A leaked internal government report obtained by BuzzFeed News continues to confirm what advocates were long saying when the anti-asylum Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) policy was in effect: There were particularly vulnerable adults and children who under “guiding principles” should have been exempt from the program, but weren’t.
The internal government report, authored by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL), said that while asylum-seekers with “known physical/mental health issues” were supposed to be exempt, “this was not well explained to border agents.” But you could also argue that agents knew and ignored guidelines anyway. Take this one example from Oct. 2020.
Invited by Texas Civil Rights Project, then-2020 presidential candidate Julián Castro traveled to the squalid Matamoros border camp to meet a number of the tens of thousands of asylum-seekers who the previous administration had forced to wait in Mexico for their U.S. immigration court dates. “I’m here now to meet with refugees, some LGBTQ or disabled, who’ve been held up here despite policies that allow them to enter,” Castro tweeted at the time.
Castro would eventually escort a dozen particularly vulnerable to a U.S. port of entry, arguing that they “should not be included in the remain in Mexico policy.” Castro was successful in his effort—but only for the blink of an eye.
“Hours after we were told LGBT and disabled asylum seekers would have their cases heard, they have been returned to Mexico,” an outraged Castro said. “By law, these migrants are supposed to be exempt from the Remain in Mexico policy—but Customs and Border Protection had decided to ignore their due process. Outrageous.” The Texas Civil Rights Project, in turn, said that “[i]f these people … do not meet the criteria for ‘vulnerable populations,’ then the ‘vulnerable’ exemptions in ‘Remain in Mexico’ are lip service.”
The organization would go on to sue the previous administration later that year, “the first class-action suit challenging MPP’s discriminatory practices on the basis of disability.” But these vulnerable people weren’t alone in being blocked from their U.S. and international right to seek asylum, and in dehumanizing ways.
“In one case, investigators looked into an allegation that a 6-year-old girl from Honduras was returned to Mexico despite having advanced cerebral palsy,” BuzzFeed News reports. “The CBP records the investigators reviewed indicated that she, her parents, and her brother were placed into MPP on May 20, 2019. A DHS form the investigators reviewed indicated ‘CRIPPLED LEG, LEFT’ and ‘CRIPPLED LEG, RIGHT’ under a section reserved for ‘scars, marks, and tattoos.’” Investigators said the note “indicates that CBP was aware that the child had a disability at the time it placed [the girl] into MPP and returned her to Mexico.”
BuzzFeed News also reported that an asylum office had alerted border officials about an 11-year-old boy who’d been placed in MPP despite “severe epilepsy, with convulsions leading to loss of memory and vomiting.” But “CBP indicated that CBP was aware of the child’s condition and that he had gone through two prior medical screenings while remaining in the MPP program,” the report said. These border agents don’t care—and that’s a big reason why Remain in Mexico’s possible return as soon as next month would be disastrous.
“It’s unclear how medical conditions and disabilities would be handled under a new version of MPP, but a court filing this month indicated that Mexican officials had wanted improvements to the program,” BuzzFeed News continued. But just days ago, dozens upon dozens of legal providers and service groups told the Biden administration it could forget about getting any help from them if it reinstates the program, writing that they “refuse to be complicit in a program that facilitates the rape, torture, death, and family separations of people seeking protection by committing to provide legal services.”
The U.S. needs Mexico’s cooperation to restart the program. If the two nations are unable to come to an agreement, the U.S. may be able to go back to court and say, we tried, but couldn’t. In the meantime, advocacy groups say that the Biden administration should reissue a new, more thorough memo again terminating the policy, “and that resolves any Administrative Procedure Act issues identified by the district court.” While the Biden administration said last month following a Supreme Court decision that it would again try to end the policy, nothing has been issued yet.
At this point in the pandemic, and with the 2022 midterm elections looming, Republicans are quick to use trans folks as a scapegoat for any and all issues. Daily Kos has covered state lawmakers who are fighting to stop trans youth from accessing gender-affirming medical care and barring trans folks of any age from updating their legal documents. Of course, there’s also the ongoing, wildly misleading battle to keep trans girls from competing on girls’ sports teams.
Republicans often fall back on the rhetoric of “protecting” or “honoring” women and feminism, pointedly ignoring that trans girls and women are indeed women. Behind this rallying cry is a thinly veiled and deeply dangerous idea that trans people are inherently dangerous and predatory—just think about the disturbing images and rhetoric that come about whenever trans-inclusive bathrooms come up. All of this Republican fearmongering has now turned a reported sexual assault in a high school bathroom in Loudoun County, Virginia, into a circus, decentering the actual issue at hand: sexual violence.
As some background on the case, Daily Kos recently covered that a teenager had been charged with sexual assault after the survivor, a teenage girl, reported the incident. The assault occurred in a girls’ bathroom at Stone Bridge High School in late May. The suspect, then a 14-year-old boy, was transferred to another high school in the county, Broad Run High School, where he was again accused of sexual assault, that time occurring in an empty classroom in early October.
This case really blew up on the national stage after the father of the survivor (whose name we are not including in order to protect the minor’s privacy) went to a local school board meeting. He’s told outlets he went to the meeting to get answers, but he included some anti-trans remarks in there, too.
Specifically, the parent described the accused as bisexual and said he sometimes wore dresses. The parent suggested the trans-inclusive bathrooms essentially gave access for this attack to happen, but that policy wasn’t even in place at the time of the attack.
Most recently, local outlet 7News I-Team reports that the suspect has been found guilty of all charges. According to The Washington Post, the juvenile court judge is waiting to sentence the teen until the case for the second assault (the one in the empty classroom) goes to trial in November. The youth’s gender identity was not discussed in court and authorities involved in the case have not commented on it either way.
According to local outlet WJLA, students and some teachers in Loudoun County walked out in protest on Tuesday morning to show support for sexual violence survivors and push administrators to address why the suspect was allowed to return to school in the district. According to local outlet WUSA 9, Loudoun County High School Principal Michelle Luttrell has said students will not be punished for participating in the protest, provided it is peaceful.
Whether trans-inclusive policies are in place or not, sexual assault and violence are always wrong. It’s wrong whether the person involved is LGBTQ+ or not. Allowing people to use the bathroom or locker room that aligns with their gender identity does not give anyone a pass on committing violence against others, and in spite of Republicans spreading this hysteria, literally no one is suggesting that should be the case.
You can catch some video footage of the walkouts below.
The study, which springboards from IREHR’s original 2020 report on what it calls “Ammon’s Army,” presents data showing how the People’s Rights, originally built largely on Facebook, expanded its national membership from 21,851 to 33,431 in the past year, an increase of 53%. The dedicated activists on the list with key on-the-ground roles as “assistants” grew from 153 to 398, a 160% increase.
The report includes detailed interactive maps that enable readers to examine the network’s reach in their own home areas. It also demonstrates how People’s Rights has expanded its reach into Canada, and charts how the organization has expanded its leadership roles for key members.
According to the data, Bundy’s network is primarily expanding its reach in the West, the region with far and away the largest numbers of both members and “assistants” (some 24,000 of them in 2021). Indeed, some 72% of its members reside in the West; the region also has the highest per capita membership, with 12.82 times the members-per-10,000 count of the Northeast and 7.74 and 7.26 times that of the Midwest and South, respectively.
However, the organization also grew by 39.17% in the South.
“The states with the ten largest memberships are Washington (6,908), Oregon (5,544), Idaho (3,133), Utah (2,348), California (1,721), Florida (1,721) Colorado (1,306), Texas (1,142), Montana (952) and Arizona (895),” the report states.
And while the main focus of the network has involved organizing resistance to COVID-19 health restrictions, that is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of the range of right-wing politics it encompasses. The pandemic, as it is, has primarily served as a recruitment tool for drawing people into its large alternative universe of extremist beliefs and conspiracy theories.
“The People’s Rights network’s COVID denial activism is not just about masks, mandates, or misinformation,” Devin Burghart, IREHR’s executive director, explained to Daily Kos. “Rather, COVID denial is used by the People’s Rights network as an entry point to draw people onto a quickly moving radicalization conveyor belt. While COVID denial activism has been the largest source of new recruits, it is far from the only area that the People’s Rights network is involved. For instance, in the Klamath River Basin, the group used last summer’s drought to threaten an armed standoff over water. During Bundy’s tour through Utah earlier this spring, in addition to COVID denial, presentation themes included food supply and federal land use. Militant on-the-ground activism is the most prominent factor driving the growth in recruits.
“Once involved with the group,” he continued, “though they might have joined to protest pandemic restrictions, recruits are immediately inundated with the far-right ideology, including the ‘constitutionalism’ of figures like KrisAnne Hall and the middle American neighborhood nationalism of Ammon Bundy. At local meetings and online, recruits are exposed to a myriad of conspiracy theories beyond COVID denialism. Attacks on democracy and democratic institutions, political violence, and talk of a second Civil War have become disturbingly common topics inside the People’s Rights network.”
The group’s initial spread on Facebook was temporarily stunted by the platform’s decision to ban COVID denialism, though in fact “People’s Rights maintains a presence on Facebook through posts on members’ personal pages and People’s Rights activists and supporters’ participation in other COVID denial Facebook groups.” Undeterred, the network moved its recruitment and organization efforts to an internal text network, as well as such chat platforms as Telegram, Mewe, and Wimkin.
The Washington State chapter of People’s Rights operates a Telegram channel with 1,359 subscribers and an active chat group of 558 members. In Florida, People’s Rights activist Chris Nelson has 1,377 subscribers to his Telegram channel. Activists also communicate through the network’s website, as well as using Slack and more traditional forms of technology, including telephones, walkie-talkies, and Ham radios.
For his part, Bundy complained afterwards that the report actually undercounted the People’s Rights membership. He told the Associated Press that the network now had over 62,000 members.
“The IREHR report is drastically inaccurate. Not sure where they pulled their info from,” Bundy wrote in an email. “I’m glad they under reported so the FBI does not think we are too much of a threat to ‘democracy,’” Bundy wrote. “If we keep growing the way we are the FBI may get jealous and throw me in jail for no reason again.”
But in fact, IREHR’s researchers admitted as much when they published the study, noting that they took a conservative approach to counting membership. Its methodology information notes: “There are likely individuals in the People’s Rights network overall membership not assigned to a state or area, but that data was not available to IREHR researchers.”
“The data was collected a bit ago, and there are undoubtedly people that don’t have an assigned area,” Burghart told Daily Kos. “Unfortunately, those numbers aren’t available to anyone but Bundy. If he wants to make that info publicly available, we’d be more than happy to revise our figures. Until then, it’s the most accurate estimate of membership data available.”
Burghart also noted that Bundy—who is currently running for Idaho governor—may have admitted to campaign-law violations with his remarks to AP. “The quotes are an admission that Bundy is still running the organization while in the midst of a gubernatorial primary,” he observed. “The admission poses serious questions about the co-mingling of the campaign and the organization that the Idaho secretary of state might want to explore.”
“I think the report underestimates their overall strength, because they’ve also built out alliances with a range of groups, from the tea party to the Proud Boys and anti-vax groups,” Chuck Tanner, IREHR’s research director, told AP. “In certain places they are able to mobilize at levels that make an impact on policy.”
The central fact, as he explained, is that the organization is rapidly expanding its reach in an increasingly radicalized American right. “What People’s Rights does is spread really radical ideas about overturning civil rights in the United States,” Tanner said. “This is a broad-based, antidemocratic and bigoted social movement.”
Last week, Insider published a lengthy article detailing the many missteps Facebook made in its Edge Cable project running under the Pacific Ocean from the Oregon coast. The project was meant to provide high-speed services to Japan and the Philippines and has come at a total cost of less than $500,000 to the company.
Facebook completed the project last month—nearly two years after its original completion date—yet issues persist, including a small sinkhole that was discovered Sept. 28. According to the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department (OPRD), the sinkhole appeared on the beach “roughly in line with the conduit installed under the ocean shore.”
It was the OPRD that ultimately filled in the sinkhole and surrounded it with safety tape. The department said it’s working with Facebook contractor Edge Cable Holdings to create a response plan to address issues like these, though no further updates have been made available since Oct. 8. The Sept. 28 sinkhole discovery marks at least the second such sinkhole that appeared as a result of the project. The first was discovered on April 1 and filled in by Edge Cable. Sinkholes pale in comparison to the issue of 6,500 gallons of drilling fluid spilled last April, however.
Edge Cable crews smashed into rock while drilling down about 500 feet offshore, resulting in 1,110 feet of broken pipe as well as drilling machinery being abandoned nearly 50 feet under the seabed. Facebook only disclosed the mishap after a resident flagged the problem to the Oregon Department of State Lands (ODSL) nearly two months later. Facebook was ultimately forced to pay $250,000 to ODSL for breach of contract.
Even before Facebook began its ambitious project to lay down 8,500 feet of fiber optic cable, the company faced pushback from concerned Oregonians, including its neighbors in Tierra Del Mar. The small, coastal town played host to Edge Cable’s drilling site located in a residential neighborhood mere steps from the beach. Nonprofits like the Oregon Coast Alliance slammed Facebook’s many missteps. Tierra Del Mar resident Marie Cook, whose house is right next to the drilling site, called Facebook’s plan “unethical.”
“There are 365 miles of coastline in Oregon,” Cook said in an interview with Oregon alternative weekly Willamette Week. “And yet they come here and put this thing that has no benefit for our community right in the middle of a residential neighborhood.”
Not everyone opposed Facebook’s plan. The Oregon Fishermen’s Cable Committee worked alongside the social media giant to help move the project forward and earned hundreds of thousands of dollars patrolling the area where Edge Cable was laying down fiber optic lines.
The politicians who OK’d the project also profited from Facebook. Willamette Week reported that as of last year, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown has received $12,500 from Facebook and the company’s COO, Sheryl Sandberg, since 2016. State Treasurer Tobias Read has received $38,900 from Facebook and Sandberg since 2008. Read was the one who suggested that the land board sign off on Facebook’s permit for its Edge Cable project in June 2019; Brown seconded that motion.
It was Brown who first tried to entice tech companies to “come ashore” in Oregon in the first place, according to a letter she sent to attendees of the 2018 Pacific Communications Conference. Since then, local leaders appear to have fallen in line with that welcoming messaging, noted Oregon Coast Alliance Executive Director Cameron La Follette.
“The Facebook cable made it clear that coastal communities are vulnerable to being targeted as the siting location of a cable, as Tierra del Mar was—if the local jurisdiction grants the land use permit, as Tillamook County did in this instance,” La Follette told Daily Kos. “Industrial activity in the midst of a residential area is extremely disruptive and damaging; it should never have been permitted, and should not be again.”
Lawmakers have yet to put the kibosh on projects like Facebook’s Edge Cable, but they have passed legislation tightening restrictions on such endeavors. HB 2603, which was signed into law in July, “requires owners or operators of undersea cables to obtain financial assurances for installation and removal of cable and create plan for removal of cable.”
La Follette praised the law, which she said will “require much more specific planning, as well as requirements for cable removal and funds for restoration and/or cleanup in the case of accidents.”
Facebook, for its part, has continued to invest in Oregon. The company’s Prineville data center, which opened its doors in 2009, is its largest in the U.S. and is in the process of being expanded. Facebook sweetened its latest expansion deal by creating a $60,000 grant for K-12 robotics classes in Crook County public schools, earning it praise from local officials. Extensive tax breaks have kept Facebook interested in Prineville. According to The Oregonian, Facebook saved nearly $130 million thanks to local tax breaks from 2012 to 2020.