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UN rights chief 'appalled' by conditions in US for migrants

GENEVA — The United Nations’ human rights chief said Monday she was “appalled” by the conditions migrants and refugees face in U.S. detention facilities, intensifying a challenge to the Trump administration’s immigration policies.

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said children stopped by border agents should never be held in immigration detention facilities or separated from their families, and detention should not be the norm for adults, either.

“Any deprivation of liberty of adult migrants and refugees should be a measure of last resort,” the U.N. commissioner said, appealing for “non-custodial alternatives.”

A spokeswoman for the U.N. human rights office, Ravina Shamdasani, said Bachelet decided to speak out more forcefully than before after the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general issued a report last week warning of dangerous conditions in U.S. immigration detention facilities.

Many migrants and refugees set off on “perilous journeys with their children in search of protection and dignity and away from violence and hunger,” Bachelet said in a statement.

“When they finally believe they have arrived in safety, they may find themselves separated from their loved ones and locked in undignified conditions,” she continued. “This should never happen anywhere.”

President Donald Trump said Sunday that migrants were coming from “unbelievable poverty” and “those are people that are very happy with what’s going on because, relatively speaking, they’re in much better shape right now” in U.S. custody.

He went on to praise the work of the Border Patrol and other law enforcement officers on the U.S.-Mexico border, saying, “it’s incredible what they’re doing. They’ve had to become nurses. They’ve had to become janitors.”

The Homeland Security report was the second by the inspector general’s office to blast conditions at temporary detention centers in Texas where migrants are held.

The first, based on visits to Border Patrol facilities in western Texas in May, showed dozens of migrants packed into spaces so tight that some had to stand on toilets. It detailed how 900 migrants were in a 125-person facility at one point, with many held for weeks in violation of the government’s policy.

Last week’s report, released July 2, said several Border Patrol facilities in south Texas were dangerously overcrowded. Detainees banged on cell windows, shouted and pressed notes to a window for inspectors, according to the report released July 2. A photo showed a man holding a piece of cardboard with one word: “help.”

Inspectors also warned that many children had no access to showers and were being detained long past the maximum of 72 hours. Five children have died in Border Patrol custody since December.

“As a pediatrician, but also as a mother and a former head of state, I am deeply shocked that children are forced to sleep on the floor in overcrowded facilities, without access to adequate health care or food, and with poor sanitation conditions,” Bachelet, a former president of Chile, said Monday.

“Detaining a child even for short periods under good conditions can have a serious impact on their health and development — consider the damage being done every day by allowing this alarming situation to continue,” she said.

Bachelet acknowledged the “sovereign prerogative” of countries to set the conditions under which foreigners are permitted to enter and stay but also highlighted their human rights obligations. Her office said she recognized the “complexity” of challenges faced by migrants’ countries of origin, the ones they travel through and destinations like the U.S.

New York Times story about Longview draws mixed local reactions

A New York Times story that cast Longview as the poster child for the vast parts of Texas struggling to keep up with the state’s fast-growing major metro areas was being discussed and cussed Monday here and across the state.

Under the headline “The ‘Texas Miracle’ Missed Most of Texas,” the story began by discussing steps the city is taking to stop what it called “the bleeding of talent to Dallas and Austin.”

“They are sprucing up downtown, completing 10 miles of walking trails, investing in parks and schools and making other improvements that they hope will entice young workers to stay and help this part of the state finally claim a share of the Texas Miracle,” the story said.

Longview Mayor Andy Mack

“It was nice that they mentioned Longview and took the time to write about it,” said Mayor Andy Mack, who was hearing from constituents about the story Monday. He said people who contacted him expressed surprise The New York Times did a story about the city and adding with a laugh, “that it took them so long to do a story about Longview.”

It was a story that used data to illustrate the fast job growth in Texas as a whole since the 2008 financial crisis has “largely left cities like Longview in the dust. No state — not even California, long held up as the embodiment of America’s widening geographic inequality — has seen a larger post-recession divergence between its elite cities and everywhere else.”

That “geographic inequality” is demonstrated, he wrote, by Labor Department data that shows nearly all the net growth in jobs and new businesses in Texas over the last decade has been concentrated in the state’s four large metropolitan areas — Austin, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio.

“Those areas,” writer Jim Tankersley reported, “accounted for more than four out of every five jobs created in the state since the recession ended, their populations swelling with surges of young and talented workers. Collectively, the four saw double the rate of job growth as the rest of Texas.”

The reporter quoted John Lettieri, president of the Economic Innovation Group, as saying, “In the Texas economy, it’s superstar cities, and then it’s rural and everybody else.”

Longview falls “squarely in the ‘everybody else,’ but its leaders are optimistic they can move up,” Tankersley wrote.

The article cites job gains of 1,800 in the past 10 years and a population growth of 2 percent for the Longview area from 2010 to 2018.

The phrase “geographic inequality” prompted a tweet from U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas: “Longview is a great place to live, work and raise a family. Leave it to the NYT to take good news and try to make ‘geographic inequality’ sound sinister ...”

Mack said he is not sure what to think about the “geographic inequality” comment, while adding, “We are doing the best we can with what we have.”

He characterized Longview as “the most attractive place for people looking to relocate.”

Kelly Hall, president/CEO, Longview Chamber of Commerce

Tankersley interviewed Mack; Kelly Hall, president/CEO of the Longview Chamber of Commerce; Jack Buttram and John Oglesbee, owners of the Oil Horse Brewing Co.; Vicki D. Jones, owner of Women’s Health Boutique in Longview; and Josh Black, an attorney who returned to Longview nine years ago for a job offer and now owns U.S. Title Co.

“I don’t know what their objective was,” said Mack, who was born and raised in Longview. “They don’t see Longview the way I see Longview. I see Longview as the up-and-coming town in this area.”

Hall said in an email that Tankersley reached out to her in March, because he was researching rural communities to gain an understanding why some areas maintained or even grew in jobs during the downturn after 2008.

Tankersley also visited Longview on March 27 during the HealthyView Summit and met with Mack and chamber Chairman Chuck King and was introduced to several members, Hall said.

Overall, Hall said the article was good, but she said, “I was disappointed that his closing comments didn’t delve into more about what the data doesn’t say.”

Like Mack, Hall said she has received a lot of feedback from numerous friends, chamber peers and community members.

“Overwhelming, the comments have been — wow, Longview has made the NY Times — thank you!” Hall wrote.

Several local people involved with efforts to revitalize downtown Longview wrote about the article while sharing a link to it on Facebook.

“I think we are headed in the right direction,” the city’s Main Street Coordinator Melida Heien wrote. “I don’t think we are missing out on the growth being seen in Dallas and Austin; I think we are just experiencing it and doing it in our way that makes sense. ...”

Referring to voter approval in November of a $104.2 million bond package to improve city parks, streets and safety, downtown booster Gary Ford wrote, “I’m proud to witness and participate in Longview’s revival.”

Steve Shirey said in an online comment on the News-Journal's share of the link: “Personally, I have always thought that Longview likes things how they have been. It would have been great to hear from Kelly what are some of the main reasons these industries do not choose Longview. I don’t think anyone wants Longview to be like Dallas, Austin or Houston. It seems that we simply need to sell Longview’s current values as a positive.”

Texas is going to court to end Obamacare. It hasn't produced a plan to replace it.

Last year, after a federal judge in Texas declared the entirety of the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional, throwing into question millions of Americans’ health coverage, the state’s Republican leaders promised they would come up with a plan to replace it.

But today, after a legislative session that seemed to have no room for issues other than property tax reform and school finance, Texas will ask a federal appeals court in New Orleans to end the law in its entirety — without offering a replacement plan.

The conservative crusade against portions of the act, known as Obamacare, has spanned a decade. But Texas’ latest lawsuit, filed in February 2018, became an existential threat to the law after U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor ruled in December that it is unconstitutional in its entirety. At stake: the subsidized health coverage of roughly 1 million Texans, sweeping protections for patients with preexisting conditions, young adults staying on their parents’ insurance plans until age 26 and a host of low-cost benefits available to all people with health insurance, including those covered through their employers.

Texas already has the highest uninsured rate in the nation.

In a highly unusual — if not entirely surprising — move, the U.S. Department of Justice has declined to defend the federal law, leaving a California-led coalition of blue states to protect it. As the case proceeds, Obamacare has remained in place, and likely will until the litigation is finally resolved.

Attorneys for the state of Texas argue the health law cannot stand since the Republican-led Congress in 2017 zeroed out Obamacare’s individual mandate — a penalty imposed on people who chose to remain uninsured. Democrats had favored the penalty as a way to induce more people to purchase health insurance, with the goal of reaching near-universal coverage. Without it, Texas argues, the whole law must fall.

But the state’s Republican leaders have offered few ideas about what should replace Obamacare, a law that touches practically every aspect of health care regulations and includes several popular protections for patients. Gov. Greg Abbott — a vocal critic of the law — pledged in December that if the law remained struck down on appeal, “Texas will be ready with replacement health care insurance that includes coverage for pre-existing conditions.”

Since then, he’s been quiet on the issue, including during this year’s 140-day Texas legislative session. Abbott did not respond to questions for this story.

A three-judge panel on the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals will hear arguments on the case Tuesday afternoon and then rule in the coming weeks on whether the law should stand.

One bill that did emerge from the legislative session would allow the Texas Department of Insurance to reestablish a high-risk health insurance pool for individuals with severe health problems. That pool, an expensive option for sick patients that was phased out under Obamacare, only insured about 28,000 people at its peak, experts said — a tiny fraction of the Texans poised to lose coverage if Obamacare is struck down.

State Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, the bill’s author, said it will provide “a stopgap measure until we reconvene.”

“You establish something until we gather back together, and we collectively, as a body, determine what the best path forward is,” Hancock said.

It would be up to the governor to call a special legislative session to pass a more robust plan. If he does not, the Legislature next meets in January 2021.

Reestablishing the high-risk pool in the absence of Obamacare would be like applying “a tiny Band-Aid” to a gaping wound, said Stacey Pogue, a health policy expert with the left-leaning Center for Public Policy Priorities.

This year, the Legislature did nothing to expand health coverage under existing law or propose alternatives to Obamacare, Pogue said.

“No plan, no bill passed,” Pogue said. “Not only did the Legislature not do anything to improve our miserable uninsured rate, this lawsuit would uniquely make it skyrocket.”

Total abolition of the law is one possible outcome from this week’s litigation. But legal experts across the ideological spectrum agree that Texas has a high bar to clear before Obamacare would be struck down.

For the lawsuit to proceed at all, both sides will have to convince a three-judge panel that they have standing to sue. That’s not a given; the court recently asked for additional information on that issue.

Next, Texas will have to persuade the judges that the zeroed-out individual mandate is unconstitutional.

But perhaps Texas’ most difficult point to prove centers on the question of “severability”: If the individual mandate is unconstitutional, must the rest of the law also fall? A wide array of legal experts say no, as does the California-led coalition, which points to the fact that the law has continued to function without it.

“It’s a really stupid lawsuit,” said Nicholas Bagley, a professor at the University of Michigan Law School who worked at the Department of Justice during President Barack Obama’s tenure. “I mean that quite sincerely. You’ve got to have a viable legal theory, and the legal theories here are so thin.”

Still, Texas’ arguments were persuasive to O’Connor, a George W. Bush appointee to the federal bench who has handed Texas several high-profile legal wins in recent years. Since 2015, almost half of the challenges to the federal government the Texas Attorney General’s Office filed in federal district courts in Texas landed in O’Connor’s courtroom.

The law’s constitutionality “is a live question,” said Rob Henneke, general counsel for the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation, which will argue alongside Texas on Tuesday on behalf of a few individual plaintiffs in the lawsuit. “The trial court has said that it’s not constitutional. My hope is that state policy makers continue to move forward in looking past [Obamacare] and toward a state-based model that can actually provide great care for people when they get sick.”

The lawsuit is unlikely to be resolved at the appeals court. The losing side is all but certain to appeal the 5th Circuit panel’s decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, though the high court could decide not to review the case. The parties could also ask the full 5th Circuit to reconsider the case “en banc.”

“We will fight like the dickens to save Americans’ health care,” said California Attorney General Xavier Becerra. “With lives at risk and a bipartisan chorus of economists, scholars and medical groups standing by our side, it’s clear: This lawsuit has no regard for Americans’ health, lives or the law.”

If Texas’ lawyers ultimately prevail, it will constitute a tremendous ideological victory for the state’s conservative litigators — and present an overnight crisis for policymakers. Texas’ long-sought outcome would trigger a frenzied rush toward a replacement plan that has yet to materialize during the better part of a decade.

“The sooner Obamacare is enjoined, the better, so that states and individuals can prepare to operate freely again,” Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said last year. His office did not respond to questions for this story.

Weather service warns of heat advisory today through Wednesday evening

Temperatures in the mid-90s with high humidity will bring a heat advisory from 10 a.m. today through 7 p.m. Wednesday in Longview, the National Weather Service in Shreveport reported Monday.

Humidity of 55 percent to 60 percent will combine to make daytime temperatures in the mid-90s as uncomfortable as if they are 105 and 106 degrees, according to weather service meteorologist Mario Valverde. He said the temperature at 93 degrees at 3 p.m. Monday gave a heat index value of 104 degrees.

“It is not uncommon for this time of year to have heat advisories,” Valverde said. “The humidity is the big driving factor.”

Valverde said he does not have a forecast yet for when the mercury will hit 100 degrees. The weather service recorded its first 100-degree temperature in 2018 on June 30, with temperatures of 100 degrees or higher following on July 1-3, July 19-23 and July 25-27. The temperature peaked in 2018 at 105 degrees on July 22.

He said area residents can expect mild relief of 3 degrees cooler with an afternoon high of 93 on Thursday, followed by an increasing chance of rain with the coming weekend.

Meanwhile, the heat might prompt more overnight stays at the Hiway 80 Rescue Mission at 3117 W. Marshall Ave. and the Salvation Army shelter at 519 E. Cotton St. The rescue mission also has implemented its inclement weather policy to let people stay if they had been expelled in the past for violations, Executive Director Rusty Fennell said.

The rescue mission also is opening its day room all day during the heat wave.

“We will continue to allow people in,” Fennell said. The mission also is offering bottled water for people coming in and for residents who have jobs.

The Salvation Army staff will open its drop-in center at 504 E. Cotton St. from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. today, in addition to being open the usual Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, Capt. Nick Hutchinson said. Visitors will be offered snacks and cold drinks and may play board games and watch movies.

The Newgate Mission at 207 S. Mobberly Ave. also has extended its hours during the week to 5 p.m. during extreme weather.