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Human Rights

CA Fights HHS Plans to Eliminate LGBTQ Anti-Discrimination Language

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SACRAMENTO – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, and Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro today co-led a coalition of 19 attorneys general in filing a comment letter blasting the Trump Administration’s latest effort to undermine the healthcare rights of LGBTQ individuals and families.

Under a new federal proposal, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is attempting to eliminate explicit anti-discrimination language used in regulations governing federal grants that guarantees equal access to programs administered across the country.

The proposal would apply to a broad range of HHS grant programs, including maternal and child health grants, federally-assisted health training programs, Head Start programs, and mental health and substance abuse grants. LGBTQ families who foster and adopt children are among the most likely to be harmed by potentially being excluded from participation in federally funded child-welfare programs.

“This is the latest move from the Trump Administration’s playbook of denying people their rights and access to care based on who they love, no matter who it hurts – including children in need of loving homes,” said Attorney General Becerra. “This proposal is harmful and will damage critical programs that help our children, seniors, women, and families. In California, we will keep moving forward on behalf of all of our communities and families in the fight to defend our nation’s anti-discrimination protections.”

Under the proposed rule, HHS would eliminate explicit protections for “age, disability, sex, race, color, national origin, religion, gender identity, or sexual orientation” and replace them with a generic prohibition based on federal statute. However, the Trump Administration is already moving the goalposts on how it defines who is eligible for anti-discrimination protections under federal statutes.

For instance, the Trump Administration is currently in the process of working to undermine Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which protects against discrimination based on sexual orientation or transgender status, before the U.S. Supreme Court. In the comment letter, the coalition notes that this HHS proposal is arbitrary and capricious and that the agency failed to provide any adequate explanation for the proposed rule.

Our nation has many children in need of safe, loving homes. Hundreds of thousands of children across the country are already in the foster care system and the proposed rule will create unnecessary barriers that impede qualified LGBTQ families from caring for these vulnerable children. 

There are an estimated 27,000 same-sex couples raising 58,000 children through adoption and foster-care across the United States. By allowing the denial of federally funded services to LGBTQ families, HHS will potentially deprive prospective LGBTQ foster and adoptive parents of the opportunity to provide a loving home to children in need.

Additionally, ensuring nondiscrimination in the provision of care and services to LGBTQ foster youth who are greatly overrepresented in the foster care system is vitally important. In 2015, almost 20 percent of youth in foster care identified as LGBTQ as compared to an estimated 8.3 percent in the general population.

Leading medical experts and organizations, such as the American Psychological Association, have recognized that discrimination can have significant health consequences, including on mental health. This proposal marks only the latest step the Trump Administration has taken to deny LGBTQ individuals, youth, and families access to care and critical social services.

Attorney General Becerra is committed to protecting the rights of the LGBTQ community in California and across the country. In August, Attorney General Becerra led a coalition opposing a Trump Administration proposal that would undermine HHS’ anti-discrimination protections for federal healthcare programs, benefits, and services. In July, the Attorney General joined a coalition of attorneys general to defend Title VII’s anti-discrimination protections before the U.S. Supreme Court.

In May, Attorney General Becerra led a coalition of states in asserting that gender non-binary individuals deserve full legal recognition of their accurate gender identity on passports.

Attorney General Becerra has also fought against discriminatory actions by the federal government threatening safe and equitable access to healthcare and education for members of the LGBTQ community. Additionally, in accordance with California law, the California Department of Justice develops and maintains a list of states that are subject to state-sponsored travel restrictions because of laws that authorize or require discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.

In submitting the comment letter, Attorney General Becerra is joined by the attorneys general of Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and the District of Columbia. 

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Health

Advocates Urge Compassionate Release of Geriatric Prisoners to Avoid Virus

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Photo: Adobe Stock

by Diane Bernard, Public News Service

Hand sanitizer is considered contraband in prisons, making it harder to prevent the spread of the coronavirus if it strikes. Prisons can be incubators for spreading contagions, and advocates say officials need to take more measures to prevent the coronavirus from spreading behind bars.

Federal and most state prisons, including those in Maryland, have banned visits to keep inmates safe. But Tyrone Walker, a formerly incarcerated associate with the Justice Policy Institute, said that’s not enough. He said officials need to end overcrowding and give parole to the elderly to keep incarcerated people safe.

“People who are currently incarcerated are housed on top of each other. And they’re asking us about the coronavirus to get, you know, to have some space,” Walker said. “Well, that’s not allowed while you’re incarcerated.”

The majority of America’s incarcerated population are held in state facilities. The Maryland correctional department said no coronavirus cases have been reported in its jails and prisons. But no inmates have as yet been tested.

Of the more than 2 million people incarcerated in the U.S., about 165,000 are 55 or older. Those older people are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19.

People in jail and prison also are more likely to report having a chronic condition or infectious disease, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Walker said prisons should consider releasing older incarcerated people with other high-risk factors.

“One of the things that the prisons can do is release those who are considered geriatric within their population,” he said. “They’re no risk to public safety, and they can be safely released back into the communities.”

Maryland imprisons 3,000 people age 50 and older, and nearly 1,000 who are 60 or older. As of Sunday, no states have reported coronavirus outbreaks in any prison in the United States.

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Health

LA Public Defender Leads $1.2 Million Grant to Help Mentally Ill

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LOS ANGELES — The LA County Public Defender’s Office is the lead agency for a $1.2 million grant to divert people suffering from mental illness out of jail and into treatment.

LA County has been awarded the two-year grant from the MacArthur Foundation to directly address the over-incarceration of the mentally ill.

Los Angeles County operates the world’s largest jail system and its jails remain critically overcrowded. One of the main drivers of the local jail population is the incarceration of the mentally ill.

The grant will allow the Public Defender’s Office, working with other County and City agencies, to expand pre-plea diversion for those in custody as a result of a mental disorder. The effort will work toward breaking the cycle from medical and mental health facilities to custody, with a focus on the homeless population.

“Mentally ill people do not belong in jails,” LA County Public Defender Ricardo D. García said. “The startup funding provided by the MacArthur Foundation represents a substantial opportunity to mitigate the counterproductive use of criminal courts and jails as holding centers for the mentally ill men, women and children of Los Angeles County.”

This new initiative will include embedding mental health professionals in high volume courtrooms, same-day assessments of defendants who appear to suffer from a mental health disorder, and the pre-plea release and diversion of qualifying individuals into mental health treatment programs.

To help guide the launch of this program, the initiative will utilize provisions of AB 1810, a state law enacted in 2018 that allows pre-plea diversion for some defendants with mental health needs.

Partner agencies in this endeavor include the Los Angeles County Alternate Public Defender; Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office; Department of Mental Health; Sheriff’s Department; Department of Probation; Department of Public Health; Health Agency Departments; County Counsel’s Bail Reform Team; Project 180, with support from the Superior Court.

The $1.2 million MacArthur grant will go toward diverting people suffering from mental illness out of jails and into treatment.

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Human Rights

Border Patrol Officials Dodged Congress’ Questions About Migrant Children’s Deaths

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Border Patrol Officials Dodged Congress’ Questions About Migrant Children’s Deaths

by Robert Moore for ProPublica

WASHINGTON D.C. — The Trump administration sought to “conceal information” about the death of a 16-year-old Guatemalan boy in Border Patrol custody, a House subcommittee chairwoman said at a hearing Tuesday.

Rep. Kathleen Rice, D-N.Y., said the Department of Homeland Security has “consistently failed to maintain transparency by stymieing congressional inquiries. This raises concerns that they are hiding serious issues with management, in addition to the leadership vacancies at the top of the department. One example of this is the department’s decision to conceal information on the death of Carlos Hernandez Vasquez.”

Rice chairs the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Border Security, Facilitation and Operations, which had a Tuesday hearing to examine DHS efforts to prevent child deaths in custody. Six migrant children died in government custody between September 2018 and May 2019, the first such deaths in a decade.

Much of the hearing focused on Carlos, who died on May 20 in a Border Patrol cell in Weslaco, Texas. A ProPublica investigation in December, which included video of Carlos’ last hours and death, raised questions about his treatment by Border Patrol agents and contracted medical workers as his condition deteriorated.

“Despite information requests by this committee, it was not until a ProPublica report was released seven months later that Congress and the public learned more about what happened to Carlos, that his death may have been caused by the failure to provide urgently needed medical care and the failure to follow the most basic procedures to simply check on a sick child,” Rice said in her opening statement.

Two high-ranking Homeland Security officials testified at the hearing, but neither responded to Rice’s criticism. The two officials — Border Patrol Chief of Law Enforcement Operations Brian Hastings and DHS Senior Medical Officer Dr. Alex Eastman — used their opening statements to stress the unprecedented nature of the surge of families and unaccompanied children at the border last year.

They said DHS quickly scaled up medical care for migrants at the border following the deaths of two children in December 2018, using medical professionals from the Coast Guard, Public Health Service and private contractors. Eastman said the surge of migrant families and children was “an unconventional problem that required an unconventional solution.”

Under questioning from Rice, Hastings said the video of Carlos’ death revealed by ProPublica was “troubling” but sidestepped questions about his death because of an ongoing investigation by the DHS Office of Inspector General.

Hastings described one change in “welfare checks” made in the wake of Carlos’ death. Records obtained by ProPublica showed that a Border Patrol agent logged three welfare checks on Carlos in the four hours he was lying on the floor of his cell, dying or dead. The medical examiner who performed an autopsy on Carlos told ProPublica that the agent looked through a window but didn’t enter the cell.

In July, then-Acting Customs and Border Protection Commissioner John Sanders ordered that “any subject in our custody” receive welfare checks every 15 minutes and be documented in the system, Hastings said.

Hastings’ word choice drew a sharp rebuke from Rice.

“You mean person, not subject, in your custody. Because that’s what they are. They’re people, not subjects,” Rice said.

“Person, yes ma’am,” Hastings said.

Inside the Cell Where a Sick 16-Year-Old Boy Died in Border Patrol Care

Rice and other Democrats criticized reports released last month by the DHS inspector general into the deaths of two Guatemalan children in Border Patrol custody in December 2018. The reports found no wrongdoing by agents in the deaths of Jakelin Caal Maquin, 7, and Felipe Gomez Alonzo, 8.

“Publicly available summaries of these investigations are extraordinarily narrow in scope. They focus only on whether DHS personnel committed malfeasance and not whether the department’s policies and resources could properly protect the children in its care,” Rice said. She criticized the inspector general for declining an invitation to testify before the subcommittee.

Rep. Xochitl Torres Small, D-N.M., also criticized the inspector general for taking a year to complete investigations of the two deaths. Jakelin and Felipe were both held by Border Patrol agents in her district.

“Even more concerning, the OIG limited its investigation scope to only determine whether there was malfeasance by personnel and did not consider whether CBP’s policies and procedures are adequate to prevent migrant child deaths,” Torres Small said. “As I’ve said from the beginning, the reason for these investigations is not to punish people, it’s to keep this from happening again. It’s to make sure that we have the protocols in place in case we’re faced with this challenge again.”

The DHS Office of Inspector General did not immediately respond to requests from ProPublica a hearing about the scope of the investigation or the reason for not testifying at Tuesday’s hearing.


ProPublica is an independent, nonprofit newsroom that produces investigative journalism with moral force. We dig deep into important issues, shining a light on abuses of power and betrayals of public trust. Follow on Twitter at @ProPublica 



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