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Jones joins bipartisan call to implement program to alleviate border crisis

Brandon Moseley

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U.S. Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama, has joined a bipartisan group of senators in sending letters to President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan and Attorney General William Barr to urge the implementation of “Operation Safe Return.”

Supporters claim that Operation Safe Return is a pilot program that uses existing law and authorities to rapidly, accurately and fairly determine and process credible fear claims. This is a first bipartisan step in trying to address the current crisis at our southern border.

“It’s clear that there is a true humanitarian crisis happening at our southern border, and implementing Operation Safe Return is a good bipartisan step forward to address some of the most pressing challenges our immigration system faces today,” Jones said. “This program would help make sure that the process at our border is as humane and efficient as possible.”

In addition to Jones, the letter was signed by Sens. Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin; Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia; Rob Portman, R-Ohio; James Lankford, R-Oklahoma; John Barrasso, R-Wyoming; Mike Enzi, R-Wyomong; John Cornyn, R-Texas, and chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Kyrsten Sinema, D-Arizona.

“Through this program, we expect that we can meet our commitments to humanitarian protections while ensuring proper efficiency, timeliness, order and fairness in the credible fear screening process,” the senators wrote. “We also expect that Operation Safe Return will help us examine current process deficiencies, identify required increases in capacity and understand the drivers of migration.”

“As you know, the United States is facing unprecedented challenges at our southern border,” the senators continued. “The number of family member units and unaccompanied alien children crossing the southern border is overwhelming our immigration system, putting children and adults at serious risk. In fiscal year 2014, when 137,000 family member units and unaccompanied alien children crossed into the United States and were apprehended at the southern border, President (Barack) Obama declared a ‘humanitarian crisis.’ In the first eight months of fiscal year 2019, more than 389,000 family member units and unaccompanied alien children already have entered the United States and been apprehended at the southern border, averaging over 3,000 each day in May 2019 alone.”

The senators suggested that Operation Safe Return would involve the following steps:

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1) Program enrollees shall comprise inadmissible family units, including all members of the family unit identified when taken into custody that were encountered between the ports of entry through the duration of the program within a limited area of U.S. Border Patrol jurisdiction with the exception of individuals with a serious medical condition, which would inhibit their ability to participate in the legal proceedings. Individuals that have unlawfully reentered the United States, were removed or departed voluntarily while under an order of exclusion, deportation or removal, or those convicted of one or more aggravated felonies shall be excluded from this pilot program.

2) Within approximately one to three days of being encountered between the ports of entry at a selected pilot location, U.S. Border Patrol should conduct detailed, fair and accurate interviews with the participants regarding their reasons for coming to the United States. U.S. Border Patrol should have access to adequate translation services to ensure effective communication. Family member units that do not claim fear and therefore are not referred for a credible fear screening will be subject to immediate, expedited removal to their home country.

3) Family member units that do claim fear will be told they will receive a credible fear interview after at least a 48-hour waiting period that the participant can waive and will be provided with Form M-444 describing the credible fear process and a list of pro bono legal counsel. If migrants do not speak English, Form M-444 shall be provided to the family unit in their native language or language of fluency. DHS officials shall confirm that the migrants comprehend the information provided.

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4) Within approximately four days of being encountered between ports of entry, family units — including both parents if encountered together as a family unit, unless doing so would be contrary to the well-being of the family — should be processed and receive a medical exam within 12 hours of arrival at the appropriate facility; children must be screened by a pediatrician, pediatrician physician assistant, pediatric nurse practitioner or pediatric nurse who has access to the facility at all times. Family units shall be provided fair access to available non-governmental attorneys or waive access within 48 hours.

5) As soon as possible, but within approximately nine days after being encountered, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services Asylum Officers shall conduct a credible fear interview, prioritizing in-person interviews as resources allow. Adequate translation services shall be provided to all family units and no interviews shall be conducted without appropriate translation services. The initial interview by the U.S. Border Patrol shall be considered by the asylum officer but is not by itself determinative.

6) Within approximately one day of the credible fear interview, the credible fear interview determination should be transmitted to the Department of Homeland Security and Department of Justice.

7) The Department of Justice should ensure prompt and complete review of any negative credible fear determination requested by a family unit within approximately two to four days of receiving the file. The initial interview by the U.S. Border Patrol shall be considered by the immigration judge, but is not by itself determinative.

8) Within approximately 15 days after being encountered, the Department of Homeland Security should remove family units whose negative credible fear determinations are affirmed by the immigration judge.

9) Family units who are found to have a credible fear during the process will be referred for removal proceedings, which include an opportunity to file an asylum claim, and shall be enrolled in an alternatives to detention program as resources allow, unless an individual presents a danger to persons or property, are a threat to the national security or pose a risk of flight.

10) The Secretary of Homeland Security shall notify the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs weekly about the Department’s ability to meet the specified removal timeframes.

11) The Secretary of Homeland Security shall work with appropriate consulate offices to ensure the expedited processing of travel documentation for those to be removed.

12) Significant modifications to this process should be made in consultation with the committee.

“The Department of Homeland Security and Department of Justice in consultation with the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs should develop metrics to measure the effectiveness of Operation Safe Return and share the data on a weekly basis with Congress,” the senators letter said. “Additionally, the Government Accountability Office, Department of Homeland Security and Department of Justice Office of Inspector General, working with your agencies and this committee, should carry out a review and analysis of Operation Safe Return concurrent with its implementation.”

The president has been asking for Congress to address the immigration law situation and provide appropriate funds to build a wall on the southern border. To this point, Congress has done neither.

Jones was elected in a special election in 2017.

Brandon Moseley is a senior reporter with eight and a half years at Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Facebook. Brandon is a native of Moody, Alabama, a graduate of Auburn University, and a seventh generation Alabamian.

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Elections

Coalition of attorneys general file opposition to Alabama attempt to ban curbside voting

The AGs argue that Alabama’s suggestion to the courts that curbside voting invites fraud is “unfounded.” 

Eddie Burkhalter

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(STOCK PHOTO)

A coalition of 17 state attorneys general have filed an opposition to Alabama’s attempt to get the U.S. Supreme Court to ban curbside voting. 

In a friend-of-the-court brief, led by District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine, the attorneys general argue to that curbside voting is safer for those at greatest risk from COVID-19, and that a ban on the practice would disproportionately impact the elderly, the disabled and Black Alabamians.

They also argue that Alabama’s suggestion to the courts that curbside voting invites fraud is “unfounded.” 

“The Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, established by President Trump following the 2016 election, ‘uncovered no evidence to support claims of widespread voter fraud,’” the brief states, adding that there is no evidence that curbside voting in the many states that allow it invites fraud. 

“The practice is longstanding and widespread—as noted, more than half of states have historically offered curbside voting in some form,” the brief continues. 

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall on Oct. 13 said the state will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court a federal appeals court ruling allowing curbside voting in the Nov. 3 election. 

A panel of federal appeals court judges on Oct. 13 reversed parts of U.S. District Judge Abdul Kallon’s Sept. 30 ordered ruling regarding absentee voting in the upcoming Nov. 3 elections, but the judges let the previous ruling allowing curbside voting to stand. 

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The lawsuit, filed by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Southern Poverty Law Center, American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of Alabama and Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program, was brought on behalf of several Alabamians with underlying medical conditions. 

“Curbside voting is a longstanding, secure voting option that local jurisdictions have made available to protect the health of vulnerable voters, including elderly, disabled, and voters with underlying health issues,” Racine said in a statement. “Curbside voting minimizes the risk to persons who are particularly susceptible to COVID-19, and local jurisdictions should be able to offer this common-sense accommodation to voters. State Attorneys General will keep fighting to ensure that voters can safely make their voices heard at the ballot box this November.”

The brief filed by the coalition of state attorneys general comes as the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations across Alabama has been ticking upward.

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Racine is joined in the brief by attorneys general from California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and Washington.

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Health

At least 248 COVID deaths reported in Alabama in October

The cumulative death toll in Alabama has risen by 248 to 2,788 in October and by 124 in the last week alone.

Brandon Moseley

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(STOCK PHOTO)

We’re a little more than halfway through the month of October and the Alabama Department of Public Health has already reported at least 248 deaths from COVID-19.

The cumulative death toll in Alabama has risen by 248 to 2,788 in October and by 124 in the last week alone.

At least 378 deaths were reported in the month of September, a rate of 12.6 deaths per day over the month. In the first 17 days of October, the rate has been 14.6 deaths per day, a 15.9 percent increase from September.

Deaths were higher in July and August. The cumulative death toll increased by 582 in August and 630 in July, the worst month of the pandemic for the state.

On Saturday, ADPH reported that 1,288 more people in the state were confirmed positive with the coronavirus, and on Sunday the count increased by 964. The number of confirmed cases in Alabama has risen to 172,626.

There have been 17,925 new cases Alabama in October alone. The state is averaging almost 996 cases per day in October, which is up from September.

The state had 28,643 new coronavirus cases in September, 38,335 cases new cases in August, and 49,678 cases in July. Public health officials credit Alabama Governor Kay Ivey’s statewide mask order on July 15 with slowing the spread of the virus in the state, but the virus has not gone away.

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ADPH reported 823 hospitalizations for COVID-19 on October 17, the most recent day for which we have data. While hospitalizations for COVID-19 are down from the peaks in early August in Alabama have risen from Oct. 1 when 748 Alabamians were hospitalized, a 10 percent increase from the first of the month.

The state of Alabama is continuing to struggle to protect its most vulnerable citizens. At least 6,497 residents of long term care facilities in Alabama have been diagnosed with the coronavirus, 247 of them in October.

There have also been 3,362 cases among long term care workers in Alabama, including 197 in the month of October. Some 9,819 Alabama health care workers have also contracted the coronavirus.

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Most people who test positive for the novel strain of the coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, are asymptomatic or have only minor symptoms, but in about one out of five cases it can become much more severe.

For older people or people with underlying medical conditions like obesity, heart disease, asthma, cancer, diabetes or HIV, COVID-19 can turn deadly. COVID-19 is the abbreviated name for the medical condition caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Some 1,115,600 people worldwide have died from COVID-19 worldwide, including 224,284 Americans. There are 8,972,704 known active cases in the world today.

Public health officials warn citizens that coronavirus remains a present danger in our community. Social distancing is the best way to avoid spreading the virus. Avoid venues with large groups. Don’t shake hands or hug persons not living in your household.

Avoid leaving your home as much as possible and wear a mask or cloth face covering when you do go out. Avoid touching your face and wash your hands with soap frequently. Hand sanitizer is recommended.

A coronavirus vaccine may be available in the coming months, but we don’t yet know when or how effective it will be.

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National

Today is the last day to register to vote for the November 3 general election

The deadline to register to vote for the Nov. 3, 2020, general election is Oct. 19.

Brandon Moseley

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(STOCK PHOTO)

The secretary of state’s office on Sunday announced that its employees will be available until 11:59 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 19, to assist with voter registration.

The deadline to register to vote for the Nov. 3, 2020, general election is Oct. 19.

Eligible Alabamians can register to vote online at AlabamaVotes.gov, through the mobile app “Vote for Alabama,” or by visiting their county board of registrars office.

To submit an application to register to vote, you must meet the following requirements:

  • You must be a citizen of the United States.
  • You must live in the State of Alabama.
  • You must be at least 18 years of age on or before election day.
  • You must not be barred from voting by reason of a disqualifying felony conviction.
  • You must not have been judged “mentally incompetent” in a court of law.

Online registrations will be accepted until 11:59 p.m. and in-person registrations will be accepted until the close of business Monday, Oct. 19.

The office of the secretary of state will be available by phone to assist with any questions or concerns until 11:59 p.m. on Oct. 19 and can be reached at 334-242-7200 and the elections division can be reached at 334-242-7210.

Secretary of State John Merrill said, “I want to make it easy to vote and hard to cheat.”

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You can still register after the deadline, but you won’t be able to vote in this general election. Voters must have a valid photo ID. If you do not have a valid photo ID you can get a free voter ID from your local board of registrars or from the secretary of state’s office.

Every voter must vote at the polling place that they are assigned. It is not too late to apply for an absentee ballot. The deadline to apply for an absentee ballot is five days before the election. A record number of people are expected to vote absentee.

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Elections

Tuberville, Sessions campaign together

The two former Republican primary opponents participated in a series of campaign events across the Tennessee Valley area.

Brandon Moseley

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Former Sen. Jeff Sessions, left, and Senate candidate Tommy Tuberville, right.

The Tommy Tuberville for U.S. Senate campaign released a social media video Thursday featuring Tuberville alongside former U.S. Sen. and Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The two former Republican primary opponents had participated in a series of campaign events across the Tennessee Valley area.

Tuberville and Sessions on Wednesday met with representatives of Huntsville’s defense and technology sectors, participated in an event sponsored by the Republican Women of Huntsville and headlined multiple campaign fundraising events.

Sessions said, “Tommy, I support you 100 percent. Alabama must send you to represent us in the Senate. We cannot allow a Chuck Schumer acolyte – Doug Jones – to represent Alabama in the Senate.”

“You see it on his vote on the judges and Kavanaugh and the way he’s behaved about the new nominee, so I think … it would be shocking that Alabama would reelect a Doug Jones,” Sessions continued. “I know you’re going to win. I feel really good about it, and I’m glad that you’re traveling the state hard and that you’re here in this important community.”

The night after Tuberville won the Republican primary runoff election, Sessions committed to doing his part to help defeat Jones and reclaim the Senate seat for the ALGOP.

“After we won the runoff, Jeff Sessions called and told me, ‘Coach, I’m all in,’ and today’s joint events certainly demonstrate that he is a man of his word,” Tuberville said following the video shoot. “Jeff Sessions understands that it’s time we once again had a U.S. senator whose votes reflect our conservative Alabama values, not the ultra-liberal Hollywood and New York values of Doug Jones’s high-dollar, out-of-state campaign donors.”

Tuberville faces a determined Jones, who is flooding the airwaves with ads. Democrats are desperate to hold on to Jones’ seat, believing that his seat could tip control of the Senate to the Democrats.

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Democrats hope to hold onto their control the U.S. House of Representatives and a recent poll by Rasmussen shows Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden with a five point lead over incumbent Donald Trump.

Sessions left the U.S. Senate to accept an appointment as Trump’s first attorney general.

Jones defeated former Chief Justice Roy Moore to win the seat in the special election.

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Sessions was fired by Trump in 2018 and announced his candidacy for Senate the day before qualifying ended. Tuberville had already spent ten months on the campaign trail at that point.

Tuberville defeated Sessions, Moore, Congressman Bradley Byrne, State Rep. Arnold Mooney and businessman Stanley Adair in the crowded Republican primary. Tuberville is a former Auburn University head football coach. He also coached Texas Tech, Cincinnati and Ole Miss. Tuberville won a national championship as the defensive coordinator at the University of Miami. Tuberville lives in Auburn.

The general election is Nov. 3.

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