Some migrants waiting in Mexico for U.S. court hearings caught crossing illegally

By Ted Hesson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Roughly one in 10 migrants pushed back to Mexico to await U.S. court hearings under a Trump administration program have been caught crossing the border again, a top border official said on Thursday.

Acting U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Mark Morgan said during a White House briefing that migrants returned to Mexico under a program known as the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) have a 9% recidivism rate. Many of those migrants intend to seek asylum in the United States.

“Unfortunately, some of the individuals in the MPP program are actually going outside the shelter environment,” Morgan said. “They’re re-engaging with the cartels because they’re tired of waiting. And that’s when we’re hearing that some of that further abuse and exploitation is happening.”

Morgan said that around 50,000 people have been returned to Mexico under the program. Customs and Border Protection did not immediately respond to a request for more details on his comments.

The administration of Republican President Donald Trump launched the MPP program in January as part of a strategy to deter mostly Central American families from trekking to the U.S. border to seek asylum. Trump officials have argued the bulk of such claims for protection lack merit and that migrants are motivated by economic concerns.

Immigration advocates say asylum seekers sent to wait in Mexican border towns, for the weeks or months it takes for their cases to wind through backlogged immigration courts, face dangerous and possibly deadly conditions.

Migrants who claim fear of returning to Mexico can ask to stay in the United States for the duration of their court case. But just 1% of cases have been transferred out of the program, according to a Reuters analysis of federal immigration court data as of early October.

The administration has said the MPP program and other measures has helped lead to a decline in border arrests. In October, apprehensions along the U.S.-Mexico border fell for the fifth straight month, Morgan said.

The White House briefing followed a leadership change at the Homeland Security Department on Wednesday.

The Trump administration installed Chad Wolf, previously chief of staff to former Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, as acting secretary. Wolf then announced that acting U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Ken Cuccinelli – an immigration hard liner – would be elevated to the No. 2 position at the department.

(Reporting by Ted Hesson; Editing by Mica Rosenberg and Lisa Shumaker)

U.S. border patrol faces probe; White House bashes asylum ruling

U.S. Border Patrol agents stand at attention during a 'Border Safety Initiative' media event at the U.S.-Mexico border in Mission, Texas, U.S., July 1, 2019. REUTERS/Loren Elliott

By Makini Brice and Jonathan Allen

WASHINGTON/NEW YORK (Reuters) – The acting head of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has ordered an investigation into reports that border patrol agents have been posting offensive anti-immigrant comments and threats against lawmakers on a private Facebook group.

The move was announced amid mounting criticism of the Trump administration’s handling of a humanitarian crisis along the U.S.-Mexico border, with lawmakers and government investigators warning of dangerous conditions in migrant detention centers.

“Reporting this week highlighted disturbing and inexcusable social media activity that allegedly includes active Border Patrol personnel,” acting DHS head Kevin McAleenan said on Twitter on Wednesday, calling the reported comments “completely unacceptable.”

He said any employee found to have “compromised the public’s trust in our law enforcement mission will be held accountable.”

The Facebook posts, first reported by the non-profit news site ProPublica included jokes about the deaths of migrants and sexually explicit content referring to U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat who was highly critical of the detention facilities after a tour this week.

The White House also criticized a ruling by a federal judge in Seattle who on Tuesday blocked an administration move to keep thousands of asylum seekers in custody while they pursued their cases.

“The district court’s injunction is at war with the rule of law,” White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a statement. “The decision only incentivizes smugglers and traffickers, which will lead to the further overwhelming of our immigration system by illegal aliens.”

Acting U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan attends a news conference in Guatemala City, Guatemala June 26, 2019. REUTERS/Luis Echeverria

Acting U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan attends a news conference in Guatemala City, Guatemala June 26, 2019. REUTERS/Luis Echeverria

The American Civil Liberties Union and other immigrant rights groups sued the government in April after Attorney General William Barr concluded that asylum seekers who entered the country illegally were not eligible for bond.

U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman on Tuesday ruled that people detained after entering the country to seek asylum were entitled to bond hearings.

MIGRATION FLOWS

The record surge of mostly Central American families at the U.S. southwestern border has begun to ease after tougher enforcement efforts in Mexico, although the situation remains dire, according to Mexican and U.S. officials.

The U.S. government’s internal watchdog on Tuesday said migrant-holding centers in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley were dangerously overcrowded, publishing graphic pictures of cells holding twice as many people as they were built for.

Mexico’s government, citing unpublished U.S. data, said migrant arrests at the border fell 30% in June from the previous month after it started a migration crackdown as part of a deal with the United States to avoid possible trade tariffs.

The Mexican government said it was now busing home dozens of Central American migrants from Ciudad Juarez, across the border from El Paso, Texas, who were forced to wait in Mexico for their asylum claims to be processed under a U.S. policy known as “Remain in Mexico.”

“Mexico’s effort to control the flow of migrants appears to have broken a growing trend,” the country’s foreign ministry said in a statement.

After migrant arrests reached a 13-year monthly high in May, immigration has arguably become the biggest issue for President Donald Trump and the Democratic contenders vying for the chance to face him in the 2020 presidential election.

U.S. Senator Cory Booker would “virtually eliminate immigration detention” if he wins the White House, his campaign said on Tuesday.

Presidential hopeful Julian Castro last week proposed decriminalizing border crossings as a step toward freeing up federal resources and eliminating thousands of cases clogging criminal courts – an initiative favored by Senator Elizabeth Warren, who is also running for the Democratic nomination.

Trump, meanwhile, looked to stir up support for his policies, promising immigration raids after the July 4 U.S. holiday to arrest migrants with deportation orders.

(Reporting by Daina Beth Solomon, Diego Ore and David Alire Garcia in Mexico City, Jonathan Allen in New York and David Alexander and Makini Brice in Washington; Writing by Andrew Hay and Paul Simao; Editing by Michael Perry and Bill Trott)

Supreme Court takes up Mexican border shooting dispute

FILE PHOTO: The Supreme Court stands in Washington, U.S., February 15, 2019. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts/File Photo

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday agreed to decide whether the family of a Mexican teenager fatally shot while on Mexican soil by U.S. Border Patrol agent who fired from across the border in Texas can pursue a civil rights lawsuit in U.S. courts.

It marks the second time the Supreme Court will consider the legal dispute involving Sergio Adrian Hernandez Guereca, who was 15 when he was slain in 2010 along the U.S.-Mexico border – a case that now will be decided during heightened U.S. tensions with Mexico over President Donald Trump’s border policies.

The justices will decide whether to allow the family’s civil lawsuit seeking monetary damages against Border Patrol agent Jesus Mesa to proceed.

The court previously ruled in the same case in 2017, but did not decide the important legal question of whether Hernandez’s family could sue for a violation of the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment, which bars unjustified deadly force. The lawsuit also states that Hernandez’s right to due process under the Constitution’s Fifth Amendment was violated.

The justices instead threw out a ruling by the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that had barred the lawsuit and asked the lower court to reconsider the matter. The 5th Circuit last year again ruled against Hernandez’s relatives, prompting them to seek Supreme Court intervention for a second time.

The high court’s ruling likely also will affect a similar cross-bordering shooting case in which Border Patrol agent Lonnie Swartz fatally shot Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez, a 16-year-old Mexican citizen, from across the border in Arizona. That case is also pending at the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court, with its conservative majority, has been generally reluctant to extend the scope of civil rights protections. For example, it ruled in 2017 that former U.S. officials who served under President George W. Bush could not be sued over the treatment of non-American citizen detainees rounded up in New York after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

The Trump administration, which has taken a tough stance on border security and other immigration issues, has urged the court not to allow the Hernandez and Rodriguez lawsuits.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham)

Democrats push technology as alternative to Trump wall in shutdown impasse

A visitor walks by the U.S. Capitol on day 32 of a partial government shutdown as it becomes the longest in U.S. history in Washington, U.S., January 22, 2019. REUTERS/Jim Young

By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Democratic leaders in the U.S. House of Representatives floated the idea on Wednesday of ending a partial government shutdown by giving President Donald Trump most or all of the money he seeks for border security with Mexico but for items other than a physical wall.

Representative James Clyburn, the No. 3 House Democrat, told reporters that Democrats could fulfill Trump’s request for $5.7 billion for border security with technological tools such as drones, X-rays and sensors, as well as more border patrol agents.

Representative Steny Hoyer, the second-ranking House Democrat, also said Democrats would be discussing “substantial sums of additional money” for border security as part of a possible deal. He did not say if it would amount to the $5.7 billion sought by Trump.

Trump has demanded funding for a physical wall in a showdown with Democrats that has left 800,000 federal workers without pay amid a partial government shutdown that entered its 33rd day on Wednesday.

Clyburn’s offer would be a significant monetary increase over bills previously passed by Democrats, which included only about $1.3 billion for this year in additional border security, with none of that for a wall.

“Using the figure the president put on the table, if his $5.7 billion is about border security then we see ourselves fulfilling that request, only doing it with what I like to call using a smart wall,” Clyburn said.

As congressional Democrats and Trump battle over border security and government funding, a parallel controversy continued over the president’s upcoming State of the Union address.

Trump sent a letter to House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday saying he looked forward to delivering it as scheduled on Jan. 29 in the House chamber. Pelosi had earlier asked Trump to consider postponing because security could not be guaranteed during the shutdown.

The U.S. Senate has scheduled votes for Thursday on competing proposals that face steep odds to end the shutdown.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell plans to hold a vote on Thursday on a Democratic proposal that would fund the government for three weeks but does not include the $5.7 billion in partial funding for a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.

Its prospects appeared grim. The House has passed several similar bills but Trump has rejected legislation that does not include border wall funding. McConnell previously said he would not consider a bill that Trump did not support.

McConnell also planned to hold a vote on legislation that would include border wall funding and temporary relief for “Dreamers,” people brought illegally to the United States as children, a compromise Trump proposed on Saturday.

Democrats have dismissed the deal, saying they would not negotiate on border security before reopening the government, and that they would not trade a temporary restoration of the immigrants’ protections from deportation in return for a permanent border wall they view as ineffective.

Trump’s plan is “wrapping paper on the same partisan package,” Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said on Tuesday.

Trump, in a series of morning tweets, pushed fellow Republicans to stand by border wall, which during his 2016 campaign he had said Mexico would pay for. He was scheduled to discuss his immigration plan with local leaders and with conservative leaders at the White House.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told reporters on Wednesday that Trump also has made calls to Democrats.

Furloughed federal workers are struggling to make ends meet during the longest government shutdown in U.S. history. Many have turned to unemployment assistance, food banks and other support, or have sought new jobs.

 

(Additional reporting by Yasmeen Abutaleb, Roberta Rampton, Eric Beech, Susan Heavey and Doina Chiacu; Writing by John Whitesides; Editing by Peter Cooney and Bill Trott)

Trump likely to give U.S. troops authority to protect immigration agents

A migrant, part of a caravan of thousands traveling from Central America en route to the United States, poses for a photo after climbing up the border fence between Mexico and United States while moving to a new shelter in Mexicali, Mexico November 19, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

By Idrees Ali and Lizbeth Diaz

WASHINGTON/TIJUANA, Mexico (Reuters) – President Donald Trump is likely to give U.S. troops authority to protect immigration agents stationed along the U.S. border with Mexico if they come under threat from migrants seeking to cross into the United States, a U.S. official said on Monday.

Ahead of U.S. congressional elections earlier this month, Trump denounced the approach of a caravan of migrants as an “invasion” that threatened American national security, and he sent thousands of U.S. troops to the border to help secure it.

Currently, the troops do not have authority to protect U.S. Customs and Border Patrol personnel. The new authority could be announced on Tuesday, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

U.S. officials briefly closed the busiest border crossing from Mexico early on Monday to add concrete barricades and razor wire amid concerns some of the thousands of Central American migrants at the border could try to rush the crossing.

Northbound lanes at the San Ysidro crossing from Tijuana to San Diego, California, were temporarily closed “to position additional port hardening materials,” a U.S. CBP spokesperson said.

A Department of Homeland Security official, who requested anonymity, told reporters on a conference call that U.S. officials had heard reports some migrants were intending to run through border crossings into California.

Migrants, part of a caravan of thousands traveling from Central America en route to the United States, move to a new shelter in Mexicali, Mexico November 19, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

Migrants, part of a caravan of thousands traveling from Central America en route to the United States, move to a new shelter in Mexicali, Mexico November 19, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

The closing was rare for the station, which is one of the busiest border crossings in the world with tens of thousands of Mexicans heading every day into the United States to work or study.

“Today was a lost day of work. I already called my boss to tell her that everything was closed and I did not know what time I would be able to get in,” said Maria Gomez, a Mexican woman who crosses the border every day for work. “I cannot believe this is happening.”

Trump had remained mostly silent about the caravan since the Nov. 6 vote, but on Monday he posted a photo on Twitter showing a fence that runs from the beach in Tijuana into the ocean now covered with razor wire.

Critics charged that his talk of a migrant “invasion” was an effort to rouse his political base ahead of the elections.

Officials have stressed that the 5,900 active-duty U.S. troops on the border are not there in a law enforcement capacity and that there are no plans for them to interact with migrants.

Instead, their mission is to lend support to the CBP, and they have been stringing up concertina wire and erecting temporary housing.

The commander of the mission told Reuters last week that the number of troops may have peaked, and he would soon look at whether to begin sending forces home or shifting some to new border positions.

About 6,000 Central Americans have reached the border cities of Tijuana and Mexicali, according to local officials. More bands of migrants are making their way toward Tijuana, with around 10,000 expected.

Hundreds of local residents on Sunday massed at a monument in a wealthy neighborhood of Tijuana to protest the arrival of the migrants, with some carrying signs that said “Mexico first” and “No more migrants.”

Last month, thousands of Central American migrants began a long journey from Honduras through Mexico toward the United States to seek asylum.

Other bands of mostly Salvadorans followed, with a small group setting off on Sunday from San Salvador.

(Additional reporting by Yeganeh Torbati in Washington; Editing by Dan Grebler and Cynthia Osterman)

Exclusive: Canadian border authorities detaining record number of Mexicans

A Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) logo is seen on a worker during a tour of the Infield Terminal at Toronto Pearson International Airport in Mississauga, December 8, 2015. REUTERS/Mark Blinch

By Anna Mehler Paperny

TORONTO (Reuters) – Canada’s border authorities detained more Mexicans in the first 67 days of 2017 than they did annually in any of the three previous years, according to statistics obtained by Reuters.

The spike comes immediately after Canada’s federal government lifted its visa requirement for Mexican citizens in December.

Many Mexicans looking north have shifted their focus from the United States to Canada as President Donald Trump vows to crack down on America’s undocumented immigrants, about half of whom are Mexican. On Friday, Reuters reported, immigration judges were reassigned to 12 U.S. cities to speed up deportation.

The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) said it detained 444 Mexican nationals between Jan. 1 and March 8, compared with 410 for all of 2016, 351 for 2015, and 399 for 2014.

The CBSA can detain foreign nationals if it is believed they pose a danger to the public, if their identity is unclear or if they are deemed unlikely to appear for removal or for a proceeding.

The number of Mexicans turned back at the airport has risen, too – to 313 in January, more than any January since 2012 and more than the annual totals for 2012, 2013 and 2014.

With the visa requirement lifted, all that Mexicans need to come to Canada is an Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA), obtainable online in a matter of minutes. But they cannot work without a work permit, and the eTA does not guarantee entry.

Canada issued 72,450 travel authorizations to Mexican citizens between Dec. 1, 2016, and March 10, 2017 – a significant increase compared with a similar period when visas were required.

Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Minister Ahmed Hussen has said his department is monitoring the situation.

“It would be premature to draw conclusions or to speculate on future policy at this point,” Hussen’s spokeswoman, Camielle Edwards, wrote in an email Friday evening.

(Reporting by Anna Mehler Paperny; Editing by Leslie Adler)

By Anna Mehler Paperny

TORONTO (Reuters) – Canada’s border authorities detained more Mexicans in the first 67 days of 2017 than they did annually in any of the three previous years, according to statistics obtained by Reuters.

The spike comes immediately after Canada’s federal government lifted its visa requirement for Mexican citizens in December.

Many Mexicans looking north have shifted their focus from the United States to Canada as President Donald Trump vows to crack down on America’s undocumented immigrants, about half of whom are Mexican. On Friday, Reuters reported, immigration judges were reassigned to 12 U.S. cities to speed up deportation.

The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) said it detained 444 Mexican nationals between Jan. 1 and March 8, compared with 410 for all of 2016, 351 for 2015, and 399 for 2014.

The CBSA can detain foreign nationals if it is believed they pose a danger to the public, if their identity is unclear or if they are deemed unlikely to appear for removal or for a proceeding.

The number of Mexicans turned back at the airport has risen, too – to 313 in January, more than any January since 2012 and more than the annual totals for 2012, 2013 and 2014.

With the visa requirement lifted, all that Mexicans need to come to Canada is an Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA), obtainable online in a matter of minutes. But they cannot work without a work permit, and the eTA does not guarantee entry.

Canada issued 72,450 travel authorizations to Mexican citizens between Dec. 1, 2016, and March 10, 2017 – a significant increase compared with a similar period when visas were required.

Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Minister Ahmed Hussen has said his department is monitoring the situation.

“It would be premature to draw conclusions or to speculate on future policy at this point,” Hussen’s spokeswoman, Camielle Edwards, wrote in an email Friday evening.

(Reporting by Anna Mehler Paperny; Editing by Leslie Adler)

Refugee claimants from U.S. strain Canada’s border resources

telecommunications operator

By Allison Lampert

HEMMINGFORD, Quebec (Reuters) – Canadian police said on Monday they had bolstered their presence at the Quebec border and that border authorities had created a temporary refugee center to process a growing number of asylum seekers crossing from the United States.

The Canada Border Services Agency, or CBSA, said at a news conference that it had converted an unused basement into a refugee claimant processing center. Both the border agency and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police are reassigning staff from other locations in the province, as needed, to accommodate rising demand.

The CBSA said the number of people making refugee claims at Quebec-U.S. border crossings more than doubled from 2015 to 2016. Last month, 452 people made claims in Quebec compared with 137 in January 2016, the agency said.

The influx is straining police, federal government and community resources from the western prairie province of Manitoba, where people arrive frostbitten from hours walking in freezing conditions, to Quebec, where cabs drop asylum seekers off meters away from the Quebec-U.S.border, the border agency said.

Canadian Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen’s office did not respond to a request for comment on Monday.

A Reuters reporter on Monday saw RCMP officers take in for questioning a family of four – two men, a woman and a baby in a car seat – who had walked across the snowy gully dividing Roxham Road in Champlain, New York, from Chemin Roxham in Hemmingford, Quebec.

“Please explain to her that she’s in Canada,” one Canadian officer told another officer.

Police take people crossing the border in for questioning at the border agency’s office in Lacolle, Quebec, which is the province’s biggest and busiest border crossing. Police identify them and ensure they are not a threat or carrying contraband.

They are then transferred to the CBSA for fingerprinting and further questions. If people are deemed a threat or flight risk, they are detained. If not, they can file refugee claims and live in Canada while they wait for a decision

“It’s touching, and we are not insensitive to that,” Bryan Byrne, the RCMP’s Champlain Detachment commander, told reporters near the border. “Some of these people had a long journey. Some are not dressed for the climate here.”

Asylum seekers cross illegally because Canada’s policy under the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement is to turn back refugees if they make claims at border crossings. But as U.S. President Donald Trump cracks down on illegal immigrants, Amnesty International and refugee advocacy groups are pressuring the Canadian government to abandon the agreement, arguing the United States is no safe haven.

On Monday, Montreal, Canada’s second most populous city, voted to declare itself a “sanctuary city,” making it the fourth Canadian city to protect illegal immigrants and to provide services to them.

(Additional reporting and writing by Anna Mehler Paperny in Toronto; Editing by Diane Craft and Peter Cooney)

More high tech gear sought by U.S. border agents

View of Border Patrol camera tower near Laredo Texas

By Julia Harte

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Federal agents who patrol the U.S. border with Mexico want 23 more miles (37 km) of fences, better radios and more aerial drones to tighten the southern frontier, according to an unpublished U.S. government study that influences budget requests.

The modest scope of the requirements, details of which were contained in internal emails seen by Reuters and described by Border Patrol officials in interviews, contrasts sharply with calls by Republican presidential candidates for more drastic measures to secure the border. Front runner Donald Trump and rival Ted Cruz have both pledged to build a border wall, a project that could cost several billion dollars.

The extra fences sought by agents in Texas and California would be the first major fencing addition to the nearly 2,000-mile-long southern border in five years. They would cost about $92 million based on the costs of previous fences, though experts say that cost has risen.

Border Patrol has not asked its parent agency, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), to request funding for any new fences so far.

Border Patrol Chief Ronald Vitiello told Reuters that he is aware that some of his agents require “handfuls” of miles of additional fencing, though he declined to comment on the number of additional miles required.

The 653 miles of fencing currently along the southwest border is a mix of wall-like fences and more basic vehicle barriers. About half of it was built for $1.2 billion in the four years after 2007, when Congress gave the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) a mandate to fence the most vulnerable sections of the 1,954-mile border.

Building those fences required the department to waive 36 environmental and tribal sovereignty laws, including the Safe Drinking Water Act and the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, and mired the government in costly litigation with property owners.

The CBP has for the past three years used the internal study to gauge border agents’ most urgent needs and inform Border Patrol funding requests, though the agents’ specific requirements are not spelled out in budget documents.

The study also uses a border visualization and threat simulator built by Johns Hopkins University researchers who have run similar programs for the U.S. military, according to Vitiello.

The new fencing that agents require is for three sectors of the border, and would mainly consist of metal or concrete bollards clustered closely enough to prevent people from squeezing through, according to a March email between Border Patrol officials.

Apprehensions of people trying to cross illegally into the United States over its southwest border have mostly declined since the 1980s and 1990s, and they hit a nearly four-decade low in 2011. After a small rise, they dipped to near 2011 levels again last year.

Agents have also identified more reliable radios, handheld surveillance drones and all-terrain vehicles as resources they need urgently to close border security gaps, Vitiello said.

VIRTUAL BORDER

The Border Patrol has been doubling down on a “virtual wall” of drones, blimps and tower-mounted cameras, an approach that has produced mixed results.

The bulk of the CBP’s current $447 million annual budget for fencing, infrastructure, and technology goes toward surveillance towers, unmanned aircrafts, retired military blimps, and other advanced technological equipment.

After jumping to $1.5 billion in 2007 following the Congressional mandate to build hundreds of miles of new fencing, that budget decreased for several years, but has been rising steadily since 2013.

A Senate appropriations committee spokesman confirmed that “border security remains the biggest investment area” in the DHS appropriations bill, but he and his House committee counterpart declined to speculate on future funding levels.

The DHS, which oversees the CBP, had taken ownership of more than 3,900 items of excess equipment from the U.S. Defense Department as of a year ago, according to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection presentation obtained by Reuters. That included “Marcbots” – wheeled robots that detect tunnels – and advanced radar surveillance systems.

But watchdog agencies and the Border Patrol agents’ union have criticized DHS and CBP for neglecting their stocks of basic equipment, such as radios, and not effectively demonstrating how new acquisitions improve border security.

DHS pledged to improve its equipment investment policies following several such reports. A senior official with the department’s inspector general said the internal review of border security gaps will help CBP “re-assess where all the risk is and then re-allocate the resources to the greatest risk areas.”

The Government Accountability Office said it is about halfway done reviewing Border Patrol’s ability to address border security gaps as part of a review requested by U.S. lawmakers on homeland security committees. It expects to release those findings in the latter part of the year.

(Reporting by Julia Harte; editing by Stuart Grudgings)

Federal Agents seize longest Mexico California drug tunnel

United States attorney Laura E. Duffy looks down the opening of a hole in the ground after the discovery of a cross-border tunnel

By Marty Graham

SAN DIEGO (Reuters) – Federal agents have seized a ton of cocaine and seven tons of marijuana smuggled through a clandestine tunnel stretching a half mile beneath the U.S.-Mexico border, the longest one yet unearthed in California, authorities said on Wednesday.

Six people were arrested as authorities in San Diego moved on Monday and Tuesday to shut down the tunnel, the 13th underground passageway discovered along California’s border with Mexico since 2006.

The 870-yard-long tunnel, one of the narrowest found in the region, also yielded an unprecedented cache of drugs.

“This is the largest cocaine seizure ever associated with a tunnel,” said Laura Duffy, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of California.

The northern end of the tunnel, like most of the others, emerges in a narrow industrial expanse between the Otay Mesa port of entry and the California Highway Patrol’s border facility. The area, known for its heavy clay soil, is primarily traversed by trucks hauling tons of legitimate cargo between the two countries every day.

The latest tunnel, excavated 46 feet beneath the surface, ran from the bottom of an elevator shaft built into a house in Tijuana to a hole in the ground on the U.S. side enclosed within a fenced-in lot set up as a pallet business. The hole was concealed under a trailer-sized trash dumpster that smugglers used to move the drugs off the lot, federal officials said.

“They put the drugs in the dumpster and then hauled the dumpster to another location to unload it,” Duffy said. Federal agents followed a truck that carted the dumpster to a central San Diego spot about 25 miles north of the border and watched as the cargo was loaded onto a box truck, which drove away.

San Diego County sheriff’s deputies who stopped the truck seized 2,242 pounds of cocaine and 11,030 pounds of marijuana, and arrested three men, Duffy said. Federal agents searching the pallet lot and the tunnel recovered an additional 3,000-plus pounds of marijuana and arrested three more suspects, she said.

The suspects were all jailed on various drug-trafficking conspiracy charges.

Federal agents who patrol the Otay Mesa area immediately north of the border began watching the pallet company, its yard stacked with grimy, wood-frame racks, in October, Duffy said.

“The investigation began with an astute border patrol agent who identified this business as suspicious,” Duffy said. “They began monitoring this location and saw the people here conducting dry runs.”

(Editing by Steve Gorman and Andrew Hay)

U.S. Officials Deporting Fewer Illegal Immigrants

Newly released data indicates Homeland Security officials removed far fewer unauthorized immigrants from the United States this past fiscal year, but the department says the drop reflects efforts to prioritize catching those who present the most risk to the public.

The Department of Homeland Security released its annual report on immigration enforcement on Tuesday. It covers the period from Oct. 1, 2014, to Sept. 30, 2015.

The data show Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials deported 235,413 people in that period. That number was 315,943 in 2014, 368,644 in 2013 and an Obama administration high of 409,849 in 2012.

However, as the number of deportations dropped, the percentage of convicted criminals removed rose slightly. In 2012, about 55 percent of ICE removals were convicted criminals. That rose to 59 percent last year.

In a statement, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said the data “reflect this Department’s increased focus on prioritizing convicted criminals and threats to public safety, border security and national security.” Officials said 86 percent of the deportations were “top priority” cases that were considered threats.

Crunching the numbers further, ICE reported about 91 percent of its nearly 70,000 interior removals – people who were living in the United States, rather than being caught as they tried to illegally cross the border – were convicted criminals, a 9 percent increase from 2013.

Officials also reported a stark drop in the number of people apprehended by the U.S. Border Patrol.

The Border Patrol arrested 337,117 people in the past fiscal year, which the report said was the second-lowest yearly apprehension total since 1972. The number of arrests was 486,651 last year and 420,789 in 2012.

Johnson said that the consecutive drops reflect “a lower level of attempted illegal migration at our borders.” But not everyone with ties to the Border Patrol sees it that way.

“To me, if our numbers of arrests have gone down, that just means that we have missed more (people). The same number of people are getting in, we’re just taking in less,” Terence Shigg, the president of a local chapter of the National Border Patrol Council, told the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Homeland Security officials said 18 percent fewer Mexican nationals were apprehended in fiscal year 2015 than in fiscal year 2014. Arrests of people from other countries – mainly Central America – dropped about 68 percent. Officials also seized some 3.3 million pounds of narcotics.

“(Fiscal year) 2015 was a year of transition, during which our new policies focusing on public safety were being implemented,” Johnson said in a statement. “In (fiscal year) 2016 and beyond, I want to focus even more interior enforcement resources on removing convicted criminals.”