Support Common Dreams Today
Journalism that is independent, non-profit, ad-free, and 100% reader-supported.
To donate by check, phone, or other method, see our More Ways to Give page.
Today, Earthjustice on behalf of health, immigration, and labor groups filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for violating the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) by improperly withholding requested agency records concerning the expansion of a migrant child detention facility in Tornillo, Texas. This facility was a temporary detention center for migrant children that was overseen by HHS and operated by a private contractor from June 2018 until the facility closed in January 2019, amidst health and safety concerns. This site is still operational for adults in detention.
Previously, two separate FOIA requests were submitted to DHS and HHS in December 2018, just prior to the government shutdown, seeking records concerning the expansion of the Tornillo facility, including the environmental review of the site and analysis of the health and safety impacts on those in detention, among other things. The FOIA request submitted to DHS is currently being processed by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), a component of DHS, after CBP denied the request and the groups successfully appealed the agency's determination. Since submitting the request to HHS, we have not received anything more than an acknowledgement letter from the agency.
"The United States government has shown time and again a careless disregard for environmental regulations and an absolutely immoral disregard for the health and safety of immigrants in their custody," according to the coalition of groups being represented by Earthjustice. "How can we trust that these agencies have followed appropriate environmental impact regulations, if they can't even be trusted to provide basic human rights to families in their detention centers? The information that we've requested in this FOIA is critical to understanding just how far this Administration's malfeasance has gone."
Previous FOIA requests have revealed details of multiple proposed migrant detention centers on military bases that may have been in proximity to toxic waste sites. Fort Bliss has several Superfund sites, which are polluted locations requiring a long-term response to clean up hazardous material contamination. At Goodfellow Air Force Base, the area where tents would have been constructed is directly over a former firing range and adjacent to a closed but uncapped landfill. Exposure to toxic chemicals from these sites can cause cancer, neurological damage, developmental harm, and many other diseases. The plans for detention facilities at these sites have since been put on hold.
This lawsuit was filed on behalf of Alianza Nacional de Campesinas, Hispanic Federation, GreenLatinos, and Labor Council for Latin American Advancement.
Quotes from Clients:
"As a farmworker women's organization, we know how important it is to protect migrant communities and campesinas and their families from the detrimental effects of toxic exposures," said Mily Trevino-Sauceda with Alianza Nacional de Campesinas. "We have every right to know about the risks involved in detaining members of our communities in unsafe conditions. We won't stand idly by as the government ignores the law while vulnerable people are kept in cages during a pandemic."
"It is unfathomable that amid a pandemic our nation's government agencies refuse to disclose timely and crucial information regarding the safety and health of immigrants in custody," said Jose Vargas, LCLAA Executive Director. "Detaining immigrant families, depriving them of their basic human rights, and denying public access to this information poses a dangerous risk to our nation's democracy, as it undermines our legal right to demand accountability and transparency from our nation's government."
"This Administration clearly cannot be trusted with the health and safety of vulnerable migrant children or adults," said Laura M. Esquivel, Vice President for Policy and Advocacy for Hispanic Federation. "The reluctance of CBP, and refusal of HHS to release records related to potential exposure to unsafe or toxic conditions reinforces that lack of trust. This Administration must be held accountable for its ongoing, callous disregard for the health and welfare of detained migrants, as we are again seeing by the mishandling of the Covid-19 crisis in detention centers, including allowing the improper use of toxic chemicals that can cause asthma and lead to birth defects. These intentional actions only serve to compound the irreparable damage to the physical and mental wellbeing of thousands of migrants being detained under this Administration's inhumane policies."
"As Hispanic Heritage Month begins, our nation must reflect its values--Latino communities cannot truly be honored while this administration has no regard for the health and safety of immigrant children and families at the U.S./Mexico border," said Mark Magana, Founding President and CEO of GreenLatinos, a national network of environmental and conservation advocates. "DHS and HHS continue to hold these immigrants in inhumane conditions with no regard for their mental, emotional and physical wellbeing or their basic human rights. These are humans, many climate refugees from Latin America, who are struggling for survival and must be provided with civil rights protections to safeguard them from potentially toxic environmental hazards located on or near those detention centers."
Earthjustice is a non-profit public interest law firm dedicated to protecting the magnificent places, natural resources, and wildlife of this earth, and to defending the right of all people to a healthy environment. We bring about far-reaching change by enforcing and strengthening environmental laws on behalf of hundreds of organizations, coalitions and communities.800-584-6460
"Charging or jailing the killers is not enough," said the national director of the Working Families Party. "Justice is changing the conditions so no one dies during a traffic stop."
This is a developing story… Please check back for possible updates...
Editor's note: The videos at the end of this article contain graphic and violent content.
The city of Memphis, Tennessee on Friday night released four videos of the January 7 arrest of Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old Black motorist who died after being beaten by five officers who were subsequently fired and charged with murder.
The footage was privately seen by Nichols' family on Monday. Three of the videos are from body-worn cameras issued by the Memphis Police Department (MPD). Another is from a camera mounted on a pole and contains no audio.
Before the videos were released, MPD Chief Cerelyn "C.J." Davis warned that they show "acts that defy humanity."
Nichols was pulled over by Memphis officers for alleged reckless driving that Davis has since said her department has been "unable to substantiate." After three days in the hospital, he died on January 10 from cardiac arrest and kidney failure.
\u201cA young father, son, skateboarder, a photographer. This is who Tyre Nichols was.\n\nHe should still be alive today.\nhttps://t.co/JbsgEMTxMI\u201d— Vera Institute of Justice (@Vera Institute of Justice) 1674862160
"I am disturbed and disgusted by the sheer brutality and lack of humanity on display in the footage released today," said NAACP president and CEO Derrick Johnson in a statement Friday night. "No person should ever be subjected to such violence, to have to call for their mother as they are being brutalized by police."
"This video is a stark reminder that in America, on any day of the week, a Black person can be brutally beaten to death less than a hundred feet from his home by those who are supposedly here to 'serve and protect' our communities," he continued. "Let me be clear—a traffic stop should not result in the brutal death of an unarmed man—period."
\u201cCPC Chair @RepJayapal and CPC Policing, Constitution, Equity Task Force Chair @RepBonnie echo community demands for justice for Tyre Nichols and call for fundamentally reimagining public safety in their statement on the release of the body camera footage of his killing.\u201d— Progressive Caucus (@Progressive Caucus) 1674865377
As Common Dreamsreported Thursday, former MPD cops Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Justin Smith, Emmitt Martin III, and Desmond Mills Jr.—who are all Black—were charged with second-degree murder and various other crimes.
In a series of tweets responding to the charges, ColorOfChange president Rashad Robinson said Friday, "Let's be clear, while the mass movement of people demanding some level of accountability has succeeded in this one instance, convictions aren't the goal."
"WE WANT AN END TO POLICE MURDERS OF BLACK PEOPLE. So, this moment isn't about Black vs. white, it's about blue vs. Black. Diversity cannot and does not solve systemic problems," he continued. "If we don't change the structure of policing and safety in our country, Black people will continue to be killed, by police of all races. The evidence is clear—investing in communities will keep us safe, not the police."
\u201cCharging or jailing the killers is not enough. Justice is changing the conditions so no-one dies during a traffic stop.\n\nPolicing is fundamentally broken. Trading white officers for Black ones was never a solution.\n\nIf we're serious about public safety, we'll fund our communities\u201d— Maurice Moe Mitchell \ud83d\udc3a (@Maurice Moe Mitchell \ud83d\udc3a) 1674866194
Damon Hewitt, president and executive director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said Friday evening that "Tyre's death is a bitter reminder of the Black lives that we've lost due to police brutality. Thirty years ago, we were horrified by the footage of police beating Rodney King. And yet, despite our decades of protest, we're still fighting the same battle."
"The only difference now is more of the horrific incidents are being captured on video, whether it be bodycams or bystanders," he added. "Tinkering at the margins of a violent police state is not enough. It never was. This death must amount to more than just another viral moment or hashtag. It must spark a serious reconsideration and shifting of priorities, deployment, and resources."
Before the footage was released, major cities across the United States were preparing for potential Friday evening protests.
According toThe Associated Press:
As a precaution, Memphis-area schools canceled all after-class activities and postponed an event scheduled for Saturday morning. Other early closures included the city power company’s community offices and the University of Memphis.
Nichols' mother, RowVaughn Wells, warned supporters of the "horrific" nature of the video but pleaded for peace.
"I don't want us burning up our city, tearing up the streets, because that's not what my son stood for," she said Thursday. "If you guys are here for me and Tyre, then you will protest peacefully."
Noting that "there's been a lot of focus on the perceived threat of violence,"MLK50: Justice Through Journalism, a nonprofit Memphis newsroom, on Friday published a collection of stories and columns "to add context to this tragedy" for those who may be unfamiliar with "the antagonistic relationship police have cultivated with the community, dating back decades."
The coalition Decarerate Memphis shared on Twitter demands from Nichols' family and the community, including reforms to reduce the chances of similar future events.
\u201c\ud83d\udea8\ud83d\udea8\ud83d\udea8 Save and share everywhere. We demand #JusticeforTyreNichols\u201d— Decarcerate Memphis (@Decarcerate Memphis) 1674851240
The Movement for Black Lives tweeted advice on "how to limit viewing sensitive content" on social media platforms, for those who do not want to be traumatized by the footage.
\u201cToday a video of Tyre Nichols\u2019 murder will be released. Do not share it. Do not traumatize our people further by putting it in front of us. We feel the overwhelming rage and grief without subjecting ourselves to a video of his life being taken.\nTo protect yourself online: \u2b07\ufe0f\u201d— Movement 4 Black Lives (@Movement 4 Black Lives) 1674850469
"We grieve with Tyre's family, friends, and the entire Memphis community," the movement said in a statement. "Had those officers not pulled Tyre over, he would be here right now with his four-year-old son, taking photos of sunsets and skateboarding. Yet, even as we try to grieve and stand in solidarity with Tyre's family, we know the police are ramping up to criminalize our actions—meeting our calls for justice and accountability with more state violence and suppression."
Editor's note: The videos below contain graphic and violent content.
"These lobbyists are not getting hired to advocate for American energy consumers—they will push an agenda that benefits the new majority's donors no matter what it costs taxpayers."
An analysis published Friday by the nonpartisan watchdog Accountable.US revealed that numerous former fossil fuel lobbyists are being hired to work for the Republican-controlled 118th Congress, including in high-level positions on the House Natural Resources Committee.
"As the Republicans majority begins the new Congress, former oil industry lobbyists will have new and growing influence as top staffers for congressmen on key committees," the analysis states.
Accountable.US detailed the close ties between Nancy Peele—chief of staff to House Natural Resources Committee Chair Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.)—and fossil fuel interests.
"It's no surprise that Big Oil is infiltrating the halls of Congress after spending millions to elect some of the most extreme legislators in American history."
Peele's history includes:
Majority Leader Steve Scalise's [R-La.] Chief of Staff Megan Bel Miller came to Scalise's office straight out of working as an oil and gas lobbyist... Miller lobbied Congress on behalf of National Oceans Industry Association, a group representing the offshore oil and gas industry. Bel Miller advocated for polluting industry interests on numerous conservation issues, including the Endangered Species Act, National Environmental Policy Act, and offshore leasing. Majority Whip Tom Emmer's [R-Minn.] new Policy Director Ian Foley is an energy and mining lobbyist. In 2022, Foley lobbied Congress on behalf of the uranium mining industry and public utilities with oil and gas portfolios.
These are but a handful of the many examples of the revolving door between Big Oil and Congress highlighted in the analysis.
"It's no surprise that Big Oil is infiltrating the halls of Congress after spending millions to elect some of the most extreme legislators in American history," Accountable.US energy and environment director Jordan Schreiber said in a statement. "These lobbyists are not getting hired to advocate for American energy consumers—they will push an agenda that benefits the new majority's donors no matter what it costs taxpayers."
Underscoring the analysis' findings, the U.S. House of Representatives on Friday passed legislation that would require the federal government to lease a portion of public lands and waters for fossil fuel extraction for each non-emergency drawdown of the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve. The bill was introduced by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee and was the top recipient of oil and gas PAC money in the House Republican caucus during the last election cycle.
\u201cNEW: MAGA Republicans in Congress just passed a bill that would obstruct one of @POTUS\u2019 only powers to protect consumers from Big Oil\u2019s price gouging\u2014letting oil companies get rich at Americans\u2019 expense. https://t.co/pcwPGdVkIs\u201d— Accountable.US (@Accountable.US) 1674844979
"We grieve for all this unthinkable loss. And with our grief, we also rage," said Jewish Voice for Peace. "The Israeli government's domination and oppression of Palestinians is the root cause of each of these senseless, tragic deaths."
Human rights defenders condemned a Friday attack outside a synagogue in an illegal Israeli settlement by a Palestinian gunman who murdered at least seven people—a massacre that followed the killing of 10 Palestinians by Israeli forces during a raid in the occupied West Bank Thursday.
TheTimes of Israelreports the unidentified gunman shot and killed seven people and wounded three others during the Friday evening attack in Neve Yaakov in East Jerusalem. Friday is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. The attacker was shot dead during a gunfight with police as he attempted to flee into the Palestinian neighborhood of Beit Hanina. An ambulance service said the deceased ranged in age from 20 to 70.
In a statement, Stéphane Dujarric, spokesperson for United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, said the U.N. chief "strongly condemns today's terrorist attack by a Palestinian perpetrator outside a synagogue in Jerusalem, which claimed the lives of at least seven Israelis and injured several others."
"It is particularly abhorrent that the attack occurred at a place of worship, and on the very day we commemorated International Holocaust Remembrance Day," Dujarric added. "There is never any excuse for acts of terrorism. They must be clearly condemned and rejected by all."
\u201c\ud83d\udea85 #Israelis killed & 5 wounded in a shooting attack near a synagogue in the Neve Yaakov settlements in occupied East Jerusalem.\n\nViolence begets violence begets violence....\n\nPeople don't understand how close the occupied territories are to a full disastrous explosion!\u201d— Muhammad Shehada (@Muhammad Shehada) 1674846498
Tom Nides, the U.S. ambassador to Israel, tweeted that he is "shocked and disgusted at this heinous terrorist attack on innocent people, including children. Praying for all of the victims and their loved ones."
The synagogue massacre came one day after Israeli occupation forces killed 10 Palestinians including an elderly woman and wounded around 20 others during an early morning raid on the Jenin refugee camp. Israeli forces then bombed Gaza early on Friday morning after Palestinian resistance fighters fired two rockets at Israel.
The Jenin raid was part of Operation Breakwater, a nine-month campaign targeting Palestinian resistance in the camp and nearby Nablus. Human rights groups say 30 Palestinians, both fighters and civilians, have been killed so far by Israeli forces in 2023. Last year was the deadliest year for West Bank Palestinians since the second intifada—or general uprising—a generation ago, with 150 people including 33 children killed. Another 53 Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces in Gaza in 2022.
\u201cInstead of linking today's terrible attack in Jerusalem to Holocaust Remembrance Day, which it has nothing to do with, you might connect it instead to the 30 Palestinians that have been killed by Israel just this month. This is a cycle of violence borne of Israeli apartheid.\u201d— Arielle Angel (@Arielle Angel) 1674851482
In a statement following the synagogue murders, the U.S.-based group Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) called the attack "the inevitable, horrifying outcome of decades of Israeli apartheid"
"We grieve for all this unthinkable loss. And with our grief, we also rage. The Israeli government's domination and oppression of Palestinians is the root cause of each of these senseless, tragic deaths," JVP contended.
"The violent, racist speech coming from the Israeli government makes it clear that the Israeli military will continue to escalate its violent attacks on Palestinians. Already the Israeli army has invaded Palestinian neighborhoods in occupied East Jerusalem," the group said.
\u201c10 killed in #Jenin and now 5 dead, 5 wounded in Jerusalem shooting attack: these are the ENTIRELY PREDICTABLE RESULTS of a vicious extremist #Israeli government that leaves no room for hope, no room for peace, more to come. https://t.co/kQt5NgIMw3\u201d— Sarah Leah Whitson (@Sarah Leah Whitson) 1674845638
What we are witnessing is not a "conflict," a "clash," or a "war" between two equal parties. There is no mistaking the massive disparity of power between the Israeli government and the Palestinians it targets. Backed by $3.8 billion in annual military funding from the U.S. government, the Israeli government controls, dominates, and dispossesses Palestinian lives and lands.
"We are on the side of unconditional commitment to justice, equality, freedom, and dignity for all people, no exceptions," JVP added. "To achieve a future where all are safe and free, we must end the Israeli government's settler-colonial apartheid regime."