Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is already pulling back the curtain on the inner workings of Congress | CNBC

By Carmen Chapell

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is already pulling back the curtain on the inner workings of the Capitol.

The New York Democrat, along with other incoming freshman lawmakers, is trying to usher in a culture of openness that is enabled by a vast social media following. With nearly 3 million followers combined on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, Ocasio-Cortez has used the platforms to involve her supporters during the transition period before she takes office.

Her enthusiastic and often pugnacious transparency campaign has earned her praise from inside and outside the Beltway. Yet it has also drawn criticism from several corners, including from President Donald Trump’s eldest son. Ocasio-Cortez hasn’t given any indication that she will let up, however.

In a series of pictures and videos on Instagram dubbed “Congress Camp,” she gave an inside look into new-member orientation, from choosing an office to voting for House leadership, while also showcasing the unique quirks of life on Capitol Hill.

“Guys, there are secret underground tunnels between all of these government buildings!” she whispers in one video. In another post, she polls her followers on whether she should choose an office with more space or one “close to our friends.”

But Ocasio-Cortez isn’t just focusing on the novelty of her experience. Last week, she tweeted sharp criticism of an orientation for new members of Congress hosted by Harvard. The event featured corporate CEOs but no labor representatives.

“Our ‘bipartisan’ Congressional orientation is cohosted by a corporate lobbyist group. Other members have quietly expressed to me their concern that this wasn’t told to us in advance,” she tweeted. “Lobbyists are here. Goldman Sachs is here. Where’s labor? Activists? Frontline community leaders?”

Fellow freshman member Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., echoed her criticisms. Tlaib said that Gary Cohn, former chief economic advisor to President Donald Trump and former Goldman Sachs executive, told the new members at orientation that they don’t “know how the game is played.”

“No Gary, YOU don’t know what’s coming – a revolutionary Congress that puts people over profits,” Tlaib tweeted.

‘Those little things are very real’

Ocasio-Cortez rose to the spotlight after defeating longtime incumbent Joseph Crowley in the Democratic primary for New York’s 14th Congressional District, which encompasses parts of Queens and the Bronx. A self-identified Democratic socialist, she ran on a liberal platform and chose to emphasize her identity as a young woman of color. The 29-year-old’s victory in the general election anointed her as the youngest woman ever elected to Congress.

Ocasio-Cortez’s comments about her new role have also renewed longstanding debates on the financial challenges facing members of Congress and their staff. She has made it personal by revealing her own insecurities about her finances during the transition period.

“I have three months without a salary before I’m a member of Congress. So, how do I get an apartment? Those little things are very real,” she told The New York Times in an interview.

Many lawmakers struggle with the cost of living in Washington, D.C., even on the $174,000 congressional salary, going so far as to sleep in their offices to save on rent costs.

Ocasio-Cortez has also made it a point to talk about the economic conditions of congressional staff. Last week, she tweeted: “It is unjust for Congress to budget a living wage for ourselves, yet rely on unpaid interns & underpaid overworked staff just bc Republicans want to make a statement about ‘fiscal responsibility.'”

Low salaries as well as the prevalence of unpaid internships, which are often the first step to a full-time role, are seen as barriers to a more diverse congressional staff. Ocasio-Cortez pledged to pay her office’s interns $15 an hour, inspiring other lawmakers to make the same commitment.

She has also shared experiences that reveal the growing pains of an increasingly diverse Congress. “People keep giving me directions to the spouse and intern events instead of the ones for members of Congress,” she tweeted during orientation.

The changing face of Congress

Ocasio-Cortez is just one of the 42 women, 38 of them Democrats, part of Congress’ freshman class. They are being heralded as the faces of a new “Year of the Woman.” Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., and Michigan’s Tlaib are the first Muslim women elected to Congress, while Ayanna Pressley, a Democrat, is the first black woman elected to represent Massachusetts. Ocasio-Cortez posted a picture of the four women together on Instagram last month, captioning it “Squad.”

As a result of her high profile, Ocasio-Cortez’s unabashed takes on congressional life have frequently come under fire.

Eddie Scarry, a writer for the Washington Examiner, disputed Ocasio-Cortez’s account of her financial hardships based on her clothing choices.

“Hill staffer sent me this pic of Ocasio-Cortez they took just now,” Scarry tweeted. “I’ll tell you something: that jacket and coat don’t look like a girl who struggles.” The tweet has since been deleted after widespread backlash.

Rep. Sean Duffy, R-Wis., condemned the media for what he viewed as preferential treatment in coverage of Ocasio-Cortez. As a freshman congressman in 2011, Duffy received negative reactions after telling a constituent that he struggles to pay his bills.

“Hmm which headlines and article does media give to GOP and which to a Dem?” Duffy tweeted alongside screenshots of articles referencing himself and Ocasio-Cortez.

Last week, Donald Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son, shared a doctored image on Instagram in which Ocasio-Cortez asks, “Why are you so afraid of a socialist economy?” In the post, President Trump responds, “Because Americans want to walk their dogs, not eat them.” Trump Jr. captioned the meme “It’s funny cuz it’s true!!!”

Ocasio-Cortez fired back, tweeting: “Please, keep it coming Jr – it’s definitely a ‘very, very large brain’ idea to troll a member of a body that will have subpoena power in a month.” Democrats have made clear that they plan to use their new subpoena power in the House to further investigate potential Russian interference in the 2016 elections.

The representative-elect has also received praise for revealing parts of the political system that are typically left in the shadows.

Actress Kerry Washington, who stars in the political drama “Scandal,” commended Ocasio-Cortez’s behind-the-scenes revelations, tweeting, “@Ocasio2018 speaking truth to power. Sharing the NEEDED #BTS of our democracy at work. So grateful.”

“I’m learning more details about how the House actually works over the past two weeks than I ever did in the past 20 years,” one follower tweeted in reply to Ocasio-Cortez.

“Thank you so much for giving us the window into the inside baseball of Congress,” another follower said.

Paul Musgrave, assistant professor of political science at University of Massachusetts Amherst, praised Ocasio-Cortez on Twitter for “treating voters as neither super-sophisticated DC insiders, nor as people who can’t be trusted to make up their own minds, but rather as people who are curious and intelligent but who aren’t experts in DC process.”

“Sometimes,” he added, “you don’t need a new theory of politics to make change, just a willingness to state the obvious.”

Source: CNBC

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MS-13 gang used California farm town as a base for crime | Yahoo News

More than two dozen MS-13 gang members and affiliates were arrested and charged following a monthslong murder and drug trafficking investigation centered on a rural California farm city that the gang turned into a base for its operations, U.S. and state prosecutors said Friday.

MS-13 took advantage of limited resources in the city of Mendota and used it and other areas of Fresno County to “conduct their crimes, to hide out from crimes that they committed in other jurisdictions and to prepare to commit crimes in states as far away as New York,” Fresno County District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp said at a news conference in Fresno with state and federal officials.

Mendota has a population of roughly 11,000 people and lies 35 miles (60 kilometers) west of Fresno in California’s agriculturally rich Central Valley. Nearly the entire population is Hispanic, with many immigrants from El Salvador.

MS-13 is linked to more than 12 murders in Mendota and western Fresno County over the past two years, said McGregor Scott, the U.S. attorney in Sacramento. The federal charges announced Friday include allegations that two MS-13 gang members kidnapped and murdered a Fresno County man in December.

Scott said the investigation — dubbed “Blue Inferno” — uncovered evidence tying the gang to at least 30 murders and assaults in Mendota, Los Angles, Las Vegas, New York City and Houston. The evidence has prompted additional prosecutions in other cities, he said.

“This is a good day,” he said. “An extremely violent street gang which has terrorized western Fresno County has been completely dismantled and several murders and violent crimes across the nation have been resolved in a resounding way,” he said.

MS-13, or La Mara Salvatrucha, was formed in Los Angeles in the 1980s by refugees from El Salvador and is linked to many slayings in certain parts of the U.S. In California, the gang has clashed with rival Nortenos gang members. It also targets its own members for violating gang rules.

Nortenos are a street gang connected to the Nuestra Familia, a prison gang that originally formed in the California state prison system in the 1960s, according to federal prosecutors.

President Donald Trump has singled out the MS-13 gang as a threat to the U.S. and blames weak border enforcement for the group’s crimes. But many gang members were born in the U.S.

Source: Yahoo News

Trump administration says it won’t return children to immigrant parents in custody, but a judge orders families be reunited | LA Times

Hours after a Trump Cabinet member told Congress that the administration would not reunite migrant children with parents still held in immigrant detention facilities, a federal judge in San Diego ordered the government to begin doing just that.

In a preliminary injunction issued late Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw ordered the government to reunite nearly all children under age 5 with their parents within 14 days and older children within 30 days.

The administration’s actions related to separating families “belie measured and ordered governance, which is central to the concept of due process enshrined in our Constitution,” the judge wrote. “This is particularly so in the treatment of migrants, many of whom are asylum seekers and small children.”

The order appears to set the stage for a legal clash over a crisis that was created by the White House and has sown increasing levels of fear and confusion.

Earlier Tuesday, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, testifying on Capitol Hill, said the only way parents can quickly be reunited with their children is to drop their claims for asylum in the United States and agree to be deported.

If parents pursue asylum claims, administration officials planned to hold them in custody until hearings are complete — a process that can take months and in some instances years because of a backlog of several hundred thousand cases.

And while that process takes place and the parents are in custody, their children would not be returned to them, Azar said, citing current rules that allow children to be held in immigrant detention for no more than 20 days.

“If the parent remains in detention, unfortunately, under rules that are set by Congress and the courts, they can’t be reunified while they’re in detention,” Azar told the Senate Finance Committee. He said the department could place children with relatives in the United States if they can be located and properly vetted.

Azar’s department has custody of 2,047 children separated from their parents after they were apprehended crossing the border illegally since May. That’s when the Trump administration began enforcing a “zero tolerance” policy that required prosecution of all adults crossing the border — and separate detention of any minors with them.

His statement brought angry protests from Democrats and immigrant advocates.

“The administration is holding children hostage to push parents to drop their asylum claims,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) tweeted.

The uncertain fate of the children, and wrenching reports of their plight, has created a political firestorm for the White House and a nightmare for the families affected. In some cases, parents have been deported without their children, or infants and young children have been moved to distant states while their parents await court processing.

The “zero tolerance” policy already has run partially aground over a lack of resources. On Monday, Border Patrol officials announced they had stopped handing over immigrant parents for prosecution because they were running out of beds. The reversal means newly apprehended families, in theory, could be released pending their court dates.

The limit on how long children can be held in immigrant detention facilities stems from a 1997 court ruling known as the Flores settlement. The administration has asked a federal judge to modify those rules and allow families to be held together in custody for longer periods.The Obama administration made a similar request in 2015, but a judge refused.

The White House has also asked Congress to change federal law to allow longer detentions. That process is moving slowly, and President Trump has proved an uncertain ally for Republican leaders, vacillating as to whether he wants new legislation or not.

The House is scheduled to vote on a Republican-drafted bill on Wednesday that would overhaul the immigration system, but its prospects are dim — and it almost certainly would die in the Senate.

Last-minute arguments over what should be in the bill led one of its lead sponsors, Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Turlock), to declare the measure essentially dead.

“At the end of the day it is very clear that the Republicans cannot pass an immigration bill,” Denham said late Tuesday. “I think it’s a very clear message that Democrats and Republicans need to work together on an American solution. That’s the only way this is going to get done.

If the bill fails, as expected, the House may take up narrower legislation focused specifically on family separation. But Congress is set to recess on Thursday for an extended Fourth of July holiday, so the schedule will allow just hours to consider that proposal.

Trump signed an executive order last week that he said would halt the separation of parents and children by detaining families together. Since then, his administration has struggled to articulate a plan to reunite families.

Over the weekend, the departments of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services released a joint statement saying they had come up with a central database to link families and were working on ensuring children stayed in contact with their parents.

On a conference call with reporters Tuesday, Health and Human Services officials refused to say whether they were still receiving children taken from parents at the border. The government has not released data on the ages of children in custody, nor how many in total have been separated or released.

Jonathan White, head of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, a branch of the Health and Human Services Department, said only that the department was working with other agencies “to facilitate reunification with a child as soon as that is practical.”

He suggested the department’s sole responsibility for now “is to determine whether the child has a safe place to go.”

White said his office knew “the status, whereabouts and care of every child” in its custody. “We have always known where all the children are,” he said.

But Azar conceded in his Senate testimony that the department has not yet been able to put all the parents in communication with their children.

“We want every child and every parent to be in communication at least twice a week so that they’re talking, by Skype or by phone,” he said. “We want this to happen.”

He also warned that if parents remain in a detention facility and the agency gives custody of a child to someone else — a relative in the U.S., for example — the parents eventually might have to go to court to get the child back.

“We cannot sort of pull a child back from a relative. We don’t have the legal authority,” he said.

Lawyers decried officials’ decision not to reunite children with their parents in detention as inhumane.

Jodi Goodwin, a south Texas immigration lawyer who mobilized a rapid-response team of attorneys to aid immigrant parents detained at the Port Isabel Detention Center on the Texas Gulf Coast, said officials needed to release parents with ankle monitors or bond so that they can be reunited with their children.

“That’s the only way to end the tragedy that has happened,” she said.

Zenen Jaimes Perez of the Texas Civil Rights Project said parents were so desperate they would waive their rights, drop their asylum claims and agree to deportation, not understanding that even that choice does not guarantee they will see their children again. Of the 400 parents his organization has interviewed, only four have been reunited with their children, he said.

“We know a lot of people are making these decisions under duress, with no counsel, and that is particularly cruel,” he said.

As families grappled with that choice, 17 states — including California — and the District of Columbia filed suit against the administration over its detention policies. The case joins a growing pile of lawsuits against the administration’s policies.

The continued action in Congress and the courts will keep the emotion-charged family separations in the public eye as lawmakers return to their districts four months before the midterm election.

Trump has blamed Democrats for the stalemate in Congress, but he has given wildly mixed signals about what he wants from Republicans.

The president initially said he opposed the compromise bill, then told Republican lawmakers he was “1,000%” for immigration legislation, and then tweeted that Republicans “should stop wasting their time” by trying to pass an immigration bill before the November election.

House Republican leaders acknowledged that they still don’t have the 218 votes needed to pass the compromise bill despite holding 235 seats in the chamber. They blamed Democrats, however, for not supporting their bill.

“Why doesn’t a few Democrats move over? If they are honest about wanting to secure the border, here is the opportunity,” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) said Monday on Fox News.

Few Democrats are inclined to help rescue Trump from a crisis he created. Moreover, Democrats had no role in crafting the bill.

“It’s just a bad bill. It has nothing to do with even being locked out of the process — it’s just a bad bill,” Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-Redlands) said.

At his weekly news conference Tuesday, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) wouldn’t discuss a proposed bill targeting only the family separations. A Senate proposal would add 225 immigration judges and expedite court proceedings for families, and there are indications that plan could get a vote this week.

Ryan said he wants to “do as well as we possibly can” in Wednesday’s vote, adding, “If that doesn’t succeed, then we’ll cross that bridge.”

Source: LA Times

Republican Judge Strikes Down Obama’s Immigration Order | ThinkProgress

By Ian Millhiser

AntiImmigrationIn an extraordinary opinion that transforms a routine sentencing matter into a vehicle to strike down a politically controversial policy, a George W. Bush-appointed judge in Pennsylvania declared President Obama’s recently announced immigration policy unconstitutional on Tuesday. Because the policy “may” apply to a defendant who was awaiting sentencing of a criminal immigration violation, Judge Arthur Schwab decides that he must determine “whether the Executive Action is constitutional.” He concludes that it is not.

Schwab spends just five pages discussing his rationale for this conclusion, an unusually short amount of legal analysis for a complex question regarding the scope of the executive branch’s power to set enforcement priorities. Notably, Schwab also spends nearly three pages discussing quotes from President Obama which, the judge claims, indicate that Obama once thought his present actions are illegal — even though Schwab eventually admits that these quotes are “not dispositive of the constitutionality of his Executive Action on immigration.”

Half of Schwab’s analysis of the Executive Action’s constitutionality is devoted to a strawman. Noting that Obama cited Congress’s failure to act on immigration in his speech announcing the new policy, Schwab devotes half of his analysis of the policy’s constitutionality to explaining that “Inaction by Congress Does Not Make Unconstitutional Executive Action Constitutional.” He’s right on this point, just as Schwab would be correct if he argued that President Obama’s authority to create this new policy does not come from a magic hat that Obama keeps in the Oval Office. But it’s somewhat curious that the judge feels the need to present Obama’s political rhetoric as if it were a constitutional argument and then tear that non-argument down.

The remainder of Schwab’s brief constitutional analysis concludes that the new policy “Goes Beyond Prosecutorial Discretion — It is Legislation.” Notably, however, Schwab cites no judicial precedents of any kind to support this conclusion.

One case that Schwab does not cite is Arizona v. United States, where the Supreme Court said that the executive branch has “broad discretion” in matters of deportation and removal. As Arizona explains, a “principal feature of the removal system is the broad discretion exercised by immigration officials.” Executive branch officials, moreover, “must decide whether it makes sense to pursue removal at all.”

Notably, Arizona also indicates that this broad discretion flows from federal immigration law — i.e. laws that were enacted by Congress. This matters because Schwab’s opinion concludes that Obama’s “unilateral” policy “violates the separation of powers provided for in the United States Constitution as well as the Take Care Clause.” In essence, Schwab concludes that the president lacks the authority to act in the absence of authorization by Congress. Schwab does not even discuss the possibility that Obama’s actions may actually be authorized by Congress. Thus, even if Schwab’s reading of the Constitution is correct — itself a questionable proposition — the judge does not even discuss another major source of law that can justify the president’s actions.

Another problem Schwab does not address in his constitutional analysis is how, exactly, the executive branch is supposed to deport the many millions of undocumented immigrants in the United States if it is not allowed to set enforcement priorities among them. As the Justice Department explained in a memo discussing the legality of Obama’s policy, “there are approximately 11.3 million undocumented aliens in the country,” but the executive only “has the resources to remove fewer than 400,000 such aliens each year.”

The fact that Congress only provided sufficient resources to the Obama administration to remove a small fraction of the undocumented immigrants within the United States is itself a legislative judgment that most of these immigrants should not be removed. As the Supreme Court explained in Heckler v. Chaney, because federal agencies typically lack the resources to “act against each technical violation of the statute it is charged with enforcing,” they necessarily must set enforcement priorities. Moreover, these priorities generally should not be second-guessed by judges because “[t]he agency is far better equipped than the courts to deal with the many variables involved in the proper ordering of its priorities.”

So Schwab’s legal analysis is thin. He spends nearly as much time making what appear to be political attacks on the president as he does evaluating actual legal matters. And what little legal analysis he does provide fails to cite key Supreme Court decisions that seem to contradict his conclusion. Judge Schwab traveled far along a very thin branch to reach this decision, and he anchored his decision with little grounding in legal authorities.

Moreover, it’s not clear what effect, if any effect at all, this decision will actually have. The judge does not issue an injunction halting the new immigration policy. Nor does he even state with certainty that the actual defendant in the case before his court will benefit from an order declaring the immigration policy unconstitutional.

Yet, despite these weaknesses in his opinion, immigrant families would be wrong to write off the threat his decision could present. There was a time when the constitutional challenges to the Affordable Care Act were widely dismissed by legal experts — Ronald Reagan’s former solicitor general said he would “eat a hat which I bought in Australia last month made of kangaroo skin” if the Supreme Court struck the law down — yet these challenges rapidly gained momentum after a few Republican judges reached out to strike the law down. The same can be said about the legal theory in King v. Burwell, a lawsuit currently before the Supreme Court that seeks to gut much of Obamacare.

It remains to be seen whether Schwab’s opinion — thin though its reasoning may be — will also grant legitimacy to the case against the president’s immigration policy.

Source: ThinkProgress