Around 750 prisoners at a Washington state immigration jail have launched a hunger strike. The strikers at the Northwest Detention Center are protesting the Obama administration’s record deportations as well as poor conditions that include wages of just one dollar a day for prison labor. Some areas of the prison have been locked down, and around 30 people are reportedly being held in isolation or crowded cells. Speaking on Friday, two prisoners appealed for public support.
Prisoner 1: “So that they give us better food, so that they give us lower prices on what they sell here in the commissary, and so that they stop the deportations.”
Prisoner 2: “I’m hoping we can get some support from all the people who are listening, because, don’t believe what you hear, life in here is not very easy. They have us here working for one dollar a day. We work for four hours, five hours sometimes, and for just one dollar.”
The prison is run by The GEO Group, a contractor for Immigrations and Customs Enforcement. According to The Nation magazine, GEO recently violated a pledge to refrain from lobbying Congress on immigration reform, presumably in favor of for-profit jails.
Over 100 families are expected to take part in a protest against deportations today on the U.S.-Mexico border. The families, including many undocumented members, say they’ll cross over into Mexico and then seek re-entry in the United States through a humanitarian visa or asylum.
The U.S. Border Patrol has issued fresh restrictions on when agents can open fire. Under the new rules, customs and border agents are barred from shooting at vehicles whose occupants are trying to flee. They are also prevented from stepping in front of the vehicle or using their body to block it in the case of escape. In cases where migrants are throwing rocks, agents have been told to first seek cover or move way and only open fire in cases of “imminent danger of death or serious injury.” A recent report found U.S. border agents have been involved in 20 fatalities since 2010, eight of which involved rock throwing. Agents were also involved in at least 67 shooting incidents in the same period. The new policy reverses a decision last year that ignored an independent panel’s recommendation to use restraint with rock throwers.
Yet another Army official involved in sexual assault prevention has been charged with a related crime. Sgt. 1st Class Gregory McQueen, who runs the sexual assault and harassment prevention wing at Fort Hood, is accused of setting up a prostitution ring of cash-strapped female soldiers. McQueen was charged Friday with 21 counts, including pandering, conspiracy, maltreatment of a subordinate and abusive sexual contact. McQueen’s court-martial comes days after the Army’s top prosecutor for sexual assault cases, Lt. Col. Joseph Morse, was suspended for alleged sexual assault. Morse and McQueen bring to at least five in the last year the number of Army officers involved in sexual assault oversight to be accused of some of the very same offenses they’re tasked with preventing and punishing. Last week the Senate rejected a measure that would have moved oversight of sexual assault in the military outside of the chain of command.
Meanwhile, the trial of an Army general accused of sexual assault continues at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. On Friday, the alleged victim in the case, an Army captain, testified Brigadier General Jeffrey Sinclair twice forced her to perform oral sex during their three-year affair in Afghanistan, and threatened to murder her and her family if she revealed the affair. She said Sinclair had forced her head into his lap as she cried. The general’s defense is set to cross-examine her today.
The final public comment period has closed for weighing in on the Keystone XL oil pipeline. Opponents say they gathered more than two million voices urging the Obama administration to reject the pipeline, which would carry tar sands oil from Alberta to the U.S. Gulf Coast. A group of activists rallied in front of the State Department on Friday, part of a wave of actions across the country. Secretary of State John Kerry could issue his recommendation at any point, leading to a final decision by President Obama. Over 86,000 activists have signed a “Pledge of Resistance” to commit civil disobedience if Kerry recommends the pipeline’s approval.
A multi-country effort is in its third day of searching for a commercial airliner that disappeared en route from Malaysia to China without a trace. Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 was carrying 239 people on board. Suspicion of a hijacking has grown after it emerged at least two passengers were traveling on stolen passports. A team of ships and aircraft has been scouring the waters between Malaysia and Vietnam, where the plane last made contact, as well as the Strait of Malacca, on the opposite side of the Malaysian Peninsula. No debris has been found so far. A large oil slick was spotted in the sea south of Vietnam, but its source has yet to be confirmed.
Tens of thousands took part in rival pro-unity and pro-Russian rallies in Ukraine on Sunday ahead of a planned secession referendum in Russian-occupied Crimea. Crimea is set to vote this Sunday on whether to break off from Ukraine and join Russia following the ouster of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych last month. In a show of support for the new government, the White House has announced President Obama will host newly installed Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk at the White House this week. We’ll have more from Ukraine after headlines.