Press Releases

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) today applauded an announcement by the U.S. Treasury Department opening the application process for the Emergency Capital Investment Program (ECIP), a new initiative designed to support access to capital in minority and low-income communities that have historically been excluded from the financial system and that have been the hardest-hit during the COVID-19 crisis. The funding is available as part of a record $12 billion investment to open up new credit opportunities for Black, Latino and low-income communities that Sen. Warner successfully fought to include in the $900 billion COVID-19 relief bill Congress passed in December.  

Even before the pandemic, low-income communities and communities of color faced significant barriers in accessing credit and economic opportunity,” said Sen. Warner. “The economic crisis caused by COVID-19 has only exacerbated those inequalities. Today’s announcement by the Treasury Department is a historic step in helping underserved communities recover and emerge from this unprecedented economic downturn with more opportunities than before.”

Today’s announcement by the Treasury Department opens up $9 billion in capital for Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) and minority depository institutions (MDIs) in order 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. Surveys show that Black- and Latino-owned small businesses have been particularly hard-hit during the pandemic. Thousands of minority-owned small businesses have closed for good, in part due to difficulty securing bank loans and accessing assistance such as the Paycheck Protection Program. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York found that while overall small business ownership in the U.S. dropped 22 percent between February and April 2020, Black and Latino ownership dropped by 41 percent and 32 percent, respectively. Another recent survey revealed that almost 1 in 5 Black and Hispanic entrepreneurs expect to permanently close their doors within three months, compared to 14 percent of white small business owners. 

In order to combat the hemorrhaging of jobs and economic opportunities during the pandemic, Sen. Warner in July teamed up with then-Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and a bipartisan group of colleagues to introduce the Jobs and Neighborhood Investment Act in order to strengthen the financial institutions that serve communities of color and increase lending to minority-owned businesses and lower-income borrowers. The effort secured endorsements from the Black Economic Alliance, the NAACP, the National Bankers Association, the National Urban League, the Center for Responsible Lending and a host of other advocacy organizations and civil rights groups. Sen. Warner was later able to secure provisions from the bill in the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2021, which was signed into law on December 27, 2020, providing an unprecedented $12 billion in funding for lenders that predominantly operate in underserved communities. 

In addition to the $9 billion in funding that is part of Emergency Capital Investment Program, the Treasury Department last week opened a $1.25 billion grant program for depository and non-depository CDFIs intended to support, prepare for, and respond to the economic impact of the coronavirus crisis. In addition, the Treasury Department is expected to release $1.75 billion in funding to expand lending, grant making, and investment activity in minority communities by this summer. Together, the three programs will help minority and low-income communities weather the COVID-19 crisis and promote an equitable economic recovery in communities that have traditionally been underserved by the financial sector.  

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) today applauded an announcement by the new Chief of the U.S. Park Police (USPP) Pamela A. Smith that she will, as one of her first actions as chief, implement a nationwide body-worn camera program for USPP  by the end of the year. 

“It’s been more than three years since Bijan Ghaisar was shot and killed by U.S. Park Police and his family is still searching for answers to understand what happened to their son and brother that day,” said Sen. Warner. “While nothing will bring Bijan back, I am glad to see the new leadership of the Park Police taking steps that could help avert more needless tragedies. I have long supported federal funding for law enforcement body cameras because I think they help instill trust between officers and the public they serve. I congratulate Chief Smith on her historic appointment and look forward to working with her to increase safety and accountability on our federal lands.” 

Today Smith was named as the new Chief of United States Park Police. Smith is the first African American woman to lead the USPP, the nation’s oldest federal law enforcement agency.

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) today announced that minority-owned and community-based lending institutions can now apply for grants through the U.S. Treasury Department to support, prepare for, and respond to the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. The funding is available as part of a record $12 billion investment to open up new credit opportunities for Black, Latino and low-income communities that Sen. Warner successfully fought to include in the $900 billion COVID-19 relief bill Congress passed in December.  

Even before the pandemic, low-income communities and communities of color faced significant barriers in accessing credit and economic opportunity,” said Sen. Warner. “The economic crisis caused by COVID-19 has only exacerbated those inequalities. Today’s announcement by the Treasury Department is one step in helping low-income and minority communities recover and emerge from this unprecedented economic downturn with more opportunities than before.”

Surveys show that Black- and Latino-owned small businesses have been particularly hard-hit during the pandemic. Thousands of minority-owned small businesses have closed for good, in part due to difficulty securing bank loans and accessing assistance such as the Paycheck Protection Program. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York found that while overall small business ownership in the U.S. dropped 22 percent between February and April 2020, Black and Latino ownership dropped by 41 percent and 32 percent, respectively. Another recent survey revealed that almost 1 in 5 Black and Hispanic entrepreneurs expect to permanently close their doors within three months, compared to 14 percent of white small business owners.

In order to combat the hemorrhaging of jobs and economic opportunities during the pandemic, Sen. Warner in July teamed up with then-Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and a bipartisan group of colleagues to introduce the Jobs and Neighborhood Investment Act in order to strengthen the financial institutions that serve communities of color and increase lending to minority-owned businesses and lower-income borrowers. The effort secured endorsements from the Black Economic Alliance, the NAACP, the National Bankers Association, the National Urban League, the Center for Responsible Lending and a host of other advocacy organizations and civil rights groups. Sen. Warner was later able to secure provisions from the bill in the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2021, which was signed into law on December 27, 2020, providing an unprecedented $12 billion in funding for lenders that predominantly operate in underserved communities.

Today’s announcement by the Treasury Department releases an initial tranche of $1.25 billion in grant funding for eligible community development financial institutions (CDFIs) in order 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. Additional funding will be made available in the coming months, as part of the largest single investment into minority-owned and community-based lending institutions in the nation’s history.

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WASHINGTON – Today U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), joined by Sens. Jerry Moran (R-KS), Bob Casey (D-PA), and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), introduced the Healthy Food Access for All Americans (HFAAA) Act. The legislation aims to expand access to affordable and nutritious food in areas designated as “food deserts” by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).                                                                                       

“Today, too many Americans lack access to fresh nutritious and healthy foods. Unfortunately, that reality has only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis, which has made it even more difficult for working families to seek out and afford healthy foods,” said Sen. Warner. “That’s why I’m proud to introduce this bipartisan bill that will serve as an important tool to combat food insecurity in our communities.”

“Over the past year, we have seen unprecedented need at food banks as Kansans line-up seeking access to nutritional food,” said Sen. Moran. “Even while living in the breadbasket of our nation, food insecurity affects far too many Kansans, a need that has only increased during COVID-19. This bipartisan legislation, which would incentivize food providers to establish and renovate grocery stores, food banks and farmers markets in communities that traditionally lack affordable, healthy and convenient food options, is now more important than ever during this pandemic.”

“The COVID-19 pandemic has made routine tasks like going to the grocery store difficult for millions of Americans—especially for families who live in a food dessert and have to travel an extended distance to access healthy foods.” said Senator Casey. “No one in America should be burdened by a simple trip to the grocery store. The bipartisan Healthy Food Access for All Americans Act would provide critical support to expand access to healthy food in underserved communities,” said Sen. Casey.

“Many Americans living in rural communities—including those in West Virginia—have difficulty accessing fresh and nutritious foods. I’m proud to reintroduce this legislation, which will go a long way in helping to improve access to groceries and healthy foods across West Virginia and make it easier for businesses and non-profit organizations to serve our rural communities,” said Sen. Capito.

According to recent data from USDA, nearly 40 million Americans live in food deserts, areas defined to be without grocery stores within one or more miles in urban regions, and ten or more miles in rural regions. In Virginia alone, there are more than one million individuals living in food deserts. Studies have shown that Americans who live in communities with low-access to healthy food options are at higher risk for obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Additionally, according to USDA’s own study, people of color are more likely to reside in a food desert.

In an effort to eliminate food deserts in the U.S., the Healthy Food Access for All Americans Act would provide incentives to food providers to expand access to healthy foods in these underserved communities and reduce the number of food deserts nationwide.

Specifically, the Healthy Food Access for All Americans Act, which defines a grocery market as a retail sales store with at least 35 percent of its selection (or forecasted selection) dedicated to selling fresh produce, poultry, dairy, and deli items – would spark investment in food deserts across the country that have a poverty rate of 20 percent or higher, or a median family income of less than 80 percent of the median for the state or metro area. It would grant tax credits or grants to food providers who service low-access communities and attain a “Special Access Food Provider” (SAFP) certification through the Treasury Department. Incentives would be awarded based on the following structure:

  • New Store Construction – Companies that construct new grocery stores in a food desert will receive a onetime 15 percent tax credit after receiving certification.
  • Retrofitting Existing Structures – Companies that make retrofits to an existing store’s healthy food sections can receive a onetime 10 percent tax credit after the repairs certify the store as an SAFP.
  • Food Banks – Certified food banks that build new (permanent) structures in food deserts will be eligible to receive a onetime grant for 15 percent of their construction costs.
  • Temporary Access Merchants – Certified temporary access merchants (i.e. mobile markets, farmers markets, and some food banks) that are 501(c)(3)s will receive grants for 10 percent of their annual operating costs.

The Healthy Food Access for All Americans Act boasts the support of numerous organizations, including Feeding America, the National Grocers Association, Share Our Strength, and Bread for the World.

“Feeding America commends Senator Warner for confronting the unfortunate fact that the burdens faced by the 40 million Americans living with hunger are even worse for those who live in food deserts. Our network of 200 member food banks understands that areas without affordable, healthy food options have higher rates of food insecurity exacerbated by the lack access to adequate transportation to the nearest food pantry or grocery market. Feeding America supports the Healthy Food Access for All Americans Act and believes it is a critical step to give nonprofits and retailers support to increase food access in underserved areas,” said Kate Leone, Chief Government Relations Officer at Feeding America. 

“The National Grocers Association embraces Senator Warner’s efforts to remove the obstacles faced by grocers looking to expand access to nutritious food for rural and urban communities without a supermarket,” said Molly Pfaffenroth, Senior Director of Government Relations at National Grocers Association. “Independent community grocers are the heartbeat of the areas they serve and historically are leaders in reaching out to those most in need of better food options. Communities are stronger both physically and economically when they have better access to healthy food, so we look forward to working with Congress on this important bipartisan legislation.”

“To end childhood hunger in America, we must ensure that low-income families, have equitable access to healthy, affordable food options no matter their zip code or circumstances. Ending food deserts will help more families put food on the table and help children get the nutrition they need to grow up healthy and strong. Share Our Strength supports The Healthy Food Access for All Americans Act and thanks Sens. Warner, Moran, Casey, and Capito for their leadership on this issue,” said Billy Shore, Founder and Executive Chair of Share Our Strength. 

“Bread for the World is once again excited to see a bipartisan effort to address food deserts and improve access to nutritious food in low-income areas across America.  With 1 in 6 Americans and 1 in 4 children experiencing food insecurity during this pandemic, this legislation is desperately needed. Bread for the World thanks Senators Warner, Moran, Casey and Capito for introducing this bill to reduce hunger in communities and improve health across the country,” said Heather Valentine, Director of Government Relations of Bread for the World. 

Companion legislation will soon be introduced in the House of Representatives by Reps. Tim Ryan (D-OH) and A. Donald McEachin (D-VA).

Sen. Warner has been a strong advocate of expanded access to food assistance for families in the Commonwealth amid the COVID-19 crisis. He has put pressure on the USDA to formally authorize Virginia’s request to participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Online Purchasing Pilot Program, successfully pushed USDA to waive a requirement that made it more difficult for families to receive USDA-reimbursable meals, and secured a USDA designation that allows food banks to distribute food directly to Virginia families in need while limiting interactions between food bank staff, volunteers, and recipients. In August, Sen. Warner also successfully pushed for USDA to extend critical food waivers to help make sure students have access to nutritious meals while school districts participate in distance learning. The COVID-19 relief package signed into law in December provides $13 billion in nutrition assistance, including a 15 percent increase in SNAP benefits. Last month, Sen. Warner introduced bipartisan, bicameral legislation that allows federal government to pay all costs to states to partner with restaurants and provide food to vulnerable populations.

Bill text for the Healthy Food Access for All Americans Act can be found here. A summary of the bill can be found here.

 

Population of Virginians by city or county living in food deserts as defined in this bill*

Accomack: 4401

Albemarle: 3765

Amherst: 10217

Augusta: 11919

Bath: 4731

Bland: 3901

Botetourt: 7792

Brunswick: 8041

Buckingham: 8400

Campbell: 8756

Caroline: 3278

Carroll: 4767

Charlotte: 12586

Chesterfield: 38638

Culpeper: 18511

Cumberland: 10052

Dinwiddie: 12196

Essex: 8026

Fairfax: 11213

Floyd: 9102

Franklin: 25439

Grayson: 5277

Halifax: 27851

Hanover: 4243

Henrico: 39618

Henry: 22130

Highland: 2321

James City: 4014

King and Queen: 3881

Loudoun: 3869

Mecklenburg: 17632

Montgomery: 32249

Nelson: 5696

Nottoway: 9783

Orange: 4934

Patrick: 11262

Pittsylvania: 23119

Prince Edward: 10624

Prince George: 8543

Prince William: 55128

Rappahannock: 7373

Rockbridge: 15873

Rockingham: 11530

Scott: 7959

Shenandoah: 9068

Smyth: 3913

Southampton: 7958

Spotsylvania: 21803

Stafford: 12818

Sussex: 6377

Tazewell: 12740

Warren: 14335

Wise: 9566

Wythe: 6773

Bristol: 13982

Buena Vista: 6650

Charlottesville: 6616

Chesapeake: 33605

Covington: 3098

Danville: 15545

Franklin City: 8582

Fredericksburg: 8988

Hampton: 38928

Harrisonburg: 9016

Hopewell: 12120

Lexington: 7042

Lynchburg: 29886

Manassas: 7678

Manassas Park: 6248

Martinsville: 6166

Newport News: 38292

Norfolk: 62583

Petersburg: 22639

Portsmouth: 11862

Radford: 12260

Richmond City: 62381

Roanoke City: 39950

Salem: 10424

Suffolk: 9752

Virginia Beach: 27205

Waynesboro: 5240

Williamsburg: 4138

Total: 1,186,877

*The most recent year for which data is available is 2017.

 

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WASHINGTON – Today U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) joined Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Patty Murray (D-WA) in introducing the Raise the Wage Act of 2021, which would raise the federal minimum wage to $15 by 2025.

A study conducted by the Commonwealth Institute found that approximately 1,018,000 Virginians would have their wages raised under the Raise the Wage Act of 2021, while another 254,000 Virginians who make just above the new minimum would see increases as well as employers seek to maintain wage scales and reward seniority. Combined, one in every three working people in Virginia will benefit from raising the wage. The vast majority of Virginians who would benefit are working adults helping to support themselves and their families – 92 percent are age 20 or older and 89 percent are working at least 20 hours a week. In Virginia, the General Assembly approved a gradual increase to the hourly minimum wage beginning May 1, 2021. 

“The COVID-19 pandemic has uncovered the economic disparities that already exist in this country. In the midst of an unprecedented economic and health crisis that has pushed millions of workers to the brink of poverty, the least we can do is ensure that our minimum wage is a living wage that allows folks who work a full-time job to make ends meet,” said Sen. Warner. “That’s why I joined my colleagues in introducing a bill that will help expand economic opportunity for more families.”

“Every day, millions of hardworking Americans struggle to put food on the table or pay the rent. These hardships have only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Sen. Kaine. “Raising the minimum wage will stimulate our economy and give people a fair shot at economic mobility.”

Specifically, the Raise the Wage Act of 2021 would increase the federal minimum wage over a four-year period from $7.25 to $15. It would also index future increases in the federal minimum wage to median wage growth in addition to phasing out the subminimum wage for tipped workers, youth workers, and workers with disabilities. According to an independent analysis conducted by the Economic Policy Institute, the Raise the Wage Act of 2021 would increase wages for nearly 32 million Americans, including roughly a third of all Black workers and a quarter of all Latino workers. 

The legislation is also cosponsored by Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Cory Booker, (D-NJ), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Bob Casey (D-PA), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM), Ed Markey (D-MA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Chris Murphy, (D-CT), Jon Ossoff (D-GA), Alex Padilla (D-CA), Gary Peters (D-MI), Jack Reed (D-RI), Jackie Rosen (D-NV), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Tina Smith (D-MN), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Raphael Warnock (D-GA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Ron Wyden (D-OR).

Companion legislation was introduced in the House of Representatives by Reps. Bobby Scott (D-VA), Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), and Stephanie Murphy (D-FL).

A copy of the bill text can be found here, a section-by-section can be found here, and a fact sheet can be found here. 

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WASHINGTON – Today U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) joined Sens. Chris Murphy (D-CT) and Tim Scott (R-SC), with the support of Chef José Andrés and World Central Kitchen, in announcing their intent to re-introduce the FEMA Empowering Essential Deliveries (FEED) Act in the 117th Congress.  

The FEED Act allows the Federal government to pay 100 percent of the cost to states and localities so that they can partner with restaurants and nonprofits to prepare nutritious meals for vulnerable populations, such as seniors and underprivileged children. These partnerships will support businesses and small farmers as the coronavirus pandemic continues. 

“The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the hunger crisis in America, resulting in millions more Americans becoming food insecure. To address the skyrocketing food insecurity in our communities, we must look for innovative ways to ensure families in Virginia have dependable access to nutritious meals,” said Sen. Warner. “That’s why we introduced this bipartisan legislation that would provide maximum flexibility to states and localities to help address this crisis while also supporting producers, restaurants, and local food systems in the process.” 

“COVID-19 has made millions of Americans food insecure and pushed restaurants to the brink of bankruptcy through no fault of their own,” said Sen. Murphy. “It’s up to Congress and President Biden to get them the assistance they need to get out of this hell. That’s why I’m teaming up with my colleague Senator Scott to introduce the FEED Act, which provides funding for restaurants and nonprofits to feed Americans struggling as a result of the pandemic. No one should be food insecure in this country and helping families get back on their feet should be a top priority in the coming months.”

“The FEED Act is an all-encompassing win for our most vulnerable populations, workers, restaurants, and small farms doing their best to stay afloat during the pandemic,” said Sen. Scott.“ By opening up a pathway for food producers, restaurants, and non-profits to easily partner with their state and local governments, the FEED Act is proof that good work happens when the private and public sector work together. Many thanks to Chef José Andrés and our bipartisan coalition for coming together to work on commonsense life-changing legislation.”

“Today, we have in front of us a major opportunity to meet head-on two crises that have been going on throughout the pandemic, mostly out of sight: a serious increase in the number of hungry Americans, and the loss of hundreds of thousands of restaurants and millions of restaurant jobs,” said Chef José Andrés with the World Central Kitchen. “With the FEED Act we have a win-win solution: the federal government will start working hand-in-hand with cities and states to keep restaurants working and communities fed. We know that this model works – we’ve seen it work in Charleston, in New Haven, and hundreds of other cities around the country – and can take it nationwide with the support of Senators Scott, Murphy, and their colleagues in the Senate.”

Specifically, the bill waives section 403(b) and 503(a) of the Stafford Act, which allows for FEMA to cover the cost of emergency and disaster related expenses. Under this legislation, the federal government would cover 100 percent of the cost of disaster-related expenses, instead of the typical 75 percent. This would eliminate any state costs during the COVID-19 crisis and allow more states to take a proactive approach to distributing meals and providing more financial relief to restaurants. A copy of the bill text can be found here

Sen. Warner has been a strong advocate of expanded access to food assistance for families in the Commonwealth amid the COVID-19 outbreak. He has put pressure on the USDA to formally authorize Virginia’s request to participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Online Purchasing Pilot Program, successfully pushed USDA to waive a requirement that made it more difficult for families to receive USDA-reimbursable meals, and secured a USDA designation that allows food banks to distribute food directly to Virginia families in need while limiting interactions between food bank staff, volunteers, and recipients. In August, Sen. Warner also successfully pushed for USDA to extend critical food waivers to help make sure students have access to nutritious meals while school districts participate in distance learning. The COVID-19 relief package signed into law last month provides $13 billion in nutrition assistance, including a 15 percent increase in SNAP benefits.

The legislation is also cosponsored by Sens. John Cornyn (R-TX), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), John Boozman (R-AR), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT). Earlier this month, companion legislation was introduced in the House of Representatives by Reps. Mike Thompson (D-CA) , Jim McGovern (D-MA), and Rodney Davis (R-IL).

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), former telecommunications entrepreneur and incoming Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, today urged mobile carriers AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon and social media companies Apple, Facebook, Gab, Google, Parler, Signal, Telegram, and Twitter to immediately preserve content and associated meta-data connected to Wednesday’s insurrectionist attack on the United States Capitol. 

In all eleven letters to the companies’ CEOs, Sen. Warner emphasized how the rioters took the time to document the event “later posting them to their social media accounts or sharing them via text or mobile messaging platforms to celebrate their disdain for our democratic process.”

“The United States Capitol is now a crime scene,” wrote Sen. Warner in his letters to AT&TT-MobileVerizonAppleFacebookGabGoogleParlerSignalTelegram, and Twitter. “The FBI and other law enforcement agencies are currently investigating the events of that day, and trying to piece together what happened and the perpetrators involved. The prospect of litigation on behalf of the victims of the mayhem also is highly likely. Messaging data to and from your subscribers that may have participated in, or assisted, those engaged in this insurrection – and associated subscriber information – are critical evidence in helping to bring these rioters to justice.”

 

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Kamala Harris (D-CA) applauded Congressional passage of legislation they authored to make the largest single investment into minority-owned and community-based lending institutions in the nation’s history. Provisions of the Jobs and Neighborhood Investment Act passed as part of yesterday’s COVID-19 relief bill after Sen. Warner fought to include them in the legislative blueprint that served as the foundation for the final relief deal.

“With Black and Brown unemployment rates more than twice as high as they were at this time last year, we need to be doing everything we can to invest in our most vulnerable communities,” said Sen. Warner. “I’m proud to have fought for these provisions during bipartisan relief negotiations and I trust that they will help put the brakes on the hemorrhaging of jobs and shuttering of minority-owned businesses caused by this crisis. I urge the President to promptly sign this historic legislation into law so that that minority communities start seeing the relief they desperately need.”

“As we work to confront and recover from this public health and economic crisis, we need to be doing everything we can to invest in the communities that have been hardest hit by this pandemic and continue to bear the burden of longstanding structural inequities and systemic racism. The Jobs and Neighborhood Investment Act will expand critically needed access to capital for communities of color and will help to empower minority owned businesses to play an important role in our long-term economic recovery,” said Sen. Booker.  

“To help every American get through this crisis, we need to start by helping those who need it most—whether in distributing the vaccine or investing in communities. Our bill will do just that, by providing much-needed capital to communities of color and low-income communities across the country. I’m proud that it will soon become law. Moving forward, we must always remember that relief isn’t relief unless it reaches those who’ve been hardest hit,” said Sen. Harris.

Once signed into law, this legislation will provide $12 billion to community development financial institutions (CDFIs) and minority depository institutions (MDIs) to open the flow of emergency capital to countless small businesses located in minority and low- and moderate-income communities, which have been particularly hard-hit by COVID-19.

Joining Sens. Warner, Booker and Harris in introducing this legislation were Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Doug Jones (D-AL), Thom Tillis (R-NC), Mike Crapo (R-ID), John Boozman (R-AR), John Kennedy (R-LA), Tim Scott (R-SC), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Roger Wicker (R-MS), Tina Smith (D-MN), Steve Daines (R-MT) and Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS).

A summary of the original Jobs and Neighborhood Investment Act is available here. Text of the bill is available here.

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine applauded Senate passage of the bipartisan, bicameral spending bill to fund federal programs crucial to Virginia and keep the federal government open through 2021. The legislation also includes comprehensive measures to help Americans amid the ongoing economic and public health crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Following today’s Senate passage, the bill now heads to the President’s desk for signature. 

“For nine long months, folks waited for Congress to deliver critical relief as they watched COVID-19 further devastate their communities. Today, despite that unacceptable delay, relief is officially on its way,” said Warner. “I’m proud to have worked with a bipartisan group of colleagues to help get this legislation into shape and in the hands of House and Senate leaders. And while I know that this bill is not perfect, I’m glad to know that it will help American families weather this winter and get through the holidays.”

“While this relief should have been passed much earlier, I’m pleased to see families, small businesses, hospitals, schools, and more get the assistance they need,” Kaine said. “This legislation makes critical investments in unemployment assistance, food aid, housing assistance, and other areas to directly help those struggling amid the pandemic. Though we still have more work to do to help Americans get back on their feet, I’m relieved Congress was able to come to this bipartisan compromise and fund these priorities before the holidays.” 

The following list includes some of the priorities Warner and Kaine advocated:

  • Assistance for out of work Virginians: Extends federal unemployment insurance (UI) benefits, preventing hundreds of thousands of out-of-work Virginians from losing benefits over the holidays. The senators were cosponsors of the legislation that provided the model for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), through which more than 9 million Americans are currently receiving benefits. More recently, the Senators called on leadership to extend and add additional weeks of federal employment benefits to both PUA and the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation programs. Additionally, it gives states the option to offer additional weekly financial relief for Americans with a mix of traditional (W-2) and independent employment income who are not able to claim their full benefit, modeled after Senator Warner’s legislation.
  • Stimulus checks: Includes a stimulus payment for low- and middle-income Americans; with $600 for individual filers and $1,200 for joint filers, with an additional $600 for each qualifying child in the household. Early in the crisis, Senator Kaine called for stimulus efforts to include direct payments to households. 
  • Vaccines: Includes over $19 billion for vaccines and therapeutics and an additional $8.75 billion to support vaccine distribution, particularly for states and localities, to slow the spread of the pandemic and take a step towards a future where COVID-19 is managed.
  • Emergency housing aid and protections: Creates a new $25 billion emergency rental assistance fund to prevent evictions during the pandemic, which will be delivered through state and local governments. Earlier this year, the Senators joined their colleagues in introducing legislation to provide emergency housing assistance for those facing potential evictions. The bill will also extend the CDC eviction moratorium to allow time for implementing the emergency housing aid.
  • Relief for hard-hit small businesses and nonprofits: Provides targeted relief for small businesses struggling with the effects of the pandemic. This includes a second round of Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) forgivable loans for small businesses and nonprofits that experienced a substantial revenue decline in 2020, as well as other funds for small business relief. The Small Business Administration (SBA) is directed to provide guidance to ensure priority access for underserved communities, such as minority-owned businesses. The bill also includes grants for small businesses and nonprofits in sectors likely to continue to see substantial drops in revenue in 2021, particularly in the live entertainment sector. This aid will ensure that Virginia’s small businesses are able to stay afloat during the pandemic, keep workers on payroll, and return to job creation as COVID-19 is controlled. The Senators have been strong supporters of providing relief to small businesses, cosponsoring the Heroes Small Business Lifeline Act, which included many of the provisions in the final bill, and the Save our Stages Act, on which the live entertainment grants are modeled. 
  • Targeted relief for underserved communities: Provides the largest single investment in our country's history for minority-owned and community-based lending institutions. Largely drawn from Senator Warner’s Jobs and Neighborhood Investment Act, the provision provides $12 billion to community development financial institutions (CDFIs) and minority depository institutions (MDIs) to build capital and unlock affordable access to credit for underserved and minority neighborhoods, which have been particularly hard-hit by COVID-19.
  • Education Stabilization Fund: Provides $82 billion to provide emergency support to K-12 schools and higher education institutions. The legislation includes provisions of Kaine’s Coronavirus Relief Flexibility for Students and Institutions Act that allow colleges to use emergency stabilization funds to cover lost revenue and better target funds designated for colleges hardest hit by COVID-19 by requiring an application to demonstrate need. 
  • Broadband: Includes $7 billion towards broadband, including $3.2 billion for an Emergency Broadband Benefit to help low-income families maintain their internet connections, $285 million to support broadband access in minority communities, and $300 million in broadband grants modeled on provisions Senator Warner drafted with bipartisan Senators. Additionally, the bill includes an extension of the deadline to use Coronavirus Relief Funds so that state and localities interested in using the money for broadband expansion have more time, as Senator Warner called for.
  • Support for child care providers and families: Includes $10 billion in flexible funding for the Child Care & Development Block Grant (CCDBG) to help support child care providers and ensure that working parents have access to child care during the pandemic. The bill also includes $250 million for Head Start programs.
  • Public health data modernization: Includes Senator Kaine’s Saving Lives Through Better Data Act, which will improve the nation’s public health data systems at CDC and through grants to state and local health departments to expand and modernize their systems, promoting more seamless communication, which can save lives when we’re faced with public health threats such as COVID-19. The omnibus authorizes $100 million for each of fiscal years 2021 through 2025.
  • Telehealth: Includes Senator Kaine and Senator Schatz’s Expanding Capacity for Health Outcomes (ECHO) Act of 2019, which creates a grant program to evaluate, develop, and expand the use of distance health education models such as ECHO to increase access to specialty care in rural and medically underserved populations. The omnibus authorizes $10 million for each of fiscal years 2022 through 2026. The funding bill also permanently expands coverage of and payment for telehealth to treat mental health care, which is in line with Senator Warner’s CONNECT for Health Act, which Senator Kaine is a cosponsor.
  • Ends surprise billing: Includes a provision to end surprise billing, something Senators Warner and Kaine have long advocated for. 
  • U.S. Postal Service: Converts the CARES Act $10 billion loan into direct funding for USPS without requiring repayment. These funds will be used for operational costs and other expenses resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. Senator Warner is a cosponsor of the Postal Service Emergency Assistance Act, which would provide USPS with significant direct funding. 
  • Veterans: Provides $104.4 billion in funding for the VA, an increase of $12.5 billion over FY20 levels. This funding increase provides $2.7 billion more than the previous fiscal year for health care delivered at VA facilities nationwide. The bill provides robust funding in several areas important for Virginia veterans, including $815 million for critical VA Medical and Prosthetic research, an increase of $1.18 billion over FY20 levels for electronic health record modernization, nearly $2 billon in support of programs to prevent veteran homelessness and $312.6 million for suicide prevention.
  • Infrastructure: Includes funding for key projects that were championed by Warner and Kaine to benefit Virginia’s infrastructure:
    • Includes a provision pushed for by Senators Warner and Kaine to allow for the construction of a new Long Bridge on the Potomac River, which will double the capacity of the rail crossing between Virginia and D.C. The current two-track Long Bridge is the only rail bridge connecting Virginia to Washington, D.C., and it is at 98 percent capacity during peak hours, which means it is one of the most significant rail chokepoints along the East Coast. The new Long Bridge program will double the capacity of the Potomac River rail crossing by adding a second two-track bridge adjacent to the existing bridge and including a new bike-pedestrian shared use path spanning the George Washington Memorial Parkway and the Potomac River. Senators Warner and Kaine introduced the Long Bridge Act of 2020 in August to allow for this construction.
    • Includes the full federal funding of $150 million for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) to fund critical capital investment and safety projects. In addition, the bill provides $14 billion in emergency relief for public transit agencies to continue operations during the pandemic, ensuring access to transportation for frontline workers and civil servants.
    • Includes a one year extension of Community Development Block Grant funds to the City of Norfolk and other localities to build climate resilient infrastructure projects. Senators Kaine and Warner joined Senator John Hoeven in introducing S.4017 in June, which would also have provided an extension for the NDRC program.
    • Includes $87.5 million for the Chesapeake Bay Program—an increase of $2.5 million from FY 2020. The Chesapeake Bay Program coordinates Chesapeake Bay watershed restoration and protection efforts, and the majority of its funds are passed through to the states and local communities for on-the-ground restoration.
    • Authorizes federal funds to cover 65% of the costs associated with construction projects to address close to $1.5 billion of flood control needs in the City of Norfolk.
    • Grants a critical cost adjustment to allow work to continue on the Deep Creek Bridge inChesapeake to address traffic concerns.
    • Authorizes over $102.7 million in federal funds for construction of the North Landing BridgeReplacement project.
    • Provides up to $9 million for the Federal Aviation Administration to continue its remote tower system pilot program at smaller airports, including the Remote Air Traffic Control Tower at Leesburg Executive Airport.
  • Great American Outdoors Act: With Senator Warner’s Great American Outdoors Act now law, the FY21 omnibus affirms funding for several deferred maintenance projects in Virginia:
    • George Washington Memorial Parkway – A $207 million project to restore 7.6 miles of northern section of the GW Parkway and implement critical safety measures. The Senators have long advocated for federal funding for this project for several years as seen here and here.
    • Shenandoah National Park – A $27 million project to pave and restore nearly 50 miles of Skyline Drive and various overlooks. Shenandoah will also receive nearly $3.5 million to remove unnecessary buildings and restore greenspace within the park.
    • Colonial National Historical Park – A $16.5 million project to restore nearly 5 miles of shoreline along the York River.
  • FBI Headquarters: Provides no funding for a new FBI headquarters and includes language that encourages General Services Administration (GSA) to provide a new prospectus, particularly after the Trump Administration abruptly abandoned plans to develop a new campus headquarters for the FBI. Earlier this year, Senators Warner and Kaine opposed an attempt in an earlier Republican COVID-19 relief package that would have provided $1.75 billion for construction of a new FBI HQ in its current downtown D.C. location.  
  • Miners’ Benefits: Extends the funding for the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund until the end of 2021 by extending the tax on mining companies that helps fund the program. Both Kaine and Warner introduced the Black Lung Benefits Disability Trust Fund Solvency Act calling on Congress to extend the excise tax through the end of 2030.
  • Shipbuilding & MILCON funding: Provides $23.27 billion for shipbuilding for 10 battle force ships including full funding for a second Virginia-class submarine, which Senators Warner and Kaine personally advocated for. The bill also appropriates $237 million for 6 MILCON projects in Virginia, including:
    • Humphreys Engineer Center, Training Support Facility (Army) - $51m
    • Norfolk, E-2D Training Facility (Navy) - $30.4m
    • Norfolk, Corrosion Control and Paint Facility (Navy) - $17.671m
    • Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Access Control Point Main Gate with Land Acquisition (Air Force) - $19.5m
    • Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Story, Operations Facility and Command Center (Def-Wide) - $54.5m
    • JEB Little Creek-Story, NSWG Facilities (Def-Wide) - $58m
  • Federal contractors: Senators Warner and Kaine also pushed to extend a provision from CARES (3610), which allows contractual adjustments for a paid leave program, allowing contractors to keep employees on the payroll if federal facilities close due to the pandemic – an important provision for our defense industrial base and cleared national security workforce. 
  • Foster care and homeless youth: Includes key provisions of Senator Kaine’s bill with Senator Murray and Senator Portman, the Higher Education Access and Success for Homeless and Foster Youth Act, to remove barriers to financial aid for students experiencing homelessness or students formerly in foster care by easing the application and determination for becoming eligible for aid. The bill also includes language allowing foster youth to remain in the system until October 1, 2021, regardless of their age—a move that Senators Warner and Kaine called for in a recent letter to the administration.
  • Funds Childhood Disease ResearchProvides $12.6 million for the Gabriella Miller Kids First Pediatric Research Program to conduct pediatric cancer and disease research. The Senators worked to enact the legislation authorizing this program, named for 10-year-old Gabriella Miller of Loudoun County, who passed away from cancer in October of 2013.
  • Supporting working students and families: Includes key provisions of Senator Kaine’s bill with Senator Baldwin, the Working Students Actto reduce the “work penalty” that many students who work while attending school face. Currently, students who work while attending school often are eligible for less financial aid due to their work income. The appropriations bill enacts a 35% increase for working students and 20% increase for families to the income protection allowance (IPA), shielding more of their income from reducing their financial aid.
  • Student Loan Repayment: Extends an important change to existing tax policy allowing employers to use pre-tax dollars to help pay down employees’ student debt until 2025 – a provision modeled after Senator Warner’s bipartisan Employer Participation in Repayment Act to help more than 44 million Americans with student loan debt.
  • Ashanti Alert: Includes $1 million in federal funding to help with the nationwide implementation of the Ashanti Alert system. Following the abduction of 19-year old Ashanti Billie, who did not meet the criteria for an Amber or Silver Alert, Senator Warner secured unanimous passage of this national alert system through the Senate on December 6, 2018, and has been a leader in the fight to implement the Ashanti Alert nationwide ever since.
  • Nutrition: Provides $13 billion in nutrition assistance, including a 15 percent increase in SNAP benefits through June 30, 2021 for all SNAP participants. Excludes unemployment compensation from being counted as income for the purposes of calculating SNAP benefits and eligibility. Provides $400 million for food banks through The Emergency Food Assistance Program.
  • Farmers: Provides $13 billion for direct payments, purchases, and loans to producers who have suffered losses due to the pandemic, including funds to support the food supply chain through food purchases, donations to food banks, and support for local food systems. Additionally, it includes $5 billion for supplemental payments to row crop producers; $3 billion for supplemental payments to cattle producers and contract growers of livestock and poultry, dairy farmers, and producers who were forced to euthanize livestock or poultry; $225 million for producers of specialty crops; and $1.5 billion to purchase food for distribution to those in need.
  • Timber Harvesting/Hauling: Provides up to $200 million to support timber harvesting and timber hauling businesses impacted by COVID-19. 
  • Dairy: Provides up to $400 million for a Dairy Product Donation Program, modeled after the 2018 Farm Bill pilot program to facilitate the donation of dairy products and minimize food waste. 
  • Textiles: Allows USDA to make payments to users of upland cotton and extra-long staple cotton.
  • Fisheries: Provides $300 million in assistance to help fisheries mitigate COVID-19 related impacts. 
  • Water Utility Bill Assistance: Provides $638 million for a new program to help low-income families cover the costs of drinking water and wastewater utility bills by making funds available to states and Tribes. These localities will provide dollars to owners or operators of public water systems or treatment works to reduce arrearages and rates for low-income households.
  • Appalachian Regional Commission: Includes a record $180 million for the Appalachian Regional Commission, an increase of $5 million from FY20.

 ###

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) and Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen (both D-MD) today sent a letter to Alejandro Mayorkas, President-elect Biden’s nominee for Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), urging him to take swift action once confirmed to protect 58,000 Temporary Protected Status (TPS) recipients living in Virginia and Maryland alone. Currently, TPS status for thousands of beneficiaries continues to be in jeopardy due to ongoing legal efforts by the Trump Administration to terminate the program. In a letter to DHS Secretary-Designate Mayorkas, the Senators applaud the Biden Administration’s commitment to protect current TPS holders and its pledge to grant TPS to Venezuelans already in the United States. The Senators also ask the incoming administration to take immediate executive actions to provide stability for TPS recipients and their families from El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua, Nepal, and Sudan.

“We write today to reiterate our support for immediate action to protect the hundreds of thousands of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) recipients whose continued lawful status in the country remains in jeopardy as a result of the Trump Administration’s efforts to terminate their protections and to urge you to promptly issue additional TPS designations and redesignations based upon a sober assessment of country conditions and an exercise of your clear statutory authority. We are pleased that President-elect Biden has pledged to grant TPS to Venezuelans already in the United States, something for which we have advocated. It is critical, especially during the ongoing public health and economic crises brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, for the Biden-Harris Administration to act quickly to provide clarity and long-term stability to TPS recipients in our communities,” wrote the Senators to DHS Secretary-Desginate Alejandro Mayorkas.

In their letter, the Senators highlight that over the past four years, the Trump Administration has taken action to terminate TPS protections for recipients from El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua, Nepal, and Sudan, a move that President-elect Biden has described as “politically motivated.” While the Trump Administration recently extended TPS and associated work authorization documents for these individuals until October 4, 2021, TPS protections could still be removed without swift action by the incoming Biden Administration.

“TPS recipients from these six countries represent approximately 400,000 residents and over 97 percent of all TPS recipients nationwide. We are proud to represent over 58,000 TPS recipients in the National Capitol region alone. Additionally, approximately 63,100 U.S. citizen children of TPS recipients, many of whom are school-aged, live in our region. We cannot overstate the importance of our desire to protect those American children from the brutal choice they and their families will face if the Trump Administration’s terminations are permitted to go into effect. Their parents will immediately lose their permission to work. And each child will be forced to either separate from their parents or be uprooted from the lives they have built in this—their own—country. In Virginia and Maryland alone, an estimated 13,300 TPS holders work in industries that DHS deems ‘essential critical infrastructure’ including health care, agriculture, and manufacturing. These individuals have worked alongside other Americans at great risk to themselves and their family members to help keep the country running, and they will continue to play an important role in the recovery and rebuilding ahead,” continued the Senators. 

In addition to calling for a swift reversal of the Trump Administration’s TPS policies and urging the incoming Biden Administration to explore executive actions to provide stability for TPS recipients, the Senators ask the incoming Biden Administration to send an immigration bill to Congress that includes pathways towards lawful permanent residency for TPS recipients. The Senators also urge the Administration to redesignate El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua for TPS and issue a new TPS designation for Guatemala due to the devastation from Hurricanes Eta and Iota.

A copy of the letter is found here and below.

 

Dear Secretary-Designate Mayorkas: 

We would like to congratulate you on President-elect Joe Biden’s announcement that he intends to nominate you for the position of Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). We trust that your experience as Director of United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and as Deputy Secretary of DHS, along with your personal experience as a son of refugees, will leave you well-positioned to address the pressing issues facing our nation’s immigration system, many of which have been significantly worsened by the Trump Administration’s harmful policies.

The task of the incoming Biden-Harris Administration will be, as the President-elect often states, to “restore the soul of the nation,” which is urgently needed in the sphere of immigration policy. We write today to reiterate our support for immediate action to protect the hundreds of thousands of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) recipients whose continued lawful status in the country remains in jeopardy as a result of the Trump Administration’s efforts to terminate their protections and to urge you to promptly issue additional TPS designations and redesignations based upon a sober assessment of country conditions and an exercise of your clear statutory authority. We are pleased that President-elect Biden has pledged to grant TPS to Venezuelans already in the United States, something for which we have advocated. It is critical, especially during the ongoing public health and economic crises brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, for the Biden-Harris Administration to act quickly to provide clarity and long-term stability to TPS recipients in our communities. 

Over the past four years, the Trump Administration moved to terminate TPS for recipients from six nations: El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua, Nepal, and Sudan.  President-elect Biden decried these decisions as having been “politically-motivated”—a finding supported by a report prepared by the minority staff of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and by the federal district court in Ramos v. Nielsen that initially blocked several terminations from taking effect. Only by virtue of litigation that remains pending have these designations remained in place, but the success of that litigation is now in doubt, and the continued fear and uncertainty experienced by TPS recipients are very real. While the Trump Administration, as a result of the outstanding court cases, recently extended TPS and associated work authorization documents for these individuals until October 4, 2021, even that brief reprieve could be taken away from many of these individuals if a court ruling comes soon. 

TPS recipients from these six countries represent approximately 400,000 residents and over 97 percent of all TPS recipients nationwide. We are proud to represent over 58,000 TPS recipients in the National Capitol region alone. Additionally, approximately 63,100 U.S. citizen children of TPS recipients, many of whom are school-aged, live in our region. We cannot overstate the importance of our desire to protect those American children from the brutal choice they and their families will face if the Trump Administration’s terminations are permitted to go into effect. Their parents will immediately lose their permission to work. And each child will be forced to either separate from their parents or be uprooted from the lives they have built in this—their own—country. In Virginia and Maryland alone, an estimated 13,300 TPS holders work in industries that DHS deems “essential critical infrastructure” including health care, agriculture, and manufacturing. These individuals have worked alongside other Americans at great risk to themselves and their family members to help keep the country running, and they will continue to play an important role in the recovery and rebuilding ahead.

The incoming Biden-Harris Administration has promised to immediately review Temporary Protected Status for vulnerable populations who cannot find safety in their countries due to violence or disaster. Additionally, the new administration has promoted a pathway to citizenship through legislative immigration reform for TPS and Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) recipients. While we share the Biden-Harris Administration’s desire for a comprehensive review of TPS policy and pathways to citizenship, we also urge you to take immediate executive actions to provide stability for TPS recipients and their families in the U.S. weathering the public health and economic crises brought on by COVID-19. 

First, we respectfully request that the Biden-Harris Administration issue a notice in the Federal Register on January 20, 2021, vacating the Trump Administration’s termination decisions for all six nations and automatically extending current protections, including Employment Authorization Documents, while committing to conduct new fact-based assessments of country conditions required by law. Decisions regarding whether to extend, redesignate, or terminate protections for each of these countries must be made based upon the facts and the law. We also encourage you to consider granting DED to nationals of these countries, if necessary, as a way to ensure continuity of protections in the interim.

Second, in connection with the decision to review country conditions anew, we respectfully request that the Biden-Harris Administration promptly redesignate El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua, for TPS—and issue a new TPS designation for Guatemala—as a result of the devastation left behind by Hurricanes Eta and Iota. The economic damage to these countries from these two unprecedented hurricanes is projected to far surpass the damage caused by Hurricane Mitch in 1998 on which the current designations for Honduras and Nicaragua are based. Widespread flooding and landslides caused substantial damage to critical infrastructure, housing, livelihoods, and food security, and weakened each country’s public health infrastructure at a time when they were already struggling to deal with the coronavirus pandemic. The governments of Honduras and Guatemala already have made formal requests for TPS—a pre-condition for designations under Section 244(b)(1)(B)—but the “extraordinary and temporary conditions” that make it impossible for these four countries to safely accept the return of their nationals more than justifies designations under Section 244(b)(1)(C), which does not require a request from a foreign government.

As the new administration works to fulfill its promise of sending an immigration reform bill to Congress within its first 100 days, we urge you to consult the models of the bipartisan American Dream and Promise Act, as well as the Safe Environment from Countries Under Repression and in Emergency (SECURE) Act. Both bills include pathways towards lawful permanent residency for TPS recipients. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the reality that millions of immigrants, both documented and undocumented, work alongside other Americans every day to keep the country going, and their work and contributions will be no less important as we begin to turn the corner and work toward a national recovery that is strong, resilient, and equitable. This is true of more than 131,000 TPS holders who are serving in jobs essential to the nation’s critical infrastructure. As we overcome this crisis, we owe a debt of gratitude to these communities that we can begin to pay by extending citizenship to those who have dutifully served their neighbors in a time of crisis. We commit to working with you to achieve that goal.  Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely, 

###

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) joined Sens. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) in  a letter to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) opposing the implementation of President Trump’s recent Executive Order prohibiting federal agencies, contractors and grant recipients from using workplace diversity and inclusion trainings that promote “divisive concepts.”

In an OMB memo, Director Russell Vought said trainings that include terms such as “systemic racism”, “white privilege” and “unconscious bias” are likely included in that prohibition. As a result, many entities, including hospitals, community health centers, colleges and universities, and non-profit organizations that hold contracts with the federal government have cancelled or delayed their trainings. 

“The Executive Order and the Administration’s implementation actions to date are already stifling much-needed efforts in our states to reduce racial and sex-based discrimination. There is widespread uncertainty regarding the scope of the Executive Order, and some entities have cancelled their diversity and inclusion trainings altogether out of fear of losing federal funding,”the Senators wrote in a letter to OMB Director Vought. “Given that the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has exposed our nation’s stark racial inequities and other health disparities, the Administration should focus on reducing racial and sex-based discrimination rather than engaging in ill-informed political stunts. We urge you to immediately halt your efforts to implement this propagandist and deeply harmful Executive Order.”

The lawmakers pointed out that legitimate diversity and inclusion training “would not promote repugnant ideas such as the ‘inherent superiority’ of a particular race” and that a training that promoted those ideas are already illegal under longstanding anti-discrimination laws. The Senators then slammed the Administration for showing a complete disregard and misunderstanding of the racial equity movements in the country. 

“However, by equating the acknowledgement of unconscious bias or systemic racism with claims of racial superiority, the Administration is purposefully sowing confusion and fear about our country’s growing diversity and recent political movements in support of racial equity,” the lawmakers wrote. “By creating vague and illogical requirements, the Administration is effectively discouraging entities from offering diversity and inclusion trainings altogether, which we fear is the underlying goal of this misguided effort.”

The letter was also signed by Sens. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.) and Jack Reed (D-R.I.). 

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

 

Dear Mr. Vought, 

We write today to express our profound opposition to President Trump’s recent Executive Order on Combating Race and Sex Stereotyping. The Executive Order and the Administration’s implementation actions to date are already stifling much-needed efforts in our states to reduce racial and sex-based discrimination. There is widespread uncertainty regarding the scope of the Executive Order, and some entities have cancelled their diversity and inclusion trainings altogether out of fear of losing federal funding. Given that the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has exposed our nation’s stark racial inequities and other health disparities, the Administration should focus on reducing racial and sex-based discrimination rather than engaging in ill-informed political stunts. We urge you to immediately halt your efforts to implement this propagandist and deeply harmful Executive Order. 

On September 22, 2020, President Trump issued Executive Order 13950, which claims to “combat offensive and anti-American race and sex stereotyping and scapegoating” by prohibiting federal agencies, contractors, and grant recipients from using workplace training programs that promote “divisive concepts.”  According to the Executive Order, such concepts include that “one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex” and that “an individual should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment solely or partly because of his or her race or sex.” In your September 28, 2020 memorandum instructing the heads of executive departments and agencies on implementation, you stated that the Executive Order likely prohibits trainings that use terms such as “systemic racism,” “white privilege,” and “unconscious bias.” 

Legitimate diversity and inclusion training for federal employees, contractors, or federally supported entities would not promote repugnant ideas such as the “inherent superiority” of a particular race – and in fact such a training would already be illegal under longstanding anti-discrimination laws. However, by equating the acknowledgement of unconscious bias or systemic racism with claims of racial superiority, the Administration is purposefully sowing confusion and fear about our country’s growing diversity and recent political movements in support of racial equity. By creating vague and illogical requirements, the Administration is effectively discouraging entities from offering diversity and inclusion trainings altogether, which we fear is the underlying goal of this misguided effort. Additionally, the Executive Order is unclear about its applicability to federal grantees, creating widespread uncertainty among state governments and other federal grant recipients. 

Indeed, the Executive Order and your subsequent memorandum have exerted a chilling effect on both federal agencies and the many entities in our states that receive federal funding. The Department of Justice and the Department of Health and Human Services halted all diversity and inclusion trainings for managers and employees. The Health Resources and Services Administration has reportedly frozen funding for some state-run implicit bias trainings for hospitals and community health centers. Some colleges and universities paused or cancelled their diversity and inclusion trainings and other diversity-focused events out of fear of jeopardizing their federal funding.  Companies and non-profit organizations that hold contracts with the federal government cancelled or delayed their trainings. 

By continuing to implement this misguided policy during the final days of President Trump’s Administration, your agency is discouraging and needlessly politicizing critical efforts to end racial and sex-based discrimination. Once again, we urge you to immediately cease implementing this illogical and harmful Executive Order. Thank you for your prompt consideration of this urgent matter no later than December 23, 2020.

Sincerely, 

###

WILMINGTON, Del. – U.S. Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, today led 14 colleagues on a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg calling on the company to fully address the problem of anti-Muslim bigotry on its platform, which has enabled offline violence against Muslims in the United States and elsewhere around the world.

Senator Coons is joined on the letter by Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

“Facebook is a groundbreaking company that has revolutionized the way we communicate.  Unfortunately, the connectivity that can bring people together in many positive ways also has been used to dehumanize and stoke violence against Muslims, Black people, Latinos, immigrants, the Jewish community, Sikhs, Christians, women, and other communities here and across the world,” the Senators wrote.

Of particular concern is how Facebook has addressed the targeting of mosques and Muslim community events by armed protesters through the platform. In June 2019, Facebook responded to concerns about these practices by creating a “call to arms” policy that prohibits event pages that call for individuals to bring weapons to a location. However, the Senators note that Facebook has not taken adequate steps to enforce this policy, which should have barred an event page in Kenosha, Wisconsin earlier this year, as well as a 2019 event page used to plan an armed protest at the largest Muslim community convention in the country.

“We recognize that Facebook has announced efforts to address its role in the distribution of anti-Muslim content in some of these areas,” the Senators wrote. “Nevertheless, it is not clear that the company is meaningfully better positioned to prevent further human rights abuses and violence against Muslim minorities today.”

“As members of Congress who are deeply disturbed by the proliferation of this hate speech on your platform, we urge you to do more.”

An independent civil rights audit of Facebook from July 2020 highlighted disturbing examples of anti-Muslim abuse on the platform ranging “[f]rom the organization of events designed to intimidate members of the Muslim community at gathering places, to the prevalence of content demonizing Islam and Muslims, and the use of Facebook Live during the Christchurch massacre…” These concerns have also prompted current Facebook employees to write a letter demanding action on anti-Muslim bigotry and calling for broader structural changes.

 

In their letter, the Senators urge Facebook to take a number of actions to address these issues including collecting and publishing the data needed to understand the scope of the problem, publishing readily available information to help the public evaluate its response, and implementing a plan to ensure robust enforcement of its call to arms policy.

“We thank Sen. Coons and his colleagues for holding Facebook accountable for anti-Muslim hate and violence on its platform,” said Muslim Advocates Executive Director Farhana Khera. “Since 2015, Muslim Advocates has warned Facebook that the platform’s event pages were being used by violent militias and white nationalists to organize armed rallies at mosques. With their letter, these senators are raising needed attention to this critical issue. We need to know what Facebook plans to do to end the anti-Muslim hate and violence enabled by their platform—and end it now.”

Groups supporting the letter include Muslim Advocates, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the Center for American Progress, Human Rights Watch, the Human Rights Campaign, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, Bend the Arc: Jewish Action, Free Press, the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism, the Interfaith Alliance, the Japanese American Citizens League, MediaJustice, the National Hispanic Media Coalition, Shoulder to Shoulder, The Sikh Coalition, and UltraViolet.

A copy of the letter is below.

 

November 16, 2020

Mark Zuckerberg

Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Facebook, Inc.

1601 Willow Road

Menlo Park, CA 94025

Dear Mr. Zuckerberg:

We write to express our deep concern regarding anti-Muslim bigotry on Facebook.  An independent civil rights audit of the company from July 2020 highlighted disturbing examples of anti-Muslim abuse on the platform ranging “[f]rom the organization of events designed to intimidate members of the Muslim community at gathering places, to the prevalence of content demonizing Islam and Muslims, and the use of Facebook Live during the Christchurch massacre . . . .”   These concerns have also prompted current Facebook employees to write a letter demanding action on anti-Muslim bigotry and calling for broader structural changes.   As members of Congress who are committed to protecting the Muslim community, we urge you to take immediate action to combat this bigotry on Facebook’s platforms.

 

Facebook is a groundbreaking company that has revolutionized the way we communicate.  Unfortunately, the connectivity that can bring people together in many positive ways also has been used to dehumanize and stoke violence against Muslims, Black people, Latinos, immigrants, the Jewish community, Sikhs, Christians, women, and other communities here and across the world.  The enabling of hate speech and violence against any group is not acceptable.  We appreciate that Facebook has taken certain steps to combat these problems.  For instance, you recently reversed a prior decision that had allowed content denying the Holocaust, and you have altered your policies to ban blackface and certain anti-Jewish stereotypes.  But much more must be done to protect these vulnerable communities.  With regard to the Muslim community in particular, the civil rights audit noted advocates’ “alarm that Muslims feel under siege on Facebook” and explained how attacks on Muslims present unique considerations that require separate analysis and response compared to other kinds of attacks.   Yet, the auditors noted, “Facebook has not yet publicly studied or acknowledged the particular ways anti-Muslim bigotry manifests on its platform.”  

Of particular concern is how Facebook has addressed the targeting of mosques and Muslim community events by armed protesters through the platform.  In June 2019, Facebook responded to concerns about these practices by creating a “call to arms” policy that prohibits event pages that call for individuals to bring weapons to locations.   Yet, in August 2019, when advocates reported to Facebook that a militia group was using an event page to plan an armed protest at the largest Muslim community convention in the country for the second year in a row, it took Facebook more than a full day to remove the content, a delay that Facebook acknowledged was too long and an “enforcement misstep.”  

Other recent events have demonstrated how Facebook has not taken adequate steps to enforce this call to arms policy.  In August 2020, a group called the Kenosha Guard posted an event page titled “Armed Citizens to Protect Our Lives and Property,” calling for armed individuals to gather in Kenosha, Wisconsin, following the shooting of Jacob Blake.  Notwithstanding multiple reports by users that this page violated Facebook policies, Facebook did not take the page down.  An armed 17-year-old traveled from out of state to join this gathering, fatally shot two protestors that night, and is charged with their murder.  You stated that the failure to take down the event page and the Kenosha Guard’s group page was “largely an operational mistake” because contract content moderators without specialized training failed to detect that the pages violated a new militia policy Facebook had established in August 2020.   Your statement was misleading as to the event page, however, because it did not mention that the event page also violated the call to arms policy that had been in place for over a year.  Importantly, we understand that the contractors who review user-reported content are not instructed to enforce a core component of the call to arms policy.  It is not apparent that Facebook ensures meaningful enforcement of this policy, and that is not acceptable.  As the Change the Terms Coalition has explained, that “isn’t an operational mistake – that’s a design defect.”  

We have similar concerns about Facebook’s efforts to ensure that the platform is not used to enable systematic violence and discrimination against Muslims around the world.  A United Nations report concluded that the company played a “determining”  role in violence against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, and Facebook has similarly acknowledged that the platform was used to “foment division and incite offline violence”  against the Rohingya.  Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident.  According to a New York Times report published a month after anti-Muslim violence erupted in Sri Lanka in March 2018, “Facebook’s newsfeed played a central role in nearly every step from rumor to killing,”  despite numerous attempts by Sri Lankan activists and government officials to warn Facebook about potential outbreaks of violence.  In an especially horrific episode of anti-Muslim activity on Facebook, in March 2019, a white nationalist gunman broadcasted his 17-minute slaughter of 51 Muslims at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, for the entire world to see using Facebook Live.  Reports indicate that the platform has also been used to support the internment of the Uyghurs in China and other human rights violations against this population, that Facebook and WhatsApp have been used to incite violence against Muslims in India, and that Facebook has been used to promote hate and violence in other areas around the world.

The civil rights audit and other reports have documented the shortcomings of Facebook that have led to these results over the years.  The United Nations explained in 2018 that Facebook launched its Myanmar-specific services without content moderators who spoke the necessary languages, without adequate technology, and without sufficient transparency and coordination with local organizations.  It also documented how speech in clear violation of Facebook’s policies remained on the platform notwithstanding multiple reports, and how even after the speech was taken down, re-posts continued to circulate months later.  Furthermore, the civil rights audit found that Facebook is not sufficiently attuned to how its algorithms “fuel extreme and polarizing content,” and thereby may “driv[e] people toward self-reinforcing echo chambers of extremism,” as seen in Myanmar and Sri Lanka.   Advocacy groups similarly detailed the extent and persistence of anti-Muslim hate content on Facebook India in multiple reports last year, concerns that have been amplified by recent allegations that some high-ranking employees at Facebook India have enabled hate speech against Muslims and others by applying the platform’s content moderation policies in a selective manner. 

We recognize that Facebook has announced efforts to address its role in the distribution of anti-Muslim content in some of these areas.  These include, for instance, adding country-specific staff and content moderators proficient in certain local languages, investing in proactive detection technologies, strengthening local fact-checking partnerships, and limiting the ability to reshare certain kinds of messages. 

Nevertheless, it is not clear that the company is meaningfully better positioned to prevent further human rights abuses and violence against Muslim minorities today.  In part, this is because Facebook still does not collect the information needed to evaluate the effectiveness of its responses.  For instance, Facebook reported that it took action on 22 million pieces of hate speech content in the second quarter of 2020, up from over 9 million in the first quarter.   It is not apparent, however, whether this is a sign of an improving or worsening problem, because this data lacks crucial context:  Facebook does not calculate or report on the overall prevalence of hate speech on the platform.  It is thus unclear how significant this increase is as a proportion of total hate speech or whether takedowns are increasing only because hate content on the platform is increasing.  Facebook recognizes that the statistic it reports “only tells part of the story,” and Facebook does estimate prevalence in other contexts.  Its failure to do so as to hate speech is concerning.  

In addition, the civil rights audit pointed out that for content that Facebook does remove, the company does not collect data about which protected groups were the target of the removed post.  This prevents Facebook and the public from understanding the volume of hate against a particular group, whether attacks against certain groups are consistently not removed, and whether there are gaps in Facebook’s policies that result in perpetuating or increasing hate speech and attacks against particular groups.  It is difficult to understand how Facebook can effectively combat hate speech without this information. 

There is also basic information that Facebook has or could readily make available, but which it has inexplicably declined to make public.  For instance, while pointing to its increases in country-specific staff and language-specific content moderators in certain areas, Facebook has declined repeated requests from advocates to provide detailed information about its country-specific staff or language-specific content moderators across the world.  Such information is necessary to evaluate Facebook’s suggestion that its additions are adequate and to determine whether there are gaps in coverage in other regions that should be addressed proactively before the next violent event.  Facebook similarly does not provide information about how the hate speech it has taken down is disaggregated by language or country of origin, information that would help identify volatile areas in need of further attention from content moderators or others at Facebook.  That is so even though Facebook has conceded that “[t]hese breakdowns are feasible for these count-based metrics” and that it “recognize[s] the value in having different subpopulations of the various metrics.”   The United Nations 2018 Myanmar report expressed “regret[]” that Facebook did not provide country-specific data about hate speech and deemed it “essential” that such information be disclosed.    

Though these concerns have been raised for years, Facebook thus far has not taken the steps required to effectively address hate and violence targeting Muslims.  In 2018, Facebook acknowledged that it “can and should do better” after its platform fueled violence in Myanmar and outlined steps it would take.   In 2020, Facebook “apologize[d] for” the human rights impacts that resulted from misuse of its platform in Sri Lanka and outlined more steps.   Despite these experiences, recent reporting suggests that today, Facebook is contributing to the spread of hate speech and violence against ethnic and religious groups in Ethiopia, where Facebook “dominates” the internet.   Meanwhile, it announced a call to arms policy to assuage concerns but has failed to adequately enforce it.  As members of Congress who are deeply disturbed by the proliferation of this hate speech on your platform, we urge you to do more.  We believe Facebook must frankly and openly detail the scope of the problem and take concerted and sustained actions to address this problem fully.  We respectfully request that you respond to the questions below by December 16, 2020.  As to each question, insofar as Facebook will commit to taking action, please provide details of its plan and expected timing. 

1.         Will Facebook commit to developing and implementing a plan to ensure robust enforcement of its call to arms policy, including through proactive review of event pages, content moderator review of user reports, and prioritization of highly reported events?  If not, why not?

2.         Will Facebook commit to collecting and publishing data about the overall amount and prevalence of hate content on the platform and whether hate content is increasing on its platform?  If so, please specify whether Facebook will break down this data by country and language.  If not, why not?

3.         Will Facebook commit to collecting and publishing data about which groups were the subject of the hate speech it removes and enforcement rates across groups?  If so, please specify the groups for which Facebook will provide this information.  If not, why not?

4.         Will Facebook commit to collecting and publishing country-specific or language-specific data on hate speech that is on or removed from the platform?  If not, why not?

5.         Will Facebook publish detailed information about the number of country-specific staff and language-specific content moderators it employs?  If not, why not?

6.         Will Facebook commit to studying regularly its civil rights and human rights impacts and making future human rights impact assessments or rights audits public in their entirety?  If not, why not?

7.         Will Facebook commit to establishing and publishing criteria that must be met for Facebook to expand or maintain usage of its services in markets at risk of hate content fueling religious and/or ethnic violence to ensure Facebook does not enable human rights violations?  If so, please specify the outside input that Facebook will solicit in developing these criteria.  If not, why not?

8.         Will Facebook conduct an analysis of how it can better design its systems and algorithms to not just identify and take down hate speech, but limit the reach of this content and its ability to cause offline violence?  If not, why not?

9.         Will Facebook commit to creating a working group led by a senior employee with expertise in anti-Muslim bigotry specifically tasked with monitoring, reviewing, and coordinating efforts to proactively remove anti-Muslim content on the platform?  If not, why not?

Thank you for your consideration of our views.  We appreciate your prompt attention to this matter.

Sincerely,

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can read the full letter here and below:

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

Dear Inspector General Joseph V. Cuffari,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

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

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

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

Full text of the letter follows:

 

September 17, 2020

Hon. Joseph V. Cuffari

Inspector General

Department of Homeland Security

245 Murray Lane SW

Washington, DC 20528-0305

Dear Mr. Cuffari:

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Dear Leader McConnell and Leader Schumer:

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Coronavirus Language Access Act would:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A copy of the letter is available here

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Honorable Donald J. Trump

President of the United States

The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Ave., NW

Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear President Trump: 

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

July 24, 2020

The Honorable David Vela

Acting Director

National Park Service

1849 C Street NW

Washington, D.C. 20240 

Dear Acting Director Vela: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

 

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