Government health experts warn U.S. cities of ‘trouble ahead’

By Doina Chiacu

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – White House health experts are warning of an uptick in the percentage of people testing positive for COVID-19 in U.S. cities including Boston, Chicago and Washington, urging local leaders to maintain health safety measures to avoid a surge.

“This is a predictor of trouble ahead,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on Thursday.

Fauci was asked on CNN about comments made by his White House coronavirus task force colleague, Dr. Deborah Birx, identifying new areas of concern in major cities, even as authorities see encouraging signs across the South.

Baltimore and Atlanta remain at a “very high level,” as well as Kansas City, Portland, Omaha and California’s Central Valley, Birx told state and local officials in a telephone call Wednesday. A recording of the call was obtained by the journalism nonprofit Center for Public Integrity.

White House data shows small increases in the percentage of positive COVID-10 tests in Chicago, Boston and Detroit and those places need to “get on top of it”, Birx said.

Even in cities and states where most people are doing things right, Fauci said, a segment of people not wearing masks or following social distancing remains vulnerable to infection and can keep the virus smoldering in U.S. communities.

“Unless everybody pulls together, and gets the level way down over baseline, we’re going to continue to see these kind of increases that Dr. Birx was talking about in several of those cities,” Fauci said.

White House coronavirus experts have in recent days sent regular warnings to cities and states not to relax anti-coronavirus measures too much before the virus is under sufficient control.

On average, 1,000 people are dying each day nationwide from COVID-19. The U.S. death toll is now over 157,000, with 4.8 million known cases.

President Donald Trump, in contrast, has played down the staying power of the virus, saying on Wednesday “it will go away like things go away” as he urged U.S. schools to reopen on time for face-to-face lessons.

Trump also said children are “almost immune” from COVID-19, prompting Facebook Inc on Wednesday to take down a post by the Republican president containing a Fox News video clip in which he made the statement. Facebook said it violated its rules against sharing misinformation about the virus.

Chicago’s mayor said on Wednesday that school would be online-only in September, after the teachers’ union and many parents in the city objected to a plan to allow students the option of attending class twice a week in pods of 15.

Chicago is the third-largest school district in the United States behind New York and Los Angeles, with 350,000 students.

Los Angeles has already announced that students will be kept home, while New York Mayor Bill de Blasio has said he expects to have children attend classes part of the time.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

Trump to send federal forces to more ‘Democrat’ cities

By Steve Holland and Lisa Lambert

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump on Monday said he would send law enforcement to more U.S. cities, as a federal crackdown on anti-racism protests in Oregon with unmarked cars and unidentified forces angered people across the country.

Trump, a Republican, cited New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Detroit, Baltimore and Oakland, California, as places to send federal agents, noting the cities’ mayors were “liberal Democrats.” Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot frequently blasts Trump on Twitter.

“We’re sending law enforcement,” Trump told reporters at the White House. “We can’t let this happen to the cities.”

State and local leaders in Oregon, as well as members of Congress, have called for Trump to remove Department of Homeland Security secret police forces from Portland, Oregon, after videos showed unidentified federal personnel rounding up people and whisking them away in black minivans.

“Not only do I believe he is breaking the law, but he is also endangering the lives of Portlanders,” the city’s mayor, Ted Wheeler, tweeted, having previously called the federal presence “political theater” in an election year.

Trump, trailing in opinion polls behind Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, in June declared himself “president of law and order” and threatened to send the U.S. military into cities after sometimes violent protests and looting in the aftermath of African American ‘s death in police custody in Minneapolis.

Federal agents last week began cracking down on Portland protests against police brutality and systemic racism, using tear gas to defend federal buildings and taking some activists into custody without explanation.

“They grab a lot of people and jail the leaders. These are anarchists,” Trump said of federal agents sent to the historically liberal city to quell often unruly protests.

Despite a national outcry over the tactics, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials on Monday said they would not back down and would not apologize.

The state of Oregon and the American Civil Liberties Union have sued the Trump administration for unlawfully detaining Oregon residents, and some Republicans spoke out against its tactics on Monday.

“There is no place for federal troops or unidentified federal agents rounding people up at will,” tweeted U.S. Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky.

The Chicago Tribune reported that Homeland Security was making plans to deploy around 150 agents in the city this week where police defending a statue clashed with protesters on Friday.

The DHS did not immediately respond to a request for additional comment.

(Reporting by Steve Holland, Doina Chiacu and Lisa Lambert in Washington, additional reporting by Maria Caspani in New York, Deborah Bloom in Portland; Sharon Bernstein in Sacramento; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Jonathan Oatis)

Hundreds protest Michigan stay-at-home order

By Michael Martina and Seth Herald

DETROIT/LANSING, Mich. (Reuters) – Hundreds gathered to protest Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s stay-at-home order on Thursday in Lansing, the third but smallest major demonstration at the state’s Capitol since businesses were shuttered in March due to the coronavirus.

Whitmer recently extended Michigan’s stay-at-home order – one of the strictest in the United States – until at least May 28 to prevent the spread of the coronavirus and the respiratory disease it causes, COVID-19.

The protest was organized by Michigan United for Liberty, which says it is a nonprofit with nearly 8,000 members that views the order as unconstitutional.

About 150 protesters gathered in light rain around 9 a.m. near the steps of the Capitol building, but the crowd grew to several hundred by mid-morning, some carrying signs in support of President Donald Trump. A handful had firearms, including long guns.

“Open your business now. Open the restaurants. Open the bars. Open the movie theaters,” one protester, who did not announce his name, told the crowd. “Michigan, wake up America.”

Michigan State Police quickly responded to a small scuffle but said there were no injuries and the site was secure. Speakers had packed up the audio system before 11 a.m., as rain intensified.

The Capitol building was closed because the legislature had been adjourned.

Debate over how and when to ease restrictions on commerce and social life has grown increasingly politicized in the United States, with Trump and his supporters agitating to loosen social-distancing measures more swiftly than medical experts deem prudent.

Democratic governors of states hardest hit by the outbreak have taken a more cautious stance, abiding by public health officials – and guidelines from the White House itself – warning that vastly expanded coronavirus testing and other safeguards be put in place first.

Hundreds of protesters, some armed, gathered at the same site in Lansing on April 30 to protest against Whitmer’s request to the state legislature to extend emergency powers to combat COVID-19.

That rally saw large groups of protesters enter the Capitol building and demand to be let onto the House floor, which is prohibited. Some protesters with guns — which are allowed in the statehouse — went to the Senate gallery.

The Republican-led state legislature has declined to outlaw weapons inside the Capitol building, something Democratic governor Whitmer lamented in an interview on CNN on Wednesday.

“No one should have to go to work and feel intimidated,” she said. “Making the Capitol a gun-free zone is important in making people feel they can do their job safely.”

Authorities had told protesters to expect a heavy police presence at Thursday’s protest, and Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel warned in advance that she was prepared to prosecute potential violations, including brandishing of weapons and trespassing into the legislative chambers.

“I vehemently support the First Amendment right to protest government actions at the Capitol or elsewhere around the state; however any such activity must be done in a manner that is safe and lawful,” she wrote in a tweet on Wednesday.

Michigan had the fourth highest death toll from COVID-19 in the United States as of Thursday, at 4,714 dead among its 48,391 confirmed cases.

(Reporting by Michael Martina in Detroit and Seth Herald in Lansing; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)

Amazon warehouse workers protest near Detroit

(Reuters) – Amazon.com Inc on Wednesday said a handful of workers staged a demonstration at one of its warehouses near Detroit, reflecting the ongoing concerns among its staff about contracting the coronavirus on the job.

Less than 15 of Amazon’s more than 4,000 employees at its Romulus, Michigan fulfillment center participated, following confirmation that a worker based there had tested positive for the virus, the company said.

Those protesting have demanded Amazon shut down the facility for additional cleaning and cover all medical bills for associates and their family members who contracted COVID-19 from the site, according to a Facebook live stream of the demonstration.

(Reporting By Jeffrey Dastin in San Francisco; Editing by Chris Reese)

Coronavirus hits hundreds of U.S. police amid protective gear shortages

By Michelle Conlin, Linda So, Brad Heath and Grant Smith

New York (Reuters) – When nine police officers showed up to make an arrest near Melrose Avenue in the Bronx last Wednesday, none wore a mask or gloves to protect them from coronavirus.

Similar scenes play out all over the city daily: officers making arrests, walking their beats and responding to 911 calls without protective gear, according to interviews with nearly two dozen New York City officers and scenes witnessed by Reuters.

As of Sunday, 818 members of the nation’s biggest police force had tested positive for coronavirus, including 730 uniformed officers and 88 civilian staffers, according to NYPD. The department said about 5,000 of its 55,000 total employees are on sick leave.

Major city departments nationwide, such as Houston and Detroit, are being forced to sideline officers as infections rise in the ranks, according to a Reuters survey of the nation’s 20 largest U.S. police agencies conducted between March 25 and March 29. The police agencies have confirmed 1,012 cases of COVID-19 among officers or civilian staff, according to the survey and a Reuters review of the departments’ public statements.

The pandemic has depleted police forces already strained by staffing shortages. Many departments have told officers to limit their interactions with the public and maintain social distancing. Some agencies are re-assigning detectives and administrative staff to help respond to emergencies as more patrol officers get sick, which requires pulling the investigators away from major cases.

“There’s a lot of triaging going on,” said Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, a think tank that advises police on policy issues. “Many departments are having to re-order priorities and the calls they respond to. Police are having to reshuffle how they use their resources.”

NYPD may face the biggest challenge because of the severity of the city’s outbreak: Of the 2,477 deaths reported nationwide as of Monday, 678 came in New York City.

The officers interviewed by Reuters said shortages of gear leave them vulnerable and that they fear spreading the virus to their families and the public.

“We show up first, to everything, and we are completely unprotected,” said one officer in the 33rd precinct.

All of the New York officers interviewed by Reuters spoke on condition of anonymity. They say the department forbids them from speaking to reporters.

Sergeant Jessica McRorie, an NYPD spokesperson, said that the department was responding to an “unprecedented” crisis and has issued detailed guidance to officers on how to protect themselves. Since the outbreak began, she said, the NYPD has distributed 204,000 pairs of gloves, 75,000 N-95 masks, 340,000 surgical masks and distributed 125,000 alcohol wipes and hand sanitizer to employees.

NYPD did not answer questions from Reuters about whether that amount of gear – much of it disposable – was sufficient to protect its 36,000 officers and 19,000 civilian employees. The department also did not comment on the accounts of officers who said they had little or no protective gear, or whether it had experienced difficulty in purchasing enough supplies.

Masks and other protective or sanitary supplies have often been scarce since the pandemic sent worldwide demand surging, prompting safety concerns from a wide range of workers who interact daily with the public, from first responders to doctors to delivery drivers.

One uniformed NYPD officer and two civilian employees have died after contracting COVID-19. The officer – 23-year veteran detective Cedric Dixon from the 32nd precinct in Harlem – died on Saturday.

On March 13, the New York City police union filed a complaint with state health and safety regulators over the department’s failure to provide protective equipment and adequate cleaning and sanitizing supplies. The union emphasized the threat to officers’ families.

“It’s important for our leaders to remember that we aren’t the only ones at risk,” said Patrick J. Lynch, president of the city’s police union, in a statement. “Our husbands and wives and daughters and sons didn’t pick this job, but they share our sacrifice.”

Reuters was not able to determine whether any family members of NYPD officers had been infected.

SIDELINED OFFICERS, DELAYED ARRESTS

Departments nationwide are struggling to protect their officers – and to operate without those who are getting sick. The Reuters survey asked police agencies how many of their employees tested positive for coronavirus, how many were quarantined, and how the outbreak has impacted their operations.

The Nassau County Police Department – just outside New York City on Long Island – reported the second highest number of cases with 68 employees testing positive. In Detroit, a fifth of the city’s 2,200-member force has been quarantined after at least 39 officers tested positive – including the police chief. Two department staffers, a commanding officer and a 911 dispatcher, have died after contracting the virus.

The departments in San Antonio and Honolulu were the only ones that reported no confirmed infections on their forces.

In New Orleans and Seattle – which are not among the top 20 departments but are hotspots of infection – another seven police employees tested positive, the departments told Reuters.

The outbreak is forcing law enforcement agencies nationwide to implement sweeping changes to their policing strategies.

The Philadelphia Police Department, the nation’s fourth-largest law enforcement agency with 6,540 officers, has begun delaying arrests for certain non-violent offenders. The change means individuals will be temporarily detained only to confirm identity and complete required paperwork instead of being processed at a detective division. The person will then be arrested at a later date.

The 2,440-officer Nassau County department had quarantined 163 officers as of Saturday. Its dispatchers are screening all 911 calls to check if anyone needing help is exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19. Responding officers and medics are ordered to wear an N95 mask, gloves, eye protection and gowns, the department said.

Some departments are limiting access to their buildings. Intercoms have been installed at the entrance doors of all seven precincts of the Suffolk County police department – also in Long Island, with nearly 2,500 officers – to screen visitors for symptoms before allowing entry.

In Dallas, where 34 employees from the police department have been quarantined and two have tested positive, officers are no longer physically responding to calls for certain minor crimes. People are instead being asked to file a report online.

Complaints over shortages of protective gear are growing in major police departments. The Dallas Police Department, for instance, has issued N95 masks, gloves, and hand sanitizer to its more than 3,000 officers. But the police union president says it’s not enough. Many officers, he said, are using the same mask for days even though N95 masks are not meant to be reused.

“Those masks are in such dire need,” said Michael Mata, president of the Dallas Police Association. “We’re in a very bad spot.”

Mata says he’s been told the police department has ordered more protective gear. A Dallas police spokesman said the new supplies would be handed out starting Monday and confirmed that some patrol divisions had run low on gear.

In New York City, resentment over a lack of protective gear runs deep, according to interviews with current and former officers. In the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, cops working on the smoldering rubble of the World Trade Center were told the air was safe to breathe. Years later, many developed fatal 9/11-related cancers and illnesses.

“This is even worse than 9/11,” said one NYPD officer. “We are bringing this home to our families.”

‘BUSINESS AS USUAL’ FOR CRIMINALS

While local stay-home orders and business closures have paralyzed the economy, they do not appear to have significantly slowed crime. Reuters reviewed police dispatch records in a handful of large cities, which showed far fewer traffic stops but similar rates of calls reporting more serious crimes.

In Baltimore, the Monday after Maryland’s governor issued an order shutting non-essential businesses, city police reported making just 71 traffic stops, compared to a daily average of more than 350 a day in the months before the virus hit, dispatch records showed.

But dispatches to more serious incidents were not diminished. The number of calls reporting a family disturbance, such as domestic fights, for instance, increased slightly after the governor imposed the first business restrictions on March 16. The number of dispatches involving assaults was largely unchanged.

Baltimore’s police force did not respond to requests for comment.

ShotSpotter – a company that tracks gunshots for many large police departments using networks of microphones – said there had been no perceptible slowdown in gunfire in New York, Washington, Chicago, San Francisco or Miami.

“It’s business as usual, sadly, with respect to gun violence,” said ShotSpotter president Ralph Clark.

(Reporting by Michelle Conlin, Linda So, Brad Heath and Grant Smith; Editing by Jason Szep and Brian Thevenot)

Storm to clobber U.S. Midwest with snow, wind and frigid temps

A jogger runs through the rain past the reflecting pool at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, U.S., February 7, 2018.

By Brendan O’Brien

MILWAUKEE (Reuters) – A storm is expected to clobber Chicago, Detroit and Milwaukee with heavy snow, gusty winds and freezing temperatures that will slow travel for millions of commuters on Thursday evening and Friday.

The storm system that stretches from western Montana across parts of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois and east into southern Michigan will drop as much 12 inches (30 cm) of snow and produce 35 miles per hour (56 kph) winds, the National Weather Service said in several advisories.

“Periods of snow will cause primarily travel difficulties. Be prepared for snow covered roads and limited visibilities,” the service said in an advisory for southern Wisconsin.

Wind chill temperatures were expected to drop below 0 Fahrenheit (-18 C) in many areas across the region on Thursday night and into Friday morning.

United Airlines said on Twitter the storm was expected to impact operations this week and that travel waivers were in effect for areas affected by the snow.

Winter weather across the United States over the last several days has killed several people in accidents in the Midwest since Monday, including six in Iowa, two in Missouri and one in Montana, local media in those states reported.

(Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg)

Federal agents found fetuses in body broker’s warehouse

Arthur Rathburn is pictured at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan, U.S. in November 1988.

By John Shiffman and Brian Grow

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Federal agents discovered four preserved fetuses in the Detroit warehouse of a man who sold human body parts, confidential photographs reviewed by Reuters show.

The fetuses were found during a December 2013 raid of businessman Arthur Rathburn’s warehouse. The fetuses, which appear to have been in their second trimester, were submerged in a liquid that included human brain tissue.

Rathburn, a former body broker, is accused of defrauding customers by sending them diseased body parts. He has pleaded not guilty and his trial is set for January.

How Rathburn acquired the fetuses and what he intended to do with them is unclear. Rathburn’s lawyers did not respond to requests for comment, and neither the indictment nor other documents made public in his case mention the fetuses.

“This needs to be reviewed,” said U.S. Representative Marsha Blackburn, a Republican from Tennessee who recently chaired a special U.S. House committee on the use of fetal tissue.

Blackburn recoiled when a Reuters reporter showed her some of the photographs, taken by government officials involved in the raid.

In four of the photos, a crime scene investigator in a hazmat suit uses forceps to lift a different fetus from the brownish liquid. In three other photos, a marker that includes a government evidence identification number lies beside a fetus.

“The actions depicted in these photos are an insult to human dignity,” said U.S. Representative Bob Goodlatte, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. A Republican from Virginia, Goodlatte said that if individuals “violate federal laws and traffic in body parts of unborn children for monetary gain,” they should be “held accountable.”

Blackburn said the discoveries in Rathburn’s warehouse raise questions about the practices of body brokers across America. Such brokers take cadavers donated to science, dismember them and sell them for parts, typically for use in medical research and education. The multimillion-dollar industry has been built largely on the poor, who donate their bodies in return for a free cremation of leftover body parts.

The buying and selling of cadavers and other body parts — with the exception of organs used in transplants — is legal and virtually unregulated in America. But trading in fetal tissue violates U.S. law.

In most states, including Michigan, public health authorities are not required to regularly inspect body broker facilities. As a result, it’s impossible to know whether body brokers who deal in adult donors are acquiring and profiting from fetuses.

Blackburn’s call for action came in response to a Reuters series that exposed abuses in the human body trade and what Blackburn called “lax oversight” and “lax enforcement” of the industry.

Photos from inside Rathburn’s warehouse offered a stark example of government failures to police the industry. They include images of rotting human heads, some floating face up in a plastic cooler. The Federal Bureau of Investigation, which has been investigating Rathburn and other body brokers, declined to comment.

Blackburn said she found other Reuters stories about the body trade disturbing.

As part of the news agency’s examination of the industry, for example, a Reuters reporter was able to purchase two human heads and a cervical spine from Restore Life USA, a broker based in Blackburn’s home state of Tennessee. The deals were struck after just a few emails, at a cost of $900 plus shipping.

“It is sickening” how easily Restore Life sold the parts to Reuters, Blackburn said.

Told of Blackburn’s concerns, Restore Life owner James Byrd said his company has “invited her to tour our facility and to review the policy and procedures we have in place.”

(Shiffman reported from Washington. Grow reported from Atlanta. Edited by Blake Morrison.)

U.S. judge halts deportation of Iraqis nationwide

FILE PHOTO: Protesters rally outside the federal court just before a hearing to consider a class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of Iraqi nationals facing deportation, in Detroit, Michigan, U.S., June 21, 2017. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook

By Steve Friess

DETROIT (Reuters) – A federal judge halted late on Monday the deportation of all Iraqi nationals detained during immigration sweeps across the United States this month until at least July 10, expanding a stay he imposed last week.

The stay had initially only protected 114 detainees from the Detroit area.

U.S. District Judge Mark Goldsmith sided with lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union who filed an amended complaint on Saturday seeking to prevent Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) from deporting Iraqis from anywhere in the United States.

The ACLU argued those being deported could face persecution, torture, or death because many were Chaldean Catholics, Sunni Muslims, or Iraqi Kurds and that the groups were recognized as targets of ill-treatment in Iraq.

Goldsmith agreed with the ACLU on the grave consequences deportees may face, writing in his seven-page opinion and order that: “Such harm far outweighs any interest the Government may have in proceeding with the removals immediately.”

On Thursday, Goldsmith ordered a stay in the Michigan Iraqis’ deportation for at least two weeks while he decided whether he had jurisdiction over the merits of deporting immigrants who could face physical danger in their countries of origin.

He expanded his stay on Monday to the broader class of Iraqi nationals nationwide, saying it applies to the removal of all Iraqi nationals in the United States with final orders of removal who have been or will be detained by ICE.

There are 1,444 Iraqi nationals who have final deportation orders against them, although only 199 of them were detained as part of a nationwide sweep by immigration authorities, federal prosecutors said in court on Monday.

Those detained had convictions for serious crimes, including rape and kidnapping, ICE said.

Goldsmith also said his stays were designed to give detainees time to find legal representation to appeal against their deportation orders, and to give him time to weigh the question of his jurisdiction.

Daniel Lemisch, acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, called the opinion “highly extraordinary.”

“But it’s a very extraordinary circumstance because of the on-the-ground situation in Iraq,” Lemisch said by phone, referring to the danger faced by possible deportees.

ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt praised the ruling for saying that “the lives of these individuals should not depend on what part of the United States they reside and whether they could find a lawyer to file a federal court action.”

Goldsmith’s order came the same day the U.S. Supreme Court handed a victory to President Donald Trump by reviving parts of a travel ban on people from six Muslim-majority countries.

The roundup in Michigan followed Iraq’s agreement to accept deportees as part of a deal that removed the country from Trump’s revised temporary travel ban.

Some of those affected came to the United States as children and committed their crimes decades ago, but they had been allowed to stay because Iraq previously declined to issue travel documents for them.

That changed after the two governments came to the agreement in March.

(Reporting by Steve Friess in Detroit; Editing by Eric M. Johnson, Bill Trott and Paul Tait)

U.S. arrests nearly 200 Iraqis in deportation sweep

Chaldean-Americans protest against the seizure of family members Sunday by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents during a rally outside the Mother of God Chaldean church in Southfield, Michigan, U.S., June 12, 2017. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook

DETROIT (Reuters) – U.S. immigration authorities have arrested and moved to deport 199 Iraqi immigrants, mostly from the Detroit area, in the last three weeks after Iraq agreed to accept deportees as part of a deal removing it from President Donald Trump’s travel ban, officials said on Wednesday.

In the Detroit area, 114 Iraqi nationals were arrested over the weekend, and 85 throughout the rest of the country over the past several weeks, Gillian Christensen, a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman, said in a statement.

The actions came as part of the Trump administration’s push to increase immigration enforcement and make countries, which have resisted in the past, take back nationals ordered deported from the United States.

The crackdown on Iraqi immigrants followed the U.S. government’s decision to drop Iraq from a list of Muslim-majority nations targeted by a revised version of Trump’s temporary travel ban issued in March.

The overwhelming majority of those arrested had criminal convictions for crimes including murder, rape, assault, kidnapping, burglary, drug trafficking, weapons violations and other offenses, Christensen said.

As of April 17, 2017, there were 1,444 Iraqi nationals with final orders for removal, she said. Since the March 12 agreement with Iraq regarding deportees, eight Iraqi nationals have been removed to Iraq.

Dozens of Iraqi Chaldean Catholics in Detroit were among those targeted in the immigration sweeps, some of whom fear they will be killed if deported to their home country, immigration attorneys and family members said.

“It is very worrisome that ICE has signaled its intention to remove Chaldean Christians to Iraq where their safety not only cannot be guaranteed, but where they face persecution and death for their religious beliefs,” Martin Manna, president of the Chaldean Community Foundation, said in a statement on Wednesday.

Kurdish Iraqis also were picked up in Nashville, Tennessee, attorneys, activists and family members said.

At least some of those arrested came to the United States as children, got in trouble and already served their sentences, according to immigration attorneys and activists. Some have lived in the United States so long they no longer speak Arabic.

An Iraqi official previously said Iraqi diplomatic and consular missions would coordinate with U.S. authorities to issue travel documents for the deportees.

(Reporting by Ben Klayman; Editing by Tom Brown)

Flint water system improving, but still unstable

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder drinks some water as he testifies for Flint Michigan water hearing on Capitol in Washington

DETROIT (Reuters) – The drinking water in Flint, Michigan, where high lead levels led to a health crisis that drew national attention, is improving, but remains unstable, a top environmental official said Friday.

“The drinking water system is recovering,” Robert Kaplan, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s acting administrator for the region that includes Flint, told local and state officials meeting in the city to discuss the crisis.

“You’ve got a dramatic decrease in the soluble lead. What we’re seeing though is particulate lead, which indicates that the system is unstable,” he told the meeting by phone.

Under the direction of a state-appointed emergency manager, Flint switched water supplies to the Flint River from Detroit’s system in 2014 to save money. The state has been criticized for its initial poor handling of the issue.

The corrosive river water leached lead, a toxic substance that can damage the nervous system, from the city’s water pipes. Flint switched back to the Detroit system last October.

“Whenever we see a positive trend in Flint’s water quality, that’s good news, but we still have much work to do to get people the quality of water they need and deserve,” Michigan Governor Rick Snyder said in a statement on Friday.

Kaplan said while the addition of chemical phosphates to recoat the pipes to inhibit corrosion is working, the almost invisible lead particles remain a random and unpredictable problem.

Kaplan said water filters reliably deal with the lead, but the best approach would be for residents to vigorously flush their home water systems by turning on all faucets and spigots and running the water to clean the sediment out and rebuild the protective phosphate coating.

He said local and state officials need to have a simple message for residents in the city of 100,000 people to take that approach.

“If we don’t have an extremely simple message, as in free water, you will not be charged for the water that you use that is related to this flushing, I’m afraid we’re not able to get that lead washed out of the system,” he said.

The state previously approved $30 million to help Flint residents pay their water bills dating back to when the switch to the Flint River was made.

Kaplan said a full recovery of Flint’s water system will take time, adding experts would not provide a time table at this point.

(Reporting by Ben Klayman; Editing by Alistair Bell)