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Home | Tag Archives: trump immigration

Tag Archives: trump immigration

U.S. is Denying Passports to Americans Along the Border, Throwing Their Citizenship into Question

PHARR, Tex. — On paper, he’s a devoted U.S. citizen.

His official American birth certificate shows he was delivered by a midwife in Brownsville, at the southern tip of Texas. He spent his life wearing American uniforms: three years as a private in the Army, then as a cadet in the Border Patrol and now as a state prison guard.

But when Juan, 40, applied to renew his U.S. passport this year, the government’s response floored him. In a letter, the State Department said it didn’t believe he was an American citizen.

As he would later learn, Juan is one of a growing number of people whose official birth records show they were born in the United States but who are now being denied passports — their citizenship suddenly thrown into question. The Trump administration is accusing hundreds, and possibly thousands, of Hispanics along the border of using fraudulent birth certificates since they were babies, and it is undertaking a widespread crackdown on their citizenship.

In a statement, the State Department said that it “has not changed policy or practice regarding the adjudication of passport applications,” adding that “the U.S.-Mexico border region happens to be an area of the country where there has been a significant incidence of citizenship fraud.”

But cases identified by The Washington Post and interviews with immigration attorneys suggest a dramatic shift in both passport issuance and immigration enforcement.

In some cases, passport applicants with official U.S. birth certificates are being jailed in immigration detention centers and entered into deportation proceedings. In others, they are stuck in Mexico, their passports suddenly revoked when they tried to reenter the United States. As the Trump administration attempts to reduce both legal and illegal immigration, the government’s treatment of passport applicants in South Texas shows how U.S. citizens are increasingly being swept up by immigration enforcement agencies.

Juan said he was infuriated by the government’s response. “I served my country. I fought for my country,” he said, speaking on the condition that his last name not be used so that he wouldn’t be targeted by immigration enforcement.

The government alleges that from the 1950s through the 1990s, some midwives and physicians along the Texas-Mexico border provided U.S. birth certificates to babies who were actually born in Mexico. In a series of federal court cases in the 1990s, several birth attendants admitted to providing fraudulent documents.

Based on those suspicions, the State Department began during Barack Obama’s administration to deny passports to people who were delivered by midwives in Texas’s Rio Grande Valley. The use of midwives is a long-standing tradition in the region, in part because of the cost of hospital care.

The same midwives who provided fraudulent birth certificates also delivered thousands of babies legally in the United States. It has proved nearly impossible to distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate documents, all of them officially issued by the state of Texas decades ago.

A 2009 government settlement in a case litigated by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) seemed like it had mostly put an end to the passport denials. Attorneys reported that the number of denials declined during the rest of the Obama administration, and the government settled promptly when people filed complaints after being denied passports.

But under President Trump, the passport denials and revocations appear to be surging, becoming part of a broader interrogation into the citizenship of people who have lived, voted and worked in the United States for their entire lives.

“We’re seeing these kind of cases skyrocketing,” said Jennifer Correro, an attorney in Houston who is defending dozens of people who have been denied passports.

In its statement, the State Department said that applicants “who have birth certificates filed by a midwife or other birth attendant suspected of having engaged in fraudulent activities, as well as applicants who have both a U.S. and foreign birth certificate, are asked to provide additional documentation establishing they were born in the United States.”

“Individuals who are unable to demonstrate that they were born in the United States are denied issuance of a passport,” the statement said.

When Juan, the former soldier, received a letter from the State Department telling him it wasn’t convinced that he was a U.S. citizen, it requested a range of obscure documents — evidence of his mother’s prenatal care, his baptismal certificate, rental agreements from when he was a baby.

He managed to find some of those documents but weeks later received another denial. In a letter, the government said the information “did not establish your birth in the United States.”

“I thought to myself, you know, I’m going to have to seek legal help,” said Juan, who earns $13 an hour as a prison guard and expects to pay several thousand dollars in legal fees.

In a case last August, a 35-year-old Texas man with a U.S. passport was interrogated while crossing back into Texas from Mexico with his son at the McAllen-Hidalgo-Reynosa International Bridge, connecting Reynosa, Mexico, to McAllen, Tex.

His passport was taken from him, and Customs and Border Protection agents told him to admit that he was born in Mexico, according to documents later filed in federal court. He refused and was sent to the Los Fresnos Detention Center and entered into deportation proceedings.

He was released three days later, but the government scheduled a deportation hearing for him in 2019. His passport, which had been issued in 2008, was revoked.

Attorneys say these cases, where the government’s doubts about an official birth certificate lead to immigration detention, are increasingly common. “I’ve had probably 20 people who have been sent to the detention center — U.S. citizens,” said Jaime Diez, an attorney in Brownsville.

Diez represents dozens of U.S. citizens who were denied their passports or had their passports suddenly revoked. Among them are soldiers and Border Patrol agents. In some cases, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents have arrived at his clients’ homes without notice and taken passports away.

The State Department says that even though it may deny someone a passport, that does not necessarily mean that the individual will be deported. But it leaves them in a legal limbo, with one arm of the U.S. government claiming they are not Americans and the prospect that immigration agents could follow up on their case.

It’s difficult to know where the crackdown fits into the Trump administration’s broader assaults on legal and illegal immigration. Over the past year, it has thrown legal permanent residents out of the military and formed a denaturalization task force that tries to identify people who might have lied on decades-old citizenship applications.

Now, the administration appears to be taking aim at a broad group of Americans along the stretch of the border where Trump has promised to build his wall, where he directed the deployment of national guardsmen, and where the majority of cases in which children were separated from their parents during the administration’s “zero tolerance” policy occurred.

The State Department would not say how many passports it has denied to people along the border because of concerns about fraudulent birth certificates. The government has also refused to provide a list of midwives who it considers to be suspicious.

Lawyers along the border say that it isn’t just those delivered by midwives who are being denied.

Babies delivered by Jorge Treviño, one of the regions most well-known gynecologists, are also being denied. When he died in 2015, the McAllen Monitor wrote in his obituary that Treviño had delivered 15,000 babies.

It’s unclear why babies delivered by Treviño are being targeted, and the State Department did not comment on individual birth attendants. Diez, the attorney, said the government has an affidavit from an unnamed Mexican doctor who said that Treviño’s office provided at least one fraudulent birth certificate for a child born in Mexico.

One of the midwives who was accused of providing fraudulent birth certificates in the 1990s admitted in an interview that in two cases, she accepted money to provide fake documents. She said she helped deliver 600 babies in South Texas, many of them now being denied passports. Those birth certificates were issued by the state of Texas, with the midwife’s name listed under “birth attendant.”

“I know that they are suffering now, but it’s out of my control,” she said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of her admission.

For those who have received passport denials from the government, it affects not only their travel plans but their sense of identity as Americans.

One woman who has been denied, named Betty, said she had tried to get a passport to visit her grandfather as he was dying in Mexico. She went to a passport office in Houston, where government officials denied her request and questioned whether she had been born in the United States.

“You’re getting questioned on something so fundamentally you,” said Betty, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity because of concerns about immigration enforcement.

The denials are happening at a time when Trump has been lobbying for stricter federal voter identification rules, which would presumably affect the same people who are now being denied passports — almost all of them Hispanic, living in a heavily Democratic sliver of Texas.

“That’s where it gets scary,” Diez said.

For now, passport applicants who are able to afford the legal costs are suing the federal government over their passport denials. Eventually, the applicants typically win those cases, after government attorneys raise a series of sometimes bizarre questions about their birth.

“For a while, we had attorneys asking the same question: ‘Do you remember when you were born?’ ” Diez said. “I had to promise my clients that it wasn’t a trick question.”

Author: BY KEVIN SIEFF, THE WASHINGTON POST

ACLU Claims ICE Still Detaining Some Asylum-Seekers for No Reason Despite Court Order

Despite a federal judge’s order preventing immigration officials from arbitrarily holding asylum-seeking immigrants in federal detention, attorneys representing some of the detainees said Tuesday that the majority of the immigrants are still locked up for no reason.

Last month, U.S. District Judge James E. Boasberg granted a preliminary injunction preventing Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents from denying parole to asylum-seekers without an individual determination as to why. The lawsuit includes as defendants the El Paso, Detroit, Los Angeles, Newark and Philadelphia ICE field offices. The El Paso office covers West Texas and New Mexico.

Michael Tan, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union and one of the lead lawyers on the case, said that as of last week ICE had granted parole to about 25 percent of the asylum-seekers included in the lawsuit.

It’s a far cry from the 90 percent rate that existed before President Donald Trump took office, he said, which leads the attorneys to believe that ICE continues to detain people without cause.

“There are reasons to believe that the government continues to ignore its own parole policy,” he said. That policy states that a person seeking asylum who has established his or her true identity should be released if they are not a flight risk or a threat to the public at large.

Tan said he understands that ICE officials aren’t required to grant parole to everyone, but he said that after speaking to attorneys working on the ground in the five field offices, ICE agents are still “checking boxes” for the sole purpose of denying the relief.

“To be clear, I am not saying there is some magic number,” he said. “[But] they are being denied parole based on a boilerplate checklist.”

From July 2, when Boasberg issued the order, through August 17, 145 out of 563 asylum-seekers had been granted parole. That includes 78 of the 286 El Paso cases.

A spokesperson in the El Paso ICE field office did not respond to a request for comment.

Kristen Greer Love, an attorney with the ACLU of New Mexico who is representing some of the asylum-seekers being held in El Paso and New Mexico, said ICE officials don’t explain the reasons a person was denied parole once their case is reviewed.

“It is sort of a blanket statement that the person is a flight risk or a danger to the community, or hasn’t presented adequate evidence to prove their identity,” she said. “ICE appears to be using, for example, the flight risk [excuse] even when people have presented robust evidence of having a sponsor who is either a U.S. citizen or a lawful permanent resident in the United States who has the means and commitment to make sure the person has the means to show up at the immigration proceedings.”

Love added that most of the people she’s spoken to have been detained since they arrived at the port of entry and sought asylum, which makes it impossible that they have a criminal history in this country.

Tan said the ACLU will ask the judge to grant its motion for more discovery to see if ICE can show it is complying with the order. The judge also asked the agency to submit a monthly report of parole determinations until further notice.

“It’s basically a fact-finding process where we can investigate whether the government is in fact complying the court order. If it’s not … we’ll ask the court to order additional remedies,” he said.

Read related Tribune coverage

Author: JULIÁN AGUILAR – The Texas Tribune

U.S. House Eyes $5 Billion for Border Wall, Setting up Showdown with Senate

House Republicans are aiming to meet President Trump’s latest request for his border wall — $5 billion for 2019 — setting up a potential showdown with the Senate.

The $5 billion would be included in a House homeland-security spending bill expected to be released Wednesday. The Senate included only $1.6 billion for the wall in its version of the bill last month, a figure that displeased Trump, who told senators he might shut down the government this fall if he does not get more.

Administration officials and House Republicans are holding discussions about the precise figure and what the money would be spent on. Trump never formally requested $5 billion for the wall, instead communicating the number privately to lawmakers in recent weeks.

Rep. Charles J. “Chuck” Fleischmann (R-Tenn.), a member of the House Appropriations subcommittee on homeland security, said he anticipated $5 billion that would be allocated for “wall plus” — meaning physical barriers in some spots, as well as other security mechanisms in places along the 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border where a wall might not be practical.

He and other Republicans acknowledged it might be a struggle to get their number through the Senate. Members of the Senate Appropriations Committee have been writing their spending bills on a bipartisan basis this year, while House Republicans are proceeding on their own, without Democrats.

“It’s got to start somewhere, and if we start in the House and get that out there it gives us a starting point,” Fleischmann said. “You’ll at least have the House and the White House lined up.”

Rep. Nita M. Lowey (D-N.Y.), the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, said the $5 billion figure was a non-starter given numerous other needs in areas such as education and health care.

“That number is unacceptable. It’s unacceptable,” Lowey said.

Republican lawmakers hope to avoid a government shutdown. Current funding bills are set to expire Sept. 30, just ahead of the November midterm elections in which the GOP will try to keep control of Congress.

Thorny issues such as wall funding and an unrelated fight over spending on veterans may remain unresolved at that point, and lawmakers widely expect that Congress will have to pass a short-term funding extension to keep the government running through Election Day.

The remaining issues could then be hashed out in a lame-duck session.

During his presidential campaign, Trump repeatedly promised that Mexico would pay for a wall along the border, but thus far that has not happened.

Read related Tribune coverage:

Author: ERICA WERNER, THE WASHINGTON POST

Trump Administration Reunites 57 Immigrant Children Under 5, Declares “Eligible” Reunifications Complete

The federal government said Thursday morning that it has reunited 57 immigrant children under the age of 5 who had been separated from their parents after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. In doing so, the government declared its efforts to reunite “eligible children” in that age group complete.

Those 57 children represent more than half of 103 “tender age” juveniles who had been identified as separated from their parents in a court case the American Civil Liberties Union filed against the government. The California judge in the case had ordered those children reunited by Tuesday. The rest of the children have been deemed ineligible for immediate reunification.

More than 2,000 children over the age of 5 remain separated from their parents. The court has set a July 26 deadline for those children to be reunified.

Of the kids under the age of 5 deemed ineligible for reunification, 12 have parents who were already deported by the U.S. government. Those parents “are being contacted,” according to a U.S. Department of Justice news release. Another 22 were found to be ineligible for reunification due to safety concerns (most often because their parents had a serious criminal record), there were worries about abuse or the adults they were supposed to be reunified with weren’t their parents. Eleven children’s parents were also in custody for other alleged criminal offenses. And in one case, the government has lost track of a child’s parent for more than a year.

In a joint statement, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions acknowledged that a “tremendous amount of hard work and obstacles” remain in the reunification process.

“The Trump administration does not approach this mission lightly, and we intend to continue our good faith efforts to reunify families,” they said.

But in a statement, the ACLU noted that the unifications were completed two days beyond the original deadline.

“If in fact 57 children have been reunited because of the lawsuit, we could not be more happy for those families,” said Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project. “But make no mistake about it: the government missed the deadline even for these 57 children. Accordingly, by the end of the day we will decide what remedies to recommend to the court for the non-compliance.”

Most families had been divided as part of the Trump administration’s now-reversed practice of separating those who crossed the border illegally — though some had also been separated before the policy became official, and some had been separated after seeking asylum legally at official ports of entry into the United States.

This week, families who have been reunified have been released from federal custody, given ankle monitors and ordered to appear back in court for their immigration proceedings. But government lawyers have indicated to the court that they might not continue that practice for long. In the future, the government has indicated, officials might give the parents a choice: Agree to be detained with their child — and give up that child’s right to be released after 20 days — or release their child to the custody of the federal government.

In their update on the reunification efforts, the three cabinet secretaries defended the Trump administration’s handling of the family separations.

“The American people gave this administration a mandate to end the lawlessness at the border, and President Trump is keeping his promise to do exactly that. Our message has been clear all along: Do not risk your own life or the life of your child by attempting to enter the United States illegally. Apply lawfully and wait your turn,” they said in their joint statement.

“The American immigration system is the most generous in the world, but we are a nation of laws and we intend to continue enforcing those laws,” they said.

Author: MATTHEW WATKINS – The Texas Tribune

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Authors: JOSHUA PARTLOW AND NICK MIROFF, THE WASHINGTON POST

Cruz Suggests Mexico’s Election of “Far-Left Socialist” Lopéz Obrador Means U.S. Needs Border Wall

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said Tuesday that the election of a “far-left socialist” to the Mexican presidency underscores the need for President Donald Trump’s administration to secure the border and build a wall between the United States and its southern neighbor.

Cruz said Mexican President-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador, 64, had been running on an “anti-American campaign for a long, long time.”

López Obrador earned more than 50 percent of the vote count Sunday, a landslide compared to Mexico’s historical election results. He ran on a populist agenda in which he promised to put Mexico’s interests ahead of those of foreign governments and investors, leading some to label the candidate as a socialist in the mold of other Latin American leaders.

While responding to an audience question at a campaign stop Tuesday in Waco, Cruz pondered the future of U.S.-Mexico relations if López Obrador, known as “AMLO” in Mexico, were to become the equivalent of former Cuban President Fidel Castro, Venezuelan strongman Nicolás Maduro or his predecessor, Hugo Chavez.

“It could really cause a problem in terms of our relationship with Mexico if he follows through on the anti-America rhetoric,” Cruz said. In addition to the wall, Cruz also repeated his call for the federal government to increase staffing and technology on the border with Mexico.

Cruz stressed, however, that he hoped López Obrador’s fiery rhetoric was limited to campaign-trail stumping and that it would not influence his foreign policy. But the senator said an area of highest concern was López Obrador’s take on immigration.

“One of the areas that could be particularly problematic is he urged Mexicans before the election, ‘Pack up and go up north to America.’ … I’m running in the state of Texas. How would it work if I stood up and said, ‘Elect me and then get the hell out of Texas!’?” Cruz said. “What a profound statement of giving up on your country, telling your citizens, ‘Flee our country because we’re not gonna solve the problem.'”

Claims that López Obrador called for mass migration to the United States during the campaign have been debunked. Instead, PolitiFact reported that López Obrador said his party would defend the rights of migrants who have, out of necessity, left their hometowns to find a better life in the United States.

“It is a human right that we are going to defend,” he said.

López Obrador, who ran unsuccessfully in 2006 and 2012, has reportedly taken a more moderate tone since his historic victory on Sunday, calling for friendship with the United States. Still, observers are waiting to see what happens during Mexico’s five-month-long transition period, during which the president-elect will likely lay out his policy proposals and Cabinet nominees — providing a better look into his administration’s agenda.

Read related Tribune coverage:

Author – BY JULIÁN AGUILAR AND PATRICK SVITEK

Story in Many Pics: Groups March to International Bridge to Protest Immigration Policies

On Saturday morning, several organizations including the Border Network for Human Rights, Women’s March El Paso, Las Americas, DMRS, Mexicanos en Exilio, and Borderland Immigration Council, Hope Border Institute marched to raise awareness against the Trump’s administration’s zero-tolerance policy and the practice of separating children from their parents and the criminalization of asylum seekers.

The march began at Cleveland Square and ended at the Paso Del Norte Bridge.

Our very own Alexandra Hinojosa was at the march and brings you her view via this Story in Many Pics.

 

In El Paso Shelter, a Group of Undocumented Immigrant Parents Now Know Where Their Children Are

On Monday afternoon at a migrant shelter in this border city, Mario, an undocumented Honduran immigrant who was separated from his daughter, struggled to tell reporters how all he wanted to do was wish her happy birthday and ask for her forgiveness.

On Thursday, he said he’s had the chance to do both after finally learning his 10-year-old daughter’s location: She’s somewhere in El Paso, he said, and she’s safe.

“I said, ‘Please forgive me for letting them separate us,’” he said. “But she’s a smart girl, and she understood that the most important thing is that we’re going to be able to be together.”

Mario was one of 32 undocumented parents who had been separated from their children after being apprehended or turning themselves in to federal border officers under a zero-tolerance policy on undocumented border crossers that’s led to more than 2,300 children being separated from their parents.

Ruben Garcia, the director of the El Paso-based Annunciation House where the migrants were received, said the group was among the first to be released after President Donald Trump reversed course and halted family separations through an executive order.

Some, like Mario, didn’t even know where their children were after arriving at the shelter.

Garcia said about a dozen parents from that group remain at the shelter, and all of them now know where their children are — although not all have been able to speak to them. Some of the other parents are trying to connect with family members in the United States who were likely named the children’s designated sponsors when the families were caught and separated.

But before he can be reunited with his daughter, Mario — who asked to be identified only by his first name to avoid the possibility of jeopardizing his asylum claim — needs the Honduran government to fax a copy of his birth certificate to the legal representatives who are helping him while he’s at the shelter.

Garcia said the birth certificate is one of the documents that the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which has custody of the children, asks to see before approving reunifications, but those aren’t returned to the parents after they are released from federal custody.

“And so when you talk to ORR, you say, ‘ICE took my birth certificate,’ and they’ll say that ICE and ORR don’t talk to each other,” Garcia said. “It’s just a problematic system.”

A spokesperson with the ICE field office in El Paso said the agency does not keep identifying documents once an immigrant is released from its custody.

Garcia said most of the parents who were apprehended and separated will likely be reunited with their children wherever the designated sponsor is located because that’s a faster option than starting the process over to bring the parent and child together.

To locate their children, the parents have been reaching out to the designated sponsors, who then have to connect them with the ORR social worker in charge of the child’s case.

They call the [sponsor] and he or she gives the parent the name and phone number of the social worker,” Garcia said. “That doesn’t tell me where my kid is, that just tells me who the social worker is. I call the social worker, and that’s when I find out my kid is in Chicago or New York or wherever.”

Read related Tribune coverage:

Author:  JULIÁN AGUILAR – The Texas Tribune

Immigrant Toddlers Ordered to Appear in Court Alone

As the White House faces court orders to reunite families separated at the border, immigrant children as young as 3 are being ordered into court for their own deportation proceedings, according to attorneys in Texas, California and Washington, D.C.

Requiring unaccompanied minors to go through deportation alone is not a new practice. But in the wake of the Trump administration’s controversial family separation policy, more young children — including toddlers — are being affected than in the past.

The 2,000-plus children will likely need to deal with court proceedings even as they grapple with the ongoing trauma of being taken from their parents.

“We were representing a 3-year-old in court recently who had been separated from the parents. And the child — in the middle of the hearing — started climbing up on the table,” said Lindsay Toczylowski, executive director of Immigrant Defenders Law Center in Los Angeles. “It really highlighted the absurdity of what we’re doing with these kids.”

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, which oversees the deportations of unauthorized immigrants, did not respond to a request for comment.

Toczylowski said parents typically have been tried along with young children and have explained the often-violent circumstances that led them to seek asylum in the U.S.

The children being detained under the new “zero tolerance” policy, though, are facing immigration proceedings without mom or dad by their side.

“The parent might be the only one who knows why they fled from the home country, and the child is in a disadvantageous position to defend themselves,” Toczylowski said.

Meanwhile, the broader legal situation is in flux. A federal judge Tuesday night commanded the White House to reunify families within 14 days if the child is under 5 and 30 days if the child is older. The Justice Department has not indicated whether it will appeal. Attorneys who are involved in the cases said it’s unclear how the judge’s order will work in practice, and when and how it could take effect.

“We don’t know how the judge’s order is going to play out with reunification of children. What if parents have already been deported?” said Cynthia Milian, a Texas-based attorney at the Powers Law Group.

In the interim, she added, the implications for kids remain an urgent concern.

Given the trauma the children faced in their home country that spurred their families to flee and the pain of being separated from a parent, the expectation that children can mount a legal defense is “unconscionable,” said Dr. Benard Dreyer, director of the division of developmental-behavioral pediatrics at New York University School of Medicine.

“It’s certainly grossly inappropriate,” said Dreyer, who is a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics advocacy committee. “I’m ashamed that we’re doing this.”

Leaders at three legal services organizations and a private firm confirmed that the children are being served with notices to appear in court. They are not entitled to an attorney but rather are given a list of legal services organizations that might help them.

Steve Lee, a UCLA child psychology professor, said expecting the children to advocate for themselves in court is an “incredibly misaligned expectation.”

“That couldn’t be any less developmentally appropriate,” he said, adding that some children may not be mature enough to verbalize a response.

More than 2,000 children who were separated from their parents at the border have been dispatched to the far corners of the nation to care facilities and foster homes.

Officials with the Department of Health and Human Services emphasized Tuesday that the agency is working to unify children with either a parent or a sponsor. But it did not provide a timeline for how long that would take.

“We are working across agencies for reunification of each child with [a] parent or family as soon as that is practical,” Jonathan White, HHS’ assistant secretary for preparedness and response, said in a media call.

HHS representatives said children in facilities run by the Office of Refugee Resettlement receive adequate care, including medical and mental health services, and at least two phone calls per week with family.

Yet children who are just arriving at care facilities are still not connected with their families, said Megan McKenna, a spokeswoman for Kids in Need of Defense. She said the children arrive at care facilities without a parent’s tracking number, and parents don’t tend to have their kids’ numbers.

After kids arrive in care facilities, HHS officials work on finding a “sponsor” to care for the child, such as a parent, guardian, family member or family friend. Historically, unaccompanied minors — who tended to be teens — found a sponsor in about a month and a half.

However, Rachel Prandini, a staff attorney with the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, said finding a sponsor is more difficult now given recent fears that stepping forward to accept a child could trigger a sponsor’s deportation.

In April, HHS entered into an agreement with law enforcement officials that requires sponsors and adult family members to submit fingerprints and be subject to a thorough immigration and criminal background check.

HHS officials said the process is meant to protect the child.

Immigration lawyers from around the country have been flying into Texas to help represent children and families, said George Tzamaras, a spokesman for the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

It’s impossible to know how many children have begun deportation proceedings, Tzamaras said. “There have been reports of kids younger than 3 years old and others as old as 17.”

Ashley Tabaddor, president of the National Association of Immigration Judges and a jurist in Los Angeles, said that unaccompanied minor cases are heard on a special docket there. She said the judges who take the cases were trained during the last administration on children’s developmental stages, impulse control and making sure the proceedings are understandable to children.

She said in a statement that the court’s work is vital: “This is not traffic court. A mistake on an asylum case can result in jail, torture or a death sentence,” Tabaddor said. “We are a nation of laws. We value fairness, justice and transparency.”

She said children seeking asylum tend to make their case in a non-adversarial office setting with a hearing officer.

But that isn’t always the case, Prandini said. Lawyers might choose a strategy that requires more time in the courtroom.

“It’s difficult for adults at times. They go to court and they get nervous before a judge,” Milian said. “Now can you imagine a child having to go before a judge and just explain to them why they’re having to flee their country?”

Toczylowski said her organization is trying to help reunify the families so the children can be tried alongside the parents.

“The kids don’t understand the intricacies that are involved with deportation and immigration court,” she said. “They do understand that they have been separated from their parents, and the primary goal is to get back with people they love.”

Authors: CHRISTINA JEWETT AND SHEFALI LUTHRA, KAISER HEALTH NEWS

Feds Remain Mum on Whether There is Plan to Reunify Parents, Children Seeking Asylum

HARLINGEN — While federal officials say they have a process in place for reunifying the thousands of undocumented immigrant parents and their children whose separations set off a humanitarian crisis along the Texas-Mexico border, it is unclear how or if they plan to reunite families seeking asylum.

A U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement statement released Tuesday provided some details about plans for reuniting families so they “can be returned to their home countries together.” Neither that statement — nor an earlier one released Saturday — explicitly addressed the reunification process for children whose parents fled violence in their home countries to seek asylum in the United States.

ICE spokesman Carl Rusnok did not respond to The Texas Tribune on Tuesday when asked if such a plan is in place for asylum seekers. Rusnok also declined to answer how many people currently separated from their children are seeking asylum, pointing a reporter instead to statements about reunifying deportees.

“We’re concerned about that, so hopefully the government will provide specific answers to those questions,” said Natalia Cornelio, a director with the Texas Civil Rights Project, an advocacy group that has interviewed hundreds of undocumented immigrants separated from their children during President Trump’s recent “zero tolerance” immigration policy.

Those separations set off a bipartisan backlash that eventually prompted Trump to repeal the policy last week through an executive order. The move did little to quell confusion and tension  along the border. And it has been days since federal officials updated the number of reunifications that have happened.

It is not illegal to come to a United States port of entry and ask for asylum. Once they make that request, asylum seekers are allowed to stay in the U.S. while their requests weave through a process that can take anywhere from days to years.

But U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions ruled earlier this month that people fleeing gang or domestic violence alone no longer qualify for asylum. And U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents recently began waiting on international bridges on the Texas-Mexico border and deterring would-be asylum seekers from crossing the border by telling them there is no room for them to be processed on the U.S. side.

“When our ports of entry reach capacity, when their ability to manage all of their missions — counter-narcotics, national security, facilitation of lawful trade — is challenged by the time and the space to process people that are arriving without documents, from time to time we have to manage the queues and address that processing based on that capacity,” said Roger Maier, a Customs and Border Protection spokesman.

That has left people sleeping on international bridges or crossing into the country illegally between the ports of entry.

It’s unclear how many people apprehended during the “zero tolerance” policy — which has led to more than 2,500 children being separated from parents or guardians — have crossed into the country illegally because they were blocked at a port of entry.

ICE designated the Port Isabel Service Processing Center in Los Fresnos as the central location for reuniting and detaining families, but said in a statement Tuesday that no children would be housed there because it was only for those “going through the removal process.”

A group of mothers detained at the Port Isabel facility told lawmakers they had yet to receive court dates for immigration hearings — and in the meantime, they remain in a state of limbo, unsure of where their children being held are and unable to find out.

U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty, a Connecticut Democrat, said there is a “clear disconnect” between official messages promising family reunification coming out of Washington and the confusion she and other lawmakers witnessed at Port Isabel.

Meanwhile, parents who have been released from federal custody say they still don’t know how or when they will be reunited with their children. The Texas Tribune reported this week that some asylum seekers separated from their children were told they would be reunited only if they agreed to be voluntarily deported.

Austin immigration attorney Kim Lincoln-Goldfinch, who is representing a woman who fled violence in Guatemala with her 5-year-old child, said the woman was turned away at a border crossing, entered the country illegally without getting caught and immediately sought out a federal agent so she could ask for asylum.

“Although she crossed the river, she wasn’t looking to abscond,” Lincoln-Goldfinch said.

Instead of being detained so her request could be processed, the client was arrested and separated from her child, Lincoln-Goldfinch said. Her client remains in a detention facility in Hutto, northeast of Austin, while her child has been released to a relative.

“That is a new horror on a new level that I have never experienced before as an immigration attorney,” Lincoln-Goldfinch said.

Federal agents earlier this week stood on a bridge connecting Matamoros, Mexico, to a border station in Brownsville and refused to let asylum seekers through. A group of men from Cuba sat on the bridge, where they had been waiting days to make asylum claims.

A few feet away, Walter and Helen Vindel had just arrived with their four children. They left their home country of Honduras in January and slowly made their way through Mexico, stopping in small villages for days at a time to work odd jobs and save enough money for another leg of the trip.

The Vindels left home after they could no longer pay gang members, who had already killed some of their relatives, the “taxes” the violent groups charge for allegedly protecting families.

Vindel cried as she said the family just wants Americans to show compassion and understand they are not like the criminals they are fleeing.

“All we want is what’s best for our children,” she said. “We want them to have a future.”

When told of the chaotic immigration situation just a few yards away in America, they said they would remain on the bridge until border protection agents let them through. They said they would not cross illegally.

“In my mind, this is my only chance,” Walter Vindel.

Julian Aguilar and Claire Parker contributed to this report.

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Author: BRANDON FORMBY – The Texas Tribune

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo courtesy Darla Cameron / Texas Tribune

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Authors: BRANDON FORMBY AND JULIÁN AGUILAR – The Texas Tribune

Arguments, Confusion, Second-Guessing: Inside Trump’s Reversal on Separating Migrant Families

The White House’s hastily crafted executive order to end child separations spurred confusion and fights within the federal government, and second-guessing from the president who had demanded the order in the first place.

Amid continuing fallout from the Trump administration’s family separation policy, and a disjointed retreat earlier this week, senior officials met Friday to craft a plan for reuniting immigrant children with their parents or guardians, though it remained unclear how long that work will take.

The midday meeting was designed for officials to hash out exactly how they would reunite the more than 2,500 migrant children who have been separated from their parents since the practice went into effect in early May, according to officials involved in the discussions, who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to offer candid insights into internal deliberations. Roughly 500 children have already been reunited with a parent or guardian, officials have said.

The Friday meeting capped a tumultuous week in which administration officials rushed through an executive order that relieved the political pressure on President Trump but intensified friction between the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security.

By Wednesday morning, the president had become convinced that he needed a way to calm the criticism, according to people familiar with the discussions, and he felt confident that Republicans in Congress would push through immigration legislation ending the family separation practice — so he might as well get ahead of it. A vote on the measure was eventually postponed until next week, but it does not appear to have enough votes to pass.

In private conversations with aides, Trump said he wanted to sign a full immigration bill as part of an executive order, which one administration official described as “a pretty insane idea.” The president was told by government lawyers that he could not change immigration law by fiat, said a person familiar with the discussions.

Trump then demanded that an executive order be written that would end child detentions in cages, and said he wanted it on his desk for signing by that afternoon, according to people involved in the discussions.

Given hours to produce a complex legal document, government lawyers crafted one that met the moment’s political demands but only added to confusion within the agencies tasked with implementing it.

The order has quieted much, but not all, of the public anger over the family separation issue. On Friday outside the Justice Department, about 100 protesters gathered in the rain chanting “Keep Families Together!”

Even that admonition, with which the administration now agrees, has provoked fights inside the government.

Thursday, the first day of enforcing the order, was marked by confusion.

At Customs and Border Protection (CBP), officials viewed Trump’s order as instructing them to no longer refer to the Justice Department for prosecution the cases of adults illegally entering the United States with children, according to people familiar with the discussions.

That interpretation was relayed to CBP personnel along the southern border, and dozens of people who had been apprehended and sent to federal court for processing were suddenly removed from courthouses without criminal charges being filed against them.

Within the Justice Department, which prosecutes such cases, officials believed the executive order paved the way for parents to be held with their children for as long as necessary to resolve their cases, these people said.

White House officials gave little guidance in the early hours of the order, with Trump and his coterie of senior aides in Minnesota for a rally.

After CBP officials said there would be no referrals to the Justice Department of adults with children caught crossing the border, Justice Department officials became irate because that was not how they understood the policy, according to people familiar with the matter.

In many ways, the confusion echoed one of the administration’s most chaotic moments — when Trump signed an executive order in early 2017 banning visitors from majority Muslimcountries, leading to mass protests outside U.S. airports and much confusion for travelers.

In both instances, CBP personnel were left scrambling to quickly interpret and implement how the president’s command would be applied on the ground, with contradictory instructions and public statements in the immediate aftermath coming from multiple federal agencies.

On Thursday evening, officials from Homeland Security and the Justice Department gathered at the White House to discuss the issues, and over the course of the 90-minute meeting it became clear that CBP and Justice had wildly different understandings of what they were supposed to be doing, according to people familiar with the talks.

Senior White House adviser Stephen Miller, an outspoken proponent of tougher immigration policy, was unhappy that CBP had decided to halt referrals for prosecution of parents illegally crossing the border with children, according to people familiar with the meeting. Homeland Security officials complained they had been given no guidance and had done the best they could with vague language.

Trump, for his part, has ruminated to aides that he should not have signed the order in the first place, according to people familiar with the conversations. The president seemed to be fed up with the topic Friday, as he publicly discouraged Republican lawmakers from trying to pass any new immigration laws before the midterm elections in November.

“Republicans should stop wasting their time on Immigration until after we elect more Senators and Congressmen/women in November,” Trump tweeted. “Dems are just playing games, have no intention of doing anything to solves this decades old problem. We can pass great legislation after the Red Wave!”

[Trump answers critics of family separation policy with Americans ‘permanently separated’ from family by illegal immigrants]

In the meantime, federal agencies continue to wrestle with how to deal with those families that have been detained or are likely to be detained soon.

A significant challenge for Homeland Security, in particular, is that its detention facilities are already near maximum capacity, according to officials.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) currently has three “family residential centers” where migrant families can remain in custody together, but their combined capacity is only about 3,000 beds. According to the latest ICE statistics, the three facilities are nearly full.

On Friday, ICE requested information from government contractors about expanding its family detention capacity fivefold, “to accommodate up to 15,000 beds.” Its notice said the agency is seeking market information about the cost and logistics of adding new family-appropriate facilities, preferably in states along the Mexico border.

“The housing and other structures must appear residential and child-friendly rather than penal in nature,” the notice stated. “Facilities should not incorporate characteristics on the interior or exterior typically associated with secure detention facilities, such as high security fences, razor wire fencing, or heavy steel doors.”

Trump’s order also calls on the Defense Department to find space for migrant families, leaving military officials crafting plans on the fly to set up tent camps on bases with available land.

Pentagon officials on Friday said the department was drawing up plans for housing migrants. The officials stressed that the plans were not finalized and had been drafted in case they were needed.

“At this time there has been no request from DHS for DOD support to house illegal migrants,” Lt. Col. Jamie Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, said in an email.

One draft memo prepared for the secretary of the Navy called for “temporary and austere” detention camps for up to 25,000 migrants on abandoned airfields in Alabama, according to Time, which obtained a copy of the document.

The proposal also identifies a former naval weapons station near San Francisco and another facility at Camp Pendleton in southern California, each of which could house up to 47,000 people, Time reported.

White House officials were publicly silent on the executive order Friday, not taking questions as senior government officials huddled behind the scenes. Trump appeared with families of people killed by illegal immigrants and said the media should instead focus on those separations, which he called “permanent.”

Missy Ryan contributed to this report.

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Authors: 

Sens. Cruz, Cornyn Tour Shelters Housing Immigrant Children Separated From Families

WESLACO — After touring shelters that house some of the thousands of migrant children separated from their parents under President Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy, Republican U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn of Texas reaffirmed their commitment to keeping kids with their parents after they cross the border — so long as future immigration policy better deters people from entering the country illegally.

“Kids are better off with their moms and dads,” Cruz said Friday during a roundtable discussion at a South Texas Border Patrol station, an event that also featured Cornyn. “I hope we see Democrats and Republicans willing to work together to ensure that … but also to ensure … that we’re respecting the rule of law.”

At the same time, Cruz and Manuel Padilla, chief of the Rio Grande Valley sector of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, sought to make the case that housing migrant children in overcrowded shelters without their parents is nothing new and spanned previous presidential administrations. They said the problem really came to a head in 2014, when more than 51,000 children — mostly from Central America — crossed into the U.S. by themselves.

In a wide-ranging discussion that included more than two dozen mayors, county judges, state lawmakers, federal officials and nonprofit leaders — and just two women — Cornyn said he would like to instruct the nation’s immigration courts to prioritize cases where families crossed the border with children. Cruz said the legislation he introduced in Congress last week is the best way forward. That legislation, which he acknowledged may not have enough support to advance, would require the federal government to keep immigrant families together once they cross the border “absent aggravated criminal conduct or threat of harm to the children.”

Cruz filed his legislation just days after seemingly defending the “zero tolerance” policy, telling KERA in Dallas that “when you see reporters, when you see Democrats saying, ‘Don’t separate kids from their parents,’ what they’re really saying is, ‘Don’t arrest illegal aliens.'”

At Friday’s roundtable, no one seemed to have any answers about how families that have already been separated will be reunited.

An official from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) said that kids in shelters could be transported back to their parents’ location in just days — depending on where that is. But it’s unclear how good the record-keeping is that links detained parents to separated kids. And Norma Pimentel, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley and a fierce advocate for ending the policy of family separation, said she’d heard reports of Honduran families waiting as long as four months to be reunited.

Asked to reconcile those conflicting time periods, federal officials said it depends. Sometimes a child raises questions about parental abuse. Other times, it can take days or weeks to make sure that “mom is really mom,” said Jose Gonzalez, a field supervisor with the Office of Refugee Resettlement, the federal agency tasked with looking after the kids. For kids who are too young to talk or identify their own parents, the agency sometimes uses DNA testing, which takes 7 to 10 days. “It may take up to four months to get them together,” Gonzalez said. (Asked about that four-month statistic later on by reporters, Cornyn insisted, “that’s not true.”)

When Cruz asked Ryan Patrick, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District and the son of Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, how many of the immigrants his office has prosecuted for illegal entry crossed with children, Patrick replied, “We actually don’t know.”

Both Cruz and Cornyn said they were heartbroken after touring shelters for children in the Rio Grande Valley, one of which was run by Southwest Key Programs, a Texas-based company that houses nearly half the undocumented kids in federal custody. Despite an investigation by The Texas Tribune and Reveal into hundreds of state violations at some of Southwest Key’s facilities, Cornyn said he believes the company is “doing a very good job.” He described watching the company’s employees take care of weeks-old babies, delivering what he saw to be excellent care.

“You can’t believe all the rumors that are flying around,” he said.

Cruz said little about the conditions of the shelters he toured, other than to offer that “no child should have to experience it.”

Otherwise, both he and Cornyn stuck closely to their talking points. They were encouraged and “gratified” by President Trump’s executive order ending the family separation policy; they felt that legislation would be necessary to carry it out in full force; but they also wanted to make sure that changes in federal immigration law would not encourage illegal immigration.

“If you don’t have a zero tolerance program, then you have a tolerance program,” Cornyn told reporters after the roundtable. “Meaning you tolerate illegal immigration.”

Author: NEENA SATIJA – The Texas Tribune

Pentagon Asked to Make Room for 20,000 Migrant Children on Military Bases

The Trump administration is considering housing up to 20,000 unaccompanied migrant children on military bases in coming months, according to lawmakers and a Defense Department memo obtained by The Washington Post.

In a notification to lawmakers, the Pentagon said officials at Health and Human Services asked whether beds could be provide for children at military installations “for occupancy as early as July through December 31, 2018.”

U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-New York, addressed the issue on the Senate floor Thursday morning.

“The Department of Defense has been asked whether it can house 20,000 unaccompanied children between now and the end of the year,” he said. “How will that work? Is it even feasible?”

The plan would seemingly have similarities to 2014, when the Obama administration housed about 7,000 unaccompanied children on three military bases. The Pentagon, in its congressional notification to lawmakers, said it must determine if it “possesses these capabilities.” As required under the Economy Act, the memo said, the Defense Department would be reimbursed for all costs incurred.

The sites would be run by HHS employees or contractors working with them, the memo said. They would provide care to the children, “including supervision, meals, clothing, medical services, transportation or other daily needs,” and HHS representatives will be present at each location.

The memo was sent to lawmakers Wednesday after President Donald Trump reversed his administration’s unpopular policy to separate children from their parents as they arrived at the southern U.S. border.

The president’s executive order directed Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to “take all legally available measures” to provide Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen with “any existing facilities available for the housing and care of alien families,” and the construction of new facilities “if necessary and consistent with law.”

Lt. Col. Jamie Davis acknowledged Thursday that the Pentagon received the request, and said the department is reviewing it.

The Trump administration spent months planning, testing and defending its family separation system at the border, taking more than 2,500 children from their parents in the six weeks prior to the president’s executive order Wednesday bringing it to a halt.

The U.S. government has been examining for weeks whether it can use military bases to house migrant children. Representatives from HHS visited three bases in Texas – Fort Bliss, Dyess Air Force Base and Goodfellow Air Force Base – last week to review their facilities for suitability, and were scheduled to review Little Rock Air Force Base in Arkansas on Wednesday, Davis said.

The Obama administration temporarily set up temporary centers in 2014 at three U.S. military bases: Fort Sill in Oklahoma, Lackland Air Force Base in Texas and Naval Base Ventura in California.

Asked about the possibility of military bases being involved again, Mattis said Wednesday that the Defense Department would “see what they come up with” in HHS, and that the Pentagon will “respond if requested.”

Mattis dismissed concerns about housing migrants on military bases now, noting that the Defense Department has done it on several occasions and for several reasons.

“We have housed refugees,” he said. “We have housed people thrown out of their homes by earthquakes and hurricanes. We do whatever is in the best interest of the country.”

The secretary, pressed on the sensitivities of the Trump administration separating children from their parents, said reporters would need to ask “the people responsible for it.”

“I’m not going to chime in from the outside,” he said. “There’s people responsible for it. Secretary Nielsen, obviously, maintains close collaboration with us. You saw that when we deployed certain National Guard units there, so she’s in charge.”

U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, D-Rhode Island, and U.S. Rep. Adam Smith, D-California, the leading members of the armed services committees, wrote a letter to Mattis on Wednesday requesting assurances that members of Congress would have access to any migrant facility established on a military base. The letter, sent before Trump dropped his family-separation policy at the border, said that it was essential to have access even in cases where only short notice is provided.

Mattis has approved temporarily detailing 21 military attorneys to the Justice Department to help with the glut of immigration cases that have emerged on the border. The order, issued earlier this month, calls for 21 attorneys with criminal-trial experience to assist as special assistant U.S. attorneys for 179 days, Davis said. They will help in prosecuting border immigration cases, he added, “with a focus on misdemeanor improper entry and felony illegal reentry cases.”

The possibility was raised in a congressional hearing in May, and first reported as underway by MSNBC on Wednesday night. U.S. law permits a judge advocate lawyer to be assigned or detailed to another agency, including to provide representation in civil and criminal cases.

Authors: DAN LAMOTHE, NICK MIROFF AND SEUNG MIN KIM, THE WASHINGTON POST

Melania Trump Visits Separated Migrant Children in McAllen, Texas

First Lady Melania Trump made an unannounced trip to the border on Thursday, visiting a children’s shelter in McAllen.

“She supports family reunification,” said Stephanie Grisham, the first lady’s communications director, according to a pool report from the Dallas Morning News. “She thinks that it’s important that children stay with their families.”

Trump toured the Upbring shelter, a facility currently housing about 60 children between the ages of 5 and 17, officials said, according to the pool report. Six of those children had been separated from their parents — the rest had arrived unaccompanied, the officials said. Trump held a roundtable discussion livestreamed by the Washington Post with shelter workers before the tour, thanking them for their “heroic work” taking care of the children and asking how she could help.

The first lady also planned to tour the Ursula Border Patrol Processing Center, but the visit was delayed because of flooding at the center.

As of Wednesday, more than 2,300 immigrant children had been separated from their parents who crossed the border illegally. Changing course on his administration’s “zero tolerance” policy, President Donald Trump signed an executive order Wednesday afternoon halting separations.

The first lady began planning her trip on Tuesday, Grisham told reporters. Grisham said she was not sure whether the first lady had been aware of the president’s upcoming executive order.

“This was her decision,” Grisham said. “She told [the president,] ‘I’m headed down to Texas,’ and he supported it.”

Disclosure: Upbring 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.

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Author: NATALIA ALAMDARI – The Texas Tribune

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