President Trump on Thursday backed down from his threat to close the southern border immediately, telling reporters at the White House that he is giving Mexico a “one-year warning” before taking action.
Trump had said he would close the border or at least large sections of it, this week if Mexico does not halt illegal immigration into the United States.
But in Thursday’s exchange with reporters, Trump shifted gears, saying that if Mexico does not make progress on stemming the flow of drugs and migrants into the United States within the next year, he will impose tariffs on cars and close the border.
“We’re going to give them a one-year warning, and if the drugs don’t stop or largely stop, we’re going to put tariffs on Mexico and products, particularly cars . . . And if that doesn’t stop the drugs, we close the border,” Trump said.
A federal judge temporarily blocked the Trump administration from denying asylum to migrants who illegally cross the southern border into the United States, saying the policy likely violated federal law on asylum eligibility.
In a ruling late Monday, Jon S. Tigar of the U.S. District Court in San Francisco issued a temporary nationwide restraining order barring enforcement of the policy. President Donald Trump’s action was announced on Nov. 9, though the White House had as early as last month floated drastic changes to the way the United States affords sanctuary to people fleeing persecution in their home countries.
The judge’s order remains in effect until Dec. 19, at which point the court will consider arguments for a permanent order. The administration offered no immediate comment overnight but has routinely appealed adverse decisions.
The president’s decree, now blocked, came just after the midterm election campaign, in which Trump made immigration and national security the GOP’s closing argument. He and his allies spread fear about the “Caravan heading to the Southern Border,” which, as he asserted without evidence in one pre-election tweet, included “criminals and unknown Middle Easterners.” In another, he warned of “some very bad thugs and gang members.” Labeling the movements of Central American migrants a “national emergency,” Trump last month deployed active-duty troops to the border.
But the federal judge said the president could not shift asylum policy on his own.
“Whatever the scope of the President’s authority, he may not rewrite the immigration laws to impose a condition that Congress has expressly forbidden,” wrote the judge, nominated to the federal bench in 2012 by President Barack Obama. He reasoned that the “failure to comply with entry requirements such as arriving at a designated port of entry should bear little, if any, weight in the asylum process.”
The ruling was the latest in a string of court decisions blocking the administration’s hard-line immigration policies, including its efforts to crack down on so-called sanctuary cities and to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that affords legal protections for hundreds of thousands of young undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children. The net effect, barring Supreme Court reversals, has been to substantially weaken the hand of presidents in an area where their authority has in the past been expansive.
Still, the administration has not been without victories. In June, the Supreme Court, by a 5-to-4 vote, upheld a revised version of the travel ban that aimed to keep foreigners from several Muslim-majority nations from entering the country.
The asylum case was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union and other advocacy groups on behalf of East Bay Sanctuary Covenant. The order reflects the judge’s view that the plaintiffs are likely to succeed on the merits, and would suffer irreparable injury from the executive action.
The rule pursued by the Trump administration would allow only people who cross at legal checkpoints on the southern border to request asylum, while those entering elsewhere would be able to seek a temporary form of protection that is harder to win and doesn’t yield full citizenship. The changes would amount to a transformation of long-established asylum procedures, codified both at the international level and by Congress.
In his proclamation, Trump said the changes were necessary to prepare for the caravan’s arrival, arguing that asylum seekers had no “lawful basis for admission into our country.” In justifying the policy, the administration relied on the same emergency authority invoked as grounds for the “travel ban.”
In a hearing Monday, Scott Stewart, a lawyer for the Justice Department, spoke of a “crushing strain” of migrants attempting to cross the border illegally. He alleged that most asylum claims were “ultimately meritless.”
But the judge seemed skeptical, observing that border apprehensions are near historic lows and that, regardless, federal law says all people on U.S. soil can apply for asylum, no matter how they arrived.
“If this rule stays in effect, people are going to die,” Melissa Crow, senior supervising attorney with the Southern Poverty Law Center, said after the hearing. “There are going to be people who fall through the cracks in our system.”
Tigar voiced concern for the fate of asylum seekers under the changes. The administration’s rule, he observed, would force individuals “to choose between violence at the border, violence at home, or giving up a pathway to refugee status.”
And in his decision, he wrote that the government’s argument that the manner of entry can be the lone factor rendering a migrant ineligible for asylum “strains credulity.”
“To say that one may apply for something that one has no right to receive is to render the right to apply a dead letter,” he argued. “There simply is no reasonable way to harmonize the two.”
The judge pointedly denied the claim that the president, by fiat, could give the manner of entry added legal weight as a determinant of asylum. He reasoned that the “interpretive guide” of United Nations compacts on asylum lent extra force to congressional requirements. The intent of Congress, Tigar wrote, was “unambiguous.”
“And if what Defendants intend to say is that the President by proclamation can override Congress’s clearly expressed legislative intent, simply because a statute conflicts with the President’s policy goals, the Court rejects that argument also,” the judge found.
Lee Gelernt, the ACLU attorney who argued the case, welcomed the ruling in a news release.
“This ban is illegal, will put people’s lives in danger, and raises the alarm about President Trump’s disregard for separation of powers,” he said. “There is no justifiable reason to flatly deny people the right to apply for asylum, and we cannot send them back to danger based on the manner of their entry. Congress has been clear on this point for decades.”
Elise Ackerman contributed to this report from San Francisco.
Authors: ISAAC STANLEY-BECKER AND MARIA SACCHETTI, THE WASHINGTON POST
The number of people who were apprehended or turned themselves in to Border Patrol agents near the U.S.-Mexico border last month dipped nearly 20 percent when compared to May, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced Thursday.
The total number of apprehensions on the southwest border was 34,114 last month, down from 40,338 in May. That figure, which includes people who were apprehended between the ports of entry, also shows a slight decrease in the number of unaccompanied minors and family units that were caught.
The decrease comes amid a firestorm over President Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy that led to the separation of thousands of immigrant children from their families. Trump’s policy directed that anyone who crossed the border between a port of entry be criminally charged. Since parents and kids can’t be kept in jail together, thousands of families were split up. Trump has since signed an executive order designed to end family separations, though many families have not yet been reunited.
In a statement, Department of Homeland Security spokesperson Tyler Q. Houlton touted the “zero tolerance” and said the government would continue to enforce current immigration laws while Congress debates a change to the current system.
“As we have said before, the journey north is dangerous and puts individuals in the hands of smugglers and traffickers,” Houlton said. “We continue to call on Congress to address the crisis at the border by closing legal loopholes that drive illegal immigration.”
The number of family units caught on the southern border dipped only slightly during the same time frame; from 9,485 to 9,449, while the number of unaccompanied children fell from to 6,388 to 5,115. The Border Patrol’s Rio Grande Valley sector in Texas remained the busiest in the country last month, with about 14,700 apprehensions occurring there last month. That figure includes 5,420 family units and 2,576 unaccompanied minors. The second busiest was Tucson with 4,146 total apprehensions. That was followed by the El Paso sector (which includes New Mexico) which registered 3,572 total apprehensions, including 1,604 family units and 839 unaccompanied minors.
Though the DHS statement said the decline last month came after the administration’s “zero tolerance” policy, figures provided by DHS show that traffic has generally declined in the summer months over the last few years. Since the 2013 federal fiscal year, only 2017 saw an increase in traffic from May to June.
And despite the drop in apprehensions over the last two months, government data shows that during the current fiscal year, from October to June, overall apprehensions of family units and unaccompanied minors increased when compared to the same time frame in during the 2017 fiscal year. From October 2016 to June 2017 about 33,000 unaccompanied minors and 63,400 family units were caught. From October 2017 thought last month, those figures were 37,450 and 68,650, respectively.
The White House’s hastily crafted executive order to end child separations spurred confusion and fights within the federal government, and second-guessing from the president who had demanded the order in the first place.
Amid continuing fallout from the Trump administration’s family separation policy, and a disjointed retreat earlier this week, senior officials met Friday to craft a plan for reuniting immigrant children with their parents or guardians, though it remained unclear how long that work will take.
The midday meeting was designed for officials to hash out exactly how they would reunite the more than 2,500 migrant children who have been separated from their parents since the practice went into effect in early May, according to officials involved in the discussions, who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to offer candid insights into internal deliberations. Roughly 500 children have already been reunited with a parent or guardian, officials have said.
The Friday meeting capped a tumultuous week in which administration officials rushed through an executive order that relieved the political pressure on President Trump but intensified friction between the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security.
By Wednesday morning, the president had become convinced that he needed a way to calm the criticism, according to people familiar with the discussions, and he felt confident that Republicans in Congress would push through immigration legislation ending the family separation practice — so he might as well get ahead of it. A vote on the measure was eventually postponed until next week, but it does not appear to have enough votes to pass.
In private conversations with aides, Trump said he wanted to sign a full immigration bill as part of an executive order, which one administration official described as “a pretty insane idea.” The president was told by government lawyers that he could not change immigration law by fiat, said a person familiar with the discussions.
Trump then demanded that an executive order be written that would end child detentions in cages, and said he wanted it on his desk for signing by that afternoon, according to people involved in the discussions.
Given hours to produce a complex legal document, government lawyers crafted one that met the moment’s political demands but only added to confusion within the agencies tasked with implementing it.
The order has quieted much, but not all, of the public anger over the family separation issue. On Friday outside the Justice Department, about 100 protesters gathered in the rain chanting “Keep Families Together!”
Even that admonition, with which the administration now agrees, has provoked fights inside the government.
Thursday, the first day of enforcing the order, was marked by confusion.
That interpretation was relayed to CBP personnel along the southern border, and dozens of people who had been apprehended and sent to federal court for processing were suddenly removed from courthouses without criminal charges being filed against them.
Within the Justice Department, which prosecutes such cases, officials believed the executive order paved the way for parents to be held with their children for as long as necessary to resolve their cases, these people said.
White House officials gave little guidance in the early hours of the order, with Trump and his coterie of senior aides in Minnesota for a rally.
After CBP officials said there would be no referrals to the Justice Department of adults with children caught crossing the border, Justice Department officials became irate because that was not how they understood the policy, according to people familiar with the matter.
In many ways, the confusion echoed one of the administration’s most chaotic moments — when Trump signed an executive order in early 2017 banning visitors from majority Muslimcountries, leading to mass protests outside U.S. airports and much confusion for travelers.
In both instances, CBP personnel were left scrambling to quickly interpret and implement how the president’s command would be applied on the ground, with contradictory instructions and public statements in the immediate aftermath coming from multiple federal agencies.
On Thursday evening, officials from Homeland Security and the Justice Department gathered at the White House to discuss the issues, and over the course of the 90-minute meeting it became clear that CBP and Justice had wildly different understandings of what they were supposed to be doing, according to people familiar with the talks.
Senior White House adviser Stephen Miller, an outspoken proponent of tougher immigration policy, was unhappy that CBP had decided to halt referrals for prosecution of parents illegally crossing the border with children, according to people familiar with the meeting. Homeland Security officials complained they had been given no guidance and had done the best they could with vague language.
Trump, for his part, has ruminated to aides that he should not have signed the order in the first place, according to people familiar with the conversations. The president seemed to be fed up with the topic Friday, as he publicly discouraged Republican lawmakers from trying to pass any new immigration laws before the midterm elections in November.
“Republicans should stop wasting their time on Immigration until after we elect more Senators and Congressmen/women in November,” Trump tweeted. “Dems are just playing games, have no intention of doing anything to solves this decades old problem. We can pass great legislation after the Red Wave!”
In the meantime, federal agencies continue to wrestle with how to deal with those families that have been detained or are likely to be detained soon.
A significant challenge for Homeland Security, in particular, is that its detention facilities are already near maximum capacity, according to officials.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) currently has three “family residential centers” where migrant families can remain in custody together, but their combined capacity is only about 3,000 beds. According to the latest ICE statistics, the three facilities are nearly full.
On Friday, ICE requested information from government contractors about expanding its family detention capacity fivefold, “to accommodate up to 15,000 beds.” Its notice said the agency is seeking market information about the cost and logistics of adding new family-appropriate facilities, preferably in states along the Mexico border.
“The housing and other structures must appear residential and child-friendly rather than penal in nature,” the notice stated. “Facilities should not incorporate characteristics on the interior or exterior typically associated with secure detention facilities, such as high security fences, razor wire fencing, or heavy steel doors.”
Trump’s order also calls on the Defense Department to find space for migrant families, leaving military officials crafting plans on the fly to set up tent camps on bases with available land.
Pentagon officials on Friday said the department was drawing up plans for housing migrants. The officials stressed that the plans were not finalized and had been drafted in case they were needed.
“At this time there has been no request from DHS for DOD support to house illegal migrants,” Lt. Col. Jamie Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, said in an email.
One draft memo prepared for the secretary of the Navy called for “temporary and austere” detention camps for up to 25,000 migrants on abandoned airfields in Alabama, according to Time, which obtained a copy of the document.
The proposal also identifies a former naval weapons station near San Francisco and another facility at Camp Pendleton in southern California, each of which could house up to 47,000 people, Time reported.
White House officials were publicly silent on the executive order Friday, not taking questions as senior government officials huddled behind the scenes. Trump appeared with families of people killed by illegal immigrants and said the media should instead focus on those separations, which he called “permanent.”
Before you dive into this one, fair warning, it’s got a couple of seemingly odd asides, and a good old movie reference, since we as Americans love to compare everything to the big screen.
Over a hundred years ago, the great American writer, humorist and speaker Mark Twain popularized a very British saying.
Twain in his Chapters from My Autobiography, wrote: “Figures often beguile me…particularly when I have the arranging of them myself…there are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”
The phrase illustrates the idea that statistics can be used to bolster weak – or untruthful – positions. It’s an interesting proposal, especially here in the ‘post-truth’ era that we find ourselves in, where any point of view can be substituted as fact and backed up by any number of statistics (or websites, or network) depending on one’s particular slant.
With that in mind, I began to think of the ‘reality’ we all share, here in the second decade of the 21st Century. A reality where where truth is fluid, where things previously proven true – without challenge – are subjected to the most outrageous interpretations, conspiracies and alternate facts; where lies, damned lies and statistics are now held on high, diminishing the truth daily.
And that’s when it struck me. The only thing that can possibly top the truth may be the most powerful tool of all. An old tool of politics, and of the mob mentality: Fear.
But not just one type, as its offspring have mutated and taken root. So let’s take a look at the three types of fear that now exist.
Fear, which one of our greatest Presidents – Franklin D Roosevelt – warned us about, is easy to understand. It’s the feeling of dread that something, or someone, may cause harm.
The monster under the bed, crowds, speaking in public; and the darker ones: loss of a job or status, loneliness, death. Each one of us knows this level of fear, even wrapped in our seemingly safe cocoon of first-world America, this is an across the board, shared feeling.
Then there’s credible fear. The phrase that’s been tossed around like a political frisbee of late. This is where there is a threat, and it isn’t the cucuy. On one level its the meth-soaked abandoned home next door, with drug-addled zombies stumbling in and out at all hours of the night. On the opposite end, it’s slums populated with roving gangs, bribed officials, daily shootouts and death – all with no arrests.
It’s a level of fear most Americans will never know- while at the same time – some fellow humans in far away places live in daily. It’s the fear that makes the headlines – from Long Island to Chicago to Los Angeles – and scares the average resident of our country, even if they’ve never been a victim. More on this in a bit.
And now there’s damned fear.
Damned fear is taking credible fear, injecting it with steroids and nitro, dusting it off, selling it to millions of Americans who’s regular fear has been gnawing at them.
In the face of the numbers that violent crime is at the lowest level in years, damned fear tells Americans that MS-13 is right down the street, sharpening their machetes and coming for you.
While research shows the clear advantages of speaking more than one language – be it French, German or Spanish – damned fear tells Americans that the other groups are discussing, plotting and most likely ridiculing them by not speaking English in this country.
And while for over 200 years, we’ve respected the rights of others to peacefully assemble and pray to the deity of their choice, damned fear confirms to those Americans that Sharia Law is now in effect in several cities and towns and will be the end of America.
Damned fear propagates the myth that America is lost, and the best way to rescue her lies in her past. A return to law and order. The way things used to be in the ‘good ol’ days.’
It also posits that America is some sort of ‘zero-sum’ game, and the arrival of any immigrants – illegal or otherwise – will somehow damage existing resident’s lives or livelihood. As if the immigrant’s quest for a safer life and security actually removes the same for the believers in the damned fear.
The damned fear directly leads to ugliness, coarseness and decidedly un-American behavior. Behavior that’s been visited upon different versions of the ‘fear-bringers’ across our history: Native Americans, Irish, LDS, Chinese, Sikh, Muslims, Italians, Japanese, Mexicans.
We’ve seen it first hand now, out in public – captured by cell phones or social media feeds. Damned fear is rolling across the country.
And about those immigrants coming here for asylum, under credible fear for their lives.
The purveyors of the damned fear – those who rail and rage that we need to get tougher on criminal immigrants – such as members of MS-13 who are roaming the streets, threatening our safety, they are the very same who deny the credible fear that leads scores of women and children to escape their countries where those gangs actually run rampant.
Worse yet, those who repeat the damned fear, revel in it and egg it on, and those who voted because of the damned fear, have now set the machinery of government in motion.
Like a ponderous boulder pushed off a ledge, the actions of the government are now picking up speed; and like a boulder are crushing lives and sending people scurrying for safety. All the while, those who set it in motion gleefully peer over the edge, yelling “good riddance and you deserve what’s coming to you!” The damned fear, lording over the credible fear.
There’s a scene in Steven Speilberg’s much-overlooked movie from 2001 – A.I. It’s a film he completed after his friend – and movie legend in his own right – Stanley Kubrick passed away.
In my viewing of Kubrick’s films, it seems that he had this idea that man, either in space or in an authoritarian future, was this creature who lived in and among various stages of fear, and reacted accordingly.
From A Clockwork Orange, to 2001, to Full Metal Jacket and The Shining, fear and credible fear are the uncredited stars of the films.
But in A.I., a story of a machine-boy built to fill the void left when a family must place their son in stasis until his disease can be cured, Kubrick/Speilberg tapped into this damned fear.
Set in an America where global warming has submerged scores of cities, where wealth can buy a permanent respite from the troubles of the world, and where androids now handle most jobs, leaving regular citizens lost between poverty and escapism.
The family, well-off, but not wealthy by any means decides that the boy is the most logical replacement for their quazi-dead son. And they activate his bonding program, basically allowing the boy to love his new parents unconditionally. That is, until a cure for the stasis-set real son is found and used.
Now the family, freed from the credible fear of their son’s death, has to deal with the damned fear of what to do with this robot that loves them unconditionally, but will never age. The son turns on the robot, begins torturing it, prodding it, making it look like the robot wants to do harm to the family.
In a final, desperate scene, the mother drives out to the country and dumps the robot boy the wilderness, like a pet that’s been outgrown. He can’t fathom why the person and family he loved so much would now want him gone.
He quickly falls in with another outcast android, an escaped gigolo, who is running not only from his past, but groups of hunters who seek retribution on all androids. Hunters who have been told, just like the population of the movie America, that all their ills were visited upon them by these robots.
Loss of status, loss of jobs, loss of their way of life. And the androids must be punished for it all to go away, to feel better and to rid the land of them so that real people can again take their rightful place in America. All the while, they partake of the android’s benefits both social and carnal.
The damned lie.
Common Americans, taking out their frustrations on their one-time assistants, waiters, janitors, and even doctors with glee. Degrading comments and jeers served with hooting and hollering in unison. All the time, ignoring the real crumbling going on around them.
But at least they felt good about ridding the country of their ‘problems.’
It was a difficult movie for me to watch, and by the time they reach the point where the androids are ‘punished’ in a country-fair-meets-monster-truck-rally-meets-lynching (only halfway through the movie, by the way) it’s nearly unbearable. A disturbing scene to watch unfold.
One I thought ‘can’t happen here.’
Then 9/11. Then the Wars. Then Homeland Security. And now, ICE raids in neighborhoods and businesses. Agents stalking courthouses and front lawns after church. Texas DPS Agents sharing Traffic Stop information with Immigration officials. Customs agents turning away asylum seekers at the bridge. “We’re full…”
All the while believers of the damned lie, common Americans, taking out their frustrations; degrading comments and jeers served with hooting and hollering in unison…either in person or via their on-line personas.
It’s for the good of America. The Damned Lie.
Now we have tent camps going up on military bases and near ports of entry to house the children we’ve removed from those seeking a better life; abandoned Walmarts converted into ‘holding areas’ with chain-link fences; flat screens with Spongebob playing above their heads.
Do not give us your tired, your poor, or your huddled masses. They will be turned back, families ripped asunder and shipped back to their teeming shore. They are now ‘our’ credible fear – the ones responsible for our situation. Our damned fear.
It speaks volumes that a mother and her child, or father and his family would need to make a journey of thousands of miles to escape a life that most Americans can hardly fathom. That their first action to get to a better place would have to break a law and risk everything.
It speaks volumes that this administration has chosen to flout, and pick and choose the laws that they so vehemently wrap themselves in at every chance, for the good of the republic.
This country now finds itself at a very dangerous point. Damned fear reigns, and true believers applaud. Credible fear is ignored or perverted to make a political point. And sides are being chosen – either by free will or by the push of the crowd.
Man is a very dangerous creature when pushed by fear. Decisions made under that duress rarely turn out for the good of anyone.
It’s time to stand up to the fear. To remove the tarnish that covers our golden door and relight the torch. Not just for the good of those immigrants we’re abusing, but for the good of the abusers who are ‘following orders,’ their cheerleaders, and our children as well.
Democratic gubernatorial nominee Lupe Valdez, fresh off securing her party’s nomination in a runoff a week ago, is wasting little time tying the Republican incumbent, Greg Abbott, to President Donald Trump.
“He’s basically a puppet for the president,” Valdez, the former Dallas County sheriff, said in an interview Sunday, arguing Abbott is “trying to find favor” with Trump, particularly on issues related to the border. “He’s just following in Trump’s footsteps, and we’re strongly gonna go against that.”
Abbott, who is seeking a second term, has generally aligned himself with Trump on border policy, most recently heeding the president’s call to send hundreds of new National Guard troops to the area. Trump has repeatedly expressed his support for Abbott’s re-election bid, including last month during the National Rifle Association’s annual meeting in Dallas.
Still, Abbott has sought some distance from Trump in his re-election bid, particularly in his efforts to grow the 44 percent of the Hispanic vote he won in 2014. Last year, Abbott said he was confident Hispanic voters in Texas would see him and Trump as “completely independent” and warned Democrats that any money spent connecting him to Trump would be “like setting that money on fire and incinerating it.”
Like many Democrats, Valdez expressed deep skepticism that Abbott would get as large a share of the Hispanic vote in November, pointing to both Trump and arguably Abbott’s biggest legislative achievement in office: the state’s “sanctuary cities” ban, Senate Bill 4, which seeks to punish local officials who do not fully cooperate with federal immigration authorities.
“Look, he made some very good comments when he was running for office, but look what he did when he was in office,” Valdez said when asked about Abbott’s Hispanic outreach, citing SB 4. Democrats, she added, need to “get that message out and tell the folks that he talks a good game, but when it comes to action, he doesn’t do it.”
Valdez made the comments in an interview Sunday, five days after she captured her party’s nod for governor in a closer-than-expected runoff against Andrew White, the son of late Gov. Mark White. Before she even took the stage to accept the nomination, Abbott’s campaign released a video recounting how she said during the primary she would be open to raising taxes as governor but then backtracked on it the same day.
In the interview Sunday, Valdez did not rule out increasing taxes if elected.
“I don’t want to do anything that’ll hurt the working everyday Texan, and I’m certainly against” a state income tax, she said. Asked whether that meant she was specifically considering tax increases for wealthy Texans, she said she planned to review the tax code for loopholes and make sure everybody “pay their fair share.”
In addition to tying Abbott to Trump, Valdez was critical of the governor’s response to the Santa Fe High School shooting, which happened four days before the runoff and left 10 people dead. Abbott convened three school safety roundtables last week at the Capitol, and he tweeted Friday night he will “soon announce many substantive details that can be implemented before the next school year begins.”
“That’s good, but that’s not good enough,” Valdez said of Abbott’s roundtables, arguing the discussion should be much broader than school safety and include new gun regulations such as universal background checks.
Second Amendment rights have already flared up as an issue in the U.S. Senate race, where Republican incumbent Ted Cruz has pounced on Democratic challenger U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke‘s support for an assault weapons ban to paint him as a too liberal for gun-loving Texas. In the interview, Valdez stopped short of voicing support for the same ban but criticized assault weapons as “weapons of war” — “Who are you trying to go to war against?” she asked rhetorically — and said they do not have a place in “regular, everyday sports activities.”
In the interview, Valdez did not express any concern about wooing Republicans in the general election, voicing confidence that the issues she is emphasizing — health care and public education, for example — “go across both parties.” Even Republicans “who voted for Abbott are still having to struggle like many of the Democrats,” Valdez added.
Valdez’s campaign included a few high-profile setbacks in the primary, and she was followed for weeks by the question of whether she would debate White, which they ultimately did 11 days before the runoff. As for whether she is willing to spar with her November opponent, Valdez said she is game.
“Sure,” she said. “I don’t have any problem with debates. I’ve said from the very beginning, I don’t have any problem with that. I’ll debate him anytime.”
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.
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 predictingthe deployment wouldbe a waste of money and calling it nothing more than a reaction to Congress failing to fullyfund 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.’”
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.
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.”
WASHINGTON – The U.S. House Intelligence Committee released a highly controversial memo involving the FBI’s surveillance methods of the Trump campaignFriday 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.
“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.
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.
“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.
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]
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.
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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]
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]
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.
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 apparentsuccess.
“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]