August 6, 2009

  • Obama administration announces immigration detention reform
  • Email and the economic crisis put US Postal Service in the red
  • Senate reviews climate change law one last time before recess
  • Korean A-bomb survivors mark Hiroshima anniversary

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Sonia Sotomayor confirmed as Supreme Court Justice
The US Senate confirmed Sonia Sotomayor to the United States Supreme Court, making her the first Latina, and only the third woman ever to join the highest court in the land.
The final vote was 68 to 31, with Democrats unanimously voting to approve.  Idaho Senator Jim Risch was one of the Republicans who voted against Sotomayor.  In explaining his decision, he said he respected the judge as a person, but he equated his decision with then-Senator Barack Obama’s votes against confirming both Judges John Roberts and Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court.

“He concluded that when he withheld his consent on those two, that the person did not meet his view of what the vision for what America was.  I’ve reached the same conclusion on this nominee.”

Several Republicans cited Sotomayor’s rulings in cases on gun rights and affirmative action as reasons why they are opposing her, but Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy said those Senators were not basing their opposition on Sotomayor’s record.

“Thirty-six hundred cases.  They only find a tiny handful that they criticize, and they can criticize those only be mischaracterizing them.”

Supreme court justice Sonia Sotomayor will take her seat on the court in early September.

Honduran police raid university
Thousands of students battled riot police in Honduras yesterday, after the police stormed a peaceful demonstration at the National Autonomous University in Tegucigalpa. Tim Russo has more.

5000 students battled riot police in Honduras yesterday, after the police stormed a peaceful demonstration at the National Autonomous University in Tegucigalpa. Tim Russo has more.

Students at the university were staging a peaceful demonstration rejecting the presence of Conservative Presidential Candidate Pepe Lobos when the police began to disperse the crowd with tear gas, rubber bullets and batons. Confrontations between students and the police continued for the next three hours.  Several students were injured.  Among those caught in the initial repression was university rector Julieta Castellanos who until yesterday’s repression was known to have supported the recent Presidential coup. Castellanos was thrown to the ground by the police as she and the President of the University Board of Directors Olvin Rodriguez waved a white flag while escaping the tear gas in attempts to negotiate with the police. Rodriguez vehemently denounced the police’s actions.

“We came out with our hands up; we came out in peace and we were attacked. But we are not going to permit the take over of university grounds by the police or the army.”

Students commented that the police repression may have politicized this otherwise apolitical sector that had been only marginally involved in the recent mobilizations before Wednesday.

“Today for the first time in many years the students have woken up.  We are condemning this fatal coup d’etat.”

Also on Wednesday, the president of the Organization of American States announced the creation of a special commission that will travel to Honduras to bring pressure for a diplomatic solution to the month-long presidential conflict.

Tim Russo, FSRN, Tegucigalpa

US to clear UN peacekeeping debts
After years of being in debt to the United Nations, the US is finally paying up.  Washington’s ambassador to the U-N says the US is prepared to pay about 200 million dollars it owes for peacekeeping missions, and will pay more than $2 Billion for what it owes for 2009 as well.  Former President George W. Bush’s administration had a contentious relationship with the UN, and had fallen behind on numerous payments.  In June, President Obama asked congress to pay the UN what it was owed.  US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice told the UN Security Council yesterday that she has received appropriations from congress to be directed to the UN.

“I was pleased to make the case for UN peacekeeping on capital hill last week.  While acknowledging its shortcomings, and underscoring the US commitment to strengthening the UN’s peacekeeping capacities. Because this truly global enterprise serves a shared interest.”

The US is the largest contributor to UN peacekeeping missions, contributing about a quarter of the programs entire budget.

Secretary Clinton threatens Kenya With sanctions/suggests US could join ICC
Meanwhile, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says it’s ‘a great regret’ that the US is not a member of the International Criminal Court, an international institution set up to prosecute for war crimes and crimes against humanity when the courts Of individual countries wont do so.  While President Clinton supported joining the ICC, president George W. Bush decided not to in 2002, stating concerns that Americans could be the target of politically motivated prosecutions.

Clinton was speaking in Kenya, part of a 7-nation tour in Africa.  She was also critical of the Kenyan governments failure to prosecute anyone for violence that followed December 2007 elections, which killed more than 1,500 people and led to a power sharing agreement in the government.  Asked during a press conference if the US might impose sanctions on Kenya, Clinton said its possible, if the authorities can’t hold the perpetrators of violence accountable.

“I wanted publicly to say that to members of parliament, trying to resolve this issue internally is far preferable to losing control of it and seeing it go to the International Criminal Court.  And finally with respect to any actions that our government might take, those are always available and open to us.  We hope that that doesn’t come to pass.”

Indigenous Mexicans freed in 1997 Acteal Massacre
Mexico’s Supreme Court has ruled to overturn the sentences of 40 men imprisoned for the massacre of 45 people in the southern state of Chiapas. Shannon Young has the story.

The court ruled that federal prosecutors fabricated evidence against at least 40 indigenous men sentenced to lengthy prison terms for their supposed participation in what’s known as the Acteal massacre. The men have already served 11 years in prison. On December 22 1997, right-wing paramilitaries opposed to the area’s indigenous Zapatista rebels attacked a church in the village of Acteal during a religious ceremony, killing 45 women, children and elderly men. The fact that police at a nearby checkpoint failed to intervene on behalf of the villagers has fueled accusations that the massacre was part of an official counter-insurgency strategy, but only one municipal level official has received any form of punishment in relation to the crime. The 40 men declared innocent will remain in prison until after the Supreme Court justices meet on August 12th to officially validate their ruling. Shannon Young, FSRN, Mexico.


Obama administration announces immigration detention reform
The Obama administration announced that it will “undertake a major overhaul” of  its immigration detention system. US immigration and custom enforcement or ICE, currently contracts more than 400 private facilities, state and local jails to hold undocumented immigrants, according to the ACLU.

Immigrants rights advocates have long criticized the conditions inside US detention centers, with Amnesty International charging the US earlier this year with human rights violations.

Denia, who preferred not to give her last name,  is a former detainee from Honduras.  She was held for four months at the Hutto detention center in Texas, where she stayed in a windowless cell, with her two children aged three and nine.

“The conditions were very tough when I was there. We had to wake up at five in the morning and we had to wake up the children too. Then we had to go for breakfast and they would only give us 10 minutes to eat. And if we didn´t finish, the food was left there. It was difficult for me because I had to feed my little three year old and sometimes I had no time to eat. I was also pregnant at the time”

As part of the overhaul announced today, ICE said it would centralize control over detention centers, creating a new office that would review key areas like medical conditions, detainees´ access to legal information and recreational services.

Officials also announced they would stop sending families to the T Don Hutto Residential Facility in Taylor, Texas, one of two detention centers in the US that currently holds *children with their parents.

Immigrants rights groups welcomed this initiative, but they remain critical of conditions at detention centers.  **The North Carolina based non-profit, Grassroots Leadership, has been a strong critic of children´s detention.  Campaign manager Bob Libal spoke to FSRN about the conditions at the Hutto detention centre.

“When Hutto opened in 2006 the reports of the conditions from inside were pretty appalling, there was one hour of education a day, children were dressed in prison-like garb, there were reports of threatening children from separation from their parents as a disciplinary tool…”

The Obama administration´s announcement comes on the heels of another scathing report on the US immigration detention system.

The National Center for Immigration Law, or NCIL, released a 180 page report titled  “A Broken System.” NCIL says the US denies detainees access to legal information that would help them prepare their immigration cases.  The report says visits by relatives are often barred and that in some cases detainees do not have some basic rights enjoyed by the US prison population, like access to recreational facilities.

Much of the information included in the report comes from ICE itself and through confidential documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request. Linton Joaquin co-authored the NCIL´s report.  He says detention centers are violating the government´s own standards.

“What we found was that ICE´s own reports indicated many violations of their standards that lasted lots of time, from report to report and were not remedied.”

The report also gathered information from visits made to detention centers by independent monitors like the American Bar Association and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees.

“The ABA and the UNHCR in many cases went to the same facility that ICE did, and found many violations that ICE failed to identify.  You can sit down and track a detention center, the ICE report, the subsequent ABA report and a pattern over time of violations that were not remedied.”

More than 300,000 undocumented immigrants are held at US detention centers every year and the numbers have steadily risen over the last decade.

FSRN spoke with former Anchor Aura Bogado, who is currently researching immigration issues in Arizona.  She´s visited several detention centers.


***In the audio version of this story, FSRN mistakenly said Grassroots Leadership was a Texas-based non-profit. Although it runs campaigns in Texas, Grassroots Leadership is based in North Carolina. We also said the T. Don Hutto Residential Facility in Taylor, Texas is “one of two detention centers in the country that holds children.”  It is actually one of two detention centers that hold children with their parents. Children classified as unaccompanied minors are held in separate detention facilities. We have corrected the above text to reflect the clarifications.

Email and the economic crisis put US Postal Service in the red
The US Postal Service is in crisis and its not only because of the economic recession. Email and other technological advances are decreasing the use of sending letters and paying bill through the mail. The Post Office  reported  a $2.4 billion loss in the last quarter alone and projects it will keep losing money all year.  Today, a senate committee held a hearing on what should be done to help the postal service out of the red. FSRN´s Karen Miller has more.


Senate reviews climate change law one last time before recess
The US Senate took one last look at climate legislation before the long August recess. They’re expected to introduce a bill just after the break. FSRN’s Tanya Snyder examines what that bill might look like and what its chances are.


Korean A-bomb survivors mark Hiroshima anniversary
Sixty-four years ago, the US Air Force dropped an atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima.  A few days later, another was used to attack Nagasaki.

Hundreds of thousands of people died as a result of the explosions, but not all were Japanese.  Many were Koreans, conscripted to work in factories in those cities. Some of the surviving victims gathered today in Seoul.  FSRN’S Jason Strother tells us their story.

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