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January 17, 2019

Everything experts warned would happen after California's wildfires subsided? It's happening.

Massive snow, rain, and wind storms have rocked the state from top to bottom this week, leaving at least six dead, The Associated Press reports. And with thousands of acres of trees gone after October's massive wildfires, mudslides and flash floods were quick to follow.

Heavy rain and snow started falling Tuesday in "a significant part of California" thanks to a "storm rolling in from the Pacific Ocean," an Accuweather meteorologist told USA Today earlier this week. Conditions have remained harsh ever since, bringing a winter storm warning to southern California and blizzards to the tops of the Sierra Nevadas through Thursday. Four people died in storm-related car accidents, one died when a tree fell on a homeless encampment in Oakland, and another died while fleeing a falling tree, per AP.

While rain helped douse the Camp Fire in northern California in November, it also increased the risk of deadly floods and mudslides because no vegetation remained to absorb the runoff, experts said. Those risks became a reality this week as up to 7 inches of rain were expected through Friday in the ravaged town of Paradise, with the National Weather Service issuing a flash flood watch in the town's Butte County.

The storms came a week after President Trump said he would cut off federal disaster funding to the state because "with proper forest management," the wildfires "would never happen." Thousands of families are still rebuilding after last year's fires, and the government shutdown could delay recovery efforts even further. Kathryn Krawczyk

January 17, 2019

The Trump administration has owned up to taking 2,737 migrant children from their families after they crossed the border. A government report shows that number is probably way off.

Family separation is largely attributed to Trump's "zero tolerance" immigration policy, and previous counts usually just included children split from their parents after the policy took effect in spring 2018. But the Office of Refugee Resettlement actually saw a "steep increase" in family separations that started in summer 2017, a report issued Thursday by the Department of Health and Human Services' Inspector General says. "Thousands of children may have been separated" during that time, the report says — and the government never tracked just how many.

Even before zero tolerance took hold, "HHS faced significant challenges identifying which children in its care had been separated by" the Department of Homeland Security, and which had just arrived alone, assistant inspector general Ann Maxwell told BuzzFeed News. That meant the government had no accurate count of which children were separated, and couldn't easily find those children's families after a July 2018 lawsuit ordered their reunification. Separated children "were still being identified more than five months after the original court order" to find their families or sponsors, the report says.

Since the lawsuit, DHS intake forms now indicate whether a child was separated and include parental information. But Maxwell is still skeptical if they've recorded enough data to eventually reunite a child with their family, she told reporters Thursday. Based on this report, the inspector general's office plans to issue recommendations to the Office of Refugee Resettlement. Read more about the report's findings at BuzzFeed News and read the whole report here. Kathryn Krawczyk

January 11, 2019

Thousands of men were able to bring child brides to America in the past decade. Thousands of child brides brought their adults husbands as well. And it's all legal under U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services policy, government data obtained by The Associated Press shows.

From 2007 to 2017, USCIS approved 8,686 petitions for spousal or fiancee entry into America involving a minor, per data requested by the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. "Girls were the younger party in 95 percent of the petitions approved by USCIS," the report says. Most girls approved were 17 years old, and most men were in their 20s, but age gaps were as wide as a 49-year-old man requesting admission for a 15-year-old girl.

These approvals are granted because USCIS policy first weighs "whether the marriage is legal in the home country and then whether the marriage would be legal in the state where the petitioner lives," AP writes. Since many states allow children to marry, men who request a child's admittance to America usually receive approval. Or, like Naila Amin, who shares a dual citizenship between Pakistan and the U.S., girls are forced to bring their husbands here. Amin was married in Pakistan at 13 and told to bring her 26-year-old husband here, saying she "was a passport to him."

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.), who heads the committee, and then-Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Miss.) requested this data in 2017, saying "our immigration system may unintentionally shield the abuse of women and children." After seeing the data, Johnson told AP "it indicates a loophole that we need to close." Read more at The Associated Press. Kathryn Krawczyk

January 10, 2019

Employees in dozens of federal agencies haven't been paid in 20 days thanks to the government shutdown.

That includes Transportation Security Administration workers, many of whom have had to call out sick or quit their jobs, the TSA union says. They're either searching for new or part-time jobs, or simply leaving work to alleviate child care costs, per CNN. But those who haven't quit are facing a downright dystopian reality, The New York Times' Glenn Thrush notes.

Several federal departments have gone unfunded since the shutdown began Dec. 21 over a clash between President Trump and Democrats regarding funding for his proposed border wall. Thousands of workers are either furloughed or expected to work without pay, and there's no guarantee they'll receive back pay when it's over. Some unemployed workers have been told to have garage sales, negotiate with landlords, or barter to make ends meet. Kathryn Krawczyk

January 9, 2019

Puerto Rico has already seen 19 homicides so far this year, continuing a so-called "sense of impunity and lawlessness" that Resident Commissioner Jennifer González-Colón wants to end.

In a Wednesday letter to Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker and Homeland Security Secretary Kristjen Nielsen, González-Colón detailed a longstanding history of "drug-related murders" in the U.S territory. As the island's only non-voting House representative, she is asking for increased "technical assistance and law enforcement resources" to curb the problem, she said in the letter.

Puerto Rico's murder rate of "20.3 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants" is higher "than any U.S. state," González-Colón said. This year has already seen a "series of gun shootings" that "erupted in broad daylight" earlier this week, "highlighting the rising tide of violent crime in the territory," she wrote. Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Roselló increased police presence after the shootings, CBS News says.

González-Colón went on to ask Whitaker and Nielsen for a breakdown of their departments' resources devoted to Puerto Rico. She also invited the department heads to Puerto Rico "to ensure the federal government is successful in securing our nation's Caribbean border." The letter comes just hours after the FBI's top official in Puerto Rico declared a "crisis of violence" in the territory, per CBS News.

Read all of González-Colón's letter below. Kathryn Krawczyk

January 4, 2019

America's human rights abuses — including those potentially committed by the government — reportedly aren't getting U.N. scrutiny under President Trump.

The United Nations hasn't been invited to examine potential human rights violations inside the U.S. so far during Trump's presidency, The Guardian reports. And since last May, the U.S. has reportedly ignored all complaints from the U.N.'s independent watchdogs. It's a "break with U.S. practice going back decades," and sends a "dangerous signal to authoritarian regimes around the world," The Guardian says.

The U.N. routinely sends human rights experts for "fact-finding visits," making 16 trips to the U.S. under former President Barack Obama's watch, per The Guardian. But those special rapporteurs have only been to America twice under Trump, and were both initially invited by Obama. One rapporteur accused the Trump administration of exacerbating extreme poverty, which then-U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley called "patently ridiculous." Another 13 requests to probe "poverty, migration, freedom of expression, and justice" have gone without a response since May, The Guardian writes.

The lack of cooperation comes amid "a perilous moment for the U.S., both externally and within its own borders," The Guardian says. Trump withdrew from the U.N. Human Rights Council last June and has faced questions over his handling of asylum seekers at the U.S.-Mexico border, among many other things.

A State Department spokesperson said the U.S. was "deeply committed to the promotion and defense of human rights around the globe." But The Guardian says the spokesperson "pointedly omitted any reference to US compliance domestically." Read more at The Guardian. Kathryn Krawczyk

December 27, 2018

Their mission on Mount Everest is twofold: to finish the journey started by their late husbands, and to bring inspiration to other single women.

Furdiki Sherpa's husband died in 2013 while fixing ropes for climbers, and Nima Doma Sherpa's husband was one of 16 sherpas killed in a 2014 avalanche. On Wednesday, the pair announced that in May they will "climb the mountain to close our pain and to honor our husbands by reaching the peak they could not."

Furdiki told Reuters they are "undertaking the expedition to spread the message that widows can accomplish even such hard adventures." Both have finished training and successfully climbed two smaller mountains. Since 1953, when Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay Sherpa reached Everest's summit, 4,833 people have climbed the mountain, with an estimated 500 being women. Catherine Garcia

December 26, 2018

Every day, 16 schools around the U.S. undergo a lockdown. Nine of them stem from the threat of gun violence.

Most of these incidents end without incident, The Washington Post found in an extensive analysis published Wednesday. But they've left students texting love letters to their families and writing wills that include their PlayStations as they huddle in darkened classroom corners.

In a corner of MaKenzie Woody's Washington, D.C. classroom, there's a "taped-up list of phrases the kids were encouraged to say to each other" during a lockdown, the Post writes. They include "I like you, "you’re a rainbow," and "are you okay?" Woody is 6 years old and has "never heard of Parkland or Sandy Hook or Columbine," the Post writes. But she's still afraid of going outside for recess "because what if someone was shooting ... and everybody got hurt," she said.

In the 2017-18 school year, at least 4.1 million students underwent 6,200 lockdowns across the U.S., the Post's analysis of school district data and news stories found. One million of the affected students were in elementary school. And yet that number is probably low "because many school districts — including in Detroit and Chicago — do not track [lockdowns] and hundreds never make the news," the Post says.

The threats that spark these attacks are "often anonymous and seldom legitimate," the Post writes. Still, "experts who specialize in childhood trauma suspect that a meaningful percentage" of students will undergo psychological effects for years to come. Read the whole analysis at The Washington Post. Kathryn Krawczyk

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