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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Author:  JULIÁN AGUILAR – The Texas Tribune

Donald Trump is Deploying Troops to the Border, But Border Crossings are Lower Than They Have Been

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security on Wednesday said a recent surge of apprehensions at the southern border justifies President Donald Trump’s decision to deploy National Guard units to the southern border, and released statistics the same day showing a double-digit spike in activity in March.

But critics of the plan argue that despite the increase, overall crossings are at historic lows. They add that it’s too soon to tell if the latest surge is indicative of a larger trend that will be similar to the heightened level of apprehensions in the Rio Grande Valley during 2013 and 2014, when a record number of Central Americans entered Texas illegally through Mexico.

Border crossings typically exhibit seasonal variations and tend to increase in the spring.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The March 2018 statistic also represents a 37 percent increase in people who were either apprehended between the ports of entry or deemed inadmissible to enter by federal customs and Border Patrol agents from a month earlier, from about 50,300 to February’s 36,700. Those figures include 1,099 unaccompanied minors and 5,127 families in March, increases from February’s 610 and 3,941, respectively.

Trump and DHS officials said the increase signaled a “crisis” at the border and argued that last year’s initial drop in apprehensions and attempted crossings after the president took office — the so-called Trump effect — was no longer in play.

But U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s own statistics indicate that despite the uptick in March, the total number of people apprehended or turned away since October, when the federal government’s fiscal year began, was lower than during the same six-month time frame in the previous fiscal year. This year, there have been about 237,000 apprehensions, compared to 2017’s 271,000.

Trump is not the first president to send national guard troops to the border. President George W. Bush sent about 6,000 national guard troops there in 2006. And President Barack Obama sent 1,200 guard troops to the border in 2010.

Talking to reporters on Air Force One late Thursday, Trump said he wants to send between 2,000 and 4,000 National Guard members to the US-Mexico border, according to the Associated Press.

But many details of Trump’s border plan remain unclear, including exactly how many units will be deployed and where they will be stationed. Administration officials said Wednesday that the discussions with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and other border governors are ongoing but stressed the move would happen quickly.

But opponents wasted no time in predicting the deployment would be a waste of money and calling it nothing more than a reaction to Congress failing to fully fund complete construction of a border wall in last month’s $1.3 trillion spending bill.

“There’s nothing surprising about Trump’s plan to falsely increase fear about our border with Mexico; it’s part of his political origin story,” said Tom Jawetz, the vice president of Immigration Policy at the progressive Center for American Progress. “It is also now clear that Congress will not give him the money to begin construction of his ‘big, beautiful wall.’”

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Authors:  JULIÁN AGUILAR AND DARLA CAMERON – The Texas Tribune

Bishop Seitz Statement on Executive Order Sending National Guard to Southern Border

In the midst of a week in which we Christians continue to celebrate God’s mercy and Christ’s gift of peace to all humanity, I have learned of President Trump’s Executive Order ordering the National Guard to our Southern Border.

It is my understanding that the National Guard is a military force intended for the protection of our nation. They assist in times of natural disasters or respond to an armed threat from a foreign military force.
I am left with many questions to which there appear to be no reasonable answer.

To what threat are the citizen soldiers of our powerful nation responding? Why are we placing a military force on the border when the vast majority of those in our country without documents are here because they have overstayed their visa? Why are we further militarizing a border that we share with a peaceful neighbor at a time when undocumented immigration across our border is at a low ebb? Is our nation reacting to a ragtag group of Hondurans who are fleeing for their lives seeking refuge? They are fleeing from a nation controlled by narco-trafficking gangs flush with cash provided by our nation’s insatiable appetite for illegal drugs.

This group is not invading, they are fleeing! They are not sneaking across an unguarded frontier, they are presenting themselves at border crossings and seeking asylum. They are seeking to enter our country legally following international asylum laws which our country had a major role in writing, to assure that people fleeing persecution and organized violence would be able to find safe refuge. If a just system were in place in which the lives of parents and children were secure, the vast majority of those entering our country from the Northern Triangle countries of Central America, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, would not have departed from community or family.

Has it now become a crime in our country to run for your life? Have we become so fearful and hypocritical that we would expect a country like Lebanon to accept a number 30% the size of their population from Syria, but we ourselves cannot accept a fraction of one percent of those fleeing from the countries with the highest homicide rates in the world? If you were a Honduran whose children were being raped and told that they would have to do the gang’s bidding or die, what would you do?

It is time for Mr. Trump to stop playing on people’s unfounded fears. I live on the border and my city is year after year one of the safest in the country. These troops are being asked to leave their families and their employment to come to our border where they can do battle against the wind. They will find no enemy combatants here, just poor people seeking to live in peace and security. They will find no opposition forces, just people seeking to live in love and harmony with their family members and neighbors and business partners and fellow Christians on both sides of the border.

A President’s use of military force is one of his most sacred trusts. I pray that our President will reconsider this rash and ill-informed action.

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

Trump Says He’ll Send Military to Guard U.S.-Mexico Border, Threatens Foreign Aid to Honduras

President Trump on Tuesday signaled plans to escalate a crackdown on illegal immigration, announcing that the U.S. military will be sent to guard the U.S.-Mexico border and threatening foreign aid to Honduras.

For the third straight day, Trump seized on coverage of a “caravan” of 1,000 migrants, primarily from Honduras, to call for tougher immigration policies and warn of what he called “weak” border security.

But the prospect sending military personnel to the southern border, as well as cutting off foreign aid, added a new dimension to Trump’s immigration strategy that so far had centered on threats to walk away from the North American Free Trade Agreement and pressuring Congress to send him funding for a border wall.

“We are going to be guarding our border with our military. That’s a big step,” Trump said Tuesday during a meeting with the leaders of three Baltic nations. “We cannot have people flowing into our country illegally, disappearing, and by the way, never showing up for court.”

Later at a news conference with these leaders, Trump said he would soon meet with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to discuss having the U.S. military deployed to the border with Mexico.

“I think it is something we have to do,” Trump said.

Deploying troops to the border is not unprecedented. The Obama administration sent 1,200 National Guard troops to the southern border in 2010 to assist Border Patrol and immigration officials amid rising concerns about drug trafficking.

In 2014, then-Texas Gov. Rick Perry said he would dispatch as many as 1,000 National Guard troops to the southern border as the country faced an influx of migrant children and families from Central America. Perry is now Trump’s energy secretary.

Trump floated the threat about foreign aid to Honduras in a tweet early Tuesday morning as he continued to complain about the “caravan” moving through Mexico.

“The caravan doesn’t irritate me, the caravan makes me very sad that this could happen to the United States,” Trump told reporters during his meeting with the Baltic leaders.

The “caravan” — an annual event that is meant to draw attention to the refugee crisis in Central America — has spurred new calls from Trump for an immigration crackdown, particularly funding for a U.S.-Mexico border wall that has eluded him. Conservative media outlets have has focused on the caravan in recent days.

“The big Caravan of People from Honduras, now coming across Mexico and heading to our “Weak Laws” Border, had better be stopped before it gets there,” Trump tweeted shortly before 7 a.m. Tuesday. “Cash cow NAFTA is in play, as is foreign aid to Honduras and the countries that allow this to happen. Congress MUST ACT NOW!”

The Mexican government took steps late Monday to break up the caravan, registering the migrants and saying that some would be asked to leave the country while others would receive humanitarian assistance. Mexico’s Interior Ministry said Monday that “under no circumstances does the government of Mexico promote irregular migration.”

Honduras received about $127.5 million in aid from the United States in fiscal 2016, according to data from the U.S. Agency for International Development. Congress is in a two-week recess.

He referred to the caravan in tweets Monday night, accusing Democrats of allowing “open borders, drugs and crime” while deriding U.S. immigration laws as an “Obama joke.”

“Honduras, Mexico and many other countries that the U.S. is very generous to, sends many of their people to our country through our WEAK IMMIGRATION POLICIES. Caravans are heading here. Must pass tough laws and build the WALL. Democrats allow open borders, drugs and crime!”

Meanwhile, White House officials are preparing new proposals that they say would close “loopholes” in U.S. immigration laws. Separately, the Department of Homeland Security is pushing for the end of the “catch and release” practice, which allows undocumented immigrants who have been apprehended to be released while they await their hearings.

Trump’s new immigration threats were made in tweets early Tuesday that included another defense of Sinclair Broadcasting Group, the largest network of local television stations in the country. Sinclair has recently faced a backlash after its news anchors were ordered to read a uniform script decrying “biased and false news” and criticizing other journalists for using their platforms to “push their own personal bias.”

“The Fake News Networks, those that knowingly have a sick and biased AGENDA, are worried about the competition and quality of Sinclair Broadcast,” Trump tweeted. “The ‘Fakers’ at CNN, NBC, ABC & CBS have done so much dishonest reporting that they should only be allowed to get awards for fiction!”

Trump leveled another attack at CNN in a separate tweet that misspelled the name of the cable network’s head, Jeff Zucker, and charged that its journalists had to abide by an anti-Trump test.

CNN immediately pushed back: “Once again, false. The personal political beliefs of CNN’s employees are of no interest to us. Their pursuit of the truth is our only concern. Also, Jeff’s last name is spelled Z-U-C-K-E-R. Those are the facts. #FactsFirst.”

And in his fourth tweet of the morning, the president touted his ratings in recent polling from Rasmussen Reports, whose figures tend to favor Republicans, and noted that his numbers were “higher than ‘Cheatin’ Obama at the same time in his Administration.”

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Author: SEUNG MIN KIM, THE WASHINGTON POST

How U.S. Reps. Mike Conaway and Will Hurd Explained Their Votes to Release Secret Memo

WASHINGTON – The U.S. House Intelligence Committee released a highly controversial memo involving the FBI’s surveillance methods of the Trump campaign Friday afternoon, capping off a dramatic week within the oversight arm that includes three Texans: U.S. Reps. Mike Conaway, R-Midland, Will Hurd, R-Helotes and Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio.

At its heart, the four-page memo aims to discredit a dossier commissioned in 2016 of then-candidate Donald Trump and the alleged activities of him and his associates with Russia.

Known in Washington as “the Nunes” memo, named for U.S. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes of California, the document charges that because Democrats in part paid for the the dossier, it should not have been used in surveillance court arguments involving a former Trump adviser, Carter Page, in 2016.

Republican leaders said over the course of the week that the memo must be released as a matter of protecting American citizens’ civil liberties and for government transparency.

Democrats, Justice Department officials and leaders of the FBI strongly urged against the memo’s release, arguing it would jeopardize the sources in which federal government collects intelligence. Critics have also questioned the memo’s accuracy. Furthermore, Democrats argue the main reason for the memo’s release was to begin to lay the groundwork to upend the ongoing investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election by giving senior administration officials grounds to fire those overseeing the investigation.

Before President Trump authorized the declassification of the memo on Friday morning, the House Intelligence Committee voted for that outcome on Monday on a party-line vote. The committee is the most secretive arm of the Congres but it released a transcript of its deliberations earlier this week that revealed how members came to their decisions.

Conaway is the most prominent Texan on the Russian issue and was tapped last year to lead the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 elections.

“I intend to vote in favor of releasing the minority memo to the House under the – subject, of course, that it does not disclose information that would be harmful to national security,” said Conaway at the meeting. “It is sight unseen. I would vote for it assuming that – sight unseen – assuming that we could trust our colleagues to not reveal issues that would be harmful to national security.”

Castro, the lone Texas Democrat on the committee, had a far different view at the Monday meeting and has appeared on television all week arguing against the memo’s release.

He urged against releasing the Republican memo and added that if the committee did so anyway, he hoped it would be disclosed along with a Democratic rebuttal.

“If the majority is going to move forward and release its memo to the public, I would hope that it would have the courtesy and fairness to either wait for the minority’s memo to also be ripe, as you have described it, or to somehow release them at the same time,” he said.

“To not do that would be reckless,” he added.

Conaway said he would not support the release of a second memo, a Democratic rebuttal, saying such a motion would be “premature.”

“I am not sure of the efficacy of waiting on our memo,” Conaway said. “It is in fact right I believe to send it to the president. But to ask us to do that with a memo we have just read — or haven’t even actually read I think would be irresponsible.”

Beyond the members’ positions, the transcripts are revelatory in how this secretive committee functions.

Conaway proved over the last year to be something of a peacemaker who calmed tensions between Democrats and Republicans on the committee.

Through the meeting, Conaway stuck with his GOP colleagues in their determination to release the memo, but he frequently interjected with clarifications that appeared to assuage the Democrats on the committee.

“I just want the gentleman to know that I respect his efforts and the extraordinarily complicated position he is in in these endeavors,” said U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley, an Illinois Democrat.

But even that personal affection had its limitations.

Later, Quigley invoked his hometown’s notorious reputation for bareknuckled politics.

“I saw the worst of the worst,” he said of Chicago politics. “They got nothing on you on this one, folks.”

Hurd, the other Texas Republican serving on the committee, has unique insight into the debate as a former CIA agent but was mostly quiet throughout the meeting, according to the transcript.

On Friday morning – just prior to the memo’s release – he penned an op-ed published by the Washington Post explaining his decision.

“My vote to release the memo was not about discrediting the special counsel’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election,” Hurd wrote. “It was not about debasing the hard-working men and women serving in the FBI. Rather, I supported the release because I do not agree that an American citizen’s civil liberties should be violated on the basis of unverified information masquerading as intelligence.”

He pointed to the dossier as problematic but maintained that the memo ought not be grounds to obstruct the ongoing special counsel investigation into the 2016 election.

“Let me be clear, special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation must continue to ensure that our democracy was not compromised by Russian interference,” Hurd wrote.

Author:  ABBY LIVINGSTON – The Texas Tribune

Texas Lawmakers hope Trump’s State of the Union Speech Clarifies his Immigration Plan

Days after the White House released a one-page wish list on what it wants to see included in immigration legislation, President Donald Trump is scheduled to deliver his first State of the Union speech where that policy is expected to be at the forefront of the agenda.

That will have some Texas lawmakers and other stakeholders watching closely to see if the president sticks to those guidelines or decides to throw the country a curveball in hopes of garnering more support for the proposal.

“I hope the president will be consistent tonight on what he laid out previously,” U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, said.  “I thought it was a positive step for him to actually come out and put some cards on the table. He’s been shifting positions and was not clear to Congress on what he wanted to see.”

On Castro’s guest list for Tuesday’s event is an undocumented University of Houston student whose future largely depends on what, if anything, Congress can come to a compromise on in the coming weeks.

The White House’s proposal included a framework that would give legal status to roughly 1.8 million young undocumented immigrants, commonly referred to as “Dreamers.” It would include a 10- to-12-year path to citizenship “with requirements for work, education and good moral character,” according to the White House’s proposal.

But it also includes provisions for a $25 billion trust fund to bolster border security, including money to build a wall on the southern border and to streamline the country’s entry-exit systems at the ports of entry. The policy also called for major rollbacks of current immigration policy, which the CATO institute reported would result in a 44 percent drop in immigration over the next year.

That has some Democrats proclaiming the proposal dead on arrival.

“We cannot allow the lives of young people who have done everything right to be used as bargaining chips for sweeping anti-immigrant policies,” said the chairwoman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, D-N.M.

Castro said that he is not on board with the current framework and would vote against the plan if it went to the House floor. But he said the silver lining is that it’s a starting point and Tuesday night should give a glimpse on whether the president is intent on sticking to those requests.

“I do think it’s positive that somebody who’s been shifting positions has finally put down something concrete in writing,” he said. “And we can go from there.”

Democrats aren’t going to be the only ones taking notes however. Some hardline Republicans likely be watching whether or not the president speaks to immigration issues they said were left out of the White House’s proposal. In a statement issued last week, U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio, said the plan fell short on several key issues he has been championing for several years.

“There is not much interior enforcement, and it doesn’t include workforce verification, which would protect jobs for American workers,” he said. “This proposal grants amnesty today and delays legal immigration reforms until a distant tomorrow. It is not a good deal for the American people.”

The president has reportedly acknowledged that to get any immigration legislation to his desk, he’ll need to make overtures to Democrats.

“We’re going to get something done, we hope bipartisan,” Trump told NBC. “The Republicans really don’t have the votes to get it done in any other way. So it has to be bipartisan.”

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said he was hopeful that the immigration debate and eventual compromise could be a catalyst to more productivity this year.

“Call me old-fashioned, but I do think there should be a time for elections and there should be a time for governing,” he said. “This is an opportunity to govern in that broad middle ground.”

While Cornyn said Trump’s immigration proposal was “exceedingly generous,” he disagreed with some of his Republican colleagues who said the plan amounted to “amnesty” for lawbreakers.

“By legal definition, these children who were minors when their parents brought them in, did nothing wrong,” he said. “We don’t hold children responsible for the mistakes or legal violations of their parents so I disagree with that characterization.”

Read related Tribune coverage:

  • U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said on Tuesday that there was a “deal to be made” on DACA and border security now that the federal government has resumed operating. But he said that extending a March deadline that ends the deferred action program wouldn’t be a wise move. [Full story]
  • Republican U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-Helotes, on Tuesday said he would file legislation to protect young undocumented immigrants from deportation and beef up border enforcement. The move comes as federal lawmakers face a Friday deadline to pass a measure to keep the federal government functioning. [Full story]

Author: JULIÁN AGUILAR – The Texas Tribune

In Texas and Beyond, Some Watch Mexican Presidential Campaign with Free Trade Concerns

CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico — On a recent evening in this sprawling border city’s downtown, Alfredo Santiago treated passers-by to an electric, instrumental version of Santana’s cover of “Oye Como Va,” the famous Tito Puente standard. That was before he launched into the unmistakable riffs of ZZ Top’s “La Grange.”

It was just another day’s work for Santiago, 65, who started playing guitar for money when he was no longer able to work in the construction industry, where he toiled for decades. He likes his current gig, he said, but it’s also the only way he can make a living these days. On a good day, he said, he’ll collect about 100 pesos.

That’s one reason why, like the rest of his fellow Mexicans, Santiago is now paying closer attention to the field of candidates vying to become Mexico’s next president, who will be chosen July 1. Santiago said he’s more concerned about the country’s economy than security, although the latter is a close second.

He’s pulling for former Mexico City Mayor Andrés Manuel López Obrador, or AMLO, as he’s known in this country. A poll conducted last month showed the outspoken populist and candidate for the National Regeneration Movement, or MORENA, with an 11-point lead over the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI’s, Jose Antonio Meade. President Enrique Peña Nieto, also a PRI member, cannot run again because of term limits.

Some business leaders in Mexico, Texas and elsewhere in the United States are nervous about what a potential victory by López Obrador could mean for international trade, the bread and butter for several border economies. Texas is Mexico’s No. 1 trade partner. From January to November of 2017, the Laredo and El Paso customs districts saw $270.2 billion and $85.5 billion in two-way trade with Mexico, respectively, according to WorldCity, a Florida-based economics think tank that uses U.S. Census data to track trade patterns.

“He has tapped into a growing nationalist sentiment in Mexico, perhaps due to President [Donald] Trump’s rhetoric [about Mexico],” said Jon Barela, the CEO of the Borderplex Alliance, a nonprofit focused on promoting business and economic development in Ciudad Juárez, El Paso and New Mexico. In September, Barela compared López Obrador to former Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chávez, a socialist and American adversary who was highly critical of U.S. economic and foreign policies.

Obrador has initially said the North American Free Trade Agreement is a bad deal for Mexico and called for the delay of talks to rework the trade pact until after the Mexican elections. When coupled with the anxiety that Trump’s view of NAFTA has caused some Texans, the Mexican elections have sounded alarm bells for border industries who have thrived since the pact’s inception in the early 1990s.

“I do think if he wins, it will be a very different presidency and administration, and it will be one that fundamentally questions Mexico’s model of the last three decades,” said Shannon O’Neil, the vice president, deputy director of studies, and Nelson and David Rockefeller senior fellow for Latin America Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, a think tank. “And that’s a model that’s very closely tied to Texas and to trade back and forth with Texas, to companies that exist on both sides of the border — that is a model that he will question.”

Barela said he was encouraged by recent statements the front-runner has made on NAFTA, indicating he’s softening his stance and open to a dialogue on the trade pact.

According to his campaign platform, López Obrador acknowledged that NAFTA was important to the Mexican economy and “a demonstrated useful instrument” Politico reported.

“There’s a long time between now and the Mexican election, but I am hopeful that should he be elected that a level of pragmatism certainly would be in order,” Barela said. “He seems to have tempered some of this remarks on free trade.”

But O’Neil said that might have more to do with messaging and a more sophisticated campaign style than when López Obrador ran for the presidency in 2006 and 2012.

“He has some people around him who have a different communication style, and he’s set out a proposal that’s more broad,” she said. “But when you see him out on the stump, he really hasn’t changed.”

Meanwhile, Meade, who was polling at about 20 percent, is considered the candidate that would keep Mexico’s current economic policies largely unchanged. That’s why O’Neil thinks Texas business and political leaders might pull for him or Ricardo Anaya, a former National Action Party, or PAN, leader who has aligned with the center-left Party of the Democratic Revolution, or PRD. Anaya is also supportive of Mexico’s current institutions and was polling at 19 percent. Two other major candidates — Margarita Zavala, the wife of former President Felipe Calderón, and Nuevo Leon Governor Jaime “El Bronco” Rodríguez — polled at 10 and 2 percent, respectively.

“I think the challenge Meade has is that PRI legacy, and it’s a legacy of increasing violence, it’s a legacy of high-profile corruption,” O’Neil said.

Meade, a former economic and foreign affairs minister, is a familiar name in Texas political circles. In 2015, he visited Austin and met with Gov. Greg Abbott, where the two talked about several issues, including security, trade and infrastructure.

O’Neil said Meade could have momentum because he isn’t an elected official. But as the PRI’s current choice, he must also push back against that party’s legacy of corruption and ineffectiveness in combating violence, she added.

For Santiago, the street musician, the violence and the PRI’s inability to effect change on that issue is a reason he’s aligning himself with the populist candidate.

“It’s gotten better, but not by a lot,” he said. “It’s been a disaster” overall.

Once known as the deadliest city in the world, Ciudad Juárez has enjoyed some relative calm since a cartel war was responsible for the deaths of more than 10,000 people from 2008 to 2011. But 2017 was the deadliest year since 2012, with more than 770 homicides, and 25 people were murdered in just two days there last week.

That failure to sustain peace in the country will ultimately be part of current President Enrique Peña Nieto’s legacy, said Vanda Felbab-Brown, a a senior fellow in the Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence in the Foreign Policy program at Brookings Institute. And that could sink that party’s chance at re-election.

“The Peña administration failed fully in its key security promises,” she said. “One must say [it failed] in all of its promises regarding security.”

Though El Paso remained one of the safest cities in the country during the mayhem across the Rio Grande, it didn’t stop people who didn’t know any better from assuming the violence was spilling over into Texas, Barela said. He’s always worried about what a repeat scenario could mean for investment in Texas.

“I think people are frankly fed up with a lot of talk and no action when it comes to the violence and the threats of violence [in Mexico],” he said. “And because of violence, businesses people are sometimes skeptical to invest in our region.”

O’Neil said that with so many candidates, the eventual winner could only need to secure about 30 percent of the vote, as only a plurality is needed to win the office.

“That isn’t much of a mandate,” she said.

Read related Tribune coverage:

  • A number of Texas-based business groups have teamed up to prevent a reversal of the good trade relations with Mexico that Texas has enjoyed since the North American Free Trade Agreement went into effect 23 years ago. [Full story]
  • Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller on Thursday left the tough talk on immigration in Austin while he held a historic press conference on one of the country’s busiest international bridges to Mexico. [Full story]

Author –  JULIÁN AGUILAR – The Texas Tribune

After Years of Seeking Asylum in U.S., Mexican Reporter, Son Just Narrowly Escaped Deportation

Mexican reporter Emilio Gutiérrez and his son Oscar have been fighting to stay in the United States for nearly a decade.

That fight almost came to a grinding halt on Thursday after they were cuffed and hauled away by immigration agents during what his lawyer said should have been a routine check-in with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The episode was the latest in what’s been a harrowing saga that predates President Donald Trump’s crackdown on immigration and asylum seekers. But it’s now taken a new – and possibly dangerous – turn, his lawyer Eduardo Beckett told The Texas Tribune Friday.

Gutiérrez fled the border state of Chihuahua in 2008 when his reporting on cartels and military corruption there led to a price being placed on his head. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents admitted Gutiérrez into the country — and immediately placed him in a detention center. He sat there for seven months, until January 2009, when he was released as a parolee. His son was held in a separate detention center for juveniles and released after two months.

Even though he had never committed a crime and followed all the instructions he was given while he waited on a judge to rule on the case, Gutiérrez and his son were eventually denied their asylum requests earlier this year. After the U.S. Department of Justice’s Board of Immigration Appeals dismissed Gutiérrez’s appeal of the decision last month, Beckett said that left only  one option – asking that same Board to reopen the case.

“So we filed a motion to reopen his case with the Board of Immigration Appeals, and then at the same time we followed an emergency stay [of deportation],” he said.

Beckett said he knew that checking in with ICE Thursday was a gamble – but one he was willing to take because it was a relatively routine matter and one that’s required when a request is made to halt a deportation order pending a decision by the review board.

“We had assurances yesterday that they would, at the very least, wait for the Board of Immigration appeals to adjudicate the stay,” Beckett said. “When we went to go report yesterday, ICE handcuffed him and took him away.”

While Gutiérrez and his son were en route to the border with ICE, Beckett was able to secure a temporary halt to their deportation. But they remain in ICE custody in Sierra Blanca, Texas – a remote outpost 90 miles east of El Paso. There is no timeline on their release but Beckett said he expects a decision on the request to the Board of Immigration Appeals within a few weeks. Until a decision comes however, Gutiérrez and his son can’t be deported – but they can remain locked up.

In a statement, ICE officials in San Antonio didn’t provide any additional details on why Gutiérrez was detained.

“On July 19, 2017, a federal immigration judge denied [Gutierrez’s] request for asylum and ordered him removed. On Nov. 2, 2017, the Board of Immigration Appeals dismissed his appeal of the immigration judge’s decision. Gutiérrez subsequently filed with the BIA for a stay of removal, which was granted Dec. 7, 2017,” the statement reads. “Gutiérrez remains in ICE custody pending disposition of his immigration case.”

Gutiérrez’s case has sparked international attention and led to media-advocacy groups to call on immigration officials to grant his and his son’s requests for asylum. Earlier this year, Gutiérrez accepted on behalf of his Mexican colleagues the National Press Club’s John Aubuchon Press Freedom Awards for their reporting in Mexico, currently considered one of the deadliest places in the Americas for journalists.

In an October press release, the National Press Club said Gutiérrez said “he and his Mexican associates ‘find [themselves] immersed in a great darkness,’ as reporters are killed, kidnapped and forced into hiding in retaliation for their reporting on drug cartels and government corruption.”

On Friday, Gutiérrez said by phone from the detention center that things in Chihuahua have changed since he first fled, but that they’ve become worse instead of better. He described trembling as he thought earlier this week that he was going to be left at the bridge and forced back into the country he fled.

“The [Mexican soldiers] are right there at the bridge,” he said in Spanish. “How can you be confident that they’re going to respect your life?”

Meanwhile, Beckett was more composed on Friday than he recalled being on Thursday after he saw Gutiérrez hauled off. He thought his client was going to think he had been set up because of how quickly ICE acted. He sought to allay any of those concerns on Friday.

“I don’t want you to think for one minute that I abandoned you,” he told his client in Spanish. “We will be with you until the end. But I need you not to give up.”

Beckett said that he thinks ICE could try to detain his clients for long enough that the experience breaks their spirits and they both give up and ask to be taken back to Mexico voluntarily. That happened earlier this year when Martin Mendez Pineda, who also fled Mexico after reporting on corruption, arrived in El Paso and sought asylum. But his detention eventually forced him to give up on the case and return to Mexico.

Despite several setbacks, Gutierrez said he’s not giving up. And even if he can’t stay in the U.S., he said, he hopes to find a way to be sent somewhere else because he refuses to return to Mexico.

Read related Tribune coverage:

  • A Mexican reporter who sought asylum in El Paso after receiving death threats has been detained by federal officials —despite having passed an initial test to determine whether he faces a “credible fear” back home, his attorney said. [Full story]
  • A growing number of asylum-seekers are asking for safe haven based on a factor that isn’t usually associated with a need to flee one’s homeland: gender identity. In the days before the Supreme Court ruled in a landmark gay marriage case, immigrant rights groups were drawing attention to the plight of LGBT immigrants. [Full story]

Author:  JULIÁN AGUILAR – The Texas Tribune

With Border Arrests Down, Some Question Trump Administration’s Push for More Agents

The Department of Homeland Security’s announcement this week that its border enforcement strategy had resulted in a sharp decline in illegal crossings has renewed questions as to why the Trump administration wants even more agents on the southwest border.

U.S. Border Patrol agents made 310,531 apprehensions of people trying to cross into the country illegally between ports of entry during the federal government’s 2017 fiscal year, which ended on Sept. 30. And Customs and Border Protection officers recorded 216,370 “inadmissible” cases, which are defined as a person who tries to enter the country at a port of entry but is rejected, or a person seeking humanitarian protection under current laws.

Combined, the numbers represent a 24 percent drop from 2016, according to year-end statistics.

That has Democrats and immigrant rights groups asking whether or not President Trump’s order to hire thousands of more agents should be reconsidered.

“These numbers show that Border Patrol agents are stopping, on average, one or two people per month along the U.S.-Mexico border,” said Adam Isacson, the director for defense oversight at the Washington Office on Latin America, a research and human rights watchdog organization. “Where’s the urgent need to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on further expanding this agency?”

Through 2016, the Border Patrol had about 19,830 agents working for the agency across the country, including about 17,000 on the southern border, according to federal statistics. Both figures represent the smallest  amounts for the agency since the 2008 fiscal year, when there were about 17,500 and 15,440 respectively.

Just weeks after taking office, President Trump issued an executive order calling on DHS to bolster its ranks by 15,000 agents and spread out the new hires between Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

As of May, not one of the Border Patrol sectors in Texas had staffing levels up to par with what its headquarters authorized, according to a Government Accountability Report. The Rio Grande Valley had the most agents, with 3,143. But that was short of the 3,201 recommended authorized positions. The El Paso sector, which includes New Mexico, had 2,193 agents while 2,415 were recommended. And the Laredo and Del Rio sectors had 1,584 and 1,398 agents, which were also short of the sector recommendations of 1,852 and 1,642 agents, respectively.

But a July assessment by DHS’s Office of the Inspector General said CBP and ICE could not justify the need for the additional agents.

“Neither CBP nor ICE could provide complete data to support the operational need or deployment strategies for the additional 15,000 agents and officers they were directed to hire,” the reports states. “CBP officials explained they had been working for 3 to 4 years already, but are still 3 to 4 more years away from implementing a process to obtain and analyze accurate operational needs and deployment data.”

On Tuesday however, the Border Patrol’s top brass said the agency was moving forward with the president’s request despite 2017’s apparent success.

“We had some challenges with the infrastructure here at CBP, we weren’t prepared to hire as many of the [positions lost to attrition] that we had going into the administration,” Acting U.S. Customs and Border Protection Deputy Commissioner Ronald Vitiello told reporters. “We’ve now been handed another mandate to hire 5,000 more agents and we need to stabilize the workforce in the office of field operations.”

The federal government’s success comes as the state of Texas has recently allotted another $800 million for state-based border enforcement, despite Trump’s promise to make border security a federal priority.

The Texas Legislature approved an initial massive boost in border-security spending by the same amount in 2015. Gov. Greg Abbott and his Republican colleagues said then it was necessary for the state to act because the Obama administration was abdicating its responsibility to secure the border. They cited a recent surge of undocumented women and children from Central America as proof.

They opted to maintain that record funding level in May, months before DHS’s report came out. Lawmakers said during the 2017 legislative session that they couldn’t predict how the Trump White House would approach border security, which they said justified another $800 million in spending.

State Rep. César Blanco, D-El Paso, said Tuesday’s report from DHS means that taxpayers should demand that state lawmakers be more transparent with how the monies are being spent.

Blanco has for years accused the Texas Department of Public Safety of being less than forthcoming about how the agency, which receives the bulk of the state monies tied to border security, is using that funding. But he said he doubted the state would roll back its spending even when lawmakers return to Austin for their next scheduled legislative session in 2019.

“I think there’s a rush to spend money,” he said. “I think it does well during elections. As a border lawmaker who lives literally, a few feet from the border wall and who has been questioning what we’re doing with the money, I think we need to put some metrics and some numbers in [place] in order to be smart about our state dollars and not rush to conclusions.”

Other Democrats have added that DHS’ near-record enforcement should prompt federal lawmakers to rethink efforts to appropriate billions of  dollars for Trump’s promised border wall.

“The Administration can try to twist these numbers into whatever they please, but the fact remains that after unprecedented investments in border security over the last decade, the border has become harder to cross and fewer people are trying,” U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Mississippi, said in a statement. “Focusing massive, new government resources on a campaign promise would be a foolish and irresponsible exercise.”

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said Wednesday that recent achievement’s by DHS reflect a stronger emphasis on interior enforcement and sends a message to would-be illegal crossers that the Trump administration is tough on illegal migration. He told reporters during a conference call the results mean the administration should stay the course, and said legislation he filed earlier this year would address some of the staffing concerns as well as facilitate legitimate trade and commerce at the ports of entry. The Building America’s Trust Act would punish “sanctuary” jurisdictions that don’t enforce federal immigration laws and fund more agents.

But he reiterated that a physical barrier isn’t a reasonable solution along the entire border despite the Trump administration’s support for such a barrier.

“I think it’s like looking through a soda straw. This is a bigger issue  than just physical infrastructure,” he said. “It’s not a complete answer. We need technology, we need personnel and the right combination depends on where you are along the border.”

Read related Tribune coverage:

  • Earlier this year, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton announced his office would start accepting sworn complaints against “sanctuary” jurisdictions that prohibit local police from cooperating with federal immigration authorities. [Full story]
  • In August, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn unveiled a $15 billion border-security bill. The Building America’s Trust Act would fund parts of a wall or fence, add Border Patrol and ICE agents to current ranks, and punish “sanctuary” jurisdictions. [Full story]

Author: JULIÁN AGUILAR – The Texas Tribune

Texas DACA Recipients Face Narrowing Window After Talks with Trump Fall Apart

The decision by two of the country’s top Democrats to pull out of a Tuesday meeting at the White House doesn’t signal the death knell for legislation to protect young undocumented immigrants from deportation, lawmakers and policy analysts say.

But each day without a legislative fix means there are hundreds more undocumented immigrants who could be at risk of removal from the United States, they add – even if lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are eventually able to send a compromise bill to the president.

“It’s sending a very worrisome message to our communities about how serious are people in Washington to really provide a remedy,” said Fernando Garcia, executive director of the El Paso-based Border Network for Human Rights. “We were expecting a remedy or a solution by December and it doesn’t look promising that that will happen.”

On Tuesday U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. — their respective chambers’ minority leaders — declined to attend a scheduled meeting at the White House after Trump took to Twitter to decry the duo as soft on illegal immigration, weak on crime and in favor of more taxes. “I don’t see a deal!” he tweeted.

Meeting topics were to include tax reform, federal spending and a possible legislative solution to protect young undocumented immigrants, known as Dreamers, from deportation. Democrats had hoped to tie the immigration legislation to spending bills Congress is currently considering instead of voting on a stand-alone measure likely to get bogged down in partisan gridlock.

The lawmakers’ inability to even discuss the issue with the president has some advocates fearful of the path forward for nearly 800,000 recipients of 2012’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. That program granted qualified applicants, including about 124,000 Texans, a work permit and a reprieve from deportation proceedings. Trump announced in October that the program would end in March.

“We’re frustrated by both parties — by Republicans for not taking this issue seriously and by Democrats for not being forceful enough and supporting an issue that should be easy for them,” Garcia said.

But Ali Noorani, the executive director of the National Immigration Forum, a Washington-based immigrant advocacy group the promotes immigration reform, said it’s wise to avoid over-analyzing what he called political chest-thumping.

“I think what happened [Tuesday] was a lot of your usual D.C. political posturing, with a subtle touch of a presidential tweet,” he said. House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell “know they can’t pass a budget without the votes of Democrats, much less a number of moderate Republicans. And both [groups] have called for the inclusion of a Dreamer fix in the budget.”

Even though Trump was propelled into office partly on his hardline stance on immigration, Noorani said the president could be the first leader in decades to move the needle on the issue.

“Trump has an opportunity to do something that neither Obama or [George W.] Bush could do, and that’s pass legislation that addresses some part of the immigration system in a constructive way” he said. “That opportunity is still there.”

Noorani agreed the clock is ticking, though. The National Immigration Forum said earlier this month that any legislation passed through Congress would take about seven months to implement; the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services and other federal agencies would need time to craft rules, conduct background checks and vet potential applicants. That means that after March 5 — the date Trump has said the deferred action program will end — nearly 1,000 Dreamers will lose their protection from deportation every day until a new program is in place.

“There’s an assumption on the part of policymakers that they pass a law and all of a sudden, by magic, the program is implemented,” Noorani said.

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said Tuesday that whatever the timeline is, any proposal set forth should include border security measures. He also praised Trump for tasking lawmakers with coming up with a fix instead of doing it on his own, and said he had personally told U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., he was ready to negotiate. Durbin is the author of the DREAM Act, a measure he’s championed since 2001 that would provide legal residency and an eventual path to citizenship for undocumented youth.

“We could do it before the end of the year, we could do it after the first of the year. We know that March is an important timeframe when the benefits of the DACA begin to go away, and so I think there’s a great opportunity for us,” Cornyn said. “I think it deserves its own consideration together with some enforcement and border security measures and I think that’s a good solution to the problem.”

But Garcia fears waiting until next year means more undocumented immigrants will wear a target on their backs.

“When a Dreamer is with no status they are not only in limbo but they are going to be subject to deportation,” he said. “The worst thing is that the federal government has their names and contact information. So we don’t trust the administration.”

Claire Allbright contributed to this report from Washington, D.C.

Read related Tribune coverage:

  • Non-starter. Dead on arrival. That’s how Democrats and Dreamers are describing a list of immigration policies the White House released. [Full story]
  • U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, D-McAllen, has asked the Trump administration to clarify whether beneficiaries of an Obama-era immigration program should expect to be detained by Border Patrol officials even if they have current permits. [Full story]

Author:  JULIÁN AGUILAR – The Texas Tribune

Appeals Court Allows More of Texas “Sanctuary Cities” Law to go Into Effect

A panel of three appellate judges ruled on Monday that parts of the state’s immigration enforcement legislation, Senate Bill 4, can go into effect while the case plays out on appeal.

Last month, U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia halted the part of the bill that requires jail officials to honor all detainers. He also blocked other sections that prohibit local entities from pursuing “a pattern or practice that ‘materially limits’ the enforcement of immigration laws” and another that prohibits “assisting or cooperating” with federal immigration officers as reasonable or necessary.

While a hearing on the state’s appeal of that ruling is scheduled for Nov. 6, a panel of U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals judges ruled Monday that the detainer provision can stand for now. The panel ruled, however, that based on its interpretation of the law, the part that requires local jails to “comply with, honor and fulfill” detainers does not require detention based on every detainer issued.

“The ‘comply with, honor, and fulfill’ requirement does not require detention pursuant to every ICE detainer request,” the panel wrote. “Rather, the ‘comply with, honor, and fulfill’ provision mandates that local agencies cooperate according to existing ICE detainer practice and law.” The court also ruled that jails do not need to comply if a person under a detainer request provides proof of lawful presence.

The appellate court also ruled that local and college police officers with “authority that may impact immigration” cannot be prevented from assisting federal immigration officers. It said the state was likely to win those arguments during a subsequent hearing and argued the issue has already been settled in an earlier U.S. Supreme Court decision, Arizona v. United States.

But the 5th Circuit also said that portions of the measure that prevent “materially limiting” cooperation with immigration officials were too vague. The court held that the word “limit” could be too broadly interpreted and left a decision on that up to the subsequent panel.

The court offered a mixed ruling on another controversial item in the bill, a section of the law that prevents local governments from “adopting, enforcing or endorsing” policies that specifically prohibit or limit enforcement of immigration laws. The judges kept that injunction in place, but said it only applies to the word “endorse.” The bill, as passed and signed, would have made elected and appointed officials subject to a fine, jail time and possible removal from office for violating all or parts of the legislation. Opponents keyed in on the “endorsement” provision as something that would open up most officials to possible fines and jail time.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton praised the decision and said his office was confident the entire bill would subsequently be found constitutional.

“We are pleased today’s 5th Circuit ruling will allow Texas to strengthen public safety by implementing the key components of Senate Bill 4,” Paxton said in a statement. “Enforcing immigration law helps prevent dangerous criminals from being released into Texas communities.”

Democrats said the state was using delay tactics that would disenfranchise Texas’ minorities.

“Texans cannot wait nor afford another round of years-long litigation while this law tears families apart and sows distrust of and confusion among our law enforcement agencies,” said state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin. “If the court allows the state’s delay tactics to succeed, it will further normalize Texas Republicans’ dysfunctional one-party rule and condemn Texas Latinos to living under a cloud of uncertainty and fear.”

Read related Tribune coverage:

  • Here’s everything you need to know about Senate Bill 4, a controversial immigration enforcement measure banning “sanctuary cities” across Texas. [Full story]

Author:  JULIÁN AGUILAR – The Texas Tribune

Trump Ending Immigration Program that has Impacted more than 120,000 in Texas

The Trump Administration made it official Tuesday: It will end an Obama-era program that has granted relief from deportation to hundreds of thousands of young undocumented immigrants.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions made the announcement that the administration will phase out the initiative — the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — or DACA — program — over six months.

Started in 2012, the program has awarded more than 800,000 recipients — including more than 120,000 Texans — a renewable, two-year work permit and a reprieve from deportation proceedings. It applies to undocumented immigrants who came to the country before they were 16 years old and were 30 or younger as of June 2012.

During a conference call Tuesday morning with reporters, James McCament , the acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, said that any initial requests or requests for DACA renewals and accompanying work permits that had already been received before Tuesday would be “adjudicated on a case-by-case” basis.”

He added that any DACA recipient whose benefits will expire before March 5 will be allowed to apply for a renewal by Oct. 5.

In a statement released before Sessions’ announcement, Acting Department of Homeland Secretary Elaine Duke said the agency would no longer accept new applications and added the administration’s action was intended to prompt Congress to pass an immigration solution.

“With the measures the Department is putting in place today, no current beneficiaries will be impacted before March 5, 2018, nearly six months from now, so Congress can have time to deliver on appropriate legislative solutions,” she said. “However, I want to be clear that no new initial requests or associated applications filed after today will be acted on.”

On Tuesday, Gov. Greg Abbott reiterated that he’s always believed the issue should be handled by Congress, not the president. Speaking with reporters in Austin, Abbott declined to offer any specific guidance for Congress now that lawmakers have six months to act.

“I expect Congress to address it,” Abbott said, calling it a “multifaceted challenge and issue” for legislators. “They want to tackle the issue. I think latitude needs to be given to Congress to tackle the issue.”

Asked how DACA recipients in Texas should prepare for the program’s end, Abbott said that’s up to the federal government.

Rumors had swirled since last month that President Donald Trump was leaning toward eliminating the program after he promised to do so while campaigning for president. His decision sparked immediate outrage from immigrants rights groups and their supporters.

“This spiteful executive action runs counter to what has made America and Texas great,” said Ann Beeson, the executive director of the left-leaning Center for Public Policy Priorities. “While the Trump Administration will use the six month delay to point the finger at Congress, make no mistake that it is the President who is dashing the hopes and dreams of young people protected by the DACA program. Ending the DACA program is contrary to Texas values and bad for the Texas economy.”

This summer, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton urged the U.S. Department of Justice to end the program, claiming it was an unlawful overreach by former President Barack Obama. Paxton and nine other state attorneys general wrote in a June 29 letter to Sessions that should the program stay intact, they would amend a 2014 lawsuit filed in Brownsville to include a challenge to DACA.

The 2014 lawsuit was filed in response to a separate Obama administration initiative, Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, that would have expanded the eligible population of the DACA program and lengthened work permits to three years. That program was never implemented after the state of Texas sued the Obama Administration and successfully convinced a district judge and an appellate court that Obama overstepped his executive authority. Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court split on the matter, upholding the appellate court’s decision.

In a statement Tuesday, Paxton applauded Trump’s announcement.

“As the Texas-led coalition explained in our June letter, the Obama-era program went far beyond the executive branch’s legitimate authority,” Paxton said. “Had former President Obama’s unilateral order on DACA been left intact, it would have set a dangerous precedent by giving the executive branch sweeping authority to bypass Congress and change immigration laws.”

The issue has prompted lawmakers from both sides of the aisle to file legislation to maintain the program in some form, including the bipartisan BRIDGE Act in the U.S. Senate that would extend protections for certain undocumented immigrants for three years. Economists have also cited DACA’s benefits to the economy as a reason it should remain intact. Even Trump has stated before that deciding to end the program would be “very, very hard.”

But immigration hardliners argue that despite the “deferred action” title, the program is nothing more than amnesty for people who have violated the country’s laws – no matter how old they were when they first entered the U.S.

Jackie Watson, an Austin-based immigration attorney who represented some of DACA’s earliest Texas-based applicants, said last month that attorneys are already discussing what, if any, legal action they could take should the program be axed — and whether rescinding it might “light a fire under Congress to make DACA a permanent statute.”

But she also said all of those options would be uphill battles. “It will be a total Hail Mary,” she said.

Disclosure: The Center for Public Policy Priorities has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

Read related Tribune coverage:

  • Protesters were arrested near the state Capitol on Wednesday in a demonstration designed to challenge the state’s position on an Obama-era immigration program and test Travis County’s immigration policy. [Full story]
  • Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and officials from nine other states on Thursday urged the Trump administration to end a program that’s allowed hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants to work in the country without fear of being deported. [Full story]

Author: JULIÁN AGUILAR – The Texas Tribune

Judge Temporarily Blocks Immigration Enforcement Law

A federal district judge on Wednesday ruled against the state of Texas and halted major provisions of a controversial state-based immigration enforcement law just days before it was scheduled to go into effect.

U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia granted a preliminary injunction of Senate Bill 4, one of Gov. Greg Abbott’s key legislative priorities that seeks to outlaw “sanctuary” entities, the common term for governments that don’t enforce federal immigration laws.

As passed, SB 4 allows local law enforcement officers to question the immigration status of people they detain or arrest and seeks to punish local government department heads and elected officials who don’t cooperate with federal immigration “detainers” — requests by agents to turn over immigrants subject to possible deportation. Punishment could come in the form of jail time and penalties that exceed $25,000.

Garcia halted the part of the bill that required jail officials to honor all detainers, and another that prohibits “a pattern or practice that ‘materially limits’ the enforcement of immigration laws.”

The detainer provision, he said, would violate the Fourth Amendment

Garcia did let stand one of the most controversial portions of the law — allowing police officers to question the immigration status of people they detain.

Because the inquiry into status isn’t a prolonged detention, he said, it wasn’t enjoined. But he explained that officers who make the inquiry are limited in what they can do with the information.

“If during a lawful detention or arrest an officer obtains information that a detained or arrested individual is undocumented he may not arrest the individual on this basis,” he said, adding that the officer is not required to ask the question. But he said if the officer feels like they should, they can only share the information.

“In sum, SB 4 gives local officers discretion to inquire and share information, but it does not provide them with discretion to act upon the information that they may obtain,” he wrote in a footnote to his 94-page ruling.

The bill was scheduled to go into effect Sept. 1, but opponents of the legislation, including the cities of Houston, Austin, San Antonio and El Cenizo, as well as Maverick and El Paso counties and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, argued the bill violates several provisions of the Constitution. Garcia’s decision means the bill is on hold until that issue is decided or until the preliminary injunction is appealed.

His decision is a temporary but significant blow to Abbott and other Republican backers of the bill who said it would help keep Texans safe from undocumented immigrants that have been arrested on criminal charges but released from custody by sheriffs or other elected officials who refuse to hold the alleged criminals for possible deportation.

Abbott on Wednesday night promised an immediate appeal.

“Today’s decision makes Texas’ communities less safe,” he said in a statement. “Because of this ruling, gang members and dangerous criminals, like those who have been released by the Travis County Sheriff, will be set free to prey upon our communities. U.S. Supreme Court precedent for laws similar to Texas’ law are firmly on our side. This decision will be appealed immediately and I am confident Texas’ law will be found constitutional and ultimately be upheld.”

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton added: “Texas has the sovereign authority and responsibility to protect the safety and welfare of its citizens. We’re confident SB 4 will ultimately be upheld as constitutional and lawful.”

In his ruling, Garcia also noted the injunction would serve the public and cited the overwhelming opposition to the bill during public testimony at the Capitol.

“The public interest in protecting constitutional rights, maintaining trust in local law enforcement and avoiding the heavy burdens that SB4 imposes on local entities will be served by enjoining these portions of SB4,” he said.

In another footnote, Garcia said that placing the law on hold would also benefit the state due to the sheer number of subsequent lawsuits that would likely follow if the legislation stood.

“If SB4 is implemented the state will begin spending public funds to enforce SB4 against local entities that will also spend public funds to defend themselves,” he said. “Both state and local entities will also need to expend public funds to defend against spin off litigation.”

Opponents of the law cheered the injunction.

“The court was right to strike down virtually all of this patently unconstitutional law. Senate Bill 4 would have led to rampant discrimination and made communities less safe,” said Terri Burke, the executive director of the ACLU of Texas. “That’s why police chiefs and mayors themselves were among its harshest critics — they recognized it would harm, not help, their communities.”

Read related Tribune coverage:

  • A federal judge on Wednesday dismissed the state of Texas’ lawsuit against Travis County and other defendants over the state’s new immigration enforcement law. [Full story]
  • Monday was the first day of what could be a lengthy legal battle over Senate Bill 4, which has been billed as the toughest state-based immigration bill in the country. [Full story]

Author:  JULIÁN AGUILAR – The Texas Tribune

State Senator Rodriguez Statement on Court Ruling that Blocks S.B. 4

Austin – Sen. José Rodríguez, Chairman of the Senate Democratic Caucus, released the following statement regarding the preliminary injunction granted by the federal court in the Western District of Texas finding that provisions of S.B. 4 are preempted by federal law and unconstitutional:

Senate Bill 4, also referred to as the “show me your papers” bill, the racial profiling Bill, and the sanctuary cities bill, is a signal to law enforcement throughout Texas that it is okay to ignore the orders and policies of your local police chiefs and Sheriffs and profile folks by asking anyone they detain if they have immigration papers. 

This bill not only undermines public safety, it raises serious constitutional and legal questions that I and my colleagues brought up during the numerous debates leading to the enactment of S.B. 4. Thankfully, today a federal judge found that Texas violated the U.S. Constitution — the latest in a long line of legislation aimed at minorities — and enjoined all provisions of S.B. 4 from going into effect on Friday.

This is only the first step to stopping this harmful, immoral, and illegal legislation. Law enforcement, civil rights leaders, students, municipal and county leaders, and residents will continue the fight until all the harmful provisions are fully repealed.   

Hurd Introduces 21st Century SMART Wall Legislation

Thursday, U.S. Representative Will Hurd (R-TX) introduced the Secure Miles with All Resources and Technology (SMART) Act with Representatives Henry Cuellar (D-TX), David G. Valadao (R-CA), Steve Knight (R-CA), Steve Pearce (R-NM), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), and Keith Rothfus (R-PA) to ensure that the United States implements the most effective and fiscally-responsible strategy to achieve operational control of our southern border.

“Violent drug cartels are using more modern technology to breach our border than what we are using to secure it. We can’t double down on a Third Century approach to solve 21st Century problems if we want a viable long-term solution,” said Hurd, who represents over 800 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border, more than any other Member of Congress.

“We need a Smart Wall that uses high-tech resources like sensors, radar, LIDAR, fiber optics, drones and cameras to detect and then track incursions across our border so we can deploy efficiently our most important resource, the men and women of Border Patrol to perform the most difficult task — interdiction. With a Smart Wall, we can have a more secure border at a fraction of the cost – that can be implemented and fully operational within a year. It’s time to harness American innovation on this most important National Security challenge and I look forward to working with my colleagues to make this a reality.”

Under the SMART ACT, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) would be mandated to deploy the most practical and effective border security technologies available to achieve situational awareness and operational control of our border.

The Secretary would also be required to submit a comprehensive border security strategy to Congress that lists all known physical barriers, technologies, tools, and other devices that can be utilized along the southern border, including a detailed accounting of the aforementioned measures selected for each linear mile of the border and a cost justification for each such measure.

Additionally, the SMART Act authorizes $110 million to increase coordination and collaboration between Customs and Border Patrol and State, county, tribal, and other governmental law enforcement entities that support border security operations.

Lastly, in response to the dire need to upgrade communication technology along the border, the bill creates a two-year grant program to improve emergency communications in the southern border region, including multi-band radios and upgrades from outdated or poorly functioning communication networks.

The National Border Patrol Council (NBPC), the exclusive representative of approximately 18,000 Border Patrol Agents supports the SMART Act. President of NBPC Brandon Judd stated, “To secure the border and keep America, we need technology, infrastructure, and manpower.” He added, “The Secure Miles with All Resources and Technology Act will help our agents counter the sophisticated international drug cartels that poison our communities with meth, heroin, and other dangerous drugs. We thank Representative Hurd for his leadership on this issue and encourage Congress to pass this important piece legislation without delay.”

“This bill provides a pragmatic approach to secure our borders,” said Congressman Henry Cuellar (TX-28). “It calls on DHS to deploy the most effective security technology – such as sensors, aerostats, and cameras – and rather than building walls to meet campaign promises, it takes a measured approach by directing DHS, in conjunction with state and local agencies, to conduct a comprehensive study and analysis of the different tools and solutions available to provide security on our borders. I live on the border and know personally the needs of our U.S. Border Patrol and our Homeland Security agents. A giant wall is nothing more than a 14th Century solution to a 21st Century problem. Further, this bill calls on DHS to take a greater role in controlling the invasive Carrizo cane along our river which presents a huge security risk for our border agents, as well as presenting grave environmental impacts. I thank my colleagues for working with me on these issues.”

“Enhanced border security is an issue fundamental to our national security. We need to know who, and what, is coming across our border. Improving border security is vital to preventing drugs, diseased crops, and weapons from being smuggled into the United States illegally. It is also essential in keeping known criminals and suspected terrorists from entering the United States. The SMART Act will ensure we utilize the most innovated technology to secure and protect our nation,” said Congressman David G. Valadao (CA-21).

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