Today’s news leads with refugee stories.
U.S. military members are trying to get their Afghan comrades to safety—the U.S. government needs to do more to help. (New York Times)
“In a grainy video chat, Zak shared the latest from his embattled province in Afghanistan, an update as grim as it was commonplace. “The Taliban left a note at my house last night. They said, ‘Surrender tonight or we will kill you,’” he recounted in a tone more resigned than terrified.
“Maj. Thomas Schueman shifted in his chair in a cafe 7,000 miles away as Zak described the spiraling violence in the country where they had served together as a platoon commander and his invaluable interpreter….
“’I will keep working this for you every day and every night until we get this taken care of,’ insisted Major Schueman, a Marine infantry officer now attending the Naval War College in Rhode Island. ‘I’ll never forget you, brother.’…
“Passage for thousands of Afghans was promised under two special visa programs, but the documentation and security requirements have bedeviled many applicants. The House voted on Thursday to speed up the process and increase the number of visas available, but the bill faces an uncertain future in the Senate, where there is bipartisan support for the visa program but issues over funding.”
Just in case anyone thinks that the United States is taking in a lot of Afghan refugees–the much smaller and much poorer neighboring country of Tajikistan is gearing up to take in 100,000 refugees. We have no excuse for not stepping up sooner and with more spots than we have done. (Reuters)
“Tajikistan is preparing to take in up to 100,000 refugees from neighbouring Afghanistan where fighting has escalated as United States-led troops withdraw, a senior Tajik official said on Friday….
“Imomali Ibrohimzoda, deputy head of Tajikistan’s emergencies committee, told a briefing on Friday the former Soviet republic was already building two large warehouses to store supplies for refugees in the Khatlon and Gorno-Badakhshan provinces adjacent to the border.”
Hong Kong refugees also want help. Pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong urge the U.S. Congress to enact protections giving them refugee status, similar to those granted by then-U.S. President George H.W. Bush in anexecutive order issued in 1990 after the Tiananmen Massacre. (Politico)
“The letter argues Hong Kong citizens deserve U.S. legislative protection due to accelerating erosion of the territory’s human rights protections and rule of law: it cites official prohibitions on freedom of expression and association, mass arrests of pro-democracy activists under Hong Kong’s draconian new National Security Law and intensifying official attacks on media freedom.
“The letter asks Congress to act quickly, warning that the Hong Kong government is “closing travel routes” for citizens fearful of government reprisals for peaceful protest. Hong Kong’s restrictive new immigration law takes effect on Aug. 1, which has the potential to impose “exit bans” on government critics. Hong Kong police already have a “wanted list”of individuals subject to arrest if they try to leave the territory.”
And in other news
The budget bill is long and complicated, $3.5 trillion in all. In all of the thousands of pages, one provision adds $10 billion for border security. What that means: (Axios)
“Details haven’t been finalized, but the funds could be put toward facilities for handling asylum claims; additional staff for higher cross-border traffic areas; expanding immigration courts to address backlogs; alternatives-to-detention programs, and various ports-of-entry repairs, three sources familiar with the negotiations say.”
Full-time, year-round workers needed in Iowa: and farmers say that immigrants could fill the need. (Des Moines Register)
“A spokeswoman for a top Iowa pork producer told U.S. senators Wednesday that farmers and meatpacking plants face severe labor shortages and need the federal government to allow them to employ immigrant workers year-round.
“Jen Sorenson, communications director of Iowa Select Farms, the state’s largest pork producer, said seasonal employment currently allowed under a federal visa program is insufficient to meet the industry’s needs.
“‘If the labor shortage is not addressed, it could lead to farms and packing plants shutting down, causing serious financial harm to the communities in which they operate,’ said Sorenson, who’s also president of the National Pork Producers Council.”
Travel restrictions continue, as damage to border town economies and businesses escalates. (Texas Tribune)
“Retail sales exports from El Paso should have reached $1 billion in 2020, according to Tom Fullerton, economics professor at the University of Texas at El Paso. “Due to the border travel restrictions, they probably missed that mark by at least $200 million last year,” Fullerton added.
“For some businesses, any reopening will come too late. The El Paso Hispanic Chamber of Commerce says 30% of the city’s small, minority, women and veteran-owned businesses have shuttered since restrictions went into effect in March 2020.
“While many of America’s businesses begin to reopen, the retailers dotting U.S. borders remain in a 16-month limbo because their business is so reliant on customers who come by car and on foot from across the border.”
“The Texas Department of Criminal Justice said Wednesday that Val Verde County, home to Del Rio, sent three people arrested under Abbott’s border initiative Tuesday to the Briscoe Unit in Dilley, a small town between San Antonio and Laredo. The number of detainees is expected to grow rapidly; the Val Verde county attorney predicted about 50 arrests of immigrants a day, ramping up to as many as 200 daily by August. (Texas Tribune)
“The Val Verde County sheriff’s office said the Briscoe detainees had been arrested on accusations of criminal trespassing. County officials previously said state police would begin arresting immigrants crossing the border, largely on trespassing and criminal mischief charges — both misdemeanors that could result in up to a year in jail. It’s a novel approach ordered by Abbott to allow state and local law enforcement officers to arrest immigrants for state crimes, since they have no jurisdictional power to arrest someone accused of the federal crime of crossing the border illegally.”