- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Editorials from around Pennsylvania:



The U.S. government may be stepping up a program that questions the citizenship status of Latinos with U.S. birth certificates - refusing to renew passports in some cases and beginning detention proceedings in others.

Citizenship fraud is a legitimate issue that threatens the nation’s security, but the government must sharpen its focus. It’s less important to determine where babies were born decades ago than to keep people like Mollie Tibbetts’ alleged killer from slipping over the border now.

Cristhian Bahena Rivera, 24, an undocumented Mexican national, worked on an Iowa farm for at least four years after allegedly providing a false name and identification to the owners. He’s charged with murdering Ms. Tibbetts, a 20-year-old University of Iowa student, while she was out for a jog last month.

How Mr. Rivera may have gotten into the country, obtained a false identify and escaped detection in rural Iowa are unclear. How so many other undocumented workers end up in the nation’s underground agricultural workforce also is baffling. The extent to which others might exploit the same vulnerabilities for other purposes - terrorism, for example - is unknown.

Getting to the bottom of those questions is more pressing than challenging the citizenship of a 40-year-old man, identified by The Washington Post only as Juan, who has had trouble getting his passport renewed despite having a U.S. birth certificate and a resume that includes Army, Border Patrol and prison guard service.

According to The Post, Juan was swept up in a crackdown that began during Barack Obama’s presidency and has accelerated under Donald Trump. It centers on Latinos with U.S. birth certificates who were born in the Texas-Mexico border area from the 1950s through the 1990s. During that period, the government claims, midwives and physicians sometimes provided illegal birth certificates to babies born on the Mexican side of the border.

Besides refusing to reissue passports in some cases of suspected fraud, the government has revoked others and stranded heretofore U.S. citizens in Mexico. It has also initiated deportation proceedings against some believed to be holding phony documents and locked them up in detention centers. It has told some that they have the burden of proving they were born here.

The crackdown may ferret out some cases of fraud, but it’s also likely to strip citizenship rights from a certain number of bonafide Americans. It’s a waste of manpower and other resources to go down this rabbit hole, to scrutinize decades-old birth certificates, when people like Mr. Rivera are slipping across the border now and assuming false identities with stolen or forged documents today.

The government must find a way to secure its borders without sweeping innocent Americans into a dragnet, and immigration authorities must not be distracted from their main mission. Even if Juan has been holding a fake birth certificate all his life, taking his passport or deporting him will be a hollow victory as long as undocumented workers continue poring through bigger holes in the immigration system.

-The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

-Online: https://bit.ly/2M045jE



The Philadelphia Inquirer and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported last week that the grand jurors who investigated child sexual abuse in six Pennsylvania Roman Catholic dioceses want to see their full and unredacted report released to the public. The 20 grand jury members unanimously lodged “their objections to any attempts to ‘censor, alter, redact or amend’ the document,” those newspapers reported. Their two-year investigation revealed that 301 “predator priests” had sexually abused more than 1,000 children over seven decades in the dioceses of Harrisburg (which includes the parishes in Lancaster County), Greensburg, Pittsburgh, Allentown, Scranton and Erie.

This plea from the grand jurors who spent two harrowing years investigating child sexual abuse in six of eight Pennsylvania Catholic dioceses should be heeded.

In their court filing, as explained by the Inquirer and Post-Gazette, the jurors said they “examined an ‘overwhelming amount of evidence’ of abuse, including internal church documents that had been kept secret. They wrote that they solicited and received written or in-person testimony from bishops from all of the six dioceses. And, they said, they heard from victims - most of whom testified they had notified their pastors, bishops or dioceses about the abuse.”

Wrote the grand jury: “We listened as they poured out their hearts telling of the agony and torment they endured since being victimized. They had waited so long to be heard; they deserve to be heard and validated.”

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro also argues that the full, unredacted report should be made public. We think it should be, too.

There has been far too much secrecy already, as the grand jury report made plain.

We thank the grand jurors first of all for dedicating so much time to what must have been an excruciating assignment. Listening to so much anguish - so much “agony and torment” - had to be life-altering. How could it not?

And it must have been infuriating as the details of the cover-up perpetrated by bishops and other church officials - and some lay people - came to light. It certainly was infuriating to read the grand jury report. How could so many people of God have acted so callously to protect the church over children?

Shapiro said again last week that there is evidence that the Vatican - the highest echelon of the Catholic Church - was aware of the cover-up of child sexual abuse in Pennsylvania, and that documents in the dioceses’ secret archives were shared with Vatican officials. (A simple question: If the Catholic Church had nothing to hide about its handling of abusive priests, why did the dioceses store relevant documents in secret archives to which only bishops had the keys?)

It’s not hard to believe that the Vatican knew of the cover-up, given the hierarchical nature of the Catholic Church, and the appalling track record of Vatican officials on these issues. Shielding abusive priests from civil and criminal prosecution has been the modus operandi of the church at every level. This became clear in the early 2000s when, after his role in covering up priestly abuse in the Archdiocese of Boston was revealed by the Boston Globe, Cardinal Bernard Law resigned and then was given a comfortable position in Rome. In 2017, he was given a full cardinal’s funeral; Pope Francis gave the final blessing.

It would send a much-needed signal that this time is different - this time, the church truly is on the side of victims - if Vatican officials were to acknowledge what they knew about Pennsylvania’s abusive priests, and what input they had in handling their cases.

Likewise, we’d like to see the unredacted grand jury report be released, the dozens of blacked-out pages replaced with text. As Shapiro has said, “Every redaction represents a silenced victim.”

As the Inquirer and Post-Gazette reported last week, the state Supreme Court is slated to weigh arguments this month by “unnamed clergy members who have petitioned the high court to keep their names from becoming public, contending the investigation stripped them of their due process rights and that the report contains inaccuracies or unfairly smeared their reputations. Among other things, some petitioners have argued they deserved to cross-examine grand jury witnesses, a process that’s not currently allowed.”

In their filing, those newspapers reported, the grand jurors called this position “offensive.” They maintained: “The Roman Catholic church had their chance and chose not to properly investigate the abuse claims at the time the allegations were made.”

It’s hard to argue with this.

We know - believe us, we know - that the grand jury report continues to be a source of great pain for members of the Catholic Church. But the sorrow of the faithful - or that of the many good priests leading parishes - pales when compared to that of the abuse victims who suffered, unacknowledged, for far too long. For their sake, silence and secrecy must no longer be the church’s operating principles.

As of last Wednesday, the attorney general’s clergy abuse hotline had received more than 820 phone calls. We encourage anyone with knowledge of an abusive priest or complicit church official to call that hotline.

Awareness of the terrible harm visited on children was too long in coming. But we’re grateful for it. And we cannot - must not - turn back, or turn away, now.


-Online: https://bit.ly/2PvULGq



Each new call on the emergency radio scanner Wednesday ratcheted up the sense of foreboding and alarm.

Ambulance after ambulance was called out to the State Correctional Institution at Albion to aid staff members who were falling mysteriously ill. By the end of the incident, not only ambulances, but state police and Erie County emergency management staff were on the site, along with the Erie County Hazardous Materials Response Team.

By day’s end, seven people - six prison staffers and one inmate - were taken to hospitals for treatment. Those taken to UPMC Hamot were scrubbed head to toe in a manner that recalls the anthrax or nuclear exposure incidents of days past.

The terrifying events at Albion were part of a rash of such incidents at eight prisons statewide over the past month. In all, 29 staffers have been sickened, prompting a system-wide lockdown Wednesday.

Exactly what caused the illnesses at Albion is not clear. But officials have said new synthetic drugs are breaching prison walls in various forms, including pieces of paper soaked in liquid drugs. James Barnacle, the director of investigations and intelligence for the prison system, told Pennlive.com that it only takes a small piece of such paper to induce a high. If someone contacts the full sheet, it could cause an overdose. The outbreaks do not seem to be part of a coordinated attack, which is about the only bright spot.

Our concern and sympathy go out to the corrections workers affected by these frightening developments. The danger is not only posed by the drugs themselves, but also by the breakdown of order that could occur if too many corrections officers fall ill at one time.

State Corrections Secretary John Wetzel was correct to restrict prisoners’ movement, mail and visitation on Wednesday until steps can be taken to assure security and safety for workers and inmates alike. Before Wednesday, Wetzel had already announced a wide-ranging training program focused on personal protective equipment and in-house hazardous materials responses, and also measures to boost the inventory of protective gear and use of body scanners.

The episodes present another deplorable face of the state’s opioid addiction crisis. It is believed that synthetic fentanyl, an opioid, might have played a role. In at least three of the incidents statewide, naloxone was administered to staffers to reverse the symptoms of opioid overdose.

If inmates are trafficking in drugs like liquid fentanyl, it is only a matter of time before this menace starts showing up in other places, including schools and workplaces.

In addition to beefing up prison security, state officials must make awareness, investigation and eradication of these new drugs an enforcement priority.

-Erie Times News

-Online: https://bit.ly/2NJFYY5



The Trump administration generally has ignored science while pandering to narrow interests in withdrawing from a global treaty to diminish global warming, bolstering the use of fossil fuels and eviscerating federal regulations to diminish carbon emissions.

One federal agency, however, steadfastly has recognized that global warming poses a serious threat not only in broad environmental terms but directly to national security - the Department of Defense.

The two most recent defense budgets include billions of dollars to deal with threats to U.S. military bases due to rising sea levels. The 2017 legislation required each of the services to identify its 10 bases most threatened by global warming and stated that “climate change is a direct threat to the national security of the United States.”

The new defense bill requires all new military construction within 100-year flood plains to assume an additional 2 feet of flooding above current projections - a recommendation taken from the National Academies of Science.

And, the new bill recognizes the impact of global warming on the next probable arena of superpower competition - the Arctic, which is newly accessible because of thinning sea ice year-round. It requires the Coast Guard, which has just two ocean-going icebreakers, to build at least six over the next decade to ensure that the United States can compete in the region with China and, especially, Russia - which operates 25 ocean-going icebreakers.

Beyond facilities and ocean access, the Pentagon also has published multiple papers about the defense implications of rising sea levels and inland droughts displacing millions of people in the coming decades, ensuring more battles for resources and refugee crises.

Congress has passed the Pentagon’s priorities into law even as bitter-enders in both houses who deny climate change refuse to adapt the DOD’s conclusions for overall policy.

Members of Congress who want to act responsibly should attach responsible global warming policy measures to defense appropriations bills.

-The Scranton Times-Tribune

-Online: https://bit.ly/2M06A5w



Summer is over, and hundreds of students who spent the summer as interns for various public officials are heading back to school armed with new knowledge, skills, contacts, and a shiny line on their resume. They’ll soon start working on their assignments for class. Meanwhile, the Office of the Mayor should work on an assignment of its own - finding money to pay next year’s interns.

According to reporting by Michaela Winberg for Billy Penn, the 50 lucky students who get to spend their summer as interns for Mayor Kenney are not paid.

The mayor’s office explains that the internship is an educational and developmental experience. The internship offers skill-building workshops - such as resume writing - and networking opportunity. The interns work on a project in a manner that is similar to a class.

The program does sound like a good opportunity - a gateway into public service. That is why it is a shame that low-income students for whom taking an unpaid summer internship is not an option are less able to take advantage of the opportunity.

There are very tangible benefits for an internship. According to the B.A. Rudolph Foundation, 51 percent of students who had one or more internships graduate with a job offer at hand compared to 17 percent of students who did not have an internship.

This is exactly the type of cycle that limits social mobility. According to a Pew Philadelphia Research Initiative, only 1 in 4 Philadelphia residents who are making a middle-class salary were born to parents making less. If you aren’t born with money, you are unlikely to make money.

The mayor’s office says that it encourages students to find external funding or ask their schools for college credit. Getting external funding is hard - only 10 of the 50 interns this summer had some sort of stipend, according to Billy Penn. While college credits sound like a benefit, they actually cost. Most schools charge students for every credit - even credits that do not include a class, such as an unpaid internship. Half of the students in Pennsyslvania graduate with more than $26,000 in debt. When students are asked to pay for credits for unpaid internships, they are also asked to pay for the interest.

Due to the growing number of unpaid internships in for-profit entities, states such as Oregon and California cracked down on employers whose internships violated minimum-wage laws. In 2010, this action compelled the Labor Department to pay more attention to criteria for internships.

Government entities and nonprofits have more leeway for unpaid internships; still, in June, the U.S. Senate allocated $5 million to pay interns in the hopes of attracting a more economically diverse cohort.

Kenney says that he is in favor of raising the minimum wage - which the city can’t do alone because of state preemption - and the city’s requirement that contractors pay a living wage. He should extend the same concern to students working for him.

The mayor has a full academic year to find wages for his summer interns. We hope he aces this assignment.

-The Philadelphia Inquirer

-Online: https://bit.ly/2wBXPJa


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