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Home | Tag Archives: trump’s border

Tag Archives: trump’s border

Trump administration testing rapid asylum review, deportation process in Texas

The Trump administration has begun testing a secretive program here that aims to speed up the deportation of asylum-seeking migrants after they cross the U.S.-Mexico border.

The pilot program — known as Prompt Asylum Claim Review — streamlines the asylum process so that migrants who are seeking safe refuge in the United States will receive a decision in 10 days or less, rather than the months or years it currently takes, according to Customs and Border Protection officials. The reviews are largely to determine if Central American migrants can be sent back to their homelands.

The accelerated reviews seek to accomplish two Trump administration goals: deterring migrants from attempting to cross the U.S. border and pushing asylum seekers out of the United States. El Paso is the only place where the administration is testing the program, which started this month, according to U.S. officials.

Migrants apprehended in the El Paso area are taken to a 1,500-bed, soft-sided Border Patrol facility that opened in August and remains largely empty because the number of migrants taken into custody has plunged in recent months. They are given one day after arriving to call family or a lawyer, and then they have an interview with an asylum officer to determine whether they have a credible fear of persecution if returned to their home country, according to a CBP official who described the program on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak about it publicly.

Immigration lawyers and the American Civil Liberties Union said the administration’s pilot denies asylum seekers due process and highlights the limited role lawyers can play; lawyers are not allowed to meet with their clients in Border Patrol stations and are limited to brief conversations by phone.

Officials with the Department of Homeland Security did not respond to questions about the program. Kathryn Mattingly, a spokeswoman for the Executive Office of Immigration Review, which oversees the immigration court system, said the rights of migrants are respected.

“EOIR remains committed to ensuring that all who come before its courts will receive due process and a timely, fair adjudication, the outcome of which is based on the law,” Mattingly said.

New Trump administration policies make it difficult, if not impossible, for non-Mexican migrants to pass a credible-fear interview if they did not seek asylum in the first country they passed through after leaving their homeland. If an asylum officer finds migrants cannot meet the credible-fear standard, the migrants can ask to appear before an immigration judge via videoconferencing. The migrants are then processed for deportation or moved into the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, depending on the interview finding and the judge’s ruling, according to immigration officials.

Immigration judges from New Mexico are reviewing the credible-fear findings via video hearings with migrants in the El Paso project, Mattingly said.

She said that while attorneys can be present at judicial review of fear findings, the law precludes them from representing their clients at the hearing.

In 2017, the Trump administration used El Paso as a pilot test for its controversial “zero tolerance” policy, which required prosecution of everyone arrested for entering the country illegally and separated children from arrested parents. The administration implemented that policy borderwide in spring 2018 but quickly abandoned it under heavy criticism.

A new rule implemented in July generally requires migrants to seek asylum in the first safe country they enter, part of an effort to reduce historically high migration flows. A California federal judge quickly blocked the rule from taking effect, but the U.S. Supreme Court last month ruled that the asylum limits could remain in place while federal courts weigh their legality.

Two sisters from Central America are among the first migrants to face expedited removal in the El Paso pilot test, according to their attorney, Mayra Rodriguez-Alvarez of Hammond, Indiana. She asked that her clients not be identified because they fled gang members in their home country who were extorting them.

The sisters crossed the border in El Paso on Oct. 8, surrendered to Border Patrol agents and asked for asylum, Rodriguez-Alvarez said. Each had an infant child, and one was accompanied by her husband.

They had notified the attorney of their plans before leaving their home country and signed forms authorizing Rodriguez-Alvarez to represent them.

The sisters called family members shortly after being taken into custody, but Rodriguez-Alvarez said she couldn’t find out where they were being held until last week. Family members said the sisters repeatedly asked Border Patrol agents to call the attorney, but Rodriguez-Alvarez said she never heard from them.

The second sister decided to abandon her asylum claim because her child has become ill in Border Patrol custody, Rodriguez-Alvarez said. She is still being held in El Paso.

“As an attorney, you’re supposed to be able to help these people, and you can’t,” she said. “It’s very horrible. It’s very terrifying.”

Taylor Levy, an El Paso immigration lawyer, tried to help Rodriguez-Alvarez’s clients. She went to El Paso Border Patrol Station 1 on Monday, where agents told her that they were conducting a new program and could not provide much guidance.

Author: ROBERT MOORE, THE WASHINGTON POST

Moore is a freelance journalist based in El Paso.

In El Paso court, migrants no longer get legal advocates or pre-hearing briefings on their rights

After being detained in a U.S. Border Patrol processing facility for more than seven weeks, a young Central American woman was finally able to tell immigration Judge Nathan Herbert the most harrowing part of her journey to the United States.

“I was separated from my daughter. I need to be with her,” the woman, who had requested asylum, told Herbert. “I’ve never been [apart] from her.”

Later, another female asylum seeker asked Herbert if she’d be sent back to Mexico the way several thousand others have been under a program called the Migration Protection Protocols.

Herbert had the same response for both women: “That decision is not mine to make.”

More than three months after the MPP program was expanded to include the El Paso-Ciudad Juárez border, confusion about the program still dominates the proceedings in federal immigration court. And attorneys and advocates said the confusion has become worse this week after the government ended the main tools it had used to help migrants navigate a complex judicial system.

In late June, the U.S. Justice Department stopped allowing attorneys or immigrant rights groups to give “know your rights” briefings to asylum seekers before their initial court hearings. The short seminars included overviews of the asylum and removal processes, as well as other topics, like the MPP program.

Then, earlier this week, the department stopped allowing advocates known as “friends of the court” to assist the judge and the asylum seekers during the hearings, immigration attorney Taylor Levy told The Texas Tribune on Monday. Lawyers say the friend of the court program was essential in helping asylum seekers who hadn’t found or couldn’t afford legal representation to understand the asylum process better.

Friends of the court can be lawyers or other people; they are authorized to do things like explain court procedures, help translate for migrants who don’t speak English and relay relevant information to the judge.

Levy, who represents one of the migrants in her family separation case but not in her asylum proceedings, said the move makes the MPP program more confrontational.

“It really feels like MPP couldn’t get much worse, but that’s what is happening,” she said.

On Monday, Mike Breen, the president of Human Rights First — an independent, nonprofit advocacy group — was in the courtroom as an observer and said the chaos was apparent.

“It’s pretty clear that these folks have not been advised of their rights,” he said. “The confusion in the courtroom is palpable. I think the fear in the courtroom is equally palpable.”

Levy and other observers have said Herbert, who was appointed to the bench less than a year ago, is fair and doing his best under the circumstances as the backlog of cases keeps growing and he is forced to walk migrants through the process now that friends of the court are banned.

“The resources that have been devoted to the adjudication system have been cut steadily, so there is a huge backlog of people waiting for their day in court,” Breen said.

Through May, more than 908,500 cases are pending in the country’s immigration courts, including more than 132,200 in Texas, which has the second-highest backlog in the country, after California’s 161,281.

Officials at El Paso’s immigration court referred questions about the changes to the Justice Department’s Executive Office for Immigration Review. A spokesperson said the office would be unable to meet the Tribune’s deadline for comment.

Levy said she was told by El Paso court personnel that the friend of the court program was discontinued because of ongoing litigation surrounding the MPP. A federal judge in California temporarily blocked the program April 8, but a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals later put that order on hold while the case plays out.

“We were told we are third parties and are not allowed to serve as friends of court because we’re a third party,” Levy said.

The government’s reasoning for eliminating the know your rights briefings, Levy added, was that asylum seekers are technically in federal detention, and only their attorneys are allowed to speak with them while they are in custody.

She said halting the briefings could violate the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees people access to counsel and knowledge of the charges against them, among other things. Levy said under normal circumstances, she’d be allowed to talk to a person in custody to determine her ability to help with a case.

“I can go to any of the jails or detention centers in the country [now], and I can get in and talk to potential clients,” she said.

But Levy said she was told that if attorneys want to interview asylum seekers to see whom they might want to represent, they have to do it in Mexico.

Author: JULIÁN AGUILAR – The Texas Tribune

Read related Tribune coverage

Border apprehensions dropped in June, but federal officials say crisis continues

The number of people who were apprehended by or surrendered to federal immigration officials on the U.S.-Mexico border dipped by nearly 30% last month, the Department of Homeland Security announced Tuesday.

In June, about 104,350 people were apprehended or turned themselves in, compared with about 144,300 in May — a decrease of 28%. That decrease outpaced last year’s May-to-June drop by 11%, officials said. But the agency also warned that the one-month change does not signal that the ongoing surge of asylum seekers, including unaccompanied minors and family units, is over.

“We are still in an ongoing border security and humanitarian crisis. U.S. Border Patrol made 688,375 apprehensions through the end of June, 140% higher than through this time last year. And our June apprehension numbers are still higher than last year’s, when we were already in a crisis,” the DHS press office said in a news release.

Officials credited the decline to several factors, including the recently implemented Migration Protection Protocols, which requires that some asylum seekers be sent back to Mexico while they wait for their immigration proceedings in American courts.

The program began on the California-Mexico border in January before expanding to El Paso-Ciudad Juárez in March. As of last week, more than 7,600 people had been returned to Ciudad Juárez, according to Chihuahua state officials. The Trump administration announced Tuesday that the MPP is now in place on the Laredo-Nuevo Laredo border.

The decline can also be partially attributed to Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s deployment of Mexican National Guard troops to secure that country’s southern border with Guatemala to stem the flow of migrants from Central America intent on traveling north to the United States. López Obrador agreed to the deployment after President Donald Trump threatened to impose tariffs of up to 25% on Mexican imports.

“Since the administration reached a new agreement with Mexico, we’ve seen a substantial increase in the number of interdictions on the Mexican southern border,” DHS officials said.

The MPP program has been heavily criticized by immigration attorneys and advocates who argue the U.S. government is sending asylum seekers to violent Mexican border towns where law enforcement is unable or unwilling to protect them.

Author: JULIÁN AGUILAR –  The Texas Tribune

Read related Tribune coverage

Gallery+Story: Congressional delegations visit Clint, Hondo Pass Border Patrol Stations

Congressman Joaquin Castro (TX-20), Chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, and Congresswoman Veronica Escobar (TX-16), member of the House Judiciary Committee and Freshman Representative of the Hispanic Caucus, led a delegation to El Paso and Clint to investigate several facilities used to detain immigrants.

The visit to the Border Patrol stations came on the heels of a report that revealed a secret Facebook group for current and former Border Patrol agents, where users allegedly made controversial comments about the migrants being held at the facilities, the border in general, and ‘throwing burritos’ at the visiting congressional detail.

Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY-14), Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib (MI-13), and Congressman Joe Kennedy III (MA-4) attended the event, touring the facility at Hondo Pass and the Clint Border Patrol Station.

As Ocasio-Cortez left Hondo Pass, she shared with members of the press a story she had been told of a woman forced to drink water from the toilet in her stall.

Later she tweeted about the experience.

In Clint, two groups of protesters gathered. While the Representatives toured the facility, the groups clashed – shouting at each other about the needs of children at the facilities.

The hostilities continued when members of the House addressed the press – with Islamic slurs being thrown at Congresswoman Tlaib.

Later in the afternoon, on Twitter, Representative Joe Kennedy described the entire tour atmosphere as “contentious and uncooperative,” writing the following in a thread of Tweets:

Author: Jordyn Rozensky  |  Gallery by Andres ‘Ace’ Acosta – El Paso Herald Post 

State Sen. Rodríguez releases statement on deployment of 1k additional Texas National Guard

On Friday, State Sen. José Rodríguez issued the following statement on the Governor’s decision to deploy an additional 1,000 Texas National Guard to the Texas-Mexico border:

Deploying more National Guard to the border is a fool’s errand and a waste of millions of taxpayer dollars, whether those dollars are federal or state. Neither the Texas National Guard nor DPS troopers who have been sent to the border have any enforcement authority when it comes to federal immigration laws.

This latest action will not help to alleviate the humanitarian crisis at our southern border. As has been well documented, the growing number of immigrants seeking asylum is primarily the result of people fleeing horrific violence and other atrocities in their countries of origin.

Instead of further militarizing our border communities, state leaders should allocate some of the $800 million appropriated by the Texas Legislature to provide resources to border communities like El Paso. In the absence of leadership both at the federal and state levels, our local communities have stepped up to care for these immigrants with basic decency and provide them with a modicum of dignity as they seek the opportunity for a safer, better life for their families. The taxpayer dollars that will be used to pay for the National Guard should instead be used to reimburse local governments and non-profits that have shouldered the burden of providing shelter, food, and coordinating transportation for asylum seekers.

The state should also focus on reimbursing cities like El Paso that use their local taxpayer dollars to pay for additional CBP agents at ports of entry. Increasing staffing at ports of entry and investing in infrastructure that will improve the movement of people and goods will do significantly more to improve border security than sending these troops, separating families, or building a wall.

***

José Rodríguez represents Texas Senate District 29, which includes the counties of El Paso, Hudspeth, Culberson, Jeff Davis, and Presidio. He represents both urban and rural constituencies, and more than 350 miles of the Texas-Mexico border. Senator Rodríguez currently serves as the Chairman of the Senate Democratic Caucus, and is a member of the Senate Committees on Agriculture (Vice Chair); Natural Resources and Economic Development; Transportation; and Water & Rural Affairs.

Trump renews pledge to deport millions, but ICE reality is far more limited

President Donald Trump has begun his reelection bid by reviving a campaign promise to deport “millions of illegal aliens” from the United States, saying his administration will get to work on that goal “next week” with raids across the country.

But the president’s ambitious deportation goals have crashed, again and again, into the earthly reality of the U.S. immigration enforcement system.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is averaging approximately 7,000 deportations per month from the U.S. interior, according to the agency’s latest data. With unauthorized border crossings soaring under Trump to their highest levels in more than a decade, ICE has been facing a shortage of funds and detention beds, and experts say that a large-scale push to arrest and deport hundreds of thousands of migrants would be exorbitantly expensive and highly unlikely.

For ICE, making “at large” arrests in homes and neighborhoods — the key to chipping away at the “millions” Trump wants to expel — will require significant amounts of planning, coordination and secrecy. By telegraphing plans to begin a nationwide roundup, the president has risked undermining the effectiveness of ICE’s largest and most complex enforcement operation in years.

Trump and Mark Morgan, the acting director of ICE, talked several times in recent weeks about the operation, including as recently as this weekend. But senior White House and immigration officials did not know the president planned to announce it on Twitter, a senior White House official said Tuesday, and many felt it was detracting from the launch of the campaign. But Trump is eager to appear that he is making progress on immigration and remains fixated on the issue, advisers say.

The sensitive plan is aimed at sweeping up and deporting thousands of migrant family members in major U.S. cities who were ordered to leave the country after their cases were evaluated by immigration judges. Department of Homeland Security officials say the arrests are at the heart of their attempts to deter Central American families from making the journey north.

On Tuesday, current and former ICE officials acknowledged that Trump’s unexpected tweet had blown the cover off the plan, and they predicted that would-be deportees could scatter from known addresses in the coming days, diminishing the agency’s chances for success. Lawmakers and immigrant advocates expressed alarm and outrage at the possibility that ICE would go forward with the plan, which risks separating parents and children as agents fan out to knock on doors and make mass arrests.

ICE declined to say whether Trump’s tweets referred to a specific operation in the works, but U.S. officials acknowledged privately that they are preparing to move forward with their long-planned blitz to take thousands of families into custody.

Morgan said Tuesday on “PBS NewsHour” that he hoped immigrants facing deportation would “work with us” and “come and turn themselves in to ICE agents, and we will work with them to remove them to their countries.”

“We don’t want to have to go and track them down into the neighborhoods in the cities,” Morgan said. “We don’t want that, and I don’t want that for the families.”

Morgan said he did not think Trump’s tweet publicizing the planned arrests put immigration agents at risk because the president did not provide specifics. “I’m not concerned,” he said. “They’re professionals. They know exactly what they need to do.”

With hundreds of ICE agents deployed to the border in recent months, interior arrests have dipped. From October to December, the most recent period for which statistics are available, ICE deported 22,169 people from the U.S. interior, down 7% from the same period in 2017. About 10.5 million unauthorized immigrants are in the United States, according to the Pew Research Center.

To meet the president’s goal of millions of deportations, ICE would need significantly more agents and funding. ICE’s division of enforcement and removal operations has fewer than 6,000 officers nationwide who are potentially available to carry out the kind of arrests described by the president, which would entail higher risks because they would involve knocking on doors and arresting parents and children in homes and apartments.

There is division among Trump officials about whether the roundup will make for good politics and policy. But Morgan, senior Trump adviser Stephen Miller and the president support the actions, a senior White House official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to describe the internal fissures.

Authors: NICK MIROFF, MARIA SACCHETTI, ABIGAIL HAUSLOHNER AND JOSH DAWSEY, THE WASHINGTON POST

Read related Tribune coverage

Hurd on the Hill: Addressing the Border Crisis

Our South and West Texas communities are bearing the brunt of the immigration crisis. When crisscrossing the 23rd District of Texas, I consistently hear that folks I represent are concerned about the influx of migrants and subsequent releases by the Customs and Border Patrol.

Residents are rightfully concerned about this issue, and the ramifications for public safety and the drain on taxpayer resources. That’s why I took two actions in Congress recently to immediately address these concerns.

We must address the pull factors that encourage the mass migration to the United States we’re seeing. One of these pull factors is our outdated asylum laws. Word gets out through the smugglers and migrant populations on what to do and what to say when being apprehended at the border.

Too many loopholes and nefarious motives have allowed people to take advantage of the system and overwhelm the process. The cascade effect leaves more and more migrants with fraudulent asylum claims entering our country every day, taking advantage of our outdated laws. If we’re serious about solving the border crisis reforming our asylum laws is an essential step.

I have a plan to reform U.S. asylum laws, address the humanitarian crisis at the Southern border and provide the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and other federal agencies with much-needed relief. My Asylum Reform Act of 2019 would overhaul antiquated laws ill-equipped for addressing the current crisis.

The proposal will fix our broken asylum system and end the cycle that encourages illegal immigration, diverts resources from those with legitimate claims and, in many cases, actually rewards the kingpin human smugglers who thrive on its perpetuation.

The Asylum Reform Act of 2019 would make several important changes to U.S. asylum laws, including:

  • Limiting eligibility for asylum to migrants who enter the U.S. at a port of entry, which would discourage illegal entry into the country and ensure Customs and Border Protection can process migrants in a controlled and orderly manner;
  • Prohibiting migrants who are arriving from a contiguous country (i.e., Canada or Mexico) from seeking asylum unless they have already been denied asylum or a similar protection in that country, ensuring that migrants are seeking protection from our neighbors before entering our asylum process. This prohibition would not apply if migrants are seeking asylum because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution in Mexico or Canada;
  • Codifying the administration’s credible fear standard used to screen migrants seeking asylum to ensure agents on the ground are evaluating the credibility of their statements when making their determination. Currently, 80% of migrants from the Northern Triangle pass their credible fear screening, but only 20% ultimately receive asylum. This change will help ensure that future administrations must take into account the credibility of the applicants;
  • Removing existing obstacles that prevent DHS from removing asylum seekers to a safe third country;
  • Deterring frivolous asylum claims by closing loopholes and defining what is considered a frivolous asylum filing; and,
  • Extending the statute of limitations for fraud and misuse of visas, permits, and other documents that may be used in asylum matters from 5 years after the date that the offense occurred, to 10 years. Given the current backlog of asylum claims, we are rarely able to prosecute these types of offenses.

These reforms would halt the widespread abuse of our current system, streamline our existing processing of these individuals and, most importantly, ensure that our asylum system works for the people who need it most – those fleeing legitimate persecution in their home country.

There is still more to be done, and I remain committed to soliciting feedback and doing whatever it takes to solve this problem so we can actually help our communities.

I’m also standing up for border communities by asking for federal reimbursement for expenses incurred by local governments assisting with the ongoing needs of the migrant population. I fired off a letter this week to the Appropriations Committee, of which I am a member, urging more funding for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) State and Local programs accounts for Southwest border states, and asking that these funds be used to reimburse cities, counties and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) fulfilling the role of the executive branch while dealing with the influx of migrants in their backyards.

Our Texas communities should not be forced to shoulder the costs of dealing with the humanitarian crisis at our southern border. That’s why I am asking for federal reimbursement for our taxpayers. Due to a lack of human resources, DHS has been forced to release thousands of individuals into small communities along our southern border oftentimes without notice to NGOs or local governments.

Local communities should not have to bear the brunt of flawed policies at the border and must be fully compensated both for their humane response and for the security of our citizens, who are dealing with an issue that should be shouldered by federal agencies.

The Asylum Reform Act of 2019 and championing a federal reimbursement for localities are my latest efforts to help address the problem at the border. These are only parts of the larger whole, but I remain committed to implementing the over $220 billion I have voted for to fund DHS and improve technology and security at the border.

***

A former undercover CIA officer, entrepreneur and cybersecurity expert, Will Hurd is the U.S. Representative for the 23rd Congressional District of Texas. In Washington, he serves on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, where he is the Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Intelligence Modernization and Readiness, and the House Committee on Appropriations, where he serves on the Subcommittees on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, and on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development.

***

The El Paso Herald-Post welcomes all local guest columns, open letters, letters to the Editor and analysis pieces for publication, to submit a piece or for questions regarding guidelines, please email us at news@epheraldpost.com

Trump backs off tariff threat, says Mexico will help stem tide of Central American migrants headed for U.S.

President Donald Trump announced Friday evening that his administration has reached a deal with the Mexican government over immigration and the punitive tariffs he threatened to impose on Mexican imports have been postponed indefinitely.

“I am pleased to inform you that The United States of America has reached a signed agreement with Mexico. The Tariffs scheduled to be implemented by the U.S. on Monday, against Mexico, are hereby indefinitely suspended,” he tweeted. “Mexico, in turn, has agreed to take strong measures to stem the tide of Migration through Mexico, and to our Southern Border. This is being done to greatly reduce, or eliminate, Illegal Immigration coming from Mexico and into the United States.”

The deal includes the expansion of the Migrant Protection Protocols program across the entire U.S.-Mexico border, according to a U.S. State Department spokesperson. The controversial program requires some migrants seeking asylum in the United States to wait in Mexico for their immigration hearings. The United States said on Friday that with the expansion, it will work to speed up adjudication of asylum claims and removal proceedings.

That program began in California in January and was expanded to the El Paso ports of entries in March. It’s drawn the ire of immigrant rights groups and immigration attorneys who argue the policy affects an immigrant’s ability to have adequate representation because shelter space is limited in Mexico and it’s unclear where their clients are staying.

Lawyers also say their clients face threats and have expressed fear of living in border cities that are prone to violence.

Mexico will also deploy units of its national guard throughout the country, with an emphasis on its southern border, and will make greater efforts to address human trafficking and smuggling.

“Additionally, the United States and Mexico commit to strengthen bilateral cooperation, including information sharing and coordinated actions to better protect and secure our common border,” according to the statement.

The State Department added that if “expected” results are not reached, both countries will take further actions and will continue to discuss the issue over the next few months. The statement did not give exact benchmarks for what the Trump administration would consider success on Mexico’s part.

The news brought relief to Texas lawmakers and economists from both sides of the aisle who had urged the White House to reconsider the use of tariffs, citing the long-term economic damage Texas would incur.

U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady, R-The Woodlands, cheered the decision and congratulated the president on reaching a “solid agreement.” Brady, the the ranking member on the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee, said last week the tariffs could have jeopardized the pending United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, a trade pact seen by some lawmakers and economists as a much-needed improvement to the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement.

“The outcome is a strong win for Texas and America. I look forward to working with the Administration and my colleagues in the House and Senate to pass USMCA without delay so that American companies and workers can reap the benefits of this updated and modernized agreement,” he said.

U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, said he was pleased with the agreement.

“I am optimistic that this announcement will bring confidence back to Americans,” he said.

Jon Barela — CEO of the Borderplex Alliance, a nonprofit focused on promoting business and economic development in Ciudad Juárez, El Paso and New Mexico — called the announcement “great news”.

“Uncertainty is the enemy of jobs, investment, and economic development. Congratulations to the negotiators in the U.S. and Mexico for their efforts to protect the borders and promote job growth and prosperity,” he said. “Predictability, free trade, and secure borders are not mutually exclusive concepts.”

The tariffs were scheduled to begin June 10 and Trump said he would increase them to as high as 25% by October if Mexico didn’t do more to stem the tide of migrationthrough that country by immigrants whose ultimate destination is the United States.

This week Customs and Border Protection announced that in May about 133,000 migrants were apprehended or surrendered to border agents on the southwest border. Approximately 11,400 more were deemed inadmissible at ports of entry. The total represents an increase of about 32% from April.

The tariff threat came after Mexico recently became the United States’ largest trading partner, though it has been Texas’ top trade partner for several years. Through March, more than $150 billion in trade passed through the countries’ ports, according to trade data analyzed by WorldCity. The U.S. exported $63.95 billion worth of goods and imported $86.63 billion worth of goods from Mexico. Texas’ ports at Laredo and El Paso are the the two busiest on the border, with $55.8 and $18.6 billion passing through those regions during that time frame.

Read related Tribune coverage

Abby Livingston contributed to this story.

Author:  JULIÁN AGUILAR – The Texas Tribune

Migrant apprehensions continue to surge on Texas-Mexico border

The surge of unauthorized migration that has the U.S. Border Patrol sounding alarm bells continues to rise to modern-day records, according to government statistics released Wednesday.

Across the southwest border, about 133,000 migrants were apprehended or surrendered to border agents on the southwest border in May, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Approximately 11,400 more were deemed inadmissible at ports of entry. The total represents an increase of about 32% from April.

The El Paso and Rio Grande Valley areas continue to see the largest influx of migrants — the vast majority of whom were unaccompanied minors or families from Central America who are seeking asylum in the United States.

Meanwhile, the Del Rio area is becoming the latest hot spot for migrants; agents in that sector have also seen apprehensions increase by the thousands each month.

About 49,880 migrants crossed the border in the Rio Grande Valley, a 35% increase over April. Another 38,630 came through the El Paso sector, which also includes New Mexico — a 43% jump since April; and about 8,560 crossed in the Del Rio sector, representing a 46% increase.

From October, when the government’s fiscal year began, through the end of May, the number of migrant family-unit apprehensions in the El Paso sector increased by about 100,000 – about 2,100%, compared to the same time period during the 2018 fiscal year. In Del Rio, agents apprehended 15,600 more families from October to May compared to the same period in 2018, a spike of 1,034 percent.

The surge of migrants at the southern border has led President Donald Trump to issue his latest threat toward Mexico. Last week, Trump announced he would slap tariffs on all imports from Mexico as soon as next week unless the Mexican government halts the flow of migrants through its territory.

Border Patrol stations, which are designed to hold a relatively small number of people for short periods, have been overwhelmed and have been forced to construct temporary facilities to hold and process migrants. Last month agents unveiledmassive, 500-person tent facilities in El Paso and the Rio Grade Valley city of Donna to deal with the crush of migrants; about two weeks later Customs and Border Protection announced that they needed more space and planned to build even more facilities in the Rio Grande Valley.

On Tuesday, the agency announced it also has erected tents in Eagle Pass, part of the Del Rio sector, where overall apprehensions have increased by 200 percent this fiscal year.

Agents have also seen a significant number of undocumented immigrants traveling in large groups. Through the end of May, more than 180 groups of more than 100 people have been apprehended on the southwest border, according to a Border Patrol statement. That includes a group of more than 1,000 apprehended in El Paso last week.

On Memorial Day alone, agents in the El Paso sector apprehended about 2,200 migrants, including groups of 200 and 430.

Read related Tribune coverage

Author:  JULIÁN AGUILARThe Texas Tribune

Video+Info: Cornyn – HUMANE Act Would Address Crisis at the Border

WASHINGTON – Wednesday on the floor of the Senate U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) called on Democrats to support a real solution to the humanitarian and security crisis at our southern border, like his HUMANE Act.

Excerpts of Sen. Cornyn’s floor remarks are below:

“First, we need to get additional funding to the departments and agencies that are trying to manage this crisis and care for the migrants in their custody.”

“Without action here in Congress, funding could dry up by the end of this month, creating an even more dire situation.”

“But that’s not a fix. That’s a patch. Any sort of lasting change cannot be solved by a funding bill or by tariffs. It has to be solved by something only Congress can do, by passing legislation that addresses the root of the problem.”

“The HUMANE Act is bipartisan, it’s bicameral, and it would provide real relief for folks in Texas and other border states who are struggling to manage the crisis.”

“I know most of our Congressional Democratic friends have adopted the posture of reflexively standing against the President on anything and everything that he asks for.”

“I think this is a much better solution than tariffs on Mexican goods brought into the United States.”

“I would urge all my colleagues to take a serious look at the HUMANE Act so we can finally do our part, that only we in Congress can do, to stem the flow of Central American migrants who are flooding our borders and prevent criminals and human smugglers from infiltrating our country as they are doing now.”

Background on the HUMANE Act:

Improving Care of Children and Families at the Border:

  • Requires DHS to keep families together during court proceedings and provide additional standards of care for families being held in DHS facilities*
  • Improves Due Process for unaccompanied children and family units by prioritizing their claims for relief in immigration courts.
  • Provides safeguards to prevent unaccompanied children from being placed in the custody of dangerous individuals.
  • Requires DHS to continually update their regulations to prevent and combat sexual abuse and assault in DHS facilities.
  • Fixes a loophole in current law to allow unaccompanied children from non-contiguous countries to be voluntarily reunited with their families in their home country.*
  • Clarifies that the Flores settlement agreement applies to unaccompanied children apprehended at the border.

 

Streamlining Processing and Increasing Resources at Ports of Entry:

  • Mandates the hiring of additional DHS personnel, upgrades and modernization of our nation’s ports of entry to expedite legitimate trade and travel.
  • Improves processing of humanitarian relief claims by requiring certain applications take place at designated ports of entry.*
  • Requires DHS to establish four or more Regional Processing Centers in high-traffic areas to process and house family units in a humane environment.*
  • Requires the Executive Office for Immigration Review to assign at least two immigration judges to each of the Regional Processing Centers that DHS is required to establish along the southern border.
  • Mandates a strategy and implementation plan from the Department of State regarding foreign engagement with Central American nations.

 

*Recommendation of the bipartisan DHS Homeland Security Advisory Council

 

Senator John Cornyn, a Republican from Texas, is a member of the Senate Finance, Intelligence, and Judiciary Committees.

Cornyn chairs hearing to discuss crisis at Southern Border

WASHINGTON – As Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Border Security and Immigration, U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) held a hearing to highlight the humanitarian and security crisis at the southern border and his new legislation, the HUMANE Act, to address it.

Excerpts of Sen. Cornyn’s opening remarks are below, and video can be found above.

“The situation unfolding on our southern border is grim. A major increase in unlawful border crossings combined with a drastic shift in migration trends and outdated laws and infrastructure has placed an incredibly great strain on law enforcement, on our legal system, and local border communities.”

“Yet, there are those who still here in Washington choose to ignore the gravity of the situation, or worse, to label it as fake or manufactured.”

“While some may think that the situation is manageable and that time is on our side, I think they’re ignoring reality and I disagree. And I know many of my constituents in Texas feel the same. We’re on the front lines of this, and we’re simply not set up, manned, nor do we have the capacity to absorb this huge wave of human migration coming in all at one time.”

“In response to this worsening situation, last week I, along with my colleague from Laredo, Texas, Congressman Henry Cuellar, a Democrat, introduced the HUMANE Act. The HUMANE Act is, as you can see, a bipartisan, bicameral solution to make the practical necessary reforms to address the loopholes in our laws, ensure that families stay together, and better protect unaccompanied children released from HHS custody. We also adopt several recommendations from the bipartisan DHS Homeland Security Advisory Council, including the establishment of regional processing centers along the border and needed streamlining of processing claims.”

“I urge my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to work with us to try to solve this problem. We need to quit looking at this through a political lens or wait to try to solve what else is broken and needs to be fixed in our immigration system.”

***

Senator John Cornyn, a Republican from Texas, is a member of the Senate Finance, Intelligence, and Judiciary Committees.

Long delays at border bridges bring anxiety for businesses as Holy Week begins

It took Ciudad Juárez resident Norma Martinez about 90 minutes just to get halfway through the pedestrian line at the Paso Del Norte Bridge bridge Saturday afternoon on her way to shop for clothes, umbrellas and other goods she resells at her store across the Rio Grande. She said her young son’s feet began to hurt, so the people in front of her allowed her to skip ahead.

Otherwise, she said, they probably would have waited more than two hours to get through U.S. Customs. Normally, Martinez said the line is about 30 or 45 minutes.

She’s just one of the thousands of border residents that have been forced to grapple with a drastic increase in bridge wait times after President Donald Trump’s latest effort address a growing influx of immigrants — many of them Central American families with children — who cross the border to seek asylum.

The Department of Homeland Security said last month it was redirecting 750 Customs and Border Protection officers from the ports of entry in El Paso, Laredo, Tucson and San Diego to assist U.S. Border Patrol agents in processing undocumented immigrants. The reassignments have caused massive delays at international bridges for pedestrian, vehicular and cargo traffic in the weeks leading up to Holy Week.

That has merchants concerned about how the administration’s decision to pull hundreds of agents away from their duties at the international bridges will impact the city’s retail sector — especially now at the beginning of Holy Week, one of the busiest seasons for cross-border shopping.

“We are really concerned. Historically Mexican nationals shop a lot during the holidays, especially with the Easter holidays right around the corner,” said Cindy Ramos-Davidson, the CEO of the El Paso Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

Shoppers in downtown El Paso on April 12, 2019. Julian Aguilar/The Texas Tribune

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, said Mexican shoppers are responsible for 15 to 30 percent of El Paso’s retail trade, depending on the time of year.

And since federal officials pulled agents from bridge duty, Ramos-Davidson said average wait times for passenger vehicles at El Paso’s international bridges have reached 160 minutes or more, about three times the normal wait.

She said international travelers, mainly from Ciudad Juárez or Chihuahua City, will still likely brave the long lines, but they might decide that shopping is less of a priority than visiting family. The chamber, which has 1,300 members in the El Paso area, recently conducted research and found that more than 50 percent of Mexican tourists won’t cross only to shop if wait times are more than about 45 minutes, she added.

After making it across the bridge Saturday with her son, Martinez said she’ll likely cut back on the number of trips they make to shop in Texas.

“After what we saw today we’d probably think more about making the trip,” she said. “Maybe we’ll come once a month” instead of two or three times.

Commercial industries are also going to feel the effects of the slowdown, Barela said, due to the time tractor-trailers have to spend in line. One business member of the Borderplex Alliance that supplies metal to factories in Ciudad Juárez is operating at about 30 percent of his normal output because of the wait times, Barela said. The employer even had to send some employees home at the height of the slowdown, when according to Barela, wait times reached about 12 hours at some ports.

He said he’s hoping Congress will come together and find the will to reform the nation’s immigration system when it realizes the situation not only affects the border, but industries nationwide.

“Sometimes you need a crisis to encourage people to act and that’s where we’re at right now,” he said.

U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, said last week that 545 of the 750 reassigned CBP officers were from the Laredo field office, which has significantly challenged the remaining officers in his district. The Laredo customs district is the country’s No. 1 inland port and saw about $229 billion in two-way trade in 2018. That was followed by the El Paso customs district at about $77.4 billion.

Cuellar said he met with incoming U.S. Customs and Border Protection Deputy Commissioner Robert Perez last week and urged him to replace the reassigned officers with supplemental officers from other South Texas field offices.

“We look forward to the arrival of sufficient CBP reinforcements within the week. Congress must work with the Administration to create a strong immigration framework, which can process migrants without sacrificing U.S. commerce,” he said in a statement.

After threatening to close the border with Mexico over the influx of undocumented immigrants, Trump backed off last week and said instead he will impose tariffs on imported automobiles next year if the Mexican government did nothing to stop the flow of migrants.

“[Closing the bridges] is off the table now, but what anxiety does it create in the market? Will people try to rush things into the market before the bridges close?” said Ken Roberts, the president of WorldCity, Inc. a Florida-based company that analyzes trade data and business trends. “That creates traffic on the border. The biggest factor is the uncertainty.”

Author: JULIÁN AGUILARThe Texas Tribune

Cornyn Urges Acting DHS Secretary to Prioritize Efficiency of Trade, Travel at Texas Ports of Entry

WASHINGTON— On Wednesday U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) sent a letter to Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan urging him to prioritize efficiency at Texas’ ports of entry as he develops a strategy to address the humanitarian crisis along the U.S.-Mexico border:

“The diversion of frontline CBP personnel from these ports, and the threat of a possible closure in the future, threatens to have a debilitating impact on the overall health of Texas’ economy,” Sen. Cornyn wrote.

“Some Texas ports of entry have reported cross-border wait times in excess of seven hours, resulting in lost revenue and perished goods. In the coming days, many individuals on both the U.S. and Mexican sides of the border will begin to celebrate the Semana Santa holiday, a time of historically increased travel which will result in further strains and likely increased wait times at our most active land border crossings.

“As you develop a long-term strategy to deal with the concerning trends on our southern border, I ask that you strongly consider all available options at your disposal to ensure that Texas’ ports of entries may operate as efficiently as possible. The legitimate trade and travel coming through those arteries not only impacts the economies of both Texas’ border region and state, but also the flow of goods throughout the entire nation.”

***

Full text of the letter is below.

***

April 10, 2019

The Honorable Kevin McAleenan

Acting Secretary

U.S. Department of Homeland Security

1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW

Washington, D.C. 20229

 

Dear Acting Secretary McAleenan:

I am writing to you today to express my deep concern regarding the ongoing humanitarian and security crisis on our southern border. I share your desire to secure our nation’s border and stem the flow of illegal immigration, while also ensuring the free flow of legitimate trade and commerce.

In response to the current situation on our southern border, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) circulated a memorandum on April 1, 2019, outlining a new operation to address the ongoing crisis. This memorandum directed the temporary reassignment of personnel and resources from across Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) organization (many of which were assigned to southern land ports of entry) to process arriving immigrants and asylum seekers. Many of these officers, who had been working tirelessly to process perishable goods and travelers, have now been faced with managing a national migrant crisis. I strongly agree the current trends at our southern border are unsustainable and I recognize the severe strain this increase in apprehensions and asylum claims has put on our men and women in uniform. While I support CBP’s unwavering effort to effectively meet its mandate, I am gravely concerned about the consequences that the recently announced diversion of resources is having on our nation’s ports of entry.

As you know, the State of Texas is home to 29 air, land, and sea ports of entry – more than any other state in the nation. Many of these ports of entry, particularly those on our shared border with Mexico, are some of the busiest ports in terms passenger and vehicle processing volume in the United States. The diversion of frontline CBP personnel from these ports, and the threat of a possible closure in the future, threatens to have a debilitating impact on the overall health of Texas’ economy. Some Texas ports of entry have reported cross-border wait times in excess of seven hours, resulting in lost revenue and perished goods. In the coming days, many individuals on both the U.S. and Mexican sides of the border will begin to celebrate the Semana Santa holiday, a time of historically increased travel which will result in further strains and likely increased wait times at our most active land border crossings.

As you develop a long-term strategy to deal with the concerning trends on our southern border, I ask that you strongly consider all available options at your disposal to ensure that Texas’ ports of entries may operate as efficiently as possible. The legitimate trade and travel coming through those arteries not only impacts the economies of both Texas’ border region and state, but also the flow of goods throughout the entire nation.

Thank you for your continued service to our nation. I look forward to working with you moving forward to address the problems that our CBP personnel continue to face on a daily basis.

Sincerely,

/s/

 

Reps. Cuellar, Escobar Introduce Resolution Condemning Trump’s Threat to Shut Down Border

WASHINGTON— Representatives Henry Cuellar (TX-28) and Veronica Escobar (TX-16) introduced H.R. 287, a resolution condemning President Trump’s recent threat to shut down the United States-Mexico border.

“Any potential closure of the border would cause extensive economic harm to U.S. markets and sever the bilateral trade relationship between the two countries,” the Reps shared via a Thursday morning news release.

Original co-sponsors of this resolution included Representatives Filemon Vela (TX-34), Vicente Gonzalez (TX-15), and Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18).

Every day, both the U.S. and Mexico work cooperatively to secure the shared border and facilitate the efficient flow of goods and tourism, while curtailing the illicit flow of drugs, people, arms, and cash at ports of entry.

These operations serve as the backbone of bilateral interconnectedness— closing down any one of the ports of entry, let alone the whole border, would have a myriad of unintended and irreparable economic, diplomatic, cultural, and humanitarian consequences.

Congressman Henry Cuellar said, “Shutting down the border would have disastrous consequences for both the U.S. and Mexico. The U.S. depends on Mexico for 60% of its produce, meaning that many Americans look to Mexico for access to healthy, affordable fruits and vegetables.

Additionally, tourism between the two countries relies heavily upon the smooth operation of border infrastructure at ports of entry. In 2016 alone, spending by Mexican tourists in the U.S. totaled $20.3 billion. Furthermore, nearly five million U.S. jobs depend on trade with Mexico, making it crucial to these domestic workers that the border remain open.”

He continued, “This resolution sends a clear message that we strongly oppose closing the U.S.-Mexico border. Shutting down the entire border would not only severely disrupt the flow of goods, but it would also hamper tourism and create economic chaos for both economies. We will continue to fight any executive action that stands to harm our economy and trade relations.” 

“President Trump’s reckless behavior is a true national crisis. Shutting down the border will absolutely devastate our economy; continuing to withhold aid to Central America will only increase the number of refugees at our doorstep; and, the cruelty of his approach to asylum-seeking families in pursuit of the American Dream is a violation of human rights and only makes a challenge much worse,” said Congresswoman Veronica Escobar.

“This resolution demonstrates that the American people and the U.S. House of Representatives will strongly stand against any attempts to close our southern border, sabotage our efforts to address the root causes of migration, and strip away due process and humane treatment for those seeking a better life.”

Full text of the resolution can be found here.

Offering Few Details, President Trump Asserts End to “Catch and Release”; Promises Tent Cities to Hold Migrants

President Donald Trump on Thursday doubled down on his intent to militarize and fortify the border against a caravan of Central American asylum-seekers slowly making their way toward the United States, saying his administration recently did away with “catch and release” for undocumented immigrants and plans to erect tents to hold future border crossers — including their children — until their immigration cases are resolved.

Trump offered no details on how his administration would be able to indefinitely hold families for long periods and still comply with a court settlement known as the Flores agreement that limits how long undocumented minors can be detained by the government. He also didn’t provide details on the number or location of the tents but said they’re necessary to stop a coming “invasion” of migrants.

“These illegal caravans will not be allowed into the United States and they should turn back now,” Trump said. “We’re putting up massive cities of tents, the military is helping us incredibly well.”

He also said any asylum seeker who throws rocks at U.S. military personnel will be considered to be carrying a weapon.

“Anybody throwing stones, rocks like they did to Mexico, and the Mexican military…we will consider that a firearm,” he said.

But despite Trump’s claim of ending catch and release, a shelter director in El Paso said just hours before the president’s speech that he was alerted by immigration authorities that more than 300 immigrants would be released into the El Paso community because Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials don’t have the space to detain the immigrants after they apply for asylum.

A current tent facility in Tornillo was recently expanded to hold 3,800 immigrants, up from the 400 or so the facility held earlier this year. That facility is designated as a holding center for unaccompanied minors who cross into the U.S. illegally.

It was the latest in a series of presidential declarations about immigration in the runup to Tuesday’s midterm elections. Last week, Trump said he was contemplating an executive order to end birthright citizenship — although constitutional experts say the president doesn’t have that power — then announced a military deployment to the southern border that started with a promise of 5,200 troops and has since increased.

Catherine Tactaquin, executive director for the California-based National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, said the move to send troops to the border is an “election-period stunt” that carries severe implications for border communities.

“There are well-documented cases of an increase in racial profiling, stress and tension” when troops are sent the border, Tactaquin said. “You can imagine what that kind of [military] presence can mean.”

The military operation, which has been dubbed “Faithful Patriot” will send between 7,000 and 15,000 troops to the U.S-Mexico border, 2,000 of whom are either en route or are already in Texas, according to federal officials. A Department of Defense fact sheet on the operation provided to The Texas Tribune shows that soldiers will be deployed from at least nine states and more than a dozen military installations to “coordinate operation, engineering, medical, and logistic support” with the Department of Homeland Security.

Along the border, the arrival of active duty military forces is making some residents nervous.

Bishop Garrison, an Army veteran who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom and currently serves as the interim executive director of the Truman National Security Project, a progressive policy think tank, was stationed at El Paso’s Fort Bliss during his military service. He said border residents have a reason to worry about their cities turning into militarized zones in the coming days.

“It’s hard for anyone to say with any complete certainty that we will see ‘Red Dawn’ or we’ll see something more akin to a training exercise, we really don’t know,” Garrison said, referring to the 1980s movie in which a tranquil Colorado town becomes a war zone after a foreign invasion. “To think we need the military to step in and handle this in any way, without even fully knowing what the issue is at hand, is absolutely ludicrous. I can only imagine how stressful and scary this might be.”

Bishop said the mission outlined in the Defense Department fact sheet seems intentionally broad, “because they don’t know what kind of issues they are going to encounter,” he said. “Anything could pop up that they would need to then argue that they had authorization to do or to handle.”

McAllen Mayor Jim Darling said previous deployments of the National Guard and state troopers to the Rio Grande Valley created a negative image of border communities as “unsafe.”

“The publicity of the National Guard and Department of Public Safety and the politics of saying, ‘I’m going to protect the border,’ the main effect to me is hurting local border communities,” Darling said. “The border crisis is really a crisis of our immigration policy and foreign policies in Central America.”

In nearby Progreso, a small town on the Rio Grande, chain-link gates have been installed on the pedestrian walkways of an international bridge connecting the town with Nuevo Progreso, Mexico.

B&P Bridge Company, which owns the crossing, put up the gates Saturday after being approached by Customs and Border Protection, said Julie Guerra-Ramirez, the company’s bridge director.

“By no means was it a mandate,” she said. “It’s all in preparation in case the caravan decides to come this way. All we’re doing is taking precautions.”

Sandra Cavazos, a spokesperson for Customs and Border Protection’s office on the bridge, declined to comment about the installation of the gates.

As the migrant caravan makes its way through southern Mexico, migrants who have already reached the border have recently started camping out on the international bridge connecting El Paso and Juarez as they wait to present themselves at the port of entry and request asylum. Customs and Border Protection officials have been stationed at the bridge for months and have routinely turned back would-be asylum seekers before they cross the international boundary. Agency officials say that’s because they don’t have room to process the influx of immigrants seeking safe haven.

Garrison, the El Paso military analyst, said trade and everyday cross-border travel at the international bridges could be affected by the troop deployment.

During a press conference announcing the operation on Monday, Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin K. McAleenan said his agency would try to “maintain lawful trade and travel to the greatest extent possible.” But Garrison said it’s unlikely that daily commerce won’t be affected.

“I am incredulous, I find that very hard to believe,” he said.

Texas would be the hardest hit by any slowdown. From January to August of this year, the Laredo customs district, which includes the Rio Grande Valley, has processed more than $153 billion in two-way trade with Mexico, according to WorldCity, a Florida-based company that analyzes trade data. The El Paso district, which includes New Mexico, has processed almost $52 billion.

U.S. Rep Vicente Gonzalez, D-McAllen, said he doesn’t expect the military deployment to affect cross-border trade in his district.

“I don’t see it happening,” he said. “Trade has a lot of influence and I think the day that trade is impacted, the president and the administration on the other side of the aisle will have their own pressure to deal with from large corporations, from the energy sector to agriculture. I think you’ll see a change of policy just from that pressure.”

Hannah Wiley and Teo Armus contributed to this story.

Author: JULIÁN AGUILAR – The Texas Tribune

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