ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox. After a ProPublica investigation into the death of a teenager in Border Patrol custody, House Democrats are ramping up pressure on the Trump administration to explain how six migrant children died after entering the U.S.
“I find it appalling that (Customs and Border Protection) has still not taken responsibility for the deaths of children in their care,” said Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee. Thompson said that while some of the children’s deaths may not have been preventable, Customs and Border Protection, the federal agency that first deals with children who cross the border, seems “all too quick to pat themselves on the back for their handling of children last year. These deaths happened under their watch.
ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox. Mike Elrod voted for Donald Trump in 2016, hoping for a break from tight government oversight that his business had endured for years, which he often found unreasonable. “There was a time when every day I dreaded opening the mail,” said Elrod, who founded a small firm in South Carolina called Eccotemp that makes energy-efficient, tankless water heaters. “The Department of Energy would put in an arbitrary rule and then come back the next day and say, ‘You’re not in compliance.’ We had no input into what was changing and when the change was taking place.”
Elrod also thought that big businesses had long been able to buy their way out of problems, either by spending lots of money on compliance or on lobbyists to look for loopholes and apply political pressure.
ByLisa Song, ProPublica, and Paula Moura for ProPublica |
ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox. Next month, California regulators will decide whether to support a plan for tropical forest carbon offsets, a controversial measure that could allow companies like Chevron, which is headquartered there, to write off some of their greenhouse gas emissions by paying people in countries like Brazil to preserve trees. The Amazon rainforest has long been viewed as a natural testing ground for this proposed Tropical Forest Standard, which, if approved, would likely expand to countries throughout the world. Now that record fires are engulfing the Amazon, started by humans seeking to log, mine and farm on the land, supporters are using the international emergency to double down on their case for offsets.
ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox. Long known for its insular culture and tendency toward secrecy, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency is saying little in the aftermath of news reports exposing a vulgar and hateful Facebook group for current and retired Border Patrol agents, including supervisors. While CBP officials have publicly condemned the offensive social media posts, they’ve disclosed few details about the steps the agency has taken to identify employees who behaved inappropriately online and hold them accountable. The agency, which is responsible for policing the nation’s borders and official ports of entry, declined to say how many employees CBP has disciplined or how many remain under investigation.
ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox. Members of a secret Facebook group for current and former Border Patrol agents joked about the deaths of migrants, discussed throwing burritos at Latino members of Congress visiting a detention facility in Texas on Monday and posted a vulgar illustration depicting Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez engaged in oral sex with a detained migrant, according to screenshots of their postings. In one exchange, group members responded with indifference and wisecracks to the post of a news story about a 16-year-old Guatemalan migrant who died in May while in custody at a Border Patrol station in Weslaco, Texas. One member posted a GIF of Elmo with the quote, “Oh well.” Another responded with an image and the words “If he dies, he dies.”
Created in August 2016, the Facebook group is called “I’m 10-15” and boasts roughly 9,500 members from across the country.
Perhaps the most far-reaching idea was to reclassify the more than 40,000 Border Patrol agents and customs officers as “national security employees,” just as all FBI agents and employees at a number of other Homeland Security agencies currently are. Taking away their status as civil servants, the thinking went, would make it easier to fire corrupt and abusive employees. It was, to be sure, an extreme measure. But the panel, a subcommittee of a larger Homeland Security advisory council, had been created late in President Barack Obama’s second term because U.S. Customs and Border Protection seemed in crisis, and the panel subsequently determined that the agency was plagued by a system that allowed bad actors to stay on the payroll for years after they’d engaged in egregious, even criminal, misconduct. Because of civil service protections, a Border Patrol agent who’d been disciplined for bad behavior could challenge his or her punishment through four rounds of escalating appeals before taking the case to an arbitrator or a federal hearing board.
Despite signing a deal with the IRS that pledged they would help tens of millions of Americans file taxes for free, tax software giants Intuit, the maker of TurboTax, and H&R Block instead deliberately hid the free option and actively steered customers into paid products, according to an internal document and five current and former employees of the companies. H&R Block explicitly instructs its customer service staff to push people away from its free offering, according to internal guidance obtained by ProPublica. “Do not send clients to this Web Site unless they are specifically calling about the Free File program,” the guidance states, referring to the site with the company’s free option. “We want to send users to our paid products before the free product, if at all possible.”
Steering customers away from TurboTax’s truly free option is a “purposeful strategy,” said a former midlevel Intuit employee. For people who find TurboTax through a search engine or an online ad, “the landing page would direct you through a product flow that the company wanted to ensure would not make you aware of Free File.”
When the Free File program launched 16 years ago, it was extolled as the best sort of collaboration between government and private enterprise.
On March 15, President Donald Trump vetoed Congress’ attempt to stop him from declaring a national emergency to build a wall along the United States’ border with Mexico. His construction plans still face court challenges. But if the effort survives, you can expect this to happen in the near future: The federal government will begin seizing private land to build the wall, a process known as eminent domain. It’s a fundamental power, laid out in the Fifth Amendment. The government can take your land to build public works, but it has to pay you “just compensation” — the amount that a willing buyer would pay a willing seller to purchase the property.
In his first 10 days in office, Trump signed an executive order that required all his political hires to sign a pledge. On its face, it’s straightforward and ironclad: When Trump officials leave government employment, they agree not to lobby the agencies they worked in for five years. They also can’t lobby anyone in the White House or political appointees across federal agencies for the duration of the Trump administration. And they can’t perform “lobbying activities,” or things that would help other lobbyists, including setting up meetings or providing background research. Violating the pledge exposes former officials to fines and extended or even permanent bans on lobbying.
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