interpreting agencies, and organizations led by persons with disabilities in the development of any policies and procedures affecting these communities. It is also important to remember, communication access for persons with disabilities does not have a singular solution.  To ensure accuracy, information must be short, culturally appropriate, flexible to serve different platforms (oral, captions, visual, picture infographics, transcriptions with video descriptions, and plain language for those with low literacy), and most importantly created with qualified deaf and hearing interpreters, stakeholders from disability led organizations, and skilled media analysts that can create inclusive content. 

In order to understand what actions the Taskforce is taking, or planning to take to ensure fully accessible, and multilingual resources about available COVID-19 benefits and relief, please respond the following questions below no later than May 1, 2020:

1.       What steps has the Taskforce taken to ensure that persons with LEP and persons with disabilities receive the benefits and assistances to which they are entitled under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act and the Family First Response Act?

2.       Have you consulted or do you plan to consult with advocates from LEP communities, interpreting agencies and organizations led by persons with disabilities on how to best create and disseminate resources on COVID-19 benefits?

3.       Given the Taskforce’s limited language resources during press briefings and the lack of centralized online educational materials, how will you ensure that the agencies and departments have sufficient resources to meet language access solutions related to COVID-19 aid?

4.       Has the Taskforce created agency guidance to collect demographic information of people receiving benefits in order to monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of the language solutions implemented, and ensure aid is reaching all communities? If so, what types of demographic information and which agencies have been involved in the data collection?  

We look forward to your response detailing how the Taskforce plans to make this crucial information available to these communities and your plan on immediate action required to fulfill this request. 

Sincerely, 

 ###

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) joined Sens. Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI), Cory Booker (D-NJ), and 13 Senate colleagues in urging the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to address the surge in discrimination and hate crimes against Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) individuals in the wake of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis. In a letter to Assistant Attorney General Eric S. Dreiband, the Senators requested that the Civil Rights Division of the DOJ address this spike in discrimination by taking a concrete steps similar to those DOJ has taken in the past to address jumps in discrimination and hate crimes against a particular community. 

“We write to express our deep concern about the surge in discrimination and hate crimes against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) related to the COVID-19 pandemic and the currently inadequate federal response to address these racist and xenophobic attacks, a sharp break from the efforts of past administrations, Republican and Democratic alike,” the Senators wrote.

“There are more than 20 million Americans of Asian descent, and 2 million AAPI individuals are working on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic, as health care workers, law enforcement agents, first responders, and other essential service providers,” they continued. “It is critical that the Civil Rights Division ensure that the civil and constitutional rights of all Americans are protected during this pandemic.”

In the last month alone, Asian American organizations received nearly 1,500 incidents of anti-Asian harassment and discrimination against AAPI individuals across the country. This comes after the FBI assessed in March that hate crime incidents against Asian Americans were likely to surge across the country, endangering AAPI communities.

In their letter, the Senators expressed disappointment at the DOJ’s inadequate response to this threat, and called for the DOJ Civil Rights Division to release a plan to address COVID-19-related hate crimes and discrimination, designate an official to coordinate an interagency response and a review of these incidents, and provide monthly updates to Congress. In addition, they asked the Division to conduct public outreach and engage with AAPI community leaders and distribute materials about civil rights protections in languages used by AAPI communities.

In addition to Sens. Warner, Hirono and Booker, the letter was also signed by Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Ed Markey (D-MA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Jack Reed (D-RI), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), and Dick Durbin (D-IL).

Sen. Warner has been outspoken about the need to prevent discrimination and harassment towards Asian Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic. Last month, he wrote to the President, urging him to avoid using rhetoric that fuels racism towards Asian Americans, and to prevent confusion about COVID-19 from being exploited to target communities of color. He has also previously pressed the coronavirus taskforce only to distribute accurate information about the virus and dispel misinformation or discriminatory rhetoric to help prevent suspicion, panic and race-based assaults. Additionally, he has requested that the Vice President correct the record on mixed Trump administration messages related to COVID-19, and that the FBI conduct community outreach and engage leaders of Chinese American and Asian American organizations to increase connectivity and dialogue.

The letter is available here and below:

 

Dear Assistant Attorney General Dreiband:

We write to express our deep concern about the surge in discrimination and hate crimes against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) related to the COVID-19 pandemic and the currently inadequate federal response to address these racist and xenophobic attacks, a sharp break from the efforts of past administrations, Republican and Democratic alike. We strongly urge you to take concrete steps to address the disturbing increase in anti-Asian discrimination, as the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice (DOJ) has done in the past.

Since the COVID-19 outbreak began, researchers have reported an alarming spike in anti-Asian racism. On March 14, 2020, a man stabbed two Asian American children – a 2-year-old and a 6- year-old – and their father at a Sam’s Club in Texas because “he thought the family was Chinese, and infecting people with the coronavirus.” In the past month alone, the Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council and its partners have received nearly 1,500 reports of coronavirus-related harassment and discrimination against AAPI individuals across the country.

Despite warnings that using offensive and stigmatizing language to refer to COVID-19 could stoke anti-Asian bias, President Trump and his administration’s officials have referred to the coronavirus as the “Chinese Virus,” “Wuhan Virus,” and at least one White House official even called it the “Kung Flu.” Such harmful rhetoric contradicts guidance by public health experts. The World Health Organization’s guidance in naming infectious diseases warns against using names that stigmatize certain communities, as such use has “provoke[d] a backlash” against these communities in the past and “can have serious consequences for peoples’ lives and livelihoods.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also recognizes the “stigma and discrimination [that] can occur when people associate a disease, such as COVID-19, with a population or nationality.” 

In March 2020, the FBI assessed that “hate crime incidents against Asian Americans likely will surge across the United States, due to the spread of coronavirus disease … endangering Asian American communities.” Even though this warning was issued more than a month ago, the Department of Justice has taken little action. In response the Center for Public Integrity’s inquiries about DOJ’s actions to address the increase in anti-Asian discrimination and hate crimes, DOJ pointed to an op-ed you published in the Washington Examiner and a briefing call with Asian American advocacy groups. An op-ed and a briefing call are far from an adequate response from the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, whose stated purpose is to “uphold the civil and constitutional rights of all Americans, particularly some of the most vulnerable members of our society.”

By contrast, after the 9/11 terrorist attacks set off a wave of hate incidents against Arab, Muslim, Sikh and South Asian Americans, the Civil Rights Division implemented a plan with three major elements. This included “(1) a clear and plain statement to the American people that Arab, Muslim, Sikh, and South Asian Americans are Americans too, and that hate crimes and discrimination against them would not be tolerated; (2) outreach to the affected communities; and (3) coordination of civil rights enforcement across agencies at all levels of government.” DOJ established a crime task force with experienced federal prosecutors from the Civil Rights Division and various U.S. Attorney’s Offices. The Civil Rights Division also created a team within its National Origin Working Group to document reports of discrimination and make appropriate referrals within the Division and to other federal agencies, and to conduct outreach to affected communities with material translated into multiple languages. In 2011, the Division further acknowledged that significant challenges remained in addressing these issues, noting the concerns affected communities raised regarding other federal programs implemented in the aftermath of 9/11.

There are more than 20 million Americans of Asian descent, and 2 million AAPI individuals are working on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic, as health care workers, law enforcement agents, first responders, and other essential service providers. It is critical that the Civil Rights Division ensure that the civil and constitutional rights of all Americans are protected during this pandemic. To address the spike in anti-Asian discrimination and hate crimes, we ask that the Civil Rights Division immediately: 

  • Develop and publicly release a plan that sets forth how the Civil Rights Division will address the increase in discrimination and hate crimes against AAPI individuals;
  • Designate a DOJ official responsible for coordinating (a) a review of discrimination and hate crimes related to COVID-19 and (b) an interagency response to this issue;
  • Provide monthly reports to Congress on the (a) number of incidents of discrimination and hate crimes related to COVID-19 received—disaggregated by race, ethnicity, and gender, and (b) status of related cases that are pending;
  • Conduct extensive outreach in partnership with community-based organizations and regularly meet with AAPI community leaders; and
  • Distribute materials explaining civil rights protections in diverse languages used by AAPI communities. 

We also request that the Civil Rights Division respond by May 15, 2020, to inform Congress what steps has the Division has taken in response to the jump in anti-Asian discrimination and hate crimes since the COVID-19 outbreak began. Please identify the actions each of the sections in the Civil Rights Division have taken to address specific types of discrimination, such as workplace discrimination and harassment in the education context.

Thank you in advance for your prompt attention to this matter.

Sincerely,

###

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA), members of the Congressional Bipartisan Historically Black Colleges & Universities (HBCU) Caucus, applauded $36,475,848 in federal funding from the U.S. Department of Education to support Virginia’s five HBCUs. The federal funding was made possible through the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund established under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to support students, colleges, and universities as they cope with the immediate effects of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). 

“We’re pleased that these federal dollars will assist Virginia’s five HBCUs in continuing to serve their students in the face of the current health and economic crisis,” said the Senators. “These institutions help provide traditionally-underserved communities the tools they need to succeed, and we will continue to advocate for them as they support their students during this ongoing crisis.”

The Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund set aside just over $1 billion in federal funding for HBCUs and minority serving institutions. These institutions can use the funds to cover costs associated with the coronavirus pandemic, such as lost revenue, reimbursement for expenses already incurred, technology, faculty and staff training, payroll, and costs of attendance for eligible students.

Virginia is home to Virginia Union University, Norfolk State University, Virginia State University, Hampton University, and Virginia University of Lynchburg – all of which will receive federal from the CARES Act as follows:

School

 

Virginia State University

$9,803,132

Virginia Union University

$2,922,768

Virginia University of Lynchburg

$440,105

Hampton University

$9,884,324

Norfolk State University

$13,425,519

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.  

###

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) was joined by Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Ranking Member of the Banking Committee, and fellow Committee members Sens. Jack Reed (D-RI), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), and Doug Jones (D-AL) in pushing Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell to make sure that minority and low- and moderate-income (LMI) communities get proper access to the critical assistance made available under the CARES Act and the recently enacted Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act (PPP Enhancement Act).

“As you know, the public health and economic effects of the COVID-19 outbreak have been particularly disproportionate and severe for LMI and minority communities. Congress took important first steps to help address the acute impact being felt in these communities by passing the PPP Enhancement Act. This legislation includes important set-asides for community and mission oriented lenders,” the Senators wrote in a letter today, urging Mnuchin and Powell to take several steps to make funds available to minority depository institutions (MDIs) and mission-oriented leaders like community development financial institutions (CDFIs).

“MDIs and CDFIs are effective gateways to serving LMI communities and minority households and communities with high concentrations of minority populations. Data indicates that MDIs tend to serve communities in which a higher share of the population lives in LMI census tracts and a higher share of residents are minorities, compared with non-MDI banks,” the Senators noted. “In addition, MDIs tend to originate a greater share of their mortgages for properties in LMI census tracts and to minority borrowers when compared with non-MDI community banks. Compared with non-MDIs, MDIs also originate a greater share of SBA 7(a) loans to borrowers in LMI census tracts and to borrowers in census tracts with higher shares of minority residents. Similarly, CDFIs have demonstrated a strong track record of success in reaching LMI and minority communities. Getting critical dollars into these communities quickly can mean all the difference for these hard-hit communities.”

The full text of today’s letter is available below, and a copy of the letter is available here.

 

April 27, 2020

The Honorable Jerome H. Powell

Chairman

Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System

20th Street and Constitution Avenue NW

Washington, D.C. 20551 

The Honorable Steven Mnuchin

Secretary of the Treasury

U.S. Department of the Treasury

1500 Pennsylvania Avenue NW

Washington, D.C. 20220

Dear Chairman Powell and Secretary Mnuchin:

Thank you for your ongoing work to help stabilize the U.S. economy and provide assistance to businesses and workers during the unprecedented health emergency caused by the onset of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).  We appreciate your continued efforts to implement the various economic support programs Congress enacted as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.  As the Federal Reserve and Treasury move forward with these efforts, we believe it is critical to ensure that minority and low- and moderate-income (LMI) communities get proper access to the critical assistance made available under the CARES Act and the recently enacted Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act (PPP Enhancement Act).

As you know, the public health and economic effects of the COVID-19 outbreak have been particularly disproportionate and severe for LMI and minority communities.  Congress took important first steps to help address the acute impact being felt in these communities by passing the PPP Enhancement Act.  This legislation includes important set-asides for community and mission oriented lenders.  In order to help better achieve the goals of the PPP Enhancement Act and increase the flow of credit directly into minority and LMI communities, we urge you to take the following steps:

(1)         allocate a significant portion of the $30 billion in new funds made available under the PPP Enhancement Act for minority depository institutions (MDIs) and mission-oriented lenders like community development financial institutions (CDFIs); 

(2)         provide these institutions with direct access to the Federal Reserve’s Paycheck Protection Program Lending (PPPL) Facility;

(3)         to the extent practicable, modify the settlement timeline for the PPPL Facility from T+1 to T+0 (or same day settlement) to ensure adequate liquidity for these institutions; and

(4)         indemnify these institutions from any put-backs or invalidation of guarantee from the SBA absent lender fraud.

In addition, we strongly urge you to work through the regional Federal Reserve Banks in order to conduct advance outreach to these institutions with the goal of facilitating uptake of the PPPL Facility.  This includes providing the training and tools necessary to quickly access and utilize these important programs. 

MDIs and CDFIs are effective gateways to serving LMI communities and minority households and communities with high concentrations of minority populations.  Data indicates that MDIs tend to serve communities in which a higher share of the population lives in LMI census tracts and a higher share of residents are minorities, compared with non-MDI banks.  In addition, MDIs tend to originate a greater share of their mortgages for properties in LMI census tracts and to minority borrowers when compared with non-MDI community banks.  Compared with non-MDIs, MDIs also originate a greater share of SBA 7(a) loans to borrowers in LMI census tracts and to borrowers in census tracts with higher shares of minority residents.   Similarly, CDFIs have demonstrated a strong track record of success in reaching LMI and minority communities. 

Getting critical dollars into these communities quickly can mean all the difference for these hard-hit communities.  We appreciate your continued efforts to help sustain the American economy during these challenging times and look forward to working together to help minority and LMI communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Thank you for your consideration.   

###

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) joined Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and a group of Senate colleagues in urging pharmaceutical companies engaged in COVID-19-related work to prioritize diversity in any coronavirus vaccine or trial. Given the disproportionate impact of the outbreak on communities of color and other minority groups, the senators requested that any vaccine or therapeutic drug trial related to COVID-19 includes women, minorities, and LGBTQ+ persons. They also underscored the critical need for comprehensive demographic and racial data to ensure that new treatments work for all Americans.

“The disparities in the COVID-19 pandemic are exacerbated by higher rates of chronic disease among many minority populations, inequitable access to health care, and bias within the health care system itself.  As such, any clinical trials for vaccines and therapeutic treatments of COVID-19 must include participants that racially, socioeconomically, and otherwise demographically represent the United States,” wrote the Senators. “This virus is striking in its disproportionate impact on minority populations, and it more important than ever that these populations are represented in any clinical trials.”

“The FDA alone cannot fix the problem of underrepresentation.  The private sector must also take proactive steps to ensure drug and vaccine trials include a diverse group of Americans,” the senators continued.  “We urge you to examine new and creative ways to enroll a diverse set of participants in COVID-19-related trials such as reducing barriers to clinical trials, utilizing diverse clinical trial personnel, ensuring language accessibility, and investing in participant recruitment by partnering with minority health and community advocacy groups.”

In letters to the CEOs of Abbot Labs, Abbivie, Amgen, Astra Zeneca, Bayer, CSL Behring, Eli Lilly, Genetech, Gilead, GSK US, Johnson & Johnson, Novartis, Pzifer, Regeneron, Sanofi and the Biotech Innovation Organization (BIO), the Senators also underscored that the disparities in the COVID-19 pandemic for many minority populations are exacerbated by higher rates of chronic disease, inequitable access to health care, and bias within the health care system itself. 

The senators also cited “alarming” research showing that, while African Americans represent 12 percent of the national population, they make up only 5 percent of all clinical trial participants. The numbers for Hispanics are even more stark at 16 percent and 1 percent, respectively.

In addition to Sens. Warner and Menendez, the letters were signed by Sens. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Tom Carper (D-DE), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT),  Bob Casey Jr. (D-PA), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN).

Throughout this outbreak, Sen. Warner has pushed to make sure that we have the data needed to understand the scope of the crisis and its effect on diverse communities. He has previously introduced legislation to require the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to collect and report racial and other demographic data on COVID-19 testing, treatment, and fatality rates, and provide a summary of the final statistics and a report to Congress within 60 days after the end of the public health emergency. He has also urged the coronavirus taskforce only to distribute accurate information about the virus and dispel misinformation or discriminatory rhetoric to help prevent suspicion, panic and race-based assaults against Asian-Americans. Additionally, he has requested that the Vice President correct the record on mixed Trump administration messages related to COVID-19.

The full text of the letter is available below. Download the letter to pharmaceutical companies here and to the Biotech Innovation Organization here.

 

We write to request that you ensure that any vaccine or therapeutic drug trials related to COVID-19 includes women, minorities, and LGBTQ+ persons. As the nation continues to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, we know from history that we cannot afford to get this wrong—we must understand what treatments work for all communities in America. 

In a matter of weeks, we have learned COVID-19 has a particularly devastating impact on racial minorities, like so many diseases that have come before it.  According to a Washington Post analysis of early data, COVID-19 “appears to be infecting and killing black Americans at a disproportionately high rate.”   Specifically, the analysis shows “that counties that are majority-black have three times the rate of infections and almost six times the rate of deaths as counties where white residents are in the majority.”   In New Jersey, where demographic data is available, Hispanics and African Americans account for 25.8 percent and 25.7 percent of COVID-19 cases respectively.   This is despite the fact Hispanics make up only 20.6 percent of the State’s population, and African Americans only 15 percent.   In Milwaukee County, Wisconsin, “African Americans account for about 70 percent of the dead but just 26 percent of the population.”   In Chicago, African American residents have died at a rate six times that of whites.   The disparities likely persist in other groups as well.  As Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot acknowledged, there is likely “‘significant underreporting’ among Hispanics, who account for roughly 14 percent of [Chicago’s] known [COVID]-19 cases and are 29 percent of the city’s overall population. Asians, representing about 7 percent of the population in Chicago, make up about 3.6 percent of known coronavirus cases.”   In Michigan, African Americans account for 13.4 percent of the population but make up a disproportionate 33 percent of COVID-19 cases and 40 percent of deaths. 

The disparities in the COVID-19 pandemic are exacerbated by higher rates of chronic disease among many minority populations, inequitable access to health care, and bias within the health care system itself.   As such, any clinical trials for vaccines and therapeutic treatments of COVID-19 must include participants that racially, socioeconomically, and otherwise demographically represent the United States.  This virus is striking in its disproportionate impact on minority populations, and it’s more important than ever that these populations are represented in any clinical trials.

Alarming research shows that although “African Americans represent 12% of the United States population, they make up only 5% of all clinical trial participants.  Only 1% of clinical trial participants were Hispanic, though they comprise 16% of the national population.”   As a result, “[i]nequitable research can lead to dangerous outcomes for those who are not represented in clinical trials.  Drugs including chemotherapeutics, antiretrovirals, antidepressants, and cardiovascular medications have been withdrawn from market due to differences in drug metabolism and toxicity across race and sex.” 

As the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) notes, “[r]acial and ethnic minority populations continue to be underrepresented in clinical trials and remain disproportionately burdened by many chronic and debilitating diseases. This is due to factors including a lack of trust in the medical system—in part due to historical mistreatment—as well as a lack of transportation, time, or knowledge about clinical research opportunities.”   Recognizing these inequities, the FDA issued guidance on the collection of race and ethnicity data in clinical trials and created a Minorities in Clinical Trials Initiative. 

The FDA alone cannot fix the problem of underrepresentation.  The private sector must also take proactive steps to ensure drug and vaccine trials include a diverse group of Americans. We urge you to examine new and creative ways to enroll a diverse set of participants in COVID-19-related trials such as reducing barriers to clinical trials, utilizing diverse clinical trial personnel, ensuring language accessibility, and investing in participant recruitment by partnering with minority health and community advocacy groups. Thank you for your continued work during this pandemic. We look forward to your response and thank you for your consideration of this important issue.

Sincerely,

 

###

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) joined Sens. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Mazie Hirono (D-HI) and 24 of his Senate Democratic colleagues in sounding the alarm about increased harassment and violence against members of the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community amid the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. In a letter to President Donald Trump, the Senators stressed that America’s leaders have a responsibility to avoid using rhetoric that fuels racism towards Asian Americans, and to prevent confusion about COVID-19 from being exploited to target communities of color.

“It is imperative that we make clear that the enemy in our midst is not the Asian or Asian-American community, but rather a virus that endangers us all,” wrote the Senators. “We must counter the mistaken belief that there is any link between the virus and a person’s ethnicity. Such misconceptions have contributed to a surge of hate crimes against AAPI communities, acting as a pretext for individuals who exploited this crisis as an opportunity to harm people whose racial and ethnic backgrounds differ from their own.”

The letter follows a recent call from a group of leading U.S. national security experts who have demanded heightened attention to the intensification of hate crimes targeting the Asian and Asian American diasporas, particularly as communities of color in the United States are already being disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. Similarly, on March 20, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights expressed concern over the sharp rise in violent attacks against Asian Americans. The CDC, UNICEF, the World Health Organization, and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies have also warned against the social stigma that has targeted the Asian American community in the wake of COVID-19. 

“History teaches us that injustice and divisions in the United States have been exploited domestically for political purposes and can be exploited by other governments for strategic purposes,” the Senators continued. “Racist rhetoric and hateful attacks against Asians and members of the AAPI community are unjust and utterly inconsistent with our core values. Such incidents also play into the Chinese Communist Party’s propaganda and messaging in ways that undermine our unity, national interests, and global leadership.” 

Sen. Warner has been outspoken about the need to prevent discrimination and harassment towards Asian Americans during this pandemic. He has previously urged the coronavirus taskforce only to distribute accurate information about the virus and dispel misinformation or discriminatory rhetoric to help prevent suspicion, panic and race-based assaults. Additionally, he has requested that the Vice President correct the record on mixed Trump administration messages related to COVID-19, and that the FBI conduct community outreach and engage leaders of Chinese American and Asian American organizations to increase connectivity and dialogue.

In addition to Sens. Warner, Menendez, Schumer, Duckworth and Hirono, the letter was signed by Sens. Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Chris Coons (D-DE), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Robert P. Casey, Jr. (D-PA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Kamala D. Harris (D-CA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Cory A. Booker (D-NJ), Richard J. Durbin (D-IL) Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Christopher S. Murphy (D-CT), Jeffrey A. Merkley (D-OR), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Jack Reed (D-RI), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Patty Murray (D-WA) and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD).

A copy of the letter can be found here and below:

 

Dear Mr. President:

Recently, a group of U.S. national security leaders signed a letter raising alarm about the surge in anti-Asian racism in the context of COVID-19, and concern that prejudice and stigmatization undermine American values of hope and U.S. leadership abroad.

We, the undersigned Members of the U.S. Senate, echo these concerns.

We, too, are alarmed by the severity and increasing frequency of hate crimes and race-based harassment against Asians and members of the Asian-American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community in the United States—assaults that endanger their safety, well-being, dignity, and livelihoods. U.S. leaders in every sector and at every level — including in both the Executive and Legislative branches of our government — must take action against anti-Asian racism and express support for Asian diaspora and AAPI communities.

The COVID-19 pandemic presents urgent threats to America’s health, prosperity, and national security. It has brought out the best of our nation: healthcare workers have labored around the clock to care for patients, scientists have raced to develop a vaccine and therapeutics, and local officials and community leaders have taken action to ensure the most vulnerable among us have access to supplies and services.

Alarmingly, the crisis has also spawned numerous disturbing incidents of racism and discrimination in the United States. On March 20, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights expressed concern over the sharp rise in violent attacks against Asian Americans. It is imperative that we make clear that the enemy in our midst is not the Asian or Asian-American community, but rather a virus that endangers us all.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises discussing the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) in ways that reduce and avoid stigma, while refraining from using any terms (such as “Chinese virus” or “Wuhan virus”) that exacerbate prejudice and discrimination in ways that place lives at risk of violence. We must counter the mistaken belief that there is any link between the virus and a person’s ethnicity. Such misconceptions have contributed to a surge of hate crimes against AAPI communities, acting as a pretext for individuals who exploited this crisis as an opportunity to harm people whose racial and ethnic backgrounds differ from their own.

We represent diverse states and communities, and some of us have also been personally targeted by prejudice. All of us must stand today in solidarity with the Asian and AAPI communities and amplify the many statements of concern that AAPI leaders and community organizations have issued in recent weeks.

We believe that our nation is strongest when we live up to our guiding principles, including the embrace of equality and diversity. Intolerance and stigmatization risk dividing our society and hurting our most vulnerable precisely when we must unite and stand strong to confront the pandemic.

History teaches us that injustice and divisions in the United States have been exploited domestically for political purposes and can be exploited by other governments for strategic purposes. Racist rhetoric and hateful attacks against Asians and members of the AAPI community are unjust and utterly inconsistent with our core values. Such incidents also play into the Chinese Communist Party’s propaganda and messaging in ways that undermine our unity, national interests, and global leadership.

Once the worst of this global crisis is past, it will be important to re-examine the factors and decisions that facilitated the rapid global diffusion of the outbreak from its origin in China, including the initial failure of the Chinese government to heed the concerns of doctors and its efforts to suppress the warnings of whistleblowers and downplay the danger of the virus. For the time being, however, we must prioritize and concentrate on mobilizing an effective response that overcomes initial missteps, while galvanizing the international collaboration that is critical to constraining this global threat.

U.S. policy to address the pandemic must respect and defend human rights and civil liberties. The novel coronavirus presents a major threat to the health and wellbeing of all people in the United States, but the Asian diaspora and AAPI communities now face harmful rhetoric and even horrifying physical violence. We must prioritize, at this perilous moment, reducing those dangers to the greatest extent possible.

Recognizing the urgency of this crisis and the imperative of combating the prejudices that have intensified in its wake, we pledge to work with you to confront the racism that so many encounter in their daily lives, in online and offline settings, and to tackle systemic prejudice even as we combat this unprecedented pandemic.

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