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Tuesday , June 19 2018
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Video+Statement: Cornyn – Families Should be Kept Together at the Border

On Monday on the floor, U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) discussed his plan to update and reintroduce his 2014 legislation, the HUMANE Act, to keep parents and children who’ve been apprehended at our border together while they wait for their court hearings.

Excerpts of Sen. Cornyn’s floor remarks are below, and video can be seen above.

“Just like under the Obama Administration in 2014, we’ve seen a surge of unaccompanied children and families coming across our southern border during the spring and summer months.”

“The Trump Administration has made a decision to enforce all of our laws by prosecuting adults in criminal court when they’re apprehended crossing our borders illegally. I support that approach.”

“Because of numerous federal court decisions, settlements, and statutes, an adult can be separated from a child as part of the legal process as it plays out.”

“That way, children are placed in a separate, safer setting. I doubt many of us would want a child to go to a jail cell where somebody is being held for illegally entering the country. That’s why they are put in a separate, safer setting. They aren’t left unattended and fending for themselves amongst potentially violent criminals that are being detained in regular ICE or bureau prison facilities.”

“As the New York Times stated this weekend, there is no expressed Trump Administration policy stating that illegal border crossers must be separated from their children. “

“This is as a result of other consent decrees and laws which are within the power of Congress to change. In fact, I think every member of this Chamber will agree that we should never be placing children in prison cells or jails with hardened criminals when their parents are being prosecuted.”

“We have to keep family members together and prevent unnecessary hardship, stress, and outrage. The good news is we have it within our power to find a better way because parents who are awaiting court proceedings shouldn’t have to do so separated from their children, and children shouldn’t be taken from their parents and left frightened and confused about where they are and what is transpiring around them.”

“In 2014, I introduced a bipartisan bill called the HUMANE Act with my colleague, Representative Henry Cuellar of Laredo, Texas. I plan to soon reintroduce an updated version of that legislation. 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. 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.”

“I would ask our colleagues on both sides of the aisle to take a hard look at this bill and to work together to find a reasonable solution for this component of the crisis at our border.”

***

Senator John Cornyn, a Republican from Texas, is a member of the Senate Finance, Intelligence, and Judiciary Committees.

Congressman O’Rourke To Lead Father’s Day March to Children’s Tent Camp in Tornillo

UPDATE: Campaign officials with Democratic Candidate for Governor Lupe Valdez announced Saturday afternoon that the former Sheriff of Dallas County and Veteran will join O’Rourke and other regional leaders for the march on Sunday Morning.

****previous story below

On Friday, Congressman Beto O’Rourke announced that he will lead a Father’s Day march Sunday morning to raise awareness of a newly opened tent camp in Tornillo for kids who are taken from their parents under the Trump Administration’s new policy.

The Congressman will be joined by local leaders including former El Paso County Judge Veronica Escobar, advocates, elected officials and concerned Texans as the group marches to the site where hundreds of children are already being sent without their mothers or fathers.

Via a news release, officials with O’Rourke’s office stated that Sunday’s public March to Tornillo comes less than a week after O’Rourke visited McAllen to “witness firsthand the developing humanitarian crisis along the border.”

During his visit, O’Rourke addressed the separation of children from their parents, the treatment, well-being and living conditions of unaccompanied youth, the denial of a legal asylum process for those presenting themselves at our ports of entry and recent actions taken by the Trump Administration.  O’Rourke described the policy as “inhumane.”

According to the Texas Tribune, via the office of state Rep. César Blanco(D-El Paso) confirmed the opening of the facility at the federal port of entry at Tornillo, about 20 miles east of the El Paso city limits. As of Friday afternoon, 100 minors were on site there, Blanco said.

In the same article, the Tribune reported that “Homeland Security officials said that as of May 31, there were 1,995 immigrant children in custody as a result of the “zero tolerance” mandate.”

During a Friday news conference on the North Lawn, President Trump responded to critics of the policy, pointing the blame at the Democrats. Responding to a question from a reporter about how he felt about the policy, Trump responded:

“No, I hate it.  I hate the children being taken away.  The Democrats have to change their law.  That’s their law…the Democrats gave us the laws.  Now, I want the laws to be beautiful, humane, but strong.  I don’t want bad people coming in.  I don’t want drugs coming in.  And we can solve that problem in one meeting.  Tell the Democrats, your friends, to call me.”

However, only a day earlier, a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services spokesperson directly referenced the new “zero tolerance” policy which was announced in April., attributing it to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the Trump Administration.

Trump Administration Makes Site Selection for Tent City Near El Paso to House Immigrant Children Separated From Parents

The Trump administration has selected Tornillo Land Point of Entry, a crossing point along the Texas-Mexico border near El Paso, as the site of its first temporary shelter for immigrant children separated from their parents under the administration’s “zero tolerance” policy, a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services spokesperson confirmed Thursday.

The department chose the site in consultation with the Department of Homeland Security, according to the spokesperson. The federal government will erect tents at the site to house immigrant children whose parents are facing prosecution for crossing the border illegally. Under the new “zero tolerance” policy, which U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced in April, thousands of children have been separated from their parents at the border and have quickly filled Texas shelters.

The Tornillo site will take in 360 children in the coming days and expand from there, according to the department spokesperson.

Temperatures in the area have hovered around 100 degrees; the department spokesperson said the tents will be air-conditioned.

Tornillo was not one of the three sites the Trump administration indicated it was considering earlier this week. McClatchy reported Tuesday — and a Department of Health and Human Services spokesperson later confirmed — that the federal government was eyeing Fort Bliss near El Paso, Dyess Air Force Base near Abilene and Goodfellow Air Force Base in San Angelo as possible sites for tent cities to shelter the children.

State and federal lawmakers from the El Paso area decried that proposal earlier this week, particularly raising concerns about housing children on military bases.

U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who represents El Paso, in a statement Thursday evening denounced the policy that created a need for the encampment in the first place.

“It really doesn’t matter where the tent cities are constructed, we shouldn’t be doing this,” the statement read. “We shouldn’t be separating children from their parents.”

Author: CLAIRE PARKER – The Texas Tribune

Senator Rodríguez’s Statement on Trump’s Tent Camp in Tornillo

State Sen. José Rodríguez’s issued the following statement on the Trump administration’s decision to set up a “tent city” in Tornillo to house children forcibly separated from their asylum-seeking parents:

We should have “zero tolerance” for this inhumane, immoral treatment of these children who have been forcibly separated from their asylum-seeking parents. Putting children in tent cities, especially in El Paso where it’s more than 100 degrees, is reminiscent of the disgraced and convicted Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who showed complete disregard for the rule of law and due process. This is what totalitarians in the Middle East and elsewhere do.

For this President, due process and the rule of law, which are cornerstones of individual freedom, are nothing but an impediment to using state powers to target vulnerable people. Immigrants are being targeted now. Who will be next?

***

José Rodríguez represents Texas Senate District 29, which includes the counties of El Paso, Hudspeth, Culberson, Jeff Davis, and Presidio. He represents both urban and rural constituencies, and more than 350 miles of the Texas-Mexico border. Senator Rodríguez currently serves as the Chairman of the Texas Senate Democratic Caucus, and is a member of the Senate Committees on Natural Resources and Economic Development; Transportation; Veteran Affairs and Border Security; and Agriculture, Water, and Rural Affairs (Vice Chair)

U.S. Attorney General: Victims of Domestic or Gang Violence Alone Generally Not Eligible for Asylum

United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions ruled Monday that most victims of domestic or gang violence alone were generally not eligible for asylum under federal law, a move that reverses long-standing U.S. policy and, immigration attorneys and advocacy groups say, paves the way for victims of violence to stay trapped in their home countries.

Sessions overruled the Board of Immigration Appeals in the Matter of A-R-C-G-, which dealt with married Guatemalan women who were trapped in abusive relationships. Sessions wrote that the Board’s 2014 decision “was wrongly decided and should not have been issued as a precedential decision.”

One of the respondents in that case was beaten and raped by her husband but was told the police could do nothing to help her, according to the Catholic Legal Immigration Network.

In Monday’s decision, Sessions wrote that, while circumstances in certain countries might be less than ideal, such conditions don’t automatically apply to current asylum laws.

“The mere fact that a country may have problems effectively policing certain crimes — such as domestic violence or gang violence — or that certain populations are more likely to be victims of crime, cannot itself establish an asylum claim,” he wrote.

In the opinion, Sessions said that the Board of Immigration cited the 2014 ruling to overturn a 2015 asylum denial concerning a Salvadoran woman also fleeing violence, referred to in court documents as A-B. The decision was also vacated after Session said the board did “little more than cite” the previous case in its reversal.

“I can’t even tell you how many people moving forward this is going to effect,” said Austin-based immigration attorney Jacqueline Watson. “Not to mention this is totally ripping individual [judge’s] fact finding away from them, which is insane.”

Asylum seekers must prove they face persecution in their home country due to their “race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.” In the 2014 case, the Board of Immigration Appeals said those petitioners belonged to the social group comprised of “married women in Guatemala who are unable to leave their relationship.”

Beth Werlin, the executive director of the American Immigration Council, blasted the decision for its effects on people also fleeing gang violence.

“Through our work serving detained mothers and children in Dilley, Texas, we see firsthand the trauma of domestic and gang violence and the desperate need for protection,” she said. “The Attorney General’s decision — if permitted to stand— will no doubt result in sending countless mothers and children back to their abusers and criminal gangs.”

Jeanne Atkinson, executive director of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, said that asylum law has long viewed it as a form of persecution when abuse comes from entities that a national government is unable or unwilling to control.

“To declare that asylum can no longer be granted to victims of gang violence or spouse abuse not only flies in the face of the American tradition of protecting the most vulnerable immigrants, it sets a dangerous precedent for other victims of violence, including those who are targeted for their religious beliefs,” Atkinson said.

Read related Tribune coverage:

Author: JULIÁN AGUILAR – The Texas Tribune

Apprehensions at Texas-Mexico Border Spiked in May

The number of families caught entering the country illegally at the southwest border in May increased sixfold compared with the same month in 2017. But despite that increase, some of Texas’ historically busiest areas for illegal crossings have seen an overall decrease this fiscal year.

The number of family units who were apprehended or turned themselves in to border agents on the southwest border from October 2017 to May was 59,113, according to statistics released Wednesday by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. That represents a slight decrease from the 61,809 apprehended during the same time frame in the federal government’s 2017 fiscal year, which runs from October to September.

The statistics come during a nationwide outcry from Democrats and immigrant rights groups over a recently adopted policy where parents caught crossing illegally en route to seek asylum are incarcerated and separated from their minor children. The family separations have prompted a class-action lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union.

The statistics show that the overall figures in family unit apprehensions represent a drop in Texas’s busiest border sectors during the same time-frame comparison: The Big Bend and Del Rio sectors of the U.S. Border Patrol recorded a 19 and 24 percent drop, respectively, while the El Paso, Laredo and Rio Grande Valley sectors saw a drop of 36, 48 and 10 percent.

The figures for May, however, show a surge in family unit apprehensions across the southwest border. Last month, 9,485 family units were caught or turned themselves in, compared with 1,580 in May 2017. The El Paso and Rio Grande Valley sectors saw significant increases in May: In 2017 agents recorded 166 and 973 family unit apprehensions, respectively. That’s compared to 898 and 6,630 last month.

The Department of Homeland Security said the figures justify the recent deployment of the National Guard to the area, the push for a border wall and the need for Congress to close “loopholes” in immigration laws that prompt asylum seekers to enter the country illegally.

“These numbers show that while the Trump administration is restoring the rule of law, it will take a sustained effort and continuous commitment of resources over many months to disrupt cartels, smugglers, and nefarious actors,” DHS press secretary Tyler Q. Houlton said in a statement. “We are taking action and will be referring and then prosecuting 100 percent of illegal border crossers, we are building the first new border wall in a decade, and we have deployed the National Guard to the border.”

The number of unaccompanied children trying to enter the country has increased slightly during the current fiscal year. From October 2017 to May of this year, 32,372 were encountered by border agents, compared to 2017’s 31,063. Those figures represent a 4 percent increase. In the Rio Grande Valley sector, that figure shows a 22 percent decrease, though the Big Bend, El Paso and Laredo sectors saw increases of 78, 9 and 48 percent during the same time frame.

Read related Tribune coverage:

Author: JULIÁN AGUILAR – The Texas Tribune

These Veterans From Texas Were Deported. They Say They Deserve a Second Chance.

CIUDAD JUÁREZ, Mexico — On Memorial Day on the Texas-Mexico border, Michael Evans, who served four years in the U.S. Marine Corps, was one of several veterans who helped set up a public display to honor fallen soldiers who have served in America’s military.

Later that same day, Lorenzo Nuñez, a Mexican national, stood at attention and paid tribute to those men and women in a minute-long salute to the flags of the U.S. and the various branches of the armed forces.

Those actions sound similar to several that played out across the country earlier this week, but for one exception: Evans and Nuñez are the same person. And the 40-year-old man was marking the holiday in Mexico after being deported in 2009, despite his military service.

“My birth name is Lorenzo Nuñez Fernandez. It sounds like a mariachi name,” Evans said with a chuckle from Ciudad Juárez’s Chamizal Park, less than a city block from the international port of entry at El Paso. His name changed after he was adopted by an American family in 1984, and he was discharged in 2000 before the second Gulf War.

He is one of several former servicemen in the middle of a unique immigration debate: whether deported veterans should get a second chance at legal status in the U.S. even though they might have committed a crime that led to their deportation.

Democratic U.S. Reps. Vicente Gonzalez of McAllen and Beto O’Rourke of El Paso have authored legislation to allow deported veterans who were honorably discharged to be naturalized overseas. It would exclude veterans convicted of crimes including voluntary manslaughter, murder, rape, sexual abuse of a minor, child abuse, and terrorism, according to Gonzalez’s office.

The measure would also have the U.S. attorney general cancel or rescind a removal order for an eligible veteran and change their status to legal permanent resident.

Gonzalez, who discussed the matter with President Donald Trump last year, said he was optimistic after the president expressed support for easing up on the veterans, the Chicago Tribune reported.

But the legislation has stalled, and Gonzalez recently took to the House floor to rebuke Republicans for not allowing his bill to be an amendment to larger military bill, although he’s vowed to keep the issue at the forefront and fight for a vote on his bill in Congress.

“These stories are flooding in from all corners of the globe. We are deporting honorably discharged veterans after promising them citizenship.” he said. “This is a disgrace.”

Born in Chihuahua, Evans graduated from an El Paso-area high school before joining the Marines.

He was deported after serving time in federal prison on a felony drug conspiracy charge. He said he was two weeks from taking his U.S. citizenship oath when a two-year old case came back to haunt him. He was adopted two years before amendments to the Immigration and Nationality Act made it easier to become U.S. citizens after adoption. Because Evans was never naturalized, he said he was treated like any other Mexican criminal and ordered to leave the country in 2009.

“Basically, it was like ‘You’re Mexican, you committed a crime and you got to go back,’” he said. “Back then is when Juárez was at its worst – more murders, more murders and murders” he added, referring to the cartel war that raged in the border city and claimed more than 10,000 lives.

But Evans said he’s a little more optimistic that something could get traction now as the issue gains more attention.

“There was no hope for years, zero hope,” he said. “But now there is some light at the end of the tunnel. We’re kicking up a lot of dust, and there are a lot of people talking. So you never know.”

Michael Evans, who served four years in the U.S. Marine Corps, laughs with fellow vets on May 28, 2018, in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. Ivan Pierre Aguirre for The Texas Tribune

For older veterans of the U.S. military who were deported, there is less hope for themselves, but optimism about the younger ex-soldiers.

Francisco Lopez, 73, is the director of the Deported Veterans Support House in Ciudad Juárez, known as the “Juárez Bunker.” He told the Tribune he was drafted in 1967 and went to Vietnam, where he served a year overseas. He was arrested in Wichita Falls after buying cocaine he said was for both personal use for selling. He was deported in 2003 and has turned his house into a shelter of sorts.

“My hopes of being able to return are pretty much dead,” he said in Spanish. “Only the president can help us. But what we want is to raise attention that we need medical care. Because that’s a right all of the veterans have. And we don’t have it.”

What’s helped the cause, Lopez said, is the attention the movement has gained over the last year. On Memorial Day 2017 the group was photographed by Herika Martinez and later published by the AFP, the Washington Post reported.

The photograph eventually went viral, and a feature story by the local CBS-FOX affiliate in February prompted more attention.

Navy veteran Juan Valadez, 35, knows that everyone isn’t sympathetic. He reads online comments arguing that deported veterans deserve what they got for breaking the law. 

“It’s a divisive issue, but the way I see it, we made a mistake. But we’re still veterans, we served the country,” he said.

After attending Socorro High School in east El Paso County, Valadez enlisted and was deployed to the Gulf of Aden and then to the Persian Gulf.

After that he said he served two years in federal prison after being convicted of a conspiracy drug charge. But he said he served his time and deserves another shot.

“I understand we’re immigrants, but we did something that most immigrants and U.S. citizens won’t do. We signed up for the military voluntarily. I deployed twice.”

Read related Tribune coverage:

Author:  JULIÁN AGUILAR – The Texas Tribune

Texas Immigration Case Could Play Large Role in Family Separations

As the White House’s policy to separate immigrant parents from their children at the border continues to fan the flames of the national immigration debate, attorneys with the American Civil Liberties Union said Wednesday that the case of a woman detained in El Paso could be the catalyst for change.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced last month his office was imposing a “zero tolerance” policy on people who enter the country illegally. The policy means that parents caught with their children will go to a detention facility while their children are placed elsewhere. He doubled down on that pledge this month in separate speeches.

“If you’re smuggling a child, then we’re going to prosecute you, and that child will be separated from you, probably, as required by law,” he said. “If you don’t want your child separated, then don’t bring them across the border illegally. It’s not our fault that somebody does that.”

Lee Gelernt, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, said it’s not clear how many families have been affected since the policy was announced because “only the government” knows. But he said his case against the federal government would reverse that policy if a federal district judge in California grants a preliminary injunction against the practice.

The Texas case involves a Brazilian referred to only as “Ms. C” in court documents. She arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border last summer and was approached by a federal border agent within seconds, court documents state. She explained she was applying for asylum, passed a credible fear interview, but was subsequently placed in custody after being prosecuted for illegal entry. Her minor son was sent to a facility for unaccompanied children in Chicago. She completed her 25-day criminal misdemeanor sentence in September and was sent to an immigration detention facility in El Paso, the filing states.

“Once she got out of jail, they could have reunited [her and her son], but she spent six months in an ICE detention center and was never reunited her with her son,” Gelernt said.  “She’s now been out for around six weeks, they still haven’t reunited her with her son.”

The case was filed in February in San Diego because the original plaintiff in the case is a Congolese woman who was separated from her daughter. Gelernt said the case is now a class-action lawsuit that seeks to end the administration’s policy and immediately reunite the separated children with their parents. It was argued on May 4, and it’s unclear when a decision will be issued.

During a news conference Wednesday at Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center in Central El Paso, Linda Rivas, the executive director and managing attorney of the center, said the recent fervor over the family separation proves what immigration attorneys in El Paso have known since last year: West Texas was host to the Trump Administration’s pilot program on ramped-up immigration enforcement.

“We have known that this has been going on regularly for some time under the Trump administration,” she said. “This was the training ground, this is where they started to separate families.”

The court documents back up her point. Though the policy was officially announced in April, Ms. C’s case goes back to September of last year.

Rivas also said the recent news about the estimated 1,500 unaccompanied children that were deemed “lost” by federal officials is a distraction that takes attention away from the issue of family separation. The New York Times was the first to report last month that the Department of Health and Human Services has lost track of about 1,500 unaccompanied immigrant minors had been placed with sponsors.

It was subsequently reported that the children were not likely lost, but instead their sponsors may not have responded to phone calls from government officials tasked with keeping tabs on the children. The children were also unaccompanied minors, which means they aren’t part of the group of children who have been separated from their parents at the border.

“It’s inaccurate, and I think it was a distraction. Whoever it came from, it is distracting from the real issues,” she said.

Read related Tribune coverage:

Author:  JULIÁN AGUILAR– The Texas Tribune

Congressman Will Hurd Helps Lead Push to Force House Vote on Immigration Bills

WASHINGTON — Fed up with a long stretch of inaction on immigration in the U.S. House, U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-Helotes, and some of his Republican colleagues declared Wednesday that they’ll try to force the House to vote on a series of bills addressing the status of undocumented immigrants brought into the country while they were children, among other immigration measures.

Hurd, along with a small group of other moderate Republicans, introduced what’s known as a discharge petition Wednesday that would effectively force Speaker Paul Ryan to bring four immigration bills to the House floor for a vote as early as June. GOP leadership has previously declined to do so.

If the measure is signed by a majority of House members, the legislation can bypass the committee process that is required for most bills.

At a news conference Wednesday, Hurd said it’s urgent for the House to address the concerns of millions of young undocumented people in the U.S. In 2012, President Barack Obama implemented a policy known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals that protects from deportation some undocumented immigrants brought here as children. But President Donald Trump has tried to dismantle the program, saying it should be up to Congress to act on the issue.

“These are men and women who have contributed to our economy,” Hurd said at the press conference. “They have contributed to our history. These are people who are Americans, and they need a permanent legislative fix.”

At least 25 Republicans, along with the entire House Democratic delegation, must sign on to the measure to reach the necessary 218 votes. Fifteen House Republicans — including U.S. Rep Charlie Dent, R-Pennsylvania, whose tenure ends this week — have already done just that.

“We feel very good today,” said U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Florida. “I think [the 15 signatures] exceeds all of our expectations, so we think we’re on our way.”

The petition takes advantage of a little-known provision known as the “queen of the hill” rule, which allows a series of bills to compete with one another. The bill that collects the biggest majority of votes is the one that passes.

In this case, Hurd and his colleagues want to bring four bills to the floor, including “The U.S.A. Act” co-authored by Hurd and U.S. Rep. Pete Aguilar, D-California. Hurd’s plan provides protection for DACA beneficiaries and beefs up border security measures.

The other bills up for debate under the “queen of the hill” plan include a conservative measure authored by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Virginia, and the DREAM Act of 2017, the favored plan of House Democrats. Goodlatte’s bill offers temporary status to DACA recipients alongside increased border security and deep cuts to legal immigration, while the DREAM Act offers a path to citizenship for DACA recipients and other young undocumented immigrants without increased immigration enforcement measures. Ryan would decide the fourth bill up for debate.

House Republican leadership, including Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-California, have already expressed displeasure with the discharge petition. The reaction was not surprising to the members behind the measure.

But Curbelo said the petition is “deferential” to leadership because it gives Ryan an opportunity to craft his own legislative solution.

“Leadership, no matter the party, is never going to support a discharge petition,” Curbelo said. “We truly believe that this process actually empowers them because it allows every member to have a role in the immigration debate.”

Republicans supporting the measure stressed that the petition is not an endorsement of any one immigration bill, but of bringing those bills to the floor for debate. Hurd said that this is the House’s chance to act.

“No matter what your ideological views on this topic are, everybody should have a debate,” Hurd said. “I’m glad that there are an intrepid few that are willing to take this step to force this broader conversation.”

Author: HALEY SAMSEL – The Texas Tribune

US Attorney General Sessions Visits Las Cruces, Talks Immigration, Border Wall

LAS CRUCES – Providing 4,000 National Guardsman to assist, ending of “radical” catch and release practices, and reducing the backlog of immigration cases were the resounding messages that Attorney General Jeff Sessions left a group of about 150 county sheriff’s and border patrol agents during the Southwestern Border Sheriff’s Coalition spring conference.

Just outside about 150 protestors from the Border Network for Human Rights, churches and other organizations gathered outside the hotel demanding that Sessions leave the border.

On Facebook, Fernando Garcia, director for the BNHR said that Session’s message and the deployment of the National Guardsmen along the border was a war against families.

The coalition, which comprises of sheriff’s offices from 31 counties in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California, is an annual event that provides additional training to law enforcement that are within 25 miles of the international boundary line.

In his to Las Cruces on Wednesday, Sessions congratulated the U.S. Border Patrol, the Department of Homeland Security officers and the county Sheriff’s of the Southwestern Border for keeping America safe.

“The independently elected sheriff has been seen as the people’s protector,” Sessions said. “Keeping law enforcement close and accountable. So the work you do is essential because it is keeping safety in America. I believe it, and the Department of Justice believes it and President Trump believes it. We have your back and you have our thanks.”

Sessions spoke to law enforcement officers just before his speech, without members of the media. After his speech he did not take questions from the audience or the media.

He repeatedly stated that President Donald Trump and his administration stood with them and would support them. On Monday, hundreds of National Guardsmen deployed in the states of Texas, New Mexico an Arizona.

“They can help,” Sessions said. “Certain things they are not going to be able to to do and they will not be doing. But, there are many ways that they can be supportive and helpful.”

According to the U.S. Department of Defense memo, the troops will simply work help in identifying vulnerabilities.

“The troops will not perform law enforcement activities or interact with migrants or other individuals detained by DHS (Department of Homeland Security) without approval from (Defense Secretary James) Mattis,” the Memo states.

Construction for a border wall replacement in Santa Teresa began on Monday, according to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
In a press release the USCBP said the construction of the wall was awarded on Jan. 22 to Barnard Construction of Boezman, Montana.
The area in which replacement will begin is along the 20-mile section of the existing vehicle barrier. The contract includes drainage improvement along that section.

Construction of the wall is slated to run for 390 days and estimated to cost $73.3 million.

According to the CBP the El Paso sector had 25,193 illegal aliens apprehended and 24,189 pounds of marijuana and 140 pounds of cocaine seized.

Sessions added that while he knew it was not the place of Sheriff or State law enforcement to enforce immigration law, he asked that they consider voluntarily doing so as the Border States face a “crises” according to Sessions.

Additional help by this presidential administration will also be provided as many as 100 immigration judges to the border areas, Sessions said.

“We are actively working with our partners in homeland security to ensure that we can deploy judges electronically and by video teleconference so that they can help us handle a lot more cases efficiently.”
He added that the threshold the administration would like to see is a completion of 700 cases by each judge.

“This is the average by some judges, and some are well below that,” he said. “This is not a radical goal. It’s positive to have consistent and efficiency and productivity in our immigration system.”

Throughout his speech Sessions referred to criminal activities that some undocumented immigrants have been arrested for. He spoke about the need to dismantle the MS-13 gang, and then added that along the border law enforcement agencies may have additional challenges with gangs that are “bigger” than MS-13.

Sessions went on to speak about the opioid epidemic and the number of illegal drugs that cross into the United States through the Mexico border.

“So, we are going to step up our efforts to achieve zero tolerance; zero tolerances on releases and 100 percent prosecution wherever possible,” Sessions said. “And it’s not possible, probably – to do everything we want to do this year, but we are moving in that direction.”

He indicated that an uptick in illegal border crossings within the last month could be because of the “loopholes” within the immigration system, the lack of a wall along the southern border, and probably because things are going well in the Trump economy.

Sessions then referred to Obama’s administration practices of catch and release programs as radical, and then referred to the reason of fear of going back to their country.

“They claimed (illegal aliens) that they couldn’t be sent home because of fear, surprisingly the exploitation and the abuse of a credible fear loophole has been a big problem for us,” Sessions said.

“And if you talk to our Border Patrol and ICE and HIS and U.S. Attorneys then you know that’s true. After the release from custody, a large number of illegal aliens disappear. They abscond – they never show up for the hearing in court. The vast majority that do show up have had their asylum claims denied because their claims were not justified.  Just because you have danger in one town in Mexico or any other country doesn’t mean you can’t go some other place in that same country. If someone feels dangerous that doesn’t mean you get the right to demand citizenship or entry into Canada. Give me a break. That’s never been the way the system was ever intended to work.”

Sessions then briefly spoke about the catch and release of children that enter illegally into the United States and added that it is unknown who they are released to.

“This is not a healthy way for us to operate,” he said. “It encourages people to make the trip that they shouldn’t be making at great expense and risk.”

He added that the flow of farm workers who are willing to get paid less are “pulling down the wages of Americans that need a better chance to advance themselves….It huts particularly the recent immigrants who are trying to get their feet on the ground as well as minorities. They are clearly suffering the most from these policies. They have dreams too. They want to do well too.”

Sessions visit comes just a few days after national media outlet reported President Trump had weighed the option of whether to fire the Attorney General, and replace him with Scott Pruitt, Chief of the Environmental Protection Agency.

But since Sessions recused himself on March 2017, from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation on whether interference with the 2016 presidential election had ties to Trump’s campaign, national media outlet have reported that Trump has been vying to replace Sessions – additionally citing his unhappiness with Session’s handling of the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s emails.

Removing Sessions from his seat as attorney general, could open up the position to Pruitt, who was recently criticized for his travel costs use of security detail and other questionable use of tax payers money.

But on Friday, Trump stated that talk of replacing sessions with Pruitt was merely fake news.

“Do you believe that the Fake News Media is pushing hard on a story that I am going to replace A.G. Jeff Sessions with EPA Chief Scott Pruitt, who is doing a great job but is totally under siege? Do people really believe this stuff? So much of the media is dishonest and corrupt.”

As of Wednesday Sessions was still the United States Attorney General.

After speaking to law enforcement and Border Patrol officers, at the Southwestern Border Sheriff’s coalition, he was scheduled to return to Washington D.C.

Dona Ana County Sheriff Enrique, “Kiki” Vigil said that while he’s heard that other Sheriff’s along the Texas-Mexico border have had some problems, in New Mexico there is not a crises as Sessions and the Presidential administration has implied.

There are other issues that we need to take care of here first,” Vigil said. He added that with modern technology that can secure the border without National Guardsman. “The wall is going to take a lot of money, that will take a lot of money. You know why not put that toward helping those with mental illness, our schools and fixing our infrastructure. I don’t support the wall.”

When asked if the Dona Ana County Sheriff’s office would voluntarily assist Border Patrol agents in enforcing immigration law, Vigil shook his head.

“Not from my office we are not immigration officers we are here to protect everybody. “

From Presidio, Texas, County Sheriff Daniel Dominguez argues that having a wall will help in many ways as well as additional funds and technology.

“On the border, where we are short handed we could use the extra resources,” Dominguez said. “By doing so we can slow it down – it won’t stop it – but it will slow it down.”

Dominguez said the assistance of the National Guardsmen would also assist his deputies.

“They are tied up most of the time in the office and they can’t be out there in the field,” Dominguez said. “So they can come down here (Presidio) and alleviate the pressure.”

The conference was held at the Ramada Las Cruces Hotel and Conference Center, 201 E. University Avenue.

Author: Alex Hinojosa – El Paso Herald Post

El Paso Border Patrol Sector Kicks Off Construction of Trump’s Wall on Border

SANTA TERESA, N.M. — A groundbreaking Monday for a new border barrier in New Mexico signals the beginning of the fulfillment of President Donald Trump’s best-known campaign promise, federal officials said.

“The president has started his project,” Agent Aaron A. Hull, chief of the U.S. Border Patrol’s El Paso sector, said as he stood a few feet from the existing fence that will be replaced by the new barrier. “This is the beginning, in this sector, of the president’s border wall – very much so.”

The project will include 20 miles of new bollard-style wall up to 30 feet tall, including five feet of climb-resistant material, Hull said. The new barrier will extend west from Santa Teresa, New Mexico — a town located about 13 miles northwest of El Paso — and will replace shorter vehicle barriers, which agents said are not effective to deter illegal crossers or drug smuggling.

Agents in the sector, which includes El Paso and Hudpseth counties in Texas and all of New Mexico, said new construction will also begin soon in parts of Texas’ Rio Grande Valley, Arizona and San Diego.

Hull said the new construction was mandated by the president’s January 2017 executive order on immigration and will take about a year to complete. The 20 miles of barrier will cost more than $73 million, which will come from 2017 Department of Homeland Security funding.

Hull said the Santa Teresa area was chosen for the initial groundbreaking because it’s one of the busiest crossing points in the sector. In fiscal year 2017, agents apprehended more than 25,000 undocumented immigrants and seized more than 34,000 pounds of marijuana and 140 pounds of cocaine throughout the sector. Agents also reported being assaulted 54 times during that fiscal year.

“The president has set the standard for us. And the standard is operational control,” Hull said. “Operational control means our ability to detect, deter and deny illegal entry, maintain situational awareness and provide the appropriate law enforcement response.”

Hull also told reporters that he and his agents met with units of the National Guard that will be deployed to the border. Trump ordered National Guard units to reinforce the Border Patrol last week.

“We’re nowhere near deploying yet but we have conducted initial outreach with both the New Mexico National Guard and the Texas National Guard,” he said.

Monday’s press event came the same day that an environmental group announced they are appealing a federal district court’s ruling that allowed the administration to move forward with border wall construction. The Center for Biological Diversity sued the administration last year, alleging the Department of Homeland Security illegally waived several environmental laws in order to fast-track the wall’s construction.

“Converting existing vehicle barriers to border wall is wasteful, unnecessary, and just as damaging as building a new border wall,” said Randy Serraglio, a conservation advocate at the Center. “This newest section of border wall is an insult to people living on both sides of the border and a serious threat to Mexican wolves and other wildlife that need to move across the landscape to survive.”

Federal District Judge Gonzalo Curiel ruled in favor of the administration in March.

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Author:  JULIÁN AGUILAR – The Texas Tribune

Federal Government Tells Border Prosecutors to Adopt “Zero-Tolerance” Policy on Immigration

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Friday ordered federal prosecutors on the southwest border to adopt a “zero tolerance” policy against anyone who enters or attempts to enter the country illegally, a mandate he said “supersedes” any prior directives.

“To those who wish to challenge the Trump Administration’s commitment to public safety, national security, and the rule of law, I warn you: illegally entering this country will not be rewarded, but will instead be met with the full prosecutorial powers of the Department of Justice,” Sessions said in a statement. “To the Department’s prosecutors, I urge you: promoting and enforcing the rule of law is vital to protecting a nation, its borders, and its citizens.”

The directive instructs all federal prosecutors on the southwest border to prosecute all Department of Homeland Security referrals for alleged violations of federal immigration illegal-entry laws. 

In a one-page memo sent to federal prosecutors on the southwest border, Sessions said the goal wasn’t merely developing more immigration cases, but instead an end to the “illegality in [the] immigration system.” He added that if the new policy requires more resources, the offices should identify and request those to the Department of Justice.

The mandate comes the same week President Donald Trump has assailed Democrats for supporting what he said are “catch and release” policies where individuals apprehended by the Border Patrol are released while they await a court date. (The Washington Post later reported that “catch and release” actually flourished under the George W. Bush administration.)

It’s unclear what the mandate will do to the current immigration-court case backlog, which was at more than 684,000 as of February, according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University. That figure includes more than 105,000 cases pending in Texas courts, higher than any state but California.

The move is the latest in a busy week for the administration, which has also seen Trump sign a proclamation ordering the deployment of National Guard troops to the border until construction of his promised wall on the southwest border is complete.

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Author:  JULIÁN AGUILAR – The Texas Tribune

Commission on Migration, Bishop Seitz, Release Statement on National Guard Border Deployment

On Wednesday, the Commission on Migration of the Diocese of El Paso and the Most Rev. Mark J. Seitz, Bishop of El Paso, released the following statement regarding President Trump’s decision to deploy the National Guard to the border.

Today’s decision by the Trump administration to deploy the National Guard to the border is morally irresponsible and dangerously ineffective. It is a hurtful attack on migrants, our welcoming border culture, and our shared values as Americans.

As a border community, we already know the painful moral and human consequences of the militarization of our border. Our undocumented brothers and sisters go through daily existence trapped between checkpoints and failed laws. Our Dreamers continue to live an anxious twilight of uncertainty and stress. The asylum seekers fleeing terror and seeking mercy at our border are imprisoned and separated from their families.

We know that our border has never been more secure. We know that it is irresponsible to deploy armed soldiers in our communities. We know that only by working together to address the dehumanizing poverty and insecurity in our sister countries in Latin America and around the world will we resolve the root causes that drive migration. And we know we must end the hopelessness in our communities that fuels our nation’s addiction to drugs, which deals only death and destruction to the people of our continent.

Jesus Christ, the Sun of Justice, gives us hope that our efforts to build bridges among peoples and cultures is not in vain. On this solemn day when we recall the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., let us remember his words. “If we will make the right choice, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our world into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. If we will but make the right choice, we will be able to speed up the day, all over America and all over the world, when ‘justice will roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.’”

Most Rev. Mark J. Seitz, Bishop of El Paso

Ms. Lily Limón and Mr. Dylan Corbett, Co-Chairs

***

The Commission on Migration supports the Bishop of El Paso in advancing the mission of the Church so that persons who migrate are welcomed, protected, promoted and integrated, both in the life of the Church and in society.

Texas State Senator Rodríguez: Statement Against Border Militarization

The following is State Sen. José Rodríguez’s statement on President Trump’s proposal to militarize the southern border:

The President and other Republicans have manipulated the fears of Americans, many of whom know very little about life on the border, into a potent political weapon. In his latest anti-immigrant action, Mr. Trump proposes to use the U.S. military as actors and the border as a stage to create electoral theatre in hopes of appeasing his political base. Mr. Trump is responding to a caravan of women, children, and elderly seeking refuge from violence in Central America that is working through Mexico to raise awareness of their plight. This is morally reprehensible.

We are not Russia or any other totalitarian country that uses our military domestically, against our own residents. By assigning the military to enforce domestic civil laws on immigration — something not previously done — he is sending a message to the world that America is no longer a beacon of hope to those in need or even a free society.

Border communities do not want the military patrolling their backyards; no American community does. In May 1997, Ezequiel Hernandez, an 18-year-old high school student, was tracked by soldiers for 20 minutes before being shot and killed while tending his family’s goats in Redford, Texas. That tragedy occurred in my district, Texas Senate District 29, which has about 350 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border. The border has been secured; in fact, apprehensions on the border are at their lowest since 1971. Meanwhile, the movement of millions of residents and billions of dollars in commerce is clogged at understaffed ports of entry. That is where our focus and investment should be — not on using the military as puppets for election year antics.

After Ruling on Texas’ “Sanctuary Cities” Law, Opponents Say They’re Down But Not Out

After opponents of Texas’ immigration-enforcement law were delivered what they said was a “punch to the gut” by a federal appellate court, they stressed Wednesday that they weren’t completely out of the fight.

A panel of three 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judges ruled Tuesday that most of Senate Bill 4 can remain in effect while the case plays out. That came after it was partially blocked by U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia in San Antonio last summer.

Attorneys and immigrants’ rights groups who fought against SB 4 said their next move isn’t clear but that they’re considering seeking a hearing before the entire 5th Circuit.

“There are a lot of parties [involved], so we are coordinating on this,” Efrén Olivares, the racial and economic justice director for the Texas Civil Rights Project, told reporters during a conference call. “But procedurally, the next step would be to request an en banc hearing.” There is also the possibility of asking the U.S. Supreme Courthe said.

The plaintiffs’ attorneys admitted Wednesday that they were not surprised at the ruling due to the 5th Circuit’s conservative leanings, so it’s unclear how much faith they will have in pleading their case before the entire court. But, they said, there remains the option to show that in its implementation, SB 4 leads to several constitutional violations.

The legislation prohibits law enforcement supervisors from preventing their local law enforcement officers from questioning the immigration status of people they detain or arrest. It also punishes local government department heads and elected officials who don’t cooperate with federal immigration “detainers” — requests by agents to turn over immigrants subject to possible deportation — in the form of jail time and penalties that exceed $25,000, and it prohibits local entities from pursuing “a pattern or practice that ‘materially limits’ the enforcement of immigration laws” or prohibits “assisting or cooperating” with federal immigration officers as reasonable or necessary.

Olivares said that while the next step in the appeals process is being considered, the lawyers and their supporters will also prepare for the case to head back to San Antonio. Tuesday’s ruling was only on the temporary injunction of SB 4; now, the district court is set to consider the law itself.

In a statement released after Tuesday’s ruling, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said the decision shows the law doesn’t run afoul of the U.S. Constitution.

“I’m pleased the 5th Circuit recognized that Senate Bill 4 is lawful, constitutional and protects the safety of law enforcement officers and all Texans,” he said. “Enforcing immigration law prevents the release of individuals from custody who have been charged with serious crimes.”

One of the most controversial components of SB 4, what opponents call the “papers please” provision, was never halted and has been law since September. In his August ruling, Garcia allowed that part of the law to go into effect but said officers cannot prolong a stop for longer than necessary and can’t make an arrest solely based on immigration status.

Olivares said he’s already heard this hasn’t always been the case and said that’s one of the challenges to the law that could be presented to the district judge.

“Police officers are prolonging the stops on purpose just to allow for Border Patrol or [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] agents, and that is unconstitutional,” he said. “We know that is happening around the state and particularly in border areas, so we are keeping track of that.”

Another option is for local governments to adopt or continue policies where being charged for an alleged misdemeanor doesn’t trigger automatic arrest, said Bob Libal, the executive director of Grassroots Leadership, an Austin-based immigrant rights and private-prison watchdog group.

“Local officials need to act swiftly to stop the arrest-to-deportation pipeline that will be accelerated by SB 4,” Libal said. “They can start by enacting policies that end discretionary arrests while ensuring that scarce public resources are not wasted on unnecessary immigration enforcement actions that terrorize the immigrant community.”

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Author: JULIÁN AGUILAR – The Texas Tribune

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