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Thursday , October 18 2018
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U.S. Officials Have Been Keeping Migrants From Crossing Bridges, Now Mexico is Doing the Same

REYNOSA, Mexico — It was the third time Ingrid had tried to make it across an international bridge into Texas.

The first time, she said, Mexican officials stopped her on the bridge into Laredo and demanded that she pay $1,500 for her and her two children to cross into the United States, where she planned to seek asylum.

A few weeks later, they barred Ingrid — a Mexican permanent resident born in Guatemala, with Mexican-born children — from passing the turnstiles to cross the bridge into Hidalgo, threatening to deport her and rip up her documents.

And on Tuesday, a Mexican officer in a beige uniform sprinted after Ingrid as she walked past the turnstile and up to the midpoint of that same bridge, which spans two nations grappling with their own influx of Central American migrants.

“Can I see your documents?” the officer, Alejandro Vargas, asked Ingrid, maneuvering his body in front of her. “I need to see your documents. It’s the orders from my boss.”

Ingrid, who declined to give her last name to protect her safety, said Mexican authorities later told her that if she attempted to cross the border again, her Mexican residency would be stripped and she would be deported to Guatemala.

It’s a move immigration lawyers say is becoming increasingly common along Mexico’s northern border following months of shifting U.S. immigration enforcement strategies that have prevented some migrants like Ingrid from entering the United States to seek asylum. This time, it’s Mexican officials who are cracking down.

Earlier this year, U.S. officials started turning migrants away before they could even reach the U.S. side of the bridge, telling them ports of entry were full. On one bridge, U.S. Customs and Border Protection even erected a physical structure on the invisible line between the two countries. But after asylum-seekers started camping out on the Mexican side of the bridges — sometimes sleeping on cardboard for days at a time — Mexican officials began blocking Central American migrants from entering those bridges at all.

“Before, if someone was illegally on the border, and there was a suspicion that they were going to leave the country, [Mexican immigration officials] would turn a blind eye,” said Isauro Rodríguez, an immigration lawyer based in Reynosa. “Now, they’re actually clamping down as hard as they do in other parts of Mexico.”

Advocates and lawyers on both sides of the border have various theories as to why Mexican officials are suddenly cracking down on asylum-seekers. Some believe the Mexican government is trying to save face politically, as U.S. officials question why Mexico isn’t doing more to stem the northern flow. Others argue Mexican immigration authorities are under the thumb of cartels, which want to force migrants into costly smuggling rings.

Rochelle Garza, a lawyer based in Brownsville, has filed a petition with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights asking for Ingrid and a dozen others in similar situations to be allowed to cross international bridges to seek asylum. The migrants have a right to leave Mexico and the right to seek asylum in the United States, she said, and neither country is cooperating.

Mexican migration officials declined to comment for this story.

But Hector Hugo Alemán Pacheco, an official with Mexico’s National Institute of Migration, said in a letter responding to inquiries from lawyers that allowing immigrants free entry across the bridge into the United States would mean telling Mexican migration authorities to ignore their mandated responsibilities.

“Individuals who enter or exit national territory must do so complying with immigration law and its regulations,” he said, “with intervention from migration officials.”

The petition Garza filed with the human rights commission accuses U.S. officials of asking their Mexican counterparts to ramp up enforcement. An affidavit signed by Jennifer Harbury, a Mercedes-based lawyer who accompanied Ingrid onto the Hidalgo bridge twice, said she was told by Mexican officials that the U.S. Border Patrol had instructed them to apprehend migrants. She said in some instances, Central American asylum-seekers reached the midpoint of bridges, only to be stopped by U.S. officials and told to sit down on the Mexican side. Then, Mexican officials would arrive to question the migrants.

A spokesperson for Customs and Border Protection declined to comment for this story, instead pointing to previous statements that say the agency is “not denying or discouraging” migrants from seeking asylum: “Depending upon port circumstances at the time of arrival, individuals presenting without documents may need to wait in Mexico as CBP officers work to process those already within our facilities.”

The increased immigration enforcement by Mexico means it’s becoming increasingly difficult for asylum-seekers like Ingrid to ask for asylum the “right” way — by crossing into the United States at an official port of entry.

She could stay on the Mexican side of bridge, hoping for another chance to cross. But Mexican officials could apprehend her for loitering in a federally controlled area.

She could pay a smuggler to take her across the Rio Grande illegally. But Ingrid doesn’t have the money.

It’s even riskier for migrants who — unlike Ingrid — are in Mexico illegally and could be deported at any time. Rodriguez, the Reynosa lawyer, said while migrants can theoretically appear before a Mexican judge to ask for an amparo, a kind of temporary reprieve from deportation, costly legal fees prevent them from doing it.

“What other choice do these individuals have if they’re being forced back into Mexico, where they’re being picked up by cartel members, where they’re being extorted?” asked Garza, the Brownsville lawyer.

Author: TEO ARMUS – The Texas Tribune

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Editor’s note: The Texas Tribune and TIME have partnered to closely track the family separation crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border. This story is not available for republishing by a national news organization until Oct. 12 at 6 a.m. Texas news organizations may run it at any time. For more information email nchoate@texastribune.org.

Analysis: An Old Headline Lingers on the Texas-Mexico Border

This is frustrating, at best: According to the latest tally, more than 400 kids separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border remain separated from their parents. More than 300 parents of those kids are now in their home countries, and 199 of them waived reunification.

Remember when this issue rose to the top of the news? That was so many headlines ago.

And yet, the problem persists.

What started with the “zero tolerance” policy at the border — a stepped-up enforcement program that resulted, among other things, in separations of migrants and their children — has evolved into an interminable, expensive and embarrassing demonstration of immigration bureaucracy at its worst.

The latest filings from the lawyers for the government and for the people suing them — the American Civil Liberties Union, or ACLU — say 416 kids are “children remaining in care where the adult associated with the child is not eligible for reunification or is not available for discharge at this time.”

Some of the kids aren’t going to be reunified: 199 adults have “indicated desire against reunification.” That’s not broken down to show how many kids that would involve, but if you do the math, it’s a minimum of 100. The accounting started with 2,654 children, including 103 under the age of five. The latest numbers include 14 toddlers among the 416 kids who remain unconnected to their parents.

The adults are scattered: 304 are presently outside the U.S.; nine are in federal, state or local custody; 34 are “red-flagged” either for background checks or for safety or well-being of the children.

More than 15 percent of the kids in the initial cohort are still under the care of the federal government. Here’s a measure of the progress they’re making; between the latest report and the report from the week before, authorities discharged 24 kids from the Office of Refugee Resettlement’s care. Two dozen.

The rest are getting food, shelter, clothing and schooling — though the state of Texas says it will not fund two public charter schools that are located in federally funded shelters and are educating migrant children who entered the U.S. without adults or who were separated at the border from their families. State officials say the cost of educating those kids should be borne by the federal government.

Wouldn’t it be something if government officials responded to reuniting kids with their migrant parents as quickly as they pop off about the latest tennis shoe commercial? Politicians — who’ve been altogether silent about messes like an immigration policy and practice that seem incoherent and illogical to both conservatives and liberals — suddenly pipe up when something worthy of a midafternoon cable TV debate arises.

Real policy is hard. Sorting out the separated families is a straight-up demonstration of how slowly real problems get worked out. Federal immigration officials backed off the zero-tolerance policy when the family separations accelerated; President Trump signed an executive order in June to end the policy altogether.

Cleaning up has taken longer. Adults were deported before the connections between parents and children were sorted out. What was supposed to be a policy aimed at unlawful entries into the U.S. snared some who lawfully presented themselves to U.S. authorities as asylum seekers, according to court testimony.

And now, the U.S. finds itself the caretaker and guardian of more than 400 kids, many of whom will never be reunited with their families. The people looking for tighter borders weren’t seeking this outcome. The people who’d like looser restrictions on immigrants weren’t either. It’s a failure.

It’s not a fresh problem anymore. That sometimes has the effect of moving something noteworthy out of the headlines, as fresher noteworthy things happen. For all of that, it’s the same problem it was — or worse, since the separations have persisted — at the beginning of the summer. It’s just harder to get a government to clean up a mess as quickly as it can make one.

Author: ROSS RAMSEY – The Texas Tribune

ACLU Claims ICE Still Detaining Some Asylum-Seekers for No Reason Despite Court Order

Despite a federal judge’s order preventing immigration officials from arbitrarily holding asylum-seeking immigrants in federal detention, attorneys representing some of the detainees said Tuesday that the majority of the immigrants are still locked up for no reason.

Last month, U.S. District Judge James E. Boasberg granted a preliminary injunction preventing Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents from denying parole to asylum-seekers without an individual determination as to why. The lawsuit includes as defendants the El Paso, Detroit, Los Angeles, Newark and Philadelphia ICE field offices. The El Paso office covers West Texas and New Mexico.

Michael Tan, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union and one of the lead lawyers on the case, said that as of last week ICE had granted parole to about 25 percent of the asylum-seekers included in the lawsuit.

It’s a far cry from the 90 percent rate that existed before President Donald Trump took office, he said, which leads the attorneys to believe that ICE continues to detain people without cause.

“There are reasons to believe that the government continues to ignore its own parole policy,” he said. That policy states that a person seeking asylum who has established his or her true identity should be released if they are not a flight risk or a threat to the public at large.

Tan said he understands that ICE officials aren’t required to grant parole to everyone, but he said that after speaking to attorneys working on the ground in the five field offices, ICE agents are still “checking boxes” for the sole purpose of denying the relief.

“To be clear, I am not saying there is some magic number,” he said. “[But] they are being denied parole based on a boilerplate checklist.”

From July 2, when Boasberg issued the order, through August 17, 145 out of 563 asylum-seekers had been granted parole. That includes 78 of the 286 El Paso cases.

A spokesperson in the El Paso ICE field office did not respond to a request for comment.

Kristen Greer Love, an attorney with the ACLU of New Mexico who is representing some of the asylum-seekers being held in El Paso and New Mexico, said ICE officials don’t explain the reasons a person was denied parole once their case is reviewed.

“It is sort of a blanket statement that the person is a flight risk or a danger to the community, or hasn’t presented adequate evidence to prove their identity,” she said. “ICE appears to be using, for example, the flight risk [excuse] even when people have presented robust evidence of having a sponsor who is either a U.S. citizen or a lawful permanent resident in the United States who has the means and commitment to make sure the person has the means to show up at the immigration proceedings.”

Love added that most of the people she’s spoken to have been detained since they arrived at the port of entry and sought asylum, which makes it impossible that they have a criminal history in this country.

Tan said the ACLU will ask the judge to grant its motion for more discovery to see if ICE can show it is complying with the order. The judge also asked the agency to submit a monthly report of parole determinations until further notice.

“It’s basically a fact-finding process where we can investigate whether the government is in fact complying the court order. If it’s not … we’ll ask the court to order additional remedies,” he said.

Read related Tribune coverage

Author: JULIÁN AGUILAR – The Texas Tribune

U.S. House Eyes $5 Billion for Border Wall, Setting up Showdown with Senate

House Republicans are aiming to meet President Trump’s latest request for his border wall — $5 billion for 2019 — setting up a potential showdown with the Senate.

The $5 billion would be included in a House homeland-security spending bill expected to be released Wednesday. The Senate included only $1.6 billion for the wall in its version of the bill last month, a figure that displeased Trump, who told senators he might shut down the government this fall if he does not get more.

Administration officials and House Republicans are holding discussions about the precise figure and what the money would be spent on. Trump never formally requested $5 billion for the wall, instead communicating the number privately to lawmakers in recent weeks.

Rep. Charles J. “Chuck” Fleischmann (R-Tenn.), a member of the House Appropriations subcommittee on homeland security, said he anticipated $5 billion that would be allocated for “wall plus” — meaning physical barriers in some spots, as well as other security mechanisms in places along the 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border where a wall might not be practical.

He and other Republicans acknowledged it might be a struggle to get their number through the Senate. Members of the Senate Appropriations Committee have been writing their spending bills on a bipartisan basis this year, while House Republicans are proceeding on their own, without Democrats.

“It’s got to start somewhere, and if we start in the House and get that out there it gives us a starting point,” Fleischmann said. “You’ll at least have the House and the White House lined up.”

Rep. Nita M. Lowey (D-N.Y.), the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, said the $5 billion figure was a non-starter given numerous other needs in areas such as education and health care.

“That number is unacceptable. It’s unacceptable,” Lowey said.

Republican lawmakers hope to avoid a government shutdown. Current funding bills are set to expire Sept. 30, just ahead of the November midterm elections in which the GOP will try to keep control of Congress.

Thorny issues such as wall funding and an unrelated fight over spending on veterans may remain unresolved at that point, and lawmakers widely expect that Congress will have to pass a short-term funding extension to keep the government running through Election Day.

The remaining issues could then be hashed out in a lame-duck session.

During his presidential campaign, Trump repeatedly promised that Mexico would pay for a wall along the border, but thus far that has not happened.

Read related Tribune coverage:

Author: ERICA WERNER, THE WASHINGTON POST

Federal Officials Cite “Zero Tolerance” After Border Apprehensions Dip Nearly 20% in June

The number of people who were apprehended or turned themselves in to Border Patrol agents near the U.S.-Mexico border last month dipped nearly 20 percent when compared to May, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced Thursday.

The total number of apprehensions on the southwest border was 34,114 last month, down from 40,338 in May. That figure, which includes people who were apprehended between the ports of entry, also shows a slight decrease in the number of unaccompanied minors and family units that were caught.

The decrease comes amid a firestorm over President Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy that led to the separation of thousands of immigrant children from their families. Trump’s policy directed that anyone who crossed the border between a port of entry be criminally charged. Since parents and kids can’t be kept in jail together, thousands of families were split up. Trump has since signed an executive order designed to end family separations, though many families have not yet been reunited.

In a statement, Department of Homeland Security spokesperson Tyler Q. Houlton touted the “zero tolerance” and said the government would continue to enforce current immigration laws while Congress debates a change to the current system.

“As we have said before, the journey north is dangerous and puts individuals in the hands of smugglers and traffickers,” Houlton said. “We continue to call on Congress to address the crisis at the border by closing legal loopholes that drive illegal immigration.”

The number of family units caught on the southern border dipped only slightly during the same time frame; from 9,485 to 9,449, while the number of unaccompanied children fell from to 6,388 to 5,115. The Border Patrol’s Rio Grande Valley sector in Texas remained the busiest in the country last month, with about 14,700 apprehensions occurring there last month. That figure includes 5,420 family units and 2,576 unaccompanied minors. The second busiest was Tucson with 4,146 total apprehensions. That was followed by the El Paso sector (which includes New Mexico) which registered 3,572 total apprehensions, including 1,604 family units and 839 unaccompanied minors.

Though the DHS statement said the decline last month came after the administration’s “zero tolerance” policy, figures provided by DHS show that traffic has generally declined in the summer months over the last few years. Since the 2013 federal fiscal year, only 2017 saw an increase in traffic from May to June.

And despite the drop in apprehensions over the last two months, government data shows that during the current fiscal year, from October to June, overall apprehensions of family units and unaccompanied minors increased when compared to the same time frame in  during the 2017 fiscal year. From October 2016 to June 2017 about 33,000 unaccompanied minors and 63,400 family units were caught. From October 2017 thought last month, those figures were 37,450 and  68,650, respectively.

Read related Tribune coverage:

Author:  JULIÁN AGUILAR – The Texas Tribune

Operator of Migrant Facility in Tornillo says it Might Not Stay Open Past July 13 When Contract Expires

TORNILLO — The tent city erected at this port of entry near El Paso was quickly built and opened less than two weeks ago to house undocumented immigrant children. On Monday, its operator said it may not keep operating after July 13, when its federal contract expires.

The incident commander for BCFS Health and Human Services, which operates the facility, said he doesn’t yet see a need to extend operations beyond that date because he doesn’t the arrival of many more minors. But a spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services told reporters during a tour of the facility that the government could ask to extend the contract — and even expand the facility if needed.

“The federal government will make a decision [later] about future needs,” said HHS spokesman Mark Weber.

HHS and BCFS officials gave about two dozen reporters a tour of the controversial facility, although they did not allow photography or audio recordings and interactions with the children were limited to greetings.

As of Monday morning, the facility housed 326 minors including 162 from Guatemala, 117 from Honduras, 40 from El Salvador, three from Mexico and four from countries simply classified as “other.” About two dozen children who were separated from their families at the border have arrived at the facility, and officials said three of those children have so far have been reunified with family members. Another 67 of the unaccompanied minors who arrived alone have been reunited since arriving at the facility.

Reporters were given a briefing on the facility’s operations inside a mobile command unit, where about 12 BCFS staffers monitored the facility through cameras and computer screens, kept a daily track of visitors and updated a daily tally of the facility’s population. The BCFS incident commander, who asked not to be identified by name, said security was essential due to the number of elected officials and media who had descended on the facility.

The rest of the sprawling facility, constructed in just three days, consisted of about 20 tents that act as dormitories. Each unit, with names like Alpha 10, has 10 bunk beds equipped to handle 20 minors at a time. Drawings and pages from coloring books could be seen tacked to some of the walls, many containing Bible verses, and a daily schedule dictating everything from laundry to lunch was taped to a table at the dorm entrances.

When one group is waiting in line to use the showers, another is taking its turn at the phone stations. And before it gets too hot, some of the minors are allowed to play soccer on a makeshift field that sits just south of the dormitories. Every unit is air conditioned and Weber said there have been no complaints about the heat.

The BCFS official said the operation is staffed by about 250 people, including translators, medical staff and counselors that help the children make calls to family members. He said it resembles a boot camp because it’s the easiest way to keep order.

He had scathing words for the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” mandate that resulted in the separation of thousands of minor children from their parents after they were apprehended or surrendered themselves at the border.

“It was an incredibly dumb, stupid decision,” he said, adding several times he hopes to never again conduct an operation like this one.

Meanwhile, Weber pushed back against claims that HHS and the Office of Refugee Resettlement’s process to reunite parents with their children has been chaotic so far. Several legal aid providers have criticized the process, saying it consists of little more than a 1-800 number that parents of other advocates can call to get information on where their children are.

“We know where the parents are, we are working as fast as we can” to get them in touch with their children, Weber said.

He said a some anecdotal stories about parents unable to locate their children isn’t the reality for most families. He said the process also includes verifying that a person is authorized to accept the child, and that takes time.

“We need to verify documentation [because] we don’t want to release a child too soon. It takes time.”

Read related Tribune coverage:

Author: JULIÁN AGUILAR – The Texas Tribune

Arguments, Confusion, Second-Guessing: Inside Trump’s Reversal on Separating Migrant Families

The White House’s hastily crafted executive order to end child separations spurred confusion and fights within the federal government, and second-guessing from the president who had demanded the order in the first place.

Amid continuing fallout from the Trump administration’s family separation policy, and a disjointed retreat earlier this week, senior officials met Friday to craft a plan for reuniting immigrant children with their parents or guardians, though it remained unclear how long that work will take.

The midday meeting was designed for officials to hash out exactly how they would reunite the more than 2,500 migrant children who have been separated from their parents since the practice went into effect in early May, according to officials involved in the discussions, who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to offer candid insights into internal deliberations. Roughly 500 children have already been reunited with a parent or guardian, officials have said.

The Friday meeting capped a tumultuous week in which administration officials rushed through an executive order that relieved the political pressure on President Trump but intensified friction between the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security.

By Wednesday morning, the president had become convinced that he needed a way to calm the criticism, according to people familiar with the discussions, and he felt confident that Republicans in Congress would push through immigration legislation ending the family separation practice — so he might as well get ahead of it. A vote on the measure was eventually postponed until next week, but it does not appear to have enough votes to pass.

In private conversations with aides, Trump said he wanted to sign a full immigration bill as part of an executive order, which one administration official described as “a pretty insane idea.” The president was told by government lawyers that he could not change immigration law by fiat, said a person familiar with the discussions.

Trump then demanded that an executive order be written that would end child detentions in cages, and said he wanted it on his desk for signing by that afternoon, according to people involved in the discussions.

Given hours to produce a complex legal document, government lawyers crafted one that met the moment’s political demands but only added to confusion within the agencies tasked with implementing it.

The order has quieted much, but not all, of the public anger over the family separation issue. On Friday outside the Justice Department, about 100 protesters gathered in the rain chanting “Keep Families Together!”

Even that admonition, with which the administration now agrees, has provoked fights inside the government.

Thursday, the first day of enforcing the order, was marked by confusion.

At Customs and Border Protection (CBP), officials viewed Trump’s order as instructing them to no longer refer to the Justice Department for prosecution the cases of adults illegally entering the United States with children, according to people familiar with the discussions.

That interpretation was relayed to CBP personnel along the southern border, and dozens of people who had been apprehended and sent to federal court for processing were suddenly removed from courthouses without criminal charges being filed against them.

Within the Justice Department, which prosecutes such cases, officials believed the executive order paved the way for parents to be held with their children for as long as necessary to resolve their cases, these people said.

White House officials gave little guidance in the early hours of the order, with Trump and his coterie of senior aides in Minnesota for a rally.

After CBP officials said there would be no referrals to the Justice Department of adults with children caught crossing the border, Justice Department officials became irate because that was not how they understood the policy, according to people familiar with the matter.

In many ways, the confusion echoed one of the administration’s most chaotic moments — when Trump signed an executive order in early 2017 banning visitors from majority Muslimcountries, leading to mass protests outside U.S. airports and much confusion for travelers.

In both instances, CBP personnel were left scrambling to quickly interpret and implement how the president’s command would be applied on the ground, with contradictory instructions and public statements in the immediate aftermath coming from multiple federal agencies.

On Thursday evening, officials from Homeland Security and the Justice Department gathered at the White House to discuss the issues, and over the course of the 90-minute meeting it became clear that CBP and Justice had wildly different understandings of what they were supposed to be doing, according to people familiar with the talks.

Senior White House adviser Stephen Miller, an outspoken proponent of tougher immigration policy, was unhappy that CBP had decided to halt referrals for prosecution of parents illegally crossing the border with children, according to people familiar with the meeting. Homeland Security officials complained they had been given no guidance and had done the best they could with vague language.

Trump, for his part, has ruminated to aides that he should not have signed the order in the first place, according to people familiar with the conversations. The president seemed to be fed up with the topic Friday, as he publicly discouraged Republican lawmakers from trying to pass any new immigration laws before the midterm elections in November.

“Republicans should stop wasting their time on Immigration until after we elect more Senators and Congressmen/women in November,” Trump tweeted. “Dems are just playing games, have no intention of doing anything to solves this decades old problem. We can pass great legislation after the Red Wave!”

[Trump answers critics of family separation policy with Americans ‘permanently separated’ from family by illegal immigrants]

In the meantime, federal agencies continue to wrestle with how to deal with those families that have been detained or are likely to be detained soon.

A significant challenge for Homeland Security, in particular, is that its detention facilities are already near maximum capacity, according to officials.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) currently has three “family residential centers” where migrant families can remain in custody together, but their combined capacity is only about 3,000 beds. According to the latest ICE statistics, the three facilities are nearly full.

On Friday, ICE requested information from government contractors about expanding its family detention capacity fivefold, “to accommodate up to 15,000 beds.” Its notice said the agency is seeking market information about the cost and logistics of adding new family-appropriate facilities, preferably in states along the Mexico border.

“The housing and other structures must appear residential and child-friendly rather than penal in nature,” the notice stated. “Facilities should not incorporate characteristics on the interior or exterior typically associated with secure detention facilities, such as high security fences, razor wire fencing, or heavy steel doors.”

Trump’s order also calls on the Defense Department to find space for migrant families, leaving military officials crafting plans on the fly to set up tent camps on bases with available land.

Pentagon officials on Friday said the department was drawing up plans for housing migrants. The officials stressed that the plans were not finalized and had been drafted in case they were needed.

“At this time there has been no request from DHS for DOD support to house illegal migrants,” Lt. Col. Jamie Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, said in an email.

One draft memo prepared for the secretary of the Navy called for “temporary and austere” detention camps for up to 25,000 migrants on abandoned airfields in Alabama, according to Time, which obtained a copy of the document.

The proposal also identifies a former naval weapons station near San Francisco and another facility at Camp Pendleton in southern California, each of which could house up to 47,000 people, Time reported.

White House officials were publicly silent on the executive order Friday, not taking questions as senior government officials huddled behind the scenes. Trump appeared with families of people killed by illegal immigrants and said the media should instead focus on those separations, which he called “permanent.”

Missy Ryan contributed to this report.

Read related Tribune coverage:

Authors: 

Sens. Cruz, Cornyn Tour Shelters Housing Immigrant Children Separated From Families

WESLACO — After touring shelters that house some of the thousands of migrant children separated from their parents under President Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy, Republican U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn of Texas reaffirmed their commitment to keeping kids with their parents after they cross the border — so long as future immigration policy better deters people from entering the country illegally.

“Kids are better off with their moms and dads,” Cruz said Friday during a roundtable discussion at a South Texas Border Patrol station, an event that also featured Cornyn. “I hope we see Democrats and Republicans willing to work together to ensure that … but also to ensure … that we’re respecting the rule of law.”

At the same time, Cruz and Manuel Padilla, chief of the Rio Grande Valley sector of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, sought to make the case that housing migrant children in overcrowded shelters without their parents is nothing new and spanned previous presidential administrations. They said the problem really came to a head in 2014, when more than 51,000 children — mostly from Central America — crossed into the U.S. by themselves.

In a wide-ranging discussion that included more than two dozen mayors, county judges, state lawmakers, federal officials and nonprofit leaders — and just two women — Cornyn said he would like to instruct the nation’s immigration courts to prioritize cases where families crossed the border with children. Cruz said the legislation he introduced in Congress last week is the best way forward. That legislation, which he acknowledged may not have enough support to advance, would require the federal government to keep immigrant families together once they cross the border “absent aggravated criminal conduct or threat of harm to the children.”

Cruz filed his legislation just days after seemingly defending the “zero tolerance” policy, telling KERA in Dallas that “when you see reporters, when you see Democrats saying, ‘Don’t separate kids from their parents,’ what they’re really saying is, ‘Don’t arrest illegal aliens.'”

At Friday’s roundtable, no one seemed to have any answers about how families that have already been separated will be reunited.

An official from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) said that kids in shelters could be transported back to their parents’ location in just days — depending on where that is. But it’s unclear how good the record-keeping is that links detained parents to separated kids. And Norma Pimentel, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley and a fierce advocate for ending the policy of family separation, said she’d heard reports of Honduran families waiting as long as four months to be reunited.

Asked to reconcile those conflicting time periods, federal officials said it depends. Sometimes a child raises questions about parental abuse. Other times, it can take days or weeks to make sure that “mom is really mom,” said Jose Gonzalez, a field supervisor with the Office of Refugee Resettlement, the federal agency tasked with looking after the kids. For kids who are too young to talk or identify their own parents, the agency sometimes uses DNA testing, which takes 7 to 10 days. “It may take up to four months to get them together,” Gonzalez said. (Asked about that four-month statistic later on by reporters, Cornyn insisted, “that’s not true.”)

When Cruz asked Ryan Patrick, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District and the son of Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, how many of the immigrants his office has prosecuted for illegal entry crossed with children, Patrick replied, “We actually don’t know.”

Both Cruz and Cornyn said they were heartbroken after touring shelters for children in the Rio Grande Valley, one of which was run by Southwest Key Programs, a Texas-based company that houses nearly half the undocumented kids in federal custody. Despite an investigation by The Texas Tribune and Reveal into hundreds of state violations at some of Southwest Key’s facilities, Cornyn said he believes the company is “doing a very good job.” He described watching the company’s employees take care of weeks-old babies, delivering what he saw to be excellent care.

“You can’t believe all the rumors that are flying around,” he said.

Cruz said little about the conditions of the shelters he toured, other than to offer that “no child should have to experience it.”

Otherwise, both he and Cornyn stuck closely to their talking points. They were encouraged and “gratified” by President Trump’s executive order ending the family separation policy; they felt that legislation would be necessary to carry it out in full force; but they also wanted to make sure that changes in federal immigration law would not encourage illegal immigration.

“If you don’t have a zero tolerance program, then you have a tolerance program,” Cornyn told reporters after the roundtable. “Meaning you tolerate illegal immigration.”

Author: NEENA SATIJA – The Texas Tribune

Pentagon Asked to Make Room for 20,000 Migrant Children on Military Bases

The Trump administration is considering housing up to 20,000 unaccompanied migrant children on military bases in coming months, according to lawmakers and a Defense Department memo obtained by The Washington Post.

In a notification to lawmakers, the Pentagon said officials at Health and Human Services asked whether beds could be provide for children at military installations “for occupancy as early as July through December 31, 2018.”

U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-New York, addressed the issue on the Senate floor Thursday morning.

“The Department of Defense has been asked whether it can house 20,000 unaccompanied children between now and the end of the year,” he said. “How will that work? Is it even feasible?”

The plan would seemingly have similarities to 2014, when the Obama administration housed about 7,000 unaccompanied children on three military bases. The Pentagon, in its congressional notification to lawmakers, said it must determine if it “possesses these capabilities.” As required under the Economy Act, the memo said, the Defense Department would be reimbursed for all costs incurred.

The sites would be run by HHS employees or contractors working with them, the memo said. They would provide care to the children, “including supervision, meals, clothing, medical services, transportation or other daily needs,” and HHS representatives will be present at each location.

The memo was sent to lawmakers Wednesday after President Donald Trump reversed his administration’s unpopular policy to separate children from their parents as they arrived at the southern U.S. border.

The president’s executive order directed Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to “take all legally available measures” to provide Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen with “any existing facilities available for the housing and care of alien families,” and the construction of new facilities “if necessary and consistent with law.”

Lt. Col. Jamie Davis acknowledged Thursday that the Pentagon received the request, and said the department is reviewing it.

The Trump administration spent months planning, testing and defending its family separation system at the border, taking more than 2,500 children from their parents in the six weeks prior to the president’s executive order Wednesday bringing it to a halt.

The U.S. government has been examining for weeks whether it can use military bases to house migrant children. Representatives from HHS visited three bases in Texas – Fort Bliss, Dyess Air Force Base and Goodfellow Air Force Base – last week to review their facilities for suitability, and were scheduled to review Little Rock Air Force Base in Arkansas on Wednesday, Davis said.

The Obama administration temporarily set up temporary centers in 2014 at three U.S. military bases: Fort Sill in Oklahoma, Lackland Air Force Base in Texas and Naval Base Ventura in California.

Asked about the possibility of military bases being involved again, Mattis said Wednesday that the Defense Department would “see what they come up with” in HHS, and that the Pentagon will “respond if requested.”

Mattis dismissed concerns about housing migrants on military bases now, noting that the Defense Department has done it on several occasions and for several reasons.

“We have housed refugees,” he said. “We have housed people thrown out of their homes by earthquakes and hurricanes. We do whatever is in the best interest of the country.”

The secretary, pressed on the sensitivities of the Trump administration separating children from their parents, said reporters would need to ask “the people responsible for it.”

“I’m not going to chime in from the outside,” he said. “There’s people responsible for it. Secretary Nielsen, obviously, maintains close collaboration with us. You saw that when we deployed certain National Guard units there, so she’s in charge.”

U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, D-Rhode Island, and U.S. Rep. Adam Smith, D-California, the leading members of the armed services committees, wrote a letter to Mattis on Wednesday requesting assurances that members of Congress would have access to any migrant facility established on a military base. The letter, sent before Trump dropped his family-separation policy at the border, said that it was essential to have access even in cases where only short notice is provided.

Mattis has approved temporarily detailing 21 military attorneys to the Justice Department to help with the glut of immigration cases that have emerged on the border. The order, issued earlier this month, calls for 21 attorneys with criminal-trial experience to assist as special assistant U.S. attorneys for 179 days, Davis said. They will help in prosecuting border immigration cases, he added, “with a focus on misdemeanor improper entry and felony illegal reentry cases.”

The possibility was raised in a congressional hearing in May, and first reported as underway by MSNBC on Wednesday night. U.S. law permits a judge advocate lawyer to be assigned or detailed to another agency, including to provide representation in civil and criminal cases.

Authors: DAN LAMOTHE, NICK MIROFF AND SEUNG MIN KIM, THE WASHINGTON POST

Donald Trump Reverses Course, Signs an Executive Order to Stop Separating Families

After days of outcry, President Donald Trump is backing off of a contentious new policy that separated more than 2,000 immigrant children from their parents who crossed the border illegally.

And, it seems, he has the Republican-dominated Congress behind him: On Wednesday afternoon, as the president signed an executive order halting those separations, top Senate Republicans introduced a bill that would achieve much the same goals.

Both the order and the legislation are designed to address the consequences of Trump’s policy of criminally prosecuting all illegal border crossers without relaxing the policy itself. Under the administration’s “zero tolerance” policy, when parents cross the border illegally, their children are taken from them because they cannot be sent to jails.

The order directs that “to the extent permitted by law,” immigrant families should be held together in immigration detention facilities run by the Department of Homeland Security. Trump said the order will end the family separations while prosecutions continue. The decision to keep children — some reportedly as young as 8 months old — away from their parents and under the care of strangers has drawn strong rebukes from lawmakers, religious leaders and immigration advocates across the country.

“We’re going to have strong, very strong borders, but we’re going to keep the families together,” Trump said.

Meanwhile, Senate Republicans — including both U.S. senators from Texas — introduced the Keep Families Together and Enforce the Law Act, which would hold families together in detention centers run by the Department of Homeland Security as they await a court hearing. That would effectively give the administration the best of both worlds: a strict immigration process without the family separations that have earned near-universal backlash.

“A zero tolerance policy is exactly correct, I think a family reunification policy is exactly correct,” U.S. Sen. John Cornyn told reporters Wednesday.

The executive and legislative measures are geared toward the same goal. But, Cornyn said, congressional action is necessary because “there probably will be legal challenges to the president’s executive order.”

“It’s important to have the backstop of congressional action to be able to preserve this family unity goal,” said Cornyn, who is among the most powerful Republicans in Congress.

The executive order seems to put Trump squarely at odds with a 1997 legal constraint, known as the Flores settlement, which says children may not be detained for more than 20 days, even if they are with their parents. That had kept President Barack Obama from keeping families together in detention centers during a similar immigration surge.

In the order, Trump directs Attorney General Jeff Sessions to work to “modify” that settlement agreement to permit the government “to detain alien families together throughout the pendency of criminal proceedings for improper entry or any removal or other immigration proceedings.”

The executive order also represents a sharp departure from the administration’s previous position, a reversal that seems to have been prompted by a flood of public outcry over the last several days.

Facing widespread, harsh criticism from both sides of the aisle and all corners of the country, Trump at first defended the policy by saying he was simply following the law and insisted, incorrectly, that only Congress could stop the separations.

Under past administrations, most first-time border crossers had not been criminally prosecuted for illegally entering the country.

Even in Texas, where prominent Republicans tend to hew to the Trump line, many statewide Republican leaders, including Gov. Greg Abbott and both of the state’s U.S. senators, had been calling for ending the separations.

Abby Livingston and Claire Parker contributed reporting from Washington.

Author: EMMA PLATOFF – The Texas Tribune

Grandmother Seeking Asylum Separated From her Disabled Grandson at the Border. It’s been 10 Months.

Ten months ago, Maria Vandelice de Bastos and her 16-year-old grandson arrived at the Santa Teresa Port of Entry in nearby New Mexico. The pair told federal agents they were seeking asylum.

Though Vandelice de Bastos passed a standard screening for such claims, known as a credible fear interview, she and her grandson were soon separated and she hasn’t seen him since, according to her attorney.

While she sits in a federal detention center in El Paso, Matheus da Silva Bastos, who has severe epilepsy and autism, is more than 2,000 miles away at a state-run center in Connecticut.

Despite claims from the Trump administration that it is only separating families seeking asylum who cross the border illegally in between ports of entry and only began doing so recently, Vandelice de Bastos’s case appears to prove the exact opposite.

What’s more, caretakers of Matheus in two different states have urged federal officials to reunite him with his grandmother, records show.

De Bastos’ attorney, Eduardo Beckett, said his client told authorities during her credible fear interview that she and her grandson fled Brazil after off-duty cops threatened her for exposing what she said were the horrible conditions in the school her grandson attended.

“She made noise, she went to police and to the prosecutor, and then to the press. The principal got fired and the principal happened to have a brother who’s a cop,” Beckett said. “So, the cop went and paid her a visit and said, ‘We’ll see what happens to you.’ That’s the case in a nutshell.”

Soon after arriving, Vandelice de Bastos and Matheus were separated, and ever since, he’s been in the custody of different organizations that care for immigrant children. Though she had papers from Brazil that identified her as Matheus’ legal guardian, he was classified as an unaccompanied minor because his grandmother was deemed an inadmissible alien by Customs and Border Protection officers, according to a copy of the Department of Homeland Security report completed last August.

“She never lied”

Beckett said his client once had a visa to legally visit the United States. For years, she was allowed to go back and forth from her home country and did so freely until she was stopped by CBP officials at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York in 2007. That’s when Beckett said she admitted to doing what thousands of visa holders do every year: working in the underground cash economy. According to her paperwork, she worked as a babysitter for $300 a week, triggering her deportation. But the only thing unusual about what she did was admitting to it, Beckett added.

“She never lied, she always told the truth and she never tried to sneak into the country,” he said.

Even still, the Department of Homeland Security makes clear that entering the United States is a “privilege, not a right.

“The most obvious reasons for denied entry include if a person has previously worked illegally in the U.S., is suspected of being an intended immigrant (i.e. planning on staying in the U.S. past the terms of their admission), or of having ties to terrorist or criminal organizations,” a CBP web page reads.

After Vandelice de Bastos was denied re-entry, she signed a notice that she was prohibited from “entering, attempting to enter or being in the United States” for five years.

“She did her time and she waited almost 10 years before coming back,” Beckett said. “The only way they can reinstate a removal order is if she came illegally, but she wasn’t trying to come in between the ports,” he said.

The DHS report from last August states she had no known criminal history in the United States at the time she and her grandson sought asylum, and the only length of her time in the country illegally was “at entry.”

But even if she had an existing deportation order, Beckett said her asylum claim would supersede that under federal law.

“That’s the whole point,” he said. “They should not have been separated.”

Both the the El Paso and San Antonio offices of Immigration and Customs Enforcement did not respond to requests for comments about the case.

A CBP spokesperson in Washington, D.C., said that it’s not current policy to separate families unless they enter without inspection between the ports of entry. When told about Beckett’s clients, she referred the Tribune back to the regional ICE offices in Texas. The spokesperson added that the agency complies with all applicable Americans with Disabilities Act policies when it processes persons with disabilities.

Round-the-clock care

During her time in Brazil, Beckett said, his client took custody of her grandson after his parents abandoned him and moved to the United States, where where the boy’s mother currently lives legally. According to the state-run center in Connecticut, his parents are unable to care for him because they work full-time and can’t give him the round-the-clock care he needs.

In a copy of the judgement from the state of Goías in Brazil, Vandelice de Bastos’ petition states that Matheus has “a serious disease, [uses] continuous medication and needs special care.” It adds that his parents “do not contribute for the child’s support” or “telephone to hear about their child.”

Officials in the state-run facility that now care for Matheus have pushed for his release.

“Matheus was raised and cared for by his grandmother while in Brazil and is now having a lot of difficulties in his new environment,” reads a letter from the state Department of Children and Families in Connecticut. “Having his grandmother present would be beneficial.”

The government-funded organization that took custody of Matheus before he was transferred to Connecticut has also urged for his grandmother’s release.

“While minor was in our care and even upon minor’s release, his overall well-being has significantly suffered due to be separated from his grandmother,” Yunuen Rodriguez, a family reunification specialist with the Heartland Alliance in Chicago, wrote in November 2017. That group is funded through the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement.

Beckett has since filed more paperwork with the immigration court to prove his client should not be deported. But he knows it’s a challenging case because the judge has already cast doubts that Vandelice de Bastos has a legitimate asylum claim.

Asylum seekers must prove they face persecution in their home country due to their “race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.”

Beckett said the fact that Vandelice de Bastos spoke out against her grandson’s school and outed the administration could be an act of political expression, and he said the fact that she was threatened by police means they aren’t capable of or willing to protecting her.

But in an audio recording of the immigration proceedings from earlier this year, Judge William Abbott said the cops weren’t acting in their official capacity.

“You’re not going to be able to show the government acquiesced,” he said. “It does not meet the requirements for either one of the applications [for asylum]. The fact is that the individuals that seek to harm her are two private individuals who are mad at her and want to retaliate. An act of persecution cannot form the basis for membership [of a social group].”

According to federal statistics, asylum seekers from Brazil traditionally have a low rate of success. In 2016, 366 Brazilians applied for asylum. That same year, only seven application were granted while 36 were denied. Several more were either denied, abandoned or withdrawn.

Asked what would happen to Matheus if his grandmother is deported, Beckett said the government would have custody of him until he’s 21.

“After that, who knows,” he said.

Correction: An earlier version of this story said Matheus da Silva Bastos’ parents live in the U.S. legally. His mother currently lives in the U.S. legally. 

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Author:  JULIÁN AGUILAR – The Texas Tribune

Apprehensions at Texas-Mexico Border Spiked in May

The number of families caught entering the country illegally at the southwest border in May increased sixfold compared with the same month in 2017. But despite that increase, some of Texas’ historically busiest areas for illegal crossings have seen an overall decrease this fiscal year.

The number of family units who were apprehended or turned themselves in to border agents on the southwest border from October 2017 to May was 59,113, according to statistics released Wednesday by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. That represents a slight decrease from the 61,809 apprehended during the same time frame in the federal government’s 2017 fiscal year, which runs from October to September.

The statistics come during a nationwide outcry from Democrats and immigrant rights groups over a recently adopted policy where parents caught crossing illegally en route to seek asylum are incarcerated and separated from their minor children. The family separations have prompted a class-action lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union.

The statistics show that the overall figures in family unit apprehensions represent a drop in Texas’s busiest border sectors during the same time-frame comparison: The Big Bend and Del Rio sectors of the U.S. Border Patrol recorded a 19 and 24 percent drop, respectively, while the El Paso, Laredo and Rio Grande Valley sectors saw a drop of 36, 48 and 10 percent.

The figures for May, however, show a surge in family unit apprehensions across the southwest border. Last month, 9,485 family units were caught or turned themselves in, compared with 1,580 in May 2017. The El Paso and Rio Grande Valley sectors saw significant increases in May: In 2017 agents recorded 166 and 973 family unit apprehensions, respectively. That’s compared to 898 and 6,630 last month.

The Department of Homeland Security said the figures justify the recent deployment of the National Guard to the area, the push for a border wall and the need for Congress to close “loopholes” in immigration laws that prompt asylum seekers to enter the country illegally.

“These numbers show that while the Trump administration is restoring the rule of law, it will take a sustained effort and continuous commitment of resources over many months to disrupt cartels, smugglers, and nefarious actors,” DHS press secretary Tyler Q. Houlton said in a statement. “We are taking action and will be referring and then prosecuting 100 percent of illegal border crossers, we are building the first new border wall in a decade, and we have deployed the National Guard to the border.”

The number of unaccompanied children trying to enter the country has increased slightly during the current fiscal year. From October 2017 to May of this year, 32,372 were encountered by border agents, compared to 2017’s 31,063. Those figures represent a 4 percent increase. In the Rio Grande Valley sector, that figure shows a 22 percent decrease, though the Big Bend, El Paso and Laredo sectors saw increases of 78, 9 and 48 percent during the same time frame.

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Author: JULIÁN AGUILAR – The Texas Tribune

Texas Immigration Case Could Play Large Role in Family Separations

As the White House’s policy to separate immigrant parents from their children at the border continues to fan the flames of the national immigration debate, attorneys with the American Civil Liberties Union said Wednesday that the case of a woman detained in El Paso could be the catalyst for change.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced last month his office was imposing a “zero tolerance” policy on people who enter the country illegally. The policy means that parents caught with their children will go to a detention facility while their children are placed elsewhere. He doubled down on that pledge this month in separate speeches.

“If you’re smuggling a child, then we’re going to prosecute you, and that child will be separated from you, probably, as required by law,” he said. “If you don’t want your child separated, then don’t bring them across the border illegally. It’s not our fault that somebody does that.”

Lee Gelernt, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, said it’s not clear how many families have been affected since the policy was announced because “only the government” knows. But he said his case against the federal government would reverse that policy if a federal district judge in California grants a preliminary injunction against the practice.

The Texas case involves a Brazilian referred to only as “Ms. C” in court documents. She arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border last summer and was approached by a federal border agent within seconds, court documents state. She explained she was applying for asylum, passed a credible fear interview, but was subsequently placed in custody after being prosecuted for illegal entry. Her minor son was sent to a facility for unaccompanied children in Chicago. She completed her 25-day criminal misdemeanor sentence in September and was sent to an immigration detention facility in El Paso, the filing states.

“Once she got out of jail, they could have reunited [her and her son], but she spent six months in an ICE detention center and was never reunited her with her son,” Gelernt said.  “She’s now been out for around six weeks, they still haven’t reunited her with her son.”

The case was filed in February in San Diego because the original plaintiff in the case is a Congolese woman who was separated from her daughter. Gelernt said the case is now a class-action lawsuit that seeks to end the administration’s policy and immediately reunite the separated children with their parents. It was argued on May 4, and it’s unclear when a decision will be issued.

During a news conference Wednesday at Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center in Central El Paso, Linda Rivas, the executive director and managing attorney of the center, said the recent fervor over the family separation proves what immigration attorneys in El Paso have known since last year: West Texas was host to the Trump Administration’s pilot program on ramped-up immigration enforcement.

“We have known that this has been going on regularly for some time under the Trump administration,” she said. “This was the training ground, this is where they started to separate families.”

The court documents back up her point. Though the policy was officially announced in April, Ms. C’s case goes back to September of last year.

Rivas also said the recent news about the estimated 1,500 unaccompanied children that were deemed “lost” by federal officials is a distraction that takes attention away from the issue of family separation. The New York Times was the first to report last month that the Department of Health and Human Services has lost track of about 1,500 unaccompanied immigrant minors had been placed with sponsors.

It was subsequently reported that the children were not likely lost, but instead their sponsors may not have responded to phone calls from government officials tasked with keeping tabs on the children. The children were also unaccompanied minors, which means they aren’t part of the group of children who have been separated from their parents at the border.

“It’s inaccurate, and I think it was a distraction. Whoever it came from, it is distracting from the real issues,” she said.

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Author:  JULIÁN AGUILAR– The Texas Tribune

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Authors:  JULIÁN AGUILAR AND DARLA CAMERON – The Texas Tribune

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Author: SEUNG MIN KIM, THE WASHINGTON POST

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