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The Young Are at the Forefront of a Perilous Global Migration Surge

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AUGUSTA, Italy — 

The rescue ship pulled into port ferrying its doleful load — hundreds of men, women and children, mostly from sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East. All had been plucked from ragged vessels adrift in the Mediterranean, where this year more than 1,600 migrants and refugees have been lost at sea.

They had finally reached the continent that had consumed their dreams. But Europe was not welcoming. Hollowed-out stares from the decks fixed on police cars, flashing lights and ambulances on the quay. The migrants shivered in gray blankets as the sun set on the Sicilian coast against a backdrop of moored sea liners and the rusting detritus of forgotten freight.

A rescue boat full of migrants waits to dock in Sicily. Everyone aboard was pulled from wobbly boats in international waters off Libya.
(Liliana Nieto del Río / For The Times)

Many aboard were young people who had embarked on epic odysseys, escaping war zones, poverty and — perhaps most of all — a suffocating dearth of hope and opportunity at home. They had endured a gamut of smugglers, thieves and militiamen who eye them as booty to be bartered for ransom, slave labor, or as cannon fodder for the next holy war.

The World They Inherit

The World They Inherit

This is the ninth in a series of occasional stories about the challenges young people face in an increasingly perilous world. Reporting was supported by a grant from the Pulitzer Center.

“I was one of these kids,” said Sano Sankoung, 25, a native of Senegal in West Africa who was among the aid workers helping the newcomers in the Sicilian port of Augusta. It was Sankoung’s first trip back to the docks since a ship dropped him off here almost a decade ago after he was saved from an overloaded rubber raft.

“This was God’s work,” Sankoung said as the youths, including 141 unaccompanied children, stepped off the Sea-Watch 4’s gangplank. “God — and some luck.”

::

This year saw surging numbers of migrants crashing borders. COVID-19 lockdowns eased against a backdrop of worsening “push factors” — including armed conflict, climate change and a global wealth gap that widened as pandemic-triggered recessions exacerbated inequality. The Ethiopian civil war, the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, the Haitian influx from South America, the political weaponization of migrants along the Belarusian-Polish border — all highlighted the desperation driving people from their homelands.

The young are at the forefront. They are converging on the U.S. border and on multiple entry points to Europe, from the English Channel to the Mediterranean to the continent’s eastern flanks. Many hail from regions with predominantly youthful populations, median ages typically in the low 20s, well below those in Western Europe and the United States.

A record of almost 150,000 unaccompanied minors, more than 75% from Central America, were detained along the U.S.-Mexico border in fiscal 2021, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Many more teens and young adults arrived during a period that set an all-time high for overall border apprehensions — nearly 1.7 million.

Europe saw at least 160,000 irregular crossings by migrants and refugees arriving via sea and land during January-October 2021, a 70% jump from the same period in 2020, according to Frontex, the European border control agency. Almost 80% of more than 5.5 million first-time asylum seekers in Europe since 2014 were 34 or younger, according to Eurostat, the statistical branch of the European Union. Close to one-third were under 18.

Their arrivals have met a populist backlash fired up by politicians such as former President Trump and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban. But the young keep coming, transcending distance and danger in search of better lives in the world they are inheriting.

“In many parts of the world, people have to make choices at the age of 15, 16, 17 about the rest of their lives,” said Andrew Seele, president of the Migration Policy Institute, a Washington-based research institution. “It’s the age of migration in many societies, whether someone is looking to enter the work force, escape civil wars, or running from being recruited into criminal enterprises.”

::

Marisa Joseph is an animated 18-year-old camped with multitudes of tent-dwellers on a beach along a stretch of Caribbean in northwest Colombia.

“I’m not scared,” Joseph declares, sitting on a palm log in the coastal town of Necoclí, cradling her 1-year-old son, who has a slight fever — and is in no shape for the slog ahead through the dense forest. “I’m determined to go forward, despite everything.”

Maria Joseph, 18, camps in Colombia with her 1-year-old son. She and her husband are among tens of thousands of Haitians making the trek from South America toward the U.S.
(Liliana Nieto del Río / For The Times)

She, her husband, Wiggins Pierre, 21, and their son, Wiggins Iván, are part of the extraordinary rise in U.S.-bound migrants from Haiti who have been departing South America, sometimes traveling 4,000 miles in an intercontinental trek. They have been driven north by pandemic-battered economies and a crackdown on foreigners.

“We are here out of necessity,” explains Joseph, who hopes to reach relatives in New York and Miami, hubs of the diaspora from Haiti, long among the hemisphere’s poorest nations and most dependent on remittances from abroad. Haitians compose about 75% of the unprecedented 121,000-plus foreigners who have entered Panama so far in 2021 after treacherous hikes through the Darien Gap, the strip of rainforest between Colombia and Panama.

The migrants wait, sometimes for weeks, to catch boats from Necoclí across the Gulf of Urabá and continue their northward trip to the Darien. Joseph and her family shelter in a tent bought from a street-side vendor. It provides scarce protection from the blazing afternoon sun and daily tropical downpours.

She flashes a broad smile and says she would like to go to university in the United States, perhaps to study acting: “I took a course in Chile,” she says, “but I never made it on television or anything like that.”

Joseph and her husband, who wants to enlist in the U.S. military, met in Chile, which took in tens of thousands of Haitians following the Caribbean nation’s catastrophic 2010 earthquake. She worked in a clothing store, her husband in a furniture factory. The couple saw no future in Chile, where they earned the minimum wage of about $400 a month.

“I want my son to have a good education,” said Joseph. “That’s why we are here, risking everything.”

She bides her time on the beach as boats of migrants embark across the gulf and new arrivals seek out vacant plots in this tent city on the crowded strand, where promise and frustration push against the Caribbean tide.

::

Half a world away, Ali Abbass, 21, is a struggling barber in Baghdad.

He had heard in September that there were easy visas to Belarus, the former Soviet republic that borders the European Union nations of Poland, Lithuania and Latvia. Abbass, who is single and saw little chance to improve his circumstances in Iraq, mapped out a route and borrowed $2,500 for a trip that would take him through Iran to Turkey and onto the Belarusian city of Brest, near the Polish border.

Things went bad quickly after he landed in Belarus. President Alexander Lukashenko was funneling Abbass and thousands of other migrants and refugees toward EU countries in retribution for sanctions against his repressive rule. Before Abbass could even attempt to cross into Poland, Belarusian soldiers grabbed him and took his passport and phone. They detained him for four days, then ferried him away from Brest and dumped him as part of a group near the border with Lithuania.

“There was so much harassment,” he said. “The Belarusian army really hurt us.”

After nine hours of trying to get through the no-man’s land into Lithuanian territory, Abbass gave up.

“I couldn’t make it across. The army was deployed all over,” he said. He turned back toward the Belarusian side, joining thousands of others in a makeshift refugee camp. He was trapped at the edge of a Europe that did not want him. There was no food or drink, and temperatures regularly plunged below freezing. Every time he and others tried to leave for the Belarusian capital of Minsk, soldiers beat them back.

“We ended up drinking from a swamp nearby,” said Abbass, who had survived nearly two decades of war and unrest in Iraq only to find himself facing new dangers. “The whole experience from beginning to end was just suffering.”

He waited a few days and attempted again to enter Lithuania. When he failed, he decided he had enough. He paid what little money he had left for a smuggler to return him to the capital. He had been defeated. When word came that the Iraqi government was offering repatriation flights home, Abbass signed on.

He’s back at the barber shop in Baghdad. His future looks no better — perhaps it’s even worse. He doesn’t know how he’ll pay back the loan he took for his ill-fated trip.

“I knew it was a risk,” he said, “but I didn’t expect it to get to the point of death.”

::

In Italy, they are sometimes called gli invisibili — the invisible ones, though in truth they are quite apparent.

Young African men can be seen putting up Christmas decorations on posh storefronts in Milan, peddling trinkets outside the Colosseum in Rome, hawking jackets, shoes and knock-off designer bags along the promenade at the Bay of Naples. They pick crops in the fields and provide day labor at construction sites, while women work as nannies and housekeepers.

Many — like those who arrived on the Sea-Watch 4 rescue boat — lack legal status to claim asylum or other forms of relief. They languish.

Migrants wait aboard the Sea-Watch 4 rescue ship in Sicily.
(Liliana Nieto del Río / For The Times)

“It’s very hard to find any work here without papers,” said Yeboah Kwaku Haruna, 21, a Ghanaian man found recently at a Catholic social service office in Castel Volturno, a faded former seaside resort town north of Naples that has become a hub for Africans seeking cheap housing and the relative anonymity of the countryside.

Haruna, who arrived by boat from Libya in June, has been living in a house with other migrants. Perhaps half of Castel Volturno’s estimated population of 40,000 is composed of Africans and their children, many Italian-born. They often face hostility, and their lives at times become entangled in the criminal elements of southern Italy.

Castel Volturno made headlines in 2008 when trigger-men of the Casalesi clan of the Camorra Mafia fatally shot six migrants from Ghana execution-style in a turf struggle between Neapolitan and Nigerian mobs that vie for control of prostitution, drug trafficking and other rackets. None of the victims — aged 19 to 30 — had links to organized crime. They were apparently targeted at random outside an African-run tailor shop in a gruesome message to Nigerian gangsters encroaching on Camorra terrain.

The Italian coast, especially Sicily, is a regular destination for wobbly craft embarking from North Africa. The skiffs routinely founder mid-Mediterranean and the passengers await help, a risky bet in a moment when Europe has hardened border policies. More than 22,000 migrants have perished in the Mediterranean since 2014, making it the world’s deadliest migrant passage, according to a United Nations-backed monitor. But the weeks or months preceding departure can be just as perilous.

Libya, the major staging ground, is rife with gangs that kidnap migrants for ransom and forced labor.

“Even my worst enemy, I wouldn’t wish it upon them to embark on this journey,” said Ebrima D. Camara, 21, a native of Gambia in West Africa.

He left home in 2016 at age 16, setting off by himself — he never told his family — with the intention of traversing the Sahara and catching a boat to Europe. He wanted to study. Back home, he said, his father had discouraged schooling, putting his son to work on the family plot of cassava, oranges and mangoes.

Upon arriving in southern Libya, Camara said, he was kidnapped and jailed. He was obliged to work as a slave when he pleaded that his parents had no money for ransom.

Ebrima D. Camara, 21, migrated from Gambia and now lives in a Catholic shelter in Catania, Italy, after a harrowing journey through Libya.
(Ebrima D. Camara)

“They say, ‘OK, you will die here,’” Camara recalled, speaking in English at a Roman Catholic shelter in the Sicilian city of Catania, where the municipal cemetery has a monument to more than 200 unidentified migrants buried there after perishing at sea. “They put a gun to your head. … I saw them beating some people mercilessly. … If you kill somebody in front of me, the first time, I will be terrified. The next day, if you kill someone in front of me, I will terrified again — but not the same as the first time. As time goes on, it becomes normal.”

He worked for a Libyan family as a sheep herder and befriended them, learning basic Arabic. These “good people” helped him escape. He scraped enough dinars together for the boat passage.

“Either I go or I die,” he calculated.

Camara arrived in Italy more than a year after he had left home. He was 17 and traumatized. He couldn’t sleep for three months. He shunned company.

“I thought I was crazy.”

Counselors in Sicily helped him recover. Today, he speaks fluent Italian, has legal residency and is completing his high school equivalency. In 2018, as part of a Catholic youth group that met Pope Francis, he took a selfie with the pontiff.

::

Sankoung, the aid worker in Sicily, is a soft-spoken young man who passed through a number of Italian shelters and foster homes as a child and now resides in a top-floor studio flat across the street from the soccer stadium in the Sicilian city of Siracusa.

He says he left Senegal in 2011 at age 13, an orphan. His parents, he said, were killed in his native southern region of Casamance, site of one of Africa’s most enduring, if least known, conflicts. He decamped alone in search of an older brother, his only sibling. He followed his brother’s trail toward Libya, once a stable destination under the dictatorship of Moammar Kadafi, who had declared himself Africa’s “King of Kings” and welcomed migrants from the south.

Sano Sankoung, 25, left his native Senegal as a 13-year-old orphan and reached Europe after departing Libya from an inflatable boat.

En route to Libya, Sankoung earned his keep cleaning buses in Mali but he was waylaid in Niger and forced to work in adobe construction. He finally made it to Libya in the chaotic aftermath of the insurrection against Kadafi. Sankoung joined the many Africans hastening for boats to Europe.

He boarded a rubber dinghy outside Tripoli that heaved with 114 people. Smugglers were beating passengers and cramming them into the vessel, as waves crashed at the shore, he recalled. In the chaos of the predawn darkness, Sankoung said, one young African man fell into the sea and drowned.

“I don’t know if we are going to make it,” Sankoung recalled thinking.

On the third day at sea, he said, the motor failed. The boat was adrift. Some around him fell ill from drinking seawater.

“We were in the hands of the wind,” he said.

After a day and night, a Spanish tanker stopped and took the migrants aboard. The ship docked here at Augusta — the same port where, nine years later, Sankoung would witness the arrival of the latest batch of rescued migrants, many, like him years back, teenagers with no idea of what would come.

At the pier in Augusta last month, a steady stream of young men exited the Sea-Watch 4 rescue ship, which had taken aboard almost 500 people from international waters off the Libyan coast. First off was an African man with twin 1-year-old sons.

Next were the 141 unaccompanied minors met by Red Cross workers and Italian officials in the gusty Sicilian evening. Many of the youths were barefoot. Mylar space blankets draped across their shoulders glistened a surreal golden hue as the vessel’s blinding strobe lights illuminated the post-dusk spectacle.

Migrants rescued from faltering boats in the Mediterranean aboard Sea-Watch 4 rescue ship at harbor in Augusta, Sicily.
(Liliana Nieto del Río / For The Times)

“I saw myself,” said Sankoung, standing on the quay.

Since his arrival, Sankoung has won Italian residency, learned the language and is studying biotechnology. He works at a residence for some 70 migrants, guiding them through the bureaucratic labyrinth. He never learned the fate of his brother.

“I have heard this phrase, that we are ‘the invisible,’” says Sankoung, speaking Italian. “Some people have been here for 30 years and [Italians] still treat them like they arrived yesterday. … There is some badness here, yes, but in the end you have to understand that that, too, is part of humanity. And you have to avoid becoming a bad person yourself.”

All on board the Sea-Watch 4 had indeed made it to Europe, that long-imagined land with no famine or slave traders. But the continent held its own peril — a pivot between promise and adversity as daunting in some ways as setting off in an inflatable dinghy into the immensity of the Mediterranean.

Much of the task of rescuing migrants in the Mediterranean has fallen to humanitarian groups such as Sea Watch, a nonprofit organization based in Berlin.
(Liliana Nieto del Río / For The Times)

This is the ninth in a series of occasional stories about the challenges young people face in an increasingly perilous world. Reporting was supported by a grant from the Pulitzer Center.

Times staff writers McDonnell reported from Augusta, Italy, and Necoclí, Colombia, and Bulos from Beirut. Special correspondents Liliana Nieto del Río in Necoclí and Augusta, Alessandro Puglia in Augusta, Juan Carlos Zapata in Necoclí and Cecilia Sánchez in Mexico City contributed to this report.

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News Analysis: Biden, in Blasting Trump, Concedes the Nation Has yet to Heal

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WASHINGTON — 

For the better part of the last year, President Biden has sought to ignore his predecessor as he has tried to deliver on a campaign promise to return the country to some semblance of political normalcy.

But in a passionate speech at the U.S. Capitol on Thursday marking the one-year anniversary of the bloody insurrection, Biden essentially conceded he could not reconstruct a world before Donald Trump’s tenure, nor could he deliver on his promise of protecting democracy without calling out the former president’srole in lying about the 2020 election results and inciting the mob that stormed the Capitol.

“For the first time in our history, a president had not just lost an election. He tried to prevent the peaceful transfer of power as a violent mob reached the Capitol,” Biden said from Statutory Hall, a historic chamber in a Capitol building that Biden, a former senator, reveres.

Biden avoided using Trump’s name, following a practice he has tried to abide since taking office on Jan. 20. But it hardly mattered. Like a prosecutor delivering a closing argument, the president methodically detailed Trump’s conduct as the slow-motion riot accelerated. He described how Trump lit the fuse and watched it on television from the White House, “doing nothing, for hours” to stop it.

In concluding his case, Biden hit hard at Trump’s motive:

“His bruised ego matters more to him than our democracy or our Constitution,” Biden said. “He can’t accept he lost.”

Visual coverage from remembrance events throughout the day marking the anniversary

This was not a commemoration filled with calls for unity or a return to normalcy as much as it was a plea for Americans to accept the truth of what happened a year ago. There was no attempt to say the nation had healed and has come together with common purpose or belief.

On the contrary, Biden spent much of the address debunking Trump’s claims of a rigged election, point-by-point, asking why many of the Republicans who have supported the former president’s fraud claims have not disputed their own victories, on the same ballots.

Few thought such a speech would be necessary a year after a pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol, inflicted injuries on more than 100 police officers, contributed to the deaths of five people and forced the evacuation of lawmakers from the complex. Biden certainly hadn’t anticipated needing to make such an address. He pitched his candidacy on the idea that he was a seasoned hand who had worked across the aisle, one of the grown-ups in the room. The nation, he believed, could snap back from a twice-impeached president who smashed norms and challenged bedrock institutions.

“The thing that will fundamentally change things is with Donald Trump out of the White House,” Biden said in his first 2019 campaign visit to New Hampshire. “You will see an epiphany occur among many of my Republican friends.”

On the night he was declared winner of the election, Biden still believed healing would come.

“It’s time to put away the harsh rhetoric, to lower the temperature, to see each other again, to listen to each other again. To make progress, we must stop treating our opponents as our enemy,” he said.

But many elected Republicans and conservative media figures — even those who once agreed Biden had won the election or who texted Trump begging him to stop the insurrection — have since paid Trump homage at his Florida home. They have amplified his false rhetoric. The lies have taken hold on the rank-and-file in the party: 3 in 4Republican voters in a recent National Public Radio poll agree with Trump that there were “real cases of fraud that changed the results.”

The closest Biden came to reaching across the aisle on Thursday was an offer to work with Republicans who accepted the election and a concession that “some courageous men and women in the Republican Party are standing against” the lies. But even then he went only so far, quickly pivoting back to his harsher argument: “Too many others are transforming that party into something else.”

Biden seemed to understand that his words were unlikely to win him Republican converts and the risk of further politicizing the event. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a close Trump ally, acknowledged in a statement Thursday that Jan. 6 that he “cannot believe that a mob was able to take over the United States Capitol during such a pivotal moment — certifying a presidential election.” He then blasted Biden’s speech on Twitter, saying it was a “brazen politicization of January 6.”

The president’s willingness to attack Trump, if not in name, will come as a relief to some Democrats who believe Biden’s determination to seek bipartisanship and convey normalcy has slowed his agenda. In particular, they believe his strategy has prevented him from articulating the full case for a voting rights bill in the face of Republican-led efforts at the state level to change the rules.

They point to senators like Graham, who once prided themselves as bipartisan dealmakers, as evidence of a changed party.

Biden has resisted giving up on his view that the parties can work together and will likely point as evidence to his $1-trillion infrastructure bill that he signed in November. But Republican leaders were absent from Thursday’s commemoration and are likely to drive an even harder partisan wedge as this year’s midterm elections approach.

Those who see this moment as an emergency for American democracy may have finally gotten the speech they wanted. As he was leaving the Capitol Thursday morning, Biden was asked whether calling out Trump would lead to more division than healing.

“The way you have to heal, you have to recognize the extent of the wound,” Biden told reporters. “You can’t pretend. This is serious stuff.”
Staff Writer Eli Stokols contributed to this story.

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‘I Really Thought That I Was Going to Die That Day’

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WASHINGTON — 

For decades, many members of Congress believed the U.S. Capitol — with metal detectors, barriers and its own police force — to be one of the safest places in the country.

That comfort was shattered on the afternoon of Jan. 6, when a pro-Trump mob stormed the building in hopes of overturning Joe Biden’s electoral college victory.

In interviews, six members of Congress from California recount their stories from that deadly day: the surreal experience of realizing that their lives were at risk, that their workplace was being overrun and that the nation’s two-century record of a peaceful transition of power had crumbled.

‘All I could think of is: Get Out. Run. As fast as you can. You don’t want to be trapped in here. Run, run, run. And all of a sudden, they closed the doors on us and they told us to get on the ground. There’s people trying to break in outside the doors.’

Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-Los Angeles)

Rep. Jimmy Gomez, a Democrat from Los Angeles, told a Times reporter on Jan. 6 that “people are running for their safety.”
(Tom Williams / Associated Press)

Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-Los Angeles) was in the gallery of the House chamber when the rioters breached the Capitol.

He and his colleagues were running across the gallery in hopes of escaping when he saw Capitol Police barricading the door the president uses to enter the chamber for the State of the Union. The rioters were too close for the lawmakers to get out safely.

“All I could think of is: Get out. Run. As fast as you can. You don’t want to be trapped in here. Run, run, run,” Gomez recalled. “And all of a sudden, they closed the doors on us and they told us to get on the ground. There’s people trying to break in outside the doors.”

Once police cleared the hallways and escorted the lawmakers to safety, several members of Congress got together and committed to remaining in the building and finishing the certification of the electoral college vote.

“That’s when [Reps.] Hakeem [Jeffries] and Liz Cheney said we’re going to go back and finish the job,” Gomez said. “They brought buses to get the members out, and [Rep.] Ruben [Gallego] and other Democrats were like, ‘Do not get on the buses.’ They said that’s how a coup happens: when the electeds are evacuated out of the Capitol or out of the palace. … So everybody that I was talking to was committed to staying.

“It was a terrible, terrible day. I don’t know if I said this to [Times reporter] Sarah [Wire] or a different reporter, but I did say like, ‘This is how a coup happens and this is how democracy dies and Donald Trump should probably be brought up on treason.’ And I still believe that to this day. I’m glad we impeached him. But now we know that there’s more people involved.

“I remember actually flying back from D.C. and, you know, I was on the plane with a bunch of MAGA people that were with their gear, like they’re coming back from a Republican convention or something.”

Gomez’s experience getting caught in the gallery left him shaken, but he says his resolve to stand up for democracy has only grown since that day.

I’m a son of immigrants that believes in this whole idea of America, the idea of self-governance, the idea that you come here, you work hard, you believe in our values, you’re going to succeed, because I’m an example of that promise … in one generation. That doesn’t happen in a lot of countries. It doesn’t happen in Mexico, where my family’s from. So my resolve has been just more firm than ever.

“But it’s been tough, to be honest. I got triggered … a few months ago, and I didn’t really see it coming on, but I got hot and my vision got tunneled. So I had to kind of walk away. … But my resolve, it’s stronger than ever.”

~~~

‘I really thought that I was going to die that day, that I was going to be killed — that I would be literally killed — that I would possibly have to fight for my life, that so many of my colleagues would probably be victims.’

Rep. Norma Torres (D-Pomona)

Rep. Norma Torres, a Democrat from Pomona, was inside the House chamber when the attack began.

“It was a very violent day for me. I had never been in a situation where I felt so unsafe, and I really thought that I was going to die that day, that I was going to be killed — that I would be literally killed — that I would possibly have to fight for my life, that so many of my colleagues would probably be victims.”

A year ago, as Trump supporters rioted in the halls, Torres told Times staff writer Sarah D. Wire, who was reporting inside the Capitol on Jan. 6: “It’s horrible that this is America. This is the United States of America and this is what we have to go through, because Trump has called homegrown terrorists to come to the Capitol and invalidate people’s votes.”

Torres said she has changed since that day, noting that she no longer feels safe inside the Capitol complex and sees her GOP colleagues in a different light.

“There used to be a time in the past, before the Jan. 6 insurrection, where I could look and see somebody wearing their congressional pin and think, ‘That’s my ally.’ Even if they were Republicans, it was like, ‘OK, that’s my ally, and we’ll take care of each other no matter what happens.’ I don’t feel that way anymore about my colleagues. Not at all.”

~~~

‘Attacking a federal building, whether it is the U.S. Capitol or a court or anything else, does not tear down democracy.’

Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-Richvale)

“Nobody should be breaking into this building for any purpose,” said Rep. Doug LaMalfa, a Republican from Richvale shown speaking on the House floor in 2020.
(Associated Press)

Rep. Doug LaMalfa, a California Republican from Richvale who was on the House floor when insurrectionists stormed the Capitol, called the riot a “deplorable situation.”

“Nobody should be breaking into this building for any purpose, let alone trying to stop a process that we were going through, and we were going through it in good faith, no matter what side you were taking on the issue of the day.”

He said he wasn’t concerned about the long-term prospects of democracy, because the republic is built on people, not buildings.

“Attacking a federal building, whether it is the U.S. Capitol or a court or anything else, does not tear down democracy. We’re not a democracy, by the way — we are a republic. Democracy is on election day.

“So our republic is not torn down by what building the meetings are held in, but by the heart and souls of the people that are elected to carry out the business of the government wherever that’s done.”

~~~

‘I always thought that personally I was very safe in this job, particularly when I’m in the Capitol complex, because it takes so much to get in there. Certainly I don’t think about it every day, but I don’t quite feel that same level of safety.’

Rep. Scott Peters (D-San Diego)

Rep. Scott Peters, a Democrat from San Diego, said that as he was trapped in the House gallery on Jan. 6, he was thinking, “How could people get by security in one of the top terrorist targets in the country?”
(Lenny Ignelzi / Associated Press)

Rep. Scott Peters, a Democrat from San Diego, was in the House gallery when he saw something he’d never seen before: a nonmember of Congress at the rostrum.

“It was someone from the security force. He said: ‘Please stay in your seats. There’s been a breach in the Capitol.’”

“I didn’t know what to think at that point. I assumed that a few rogues had run by the metal detector. But I didn’t know how serious it was. Gradually I was kind of hurt that this was happening, thinking, ‘How could people get by security in one of the top terrorist targets in the country? We should be ready for this.’

“At one point, members were about to be evacuated when they were told to ‘get to the floor.’

“So everyone kind of got down low. And that was a little bit of a sobering moment. Then at one point, we heard an explosion. It sounded like a gunshot or a tear gas deployment. We didn’t know. I think it might’ve been the shot that killed my constituent. Ashli Babbitt was from San Diego.”

Peters, who was first elected in 2012, added that he doesn’t feel as safe as he did in his first term as a member of Congress.

“I always thought that personally I was very safe in this job, particularly when I’m in the Capitol complex, because it takes so much to get in there,” he said. “Certainly I don’t think about it every day, but I don’t quite feel that same level of safety.”

~~~

‘No matter what your politics, it wasn’t a good day.’

Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Corona)

Rep. Ken Calvert, a Republican from Corona, speaks in the House of Representatives in 2019. He called the Capitol riot on Jan. 6 “troubling.”
(Associated Press)

Rep. Ken Calvert, a Republican from Corona, was in his office in a nearby building, not in the Capitol itself, but was still disturbed by what he saw and called it “very regretful.”

“I mean, it was troubling. But I wasn’t here in the building. And I have a lot of friends that were. Certainly, no matter what your politics, it wasn’t a good day. It’s a bad situation.”

He said he has hope that any changes to the institution of Congress and to relationships won’t be long-lasting.

“We have to get back to some kind of normalcy again. … I’m an optimist, I’m hoping we get back to some comity around here.

“These people are my friends. I may be in a different party and I don’t agree with them, but it doesn’t mean we can’t like each other. … We’re a divided nation, there’s no doubt about it, but people expect us to get together, get things done.”

~~~

‘Divisions here in this country are our biggest challenge. That’s what keeps me up at night. … It’s really trying to crack this nut of, how do we break this fever of division in our country?’

Rep. Mark Takano, a Democrat from Riverside

Rep. Mark Takano (D-Riverside) sheltered in a nearby office building during the Capitol riot.
(Associated Press)

Rep. Mark Takano, a Democrat from Riverside, had to make his way from one House office building to the next during the riot.

“It looked like kind of a refugee zone with all these staffers sitting on the other side of the hallway, stepping over people.

“I got a couple of texts asking if I was OK,” Takano said. “But up until now, I don’t really have a reality of what is happening because I’m not looking at the news, but I’m getting a couple of texts from people saying, ‘Are you OK?’ And I thought this was kind of strange.

“I felt a little insecure, but I was in an office complex that was sort of nondescript. We were sheltering for an extended period of time. But I don’t have any kind of lingering trauma, personal trauma. I do have concerns going forward about the political culture of the country and the political norms of the country.”

Takano said he believes “the biggest challenge to America is ourselves.”

“That’s our biggest challenge. Divisions here in this country are our biggest challenge. That’s what keeps me up at night. … It’s really trying to crack this nut of, how do we break this fever of division in our country?

“I don’t see this being solved in one year or one election. It’s going to take a lot of courage. Persistence.”

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Source: latimes.com

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Chief Justice Roberts Calls for Better Enforcement of Conflict Laws Involving Judges’ Stock Ownership

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WASHINGTON — 

Federal courts need to do much better at enforcing conflict-of-interest laws that are supposed to prevent judges from deciding cases in which they hold stock, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. said in his year-end report on the judiciary.

He was responding to a report in the Wall Street Journal in September that from 2010 through 2018, federal judges participated in 685 cases involving companies in which they or their spouses held stock. When contacted, many of them said they were unaware of the stock holdings because a money manager handled their investments.

The chief justice said federal law requires judges to recuse themselves from a case in which they have a direct financial interest, no matter how small.

“Let me be crystal clear: the Judiciary takes this matter seriously. We expect judges to adhere to the highest standards, and those judges violated an ethics rule,” he wrote.

“We are duty-bound to strive for 100% compliance because public trust is essential, not incidental, to our function,” he continued. “Individually, judges must be scrupulously attentive to both the letter and spirit of our rules, as most are.”

He said “professed ignorance of the ethics rule” or the failure of computer software designed to prevent such conflicts were no excuse. Most judges rely on a computer program to alert them when a case coming before them includes a company in which they hold stock. Sometimes a relevant company slips by the software if it is a subsidiary of a larger corporation.

Roberts said that may explain some lapses, but not for judges who had multiple violations. For them, “there is a more serious problem of inadequate ethics training…. our ethics training programs need to be more rigorous. That means more class time, webinars, and consultations. But it also requires greater attention to promoting a culture of compliance, even when busy dockets keep judicial calendars full,” he said.

He noted, however, that ethics violations appear to be rare. Of the 2.5 million civil cases handled by federal district courts in the nine years that were examined, he said the 685 violations account for less than three-hundredths of 1%. “That’s a 99.97% compliance rate,” he said.

Moreover, he said the newspaper story did not report that “the judge’s actions in any of those cases — often just routine docket management — actually financially benefited the judge.”

The chief justice said the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts is working on improving technology and training to deal with the problem.

Judges are not prohibited from owning direct shares of stock. If their shares are held indirectly in mutual funds, they are not required to step aside.

He did not suggest imposing penalties for repeat violators. For the most part, federal judges are responsible for deciding when they should remove themselves from a case.

As chief justice, Roberts serves as the leader of the federal judiciary.

Roberts received the highest job approval rating of 11 U.S. leaders in a Gallup poll taken in early December and released earlier this week, with 60% approving of how he is handling his role.

Only two other leaders received positive job approval ratings from a majority of Americans surveyed: Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome H. Powell (53%) and Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and chief medical advisor to President Biden (52%).

Roberts was the only leader who received majority approval from both Republicans (57%) and Democrats (52%).

He fared much better in the poll than elected leaders. Biden was approved by 43%, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) by 40% and Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) by 34%.

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Source: latimes.com

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