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The US Congress took a positive step in the nation's new budget toward dismantling the harsh travel restrictions that cause the forced separation of Cuban families, Human Rights Watch said today.
On March 10, 2009, the Senate approved a budget that would cut off all funds for enforcing the tightened travel restrictions imposed on Cuban-Americans by President Bush in 2004. Under those rules, individuals are limited to visiting relatives in Cuba once every three years and only if those relatives fit a narrow definition of family, which excludes aunts, uncles and cousins. President Obama is expected to sign the bill later this week.
"Cutting off funding for these cruel restrictions is a step in the right direction," said Jose Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. "But it's hardly permanent. President Obama should follow up by issuing an executive order to eliminate all restrictions on travel and remittances for Cuban-Americans."
A report by Human Rights Watch, "Families Torn Apart," documented the terrible human cost of these restrictions and found that they infringed upon the internationally recognized right to freedom of movement, as well as violated the international prohibition on the involuntary separation of families.
While the bill prevents the use of any funds to "administer, implement, or enforce" the 2004 restrictions, it will apply only to the 2009 fiscal year. Any breach of the restrictions by Cuban-Americans will still be considered a violation of US law.
"Even the pre-2004 travel restrictions on Cuban families exact a considerable toll, such as tearing children away from their parents and preventing adults from caring for ailing relatives," Vivanco said. "They should be taken off the books altogether."
Legislation introduced in the House of Representatives in February, known as Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act, would restore full travel to Cuba for Cuban-Americans and Americans alike, without restrictions.
"The limits on travel to Cuba have failed completely to bring change to Cuba," said Vivanco. "By lifting them, the US can begin to move away from its unilateral policy and engage with its allies in a more effective, targeted approach."
Human Rights Watch is one of the world's leading independent organizations dedicated to defending and protecting human rights. By focusing international attention where human rights are violated, we give voice to the oppressed and hold oppressors accountable for their crimes. Our rigorous, objective investigations and strategic, targeted advocacy build intense pressure for action and raise the cost of human rights abuse. For 30 years, Human Rights Watch has worked tenaciously to lay the legal and moral groundwork for deep-rooted change and has fought to bring greater justice and security to people around the world.
"If this were really about the national debt, then there are plenty of places we could go to stitch up loopholes, like no more of these tax havens abroad," said the senator. "But that is not where the Republicans want to go."
Sen. Elizabeth Warren on Monday took aim at the Republican Party for creating what she called a "manufactured crisis" as a potential fight over the debt ceiling looms, slamming the GOP's threats to public spending as the party works to make it even easier for the wealthy to avoid paying taxes.
On MSNBC's "Morning Joe," the Massachusetts Democrat said the Republicans are actively trying to "wreck the economy" to protect the wealthy.
"If the Republicans had not pushed just two things, the Republican tax cuts that went mostly to those at the very top and the biggest corporations and hollowing out the IRS specifically so they could not hold wealthy tax cheats accountable, wouldn't be able to audit them—if those two things had not happened, then we wouldn't even hit the debt ceiling at any time during the first Biden administration," said Warren.
\u201cSen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) says hitting the debt ceiling right now is a "manufactured crisis" by Republicans. \n\nWarren says without GOP tax cuts for wealthy and GOP's hollowing out of the IRS, "we wouldn't even hit the debt ceiling at any time during the first Biden admin."\u201d— The Recount (@The Recount) 1674482996
The Republican Party has for years cut funding to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) when it had the power to do so, diverting efforts away from auditing the wealthiest taxpayers and costing an estimated $125 billion in corporate taxes each year, and as Warren noted, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) began the new session of Congress earlier this month with a vote by the party to rescind billions in IRS funding that Democrats passed to crack down on tax evasion.
Far-right Republicans are also now proposing a nationwide sales tax to replace income taxes and other federal taxation—a regressive plan which, according to the Tax Policy Center, would leave households on the lower 80% of the income distribution paying nearly 35% of federal retail sales taxes, up from about 15%.
The sales tax would be "on everything from rent to groceries to diapers to car repairs," said Warren, and would "cut taxes for those at the very top."
The Republicans have pushed these proposals as U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen announced last week that the U.S. government had reached its debt limit of $31.4 trillion, which was set by Congress when it last raised the borrowing ceiling in December 2021.
The Treasury Department began implementing what it called "extraordinary measures" to avoid a debt default—selling investments and suspending reinvestments in the Civil Service Retirement and Disability Fund and the Postal Service Retiree Health Benefits Fund, which will not affect retirees or federal workers.
Yellen warned that those accounting maneuvers may only be possible until June and after that, "a failure to make payments that are due, whether it's the bondholders or to Social Security recipients or to our military, would undoubtedly cause a recession in the U.S. economy and could cause a global financial crisis."
In addition to further shifting tax burdens from the wealthy to lower-income households, Republicans have indicated they won't agree to raise the debt ceiling without cutting social spending on programs such as Medicare and Social Security, which they have long blamed for national deficits.
"If this were really about the national debt, then there are plenty of places we could go to stitch up loopholes, like no more of these tax havens abroad, that we could get that under control. But that is not where the Republicans want to go," Warren said on "Morning Joe."
Warren noted that the GOP voted to raise the debt ceiling multiple times when former Republican President Donald Trump was in office, as the party pushed tax cuts for the wealthy.
"Once we've got a Democrat in the White House, no, they don't want to raise the debt ceiling," said the senator. "They want to create as much economic chaos as they can and keep offering tax cuts to their rich buddies."
"By making it harder for people to spend time in the West Bank, Israel is taking yet another step toward turning the West Bank into another Gaza, where two million Palestinians have lived virtually sealed off from the outside world for over 15 years."
A top Human Rights Watch official warned Monday that restrictions recently placed by Israel's apartheid government on "foreigners"—including Palestinians—seeking entry into the West Bank could turn the illegally occupied territory into "another Gaza," which is often described as the "world's largest open-air prison."
Last year, a three-page document used by Israeli authorities to screen foreign nationals wishing to enter the West Bank was replaced by a 61-page guide detailing occupation forces' policies and procedures for foreigners seeking to visit only the West Bank, excluding East Jerusalem, or to extend a stay for specific purposes including studying, teaching, volunteering, or working there.
"The guidelines are distinct from those for entering Israel, which are normally applied at Ben Gurion Airport and other ports of entry," explained HRW—whose own Israel and Palestine director, Omar Shakir, was denied an entry permit under the new rules. "A West Bank permit holder without an Israeli entry visa has no legal authorization to enter Israel, nor occupied East Jerusalem."
HRW deputy Middle East director Eric Goldstein said in a statement that "by making it harder for people to spend time in the West Bank, Israel is taking yet another step toward turning the West Bank into another Gaza, where two million Palestinians have lived virtually sealed off from the outside world for over 15 years. This policy is designed to weaken the social, cultural, and intellectual ties that Palestinians have tried to maintain with the outside world."
\u201cNew Israeli restrictions on access to the West Bank for foreigners further isolate Palestinians from their loved ones & global civil society\u2014another step by Israel to turn the West Bank into Gaza, which it runs as open-air prison. New @hrw report out today https://t.co/LELHp4YAa1\u201d— Omar Shakir (@Omar Shakir) 1674450399
HRW interviewed 13 people last year "who detailed difficulties they have faced for years entering or remaining in the West Bank and their concerns about how the new guidelines will affect them."
"Ayman," who was born in Europe in the mid-1990s to a Palestinian father from the West Bank and a European mother, has lived in the West Bank most of his life. However, because he has no Palestinian identification card, he has relied upon visas in his European passport to remain in the West Bank and fears the new regulations could endanger his ability to remain in Palestine.
"Palestine for me is home," as "my childhood, schools, classmates, friends, extended family, relatives, and all the memories I have are all here," he told HRW, and yet "I am in Palestine as a tourist, as a European citizen."
"Israel's duties as an occupying power require it to facilitate foreigners' entry to the West Bank in an orderly manner."
"I may lose the right to visit," Ayman added. "I won't be able to visit as a tourist either according to these regulations."
HRW asserted that "while countries have wide discretion over entry into their sovereign territory, international humanitarian law requires occupying powers to act in the best interest of the occupied population or to maintain security or public order."
"There are no apparent justifications based on security, public order, or the best interests of Palestinians for how significantly Israeli authorities restrict volunteers, academics, or students from entering the West Bank or Palestinians' loved ones from remaining on a long-term basis," the group argued.
\u201cDozens of Palestinian women and their children are demanding that Israeli authorities allow them to change the address on their ID cards from the Gaza Strip to the West Bank, which would allow them to reunite with their partners\nhttps://t.co/ELYyG98645\u201d— Middle East Eye (@Middle East Eye) 1674450030
"By excessively restricting Palestinian families' ability to spend time together, and blocking the entry of academics, students, and nongovernmental workers who would contribute to social, cultural, political, and intellectual life in the West Bank, Israel's restrictions fall afoul of its duty, which increases in a prolonged occupation, to facilitate normal civil life for the occupied population," HRW continued.
"Israel's duties as an occupying power require it to facilitate foreigners' entry to the West Bank in an orderly manner," HRW added. "Subject to an individualized security assessment and absent compelling reason of law, Israeli authorities should at minimum grant permits of reasonable duration to foreigners who would contribute to life of the West Bank, including the family members of Palestinians and those working with Palestinian civil society, and residency to immediate relatives."
"I had been told without an immediate abortion, or dilation and evacuation, that my life was at risk," said Rep. Marie Gluesenkamp Pérez. "I got the care I needed, and now I'm the mother of my 17-month-old son."
As thousands of people gathered at pro-choice rallies across the United States, multiple congresswomen marked the 50th anniversary of Roe v. Wade on Sunday by sharing their own experiences with abortion care and renewing calls to protect reproductive rights in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court reversing its landmark ruling.
"I'm one of the 1 in 4 women in America who has had an abortion. Terminating my pregnancy was not an easy choice, but more importantly, it was MY choice," tweeted Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, who has previously shared her story in a New York Timesopinion piece and during a House hearing.
"Everyone's story is different, but I know this for certain: The choice to have an abortion belongs to pregnant people, not the government. We are not free if we cannot make these fundamental choices about our bodies," she continued. "MAGA Republicans' extreme abortion bans aren't about saving lives, they're about control. We must stand up and fight these bans. Together."
\u201cIn 2021, I testified on my decision to have an abortion. For me, it was an incredibly difficult decision, but ultimately the right one.\n\nIt is now a decision that has been stripped from millions across our country\u2014and a right we must fight for.\u201d— Rep. Pramila Jayapal (@Rep. Pramila Jayapal) 1674421200
Fellow Washington state Democrat Rep. Marie Gluesenkamp Pérez, who was sworn in for her first term earlier this month, wrote on Twitter: "Three years ago I miscarried in the second trimester of a pregnancy. It's a painful memory but something many women have experienced. I traveled hours to the nearest clinic, and I encountered anti-choice protesters. Thankfully I got the care I needed that day."
"I had been told without an immediate abortion, or dilation and evacuation, that my life was at risk. That I could die, or not be able to have children in the future. I got the care I needed, and now I'm the mother of my 17-month-old son," she said. "On what would've been Roe v. Wade's 50th anniversary, I'm thinking of the millions of Americans with stories like mine who are forced to go without access to safe reproductive care. I won't stop fighting to restore this fundamental right and defend reproductive freedom for all."
\u201cIf there\u2019s one thing I know for sure, it\u2019s that you NEVER know what someone you don\u2019t know is going through, even if you think you do, even if you\u2019re SURE - especially if you\u2019re sure - you do. Abortion care is also miscarriage care, which is also life/saving health care. #Roeat50\u201d— Amanda Becker (@Amanda Becker) 1674413191
Nearly seven months since the high court's right-wing majority overturned Roe with Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, "abortion is currently unavailable in 14 states, and courts have temporarily blocked enforcement of bans in eight others," according to a December review by the pro-choice Guttmacher Institute, which tracks state laws.
Just after the Dobbs decision leaked last May, Ellepublished a roundtable discussion with the only five then-members of Congress who had publicly shared abortion stories: Jayapal; Sen. Gary Peters, whose ex-wife got a potentially lifesaving emergency abortion in the 1980s; and Reps. Cori Bush (D-Mo.), Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), and Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), who did not seek reelection last year.
In the weeks that followed, Reps. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.) and Marie Newman (D-Ill.)—who lost her June primary after redistricting—also detailed their abortions when they were each 19 years old. During a House hearing, Rep. Lucy McBath (D-Ga.) shared that "when my doctor finally induced me, I faced the pain of labor without hope for a living child."
"Would it have been after the first miscarriage, after doctors used what would be an illegal drug to abort the lost fetus?" McBath asked. "Would you have put me in jail after the second miscarriage?"
McBath took to Twitter Sunday to highlight that testimony and warn that "without Roe, all reproductive care is on the line."
\u201c50 years ago, the Roe v. Wade decision provided a constitutional right to abortion. That right is now under attack.\n\nIn @HouseJudiciary, I shared the heartbreak that comes with a miscarriage. Without Roe, all reproductive care is on the line.\n\nWe can't back down in this fight.\u201d— Rep. Lucy McBath (@Rep. Lucy McBath) 1674392400
Bush—who has spoken about seeking an abortion after becoming pregnant as a result of rape at 17—said in a statement Sunday that "the Roe v. Wade decision was not only historic in that it protected people accessing abortions; it also served as precedent for several more court cases and laws to follow that would further advance gender equality, reproductive rights, and our collective freedoms."
"Unfortunately, we all know what happened last June. Republicans spent decades stacking the federal judiciary with far-right anti-abortion judges and successfully stripped millions of people of their right to safe, legal, and accessible abortion care, particularly Black, Brown, LGBTQ+, and other marginalized communities," she said. "And, let's be clear, Republicans aren't stopping with Roe."
"In just their first couple of days in power, House Republicans passed two anti-abortion bills in a blatant attempt to lay the groundwork for a national abortion ban," added Bush, who was among the 17 federal lawmakers arrested in July while protesting Dobbs at the Supreme Court. "As a congresswoman, a mother, a pastor, and as a person who has had abortions, I will never stop fighting for a person's bodily autonomy, reproductive rights, and for a country that lives up to its proclamation of freedom."
\u201cToday should be the 50th anniversary of Roe v. Wade.\n\nInstead, we are living in a post-Roe world, six months after the Supreme Court overturned it.\n\n24 states have or are likely to ban abortion. The divide between people who can access care and those who can't has only deepened.\u201d— Progressive Caucus (@Progressive Caucus) 1674412822
Moore—who represents a state where abortion is now unavailable due to a contested 1849 ban—issued a similar warning in a series of tweets, declaring that "this Roe anniversary is a reminder of what we've lost, and we must fight for a future that creates more equitable healthcare access for all."
"The chaos we've seen over the past six months is the environment anti-abortion politicians have worked for decades to create, and they won't stop with Roe. While we work to protect and restore access to abortion, more attacks on sexual and reproductive health are happening now," she said. "The path ahead will be challenging. It will require us to think bolder than ever before to ensure our very basic rights and freedoms are permanently protected—not subject to whoever happens to be in power."