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Voice of America’s immigration news - June 16, 2022 - 00:00
Give us 5 minutes, and we'll give you the world. Around the clock, Voice of America keeps you in touch with the latest news. We bring you reports from our correspondents and interviews with newsmakers from across the world.

Amid Inflation Worries, Fed Delivers a Higher-Than-Expected Rate Hike

Voice of America’s immigration news - June 15, 2022 - 23:31
Amid a major stock market downturn, sharply rising inflation, and plummeting consumer confidence, the Federal Reserve Board interest rate-setting body decided Wednesday to raise interest rates by three-quarters of 1% in the hope of taming runaway prices. The decision by the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) to increase the target for the federal funds rate to between 1.5% and 1.75% marked the largest single-day increase since 1994. The move illustrates the grave concern among policymakers about inflation, which rose at an annual rate of 8.6% last month, a 40-year high. In remarks delivered at a press conference after the FOMC meeting, Federal Reserve Board Chair Jerome Powell indicated that more rate hikes are on the horizon, with another a half- or three-quarter-point increase likely in July, and other increases in three further meetings before the end of the year. “My colleagues and I are acutely aware that high inflation imposes significant hardship, especially on those least able to meet the higher costs of essentials like food, housing and transportation,” Powell said, adding that the Fed is “strongly committed to returning inflation to our 2% objective.” Trying to cool demand Inflation drives up the cost of most items people buy on a regular basis, from gasoline to food to clothing. It can also drive up prices on big-ticket items, such as cars, appliances and furniture. The strategy behind the Fed’s interest rate increases is to cool demand, which can help lower prices. As interest rates increase, consumers become less likely to borrow money to make large purchases like cars and homes. In recent weeks, for example, the interest rate for a 30-year home mortgage loan in the U.S., which was under 5% in March, has spiked to above 6.7%. It also affects decisions by business owners to make new investments. The central bank’s task is to cool demand enough to bring inflation back down to its target rate of 2% per year without pushing too far and causing a recession, which could lead to job losses and more economic pain. ‘Behind the curve’ Until last week, the assumption had been that the central bank would raise rates by half a point in this meeting, with other half-point increases in the pipeline later in the year. However, last week’s consumer price index report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that rather than flattening out as expected, inflation had risen, from an 8.3% annualized pace to 8.6%. The surprise report increased pressure on the central bank, which has been criticized for waiting too long to address rising prices, to take more dramatic action. “The Fed is behind the curve on inflation and it knows it,” Greg McBride, senior vice president and chief financial analyst for Bankrate.com, told VOA. “Given the ugly inflation report from last week,” he said, a half-point increase would have felt insufficient. The Fed tries hard not to surprise the financial markets and prefers to signal its rate changes well in advance through “forward guidance” that lets market participants know what to expect. In his remarks Wednesday, Powell stressed that the circumstances under which the Fed took its decisions on rates was very uncommon, with the Labor Department’s surprising inflation data coming just days before the FOMC was set to meet. Strong economy During his remarks, Powell several times stressed that while inflation is high and consumer sentiment is low, the underlying U.S. economy is still strong, with demand for goods and services remaining high. “We're not seeing a broad slowdown,” he said. “We see job growth slowing, but it's still at quite robust levels. We see the economy slowing a bit, but still, healthy growth levels.” The Fed chair pushed back against concerns that higher interest rates could damage the economy, pointing out that while rates are rising, they are doing so from a historically low starting point — the Fed held rates at near zero through much of the pandemic and of the last decade. “There's a lot going on,” Powell said. “There are a lot of flows back and forth, but ultimately, it does appear that the U.S. economy is in a strong position, and well-positioned to deal with higher interest rates.” Unemployment increase expected As part of the post-FOMC meeting presentation, the Fed released its Summary of Economic Projections, which contains the committee members’ expectations about a number of economic indicators over the coming years, one of which is the unemployment level. Employment levels in the U.S. have been one of the major success stories of the pandemic recovery. After spiking to a post-World War II high of 14.7% in April 2020, the jobless rate in the U.S. began to plummet and hit 3.6% in May, just one-tenth of a percent above the level in the months before the pandemic. Looking forward, though, the members of the FOMC expect that the U.S. unemployment rate will begin rising as interest rates rise, perhaps to above 4% by 2024, with inflation rates down to 2%. “A 4.1% unemployment rate, with inflation well on its way to 2%, I think that would be a successful outcome,” Powell said. “We don't seek to put people out of work,” he added. “Of course, we never think too many people are working and fewer people need to have jobs. But we also think that you really cannot have the kind of labor market we want without price stability.” Recession worries remain In their efforts to tame inflation, Powell and his colleagues at the Fed have been aiming for what economists characterize as a “soft landing.” That is, a cooling of demand that slows price rises but does not reverse economic growth and push the country into a recession. Asked about the likelihood of a soft landing on Tuesday, Powell said, “That is our objective, and I do think it's possible.” However, he said that events such as supply shocks caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and pandemic-related lockdowns in major Chinese manufacturing hubs make predictions difficult. “Events of the last few months have raised the degree of difficulty and created great challenges,” he said, adding, “There's a much bigger chance now that it will depend on factors that we don't control.” Despite the Fed chair’s assessment that it remains possible to avoid a recession, others said they were not convinced that getting back to 2% inflation by 2024 is possible any other way. “It’s hard to see how we get to that level without a recession,” Bankrate’s McBride told VOA.

International Edition

Voice of America’s immigration news - June 15, 2022 - 23:30
International Edition delivers insight into world news through eye-witnesses, correspondent reports and analysis from experts and news makers. We also keep you in touch with social media, science and entertainment trends.

Reports: Chinese Authorities Using COVID-Tracking App to Thwart Protesters

Voice of America’s immigration news - June 15, 2022 - 23:25
During the early months of the pandemic, the Chinese government developed a color-coded smartphone app to track the movement of people in its effort to control the spread of COVID-19 and implement its zero-COVID policy. This week, however, media reports surfaced that authorities in Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan province, were now using the required codes to restrict the movement of people upset because local banks had frozen their deposits. Hundreds of depositors who had lost access to their funds had planned to travel to Zhengzhou on Monday, only to find their health codes had suddenly turned red. This meant they couldn't travel, and the protests fizzled. The red code seemed to target only depositors, according to CNN. VOA Mandarin asked China's Foreign Ministry for comment on the government's alleged new use for the app but received no comment. The state-run Global Times ran an editorial on Tuesday saying, "The health code is a technical means designed to make the public compromise some personal information rights to comply with the needs of society's public health security. It can only be used for epidemic prevention purposes. It is the responsibility of the relevant authorities to protect the privacy of citizens to the greatest extent during the epidemic prevention process." Hu Xijin, the former editor-in-chief of Global Times, posted on his Weibo microblog that the "red code issue is very disturbing," and that any non-COVID-related use would be a "clear violation" of virus prevention measures. Ever since China began promoting the portable and personalized health codes in response to the coronavirus outbreak, some people have speculated that the technology could be used as a political tool to restrict mobility. The app tracks a user's travel, contact history and biometric data, such as temperature, through a smartphone. Alex Gladstein, chief strategy officer at the New York-based Human Rights Foundation, said on Twitter, "I would have actually thought this happened more routinely in the past two years but apparently this is a watershed moment for using health tools to crack down on dissent." Another comment came from James Palmer, a former Beijing resident who is now deputy editor at Foreign Policy, who tweeted, "This is significant because — afaik (as far as I know) — it's the first clear story we have of the health code system being used for non-Covid political control." The app uses a QR code to track a user's movements in order to monitor exposure to known cases of the virus, according to a blog post at Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank. Authorities throughout China required residents to provide their names and ID numbers and register for facial recognition to obtain the QR code linked to their identity. If the QR code glows green, the user has had no contact with an infected person and can move around. An amber code means the user is required to quarantine at home for seven to 14 days, Those with red codes are to be treated and quarantined either at home or in a centralized location, according to CSIS. It has become routine for Chinese to show the code in order to gain entry to housing compounds, theaters and restaurants, and public transportation. According to reports by Reuters and other media, the depositors who had planned to protest in Zhengzhou said their most recent COVID-19 test results were negative, and that officials refused to explain why their health codes turned red. Rina Chandran, a journalist at Thomson Reuters Foundation in India, tweeted, "This is what can happen when the govt controls your data: #China Covid app overnight restricts residents who need the health code to enter buildings and shops, use public transport, or leave the city." The Henan Provincial Health Commission told The Paper, a state-run news website, that it was "investigating and verifying" the complaints from depositors who received red codes. Anouk Eigenraam, China correspondent at Het Financieele Dagblad/Algemeen Dagblad, tweeted, "This red health codes is exactly the reason why China will keep this 0 covid alive a long time. It's to useful as a tool for control. I've been saying this for a year and many people kept saying 'but the economy', well as we saw they're very willing to take a hit."  

VOA Newscasts

Voice of America’s immigration news - June 15, 2022 - 23:00
Give us 5 minutes, and we'll give you the world. Around the clock, Voice of America keeps you in touch with the latest news. We bring you reports from our correspondents and interviews with newsmakers from across the world.

Brazil Says Suspect Confesses to Killing Pair Missing in Amazon

Voice of America’s immigration news - June 15, 2022 - 22:49
A federal police investigator said Wednesday night a suspect confessed to fatally shooting an Indigenous expert and a journalist in a remote part of the Amazon and took officers to where the bodies were buried. Police said at a news conference in the Amazon city of Manaus that the prime suspect in the case confessed Tuesday night and detailed what happened to the pair who went missing June 5. The federal investigator, Eduardo Alexandre Fontes, said Amarildo da Costa de Oliveira, 41, nicknamed Pelado, told officers he used a firearm to kill Indigenous expert Bruno Pereira of Brazil and freelance reporter Dom Phillips of Britain. Another officer, Guilherme Torres of the Amazonas state police, said Pelado took police to a spot Wednesday where they recovered human remains. The remains had not yet been positively identified, Torres said. "We found the bodies 3 kilometers into the woods," the investigator said. He said other arrests would be made soon in the case. Torres said the missing men's boat had not yet been found, but police knew the area where it purportedly was hidden by those involved in the crime. "They put bags of dirt on the boat so it would sink," he said. As federal police announced they would hold a news conference, colleagues of Pereira called a vigil outside the headquarters of the Brazilian government's Indigenous affairs agency in Brasilia. Pereira was on leave from the agency. Pereira, 41, and Phillips, 57, were last seen on their boat in a river near the entrance of the Javari Valley Indigenous Territory, which borders Peru and Colombia. That area has seen violent conflicts between fishermen, poachers and government agents. Developments began Wednesday when federal police officers took a suspect they didn't identify at the time out on the river toward search parties looking for Phillips and Pereira. An Associated Press photographer in Atalaia do Norte, the city closest to the search zone, witnessed police taking the suspect, who was in a hood. On Tuesday, police said they had arrested a second suspect in connection with the disappearance. He was identified as Oseney da Costa de Oliveira, 41, a fisherman and a brother of Pelado, who police had characterized as their main suspect. De Oliveira told AP on Friday that he had visited Pelado in jail and was told that local police had tortured him in attempts to get a confession. De Oliveira said his brother was innocent. Indigenous people who were with Pereira and Phillips have said that Pelado brandished a rifle at them on the day before the two men disappeared. Pelado's family had told AP that he denied any wrongdoing and claimed police tortured him to try to get a confession. Official search teams had concentrated their efforts around a spot in the Itaquai river where a tarp from the boat used by the missing men was found Saturday by volunteers from the Matis Indigenous group. "We used a little canoe to go to the shallow water. Then we found a tarp, shorts and a spoon," one of the volunteers, Binin Beshu Matis, told The Associated Press. Authorities began scouring the area and discovered a backpack, laptop and other personal belongings submerged underwater Sunday. Police said that evening that they had identified the items as the belongings of both missing men, including a health card and clothes that belonged to Pereira. The backpack was determined to belong to Phillips. Police previously reported finding traces of blood in Pelado's boat. Officers also found organic matter of apparent human origin in the river that was sent for analysis. Authorities have said a main line of the police investigation into the disappearance has pointed to an international network that pays poor fishermen to fish illegally in the Javari Valley reserve, which is Brazil's second-largest Indigenous territory. One of the most valuable targets is the world's largest freshwater fish with scales, the arapaima. It weighs up to 200 kilograms and can reach 3 meters. The fish is sold in nearby cities, including Leticia, Colombia, Tabatinga, Brazil, and Iquitos, Peru. Pereira, who previously led the local bureau of the Brazilian government's Indigenous agency, known as FUNAI, has taken part in several operations against illegal fishing. In such operations, as a rule the fishing gear is seized or destroyed, while the fishermen are fined and briefly detained. Only the Indigenous can legally fish in their territories. "The crime's motive is some personal feud over fishing inspection," Atalaia do Norte's Mayor Denis Paiva speculated to reporters without providing more details. AP had access to information police shared with Indigenous leadership. While some police, the mayor and others in the region link the pair's disappearances to the "fish mafia," federal police have not ruled rule out other lines of investigation, such as narco trafficking. Torres, the federal police officer, reiterated that point Wednesday night, saying he could not discuss specifics of the investigation.

Biden Celebrates Pride Month Amid Attacks on LGBTQI+ Communities 

Voice of America’s immigration news - June 15, 2022 - 22:24
President Joe Biden said he’s marking this year’s Pride month celebration with more than rainbows and decorations. On Wednesday, he signed an executive order aimed at combating bills opposed by LGBTQI+ communities that have been introduced in state legislatures across the country.  The administration says the new order takes steps to advance equality and address discrimination, including preventing so-called conversion therapy that seeks to change the sexual or gender identities of LGBTQI+ youth.  [[https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/presidential-actions/2022/06/15/executive-order-on-advancing-equality-for-lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender-queer-and-intersex-individuals/]]  “Today, I'm about to sign an executive order that directs key federal agencies to protect our communities from those hateful attacks and advance equality for families," said Biden. "My order will use the full force of the federal government to prevent inhumane practices of conversion therapy. This is the first time the federal government is aiming a coordinated response against this dangerous, discredited practice.”  June is the month in the United States when LGBTQI+ communities celebrate their equality and increased visibility. Rainbows are seen as a symbol of the wide spectrum of human sexuality and gender identity.  But first lady Jill Biden said that several conservative states have recently pushed laws that serve to marginalize sexual minorities.  “We know that in places across the country like Florida, Texas or Alabama, rights are under attack,” she said. “And we know that in small towns and big cities, prejudice and discrimination still lurk.”  Dwayne Kwaysee Wright, an assistant professor focusing on diversity at The George Washington University, said Biden’s order is a step against the recent bills targeting LGBTQI+ rights from Republican state legislatures nationwide.  In Florida, legislation to go into effect July 1 would prohibit classroom discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity for children in kindergarten through third grade. And Texas Governor Greg Abbott recently directed family services to investigate as child abuse parents who provide gender-affirming care for their children.  “There are policies that say ‘don't say gay’ in Florida,’” he said. “There are policies that say if you're raising a transgender kid in Texas, we're going to investigate you. I think the administration sees this, and they're going to do all they can hopefully to try to prevent, mitigate and roll back this attack on LGBT citizens here.”  The LGBTQI+ community also faces growing threats from far-right extremist groups. On Saturday, 31 members of a white supremacist group called the Patriot Front were arrested in Idaho and charged with conspiracy to riot — a misdemeanor — for allegedly planning to disrupt a Pride event.  Amid these threats, the administration has been keen to underscore a message of inclusivity.  “We work around the globe to protect LGBTQI+ persons from violence and abuse, criminalization, discrimination and stigma and empower local LGBTQI+ movements and persons,” said Karine Jean-Pierre, the first Black woman and openly gay person to serve as White House press secretary. “We do this through bilateral and multilateral channels.”  She did not say whether Biden will deliver that message when he meets with Mohammed bin Salman in Saudi Arabia next month. Kingdom officials recently seized rainbow-colored toys and clothing from shops in the capital, Riyadh, as part of a crackdown on homosexuality.  But on Wednesday, the message from the White House was clear. Hundreds of guests crowded into the rainbow-bedecked White House to see Javier Gomez, an 18-year-old Floridian and recent high school graduate, introduce the president.  Gomez helped organize the statewide student walkouts over the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. On Wednesday, he stood beside the Bidens.  “My presence here is a testament that we are fighting back,” said Gomez, who plans to attend the Fashion Institute of Technology in the fall. “Because our lives are glorious, beautiful and worthy. We deserve respect and love. And until we have that, we will fight. We will continue to fight, to fight for liberation.” Patsy Widakuswara contributed to this report.

VOA Newscasts

Voice of America’s immigration news - June 15, 2022 - 22:00
Give us 5 minutes, and we'll give you the world. Around the clock, Voice of America keeps you in touch with the latest news. We bring you reports from our correspondents and interviews with newsmakers from across the world.

Top Official Links US Gun Laws and Domestic Terror Attacks

Voice of America’s immigration news - June 15, 2022 - 21:48
The link between domestic terror attacks and easy access to powerful guns is “beyond dispute,” according to a top U.S. Justice Department official. "We have to be clear about this as a nation," Assistant Attorney General Matthew Olsen told an audience in Washington on Wednesday, the same day the department made the suspect in a mass shooting in Buffalo, New York, eligible for the death penalty. "The ability of violent extremists to acquire military-grade weapons in this country contributes significantly to their ability to kill and inflict harm on a massive scale," said Olsen, a former director of the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center who now heads the Justice Department's national security division. "It is, I think, inarguable that the access to powerful weapons in this country gives domestic violence extremists the ability to carry out attacks on a scale that they couldn't otherwise carry out and that we don't see in other countries." Also Wednesday, Justice Department lawyers filed federal hate crimes charges against 18-year-old Payton Gendron, accused of gunning down 10 Black people during an attack at a Buffalo, New York, supermarket on May 14. According to prosecutors and law enforcement officials, Gendron's gun, a Bushmaster XM-15 rifle had racial slurs written on it as well as the phrase, "The Great Replacement," referencing a theory espoused by many violent white supremacists. Gendron also wrote a self-described manifesto detailing his plan to kill Black people, saying his goal was to "kill as many blacks as possible." "Hate-fueled acts of violence terrorize not only the individuals who are all attacked but entire communities," U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said Wednesday after meeting with survivors and families of the victims. "No one in this country should have to live in fear that they will go to work or shop at the grocery store, and they will be attacked by someone who hates them because of the color of their skin. Someone who commits that act because he subscribes to the vile theory that only people like him belong in this country," he added. Gendron previously pleaded not guilty to charges of domestic terrorism, including hate-motivated domestic terrorism and murder. The recent spate of gun violence has prompted U.S. lawmakers to reexamine the country's gun laws, long a hot-button political issue. Top Democrats and Republicans expressed optimism a compromise involving several modest measures could be reached by the end of this week. U.S. officials have repeatedly been warning of a dynamic and heightened threat environment and the possibility of domestic terror attacks, recently extending a threat advisory for another six months. Earlier this year, U.S. officials warned the number of domestic terrorism cases opened by the FBI had more than doubled since March 2020, prompting the Justice Department to create a domestic terrorism unit to specifically handle the resulting prosecutions. In January, FBI Executive Assistant Director Jill Sanborn told lawmakers that domestic extremists, including racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists and anti-government or anti-authority violent extremists, "will continue to pose the most serious threats." On Wednesday, the Justice Department's Olsen warned that the threat from domestic violent extremists and domestic terrorism "has increased in an alarming way." Olsen also expressed concern about the known links between white supremacist groups in the U.S. and those abroad. Earlier Wednesday, the U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned two supporters of the Russian Imperial Movement (RIM), which was designated by the State Department as a global terror organization in 2020. One of the individuals, Stanislav Shevchuk, a Europe-based RIM representative, traveled to the US in 2017 "with the objective of establishing connections," according to a Treasury Department statement.  

In Ukraine, Mines Take Lives Even After Fighting Moves on

Voice of America’s immigration news - June 15, 2022 - 21:29
The truck driver had the radio on, his daughter's stuffed toy keeping him company, and was bouncing his lumbering vehicle down one of the innumerable dirt tracks in Ukraine that are vital thoroughfares in the country's vast agricultural heartlands.  Then the right rear wheel hit a Soviet-era TM-62 anti-tank mine. The explosion blew Vadym Schvydchenko and his daughter's toy clean out of the cabin. The truck, and his livelihood, went up in flames.  Astoundingly, the 40-year-old escaped with just minor leg and head wounds. Others haven't been so lucky. Russia's war in Ukraine is spreading a deadly litter of mines, bombs and other explosives. They are killing civilians, disrupting planting, complicating the rebuilding of homes and villages, and will continue taking lives and limbs long after the fighting stops.  Often, blast victims are farmers and other rural workers with little choice but to use mined roads and plow mined fields, in a country relied on for grain and other crops that feed the world.  Schvydchenko said he'll steer clear of dirt tracks for the foreseeable future, although they're sometimes the only route to fields and rural settlements. Mushroom-picking in the woods has also lost its appeal to him.  "I'm afraid something like this can happen again," he said.  Ukraine is now one of the most mined countries in Europe. The east of the country, fought over with Russia-backed separatists since 2014, was contaminated by mines even before the February 24 invasion multiplied the dangers there and elsewhere.  Ukraine's State Emergency Service said last week that 300,000 square kilometers — the size of Arizona or Italy — need to be cleared. The ongoing fighting will only expand the area.  The war's deadly remnants will "continue to be a hidden threat for many years to come," said Mairi Cunningham, who leads clearance efforts in Ukraine for The Halo Trust, a de=mining NGO that got $4 million in U.S. government funding in May for its work in the country.  There's no complete government count of mine deaths since the invasion, but every week authorities have reported cases of civilians killed and wounded. Cunningham said her group has counted 52 civilian deaths and 65 injuries since February and "that's likely underreported." The majority were from anti-tank mines, in agricultural areas, she said.  On a mobile app called "Demining Ukraine" that officials launched last month, people can send photos, video and the geolocation of explosive objects they come across, for subsequent removal. The app got more than 2,000 tip-offs in its first week.  The track where Schvydchenko had his brush with death is still used, despite now being marked with bright red warning signs bearing a white skull and crossbones. It scythes through corn fields on the outskirts of Makariv — a once comely town west of Kyiv that bears the battle scars of Russia's failed assault on the capital in the war's early weeks.  Even with the Russian soldiers gone, danger lurks in the surrounding poppy meadows, fields and woodlands. Deminers found another explosive charge — undetonated — just meters away from Schvydchenko's blown-up truck. On another track outside the nearby village of Andriivka, three people were killed in March by a mine that ripped open their minivan, spewing its cargo of food jars and tin cans now rusting in the dirt.  In a field close by, a tractor driver was wounded in May by an anti-tank mine that hurled the wreckage onto another mine, which also detonated. Halo Trust workers are now methodically scouring that site — where Russian troops dug foxholes — for any other devices.  Cunningham said the chaotic way the battle for Kyiv unfolded complicates the task of finding mines. Russian forces thrust toward the capital but were repelled by Ukrainian defenders.  "Often it was Russians held an area, put some anti-vehicle mines nearby — a few in and around their position — and then left," she said. "It's scattered."  Mines are still being laid on the battlefields, now concentrated to the east and south where Russia has focused its offensive since its soldiers withdrew from around Kyiv and the north, badly bloodied.  A Ukrainian unit that buried TM-62 mines on a forest track in the eastern Donbas region this week, in holes scooped out with spades, told The Associated Press that the aim was to prevent Russian troops from advancing toward their trenches.  Russian booby-trapping has sometimes had no clear military rhyme or reason, Ukrainian officials say. In towns around Kyiv, explosive experts found devices in unpredictable places.  When Tetiana Kutsenko, 71, got back her home near Makariv that Russian troops had occupied, she found bloodstains and an apparent bullet hole on the bathroom floor and tripwires in her back yard.  The thin strands of copper wire had been rigged to explosive detonators.  "I'm afraid to go to the woods now," she said. "Now, I'm looking down every time I take a step."

VOA Newscasts

Voice of America’s immigration news - June 15, 2022 - 21:00
Give us 5 minutes, and we'll give you the world. Around the clock, Voice of America keeps you in touch with the latest news. We bring you reports from our correspondents and interviews with newsmakers from across the world.

2 US Veterans from Alabama Reported Missing in Ukraine 

Voice of America’s immigration news - June 15, 2022 - 20:58
Two U.S. veterans from Alabama who were in Ukraine assisting in the war against Russia haven't been heard from in days and are missing, members of the state's congressional delegation said Wednesday. Relatives of Andy Tai Ngoc Huynh, 27, of Trinity and Alexander Drueke, 39, of Tuscaloosa have been in contact with both Senate and House offices seeking information about the men's whereabouts, press aides said. Rep. Robert Aderholt said Huynh had volunteered to fight with the Ukrainian army against Russia, but relatives haven't heard from him since June 8, when he was in the Kharkiv region of northeastern Ukraine, which is near the Russian border. Huynh and Drueke were together, an aide to Aderholt said. "As you can imagine, his loved ones are very concerned about him," Aderholt said in a statement. "My office has placed inquires with both the United States Department of State and the Federal Bureau of Investigation trying to get any information possible." Rep. Terri Sewell said Drueke's mother reached out to her office earlier this week after she lost contact with her son. The U.S. State Department said it was looking into reports that Russian or Russian-backed separatist forces in Ukraine had captured at least two American citizens. If confirmed, they would be the first Americans fighting for Ukraine known to have been captured since the war began Feb. 24. "We are closely monitoring the situation and are in contact with Ukrainian authorities," the department said in a statement emailed to reporters. It declined further comment, citing privacy considerations. John Kirby, a national security spokesman at the White House, said Wednesday that the administration wasn't able to confirm the reports about missing Americans. "We'll do the best we can to monitor this and see what we can learn about it," he said. However, he reiterated his warnings against Americans going to Ukraine. "Ukraine is not the place for Americans to be traveling," he said. "If you feel passionate about supporting Ukraine, there's any number of ways to do that that that are safer and just as effective." A court in Donetsk, under separatist control, sentenced two Britons and a Moroccan man to death last week. U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger tweeted that the Americans "have enlisted in the Ukrainian army, and thus are afforded legal combatant protections. As such, we expect members of the Legion to be treated in accordance with the Geneva convention." It was unclear whether Kinzinger, an Illinois Republican, had any further information about the men. He was commenting on a tweet sent earlier Wednesday by Task Force Baguette, a group of former U.S. and French servicemen, saying that two Americans fighting with them were captured a week ago. The group said Ukrainian intelligence confirmed the information. Early in the war, Ukraine created the International Legion for foreign citizens who wanted to help defend against the Russian invasion.

VOA Newscasts

Voice of America’s immigration news - June 15, 2022 - 20:00
Give us 5 minutes, and we'll give you the world. Around the clock, Voice of America keeps you in touch with the latest news. We bring you reports from our correspondents and interviews with newsmakers from across the world.

Witnesses to Testify How Trump Implored Pence to Upend 2020 Election

Voice of America’s immigration news - June 15, 2022 - 19:42
The panel of lawmakers investigating the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol last year is set Thursday to hear testimony about how former President Donald Trump pressured then-Vice President Mike Pence to thwart Congress from certifying that Democrat Joe Biden had won the presidency. Pence was presiding over Congress as lawmakers were in the initial stages of the state-by-state count of Electoral College votes to verify Biden’s victory when about 2,000 Trump supporters stormed the Capitol to disrupt the proceeding. Trump, in private and publicly at a rally near the White House just before Congress convened, had implored Pence to reject the electoral count from states where Biden narrowly won and send the results back to the states where Republican-controlled legislatures could order another election or submit the names of Trump electors to replace those favoring Biden. But Pence, a Trump loyalist during their four years in the White House, refused, saying his role was limited by the Constitution to simply open the envelopes containing the Electoral College vote counts from each state. “I had no right to overturn the election," Pence has since said, even though his role required him to also certify his own defeat to Democrat Kamala Harris, now the U.S. vice president. With Pence announcing ahead of time that he would not accede to Trump’s demand, some of the rioters at the Capitol chanted “Hang Mike Pence!” as they stormed past security barriers, scuffling with police and ransacking congressional offices. Some erected a gallows on the National Mall in sight of the Capitol. Republican Representative Liz Cheney, the vocally anti-Trump vice chairperson of the House of Representatives panel investigating the insurrection, said last week that Trump, watching the mayhem unfold on television from the White House, told aides he agreed with the idea that Pence should be hanged. “Maybe our supporters have the right idea," he allegedly said. “Mike Pence deserves it.”  Cheney also said, “President Trump believed his supporters at the Capitol … and I quote, ‘Were doing what they should be doing.’” “This is what he told his staff as they pleaded with him to call off the mob, to instruct his supporters to leave,” Cheney said. Briefing reporters ahead of Thursday's hearing, committee staffers said the session will focus in part on how Trump's pressure campaign put Pence's life in danger. "You'll see new materials that documented that day that documented the vice president where he was, what he was doing," one committee aide said, speaking on condition of anonymity. Marc Short, who served as Pence's chief of staff and reportedly alerted the Secret Service to a potential security threat to Pence's life, will not be testifying live but clips of his videotaped deposition will be aired during Thursday's hearing, the aide said. In a video message previewing the public hearing, Cheney referenced a federal judge's recent ruling that Trump's arm twisting of Pence likely violated two federal criminal statutes. In response to the committee's hearings, Trump issued a 12-page statement on Monday, calling the Jan. 6 investigation an attempt by Democrats to prevent him from running for reelection in 2024. Democratic Congressman Pete Aguilar of California will lead Thursday's presentation. Thursday’s hearing is the third in a series scheduled for the month that lays out how the insurrection occurred and Trump’s role in it by inviting his supporters to come to Washington and “fight like hell” to keep him in office. More than 800 of them have been arrested on charges ranging from trespassing and vandalizing the Capitol to attacking police. Some ringleaders have been charged with seditious conspiracy. On Monday, the House panel showed videotaped testimony from numerous White House and political aides saying they told Trump on election night to hold off on declaring victory, advice he ignored when he declared victory in the early hours of Nov. 4, 2020. Former Attorney General William Barr and numerous aides have told the committee that in the weeks between the election and the insurrection, they told Trump his election fraud claims were baseless and that he had lost the election. Barr said in taped testimony aired by the committee that many of Trump’s claims of voting irregularities were "completely bogus and silly." "Obviously, he lost the election," Barr said. "There was zero base of evidence sufficient to overturn the election." VOA’s Masood Farivar contributed to this report.    

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Voice of America’s immigration news - June 15, 2022 - 19:00
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