Canada wants U.S. cooperation in turning back asylum seekers

FILE PHOTO: A group of migrants who said they were from Djibouti and Somalia walk along railway tracks after crossing the Canada-U.S. border in Emerson, Manitoba, Canada, March 27, 2017. REUTERS/Chris Wattie/File Photo

By Anna Mehler Paperny

TORONTO (Reuters) – Canada wants to change a bilateral agreement to allow it to turn back thousands of asylum seekers walking across the border but the United States is not cooperating, according to a Canadian official with knowledge of the discussions.

Under the Safe Third Country Agreement, or STCA, asylum seekers who arrive at a formal Canada-U.S. border crossing going in either direction are turned back and told to apply for asylum in the first country they arrived in.

Canada wants the agreement rewritten to apply to the entire border.

More than 26,000 people have illegally crossed the Canada-U.S. border to file refugee claims in the past 15 months, walking over ditches and on empty roads along the world’s longest undefended border. Many have told Reuters they might have stayed in the United States were it not for President Donald Trump’s immigration rhetoric and policies.

Canadian officials first discussed changing the pact with U.S. Department of Homeland Security officials last September, shortly after more than 5,700 asylum seekers walked into Canada in August.

“We’d like to be able to get them to agree that we can, if somebody comes across, we just send them back,” the official told Reuters on Friday, adding Canada had raised the issue “at least a dozen” times since.

“I wouldn’t say they’ve been objecting or saying: ‘No, we won’t do it,’ but it’s been not responding rapidly.”

The Department of Homeland Security is reviewing Canada’s proposal and has not yet made a decision, a spokeswoman said.

The Canadian official compared Canada’s position to U.S. requests that Mexico prevent migrants traversing its territory from entering the United States

“We’ve got a problem, here. We’ve got to fix it,” the official added. “And we need the Americans’ cooperation.”

For now, another official said, Canada would keep doing what it is doing: Managing the influx of refugee claimants in a strained system, while seeking to dissuade would-be crossers through outreach efforts.

Even if the United States agreed to take back anyone trying to cross into Canada, keeping people out between all ports of entry would be a challenge and could result in asylum seekers taking potentially deadly risks to avoid detection, said University of Toronto law and human rights professor Audrey Macklin.

The STCA already faces a Canadian court challenge that argues the agreement is discriminatory and violates Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Canada has also urged U.S. officials to crack down on visas, saying many of the asylum seekers had valid U.S. visas and used the United States merely as a transit point.

Earlier this year, Canadian officials traveled to Nigeria, the source of a significant number of asylum seekers, to speak with Nigerian government officials and U.S. embassy staff.

The number of U.S. visas being issued to Nigerians has since dropped, said Mathieu Genest, a spokesman for Canadian Immigration and Refugee Minister Ahmed Hussen.

(Reporting by Anna Mehler Paperny; Editing by Peter Cooney)

Fight over U.S. spending bill rekindles immigration debate

FILE PHOTO: The United States Capitol Dome is seen before dawn in Washington March 22, 2013. REUTERS/Gary Cameron

By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – As another U.S. government funding deadline looms, a huge spending bill is ground zero in the latest battle between Republicans and Democrats in Congress over President Donald Trump’s push to toughen immigration policy.

Lawmakers have until March 23 to work out how to fund an array of government agencies for the next six months. But their behind-the-scenes negotiations are complicated by the immigration issue.

Republicans are seeking hundreds of millions of dollars more for the Department of Homeland Security to expand the number of beds for immigrant detainees and to hire more federal agents to patrol U.S. borders and the country’s interior.

That is aimed at finding and potentially deporting more illegal immigrants, a central pledge of Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.

“If you increased the number of beds, the number of people detained in this country will likely be increased,” said Sarah Pierce, a policy analyst for the non-partisan Migration Policy Institute.

She said that would help Trump carry out initiatives to expand detentions, including possibly those of children who are in the country illegally. For some immigrants, it could mean spending as long as two years in detention while their cases wind through an overburdened court system, instead of being under looser government controls during the process.

Congressional negotiators also are tussling over a Republican provision prohibiting the use of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement funds to facilitate abortions for immigrant detainees.

There is also a push for $1.6 billion to begin construction on a border wall, which Trump promised during his campaign would be paid for by Mexico – an unwilling partner in that pledge. That would be a down payment on a construction project likely to end up costing more than $18 billion.

During a visit to California on Tuesday, Trump inspected wall prototypes and urged Congress to fund it.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, an advocate for Trump’s immigration agenda, told reporters on Wednesday, “If there are additional appropriations added, I certainly would be supportive of that.”

Democrats, whose votes in the Republican-controlled Congress are likely needed to pass the trillion-dollar spending bill, are pushing back against a wall that they see as a waste of money.

A coalition of 83 Hispanic, African-American and Asian-American members of the House of Representatives wrote this week to congressional leaders urging them to also “reduce funding to DHS’s detention and deportation machine.”

Democratic Representative Michelle Lujan Grisham, who heads the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, told reporters: “It’s wasteful and it’s harmfully targeting and deporting non-criminal immigrants, separating families and terrorizing frankly whole communities.”

BATTLEGROUND

Appropriations bills in Congress are the lifeblood of Washington policymakers, providing the money to carry out their priorities.

Over the past several months, appropriations bills to fund an array of federal programs have been the battleground in which Trump and Congress fought over the future of young people brought to the country illegally as children.

That six-month skirmish ended last month with Congress unable to legislate new protection from deportation for 700,000 “Dreamers” after Trump ended an Obama-era program giving them temporary legal status. At one point, the standoff forced Washington into a three-day government shutdown in January when funding ran out.

This time, Republicans hope to get enough money to hire 500 more Customs and Border Protection agents and 1,000 more Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials. That would be the start of an eventual increase of CBP’s workforce by 5,000 and ICE’s by 10,000.

Democrats have noted that the agencies are falling short in filling all positions Congress already has authorized.

Negotiators are expected to work through the weekend as House of Representatives leaders hope to unveil a bill early next week so it can be debated on the House floor by midweek, with a Senate vote by the March 23 deadline.

Failure to meet the deadline could result in the second partial government shutdown this year.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan; Editing by Caren Bohan, Peter Cooney and Bill Trott)

White House rejects bipartisan Senate immigration plan

Activists and DACA recipients march up Broadway during the start of their 'Walk to Stay Home,' a five-day 250-mile walk from New York to Washington D.C., to demand that Congress pass a Clean Dream Act, in Manhattan, New York, U.S., February 15, 2018. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

By Richard Cowan and Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The White House stuck to its hard-line immigration approach on Thursday and said advisers would recommend that President Donald Trump veto a bipartisan U.S. Senate proposal to protect young “Dreamer” immigrants and tighten border security.

The plan, which would protect from deportation 1.8 million young adults who were brought to the United States illegally as children, would weaken border security and undercut existing immigration law, spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said in a statement.

“Preventing enforcement with respect to people who entered our country illegally before a date that is in the future would produce a flood of new illegal immigration in the coming months,” she said.

The proposal, which had been considered perhaps the most likely to succeed in the Senate, also includes a $25 billion fund to strengthen border security and possibly even build segments of Trump’s long-promised border wall with Mexico.

White House opposition to the bipartisan plan appeared to focus on a provision that would direct the Department of Homeland Security to focus enforcement efforts on undocumented immigrants who have been convicted of crimes, are a threat to national security or arrived in the United States after June 30, 2018.

The Senate is debating at least four immigration measures as lawmakers race to resolve the status of Dreamers, who were protected under an Obama-era program. Trump has ordered that program to end by March 5, telling Congress it should come up with an alternative plan by then.

The Department of Homeland Security also opposed the bipartisan plan led by Republican Senator Susan Collins, saying it would prevent DHS officers from being able to remove millions of undocumented immigrants from the country, and “is an egregious violation of the four compromise pillars laid out by the President’s immigration reform framework.”

Trump has said any immigration bill must include funds to build the border wall, end the visa lottery program, impose curbs on visas for the families of legal immigrants and protect Dreamers.

The Republican president has backed a measure by Republican Senator Chuck Grassley that embraces his wish list but is unlikely to win support from enough Democrats in the closely divided chamber.

A narrower third bill focusing just on Dreamers and border security, by Republican John McCain and Democrat Chris Coons, has been dismissed by Trump. A fourth measure, which is not expected to pass, focuses on punishing “sanctuary cities” that do not cooperate with federal immigration enforcement efforts.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said votes on the four measures would be held possibly on Thursday or at least Friday morning, ahead of a self-imposed Senate deadline of the end of the week.

‘BITTER PILLS’

The bipartisan Collins bill got a slight boost earlier on Thursday when an influential group that advocates for immigrants, America’s Voice, gave its reluctant support to the measure.

The group opposes provisions allowing the construction of a border wall and moves to limit legal immigration, but said in a statement, “We believe the chance to provide a permanent solution for Dreamers calls us to swallow these bitter pills.”

Despite backing from several Republicans for the Collins-led plan, it was unclear whether it would muster the 60 votes needed in the 100-member Senate, controlled 51-49 by Republicans.

A senior Senate Republican aide said the White House veto threat would “scuttle” some Republican support for the bipartisan bill. The prospect of all bills failing could even discourage some Republicans from voting for the Trump-backed plan, the aide said.

Trump is anxious to start on the border wall, which he made a central part of his 2016 election campaign and which Democrats have long opposed. Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said the wall would be “an enormous waste of money,” but both parties had to bend.

“We have to rise above our differences, admit that no one will get everything they want and accept painful compromises,” Schumer said.

In September, Trump rescinded the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program to protect Dreamers from deportation and offer them work permits. Although the protections are due to start expiring on March 5, federal judges have blocked that from taking effect amid ongoing litigation.

Even if one of the Senate measures passes, it must still win over the U.S. House of Representatives, where Republicans hold a larger majority and are pushing a more conservative proposal that is more closely in line with Trump’s framework.

(Additional reporting by Susan Heavey and Makini Brice; Writing by John Whitesides; Editing by Frances Kerry)

Senate faces showdown over immigration and ‘Dreamers’

Demonstrators calling for new protections for so-called "Dreamers," undocumented children brought to the U.S. by their immigrant parents, walk through a senate office building on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. January 17, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

By Susan Heavey and Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Trump administration remained insistent on hardline immigration measures on Thursday as the U.S. Senate prepared to vote on various legislative proposals to protect young “Dreamer” immigrants and to tighten border security.

In a statement overnight, the Department of Homeland Security dismissed what some thought was the bill most likely to win enough bipartisan support to pass the chamber, saying it failed to meet minimum criteria set out by President Donald Trump.

The plan, crafted by a bipartisan group of senators led by moderate Republican Susan Collins, would protect from deportation 1.8 million young adults who were brought to the United States illegally as children and who are known as Dreamers.

It also includes a $25 billion fund to strengthen border security and possibly even construct segments of Trump’s long-promised border wall with Mexico.

The immigration issue has become a matter of urgency for lawmakers after Trump in September ordered an Obama-era program that protected Dreamers to end by March 5, telling Congress it should come up with a solution by then.

The Department of Homeland Security blasted the Collins-led plan, saying it destroyed the ability of DHS officers to remove millions of undocumented immigrants from the country, and “is an egregious violation of the four compromise pillars laid out by the President’s immigration reform framework.”

Trump’s four provisions are for any bill to include funds to build the border wall, to end the visa lottery program, to impose curbs on visas for the families of legal immigrants, and to protect Dreamers.

The Republican president has backed a bill by Republican Senator Chuck Grassley that embraces Trump’s wish list but is unlikely to win support from enough Democrats in the closely-divided chamber.

A narrower third bill, by Republican John McCain and Democrat Chris Coons, has been dismissed by Trump.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was expected to bring forward all three measures on Thursday to gauge which has enough support to move toward a vote in the Senate ahead of a Friday deadline he has imposed for the legislation.

Despite backing from several Republicans for the Collins-led plan, it was unclear if enough Democrats would get behind it to muster the 60 votes needed in the 100-member Senate that Republicans control 51-49.

Democratic U.S. Senator Tim Kaine told MSNBC on Thursday he thought lawmakers were “very close” to the 60 votes needed on the Collins-led measure. Republican Senator Marco Rubio told Fox News he was unsure whether any Senate plan would move forward.

Even if one of three bills passes, it must still win over the U.S. House of Representatives, where Republicans hold a larger majority and are pushing a more conservative proposal that is closer in line with Trump’s framework.

U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan has said he will support only legislation backed by Trump, who has carried his tough law-and-order stance toward immigrants from his 2016 campaign into his administration.

(Additional reporting by Makini Brice; Editing by Frances Kerry)

Super Bowl security document found on commercial flight

Policemen talk as a Super Bowl promotional banner showing Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles and New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady hangs in an atrium at the Mall of America in Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S. January 29, 2018

By Alex Dobuzinskis

(Reuters) – A U.S. government document outlining plans for responding to a possible biological attack at Sunday’s Super Bowl in Minneapolis was left on a commercial jetliner, CNN reported on Monday, saying one of its employees found the paper in a seat pocket.

Multiple copies of the document, marked “for official use only” and “important for national security,” were found during a flight before the Super Bowl was played.

CNN said on its website it had delayed reporting about its discovery until after the game, at the request of federal officials. It did not say when the document turned up or if the flight in question was going to or coming from Minneapolis. CNN said it could not determine who left the documents on the airplane.

The errant document offered a critique of how officials performed during a simulated release of the infectious disease anthrax in Minneapolis on the day of the Super Bowl. Other sensitive material was also found, CNN said, without further description.

Officials conducted such exercises in July and November, as part of the Department of Homeland Security’s BioWatch program, according to CNN.

One of the biggest sporting events of the year, the National Football League’s championship Super Bowl is high on the list of potential targets for an attack, security experts have previously said.

The Department of Homeland Security often conducts exercises with state and local governments to guard against national security threats, Tyler Houlton, acting press secretary of the department, said in a statement in response to a Reuters inquiry about the CNN report.

“It is important that operators regularly exercise their capabilities against a wide range of scenarios in order to effectively counter the changing threat environment,” Houlton said.

Houlton declined to confirm whether any sensitive documents related to the Super Bowl were misplaced.

The game went off without a hitch, with the Philadelphia Eagles beating the New England Patriots, 41-33, at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.

The security plan included bomb-sniffing dogs, a massive police presence, helicopters and a chain-link and concrete fence surrounding the stadium, officials said at a news conference ahead of the game on Wednesday.

In preparation for the game, authorities conducted more than 200 security assessments of critical infrastructure in the Minneapolis area, in addition to training for everything from active shooters to bombings.

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Editing by Frank McGurty and Lisa Shumaker)

U.N. panel urges end to detention of would-be immigrants in U.S.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents arrest an immigrant in San Clemente, California,

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) – A U.N. human rights panel urged the United States on Monday to end widespread detention of would-be immigrants including asylum-seekers, saying the practice has “grown exponentially” and violates international law.

The holding of migrants and would-be refugees in custody is often “punitive, unreasonably long, unnecessary and costly” and should be used only as a last resort, the panel said in a 23-page report to the United Nations Human Rights Council.

Each year, an estimated 352,850 people are detained across the United States pending the outcome of their immigration proceedings at a cost of about $2 billion, it said.

The independent experts, who form the U.N. working group on arbitrary detention, were reporting on their mission last October at the invitation of the Obama administration.

“The Working Group is of the view that all administrative detention, in particular of immigrants in an irregular situation, should be in accordance with international human rights law; and that such detention is to be a measure of last resort, necessary and proportionate and be not punitive in nature, and that alternatives to detention are to be sought whenever possible,” the report said.

In Washington, a White House spokeswoman said “That’s a question for the U.N.” when asked to comment on the panel’s findings. The Department of Homeland Security did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

President Donald Trump has backed legislation to crack down on illegal immigrants, describing it as vital to protect American lives.

The U.N. experts interviewed 280 detainees during their visits to nine prisons in Texas, California and Illinois. Some were remote locations with limited access to legal services.

They reported seeing immigrants and asylum seekers held in “punitive conditions” comparable to those of convicted criminals despite their right to seek asylum under international law.

In some cases, the length of detention pending immigration proceedings was “unreasonable”, lasting from six months to more than one year without resolution.

The experts voiced concern at Trump’s executive order in January and an implementing memorandum that “lay the groundwork for expanding the existing detention system by increasing the number of individuals subject to immigration detention”.

“Under the order, apprehended individuals may be detained ‘on suspicion’ of violating federal or state law, which includes unauthorized entry,” they said.

They received information in March that the Department of Homeland Security was considering separating children from parents caught crossing the border, “in an attempt to deter illegal immigration from Mexico,” they said.

“This is particularly serious given the increasing trend of unaccompanied children migrating to escape violence and reunite with family members.”

 

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)

 

U.S. Supreme Court breathes new life into Trump’s travel ban

People walk outside the the U.S. Supreme Court building after the Court granted parts of the Trump administration's emergency request to put his travel ban into effect immediately while the legal battle continues, in Washington, U.S., June 26, 2017

By Lawrence Hurley and Andrew Chung

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday handed a victory to President Donald Trump by reviving parts of a travel ban on people from six Muslim-majority countries that he said is needed for national security but that opponents decry as discriminatory.

The justices narrowed the scope of lower court rulings that had completely blocked key parts of a March 6 executive order that Trump had said was needed to prevent terrorism in the United States, allowing his temporary ban to go into effect for people with no strong ties such as family or business to the United States. [http://tmsnrt.rs/2seb3bb]

The court issued its order on the last day of its current term and agreed to hear oral arguments during its next term starting in October so it can decide finally whether the ban is lawful in a major test of presidential powers.

In a statement, Trump called the high court’s action “a clear victory for our national security,” saying the justices allowed the travel suspension to become largely effective.

“As president, I cannot allow people into our country who want to do us harm. I want people who can love the United States and all of its citizens, and who will be hardworking and productive,” Trump added.

Trump’s March 6 order called for a blanket 90-day ban on people from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen and a 120-day ban on all refugees while the government implemented stronger vetting procedures. The court allowed a limited version of the refugee ban, which had also been blocked by courts, to go into effect.

Trump issued the order amid rising international concern about attacks carried out by Islamist militants like those in Paris, London, Brussels, Berlin and other cities. But challengers said no one from the affected countries had carried out attacks in the United States.

Federal courts said the travel ban violated federal immigration law and was discriminatory against Muslims in violation of the U.S. Constitution. Critics called it a discriminatory “Muslim ban.”

Ahmed al-Nasi, an official in Yemen’s Ministry of Expatriate Affairs, voiced disappointment.

“We believe it will not help in confronting terrorism and extremism, but rather will increase the feeling among the nationals of these countries that they are all being targeted, especially given that Yemen is an active partner of the United States in the war on terrorism and that there are joint operations against terrorist elements in Yemen,” he said.

Groups that challenged the ban, including the American Civil Liberties Union, said that most people from the affected countries seeking entry to the United States would have the required connections. But they voiced concern the administration would interpret the ban as broadly as it could.

“It’s going to be very important for us over this intervening period to make sure the government abides by the terms of the order and does not try to use it as a back door into implementing the full-scale Muslim ban that it’s been seeking to implement,” said Omar Jadwat, an ACLU lawyer.

During the 2016 presidential race, Trump campaigned for “a total and complete shutdown” of Muslims entering the United States. The travel ban was a signature policy of Trump’s first few months as president.

‘BONA FIDE RELATIONSHIP’

In an unusual unsigned decision, the Supreme Court on Monday said the travel ban will go into effect “with respect to foreign nationals who lack any bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States.”

A lack of a clearly defined relationship would bar from entry people from the six countries and refugees with no such ties.

Hawaii Attorney General Douglas Chin, who successfully challenged the ban in lower courts, said that students from affected countries due to attend the University of Hawaii would still be able to do so.

Both bans were to partly go into effect 72 hours after the court’s decision. The Department of Homeland Security promised clear and sufficient public notice in coordination with the travel industry.

Trump signed the order as a replacement for a Jan. 27 one issued a week after he became president that also was blocked by federal courts, but not before it caused chaos at airports and provoked numerous protests.

Even before the Supreme Court action the ban applied only to new visa applicants, not people who already have visas or are U.S. permanent residents, known as green card holders. The executive order also made waivers available for a foreign national seeking to enter the United States to resume work or study, visit a spouse, child or parent who is a U.S. citizen, or for “significant business or professional obligations.” Refugees “in transit” and already approved would have been able to travel to the United States under the executive order.

A CONSERVATIVE COURT

The case was Trump’s first major challenge at the Supreme Court, where he restored a 5-4 conservative majority with the appointment of Neil Gorsuch, who joined the bench in April. There are five Republican appointees on the court and four Democratic appointees. The four liberal justices were silent.

Gorsuch was one of the three conservative justices who would have granted Trump’s request to put the order completely into effect. Fellow conservative Justice Clarence Thomas wrote a dissenting opinion in which he warned that requiring officials to differentiate between foreigners who have a connection to the United States and those who do not will prove unworkable.

“Today’s compromise will burden executive officials with the task of deciding – on peril of contempt – whether individuals from the six affected nations who wish to enter the United States have a sufficient connection to a person or entity in this country,” Thomas wrote.

The state of Hawaii and a group of plaintiffs in Maryland represented by the American Civil Liberties Union argued that the order violated federal immigration law and the Constitution’s First Amendment prohibition on the government favoring or disfavoring any particular religion. Regional federal appeals courts in Virginia and California both upheld district judge injunctions blocking the order.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley. Additional reporting by Andrew Chung and Yeganeh Torbati in Washington and Mohammed Ghobari in Sanaa, Yemen; Editing by Will Dunham and Howard Goller)

U.S. government narrows focus of counter-extremism program

FILE PHOTO - U.S. Department of Homeland Security emblem is pictured at the National Cybersecurity & Communications Integration Center (NCCIC) located just outside Washington in Arlington, Virginia September 24, 2010. REUTERS/Hyungwon Kang

By Julia Harte and Dustin Volz

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Department of Homeland Security on Friday announced changes to a $10 million government grant program, narrowing its focus around efforts to combat Islamist extremism.

In an update to awards announced in January by former President Barack Obama’s administration, the department released a new list of grant recipients and amounts, shifting money to law enforcement offices and away from groups that combat U.S.-based extremism.

Reuters reported in February that President Donald Trump’s administration wanted to revamp the program to focus solely on Islamist extremism.

A DHS spokeswoman said the department changed the grant criteria after the release of the initial list to consider whether applicants would partner with law enforcement, had experience implementing counter-extremism prevention programs, and would be able to continue after the awards were spent.

“Top-scoring applications that were consistent with these priorities remained as awardees, while others did not,” said DHS spokeswoman Lucy Martinez.

Three local law enforcement offices in California, Washington state and Minnesota were among the new awardees, receiving grants totaling $1.2 million.

A spokesman for the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office in California said it would use the money to address extremism “on all fronts,” not just Islamist violence. Sergeant Ray Kelly cited violent clashes between right-wing and left-wing demonstrators that recently erupted in the city of Berkeley as an example of local extremism in the county.

Kelly said the office would use the grant money to train officers to better recognize and address signs of alienation that make young people vulnerable to extremism, with the help of behavioral health counselors who are already on staff.

The Muslim Public Affairs Council, a nonprofit group that works to improve public understanding and policies that affect American Muslims, said the Trump administration revoked its nearly $400,000 grant because the group “did not meet the criteria of working with law enforcement to counter violent extremism.”

The revised list also omitted several original awardees focused on U.S.-based extremism, such as Life After Hate, which tries to steer young people away from far-right extremism.

Christian Picciolini, a co-founder of Life After Hate, told Reuters his group was planning to use its $400,000 grant to scale up its counselor network of former extremists to “meet the highly increased requests for our services since Election Day.”

“The current administration’s lack of focus on domestic white extremist terrorism, let alone its denial to even acknowledge it exists, is highly troubling,” Picciolini wrote in an email.

(Reporting by Julia Harte and Dustin Volz; Editing by Bill Rigby and Bill Trott)

Trump administration has found only $20 million in existing funds for wall

A general view shows a newly built section of the U.S.-Mexico border fence at Sunland Park, U.S. opposite the Mexican border city of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico January 26, 2017. REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez

By Julia Edwards Ainsley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump’s promise to use existing funds to begin immediate construction of a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border has hit a financial roadblock, according to a document seen by Reuters.

The rapid start of construction, promised throughout Trump’s campaign and in an executive order issued in January on border security, was to be financed, according to the White House, with “existing funds and resources” of the Department of Homeland Security.

But so far, the DHS has identified only $20 million that can be re-directed to the multi-billion-dollar project, according to a document prepared by the agency and distributed to congressional budget staff last week.

The document said the funds would be enough to cover a handful of contracts for wall prototypes, but not enough to begin construction of an actual barrier. This means that for the wall to move forward, the White House will need to convince Congress to appropriate funds.

An internal report, previously reported by Reuters, estimated that fully walling off or fencing the entire southern border would cost $21.6 billion – $9.3 million per mile of fence and $17.8 million per mile of wall.

DHS officials did not respond to a request for comment on this story.

Trump has said he will ask Congress to pay for what existing funds cannot cover and that Mexico will be pressured to pay back U.S. taxpayers at a later date.

Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan has said he will include funding for a border wall in the budget for next fiscal year. He has estimated the cost to be between $12 billion and $15 billion.

Many Republican lawmakers have said they would vote against a plan that does not offset the cost of the wall with spending cuts.

In the document it submitted to Congress, the DHS said it would reallocate $5 million from a fence project in Naco, Arizona, that came in under budget and $15 million from a project to install cameras on top of trucks at the border.

The surveillance project was awarded to Virginia-based Tactical Micro, but was held up due to protests from other contractors, according to the DHS document. Tactical Micro could not be reached for comment.

The DHS only searched for extra funds within its $376 million budget for border security fencing, infrastructure and technology, so it would not have to ask for congressional approval to repurpose funding, according to the document.

Contractors cannot begin bidding to develop prototypes until March 6 but more than 265 businesses already have listed themselves as “interested parties” on a government web site.

Those interested range from small businesses to large government contractors such as Raytheon <RTN.N>.

(Reporting by Julia Edwards Ainsley; Editing by Sue Horton and Bill Trott)

FBI warns of possible Islamic State-inspired attacks in U.S.

A member of the New York Police Department's Counterterrorism Bureau patrols the Union Square Holiday market following the Berlin Christmas market attacks in Manhattan, New York City

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. federal authorities cautioned local law enforcement on Friday to be aware that supporters of Islamic State have been calling for their sympathizers to attack holiday gatherings in the United States, including churches, a law enforcement official said.

The warning, issued in a bulletin to local law enforcement, said there were no known specific, credible threats.

The notice from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Department of Homeland Security was issued out of an abundance of caution after a publicly available list of U.S. churches was published on pro-Islamic State websites.

“The FBI is aware of the recent link published online that urges attacks against U.S. churches. As with similar threats, the FBI is tracking this matter while we investigate its credibility,” the FBI said in a statement.

Islamic State sympathizers “continue aspirational calls for attacks on holiday gatherings, including targeting churches,” CNN quoted the bulletin as saying. The notice describes different signs of suspicious activity for which police should be alert, it said.

(Reporting by David Alexander; Additional reporting by Mark Hosenball; Editing by Sandra Maler)