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.
The Texas Tribune July 10, 2018NewsComments Off on 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
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.”
Alexandra Hinojosa June 23, 2018NewsComments Off on HHS Officials Tell Congressmen 7 girls; 23 Other Children Separated From Families at Tornillo Facility
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.”
The Texas Tribune June 19, 2018NewsComments Off on Republicans in Washington Closer to Compromise on Immigration – But Still Unclear if They Can Pass a Bill
WASHINGTON — Republicans in Congress appear closer to reaching a compromise on immigration — and ending family separations at the Texas-Mexico border — after a closed-door meeting with President Donald Trump Tuesday evening.
Trump, who has repeatedly blamed Congress for his administration’s “zero tolerance” policy, encouraged House Republicans to pass a modified version of a compromise bill Republican leaders introduced last week. That updated version would include a provision that would keep immigrant families together as they await court hearings, according to lawmakers who attended the meeting Tuesday.
For days, photos of detained immigrant children have streamed out of South and West Texas, upending the workflow in Washington in a way not seen since the travel ban early in the Trump administration. Despite growing Republican criticism out of the Senate — including from Texas’ two GOP senators — White 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 News Service June 19, 2018NewsComments Off on Texas House Speaker Straus Asks Trump to End Policy of Separating Immigrant Children
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.”
The Texas Tribune June 14, 2018NewsComments Off on Trump Administration Makes Site Selection for Tent City Near El Paso to House Immigrant Children Separated From Parents
The Trump administration has selected Tornillo Land Point of Entry, a crossing point along the Texas-Mexico border near El Paso, as the site of its first temporary shelter for immigrant children separated from their parents under the administration’s “zero tolerance” policy, a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services spokesperson confirmed Thursday.
The department chose the site in consultation with the Department of Homeland Security, according to the spokesperson. The federal government will erect tents at the site to house immigrant children whose parents are facing prosecution for crossing the border illegally. Under the new “zero tolerance” policy, which U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced in April, thousands of children have been separated from their parents at the border and have quickly filled Texas shelters.
The Tornillo site will take in 360 children in the coming days and expand from there, according to the department spokesperson.
Temperatures in the area have hovered around 100 degrees; the department spokesperson said the tents will be air-conditioned.
Tornillo was not one of the three sites the Trump administration indicated it was considering earlier this week. McClatchy reported Tuesday — and a Department of Health and Human Services spokesperson later confirmed — that the federal government was eyeing Fort Bliss near El Paso, Dyess Air Force Base near Abilene and Goodfellow Air Force Base in San Angelo as possible sites for tent cities to shelter the children.
State and federal lawmakers from the El Paso area decried that proposal earlier this week, particularly raising concerns about housing children on military bases.
U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who represents El Paso, in a statement Thursday evening denounced the policy that created a need for the encampment in the first place.
“It really doesn’t matter where the tent cities are constructed, we shouldn’t be doing this,” the statement read. “We shouldn’t be separating children from their parents.”
During a “bipartisan, bilingual, binational” rally, U.S. Reps. Will Hurd and Joaquin Castro spoke out against President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall.
In sweltering heat, U.S. Rep. Will Hurd and the mayors of the border towns of Del Rio and Ciudad Acuña held hands — presumably sweaty ones — with residents from both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border on Saturday. It was a gesture they hoped would represent the unity and interdependency between their cities.
About 150 people joined Hurd and the mayors in a “bilingual, binational, bipartisan” rally at the International Bridge, which connects both towns, in an event during which the Helotes Republican reaffirmed his position against President Donald Trump’s border wall.
Hurd said his time as a CIA officer taught him that “building a wall from sea to shining sea” is not going to secure communities. Rather, he said, working together “against your common threat” will make Mexico and the U.S. safer.
“As the member of Congress who has the most border … this is a message I take to Washington,” he said. “I’ve been trying to bring my colleagues down to the border as well. A lot of folks who talk about the border have never seen the border.”
The border rally was billed as a “demonstration of unity” between both countries. Mayors Hector Arocha from Ciudad Acuña and Robert Garza from Del Río encouraged crowds on both sides of the border to remain supportive and understanding of each other.
An hour into the rally, most of the attendees walked part of the bridge and held hands, forming a human chain as mariachis played in the background.
While the human chain formed, crowd members joked about how this is the kind of barrier they want on the U.S.-Mexico border, instead of Trump’s proposed wall. After a few pictures, residents from both sides of the border shared paletas and drinks with the Rio Grande River and some U.S. Border Patrol pickup trucks in the background.
During his speech, Hurd said, in Spanish, that a lot of people who talk about the border don’t recognize or don’t realize that Ciudad Acuña and Del Río aren’t just two cities, but “a community.” He thanked U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, for being at the rally. Citing his famous road trip to Washington, D.C., with El Paso Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke earlier this month, Hurd said bipartisanship isn’t a “dirty word.”
“People are expecting us to focus on what unites us, not what divides us,” said Hurd, who returned to Texas this weekend after U.S. House
Speaker Paul Ryan pulled the American Health Care Act — the supposed GOP replacement from Obamacare — from consideration on Friday when there weren’t enough votes to pass it. “We can disagree without being disagreeable.”
Castro also emphasized the important relationship between Ciudad Acuña and Del Río. Trump’s criticisms of Mexican immigrants, he said, only hurt the relationship between both countries.
“This is a place that makes a big difference to our country and we have to make sure that people understand that the prosperity of our nations depends on the success of each other,” he said.
Garza, the Del Rio mayor, said the International Bridge brings $7 million annually in revenue for his city, mostly due to the trade partnership between Ciudad Acuña.
“It is my hope and desire that all of our efforts be focused on building bridges and not walls,” Garza said.
As the Trump Administration moves ahead with its plans for a barrier just north of the Rio Grande, Texans are weighing in on how the president should approach the project. And the ideas range from the comical to the practical.
U.S. Reps. Will Hurd and Beto O’Rourke — a Republican and a Democrat from Texas, respectively — arrived at the U.S. Capitol after a two-day trek from San Antonio that drew thousands of fans.
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Staff Report March 21, 2017NewsComments Off on Reps McSally, Hurd Send Letter Seeking Specific Details on Proposed Border Wall
On Tuesday, U.S. Representatives Martha McSally (AZ-02) and Will Hurd (TX-23), Chair and Vice Chair of the Committee on Homeland Security’s Border and Maritime Security Subcommittee, sent an oversight letter asking for specific details of the Administration’s request for $999 million to plan, design, and construct the first installment of a border wall between the United States and Mexico.
Addressed to Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly, and Director of the Office of Management and Budget Mick Mulvaney, the letter lays out a series of detailed questions to DHS in order to provide the lawmakers with further clarity regarding the President’s recent supplemental appropriations request, which was sent to Congress on March 16, 2017.
“As Representatives of the communities that make up our southern border, we recognize the need for robust border security and infrastructure to ensure public safety and increase cross border commerce,” the lawmakers write. “We also have an obligation to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars and as such have a number of questions.”
“While we have both publicly stated in the past that we believe physical barriers to be one of many tools required to gain operational control of the border,” continued the lawmakers, “we also believe that an expenditure this large, and submitted with limited details, deserves additional scrutiny to ensure funds are being used effectively in pursuit of our shared goal of securing the southwest border.”
The two lawmakers, whose districts collectively represent 880 miles— nearly half— of the U.S-Mexico border, seek specific details of the location of the proposed wall, definitions of adequate natural barriers, and a breakdown of the investments in supplemental technology, infrastructure, and alleviating personnel backlogs.
Congressman Beto O’Rourke took to the floor of the House Tuesday night to challenge the notion that the nation needs a wall and that the border is dangerous.
Citing immigration numbers showing more Mexican Nationals returning to Mexico rather than coming to the, US and lauding the efforts of Border Patrol agents, O’Rourke passionately defended the border and El Paso.
Nearly one year ago, Pope Francis visited the US-Mexico border. The images of his approach to the Rio Grande were unforgettable, where he prayed in silence for the thousands of migrants who have died in the desert seeking freedom, safety and refuge in America.
Contrast these images with Donald J. Trump’s executive orders today directing federal funds towards the construction of a wall on the United States’ southern border, expanding immigrant detention, and resurrecting the dangerous Secure Communities program.
Make no mistake: militarizing our border communities, criminalizing and jailing migrants, and co-opting local law enforcement is un-American, senseless and inhumane policy.
What will the wall not do? The wall will not stop the thousands of refugees fleeing to our border to escape hunger, violence and political instability in Mexico and Central America. The wall will not stop the flow of drugs to American consumers, most of which pass through regular ports of entry. The wall will not address the poverty wages of maquila workers who produce goods for export to the United States.
The wall will not fix the political instability in Mexico and Northern Triangle countries abetted by US support for coups, corrupt governments and broken policies. The wall will not stop the river of US firearms that flows daily into Mexico contributing to the murders of tens of thousands in a never ending drug war fueled by American addiction.
The wall will add nothing to our national security; not a single terrorist has been apprehended crossing our southern border. The wall will not reduce crime; border communities are already the safest in the country.
What will the wall do? The wall will divert tens of billions of dollars in critical investment away from under-resourced border communities and add to our national deficit. The wall will push more vulnerable refugees to their deaths in the brutal deserts of the southwest. The wall will contradict the reputation of America as a beacon of freedom in the world.
The wall will contribute to the militarization of our border, where record numbers of federal border agents have broad authority to engage in constitutionally questionable acts of search and seizure that would not be tolerated in Boston, Houston, Kansas City or San Francisco. The wall will stand as a permanent monument to the narcissism of a man who announced his ambitions for the White House by demonizing Mexicans, border communities and migrants.
With his executive orders today, Donald J. Trump signaled his intention to follow through on dangerous promises that many hoped were simply overheated campaign rhetoric. None of these policies will fix a broken immigration system; they are a devastating affront to human dignity.
Today we recommit ourselves to solidarity with our migrant sisters and brothers, to defending the values and gifts of our border, and to opposing the militarization and wall-building that is tearing our families, communities and nation apart.
On his return to Rome from the border, Pope Francis’ words could not have been clearer: “A person who thinks only about building walls and not building bridges is not Christian. This is not the Gospel.”
We couldn’t agree more. And now the work begins afresh.
Author: Dylan Corbett – Director, Hope Border Institute
The Texas Tribune January 12, 2017NewsComments Off on Lawmakers Draw Battle Lines on Border Security, Sanctuary Cities
On the same day that Texas House Republicans doubled down on border security efforts and announced plans to send an invoice to the federal government, Senate Democrats said they were committed to fighting bills to eliminate sanctuary cities.
House Republicans on Wednesday said they aren’t backing away from recent efforts to secure the southern border despite an incoming president who made beefed-up immigration enforcement a hallmark of his campaign.
And as a final admonishment of President Obama, they said they intended to bill the federal government more than $2.8 billion for state spending on border security since January 2013. The amount includes a combination of expenses incurred by the Department of Public Safety ($1.4 billion), Texas Parks and Wildlife ($20.2 million), Texas Military Forces ($62.9 million), Texas Health and Human Services ($416.8 million), the Texas Education Agency ($181.1 million) and the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission ($671,000), according to House Republicans. Another $723.8 million has been spent by local and state governments related to incarceration, they said.
“We understand the principles of federalism, and while we surely don’t want the federal government meddling in our schools and deciding our environmental policies or setting our health care policies, we sure as heck want them doing their limited duties, which are: enforcing the border, standing up for a strong military and delivering the mail,” said state Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton.
Two years ago, Bonnen was the author of House Bill 11, an omnibus border security measure that increased by 250 the number of Texas Department of Public Safety officers on the border. The legislation was part of the record $800 million lawmakers appropriated for border security during that legislative session.
Lawmakers learned earlier this week they will have billions of dollars less in state revenue to work with this year as they craft the next biennial budget, even as the Department of Public Safety has said it would ask lawmakers for an additional $1 billion for border security. Bonnen said he hadn’t yet reviewed the request.
Although they said they had high hopes that President-elect Trump would fulfill his promise to secure the border and let Texas off the hook, House Republicans reiterated that lawmakers will need to wait and see what the incoming administration does and how soon it acts on border security before making a decision on future expenditures.
“We’ll have to see, [but] I think the Trump administration has made clear that they intend from day one, starting next Friday, to get to work on this issue,” Bonnen said, citing the day of Trump’s scheduled inauguration.
State Rep. Tan Parker, R-Flower Mound, the chairman of the House Republican Caucus, left the door open to Texas lawmakers approving more funding for state-based border security efforts if necessary.
“Republicans in the Texas House are absolutely committed to continuous border security — be it from the state of Texas and what we’ve been doing all these years or from our federal government,” he said.
Part of Trump’s proposed solution includes building a wall along parts of the southern border. When asked what he would tell a Texas landowner whose property could be seized by the federal government for that effort, Bonnen said: “My response would be whatever we need to do to make our border secure and controlled by the federal government.”
State Rep. César Blanco, D-El Paso, a staunch opponent of the state’s recent border security surge, said Wednesday’s news conference by House Republicans was nothing more than a last “political dig at President Obama.” He added that the Department of Public Safety hasn’t demonstrated that its recent efforts have been effective.
“You hear a lot about spending dollars into one agency, in DPS, and we’ve seen no accountability,” Blanco said. “I think it’s just politics as usual, and I think Republicans probably need one last border security bill so they can go back to their districts and [successfully] run for office.”
House Republicans gathered to emphasize their continued focus on border security on the same day that Senate Democrats on the east side of the Capitol maintained they would fight against proposed state-based immigration legislation until the last gavel of the session drops in late May.
State Sens. José Rodríguez, D-El Paso, and Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, joined with members of the faith-based and immigrant rights communities to denounce a bill from state Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, which would eliminate sanctuary cities — the common term for local governments that do not enforce federal immigration laws — and withhold state funds from local entities that adopt sanctuary policies. Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick have both pledged to eliminate sanctuary cities in Texas this session.
“We will fight this to the finish — no more and no less. We are not going to be silent in the face of these attacks on our communities,” Rodríguez said. He and others said such bills would lead to discrimination and allow local law enforcement officers to question someone’s immigration status.
Perry’s bill includes language that prohibits local law enforcement from stopping a vehicle or searching a business or dwelling unless the officer is assisting a federal officer or working under an agreement with the federal government that allows the practice.
But Rodríguez said he has concerns that the law could still be interpreted so broadly as to allow more widespread questioning by local police.
The Texas Tribune December 26, 2016NewsComments Off on Trump’s Rhetoric and State’s Border Surge Colored Immigration Debate in 2016
The president-elect’s tough border talk propelled him to victory, the U.S. Supreme Court dashed President Obama’s deferred action hopes and the Texas border surge drew questions.
Between a presidential candidate making a border wall the centerpiece of his winning campaign and debates over whether local or state officials were doing enough on the complicated issue, illegal immigration was at the forefront of the political landscape in 2016.
Here’s a look at the year’s biggest stories related to immigration and the border, all of which could reverberate during next year’s legislative session in Austin and the upcoming transition of power in Washington, D.C.
1. Border talk helps propel Trump to White House
In 2015, Donald Trump, then a new candidate for president, quickly sparked outrage among border residents and many Democrats after he said Mexico was sending “criminals” and “rapists” to the United States and promised to build a “big, beautiful” wall on the southern border. He also vowed to eliminate NAFTA, a 20-year-old trade deal that has made some Texas cities among the busiest trade hubs in the country.
In 2016, with little change in his rhetoric, Trump survived the Republican primaries and withstood a grueling general election to be elected the next president of the United States.
The real estate mogul’s surprise victoryimmediately sparked fear in some border communities, as residents wondered whether Trump would make good on his promise to deport millions of undocumented immigrants. Although he scaled back his tough deportation talk concerning DREAMers — immigrants brought to the country illegally by their parents or guardians — in December, uncertainty still lingers.
Trump’s recent decision to tap Gen. John F. Kelly, a retired four-star Marine general and outspoken border security hawk, as his pick to lead the Department of Homeland Security prompted several analysts to conclude Trump’s administration plans to take a hard-line approach to immigration policies.
2. Sanctuary cities debate
The issue of “sanctuary cities” — a term that broadly refers to a local government that doesn’t enforce federal immigration policies — was once again at the forefront of state politics in 2016 after Gov. Greg Abbott continued a fight he started the previous year with Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez. Abbott accused Valdez, a Democrat, of creating a sanctuary city in Dallas after she said in an interview she’d limit cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement when the agency makes requests that deportable immigrants be handed over for possible removal.
Valdez later said her words were taken out of context and that her jail never declined to turn over a person to federal authorities. (A 2016 Texas Tribune analysis revealed most Texas jails cooperate well with ICE). Still, Abbott threatened to cut off state funding to any county sheriff’s department that didn’t cooperate with immigration officials.
The issue was also a major talking point for several GOP candidates who won their primaries and general elections this year. Afterward, several lawmakers filed bills for the upcoming legislative session to ban sanctuary cities. Both Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick have described the legislation as a priority next year.
3. Influx of Central American asylum seekers continues
A recent influx of women and children from Central America crossing the Rio Grande into Texas and seeking asylum slowed some in 2015, only to regain strength this year.
Agents in the Rio Grande Valley sector of the U.S. Border Patrol came across about 52,000 families and about 36,700 unaccompanied minors during the 2016 fiscal year. That’s compared to 27,400 and 23,864, respectively, the year before. The federal government’s 2016 fiscal year began in October 2015 and ran through September 2016.
Overall, the total number of apprehensions on the country’s southwest border increased by more than 77,500 to 408,870 in 2016, compared to 331,333 in the prior year.
Though the Rio Grande Valley was the epicenter of the exodus, the figures show that each sector in Texas saw at least a double-digit percentage increase in 2016. In the Del Rio sector, apprehensions of unaccompanied minors increased by 18 percent and family units by 66 percent. In Big Bend, the increases were 13 and 30 percent, respectively.
The Laredo sector saw a 20 percent increase in apprehensions of minors and family units, while the El Paso sector, which includes New Mexico, saw an increase in minor apprehensions of 134 percent — from 1,662 in 2015 to 3,885 in 2016.
The overwhelming majority of the undocumented immigrants — most of whom say they are fleeing violence and poverty in the Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador — turned themselves into law enforcement on the border and were then processed by immigration agents.
4. The Texas border surge
When lawmakers approved a record $800 million for border security efforts in 2015, border Democrats balked at what they said was a waste of money. The majority of the people crossing illegally, they argued, were women and children fleeing violence and poverty and not people intent on harming Texans.
In 2016, those cries grew louder when lawmakers accused the state’s Department of Public Safety, which received the lion’s share of the money, of failing to provide data that showed the effort was working. Instead lawmakers from both sides of the aisle said that although DPS was able to make security improvements in Starr and Hidalgo counties, smugglers simply adjusted their routes and entered Texas through adjacent counties.
But Texas DPS Director Col. Steve McCraw said that wasn’t an anomaly and instead assured budget writers that the outcome was what the agency expected. A quick fix was never a possibility, he said, and securing the entire border would take more time.
The agency also told lawmakers that it would seek about $300 million in additional monies to keep the surge going. But with the price of oil and the decline in the natural gas industry, budget writers expressed doubts in October about whether DPS will get everything it asks for during next year’s legislative session.
5. U.S. Supreme Court ends Obama’s deferred action bid
In June, the U.S. Supreme Court finally put an end to an executive order issued by President Obama in 2014 that sought to let as many as 5 million undocumented immigrants in the country live and work without the fear of deportation.
Obama issued his deferred action order in November 2014, but Gov. Greg Abbott, then the state’s attorney general, quickly filed suit to stop the program. Twenty-five states would eventually sign on to the lawsuit. The program was scheduled to take effect in February 2015 but was halted that month by a U.S. district judge in Brownsville, who ruled that it violated the Administrative Procedure Act, which governs how federal regulations are made and how much input the public has.
The White House asked the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals to let the program proceed but was denied twice.
In July, the White House asked the Supreme Court if it would reconsider the case when it had a full bench. It is still one short since the February death of Justice Antonin Scalia. But in October the court announced it would not take up the case again, leaving in place the lower court ruling that blocked the program.