Trump admin dramatically limits asylum claims by Central Americans

The Trump administration on Monday moved to dramatically limit the ability of Central American migrants to claim asylum if they enter the United States by land through Mexico, the latest attempt by the White House to limit immigration and toughen the US asylum process amid overcrowded conditionsat border facilities.The rule from the departments of Justice and Homeland Security would prohibit migrants who have resided or “transited en route” in a third country from seeking asylum in the US, therefore barring migrants traveling through Mexico from being able to claim asylum and as a result, drastically limit who’s eligible for asylum. Over recent months, there’s been a dramatic spike in apprehensions at the US-Mexico border. The majority of migrants are from the Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. They’ve had to travel through Mexico to reach the border and upon arriving in the US, some have turned themselves into the US Border Patrol and claimed asylum.The regulation addresses that group of migrants.

“Until Congress can act, this interim rule will help reduce a major ‘pull’ factor driving irregular migration to the United States,” acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan in a statement. It will allow the departments of Justice and Homeland Security to “more quickly and efficiently process cases originating from the southern border, leading to fewer individuals transiting through Mexico on a dangerous journey.”There are some exceptions: an asylum seeker whose claim was denied after applying for protection in a country, if someone has been trafficked, and if someone transited through a country that did not sign one of the major international treaties on refugees. The rule would take effect immediately but is certain to face legal challenges. Under US law, migrants are allowed to claim asylum once on US soil. There’s a caveat, however, for those who come through safe third countries, meaning countries that the US has entered into an agreement with. The United Nations’ refugee agency defines “safe country,” in part, as “being countries in which refugees can enjoy asylum without any danger.”But Trump’s own statements on Mexico could undercut that definition. In tweets, the President has called Mexico “one of the most dangerous country’s in the world” and claimed that the murder rate in the country has increased.”The Coyotes and Drug Cartels are in total control of the Mexico side of the Southern Border. They have labs nearby where they make drugs to sell into the U.S. Mexico, one of the most dangerous country’s in the world, must eradicate this problem now. Also, stop the MARCH to U.S.” Trump tweeted in April.

[CNN]

Trump accuses media of ‘phony’ reporting on migrant detention centers

President Trump on Sunday accused the media of reporting “phony and exaggerated accounts” of conditions at migrant detention centers along the border in the wake of two bombshell reports from the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) watchdog.

“The Fake News Media, in particular the Failing @nytimes, is writing phony and exaggerated accounts of the Border Detention Centers,” Trump tweeted.

“First of all, people should not be entering our Country illegally, only for us to then have to care for them. We should be allowed to focus on United States Citizens first. Border Patrol, and others in Law Enforcement, have been doing a great job. We said there was a Crisis – the Fake News & the Dems said it was ‘manufactured.'”

“Now all agree we were right, but they always knew that. They are crowded (which we brought up, not them) because the Dems won’t change the Loopholes and Asylum. Big Media Con Job!” he added.

The reports from the DHS Office of Inspector General covered the conditions at facilities near El Paso, Texas, and in the Rio Grande Valley.s

The government watchdog found severe overcrowding, migrants being held too long and dirty conditions at many of the facilities.

A group of lawyers who visited a Border Patrol station in Clint, Texas, made similar claims about the treatment of migrants.

The Trump administration has denied reports and images of the conditions in detainment facilities.

Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan earlier Sunday called the allegations of mistreatment, specifically of children, “unsubstantiated.”

Congress last month approved a $4.6 billion emergency border funding bill that was signed into law by Trump and provides migrant agencies with more resources to tackle the problem. However, the bill has been panned by some progressive lawmakers, such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), who argue it doesn’t do enough to address the systemic issues with the border agency. 

Two Facebook groups linked to current and former Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) agents have been uncovered recently that include derisive images of migrants, vulgar and sexually explicit posts about lawmakers, and racist comments.

CBP condemned the group discovered by ProPublica, calling the posts “completely inappropriate and contrary to the honor and integrity I see – and expect – from our agents day in and day out.”

[The Hill]

Trump Defends Migrant Detention Centers: ‘They’re Really Well Run’

President Donald Trump defended the quality of life at migrant detention centers on Friday when asked about the negative conditions reported from several of them throughout the week.

Speaking with the White House press pool, Trump faced inquiries about how Democratic lawmakersnews reports, and the Department of Homeland Security inspector general’s review have painted a horrific picture of the living conditions at detainment centers. Trump said that the centers “are run beautifully.”

“They’re clean, they’re good, they do a great job” Trump said. “They’re crowded because the Democrats will not give us any relief from these loopholes. We have loopholes that are so bad. We have asylum that’s so bad. So these places are — many of them, not all of them – but many of them are incredible. They’re really well run.”

Trump went on to defend Border Patrol on the grounds that they weren’t trained to be caretakers, and he dismissed negative reports about their facilities as he continued to say “they’re doing a phenomenal job.”

“I think they do great with those facilities. You know how it can be taken care of? Number one, tell them not to come,” Trump said. “I think that the Border Patrol has been treated very, very badly by certain members of Congress. For the most part, they’re very respected by Congress, but certain members of Congress say very bad things and lie and exaggerate.”

[Mediaite]

Trump says immigrants ‘unhappy’ with detention centers should stay home

President Donald Trump, facing renewed criticism from Democrats and activists over his handling of a migrant crisis on the U.S.- Mexico border, said in a Twitter post on Wednesday that immigrants unhappy with conditions at detention centers should be told “not to come.” 

Democratic lawmakers and civil rights activists who have visited migrant detention centers along the border in recent days have described nightmarish conditions marked by overcrowding and inadequate access to food, water and other basic needs.

The Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general on Tuesday published graphic photos of migrant-holding centers in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley crammed with twice as many people as they were meant to hold.

“If Illegal Immigrants are unhappy with the conditions in the quickly built or refitted detentions centers, just tell them not to come. All problems solved!” Trump said on Twitter.

The Republican president has made cracking down on illegal immigration a key part of his first-term agenda after campaigning on the issue ahead of the 2016 election.

“Our Border Patrol people are not hospital workers, doctors or nurses,” Trump wrote earlier on Twitter. “Great job by Border Patrol, above and beyond. Many of these illegals (sic) aliens are living far better now than where they … came from, and in far safer conditions.”

Criticism of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency grew after reports this week that current and former agents had posted offensive anti-immigrant comments and targeted lawmakers on a private Facebook group.

Acting Department of Homeland Security chief Kevin McAleenan on Wednesday ordered an investigation, calling the comments “disturbing.” McAleenan said any employee who had “compromised the public’s trust in our law enforcement mission” would be held accountable.

The Facebook posts, first reported by ProPublica, included jokes about immigrants dying and sexually explicit content about U.S. Democratic Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who criticized the detention facilities after a tour this week.

[Reuters]

Trump dismisses furor over conditions for migrants

President Trump on Wednesday came to the defense of border agents and scoffed at Democratic lawmakers’ furor after an internal watchdog report found detained migrants are living in dismal conditions in federal detention facilities.

In a series of tweets, Trump credited Border Patrol with doing a “great job” and going “above and beyond.” He blamed Democrats and existing immigration laws for ongoing issues at the border.

He further claimed that many immigrants detained in the overcrowded facilities are “living far better now than where they came from, and in far safer conditions.”

“No matter how good things actually look, even if perfect, the Democrat visitors will act shocked & aghast at how terrible things are. Just Pols,” Trump tweeted. “If they really want to fix them, change the Immigration Laws and Loopholes. So easy to do!”

report released earlier Wednesday from the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General described squalid and overcrowded conditions at detention centers, while reporting little progress in recent months by the Border Patrol and Customs and Border Protection, its parent agency.

The report described standing room only cells for migrants, who were not fed hot meals or given showers. The centers also continue to hold children, some of whom are showing up at the border unattended.

Democrats expressed outrage over the treatment of migrants after a group of lawmakers traveled to the border earlier this week to tour one of the holding centers in Clint, Texas.

A ProPublica investigation published Mondayprovoked additional fury when it detailed a Facebook group for current and former Border Patrol agents that was filled with derogatory posts targeting migrants and Democratic lawmakers.

Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan said Wednesday he has ordered an investigation into reports of the vulgar messages.

[The Hill]

Trump accuses Democrats of inaction on border security hours after House passes funding bill

President Donald Trump complained Wednesday that congressional Democrats “won’t do anything at all about border security” hours after the House passed a funding package worth billions of dollars to address the humanitarian crisis at the nation’s southern border.

Trump accused Democrats, as he often does, of supporting “open borders,” and said their immigration policies would lead to “violent crime, drugs, and human trafficking.” His attack on Democrats comes as his administration has faced withering criticism in recent days amid reports of poor treatment for migrants, including minors, at detention facilities along the border.

“Too bad the Dems in Congress won’t do anything at all about Border Security. They want Open Borders, which means crime. But we are getting it done, including building the Wall! More people than ever before are coming because the USA Economy is so good, the best in history,” Trump wrote in a pair of tweets early Wednesday.

“Democrats want Open Borders, which equals violent crime, drugs and human trafficking. They also want very high taxes, like 90%. Republicans want what’s good for America – the exact opposite!,” he continued.

The $4.5 billion package for the border, which passed the House almost entirely along party lines, includes strict conditions requiring private detention facilities to meet certain standards of care or risk losing their government contracts. It marks the second time in two days that progressive leaders forced changes to the legislation, despite reluctance to give Trump any funds for his immigration agenda. The House package does not address provisions in asylum law, on which the White House has blamed the influx of migrants.

“Too bad the Dems in Congress won’t do anything at all about Border Security. They want Open Borders, which means crime. But we are getting it done, including building the Wall! More people than ever before are coming because the USA Economy is so good, the best in history,” Trump wrote in a pair of tweets early Wednesday.

“Democrats want Open Borders, which equals violent crime, drugs and human trafficking. They also want very high taxes, like 90%. Republicans want what’s good for America – the exact opposite!,” he continued.

The $4.5 billion package for the border, which passed the House almost entirely along party lines, includes strict conditions requiring private detention facilities to meet certain standards of care or risk losing their government contracts. It marks the second time in two days that progressive leaders forced changes to the legislation, despite reluctance to give Trump any funds for his immigration agenda. The House package does not address provisions in asylum law, on which the White House has blamed the influx of migrants.

Trump has demanded sweeping changes to asylum law, in exchange for permanently calling off mass deportation raids. The administration’s plans to begin deporting thousands of undocumented immigrants was delayed for two weeks on Saturday — the latest threat by Trump to take tough action.

The Trump administration has also requested an emergency stay from a federal court that would allow the Defense Department to start building a border wall in Arizona and New Mexico with $1 billion in funding.

In the hours leading up to passage of the bill, Pelosi argued that Democrats needed to stand behind their plan to combat the humanitarian crisis, rather than bicker over Trump and his immigration policies.

Both parties have decried recent reports of the horrific conditions at the border, where multiple migrant children have died and others have been held in unsanitary conditions, often without access to basic necessities like toothbrushes and soap.

[Politico]

Trump: Immigrants didn’t want to come to America before I was president because ‘Obama wasn’t a cheerleader’

President Donald Trump’s strange rant about fireworks at Mt. Rushmore wasn’t the only head-scratching exchange that occurred during his recent interview with reporters from The Hill.

During another part of the interview, Trump was asked about Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s (D-NY) criticism of the internment camps he’s been using to house immigrant children.

Trump completely dodged the question and instead tried to blame former President Barack Obama for his own family separation policies.

“Obama built many of these, cells as he calls them, as they call them,” Trump said. “Remember the big, the big deal where they showed the cells all over and they said, Donald Trump, and they showed young children in the cells and Donald Trump built these cells? It turned out they were built in 2014 when Obama was president. No the conditions are much better than they were under President Obama.”

The president then bragged about the fact that Hispanic employment was low before pivoting back to attacking Obama by claiming that no immigrants wanted to come to the country when he was president.

“Because our economy is so good, you know we have the lowest unemployment rate that we’ve had in fifty-one years,” he said. “We have the lowest unemployment rate for Black, for Hispanic, for Asian, for women, but we have the lowest rate that we’ve had in, in you know many generations and what’s happening, and it wasn’t that way when I came in by the way, in fact the country was ready to tube, we were gonna have a big problem. And what did it were the regulations and other things. Also I think maybe the cheerleading did it, you know President Obama wasn’t a cheerleader, he was saying you can’t get manufacturing jobs, you need a magic wand. He wasn’t a positive cheerleader.”

[Raw Story]

Mexico Agreed to Take Border Actions Months Before Trump Announced Tariff Deal

 The deal to avert tariffs that President Trump announced with great fanfare on Friday night consists largely of actions that Mexico had already promised to take in prior discussions with the United States over the past several months, according to officials from both countries who are familiar with the negotiations.

Friday’s joint declaration says Mexico agreed to the “deployment of its National Guard throughout Mexico, giving priority to its southern border.” But the Mexican government had already pledged to do that in March during secret talks in Miami between Kirstjen Nielsen, then the secretary of homeland security, and Olga Sanchez, the Mexican secretary of the interior, the officials said.

The centerpiece of Mr. Trump’s deal was an expansion of a program to allow asylum-seekers to remain in Mexico while their legal cases proceed. But that arrangement was reached in December in a pair of painstakingly negotiated diplomatic notes that the two countries exchanged. Ms. Nielsen announced the Migrant Protection Protocols during a hearing of the House Judiciary Committee five days before Christmas.

And over the past week, negotiators failed to persuade Mexico to accept a “safe third country” treaty that would have given the United States the legal ability to reject asylum seekers if they had not sought refuge in Mexico first.

Mr. Trump hailed the agreement anyway on Saturday, writing on Twitter: “Everyone very excited about the new deal with Mexico!” He thanked the president of Mexico for “working so long and hard” on a plan to reduce the surge of migration into the United States.

It was unclear whether Mr. Trump believed that the agreement truly represented new and broader concessions, or whether the president understood the limits of the deal but accepted it as a face-saving way to escape from the political and economic consequences of imposing tariffs on Mexico, which he began threatening less than two weeks ago.

Having threatened Mexico with an escalating series of tariffs — starting at 5 percent and growing to 25 percent — the president faced enormous criticism from global leaders, business executives, Republican and Democratic lawmakers, and members of his own staff that he risked disrupting a critical marketplace.

After nine days of uncertainty, Mr. Trump backed down and accepted Mexico’s promises.

Officials involved with talks said they began in earnest last Sunday, when Kevin K. McAleenan, the acting secretary of homeland security, met over dinner with Mexico’s foreign minister. One senior government official, who was not authorized to speak publicly about the closed-door negotiations that took place over several days, insisted that the Mexicans agreed to move faster and more aggressively to deter migrants than they ever have before.

Their promise to deploy up to 6,000 national guard troops was larger than their previous pledge. And the Mexican agreement to accelerate the Migrant Protection Protocols could help reduce what Mr. Trump calls “catch and release” of migrants in the United States by giving the country a greater ability to make asylum-seekers wait in Mexico.

But there remains deep skepticism among some American officials — and even Mr. Trump himself — about whether the Mexicans have agreed to do enough, whether they will follow through on their promises, and whether, even if they do, that will reduce the flow of migrants at the southwestern border.

In addition, the Migrant Protection Protocols already face legal challenges by immigrant rights groups who say they violate the migrants’ right to lawyers. A federal judge blocked the Trump administration from implementing the plan, but an appeals court later said it could move forward while the legal challenge proceeds.

During a phone call Friday evening when he was briefed on the agreement, Mr. Trump quizzed his lawyers, diplomats and immigration officials about whether they thought the deal would work. His aides said yes, but admitted that they were also realistic that the surge of immigration might continue.

“We’ll see if it works,” the president told them, approving the deal before sending out his tweet announcing it.

On Saturday, Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state, said the government looked forward to reducing illegal immigration and making the border “strong and secure” by working with Mexico to fulfill the agreement.

Mr. Trump’s decision to use trade as a bludgeon against Mexico was driven in part by his obsession with stopping what he falsely calls an invasion of the country and in part by a desire to satisfy his core supporters, many of who have grown angry at his inability to build his promised border wall.

Many of his top advisers, including those who oversee his political and economic agendas, were opposed to the tariff threat. But the president’s ire is regularly stoked by the daily reports he receives on how many migrants have crossed the border in the previous 24 hours.

Mr. Trump’s top immigration officials had repeatedly warned the president that results from their work to curb the flow of migrants might not be evident until July, and urged patience.

But that effort became more difficult in May, when the numbers spiked to the highest levels of his presidency. During the week of May 24, 5,800 migrants — the highest ever for one day — crossed on a single day. That was quickly followed by a group of 1,036 migrants who were caught on surveillance cameras crossing the border en masse.

Mr. Trump later tweeted out the video, and the tariff threat soon followed.

Throughout the week’s negotiations, officials on both sides worried about what Mr. Trump would be willing to accept in exchange for pulling back on his tariff threat. That question hung over the talks, which were led one day by Vice President Mike Pence and included Mr. Pompeo and Mr. McAleenan.

Mexican officials opened the negotiations with the offer to deploy their new national guard troops against migrants, using a PowerPoint presentation to show their American counterparts that doing so would be a breakthrough in their ability to stop migrants from flowing north through Mexico, often in buses.

In fact, Mexican officials had already made the same promise months earlier when Ms Nielsen met in Miami with Ms. Sanchez and aides to Marcelo Ebrard, the Mexican foreign minister. The purpose of the meeting, according to people familiar with it, was to press the Mexicans to act faster.

Ms. Sanchez also told Ms. Nielsen that the Mexican government’s new national guard, which had been created just a month earlier to combat drugs and crime, would be redirected to the border with Guatemala, the entry point for most of the Central American migrants.

At the time, Ms. Nielsen and the other American negotiators referred to the Mexican promise as the “third border” plan because the Mexicans proposed creating a line of troops around the southern part of their country to keep migrants from moving north.

Mexicans had begun to follow the plan, but not quickly enough for the Trump administration, which said that only about 1,000 Mexican national guard troops were in place by May.

Friday’s agreement with Mexico states that the two countries “will immediately expand” the Migrant Protection Protocols across the entire southern border. To date, migrants have been returned at only three of the busiest ports of entry.

But officials familiar with the program said Saturday that the arrangement struck by the two countries last December always envisioned that it would expand along the entire border. What kept that from happening, they said, was the commitment of resources by both countries.

In the United States, migrants must see immigration judges before they can be sent to wait in Mexico, and a shortage of judges slowed the process. The Mexican government also dragged its feet on providing the shelter, health care, job benefits and basic care that would allow the United States to send the migrants over.

The new deal reiterates that Mexico will provide the “jobs, health care and education” needed to allow the program to expand. But the speed with which the United States can send more migrants to wait in Mexico will still depend on how quickly the government follows through on that promise.

Perhaps the clearest indication that both sides recognize that the deal might prove insufficient is contained in a section of Friday’s agreement titled “Further Action.”

One official familiar with the negotiations said the section was intended to be a serious warning to the Mexican government that Mr. Trump would be paying close attention to the daily reports he received about the number of migrants crossing the border. The official said that if the numbers failed to change — quickly — the president’s anger would bring the parties back to the negotiating table.

“The tariff threat is not gone,” the official said. “It’s suspended.”

[The New York Times]

Trump administration cuts English classes, soccer and legal aid for migrant children at shelters

Citing a tightening budget, the Trump administration announced Wednesday that it is cutting English classes, recreational activities and legal aid for unaccompanied minorsliving in federal migrant shelters.

The activities, including soccer games and ping-pong, are already coming to a halt. The Office of Refugee Resettlement began redirecting funds away from operations that “are not directly necessary for the protection of life and safety” this week, according to a statement from Evelyn Stauffer, spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families.

The Border Patrol announced Wednesday morning that it detained more than 132,000 people at the border last month — around 11,000 of whom were children traveling alone.

Tasked with sheltering a “growing number” of unaccompanied minors, federal officials say they are seeking a $2.9 billion appropriation from Congress. Stauffer said the program is “on pace to run out of funding and will need supplemental funding.”

Wendy Young, president of Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), an advocacy organization in Washington, D.C., that provides pro bono legal help to migrant children, said education and recreational activities have become a part of federal migrant shelters over time. But they are now underpinned by federal law.

Both the Flores Agreement — a 1997 federal court settlement that established standards for the quality of housing and child care in migrant shelters — and the 2013 Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act — which further defined standards of care for children in federal custody and guaranteed them legal counsel — could stand in opposition to this decision, Young said.

“The court that oversees the Flores Agreement has been consistently very strong in standing up for the appropriate care of these children,” Young said. “So, I think this is easily challenged in federal court and it could be successful if it came to that.”

Young disagrees with the statement’s omission of legal counsel as a service that’s necessary for the children’s safety.

“Legal services are a lifeline for these kids because many of them are fleeing severe violence and persecution in their home countries. Without a lawyer, they can’t prove their cases,” she said.

Regardless, Young urged Congress to allot additional funds for these shelters, and quickly.

“Bottom line, Congress needs to appropriate money for the Office of Refugee Resettlement so they can do their job well,” Young said. “And we need to really start working toward building a system that’s resistant and can withstand this fluctuation in numbers that we’ve been seeing over the past few years.”

[USA Today]

Trump: ‘Foolish’ for GOP to try to stop tariffs on Mexico

President Trump on Tuesday insisted he will follow through with new tariffs on Mexico if it does not do more to curb illegal migration and said it would be “foolish” for congressional Republicans to try and stop him.

“We are going to see if we can do something, but I think it’s more likely that the tariffs go on,” Trump said during a joint press conference with British Prime Minister Theresa May.

Addressing deliberations by Republicans on a measure that could limit his tariff power, Trump said, “I don’t think they will do that. I think if they do, it’s foolish.”

Trump’s proposed tariffs on Mexican imports are scheduled to take effect on Monday. A 5 percent tariff on all goods would be imposed, and it could grow to 25 percent by October unless Trump is satisfied with steps taken by Mexico on immigration.

A team of Mexican diplomats is in Washington this week seeking to convince the administration to back away from the plan, which has also unsettled U.S. businesses. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is scheduled to break off from Trump’s European trip to attend the meetings.

Asked if Mexico has done enough to avoid the tariffs, Trump responded “no, we haven’t started yet” and reaffirmed the tariffs will begin “next week.”

But the president added the two countries would be talking over the coming weeks and months and expressed hope Mexico will “step up and give us security for our nation.”

Trump’s tariffs, which were opposed by some of his closest trade advisers, have also run into resistance on Capitol Hill where Republicans who traditionally support free trade want the president to change course, fearing they could derail efforts to ratify a new North American trade pact.

Some GOP senators have floated the possibility of passing legislation to disapprove of the Mexico tariffs and curtail his ability to unilaterally impose tariffs in the future, but there are differences on how to proceed.

Trump suggested GOP lawmakers would be punished politically for going against him, claiming he has a 94 percent approval rating among Republican voters and pointing out “there’s nothing more important than borders” for his base.

It remains unclear what Mexico might have to do in order to satisfy the president’s concerns.

In announcing the tariffs, Trump tweeted that all illegal immigration would have to “STOP” but administration officials later said there was no specific goal that would need to be met and instead the Mexican government would have to show progress on securing its border with Guatemala, deporting migrants and cracking down on criminal gangs.

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