Worland, Wyoming Family separation and child incarceration continues to be a political flashpoint. President Trump may have been at one of his golf clubs again this weekend, but his zero-tolerance policy and criminalization of immigration by migrants often asking for asylum has not quelled the rage despite his attempt to get a mulligan with his do-over executive order.
Little has changed to date. Close to 2000 children are still separated from their families. A federal court judge in California has issued a temporary restraining order demanding that the policy be suspended and giving the administration only ten days to assure that children have been in at least telephonic contact with their parents, only fifteen days to unite children under five with their parents, and only thirty days to unite all children with their families. Though polls indicate that America is confused about what to do about immigration, they are united with the vast majority opposing child incarceration and family separation.
Protests broke out all over the country in cities large and small with thousands participating to demand family unification. As reported in the New York Times:
Washington was the political epicenter of the protests, similar scenes unfolded in cities around the country, including large, border cities like El Paso, state capitals like Salt Lake City and Atlanta, and smaller, interior towns like Redding, Calif. In total, organizers anticipated more than 700 protests, in all 50 states and even internationally.
Two hundred rallied in Covington, Louisiana of all places in the conservative north shore across from New Orleans. Another two hundred rallied in Lafayette, Louisiana in the heart of a blood red congressional district. The same story repeats over and over again as Americans draw a bold line. No matter what is said in the West Wing border patrol officers on the border trying to obey the order and the law are releasing families rather than separating them when captured crossing the border.
Before the weekend protests women led the way with more than 500 arrested including actress Susan Sarandon and Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, a Democrat from Seattle. She was quoted saying:
“The idea of kids in cages and asylum seekers in prisons and moms being separated from breast-feeding children, this is just beyond politics, it really is just about right and wrong.”
This crisis won’t go away with a simple signature.
Manderson Forty percent of the nation’s coal is produced in the huge Fort Union deposit under the Powder River basin in Wyoming. Mines cover hundreds of square miles of ground. Oil and gas operations also proliferate throughout the state. It’s possible to drive more miles along many of Wyoming’s roads without seeing people than it is to not see a horsehead well pumping away or a storage tank somewhere on the horizon. It’s not hard to imagine the deep pockets that these kinds of extraction companies have in a small population state with less than 600,000 people stretched over a vast land area in the 10th largest state in the country. Agricultural and ranching operations work along side all of these operations, as do the families that make the state their home and workspace. And, that’s where the rub comes in.
In Sheridan I popped into say hello at the headquarters of the Powder River Basin Resource Council which is at the front line of this fight in much of the eastern part of the state. I had spent a couple of days doing training with the Powder River staff in the mid-70s when the organization was in its relative infancy though now it has forty-five years under its belt. Part of the regional community organizing powerhouse of the Western Organization of Resource Councils founded by Pat Sweeney to coordinate many of these organizations and their fights, Powder River set down a wide footprint on environmental issues related to extraction industries and how they affect ranch and ag communities in Wyoming.
Currently a central campaign focuses on something called “self-bonding,” but we’re not talking about Wall Street here. The law in Wyoming requires coal companies to guarantee that they will reclaim the land that they mine and given the climate and annual rainfall in much of the state, that’s a huge job. Sounds good so far, but the state also lets the companies “self-bond” which means they can claim that they are putting up enough money in reserve to do that reclamation work. The frequency of coal company bankruptcies in the current energy economy is regular, so a self-bond is just about worthless. Importantly, Powder River has made this a signature campaign.
In Sheridan I also met with Rob Davidson the executive director of Council of the Big Horn Range, focusing on the Big Horn region of northwestern Wyoming especially the four huge counties that overlap with the US Forest Service Region. The Council is only a couple of years old and hopes to build along the same lines as Powder River. The Council can also claim some recent victories, including preventing the Forest Service, facing cutbacks from Washington, to consolidate its offices and close one on the west side of the Big Horn mountains.
Thankfully, grassroots organizations of committed members and organizers like these are standing in the way or Wyoming and the stewardship of our national lands, waters, and ranges would be even more imperiled.