Things That Matter

Puerto Rico, Still Recovering From Hurricane Maria, Is Losing Recovery Dollars To Fund Part Of The Border Wall

When Donald Trump began his campaign for president, one — if not the most important — promise he made was that Mexico would pay for the border wall. Trump’s border wall, which would extend throughout the south as a barrier between the U.S. and Mexico, has been his No. 1 mission as president of the United States. Now, four years after making this promise, Mexico has still not paid a single cent for the construction of any such barrier that has been built or will be built. 

In order for Trump’s border wall to get constructed, he’s still very short on funds, and since Mexico is obviously not going to pay, the president is taking money away from Puerto Rico’s hurricane recovery budget. 

Credit: @Nicolemarie_A / Twitter

Trump has allocated $400 million to go toward building the wall and will take it directly from funds that were intended to help Puerto Rico and their hurricane recovery. The Department of Defense announced that several hurricane-related projects in Puerto Rico would be halted because their funding would be diverted to building the border wall. Some of those projects include a National Guard Readiness Center, a Power Substation/Switching Station Building, and an Aircraft Maintenance Hangar in San Juan, Puerto Rico. 

According to NBC News, a senior Defense official said that people shouldn’t worry because these projects in Puerto Rico will get done, eventually. “We don’t see ourselves delaying those projects. We’re fully committed to that recovery,” the official said since many of them wouldn’t begin until 2020.

The president still needs billions more for the wall, at least $25 billion more, so he’s taking money from various military sources in the U.S. and its territories. The total amount he’s diverting is $3.6 billion.

Credit: @ChrisLu44 / Twitter

Aside from Puerto Rico, 117 other military construction projects will be halted and/or delayed now because of funds. People might assume diverting funds away from Puerto Rico’s recovery or other sources isn’t a big deal because it doesn’t seem like tangible needs. However, people familiar with the military centers and operations know that it is a huge deal and almost appears like robbery by the highest level office. 

“I visited the current RPA training facility at Holloman earlier this year. The building is falling apart, with some equipment being held together with duct tape. To say this facility, which supports training for 100 percent of the Air Force’s MQ-9 crews, urgently needs to be replaced would be an understatement,” Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., said in a statement, according to NBC News. 

Other projects losing funds include $160 million of construction projects at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point; $85 million operations facility at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico;  $40 million for an information systems facility at White Sands Missile Facility, and much more. 

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is planning to file a lawsuit to prohibit Trump from taking $3.6 billion away from Puerto Rico and the rest of the country and territories. 

Credit: @ACLU / Twitter

“The fact that the government sat on these so-called ’emergency funds’ for seven months further confirms that this is nothing but an unlawful power grab,” ACLU attorney Dror Ladin said in a statement, according to The Hill. “We’ll be back in court very soon to block Trump’s latest effort to raid military funds for his xenophobic wall,” he added.

Despite claiming that Mexico would pay for the wall for years, Trump already said that he didn’t mean that literally. 

Credit: @realDonaldTrump / Twitter

In January, the president tried to backtrack four years of declarations that Mexico would pay for the wall by insisting that he wasn’t speaking in direct terms but indirectly. We know, it makes no sense.

“When — during the campaign, I would say, ‘Mexico is going to pay for it.’ Obviously, I never said this and I never meant they’re going to write out a check. I said, ‘They’re going to pay for it.’ They are. They are paying for it with the incredible deal we made, called the United States, Mexico, and Canada USMCA deal.”

Yes, the president said he never said what he said. We feel a headache coming on. To illustrate how many times Trump said Mexico would pay for the wall, Factbase Inc. listed each of them. He has referenced the border wall at least 456 times

READ: New Border Wall Is Being Constructed In California But It Is Not The Same Border Wall Trump Promised His Voters

House Democrats Are Demanding Answers About Why The Government Is Withholding Aid For Puerto Rico

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House Democrats Are Demanding Answers About Why The Government Is Withholding Aid For Puerto Rico

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The recovery process in Puerto Rico post-Hurricane Maria has been exponentially slowed down by a lack of adequate help from the Trump administration. If there was any more proof of that, it came last week as the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Department held up $18 billion in aid that was designated for disaster relief in Puerto Rico.

The mandated deadline for those funds came back on Oct. 4 but no money was ever released. Ninety days later, Democratic lawmakers are looking for answers as to why Puerto Rico has been left in the dark here as recovery efforts continue more than two years after Maria hit the island. Even though HUD employees have testified that they know withholding this aid is illegal, they are continuing to withhold it. 

Recovery aid is needed in Puerto Rico now more than ever but as of now, it’s being withheld due to the Trump administration’s fears that it will be put in corrupt hands. 

Back in September, Congress had asked the agency to publish funding notices to 18 disaster-stricken states and territories. Seventeen were published with Puerto Rico being the lone exception. The funding notice was supposed to be $10.2 billion in aid to help build much-needed infrastructure reinforcement in anticipation of future storms.  

“This is not meant to be a suggestion, it’s mandated,” Chairman of the Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Subcommittee, Rep. David Price, D-N.C. told NBC News. “It’s time to release this notice and the longer this goes on, the more one has to wonder about the political influences that might be taking place at the top.”

In total, the agency is holding up $18.5 billion, the largest single amount of disaster aid awarded in the agency’s history. The reasoning behind the delay stems from fears that the money could be in corrupt hands, something that the agency’s secretary Ben Carson and President Trump have previously said

 According to NBC News, Price said the “Trump administration is exaggerating the corruption allegations since the Office of Inspector General didn’t find widespread corruption within Puerto Rico’s housing agency, which would be managing the federal housing aid at stake.”

In a statement to Newsweek, an unnamed HUD spokesperson reiterated Carson and Trump’s belief in the withheld funds being misused. The statement also notes that Puerto Rico has only used a fraction of the already allocated funds available to it already.  

“The Administration has taken historic action to help the people of Puerto Rico recover from Hurricane Maria. Given the Puerto Rican government’s history of financial mismanagement, corruption, and other abuses; we must ensure that any HUD assistance provided helps those on the island who need it the most. This process must be handled in a prudent manner with strong financial controls to mitigate the risk to Federal taxpayers. In addition, it is worth noting that Puerto Rico already has access to $1.5 billion and has so far only spent $5.8 million—less than one percent of those funds.”

Now Congress has a problem on its hands that has many Democrats calling for answers about when this disaster aid will be released, if ever.  

One of the members of Congress leading the charge is chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Rep. Joaquín Castro, D-Texas who told reporters last week that “the Trump administration knowingly broke the law by failing to comply with the deadline to issue a federal notice for over $10 billion in aid to Puerto Rico.”

According to John Hudak, a senior fellow of governance studies at the Brookings Institution told NBC News these types of congressional deadlines do at times get missed but there is also a level of transparency from agencies.  

“When these conversations do not happen, it means that something else is going on and it raises concerns that something improper might be happening,” Hudak said. “Instead, they silently missed the deadline.”

Hudak said that there are a few options that Congress can take to make HUD begin dispersing the disaster aid. The first option being halting the funding that the agency uses every day to operate but there is resistance from some Democrats in going that far right now. There is also the possibility that Congress and the Puerto Rican government could take legal action and sue the agency for basically not doing its job. 

Over 850 organizations as of Saturday had joined members of Congress in calling out the agency for not complying with the law. Many of them have stressed the importance of the aid and how critical that it gets released in a timely manner.

There is increased urgency coming from over 850 various organizations that have joined together with members of Congress in denouncing HUD for its actions. At stake is Puerto Rico, which still has ways to go in terms of full recovery from Hurricane Maria.

“It is outrageous that Secretary Carson continues to withhold critical mitigation funding for Puerto Rico approved by Congress nearly two years ago,” said Diane Yentel, president and CEO of National Low Income Housing Coalition, one of the 850 organizations that have denounced HUD. “Secretary Carson’s decision to ignore Congress and refuse to release these funds makes it nearly impossible for Puerto Ricans to prepare for future disasters. Congress must hold him accountable – every day of inaction puts American lives at risk.”

READ: ‘We’re The Ones Making Wigs Modern’: These Female Entrepreneurs Want You To Support Black-Owned Hair Businesses

Two Housekeepers Exposed Trump’s Hotels For Hiring Undocumented Immigrants

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Two Housekeepers Exposed Trump’s Hotels For Hiring Undocumented Immigrants

Sandra Diaz

Two of Donald Trump’s former personal housekeepers exposed the president’s company Trump Organization, which he still owns, as employing dozens of undocumented immigrants. Sandra Diaz and Victorina Morales told reporters that many of Trump’s properties employ undocumented workers for exploitatively low pay and long hours.

The Washington Post spoke with 48 undocumented immigrants who worked at 11 of Donald Trump’s hotels and resorts in Florida, New Jersey, and Virginia. 

Diaz and Morales felt compelled to speak, as Trump’s damning rhetoric against undocumented immigrants became public discourse.

“How can you know something so big, how someone — who goes on national television and says something — and you know it’s not true,” Diaz said. “Whether it’s the president or not, you have the responsibility to say no. To pass through this barrier of fear and say no.”

When Trump began espousing increasingly virulent views on Latinxs and immigrants, the undocumented workers at his hotels and resorts began to feel the ire at work.

“The worry among the kitchen staff at BLT Prime, the hotel’s restaurant, was serious enough that a week before Trump took office, undocumented employees met with a manager to say they could not continue to come to work because they didn’t have legal documents and feared deportation,” according to the Washington Post

Trump’s referrals to Mexicans as rapists and criminals and the implication of a Latinx invasion left his employees apprehensive. The golf-playing clientele of Trump’s resorts would take on the president’s points of view when they interacted with the undocumented staff. 

“You’re still here? How come we can’t get rid of you? I’m going to call Trump, you [expletive] Mexican,” Gabriel Juarez, a former head waiter at one of Trump’s New York golf clubs, said a member told him.

Trump, their own employer was advocating for policies that he himself was violating and that was putting their lives at risk. Some employees even started to distance themselves because of the politically hostile environment. 

“I didn’t feel comfortable working over there. That atmosphere. A lot of conservative people talking about abortion or gay marriage,” said the anonymous former employee. “I got kind of tired of all these anti-immigration [events].”

Morales says she became afraid to work there because she feared violence.

The intensity increased with housekeepers noticing both hostilities towards immigrants and Trump. They found anti-Trump messaging vandalizing the mirrors of the men’s locker room. In one instance, there was even a hanged Trump doll in a stall. 

“It made me afraid,” Morales said. “We began to wonder: What if someone comes and puts a bomb in here?”

Morales who migrated from Guatemala didn’t want to stand up against her boss who was now the most powerful man in the United States, but she could see how quickly and how badly things could be. 

While Diaz was able to become a permanent resident, Morales has not. Despite efforts from a lawyer to protect Morales and other undocumented employees from being deported because they were material witnesses in a possible federal crime, they were not granted protected status. With little other options, the two turned to the press. 

No one has been deported because of the two housekeepers, yet many of the undocumented workers who are still employed by Trump resent the pair. When the news broke there was a company-wide audit of employees. Trump Organization fired at least 18 people because of their immigration status, workers who spoke to the Washington Post said it was closer to 30 or 40. 

“I also worked there a long time without papers but the most incredible thing is to see how people, when they have papers, forget how they got here,” Antonio Zuñiga, a former Trump employee, wrote on Facebook. “I’m sorry but people like you Doña Sandra have forgotten their principles.”

Trump all but blanketly admits that his properties employ undocumented immigrants.

“Well, that I don’t know. Because I don’t run it,” Trump told reporters when asked if Trump Organization employed undocumented immigrants in July. “But I would say this: Probably every club in the United States has that, because it seems to me, from what I understand, a way that people did business.”

However, in the article many of the undocumented workers said they personally met Trump. When the Washington Post reached out for comment about the allegations from the workers, the press secretary vaguely denied all of the claims. 

“The assertions made for this story are not only false, they are a disgusting attempt at invading the privacy of the First Family,” White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham told the Washington Post. “This is not journalism — it is fabricated tabloid trash.”

Morales has since applied for asylum in the United States. She and Diaz are actively mobilizing against Trump’s re-election campaign. 

“We are here to show our faces not just for ourselves, but for the 11 million [undocumented] immigrants who are here in the country,” Morales said at a Trump rally in Orlando, Florida.