Most Americans ‘Don’t Want’ Oprah to Run for President

Americans may love Oprah Winfrey, but most don’t want the chat show queen to run for president, although if she did she would beat Donald Trump, a poll revealed Friday.

Winfrey’s rousing speech at Sunday’s Golden Globe Awards ceremony ignited speculation that the billionaire entertainment mogul, the first black woman to own a television network, is harboring Oval Office ambitions.

Sixty-four percent of respondents have a favorable view of Winfrey, including 43 percent of Trump supporters, according to the NPR, PBS NewsHour and Marist survey.

But when asked if they wanted Winfrey to run in 2020, only 35 percent said yes. A majority — 54 percent — said no and 11 percent said they were unsure.

Yet if a hypothetical presidential head-to-head was held today, 50 percent of national registered voters said they would vote in Winfrey as a Democrat. Only 39 percent said they would return Trump to office.

Voters were predictably split along party lines. Ninety-one percent of Democrats backed Winfrey. Eighty-five percent of Republicans said they would vote for Trump.

While there is little indication that 63-year-old Winfrey wants the job, Hollywood’s loathing of Trump and Democrats’ bafflement that a reality TV star could win with no previous government experience has fueled talk of finding their own celebrity candidate.

Trump said Tuesday he doubted Winfrey would run, but if she did, he would win.

The survey was carried out among 1,350 adults earlier this week, after Oprah’s speech made headlines. The poll carried a margin of error of 2.7 percent and three percent among registered voters.

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No Pedal to Metal in GM’s Planned Self-driving Cruise AV Car

General Motors Co is seeking U.S. government approval for a fully autonomous car — one without a steering wheel, brake pedal or accelerator pedal — to enter the automaker’s first commercial ride-sharing fleet in 2019, executives said.

For passengers who cannot open doors, the Cruise AV — a rebranded version of GM’s Chevrolet Bolt EV — has even been designed to perform that task. It will have other accommodations for hearing and visually impaired customers.

This will be one of the first self-driving vehicles in commercial passenger service and among the first to do away with manual controls for steering, brakes and throttle. What is the driver’s seat in the Bolt EV will become the front left passenger seat in the Cruise AV, GM said.

Company President Dan Ammann told reporters GM had filed on Thursday for government approval to deploy the “first production-ready vehicle designed from the start without a steering wheel, pedals or other unnecessary manual controls.”

GM is part of a growing throng of vehicle manufacturers, technology companies and tech startups seeking to develop so-called robo-taxis over the next three years in North America, Europe and Asia. Most of those companies have one or more partners.

On Friday, the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration confirmed GM had petitioned for approval to operate up to 2,500 vehicles without steering wheels or human drivers.

 “Safety is the [Transportation] department’s top priority. The department will review this petition and give it careful consideration,” the agency said in a statement.

Ford Motor Co said on Tuesday it will partner with delivery service Postmates Inc as the automaker starts testing ways to transport people, food and packages this spring in its self-driving cars, which are being developed by Ford’s Argo unit.

Other companies, from Uber Technologies Inc to Alphabet Inc’s Waymo, have been testing self-driving vehicle prototypes in limited ride-sharing applications, but have been less explicit than GM in announcing plans for commercial robo-taxi services.

GM executives said the automaker has asked the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to allow 16 alterations to existing vehicle safety rules — such as having an airbag in what would normally be the driver’s seat, but without a steering wheel — to enable the deployment of the Cruise AV.

The automaker would then need to obtain similar approval from individual U.S. states. GM executives said seven U.S. states already allow the alterations sought by the automaker.

In other states — including those that stipulate a car must have a licensed human driver — GM will work with regulators to change or get a waiver from existing rules.

The company declined to identify the first states in which it plans to launch the vehicle or say when it would begin testing.

GM wants to control its own self-driving fleet partly because of the tremendous revenue potential it sees in selling related services, from e-commerce to infotainment, to consumers riding in those vehicles.

At a Nov. 30 briefing in San Francisco, GM’s Ammann told investors the lifetime revenue generation of one of its self-driving cars could eventually be “several hundred thousands of dollars.” That compares with the $30,000 on average that GM collects today for one of its vehicles, mostly derived from the initial sale.

GM’s Cruise AV is equipped with the automaker’s fourth-generation self-driving software and hardware, including 21 radars, 16 cameras and five lidars — sensing devices that use laser light to help autonomous cars “see” nearby objects and obstacles.

The Cruise AV will be able to operate in hands-free mode only in premapped urban areas.

GM’s prototype self-driving vehicles have been developed in San Francisco by Cruise Automation, the onetime startup that GM acquired in March 2016 for a reported $1 billion.

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Jeff Bezos Contributes $33M to ‘Dreamers’ Scholarship Program

Scholarship program TheDream.US said on Friday it had received a $33 million donation from Amazon.com Inc Chief Executive Jeff Bezos and his wife MacKenzie Bezos to fund 1,000 college scholarships.

The scholarship program will fund U.S. high school graduates with a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status, an Obama-era program protecting young immigrants brought to the United States illegally by their parents — commonly known as Dreamers.

U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday blasted the federal court system as “broken and unfair” after a judge blocked his administration’s move to end the DACA program.

2,850 students are currently enrolled in different colleges as part of TheDream.US scholarship, which covers the cost of tuition, fees and books.

Bezos’ parents, Mike and Jackie Bezos, were among the early donors to TheDream.US. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Pershing Square Foundation and Chan Zuckerberg Initiative are also among the other major contributers to the program.

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Cybersecurity Firm: US Senate in Russian Hackers’ Crosshairs

The same Russian government-aligned hackers who penetrated the Democratic Party have spent the past few months laying the groundwork for an espionage campaign against the U.S. Senate, a cybersecurity firm said Friday.

The revelation suggests the group often nicknamed Fancy Bear, whose hacking campaign scrambled the 2016 U.S. electoral contest, is still busy trying to gather the emails of America’s political elite.

“They’re still very active — in making preparations at least — to influence public opinion again,” said Feike Hacquebord, a security researcher at Trend Micro Inc., which published the report . “They are looking for information they might leak later.”

The Senate Sergeant at Arms office, which is responsible for the upper house’s security, declined to comment.

Hacquebord said he based his report on the discovery of a clutch of suspicious-looking websites dressed up to look like the U.S. Senate’s internal email system. He then cross-referenced digital fingerprints associated with those sites to ones used almost exclusively by Fancy Bear, which his Tokyo-based firm dubs “Pawn Storm.”

Trend Micro previously drew international attention when it used an identical technique to uncover a set of decoy websites apparently set up to harvest emails from the French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron’s campaign in April 2017. The sites’ discovery was followed two months later by a still-unexplained publication of private emails from several Macron staffers in the final days of the race.

Hacquebord said the rogue Senate sites — which were set up in June and September of 2017 — matched their French counterparts.

“That is exactly the way they attacked the Macron campaign in France,” he said.

Attribution is extremely tricky in the world of cybersecurity, where hackers routinely use misdirection and red herrings to fool their adversaries. But Tend Micro, which has followed Fancy Bear for years, said there could be no doubt.

“We are 100 percent sure that it can attributed to the Pawn Storm group,” said Rik Ferguson, one of the Hacquebord’s colleagues.

Like many cybersecurity companies, Trend Micro refuses to speculate publicly on who is behind such groups, referring to Pawn Storm only as having “Russia-related interests.” But the U.S. intelligence community alleges that Russia’s military intelligence service pulls the hackers’ strings and a months-long Associated Press investigation into the group, drawing on a vast database of targets supplied by the cybersecurity firm Secureworks, has determined that the group is closely attuned to the Kremlin’s objectives.

If Fancy Bear has targeted the Senate over the past few months, it wouldn’t be the first time. An AP analysis of Secureworks’ list shows that several staffers there were targeted between 2015 and 2016.

Among them: Robert Zarate, now the foreign policy adviser to Florida Senator Marco Rubio; Josh Holmes, a former chief of staff to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell who now runs a Washington consultancy; and Jason Thielman, the chief of staff to Montana Senator Steve Daines. A Congressional researcher specializing in national security issues was also targeted.

Fancy Bear’s interests aren’t limited to U.S. politics; the group also appears to have the Olympics in mind.

Trend Micro’s report said the group had set up infrastructure aimed at collecting emails from a series of Olympic winter sports federations, including the International Ski Federation, the International Ice Hockey Federation, the International Bobsleigh & Skeleton Federation, the International Luge Federation and the International Biathlon Union.

The targeting of Olympic groups comes as relations between Russia and the International Olympic Committee are particularly fraught. Russian athletes are being forced to compete under a neutral flag in the upcoming Pyeongchang Olympics following an extraordinary doping scandal that has seen 43 athletes and several Russian officials banned for life.

Amid speculation that Russia could retaliate by orchestrating the leak of prominent Olympic officials’ emails, cybersecurity firms including McAfee and ThreatConnect have picked up on signs that state-backed hackers are making moves against winter sports staff and anti-doping officials.

On Wednesday, a group that has brazenly adopted the Fancy Bear nickname began publishing what appeared to be Olympics and doping-related emails from between September 2016 and March 2017. The contents were largely unremarkable but their publication was covered extensively by Russian state media and some read the leak as a warning to Olympic officials not to press Moscow too hard over the doping scandal.

Whether any Senate emails could be published in such a way isn’t clear. Previous warnings that German lawmakers’ correspondence might be leaked by Fancy Bear ahead of last year’s election there appear to have come to nothing.

On the other hand, the group has previously dumped at least one U.S. legislator’s correspondence onto the web.

One of the targets on Secureworks’ list was Colorado State Senator Andy Kerr, who said thousands of his emails were posted to an obscure section of the website DCLeaks — a web portal better known for publishing emails belonging to retired Gen. Colin Powell and various members of Hillary Clinton’s campaign — in late 2016.

Kerr said he was still bewildered as to why he was targeted. He said while he supported transparency, “there should be some process and some system to it.

“It shouldn’t be up to a foreign government or some hacker to say what gets released and what shouldn’t.”

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Fiat Chrysler to Invest $1 Billion in Michigan Plant, Add 2,500 Jobs

Fiat Chrysler Automobile said on Thursday it will shift production of Ram heavy-duty pickup trucks from Mexico to Michigan in 2020, a move that lowers the risk to the automaker’s profit should President Donald Trump pull the United States out of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Fiat Chrysler said it would create 2,500 jobs at a factory in Warren, Michigan, near Detroit and invest $1 billion in the facility. The Mexican plant will be “repurposed to produce future commercial vehicles” for sale global markets. Mexico has free trade agreements with numerous countries.

Fiat Chrysler Chief Executive Sergio Marchionne a year ago raised the possibility that the automaker would move production of its heavy-duty pickups to the United States, saying U.S. tax and trade policy would influence the decision.

If the United States exits NAFTA, it could mean that automakers would pay a 25 percent duty on pickup trucks assembled in Mexico and shipped to the United States. About 90 percent of the Ram heavy-duty pickups made at Fiat Chrysler’s Saltillo plant in Mexico are sold in the United States or Canada, company officials said.

Negotiators for the United States, Mexico and Canada are scheduled to meet later this month for another round of talks on revising NAFTA. Canadian government officials earlier this week said they are convinced that Trump intends to announce his intention to quit the agreement.

Trump has threatened to force the rollback of NAFTA, which enables the free flow of goods made in the United States, Canada and Mexico across the borders of those countries.

He also has criticized automakers for moving jobs and investment in new manufacturing facilities to Mexico and prodded them to add more auto production in the United States.

On Wednesday, Toyota Motor Corp and Mazda Motor Corp announced they would build a new $1.6 billion joint venture auto assembly plant in Alabama, drawing praise from Trump.

Vice President Mike Pence praised Fiat Chrysler’s announcement. “Manufacturing is back. Great announcement. Proof that this admin’s AMERICA FIRST policies are WORKING!” Pence said in a Twitter posting.

Chrysler raised its output in Mexico by 39 percent in 2017 to 639,000 vehicles, according to Mexican government data. That made Fiat Chrysler the third-largest producer of vehicles in Mexico in 2017, after Nissan Motor Co and General Motors Co.

The United States and Canada are the principal markets for full-size heavy-duty pickup trucks, most of which are produced in the United States by FCA, GM, Ford Motor Co, Toyota Motor Corp and Nissan Motor Co.

Miguel Ceballos, FCA spokesman for Mexico, said the company in 2018 and 2019 expects more growth in Mexico, and the moment it stops producing the Ram Heavy Duty pickups it will start to produce the new commercial vehicle, “which still does not have a name,” Ceballos said.

“It is going to be for global distribution, at the moment the Ram is only distributed at the level of NAFTA,” he said. Ceballos said there was no current plan to either reduce or grow the workforce in Mexico.

GM has been readying a plant in Silao, Mexico, to build a new generation of large pickup trucks.

FCA on Thursday said it also would make a special bonus payment of $2,000 to about 60,000 FCA hourly and salaried employees in the United States totaling about $120 million.

Typically, U.S. automakers only pay bonuses to hourly workers as part of collective bargaining agreements.

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Facebook Says Its Putting Friends, Family First

Facebook on Thursday announced a major update that will put friends and family above pages or celebrities in a user’s news feed — and likely result in people spending less time on the leading social network.

The change to the way Facebook ranks posts will put more weight on social interactions and relationships, according to News Feed product manager John Hegeman.

“This is a big change,” Hegeman said.

People more important

“People will actually spend less time on Facebook, but we feel good about that because it will make the time they do spend more valuable, and be good for our business in the end.”

For example, a family video clip posted by a spouse will be deemed more worthy of attention than a snippet from a star or favorite restaurant.

“We think people interaction is more important than passively consuming content,” Hegeman said. “This will be one of the more important updates that we have made.”

Facebook co-founder and chief Mark Zuckerberg has said that bringing people together and strengthening communities in the real world are priorities.

Update coming soon

The news feed ranking update, which is set to roll out globally in the coming weeks, is expected to support that goal.

“As we roll this out, you’ll see less public content like posts from businesses, brands, and media,” Zuckerberg said in a post at his Facebook page.

“And the public content you see more will be held to the same standard — it should encourage meaningful interactions between people.”

Battling fake news

Google, Twitter and Facebook have come under fire for allowing the spread of bogus news — some of which was directed by Russia — ahead of the 2016 US election and in other countries.

Facebook has introduced a series of changes intended to address the problem.

“We are doing a ton of work to reduce the frequency of bad content on Facebook,” Hegeman said.

“This update is more about amplifying the things people value.”

He cited academic research indicating that interacting with loved ones is crucial to a person’s wellbeing, while reading news articles or watching shared videos may not be.

“There is really no silver bullet here to determine what is most meaningful, but we are trying to mine the signals to get the best representation that we can,” Hegeman said.

Fix Facebook

Known for setting annual personal goals ranging from killing his own food to learning Mandarin, Zuckerberg’s stated mission for this year is to “fix” the social network, including by targeting abuse and hate, and making sure visiting Facebook is time well spent.

“I’m changing the goal I give our product teams from focusing on helping you find relevant content to helping you have more meaningful social interactions,” Zuckerberg said Thursday.

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Partisan Finger-pointing Threatens Russia Probes on Capitol Hill

Finger-pointing and acrimony surrounding probes of Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election intensified Thursday, with the Trump White House and Democratic lawmakers trading accusations of undermining and manipulating investigations that require bipartisan buy-in to succeed.

“There’s been a lot of comments about obstruction of justice, and frankly the only people we’ve seen trying to influence the investigation are former [FBI] director [James] Comey and Democrats in Congress, and that would include Senator Feinstein,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said at a briefing.

Democrat Dianne Feinstein of California caused an uproar earlier this week by releasing the transcript of private conversations between congressional investigators and a political researcher who, on behalf of Democrats, hired a former British spy in 2016 to document any ties between Russia and the Trump campaign.

In the transcript, Fusion GPS co-founder Glen Simpson said Christopher Steele uncovered “alarming” evidence of collusion between the Kremlin and Trump’s team and informed the FBI of his findings.

Trump weighed in on Twitter, blasting “Sneaky Dianne Feinstein” for releasing the transcript “in such an underhanded and possibly illegal way, totally without authorization” — an act he called “a disgrace.

The president also called the Russia probe the “greatest single Witch Hunt in American history” and urged congressional Republicans to “finally take control” of the investigation.

Democrats pushed back, defending Feinstein and saying she was forced to act in the face of mounting Republican efforts to thwart and cut short multiple Russia probes on Capitol Hill.

“Their [Republicans’] goal, it seems, is to discredit the investigation so that, ultimately, they can discredit any findings that are detrimental to their party or their president,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat. “President Trump makes this strategy manifest clear as day almost every day on his Twitter feed.”

Schumer continued, “Here is the president of the United States imploring his party to take control of the investigation. You never thought you’d hear a president saying something like this. And, frankly, you never thought you’d hear such silence from the other side of the aisle [Republicans]. All of us must choose country over party.”

While Special Counsel Robert Mueller is investigating ties between Russia and Trump’s inner circle on behalf of the Justice Department, House and Senate investigations were launched with the hope that Republicans and Democrats would set party interests aside and join forces in search of the truth.

“It [bipartisanship] has largely been broken,” said political analyst Norman Ornstein of the Washington-based American Enterprise Institute. “This has gotten more than acrimonious.”

Ornstein compared the Russia probes to Congress’ investigation of the Watergate scandal that caused former President Richard Nixon to resign in 1974.

“What we saw with Watergate was the model of a committee where the ranking Republican set the tone by saying the key here is what did the president know and when did he know it? — and followed through with an investigation with integrity,” he said.

Ornstein added, however, that even if congressional Russia’s probes falter on partisan lines, “The real test comes with whether the integrity of the Mueller investigation is protected and a bipartisan group of members [of Congress] make it clear that the president can’t fire [Mueller] or close off the investigation.”

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Trump Reportedly Calls Haiti, Africa ‘S—hole Countries’

President Donald Trump stunned lawmakers in a White House meeting on immigration Thursday when he reportedly referred to Haiti and African nations as “s—hole countries.”

“Why are we having all these people from s—hole countries come here,” the president asked as was first reported by media including The Washington Post, The New York Times and CNN. The crude term means dirty and impoverished.

Trump said the United States should let in more people from places such as Norway, whose prime minister met with him in the White House Wednesday.

White House response

After being asked by media, including VOA, to respond, White House spokesperson Raj Shah issued a statement saying the president will only accept an immigration deal that “adequately addresses the visa lottery system and chain migration — two programs that hurt our economy and allow terrorists into our country.” Chain migration is a term used by immigration critics to refer to the system that allows relatives to sponsor family members to come to the United States.

Shah’s statement did not deny reports that the president used crude language when talking about Haiti and Africa.

It also said Trump will always reject “temporary, weak and dangerous stopgap measures that … undercut immigrants who seek a better life in the United States through a legal pathway.”

VOA also reached out to the offices of U.S. lawmakers who were reportedly present at the meeting. Aides to lawmakers who attended the meeting declined to provide comment on Trump’s remarks, according to the Associated Press.

Trump reportedly made the remark as Sen. Dick Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois, was explaining the outlines of an agreement reached by six bipartisan senators that would protect nearly 800,000 young immigrants from deportation as well as bolster border security, according to the Post.

Bipartisan comments

By late Thursday, lawmakers were reacting to the reported comments.

Minnesota state Rep. Ilhan Omar, who in 2016 became the first Somali-American elected to a state legislative office in the United States, released a statement, saying, “I am not ashamed of the country where I was born. I am not ashamed to call myself an American now. I am a proud immigrant, refugee, Minnesotan and a proud State Legislator.

“But make no mistake, I am ashamed, disturbed, and outraged that the leader of the United States can’t see beyond his own embarrassing privilege to embrace the diversity that has made this country great for generations,” added Omar, a member of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party.

Republican Rep. Mia Love, whose family came from Haiti, said the president’s comments are “unkind, divisive, elitist, and fly in the face of our nation’s values. This behavior is unacceptable from the leader of our nation.”

Love, of Utah, called on Trump to apologize to the people of Haiti.

Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, also a Republican, said he wanted more details “regarding the president’s comments.”

“Part of what makes America so special is that we welcome the best and brightest in the world, regardless of their country of origin,” Hatch added.

Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, a Republican, tweeted late Thursday, “My ancestors came from countries not nearly as prosperous as the one we live in today. I’m glad that they were welcomed here.”

Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida tweeted Trump’s “calling #Haiti a ‘shithole country’ ignores the contributions thousands of Haitians have made to our #SoFla community and nation. Language like that shouldn’t be heard in locker rooms and it shouldn’t be heard in the White House.”

California Sen. Kamala Harris, a Democrat, said in a tweet, “Immigrants from countries across the globe — including and especially those from Haiti and all parts of Africa — have helped build this country. They should be welcomed and celebrated, not demeaned and insulted.’’

Rep. Cedric Richmond of Louisiana, chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said, “President Trump’s comments are yet another confirmation of his racially insensitive and ignorant views. It also reinforces the concerns that we hear every day, that the President’s slogan Make America Great Again is really code for Make America White Again.”

New Mexico Rep. Michelle Lujan Gisham, chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, responded in a statement, “The President’s statement is shameful, abhorrent, unpresidential, and deserves our strongest condemnation. We must use our voices to ensure that our nation never returns to the days when ignorance, prejudice, and racism dictated our decision making.

“Our nation’s strength and the American Dream stem from our immigrant roots and diversity,” she added.

Brian Concannon, executive director of the Boston-based Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, told VOA he is “outraged” at what he regards as an insult to the Haitian people. He said Trump’s apparent description of Haiti as a “s—hole” is “not an accurate description of Haiti.”

The NCAAP said in a statement, “The United States’ position as a moral leader throughout the world has been thoroughly damaged by the continuous lowbrow, callous and unfiltered racism repeatedly espoused by President Trump. His decision to use profanity to describe African, Central American and Caribbean countries is not only a low mark for this president, it is a low point for our nation.’’

The White House statement released Thursday:

“Certain Washington politicians choose to fight for foreign countries, but President Trump will always fight for the American people. The President will only accept an immigration deal that adequately addresses the visa lottery system and chain migrationtwo programs that hurt our economy and allow terrorists into our country. Like other nations that have merit-based immigration, President Trump is fighting for permanent solutions that make our country stronger by welcoming those who can contribute to our society, grow our economy and assimilate into our great nation. He will always reject temporary, weak and dangerous stopgap measures that threaten the lives of hardworking Americans, and undercut immigrants who seek a better life in the United States through a legal pathway.”

VOA correspondents Steve Herman and Michael Bowman contributed to this report.

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Amid Deportation Protests, ICE Detains Immigrant-rights Leader in NYC

Police and immigrant-rights protesters clashed Thursday outside 26 Federal Plaza, New York City’s immigration court, after word spread that Ravi Ragbir, a well-known activist known to protect immigrant families from deportation, had himself been detained by immigration authorities inside the building.

City leaders said Ragbir passed out while in detention, which occurred during a routine check-in with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Some supporters, who were already gathered outside the building for a scheduled prayer march and “vigil against deportation,” confronted a departing ambulance, resulting in multiple arrests, including those of two city councilmen. 

Others joined hands and prayed, led by the Reverend Donna Schaper, senior minister of Judson Memorial Church and co-founder of the New Sanctuary Coalition of NYC.

“When ICE does things that are just beyond understanding, when they had other choices, they only make us stronger,” Schaper told VOA. “They need to understand that.”

Ragbir, an immigrant from Trinidad, has faced the threat of deportation since he was convicted of wire fraud 16 years ago. Following removal proceedings in 2006, he spent nearly two years in immigration detention before his release in February 2008, a period during which he became a rising voice for the country’s immigrant community. He is now executive director of the New Sanctuary Coalition.

Until his detention, Ragbir had an administrative stay of removal in place, which suspends an order of removal. His attorneys said they had already filed a lawsuit.

“We came into the check-in with the hope that they would allow him to continue checking in as he has for many years, complying with all the rules that have been required of him,” said Alina Das, one of Ragbir’s attorneys who was present with him in the meeting, along with Ragbir’s wife.

“Obviously we are incredibly disappointed and, frankly, outraged by this decision,” Das told VOA. “We continue to pursue our options — the legal challenges — to see that he will hopefully be freed soon and back with his wife and with the community that loves him.”

At the time this report was published, ICE had not responded to VOA’s request for comment regarding Ragbir’s arrest.

‘Crippling’ for the immigrant community

Ragbir’s arrest followed that of Jean Montrevil, an immigrant activist from Haiti who was taken into custody last week near his Far Rockaway, New York, home, and just one day after The Associated Press reported a wave of ICE raids at convenience stores across the country.

Barbara Young, a Barbadian-American immigrant and organizer with the National Domestic Workers Alliance, was present for Thursday’s vigil in lower Manhattan. As she spoke of Ragbir and the nationwide workplace raids, tears rolled down beneath her sunglasses.

“It is crippling for the immigrant community,” Young said. “If you are here in the country and you decide to go find a job, and they’re targeting your workplace, you’re not a criminal.”

Following a group prayer, Schaper, who works closely with Ragbir, remained resilient, asserting the strength of her surrounding community.

“We have so many leaders, in addition to Ravi, whom Ravi has built up over these many, many years,” she said. “We’re not even one bit afraid.”

More protests were scheduled for Thursday evening in front of the detention center where Ragbir was being held.

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Trump’s EPA Aims to Replace Obama-era Climate, Water Regulations in 2018

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will replace Obama-era carbon and clean water regulations and open up a national debate on climate change in 2018, part of a list of priorities for the year that also includes fighting lead contamination in public drinking water.

The agenda, laid out by EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt in an exclusive interview with Reuters on Tuesday, marks an extension of the agency’s efforts under President Donald Trump to weaken or kill regulations the administration believes are too broad and harm economic growth, but which environmentalists say are critical to human health.

“The climate is changing. That’s not the debate. The debate is how do we know what the ideal surface temperature is in 2100? … I think the American people deserve an open honest transparent discussion about those things,” said Pruitt, who has frequently cast doubt on the causes and implications of global warming.

Pruitt reaffirmed plans for the EPA to host a public debate on climate science sometime this year that would pit climate change doubters against other climate scientists, but he provided no further details on timing or which scientists would be involved.

Pruitt said among the EPA’s top priorities for 2018 will be to replace the Clean Power Plan, former President Barack Obama’s centerpiece climate change regulation which would have slashed carbon emissions from power plants. The EPA began the process of rescinding the regulation last year and is taking input on what should replace it.

“A proposed rule will come out this year and then a final rule will come out sometime this year,” he said. He did not give any details on what the rule could look like, saying the agency was still soliciting comments from stakeholders.

He said the agency was also planning to rewrite the Waters of the United States rule, another Obama-era regulation, this one defining which U.S. waterways are protected under federal law. Pruitt and Trump have said the rule marked an overreach by including streams that are shallow, narrow, or sometimes completely dry — and was choking off energy development.

Pruitt said that in both cases, former President Barack Obama had made the rules by executive order, and without Congress. “We only have the authority that Congress gives us,” Pruitt said.

Pruitt’s plans to replace the Clean Power Plan have raised concerns by attorneys general of states like California and New York, who said in comments submitted to the EPA on Tuesday that the administrator should recuse himself because as Oklahoma attorney general he led legal challenges against it.

Biofuels and staff cuts

Pruitt said he hoped for legislative reform of the U.S. biofuels policy this year, calling “substantially needed and importantly” because of the costs the regulation imposes on oil refiners.

The Renewable Fuel Standard, ushered in by former President George W. Bush as a way to help U.S. farmers, requires refiners to blend increasing amounts of biofuels like corn-based ethanol into the nation’s fuel supply every year.

Refining companies say the EPA-administered policy costs them hundreds of millions of dollars annually and threatens to put some plants out of business. But their proposals to change the program have so far been rejected by the Trump administration under pressure from the corn lobby.

The EPA in November slightly raised biofuels volumes mandates for 2018, after previously opening the door to cuts.

The White House is now mediating talks on the issue between representatives of both sides, with input from EPA, and some Republican senators from states representing refineries are working on possible legislation to overhaul the program.

Pruitt said he also hoped Congress could produce an infrastructure package this year that would include replacing municipal water pipes, as a way of combating high lead levels in certain parts of the United States.

“That to me is something very tangible very important that we can achieve for the American people,” he said.

Pruitt added that EPA also is continuing its review of automobile fuel efficiency rules, and would be headed to California soon for more meetings with the California Air Resources Board to discuss them.

California in 2011 agreed to adopt the federal vehicle emission rules through 2025, but has signaled it would opt out of the standards if they are weakened, a move that would complicate matters for automakers serving the huge California market.

In the meantime, Pruitt said EPA is continuing to reduce the size of its staff, which fell to 14,162 employees as of Jan. 3, the lowest it has been since 1988, under Ronald Reagan when the employment level was 14,400. The EPA employed about 15,000 when Obama left office.

Nearly 50 percent of the EPA will be eligible to retire within the next five years, according to the agency.

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