A federal appeals court late Wednesday ruled the Trump Administration can use nearly $4 billion in military funds for construction of the president’s long-promised border wall.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reversed an earlier decision by El Paso-based U.S. District Judge David Briones that blocked the spending. The latest decision allows the funds to be spent while the case plays out in its appeal.
The $3.6 billion had been earmarked by the Trump administration for construction of 11 barriers on the southern border, CNN reported Wednesday. The original lawsuit was filed by El Paso County and the Border Network for Human Rights, an El Paso-based advocacy group. The Trump administration asked the appeals court to consider the matter on Dec. 16.
The administration has so far been stymied in most of its efforts to come through with one of the president’s signature campaign promises, but the latest ruling could change that as the 2020 elections approach. The president has been successful in curbing the number of unauthorized immigrants who have arrived to the U.S. border seeking asylum, thanks to policies that require migrants to wait in Mexico for their court hearings. But despite that success, the president continues to tout the wall as another effective way to stop illegal immigration.
The White House on Thursday called the decision a victory.
“The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has lifted an illegitimate nationwide injunction entered by a lower court, and in doing so has allowed vital border wall construction to move forward using military construction funds. This is a victory for the rule of law. We are committed to keeping our borders secure, and we will finish the wall,” the White House sad in a statement.
Kristy Parker, an attorney at the nonprofit Protect Democracy, said she felt confident the courts would ultimately rule that using the military funds is unlawful.
“A court has already determined that the government can’t lawfully use military construction funds to build Trump’s border wall,” Parker said in a statement. “It’s unfortunate that the people of El Paso will continue to suffer harm while the government appeals, but we’re confident that we’ll prevail again in this next stage of litigation.”
Fernando Garcia, executive director at the Border Network for Human Rights, said his organization will soon meet with its legal team to decide how to proceed after Wednesday’s “unfortunate” ruling.
“We think they completely ignored a very strong argument by Judge Briones, the federal judge in El Paso, that the [use of funds] was an illegal act because Trump violated the checks and balances and authority of the U.S. Congress,” he said. “We are surprised they ignored that fact.”
Newly obtained government documents show how the Trump administration’s now-blocked policy to separate all migrant children from parents led social workers to frantically begin tracking thousands of children seized at the southern border and compile reports on cases of trauma.
In June 2018, months after the Trump administration began its so-called “zero tolerance” policy to deter migrants trying to enter the United States, an employee working for the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement described a 5-year-old’s despair at a shelter. “Minor was separated at the border from his biological mother. Minor was tearful when he arrived and would not speak or engage in conversation with anyone,” the caregiver wrote in a report. This document and others shed light on a social experiment that was both cruel and chaotic.
Reports of traumatized children were forwarded to the Department of Homeland Security’s Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, which is charged with ensuring that national security policies respect constitutional rights. A Center for Public Integrity and NPR investigation earlier this year found that the office failed to assist children whose suffering was documented in hundreds of similar complaints the office received last year.
The most recent internal documents Public Integrity reviewed add to scathing criticism from the Homeland Security inspector general’s office, which reported on Nov. 25 that it couldn’t verify how many children were separated by the zero tolerance policy, which began gradually in late 2017 and ended in June 2018. Tracking was flawed because U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers didn’t accurately record possible family relationships between adults and 1,233 children detained between October 2017 and mid-February 2019, the inspector general concluded.
Trump’s zero tolerance policy required CBP to separate children so that migrant adults, many of them seeking asylum, could be immediately held in immigration detention and prosecuted for illegal entry.
Earlier this year, former Office of Refugee Resettlement Deputy Director Jonathan White told Congress that he’d heard in early 2017 a broad separation policy could be in the works, and that he and his colleagues told Homeland Security officials they were concerned “not only about what that would mean for children, but also what it would mean for the capacity of the program.”
Internal records, however, show that such concerns date back further.
Warnings weeks before Trump
Among the documents Public Integrity obtained is a September 2016 email from a child refugee specialist signaling discomfort with Customs and Border Protection’s Office of Field Operations splitting up migrant families prior to zero tolerance.
“The best thing that could happen is for the OFO to stop the practice of family separation,” a child refugee field specialist added to the top of an email containing instructions for reunifying families that he sent to colleagues on Sept. 20, 2016.
Just 10 days after the specialist sent the email, a Homeland Security advisory committee issued a damning report on the damage children suffer when abruptly separated from parents. Separations were comparatively uncommon at the time, but they’d grown frequent enough to trigger a review, conducted by representatives of the American Academy of Pediatrics and civil rights groups.
“Separation can be acutely frightening for children and can leave children in ad hoc care situations that compromise their safety and well-being,” the advisory committee warned. “It can also be traumatizing and extremely stressful for the parent.”
The committee urged Homeland Security to separate parents and children as little as possible and instead place families in supervised release programs while their asylum or other immigration claims moved through the courts.
Before Trump began zero tolerance in 2018, Customs and Border Protection had — and still has — the authority to separate parents and children under limited circumstances.
But because zero tolerance required parents to be immediately detained, CBP was essentially forced to seize thousands of children, including infants and toddlers. Most families were arriving from Central America, a region the State Department has said is ravaged by predatory gangs and homicide rates that are among the highest in the world.
The 2016 message from the field specialist is part of a collection of Health and Human Services emails and other internal documents shared with Public Integrity. Most were written in 2018 by officials at the agency’s Office of Refugee Resettlement, part of the Department of Health and Human Services. The office is responsible for caring for unaccompanied migrant children, or children CBP officers separate from parents at the border. The internal documents show Health and Human Services staff members were unprepared for the unprecedented number of suffering young children transferred to their custody.
The materials were obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request submitted to Health and Human Services by the American Immigration Council, the National Immigrant Justice Center, Kids in Need of Defense, the Women’s Refugee Commission, and the Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project. All have experience providing legal services for migrant children.
Child on floor crying
Most of the internal government emails reviewed by Public Integrity were written during the height of zero tolerance, which ended in late June 2018 after a court order and public outcry. Other documents show Refugee Resettlement staff or contractors’ observations, which then were forwarded to Homeland Security, about distraught children placed in shelters.
A 10-year-old held in a shelter for two months was found on the floor, crying and holding his hand. “My hand hurts because I got mad about my case and I hit the wall,” the boy reportedly said in July 2018. A 12-year-old boy reported “suicidal ideations” after separation from an aunt and a cousin in June 2018, according to a document. In a July 2018 report about a 9-year-old, a case worker wrote the girl “reported that her uncle was murdered by a local gang.”
After a federal judge ordered Homeland Security, Health and Human Services, and Refugee Resettlement on June 26, 2018, to reunite families, emails and other documents show refugee office staff and contractors were pressed into service.
“All resources available to comply with court order,” reads a summary of what’s labeled as a meeting with Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar. “We must do everything to identify parents, contact them, and make strides to reunify them or [allow children] to go to another sponsor if the parents want.”
Given the poor quality of records, Health and Human Services officials rushed to use DNA testing to match parents and children.
“DNA kits,” a message to staff advised, “will be sent to programs with separated children 0-4 on week of July 2nd and DNA kits will be sent to programs with separated children 5 and up on week of July 9th.”
DNA collection is controversial. News reports in July featured mothers and a director at a migrant mothers’ shelter claiming they were told parents would have to pay for DNA testing. Health and Human Services denied it was charging fees for the testing and said it was covering costs for collections.
Robert Carey, a Refugee Resettlement director in the Obama administration, told Public Integrity that most of the office’s staff are social workers who were put in an “ethical” dilemma with the zero tolerance policy.
“Not only was it inhumane,” he said, “it was extraordinarily poorly managed.”
When he was in charge, Carey said, the average minor in Refugee Resettlement custody was about 15 years old. A “large part” of what the office would do, he said, was vet sponsors, often relatives, so children could be released from group shelters or foster homes.
Trump’s zero tolerance has ended, but CBP continues to have the authority to separate children from adults who are not legal guardians, including aunts, uncles and grandparents. It also has the authority to separate children based on a parent’s prior immigration violations, if CBP wants to refer that parent for prosecution. Officers have also separated children due to parents’ criminal histories or suspected ties to gangs — decisions that at times have been based on false allegations.
James De La Cruz, the Health and Human Services employee who wrote in 2016 that ending family separations would be “the best thing that could happen,” is still at the agency.
His email included instructions for reunifying families and a contact sheet for Homeland Security staff assigned to supervise “alternatives to detention” programs. These programs — no longer favored by the Trump administration — monitored migrant families that had been released from custody to ensure they would attend court proceedings.
Contacted by Public Integrity, De La Cruz declined to elaborate on his 2016 email or on problems Health and Human Services faced with the surge in family separations last year. The agency’s media representatives also declined to comment but sent a written statement emphasizing that “HHS is a child welfare agency, not a law enforcement agency. We play no role in the apprehension or initial detention of unaccompanied alien children.”
Under Trump, however, Health and Human Services was forced into a central role in the administration’s zero tolerance policy because separating children from migrant parents was a key feature.
Separating kids to block asylum seekers
Despite evidence from the State Department and others supporting many migrants’ stories of escaping violent crime in their home countries, Trump accused migrants of gaming the asylum system, and he sought ways to block their entry. After he took office in 2017, his advisers suggested options that would require prosecuting every border crosser. Separating thousands of their children “would be reported by the media and it would have substantial deterrent effect,” previously released documents shared by NBC show.
As a pilot program began in 2017, people who swam or walked over the border or who approached CBP officers at border gates were taken into custody to be prosecuted for illegal entry — a misdemeanor the first time — and their children were taken from them.
Preparing for a blanket separation policy, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions spoke out in defense of family separations in May 2018. “If you don’t like that, then don’t smuggle children over our border,” he said.
That same month, however, Refugee Resettlement officials were already sending out “high importance” emails related to the developing search for separated families.
Like Homeland Security, the office had come under pressure because of a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union three months earlier. The lawsuit accused Homeland Security, Health and Human Services, and Refugee Resettlement of violating due process and Homeland Security’s own directives for granting detainees’ release.
The initial plaintiff was an African mother who was cleared at the U.S.-Mexico border to apply for asylum but was put into detention. She said she heard her daughter, 7, screaming as the child was taken away to be sent to Refugee Resettlement custody.
Eventually, the lawsuit became a class-action effort to free and unite separated families.
On May 16, 2018, a Refugee Resettlement email exhorted staff to find the parents of children in their custody — one day after then-Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen testified in Congress that “we do not have a policy to separate children from their parents.”
“It is very important to locate the separated parent for all UAC [unaccompanied alien children] in your program,” a Refugee Resettlement supervisor wrote. “For parents in ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] custody, you should be able to locate them and have a phone call with that parent as soon as possible.”
That assumption proved far too optimistic.
CBP, it turned out, was sending children to Refugee Resettlement with little information about parents. Infants and sobbing toddlers were too young to know parents’ names, as Public Integrity previously reported, much less the “alien number” that ICE assigns adult detainees and enters into a detention database.
“The system totally broke down,” said Jennifer Podkul, an attorney with Kids in Need of Defense, which coordinates legal representation for migrant minors. Even lawyers who know the names of clients have a hard time using the ICE detainee tracking system because of misspelled names and other erroneous information, she said.
One internal email warned social workers “to NOT engage directly” with the ACLU, as one caregiver program did, and instead follow “the chain of command” to prepare for a child’s release.
‘Initiate contact with parents!’
On June 26, 2018, the federal judge in San Diego presiding over the ACLU’s lawsuit admonished U.S. officials for tracking migrant children with less diligence than they track belongings the government seizes from people and keeps in storage. He placed a preliminary block on further separations, ordered officials to arrange phone calls between parents and children, and reunite them on deadlines by age group the following month.
Emails show Refugee Resettlement staff discussed how to arrange and pay for collect calls from detained parents, and how parents were incommunicado while held in federal marshals’ custody, as many were at times.
On June 28, 2018, two days after the federal judge ordered reunification of families, an email circulated advising Refugee Resettlement affiliates that Health and Human Services was designing a database to “eliminate the need to track information [on families] on spreadsheets.”
Homeland Security databases on parents — some on their way to deportation — had no information on whether children had been separated from them. The Homeland Security and Health and Human Services databases were not linked.
The Public Integrity and NPR investigation found that during the first half of last year, Refugee Resettlement filed the majority of more than 800 family separation complaints logged by Homeland Security’s civil rights office. Among children who languished in shelters without the office’s help were blind or deaf children — disabled children the civil rights office acknowledges it has authority to expeditiously assist.
Meanwhile, fallout from the mass separations of families continues.
On Nov. 5, a federal judge in Los Angeles ruled that the U.S. government should be held accountable for the impact of the zero tolerance policy. The government, the judge said, must provide mental-health services to thousands of traumatized migrant children who languished without seeing or being in contact with their parents, sometimes for months.
Author: SUSAN FERRISS, CENTER FOR PUBLIC INTEGRITY
The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit Thursday to stop two U.S. immigration pilot programs that the group alleges strip asylum seekers of their legal rights and instead fast-track them for deportation back to violent countries.
The Prompt Asylum Claim Review and the Humanitarian Asylum Review Process, programs that began in El Paso, deny immigrants access to adequate counsel before their interviews with asylum officers, the ACLU of Texas; ACLU of Washington, D.C.; and ACLU national office allege in the filing. The PACR program generally applies to non-Mexicans, and HARP affects Mexican asylum seekers.
The ACLU offices filed the suit on behalf of Salvadorans and Mexicans who were ordered removed from the U.S. after being placed in the programs. El Paso-based Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center is also listed as a plaintiff. The lawsuit was filed in federal district court in Washington, D.C.
The PACR and HARP programs require some asylum seekers be held in Customs and Border Protection facilities, where they are allowed only 30 minutes to contact attorneys or family members by phone.
Under previous practices, asylum seekers were transferred to Immigration and Customs Enforcement facilities, where they were given more time to seek out assistance and could meet with attorneys in person or over the phone before key interviews with asylum officers.
“By forcing asylum seekers to proceed through the credible fear process while essentially incommunicado in CBP custody, without access to counsel, in conditions that otherwise significantly interfere with their ability to have a meaningful credible fear interview, and on a rushed timeline, PACR and HARP result in the erroneous removal of people who are at risk of persecution, torture, and death,” the filing says. There is also no system in place for attorneys or family members to locate people in CBP custody.
The Department of Homeland Security did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment on the filing.
“Regardless of what stage immigrants are at in their claims, they should know what their rights are, they should be well informed of the process, and advocates like us should always be available and accessible to them,” Linda Corchado, the director of legal services for Las Americas, said in a statement.
The ACLU offices said in a news release that 500 asylum seekers have already been deported under the programs.
In addition to the thousands of Central Americans and Cubans who have arrived to Mexican border cities in recent years, thousands of Mexicans from the southern part of that country began arriving in recent months. Many of them camp near the bridges in squalid tent facilities they’ve constructed while they wait to be processed by American immigration officials.
Attorney Linda Rivas, the executive director at Las Americas, told The Texas Tribune last week that it’s unclear what criteria CBP uses to decide who gets placed in the PACR or HARP programs, or released into the United States while waiting for court hearings.
“We believe that the people who are being subjected to this are the same people who are waiting in the tents, then get called in,” she said.
“Some will be put into this program, and some will be released into the interior of the United States, and some will be detained by ICE,” she added. “What fate you’re going to face is completely arbitrary.”
The ACLU is asking a judge to, among other things, declare the programs unlawful, vacate the removal orders issued for the plaintiffs named in the case, and put on hold the credible fear proceedings for those in the program until they are transferred to ICE custody or granted parole and allowed enough time to seek counsel.
TUCSON — Department of Homeland Security officials who are concerned about the rising number of migrant families crossing from Mexico into the Arizona desert are preparing to bus them more than 300 miles east into Texas so that they can deposit them in Mexico instead of releasing them in the United States, according to two Trump administration officials.
Homeland Security officials plan to announce as soon as Friday that they will expand the program, called Migrant Protection Protocols, to the Tucson region, one of the last major areas on the border that has not been diverting asylum seekers to Mexico to await their immigration court hearings.
Officials estimate DHS will send at least one busload each day from U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Tucson sector to the Texas border city of El Paso, according to the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the internal plans. Migrants will have interviews to determine if they would be at risk in Mexico, and if not, will be sent to Ciudad Juárez to await their U.S. immigration court hearings.
The plan follows weeks of brainstorming to fix a weak spot that emerged in the Trump administration’s border crackdown after officials rolled out MPP, also known as “remain in Mexico.” CBP’s Tucson sector, which covers a swath of forbidding desert and cactus forests that encompass most of Arizona’s southern border, was not included in the initial rollout of the policy. Officials began the program in January but substantially expanded it after a federal appeals court ruling allowed it to move forward in May. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals is expected to rule soon on the broader legality of the program.
CBP declined to comment on the expansion, and DHS did not respond to a request for comment.
Federal officials have credited MPP and increased enforcement in Mexico with a dramatic plunge in border apprehensions in recent months. In September, officials said border crossings had fallen so much that it allowed them to “effectively end” the practice of releasing migrants into the United States to await court hearings. The practice frustrated President Donald Trump because migrants allowed to stay in the United States rarely are deported, even if they lost their bids to stay in the country.
But Border Patrol officials quietly continued releasing border crossers into the Tucson sector, and smugglers caught on, U.S. officials said. As family apprehensions plunged elsewhere, they rose more than 33% from May to October in the Tucson sector, from 1,700 to nearly 2,400. The Wall Street Journal first reported the releases earlier this month.
Federal officials said Tucson lagged behind in the MPP program, mainly because it had received far fewer families crossing the border and was a less urgent target. Family arrivals in Tucson remain far lower than the tens of thousands at other parts of the border earlier this year, particularly in El Paso.
But Tucson’s crossings in October surpassed those in El Paso, which counted 2,100.
More than 200 people — including one large group of 129 people — streamed into remote Sasabe, Arizona, in the Tucson sector, in a span of five hours Saturday night. Babies swaddled in scarves cuddled against their mothers, according to images CBP released.
The migrants were from Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua. The oldest was 56. The youngest was 6 months old.
The influx demonstrates the ability of smuggling networks to identify holes on the border, officials said. Nearly 1 million migrants were taken into custody along the border during the most recent fiscal year, including a record number of migrant families and unaccompanied minors, mostly from Central America.
Officials said adults traveled with children because they were able to quickly bypass immigration custody and were released to await court hearings.
Advocates for immigrants say migrants’ willingness to trek to the Arizona desert is a sign of their desperation to escape their homelands and that they fear waiting in Mexico’s high-crime border cities for an asylum hearing.
Speaking at a gathering of faith leaders Thursday in Tucson, the Rev. Rodger Babnew said some migrants have come from Matamoros and Ciudad Juárez after learning that they could enter the United States via the Tucson sector. He said criminal cartels have begun shaking down migrants for money along the route.
“They come because they know they will be returned to Mexico,” said Babnew, an Episcopal minister with a nonprofit organization called Cruzando Fronteras, or Crossing Borders, which shelters and provides medical care to migrants on both sides of the border. “People are trying to get to their families before the holidays.”
Pastor Mateo Chavez, who leads a Lutheran church in Tucson, said a Venezuelan man who came to Cruzando Fronteras’ shelter in Nogales, Mexico, told him he had been waiting on the Mexico side of the Matamoros port of entry.
“But he didn’t like what he saw,” Chavez said.
The large shelters in Nogales house hundreds of people who are in the Trump administration’s “metering” program, meaning they sought asylum at a port of entry and are waiting in line to be allowed to enter legally.
Federal officials have credited the MPP program and increased enforcement in Mexico for an 88% drop in family crossings, from 84,486 in May to 9,733 in October.
The Border Patrol’s Yuma sector, in western Arizona, implemented the MPP program in April and has seen the number of family members plunge from nearly 11,000 in May to 400 in October.
Yuma, like Tucson, also is unable to send migrants directly across the border via the MPP program because the government of Mexico will not accept them there. Instead, officials are taking migrants west to Calexico, California, and sending them to Mexico from there.
More than 4,800 migrants have been sent from Yuma into Mexico since the program began in April, according to Yuma’s deputy chief patrol agent, Carl Landrum.
Authors: ARELIS R. HERNÁNDEZ, NICK MIROFF AND MARIA SACCHETTI, THE WASHINGTON POST
A federal judge on Tuesday ruled that asylum seekers who presented themselves at ports of entry before mid-July won’t be affected by the Trump administration’s ban on people who didn’t seek asylum in another country before arriving in the United States.
U.S. District Judge Cynthia Bashant ruled the administration’s third-country rule, doesn’t apply to people who applied for asylum before July 16.
The news was first reported by the Associated Press, which quoted Bashant as claiming the White House did an “immoral bait-and-switch” after it told would-be asylum seekers to wait before they applied in the United States. The administration’s metering policy, implemented last year, requires the majority of asylum seekers to wait in Mexico — sometimes for several months — before they apply for asylum.
The judge ordered a temporary halt to the policy as it affects all “non-Mexican asylum seekers who were unable to make a direct asylum claim at the U.S. [port of entry] before July 16, 2019 because of the U.S. Government’s metering policy.”
The case, Al Otro Lado v. Wolf, was filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center, Center for Constitutional Rights, and the American Immigration Council.
In a statement issued after the ruling, Melissa Crow, the senior supervising attorney for the SPLC’s Immigrant Justice Project said, “While there is still a long road ahead, today’s ruling is an important one for the thousands of asylum seekers who followed the ‘rules’ and waited their turn, only to be told they were out of luck once the new ban was announced.”
Disclosure: The Southern Poverty Law Center has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Amid a raging nationwide debate over the dire conditions of migrant detention centers, the U.S. House and Senate rushed to pass competing bills this week to address an unfolding crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Both the Democratic-controlled House and the Republican-controlled Senate approved bills with around $4.5 billion aimed at improving conditions in overcrowded migrant detention centers, but the bills allocate their money differently and offer different levels of assurance that the Trump administration puts the appropriations to their intended use.
But with calls to address the humanitarian situation at the border grow louder, the leadership in both chambers are on a collision course as they scramble to address the situation ahead of a weeklong July 4th recess. Here’s a look at how the bills compare:
What’s in the House Bill?
The House passed a $4.5 billion border aid bill Tuesday night on a 230-195 vote. Only three Republicans supported the bill, including one Texan, Will Hurd of Helotes. The funding designations of the House bill are carefully crafted to funnel appropriations towards improving conditions at detention facilities and extending aid and legal services to migrants.
Mostof the House’s appropriations—some $2.9 billion—would go to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) toward funding legal services for migrant children who have been detained and relieving overcrowding by creating more licensed facilities to hold migrant children.
And of the remaining $1.5 billion in the House bill, the majority would go to the Department of Homeland Security, whose sprawling network of agencies include U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
In the eyes of some Democrats – most prominently U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, who voted against the bill – sending any more funding to DHS risks helping support ICE’s efforts at deportation.Even though the House bill notably does not allocate any funding for ICE, the agency has developed a reputation for supporting itself through back channels. In recent years DHS has sometimes diverted funding from other areas to ICE, according to Greg Chen, the Director of Government Relations for the American Immigration Lawyers Association.
But the House bill is careful to spell out how DHS is allowed to use the new funding, requiring the agency to ensure it has an adequate supply of necessities like food, water, blankets, soap, toothpaste and diapers. Extreme shortages of such productshas stoked widespread outrage and served as a flashpoint in the national conversation about the situation at the border over the last week.
Still, nearly $800 million of DHS’s funding in the House bill is designated for the expansion of “soft-side and modular facilities”—the overflow shelters often referred to as “tent cities”—an expansion of detention accommodations that critics have argued are inhumane.
Unique to the House bill are $17 million in allocations to the Department of Justice prescribing legal services for children and $20 million to ICE to fund alternatives to physical migrant detention centers. While some Democrats see any financing going to ICE as a non-starter, the language in the bill makes clear the money is aimed at softening enforcement measures. Opting instead for various alternatives to physical detention, Chen said, has proven effective in ensuring that asylum-seekers attend court hearings and keep up with their legal responsibilities, while being “far less expensive than physical custodial detention that the administration has been using as a default practice.”
Several provisions added to the House bill in the hours before it passed were aimed at appeasing hold-out members of the Congressional Hispanic and House Progressive Caucuses. These amendments established even tighter restrictions on the use of humanitarian aid funding and stringent standards on the care and resources provided to detained children including a 90-day limit on the detention of unaccompanied children at influx shelters, demands that U.S. Customs and Border Patrol adopt higher standards of medical care and hygiene for unaccompanied children, and a guarantee of translation services and legal assistance for detainees.
Perhaps the most significant distinction in the House bill are the “guardrails,” as some members have called them – provisions intended to prevent the misappropriation of funds by ICE and the Trump administration. Republicans argue that these restrictions on implementation severely limit the ability for the Trump administration to administer a unilateral response in an emergency situation.
U.S. Rep. Kay Granger, of Fort Worth, in a statement on behalf of the Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee, criticized the House bill for including “provisions that tie the hands of the Administration, restricting President Trump’s ability to respond to the humanitarian crisis.”
President Trump on Thursday said he would impose a 5% tariff on all goods entering from Mexico unless it stopped the flow of illegal immigration to the United States, a dramatic escalation of his border threats that could have sweeping implications for both economies.
The White House plans to begin levying the import penalties on June 10 and ratchet the penalties higher if the migrant flow isn’t halted. Trump said he would remove the tariffs only if all illegal migration across the border ceased, though other White House officials said they would be looking only for Mexico to take major action.
After the 5 percent tariffs are imposed on June 10, the White House said it would increase the penalties to 10 percent on July 1 and then an additional 5 percent on the first day of each month for three months. The tariffs would stay at 25 percent “until Mexico substantially stops the illegal inflow of aliens coming through its territory,” a statement by the president said.
The economic consequences of Trump’s new plan could be swift and severe. Tariffs are paid by companies that import products, so U.S. firms would pay the import penalties and then likely pass some costs along to consumers. Mexico exported $346.5 billion in goods to the United States last year, from vehicles to fruits and vegetables. And many manufactured items cross the border several times as they are being assembled.
White House officials did not immediately explain how driving up the cost of Mexican goods might stem the flow of migrants. If the tariffs damaged the Mexican economy, more of its citizens would try to cross the border to find work in the United States, experts said.
“Mexico is our friend and neighbor, a partner in trade and security,” said Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Glenn Hamer. “The president’s announcement is baffling and, if carried out, will be terribly damaging.”
Mexico vowed a response that could pitch the Trump administration into a full-scale trade war with one of its largest trading partners. This comes just days after the White House and China imposed stiff penalties on each other’s exports.
At a press conference, Mexico’s deputy foreign minister for North America, Jesus Seade, said the threatened tariffs would be “disastrous” and added that Mexico would respond “strongly.”
Trump has often tried to use tariffs and other import penalties as a way to pressure countries into changing behavior, but he has not yet done it on such a scale. In addition, he wrongly has said the cost of tariffs are shouldered by the countries that he targets.
Even some White House officials were caught off guard by the announcement, though planning within the West Wing escalated on Thursday afternoon. Vice President Pence was in Canada on Thursday meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau about ratifying an updated version of the North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico, but it’s unclear if Trump’s newest tariff threat could upend those discussions.
White House officials believe Trump has powers under a 1977 law to impose tariffs on all imports from certain countries if he cites a “national emergency.” And several months ago, Trump declared a national emergency along the Mexico border because of a surge in migrants crossing into the United States.
But the 1977 law has never been used to impose tariffs in this way before, and Trump’s new actions could face legal challenges due to the scope of companies that would be impacted.
The new tariff threat combines two of Trump’s favorite issues — immigration and trade — and comes as he has struggled to score victories on either one.
A central element of Trump’s campaign was his assertion that the United States was being “invaded” by people across the Mexico border, a sentiment that resonated with many supporters. He has tried to rework trade rules and build a wall to stop the flow of migrants, but so far his efforts have failed to stem the surge of people crossing the border. Crossings at the U.S.-Mexico border driven by Central American migrants seeking asylum have peaked to their highest level in more than a decade.
One senior White House official said there is broad support across the administration to push Mexico further by using tariffs to force action. Other aides, however, tried to talk Trump out of the idea, arguing that the threat would scare global markets and undermine passage of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA , which was just sent to Congress on Thursday by the White House. The trade deal aims to curb the type of tariffs Trump is now threatening to impose on Mexico.
The president teased his plans on Thursday morning, telling reporters outside the White House that he was preparing a “big-league statement” about the border surge, without going into detail.
“We are going to do something very dramatic on the border because people are coming into our country,” Trump said.
On Wednesday, more than 1,000 Central Americans crossed into the El Paso area to surrender to U.S. authorities, the largest group of migrants that U.S. border agents have taken into custody at a single time. Trump tweeted a video of the apprehension late Thursday, declaring that “Democrats need to stand by our incredible Border Patrol and finally fix the loopholes at our Border!”
Deportations by Mexican authorities have increased threefold compared with the same period last year, according to the latest statistics, but the vast majority of Central American migrants appear to be successful at evading arrest en route to the U.S. border.
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador campaigned last year on a promise to decriminalize migration and told audiences it was not Mexico’s job to assist the United States with the “dirty work” of deportations.
Trump has backed down on previous threats aimed at Mexico. He abandoned his oft-repeated campaign promise to make that country pay for a border wall. Trump is now using the powers of his national emergency to redirect U.S. taxpayer funds for construction of replacement fences and barriers along the border.
In late March, Trump said he would immediately shut down the entire border if the Mexican government didn’t take more steps to prevent the flow of migrants, only to announce a week later that he would delay any action for a year. White House officials had spent days frantically trying to design how such a shutdown would be implemented.
The draft trade agreement sent to Congress on Thursday would, if ratified, replace the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement. The draft allows Trump to send a final agreement in 30 days, a timeline intended to pressure House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who along with other Democrats wants changes to the agreement before any vote.
The top imports from Mexico include vehicles, electrical machinery, machinery, mineral fuels, and optical and medical instruments, according to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative. The United States also imports a large amount of agricultural products from Mexico.
A March 2019 report from the Congressional Research Service said that the International Emergency Economic Powers Act had never been used before “to place tariffs on imported products from a specific country” but that it could be interpreted as giving the White House that power.
Along the Mexico border, U.S. agents have detained more than 100,000 migrants for each of the past two months, and the numbers in May are expected to be the highest yet.
In recent months, smuggling organizations have been moving large numbers of migrants from southern Mexico using “express buses” that reach the U.S. border in a matter of days. The buses make few stops and have lowered the costs for migration, making the journey faster, easier and cheaper for would-be customers.
U.S. officials say corrupt Mexican officials are allowing the buses to pass through highway checkpoints and in other cases facilitating their travel to the border by providing security escorts.
Mexican officials have said they’re doing everything they can to regulate the migration surge, and they provide police escorts in some cases to prevent criminal organizations from kidnapping and extorting families traveling with small children.
A Mexican official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said trade-related talks with U.S. officials have remained “positive,” and noted that López Obrador was also preparing to send the trade deal to lawmakers for approval. The official declined to say whether the White House has conditioned the deal on a migration crackdown by Mexican authorities.
Kevin Sieff in Mexico City and Colby Itkowitz contributed to this report.
Authors: DAMIAN PALETTA, NICK MIROFF AND JOSH DAWSEY, THE WASHINGTON POST
A 2½-year-old Guatemalan boy apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border died Tuesday night in El Paso after several weeks in the hospital, according to the Guatemalan Consulate and another person with direct knowledge of the case.
The boy, who was not identified, arrived at the border with his mother days after now-acting homeland security secretary Kevin McAleenan held a news conference near a crowded holding facility in El Paso on March 27 to warn that a surge of Central Americans was pushing the system to the “breaking point.”
The boy is the fourth migrant child to die since December after being apprehended at the southern border and taken to the hospital. All have been from Guatemala, a Central American nation experiencing severe drought and poverty, and where smugglers have been offering discounted trips to families traveling to the United States.
Record numbers of families from Guatemala and other northern Central American countries are surrendering at the border and seeking asylum, with nearly 100,000 crossing in April, the highest monthly total in a decade. The White House has asked Congress for $4.5 billion in aid and increased enforcement, saying the influx is risking lives, while advocates for immigrants have raised concern about health and safety conditions in cramped federal holding facilities.
The Washington Post confirmed the death with two sources, including Guatemala’s Consul Tekandi Paniagua, who covers the El Paso area. Another source confirmed the death on the condition of anonymity.
Paniagua said the boy, who had spent three days in federal custody, appeared to have developed a form of pneumonia, but the death remains under investigation. The El Paso medical examiner’s office and the hospital declined to comment.
It is unclear when the boy fell ill. A Customs and Border Protection official familiar with the case, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the CBP apprehended the boy and his mother on April 3 near the Paso Del Norte Bridge.
On April 6, the official said, his mother alerted agents that he was sick. An ambulance took him to Providence Hospital in Horizon City that day, and officials transferred him the next day to Providence Children’s Hospital in El Paso.
On April 8, federal officials formally released the family from Border Protection custody with a “notice to appear” in immigration court.
CBP officials are required to notify Congress of a death in custody within 24 hours, and it was not immediately clear whether officials would do that when The Washington Post inquired about the death because the boy had been released from custody.
Later, an official said they would notify lawmakers.
After two Guatemalan children died in December, Homeland Security officials expanded care for children at the border. They have required health screenings of all children in custody and deployed scores of medics and equipment to the border to quickly triage new arrivals, some arriving in groups of 300 at a time.
Hundreds of people have been taken to the hospital. Some have arrived with preexisting health concerns, including influenza and liver disease.
Two weeks ago, U.S. border agents along the Rio Grande recovered the body of a 10-month-old boy after his family’s raft capsized while crossing the river near Eagle Pass.
On April 30, a 16-year-old unaccompanied minor from the southeastern state of Chiquimula suffered a severe brain infection and died after several days in federal custody. He had been apprehended more than a week earlier and transferred to a Health and Human Services shelter. His was the first known death in HHS custody.
In December, two young Guatemalan children died after being apprehended by CBP. Felipe Gomez Alonzo, 8, died of complications from influenza B infection, and Jakelin Caal, 7, died from a bacterial infection.
Among the worst crowding is in the El Paso sector, where on March 27 agents held almost 3,500 migrants in custody, well above capacity, and some families were held under a bridge.
Paniagua said the consulate has warned families in Guatemala that the trip is risky.
“We have reiterated the message that trips to the United States, in the condition in which the Guatemalan families are undertaking them, is highly dangerous,” Paniagua said in a statement. “We’ve seen four cases in a row of children who have lost their lives in this way.”
I am so sick and tired of having the border attacked by spreading lies and false images. I am a Latina, a Texan, a proud El Pasoan and I can’t stand people that talk about MY home and MY community.
Let’s be accurate, this president is not the first to criminalize life on the border by peddling lies to create fear, examples: former Texas governor and current governor both referring to an unfounded “invasion” on the border during their respective terms.
What is the common factor here? Stigmatizing the people and communities across the border.
Traveling across the country for work, I have met so many folks that have a huge misconception about El Paso. Heck, you don’t even have to leave the state to hear ridiculous, outlandish ideas about the border, just head to the interior of Texas.
Those are the misconceptions we – as residents of the border – have always had to fight against; but Tuesday night yet again we heard the President of the United States continue his attacks, telling the nation lies about border life and pitting us against each other.
Instead of offering a pathway to immigration and coming up with immigration reform, the president holds on his original campaign promise: “division.”
When is it going to be enough? There is already an existing steel fence that has been up for over a decade, along with historic low numbers for border crossings. El Paso has remained one of the safest cities in the nation. Yet we are ALWAYS reflected as the worst: rapist, human trafficking, drugs, crisis, invasion, etc… because this isn’t about the border security, this is about the color of our skin, racism, discrimination and who is “qualified” to be American.
If you disagree, then where is the speech about the wall needing to built on the Canadian border?
If anyone actually talked to us, those that live on the border, you would know that right now people are worried about feeding their families. Many of us, American citizens, often cross over in order to get healthcare because we have none in our own country. And the only “crisis” you’ll most likely see is due to infrastructure during 5 o’clock traffic.
There is no “crisis on the border.” Which is exactly what makes speeches like Tuesday night’s dangerous. It makes the nation believe that anyone that comes from the border is “not American” and is a threat.
Since this president has occupied the White House I have been pulled over 13 times driving across Texas. I’ve never been given a ticket because I wasn’t breaking any laws, yet I’m always pulled over to “inspect.”
When this first started happening I was completely confused “inspect” what?
After about the 3rd time I started to understand what was going on, they thought I MIGHT be undocumented. Now I drive with my driver’s license and passport ready for the next time.
Little things like this trauma have changed me. I used to travel outside the country, now I’m terrified to do it what if they decided to “inspect” me upon arrival. I try not to drive at night anymore.
The truth is Donald Trump has changed the way I’m viewed in the world, it was already difficult enough being a woman of color in the world BEFORE him, now it’s so much more.
Regardless on where you stand on the immigration conversation, understand that we are ALL being lumped in together in the president’s attacks so we better wake up and stand united as “The Border.”
El Paso has always been the pathway, that’s the whole purpose of our city name “El Paso del Norte” literally means the pathway to the North. We will always be part of the journey to those stories of migration, it’s part of our history. Along with the namesake, El Paso is also a modern thriving city and home to so many truly unique things that can only be found here in our region.
I think my hometown and community is absolutely worth fighting for, even if it means standing up to the President of the United States of America.
The immigration detention center for undocumented migrant youth at Tornillo, Texas will remain open into next year, the federal Health and Human Services agency confirmed Thursday.
The facility, which critics have called a “tent city” and sits on a remote port of entry in far West Texas, was opened in June to house mainly unaccompanied minors who crossed the border without parents or guardians. At that time the shelter operators were hopeful it would only be needed for a few weeks, but HHS has extended the contact with the shelter operator, Texas-based BCFS, several times since then.
The Associated Press first reported the news that the facility would remain open late Wednesday; an HHS spokesperson confirmed news of the extension to the Tribune Thursday morning.
“BCFS is continuing to work with us until all [unaccompanied alien children] are safely released to suitable sponsors or transferred to a permanent shelter,” HHS spokesman Mark Weber said in an email. “Our goal remains to close Tornillo as quickly but as safely as possible – for both the [unaccompanied alien children] and all the personnel who have worked faithfully for months providing excellent care for these vulnerable children.”
Weber added that the facility in Tornillo will not receive any more unaccompanied children and no one currently at the facility is there because of the earlier family separations policy, an enforcement initiative by the Trump administration that placed undocumented adult migrants in separate facilities from their children after they crossed the border. That policy ended in June. As of Nov. 30, BCFS had received just over $144 million from the government to run the facility.
On December 25, there were about 2,300 children at Tornillo, about 20 percent of whom were female, according to the most recent HHS fact sheet. Since the facility opened, about 6,200 children have been placed there and 3,900 have been released to relatives or sponsors.
News of the latest contact extension comes as lawmakers and immigrant rights groups made a last-minute push earlier this month to have the facility shuttered for good.
In June U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke and former El Paso County Judge Veronica Escobar led a march of hundreds of protesters to decry the president’s immigration policies and demand more information about the Tornillo facility. In November, Escobar was elected to take over O’Rourke’s congressional seat.
At a smaller rally earlier this month, O’Rourke said it was incumbent on the immigrants’ advocates to keep a spotlight on the facility to ensure it closes as soon as possible.
In addition to the Tornillo facility, the HHS will expand capacity at a shelter in Homestead, Florida from 1,350 to 2,350.