In This Episode
- A bipartisan immigration deal in Congress could be announced as soon as this week. The agreement would give the executive branch the legal authority to suspend asylum when migrant crossings surpass a certain threshold, among other things. That’s the part of the deal that President Biden referred to when he said late last week that he’d “shut down the border” if this new bill makes it into law.
- A new report by the Associated Press found that prison labor is connected to hundreds of millions of dollars worth of food and agricultural products sold by some of the country’s biggest brands. It’s the latest indication that prison labor is used more widely than many people realize – and that these companies benefit from it while also trying to shield their connection to the public.
- And in headlines: Illinois could be the next state to take Donald Trump off their presidential primary ballot, Bayer was ordered to pay $2.25 billion to a man who said he developed cancer from using the company’s weed killer, and a New Jersey animal shelter said it would neuter feral cats named after people’s exes for Valentine’s Day.
- AP: “Prisoners in the US are part of a hidden workforce linked to hundreds of popular food brands” – http://tinyurl.com/ypxooooo
- Louisiana Illuminator: “Louisiana still leads nation for state prisoners held in local jails” – http://tinyurl.com/yr9wzyvr
- What A Day – YouTube – https://www.youtube.com/@whatadaypodcast
Follow us on Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/crookedmedia/
Josie Duffy Rice: It’s Tuesday, January 30th. I’m Josie Duffy Rice.
Tre’vell Anderson: And I’m Tre’vell Andersen. And this is What a Day, the pod that should be excited that an exploration company recently announced it may have found Amelia Earhart’s aircraft at the bottom of the Pacific.
Josie Duffy Rice: But I know at least one host who says, let her go and that host is me.
Tre’vell Anderson: What do you have against Amelia Earhart?
Josie Duffy Rice: The Malaysia airplane is still missing. [laughter] Y’all want to find some missing planes? I’ll get a list together. [music break] On today’s show, a new AP investigation found the extensive amount of prison labor used to prop up the agricultural industry, it’s basically modern day slavery. Plus, Illinois officials decide today whether Trump should stay on the state’s primary ballot.
Tre’vell Anderson: But first, let’s talk about the U.S. border with Mexico, because a bipartisan immigration deal could be announced as soon as this week. I will get to that in a moment. But as we know, border security is always a contentious political issue. And we recently discussed the Supreme Court ruling that allowed federal officials to remove the barbed wire that was placed along the southern border by Texas. Well, now, Republican attorneys general across the country are standing with Texas and declaring, quote, “If the Biden administration won’t do its job to secure our border and keep Americans safe, it should step aside to let the states do the job for them.” Led by Iowa and Utah, 26 Republican attorneys general said in a letter Monday to President Biden and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas that the federal government isn’t doing anything to stop what they’re calling a crisis. In December, for example, US immigration officials processed more than 302,000 migrants along the southern border, which was a record high.
Josie Duffy Rice: You know what really gets my goat about this? That’s the first time I’ve ever used that phrase in my life.
Tre’vell Anderson: Mm hmm.
Josie Duffy Rice: These Republicans saying, oh, we want to solve the problem. But there’s never any discussion about why people are risking life, limb and health to cross the border. There’s never any kind of interrogation about what is the source of the issue. It’s just playing prison politics with each other, and it’s not the vibe I want in 2024. Okay. So going back to Congress, we have spoken on this show before about how the GOP was at one point withholding money to support Ukraine and Israel unless some deeply conservative immigration policies got passed. We kind of passed that hurdle. But now there are reports of a deal. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
Tre’vell Anderson: Yeah. So as that group of Republican attorneys general are, you know, doing what they’re doing, the Biden administration and a small group of bipartisan lawmakers have actually been engaged in weeks of closed door negotiations, trying to come to some sort of agreement on how to manage the unprecedented levels of people coming into the country without legal authorization. CBS news described this impending deal, which could be announced this week as being the quote, “first major bipartisan overhaul of the nation’s immigration system since the 1990s.”
Josie Duffy Rice: Okay, so we hear the terms bipartisan. We get excited. However, there have been some bipartisan bad deals in our day as well. We know that.
Tre’vell Anderson: Absolutely.
Josie Duffy Rice: So break it down for us. Who’s involved? What’s the deal entail? What’s going on?
Tre’vell Anderson: The folks in the room with the Biden administration working out the kinks of the deal are GOP Senator James Lankford, Independent Senator Kyrsten Sinema and Democratic Senator Chris Murphy. He was on CNN’s state of the Union this past weekend. Take a listen.
[clip of Senator Chris Murphy] We are sort of finalizing the last pieces of text right now. This bill could be ready to be on the floor of the United States Senate next week, but it won’t be if Republicans decide that they want to keep this issue unsettled for political purposes.
Tre’vell Anderson: So the deal would do a few things, but perhaps the biggest change is that it would give the executive branch, aka the president, the legal authority to suspend asylum when migrant crossings surpass a certain threshold. That threshold would be when the daily average over a week of migrant crossings hits 5000 or 8500 in a single day. And there’s supposed to be a limit on the number of days each year the president could invoke this authority, and when invoked, migrants would face swift deportation to Mexico or their home country. It’s this part of the deal that had President Biden late last week saying that he’d, quote, “shut down the border” if this new bill makes it into law.
Josie Duffy Rice: The idea that if you need asylum, if you happen to cross the border after a certain number of people, you don’t need asylum anymore? Or the idea that like if you’re the 5,000th and first person to cross, then you might get deported back to your home country in which you are seeking asylum from? People seem to have forgotten what asylum is.
Tre’vell Anderson: Yeah.
Josie Duffy Rice: I feel like I’m losing it, but I’m not losing it. They’re losing it. So what else is going to be in the deal? Tell me so my blood pressure can keep going up.
Tre’vell Anderson: [laugh] Well, on that point specifically, you’re absolutely right. The way they’re setting this up, somebody who comes in after that threshold would automatically get deported back. They do have these special circumstances that they say that folks can be approved in emergency situations. But I think the point that you just made there is really right. And then some of the other things that they are reportedly discussing, including reducing the asylum review process to six months, it’s currently a process that could take a few years for folks. They also want to expand the scope of authority for expedited removals. They want to hire more asylum officers, border agents and immigration judges to speed things up, as well as raising the standard of proof in asylum interviews. And for migrants who pass their initial screenings, they’d be released with immediate eligibility to work in the U.S. that’s something the Democrats have been pushing for. That’s front of mind for them. There’s also a proposal to provide lawyers to asylum seekers, as well as one that would limit what’s called immigration parole authority. That is how the Biden administration has been able to resettle more than 1 million refugees and migrants. So all of those many different things I just mentioned, there’s really a mixed bag of options, some conservative things, some things that the Democrats really wanted. But the deal, notably, at least to me, would not give legal status to any of the estimated 11 million immigrants living in the US, undocumented, including the dreamers. Still, President Biden called the emerging deal the quote, “toughest and fairest set of reforms to secure the border we’ve ever had in our country.”
Josie Duffy Rice: A.) I don’t know that that’s saying much. B.) If the Republicans are signing on, I don’t feel great about it, but we will see. Does this deal even have a chance of passing, given what we’re dealing with here?
Tre’vell Anderson: It’s not likely, largely because we know that the Republican controlled House under Speaker Mike Johnson has already been pushing for even stricter changes to the asylum system and immigration policies overall. And then we have that group of far righters, you know, in the House who are holding their votes hostage and don’t believe in compromise.
Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah.
Tre’vell Anderson: Not to mention the presumed Republican presidential candidate, Donald Trump has said that he’d quote, “rather have no bill than a bad bill.” So, you know, a comment like that just put a couple new batteries in the backs of folks.
Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah. Totally.
Tre’vell Anderson: So, you know, who knows, maybe they’ll surprise us. Maybe they will vote in favor of it.
Josie Duffy Rice: They’re not going to give Biden a win. But what we do know is it has nothing to do with whether or not the bill is good, helps people, whatever. It’s the politics. So now on to a news story about prison labor. Tre’vell, are you familiar with Angola? The prison, not the country.
Tre’vell Anderson: No, I–
Josie Duffy Rice: Okay.
Tre’vell Anderson: I don’t know neither one of them. I am particularly glad that this is not a geography test though.
Josie Duffy Rice: I too am glad this is not a geography test. [laughter] For people who do not know. Angola is largely considered one of, if not the absolute worst prison in America. It has a little bit of competition, but it’s up there. There are some particularly harrowing stories about Angola, where the state’s death row is, there are about 6300 prisoners there. It’s at a former slave plantation in Louisiana, and in fact, it is called Angola, because most of the slaves who used to be on the actual plantation were from Angola. And even though slavery, Emancipation Proclamation was a while ago.
Tre’vell Anderson: Yeah.
Josie Duffy Rice: They didn’t change the name.
Tre’vell Anderson: Of course not.
Josie Duffy Rice: So that’s what we’re working with. People incarcerated there are still are forced to work the fields day in and day out for pennies. Incarcerated people have had to do jobs like make coffins for the people on death row facing execution. Just very traumatic and hard stuff. And it’s also the only prison I know of with a gift shop. Yes, you can go to the gift shop at Louisiana State Penitentiary. Just really wild stuff. Clint Smith, who did the podcast Justice in America with me, has an incredible chapter in his book about Angola, I highly recommend it, How the Word Is Passed. That’s all to say that yesterday, a new report by The Associated Press found that prison labor is connected to hundreds of millions of dollars worth of food and agricultural products sold by some of the country’s biggest brands, and Angola is one of the many prisons using incarcerated people to work without pay to benefit corporations. This is just like the latest indication that prison labor is used more widely than people outside of prison realize, and that these companies benefit from it while also trying to shield their connection to it from the public. Right?
Tre’vell Anderson: Yeah. I feel like the list of companies that we as good progressives and liberals are supposed to be boycotting keeps getting longer and longer.
Josie Duffy Rice: I know. You’re not going to like what I have to tell you.
Tre’vell Anderson: [laugh] Well, lay it on us. How widespread is this problem? Which companies are using prison labor? Let us know what it is.
Josie Duffy Rice: It’s not good. It’s a lot of companies, and it’s certainly some companies that own things you have in your fridge and your pantry right now. And that goes for everybody listening. The brands range from General Mills to Coca-Cola to McDonald’s, which right there, that’s a good 60% of my diet. Like we’re in serious trouble.
Tre’vell Anderson: Literally, same.
Josie Duffy Rice: Like it’s so bad and I understand that that’s not great about my diet, but I can’t change overnight. And that’s only the beginning. There are all these other brands, many of which you likely may have purchased in recent memory. The AP said that most of the companies it reached out to about this story did not respond. Big surprise. And even though agriculture makes up only a small, small fraction of the prison workforce, the report found that at least $200 million dollars worth of goods and products can be traced back to prison labor in the past six years. So it’s both like a wild amount, and also only the beginning of ways in which prison labor is exploited for corporate benefit. Wildly enough many of these companies have stated policies rejecting the use of prison labor, but they’re doing it secretly anyway. And chances are that the $200 million dollar figure that I just said is actually far below the real number, because it doesn’t account for tens of millions of dollars in sales to governments. So it’s not good.
Tre’vell Anderson: Yeah. And as you just mentioned, it’s not like these workers are being paid much if they’re being paid anything.
Josie Duffy Rice: Exactly. So most people working in prison are paid at best a few cents an hour for their labor. Like literally a few cents. Many are paid nothing at all. Some maybe get other benefits, like work for 30 years and they’ll give you six hours off your sentence or whatever it is. And others just are kind of forced. They’re in a pretty coercive situation. Without fail every time I talk about this, someone’s like, what do they even need money for? They’re in prison. So I would like to answer that. Right now. Everything in prison costs money and more money than it would cost you and me to do the same thing or use the same thing. So phone calls can be very expensive. Dollars per minute in some cases, anything from the commissary is marked up like crazy. You’re paying a wild amount of money for like one thing of Top Ramen or whatever.
Tre’vell Anderson: Yeah, my brother was incarcerated for entirely too long, and–
Josie Duffy Rice: Right.
Tre’vell Anderson: –when I tell you that we spent a lot of money just trying to make sure that he, you know, had some basic–
Josie Duffy Rice: Yes.
Tre’vell Anderson: –things like–
Josie Duffy Rice: Right.
Tre’vell Anderson: A bag of chips is like $5.
Josie Duffy Rice: Mm hmm.
Tre’vell Anderson: A T-shirt, you know.
Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah.
Tre’vell Anderson: Is like like–
Josie Duffy Rice: Right.
Tre’vell Anderson: Everything is overpriced.
Josie Duffy Rice: Right.
Tre’vell Anderson: Every single thing.
Josie Duffy Rice: Everything. It’s really upsetting. And it’s not just the pay like that’s part of it. But they don’t have basic labor protections if you’re in prison. Like they don’t have safety standards, they don’t have the ability to file an OSHA complaint about working conditions. There’s no worker’s comp. They’re often forced to work excessively long hours without breaks. Right. There aren’t like protections for your weekend. Like everything the labor movement has pulled off since the beginning of the labor movement, like basically doesn’t apply to people in prison. And at Angola in particular in that Louisiana heat, incarcerated people are in the fields working in over 100 degree weather, leading to heat stroke and other health issues. I mean, it’s just cruel. It’s deeply cruel.
Tre’vell Anderson: Yeah. And then meanwhile right, these companies are given a tax break for using the labor of incarcerated people, which, you know, I guess is an incentive for them, but is a really weird incentive to me.
Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah. Noted mom and pop shop Coca Cola [laughter] is getting a tax break. It’s terrible. And the way that these tax breaks are sold is like, oh, we can train people who are incarcerated to have a skill like HVAC, you know, repair or car repair, and then we’re benefiting them. But the truth is that so often this labor we’re talking about is unskilled labor and it’s labor nobody else wants to do. There is a reason that it’s being left to people who have no other choice, because it’s brutal. It’s really, really brutal.
Tre’vell Anderson: Yeah.
Josie Duffy Rice: In other Louisiana news Tre’vell, a recent report found that more than half of prisoners sentenced to state prison in Louisiana are forced to serve their time in local jails. This is a very wild statistic, and it’s a real indicator that things in Louisiana remain very, very wrong, even compared to the rest of America, where, as you know, the prison system is already particularly cruel.
Tre’vell Anderson: Yeah. And I feel like I hear a number of listeners in their head being like, oh, these are prisoners. What does it matter that they’re in the jail versus, you know, the prison?
Josie Duffy Rice: Right.
Tre’vell Anderson: So for those who don’t know, can you explain why it’s, you know, not ideal that a person would serve out their sentence in a local jail?
Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah, absolutely. So jail is a place for short term stays mostly. A night, two nights, five nights. It is not a place built for people to stay there long term. And so they’re often much worse than state prison. You might not have a real cell, for example. You might not have a real bed. You’re packed in with lots of other people. You have new roommates every single night. The issues that people are facing that lead them to kind of cycle in and out of jail might be ones that like, you’re not trying to sleep in the same room as them. You don’t have basic things like facilities, you don’t have dedicated outdoor space, you don’t have an expected schedule. You don’t have even things like health care, like prison health care is bad. It’s very bad. Jail health care is somehow even worse than that. So I once had someone tell me that they’d rather spend ten years upstate than one year in jail. And I’m sure that’s not everybody’s opinion, but it’s just to signal how much worse it is to spend that amount of time in jail.
Tre’vell Anderson: So what’s the reason behind this? Why are there so many state prisoners in the local jails?
Josie Duffy Rice: Louisiana has the highest incarceration rate in the country at last count, and it’s notoriously cheap, so it doesn’t have enough room to house all the people that it forces into prison. It is telling these people they have to go to prison and then saying, oh, we don’t have any room for you in prison. It’s just crazy. But they have one party who can really benefit from this arrangement, and that is sheriffs. Sheriffs run the local jails. Louisiana has some of the most brutal sheriffs in the country, and every time they house someone who should be in a state prison, they get money from the state. So basically, this arrangement lets the state get away with failing to build enough infrastructure, while still putting tons of people in prison. I don’t want the state to build more prisons, but then they have to stop sentencing all these people to prison, and it gives the sheriffs a benefit. They’re winning and it’s absolutely awful for people who have to endure it. We’ll link to both of these great stories that I just talked about in our show notes. And remember what we said about supporting journalism. Go give them a click. You can do it. That is the latest for now. We will be back after some ads. [music break]
Josie Duffy Rice: Let’s get to some headlines.
Josie Duffy Rice: The main United Nations relief agency, known as UNWRA, said yesterday that its funding could dry up by the end of February. That’s because over a dozen countries suspended their support of it after Israel’s accusation against some of the agency’s workers. On Friday, the Israel Defense Forces accused 12 employees of the agency of participating in Hamas’s October 7th attack, or in its aftermath, UNWRA fired several of those people. But it is still conducting an investigation into the claim. The accusation, however, led several countries, including the US, who is the agency’s largest donor, to pause their funding while investigations take place. There are about 13,000 UNWRA employees in Gaza right now, and 30,000 across the Middle East as a whole. All of those employees could lose their salaries if even a few donors don’t restore their funding. And keep in mind, UNWRA is the main agency coordinating and supporting the distribution of the very little aid that is able to come into Gaza, while also hosting 1.2 million people in schools and centers who have been displaced. If this agency goes under, it’s pretty unclear what other group could or will step in. So far, Israel’s invasion has displaced more than 80% of Gaza’s population, decimated their health system, starved civilians and killed more than 26,000 people.
Tre’vell Anderson: Illinois could be the next state to take Trump off their presidential primary ballot, after a retired state judge argued that the former president’s involvement in the January 6th insurrection should disqualify him from the race. The judge, Clark Erickson, made the recommendation to the Illinois state elections board on Sunday, saying that the courts should decide the matter. The board, which has an even four to four ideological split, is expected to weigh in on the matter today. The move is indicative of a larger trend among blue states who are trying to get Trump off the ticket before Super Tuesday, which Illinois is a part of and is in just five weeks, over his involvement in the Capitol riots. You’ll remember that Colorado was the first to do so, back in December, when the state’s Supreme Court ruled that Trump was ineligible for the White House. The court argued that the former president violated the 14th Amendment for inciting an insurrection, and Trump appealed the decision to the US Supreme Court shortly after. The High Court will hear arguments on this issue next month.
Josie Duffy Rice: The parent company of agrochemical giant Monsanto Bayer was ordered to pay $2.25 billion dollars to a man who said he developed cancer from using Roundup, the company’s weedkiller. The 49 year old Pennsylvania man sued Bayer after he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and claimed that it was a result of years of using roundup on his property. In a unanimous verdict, a jury on Friday awarded him $250 million dollars in compensatory damages and $2 billion dollars in punitive damages. For their part, Bayer said it planned to appeal the jury’s verdict, saying it conflicted with scientific evidence and regulatory and scientific assessments on Roundup. That’s according to an emailed statement reported by several publications. Monsanto has recently won ten of 16 Roundup trials, and more than 100,000 claims have been made in the U.S. against the company over Roundup. Most plaintiffs also allege that the weedkiller caused them to develop non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Tre’vell Anderson: And finally, this Valentine’s Day, a new Jersey animal shelter is offering to neuter your ex. Well, sorta. Kinda. Okay. For just $50, Homeward Bound Pet Adoption Center says it will name a feral cat after your ex, and then spay or neuter the cat before being released. Okay. Interesting choice here, people. The promotion is part of the shelter’s trap neuter return program, which the shelter said is a quote, “vital component of feral cat population control as it breaks the breeding cycle and stops the birth of unwanted cats in our community.” And the donation helps ensure that spay and neuter surgeries can be offered at a reduced cost. That’s according to an Instagram post by the shelter, which shows a Valentine’s Day card with the quote, “because some things shouldn’t breed,” which y’all are doing a lot there.
Josie Duffy Rice: A lot.
Tre’vell Anderson: The ASPCA also supports trap neuter return monitor programs, and describes the method as humane and effective in managing community cat populations.
Josie Duffy Rice: Okay, I do appreciate that the animals are feral. I just think that’s a nice touch.
Tre’vell Anderson: [laughing] You know, I just think that if you really hate your ex that bad, where you want to pay people $50 to fake name a cat, right, that they’re going to release back out into the wild, you might need some therapy perhaps, maybe go to church and pray about it. I don’t know.
Josie Duffy Rice: I as a rule, agree. And I would say any other day of the year this is a no. However, Valentine’s Day is a miserable holiday and people just need to find a little bit of comfort where they can. On Valentine’s Day I believe in revenge. All other days, let’s get some help. But Valentine’s day, act out.
Tre’vell Anderson: [laugh] So you are endorsing this behavior. Okay, Josie.
Josie Duffy Rice: All bets are off on Valentine’s Day. [laughter]
Tre’vell Anderson: And those are the headlines.
Tre’vell Anderson: That is all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe. Leave a review. Valentine’s chocolates are so last year and tell your friends to listen.
Josie Duffy Rice: And if you’re into reading and not just what those Valentine’s cards at the shelter look like like me. What a day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out and subscribe at Crooked.com/subscribe! I’m Josie Duffy Rice.
Tre’vell Anderson: I’m Tre’vell Anderson.
[spoken together] And happy birthday Leo.
Tre’vell Anderson: The best producer in the game.
Josie Duffy Rice: Bring me back a birthday present from Italy. It’s your birthday but. [laughter] [music break]
Tre’vell Anderson: What a Day is a production of Crooked Media. It’s recorded and mixed by Bill Lancz, our show’s producer is Itxy Quintanilla. Raven Yamamoto and Natalie Bettendorf are our associate producers, and our showrunner is Leo Duran. Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.