Ecology + Justice + Culture in the American South

DACA, acid mine drainage, & and an ‘ongoing oil release’ in the Gulf

Thousands of undocumented immigrants headed to Washington D.C. this week to protest, rally and ask Congress to pass a solution for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the policy former President Barack Obama established in 2012 to allow undocumented children who moved to the U.S. with their parents to achieve temporary legal status and work permits.

In September, President Trump canceled DACA, and then after backlash told Congress to figure it out within six months. Congress was supposed to vote this week, with Democrats threatening to shut down the government if it a solution wasn’t passed. Instead, they plan to return to the issue in January, after their holiday break. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told Fox News: “That’s a matter to be discussed next year. The president has given us until March to address that issue. We have plenty of time to do that.”

Right now, the Department of Homeland Security website states that “DACA is ending” and the agency is no longer accepting applications. DACA allowed undocumented youth—often called Dreamers—under the age of 31, who have resided in the U.S. since 2007 and before their 16th birthday, to apply for protected status so they won’t be deported and can have a work permit. By ending it, Trump puts more than 800,000 youth at risk of deportation. Many of them have never even known their home country.

One of them is Magali Torres, who told her story to Public Radio International this month. Torres, a Mexican immigrant, works as a nursing assistant at a migrant association in Immokalee, a small farming town in southwestern Florida. Her DACA status expires in 2019. “Unless you live it, you will never understand how that feels,” she said. There are about 50,000 DACA recipients in Florida. There are more than 27,000 in North Carolina, and more than 8,000 in Tennessee. “It breaks my heart,” one young man and DACA recipient said. “Nashville is all I know. It is home.”

By the March deadline, 22,000 immigrants will have already lost DACA protections because their applications for renewal weren’t received by October 5, a deadline that the Trump administration imposed only a month in advance.

The majority of Americans want DACA recipients to stay in the U.S.—including about two-thirds of self-identified Trump supporters, according to a recent Brookings study. Most voters believe that they should be allowed to stay in the U.S. with their parents who brought them, as well. Republicans and Democrats from around the country have been pushing for a fix to DACA by the end of the year.

The ripple effects of ending DACA are endless. It would rip families apart and expose the status of undocumented parents who spent their lives protecting their children. It would affect the economy and society: for instance, Tennessee would lose $347 million in annual GDP without it. Nationally, about 20,000 teachers would be at risk of deportation, impacting schools and students. (This story in Atlanta Magazine looks at undocumented students in a Marietta school, and illustrates how their stories intertwine with the city’s struggle with resegregation). Churches would lose youth ministers. Communities would lose some of their best assets and advocates. Ending DACA would impact health: one study showed DACA recipients had improved psychological well-being that could be reversed by Trump’s decision. It would impact our environment: Latino organizations are some of our greatest stewards of land conservation.

While Latinos are often the focus of U.S. immigration policy, there are many other overlooked undocumented immigrants, from Africa in particular, that stand to be deported. And DACA isn’t the only overturned immigration policy that has put tens of thousands of lives in limbo. The Trump administration has scaled back refugeeadmissions, separate from the Muslim ban that the president put into effect early this year. In November, the Trump administration also ended a program that gives Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to 59,000 Haitians that came to the U.S. after the devastating earthquake in 2010. About 32,500 of them live in Florida alone. This move forces them to leave within 18 months. Here’s a story from CNN about one Haitian woman and her daughter, who was injured in the earthquake when she was 16 months old. They live in Atlanta and fear deportation, especially because of the young girl’s medical complications.

This is an international issue, but it hits home in the South, which has many places home to immigrant communities, and many industries—from farming to horse racing, fishing to construction—that rely on an immigrant workforceIn South Carolina, immigrants make up only 5 percent of the population but 25 percent of the workforce in fishing, forestry, and farming industries. In Georgia, they make up about 40 percent of the workforce for those industries, and one in ten Georgia residents is an immigrant.

But in the South, there is often reluctance to admit how important immigrants are to our society. There are few sanctuary cities, and complex arguments over if and when to establish them as such in the face of threats from the Trump administration (earlier this year, federal officials pushed Louisville to “prove” it wasn’t a sanctuary city because of its “soft” immigration enforcement). There is overt and subtle, systemic and personal racism, as there is in any area of the country.

As the climate changes and sea levels rise, people living in places like Florida and Texas—which have high immigrant populations—are going to move inland. People living in the Caribbean, Central and South America will also flock to higher land, shifting the world’s population patterns. And yet, we have spent this year arguing over whether people who have spent their lives in this country deserve to be here. Yes, this is a complicated economic, ecological, cultural, and sociopolitical issue. It’s also, simply, a human one that many of us will assuredly have to reckon with in our lifetimes.

Stories worth your time 

Every second, coal mines throughout Appalachia pump out about 3,000 cubic feet of acid mine drainage, which turns streams a rusty orange color. Ohio Valley Resource talks to researchers in West Virginia who are working to find elements of the periodic table critical to the technology that can be found in acid mine drainage. According to researcher Paul Ziemkiewicz, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and eastern Ohio could supply 800 to 2,200 tons per year of rare earth elements.

ProPublica looked at the EPA’s effluent rule to show how the agency has allowed science and prevailing industry practices to be swept aside to benefit coal-fired power plants. “This has been a long-planned assault on the agency, not some serendipitous thing,” said Betsy Southerland, an EPA employee. “(Staffers) now understand that the overall process will be to repeal everything requested by industry.”

A follow-up to last week’s Southerly: the Atlantic focuses on how grassroots organizers organized black voters during the Senate special election, and why it provides a roadmap for Democrats in the 2018 elections. “‘We knocked on over half a million doors,’ one organizer said. ‘Those conversations weren’t just dropping a piece of literature at their door … our canvassers in many instances told people what they needed to go do to get ID if they needed it.'”

In Europe, burning wood pellets to power plants is counted as renewable energy. Yale360 reports on how the biomass boom is leading to a surge in logging, particularly in the forests of North Carolina, Louisiana, and Mississippi.

News flying under the radar

Federal regulators found evidence of an “ongoing oil release” at the site of a 13-year-old oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Louisiana. The company, Taylor Energy, said there’s no evidence oil is seeping from its unplugged wells on the seafloor.

Republican Senator Stephen Goldfinch is one of the only lawmakers in South Carolina who is pushing for offshore oil and gas drilling. “He argues there’s a silent contingent of people along the coast that supports the oil and gas industry coming there [and] that environmentalists and anti-drilling groups are a ‘loud, squeaky minority,’ according to the Post and Courier.

Eight states, including Florida, Georgia, North and South Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia, reached record-warm temperatures for the first 11 months of the year. Florida’s average temperature has been 73.7 degrees—the warmest year since 2015.