Groups sue to stop new expedited deportation policy

CARSON CITY, Nev. (Public News Service) — Civil rights groups are suing the feds to stop a new policy of fast-tracking deportation for anyone who cannot prove they’ve been in the United States continuously for the past two years.

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., claims the policy is an unconstitutional violation of a person’s right to due process. Attorney Anand Balakrishnan with the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, said it’s unfair to deport people without a meaningful hearing or time to consult a lawyer.

“Essentially,” he said, “what this does is strip non-citizens of their fundamental right to a fair hearing on the question as to whether they should be deported or not.”

In the past, fast-track deportations only were applied to people caught near the border or who had been in the United States for a few weeks. But two weeks ago, the Trump administration expanded the policy to cover anyone in the country who is undocumented and can’t show proof that they’ve lived in the United States for at least two years. The administration has said the change is needed to free up detention beds and reduce the backlog in the immigration courts.

Undocumented people who have been in the United States for more than two years still can be deported, but they retain the right to get an attorney to fight the removal. Balakrishnan called the new rules a dramatic escalation in the current administration’s attacks on immigrant communities.

“In some ways, it is just another example of the administration’s steady drumbeat of new and repressive laws toward both immigrants and their families,” he said, “but we’re hopeful that the court will step in.”

The new policy, which took effect July 23, could apply to hundreds of thousands of undocumented people. This week’s lawsuit asks for an immediate injunction to stop the expansion of fast-track deportations and requests that the policy be reversed altogether.

Details of the lawsuit are online at aclu.org.

Reporting by Suzanne Potter, Nevada Bureau


New Mexico debates oil and gas methane emissions

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — New Mexico residents are having their say this month about state regulations on methane emissions from oil and gas operations.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham committed to implement rules that would lead the nation as part of her election campaign. Ahead of public hearings, the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association released its own “methane mitigation road map,” which it calls a “solution-oriented” approach, but environmental groups have argued that the industry’s proposal would leave New Mexico with the weakest methane regulations in the country.

Hillary Hull, senior manager of research and analytics for the Environmental Defense Fund, said regulations are working in other states.

“There certainly will be industry pushback,” she said, “but what we want to point to is places like Colorado, where a lot of these same operators are operating and are perfectly comfortable – and are even finding the benefits of these methane regulations.”

A public hearing is scheduled at 8:30 a.m. today in the Skeen-Whitlock building in Carlsbad.

New Mexico frequently ranks at or near the bottom in state public-education measures, with revenue for schools often tied to the boom-and-bust oil and gas industry. Farmington teacher Mary Ann Broidy is convinced that lost revenue from methane emissions could improve that picture.

“It’s difficult to expand your economic base, and to attract young people here and industry here, if your education system is dead last in the country,” she said. “Young families don’t want to come. It’s scary for them to raise their children in that climate.”

The Environmental Defense Fund has estimated that the state could save more than $730 million in revenue over the next decade through comprehensive methane-waste controls, compared with $180 million based on the industry’s proposal.

Broidy said she believes the industry needs more accountability.

“In our homes, we ask our kids to clean up after themselves. In our schools, we teach our kids to clean up after themselves,” she said. “It just seems to me that it’s not asking too much to ask industry to do the same in the state of New Mexico.”

Studies estimate that New Mexico’s methane emissions are more than 1 million tons a year.

The EDF analysis is online at edf.org.

Reporting by Roz Brown, New Mexico Bureau


“Princess Leia” to help Texas celebrate National Health Center Week

UVALDE, Tex. — Families are invited to come out to Uvalde High School this Friday to meet Superman and Princess Leia, and get free immunizations, school supplies, backpacks and more.

The Wellness Fair Carnival is part of a series of events across the nation celebrating National Health Center Week. Rachel Gonzalez Hanson, chief executive of Community Health Development Inc., the carnival’s organizer, said health centers not only keep patients healthy but also are an economic engine for communities, especially in rural areas.

“We’re creating jobs – and these are not minimum-wage-paying jobs – from custodians to physicians, dentists and everything in between,” she said. “That’s what we’re celebrating. That’s what we want people to know.”

Community Health Centers provide a health-care home to more than 1.4 million Texans and serve more than 40% of the state’s uninsured population. Federally qualified health centers in Texas and across the nation have been pioneers in lowering overall health costs, in large part by creating a one-stop shop for a patient’s primary medical, mental, substance abuse, dental, behavioral and vision-care needs.

Hanson said this week’s carnival and other events also are meant to remind stakeholders, including federal, state and county representatives, that health centers deliver care at nearly 500 sites across the state. If Congress renews funding set to expire on Sept. 30, she said, centers can continue to ensure a healthy workforce across Texas.

“We’re prepared to do that,” she said. “Congress needs to make sure that our funding is there, long term, stable funding to maintain all of our services that we provide, and to grow and add more services, making that healthier America that we all want.”

Nationally, health centers provide care for more than 29 million patients in more than 11,000 communities. On average, centers save 24% per Medicaid patient when compared with other providers. Health centers employ more than 220,000 people nationwide and generate more than $54 billion in economic activity in some of the nation’s most distressed communities. Roughly a third of patients at Texas health centers are children.

More information is online at nachc.org.

Reporting by Eric Galatas, Texas Bureau


High Arizona temps signal ‘growing health crisis’

PHOENIX — The rising number of annual heat-related deaths in Arizona is approaching those from such disasters as floods, earthquakes and hurricanes in other states, according to public-health officials.

With high temperatures between 110 and 115 degrees on many summer days, fatalities and serious injuries – particularly among the vulnerable homeless, low-income and senior populations – are hitting record levels across the state.

Dr. Rebecca Sunenshine, medical director of the Maricopa County Public Health Department’s disease-control division, which encompasses the metro Phoenix area, said the number of heat-related deaths has grown in the past decade.

“We are seeing a remarkable number of individuals who are dying from heat-related causes this year,” she said. “We’re already at 12 confirmed, and we have 82 individuals under investigation for heat-related deaths. At this time last year, we had seven, with 69 under investigation.”

In Arizona, heat-related deaths grew from 200 in 2008 to almost 400 by 2018. Sunenshine said those numbers may be low, since it can take weeks or months for coroners to determine if a person’s death is attributable to heat. Average highs between June and September are around 106 degrees, but the number of extreme days – 110 or higher – grew from just a few in in 2008 to almost 30 last year.

Weather officials issue extreme heat alerts when forecasts call for temperatures of 110 or higher. Sunenshine said it’s particularly dangerous on those days for some groups.

“People who have chronic medical conditions or especially seniors,” she said. “We want to check on our neighbors, make sure that their air conditioning is functioning. Sadly, about a quarter of our heat-related deaths occur indoors, and that most often affects the elderly.”

She added that cities such as Phoenix and Tucson experience the so-called “heat island” effect.

“The less green trees and grass and shade that you have in the area, the hotter the area will be and the more heat that is retained overnight,” she said, “and it’s that lack of cooling off during the nighttime that can really wear on people.”

She said climate change appears to be driving the record number of extreme heat days.

Information on heat deaths is online at azdhs.gov.

Reporting by Mark Richardson, Arizona Bureau


 

Groups Call for Fraud Protections in New E-Payment System

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Consumer groups are calling for more fraud protections in a new electronic payment system announced this week, to be developed by the Federal Reserve.

It now can take a day or two for funds from direct-deposit and online bill payments to actually hit the account. The new system would make that process instantaneous, but Lauren Saunders, associate director of the National Consumer Law Center, said faster transactions also could benefit scammers. She urged the Fed to give e-payments some of the same protections people now have with their credit-card purchases.

“It’s incredibly important for the banks that create accounts that allow people to receive payments to make sure that they’re not receiving money for illegal purposes,” she said. “So, institutions that enable scammers to receive fraudulent payments need to be responsible for that, and to compensate consumers who are defrauded.”

The new system will be controlled by the Federal Reserve and will compete with another system being developed by a group of the biggest banks. Consumer groups want the Fed to develop important “rules of the road,” so that financial institutions have an incentive to prevent fraud.

Saunders said the new system will give lower-income families more immediate access to their funds and correct balances, which should result in fewer overdraft charges.

“Real-time payments can help people understand better what money is in their account,” she said, “because when you make a payment, if the money comes out immediately, you’re less likely to get caught later with a payment coming out that you’ve forgotten about.”

The Fed has released a set of questions about automatic payments, which will be open for public comment for the next 90 days. The new payment system is expected be up and running in five or six years.

The Fed’s announcement is online here, and public comments can be made here.

Reporting by Suzanne Potter, Missouri Bureau

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