President Trump went and weaponized our city as a political propaganda tool to push his personal “Build my Big, Beautiful Wall” agenda.
He looked America straight in the eye during his State of the Union Address and put us under his dark, manipulative spotlight, telling everybody that El Paso was once one of the most violent crime-ridden cities in America, but immediately after the local border wall was built, we magically transformed into one of the safest.
The president’s reputation for honesty is abysmal, and this whopper is on full rotation in his continuing effort to fulfill his absurd promise to his 35% base to spend billions of taxpayer dollars on a medieval wall straight out of the Dark Ages while ignoring real immigration reform.
Unfortunately, the collateral damage will not stop with his pre-meditated lie repeated on the national and international media stage.
Donald Trump is coming to town and his timing couldn’t be more perfect.
Less than a week after his incendiary, disingenuous and divisive SOTU address, Trump will roll his snake oil wagon into the El Paso Coliseum to sell his dubious elixirs to our city.
And he’s lining up El Pasoans to become salespeople for his xenophobic, fear-mongering, divisive and heartless immigration tactics.
Chants of “Build the wall! Build the wall! Build the wall!” will fill the Coliseum on Monday night.
What better city to manipulate as a political tool to push an unpopular wall than one on the border with plenty of anti-immigrant sentiment, a pro-wall mayor and loads of Trump love?
We may be 83% Latino but there is a surprising level of bitterness towards people who arrive at our doors looking for asylum and a better life for their families. And a lot of this anger comes from this very population.
Yes, we all know that they need to enter legally like our parents and abuelos did but America’s immigration system has degraded to a near-impossible maze of hoops and dollars and years that desperate people have to negotiate in mind-numbing and soul-crushing frustration.
We’ve witnessed firsthand the kind of abusive treatment the Trump administration subjects asylum seekers to right here on the border and yet, rather than deal with these human rights and immigration issues, we demand nothing more than a metaphoric wall that represents our deepest prejudices towards people of color south of our borders.
This Monday will be something of a litmus test for El Paso’s citizens and leaders.
It’s a moment in our history where one of America’s most polarizing and confounding presidents will roll into town, toss a figurative grenade into our midst and make every effort to divide us further in the name of his wall and his 2020 Re-election Tour.
Many will put on their Trump merch, make a holy pilgrimage to the Coliseum and sit at Trump’s feet as he delivers his Monday night sermon.
Many will organize and march with protest signs and rhyming chants fueled by fear and loathing.
Many will sit this one out.
I for one have downloaded my tickets to his rally, I’ll present them at the door, take a seat and watch El Paso history in the making along with several hundred fellow El Pasoans who I have serious disagreements with but are none-the-less my neighbors and fellow human beings.
I gave up on Trump long before he even became president but I’m not ready to give up on those who think in diametric opposition to me just yet.
I hope they feel the same way about me.
Otherwise we’re doomed as a country.
Whatever you do on Monday night, do it with your whole heart.
America will be watching.
Jud Burgess is a local graphic designer, business owner, and blogger who is involved in local activism efforts. judburgess.com / James No Bond on FB
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On Friday afternoon, President Donald Trump announced a temporary deal to reopen the United States Government, at least until February 15.
Via a televised speech from the White House Rose Garden, President Trump said, “I am very proud to announce today that we have reached a deal to end the shutdown and reopen the federal government.”
As part of the deal, federal workers would return to their jobs, while lawmakers return to the table to negotiate further. The new deal would not include any funding for the wall that the President had promised.
The deal would run for the next three weeks, or until the President and congress could hammer out a permanent deal. President Trump hinted that if a deal is not reached in that time, he could declare a National Emergency.
“As everyone knows I have a very powerful alternative but I’m not going to use it at this time.”
Also during the speech, President Trump thanked the federal workers who had been furloughed or working without pay.
“In many cases you encouraged me to keep going because you care so much about our country and our border security,” Trump said. The President added that federal workers would receive back pay “very quickly.”
As the shutdown reached it’s 35th day, approximately 800,000 federal workers missed their second paycheck, with roughly half of them working without pay.
Congresswoman Veronica Escobar (TX-16) issued the following statement on President Trump and Republicans’ decision to temporarily reopen the federal government:
“For 35 days, President Trump and Republicans in Congress have senselessly held the American people hostage by endangering our nation’s safety and inflicting pain on hundreds of thousands of hard-working federal employees and contractors who have struggled to feed their families and pay their bills. I’m grateful for their patriotism and commend the generosity shown by the El Paso community for helping and supporting them during this troubling and difficult period.
“As Congress comes together to determine a path forward beyond February 15th, we must recognize that over the past decade, border security funding has grown to more than $8 billion without any meaningful increase in oversight, accountability or transparency. Furthermore, as we address the challenge of thousands of Central Americans fleeing their countries and arriving at our border each month, we must address the root causes and ensure that our government effectively develops a plan to deal with the changing patterns of migration in a smart, humanitarian way.”
WASHINGTON — Members of Texas’ congressional delegation appear to agree on one thing: They want the government shutdown to end.
But when asked by The Texas Tribune and other news outletswhether the stalemate over President Trump’s $5.7 billion border wall is worth federal employees and contractors missing their paychecks, they’re divided along party lines — save for one border lawmaker, Republican U.S. Rep. Will Hurd.
Apart from the congressman from Helotes, Republicans reached by the Tribune aren’t breaking ranks with Trump; they blame Democrats for not negotiating with the president.
Democrats, meanwhile, say they won’t vote on any bill that holds federal workers’ paychecks hostage.
Several lawmakers did not respond to multiple Tribune requests for comment.
“I believe that we have to protect the country, and we can still do that and be compassionate to folks. But we’ve got to make sure that we’re protecting our borders and taking care of our citizens first.”
“The U.S. government should invest in our national security, and should determine how best to do so by listening to experts, consulting those involved and using evidence-based strategies to keep us secure.”
“Shutting down the government for a wall is neither a reasonable nor necessary nor responsible way to govern. That is why I have voted since day one to reopen the government and then address border security and immigration issues in a mature and bipartisan way.”
“I continue to stand with President Trump in his efforts to secure our border and prioritize national security. In the Houston region, we’re all too familiar with the damage caused by MS-13 gangs, drug trafficking and sex trafficking, much of which comes from the southern border.
“The only thing Senator Schumer (D-NY) got right tonight is that there is no excuse to keep the government shut down. It’s time for Senate and House Democrats to come to the table and discuss the President’s common sense solutions to end this humanitarian and security crisis on our southern border, and fully reopen our government.”
“Regardless of one’s position on the wall, the question is whether we will allow the President to circumvent the legislative process by holding hardworking Americans who have done nothing wrong and deserve to be paid as hostages until he gets his way.”
“I think it is unfair that Americans are being held hostage by President Trump and ransomed at $5.7 billion for a wall that he promised Mexico would pay for.”
“The American people have demanded action and it’s time to deliver.”
“Ending the partial shutdown without solving this problem will make the situation worse in the future. Nancy Pelosi, Steny Hoyer, and Chuck Schumer lecture others about putting politics aside and doing what’s best for the country. They need to put their dishonest talking points away and take their own advice.”
“The U.S. should fund modern, technologically advanced solutions to border security, not a wall.”
“Absolutely not. Border security discussions must be held with an open government. Border security and immigration solutions are complex; providing financial security for approximately 800,000 federal employees is simple.”
“The president repeatedly promised that Mexico would pay for the wall over which he has now singlehandedly shut down the government. It is the president who is holding federal workers, contractors and the federal government hostage.”
“This is a crisis. This is a national security crisis, and there is imminent threat to our citizens, and I can not imagine the president waiting a whole lot longer before he just says ‘I am not waiting on congress.'”
“Trump should reopen the government immediately. Then we can discuss broader comprehensive immigration reform and border security measures that we can all agree on. Federal workers, Dreamers and [Temporary Protected Status] recipients should not be held hostage to the president’s demands for a border wall.”
“A wall would also allow CBP to concentrate their efforts on ports of entry and use their manpower more efficiently.”
“But there should be nothing partisan about ending a humanitarian and criminal crisis that is driven by cartels — and enabled by our federal government’s failure to act. Congress has a responsibility not just to protect the citizens of our country but to end the humanitarian crisis on our southern border.”
“No. The U.S. should secure the southern border with technologically advanced solutions and increased personnel instead of a wall, which is a 14th century solution to a 21st century issue.”
“Hard-working employees, families and communities across the country do not deserve to have their paychecks held hostage. Only once the government shutdown ends and the American people receive their paychecks can Congress can get back to work on negotiating a compromise.”
“No – a wall has not proven to be effective, and there are many alternatives that provide better border security at a lower cost to taxpayers.”
“Public servants earn their paychecks by doing the often unappreciated work necessary to keep our government functioning. The president should be thanking them for their service and sacrifice, not putting their livelihoods on the line in pursuit of something that will not make the country any safer.”
“A government shutdown is never a good thing. Americans, including our hard-working federal law enforcement officers, are going without their pay, that’s why I’m refusing my pay during this shutdown. A secure border is what the American people want and expect from the federal government.”
“Physical barriers alone are not enough. We need smart border security, and resources to protect our ports of entry. I am committed to working together with my colleagues on real, effective immigration reform and border security.”
“Absolutely not. This shutdown must end so bipartisan negotiations can begin.”
“Democrats want to secure the border in a way that actually makes sense. Wasting money on an ineffective solution diverts needed resources away from proven technologies that work to protect our southern border.”
“Over 29,000 federal employees affected by the shutdown in Texas should not be forced to go without a paycheck over a wall the majority of Americans do not support. Plain and simple, President Trump and Senate Republicans are choosing political self-interest over our families.”
“Yielding to the hostage-taker will only produce more shutdowns for even more outrageous demands. When enough Republicans join Will Hurd, our government will reopen by passing the same bills Republicans had agreed to before President Trump changed his mind.”
The Trump administration separated thousands more migrant children from their parents at the U.S. border than has previously been made public, according to an investigative report released Thursday, but the federal tracking system has been so poor that the precise number is hazy.
According to a report issued Thursday by the Department of Health and Human Services’s inspector general, the separated children include 118 taken between July and early November — after the administration halted a short-lived family separation policy that provoked a political firestorm and public outrage.
The report estimates that thousands more youngsters were taken into government custody from early in the Trump administration and through last summer.
When immigration enforcement officials transferred those youngsters into HHS custody, they said the biggest reason was that their parents had criminal histories. But information on the parents’ criminal records often was so sketchy that it is unclear whether the separations were warranted or whether the children can be safely returned to their families, the report said.
After claiming that illegal immigration disproportionately affects black and Hispanic Americans and fuels smugglers’ abuse of women and children, President Donald Trump on Tuesday urged federal lawmakers to see his way on border security and fund his long-promised wall.
“All Americans are hurt by uncontrolled illegal migration.” Trump said. “It strains public resources and drives down jobs and wages. Among those hardest hit are African Americans and Hispanic Americans.”
His speech, which came days before a planned trip to the Texas-Mexico border, unsurprisingly drew immediate ire from Democrats in the state’s Congressional delegation.
“In the president’s remarks, there were falsehoods & inaccurate statistics,” U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Dallas, tweeted shortly after the televised address. “We heard nothing new, nothing that will endure. What will endure is our national motto – that out of many, we are one.”
The president Tuesday again made the case for his signature campaign promise – a wall on the southern border that would cost taxpayers more than $5 billion. But he added that, “at the request of Democrats” he was willing to settle for a steel barrier instead of a concrete structure.
“This barrier is absolutely critical to border security,” the president said, adding that the structure would be paid for, in part, through the new trade deal with Mexico and Canada.
That deal has yet to be ratified by Congress and analysts have noted that even if it is approved by lawmakers, the trade pact known as the USMCA would not fund the wall’s construction.
The president’s address came in the midst of a weeks-long partial government shutdown that has hamstrung about 25 percent of the federal workforce, who are working without pay. The shuttering of government offices came after U.S. House and Senate Democrats refused to fund part of the president’s wall during last December’s budget negotiations.
What the president didn’t do on Tuesday is double down on an idea that he’d floated publicly in recent days: declaring a national emergency and ordering the U.S. military to build the wall.
That idea met resistance from both parties, including the ranking member on the U.S. House Armed Services Committee, Texas Congressman Mac Thornberry, who told the Washington Post that he wouldn’t support dipping into the Pentagon’s budget to pay for a border wall.
“In short, I’m opposed to using defense dollars for non-defense purposes,” said the Republican from Clarendon. “I think border security is very important. It is not the responsibility of the Department of Defense.”
And U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, said this week that such a move would be a “profoundly inappropriate” circumvention of the nation’s legislative branch.
During his roughly nine-minute speech, the president also remarked on the ills caused by the flow of illegal drugs into the country. He also likely angered immigrant rights groups and their supporters by listing crimes allegedly committed by undocumented immigrants, including the recent killing of a California police officer the day after Christmas.
“The life of an American hero was stolen by someone who had no right to be in our country,” Trump said.
Republican Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick missed the first day of the legislative sessionTuesday because he was “working with the president’s team” on the televised address. He will join Trump on a Thursday visit to McAllen, where the president is expected to again make his case for the barrier.
McAllen Mayor Jim Darling said on Tuesday he was concerned the president would try to paint his city as a lawless swath of America. But he reiterated that the city and the people that live there are used to the mischaracterization of the Texas-Mexico border.
Darling said his city has remained safe for years, even as it has become ground zero for the nation’s immigration imbroglios and the place where an influx of Central American asylum seekers cross into America.
“We’ve been dealing with the immigration issue and the asylum issue since 2014,” Darling said. “Regardless of what Washington says, whether it’s the president or anyone else, we’re a safe area, a prosperous area – just like the rest of America. We happen to have an international border, which we think in as asset as opposed to a liability.”
Democrats and immigrants rights groups wasted no time in challenging the president’s claims made Tuesday. In a statement, Lorella Praeli, the deputy political director at the American Civil Liberties Union, said the crisis at the border was of the administration’s own making.
Though he was uncharacteristically subdued on Tuesday, the president could still widen the gap that currently exists between his office and Democrats during his Texas visit this week, according to Mark P. Jones, a political scientist at Rice University.
“If he starts using more inflammatory rhetoric and starts using statistics and facts that are questionable, then he could harden the Democrats’ positions and make them less likely to compromise,” Jones said.
Jones added that as the shutdown drags on, the potential for long-lasting damage to the president and his supporters grows.
“Any pressure that he’s receiving from [critics] is dwarfed by the pressure that he’s receiving from Senate and House Republicans who are very worried about the impact that the shutdown is having on the party,” he said. “The president is receiving far more of the blame than are Congressional Democrats.”
Emma Platoff contributed to this report.
Disclosure: Rice University 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.
The Department of Homeland Security announced a new policy Thursday that will require asylum seekers who enter the United States illegally to return to Mexico and wait while their claims are processed, possibly for months or years, describing the plan as a “historic” measure.
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen prepared to outlined the plan during an oversight hearing by members of the House Judiciary committee, telling lawmakers in prepared remarks that the administration is preparing to implement an accord with Mexico’s new leftist government that will allow the United States to send asylum seekers who cross illegally back to Mexico.
Citing emergency powers allowed under the Immigration and Nationality Act, Nielsen said the measures were needed to “bring under control” a surge of unmerited asylum claims by Central Americans that have overloaded U.S. immigration courts.
“Once implemented, individuals arriving in or entering the United States from Mexico — illegally or without proper documentation — may be returned to Mexico for the duration of their immigration proceedings,” she said.
“They will not be able to disappear into the United States. They will have to wait for approval to come into the United States. If they are granted asylum by a U.S. judge, they will be welcomed into America. If they are not, they will be removed to their home countries,” Nielsen said.
The United States has been in negotiations with Mexico for weeks to reach such an accord, which had been referred to as “Remain in Mexico,” believing that illegal crossings will decline if Central Americans believe the asylum system will no longer offer them a way to avoid deportation.
Top officials from the government of Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador have said they would accept such measures as part of a broader development and aid package aimed at creating jobs in Central America to reduce the need to emigrate.
In a statement, Mexico’s foreign ministry said Thursday it “will authorize, for humanitarian reasons and temporarily, the entry of certain foreign persons from the United States who have entered the country through a port of entry or who have been apprehended between ports of entry, have been interviewed by the authorities of migratory control of that country, and have received a summons to appear before an immigration judge.”
They will be allowed “to our country so that they can wait here for the development of their immigration process in the United States,” the statement read.
“They will be entitled to equal treatment without any discrimination and with due respect to their human rights, as well as the opportunity to apply for a work permit so they can find paid jobs, which will allow them to meet their basic needs,” it continued.
Nielsen faces lawmakers Thursday almost two weeks after the disclosure of a 7-year-old migrant girl’s death after she and her father entered the United States illegally and were taken into custody by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
Homeland Security officials did not notify lawmakers of the child’s death, which happened Dec. 8. DHS officials have not said when Nielsen was informed of the incident.
This week, lawmakers also reached a tentative accord to avert a government shutdown that would not give President Donald Trump the border wall funding he has demanded.
In a tweet Thursday morning, Trump praised Border Patrol agents, military personnel and others for their efforts to stop caravans of Central American migrants from crossing the border. “Border is tight,” the president wrote.
But the latest border enforcement statistics show the opposite. Last month arrests along the border reached their highest levels since Trump took office, as record numbers of family groups entered illegally seeking asylum.
Homeland Security officials say they are facing “a crisis” and have urged lawmakers to act.
TORNILLO – It’s been six months since a group of lawmakers first joined hundreds of people here to protest an immigration facility for undocumented minors that had been erected just days earlier in this small farming community.
Since then President Donald Trump’s administration has tried to deter immigrants from seeking asylum through executive orders and increased enforcement at ports of entry, deployed active duty troops to the border and asked the U.S. Supreme Court to finally eliminate the Obama-era program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA.
In that same time period however, the population at the detention center has quietly swelled from a few hundred to about 2,800, according to the U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke. The El Paso Democrat returned to Tornillo on Saturday to lead a delegation of lawmakers to tour the facility and try to find out what’s next for the juveniles being held there.
But the group was also there to deliver a message to the immigrant rights groups and their supporters in attendance: Don’t let up.
“The public pressure that you brought to bear after Father’s Day, that ended the practice of family separation, we need that same pressure again brought to bear on this administration to close down Tornillo,” O’Rourke said, referring to the former federal policy that resulted in undocumented immigrant children being separated from their parents. The policy was later halted after a public outcry.
The detention center at Tornillo, referred to as a “tent city” by critics, was originally thought to be a temporary fix that wouldn’t be needed for more than 30 days. That’s what the incident commander that oversees operations there said in June. But the contract with the facility operators has been extended several times since, costing taxpayers about $144 million through November.
The other members of Congress who toured the facility with O’Rourke – U.S. Sens. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, Tina Smith of Minnesota, Jeff Merkley of Oregon, and U.S. Rep. Judy Chu of California, all Democrats – said about 800 children at the facility had sponsors ready and waiting to receive them. But Hirono said those sponsors are still undergoing background checks and fingerprinting before those children are released.
“It’s doing two things, it’s creating tremendous delay in approving these sponsors,” she said. “And I think it has a chilling effect on sponsors coming forward because this information, and many of the sponsors are undocumented, is shared with [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] and what ICE does is deport people.”
O’Rourke said that 170 of those potential sponsors have been arrested, and the majority of those had no criminal history.
“My request of the contactor was not to renew the contract unless HHS stops sharing information with ICE,” O’Rourke said. “There is no reason to spend $144 million going forward and to keep these kids locked up.”
The current contract is set to expire on Dec. 31 and O’Rourke said it’s unclear what will happen to the children there if it isn’t renewed.
Officials from the federal Health and Human Services agency, which overseee the Trump administration’s policies for unaccompanied minors, said in an email it does not monitor its media-request email on holidays or weekends. But an agency fact sheet about Tornillo confirmed there are about 2,800 minors at the facility, 21 percent of whom are female. Since it was erected, about 6,000 children have been placed there and more than 3,100 have been released.
Following the November elections, Democrats are weeks away from taking control of the U.S. House. Some expect to use that power in part to demand more oversight of the Tornillo facility should it continue operating into 2019.
“When we take over the [U.S.] House on January 3rd, I want to make sure that one of the first things we do is have a hearing on this situation,” Chu said. “The American public doesn’t know how outrageous this is.”
Merkley said that a bill has been filed in the U.S. Senate that would guarantee lawmakers could gain access to detention facilities for oversight in one day. Lawmakers sometimes have had to wait weeks before being granted permission to visit Tornillo, he said.
O’Rourke won’t be part of any of those efforts in Congress, as he is set to leave office in less than a month after choosing to give up his seat to unsuccessfully challenge U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz. But his successor, El Paso Democrat Veronica Escobar, made clear Saturday she’s happy to continue O’Rourke’s efforts to keep the issue in the spotlight until Tornillo is shut down.
“It’s all about the 24-hour news cycle, it’s all about the next piece of information, it’s all about the next scandal coming from the White House,” she told the crowd. “While we have to pay attention to all of that, we cannot forget the children that are being held in U.S. government prisons for having the audacity to seek refuge in the arms of America.”
The construction of a $22 million Border Wall in Downtown El Paso will begin on Saturday, according to Border Patrol officials.
“This new wall will be far more durable and far more effective in deterring would-be illegal entrants,” El Paso Border Patrol Sector Chief Aaron Hull said.
Funding for the project was earmarked in the 2017 Appropriations Bill as part of the President’s Executive Order 13767
Construction on the 18-foot steel bollard wall will replace current chain-link fencing that is currently in place. One mile of the steel structure will be built west of the Paso Del Norte Port of Entry and the remaining three miles will be east of the PDN Bridge and will join with an existing 12-foot steel fence that begins on near Fonseca Road along the Border Highway.
The contract for the wall’s construction was awarded to West Point Contractors of Tucson, Arizona on June 1, 2018 but was not announced to the public until September 18.
Border Patrol maintains that the area is a hotspot for illegal entry into the U.S. When asked to provide specific numbers of illegal crossings in the area, officials with the Border Patrol were unable to give specifics. Instead, they say that their experience working in the area is all the evidence needed to show the four mile stretch is at a higher susceptibility for illegal border crossings.
The construction project came as a surprise to many in the Chihuahuita community, city leaders and immigration advocates.
Border Network for Human Rights called the announcement of the construction at the last minute “unacceptable.”
Fernando Garcia with BNHR organizes a bi-annual event called “Hugs Not Walls” which unites families separated by the Border in the arroyo near the PDN Bridge. On Monday, officials with the Border Patrol contacted Garcia to inform him that a previously approved permit for October 6, was being rescinded due to the wall’s construction.
Hull said the Border Patrol will continue to work with community stakeholders in the future, but said border security is their top priority. He declined to state whether Hugs Not Walls would be able to continue at the conclusion of the wall’s construction.
The El Paso Sector Border says apprehensions in the 2018 Fiscal Year were up 61% over 2017. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a “zero tolerance” policy in April, which was enacted in May. The policy resulted in controversial family separation and the creation of ‘tent cities’ which housed children separated from their parents.
In response to the wall’s construction, the Border Network for Human Rights and a number of community activists and elected officials joined together to announce a community action demonstration for Saturday, September 22 at 10 a.m. at Cleveland Square to protest the construction project.
The demonstration is expected to move toward the Paso Del Norte Bridge.
TORNILLO — The immigration detention facility for undocumented immigrant minors in this West Texas outpost will remain open another month, federal and state officials confirmed on Friday.
The facility was erected in June and was originally scheduled to close in July, but federal officials extended the contract with its service provider until Aug. 13. But a spokeperson for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families said the facility will now be up and running until Sept. 13.
The detention center, which critics have called a “tent city,” houses unaccompanied minors who crossed the border illegally.
“HHS will continue to assess the need for this temporary shelter at Tornillo Land Port of Entry, Tornillo, Texas, based on projected need for beds and current capacity of the program,” the spokesperson said in a news release. “HHS’ Office of Refugee Resettlement is continuously monitoring bed capacity available to provide shelter for minors who arrive at the U.S. border unaccompanied and are referred to HHS for care by immigration officials, as well as the information received from interagency partners, to inform any future decisions or actions.”
San Antonio-based BCFS Health and Human Services currently operates the facility, but the HHS spokesperson said in an email that no new contracts for operations at Tornillo were awarded. A spokesperson for the company did not respond to an email requesting comment on the latest extension.
The announcement came the same day Democratic state Reps. César Blanco of El Paso, Mary González of Clint, Eddie Rodriguez of Austin, Ina Minjarez of San Antonio, Diego Bernalof San Antonio and Gina Hinojosa of Austin, all members of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, toured the facility. They said there are more than 170 immigrant minors in Tornillo, but none are children who were separated from their parents or guardians under President Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy on immigration. The facility previously housed a small number of those children, but they have all been released, Minjarez said.
The lawmakers said that while attention from the border crisis has somewhat shifted to other topics, they wanted to keep a spotlight on the Trump administration’s immigration policies and its effect on the minor children. The Tornillo facility was constructed after the administration’s “zero tolerance” policy was enacted and was only necessary because it led to an influx of children in other shelters who would otherwise have been left with their parents or guardians.
“We are the only country in the world who incarcerates children [because] of their immigration status,” González said. “At this moment in history, there are kids who could be with families. What we heard today was that the only thing that was stopping these kids from being with their sponsors or with their families [in the United States] was the federal government’s lack of movement regarding background checks. All the kids had a place to go.”
The lawmakers said there are more than 170 undocumented minors at the facility, including 103 from Guatemala, 55 from Honduras, 20 from El Salvador and four from Mexico.
González and Rodriguez said that because the Tornillo facility is on federal land, there is little lawmakers can do in terms of oversight and regulation. They said that policy could create an incentive for the federal government to construct similar detention centers elsewhere and shut out local or state lawmakers who oppose the administration’s continued crackdown on undocumented immigrants who are seeking asylum in this country.
“I think as members of the Texas Legislature, we want to try to get more oversight of these types of facilities, but when they are on federal land it becomes very challenging” Rodriguez said. “So what I am going to be looking at … is what Congress does in terms of putting more of these on federal land so they take away [oversight] from the state government. If that happens, we’ll have tent cities everywhere.”
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.
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
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 — needsthe 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.”
Department of Health and Human Services Officials told U.S. Congressmen Democrats Beto O’Rourke and other members of the House and Senate that seven girls, between the ages of 13 to 17 years old, are currently at the tent shelter at the Tornillo Port of Entry.
The teen girls, who are from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, attempted to cross into the country illegally with their parents; were separated from the boys. A total of 200 children were at the shelter O’Rourke said.
A total of 23 children were said to be separated O’Rourke said, and HHS official told them. And while the situation was not ideal, the children, he said, seemed to be in “good spirits.”
That being said, O’Rourke stressed that the group asked the children how long they had been there and where they came from, and whether they had come with their parents or not. Some had confirmed that they crossed with their parents, and others said they had come alone.
“Some said they had been here one month, two months and up to three months,” O’Rourke told the press during a conference following his visit to the shelter. “We were told that seven girls had been brought in today.”
Additional Congressmen that joined O’Rourke included U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, San Antonio, Sen. Tom Udall, D-New Mexico, Stephanie Murphy D-Florida; Kathleen Rice, D and Tom Suozzi of New York and Republican U.S. Rep Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania and Mike Coffman, Colorado and Roger Marshall of Kansas during their visit earlier today to the shelter.
Udall said while he was not worried about the conditions of the camp, he was worried about heading into another humanitarian crisis.
“The separation of children from their families and from their moms and dads has ended up being a disaster and we didn’t plan for it. We didn’t have a real organization in place to accomplish things and get it down. I think it’s really clear here that you don’t just sign an executive order to get things done.”
Officials told the group that the children are allowed two 10-minute phone calls a week to their parents or family, and they have showers in the facilities as well as a means to tend to their medical needs.
However, when the U.S. Representatives asked questions regarding the location of the children, they were not given direct answers.
Instead, Castro and O’Rourke said they were told by HHS officials that it was not their job; or they were unsure.
“We did not get a clear answer of which facility are holding the young women and girls and that’s disturbing.”
WASHINGTON — Republicans in Congress appear closer to reaching a compromise on immigration — and ending family separations at the Texas-Mexico border — after a closed-door meeting with President Donald Trump Tuesday evening.
Trump, who has repeatedly blamed Congress for his administration’s “zero tolerance” policy, encouraged House Republicans to pass a modified version of a compromise bill Republican leaders introduced last week. That updated version would include a provision that would keep immigrant families together as they await court hearings, according to lawmakers who attended the meeting Tuesday.
For days, photos of detained immigrant children have streamed out of South and West Texas, upending the workflow in Washington in a way not seen since the travel ban early in the Trump administration. Despite growing Republican criticism out of the Senate — including from Texas’ two GOP senators — White Houseofficials have dug in on their policy of separating immigrant children from their parents.
“The answer to this current situation is a solution that allows us to both enforce the law and keep families together,” U.S. Sen. John Cornyn said Tuesday on the Senate floor. “They don’t have to be mutually exclusive.”
He said he agreed with former first lady Laura Bush that there should be “a better answer.” Bush is among a chorus of voices of criticizing the policy — a group that includes the other living first ladies. Cornyn has said in recent days that he intends to introduce legislation that will keep families together and expedite hearings.
On Tuesday evening, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruzintroduced emergency legislation that would marshal more resources to the border to expedite the legal process for immigrants seeking asylum and create facilities that would allow parents to stay with their children. Earlier Tuesday, he confirmed a report from The Washington Post that he was working together with Cornyn on a bill that could be filed later in the day. Cornyn was not listed among the co-sponsors of the bill, but a spokesperson told the Tribune that the two senators are still working together.
Asked about working with Cruz on the legislation, Cornyn said the bill Cruz has been working seems to contain the elements “of a consensus approach” and said he aims to work with Democrats on a bipartisan solution. At a press conference later in the day, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell stood next to Cornyn as he said “all of the members of the Republican conference support a plan that keeps families together while their immigration status is determined.” He said Republicans hope to reach out to Democrats to “see if we can get a result.”
But in a speech Tuesday afternoon, Trump appeared to shoot down at least an element of Cruz’s proposed emergency bill — an idea to double the number immigration judges from roughly 375 to 750.
“We have to have a real border, not judges,” Trump said, adding that some judges might be corrupt.
Immigration is poised to dominate congressional action this week, as the House is set to pick up two Republican pieces of related legislation on Thursday. Those bills — both of which face uphill battles in the House and the Senate — will address Trump’s long-sought border wall and what to do with the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, an Obama-era immigration measure that protects hundreds of thousands of young undocumentedimmigrants from deportation.
The more moderate bill, which provides a conditional pathway to citizenship for certain qualifying undocumented youth and addresses the family separation issue, got a boost Tuesday after Trump told lawmakers he supported the proposal.
The President’s remarks appear to have convinced a number of Republicans who were previously leaning toward a more conservative bill authored by Texan U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul of Tomball and Rep. Bob Goodlatte of Virginia.
Several Texas Republicans exiting the meeting Tuesday voiced support for the compromise bill and optimism that it would garner the 218 votes it needs to pass.
“No one is stronger or tougher on border security than President Trump, and he strongly endorsed this common-ground bill because it is an America-first bill — it’s border security first, reforming the broken visa system, and then — and only then — is there a path to legal status for those who’ve earned the merit to stay here,” U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady of The Woodlands said in an interview. “He made it clear he’s behind this bill 1,000 percent.”
Brady said Trump endorsed provisions in the bill that addressed the family separation question. Specifically, those measures would allow families to stay together as they undergo immigration proceedings and would allocate $7 billion in federal funds for family detention centers.
Brady said those provisions “drew strong support” from House Republicans in the room.
U.S. Rep. Kay Granger, R-Fort Worth, said she will vote for the compromise bill. “It will keep the families together,” she said.
The controversy over the family separation policy has fully consumed regular business at the Capitol.
The outcry is so widespread on Capitol Hill that it worked its way into a high-profile Tuesday morning committee hearing on the FBI’s actions in the 2016 Clinton email investigation. House Democrats veered off topic during the hearing to decry the policy as Republicans grumbled “Out of Order!”
The images of crying children at the border are beginning to spook Republican political consultants, who fear they could impact the GOP’s chances of holding the lower chamber after this fall’s midterm election. At the same time, it was only one week ago that U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford, R-South Carolina, lost his primary. President Donald Trump specifically targeted him for past critical comments and reinforced the fears many Texas Republicans and their advisers of crossing the president.
The calls against Trump from that chamber remained largely muted in recent days, and when the The Texas Tribune surveyed the Texas delegation Monday, many Texas Republicans avoided commenting on the matter.
Trump’s endorsement of the compromise bill Tuesday evening seems to have provided political cover for vulnerable Republicans to get behind the legislation and speak out about the family separations.
U.S. Rep. John Culberson, R-Houston, who is facing a tough re-election fight, said he was “very encouraged” by the meeting.
“It’s got all the right elements that we need to secure the border, to make sure we’re taking care of the DACA problem, to make sure that the families aren’t separated,” he said.
But the Tuesday meeting did not convince everyone. U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Dallas, is among the holdouts still supporting the Goodlatte-McCaul bill.
“I’m going to support the Goodlatte bill. There are a lot of commonalities between the bills,” he said. “I think the key difference is what would be no pathway to citizenship versus a green card.”
U.S. Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Midland, said Republicans were still trying to whip up the votes Tuesday evening to pass the compromise measure and that it is unclear when that bill will come up for a vote. The House will likely vote on the more conservative Goodlatte-McCaul bill Thursday.
Texas’ Republican House Speaker Joe Straus asked President Donald Trump on Tuesday to rescind the “zero tolerance” policy of his administration that has led to thousands of immigrant children being separated from their parents at the border.
“I know that members of Congress from both parties have proposed various ways to address this issue in the form of legislation, and while I applaud their attention to the problem, I also know that congressional action often does not come quickly,” the speaker told Trump in a letter. “In order to at least begin addressing this issue, there is no need to wait for Congress to act. That’s why I respectfully ask that you move immediately to rescind the policy that [Attorney] General [Jeff] Sessions announced in April and any other policies that have led to an increase in family separations at the border.”
In the letter, Straus also rejected arguments by the Trump administration that the policy could be used as leverage against Democrats in Congress. “It is wrong to use these scared, vulnerable children as a negotiating tool,” Straus wrote.
The speaker, who is retiring early next year, continued: “Please listen to the growing number of Americans, faith leaders and elected officials from both parties who are voicing our concerns about this growing crisis. This is not a binary choice between rampant crime and tearing families apart.”
Straus has emerged as one of the most vocal critics of the policy among Texas Republicans, along with U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-Helotes. Outgoing state Rep. Jason Villalba has also made clear his opposition to the policy, writing a letter to Gov. Greg Abbott, also a Republican, on Tuesday imploring him to “hear the cry of the little ones at our border who have been torn from their loving mothers and fathers.”