A federal appeals court late Wednesday ruled the Trump Administration can use nearly $4 billion in military funds for construction of the president’s long-promised border wall.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reversed an earlier decision by El Paso-based U.S. District Judge David Briones that blocked the spending. The latest decision allows the funds to be spent while the case plays out in its appeal.
The $3.6 billion had been earmarked by the Trump administration for construction of 11 barriers on the southern border, CNN reported Wednesday. The original lawsuit was filed by El Paso County and the Border Network for Human Rights, an El Paso-based advocacy group. The Trump administration asked the appeals court to consider the matter on Dec. 16.
The administration has so far been stymied in most of its efforts to come through with one of the president’s signature campaign promises, but the latest ruling could change that as the 2020 elections approach. The president has been successful in curbing the number of unauthorized immigrants who have arrived to the U.S. border seeking asylum, thanks to policies that require migrants to wait in Mexico for their court hearings. But despite that success, the president continues to tout the wall as another effective way to stop illegal immigration.
The White House on Thursday called the decision a victory.
“The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has lifted an illegitimate nationwide injunction entered by a lower court, and in doing so has allowed vital border wall construction to move forward using military construction funds. This is a victory for the rule of law. We are committed to keeping our borders secure, and we will finish the wall,” the White House sad in a statement.
Kristy Parker, an attorney at the nonprofit Protect Democracy, said she felt confident the courts would ultimately rule that using the military funds is unlawful.
“A court has already determined that the government can’t lawfully use military construction funds to build Trump’s border wall,” Parker said in a statement. “It’s unfortunate that the people of El Paso will continue to suffer harm while the government appeals, but we’re confident that we’ll prevail again in this next stage of litigation.”
Fernando Garcia, executive director at the Border Network for Human Rights, said his organization will soon meet with its legal team to decide how to proceed after Wednesday’s “unfortunate” ruling.
“We think they completely ignored a very strong argument by Judge Briones, the federal judge in El Paso, that the [use of funds] was an illegal act because Trump violated the checks and balances and authority of the U.S. Congress,” he said. “We are surprised they ignored that fact.”
Newly obtained government documents show how the Trump administration’s now-blocked policy to separate all migrant children from parents led social workers to frantically begin tracking thousands of children seized at the southern border and compile reports on cases of trauma.
In June 2018, months after the Trump administration began its so-called “zero tolerance” policy to deter migrants trying to enter the United States, an employee working for the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement described a 5-year-old’s despair at a shelter. “Minor was separated at the border from his biological mother. Minor was tearful when he arrived and would not speak or engage in conversation with anyone,” the caregiver wrote in a report. This document and others shed light on a social experiment that was both cruel and chaotic.
Reports of traumatized children were forwarded to the Department of Homeland Security’s Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, which is charged with ensuring that national security policies respect constitutional rights. A Center for Public Integrity and NPR investigation earlier this year found that the office failed to assist children whose suffering was documented in hundreds of similar complaints the office received last year.
The most recent internal documents Public Integrity reviewed add to scathing criticism from the Homeland Security inspector general’s office, which reported on Nov. 25 that it couldn’t verify how many children were separated by the zero tolerance policy, which began gradually in late 2017 and ended in June 2018. Tracking was flawed because U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers didn’t accurately record possible family relationships between adults and 1,233 children detained between October 2017 and mid-February 2019, the inspector general concluded.
Trump’s zero tolerance policy required CBP to separate children so that migrant adults, many of them seeking asylum, could be immediately held in immigration detention and prosecuted for illegal entry.
Earlier this year, former Office of Refugee Resettlement Deputy Director Jonathan White told Congress that he’d heard in early 2017 a broad separation policy could be in the works, and that he and his colleagues told Homeland Security officials they were concerned “not only about what that would mean for children, but also what it would mean for the capacity of the program.”
Internal records, however, show that such concerns date back further.
Warnings weeks before Trump
Among the documents Public Integrity obtained is a September 2016 email from a child refugee specialist signaling discomfort with Customs and Border Protection’s Office of Field Operations splitting up migrant families prior to zero tolerance.
“The best thing that could happen is for the OFO to stop the practice of family separation,” a child refugee field specialist added to the top of an email containing instructions for reunifying families that he sent to colleagues on Sept. 20, 2016.
Just 10 days after the specialist sent the email, a Homeland Security advisory committee issued a damning report on the damage children suffer when abruptly separated from parents. Separations were comparatively uncommon at the time, but they’d grown frequent enough to trigger a review, conducted by representatives of the American Academy of Pediatrics and civil rights groups.
“Separation can be acutely frightening for children and can leave children in ad hoc care situations that compromise their safety and well-being,” the advisory committee warned. “It can also be traumatizing and extremely stressful for the parent.”
The committee urged Homeland Security to separate parents and children as little as possible and instead place families in supervised release programs while their asylum or other immigration claims moved through the courts.
Before Trump began zero tolerance in 2018, Customs and Border Protection had — and still has — the authority to separate parents and children under limited circumstances.
But because zero tolerance required parents to be immediately detained, CBP was essentially forced to seize thousands of children, including infants and toddlers. Most families were arriving from Central America, a region the State Department has said is ravaged by predatory gangs and homicide rates that are among the highest in the world.
The 2016 message from the field specialist is part of a collection of Health and Human Services emails and other internal documents shared with Public Integrity. Most were written in 2018 by officials at the agency’s Office of Refugee Resettlement, part of the Department of Health and Human Services. The office is responsible for caring for unaccompanied migrant children, or children CBP officers separate from parents at the border. The internal documents show Health and Human Services staff members were unprepared for the unprecedented number of suffering young children transferred to their custody.
The materials were obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request submitted to Health and Human Services by the American Immigration Council, the National Immigrant Justice Center, Kids in Need of Defense, the Women’s Refugee Commission, and the Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project. All have experience providing legal services for migrant children.
Child on floor crying
Most of the internal government emails reviewed by Public Integrity were written during the height of zero tolerance, which ended in late June 2018 after a court order and public outcry. Other documents show Refugee Resettlement staff or contractors’ observations, which then were forwarded to Homeland Security, about distraught children placed in shelters.
A 10-year-old held in a shelter for two months was found on the floor, crying and holding his hand. “My hand hurts because I got mad about my case and I hit the wall,” the boy reportedly said in July 2018. A 12-year-old boy reported “suicidal ideations” after separation from an aunt and a cousin in June 2018, according to a document. In a July 2018 report about a 9-year-old, a case worker wrote the girl “reported that her uncle was murdered by a local gang.”
After a federal judge ordered Homeland Security, Health and Human Services, and Refugee Resettlement on June 26, 2018, to reunite families, emails and other documents show refugee office staff and contractors were pressed into service.
“All resources available to comply with court order,” reads a summary of what’s labeled as a meeting with Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar. “We must do everything to identify parents, contact them, and make strides to reunify them or [allow children] to go to another sponsor if the parents want.”
Given the poor quality of records, Health and Human Services officials rushed to use DNA testing to match parents and children.
“DNA kits,” a message to staff advised, “will be sent to programs with separated children 0-4 on week of July 2nd and DNA kits will be sent to programs with separated children 5 and up on week of July 9th.”
DNA collection is controversial. News reports in July featured mothers and a director at a migrant mothers’ shelter claiming they were told parents would have to pay for DNA testing. Health and Human Services denied it was charging fees for the testing and said it was covering costs for collections.
Robert Carey, a Refugee Resettlement director in the Obama administration, told Public Integrity that most of the office’s staff are social workers who were put in an “ethical” dilemma with the zero tolerance policy.
“Not only was it inhumane,” he said, “it was extraordinarily poorly managed.”
When he was in charge, Carey said, the average minor in Refugee Resettlement custody was about 15 years old. A “large part” of what the office would do, he said, was vet sponsors, often relatives, so children could be released from group shelters or foster homes.
Trump’s zero tolerance has ended, but CBP continues to have the authority to separate children from adults who are not legal guardians, including aunts, uncles and grandparents. It also has the authority to separate children based on a parent’s prior immigration violations, if CBP wants to refer that parent for prosecution. Officers have also separated children due to parents’ criminal histories or suspected ties to gangs — decisions that at times have been based on false allegations.
James De La Cruz, the Health and Human Services employee who wrote in 2016 that ending family separations would be “the best thing that could happen,” is still at the agency.
His email included instructions for reunifying families and a contact sheet for Homeland Security staff assigned to supervise “alternatives to detention” programs. These programs — no longer favored by the Trump administration — monitored migrant families that had been released from custody to ensure they would attend court proceedings.
Contacted by Public Integrity, De La Cruz declined to elaborate on his 2016 email or on problems Health and Human Services faced with the surge in family separations last year. The agency’s media representatives also declined to comment but sent a written statement emphasizing that “HHS is a child welfare agency, not a law enforcement agency. We play no role in the apprehension or initial detention of unaccompanied alien children.”
Under Trump, however, Health and Human Services was forced into a central role in the administration’s zero tolerance policy because separating children from migrant parents was a key feature.
Separating kids to block asylum seekers
Despite evidence from the State Department and others supporting many migrants’ stories of escaping violent crime in their home countries, Trump accused migrants of gaming the asylum system, and he sought ways to block their entry. After he took office in 2017, his advisers suggested options that would require prosecuting every border crosser. Separating thousands of their children “would be reported by the media and it would have substantial deterrent effect,” previously released documents shared by NBC show.
As a pilot program began in 2017, people who swam or walked over the border or who approached CBP officers at border gates were taken into custody to be prosecuted for illegal entry — a misdemeanor the first time — and their children were taken from them.
Preparing for a blanket separation policy, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions spoke out in defense of family separations in May 2018. “If you don’t like that, then don’t smuggle children over our border,” he said.
That same month, however, Refugee Resettlement officials were already sending out “high importance” emails related to the developing search for separated families.
Like Homeland Security, the office had come under pressure because of a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union three months earlier. The lawsuit accused Homeland Security, Health and Human Services, and Refugee Resettlement of violating due process and Homeland Security’s own directives for granting detainees’ release.
The initial plaintiff was an African mother who was cleared at the U.S.-Mexico border to apply for asylum but was put into detention. She said she heard her daughter, 7, screaming as the child was taken away to be sent to Refugee Resettlement custody.
Eventually, the lawsuit became a class-action effort to free and unite separated families.
On May 16, 2018, a Refugee Resettlement email exhorted staff to find the parents of children in their custody — one day after then-Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen testified in Congress that “we do not have a policy to separate children from their parents.”
“It is very important to locate the separated parent for all UAC [unaccompanied alien children] in your program,” a Refugee Resettlement supervisor wrote. “For parents in ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] custody, you should be able to locate them and have a phone call with that parent as soon as possible.”
That assumption proved far too optimistic.
CBP, it turned out, was sending children to Refugee Resettlement with little information about parents. Infants and sobbing toddlers were too young to know parents’ names, as Public Integrity previously reported, much less the “alien number” that ICE assigns adult detainees and enters into a detention database.
“The system totally broke down,” said Jennifer Podkul, an attorney with Kids in Need of Defense, which coordinates legal representation for migrant minors. Even lawyers who know the names of clients have a hard time using the ICE detainee tracking system because of misspelled names and other erroneous information, she said.
One internal email warned social workers “to NOT engage directly” with the ACLU, as one caregiver program did, and instead follow “the chain of command” to prepare for a child’s release.
‘Initiate contact with parents!’
On June 26, 2018, the federal judge in San Diego presiding over the ACLU’s lawsuit admonished U.S. officials for tracking migrant children with less diligence than they track belongings the government seizes from people and keeps in storage. He placed a preliminary block on further separations, ordered officials to arrange phone calls between parents and children, and reunite them on deadlines by age group the following month.
Emails show Refugee Resettlement staff discussed how to arrange and pay for collect calls from detained parents, and how parents were incommunicado while held in federal marshals’ custody, as many were at times.
On June 28, 2018, two days after the federal judge ordered reunification of families, an email circulated advising Refugee Resettlement affiliates that Health and Human Services was designing a database to “eliminate the need to track information [on families] on spreadsheets.”
Homeland Security databases on parents — some on their way to deportation — had no information on whether children had been separated from them. The Homeland Security and Health and Human Services databases were not linked.
The Public Integrity and NPR investigation found that during the first half of last year, Refugee Resettlement filed the majority of more than 800 family separation complaints logged by Homeland Security’s civil rights office. Among children who languished in shelters without the office’s help were blind or deaf children — disabled children the civil rights office acknowledges it has authority to expeditiously assist.
Meanwhile, fallout from the mass separations of families continues.
On Nov. 5, a federal judge in Los Angeles ruled that the U.S. government should be held accountable for the impact of the zero tolerance policy. The government, the judge said, must provide mental-health services to thousands of traumatized migrant children who languished without seeing or being in contact with their parents, sometimes for months.
Author: SUSAN FERRISS, CENTER FOR PUBLIC INTEGRITY
A federal judge in El Paso on Tuesday blocked the Trump administration’s plan to pay for border barrier construction with $3.6 billion in military funds, ruling that the administration does not have the authority to divert money appropriated by Congress for a different purpose.
The Trump administration was planning to use those funds to build 175 miles of steel barriers, and the court’s permanent injunction casts new doubt on Trump’s pledge to erect 450 linear miles of fencing by the end of next year.
District Court Judge David Briones, a Bill Clinton appointee, said in his ruling that the administration’s attempt to reprogram military construction funds by emergency proclamation was unlawful and that the plaintiffs in the case were entitled to a permanent injunction halting the government.
A ruling Briones issued in October placed a temporary hold on Trump’s plan to use the funds, but that decision did not have a nationwide scope.
The Trump administration has budgeted nearly $10 billion for barrier construction to date, so the ruling affects roughly one-third of the money the president plans to spend on his signature project. Briones’ decision does not apply to other money available to the administration, including reprogrammed military counternarcotics funds.
The ruling marked the first instance of a local jurisdiction successfully suing to block construction of Trump’s border barrier.
El Paso County, one of the two plaintiffs in the suit, had argued that the new border barrier was unwanted by the community and would inflict permanent harm on its reputation as a welcoming, cross-border place.
Kristy Parker, one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs, said the decision means the president cannot spend money on the project that wasn’t authorized by Congress.
“The president can’t use the National Emergencies Act to override a congressional appropriations decision,” Parker said. “That specifically means he cannot use funds appropriated for military construction and divert it for use to build border barriers.”
The Trump administration is expected to appeal the decision.
For nearly a year, allies of President Trump ignored seemingly every obstacle that might keep their right-wing group from building a crowdfunded wall at multiple points along the U.S.-Mexico border.
They didn’t get permits in advance. They refused government orders to stop and study their engineering. And on the banks of the Rio Grande, they began bulldozing land where, true to their group’s name — “We Build the Wall” — they plan to erect more than three miles of 18-foot steel fencing.
But a Texas judge on Tuesday issued what may be the strongest rebuke yet to the group, which is led by Stephen K. Bannon, ordering it to temporarily halt all construction because of possible harm to a nearby nature preserve.
State District Judge Keno Vasquez, of Hidalgo County, ruled that the National Butterfly Center, a 100-acre riverfront preserve in Mission, could face “imminent and irreparable harm” if We Build the Wall continues with plans to erect a “water wall” between the nature refuge and a state park.
Javier Peña, a lawyer for the butterfly center, told The Washington Post the wall could act as a dam that would redirect floodwater to the sanctuary — a popular spot for school groups and birders — and wipe out its vegetation, thus destroying the site or reducing its property value.
“You can do almost anything with your property. But what you can’t do is hurt other people’s property,” he said. “For these guys to come down and use fear and hate to destroy it [the center] for their personal gain — that’s what troubles us.”
Yet the Florida group, and its founder, outspoken military veteran Brian Kolfage, may be barreling forward anyway.
“We have many people who try to stop us legally with silly attempts, and in the end we always prevail,” Kolfage said in an email to The Post. “I would put a 50/50 chance this is fake news, and if it’s not it will be crushed legally pretty fast.”
In a video posted to Twitter on Tuesday evening, the group’s project manager — a man in a hard-hat identified only as “Foreman Mike” — said a mile and a half of land had been cleared beside the river, and steel bollards and panels would be installed within 48 hours.
“We’re going to be putting this up,” he said, asking for more donations, while pledging to have the whole project complete by Jan. 15, 2020. “We have to supercharge it now. It’s time to get really moving.”
Kolfage, a triple amputee in Florida who received a Purple Heart for his service in Iraq, first went viral last December, when he launched a GoFundMe looking to crowdfund $1 billion to privately build Trump’s border wall.
As he raised $25 million online, his campaign drew scrutiny about where all that money was going. But Kolfage, who enlisted the likes of Bannon and Kris Kobach to serve on his board, then revealed the group had hired a North Dakota construction firm to erect a half-mile of fencing on private land in Sunland Park, N.M.
In May, the town’s mayor sent We Build the Wall a cease-and-desist letter, seeking to block its construction on private land belonging to a brick company. Days later, though, the construction firm — headed by a major GOP donor and touted by Trump himself — was later allowed to finish carrying out the project.
Over the summer, Kolfage and his group set its sights on South Texas, where they again hired the North Dakota firm to erect a “water wall” on private land along the Rio Grande belonging to a sugar cane farmer.
The U.S. Army Corps typically builds on higher ground along river levees, placing steel bollards far from the ever-shifting curves of a river that has been especially prone to flooding. (The butterfly center has sued the Trump administration over its plans to extend such construction into the protected area, and a circuit court is set to hear arguments later this week.)
Unlike the federal government’s construction, Peña said Kolfage’s plans ignore the possibility of damage to neighboring properties.
“Whether you’re for the wall or against the wall, they [the government] are cognizant of the dangers that construction could cause,” he said. “These guys are just going in there to stoke everyone’s anger and fear, raise money, and then move along to the next victim.”
The International Boundary and Water Commission, a joint U.S.-Mexico agency that issues permits to build along the Rio Grande, asked the group to halt construction, submit an engineering study and remove heavy equipment from the levees, The Post’s Nick Miroff reported. The group appeared to ignore that request.
During that time, Kolfage and the butterfly center erupted into an online flame war. Kolfage accused the center of assisting cartels and partaking in insect smuggling, calling them “left wing thugs with a sham butterfly agenda.” The center took its own jabs at Kolfage on social media, sometimes including the hashtag “#LiarLiarPantsOnFire.”
Then, the butterfly center sued Kolfage and his group. Peña said the preserve’s leaders wanted to conduct a study of the fencing itself, but have been blocked from doing so until the court grants them access to the land being used by We Build the Wall.
“They’re not stopping. They’re not planning on conducting studies. They’re not concerned with what damage it would do to neighboring properties,” he said. “They just want to build the wall.”
The temporary restraining order will last at least until Dec. 17, at which point it can be extended for another two weeks and may then lead to a temporary injunction hearing.
Should Kolfage and his group continue construction anyway, a judge could call them in for a hearing and consider sanctions ranging from monetary fines to jail time, Peña said.
Author: TEO ARMUS, THE WASHINGTON POST | Reis Thebault contributed to this report.
TUCSON — Department of Homeland Security officials who are concerned about the rising number of migrant families crossing from Mexico into the Arizona desert are preparing to bus them more than 300 miles east into Texas so that they can deposit them in Mexico instead of releasing them in the United States, according to two Trump administration officials.
Homeland Security officials plan to announce as soon as Friday that they will expand the program, called Migrant Protection Protocols, to the Tucson region, one of the last major areas on the border that has not been diverting asylum seekers to Mexico to await their immigration court hearings.
Officials estimate DHS will send at least one busload each day from U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Tucson sector to the Texas border city of El Paso, according to the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the internal plans. Migrants will have interviews to determine if they would be at risk in Mexico, and if not, will be sent to Ciudad Juárez to await their U.S. immigration court hearings.
The plan follows weeks of brainstorming to fix a weak spot that emerged in the Trump administration’s border crackdown after officials rolled out MPP, also known as “remain in Mexico.” CBP’s Tucson sector, which covers a swath of forbidding desert and cactus forests that encompass most of Arizona’s southern border, was not included in the initial rollout of the policy. Officials began the program in January but substantially expanded it after a federal appeals court ruling allowed it to move forward in May. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals is expected to rule soon on the broader legality of the program.
CBP declined to comment on the expansion, and DHS did not respond to a request for comment.
Federal officials have credited MPP and increased enforcement in Mexico with a dramatic plunge in border apprehensions in recent months. In September, officials said border crossings had fallen so much that it allowed them to “effectively end” the practice of releasing migrants into the United States to await court hearings. The practice frustrated President Donald Trump because migrants allowed to stay in the United States rarely are deported, even if they lost their bids to stay in the country.
But Border Patrol officials quietly continued releasing border crossers into the Tucson sector, and smugglers caught on, U.S. officials said. As family apprehensions plunged elsewhere, they rose more than 33% from May to October in the Tucson sector, from 1,700 to nearly 2,400. The Wall Street Journal first reported the releases earlier this month.
Federal officials said Tucson lagged behind in the MPP program, mainly because it had received far fewer families crossing the border and was a less urgent target. Family arrivals in Tucson remain far lower than the tens of thousands at other parts of the border earlier this year, particularly in El Paso.
But Tucson’s crossings in October surpassed those in El Paso, which counted 2,100.
More than 200 people — including one large group of 129 people — streamed into remote Sasabe, Arizona, in the Tucson sector, in a span of five hours Saturday night. Babies swaddled in scarves cuddled against their mothers, according to images CBP released.
The migrants were from Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua. The oldest was 56. The youngest was 6 months old.
The influx demonstrates the ability of smuggling networks to identify holes on the border, officials said. Nearly 1 million migrants were taken into custody along the border during the most recent fiscal year, including a record number of migrant families and unaccompanied minors, mostly from Central America.
Officials said adults traveled with children because they were able to quickly bypass immigration custody and were released to await court hearings.
Advocates for immigrants say migrants’ willingness to trek to the Arizona desert is a sign of their desperation to escape their homelands and that they fear waiting in Mexico’s high-crime border cities for an asylum hearing.
Speaking at a gathering of faith leaders Thursday in Tucson, the Rev. Rodger Babnew said some migrants have come from Matamoros and Ciudad Juárez after learning that they could enter the United States via the Tucson sector. He said criminal cartels have begun shaking down migrants for money along the route.
“They come because they know they will be returned to Mexico,” said Babnew, an Episcopal minister with a nonprofit organization called Cruzando Fronteras, or Crossing Borders, which shelters and provides medical care to migrants on both sides of the border. “People are trying to get to their families before the holidays.”
Pastor Mateo Chavez, who leads a Lutheran church in Tucson, said a Venezuelan man who came to Cruzando Fronteras’ shelter in Nogales, Mexico, told him he had been waiting on the Mexico side of the Matamoros port of entry.
“But he didn’t like what he saw,” Chavez said.
The large shelters in Nogales house hundreds of people who are in the Trump administration’s “metering” program, meaning they sought asylum at a port of entry and are waiting in line to be allowed to enter legally.
Federal officials have credited the MPP program and increased enforcement in Mexico for an 88% drop in family crossings, from 84,486 in May to 9,733 in October.
The Border Patrol’s Yuma sector, in western Arizona, implemented the MPP program in April and has seen the number of family members plunge from nearly 11,000 in May to 400 in October.
Yuma, like Tucson, also is unable to send migrants directly across the border via the MPP program because the government of Mexico will not accept them there. Instead, officials are taking migrants west to Calexico, California, and sending them to Mexico from there.
More than 4,800 migrants have been sent from Yuma into Mexico since the program began in April, according to Yuma’s deputy chief patrol agent, Carl Landrum.
Authors: ARELIS R. HERNÁNDEZ, NICK MIROFF AND MARIA SACCHETTI, THE WASHINGTON POST
When David Acevedo attended a meeting with officials from the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers in Webb County last month, he thought he would come away with more information about the Trump administration’s border security plans.
But Acevedo, whose family owns 180 acres of land near the Rio Grande in south Laredo, said the meeting only produced more questions about how the administration was going to move forward with plans it had for the swath of land that’s been in his family for generations.
“They didn’t tell us that they were doing a physical barrier,” he said. “They said, ‘It may be a wall, it may be that we just need lights, we’re going to put lighting up, it may be we just need a road.’”
The only thing he knew for sure was the administration wanted access to his land to conduct surveys and site samples for border security purposes. And in a letter dated Oct. 15, the government asked him to grant access for 18 months.
The government’s actions in Webb County are similar to the sporadic but hurried moves the administration is taking in the Rio Grande Valley as it fast-tracks construction of a border barrier ahead of the 2020 election. The administration has moved ahead with construction of new barriers in the Rio Grande Valley recently and NBC news reported last week the administration is preparing court filings to seize more land in the area before the end of the month — without first telling landowners how much they’ll be offered for their land.
It’s a familiar fight for people in the Rio Grande Valley, said Ricky Garza, an attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project who is urging his clients not to allow the government access to their land. He represents five Valleylandowners and is in talks with another, he said last week.
“A landowner is under no obligation to sign that right of entry to allow them free access to the property, but it’s in the government’s interest [to have them sign],” he said. “They don’t want the landowners to ever see the inside of a courtroom.”
Garza said most of his clients are in the early stages of the battle — fighting in court on the issue of granting the government access to survey their land. But he said there are likely more landowners who have received notices without knowing what they represent.
“I wish we had good data on where these right of entry letters have gone out and what percentage of people gave signed them,” he said.
In Laredo, Tricia Cortez, the executive director of the Rio Grande International Study Center, a nonprofit environmental group, said it’s hard to pinpoint exactly where the government is planning to seize private land.
“It’s all secretive. We’re finding out they also want to put 15 miles [of border wall] upstream from Laredo College [in west Laredo],” she said. “They don’t say where exactly.”
While some landowners are digging in for lengthy court battles with the government over their land, the Trump administration is likely to seize the land it wants, said David Bier, an immigration policy analyst at the CATO Institute, a libertarian think tank.
“I think he’s not going to mess around trying to negotiate beforehand,” Bier said. “He doesn’t have to, according to the courts and according to the statute. He can get away with just taking the land and putting a $100 price tag on everything. He can do that and leave it to the courts to figure out what’s just compensation somewhere down the line.”
The Army Corps of Engineers did not return a call seeking comment about the land acquisitions in Webb County and the Rio Grande Valley. During a news conference in El Paso Wednesday, newly-appointed acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Chad F. Wolf said the administration’s goal was to build 450 to 500 miles of barrier by the end of 2020. He said 83 miles have already been built and an additional 153 are in progress.
Wolf said he’s confident that the Army Corp of Engineers will eventually be able to gain access to the properties the federal government needs.
“We continue to push forward on both land acquisition and construction of the wall, obviously the two have to work hand in hand,” he said, adding that the Army Corps of Engineers and other government agencies are “talking with landowners every single day to try to find a solution.”
The Trump administration’s ability to seize land for a border wall comes from a Great Depression-era policy called a declaration of taking. The Taking Act was passed by Congress to help spur the economy through construction projects and job creation. It was seen as an alternative to the slow-moving eminent domain lawsuits of that time. The idea was to fast-track seizures, which would allow the federal government to quickly build public works projects and generate jobs.
The act was used by George W. Bush’s administration in Texas after the 2006 Secure Fence Act called for hundreds of miles of border barrier construction. The government told landowners up front how much it was offering to pay for their land during that round of border barrier construction, but the effort still produced dozens of lawsuits after some landowners challenged the proposed amounts. (Some of the those legal challenges are still pending, a 2017 investigation by The Texas Tribune and ProPublica found.)
Even as questions about timelines and compensation swirl, people like Acevedo seem ready to dig in and fight for as long as they’re able.
Acevedo said he’s not opposed to more border security. He grants U.S. Border Patrol access to his land when the agency needs it. But he has his limits.
“Get them helicopters, get them drones, get vehicles, get them technology,” he said. “But when they come and they say they’re going to take something by eminent domain or whatever, that’s when I put my foot down.”
He said he hasn’t touched the government’s right-of-entry agreement.
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.
EL PASO — The number of people who were apprehended by or surrendered to federal immigration officials on the U.S.-Mexico border dipped by nearly 20% last month, the Department of Homeland Security announced Tuesday. After totaling about 64,000 apprehensions in August, the agency reported a September total of about 52,500 apprehensions — a decrease of about 18%.
The September total is about 40% of July’s estimated 82,000 and the lowest monthly total of the 2019 fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection statistics.
Despite the months-long trend downward, the entire 2019 fiscal year’s total represents nearly a 90% increase over 2018. In 2019 about 977,500 people were apprehended or presented themselves at the ports of entry without proper paperwork, compared to 521,000 during the 2018 fiscal year.
“CBP has faced unprecedented and staggering levels of illegal crossings,” Acting Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Mark Morgan said during a news conference from Washington Tuesday.
Morgan credited the Trump administration’s polices for the latest dip in numbers and mentioned the Migrant Protection Protocols, which requires most asylum seekers from Central America, Cuba and other countries to wait for their U.S. court hearings in Mexico. The policy is designed as a deterrent to convince people in those countries not to make the trip north. Since its inception in late 2018, more than 51,000 people have been sent back to Mexico, Morgan said.
“While Congress has failed to put forth a single piece of legislation — even be able to introduce it to the floor to address this crisis — we have addressed this crisis,” Morgan said.
Morgan also lauded the Mexican government’s efforts to stem the flow of migrants. Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador deployed thousands of federal troops to that country’s southern border to slow the number of people arriving from Central America. The order came after Trump threatened to impose tariffs of up to 25% on Mexican imports if the flow of migrants continued in nearly record numbers.
Morgan also said on Tuesday that the Trump administration is moving forward with another controversial asylum policy. In July, the administration announced that most migrants who passed through another country on their route to the United States would be ineligible for asylum protections if they didn’t apply for asylum in another country.
After a court challenge to the policy in a California federal court, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last month that the policy could be implemented while the case plays out in lower courts.
WASHINGTON — The fight over funding for a border wall in Texas and other states appears to be heating up again in Congress this month as lawmakers near a deadline to pass a military funding bill.
The partisan divide over the wall was on display Thursday, when the Senate Appropriations Committee approved its $694.9 billion annual defense spending bill on a 16-15 party-line vote. Democrats opposed the bill because it includes $12.2 billion to build new sections of the wall. Senate Democrats are threatening to filibuster the legislation over border funding.
Last week’s split committee vote offers a glimpse into the issues that could arise in the Senate before the Sept. 30 funding deadline, which must also pass through the Democratic-controlled House. In December, a similar fight over border wall funding resulted in the longest government shutdown in U.S. history.
Meanwhile, the House is also expected to soon vote on a resolution opposing the Trump administration’s plan to divert $3.6 billion in military construction fund 175 miles of new wall. About $38 million of that would come out of the budgets of Fort Bliss in El Paso and Joint Base San Antonio. That money, which came after President Donald Trump declared a national emergency on the southern border that would allow him to tap into military funding for border security without approval from Congress, would have gone toward a new dining facility in San Antonio and new roads in Fort Bliss.
Trump’s continued aggressive push to build the wall has split the Texas delegation in Congress. Democrats, especially those whose districts are along the border, remain steadfastly opposed. U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-El Paso, called the decision to divert military funds a “a power grab that will undermine our national security.”
Senate Republicans, including Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, have said that they trust the president’s judgement and expect to get those funds back, characterizing immigration through the southern border as a crisis that warrants such funding.
“Texas is being overwhelmed by the magnitude of illegal immigrations flooding into small communities,” said Maria Jeffrey, a spokesperson for Cruz. “Due to inaction by Congress, these communities are left holding the bag on where those illegal immigrants stay, how they will receive medical care, and where they will go when released. This is a security and humanitarian crisis, and Democrats in Congress need to do their jobs and work with Republicans and President Trump to secure the border.”
Still, Jeffrey said Cruz is committed to making sure that military facilities in the state “get what they need to continue serving as pillars of America’s security.”
The resolution in the House, pushed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, will force Republican lawmakers whose states may have lost military funding to go on the record about their stance on the declaration..
When a similar resolution passed in March, the majority of Republicans voted against it. Twelve Republicans broke with Trump, however. U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-San Antonio, who represents part of the Texas-Mexico border, was the only Texas Republican to vote with the Democrats.
In many parts of the state, border wall construction has already been finalized. Though congressmen in the Rio Grande Valley included protections for environmentally sensitive areas in the 2018 omnibus spending bill, the rest of the construction will predominantly take place on the over 1,000 miles of privately owned land along the Texas-Mexico border.
Scott Nicol, an activist with the Lower Rio Grande Valley Sierra Club, works with property owners whose land is at threat of being seized by the government for border wall construction. He said law makers in Washington lack perspective when making decisions on border security.
“There’s a huge disconnect between the on-the-ground reality that we experience and what most members of congress think the border is,” he said. “For them, its just an abstraction. We are not real people, these are not real landscapes. … How do you make yourself real to somebody who lives in this fantasy world of politics?”
Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled the name of Maria Jeffrey.
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.
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
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 toimpose 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 bothsides 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.
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.
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.
With a looming trade war with Mexico on the horizon, Texas’ proximity to its southern neighbor could spell economic trouble for the state’s consumers and workforce.
But it’s the added dynamic of how this country trades with Mexico that could do far greater damage to the state and national economies than President Donald Trump’s current trade battles with China or Canada, analysts warn.
Late Thursday, Trump announced he would begin imposing 5% tariffs on all products imported from Mexico on June 10 if that country didn’t do more to curb the flow of unauthorized immigrants traveling through Mexico on their way to the United States. Trump said he would increase it to as high as 25 percent by October if Mexico doesn’t act.
Since October 2018, when the federal government’s current fiscal year began, more than 460,000 undocumented immigrants have been apprehended on the southern border, surpassing 2018’s fiscal year total of 396,579. The administration has built temporary holding facilities in El Paso and the Rio Grande Valley to house more immigrants and announced earlier this month that more would be built within a couple weeks.
The tariff announcement comes as the Trump administration escalates its trade war with China, which has led both countries to impose billions in duties on goods imported to their respective countries.
But the impact from tariffs on Mexican goods could have a deeper reach because of just how many U.S. products contain parts or labor supplied by both countries, 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.
“The way U.S. workers will be hit by this is very different. The imports coming in from Mexico have the highest percentage of U.S.-made products within them,” she said. “On average, 40 percent of products are made in the U.S. so those American workers that are making that 40 percent are going to get hit as hard as their Mexican counterparts.”
Some industries — including automakers — import and export products back and forth across the border more than once, which means those goods could be subject to multiple tariffs. For example, two of the top U.S. exports to Mexico are auto and computer parts, while two of the top imports from Mexico are auto parts and computers, according to trade data analyzed by WorldCity.
The threat by the president comes after Mexico recently became the United States’ largest trading partner — it has been Texas’ top trade partner for several years. Through March, more than $150.58 billion in two-way trade passed through the countries’ ports: 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, respectively.
That means the effect from tariffs will be felt first in border states, O’Neil said.
“Many of those jobs in those regional supply chains where goods and parts come back and forth across the border, many of those jobs are in Texas,” she said. “And the whole logistics industry, the people whose lives depend on trade that move things back and forth, all of those jobs will get hit as this trade gets more expensive.”
Ray Perryman, the president and CEO of the Perryman Group, said a 5 percent tariff, once absorbed through supply chains and market adjustments, could eliminate more than 400,000 U.S. jobs and cause economic losses he estimated at $41.5 billion in gross domestic product.
“If Mexico were to retaliate and impose tariffs on the U.S., which is likely, the effects would be even greater. Texas would bear the lion’s share of this loss given the extensive commerce that occurs between the state and Mexico,” Perryman said in an emailed statement.
Some of the state’s lawmakers and business groups condemned the president’s move and questioned its legality.
“[We] strongly opposes President Trump’s threat to impose unilateral tariffs on Mexican imports. Our analysis suggests the tariffs may not rest on firm constitutional or legal ground, and probably violate international agreements including the North American Free Trade Agreement and those underlying the World Trade Organization,” said Laredo Mayor Pete Saenz, who serves as chairman of the Texas Border Coalition, a group of elected officials and private sector leaders that advocates for more resources at the nation’s land ports.
U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, said the announcement could negatively impact ongoing negotiations between the United States, Mexico and Canada over the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, a trade pact seen by some lawmakers and economistsas a much-needed improvement to the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement.
“The President’s threat to impose tariffs on Mexico is a dangerous mistake that will have significant consequences to our economy,” he said. “To properly address the crisis at the southern border, we need to invest in our ports of entry, including increasing personnel, improving infrastructure, and advancing technology.”
Gov. Greg Abbott released a statement saying that the situation at the border has reached a “breaking point” and he put the blame on Congress.
“I’ve previously stated my opposition to tariffs due to the harm it would inflict on the Texas economy, and I remain opposed today,” Abbott said. “Nevertheless, the President is trying to address this emergency. Now, Congress must do its job and start passing laws to fix our broken immigration system.”
An aide to U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, added: “Senator Cornyn supports the President’s commitment to securing our border, but he opposes this across-the-board tariff which will disproportionately hurt Texas.”
U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady, R-The Woodlands, said he understands Trump’s frustrations, but added there is still time to work on a solution before the tariffs are implemented in 10 days.
“The President has made it clear that Mexico must do more to stop this crisis at the border which seemingly has no end, and he is serious about taking whatever actions are necessary to find a real lasting solution,” said Brady, the ranking member on the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee. “Mexico is a valued ally and the new tariffs are not yet in effect, so there is a window here for both countries to find common ground. It is in both of our interests to do so, economically and for stronger security.”
O’Neil said Mexican President Andres Lopez Obrador has already tried to meet some of Trump’s long-standing demands that Mexico do more to curb the flow of Central American migrants.
“He has deported as many people [in less than a year] as [former President] Enrique Peña Nieto did in his last year,” she said. “But the number of people coming has increased so that is the challenge. And with manyfewer resources [than the United States].”
Abby Livingston and Patrick Svitek contributed reporting