Good evening, my fellow Americans. I’m Stacey Abrams, and I am honored to join the conversation about the state of our union. Growing up, my family went back and forth between lower middle class and working poor.
Yet, even when they came home weary and bone-tired, my parents found a way to show us all who we could be. My librarian mother taught us to love learning. My father, a shipyard worker, put in overtime and extra shifts; and they made sure we volunteered to help others. Later, they both became United Methodist ministers, an expression of the faith that guides us.
These were our family values – faith, service, education and responsibility.
Now, we only had one car, so sometimes my dad had to hitchhike and walk long stretches during the 30 mile trip home from the shipyards. One rainy night, Mom got worried. We piled in the car and went out looking for him – and eventually found Dad making his way along the road, soaked and shivering in his shirtsleeves. When he got in the car, Mom asked if he’d left his coat at work. He explained he’d given it to a homeless man he’d met on the highway. When we asked why he’d given away his only jacket, Dad turned to us and said, “I knew when I left that man, he’d still be alone. But I could give him my coat, because I knew you were coming for me.”
Our power and strength as Americans lives in our hard work and our belief in more. My family understood firsthand that while success is not guaranteed, we live in a nation where opportunity is possible. But we do not succeed alone – in these United States, when times are tough, we can persevere because our friends and neighbors will come for us. Our first responders will come for us.
It is this mantra – this uncommon grace of community – that has driven me to become an attorney, a small business owner, a writer, and most recently, the Democratic nominee for Governor of Georgia. My reason for running for governor was simple: I love our country and its promise of opportunity for all, and I stand here tonight because I hold fast to my father’s credo – together, we are coming for America, for a better America.
Just a few weeks ago, I joined volunteers to distribute meals to furloughed federal workers. They waited in line for a box of food and a sliver of hope since they hadn’t received a paycheck in weeks. Making their livelihoods a pawn for political games is a disgrace. The shutdown was a stunt engineered by the President of the United States, one that defied every tenet of fairness and abandoned not just our people – but our values.
For seven years, I led the Democratic Party in the Georgia House of Representatives. I didn’t always agree with the Republican Speaker or Governor, but I understood that our constituents didn’t care about our political parties – they cared about their lives. So, when we had to negotiate criminal justice reform or transportation or foster care improvements, the leaders of our state didn’t shut down – we came together. And we kept our word.
It should be no different in our nation’s capital. We may come from different sides of the political aisle; but, our joint commitment to the ideals of this nation cannot be negotiable.
Our most urgent work is to realize Americans’ dreams of today and tomorrow. To carve a path to independence and prosperity that can last a lifetime. Children deserve an excellent education from cradle to career. We owe them safe schools and the highest standards, regardless of zip code.
Yet this White House responds timidly while first graders practice active shooter drills and the price of higher education grows ever steeper. From now on, our leaders must be willing to tackle gun safety measures and the crippling effect of educational loans; to support educators and invest what is necessary to unleash the power of America’s greatest minds.
In Georgia and around the country, people are striving for a middle class where a salary truly equals economic security. But instead, families’ hopes are being crushed by Republican leadership that ignores real life or just doesn’t understand it. Under the current administration, far too many hard-working Americans are falling behind, living paycheck to paycheck, most without labor unions to protect them from even worse harm.
The Republican tax bill rigged the system against working people. Rather than bringing back jobs, plants are closing, layoffs are looming and wages struggle to keep pace with the actual cost of living.
We owe more to the millions of everyday folks who keep our economy running: like truck drivers forced to buy their own rigs, farmers caught in a trade war, small business owners in search of capital, and domestic workers serving without labor protections. Women and men who could thrive if only they had the support and freedom to do so.
We know bipartisanship could craft a 21st century immigration plan, but this administration chooses to cage children and tear families apart. Compassionate treatment at the border is not the same as open borders. President Reagan understood this. President Obama understood this. Americans understand this. And Democrats stand ready to effectively secure our ports and borders. But we must all embrace that from agriculture to healthcare to entrepreneurship, America is made stronger by the presence of immigrants – not walls.
Rather than suing to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, as Republican Attorneys General have, our leaders must protect the progress we’ve made and commit to expanding health care and lowering costs for everyone.
My father has battled prostate cancer for years. To help cover the costs, I found myself sinking deeper into debt – because while you can defer some payments, you can’t defer cancer treatment. In this great nation, Americans are skipping blood pressure pills, forced to choose between buying medicine or paying rent. Maternal mortality rates show that mothers, especially black mothers, risk death to give birth. And in 14 states, including my home state where a majority want it, our leaders refuse to expand Medicaid, which could save rural hospitals, economies, and lives.
We can do so much more: take action on climate change. Defend individual liberties with fair-minded judges. But none of these ambitions are possible without the bedrock guarantee of our right to vote. Let’s be clear: voter suppression is real. From making it harder to register and stay on the rolls to moving and closing polling places to rejecting lawful ballots, we can no longer ignore these threats to democracy.
While I acknowledged the results of the 2018 election here in Georgia – I did not and we cannot accept efforts to undermine our right to vote. That’s why I started a nonpartisan organization called Fair Fight to advocate for voting rights.
This is the next battle for our democracy, one where all eligible citizens can have their say about the vision we want for our country. We must reject the cynicism that says allowing every eligible vote to be cast and counted is a “power grab.” Americans understand that these are the values our brave men and women in uniform and our veterans risk their lives to defend. The foundation of our moral leadership around the globe is free and fair elections, where voters pick their leaders – not where politicians pick their voters.
In this time of division and crisis, we must come together and stand for, and with, one another. America has stumbled time and again on its quest towards justice and equality; but with each generation, we have revisited our fundamental truths, and where we falter, we make amends.
We fought Jim Crow with the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, yet we continue to confront racism from our past and in our present – which is why we must hold everyone from the very highest offices to our own families accountable for racist words and deeds – and call racism what it is. Wrong.
America achieved a measure of reproductive justice in Roe v. Wade, but we must never forget it is immoral to allow politicians to harm women and families to advance a political agenda. We affirmed marriage equality, and yet, the LGBTQ community remains under attack.
So even as I am very disappointed by the president’s approach to our problems – I still don’t want him to fail. But we need him to tell the truth, and to respect his duties and the extraordinary diversity that defines America.
Our progress has always found refuge in the basic instinct of the American experiment – to do right by our people. And with a renewed commitment to social and economic justice, we will create a stronger America, together. Because America wins by fighting for our shared values against all enemies: foreign and domestic. That is who we are – and when we do so, never wavering – the state of our union will always be strong.
Thank you, and may God bless the United States of America.
US Judge In Oregon Will Block New Trump Abortion Policy
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — A U.S. judge in Oregon said Tuesday he intends to at least partially block a rule change by President Donald Trump’s administration that could cut off federal funding for providers who refer patients for an abortion, though the scope of his decision remains to be seen.
U.S. District Judge Michael McShane made the comments after more than three hours of arguments in a lawsuit brought by 20 states and the District of Columbia, The Oregonian/OregonLive reported . The states say the rule change, due to take effect May 3, is a transparent attack on Planned Parenthood and a violation of the Affordable Care Act, which prohibits “unreasonable barriers to the ability of individuals to obtain appropriate medical care.”
“At the heart of these rules is an arrogant assumption that the government is better suited to direct women’s health care than their providers,” Oregon Public Broadcasting quoted the judge as saying.
McShane said he needs more time to decide whether he will issue a national injunction or a more limited one blocking the policy from taking effect. The judge said he’s reluctant to set national health care policy and would describe the scope of his injunction in a written opinion soon.
“We will need to see what the final ruling says,” Oregon Justice Department spokeswoman Kristina Edmunson said in an email. “We are pleased with the decision.”
Under the new policy, health care providers that receive federal funding would be barred from referring patients for an abortion. Programs that receive the money would also have to be in a separate physical space from facilities where abortion is performed.
The rule change announced early this year concerns Title X, a family planning program created in 1970 which serves roughly 4 million low-income Americans every year. Clinics that receive money under Title X provide a wide array of services, including birth control and screening for diabetes, sexually transmitted diseases and cancer.
Abortion is a legal medical procedure, but federal laws prohibit the use of taxpayer funds to pay for abortions except in cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the woman. Religious conservatives and abortion opponents have long complained that Title X has been used to indirectly subsidize abortion providers.
“Title X grant funds are a true safety net for low income individuals and those who would not be able to access care, due to a lack of insurance or other barriers,” Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum told the judge. “Put simply, this is an attempt to politicize what has been a successful, non-political public health program for 50 years.”
U.S. Justice Department lawyer Andrew M. Bernie said there was nothing in the administrative record to suggest the change was politically motivated.
But the judge was not swayed. McShane suggested it would be “insane” for a man to go to his doctor seeking a vasectomy, only to be referred to a fertility clinic.
Several other lawsuits have also challenged the new policy. California and Washington have sued separately; arguments in the latter case are scheduled for Thursday in U.S. District Court in Yakima.
ICE Faces Migrant Detention Crunch as Border Chaos Spills Into Interior of the Country
Federal immigration authorities faced with overburdened detention centers are scouring the country to find space to house migrants as the crush of asylum seekers that has overwhelmed the Southwest border spreads deep into the nation’s interior.
With mounting federal initiatives to hold more and more migrants in custody, officials at Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which oversees long-term detention centers for migrants, are looking for additional space that can be rented inside existing jails, as well as fast-tracking the deportations of current detainees and releasing as many migrants as possible into the country to make room for newcomers.
In one initiative examined earlier this year, Department of Homeland Security officials looked at housing migrant children at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, which has a dormitory facility that has been used in the past to hold asylum seekers. The proposal to house migrant children from the Southwest border there has not gained traction, perhaps because of the optics of housing young people adjacent to terrorism suspects, according to one official who had seen the proposal but was not authorized to discuss it publicly.
While there were no “immediate” plans to house migrant children at Guantánamo Bay, the Defense Department is attempting to identify military bases that might be used for that purpose, a department spokesman, Tom Crosson, said on Monday.
Much of the administration’s focus in recent months has been on the Southwest border, where the surge of migrant families seeking asylum has overwhelmed short-term holding facilities and left people languishing there for longer periods of time. But authorities already are confronting the next phase of detention, the long-term facilities in the interior of the country where many of the incoming migrants will eventually be transferred, and these also appear to be bucking under pressure.
Populations in the long-term detention facilities have grown markedly under President Trump, both because of increasing border crossings and his administration’s aggressive moves to arrest more undocumented immigrants in the interior of the country. ICE is currently housing 50,223 migrants, one of the highest numbers on record, and about 5,000 more than the congressionally mandated limit of 45,274.
In 2016, President Obama’s last year in office, the average daily population of immigrants in detention dipped to 34,376.
A detention crunch that homeland security officials described as already dire threatened last week to become worse with the announcement by Attorney General William Barr that the administration would soon begin mandatorily detaining additional asylum seekers, a move that, if implemented, could put thousands more in custody each month.
“It’s clear that all of our resources are being stretched thin. The system is full, and we are beyond capacity,” said Kevin K. McAleenan, the new acting homeland security secretary, speaking to reporters at a news conference on the border.
Despite its potential impact on the already congested detention system, a D.H.S. press officer said the agency supported Mr. Barr’s order on the detention of asylum seekers because it might discourage migrants from crossing the border to begin with.
Immigrant advocates said the detention crunch has been self-imposed by the administration and its policies.
Under President Trump, ICE agents have been encouraged to arrest anyone living in the country without legal status, regardless of their criminal record, whereas the previous administration put a priority on arresting and deporting undocumented migrants who were considered dangerous.
The Trump administration has also expanded collaboration with local sheriff’s departments to gain easier access to anyone in criminal custody who is also suspected of immigration violations. It has once again expanded the use of workplace raids — officials carried out the largest one in a decade earlier this month in Texas. And it has scaled back the use of humanitarian parole, which once allowed many asylum seekers to roam freely and work with temporary permits while they waited for their cases to be resolved.
The result is an increasingly congested system of long-term detention centers around the country, with officials signaling the need for more resources to house more detainees, while immigrant advocates argue that there are humane and effective alternatives to detention.
“We have to remember that it is a choice to jail asylum seekers, and it is a choice that is at odds with international human rights norms,” said Heidi Altman, director of policy at the National Immigrant Justice Center.
Ms. Altman pointed to case management programs that have been used in the past to ensure that immigrants show up for court. Studies have shown that the programs are both cheaper than detention and have a proven track record of near universal court compliance.
To address the current crush of detained migrants, ICE officials are working urgently to both expand the current system and to purge it of anyone possible, according to two officials at the Department of Homeland Security who spoke under the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss internal operations. That effort involves scanning the records of the detained population to find anyone who is ready to be deported immediately, and to identify anyone who qualifies for humanitarian parole and can be released to make room for others.
Another idea, drafted in a memo from Mr. McAleenan in his new capacity as the acting homeland security secretary, would ask the Department of Justice’s Executive Office for Immigration Review to dedicate most or all of its resources toward processing the cases of detained immigrants — temporarily pausing the court proceedings of anyone who has already been released into the country. The memo has not yet been sent, according to the official who disclosed it.
Officials in Washington have also suggested to ICE field offices around the country that they begin to release immigrants who have been granted bond by judges but have not yet paid them — presumably because they cannot afford to — in order to make more room.
Many of these measures aimed at clearing out space could face opposition from the White House, since they run contrary to the very policies that are creating the problem — President Trump’s often-stated desire to end what he calls “catch and release” of migrants at the border.
Meanwhile, authorities are struggling to identify new locations where migrants can be held in detention. The military awarded a $23 million contract in February to build a “contingency mass migration complex” at Guantánamo, a plan that would expand the existing facility to house 13,000 migrants and 5,000 support staff in tents. That project appears intended primarily to accommodate a crush of migrants that might accompany a new crisis in the Caribbean, though it could theoretically be used to house Central Americans.
In recent months, ICE has also signed or expanded a series of contracts, procuring nearly 3,000 additional beds to house migrants in state and local prisons and jails across the country. Staff have been moved to run the new facilities, but that has further stretched resources at existing detention centers, making it harder to keep cases moving on track.
Medical providers at some ICE facilities have also complained about not having enough resources to maintain minimum requirements, and the officials who spoke on background said that some ICE detention centers had been forced to lower their populations recently because they did not have enough staffing to meet medical standards.
Watchdog groups that favor less immigration detention are warning that slapdash efforts to expand the ICE system could leave detainees at risk.
“You don’t have to take my word for it. Their own inspector general has looked into this and expressed concerns about oversight, conditions, inspections, contracting,” said Mary Small, policy director of the Detention Watch Network, referring to reports that have documented a long history of inadequacies with health care, sanitation, the use of force and legal access inside detention centers. “Whether by systematically overcrowding the existing system or rapidly expanding it, it’s logical to expect to exacerbate all of the underlying problems,” Ms. Small said.
Congress has control over ICE’s budget for detention, and Democrats have often tried to limit funds in order to rein in the agency’s ability to make arrests indiscriminately. Even before the spike in migrant crossings earlier this year, the agency had been on track to require additional emergency funds this fiscal year in order to keep pace with trends at the southern border. Though the majority of those crossing recently are members of migrant families, who are typically being released into the country rather than detained, tens of thousands of individual adults continue to arrive each month, most of whom will end up in long-term detention centers.
Because most migrant families are being released to await the outcome of their asylum cases, ICE’s three family detention centers are largely empty now. Facilities certified to house families only have a capacity of about 2,500 people, in any case. Currently, 675 members of migrant families are being detained in one of those facilities in Dilley, Tex. A second one in Karnes City, Tex., has been converted to house adults, to help with overcrowding elsewhere. And the third in Leesport, Pa., is empty.
(Reporting by New York Times)
Northern Ireland Police Arrest Woman For Slaying Of Journalist Lyra McKee
LONDON (AP) — The Northern Ireland Police Service said Tuesday they have arrested a woman under the Terrorism Act in connection with the slaying of journalist Lyra McKee.
The arrest of the 57-year-old under the Terrorism Act came as an Irish Republican Army splinter group admitted that one of its “volunteers” killed journalist McKee, who was shot dead while reporting on rioting in Londonderry.
In a statement issued Tuesday to the Irish News, the New IRA offered “full and sincere” apologies to McKee’s family and friends.
The group said the 29-year-old journalist was killed during Thursday night’s unrest “while standing beside enemy forces” — a reference to the police.
The IRA and most other militant groups have disarmed since Northern Ireland’s 1998 peace accord. The New IRA has been formed from splinter groups opposed to the peace process.
Authorities believe one person pulled the trigger during the chaotic rioting that began Thursday night but had organizational support.
The use of a firearm apparently aimed at police marks a dangerous escalation in sporadic violence that continues to plague Northern Ireland 21 years after the Good Friday peace agreement was signed. The New IRA group rejects the peace agreement.
The riot followed a pattern familiar to those who lived through the worst years of violence in Northern Ireland. Police arrived in the city’s Creggan neighborhood to search for weapons and dissidents. They were barraged with gasoline bombs and other flying objects before someone wearing a black mask appeared, fired some shots and fled.
No police were struck by the bullets, but McKee — who had been trying to film the riot on her phone — was hit. The journalist was rushed to a nearby hospital in a police car but died.
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