Friday, February 24, 2017

Video shows assassination of North Korean half brother in Malaysian airport with nerve agent

Fox News has a video showing the assassination of Kim Jong Nam, who is Kim Jong Un’s half brother, in the Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia airport here.   A woman walked behind him, placed something over his head that was apparently doused with a nerve agent, according to police.

 That such a hit would happen in a modern airport with modern security is shocking.  While living in Minneapolis, I actually knew a few people who had done business travel in Malaysia.  But it is also known that Al Qaeda had done a planning session in Malaysia in early 2001.

Nerve agents are considered WMD’s by the UN.  The material could be similar to Sarin, which was used in a subway attack in Japan in 1995.

But later reports indicated that the material may be VX, an oily substance 100 times as powerful as Sarin.  It is odorless and can be mixed from ingredients at the site of an attack.  It is hard to imagine how putting one drop of a substance on the external uncompromised skin can be deadly. It causes acetylcholine to not work. so involuntary muscle contractions are disrupted. It's almost like a tumbling effect, or a prion, or converting matter to grey goo from a strangelet.

Bivouac training in US Army Basic in 1968 included use of protective masks against tear gas, chlorine, and possibly nerve gas.  Most of us don't recall the use of chemical weapons, like phosgene, during WWI.

If such an attack could occur in a modern Asian city, it could occur in the West or even in the US -- using one of the world's deadliest toxins (besides polonium).  This idea is not lost on Vladimir Putin.

 This must be disturbing to the TSA.

Also, today, the New York Times has a particularly detailed and chilling analysis of North Korea's missile and nuclear weapons program here.

Wikipedia attribution link of Petronas Mall by Torrissen under CCSA 3.0.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Religious groups setting up churches and private homes to shelter undocumented immigrants; more on DHS and asylum seekers

Mallory Simon and others have a report and video on CNN about religious groups setting up sanctuary refuges for undocumented immigrants in Los Angeles.
The sanctuaries include church properties and some homes purchased and fixed up by volunteers for housing undocumented immigrants.   Some reports call it an “underground railroad”.

The Fourth Amendment would prevent authorities from entering homes without a warrant.  Current guidelines keep agents from entering churches, but there is fear this will change under Trump.

In the past, actual prosecutions for faith-based efforts to shelter undocumented immigrants seem to be rare or non-existent.

Jason Dzubow has some more comments on how the most recent DHS memo could affect asylum seekers today, here

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Trump DHS cracks down on undocumented immigrants, but leaves Dreamers alone for now

The Department of Homeland Security has promulgated new rules allowing much more likely deportation, by ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) of any undocumented immigrant, except for those covered by DACA, which Trump is leaving in place, for now.  NBC News has a typical story here.

In addition to people convicted of significant crimes or on watch lists (as under Obama), people only with arrests might be deported.  Some observers say that when homes where all family members are undocumented are raided, all will be deported.  Under Obama, people who had entered the country within the previous two weeks and were within 100 miles of a border were deported;  now the period is two years and the territory, the entire U.S.

CNN reports an incident where a sexual assault victim was “reported” by her attacker.

There was also talk about asylum seekers.  But this action so far seems to focus on people who ask for asylum right after entry at a border, which usually results in detention immediately. It is likely that it cracks down on bringing people across the border deliberately to then seek asylum (but this may have been illegal before).   It does not sound likely that this affects people who later decided they could not return and who have been here a while, but it is still a very delicate matter.

Trump has not yet issued a revision of his January 27 Executive Order.

Update: Later Tuesday

Newsweek has a long article on how asylum seekers entering at the borders are likely to be handled now.  A general tightening of what constitutes a credible threat of persecution is likely, but hard to assess with countries say, like El Salvador, with all the gang violence.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Washington DC church makes visit to Baptist church in Cuba

Some members of the First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC made a 6-day visit to Cuba, returning February 9.  The pastor and minister of music made the trip.  Housing was reportedly in dormitories.  There are some Facebook photos at this link.

Baptist News had written about openness to Cuba back in 2015.  The Pastor says that people there are poor but well-educated, as a result of communism.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Can the Trump administration narrow the use of "particular social group" for asylum seekers?

To try to gauge what “could” happen with asylum seeking in the Trump administration and GOP-controlled Congress, it’s helpful to drag out United States Code 1158, Asylum. as well as the USCIS site.

It’s also helpful to look at well-regarded legal sites, like Nolo, here

 Particularly fundamental to the asylum process is the PSG, or Particular Social Group, as explained here in Wikipedia.

The Asylumist has a perspective written right after Trump’s election. and here .
Here is a summary of some appeals court litigation on the PSG concept from Immigration Justice.

The takeaway from these sites is that immigration judges and administrators have a lot of sway in what they view as a credible PSG.  Decisions are supposed to be "case by case".

The statute appears to give a lot of discretion to the Attorney General (Jeff Sessions) and Secretary of Homeland Security.   One can imagine valid reasons to narrow the granting of asylum by PSG (or political speech).  One concern could be the sheer volume of claims at the southern border regarding conditions in Central America.  But a reading of the laws suggest that the AG is not supposed to inject his personal opinions (as about gay rights) into a determination like this; doing so could invite litigation.

Hosts of asylum seekers need to be aware of USC 1324, here.

See coordinated post on GLBT blog Feb. 13.

Update:  Thursday, February 16, 2017

"The Asylumist" writes on Facebook here.  Dzubow answers my question this way: "As long as they are on hold from the courts, the EO's do not affect asylum seekers in the U.S..... However, if the EO's are implemented, it could prevent the asylum seekers from getting a decision. They cannot be deported without due process of law, but they can be put on hold pending "extreme vetting", whatever that is.  I wrote a bit about PSG here  (Nov. 9)

Note well the paragraph "People with asylum cases pending."

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Asylum seekers reminded to carry all USCIS identification and work permits during raids

The Washington Post reports that immigrants are on “high alert” given this weekends ICE raids, story by Jannell Ross, Aaron C. Davis, and Joel Ascehbach.    CNN has a similar story by Ray Sanchez.

DC Center Global advises asylum seekers to carry USCIS identification cards, and work authorization (if they have it).  People caught working illegally can be deported.  People without USCIS identification can be held for up to twelve hours.  In some cases, people could still apply for asylum (link: post today, 2/11).

At least at this point, there is no obvious evidence that Trump intends to interfere with people having legitimate asylum requests according to existing legal standards

Thursday, February 9, 2017

9th Circuit keeps stay on Trump travel ban, 3-0

The 9th Circuit has ruled 3-0 that the Washington state judge’s stay on the Trump travel ban “stays”.

CNN’s Jeffrey Toobin discusses the options here. I wasn't aware that Minnesota was also a plaintiff.

Here’s a SCRIBD full opinion on The Washington Post.

Some of the alternatives for Trump include an en banc appeal to the full circuit, a Supreme Court appeal, or a rewrite of the EO with a narrower focus.  If so, please don’t let Steve Bannon rewrite it!

It does seem credible for Trump to argue that people not already here and without previous visas or green cards have no standing before the courts for any claim of constitutional rights (you have to “exist” to have rights.)

But it sounds probable to me that the courts would insist that legal residents and people with green cards or valid visas be allowed to return, short of some compelling new evidence why they should not.

The president is right inasmuch as the country cannot afford to have millions who disregard the law altogether.  16 million people live in a household with an undocumented person.  Totally undocumented immigration does affect life in border areas -- I have some personal contact for what goes on in Texas and in Arizona particularly.  There is a real problem.  We need to figure out how to make immigration lawful and safer.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Trump claims to have learned a lot about terror threats in first two weeks

President Donald Trump addresses some sheriffs today (story ) and said that in two weeks he had learned of terror threats that Americans don’t understand.

It’s possible that this could something to do with a report on CNN tonight about a fake Venezuelan passport scam in Iraq.  Maybe it has to do with WMD’s – but that’s not the sort of thing relevant to refugee bans  (sleeper cells associated with overstayed visa might be another matter).

The Ninth Circuit has yet to rule on his travel ban.  Most likely the president will have to honor green cards for legal residents to return, but most of the rest of the order might stand.

Dan Merica has a video and some analysis of Trump's comments here for CNN.
Trump's remarks about the "so-called judge" and his pinning blame for any future domestic foreign-inspired terror attacks on the judiciary is "disheartening and demoralizing", as Gorsuch said.

While Trump is wrong about the aggregate crime rate and murder rate in the U.S., it is true that the asymmetric aspect of terror increases the risk of violence against some people not previously as vulnerable.  Jeff Sessions mentioned this as he was installed as attorney general today.

Update: February 12

North Korea made a missile test this weekend while Trump was with the prime minister of Japan in Florida.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Trump travel ban temporarily halted nationwide; a legal blog discusses USCIS and asylum seekers now; GOP Catholic hosts Muslim refugees in Virginia

First, a federal judge (James Robart) in Seattle has temporarily stayed Donald Trump’s Executive Order travel ban, as in this Washington Post story.  Earlier a Boston judge had declined to stay the order, and there are at least four states in play (Reuters).

At this point, it is a little uncertain what this means.  Conceivably, affected people could have to reapply for visas.  But the state of Washington could apply to get the visas reinstated.

It would appear that the administration will appeal.  There has been some concern that Trump could create a constitutional crisis by following the Boston judge instead.

Earlier this evening, I had found a blog posting by DC immigration attorney Justin Dzubow.  Note the paragraph, “People from countries of particular concern waiting for an immigration benefit.”  The posting suggests that USCIS is probably not granting asylum right now, but will allow asylum applications to remain in place so most likely the asylees remain here legally.

There could be complications if sanctuary cities lose funding for service organizations (like HIV clinics) if asylum seekers might use.  It’s possible that later immigrants (including asylum seekers who have been allowed to resume benefits) could be subject to deportation if their use of public funds exceeds some threshold, and it’s not clear if the president alone could order this.  That could beg the question of setting up private sponsorship systems (including for asylum seekers) like what Canada has.

(On Feb. 2 Dzubow added a comment that several more countries could be added to the list of countries of particular concern:  Egypt, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Mali, Philippines, Venezuela, Colombia. Philippines is of concern because the print-on-demand industry uses services in Philippines.   The countries are chosen largely on the basis of the stability of their governments and of our relations with them, not on the basis of past terror attacks in the US; but some of the countries have been connected to attacks in Europe.)

While the idea appeals to our idea of charity and morality, some will argue that they could inadvertently add to security risk, abetting the possible formation of sleeper cells.

Some observers note that absolute travel bans by country may violate the Geneva Convention, which I remember from my Army Basic at Fort Jackson in 1968.  Trump has never been in the military (although he went to military high school).

Wikipedia attribution link for picture of Amazon headquarters in Seattle (SounderBruce, CCSA 2.0).

Update: Feb. 4

Trump is appealing to the Ninth circuit.

Rick Sincere passed a long a story Ashley McKinnes in "America: The Jesuit Review":  "Meet my Dad: the Republican who's hosting Muslim refugees" in his northern Virginia home (from Afghanistan). As I have explored elsewhere, there is legal uncertainty and risk in doing this right now.  Is this a matter of "faith"?

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Trump's outburst at Australian PM settles down as Trump agrees to Obama's deal over refugees in Manus

There was a lot of flak about the reported anger that President Trump expressed over the phone when talking to Australia Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, concerning a deal that the Obama administration had negotiated regarding taking some of the asylum seekers from wretched camps on Nauru and Manus Islands north of Australia.  The Guardian has a major story here.

I tweeted my own apology to a friend in Australia, who answered that no apologies were in order and that “our guy is a terrible leader.”

Now Sean Spicer says that Trump will honor the agreement but would apply “extreme vetting” to every possible refugee.

But by definition, in the US, asylum seekers have not gone through “extreme vetting” before coming here.

Wikipedia attribution link for map of Manus Island. P.d., by Sadelmalik