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Home | Tag Archives: immigration

Tag Archives: immigration

Doctors urge probe of child migrant deaths, warn “poor conditions” at border increase risk of spreading flu

A group of doctors from Harvard and Johns Hopkins has urged Congress to investigate the deaths of six migrant children who were held in government custody after crossing the southern border in the past year, warning that “poor conditions” at U.S. facilities are increasing the risk of spreading deadly infectious diseases, especially the flu.

The doctors, who wrote to Congress on Thursday, said autopsy reports show that at least three of the children — ages 2, 6 and 16 — died in part as a result of having the flu, a far higher incidence of such deaths than across the general population. Child flu deaths are rare, the doctors said, and should be preventable.

“Poor conditions at the facilities may be amplifying the spread of influenza and other infectious diseases, increasing health risks to children,” according to the letter, submitted by Harvard pediatrics professor Jonathan Winickoff, Johns Hopkins public health professors Joshua Sharfstein and Paul Spiegel and two of their master’s students, and San Francisco forensic pathologist Judy Melinek. “With so many lives at risk, these issues are worthy of congressional investigation. Another influenza season is around the corner, and there are other types of infectious diseases that pose a threat to detained populations. Timely action is critical.”

The letter, dated Thursday, alleges that the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Health and Human Services — which supervises longer-term custody of unaccompanied migrant minors — might not be following best practices in regard to screening, treatment, isolation and prevention of the flu.

Sharfstein said in an interview that with all of the problems at the southern border, “people may be overlooking the risks of outbreaks that are entirely preventable.”

The doctors’ concerns come as the U.S. government has been struggling to deal with a record influx of Central American families and unaccompanied minors at the border, a shift in migration patterns that has at times put incredible stress on the nation’s immigration infrastructure. Children have spent days or even weeks in Border Patrol stations that are not meant for long-term housing, and the crush has meant people have been jammed into cage-like holding pens and even have had to stay in outdoor fenced encampments without access to showers or beds.

U.S. officials have said they are doing their best to care for everyone they take into custody but have acknowledged numerous times that Border Patrol stations are not designed to handle the number of migrants that have been crossing the border in recent months. Even with a downturn in June and July, some facilities are still overcrowded.

Detainees with the flu, including children, “are handled as appropriate depending on the specific circumstances,” a Customs and Border Protection spokesman said. Children who test positive for flu are placed together “as best as possible” to separate them from other children, the spokesman said.

Five Guatemalan children who had been taken into Border Patrol custody died between December and May. At least three of the deaths involved the flu, according to autopsy reports obtained by The Washington Post. A sixth child, a 10-year-old girl from El Salvador with a history of heart problems, died last September after a long illness, administration officials disclosed in May.

Before the recent deaths, it had been 10 years since a child died in Border Patrol custody, officials have said.

Border Patrol facilities had little to no health care resources before the December deaths of Jakelin Caal Maquin, 7, and Felipe Gomez Alonzo, 8. DHS officials then deployed Coast Guard medical personnel to border stations and contracted with health care providers.

“CBP has approximately 200 medical personnel engaged along the Southwest border. This is a significant increase from just a few months ago, and a dramatic increase from about 20 medical personnel a year ago,” an agency spokesman said.

The 200 medical personnel include a mix of nurse practitioners, physician assistants, emergency medicine technicians, certified medical assistants and other medical support personnel, the spokesman said.

“Medical personnel on site conduct initial intake interviews to identify health/medical issues as well as more detailed medical assessments on juveniles or persons identified with medical issues,” the spokesman said. “Medical personnel on site are available 24/7 to provide medical diagnosis and treatment, address infectious disease issues, and coordinate referral to and follow up from local health system/emergency rooms.”

The spokesman declined to address whether children are vaccinated for the flu when taken into custody.

The Office of Refugee Resettlement, an HHS agency responsible for children who cross the border without a parent or guardian, gives flu vaccines to children when they are transferred from Border Patrol or other agencies, a spokesman said.

Unaccompanied children are supposed to be moved from Border Patrol to ORR within 72 hours under a long-standing court order, but the Trump administration has routinely violated that edict during the migration surge.

The Border Patrol’s internal standards call for individuals and families to be held for no longer than 72 hours in its temporary holding facilities, but that standard also has not been followed. Two of the children who died of the flu had been held by Border Patrol for six days before falling ill.

“The key point is that these problems are created to a certain extent by poor planning,” Sharfstein said.

Sharfstein said the U.S. government should have been prepared for the health concerns that accompany an increase in migration, as numbers steadily rose, especially among migrants from rural areas of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

Migrant children are at greater risk of flu because of lower immunization rates, higher rates of other infectious diseases and inadequate access to health care earlier in their lives, the letter said. And detention centers are at higher risk for flu outbreaks.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 124 child flu deaths in the United States last flu season, a rate of about one for every 600,000 children, according to the letter.

“While comparisons are difficult for many reasons, this rate of death from influenza appears to be substantially less than the rate in detention facilities, with at least three deaths in as many as 200,000 children detained — many for less than the length of the season,” the letter said.

The doctors outline steps for protecting detained children from the flu, including vaccinating children against the disease when they are taken into custody, aggressive screening for flu symptoms, isolation of symptomatic children, prompt treatment with antiviral medication for children with a positive flu test and prophylactic use of antivirals for people exposed to someone with a positive flu test.

“One important step is obviously for the kids to be moved out as quick as possible,” Sharfstein said. “Just the very fact of living with so many other kids in close quarters creates some level of risk.”

The doctors and public health experts addressed the letter to U.S. Reps. Rosa L. DeLauro, D-Conn., and Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Calif., who chair the appropriations subcommittees overseeing HHS and DHS, respectively. They wrote the letter after reviewing the autopsy reports for four of the six children who died after being taken into Border Patrol custody.

The letter expressed concern that autopsies weren’t performed in two of the deaths and called for an independent forensic review of migrant child deaths.

DeLauro said the letter “is alarming, but unfortunately not surprising, given the way the departments of Health and Human Services and Homeland Security are responding to the crisis on the border.” She vowed more oversight of the agencies.

Author: ROBERT MOORE, THE WASHINGTON POST

Hurd on the Hill: Stopping Drug Cartels and Human Smugglers

There’s no question that our South and West Texas communities are bearing the brunt of the immigration crisis. When crisscrossing the 23rd District of Texas I consistently hear that folks I represent are concerned about the influx of migrants and subsequent releases by the Customs and Border Protection.

It doesn’t help that while the hardworking men and women of our Border Patrol, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Health and Human Services and others on the front lines of the border crisis are working overtime to do their jobs, dangerous drug cartels and human smugglers are benefiting from the crisis.

They operate vast networks that transcend our nation, Mexico and Central America and bring in $29 billion each year – more than Starbucks ($24.71 billion) and McDonalds ($22.9 billion). All while innocent lives suffer.

The root causes of our border crisis are violence, extreme poverty and lack of economic opportunity in the Central American countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador – together known as the Northern Triangle. When these people decide to make the perilous, over 1,500-mile-long journey to the United States, they often need the help of these vast networks to make it happen. These smugglers earn nearly $2.3 billion in revenue each year.

They’re making the crisis worse by transporting people into our country illegally, while putting innocent lives at risk in the process.

We must make dismantling the infrastructure created by these human smugglers a national security priority. In June, 104,000 people were detained at our border. Almost every one of them had a phone number of a smuggler, a license plate of a bus that brought them here or a pickup location in their home country. We should be collecting this information and then use it to stop future operations.

Understanding and disabling these smuggling and trafficking networks should be a national intelligence priority.

These individuals threaten the security of the United States and the entire Western Hemisphere, and when it comes to stopping this crisis we need all hands on deck. This should include the men and women of our intelligence community. We must make sure that they maximize the use of their intelligence capabilities to disrupt and dismantle these dangerous operations.

Understanding these networks must be a national intelligence priority, and I’m proud that my bipartisan effort to make this a reality was passed out of the House last week.

I was proud to join fellow former CIA officer Representative Abigail Spanberger from Virginia in a bipartisan effort to make sure that stopping these bad actors is a national priority of the intelligence community. Solving our immigration crisis is always going to be a multi-front effort.

Ensuring facilities like Carrizo Springs and Clint are well-equipped while also knocking down the trails left by human smugglers are two of those fronts I’ve taken action on recently. I’ll continue to do all that I can to fight for the South and West Texas communities that are bearing the brunt of this crisis.

***

A former undercover CIA officer, entrepreneur and cybersecurity expert, Will Hurd is the U.S. Representative for the 23rd Congressional District of Texas. In Washington, he serves on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, where he is the Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Intelligence Modernization and Readiness, and the House Committee on Appropriations, where he serves on the Subcommittees on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, and on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development.

***

El Paso Herald-Post welcomes all views and viewpoints.  To have your opinion heard, submit your letter to news@epheraldpost.com

 

Most migrants won’t qualify for U.S. asylum under new Trump policy

The Trump administration wants to make migrants who pass through another nation before entering the U.S. at its southern border ineligible for asylum, the Associated Press reported Monday. The effort would disqualify most asylum seekers who did not first seek safe haven in another country before crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, including unaccompanied children.

The AP reported that there would be exceptions to the rule, which was published in the Federal Register and is expected to take effect Tuesday. Migrants would still be eligible for asylum if they had been trafficked, for example, or if they sought asylum in another country but were denied.

The rule, issued jointly by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice, is an effort to crack down on what the Trump administration says are “meritless” claims of asylum from tens of thousands of people who have exploited current law, according to the text.

“By deterring meritless asylum claims and de-prioritizing the applications of individuals who could have obtained protection in another country, the Departments seek to ensure that those refugees who have no alternative to U.S.-based asylum relief or have been subjected to an extreme form of human trafficking are able to obtain relief more quickly,” the text states. “Additionally, the rule seeks to curtail the humanitarian crisis created by human smugglers bringing men, women, and children across the southern border.”

The American Civil Liberties Union promised immediate legal action to halt the policy.

“The Trump administration is trying to unilaterally reverse our country’s legal and moral commitment to protect those fleeing danger,” said Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the Immigrants’ Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union. “This new rule is patently unlawful and we will sue swiftly.”

Other efforts by the Trump administration to change asylum policy — like denying asylum to migrants who cross the border illegally or detaining migrants while their cases are decided — have been blocked.

The latest policy is an attempt to reduce a surge of unaccompanied children and family units — mostly Central Americans seeking asylum — crossing into Texas and other states on the southern border. Last week, the Department of Homeland Security said that through June, U.S. Border Patrol agents had apprehended more than 688,000 undocumented immigrants, an increase of about 140% from last year, a DHS spokesperson said.

The two most heavily used routes go through El Paso and the Rio Grande Valley. From October, when the federal government’s 2019 fiscal year began, through June, more than 27,800 unaccompanied children and about 166,000 family units were apprehended by or surrendered to Border Patrol agents in the Rio Grande Valley sector — an increase of 60% and 293% from 2018, respectively. In the El Paso sector, which also includes New Mexico, about 14,600 unaccompanied children and 117,600 family units were apprehended. That’s an increase of 267% and 1,759% from 2018, respectively.

The new rule could also add to the current logjam of asylum seekers and other refugees in certain Mexican border cities that have to accept asylum seekers under the Trump administration’s Migrant Protection Protocols, known as “remain in Mexico.” The program began in California in January and was expanded to the El Paso ports of entry in March. It expanded to the Laredo and Nuevo Laredo border in South Texas last week.

Through July 11, more than 9,300 people had been returned to Ciudad Juárez under the program, according to Chihuahua state officials. About 36% are from Guatemala, 29% are from Honduras, 16% are from El Salvador and the rest from other countries, including Cuba.

On Friday, Enrique Valenzuela, director of Ciudad Juárez’s Centro de Atención a Migrantes, a migrant transition facility operated by the Chihuahua state government, said state and local officials are trying to quickly find more shelter space in the border city as the number of migrants returned or waiting to apply for asylum grows.

Members of Congress and immigrant advocates have also criticized the conditions that many migrants are facing while detained in Border Patrol processing centers in the United States. Migrant men at a McAllen center hadn’t showered in “10 or 20” days, according to accounts from reporters who accompanied Vice President Mike Pence on a tour of the facility Friday.

Read related Tribune coverage

Author:  JULIÁN AGUILAR – The Texas Tribune

A surge of migrants arriving at the Texas-Mexico border has pushed the country’s immigration system to the breaking point as new policies aimed at both undocumented immigrants and legal asylum seekers have contributed to a humanitarian crisis. The Texas Tribune is maintaining its in-depth reporting on this national issue.

MORE IN THIS SERIES 

Border apprehensions dropped in June, but federal officials say crisis continues

The number of people who were apprehended by or surrendered to federal immigration officials on the U.S.-Mexico border dipped by nearly 30% last month, the Department of Homeland Security announced Tuesday.

In June, about 104,350 people were apprehended or turned themselves in, compared with about 144,300 in May — a decrease of 28%. That decrease outpaced last year’s May-to-June drop by 11%, officials said. But the agency also warned that the one-month change does not signal that the ongoing surge of asylum seekers, including unaccompanied minors and family units, is over.

“We are still in an ongoing border security and humanitarian crisis. U.S. Border Patrol made 688,375 apprehensions through the end of June, 140% higher than through this time last year. And our June apprehension numbers are still higher than last year’s, when we were already in a crisis,” the DHS press office said in a news release.

Officials credited the decline to several factors, including the recently implemented Migration Protection Protocols, which requires that some asylum seekers be sent back to Mexico while they wait for their immigration proceedings in American courts.

The program began on the California-Mexico border in January before expanding to El Paso-Ciudad Juárez in March. As of last week, more than 7,600 people had been returned to Ciudad Juárez, according to Chihuahua state officials. The Trump administration announced Tuesday that the MPP is now in place on the Laredo-Nuevo Laredo border.

The decline can also be partially attributed to Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s deployment of Mexican National Guard troops to secure that country’s southern border with Guatemala to stem the flow of migrants from Central America intent on traveling north to the United States. López Obrador agreed to the deployment after President Donald Trump threatened to impose tariffs of up to 25% on Mexican imports.

“Since the administration reached a new agreement with Mexico, we’ve seen a substantial increase in the number of interdictions on the Mexican southern border,” DHS officials said.

The MPP program has been heavily criticized by immigration attorneys and advocates who argue the U.S. government is sending asylum seekers to violent Mexican border towns where law enforcement is unable or unwilling to protect them.

Author: JULIÁN AGUILAR –  The Texas Tribune

Read related Tribune coverage

Video+Gallery: Ropes, ladders, mass entry at US/Mexico border raises questions

On Saturday, June 1st , on my way to the radio show I occasionally host, I began to receive some very strange phone calls. I was being told that, along Border Highway, near Riverside High School, there were two ladders over the border fencing.

At first, I dismissed it. How could a ladder, much less two of them, be attached to the fence without Border Patrol being aware?

After receiving a few other calls that afternoon, I had to go out and see for myself. So, on my way home, I drove very slowly along Border Highway.

Even then, I almost missed it. I had to walk almost half-a-mile back to get where the ladders were.

Right there, in broad daylight, were two ladders – one appeared to be a rope ladder, and the other reminded me of an old collapsible metal ladder that one might have either in the Navy or at home to escape a second story fire.

How did these ladders get there? What happened to the people that put them there? I was curious.  Beyond that, the appearance of the ladders gave me an opportunity to talk with Border Patrol officials about something else that I had noticed.

For the past week, I’ve noticed that there haven’t been any Border Patrol agents along the fencing on Border Highway. I live in the Lower Valley and several times a day I drive Border Highway.

Not more than a week ago you would see marked SUV’s all along the fence. On the opposite side, in the westbound lanes, you would have marked El Paso Police Department units watching the border – as part of a funding grant from the Department of Homeland Security.

They were not there. I wanted to know why.

I reached out to Agent Baca, who is one of the Public Information Officers for the Border Patrol here in El Paso, about the ladders I saw and the lack of agents on the border.

As for the ladder incident, Agent Baca indicated that even though they were on both sides of the fence, they may not have been utilized by anyone.

Several scenarios were possible according to him: people could have put the ladders in place, and then been scared off by the amount of traffic; they could have been used, and the individuals were taken into custody.  (EDITOR’s NOTE: As of publication, Monday June 3rd, there have been no releases regarding the ladders, or anyone being taken into custody)

The ladders were removed by agents shortly after our conversation; however, even with his explanation, I still had a lot of questions about this whole situation.  I went back and did more independent research.

As I said, I live in the Lower Valley. I drive that stretch of highway daily. I know that there are times when there is little to no traffic on that part of Border Highway.

During the wee hours of June 2nd, I sat on the side of the road, where the ladders were the day before, and it was forty-nine minutes before the first car passed me – from just after two a.m. to almost three a.m. only two cars passed me. Two.

As for the lack of Border Patrol agents on the border, as they have been placed since the early 90’s as part of Silvestre Reyes’ ‘Operation Hold the Line;’  according to Agent Baca, the agents that would normally be along that stretch of Border Highway – as well as Paisano Drive – have been transferred to “assist with processing and caring for the large numbers of migrants crossing into the El Paso sector daily.”

Again, a good explanation, but one that seems contrary to all the information that the press and the public has been given.  We’ve already seen one video of 1,200 people crossing the border and coming through what is normally a locked passageway in the border fencing.

From Memorial Day (May 27) thru June 2nd, I made it a point to check for agents and their vehicles at various times along that stretch of road – from Downtown to Ysleta. While there were a couple of vehicle near or at the ports of entry, the majority of the border in between yielded the same result – no agents, no vehicles.

Every single day, Border Patrol agents are apprehending individuals coming into the United States. From the Customs and Border Protection’s information office, we are getting releases enumerating the flow, with pictures of large groups in custody.

Considering the stance of this country regarding this border crisis, aside from the unblinking eyes of the cameras, a large swath of our border was apparently left physically unwatched, leading to the video of the 1000+ migrants flooding ‘unchecked’ into the US, through a normally locked gate.

The entire situation leads to difficult questions.

If agents were stationed along the fencing, as has been the case for years, then would they have come over? Would those rope ladders have been put in place, and possibly used?

Amidst this ‘unprecedented flow,’ why is the fencing left unguarded? Why was this gate left open?

If the cameras are going to be stand-ins for agents, and the migrants are captured none-the-less, why have the agents spread every 1/4 along the fence/wall?

As we move forward in the next few days and weeks, we’ll be looking into these issues and working to bring answers to these questions to you.  Send me your tips, questions and anything else – steven@epheraldpost.com

More Migrants Dropped Off in Downtown Monday Afternoon; 200+ More Expected Tonight

According to Herald Post Reporter Andra Litton, shortly after 2 p.m. Monday Afternoon, Immigration and Customs Enforcement dropped off an unknown number of migrants at the Downtown El Paso Greyhound Bus Station.

Officials with Annunciation House had expected another 200 migrants tonight, however the group dropped off at the bus station was not included in that total.

For those residents wishing to help,  Annunciation House, has been the organization at the forefront of helping the migrants, with shelter, food and assistance in getting to their final destination. To donate, visit their website 

Reporter Andra Litton spoke with Rep. Beto O’Rourke and Dylan Corbett w/Hope Border Institute in Downtown El Paso

**This is a developing story and will be updated as information becomes available**  PREVIOUS STORIES BELOW 

**story update from 1:35p

Via a Facebook post Monday afternoon, Ruben Garcia with Annunciation House, updated the community on the migrant situation and what types of specific donations are needed at this time.

Annunciation House—and our network of partner organizations and volunteers—is providing hospitality to the 200+ refugees who were dropped off by ICE last night at the Greyhound Station with no advanced notice. This is in addition to our ongoing work with planned refugee releases. Annunciation House has been very grateful for the community’s rapid response in meeting the urgent needs of this vulnerable population. Here are some of the ways you can help:

-Financial Donations: these allow us the most flexibility in meeting the diverse needs of our guests. We use financial donations to pay for the motels we are renting out to provide overflow shelter. We buy extra food when donations falter. We buy cleaning supplies and gas for our vehicles. We buy prescriptions for our guests and respond to urgent medical needs. Please consider donating at https://annunciationhouse.org/financial-donations/

-Clothing: WE ARE NOT ACCEPTING DONATIONS OF USED CLOTHING. While we appreciate your generosity, we simply do not have the space or person-power to receive, sort, and store used clothing donations. They will not be accepted. We ask that you please respect our wishes and direct your used clothing donations elsewhere. If we ever start to run low on these donations, Annunciation House *directly* will put out a call to the community

-Donations: We are accepting donations of NEW underwear, bras, and socks in sizes small & medium for men, women, and children. We are also accepting donations of boxes of fresh fruit, especially apples, tangerines/oranges, and bananas. These can be brought from 8am-8pm to 1003 E San Antonio Ave, El Paso, TX 79901

-Meals: We need organized groups (usually church groups) willing to bring prepared meals to our various houses of hospitality to feed groups of 50-100 refugees. If you are a member of such a group that is interested, please email us with some basic information about your group and your availability at refugees@annunciationhouse.org

-Volunteers: We are in need of volunteers, especially those willing to drive folks to the bus station and airport. If you are already volunteering, please contact your usual point of contact to inquire if additional help is needed. If you are not currently volunteering with us, please email us so that we can do a basic screening process: refugees@annunciationhouse.org. Please have patience with us in trying to respond as quickly as possibly and please understand that volunteers who show up unannounced will generally not be accepted.

Thank you again so much for your generosity and willingness to Welcome the Stranger, especially during this holiday season.

***story from 1030a

More than 200 migrants claiming asylum were dropped off at El Paso’s Downtown Greyhound station just after 8 p.m. Sunday night by Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents.

The move came as a shock to local immigrant advocacy groups who were not notified ahead of time that a need for shelter for that many people was needed.

KFOX-TV was the first to report the unexpected surge at the local Greyhound on the corner of Overland and Santa Fe Streets late Sunday evening.

Within an hour, El Paso Police had been called in to help control the crowd and local El Pasoans arrived with food, water and supplies for the migrants. The migrants were all from South America, most from Guatemala and Honduras. All of the adult migrants were traveling with children and most said they hadn’t eaten all day when ICE released them in Downtown El Paso.

Typically, ICE coordinates with local non-profit Annunciation House to secure the beds needed before releasing migrants. Sunday, however, Ruben Garcia with Annunciation House was notified that a need for 300 beds was needed. Garcia said he only had space for 200 migrants at their existing facilities due to the slowed holiday Greyhound bus schedules. As a result, Garcia welcomed the 200 migrants earlier in the afternoon to Annunciation House shelter locations throughout the city.

It wasn’t until 8 p.m. that Garcia and other local organizations were notified of the additional 211 migrants who had been left in Downtown. The large drop off forced immigration advocates and county leaders to spring into action to secure housing for the group.

Garcia, along with the El Paso City County Office of Emergency Management, County Judge Ruben Vogt and Dylan Corbett with the Hope Border Institute had five Sun Metro buses brought to the Greyhound Station to keep the migrants, many of whom were small children, warm while they attempted to secure a long-term shelter for them.

By 1 a.m. the Downtown group had been sent to two emergency locations in El Paso where Garcia says they’re expected to stay for at least two days. Migrants who are released by ICE in El Paso have sponsors, usually family or friends, in other parts of the country who will purchase bus or plane tickets to get them to their final destination within a day.

Due to the holiday bus schedules, Greyhound was booked through Christmas. The longer bus wait times means more migrants will be forced to stay in El Paso at the emergency shelters for the next two days according to Garcia.

A recent surge of asylum claims at the El Paso Ports of Entry are creating a strain on local non-profits working to assist the migrants as they travel through El Paso. Garcia previously told the El Paso Herald Post that more than 2,000 migrants a week were being processed by Annunciation House in the last two months.

Garcia told the Herald Post that in total, more than 400 migrants were released by ICE on December 23 alone. All were expected to need shelter for several days.

An attempt to reach ICE for public comment late Sunday night was unsuccessful after an auto-reply e-mail was sent stating that the public information officers were on furlough due to the government shut down and could not be reached for comment until the government reopens.

Congresswoman-elect Veronica Escobar and Congressman Beto O’Rourke along with Ruben Garcia are expected to meet with officials from ICE Monday afternoon to determine what caused the unexpected release of migrants.

If you would like to donate food to the emergency shelter sites, please contact Annunciation House at (915) 545-4509 or the Borderland Rainbow Center at (915) 263-4623. Volunteers who speak Spanish and are able to help at the sites are also needed and can be coordinated through the two contacts listed above.

For those residents wishing to help,  Annunciation House, has been the organization at the forefront of helping the migrants, with shelter, food and assistance in getting to their final destination. To donate, visit their website 

Analysis: An Old Headline Lingers on the Texas-Mexico Border

This is frustrating, at best: According to the latest tally, more than 400 kids separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border remain separated from their parents. More than 300 parents of those kids are now in their home countries, and 199 of them waived reunification.

Remember when this issue rose to the top of the news? That was so many headlines ago.

And yet, the problem persists.

What started with the “zero tolerance” policy at the border — a stepped-up enforcement program that resulted, among other things, in separations of migrants and their children — has evolved into an interminable, expensive and embarrassing demonstration of immigration bureaucracy at its worst.

The latest filings from the lawyers for the government and for the people suing them — the American Civil Liberties Union, or ACLU — say 416 kids are “children remaining in care where the adult associated with the child is not eligible for reunification or is not available for discharge at this time.”

Some of the kids aren’t going to be reunified: 199 adults have “indicated desire against reunification.” That’s not broken down to show how many kids that would involve, but if you do the math, it’s a minimum of 100. The accounting started with 2,654 children, including 103 under the age of five. The latest numbers include 14 toddlers among the 416 kids who remain unconnected to their parents.

The adults are scattered: 304 are presently outside the U.S.; nine are in federal, state or local custody; 34 are “red-flagged” either for background checks or for safety or well-being of the children.

More than 15 percent of the kids in the initial cohort are still under the care of the federal government. Here’s a measure of the progress they’re making; between the latest report and the report from the week before, authorities discharged 24 kids from the Office of Refugee Resettlement’s care. Two dozen.

The rest are getting food, shelter, clothing and schooling — though the state of Texas says it will not fund two public charter schools that are located in federally funded shelters and are educating migrant children who entered the U.S. without adults or who were separated at the border from their families. State officials say the cost of educating those kids should be borne by the federal government.

Wouldn’t it be something if government officials responded to reuniting kids with their migrant parents as quickly as they pop off about the latest tennis shoe commercial? Politicians — who’ve been altogether silent about messes like an immigration policy and practice that seem incoherent and illogical to both conservatives and liberals — suddenly pipe up when something worthy of a midafternoon cable TV debate arises.

Real policy is hard. Sorting out the separated families is a straight-up demonstration of how slowly real problems get worked out. Federal immigration officials backed off the zero-tolerance policy when the family separations accelerated; President Trump signed an executive order in June to end the policy altogether.

Cleaning up has taken longer. Adults were deported before the connections between parents and children were sorted out. What was supposed to be a policy aimed at unlawful entries into the U.S. snared some who lawfully presented themselves to U.S. authorities as asylum seekers, according to court testimony.

And now, the U.S. finds itself the caretaker and guardian of more than 400 kids, many of whom will never be reunited with their families. The people looking for tighter borders weren’t seeking this outcome. The people who’d like looser restrictions on immigrants weren’t either. It’s a failure.

It’s not a fresh problem anymore. That sometimes has the effect of moving something noteworthy out of the headlines, as fresher noteworthy things happen. For all of that, it’s the same problem it was — or worse, since the separations have persisted — at the beginning of the summer. It’s just harder to get a government to clean up a mess as quickly as it can make one.

Author: ROSS RAMSEY – The Texas Tribune

U.S. and Mexico Discussing a Deal that Could Slash Migration at the Border

MEXICO CITY — While President Trump regularly berates Mexico for “doing nothing” to stop illegal migration, behind the scenes the two governments are considering a deal that could drastically curtail the cross-border migration flow.

The proposal, known as a “safe third country agreement,” would potentially require asylum seekers transiting through Mexico to apply for protection in that nation rather than in the United States. It would allow U.S. border guards to turn back such asylum seekers at border crossings and quickly return to Mexico anyone who has already entered illegally seeking refuge, regardless of their nationality.

U.S. officials believe this type of deal would discourage many Central American families from trying to reach the United States. Their soaring numbers have strained U.S. immigration courts and overwhelmed the U.S. government’s ability to detain them. The Trump administration says the majority are looking for jobs — rather than fleeing persecution — and are taking advantage of American generosity to gain entry and avoid deportation.

“We believe the flows would drop dramatically and fairly immediately” if the agreement took effect, said a senior Department of Homeland Security official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss negotiations with the Mexican government, which the official said had gathered momentum in recent weeks.

The proposed agreement has divided the Mexican government and alarmed human rights activists who maintain that many of the migrants are fleeing widespread gang violence and could be exposed to danger in Mexico.

The possible accord is likely to be discussed this week at high-level meetings in Latin America. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen was scheduled to meet Tuesday and Wednesday with foreign ministers from Central America and Mexico in Guatemala City. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is due to visit Mexico City on Friday.

On the surface, such an agreement would appear difficult for Mexico. The number of Central Americans claiming asylum in Mexico has risen sharply in recent years, and many analysts warn that the country does not have the capacity to settle fresh waves of people. Last year, Mexico’s refugee agency failed to attend to more than half of the 14,000 asylum applications it received, according to Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission.

Critics of the plan say that President Enrique Peña Nieto’s government should not reach a deal at a time when the Trump administration has used tactics as separating migrant parents from their children at the border.

“It’s ridiculous,” said one Mexican official who was not authorized to comment publicly and spoke on the condition of anonymity. “Nobody really knows what it is we’re getting in return.”

Even so, some Mexican officials have warmed to the idea.

They argue that requiring Central Americans to apply for asylum in Mexico would undercut the smuggling networks that charge fees of $10,000 or more for a journey from Central America to the United States.

The senior DHS official said the U.S. government has signaled to Mexico that it would be prepared to offer significant financial aid to help the country cope with a surge of asylum seekers, at least in the short term. The investment, which would be paid through the U.S. security-assistance plan for Mexico, the Merida Initiative,would quickly pay for itself, the DHS official argued.

“Look at the amount of money spent on border security, on courts, on detention and immigration enforcement,” the senior official said. “It’d be pennies on the dollar to support Mexico in this area.”

Such an agreement could also allow Mexico’s government to develop its capacity to settle asylum seekers and improve its battered international reputation by taking a public stance in favor of human rights, according to supporters.

“Mexico is interested [in] addressing the fact that both the United States and Mexico have experienced a significant increase in the number of asylum and refugee requests and that a large number of Central American nationals enter Mexico with the intent to reach the United States,” Gerónimo Gutiérrez, Mexico’s ambassador to Washington, said in an emailed statement. “We have engaged the U.S. government in conversations about this matter in order to identify possible areas of cooperation, but we have not reach any conclusion.”

The U.S. government has had a “safe third country” agreement with Canadasince 2004, preventing migrants from transiting through that country to apply for asylum in the United States.

But violence has reached record levels in Mexico, and the border states are particularly dangerous, which could put migrants at risk if U.S. authorities began busing Central Americans back into Mexico.

The State Department’s travel advisories warn U.S. citizens against visiting parts of Mexico, including the border state of Tamaulipas.

“Violent crime, such as homicide, kidnapping, carjacking, and robbery, is widespread” in the state, a warning from March said.

“It’s one thing to say we’re going to have a safe third-country agreement with Canada,” said Roberta Jacobson, who left her post as U.S. ambassador to Mexico this spring. “It’s another thing to say you’re safe and well as soon as you cross the Guatemalan border into Mexico.”

It might seem surprising that Mexico and the United States are in negotiations at all on migration. Relations between the countries have slumped to their lowest point in years, with the United States threatening to dump the North American Free Trade Agreement and Mexico leading a push recently at the Organization of American States to condemn the Trump administration’s family separation practices as “cruel and inhumane.”

But DHS officials believe they have a window to secure a deal in the lame-duck phase of Peña Nieto’s administration, which ends on Dec. 1. Some on the Mexican side see such an accord as a possible valuable chit in broader negotiations over tariffs and the future of North American free trade.

Under U.S. asylum laws, applicants can generally make a claim only once they are on American soil. That can occur at an airport or a land or sea port of entry and is known as an “affirmative asylum” claim.

But the process can also be initiated by someone who seeks to avoid deportation after crossing illegally, and such “defensive asylum” claims account for the majority of those filed by Central Americans taken into custody along the border. The courts received 119,144 defensive asylum applications in 2017, up from 68,530 in 2016 and just 13,214 in 2008.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ “zero tolerance” crackdown at the border this spring attempted to deter the practice by charging anyone crossing illegally with a federal crime, regardless of whether the person planned to claim asylum. Those criminal proceedings were the mechanism used to separate migrant parents from their children, until Trump’s executive order suspended the practice last month.

“I think the U.S. is looking at a wide range of ways to deter people from coming or to block them entirely, and this would be one way to outsource many of the issues related to migrants and asylum seekers to our southern neighbor,” said Royce Murray, policy director at the American Immigration Council, a migrant advocacy group.

Arrests along the U.S.-Mexico border — a barometer of overall illegal crossings — had plunged in the months after Trump’s inauguration but began climbing again last summer. A sudden surge this spring infuriated the president, who leveled his anger at Nielsen.

She broached the “safe third country” agreement when she visited Mexico in mid-April. But she received contradictory signals from Mexican counterparts, according to two people with knowledge of the talks.

Mexican officials say the plan has divided Peña Nieto’s government. Some in the Foreign Ministry who want to improve ties with the United States remain in favor of at least a pilot project, while others in the Interior Ministry, who would have to handle resettling thousands of Central Americans, stand opposed, officials said.

The winner of the July 1 presidential elections, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, has yet to weigh in publicly on the issue. Roberto Velasco, a spokesman for the incoming foreign minister, Marcelo Ebrard, said that the new administration does not “have a position yet since we don’t know the details of the proposal or the negotiations between the two countries.”

Authors: JOSHUA PARTLOW AND NICK MIROFF, THE WASHINGTON POST

Federal Officials Cite “Zero Tolerance” After Border Apprehensions Dip Nearly 20% in June

The number of people who were apprehended or turned themselves in to Border Patrol agents near the U.S.-Mexico border last month dipped nearly 20 percent when compared to May, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced Thursday.

The total number of apprehensions on the southwest border was 34,114 last month, down from 40,338 in May. That figure, which includes people who were apprehended between the ports of entry, also shows a slight decrease in the number of unaccompanied minors and family units that were caught.

The decrease comes amid a firestorm over President Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy that led to the separation of thousands of immigrant children from their families. Trump’s policy directed that anyone who crossed the border between a port of entry be criminally charged. Since parents and kids can’t be kept in jail together, thousands of families were split up. Trump has since signed an executive order designed to end family separations, though many families have not yet been reunited.

In a statement, Department of Homeland Security spokesperson Tyler Q. Houlton touted the “zero tolerance” and said the government would continue to enforce current immigration laws while Congress debates a change to the current system.

“As we have said before, the journey north is dangerous and puts individuals in the hands of smugglers and traffickers,” Houlton said. “We continue to call on Congress to address the crisis at the border by closing legal loopholes that drive illegal immigration.”

The number of family units caught on the southern border dipped only slightly during the same time frame; from 9,485 to 9,449, while the number of unaccompanied children fell from to 6,388 to 5,115. The Border Patrol’s Rio Grande Valley sector in Texas remained the busiest in the country last month, with about 14,700 apprehensions occurring there last month. That figure includes 5,420 family units and 2,576 unaccompanied minors. The second busiest was Tucson with 4,146 total apprehensions. That was followed by the El Paso sector (which includes New Mexico) which registered 3,572 total apprehensions, including 1,604 family units and 839 unaccompanied minors.

Though the DHS statement said the decline last month came after the administration’s “zero tolerance” policy, figures provided by DHS show that traffic has generally declined in the summer months over the last few years. Since the 2013 federal fiscal year, only 2017 saw an increase in traffic from May to June.

And despite the drop in apprehensions over the last two months, government data shows that during the current fiscal year, from October to June, overall apprehensions of family units and unaccompanied minors increased when compared to the same time frame in  during the 2017 fiscal year. From October 2016 to June 2017 about 33,000 unaccompanied minors and 63,400 family units were caught. From October 2017 thought last month, those figures were 37,450 and  68,650, respectively.

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Author:  JULIÁN AGUILAR – The Texas Tribune

Operator of Migrant Facility in Tornillo says it Might Not Stay Open Past July 13 When Contract Expires

TORNILLO — The tent city erected at this port of entry near El Paso was quickly built and opened less than two weeks ago to house undocumented immigrant children. On Monday, its operator said it may not keep operating after July 13, when its federal contract expires.

The incident commander for BCFS Health and Human Services, which operates the facility, said he doesn’t yet see a need to extend operations beyond that date because he doesn’t the arrival of many more minors. But a spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services told reporters during a tour of the facility that the government could ask to extend the contract — and even expand the facility if needed.

“The federal government will make a decision [later] about future needs,” said HHS spokesman Mark Weber.

HHS and BCFS officials gave about two dozen reporters a tour of the controversial facility, although they did not allow photography or audio recordings and interactions with the children were limited to greetings.

As of Monday morning, the facility housed 326 minors including 162 from Guatemala, 117 from Honduras, 40 from El Salvador, three from Mexico and four from countries simply classified as “other.” About two dozen children who were separated from their families at the border have arrived at the facility, and officials said three of those children have so far have been reunified with family members. Another 67 of the unaccompanied minors who arrived alone have been reunited since arriving at the facility.

Reporters were given a briefing on the facility’s operations inside a mobile command unit, where about 12 BCFS staffers monitored the facility through cameras and computer screens, kept a daily track of visitors and updated a daily tally of the facility’s population. The BCFS incident commander, who asked not to be identified by name, said security was essential due to the number of elected officials and media who had descended on the facility.

The rest of the sprawling facility, constructed in just three days, consisted of about 20 tents that act as dormitories. Each unit, with names like Alpha 10, has 10 bunk beds equipped to handle 20 minors at a time. Drawings and pages from coloring books could be seen tacked to some of the walls, many containing Bible verses, and a daily schedule dictating everything from laundry to lunch was taped to a table at the dorm entrances.

When one group is waiting in line to use the showers, another is taking its turn at the phone stations. And before it gets too hot, some of the minors are allowed to play soccer on a makeshift field that sits just south of the dormitories. Every unit is air conditioned and Weber said there have been no complaints about the heat.

The BCFS official said the operation is staffed by about 250 people, including translators, medical staff and counselors that help the children make calls to family members. He said it resembles a boot camp because it’s the easiest way to keep order.

He had scathing words for the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” mandate that resulted in the separation of thousands of minor children from their parents after they were apprehended or surrendered themselves at the border.

“It was an incredibly dumb, stupid decision,” he said, adding several times he hopes to never again conduct an operation like this one.

Meanwhile, Weber pushed back against claims that HHS and the Office of Refugee Resettlement’s process to reunite parents with their children has been chaotic so far. Several legal aid providers have criticized the process, saying it consists of little more than a 1-800 number that parents of other advocates can call to get information on where their children are.

“We know where the parents are, we are working as fast as we can” to get them in touch with their children, Weber said.

He said a some anecdotal stories about parents unable to locate their children isn’t the reality for most families. He said the process also includes verifying that a person is authorized to accept the child, and that takes time.

“We need to verify documentation [because] we don’t want to release a child too soon. It takes time.”

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Author: JULIÁN AGUILAR – The Texas Tribune

Confusion, Tension Roil Texas-Mexico Border as Federal Government Attempts to Reunify Immigrant Families

BROWNSVILLE — President Trump suggested Sunday the United States should block people fleeing violently volatile countries from seeking asylum here and deport any non-citizen trying to cross the border without due process.

“We cannot allow all of these people to invade our Country,” Trump tweeted. “When somebody comes in, we must immediately, with no Judges or Court Cases, bring them back from where they came. Our system is a mockery to good immigration policy and Law and Order.”

His statements, made in a series of tweets, drew immediate rebukes. They came days after his administration hastily cobbled together a reversal of a recent policy that has left thousands of undocumented immigrant children detained in federal facilities separately from their parents.

And despite federal authorities’ assertions late Saturday that there are plans to reunify many of the 2,053 separated children with relatives, confusion and tension continued mounting along the U.S.-Mexico border.

“We cannot simply take them at their word, especially when we are getting conflicting messages,” said Efrén C. Olivares, a racial and economic justice director for the Texas Civil Rights Project in McAllen.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection said that 522 separated children have already been reunited, though it was unclear whether they were returned to their parents or another relative or adult. More than 2,053 separated children remain in federal custody, and federal officials said 16 children were expected to be reunited with their parents by Sunday evening.

A downtown El Paso shelter named Annunciation House, which has taken in immigrants for decades, was preparing Sunday for what shelter Director Ruben Garcia said was likely one of the first groups of parents to be released by Customs and Border Protection after having their charges for illegal entry dismissed since the recent zero-tolerance policy began.

But after they are processed and given an orientation by the center’s legal coordinator, the daunting challenge of locating their kids begins.

“We do not know exactly the people who are coming to us, we do not know where their children are, so none of us can answer that question for you,” Taylor Levy, the shelter’s legal coordinator told reporters during a Sunday afternoon press conference. “No one really knows where their children are – except for the government. [It] somehow knows.”

Some of those parents who crossed the border in the El Paso sector have since been transferred to federal detention centers other parts of the nation while their children have remained on the border.

“I received a call, for example, from an attorney in Denver [Saturday],” Levy said. “She’s been representing a woman who’s now been detained for over two months. She spoke to her 5-year old son for the first time yesterday and that 5-year-old son is being housed somewhere in El Paso.”

She said immigrants are given a government phone number to call, and “you wait on hold … and then they take information from you and that’s about it. That is the same information if you are calling and you are a lawyer, if you are calling and you are a social worker, if you are calling and trying to advocate on behalf of these families.”

Immigration and Customs Enforcement this weekend designated the Port Isabel Service Processing Center as the primary place for

Photo courtesy Darla Cameron / Texas Tribune

detained families, many of whom fled Central American countries mired in gang violence, to be reunited and returned to the countries from which they came.

Journalists were not allowed inside the Port Isabel center Sunday afternoon.

Federal officials said in a statement released late Saturday that when undocumented children are detained and sent to the Health and Human Services Office of Refugee Resettlement, information about their parents or guardians is provided by Homeland Security “to the extent possible.” Authorities also said they are working across federal agencies to “foster communications” to reunite separated family members through a “well-established” process.

But in McAllen, Olivares said the Civil Rights Project has interviewed more than 375 immigrant families, and “Everyone we have interviewed has not been told any of that information.”

Also on Sunday, CNN reported that a teenage boy ran away from Southwest Key Program’s Casa Padre shelter, a converted Walmart in Brownsville that houses more than 1,400 migrant children. An investigation by The Texas Tribune found that inspectors in recent years identified hundreds of violations at nonprofit Southwest Key’s 16 Texas facilities, including 13 at Casa Padre.

U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., visited a McAllen immigration center on Sunday and told reporters afterward that children 12 and older were not being kept with their parents. She said people were sleeping on concrete floors and in cages.

“There’s just no other way to describe it,” she said.

Warren, a frequent foe of Trump’s, said that she spoke with some of the detainees with the help of an interpreter. She said that one Central American told her that after she gave a police officer a drink of water in her home country, gangs assumed she was helping law enforcement.

“So she sold everything she has and she and her 4-year-old son fled the country,” Warren said. “She believes she would not survive if she went back.”

Meanwhile, the president’s social media comments Sunday drew the ire of of civil rights groups, who plan a protest in Brownsville later this week.

“What President Trump has suggested here is both illegal and unconstitutional,” said Omar Jadwat, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Immigrants’ Rights Project. “Any official who has sworn an oath to uphold the Constitution and laws should disavow it unequivocally.”

In his tweets, Trump suggested the unfolding crisis is the fault of Democrats and said the country’s immigration policy is the laughingstock of the world and unfair to “people who have gone through the system legally.” He said his administration is doing better than his two predecessors, Democrat Barack Obama and Republican George W. Bush.

“Immigration must be based on merit — we need people who will help to Make America Great Again!” Trump wrote in a nod to his successful 2016 campaign slogan.

Freelance journalists Ivan Pierre Aguirre, Rey Leal and Andres Torres and Texas Tribune editor Matthew Watkins contributed to this report.

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Authors: BRANDON FORMBY AND JULIÁN AGUILAR – The Texas Tribune

Bishop’s Statement Regarding Executive Order Ending Separation of Families

As most Americans, I was relieved to receive the news that the policy of separating families when they arrive at our southern border would end.

It is good to know that this most draconian of punitive measures against those who arrive at our border seeking to preserve their lives and the lives of their children will cease.

Even so, incarcerating families in prison camps is an unacceptable option, which will cause irreparable harm to children. We should also remember that family separation occurs every time a family is torn apart by deportation, whether here at the border or in other parts of the country.

Vigilance will be needed to ensure that the dignity and human rights of asylum seekers and migrants is always respected, even in the process of careful examination of their claims. It has been found that when migrants have legal representation that the vast majority cooperate with the legal process. This representation should be seen as a necessary part of a just and compassionate nation’s response to these brothers and sisters in need.

I remain very concerned at reports that asylum seekers and other legal immigrants may be being turned away at official places of entry in El Paso. This is not an acceptable response and may constitute a violation of the law. I call on immigration officials and our elected leaders to ensure that our ports of entry remain as beacons of safety for those pursuing asylum claims.

The Church has always taught that national borders serve a useful purpose and that the orderly passage across borders is an important goal. However, when people are fleeing for their lives they don’t have the luxury to wait for years in their home country for a visa to arrive.  Asylum laws were developed to respond to this need. These laws also need to be updated to respond to the present situations of violence and desperation that are driving people to leave their homes.

At the end of the day, we will be judged as individuals, as El Pasoans and as a nation by the degree to which we recognize the presence of God in the poor and vulnerable knocking on our door looking for safety and refuge. Let us not fail this basic moral test.

Gov. Abbott Urges Congressional Action on Separated Immigrant Families: “This disgraceful condition must end.”

Gov. Greg Abbott is asking Texans in Congress to take bipartisan action to address the crisis of thousands of immigrant children being separated from their parents.

“This disgraceful condition must end; and it can only end with action by Congress to reform the broken immigration system,” he wrote in a letter to all members of the Texas delegation, including Republican Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn.

Abbott called family separations, which are the result of a Trump administration policy announced earlier this year, “tragic and heartrending.” But he also called the separations the “latest calamity children suffer because of a broken U.S. border” — and urged members to “seize” the opportunity to work across the aisle and finally fix the problem.

“Texans are not fooled by the partisan divide on this issue,” Abbott wrote in the letter, which was obtained by The Texas Tribune. “They know that even if all Republicans agree, a bill fixing the problem will not pass without Democrat support in the Senate.”

“Texans, and Americans, need our delegation, both Republicans and Democrats, to lead Congress in ending the rhetoric and ensuring results,” Abbott added. “Time spent talking to microphones is time lost talking to members about solutions. You sought your office to do big things. This is your moment. Seize it.”

The letter comes a few days after Abbott’s initial comments on the family separation crisis. In an interview that aired Sunday on Dallas TV, Abbott called the separations “horrible” and said they “rip everybody’s heart apart.” Abbott also echoed President Donald Trump’s criticism of Democrats for not coming to the negotiable table to deal with the separations, even though Trump has the power to end it himself.

Other Texas Republicans have made that point, including GOP House Speaker Joe Straus. The retiring speaker sent a letter to Trump on Tuesday saying “there is no need to wait for Congress to act” and the president should rescind the policy himself.

Since his television interview, Abbott has gotten pressure from Democrats to speak out against the policy. Among them has been Lupe Valdez, Abbott’s Democratic opponent, who issued a statement Tuesday accusing the governor of having “silently condoned this inhumanity.”

“A humanitarian crisis is developing in our state,” the former Dallas County sheriff said, “and our Governor refuses to act.”

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Author: PATRICK SVITEK – The Texas Tribune

Republicans in Washington Closer to Compromise on Immigration – But Still Unclear if They Can Pass a Bill

WASHINGTON — Republicans in Congress appear closer to reaching a compromise on immigration — and ending family separations at the Texas-Mexico border — after a closed-door meeting with President Donald Trump Tuesday evening.

Trump, who has repeatedly blamed Congress for his administration’s “zero tolerance” policy, encouraged House Republicans to pass a modified version of a compromise bill Republican leaders introduced last week. That updated version would include a provision that would keep immigrant families together as they await court hearings, according to lawmakers who attended the meeting Tuesday.

For days, photos of detained immigrant children have streamed out of South and West Texas, upending the workflow in Washington in a way not seen since the travel ban early in the Trump administration. Despite growing Republican criticism out of the Senate — including from Texas’ two GOP senators — White House officials have dug in on their policy of separating immigrant children from their parents.

“The answer to this current situation is a solution that allows us to both enforce the law and keep families together,” U.S. Sen. John Cornyn said Tuesday on the Senate floor. “They don’t have to be mutually exclusive.”

He said he agreed with former first lady Laura Bush that there should be “a better answer.” Bush is among a chorus of voices of criticizing the policy — a group that includes the other living first ladies. Cornyn has said in recent days that he intends to introduce legislation that will keep families together and expedite hearings.

On Tuesday evening, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz introduced emergency legislation that would marshal more resources to the border to expedite the legal process for immigrants seeking asylum and create facilities that would allow parents to stay with their children. Earlier Tuesday, he confirmed a report from The Washington Post that he was working together with Cornyn on a bill that could be filed later in the day. Cornyn was not listed among the co-sponsors of the bill, but a spokesperson told the Tribune that the two senators are still working together.

Asked about working with Cruz on the legislation, Cornyn said the bill Cruz has been working seems to contain the elements “of a consensus approach” and said he aims to work with Democrats on a bipartisan solution. At a press conference later in the day, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell stood next to Cornyn as he said “all of the members of the Republican conference support a plan that keeps families together while their immigration status is determined.” He said Republicans hope to reach out to Democrats to “see if we can get a result.”

But in a speech Tuesday afternoon, Trump appeared to shoot down at least an element of Cruz’s proposed emergency bill — an idea to double the number immigration judges from roughly 375 to 750.

“We have to have a real border, not judges,” Trump said, adding that some judges might be corrupt.

Immigration is poised to dominate congressional action this week, as the House is set to pick up two Republican pieces of related legislation on Thursday. Those bills — both of which face uphill battles in the House and the Senate — will address Trump’s long-sought border wall and what to do with the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, an Obama-era immigration measure that protects hundreds of thousands of young undocumented immigrants from deportation.

The more moderate bill, which provides a conditional pathway to citizenship for certain qualifying undocumented youth and addresses the family separation issue, got a boost Tuesday after Trump told lawmakers he supported the proposal.

The President’s remarks appear to have convinced a number of Republicans who were previously leaning toward a more conservative bill authored by Texan U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul of Tomball and Rep. Bob Goodlatte of Virginia.

Several Texas Republicans exiting the meeting Tuesday voiced support for the compromise bill and optimism that it would garner the 218 votes it needs to pass.

“No one is stronger or tougher on border security than President Trump, and he strongly endorsed this common-ground bill because it is an America-first bill — it’s border security first, reforming the broken visa system, and then — and only then — is there a path to legal status for those who’ve earned the merit to stay here,” U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady of The Woodlands said in an interview. “He made it clear he’s behind this bill 1,000 percent.”

Brady said Trump endorsed provisions in the bill that addressed the family separation question. Specifically, those measures would allow families to stay together as they undergo immigration proceedings and would allocate $7 billion in federal funds for family detention centers.

Brady said those provisions “drew strong support” from House Republicans in the room.

U.S. Rep. Kay Granger, R-Fort Worth, said she will vote for the compromise bill. “It will keep the families together,” she said.

The controversy over the family separation policy has fully consumed regular business at the Capitol.

The outcry is so widespread on Capitol Hill that it worked its way into a high-profile Tuesday morning committee hearing on the FBI’s actions in the 2016 Clinton email investigation. House Democrats veered off topic during the hearing to decry the policy as Republicans grumbled “Out of Order!”

The images of crying children at the border are beginning to spook Republican political consultants, who fear they could impact the GOP’s chances of holding the lower chamber after this fall’s midterm election. At the same time, it was only one week ago that U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford, R-South Carolina, lost his primary. President Donald Trump specifically targeted him for past critical comments and reinforced the fears many Texas Republicans and their advisers of crossing the president.

The calls against Trump from that chamber remained largely muted in recent days, and when the The Texas Tribune surveyed the Texas delegation Monday, many Texas Republicans avoided commenting on the matter.

Trump’s endorsement of the compromise bill Tuesday evening seems to have provided political cover for vulnerable Republicans to get behind the legislation and speak out about the family separations.

U.S. Rep. John Culberson, R-Houston, who is facing a tough re-election fight, said he was “very encouraged” by the meeting.

“It’s got all the right elements that we need to secure the border, to make sure we’re taking care of the DACA problem, to make sure that the families aren’t separated,” he said.

But the Tuesday meeting did not convince everyone. U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Dallas, is among the holdouts still supporting the Goodlatte-McCaul bill.

“I’m going to support the Goodlatte bill. There are a lot of commonalities between the bills,” he said. “I think the key difference is what would be no pathway to citizenship versus a green card.”

U.S. Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Midland, said Republicans were still trying to whip up the votes Tuesday evening to pass the compromise measure and that it is unclear when that bill will come up for a vote. The House will likely vote on the more conservative Goodlatte-McCaul bill Thursday.

Author: ABBY LIVINGSTON AND CLAIRE PARKER – The Texas Tribune

Ted Cruz Introduces Legislation to Keep Immigrant Families Together After They Cross the Border

WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz announced emergency legislation Monday evening to keep immigrant families together after they cross the border into the United States.

The legislation follows comments Cruz made on Saturday that essentially called for more resources to adjudicate asylum claims. He also called for keeping immigrant kids with their parents as long as those adults are not associated with criminal activity.

“All Americans are rightly horrified by the images we are seeing on the news, children in tears pulled away from their mothers and fathers,” Cruz wrote in a release. “This must stop. Now. We can end this crisis by passing the legislation I am introducing this week.”

The provisions of the legislation, according to the news release, include:

  • Doubling the number of federal immigration judges, from roughly 375 to 750.
  • Authorizing new temporary shelters with accommodations to keep families together.
  • Mandating that immigrant families be kept together, absent aggravated criminal conduct or threat of harm to children.
  • Providing for expedited processing and review of asylum cases so that — within 14 days — those who meet the legal standards will be granted asylum and those who do not will be immediately returned to their home countries.

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, Texas’ senior senator and the second-ranking Senate Republican, said on the chamber floor earlier Monday that he, too, would introduce legislation on this front.

“It will include provisions that mitigate the problem of family separation while improving the immigration court process for unaccompanied children and families apprehended at the border,” he said. “To the greatest extent possible, families presenting at ports of entry or apprehended crossing the border illegally will be kept together while waiting for their court hearings, which will be expedited.”

Cruz and Cornyn are part of a growing number of Republican federal lawmakers who are pushing back against the Trump Administration’s recently implemented “zero tolerance” immigration policy, which has so far led to the separation of about 2,000 children from their parents at the border. House Republicans are currently reworking a compromise immigration bill that would modify — but not end — the “zero tolerance” policy, NPR reported Monday.

Cruz’s Democratic rival in his fall re-election bid, U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke of El Paso, spent part of the weekend demonstrating near a tent city in Tornillo, outside of El Paso.

Author: ABBY LIVINGSTON – The Texas Tribune

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