Why Game Boy and Tetris were the perfect fit, according to the games creator

53 0 11 Jul 2019

All week long, TODAY is marking the 30th anniversary of the summer of 1989 with a look back at some of the notable (and not-so-notable) people, milestones and moments from that wild and crazy time.

Long before the smartphone, long before the Nintendo Switch, there was the Nintendo Game Boy, the first truly popular electronic device that allowed both kids and adults to play a library of games on the go.

The Game Boy was released in 1989 and, in the words of Nintendo, is the “most successful video game system ever released,” with more than 150 million systems sold worldwide.

The Game Boy was a hot item in 1989 thanks in part to “Tetris,” which came bundled with every console. Getty Images stock

It had its limitations — compared to the 8-bit and 16-bit home consoles of its day, the Game Boy’s visuals were dull. As Nintendo plainly states, “The screen was four-colors-of-gray.”

Still, the Game Boy proved an instant hit, thanks in no small part to an addictive puzzle game that came bundled with the system. Though “Tetris” had already been released on other platforms by 1989, it was the Game Boy version that really had gamers hooked.

In an email interview with TODAY, “Tetris” creator Alexey Pajitnov explained why the game worked so well as a launch title for the Game Boy.

“‘Tetris’ was a good fit because it was a fun game that appealed to everyone, no matter your age, gender or culture,” said Pajitnov, who developed the game as a computer programmer in Russia in 1984. “It wasn’t a game just aimed at kids, for instance, or limited because of the language you speak.

“Also, seeing the colors in ‘Tetris’ were not needed to play the game, which was a benefit given that the Game Boy was one color.”

Pajitnov created a game that’s been enjoyed by fans for more than three decades.Zebra Partners

Still, Pajitnov noted, his game was “visually attractive because of its use of geometry, and (it was) intellectually challenging. And it doesn’t hurt that the game has a peaceful, non-distractive style.”

Adding to its appeal was its earworm of a theme, a spin on a Russian folk song. It was so recognizable that “The Simpsons” once used it in an homage to “Tetris.”

“It’s a catchy tune that speaks to the roots of where it was created,” Pajitnov said.

When asked about memorable encounters with “Tetris” fans, Pajitnov recalled a teenage boy who approached him at a competition and asked him to sign his “Tetris” cartridge.

“Then, he glued it into his Game Boy forever,” he said.

This year marks the 35th anniversary of the creation of “Tetris.” Did Pajitnov ever think we’d be talking about his game all these years later?

“Well, I didn’t expect my game to be popular that long, but it is such a good mind game. I think that’s why it’s lasted so long,” he said.

There’s no doubt that “Tetris” still resonates today. Earlier this year, a new iteration titled “Tetris 99” was released for the Nintendo Switch.

The basic concept is the same, though there are new twists, including an upbeat version of the theme. And, there’s more than one color.

Trump expected to order citizenship question added to the census

46 0 11 Jul 2019

President Donald Trump is expected to announce on Thursday that he is taking executive action to add a citizenship question to the census, according to an administration official.

Trump tweeted that he will hold a press conference in the afternoon to discuss his latest efforts at including the citizenship question as part of the census.

“The White House will be hosting a very big and very important Social Media Summit today,” Trump tweeted. “Would I have become President without Social Media? Yes (probably)! At its conclusion, we will all go to the beautiful Rose Garden for a News Conference on the Census and Citizenship.”

NBC News confirmed that at the news conference the president is expected to announce his executive action to add the question.

Last week, Trump told reporters on the White House South Lawn when asked if he would issue an executive order: “We’re thinking about doing that.”

“It’s one of the ways,” he added. “We have four or five ways we can do it. It’s one of the ways and we’re thinking about doing it very seriously.”

The news conference planned for Thursday comes as two federal judges refused to let the Department of Justice withdraw lawyers from a lawsuit over the Trump administration’s plans to put the citizenship question on the 2020 census form.

The administration is currently printing census forms without the question after the Supreme Court ruled late last month that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross did not provide an adequate reason for why the question was necessary.

Opponents have said the question is an effort to reduce the number of responses in immigrant communities and diminish their power.

Meanwhile, the press conference comes at the conclusion of another event that’s drawn considerable attention in recent days, the president’s planned social media summit. Trump is set to host several right-wing internet personalities to “share how they have been affected by bias online” as Republicans for months have blasted social media companies for what they see as unfair censorship of their views online.

Trump went on an extended tweet storm Thursday as he hyped the event.

“A big subject today at the White House Social Media Summit will be the tremendous dishonesty, bias, discrimination and suppression practiced by certain companies,” he wrote. “We will not let them get away with it much longer. The Fake News Media will also be there, but for a limited period.”

Iranian boats approached British tanker near Strait of Hormuz, officials say

55 0 11 Jul 2019

Several Iranian boats approached and attempted to impede a British commercial vessel through the Strait of Hormuz, but the Iranian vessels were driven away by a British military ship, a senior U.S. defense official and a British government spokesperson said.

Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps denied any encounters with foreign vessels within the last 24 hours.

According to the U.K. and U.S. officials, no shots were fired in the incident, which came amid escalating tensions in the region.

“Contrary to international law, three Iranian vessels attempted to impede the passage of a commercial vessel, British Heritage, through the Strait of Hormuz,” according to a statement from a U.K. government spokesperson distributed through that country’s Ministry of Defense press office.

The statement said that the HMS Montrose warship “was forced to position herself between the Iranian vessels and British Heritage and issue verbal warnings to the Iranian vessels, which then turned away.”

“We are concerned by this action and continue to urge the Iranian authorities to de-escalate the situation in the region,” the U.K. government spokesperson said.

The senior U.S. defense official said armed Iranian boats approached the British tanker and were attempting to drive it into territorial waters but were pushed away by the HMS Montrose, which was around 4 miles behind the tanker.

Capt. Bill Urban, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command, said in a statement that the U.S. military was “aware of the reports of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp Navy’s FAC/FIAC harassment and attempts to interfere with the passage of the U.K.-flagged merchant vessel British Heritage today near the Strait of Hormuz.”

The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps — a powerful military unit with deep economic resources that answers only to the country’s supreme leader — denied the U.S. and U.K. version of events.

“During the last 24 hours there have not been any encounters with foreign vessels, including English boats,” the IRGC said in a statement.

In the event a command was issued to seize any foreign vessel, it “is able to act promptly” and “decisively,” the statement added.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told local media that “the claims that are being made is just to create tension and these claims are worthless,” and that the claims of interference were rejected by the Revolutionary Guard.

The incident is the latest to be reported near the Strait of Hormuz, a strategic waterway off Iran’s coast which separates the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. A third of the world’s seaborne oil shipments, and 20 percent of oil traded worldwide, pass out of the Persian Gulf through the Strait.

Pressure in the region has been building since President Donald Trump took office, and the administration withdrew from the 2015 nuclear agreement and imposed punishing sanctions on the country. The administration has also designated the IRGC as a foreign terrorist organization. Last month, Trump signed an executive order putting in place new sanctions.

The IRGC said it shot down a U.S. surveillance drone last month. Iranian officials claimed they shot down the unmanned aircraft after it entered Iranian airspace, but the U.S. has disputed that and said it was in international airspace above the Strait of Hormuz.

“Threats to international freedom of navigation require an international solution. The world economy depends on the free flow of commerce, and it is incumbent on all nations to protect and preserve this lynchpin of global prosperity,” the U.S.’s Urban said in the statement.

The U.S. has also blamed Iran for what the military said was a limpet mine attack on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman in June. Iran has denied any involvement in the incident.

There were no deaths reported in that incident, which involved a Japanese and Norwegian vessel. One person aboard the Japanese tanker, the Kokuka Courageous, suffered minor injuries, the vessel’s management firm has said.

U.S. officials have accused Iran of hostile behavior by Iranian forces and proxy groups. The U.S. has also accused Iran of moving missiles and missile components through the region’s waterways for years, shipping missiles to the Houthis in Yemen and others.

After the U.S. drone was shot down, Trump tweeted that the U.S. was “cocked & loaded” to retaliate with military strikes on Iranian targets, but he said he called off the action after being told 150 people could die.

Iran said on Sunday it would roll back its commitments of the nuclear deal it signed with the U.S. and other powers, vowing to enrich uranium beyond the cap set by the 2015 agreement.

Brian Hook, the U.S. special representative for Iran, told Al-Jazeera that the U.S. is seeking a Senate-approved agreement to replace the nuclear deal.

On Tuesday, U.S. Marine General Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the United States wants to build a maritime coalition to stop attacks on tankers in waters off Iran.

Couple says fertility clinic that mixed up their embryos put them through living hell

40 0 11 Jul 2019

A Glendale, California, couple said Wednesday that they can never forgive the Los Angeles fertility clinic that mixed up their embryos and impregnated another woman, causing them to miss the first moments of their son’s life.

CHA Fertility Center and members of its staff wrongfully gave at least one embryo belonging to Anni and Ashot Manukyan to a couple living in New York, the Manukyans and their lawyer said Wednesday. Anni Manukyan herself was unsuccessfully impregnated twice and understands now that at least one of those embryos was not hers.

The Manukyans only discovered they had a son after the New York couple, who are Korean American and were expecting two girls, gave birth to two boys who were not of Asian descent. It is unclear who the second baby’s parents are.

Anni and Ashot Manukyan endured a monthslong custody battle for their son and have now filed a lawsuit against CHA Fertility for emotional and punitive damages.

“I wasn’t there for his birth, I did not carry him, I did not feel him kick inside of me, I didn’t do the skin to skin, I didn’t breastfeed him,” Anni Manukyan told NBC News. “All of that was just robbed from me because of this company that messed up, you know.”

“Nobody should meet their baby in the lobby of a hotel,” she said,

Anni and Ashot Manukyan said Wednesday that the Los Angeles-based CHA Fertility Center’s mishandling of their embryos has put them “through living hell.”KNBC

Anni Manukyan said that the clinic’s chief operating officer called the couple in to take a DNA test in mid-April, two weeks after their son was born, for what they claimed was a quality control test. The next day, they were asked to come in and then told about the mistake with a psychologist in the room.

“She just said over two weeks ago there were two babies that were born and as soon as I heard that, I felt my heart beat outside of my body,” Anni Manukyan said Wednesday.

The Manukyans said they will be eternally grateful for the woman who carried their son and cared for him in the first few weeks of his life, even knowing he was not her own, but that this should never happen to another family again.

“I cannot sit quietly while CHA’s cruel actions continue hurting not only my family, but to others we know as well,” Ashot Manukyan said. “CHA put my family through living hell.”

CHA Fertility Clinic did not immediately respond to a request for more information from NBC News.

The Korean American couple in New York separately filed a federal lawsuit last week in the Eastern District of New York. The suit claims that after years of failed efforts to have children and spending more than $100,000 to get pregnant at CHA Fertility, doctors used embryos that belonged to two other couples who had also received treatment there.

After giving birth March 30 to a set of twins that were not of Asian descent, the lawsuit says, the couple “was shocked to see that the babies they were told were formed using both of their genetic material did not appear to be.”

The couple, identified only by their initials in court documents to minimize the “embarrassment and humiliation” caused by the clinic, the suit says, then had to relinquish custody of the children.

Dov Fox, a professor of law at the University of San Diego, said in an earlier interview that regulatory gaps lead to situations like these. There’s no federal law, no state law, no enforced professional guideline that licenses these facilities, according to Fox.

“In fertility medicine, it’s very different than any other field, where we regulate very closely what’s called ‘never events,'” Fox said. “These are major, avoidable mistakes. Things like blood transfusion on the wrong person, or a surgery on the wrong body part or the wrong patient. There, we require mandatory disclosure and we figure out what went wrong and how to fix it. We have nothing like that for what you might call ‘never events’ in reproductive technology.”

Trumps costly July Fourth event bankrupted Washingtons security, anti-terror fund

58 0 11 Jul 2019

President Donald Trump’s military-style July Fourth parade drained a special Washington, D.C., city fund designed to help pay for extra security and anti-terrorism measures during large events in the nation’s capital, the mayor said in a letter to the White House.

Expenses related to security at Trump’s parade exhausted the fund — known as the Emergency Planning and Security (ESPF) fund — and are expected to soon put it $6 million in the red, D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser explained in the letter written to Trump on Tuesday.

Bowser said the amount used from the fund for “your additional July 4th holiday activities and subsequent First Amendment demonstrations” totaled $1.7 million and that the amount would deplete the account. She asked Trump to help have the city reimbursed.

“It is critical that the EPSF is fully reimbursed for these funds to ensure the District can uphold proper security and support during the remainder of the fiscal year without incurring a deficit for federal activities,” Bowser wrote in the letter obtained by NBC News, adding that “we ask for your help with ensuring the residents of the District of Columbia are not asked to cover millions of dollars of federal expenses and are able to maintain our high standards of protection for federal events.”

The EPSF is funded with federal money designed to reimburse the city for costs incurred to provide security and maintain public safety for events such as presidential inaugurations, rallies and visits by foreign officials.

The Washington Post first reported on Bowser’s letter.

Bowser, a Democrat, added that the fund’s reserves had earlier been depleted by $7.3 million for security costs related to Trump’s 2017 presidential inauguration, an “increased demand for heightened security,” as well as “some unplanned events.”

The White House has not responded to a request for comment.

Trump’s July Fourth “Salute to America” put on full display American military strength, drawing large crowds gathered on the national mall and an array of protesters.

The event featured sweeping flyovers by warplanes, helicopters and even Air Force One, and tanks parked outside the Lincoln Memorial.

Throughout his remarks, Trump praised the military branches and promised that “very soon, the space force” would join them.

Protesters were out in force ahead of the event. Code Pink, an anti-war group, put up a 20-foot-tall diaper-clad balloon of an infant Trump in the shadow of the Washington Monument — though the “Baby Trump” blimp was later deflated amid stormy weather.

Elyse Perlmutter-Gumbiner contributed.

Second judge hands Trump census defeat, wont allow lawyers off citizenship case

54 0 11 Jul 2019

WASHINGTON — A second federal judge is refusing to let Justice Department lawyers withdraw from a lawsuit over the government’s plan to put a citizenship question on the 2020 census form that goes to every household.

Federal District Court Judge George Hazel of Maryland said in an order Wednesday that he “cannot fathom” how a change in the government’s entire legal team could avoid having some effect on the proceedings in his court unless the Justice Department can assure him of an orderly transition.

Hazel is overseeing a lawsuit, separate from the case that went to the Supreme Court, in which opponents say that putting the question on the form would amount to discrimination. That case is now in the discovery phase, in which lawyers for both sides are gathering evidence.

On Monday, the Justice Department said the lawyers who worked on that case and another in federal court in New York would withdraw and an entirely new team of lawyers would be brought in. On Tuesday, the judge in the New York case refused their request to withdraw but gave them a chance to try again, provided they give a better explanation for why they wanted off the case.

Hazel issued a similar order, saying the current team of government lawyers will not be allowed off the case unless they “provide assurance of an orderly transition between the withdrawing attorneys and new counsel. This requires more than just the effort of the new DOJ team, but the involvement and availability of the withdrawing attorneys.”

Attorney General William Barr said Monday he endorsed the notion of putting new teams of lawyers on the cases. Given the Justice Department’s decision to press ahead, “I can understand if they’re not interested in participating in this phase,” he said.

Justice Department officials said privately that Barr acted before the lawyers could officially object to further work on the matter.

The Trump administration continues to print the census forms without the citizenship question. But both President Donald Trump and Barr have said an announcement is coming soon that will explain how the administration intends to make the citizenship question part of the census process.

Conspiracy theorists, far-right agitators head to White House with social media in their sights

60 0 11 Jul 2019

President Donald Trump is scheduled to host several right-wing internet personalities at an event Thursday that the White House said was intended to “share how they have been affected by bias online.”

Trump and other Republican politicians have recently amplified attacks on social media companies for what they see as unfair censorship directed at conservatives. Trump has repeatedly decried “censorship” of users who have been banned from social media for breaking terms-of-service agreements on sites like Twitter and Facebook. Some users have had their accounts terminated by social media platforms for operating fake accounts or directing hate speech at other users.

While the Trump administration has generally embraced the far-right social media sphere, Thursday’s event will be one of the first to bring that digital ecosystem into the real world. Disinformation researchers who spoke with NBC News said the event further legitimizes a network of social media personalities who repeatedly target politicians and social media users with disinformation, trolling and harassment campaigns.

“I feel like maybe the rest of us are in denial, or disbelief, that these kinds of internet celebrities and social media influencers are already a powerful force shaping our culture,” said Erin Gallagher, who maps influence networks of targeted harassment and disinformation. “The people and topics that they elevate with their massive platforms are incredibly toxic and will have very damaging long-term effects on society.”

The toxicity of at least one of the attendees has already caused problems for the event.

Cartoonist Ben Garrison, who was initially invited to the summit, is no longer attending. Garrison faced criticism for a cartoon that showed George Soros as a puppetmaster. The Anti-Defamation League called the cartoon “anti-Semitic” in 2017. Images of Soros, a Democratic donor who is frequently the target of conspiracy theories, have been a recurring trope in Garrison’s cartoons.

Various people have posted on social media their invitations to the event, but it’s unclear whether all will be attending, given some controversy over their past online behavior.

Conspiracy theorist Bill Mitchell, an online radio host and frequent guest on Infowars who has promoted the Qanon conspiracy theory, has tweeted that he will attend the event. Tim Pool, a YouTube personality who has pushed the false conspiracy theory that former Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich leaked hacked emails to WikiLeaks, also plans to attend the event.

Right-wing commentator Ali Alexanderalso received an invitation. Alexander made headlines in recent weeks for questioning Kamala Harris’s ethnicity in a tweet that was retweeted by Donald Trump Jr., the president’s son. Harris was born in Oakland, Calif., and her father and mother are immigrants from Jamaica and India, respectively.

The White House has neither disclosed how guests were invited to the summit nor provided a full list of expected participants, but did say on Wednesday night that the event would be closed to the press.

“Earlier this year the White House launched a tool to allow Americans, regardless of their political views, to share how they have been affected by bias online,” said deputy press secretary Judd Deere. “After receiving thousands of responses, the President wants to engage directly with these digital leaders in a discussion on the power of social media.”

Last week, some of the president’s best-known social media fans and content generators met with Trump in the Oval Office ahead of the “Salute to America” celebration on the Fourth of July.

At least one of those attendees, who goes by @mad_liberals on Twitter, is planning to be at the social media gathering on Thursday, according to his Twitter account, where he documented his stay at the Trump Hotel in Washington. The identity of that account has not been made public.

Joan Donovan, the director of the Technology and Social Change Research Project at Harvard University’s Shorenstein Center, said that the event validated much of the research she’s seen in the past few years, calling it an in-person meet-up of the “alternative influence network” of troll accounts that have distorted politics on social media since before the 2016 election.

“It actually crystallizes what we know is a partisan media ecosystem that was, at first, completely denied as a real phenomenon,” Donovan said.

American scientist who vanished in Greece found dead

50 0 10 Jul 2019

The body of an American scientist who went missing while at a conference in Greece last week was found Monday, according to authorities and her colleagues.

Suzanne Eaton, 59, a molecular biologist from California, was found dead by police in an area of caves and abandoned shooting ranges in Platanias on the island of Crete, the deputy mayor of the village, Kostas Bebelidakis, said.

Eaton vanished July 2. Her colleagues believe she had gone for a jog as her running shoes were missing. Bebelidakis said the area near where Eaton’s body was found is a popular trekking site.

Crete is Greece’s largest island and a popular tourist destination. Eaton, a scientist with the Max Planck Institute in Dresden, Germany, was there for a conference at the Orthodox Academy in the village of Kolymbari, outside Chania.

Police, firefighters and local volunteers launched a search following her disappearance, and Eaton’s husband and two sons had traveled to Crete to help look for her.

The U.S. State Department said Tuesday that it was aware a body had been recovered in Greece and it was working with authorities.

A statement from the Max Planck Institute said authorities were investigating what led to Eaton’s death.

“We are deeply shocked and disturbed by this tragic event. Suzanne was an outstanding and inspiring scientist, a loving spouse and mother, an athlete as well as a truly wonderful person beloved to us all,” the statement said. “Her loss is unbearable.”

The institute described Eaton as a leading scientist in her field, who had earned a doctorate in microbiology from the University of California, Los Angeles. She was also a runner and a senior black belt in taekwondo.

Migrant kids in overcrowded Arizona border station allege sex assault, retaliation from U.S. agents

49 0 10 Jul 2019

WASHINGTON — The poor treatment of migrant children at the hands of U.S. border agents in recent months extends beyond Texas to include allegations of sexual assault and retaliation for protests, according to dozens of accounts by children held in Arizona collected by government case managers and obtained by NBC News.

A 16-year-old Guatemalan boy held in Yuma, Arizona, said he and others in his cell complained about the taste of the water and food they were given. The Customs and Border Protection agents took the mats out of their cell in retaliation, forcing them to sleep on hard concrete.

A 15-year-old girl from Honduras described a large, bearded officer putting his hands inside her bra, pulling down her underwear and groping her as part of what was meant to be a routine pat down in front of other immigrants and officers.

The girl said “she felt embarrassed as the officer was speaking in English to other officers and laughing” during the entire process, according to a report of her account.

A 17-year-old boy from Honduras said officers would scold detained children when they would get close to a window, and would sometimes call them “puto,” an offensive term in Spanish, while they were giving orders.

Earlier reports from investigators for the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General from the El Paso and Rio Grande Valley sectors in Texas detailed horrific conditions for children and other migrants held in overcrowded border stations where they were not given showers, a clean change of clothes or space to sleep. The reports from the Yuma CBP sector describe similar unsanitary and crowded conditions but go further by alleging abuse and other misconduct by CBP officers.

President Trump has pushed back against reports of poor conditions for children, and Kevin McAleenan, acting secretary of DHS, which oversees CBP, has said the reports are “unsubstantiated.”

In a statement about the Yuma allegations, a CBP spokesperson said, “U.S. Customs and Border Protection treats those in our custody with dignity and respect and provides multiple avenues to report any allegations of misconduct. … The allegations do not align with common practice at our facilities and will be fully investigated. It’s important to note that the allegation of sexual assault is already under investigation by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General.”

DHS had been sounding the alarm on overcrowding in border facilities for months, resulting in a $4.5 billion emergency funding bill recently passed by Congress. In Yuma, a soft-sided tent facility was opened at the end of June to accommodate overcrowding at the border station.

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But in nearly 30 accounts obtained from “significant incident reports” prepared between April 10 and June 12 by case managers for the Department of Health and Human Services, the department responsible for migrant children after they leave CBP custody, kids who spent time in the Yuma border station repeatedly described poor conditions that are not pure byproducts of overcrowding. They reported being denied a phone call, not being offered a shower, sleeping on concrete or outside with only a Mylar blanket, and feeling hungry before their 9 p.m. dinnertime.

One child reported “sometimes going to bed hungry because dinner was usually served sometime after 9 p.m. and by that time she was already asleep,” according to the documents.

All children who gave accounts to case managers had been held at the border station longer than the 72 hours permitted by law.

The U.S. border station in Yuma, Arizona.NBC News

Laura Belous, advocacy attorney for a organization that provides legal services to migrant children, the Florence Immigrant & Refugee Rights Project, said her group was “horrified and sickened by the allegations of abuse … But unfortunately, we are not surprised.”

“The children that we represent have reported being held in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions for days,” said Belous.

“Our clients tell us that they have seen CBP agents kick other children awake, that children do not know whether it’s day or night because lights are left on all the time, and that they have had food thrown at them like they were wild animals.

“Our clients and all migrants deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.”

Nearly every child interviewed by the HHS case workers after leaving the Yuma border station reported poor sleeping conditions. A 17-year-old boy from Guatemala reported having to sleep outside even though his clothes were wet from having recently crossed a river, likely the Colorado River.

Once he was transferred inside, the conditions were not much better. “He shared that there was not always space on the floor as there were too many people in the room. He further shared that there would be room available when someone would stand up,” his report stated.

Many migrant children said they were either not given a mattress, pillow or blanket to sleep with, or were just given a Mylar blanket instead.

A temporary holding facility for migrant children in Yuma, Arizona.NBC News

Other children described being scared of the officers and said the officers would get angry if they asked for anything. One child wore soiled underwear for the 10 days he was in the border station because he was afraid to ask the officers for a clean pair, according to one of the reports. Another, a 15-year-old girl from Guatemala, described the food as “gross and cold most of the time.”

HHS referred NBC News to DHS for comment.

In a statement to NBC News, Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, said, “These allegations are very concerning and need to be fully investigated. The president has denied any problems with these detention centers — despite multiple confirmed reports to the contrary — but it is the Trump administration’s own policies that have contributed to this humanitarian crisis and this lack of accountability.”

Cummings has called on McAleenan to testify about the poor conditions for immigrants at the border.

Federal judge blocks Justice Department from removing lawyers in census case

56 0 09 Jul 2019

A federal judge late Tuesday refused to let Justice Department lawyers withdraw from a dispute over the citizenship question on the 2020 census form, in a case that continues after the Supreme Court’s ruling in late June.

Eleven lawyers from the DOJ asked Judge Jesse Furman of the U.S. district court for the Southern District of New York on Monday for permission to step down from representing the government in the dispute. Attorney General William Barr has said that given the department’s decision to press ahead on the issue, “I can understand if they’re not interested in participating in this phase.”

DOJ officials said privately that Barr acted before the lawyers could officially object to further work on the matter.

But Furman said that before lawyers can get off a case, court rules require them to explain why they wish to withdraw and that the DOJ request was “patently deficient.” That’s especially true, he said, given that legal briefs are due in a few days on whether the judge should issue an order preventing any action by the government to put the question on the form.

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The case has been litigated on the premise, at the government’s insistence, that a speedy resolution “is a matter of great private and public importance,” Furman said.

His order allowed the government lawyers to resubmit their request to withdraw, provided that they offer satisfactory reasons and agree to make themselves available if needed at any future hearings.

The judge allowed two of the 11 lawyers to withdraw. One has left the DOJ, the other is no longer in the Civil Division, which handles lawsuits of this type.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which has been fighting to keep the question off the form, praised the judge’s order. “The Justice Department owes the public and the courts an explanation for its unprecedented substitution of the entire legal team that has been working on this case. The Trump administration is acting like it has something to hide, and we won’t rest until we know the truth,” Dale Ho, director of the group’s Voting Rights Project, said.

The Trump administration continues to print the census forms without the citizenship question. But both President Donald Trump and Barr have said that an announcement is coming in the next few days of how the administration intends to try a new approach to have the question be part of the census process.