5 important stories that deserve a second look
President Donald Trump isn't happy with a lot of what's happening in the world, and he isn't being shy about it. He escalated his fiery rhetoric against North Korea in a speech to the U.N. and traded barbs with NFL players kneeling in protest before turning his criticism toward Mitch McConnell after Senate Republicans' failed attempt at a vote on health care.
Here are five important stories you might have missed between all of the president's 140-character (or soon, 280-character) tweets.
1. The Department of Homeland Security's decision to end temporary protection for Sudanese immigrants casts doubt on the future of nearly 400,000 recipients
The Department of Homeland Security decided Sept. 18 to end the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) designation for Sudan. More than 1,000 immigrants from Sudan with TPS, a program that grants a temporary immigration status, will have one year to arrange their departure before the designation for their country ends on Nov. 2, 2018.
The decision is raising concerns about what this administration may decide to do with a program that in all gives status to about 400,000 immigrants.
The TPS program was created in 1990 to grant humanitarian relief to foreign nationals already in the U.S. whose countries are experiencing ongoing civil war or environmental disasters, making it impossible for them to return. While beneficiaries are eligible to remain in the U.S. without threat of deportation and obtain a work permit, the temporary grant does not provide a path to citizenship.
Sudan, one of 10 countries currently designated for TPS, has been on the list for 20 years. It was first designated in 1997 because of the country's brutal civil war. Now, DHS has decided that "conditions in Sudan no longer support designation for Temporary Protected Status" and will no longer renew its designation. Immigrants from South Sudan, which was initially designated for TPS in 2011, will continue to be eligible for the program through May 2, 2019.
Why it's important
Immigration reform has been the subject of extensive debate this month, but the focus has been on passing a legislative fix for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which grants reprieve from deportation and a work permit to nearly 790,000 undocumented people who entered the country illegally as children. While DACA recipients face uncertainty about what will happen to them after the program's end date on March 5, 2018, so too do immigrants from El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras and Nicaragua, whose TPS benefits are set to expire within the next six months.
"It worries me a lot because I have a three-year-old son who was born here," Roxana Rodas, whose TPS is set to expire in March, told the NewsHour in Spanish. She has lived in the U.S. for 16 years. "I understand this country isn't mine but right now it's not in our plans to return to our country because of the circumstances in Latin America—there is a lot of violence."
Rodas is one of approximately 263,282 TPS beneficiaries from El Salvador, according to CNN. The country was first placed on the list in 2001 following a series of devastating earthquakes. DHS has extended the protection 11 times. In the last of those renewals in 2016, DHS announced that El Salvador continued to meet conditions for TPS, including environmental, economic and social circumstances that made it unfit for handling the return of its citizens.
Rodas has established her life in Baltimore and lives with a her 3-year-old son, who is a U.S. citizen, and two older sons, who have received work permits through DACA. Her mixed-status family embodies the complexity of immigration law that her family has had to navigate while living in the U.S. She worries that a termination of TPS would mean becoming undocumented, but even if that were to happen she said it is unlikely that she would return to El Salvador.
"I want to fight to find something legal, a residency or something different because I can't go back to my country," she said.
Former Secretary of Homeland Security John F. Kelly has made it clear that the program's purpose is to provide temporary relief. "TPS is not supposed to continue to be enforced until Haiti's like Jamaica, or any country with a very functioning democracy [or] a relatively low unemployment rate. That's not the point of it," he told the Miami Herald.
For countries like El Salvador or Haiti, a termination of TPS would put thousands of immigrants at risk of deportation. But, as Vox's Dara Lind reports, ending TPS might just lead to a heightened feeling of uncertainty for immigrants unable to return to their country, and not to a case of mass deportation.
"Those are numbers too big to round up and arrest with the resources the government has now, or can get in the next sixth months," Lind writes. "But dumping them into the pool of vulnerability, and making it clear that they could get arrested at any time with no legal recourse? It costs much less to send a message."
2. Violent crime increased for the second consecutive year in the U.S. But it's too soon to say why
For the second year in a row, violent crime in the U.S. rose, according to annual data released by the FBI, with certain cities such as Chicago and Baltimore driving the increases.
The rate of violent crimes, including homicides and robberies, increased by 4.1 percent nationally in 2016. Homicides also rose by 8.6 percent, according to the FBI's figures. In the prior year, violent crime increased by 3.9 percent, while homicides rose by more than 10 percent.
It should be noted, however, that violent crime rates remain at historically low numbers, a trend that has extended over the past 25 years.
Why it's important
During a speech last week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions called the numbers a "frightening trend that threatens to erode so much progress that had made our neighborhoods and communities safer; over 30 years declines in crime are being replaced by increases."
There are indeed pockets of increased crime: in Chicago, 750 people were killed last year, the highest murder rate in the country. But Sessions' framing of the issue isn't quite right according to some critics. The attorney general has used those increases to support a 1990s-era approach to violent crime, one that encourages aggressive prosecution of gun cases and tougher sentences for low-level drug offenses. But criminologists and other experts are hesitant to pinpoint such a direct cause for the increase of violent crime. Adam Gelb of The Pew Charitable Trusts told the Associated Press that there aren't enough factors to say definitively that the increase in violent crime would continue.
"We all yearn for a big-picture, national explanation for what's going on that would help us make sense of this, but we don't have one," he said.
One theory for the cause of the increase is the eroded trust between police officers and the communities they protect.
"… The only thing that has changed [in the past 15 years] is the distrust between heavily policed communities and local police. It's not a coincidence that cities that have crime increases have also had problems between communities and the police," John K. Roman, a criminologist at the University of Chicago, told The New York Times.
The Times pointed out that Chicago joins Baltimore, Milwaukee and a handful of other U.S. cities where both homicides, and scrutiny over police misconduct and shootings, are up. However, Las Vegas and Memphis, which have both seen higher rates of homicides in past couple of years, haven't had the same issues with local law enforcement.
As for 2017, the Times cited a preliminary analysis from the New York University School of Law's Brennan Center that projects a 0.6 percent decrease in violent crime rate, "essentially remaining stable." The center also projected the overall crime rate to fall by 1.8 percent by year's end.
3. San Diego is dealing with a massive outbreak of hepatitis A
San Diego officials extended a public health emergency this week over a hepatitis A outbreak that has killed 17 people and infected more than 400 others.
Sanitation workers continued for a second week to blast public streets and sidewalks with bleach to combat spread of the viral liver disease, which is transmitted through contact with fecal matter, or food or water contaminated with infected fecal matter.
The county first declared the emergency Sept. 1, as the outbreak, which began in March, appeared to get worse.
Homeless people are at particular risk of contracting the disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, because they don't have regular access to restroom facilities or sinks for sanitation. Most people recover on their own, or with brief medical attention. But with enough time, the disease can be fatal.
County officials have launched an aggressive free vaccination campaign that has so far treated close to 28,000 people as of Friday. It's also installed 41 hand washing stations in areas with large homeless populations and opened up more public restrooms.
Normally, only two or three people report a hepatitis infection per month, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Why it's important
The outbreak has caught many people in the area by surprise. A vaccination for hepatitis A has been available since 1999, and it's proven to be highly effective at keeping the disease at bay. Since it was introduced, the CDC said cases have decreased 95 percent nationwide. In 2015, the last year for which federal data was available, nearly 1,400 people contracted the disease. California reported 186 cases in all of 2015, a number San Diego County alone surpassed weeks ago.
The L.A. Times reported there's only been one hepatitis A outbreak larger than the one happening in San Diego: A 2003 outbreak traced back to contaminated green onions in a Pennsylvania restaurant. More than 900 people reported the disease then, the newspaper said.
It's not yet clear how well San Diego County's efforts will curb outbreaks in the city, home to 3.3 million people.
Officials kicked off the week pointing fingers over who was to blame (the San Diego Tribune traced most of the tension to a battle over city bathrooms). The Tribune also suggested officials may have been slow to put a public health plan in place, a story that will unfold over the next several weeks.
Meanwhile, outbreaks have moved to other parts of the state — largely to areas wrestling with rising homeless populations, too. Ten people in Los Angeles have contracted hepatitis A, city officials said as they declared a public emergency last week; nearly 70 reported the disease in Santa Cruz.
4. Are sanctions against North Korea working?
The United Nations and the U.S. have both issued new rounds of sanctions against North Korea after its Sept. 14 missile launch over Japan.
But some countries who have signed onto the sanctions may not be cooperating, Reuters suggested last week.
Their investigation indicates that cargo vessels carrying fuel from Russia may have stopped in North Korea before heading to their declared destinations, even after the latest round of U.N. sanctions restricted the country's ability to import fuel.
The news agency said it "has no evidence of wrongdoing by the vessels," adding that "changing a ship's destination once underway is not forbidden and it is unclear whether any of the ships unloaded fuel in North Korea."
"But U.S. officials say that changing destination mid-voyage is a hallmark of North Korean state tactics to circumvent the international trade sanctions imposed over Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program," Reuters said.
You can read the full investigation, which tracked eight vessels departing Russia over the past several months, here.
Why it's important
As President Donald Trump continues to threaten "total destruction" of North Korea, and Kim Jong Un threatens to shoot down U.S. planes, leaders like German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov have grown concerned over the increasingly heated rhetoric, and many experts have called for de-escalating talk of war in favor of a renewed focus on non-military intervention like sanctions.
But experts have raised doubts about whether those sanctions will actually work. Previous rounds of sanctions have not been effective, they said, because not everyone who has signed on to sanctions follows through, giving North Korea little reason to want to negotiate a peaceful solution.For instance, CNN reported Wednesday that China, a reluctant partner in sanctions of the past, may have also resumed its purchase of coal from North Korea, despite pledging earlier this year it would suspend trading that good with the country through the end of this year. (The U.N. banned coal exports from North Korea in August).
In the last week, Trump has tried to put pressure on those countries through "secondary sanctions" on businesses and financial institutions — largely Chinese banks — working with North Korea.
China bought about two-thirds of all of North Korea's exports in 2014, according to U.S. News and World Report, which noted that business between "China and North Korea is so opaque that it is difficult to understand the true extent of their economic exchange."
The U.S. has often been reluctant to penalize China for its relationship with Pyongyang, NPR noted. This new kind of economic pressure — including new sanctions this week that target North Korea banks and bank workers — may have a better chance of forcing North Korea to the table, said David Cohen, former deputy director of the CIA and an undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence at the Treasury Department.
"That puts real pressure on those banks," Cohen told PBS NewsHour's Judy Woodruff, noting Trump indicated "they need to make a choice between working with North Korean institutions or working with the United States."
On Thursday, China announced it would shutter North Korean businesses by early January. We could learn more as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson visits China this weekend.
5. How the "organic" food label can be misleading
Before spending an extra $7 on that bundle of organic kale, consider the report released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture this month on organic imports. To summarize: you may be better off with the cheaper stuff.
The report reveals that imported fresh foods labeled as organic may actually be blasted with pesticides at U.S. ports of entry. The year-long audit found that the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), the program in charge of making sure our food meets organic standards, lacked strength and transparency when it comes to the handling, and subsequent branding, of food items destined for U.S. grocery shelves.
The report's summary said that "imported agricultural products, whether organic or conventional, are sometimes fumigated at U.S. ports of entry to prevent prohibited pests from entering the United States." And that the AMS didn't have a system in place to track which products were sprayed before they hit stores with "organic" labels.
Why it's important
U.S. consumers are crazy for organic produce. Imports — including large quantities of bananas, olive oil, coffee, corn and soybeans — totaled $1.65 billion last year, according to the USDA data. Aside from a possibly misleading label causing the average American to overpay for a level of quality they aren't getting, loose oversight of organic imports also takes a toll on local organic farmers who have to compete with larger, international producers who aren't following the rules.
A New York Times report from last year highlights the the difficulty of switching land over to organic production, as well as the high costs involved in overhauling crop management to get rid of synthetic fertilizer. Wendell Naraghi, owner of a Central Valley nut orchard, told the Times that the labor costs for his organic operation are three times higher than for the rest of his orchards.
If food coming in from outside the U.S. isn't up to the same standards U.S. farmers must follow, the report says, lax controls at our ports "increases the risk that non-organic products may be imported as organic into the United States and could create an unfair economic environment for U.S. organic producers."
"If this estimate holds, 2017 will have the second-lowest crime rate since 1990," the center said in a statement.