Border Crossings: Jesse Colin Young

Singer-songwriter Jesse Colin Young made history with the “Youngbloods” on their classic ‘60s peace anthem “Get Together.” Earlier this year, Jesse released his 19th solo album “Dreamers” and this is his first album of new material since 2006’s “Celtic Mambo.”

What Some New US Citizens Look Forward to Most

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services naturalized 833,000 people – an 11-year high in new oaths of citizenship – in fiscal year 2019, which ended September 30. This fiscal year, USCIS administered the Oath of Allegiance to 60 of America’s newest citizens, from 51 different countries, during a special naturalizing ceremony Tuesday at Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian.

Holding American flags in their left hands, the group raised their right hands, and placed them over their hearts, and took the Oath of Allegiance to the United States of America.

“It means a lot, joining one of the world’s greatest country of all times and able to serve this country,” said Sandra Amoah, a new U.S. citizen originally from Ghana.

For these 60 people from 51 different countries, young and old, this was the final step to become a naturalized citizen of the United States of America. But it also marked a new beginning in their lives.

“It’s going to open more doors for me for a young guy growing up, it’s a great opportunity right here,” Ghana native Yaw Opoku Amoah told VOA.

“I found it very emotional and I feel that it is a privilege that not very many people can obtain,” Virginia Growich, a new U.S. citizen who was born in England said.

Naturalizations Hit 11-Year High as Election Year Approaches video player.

WATCH: Naturalizations Hit 11-year High

Becoming a U.S. citizen bestows many privileges, including being able to bring family members to the U.S., as well as being eligible for federal jobs and to run for public office. But in this crowd, many were excited to able to vote in upcoming presidential elections.

“I got my citizenship, and the most exciting part … next year it’s going to be vote and I will vote, yes,” said Sumreen Amer, a new citizen originally from Pakistan.

 “I am very interested in being able to vote,” Growich agreed.

While the Trump administration has proposed major cuts to legal and family immigration, and capped the number of refugees to the U.S. in 2020 at 18,000, USCIS, the government agency that oversees lawful immigration to the United States, naturalized 833,000 people in fiscal year 2019, an 11-year high in new oaths of citizenship.

Sarah Taylor, acting director of the Washington District, says one reason for the increase in naturalizations might be the upcoming election.

“So we did have a big uptick always before a presidential election. It stayed high in the last couple of years and we anticipated it will remain high,” Taylor said.

Coming from such countries as Afghanistan and Yemen, these new citizens are hopeful for a bright future for themselves and their families, as they said: naturalization will open new doors for them in this land of opportunities.


Wildfire Threat Darkens California Dream, Residents Say

Kinsey Metts moved to California for its wilderness and great outdoors. Now she wants to leave for the same reasons.

This autumn’s rash of destructive wildfires — predicted to grow worse in coming years as climate change strengthens — is threatening to shatter the California Dream that has long lured people to the state, drawn by its sunny weather and opportunities for a better life.

With increasingly powerful fires ripping through Northern and Southern California again and again, the question of leaving is now on plenty of people’s minds.

Metts, on maternity leave with a 9-week-old son, was forced to evacuate her rural Geyserville home, in the wine country north of the San Francisco Bay area, when the October Kincade fire tore through the hills behind it.

“We’ve loved our life here,” said Metts, who works for a nonprofit helping at-risk children. “We love the outdoors and to backpack and kayak.”

“But I don’t know if I want to stay here anymore. It just feels like it’s getting worse and worse,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

FILE - In this Oct. 31, 2019, file photo, smoke from the Maria Fire billows above Santa Paula, Calif.California regulators are…
FILE – Smoke from the Maria Fire billows above Santa Paula, Calif., Oct. 31, 2019. The state’s largest utility initiated multiple rounds of pre-emptive power outages.

California has long faced annual wildfires, but their geographic extent has increased fivefold since the early 1970s, according to research published this summer in Earth’s Future, a journal of the American Geophysical Union, an international group of scientists.

The study pointed to more fires and to fires increasingly fueled by vegetation made drier by climate change.

“Human-caused warming has already significantly enhanced wildfire activity in California … and will likely continue to do so in the coming decades,” the study said.

Many residents say those differences are now hitting perilously close to home.

Rocio Mercado moved to California from Mexico 23 years ago and was one of the nearly 200,000 people ordered to evacuate as the Kincade fire burned.

“I love California, but honestly I don’t know if I want to live here for the rest of my life,” she said outside the Healdsburg grocery store, where she is a supervisor. “I don’t feel safe anymore.”

Stephanie LaFranchi, right, and Ashley LaFranchi examine the remains of their family's Oak Ridge Angus ranch, leveled by a wildfire called Kincade Fire, in Calistoga, Calif., Oct. 28, 2019.
Stephanie LaFranchi, right, and Ashley LaFranchi examine the remains of their family’s Oak Ridge Angus ranch, leveled by the Kincade Fire, in Calistoga, Calif., Oct. 28, 2019.

Stay or go?

More people have been moving out of California than moving in from other states, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.

Last year, about 691,000 people left California but only about 500,000 people arrived, part of a trend that reaches back several years, data showed.

Those leaving California are driven by more than just wildfires, but the growing fire threat has become too significant to ignore, some feel.

“For the very first time in our lives, we’re probably going to leave California,” said Lynne Imel, whose house burned in the Camp Fire that devastated the town of Paradise in 2018.

The blaze killed 85 people and stands as the state’s most lethal wildfire on record.

“I don’t want to talk about the fire for the rest of my life. We want a fresh start,” Imel said as she attended a memorial ceremony marking the one-year anniversary of the disaster.

Imel and her husband, who live in Sacramento, had planned to retire to their Paradise home, but may now move across the border into the state of Nevada, she said.

But for many others, leaving doesn’t feel like an option.

“The question is, where do you relocate?” asked Michael Pigoni, the fire chief in El Cerrito, California. He pointed to hurricanes in the U.S. Southeast, tornadoes and flooding in the Midwest and cold weather in the North.

Wherever weather-related threats hit, “you learn to adjust,” he said.

In this Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2019 photo, Mark Dankowski, right, leads a tasting for a group of people visiting the Soda Rock…
Mark Dankowski, right, leads a tasting for a group visiting the Soda Rock Winery in Healdsburg, Calif., Nov. 6, 2019. The winery’s main building was incinerated in the recent wildfires, but visits and tastings continue at a barn on the property.

Diane Wilson, whose Soda Rock Winery in Healdsburg burned in the Kincade fire, similarly said she and her husband would rebuild, noting she was “not a big worrier.”

“I don’t see us leaving because of the fires. We have to adapt,” she said. “We were a little traumatized,” she admitted. But “now we’re looking forward.”

Somalia Struggles After Worst Flooding in Recent History

Ahmed Sabrie woke up to find his house half-submerged in fast-rising flood waters.

Frightened and confused, he herded sleepy family members onto the roof of their home in central Somalia as scores of thousands of people in the town, Beledweyne, scrambled for their lives. Clinging to an electric power pylon by the edge of the roof, the family watched as their possessions were washed away.

“I could hear people, perhaps my neighbors, screaming for help but I could only fight for the survival of my family,” the 38-year-old Sabrie, the father of four, recalled. As one of his children wailed, the family waited for more than 10 hours before a passing rescue boat spotted them.

This photo taken Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2019, shows an aerial view of the flooded Hiran region of central Somalia. Authorities have…
An aerial view of the flooded Hiran region of central Somalia, Nov. 12, 2019. Somalia’s recent flooding is the latest reminder that the nation must prepare for extremes predicted to come with climate change.

Death toll unknown

Authorities have not yet said how many people died in the flooding last month, Somalia’s worst in recent history and the latest reminder that the Horn of Africa nation must prepare for the extremes expected to come with a changing climate.

At least 10 people went missing when their boat capsized after the Shabelle river burst its banks. Local officials have said at least 22 people in all are presumed dead and the toll could rise.

“This is a catastrophic situation,” Mayor Safiyo Sheikh Ali said. President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, who visited the town and waded through submerged areas, called the devastation “beyond our capacity” and pleaded for more help from aid groups.

With no proper emergency response plan for natural disasters, local rescuers used rickety wooden dhows to reach trapped people while helicopters provided by the United Nations plucked people from rooftops. African Union and Somali forces have joined the rescue operations and the Somali government airlifted food.

“Many people are still trapped in their submerged houses and we have no capacity and enough equipment to cover all areas,” said Abdirashakur Ahmed, a local official helping to coordinate rescue operations. Hundreds are thought to still be stuck.

In this photo taken Monday, Nov. 4, 2019, children displaced by recent floods reach the outskirts of the town of Beledweyne in…
Children displaced by recent floods reach the outskirts of the town of Beledweyne in central Somalia, Nov. 4, 2019.

More rain, flooding

With more heavy rains and flash flooding expected, officials warned thousands of displaced people against returning too quickly to their homes.

More than 250,000 people across Somalia were displaced by the recent severe flooding, according to the Norwegian Refugee Council.

Beledweyne town was the worst affected. Several thousand people were sheltering under trees or in tents.

“Floods have destroyed more than three-quarters of Beledweyne and submerged many surrounding villages,” said Victor Moses, the NRC’s country director.

Aid groups said farms, infrastructure and roads in some areas were destroyed. The destruction of farmland near rivers is expected to contribute to a hunger crisis.

To better prepare for “major climate-induced shocks” such as flooding and drought that Somalia already faces every two to five years, the country and the U.N. Development Program this week launched a $10 million project to expand weather monitoring resources and train a largely rural population in water conservation and flood management.

The possibility of further damage from heavy rains in the coming days remains a concern, according to the International Organization for Migration.

Parts of the Lower Juba, Gedo and Bay regions, where IOM has supported displaced populations for years, have been affected. Many displaced people were stranded without food, latrines or shelter.

“In Baidoa, people have moved to high ground where they are in immediate need of support,” said Nasir Arush, the minister for humanitarian and disaster management for South West State.

Survivors like Sabrie now must struggle to rebuild their lives.

“We’re alive, which I am thankful to Allah for, but this flood disaster wreaked havoc on both our livelihoods and households so I see a tough road ahead of us,” he said from a makeshift shelter built on higher ground outside town.

Two Killed, 35 Wounded in Baghdad Protests, Police, Medics Say

Security forces killed two protesters and wounded 35 others in Baghdad Thursday, police and medical sources said, as thousands of Iraqis continued a wave of anti-government protests.

One protester died immediately after a tear gas canister hit his head and another died in a hospital from wounds from a stun bomb fired by security forces, the sources said.

Security forces used live fire, rubber bullets and shot tear gas canisters in a bid to disperse hundreds of protesters gathered near Tahrir Square, a Reuters cameraman said.

Most of those hurt had choked on tear gas or had been hit by rubber bullets and were taken to hospital, medical sources said.

Protesters said the security forces had stepped up their firing of tear gas canisters and rubber bullets early Thursday morning.

More than 300 people have been killed since Oct. 1, as security forces have fired tear gas canisters and rubber bullets at crowds of protesters.

A woman holds a sign Arabic that reads “Since death is inevitable, do not live your life as a coward,” while protesters run for cover and riot police fire tear gas during clashes between Iraqi security forces and anti-government protesters, Nov. 13, 2019.

Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi’s government has taken some measures to try to quell the unrest, including handouts to the poor and creating more job opportunities for college graduates.

But it has failed to keep up with the growing demands of demonstrators who are now calling for an overhaul of Iraq’s sectarian political system and the departure of its entire ruling elite.

The unrest is among the biggest and most complex challenges to the current ruling elite since it took power after the U.S. invasion and the toppling of dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003.

CDC: Superbug Infections Rising, but Deaths Falling

Drug-resistant “superbug” infections have been called a developing nightmare that make conquered germs once again untreatable.

So there’s some surprising news in a federal report released Wednesday: U.S. superbug deaths appear to be going down.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated about 36,000 Americans died from drug-resistant infections in 2017. That’s down 18% from 2013.

Officials credit an intense effort in hospitals to control the spread of particularly dangerous infections.

But while deaths are going down, the report says infections overall increased nationally. And while superbugs mainly have been considered a hospital problem, they are appearing much more often elsewhere.

North Korea Out of ‘Patience’ with Washington

North Korea intensified its demand Wednesday that the United States take steps by the end of this year to normalize relations, saying it is out of patience with Washington. 

“We, without being given anything, gave things the U.S. president can brag about, but the U.S. side has not yet taken any corresponding step,” said the statement from North Korea’s State Affairs Commission and circulated by its U.N. mission. “Now, betrayal is only what we feel from the U.S. side.”

Diplomatic efforts to get North Korea to denuclearize have been largely stalled since a second summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in February, which was cut short with no agreement.

This handout taken and released by the South Korean Defence Ministry in Seoul on December 6, 2017 shows a US Air Force B-1B…
FILE – U.S. and South Korean jets fly over South Korea during a joint military drill called Vigilant Ace, in this handout photo released by the South Korean Defense Ministry, Dec. 6, 2017.

Pyongyang is especially upset that the U.S. and South Korean militaries plan to hold joint aerial exercises next month. The Pentagon said the routine drills, which involve aircraft and fighter jets, would go ahead but be scaled back this year. 

North Korea warned that such acts have put relations between the two countries “on the verge of a breakdown.” 

“Our official stand is that we can no longer remain an onlooker to such a reckless act of the U.S.,” the statement said. 

Since the two leaders met in Singapore at their first summit in June 2018, the U.S. has either suspended or scaled down the joint military exercises it holds with South Korea in order to enhance the atmosphere for denuclearization talks to continue.

North Korea says the U.S. move is a violation of the joint statement adopted at that summit. 

“It is our intention and will to answer dialogue with dialogue and recourse to force in kind,” the statement said. “To look back on the past hours which we let them pass with patience, we no longer feel the need to exercise any more patience.”

North Korea wants international economic and trade sanctions imposed on it lifted in exchange for progress on the denuclearization file.

Prince Charles Discusses Climate Change With Indian Experts

Britain’s Prince Charles met with Indian experts on Wednesday during a visit to the country focusing on global challenges such as climate change and business sustainability.

The Prince of Wales discussed how to strengthen disaster resilience and tackle the effects of climate change at the Indian Meteorological Department in New Delhi.

He arrived in New Delhi on Wednesday with a thick gray haze clouding the sky.

A man uses his handkerchief to cover his face as he walks on a road on a smoggy morning in New Delhi, India, Nov. 11, 2019.

The air quality index exceeded 450, considered “severe” and nine times the recommended maximum, according to the state-run Central Pollution Control Board. A Supreme Court-appointed panel ordered the closure of schools in the Indian capital region on Thursday and Friday.

Prince Charles had a short ride in an e-rickshaw driven by a woman.

Air pollution in northern India peaks in the winter due to smoke from agricultural fires and fireworks during a major Hindu festival.

The prince also joined celebrations of the 550th anniversary of the birth of Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh religion, at a shrine in New Delhi to mark the community’s contribution in Britain.

The British High Commission said he will meet with Indian business leaders in Mumbai on Thursday to discuss sustainable markets.

In September, the prince jointly launched a Sustainable Markets Council with the World Economic Forum.

His 10th visit to India ends Thursday.



Rapper Kodak Black Gets Prison Sentence in Weapons Case

Rapper Kodak Black has been sentenced to more than three years in federal prison after pleading guilty to weapons charges stemming from his arrest just before a scheduled concert performance in May.

The 22-year-old Black admitted in August that he falsified information on federal forms to buy four firearms from a Miami-area gun shop on two separate occasions.

Black also faces drug, weapons and sexual assault charges in other states. Black is a Florida native who was born to Haitian American parents as Dieuson Octave and who now goes by the legal name of Bill Kapri.

He was arrested during a Miami-area hip-hop festival in May that was marred by several violent incidents, The rapper is known for songs such as “ZeZe” and “Roll in Peace.”

Privacy, Consumer Groups Seek to Block Google-Fitbit Deal

Nine privacy, social justice and consumer groups are calling for the U.S. government to block Google’s $2.1 billion acquisition of fitness-gadget maker Fitbit, citing antitrust and privacy concerns.

They say in a Wednesday letter to the Federal Trade Commission that the deal would consolidate Google’s dominance over internet services like search, advertising and smartphone operating systems.

They also worry it’ll add to Google’s store of consumer data. Health information is of particular concern. Google has hired health care executives, hinting at a health-data business to come.

Politicians and regulators have been scrutinizing Google and other Silicon Valley companies for how they use customer data and leverage their size to thwart competitors.

Google didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.