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Home | Tag Archives: trump’s wall

Tag Archives: trump’s wall

With Contract Set to Expire, Still No Word on What’s Next for Immigration Center at Tornillo

With just weeks before a federal contract to operate a West Texas detention center for undocumented immigrant minors is set to expire, there is still no word whether the Trump administration plans to keep the site open into 2019.

But the shelter operators maintain that another contract extension would be just one more short-term solution to a larger problem that needs a permanent fix.

The contract between the federal Health and Human Services’ Offices of Refugee Resettlement and San Antonio nonprofit BCFS to operate the controversial detention camp at Tornillo is due to expire at the end of this month after being extended several times since the original 30-day contract in June.

“The ball is in their court,” said BCFS spokeswoman Evy Ramos. “We have said to them just recently this week, we can’t just keep extending this, this is not a permanent solution. Something else has to be figured out.”

The facility — a collection of dozens of military-grade tents on the grounds of a federal port of entry surrounded by acres of farmland — has swelled from a few hundred immigrants in June to about 2,300. Its capacity was expanded to about 3,800 after the administration realized the flow of unauthorized minors seeking asylum in the United States did not dwindle despite efforts to deter asylum seekers by turning them away at the international ports of entry and urging the Mexican government to block Central Americans from traveling through that country.

If the government didn’t extend the contract for Tornillo, it would have to build or find another facility that’s designed for long-term detention, Ramos said. But that decision is ultimately up to ORR officials. She said the company, which as of Nov. 30 had received just over $144 million from the government to run the facility, doesn’t know what the government plans to do. But it “will not just abandon the children in Tornillo,” Ramos said.

HHS spokesman Mark Weber said late Wednesday that children in the agency’s care would continue to be “provided critical services in a safe and compassionate matter,” no matter where they are placed.

“Just like we have in the past, we will make a public announcement when/if operation at Tornillo are extended,” he said.

Ramos isn’t the first BCFS employee to question the Trump administration’s handling of undocumented immigrant children. In June, the incident commander at the facility said the administration’s “zero tolerance” policy — which resulted in thousands of immigrant children being separated from their parents — was a mistake that prompted building the makeshift shelter in Tornillo. The president ended the policy about two months after it was initiated after a public outcry over the family separations.

“It was an incredibly dumb, stupid decision,” the incident commander said at the time, adding that he hoped to never again conduct a similar operation. He added that he thought the facility wouldn’t be needed past the middle of July, when the first contract was set to expire.

That was almost six months ago.

When the facility first opened, a small number of children at the facility had been separated from their parents under zero tolerance. Ramos said Wednesday that all the children currently in the facility are minors who arrived to the country without a parent or guardian, and the large majority are from Central America.

Tornillo holds youths age 17 or younger. Before they can be released to a U.S. sponsor, those adults need to be vetted. Ramos said that process has slowed considerably since the summer, when minors were released after only a few weeks in the facility.

“I support the fact that they need to do fingerprinting and background checks on every adult in the [sponsor’s] home in order to ensure the safety of the children,” she said. “It’s just the speed at which they’re doing it, it’s just taking too long.”

Last week, a report from the Office of the Inspector General confirmed media reports that employees at the facility did not undergo FBI background checks. The issue was first reported by VICE News last month.

Ramos said that at BCFS’s long-term care facilities that are licensed by the state, access to the FBI database is allowed because the state acts as BCFS’s government sponsor. But because Tornillo is a federal project on federal land, that access hasn’t been granted.

“We’re wondering why ORR couldn’t have been our sponsoring agency in order to be able to process those FBI fingerprint background checks,” she said. “It’s not that we don’t want to, or wanted to go around it. We could not do it.”

After the OIG report was released, U.S. Reps. Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Calif. and Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., called for HHS and the Department of Homeland Security to immediately close the facility.

“It is clear the administration’s actions are putting thousands of children in danger,” they wrote to HHS Secretary Alex Azar.

Weber said the Office of Refugee Resettlement is working with the FBI and Texas Department of Public Safety “to conduct FBI fingerprint background checks as quickly as possible for current and future employees at Tornillo.” He added that BCFS has conducted other pre-employment background checks, including standard state felony and misdemeanor checks and multi-state sex offender registry checks.

Author:  JULIÁN AGUILAR – The Texas Tribune

Federal Judge Blocks Trump’s Asylum Ban for Migrants who Enter Illegally from Mexico

A federal judge temporarily blocked the Trump administration from denying asylum to migrants who illegally cross the southern border into the United States, saying the policy likely violated federal law on asylum eligibility.

In a ruling late Monday, Jon S. Tigar of the U.S. District Court in San Francisco issued a temporary nationwide restraining order barring enforcement of the policy. President Donald Trump’s action was announced on Nov. 9, though the White House had as early as last month floated drastic changes to the way the United States affords sanctuary to people fleeing persecution in their home countries.

The judge’s order remains in effect until Dec. 19, at which point the court will consider arguments for a permanent order. The administration offered no immediate comment overnight but has routinely appealed adverse decisions.

The president’s decree, now blocked, came just after the midterm election campaign, in which Trump made immigration and national security the GOP’s closing argument. He and his allies spread fear about the “Caravan heading to the Southern Border,” which, as he asserted without evidence in one pre-election tweet, included “criminals and unknown Middle Easterners.” In another, he warned of “some very bad thugs and gang members.” Labeling the movements of Central American migrants a “national emergency,” Trump last month deployed active-duty troops to the border.

But the federal judge said the president could not shift asylum policy on his own.

“Whatever the scope of the President’s authority, he may not rewrite the immigration laws to impose a condition that Congress has expressly forbidden,” wrote the judge, nominated to the federal bench in 2012 by President Barack Obama. He reasoned that the “failure to comply with entry requirements such as arriving at a designated port of entry should bear little, if any, weight in the asylum process.”

The ruling was the latest in a string of court decisions blocking the administration’s hard-line immigration policies, including its efforts to crack down on so-called sanctuary cities and to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that affords legal protections for hundreds of thousands of young undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children. The net effect, barring Supreme Court reversals, has been to substantially weaken the hand of presidents in an area where their authority has in the past been expansive.

Still, the administration has not been without victories. In June, the Supreme Court, by a 5-to-4 vote, upheld a revised version of the travel ban that aimed to keep foreigners from several Muslim-majority nations from entering the country.

The asylum case was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union and other advocacy groups on behalf of East Bay Sanctuary Covenant. The order reflects the judge’s view that the plaintiffs are likely to succeed on the merits, and would suffer irreparable injury from the executive action.

The rule pursued by the Trump administration would allow only people who cross at legal checkpoints on the southern border to request asylum, while those entering elsewhere would be able to seek a temporary form of protection that is harder to win and doesn’t yield full citizenship. The changes would amount to a transformation of long-established asylum procedures, codified both at the international level and by Congress.

In his proclamation, Trump said the changes were necessary to prepare for the caravan’s arrival, arguing that asylum seekers had no “lawful basis for admission into our country.” In justifying the policy, the administration relied on the same emergency authority invoked as grounds for the “travel ban.”

In a hearing Monday, Scott Stewart, a lawyer for the Justice Department, spoke of a “crushing strain” of migrants attempting to cross the border illegally. He alleged that most asylum claims were “ultimately meritless.”

But the judge seemed skeptical, observing that border apprehensions are near historic lows and that, regardless, federal law says all people on U.S. soil can apply for asylum, no matter how they arrived.

“If this rule stays in effect, people are going to die,” Melissa Crow, senior supervising attorney with the Southern Poverty Law Center, said after the hearing. “There are going to be people who fall through the cracks in our system.”

Tigar voiced concern for the fate of asylum seekers under the changes. The administration’s rule, he observed, would force individuals “to choose between violence at the border, violence at home, or giving up a pathway to refugee status.”

And in his decision, he wrote that the government’s argument that the manner of entry can be the lone factor rendering a migrant ineligible for asylum “strains credulity.”

“To say that one may apply for something that one has no right to receive is to render the right to apply a dead letter,” he argued. “There simply is no reasonable way to harmonize the two.”

The judge pointedly denied the claim that the president, by fiat, could give the manner of entry added legal weight as a determinant of asylum. He reasoned that the “interpretive guide” of United Nations compacts on asylum lent extra force to congressional requirements. The intent of Congress, Tigar wrote, was “unambiguous.”

“And if what Defendants intend to say is that the President by proclamation can override Congress’s clearly expressed legislative intent, simply because a statute conflicts with the President’s policy goals, the Court rejects that argument also,” the judge found.

Lee Gelernt, the ACLU attorney who argued the case, welcomed the ruling in a news release.

“This ban is illegal, will put people’s lives in danger, and raises the alarm about President Trump’s disregard for separation of powers,” he said. “There is no justifiable reason to flatly deny people the right to apply for asylum, and we cannot send them back to danger based on the manner of their entry. Congress has been clear on this point for decades.”

Elise Ackerman contributed to this report from San Francisco.

Authors: ISAAC STANLEY-BECKER AND MARIA SACCHETTI, THE WASHINGTON POST

Op-Ed: Video – Senator Cornyn Discusses the Migrant Crisis in Mexico

WASHINGTON – On Thursday on the floor, U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) discussed the migrant crisis at our Southern border. Excerpts of Sen. Cornyn’s floor remarks are below, and video can be found above.

“Coming from Texas, with a 1,200 mile common border with Mexico, caravans are not unheard of. In fact, we have many caravans showing up on a daily basis at border patrol stations: unaccompanied children, families. What has happened is that the cartels – these transnational criminal organizations that have figured out as part of their business model that they can make money by shipping migrants up through Mexico into the United States, or ship drugs up from Mexico into the United States, or traffic in children and women for sex slavery – they figured out they can make money because of the gaps in our border security, because of the characteristics of our law that make it impossible for us to deter many of the immigrants coming from Central America.”

“This is a phenomenon that has been occurring on a daily basis for the foreseeable past, and it’s because of a glitch in our laws that our Democratic colleagues are well aware of, that we’ve tried to fix. But they simply will not cooperate with us in order to fix them.”

“About 40 percent of my constituents in Texas are of a Hispanic origin, many of whom live along that international border, who understand that the cartels that traffic in people, and drugs, and contraband are criminal organizations that threaten their security and safety. So I feel very strongly about this issue.”

“We can’t forget that our border communities are critically important, and any solution we find must somehow balance our normal compassion for people who are vulnerable and people who are seeking a better life, balancing that compassion with the rule of law and our ability to protect our own sovereignty by securing our borders and controlling illegal immigration into the United States.”

“In the coming weeks, I hope we can work with the Administration to determine a course of action that addresses the real needs of legitimate asylum seekers without rewarding illegal activity.”

“We need to send a message that the United States alone cannot bear the burden of this mass migration, and we need to ensure that those who seek to enter the United States do so legally.”

***

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

Video+Gallery: CBP Abruptly Cancels Election Day Border ‘Crowd Control Exercise’

Customs and Border Protection Officers scheduled a ‘crowd control exercise’ at the U.S. – Mexico Border in Chihuahuita and then abruptly canceled the event without explanation on Election Day.

Border Patrol officers with the public affairs office were sent to notify the media, which had gathered at the meeting point on Calleros Court and Santa Fe Street early Tuesday morning. The event was scheduled last minute by CBP Monday evening stating that the crowd control exercise would begin at the railroad crossing west of the Paso Del Norte Bridge at 10 a.m. on Election Day.

The area where the demonstration was slated to be held is in the heart of the Chihuahuita neighborhood in South El Paso. The neighborhood is a historically poor, Hispanic community that winds along the Rio Grande River.

Residents of the neighborhood are assigned to vote at the Armijo Recreation Center, 700 East 7th Street, about  a mile to the east of the demonstration. If residents were to walk to the polls, they would have to walk through the area of the CBP exercise.

Map courtesy GOOGLE

Many voting rights advocacy groups including ACLU Texas and MALDEF raised immediate concerns that the exercise may have been purposefully scheduled for election day in an effort to intimidate and suppress voters from going to the polls.

Prior to official cancellation, armored units, horseback riders and other mobile units were driving on the street near Calleros Court.

After moving to a secured area behind the railroad tracks, Border Patrol officers emerged to notify the small gaggle of waiting reporters that the event was called off.

When directly asked by the Herald Post why the exercise was canceled at the last minute, public affairs officers said they were not given a reason. When pressed as to whether the pushback regarding the event falling on election day resulted in the last minute cancellation, he indicated it could be a fair assumption.

The exercise has not been rescheduled.

Photos by Steven Cottingham

LIVE: Herald Post is at the US Border

CBP has canceled this morning’s “crowd control exercise.”

Posted by El Paso Herald-Post on Tuesday, November 6, 2018

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hannah Wiley and Teo Armus contributed to this story.

Author: JULIÁN AGUILAR – The Texas Tribune

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

*

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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

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