Welcome to This Week in Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. This week, the Biden Administration continues a string of immigration reform efforts; the Senate approves a budget resolution including a $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package; Republican lawmakers in states across the country respond to last year’s protests and presidential election; the Supreme Court issued an opinion on California’s COVID restrictions for indoor worship; Myanmar citizens turn out in the thousands to protest the military coup; events in Rochester and St. Louis keep criminal justice reform front-and-center; and Virginia could become the first southern state to abolish the death penalty.
Biden Administration ends asylum deals with El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, which required asylum seekers to seek refuge in the Central American countries before coming to the United States. The move is the latest of several efforts to chip away at Trump-era policies regarding restricting immigration and asylum. In the last month, Biden announced a task force to work on reuniting families separated at the border, sending a proposed bill to Congress which would provide an 8-year path to citizenship, and drafting a plan to provide aid to Central American countries suffering from gang violence and government instability, which many claim stems from U.S. interference. (Reuters, The Hill).
Vice President Harris casts tie-breaking vote to approve a Senate budget resolution, including a $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package. The funds would be used to speed the coronavirus vaccine rollout, extend unemployment benefits, reopen public schools, and provide stimulus checks to individuals making below a certain income. It will now go to the House for final approval with a simple majority. (The Guardian).
A Florida House committee approves a bill, put forth in the wake of last summer’s Black Lives Matter demonstrations, creating a new class of crimes for certain protest tactics. The crimes include blocking traffic, damaging memorials, and being involved in a “riot” of nine or more people. Opponents testified in front of the committee last week, citing the blatantly disparate enforcement of previously-existing protest regulations, which were weilded against only the Black Lives Matter protesters last summer in clashes with pro-Trump counter-protesters. (Washington Post).
A recent review by the Brennan Center has identified more than 100 bills currently being advanced by Republicans in 28 states aimed at restricting voting. The bills include provisions such as voter ID requirements, restrictions on same-day voting and/or mail-in ballots, culling voter rolls of “inactive” voters, and changes to how a state allocates electors. (NBC).
The Supreme Court grants injunctive relief against California governor Gavin Newsom’s temporary ban on indoor religious services, pending the petition for a writ of certiorari. In a 6-3 decision, the Court explained that the statewide ban on indoor services does appear to violate the First Amendment, and that state officials will be enjoined from enforcing the ban until a final court decision is rendered. Three justices (Gorsuch, Thomas, and Alito) further wrote that the bans on singing and chanting would likewise be held unconstitutional – a point with which Justice Coney Barrett and Justice Kavanaugh disagreed. Justices Kagan, Sotomayor, and Breyer dissented, citing the Court’s limited role in state public health policy. (L.A. Times).
Myanmar citizens turn out in the tens of thousands to protest military coup. The protesters called for the release of elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who had been detained by the military. The military had imposed an internet black-out in the country, but restored it after one day. (BBC).
Rochester’s mayor offers police reform recommendations after a viral video of RPD officers handcuffing and pepper spraying a 9-year-old girl. The recommendations relate to accountability measures, community engagements, data collection, transparency, recruitment, resizing the department, among others. Rochester’s City Council will have to review the proposal, which will ultimately be put to a vote in March. (CNN).
Incarcerated men in St. Louis’ downtown jail stage the third protest in three months. Some city representatives have described this as a pure act of “criminal mayhem,” while others uplift it as a legitimate protest against jail conditions, the lack of COVID protective measures for inmates, the use of solitary confinement as retaliation, and more. (St. Louis Public Radio).
Virginia lawmakers vote to abolish the death penalty in the state. Governor Ralph Northam says he plans to sign the bill into law, which would make Virginia the first southern state to abolish state executions. Before Gov. Northam can sign it, state lawmakers will need to work out whether people sentenced to life in prison will be eligible for parole. (NPR).