Biden considering major new executive actions for migrant crisis


Biden considering major new executive actions for migrant crisis

Myah Ward – February 21, 2024

The Biden administration is considering a string of new executive actions and federal regulations in an effort to curb migration at the U.S. southern border, according to three people familiar with the plans.

The proposals under consideration would represent a sweeping new approach to an issue that has stymied the White House since its first days in office and could potentially place the president at odds with key constituencies.

Among the ideas under discussion include using a section of the Immigration and Nationality Act to bar migrants from seeking asylum in between U.S. ports of entry. The administration is also discussing tying that directive to a trigger — meaning that it would only come into effect after a certain number of illegal crossings took place, said the three people, who were granted anonymity to discuss private deliberations.

A trigger mechanism was part of a bipartisan Senate border deal that never reached the floor earlier this month. During the deal’s construction, President Joe Biden repeatedly said it would have given him the authority to “shut down” the border.

The administration is also discussing ways to make it harder for migrants to pass the initial screening for asylum seekers, essentially raising the “credible fear standard,” as well as ways to quickly deport others who don’t meet those elevated asylum standards. Two of the people said the policy announcements could come as soon as next week ahead of President Joe Biden’s State of the Union speech on March 7.

The slate of policies could allow the administration officials to fill some of the void left after congressional Republicans killed a bipartisan border deal in the Senate. But it would also open up the administration to criticism that it always had the tools at its disposal to more fully address the migrant crisis but waited to use them.

No final decisions have been made about what executive actions, if any, could be taken, an administration official said, speaking about internal deliberations only on condition of anonymity. Administrations often explore a number of options, the official said, though it doesn’t necessarily mean the policies will come to fruition.

The consideration of new executive action comes as the White House tries to turn the border deal failure into a political advantage for the president. It also comes amid growing concern among Democrats that the southern border presents a profound election liability for the party. Officials hope that policy announcements will drive down numbers of migrants coming to the border and demonstrate to voters that they’re exhausting all options to try to solve the problem as peak migration season quickly approaches.

“The Administration spent months negotiating in good faith to deliver the toughest and fairest bipartisan border security bill in decades because we need Congress to make significant policy reforms and to provide additional funding to secure our border and fix our broken immigration system,” said White House spokesperson Angelo Fernández Hernández.

“No executive action, no matter how aggressive, can deliver the significant policy reforms and additional resources Congress can provide and that Republicans rejected,” he continued.

The three people familiar with the planning cautioned that the details of proposed actions remain murky and that the impact of the policies — particularly the asylum ban — is also dependent on the specific language of the federal regulation, they said. For example, the Senate bill included exceptions for unaccompanied minors and people who meet the requirements of the United Nations Convention Against Torture rules.

There are other complications as well. The implementation of any action from the White House would come without the funding and resources that could make implementation easier, though the administration is looking into ways to unlock additional funding. The actions would likely face legal challenges as well.

The Trump administration repeatedly used Section 212(f) of the Immigration and Nationality Act to aggressively shape the immigration system. In late 2018, President Donald Trump signed a policy that temporarily barred migrants who tried to illegally cross into the U.S. outside of official ports of entry. It was quickly blocked by a federal judge in California. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the decision, which was then upheld by the Supreme Court.

The policies, once announced, will likely be met with steep backlash from immigration advocates who will claim the president is once again walking back on his campaign promises to rebuild a humane immigration system and protect the right to asylum.

Biden administration weighs taking actions without Congress to stem the migrant flow

NBC News

Biden administration weighs taking actions without Congress to stem the migrant flow

Julia Ainsley, Julie Tsirkin and Gabe Gutierrez – February 21, 2024

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration is considering taking unilateral action without Congress to make it harder for migrants to pass the initial screening for asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border and quickly deport recently arrived migrants who don’t meet the criteria, say three U.S. officials with knowledge of the deliberations.

The actions, which are still weeks away from finalization, are an effort to lower the number of migrants crossing the southern border illegally as immigration remains a top issue for voters heading into the 2024 presidential election.

Under the new policies, asylum officers would be instructed to raise the standards they use in their “credible fear interviews,” the first screening given to asylum-seekers who are trying to avoid deportation for crossing the border illegally. And Immigration and Customs Enforcement would be told to prioritize recently arrived migrants for deportation, in a “last in, first out” policy, the officials said.

Hundreds of migrants arrive in Ciudad Juarez to cross into the United States before Title 42 ends (David Peinado Romero / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images file)
Hundreds of migrants arrive in Ciudad Juarez to cross into the United States before Title 42 ends (David Peinado Romero / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images file)

A congressional aide with knowledge of the deliberations said the Biden administration has yet to make a decision, but raising the bar on asylum and deporting more newly arrived migrants are considered “low hanging fruit” and actions that can be taken quickly.

The three U.S. officials said it is unclear whether the policies would be achieved through executive order or a new federal regulation, which could take months to implement.

Making it harder to claim asylum and fast-tracking migrants for deportation are not new ideas, but they are being considered more seriously as the Biden administration looks for ways to tamp down chaos at the border after Republicans blocked border security provisions in the National Security Supplemental bill earlier this month.

An administration official confirmed that the White House is exploring a series of policy options, but said that doesn’t guarantee any will come to pass.

In a statement, a White House spokesperson said, “The administration spent months negotiating in good faith to deliver the toughest and fairest bipartisan border security bill in decades. … Congressional Republicans chose to put partisan politics ahead of our national security. … No executive action, no matter how aggressive, can deliver the significant policy reforms and additional resources Congress can provide and that Republicans rejected.”

Without the bill, any action the president takes unilaterally will be limited in scope because the Department of Homeland Security is short on funding.

ICE is currently facing a budget shortfall of more than $500 million and may have to start cutting key services by May without more money from Congress, sources told NBC News last week.

One DHS official expressed skepticism over the “last in, first out” policy because it would leave millions of migrants already in the U.S., including thousands of homeless migrants in major cities, in a long legal limbo as their immigration cases are pushed to the back of the line.

A spokesperson for DHS emphasized that Congress should still act to avoid compromising border enforcement.

“If Congress once again refuses to provide the critical funding needed to support DHS’s vital missions, they would be harming DHS’s efforts to deliver tough and timely consequences to those who do not have a legal basis to remain in the country,” the spokesperson said. “There are real limits to what we can do given current funding because Congress has failed to pass a budget or respond to the President’s two supplemental budget requests. We again call on Congress to act and provide the funding and tools our frontline personnel need.”

Three reasons why so many migrants want to cross from Mexico to US

BBC – News

Three reasons why so many migrants want to cross from Mexico to US

By Bernd Debusmann Jr, Washington – February 7, 2024

Getty Images Migrants cross the Rio GrandeGetty Images

Migrant arrivals at the border have risen to record highs during President Joe Biden’s administration, a massive political headache for him ahead of the election.

Polls suggest that more than two-thirds of Americans disapprove of Mr Biden’s handling of the issue.

His likely opponent in November’s presidential election, Donald Trump, has this week condemned a cross-party bill trying to address the problem, saying it’s not tough enough.

But it’s not just Republicans who are unhappy about the influx. Democratic mayors in cities struggling to cope with the numbers are also making their feelings known.

More than 6.3 million migrants have been detained crossing into the US illegally under Biden, a higher number than under Trump, Obama or George W Bush.

The reasons for the spike are complex, with some factors pre-dating this government and beyond the control of the US. We asked experts what’s going on.

1. Pent-up demand after lockdown

The number began to rise in 2018, largely driven by Central Americans fleeing a series of complex crises including gang violence, poverty, political repression and natural disasters. Detentions fell again in the summer of 2019, which US officials credited to increased enforcement by Mexico and Guatemala.

The most drastic reduction took place in early 2020, when pandemic-era restrictions led to a drastic reduction of over 53% between March and April that year.

Since these measures were lifted in early 2021, the numbers have steadily risen, reaching an all-time high of just over 302,000 in December 2023.

Migrant numbers graphic

“That’s when we began to see an increase again, primarily of Central Americans after mobility restrictions [there] and across the region began to ease,” said Ariel Ruiz Soto, a policy analyst at the Washington DC-headquartered Migration Policy Institute.

“That’s also when the bigger change happened and we began to see much more diversified flows, starting with Venezuela, but also Colombia, Ecuador and places further away.”

Migrants now come from as far afield as West Africa, India and the Middle East.

Of migrants from outside the Americas, the greatest increase comes from China. More than 37,000 Chinese nationals were detained at the US-Mexico border last year, about 50 times the figure from two years ago.

2. Global migration trends

The increases in migrant figures seen at the US-Mexico border seen in the last several years also come at a time when, globally, migration to rich countries is at an all-time high.

Statistics from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) released late last year show that 6.1m new permanent migrants moved to its 38 member states in 2022 – a 26% increase over 2021 and 14% higher than in 2019.

The number of people granted asylum in the US doubled in 2022, driven in large part by migrants from Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba. The US is second only to Germany now in levels of humanitarian migration.

“We are experiencing displacement around the world at a level never seen in recorded history, and people are turning up at our southern border for a variety of different reasons,” explained Jorge Loweree, managing director of programmes at the American Immigration Council, a Washington-based non-profit and advocacy group.

“There are four failed states in our hemisphere alone.”

More on the US border crisis
3. From Trump to Biden

The switch in the White House in 2021 also contributed, say some experts.

A key message from President Trump, even if it never became a reality, was the building of a border wall and increased deportations.

The headlines created by the separation of children from their detained parents, decried by many as cruel, added to the impression that the US was closing its border.

Under President Biden there was a change of tone and of policy. Deportations fell and “deterrent-focused” policies such as the rapid removal of migrants to Mexico and the building of a border wall ended.

Migrants were paroled into the US to await immigration court dates – a process which can often take years.

Deportation numbers graphic

People trying to cross the border during this time told the BBC they thought that entering and staying in the US was going to be easier now. And human smugglers took advantage of a change in presidency to create a sense of urgency among migrants that they should hurry to the border.

“Part of it is that they think they can just come. I think that’s just what they’re being told,” said Alex Cuic, an immigration lawyer and professor at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio.

“They feel like there’s a pathway to come here,” he added. “It’s almost like an invite.”

Conversely, some immigration activists have criticised the Biden administration and US lawmakers from both parties for failing to pass meaningful immigration reform.

The last major overhaul of the system was more than 30 years ago and now the cross-party bill presented to Congress this week looks doomed due to Republican opposition.

Biden challenges House GOP to solve border crisis — or ‘keep playing politics’


Biden challenges House GOP to solve border crisis — or ‘keep playing politics’

Myah Ward and Jennifer Haberkorn – February 4, 2024

BLUE BELL, PENNSYLVANIA – JANUARY 5: U.S. President Joe Biden speaks during a campaign event at Montgomery County Community College January 5, 2024 in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania. In his first campaign event of the 2024 election season, Biden stated that democracy and fundamental freedoms are under threat if former U.S. President Donald Trump returns to the White House. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)More

President Joe Biden urged Congress to pass the bipartisan border deal unveiled Sunday night by Senate negotiators, ramping up the pressure on House Republicans who have repeatedly cast doubt on the bipartisan effort.

“Working with my administration, the United States Senate has done the hard work it takes to reach a bipartisan agreement. Now, House Republicans have to decide. Do they want to solve the problem? Or do they want to keep playing politics with the border?” Biden said in a lengthy statement.

The president’s response came not long after senators released the long-awaited $118 billion deal that would unleash stricter border and immigration policies, while sending billions of dollars to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan as well as the southern border. The bill’s introduction kicks off a sprint as the White House and negotiators work to sell the deal to Republicans and progressives before it heads for a procedural vote in the Senate scheduled for Wednesday.

The president said the agreement released Sunday includes some of the “toughest and fairest set of border reforms in decades,” and ones that he “strongly” supports. Biden asked Congress to pass the deal quickly — placing the fate of the deal in their hands. And he once again dared Republicans to reject the deal as it faces a make-or-break moment amid GOP fissures in both chambers.

“I’ve made my decision. I’m ready to solve the problem. I’m ready to secure the border. And so are the American people,” the president said. “I know we have our divisions at home but we cannot let partisan politics get in the way of our responsibilities as a great nation. I refuse to let that happen.”

The border has long been a challenging issue for the Biden White House. The president has seen record crossings since taking office in 2021, further straining a southern border already weighed down by irregular migration and an overwhelmed asylum processing system. Border Patrol agents reported a record 302,034 encounters with migrants over the southern border in December, according to figures released by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

In addition, the fast-approaching 2024 election has piled on the pressure for Biden to take action on the border — to address the crisis but to also win the messaging battle on an issue Republicans frequently used to rally their base. Former President Donald Trump, Biden’s likely 2024 opponent, is sure to continue his efforts to combust a deal, adding another layer to efforts to sell the border legislation.

The legislation includes an authority that would effectively “close” the border if the number of migrant crossings reach a certain number over a certain period of time, although a limited number of people would still be allowed to apply for asylum at ports of entry.

Biden suggested publicly late last month that he’d be open to such an authority, vowing to “shut down the border” as soon as the bill was passed.

“I urge Congress to come together and swiftly pass this bipartisan agreement,” Biden said in Sunday night’s statement. “Get it to my desk so I can sign it into law immediately.”

Given the White House’s work with Senate Republicans on the legislation, Biden administration officials have focused their attention on Speaker Mike Johnson, casting him and House Republicans as the barrier to securing the border.

During the Senate talks, the Biden administration has tried to flip the long-held view — one borne out in public polling — that Republicans are better trusted on the issues of immigration and protecting the border. The administration argues the House GOP has blocked all of the president’s efforts to secure the border.

“Despite arguing for 6 straight years that presidents need new legal authority to secure the border, and despite claiming to agree with President Biden on the need for hiring more Border Patrol agents and deploying new fentanyl detection equipment, Speaker Johnson is now the chief impediment to all 3,” White House spokesperson Andrew Bates wrote in a strategy memo released last week.

Johnson’s camp has blamed Biden for reversing Trump-era border regulations that led to an uptick in migrants crossing the border.

“In a desperate attempt to shift blame for a crisis their policies have induced, they have argued it’s a funding problem,” wrote Johnson spokesperson Raj Shah in a memo last month. “Clearly, they have no facts to back up their claim.”

The bill raises “credible fear” standards for migrants; if they are able to pass the more challenging and faster screening, the migrants would be released after full adjudication of their cases and be allowed to work immediately. The legislation would also provide 50,000 visas a year — a mix of family and employment visas, and include the Fend Off Fentanyl Act and the Afghan Adjustment Act.

A major sticking point in talks was the president’s humanitarian parole authority, which the administration uses to accept up to 30,000 migrants from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela each month. The legislation would not affect this program, which has been central to the administration’s border management strategy, including an agreement with Mexico to also accept 30,000 migrants a month from those four countries.

But the administration would no longer be able to offer parole grants to incentivize migrants to use the online app CBP One, which would curtail the president’s authority to allow more undocumented immigrants into the country.

“This agreement on border security and immigration does not include everything we have fought for over the past three years — and we will continue to fight for these priorities — but it shows: we can make the border more secure while preserving legal immigration, consistent with our values as a nation,” Vice President Kamala Harris said in a statement.

Iconic lake once known for its crystal-clear waters is on the verge of extinction: ‘The damage done … cannot be compensated’

The Cool Down

Iconic lake once known for its crystal-clear waters is on the verge of extinction: ‘The damage done … cannot be compensated’

Jeremiah Budin – January 30, 2024

Anchar Lake, located in the Kashmir region, is on the verge of disappearing entirely, despite calls for action from environmentalists that have been going unheeded for more than a decade.

What is happening?

Once a major tourist destination, Anchar Lake has fallen victim to the same forces that have negatively impacted so many bodies of water and parts of nature throughout the world — pollution, overdevelopment, and governments that prioritize protecting profits over the environment.

“The lake was once a beautiful tourist attraction, but over the past many years, it has turned into a polluted wasteland,” one nearby resident told Rising Kashmir.

Why is this concerning?

A century ago, the lake encompassed 7.5 square miles. Today, it has been reduced to 2.6 square miles, with more than half of that area comprised of marshland. Contributing factors include unregulated development around the area that has pushed silt and sediment into the lake.

Improper sewage and drainage systems have filtered waste into the lake, making its waters toxic and inhospitable to the bird and fish species that once thrived there.

“The lake is under tremendous anthropogenic pressures, which have resulted in deterioration of its water quality. The entire liquid and solid wastes generated on the peripheral areas situated at higher contours where people live find its way into the lake. Even the agricultural waste of the above area is disposed of in it,” Ajaz Rasool, an environmentalist and hydraulic engineer, told Greater Kashmir.

What is being done about it?

Greater Kashmir laid out several steps that need to be taken to ensure that Anchar Lake does not become extinct, which would be devastating for local wildlife that has already seen its habitat harmed dramatically.

These steps include officially making the conservation of the lake the responsibility of the Lake Conservation and Management Authority, erecting fences around the area to prevent further development and encroachment, plugging drains that filter waste into the lake, and rebuilding the sewage system.

“It is the responsibility of the Government and people to join hands to restore the glory of Anchar, as both are responsible for its deterioration. Damage done to the environment is irreparable and cannot be compensated in any form,” the piece concluded.

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Groundwater levels are rapidly declining around the world — with a few notable exceptions


Groundwater levels are rapidly declining around the world — with a few notable exceptions

Katie Hunt, CNN – January 24, 2024

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Many parts of the world are experiencing a rapid depletion in the subterranean reserves of water that billions of people rely on for drinking, irrigation and other uses, according to new research that analyzed millions of groundwater level measurements from 170,000 wells in more than 40 countries.

It’s the first study to piece together what’s happening to groundwater levels at a global scale, according to the researchers involved, and will help scientists better understand what impact humans are having on this valuable underground resource, either through overuse or indirectly by changes in rainfall linked to climate change.

Groundwater, contained within cracks and pores in permeable bodies of rock known as aquifers, is a lifeline for people especially in parts of the world where rainfall and surface water are scarce, such as northwest India and the southwest United States.

Reductions in groundwater can make it harder for people to access freshwater to drink or to irrigate crops and can result in land subsidence.

“This study was driven by curiosity. We wanted to better understand the state of global groundwater by wrangling millions of groundwater level measurements,” said co-lead author Debra Perrone, an associate professor in University of California’s Santa Barbara’s Environmental Studies Program, in a news release on the study that published in the journal Nature on Wednesday.

The authors found that groundwater levels declined between 2000 and 2022 in 71% of the 1,693 aquifer systems included in the research, with groundwater levels declining more than 0.1 meter a year in 36%, or 617, of them.

The Ascoy-Soplamo Aquifer in Spain had the fastest rate of decline in the data they compiled — a median decline of 2.95 meters per year, said study coauthor Scott Jasechko, an associate professor at the Bren School of Environmental Science and Management at University of California Santa Barbara.

Several aquifer systems in Iran were among those with the fastest rate of groundwater decline, he added.

The team wasn’t able to gather data from much of Africa, South America and southeast Asia because of a lack of monitoring, but Jasechko said the study included the countries where most global groundwater pumping takes place.

Declines not universal

The study also highlighted some success stories in Bangkok, Arizona and New Mexico, where groundwater has begun to recover after interventions to better regulate water use or redirect water to replenish depleted aquifers.

“I was impressed by the clever strategies that have been put into action to address groundwater depletion in several places, though these ‘good news’ stories are very rare,” Jasechko said via email.

To understand whether the declines seen in the 21st century were accelerating, the team also accessed data for groundwater levels for 1980 to 2000 for 542 of the aquifers in the study.

They found that declines in groundwater levels sped up in the first two decades of the 21st century for 30% of those aquifers, outpacing the declines recorded between 1980 and 2000.

“These cases of accelerating groundwater-level declines are more than twice as prevalent as one would expect from random fluctuations in the absence of any systematic trends in either time period,” the study noted.

Donald John MacAllister, a hydrologist at the British Geological Survey who wasn’t involved in the research, said it was a really “impressive” set of data, despite some gaps.

“I think it’s fair to say this global compilation of groundwater data hasn’t been done, certainly on this scale, at least to my knowledge before,” he said.

“Groundwater is an incredibly important resource but one of the challenges is… because we can’t see it, it’s out of mind for most people. Our challenge is to constantly bang the drum for policymakers — that we have this resource that we have to look after, and that we can use to build resilience and adapt to climate change.”

The Farmers Had What the Billionaires Wanted

The New York Times

The Farmers Had What the Billionaires Wanted

Conor Dougherty – January 21, 2024

Jan Sramek, the CEO of California Forever and Flannery Associates who has bought up over 60,000 acres of nearby farmland with plans to build a new city, in Solano County, Calif. on Dec. 21, 2023. (Aaron Wojack/The New York Times)
Jan Sramek, the CEO of California Forever and Flannery Associates who has bought up over 60,000 acres of nearby farmland with plans to build a new city, in Solano County, Calif. on Dec. 21, 2023. (Aaron Wojack/The New York Times)

RIO VISTA, Calif. — When Jan Sramek walked into the American Legion post in Rio Vista, California, for a town hall meeting last month, everyone in the room knew that he was really just there to get yelled at.

For six years a mysterious company called Flannery Associates, which Sramek controlled, had upended the town of 10,000 by spending hundreds of millions of dollars trying to buy every farm in the area. Flannery made multimillionaires out of some owners and sparked feuds among others. It sued a group of holdouts who had refused its above-market offers, on the grounds that they were colluding for more.

The company was Rio Vista’s main source of gossip, yet until a few weeks before the meeting no one in the room had heard of Sramek or knew what Flannery was up to. Residents worried it could be a front for foreign spies looking to surveil a nearby Air Force base. One theory held the company was acquiring land for a new Disneyland.

Now the truth was standing in front of them. And somehow it was weirder than the rumors.

The truth was that Sramek wanted to build a city from the ground up, in an agricultural region whose defining feature was how little it had changed. The idea would have been treated as a joke if it weren’t backed by a group of Silicon Valley billionaires who included Michael Moritz, a venture capitalist; Reid Hoffman, an investor and co-founder of LinkedIn; and Laurene Powell Jobs, the founder of the Emerson Collective and the widow of the Apple co-founder Steve Jobs. They and others from the technology world had spent some $900 million on farmland in a demonstration of their dead seriousness about Sramek’s vision.

Rio Vista, part of Solano County, is technically within the San Francisco Bay Area, but its bait shops and tractor suppliers and Main Street lined with American flags can feel a state away. Sramek’s plan was billed as a salve for San Francisco’s urban housing problems. But paving over ranches to build a city of 400,000 wasn’t the sort of idea you’d expect a group of farmers to be enthused about.

As the TV cameras anticipated, a group of protesters had gathered in the parking lot to shake signs near pickup trucks. Inside, a crowd in jeans and boots sat in chairs, looking skeptical.

Sramek, 36, who is from the Czech Republic and had come to California to try to make it in startups, was now the center of their economy. Flannery had become the largest landowner in the region, amassing an area twice the size of San Francisco.

Christine Mahoney, 63, whose great-grandfather established her family’s farm when Rutherford B. Hayes was president, said that, like it or not, Sramek was now her neighbor. Mahoney had refused several offers for her land, and Flannery’s lawsuit — an antitrust case in federal court — described her as a conspirator who was out to bilk his company.

But she had never met the man in person, so she came to say hello.

“You might be asking yourself, ‘Why is this guy with a funny accent here?’” Sramek began the meeting.

He spent about 20 minutes pitching his plans before submitting to questions and resentments. People accused him of pushing small farms out of business. They said Flannery’s money was turning families against each other.

“Good neighbors don’t sue their neighbors!” one man yelled to applause.

Sramek, who is tall, intense and practiced in the art of holding eye contact, stayed up front after the meeting to glad-hand.

When Mahoney and her husband, Dan, 65, approached him, Sramek said, “Hi, Christine!” as if they had met several times before and he wasn’t currently suing her.

“I’d like to welcome you as our neighbor, but it’s kind of difficult,” Christine Mahoney said.

She talked about how much stress the lawsuit had put on her family.

Sramek nodded, as if she were talking about someone else, not him. Then he asked the couple to dinner. The Mahoneys agreed.

Going to the Ballot

One key difference between building an app and building a city is that a city requires permission. On Wednesday, Sramek’s company officially filed a proposed ballot initiative that would ask voters to buy in. Specifically, the measure aims to amend a long-standing “orderly growth” ordinance that protects Solano County’s farms and open space by steering development to urban areas.

Solano’s residents have consistently backed the city-centered-growth laws, so Sramek’s project is bound to be controversial. To overcome resistance, the initiative includes a long list of promises like new roads, money to invest in downtowns across the county and a $400 million fund to help Solano residents buy homes.

Sramek also revealed that he hoped to build directly next to Rio Vista, with a half-mile-wide park separating the old farming town from the new tech city. Renderings that his company released this month portray a medium-density community that is roughly the opposite of a subdivision, with a grid of row houses that lie a short walk from shops and have easy access to bike lanes and bus stops. He said the first phase of building could accommodate about 50,000 people.

Even if the measure gets on the ballot and passes, it will be one step on a path requiring approval from county, state and federal agencies — a long list of ifs that explains why large projects are usually measured in decades, not the few years that Sramek seems to imagine.

It’s a crucial step, however. Beyond amending the ordinance, a win would pressure county officials to work with Sramek, so opponents are already lining up. A group called Solano Together, a mix of agricultural and environmental organizations like Greenbelt Alliance, recently created a website that characterizes the project as harmful sprawl that would destroy farms.

The fight is something of a throwback. Whether it was paving over San Fernando Valley orange groves to build out Los Angeles or ripping out apricot farms in what is now Silicon Valley, California became the nation’s biggest state and economy largely by trading open and agricultural land for population and development.

That shifted in the 1960s and 1970s, when a backlash against the growth-first regime and its penchant for destroying landscapes helped create modern environmentalism. In the half-century since, this turn has been codified in laws that aim to restrict development to existing cities and their edges. It has protected farms and open space, but also helped drive up the cost of living by making housing scarcer and more expensive to build.

Sramek framed his proposal as a backlash to the backlash, part of an ideological project to revive Californians’ appetite for growth. If the state is serious about tackling its dire affordable housing problem, he argued, it doesn’t just have to build more housing in places like San Francisco and its suburbs — it also has to expand the urban footprint with new cities.

As a matter of policy, this is hard to dismiss. This is politics, however, so the bigger question is whether voters share his desire to return California to an era of expansion. And whether — after six years during which Sramek obfuscated his role in Flannery’s secret land acquisition, along with the company’s billionaire backers and true purpose, all while pursuing farmers with aggressive tactics and lawsuits — they find him trustworthy.

The Golden Boy vs. 1877

Christine and Dan Mahoney’s house looks onto a barn that says 1877, the year Christine Mahoney’s great-grandfather built it.

When I met the couple for an interview at their house last year, Christine Mahoney had decorated the dining table with black-and-white pictures of relatives in button dresses and bonnets. Later we drove along roads named for her ancestors.

Winding through the hills, Christine Mahoney ticked off parcels that belonged to the family, others that were owned by neighbors and more owned by Flannery. When I asked how she discerned the lines of ownership in an expanse of yellow grassland, she said: “You live here a hundred years.”

Sramek, meanwhile, talks about growth in moral terms, as if progress and wealth are simpatico and the most consequential people are those who build big things and a fortune along the way.

Driving near the Mahoneys’ ranch recently, through the same yellow hills, he posited that the mix of wealth and innovation that has exploded in the Bay Area has happened only a handful of times in history. (Florence, Paris, London, New York, Chicago and “maybe LA” were some others.) We were 60 miles from San Francisco in a place where the tallest structures are wind turbines, but his message was that the region could be an economic sun, and that bringing more people in the orbit was worthy of the trade-offs.

An immigrant and striver who at 22 was a co-author of a book called “Racing Towards Excellence,” Sramek got his first spurt of publicity at Goldman Sachs, where the financial press hailed him as a “Golden Boy” trader and considered it newsworthy when he left, after two years of employment, to chase a bigger dream in startups.

His tech career was less sparkling. After Goldman, he moved from London to Zurich and started a corporate education company called Better. It operated for two years and prompted a move to San Francisco, where he founded a social media company, Memo, in 2015.

Memo was billed as a higher-minded version of Twitter and won praise from venture capitalist Marc Andreessen. That praise was delivered on Twitter instead of Memo, which was pretty much the story: Memo failed to rack up users and shut down after a year.

His failures aside, Sramek was smitten with the Bay Area’s culture of creative capitalism. He was less enamored with the actual place.

The mythical Silicon Valley was in reality a bunch of office parks and cul-de-sacs where subdivision-grade homes went for $2 million. The more picturesque and urban San Francisco was being consumed by rising rents and their attendant homeless problems.

Complaining about the cost of living, and the region’s inability to fix it, had become something of a side hustle for many Bay Area CEOs. And after Memo, Sramek started looking for a big disruptive idea for them to fund.

“If we go back six or seven years, the popular hit in the press was ‘Silicon Valley is not doing enough in the real world,’” he said. “And I was sitting there working on this.”

Flannery Associates

Sramek likes to fish. The way he tells it, around 2016 he and his girlfriend (now wife) started making the one-hour drive from San Francisco to Rio Vista to catch bass on the Sacramento River. One of those trips, driving past pastures and grazing sheep, sparked an idea.

“What if you could start from scratch?” he said.

In a state whose agricultural bounty has historically been a function of moving water great distances, the area is something of an anachronism. For generations, families like the Mahoneys have practiced “dryland farming,” which means they rely on rain, not irrigation.

The Mahoneys talk about this the same way they talk about their land and family: with an emphasis on tradition and the romance of continuity. Sramek described the land as “not prime.”

The phrase angered several farmers at the Rio Vista town meeting, but in dollar terms it’s accurate. At the time of Sramek’s first fishing trip, land in the area was trading around $4,000 an acre — a pittance compared with a Central Valley almond orchard (about $10,000 to $55,000 per acre) or a Napa Valley vineyard (anywhere from $50,000 to more than $500,000 per acre), according to the California chapter of the American Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers.

Sramek starting doing research and soon found himself immersed in zoning policy and poring over old development maps dreaming of a startup city. Investors were initially reluctant, he said, so he borrowed $1 million from friends and banks to put a deposit on a handful of properties, then hired consultants and land-use lawyers to assess what it would take to build there.

By now Sramek was well networked. He had done a fellowship at Y Combinator, a startup incubator. He was in a book club with partners at Sequoia Capital. He was friends with billionaires like Patrick and John Collison, the sibling founders of the payments company Stripe.

The Collisons became two of Flannery’s first investors. Andreessen and Chris Dixon, also of the Andreessen Horowitz venture capital firm, joined soon after, along with Moritz, who was Sequoia’s chair. All of them helped Sramek solicit others.

In a 2017 note to potential investors I obtained, Moritz wrote that if “done right” the project could help relieve congestion and housing prices in the Bay Area, and mused about the potential to experiment with new kinds of governance. It could also be spectacularly profitable, he said: Moritz estimated that investors could make 10 times their money even if they just got the land rezoned, and far more if and when it was developed.

Flannery Associates was named for Flannery Road, which borders the first property Sramek bought. Aside from that detail and its Delaware incorporation, residents and public officials could find almost nothing about its shareholders or intentions. Just that it wanted a lot of land, didn’t care about the price and was willing to strong-arm owners when money didn’t work.

In addition to working their own land, many farmers in the area lease parcels where they grow crops and graze animals. As Flannery consumed more and more property, people like Ian Anderson found themselves in the uncomfortable position of trying to rebuff its offers for parcels they owned — while at the same time farming land they rented from Flannery.

Anderson learned how vulnerable he was after a local newspaper quoted him saying that the company had begun insisting on short-term leases and that this made it increasingly difficult to farm. Later, Flannery’s lawyer sent him a letter informing him that it was terminating multiple leases covering thousands of acres.

“The Andersons have made it clear that they do not like Flannery,” according to the letter. “The Andersons are of course free to have their opinions, but they cannot expect that Flannery will continue to just be a punching bag and lease property to them.”

Rep. John Garamendi, a Democrat from the area, characterized moves like this as “mobster techniques.” The bigger concern was that Flannery’s holdings had grown into a giant mass that butted against Travis Air Force Base on three sides.

The proximity to the base alarmed both the county and the Department of Defense, which prompted local officials and members of Congress to call for investigations. The investigations elevated the mystery of Flannery Associates into a mainstay on local TV news.

“The FBI was investigating this, the State Department was investigating this, the Treasury Department was investigating this — all the local electeds were trying to get information and calling their legislators,” said Rep. Mike Thompson, another Democrat from the area.

The company remained silent.

Sramek said Flannery had operated in secret to prevent landowners from jacking up prices, and defended the lawsuits as just. He argued that while some farmers didn’t want to sell, most had done so willingly — at prices no other buyer could offer.

“We paid way over market value, and created hundreds of millionaires in the process,” he said. “We are glad that we have been able to settle most of our disputes, and we are open to settling the remaining ones.”

A Simple Case of Wealthy Landowners?

By 2023, Sramek and his investors were in deep. Flannery had spent some $900 million buying 60,000 acres. The first two rounds of funding, at about $10 million each, had ballooned to several more rounds at $100 million each. (Sramek said the company had now raised “more than $900 million” but would not be more specific.)

Big investors begot bigger investors, and the list expanded to a roster of Silicon Valley heavyweights including Hoffman and Powell Jobs.

The company’s offers became so generous that many farmers decided they couldn’t refuse.

The Mahoneys sold Flannery a few hundred acres early on. (Their land is owned by several different entities and hard to tally overall, but in the 1960s Christine Mahoney’s father told a newspaper that he had 16,000 acres in the area.) But as Flannery gobbled more of the land around them, Christine Mahoney said, she realized that something big was happening and that their entire farming business could be at risk. So the family stopped selling to Flannery. The company persisted with more offers, however, improving terms and increasing prices to levels that would have netted tens of millions of dollars. The family continued to say no.

Flannery arrived while the Mahoneys were in the midst of transition. Over 150 years, the family’s company, R. Emigh Livestock, had expanded from two dozen lambs to one of largest sheep farmers in California. Christine Mahoney’s father was in his 90s (he died last year) and she was passing leadership to her son Ryan, who said his wish was to stay there until he was in his 90s, too.

You wouldn’t know it from her jeans or penchant for nostalgia, but Christine Mahoney had spent her career running a corporation, one whose business was raising lambs and cattle. She was, like Sramek, a CEO.

And after years of back and forth, one thing Flannery’s entreaties had made clear was that there was one property the Mahoneys owned that it coveted above the others: Goose Haven Ranch. But Goose Haven was the one the family was most protective of. It had been the center of the lambing operation long enough that the road leading up to it was designed for wagon traffic.

Elsewhere in the county, Flannery had started buying into farms by acquiring shares from family members who wanted out, then becoming what amounted to unwelcome partners with the ones who remained. Two of these arrangements led to lawsuits between Flannery and the other owners. Both settled, but one of them netted a trove of emails and text messages among several neighbors including the Mahoneys.

In May, Flannery used those messages to file an antitrust suit against the Mahoneys and several holdouts. The suit contended that the farmers were colluding to raise prices, describing them as “wealthy landowners who saw an opportunity to conspire, collude, price fix and illegally overcharge Flannery.” It asked for $510 million in damages.

The complaint describes the messages (like Christine Mahoney writing to a neighbor, “That’s great that we can support each other!”) as “a smoking gun” proving that the defendants did want to sell but at even higher prices than Flannery was offering.

In a joint motion to dismiss, lawyers for the Mahoneys and other defendants described Flannery’s lawsuit as “a ham-fisted intimidation technique” designed to smother them with legal fees.

Even after being sued, the Mahoneys still had no idea who Flannery actually was.

The Campaign Apology Tour

In August, The New York Times broke the news of who was behind the purchases. Sramek confirmed his role, and soon topped his LinkedIn profile with a new title: CEO of California Forever, the company’s new name.

He has been in campaign mode ever since, meeting with elected officials, union leaders and environmental groups. California Forever has opened four offices across the county, and Solano’s freeways are now plastered with California Forever billboards.

In a state where it can take years to get a duplex approved, Sramek seems to have calculated that his project is too big to fail. Developers, planners and lawyers I spoke to all expected the project to either never happen or take at least 20 years. Whether out of bluster, delusion or confidence, Sramek, who recently bought a house in nearby Fairfield, said he had promised his wife that their infant daughter would start school in the development he wanted to build.

He didn’t find some secret hack that can make California an easier place to build. Rather, he believes the state’s attitude toward growth is changing. Californians, he thinks, have grown frustrated — with punishing housing costs, with homelessness, with the state’s inability to complete projects like the high-speed rail line that was supposed to connect the Bay Area and Los Angeles but has stalled. So just maybe his will, and gobs of money, can create a new posture toward growth.

“There’s a cultural moment where we realize the pendulum has gone too far,” Sramek said. “We can’t say we are about economic opportunity and working-class Californians are leaving the state every year.”

Last year’s event in Rio Vista was held at the end of lambing season in December. Before the meeting, I dropped by a barn with the Mahoneys where a group of “bummers” — lambs born weak or to overburdened ewes — were in sawdust pens drinking milk. They would be chops in less than a year, and Christine Mahoney cooed to them between my questions.

I asked her a crass but obvious one: why the money from Sramek, those tens of millions, wasn’t enticing.

“Everybody has their price, right?” she said. “I’ve heard that so many times. ‘Everybody has their number — what’s your number?’ I guess I haven’t found it yet.”

“When God calls us home, that’s our number,” Dan Mahoney joked. “Totally different philosophy.”

On Wednesday, Sramek returned to the American Legion post in Rio Vista. This time he had arrived as part of a kickoff event for the ballot initiative. Neighbors and protesters had returned but were prohibited from going inside, where slides of maps and renderings were presented to the press, and details about design were discussed.

The maps had a curious detail: On the edge of the proposed community’s downtown, was Goose Haven Ranch.

The night before the meeting, the Mahoneys sold it. They got about $23 million.

I Was Diagnosed With Colon Cancer at 32. Here Are the First Symptoms I Had


I Was Diagnosed With Colon Cancer at 32. Here Are the First Symptoms I Had

Julia Ries – January 18, 2024

Raquel A./powerofforever/Getty Images

Raquel A., 33, never guessed she had cancer, even though she had symptoms that worried her. A few years ago, her bowel movements became increasingly frequent and abnormal, which she figured was due to undiagnosed irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or a food intolerance. She didn’t have health insurance, so she put off going to the doctor and tried to ease her discomfort with fiber supplements and dietary changes. After getting a job that offered medical coverage, she saw a primary care physician, who told her she likely just had anxiety. Her symptoms worsened, and in 2023, she was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer. Raquel has been sharing her experience with the condition—as well as what she wants others to know about seeking help as early as possible—on TikTok. Here’s her story, as told to health writer Julia Ries.

I first started having noticeable gastrointestinal issues in 2019, right before the pandemic. I was living with a roommate, and one day we started talking about how I was going to the bathroom all the time. I could go number two 8 to 10 times a day and never feel like I had a complete bowel movement. I told my roommate I suspected I wasn’t getting enough fiber, or perhaps I simply wasn’t eating “healthy enough.” Maybe I had irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), or a gluten or dairy sensitivity. It never occurred to me that I might have cancer.

I didn’t have health insurance. As a result, going to the doctor—unless I had an absolute emergency—wasn’t something I did in my 20s. Instead of checking in with a primary care doctor, I started intermittently taking Metamucil, a fiber supplement, to help regulate my bowel movements and treat random bouts of diarrhea. This helped, at least for a little while.

In 2021, I moved to the greater Seattle area, where I landed a job in the tech industry and, with it, good health insurance. My symptoms remained quiet until they came back in 2022. I was going to the bathroom a lot again, and my bowel movements became uncomfortable. My stools were pencil-thin, sometimes orangish-red in color, and occasionally there’d be a little blood. I got abnormally full after eating. I was bloated, no matter what I ate—I tried being dairy-free, then gluten-free. Looking back, these were major warning signs that something was wrong, and I wouldn’t find out until later that they were classic signs of colorectal cancer.

I scheduled a physical—my first in over a decade—in May of 2023. I told my doctor about the digestive issues I’d been experiencing since 2019: the frequent—and sometimes painful—bowel movements, the bloody stools, the early satiety. I shared that it felt like my symptoms were getting worse, and she said I likely had anxiety—and maybe gas—and scheduled a psychiatric appointment for me.

I believed her. I thought, “Maybe she’s right: I’m worrying too much about these symptoms and should just let it go.” In retrospect, she was incredibly dismissive, which I think was a result of my being so young at the time—I was 32, a woman, and a minority. Statistically speaking, people who fall into any of those categories, let alone all three of them, tend to have their health issues dismissed by doctors.

Three weeks after that exam, I developed severe abdominal pain. It wasn’t just localized to my lower stomach or my side—the pain radiated throughout my entire abdomen and toward my lower back. It was unbearable. I nearly fainted in my apartment. I’m not somebody who’s quick to take medication or go to the doctor, but I knew something was wrong, so I went to the emergency room. Again, I doubted myself and thought that perhaps I was making a big deal out of nothing. Fortunately, my ER physician took my pain seriously—she ordered a CT scan, scheduled an abdominal ultrasound, and ran a full panel of blood work. When the results came in, she sat down and told me they found cancer on my ovaries and liver. I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

I met with an oncologist and had a liver biopsy. That’s when they discovered that the cancer, adenocarcinoma, had originated in my colon and metastasized, or spread, to other organs. I was diagnosed with stage four colorectal cancer. I had an endoscopy and a colonoscopy so the doctors could get a better look—my colorectal cancer was so large and so advanced that they had trouble getting the scope through my colon.

I learned that colorectal cancer is very slow-growing. I could have had cancer for 8 to 10 years, potentially all of my 20s, without knowing it. With colon cancer, you usually don’t start having noticeable (or even severe) symptoms until it’s progressed to stage three or four. Plus, the symptoms, like nausea, constipation, diarrhea, or difficulty going to the bathroom, can be due to so many other conditions—some serious, like ovarian cancer, but others more benign, such as IBS.

After my diagnosis, I started chemotherapy. The cancer had caused a buildup of fluids in my stomach, the source of the bloating, that I had to have drained. I met with a GI specialist who advised me to tweak my diet—for example, I had to limit how much meat I was eating, cut out raw fruits and vegetables, and stick to soft foods, like pudding and mashed potatoes—which immediately improved my bowel movements. I’ve done various blood tests that assess how my cancer is progressing—including a CEA (a marker for colorectal cancer), CA125 (a marker for ovarian cancer), and CA19 (another cancer marker) tests—and have undergone genetic testing to better understand how my genes may have contributed to the cancer.

I continue to get chemotherapy biweekly, though I’ve switched to another chemotherapy drug because I experienced unpleasant side effects with the first type, and the cancer on my liver and lungs wasn’t responding to that treatment. My doctors informed me that eventually the chemo will stop working because my condition is terminal. I don’t qualify for surgery, since my cancer has spread so deeply, but I’m continuing to look into surgical options along with new treatments and clinical trials I can participate in. My chances of reaching survival two years after the diagnosis was 20%. At five years, that drops to 5%, but I’m determined to beat the odds.

Throughout this entire experience, I’ve learned how to advocate for myself. After I received my diagnosis, doctors took my condition very seriously and quickly scheduled multiple procedures and appointments for me—but that wasn’t always the case. I’d been dismissed for years, and even after I started chemotherapy, I felt as though my doctor wasn’t listening to my concerns, so I found a new oncologist who has been very responsive and attentive. I’ve learned how important it is to get a second opinion—all you need is that one doctor who is going to listen and fight for you. You might not find that person right away, but keep pressing: Getting screened could be a matter of life or death.

If I hadn’t followed my intuition—if I skipped going to the ER that day in 2023, or stuck with doctors who said nothing was wrong—there’s a chance I wouldn’t be alive. It’s so easy to doubt yourself, especially if medical professionals are downplaying your symptoms, but if you feel like something is wrong, go with your gut. It’s usually right.


Cancer incidence rising among adults under 50, new report says, leaving doctors searching for answers


Cancer incidence rising among adults under 50, new report says, leaving doctors searching for answers

Jacqueline Howard, CNN – January 17, 2024

Josh Herting was on a business trip in Vermont when he received a phone call from his doctor that would change his life. On that cold winter day — a decade ago this week — his doctor told him that he had colon cancer.

After hanging up the phone, Herting wanted to keep working.

“I was very focused on work, and I was like, ‘I’ve got to finish this work trip, and then I’ll be home,’ ” he said. “I didn’t understand the seriousness of it.”

But moments later, he picked up the phone again and called his girlfriend, Amber. When he told her the news, she said it was time to come home.

Herting drove five hours to Boston. He arrived home at 2 o’clock in the morning and had medical appointments beginning six hours later.

“I was 34 years old, in what I would consider incredible health. I worked out five to six days a week, very low body fat, ate really healthy, and was in no pain or anything, but I noticed some clotted blood in my stool on a few different occasions,” said Herting, who is now 44 and married to Amber. He added that his father was diagnosed with stage I colon cancer in his early 50s but said he had no other known family history of the disease.

Herting’s journey of battling early-onset cancer is an experience shared by a growing proportion of young adults.

Cancer patients are “increasingly shifting from older to middle-aged individuals,” according to a report released Wednesday by the American Cancer Society.

Among adults 65 and older, adults 50 to 64 and those younger than 50, “people aged younger than 50 years were the only one of these three age groups to experience an increase in overall cancer incidence” from 1995 to 2020, says the report, which was published in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians.

Even though the overall US population is aging, “we’re seeing a movement of cancer diagnosis into younger folks, despite the fact that there are more people that are in the older populations,” said Dr. William Dahut, chief scientific officer for the American Cancer Society.

“So cancer diagnoses are shifting earlier,” he said. “There’s something going on here.”

Herting’s diagnosis came after a gastroenterologist recommended that he get a colonoscopy due to the blood in his stool.

Herting had surgery, about a week and a half after his diagnosis, to remove the tumor and a foot of his colon. After the surgery and further testing, he said, his medical team at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute estimated that the cancer had been in his system for about eight years and was stage IIIA. Stage III colon cancers are likely to have spread to nearby lymph nodes, but they have not yet spread to other parts of the body, according to the American Cancer Society.

Herting then had chemotherapy, and after five years of monitoring his recovery with CAT scans and blood work, his team declared him cancer-free. Amber remained by his side during his cancer treatments.

Josh Herting says he hopes cancer screenings are less intrusive by the time his children are grown. - Courtesy Josh Herting
Josh Herting says he hopes cancer screenings are less intrusive by the time his children are grown. – Courtesy Josh Herting

“But you’re never the same person,” Herting said of his cancer journey. He still has some fatigue and numbness in his fingertips and toes from chemotherapy, and he gets colonoscopies every three years – unless his doctor says otherwise – to make sure the cancer has not returned.

“Colonoscopies – I’ve had way more than I’d like to admit – they’re not fun. But at the same time, colon cancer and chemotherapy are a million times worse,” Herting said.

“There’s this stigma about colonoscopy. For people that have never had cancer, it’s kind of this taboo topic, and you’ve got to go through this process to prep for it, and that’s not fun,” he said. “But I can tell you firsthand, it is definitely worth doing.”

Among adults younger than 50, colorectal cancer has become the leading cause of cancer death in men and the second-leading cause in women, behind breast cancer, the new report says. In the late 1990s, it ranked fourth in both men and women younger than 50.

“It’s just different now than it used to be,” Dahut said. “This young adult trend is the thing that has me scratching my head the most.”

‘A call to arms’

Even though the rising cancer incidence among younger adults has been
“poorly understood” and raises more questions than answers, Dr. Scott Kopetz says he has seen the trend firsthand at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.

“In our clinical practice, we’re seeing patients presenting younger and presenting before ages of screening for many cancers, so it’s certainly a continued concerning trend in the field,” said Kopetz, an associate vice president for translational integration and a professor of gastrointestinal medical oncology at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.

For instance, it’s recommended that all adults start screening for colon and rectal cancers at age 45, but more cases are emerging among people at even younger ages.

“When one looks at the totality of the data, it really is a call to arms to really better understand the changing epidemiology of cancer,” Kopetz said.

“Colorectal is the most prominent one, but we’re also seeing that in cancers that don’t have as clear-cut screening guidelines – so things like pancreas, gastric cancer – are also seeing trends towards earlier ages,” he said. “Pancreas cancer, and to some extent gastric cancer as well, are ones that we just don’t have good screening methodologies currently, but we’re seeing a lot of the same trends occurring.”

Kopetz worries that the rising incidence of cancer in young adults will grow into a rising incidence of cancer in older age.

“There’s a concern that, as the population ages, that what is currently an increase in young-onset disease will turn into increases in mid-onset and late-onset disease as well. So if the epidemiology of this is changing, this could be the beginning of a wave of increased cancers that may persist or may continue to increase over the next decades,” he said.

The new American Cancer Society report projects that there will be about 2 million new cancer cases in the United States this year, equivalent to more than 5,000 diagnoses each day. It’s also projected that there will be about 600,000 cancer deaths in 2024.

“This is a call to better understand what’s driving these increases,” Kopetz said. “And a call also to accelerate efforts for early detection approaches that may provide screening for multiple different tumor types.”

Herting, who now has a 7-year-old son and a 5-year-old daughter, hopes that when his children are young adults, screening for cancers will be less intrusive, especially for colorectal cancer.

“I hope for the future that it’s made to be less invasive,” Herting said. “If we could find a way to make it less invasive, more and more people would be willing to do it, and most likely insurance might be more apt to cover it for more people.”

Other data has showed that the share of colorectal cancer diagnoses among adults younger than 55 in the US has been rising since the 1990s. Signs and symptoms of colorectal cancer include changes in bowel habits, rectal bleeding or blood in the stool, cramping or abdominal pain, weakness and fatigue, and unexplained weight loss.

report released last year by the American Cancer Society showed that the proportion of colorectal cancer cases among adults younger than 55 increased from 11% in 1995 to 20% in 2019. Yet the factors driving that rise remain a mystery.

Some of the things known to raise anyone’s risk of colorectal cancer are having a family history of the disease, having a certain genetic mutation, drinking too much alcohol, smoking cigarettes or having obesity.

“People point to exercise, diet, types of food,” Dahut said, but there’s probably more than just one cause — and sometimes, younger people diagnosed with early-onset colorectal cancer are otherwise healthy, with a history of working out and eating healthy diets, and don’t have a family history or genetic mutations.

Some scientists have been looking into whether a woman’s obesity during pregnancy may be associated with an increased risk of colorectal cancer in her offspring and whether that association could contribute to increasing incidence rates in younger adults — but more research is needed.

“The continuous sharp increase in colorectal cancer in younger Americans is alarming,” Dr. Ahmedin Jemal, senior vice president of surveillance and health equity science at the American Cancer Society and senior author of the new report, said in a news release.

“We need to halt and reverse this trend by increasing uptake of screening, including awareness of non-invasive stool tests with follow-up care, in people 45-49 years. Up to one-third of people diagnosed before 50 have a family history or genetic predisposition and should begin screening before age 45 years,” Jemal said. “We also need to increase investment to elucidate the underlying reasons for the rising incidence to uncover additional preventive measures.”

Cases climb as deaths decline

Overall, the number of people dying from cancer in the United States continues to decline, but the incidence rates for several types of cancer — including breast, prostate, uterine corpus, pancreas, oropharynx, liver in women, kidney, melanoma, and colorectal and cervical in young adults — remain on the rise, according to the new American Cancer Society report.

Cancer deaths continued to fall in the United States through 2021, leading to an overall drop of 33% since 1991, the report says, largely due to fewer people smoking, more people detecting cancer early and major improvements in treatments for cancer, such as immunotherapies and targeted therapies.

“We’re encouraged by the steady drop in cancer mortality as a result of less smoking, earlier detection for some cancers, and improved treatment,” Rebecca Siegel, senior scientific director of surveillance research at the American Cancer Society and lead author of the report, said in a news release. “But as a nation, we’ve dropped the ball on cancer prevention as incidence continues to increase for many common cancers — like breast, prostate, and endometrial, as well as colorectal and cervical cancers in some young adults.”

The report adds that “progress is lagging in cancer prevention,” as six of the top 10 cancers in the United States have had increases in incidence.

The cancers with red bars are increasing. - American Cancer Society
The cancers with red bars are increasing. – American Cancer Society

Among the top 10 cancers, based on cases projected in 2024, those that are increasing are breast, prostate, melanoma of the skin, kidney and renal, uterine corpus and pancreas.

The new report says that incidence rates increased from 2015 through 2019 by about 1% each year for breast, pancreas and uterine cancers and by up to 3% annually for prostate, liver in women, kidney and HPV-associated oral cancers and melanoma. Incidence rates also increased up to 2% annually for cervical cancers in ages 30 to 44 and colorectal cancers in adults younger than 55, according to the report.

The report also highlights that racial disparities in cancer incidence and deaths continue, as people of color still face increased risks, and the report says this has “hampered” progress.

“Progress is also hampered by wide persistent cancer disparities; compared to White people, mortality rates are two‐fold higher for prostate, stomach and uterine corpus cancers in Black people and for liver, stomach, and kidney cancers in Native American people,” according to the report. “Continued national progress will require increased investment in cancer prevention and access to equitable treatment, especially among American Indian and Alaska Native and Black individuals.”

Colon cancer is killing more younger men and women than ever, new report finds

NBC News

Colon cancer is killing more younger men and women than ever, new report finds

Erika Edwards and Jessica Herzberg – January 17, 2024

Report shows colorectal cancer is deadliest cancer for men under age 50Scroll back up to restore default view.

Colorectal cancer is the deadliest cancer for men under age 50 — and the second deadliest cancer among women in the same age group, behind breast cancer.

The incidence of colon cancer has been rising for at least the last two decades, when it was the fourth-leading cause of cancer death for both men and women under 50.

Among men and women of all ages, lung cancer remains the leading cause of cancer death. Prostate cancer is second for men, and breast cancer is second for women. Colorectal cancer is third, overall, for both sexes.

The diagnosis of late-stage colorectal cancer was a shock to Sierra Fuller, 33. (Courtesy Sierra Fuller )
The diagnosis of late-stage colorectal cancer was a shock to Sierra Fuller, 33. (Courtesy Sierra Fuller )

Even as overall cancer deaths continue to fall in the U.S., the American Cancer Society is reporting for the first time that colon and rectal cancers have become leading causes of cancer death in younger adults. The finding was published Wednesday in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians.

Cancer is traditionally a disease among the elderly, although the percentage of new cases found in people 65 and older has fallen from 61% in 1995 to 58%. The decrease, attributed mainly to drops in prostate and smoking-related cancers, has occurred even though the proportion of people in that age group has grown from 13% to 17% in the general population.

In contrast, new diagnoses among adults ages 50 to 64 have increased since 1995, from 25% to 30%.

Rates of breast and endometrial cancer, as well as mouth and throat disease, have been on the rise. The report did not break down those diagnoses by age.

The findings reflect what cancer doctors have observed for years.

“For a couple of decades now, we have been noticing that the patients coming into our clinic seem to be younger and younger,” said Dr. Kimmie Ng, the director of the Young Onset Colorectal Cancer Center at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. “What this report now cements for us is that these trends are real.” Ng was not involved with the new report.

Dr. William Dahut, the chief scientific officer at the American Cancer Society, said younger people tend to be diagnosed at later stages, when the cancer is more aggressive.

“So it’s not only having a colorectal cancer — it’s colorectal cancer that’s more difficult to treat, which is why we’re seeing these changes in mortality,” Dahut said.

The diagnosis of late-stage colorectal cancer was a shock to Sierra Fuller, 33, of Acton, Massachusetts, just outside Boston.

It was around Christmas 2021 when Fuller noticed blood in her stool when she went to the bathroom. With no family history of colon cancer, she figured the problem was most likely an annoying hemorrhoid.

Weeks later, the blood deposits worsened, and she started having abdominal pain.

Sierra Fuller and her husband. (Courtesy Sierra Fuller)
Sierra Fuller and her husband. (Courtesy Sierra Fuller)

“It was a month from when I got the symptoms to when I sought help, and I realize that I was pushing it,” she said. Tests revealed she had stage 3b colorectal cancer. That usually means the cancer has started to spread through the colon and possibly to nearby lymph nodes, but not any farther, according to the American Cancer Society.

It was a blow to Fuller and her husband, who had just started talking about whether to try for a baby. They decided to freeze embryos before Fuller’s treatment protocol, which would include radiation, chemotherapy and surgery.

It is an example of how cancer uniquely affects young patients.

Sierra Fuller. (Courtesy Sierra Fuller)
Sierra Fuller. (Courtesy Sierra Fuller)

“People younger than 65 are less likely to have health insurance and more likely to be juggling family and careers,” Dahut said in a news release announcing the new report. “Also, men and women diagnosed younger have a longer life expectancy in which to suffer treatment-related side effects, such as second cancers.”

Just over a year later, Fuller is cancer-free but must get regular scans and blood tests. She said that she feels good but that she is “always going to have that worry” that her cancer will return.

“If I have to go through this again, whatever that looks like, I’ll cross that bridge if it comes,” Fuller said.

Why is cancer rising in younger people?

Doctors do not know why cancer, especially colorectal cancer, is becoming more common in younger adults. Some hypothesize that increasing obesity rates, sedentary behavior and unhealthy diets could be playing roles.

“But honestly, the patients we’re seeing in clinic often do not fit that profile,” said Dr. Kimmie Ng, the director of the Young Onset Colorectal Cancer Center at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. “A lot of them are triathletes and marathon runners. I mean, super healthy people.”

Ng suspects something in the environment may be behind the rise.

“What we suspect may be happening is that whatever combination of environmental factors is responsible for this, that it’s likely changing our microbiomes or our immune systems, leading us to become more susceptible to these cancers at a younger age,” Ng said.

How to protect against colorectal cancer

Colonoscopy screening is generally recommended starting at age 45. People with family histories of the illness may need to begin screening earlier.

A person whose parent was diagnosed with colon cancer at age 50, for example, would need to start screening at age 40, Dahut said.

However, only about a third of people diagnosed with colon cancer have some kind of family history or predisposition to the cancer.

Maintaining a healthy body weight and minimizing red meat in the diet may help reduce risk, Ng said.

Signs that could signal a problem, Ng said, include blood in the stool, abdominal pain, unintentional weight loss and changes in bowel habits.

“If it’s getting worse, if it’s not going away, you know, that’s when somebody really needs to start paying attention and talk to their primary care doctor about what’s happening,” she said.