Exclusive: Canada rushes to deport asylum seekers who walked from U.S. – data

A Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) vehicle is seen near a sign at the US-Canada border in Lacolle, Quebec, Canada, February 14, 2018. REUTERS/Chris Wattie/File Photo

By Anna Mehler Paperny

TORONTO (Reuters) – Canada is prioritizing the deportation of asylum seekers who walked across the border from the United States illegally, federal agency statistics show, as the Liberal government tries to tackle a politically sensitive issue ahead of an election year.

The number of people deported after their refugee applications were rejected was on track to drop 25 percent so far this year compared to 2017 to its lowest point in a decade, even as the number of deported border-crossers was on track to triple, according to Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) data.

More than 36,000 people have walked into Canada from the United States to file refugee claims since January 2017, many saying they feared U.S. President Donald Trump’s election promise and policy to crack down on illegal immigration.

The influx has thrown the Canadian asylum system into turmoil and caused a political uproar in a country accustomed to picking and choosing its newcomers.

In response, the government gave more money to the independent body adjudicating refugee claims and appointed a minister responsible for border-crossers.

The CBSA, which is responsible for deportations, said in an email to Reuters that it classifies border-crossers with criminals as a top deportation priority.

Refugee lawyers and border officers said the prioritization seems to be Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s way of dealing with those asylum seekers, who have become a hot political issue for his Liberal Party ahead of a general election in 2019.

Border Security Minister Bill Blair declined to comment.

In an email, Blair’s office said the government is committed to a “robust and fair” refugee system and that everyone ordered removed has been given due process.

A CBSA inland enforcement officer said the tradeoff is that deportees who could pose a real public safety risk are not getting deported.

“We have priority cases, people with extensive criminal records that are due to be deported, people with security problems – these cases are not all taken care of because we have to take care of these administrative cases,” said the officer, speaking on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to media.

Border-crossers “are not a priority, but they are a priority because of all the media attention around them.”

A CBSA spokesman said in an email that the agency prioritizes “irregular” failed refugee claimants along with criminals as a top priority, followed by other failed refugee claimants, but would not say why.

Six lawyers told Reuters they were aware of this acceleration of certain cases, some saying they have had border-crosser hearings scheduled in blocs, with a focus on those from Haiti and Nigeria.

Toronto lawyer Lorne Waldman said there were good reasons for accelerating the processing and deportation of people who crossed the border: it deters people with weak claims from making refugee claims in the hopes of living in Canada for years while their case wends through the system.

“The best way of discouraging people from making frivolous claims is by having the claims processed quickly,” Waldman said.

(Reporting by Anna Mehler Paperny; editing by Grant McCool)

Hungary’s new Holocaust museum divides Jews, faces ‘whitewash’ accusations

FILE PHOTO: The new Holocaust museum called the House of Fates is pictured in Budapest, Hungary, October 15, 2018. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo

By Krisztina Than

BUDAPEST (Reuters) – A planned new Holocaust museum in Budapest has divided Hungary’s Jewish community and triggered international concerns that it will downplay the wartime role of Hungarians in the persecution and deportation of Jews.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s right-wing government plans to open the museum next year to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the deportati7on of Hungarian Jews to death camps in German-occupied Poland. More than half a million Hungarian Jews were among six million Jews killed in Europe during the Holocaust.

In a Sept. 7 decree, the government granted ownership of the new museum, called the House of Fates, to the Unified Hungarian Jewish Congregation (EMIH), one of the three registered Jewish groups in Hungary.

The permanent exhibition, to be set up by the EMIH with government help and housed in a former railway station, will be based on the concept of historian Maria Schmidt, who is an ally of Orban and owns a pro-government weekly.

It will use personal histories to explore the 1938-48 period in Hungary, with particular focus on children, and will also feature temporary exhibitions and education programs.

But the project, first announced in 2014, has drawn criticism from Israel’s Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center.

“The museum concept clearly avoids addressing the role and responsibility of… Hungarian leaders of that era for the plight of the nation’s Jews, and their eventual abandonment to the hands of Nazi Germany,” Robert Rozett, Director of the Yad Vashem Libraries, said in a statement last month.

It also seeks to gloss over the role of ordinary Hungarian citizens, he said. “It is implied that Hungary was actually a nation of rescuers. This is a grave falsification of history.”

BLOODY HISTORY

The head of EMIH, Rabbi Slomo Koves, said the museum remained open to suggestions from others, including Yad Vashem, adding that only about half of the concept was so far ready.

Koves said he wanted to give young visitors “an emotional relation to the story” along with all relevant context.

Hungary began ostracizing and discriminating against Jews under its right-wing ruler Miklos Horthy long before World War Two when it was an ally of Nazi Germany. In 1944 the Germans invaded Hungary to stop it switching sides and in just eight weeks, with the collaboration of the authorities, some 437,000 Hungarian Jews were deported to the Auschwitz death camp.

Tens of thousands of others were herded into ghettos in Budapest and killed, mostly by Hungarians.

The World Jewish Congress has suggested that Hungary put the museum under the supervision of an international body such as Yad Vashem, the U.S. Holocaust Museum and the Federation of Hungarian Jewish Communities (MAZSIHISZ).

The chairman of MAZSIHISZ, Andras Heisler, echoed that call, adding: “We’ve received much support from the government but this… dividing of the Jewish community affects us very negatively.”

Orban told parliament this month the opening of the museum could wait until the disputes surrounding it “die down”.

Budapest already has a Holocaust Memorial Center in a former synagogue that was opened in 2004.

Orban has repeatedly declared a policy of zero tolerance on anti-Semitism but has also risked angering Jews with remarks about “ethnic homogeneity” apparently aimed at right-wing voters and has been accused of trying to whitewash Hungary’s past.

In 2014 Orban’s government erected a monument to victims of the Nazi occupation that critics said depicted Hungarians only as passive victims, absolving them of guilt. But Orban has also spoken of “the very many Hungarians who chose evil over good”.

Gergely Gulyas, Orban’s cabinet chief, said the government would bear responsibility for the content of the new museum.

“We bow our heads before the victims of the Holocaust who became victims because the Hungarian state was unable to protect its own citizens and collaborated in the deportations,” he said.

(Editing by Gareth Jones)

All migrant kids under five to be back with parents by Thursday: U.S. official

A minor sits in the back of a van as he is transported into Casa Esperanza, a federal contracted shelter in Brownsville, Texas, U.S. July 11, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

By Tom Hals

(Reuters) – All migrant children under age 5 who were separated at the U.S.-Mexico border will have been reunited with their parents by early Thursday morning if they were eligible, a Trump administration official said in a statement on Wednesday.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which sued the government over its separation policies, disputed that assertion.

“Their statement is vague at a minimum,” said attorney Lee Gelernt, noting that a San Diego judge had set a deadline of Tuesday for reuniting those children. “We know they missed the deadline.”

The government has said some children were not eligible for reunification because the parent was deported, had a criminal record or was otherwise unfit.

U.S. Judge Dana Sabraw in San Diego had ordered the government to reunite the children under the age of 5 by Tuesday and all separated children by July 26.

On Thursday, the government will give Sabraw a progress report on the younger children and whether it expects to meet the deadline for the older group.

The government has said around 2,300 children were separated from their parents at the border under the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy on illegal immigration, which was abandoned in June after intense protests.

The ACLU’s Gelernt said the government is not even close to reuniting all the children under 5 with their parents, including 12 adults who were deported without their children. He said they government has not told him how many children have been reunified with parents.

“I’ve asked the government for numbers and they should have told me by now,” he told Reuters.

Since the government first came under pressure to ease its policy on separations weeks ago, it has shifted its estimates of the number of children it would reunite.

The latest figures released by the government were early on Tuesday, when officials said that four children under 5 had been reunited and at least 34 more would be with their parents by the end of the day.

Catholic Charities, which helped place some of the children in shelter facilities after their separation, held a news briefing in New York at which a handful of the reunited parents expressed relief after weeks of anxiety over the separations.

“I’m happy to finally be able to be with my child. I will never be separated from him, no matter what,” said a tearful Javier, a 30-year-old from Honduras, who was reunited with his 4-year-old son after 55 days of detention. “Those were the worst days of my life. I never imagined that this would happen.”

The organization provided first names only.

The struggle to track and match parents with children under 5 suggests the government may have more difficulties in meeting a July 26 deadline for reuniting the remaining 2,000 older children with adults from whom they were separated.

“That is going to be a significant undertaking,” Sabraw said on Tuesday of the next deadline.

U.S. President Donald Trump took to Twitter on Wednesday to blame the Democratic Party, among others, for failing to fix what he has characterized as a broken immigration system.

“Judges run the system and illegals and traffickers know how it works. They are just using children!” he said.

One immigration advocate told Reuters she was still awaiting details on when officials would return two children younger than 5 to their parents. One parent was from Honduras and the other from El Salvador.

“Our clients still have not been reunified!” said Beth Krause, an attorney with Legal Aid Society’s Immigrant Youth Project, in an email to Reuters. She said the government said one would be reunited sometime Wednesday.

If the government failed to reunite all the children under 5 with their parents by Thursday, Sabraw asked the ACLU to suggest penalties he could levy against the government.

Rights advocates have blamed the U.S. government’s poor technology for difficulties tracking children across multiple government agencies involved in their detention and care.

The government has said the delays stem from the time it takes to run background checks, confirm parentage and locate parents released from detention.

(Reporting by Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware; additional reporting by Jonathan Allen and Yeganeh Torbati in New York and Eric Beech in Washington; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Lisa Shumaker)

Push for ‘Dreamer’ immigration bill gains steam in U.S. House of Representatives

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

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A bipartisan majority of the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday urged Speaker Paul Ryan to schedule debate on bills to protect young undocumented immigrants from deportation, in a move aimed at reviving a push that sputtered in the Senate in February.

Backers said they had 240 House members on board so far pushing for debate of four different bills to replace the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which Republican President Donald Trump ended on March 5.

Under the House members’ plan, the measure with the most votes would win and be sent to the Senate. November’s congressional elections could contribute to an already difficult path, however.

The bill many lawmakers think is most popular was written by Republican Will Hurd and Democrat Peter Aguilar. It would protect “Dreamer” immigrants from deportation and strengthen border security, although not with a Southwest border wall Trump wants.

DACA, established in 2012 by Democratic then-President Barack Obama, protected illegal immigrants brought into the United States by their parents when they were children. Around 800,000 “Dreamers” have participated.

With Trump’s action, their legal status is in limbo pending the outcome of court battles.

Trump has urged Congress to write legislation giving these immigrants permanent protections, but he has failed to reach a compromise with Congress.

“It is time to have a full debate for the American public and have the entire country decide what border security should look like, what a permanent fix for Dreamers should look like,” said Republican Representative Jeff Denham, who represents a central California district with a large Hispanic population.

In 2016, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton beat Trump in his district, leading to speculation that Denham, like Republicans in similar areas, could face a tough re-election.

At least 218 votes are needed in the 435-member House to pass legislation. With five vacancies, slightly fewer are necessary.

But there are difficulties, even with the 240 votes supporting this latest immigration push.

Only 50 of the House’s 237 Republicans are behind the effort so far, with nearly all 190 Democrats on board.

That presents political problems for Ryan and his leadership team, which bridles at passing legislation not backed by a majority of fellow Republicans.

Representative Linda Sanchez, a member of House Democratic leadership, told reporters that a bill to take care of Dreamers could pass the House if Ryan allowed it, but that opponents were blocking a debate.

“One hundred of the most conservative members in that (Republican) caucus are making policy for the rest of the United States,” Sanchez said.

(Reporting By Richard Cowan; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

Supreme Court restricts deportations of immigrant felons

FILE PHOTO: Police officers stand in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, DC, U.S., January 19, 2018. REUTERS/Eric Thayer/File Photo

By Andrew Chung

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday that an immigration statute requiring the deportation of noncitizens who commit felonies is unlawfully vague in a decision that could limit the Trump administration’s ability to step up the removal of immigrants with criminal records.

The court, in a 5-4 ruling in which President Donald Trump’s conservative appointee Neil Gorsuch joined the court’s four liberal justices, sided with convicted California burglar James Garcia Dimaya, a legal immigrant from the Philippines.

The court upheld a 2015 lower court ruling that the Immigration and Nationality Act provision requiring Dimaya’s deportation created uncertainty over which crimes may be considered violent, risking arbitrary enforcement in violation of the U.S. Constitution.

The ruling helps clarify the criminal acts for which legal immigrants may be expelled at a time of intense focus on immigration issues in the United States as Trump seeks to increase deportations of immigrants who have committed crimes.

Liberal Justice Elena Kagan wrote the court’s ruling, delivering a setback to the Trump administration, which had defended the law at issue.

“Vague laws invite arbitrary power,” Gorsuch wrote in a concurring opinion, adding that the American colonies in the 18th century cited vague English law like the crime of treason as among the reasons for the American revolution.

“Today’s vague laws may not be as invidious, but they can invite the exercise of arbitrary power all the same – by leaving the people in the dark about what the law demands and allowing prosecutors and courts to make it up,” Gorsuch added.

Dimaya came to the United States from the Philippines as a legal permanent resident in 1992 at age 13. He lived in the San Francisco Bay area.

Federal authorities ordered Dimaya deported after he was convicted in two California home burglaries, in 2007 and 2009, though neither crime involved violence. He received a two-year prison sentence for each conviction.

In 2010, the government sought to deport Dimaya. The Justice Department’s Board of Immigration Appeals, an administrative body that applies immigration laws, refused to cancel his expulsion because the relevant law defined burglary as a “crime of violence.”

In the federal criminal code, a “crime of violence” includes offenses in which force either was used or carried a “substantial risk” that it would be used.

The San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 2015 that the definition as applied to legal immigrants was so vague that it violated their rights to due process of law under the U.S. Constitution. The language of the law could lead arbitrary or discriminatory enforcement, that court said.

The appeals court relied on a decision that same year by the U.S. Supreme Court, which found that a similar provision in a federal criminal sentencing law was overly broad.

The federal government appealed to the Supreme Court, arguing that the U.S. Congress had reasonably identified a category of crimes that carry the risk of violence, and suggested that the justices should defer to the immigration authorities.

The Supreme Court heard arguments in the case on Oct. 2, the first day of its current nine-month term. It initially heard arguments in January 2017 when the nine-seat court was one justice short, but decided in June after Gorsuch brought the court to full strength to have the case re-argued.

(Reporting by Andrew Chung; Editing by Will Dunham)

African migrants in limbo as Israel seeks Uganda deportation deal

Pepole take part in a protest against the Israeli government's plan to deport African migrants, in Tel Aviv, Israel March 24, 2018. REUTERS/Corinna Ker

By Maayan Lubell

TEL AVIV (Reuters) – Israel is finalizing a deal to deport thousands of African migrants to Uganda under a new scheme after agreements with Rwanda and the U.N.’s refugee agency to find homes for those expelled fell through.

About 4,000 migrants have left Israel for Rwanda and Uganda since 2013 under a voluntary program but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has come under pressure from his right-wing voter base to expel thousands more.

In January, Israel started handing out notices to male migrants from Eritrea and Sudan giving them three months to take the voluntary deal with a plane ticket and $3,500 or risk being thrown in jail.

The government said from April it would start forced deportations but rights groups challenged the move and Israel’s Supreme Court has issued a temporary injunction to give more time for the petitioners to argue against the plan.

Government representatives told the court on Tuesday that an envoy was in an African country finalizing a deportation deal after an arrangement with Rwanda to take migrants expelled under the new measures fell through.

The representatives did not name the country in court sessions open to the public though Israeli lawmakers have previously said the two countries it was planning to deport migrants to were Rwanda and Uganda.

Israeli Deputy Foreign minister Tzipi Hotovely also identified the countries it was seeking to strike new deportation deals with as Uganda and Rwanda in closed-door comments leaked to Israeli Army Radio.

After the Rwanda deal fell through, the government struck an agreement with the U.N.’s refugee agency (UNHCR) to relocate 16,250 migrants to Western countries but Netanyahu scrapped it after an outcry from right-wing politicians furious that thousands more would be allowed to stay in Israel.

The fate of tens of thousands of migrants who entered Israel illegally through its desert border with Egypt and were granted temporary visas has posed a moral dilemma for a state founded as a national home for Jews and a haven from persecution.

Israeli rights groups say the country can absorb the estimated 37,000 migrants still there, or should find them safe destinations such as those agreed under the defunct UNHCR deal.

The rights groups have accused Netanyahu, who is under police investigation for corruption, of playing political games to appeal to his right-wing supporters.

The government calls the migrants “infiltrators” and says they have come to find work. The migrants and rights groups say they are asylum seekers fleeing persecution.

BEHIND CLOSED DOORS

The U.N.’s refugee agency and rights groups are also concerned because many of the Africans who left previously for Rwanda and Uganda voluntarily did not get the protection they were promised and some ended up back on the migration trail.

Both countries have denied having any deals with Israel to resettle migrants. Uganda, a key Western ally in the fight against Islamist militants in East Africa, also denied there were discussions about accepting deportees under the new scheme.

“We are not aware of any Israeli envoy here. Let Israelis tell you who that envoy here is going to sign an agreement with, sign with who? With the foreign affairs, with the president, minister of internal affairs, with who? On what date are they signing?” Okello Oryem, Uganda’s junior foreign affairs minister told Reuters on Wednesday.

At the Supreme Court hearing in Jerusalem, one of the three judges asked the state representatives why Uganda was denying the deal, if indeed there was one. The state said it would provide the court with an explanation in a closed session.

Five migrants interviewed by Reuters said they had been told by immigration officials this year that they could go either to Uganda or Rwanda, if they chose to avoid detention.

Ristom Haliesilase, an Eritrean migrant living in Tel Aviv, said he was given until April 15 to decide whether to be deported, or detained.

“My mind is full of worries. I don’t know what will happen tomorrow. The first thought I have in the morning is what will they do to me today?” said Haliesilase. “It’s heartbreaking. It breaks the people. It breaks the community.”

Many migrants live in cramped apartments in poor parts of Tel Aviv where eateries serve Eritrean food, clothing stores with signs in Tigrinya display traditional garb, and abandoned warehouses have been converted into makeshift churches.

‘IT’S ALL A SCAM’

Rights groups such as the International Refugee Rights Initiative have been documenting the plight of Eritrean and Sudanese men who have left Israel for Rwanda and Uganda for several years.

In the past few months UNHCR has also documented at least 80 cases of Eritreans who found none of the protection promised upon their departure from Israel, prompting them to go on a perilous trail through conflict zones to reach Europe.

Along the way they were subjected to arrests, torture and extortion before trying to cross the Mediterranean to reach Italy, UNHCR said. Israeli rights groups have documented dozens more such cases.

Under the voluntary scheme, asylum seekers say they were given the option of going back to their country of origin, remaining in detention in Israel or flying to a third country where they were promised they could stay and work legally.

Sajir, 27, an Eritrean now living in Uganda, told Reuters by telephone that he flew there in January after spending five months in Israeli detention.

“They said that my life would be sorted there,” Sajir said, speaking in Hebrew. “But it’s all a scam.”

Notices handed out this year to migrants already in detention or those trying to renew their visas have promised residency and work permits in their destination country. “A local team that will meet you at the airport will provide guidance in the first few days,” the document says.

Sajir said when his flight landed in Uganda, he and 10 other migrants were not taken through passport control. “We were taken out the back. Then someone loaded us onto a bus and took us to a hotel,” he said.

The group was met by a man who offered to set them up with traffickers to take them to Sudan, Kenya or Ethiopia – for a price, he said.

“We got no visa, no papers. There is no work here. It is no good. I cannot stay here. I will try to go to Sudan soon or somewhere, to Libya and then to Europe,” Sajir said.

Israel’s Immigration Authority and the prime minister’s office did not respond to requests for comment.

(Additional reporting by Elias Biryabarema in Kampala, Steve Scherer in Rome and Corinna Kern in Tel Aviv; writing by Maayan Lubell; editing by David Clarke)

Migrants at U.S.-Mexico border say Trump’s tough talk won’t deter them

Border patrol agents apprehend immigrants who illegally crossed the border from Mexico into the U.S. in the Rio Grande Valley sector, near McAllen, Texas, U.S., April 3, 2018. REUTERS/Loren Elliott

By Mica Rosenberg

MISSION, Texas (Reuters) – On Tuesday, the same day that U.S. President Donald Trump announced his intention to deploy military to help patrol the U.S.-Mexico border, Edwin Valdez and four other Central American migrants were walking through dense brush at a south Texas wildlife reserve, hoping to escape notice.

Border patrol agent Robert Rodriguez looks for signs of immigrants who illegally crossed the border from Mexico into the U.S. in the Rio Grande Valley sector, near McAllen, Texas, U.S., April 3, 2018. REUTERS/Loren Elliott

Border patrol agent Robert Rodriguez looks for signs of immigrants who illegally crossed the border from Mexico into the U.S. in the Rio Grande Valley sector, near McAllen, Texas, U.S., April 3, 2018. REUTERS/Loren Elliott

The men had illegally crossed into the United States that morning, guided by a smuggler who had since abandoned them. Now they were lost and uncertain how to proceed.

In vehicles nearby, U.S. Border Patrol agents had been alerted to migrants moving through the area, and after detecting movement in the bushes, they swooped in to arrest the men.

It was business as usual in the Rio Grande Valley, one of the busiest crossing points for migrants trying to enter the United States illegally.

In just a few hours that morning, 61 migrants, including Valdez, were rounded up in the area. Ten, including four from China, were caught with the help of a tracking dog in a sugar cane field. Two Hondurans were taken into custody at a public park.

Several of those caught said they were unfazed by tough talk from Trump, who has made headlines around the world with tweets railing about border security and threatening to end the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) unless Mexico does more to “stop the big drug and people flows.”

Trump’s renewed frustration about border security, rekindled over the weekend by news of a “caravan” of Central American migrants moving through Mexico toward the U.S. border, reflects the broader frustration of his administration.

A border patrol agent apprehends immigrants who illegally crossed the border from Mexico into the U.S. in the Rio Grande Valley sector, near McAllen, Texas, U.S., April 3, 2018. REUTERS/Loren Elliot

A border patrol agent apprehends immigrants who illegally crossed the border from Mexico into the U.S. in the Rio Grande Valley sector, near McAllen, Texas, U.S., April 3, 2018. REUTERS/Loren Elliott

In the months after Trump took office, the number of migrants caught along the U.S.-Mexico border fell dramatically, hitting a low of about 15,700 in April, from more than 42,400 in January 2017, U.S. Customs and Border Protection data shows.

But arrests have crept back up since, and in the first months of 2018 have reached levels at, or near, those seen during the last year of his predecessor, President Barack Obama.

Rising arrests of families and unaccompanied minors along the border are a particular concern.

In March, their numbers surpassed the previous three years and “rivaled fiscal year 2014, when we had a crisis,” Manuel Padilla, chief of the border patrol’s Rio Grande Valley sector, said in an interview with Reuters.

He said about families with children, who are more difficult to deport quickly, form about 49 percent of the current apprehensions in his region. He said they often walk up to the first U.S. officials they find to ask for help.

“It doesn’t matter how many agents are out there,” when it comes to families, he said, “because this population is turning themselves in.”

REVOLVING DOOR

Valdez, 20, who worked as an electrician’s assistant in his home country of El Salvador, said he previously tried to cross the border illegally in 2016.

But he was picked up by border patrol officers after wandering lost and dehydrated in the desert for four days. After six months in detention, he was deported last year, but decided to travel north again after gangs threatened him at his job.

While crossing has become more and more difficult in recent years, Valdez said, need is a powerful spur.

“Necessity forces people to leave their countries so they can bring a better life to their families,” he said. “That’s why people are willing to suffer through all this.”

After his arrest on Monday, Valdez put his personal belongings in a plastic bag, removed his shoelaces and was searched by the agents who arrested him. Then he and his companions were taken to a processing facility.

People who have been previously deported can often be quickly sent home.

Immigrants traveling with small children when caught often spend only a few days in custody, however, because of a shortage of detention facilities suitable for families and court settlements that preclude prolonged detention of minors.

Border patrol agent Sergio Ramirez talks with immigrants who illegally crossed the border from Mexico into the U.S. in the Rio Grande Valley sector, near McAllen, Texas, U.S., April 2, 2018. REUTERS/Loren Elliott

Border patrol agent Sergio Ramirez talks with immigrants who illegally crossed the border from Mexico into the U.S. in the Rio Grande Valley sector, near McAllen, Texas, U.S., April 2, 2018. REUTERS/Loren Elliott

In the Rio Grande Valley, parents are often released with electronic ankle monitors and ordered to appear with their children in court on a specific date for deportation proceedings. Trump has railed against the practice, which he calls “catch and release.”

For migrants like Jose Romero, 27, who made the harrowing days-long trip through Mexico with his 8-year-old daughter in the back of a dark cargo truck, threats from the president are little deterrent.

In his mountain home in Honduras, Romero made just $4 a day as a farm laborer, not enough to feed his family of five, he said. After his arrest and subsequent release to wait court proceedings, he said he doubted if migrants can be deterred.

“They will keep coming,” he said, because of violence and poverty south of the border. “The people are afraid.”

(Reporting by Mica Rosenberg; Editing by Sue Horton and Clarence Fernandez)

Israel says to send 16,000 African migrants to Western countries

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a news conference at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem April 2, 2018. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

By Maayan Lubell

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel said on Monday it has scrapped a plan to deport African migrants to Africa and reached an agreement with the U.N. refugee agency to send more than 16,000 to Western countries instead.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu named Canada, Italy and Germany as some of the nations that will take in the migrants.

Other migrants, many of whom are seeking asylum, will be allowed to remain in Israel, which they entered illegally on foot through the border with Egypt, for at least the next five years.

The fate of some 37,000 Africans in Israel has posed a moral dilemma for a state founded as a haven for Jews from persecution and a national home. The right-wing government has been under pressure from its nationalist voter base to expel the migrants.

But the planned mass deportation led to legal challenges in Israel, drew criticism from the United Nations and rights groups and triggered an emotional public debate among Israelis.

In February, Israeli authorities started handing out notices to 20,000 male African migrants giving them two months to leave for a third country in Africa or risk being put in jail indefinitely.

Teklit Michael, who came to Israel from Eritrea a decade ago, said he was delighted by the new deal.

“I saw in the past few years a lot of people lose their hopes because of that deportation to an unsafe place,” said Michael, 29.

MONEY AND AN AIR TICKET

The Israeli government has offered migrants, most of them from Sudan and Eritrea, $3,500 and a plane ticket to what it says is a safe destination. At immigration hearings, migrants were told they could choose to go to Rwanda or Uganda.

But rights groups advocating on their behalf say that many fled abuse and war and that their expulsion, even to a different country in Africa, would endanger them further.

The groups had challenged the deportation plan in Israel’s High Court, which on March 15 issued a temporary order that froze its implementation.

Netanyahu said the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees had agreed to organize and fund the new plan that would take five years to implement.

“The joint commitment is that ‘You take out 16,250 and we will leave 16,250 as temporary residents’. That enables the departure of a very large number of people, 6,000 in the first 18 months,” Netanyahu said at a news conference in Jerusalem.

A UNHCR spokeswoman in Tel Aviv confirmed that an agreement had been reached but gave no details.

The U.N.’s refugee agency had urged Israel to reconsider its original plan, saying migrants who have relocated to sub-Saharan Africa in the past few years were unsafe and ended up on the perilous migrant trail to Europe, some suffering abuse, torture and even dying on the way.

The largest community of African migrants, about 15,000, lives in south Tel Aviv, in a poor neighborhood where shops are dotted with signs in Tigrinya and other African languages and abandoned warehouses have been converted into churches for the largely Christian Eritreans.

(Additional reporting by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

Sessions blasts California after filing U.S. immigration suit

Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaks to the National Association of Attorneys General 2018 Winter Meeting in Washington, U.S., February 27, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

By Sharon Bernstein

SACRAMENTO (Reuters) – U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, escalating the Trump administration’s rhetoric against the most populous U.S. state, accused California on Wednesday of obstructing federal immigration enforcement efforts and vowed to stop the state’s defiance.

Sessions made the remarks to a law enforcement group a day after Republican President Donald Trump’s Justice Department sued Democratic-governed California over so-called sanctuary policies that try to protect illegal immigrants against deportation.

“California is using every power it has – and some it doesn’t – to frustrate federal law enforcement. So you can be sure I’m going to use every power I have to stop them,” Sessions, the top U.S law enforcement officer, said in prepared remarks.

“In recent years, California has enacted a number of laws designed to intentionally obstruct the work of our sworn immigration enforcement officers – to intentionally use every power it has to undermine duly-established immigration law in America,” Sessions added.

Sessions said U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents carry out federal law and that “California cannot forbid them or obstruct them in doing their jobs.”

The lawsuit, filed late on Tuesday in federal court in Sacramento, takes aim at three state laws passed last year that the Justice Department contends violates the U.S. Constitution and the supremacy of federal law over state law.

Trump has made fighting illegal immigration and cracking down on illegal immigrants already in the United States a signature issue, first as a candidate and now as president.

“Immigration law is the province of the federal government,” Sessions said.

“I understand that we have a wide variety of political opinions out there on immigration, but the law is in the books and its purpose is clear,” Sessions added. “There is no nullification. There is no secession. Federal law is the supreme law of the land.”

Sessions, who was speaking at a California Peace Officers Association conference in Sacramento, has made combating illegal immigration one of his top priorities since taking over the Justice Department in February 2017. A key part of that effort involves a crackdown on primarily Democratic-governed cities and states that Sessions calls “sanctuaries” that protect illegal immigrants from deportation.

Democratic California Governor Jerry Brown in October signed into law a bill that prevents police from inquiring about immigration status and curtails law enforcement cooperation with immigration officers.

“Jeff Sessions has come to California to further divide and polarize America,” Brown said in a statement late on Tuesday.

Brown and Democratic California Attorney General Xavier Bacerra are scheduled to speak in Sacramento on the issue after Sessions’ speech.

Leading California Democrats blasted the Trump administration.

“The president has now desperately decided to brazenly abuse the legal system to push his mass deportation agenda,” Nancy Pelosi, the top Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives, said in a statement.

“The Trump administration’s attacks on California are unacceptable in the federal system of government our Founders created,” she added. “We have a system of checks and balances – not a system in which the executive branch can unilaterally bend states to its will.”

(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Ben Klayman and Will Dunham)

Cash or custody: Israel kicks off deportation of African migrants

African migrants wait in line for the opening of the Population and Immigration Authority office in Bnei Brak, Israel February 4, 2018. Picture taken February 4, 2018

By Maayan Lubell and Elana Ringler

TEL AVIV (Reuters) – Israel has started handing out notices to 20,000 male African migrants giving them two months to leave the country or risk being thrown in jail.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government is offering the migrants, most of whom are from Sudan and Eritrea, $3,500 and a plane ticket to what it says is a safe destination in another country in sub-Saharan Africa.

The fate of some 37,000 Africans in Israel is posing a moral dilemma for a state founded as haven for Jews from persecution and a national home. The right-wing government is under pressure from its nationalist voter base to expel the migrants, while others are calling for them to be taken in.

The government says the migrants are “infiltrators” looking for work rather than asylum, but there is a growing liberal backlash against the plan, including from rabbis, a small group of survivors of the Nazi Holocaust and ordinary people who say Israel should show greater compassion to the migrants.

The first eviction notices were handed out on Sunday and job advertisements for immigration inspectors to implement the deportation plan have been posted on government websites.

Rights groups advocating on behalf of the migrants say many fled abuse and war and their expulsion, even to a different country in Africa, would endanger them further.

“I don’t know what to do. Rwanda, Uganda are not my countries, what will a third country help me?” said Eritrean Berihu Ainom, after receiving an eviction notice on Sunday.

The deportation notices do not name the country migrants will be flown to but Netanyahu has said it will be a safe destination. Rights groups have named Uganda and Rwanda as possible host countries.

In a poor neighborhood in the south of Tel Aviv that has attracted thousands of African migrants, shops are dotted with signs in Tigrinya and other African languages while abandoned warehouses have been converted into churches.

“I came to Israel to save my life,” said Eritrean Afoworki Kidane, sitting on a street bench.

He said he would rather go to jail than take the cash and plane ticket on offer to leave the country that has been his home for nine years.

BACKLASH BUILDING

Interior Minister Aryeh Deri said Israel’s first obligation was to its own citizens, rather than the migrants.

“They are not numbers, they are people, they are human and I am full of compassion and mercy,” Deri told Army Radio. “But the small state of Israel cannot contain such a vast number of illegal infiltrators.”

But opposition to the plan has been building and some Israelis are now offering to take migrants at risk of expulsion into their homes.

On Thursday, a group of 36 Holocaust survivors sent a letter to Netanyahu asking him not to deport the migrants. The U.S.-based Anti Defamation League has also urged Israel to reconsider the plan, citing “Jewish values and refugee heritage”.

Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, chairman of the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and a Holocaust survivor, said in a statement the issue required “as much compassion, empathy and mercy that can possibly be marshalled. The experiences of the Jewish people over the ages underscore this commitment.”

Rabbi Susan Silverman has launched a campaign called Miklat Israel (Israel Shelter) for Israelis to take migrants into their homes.

“It’s unconscionable for the Jewish state to deport people to harrowing vulnerability,” she said.

Miklat Israel’s Rabbi Tamara Schagas said 600 Israeli families had already signed up and the organization would begin to connect migrants with potential hosts this week.

MORAL COMPASS

The Supreme Court ruled in August that Israeli authorities can hold illegal migrants for up to 60 days in custody.

Immigration officials have said women, children and men with families in Israel were allowed to stay for now, as was anyone with outstanding asylum requests.

Out of 6,800 requests reviewed so far, Israel has granted refugee status to 11 migrants. It has at least 8,000 more requests to process.

Israeli authorities have said Israeli officials will keep in touch with migrants accepted in a third country to oversee their progress. Rwanda has said it will only accept migrants who have left Israel of their own free will.

Nonetheless, the U.N.’s refugee agency has urged Israel to reconsider, saying migrants who have relocated to sub-Saharan Africa in the past few years were unsafe and ended up on the perilous migrant trail to Europe, some suffering abuse, torture and even perishing on the way.

Rights groups in Israel say the government is simply ridding itself of people it should be recognizing as refugees in Israel and that there was no real guarantee for their safety.

A fence Israel has built over the past few years along its border with Egypt has all but stopped African migrants from entering the country illegally. Beginning in the previous decade, when the border was porous, a total of 64,000 Africans made it to Israel though thousands have since left.

Emmanuel Asfaha from Eritrea crossed into Israel in 2011 with his wife and baby son. His second child was born in Israel.

A narrow grocery store stockroom stacked with bags of flour leads to their two-room apartment in Tel Aviv, a poster of Jesus hanging on the cracked walls above his son’s bed. Asfaha is concerned Israel will eventually deport families too.

“I am worried about the situation,” he said while cooking Shiro, a traditional stew. “Tomorrow it will be for me also.”

A few kilometers away, in a hip, upscale part of Tel Aviv, Ben Yefet, a 39-year-old stockbroker, said he had signed up with Miklat Israel to house two or three migrants in his two-room apartment.

“As Israelis and Jews we are obligated. We have a moral compass, we just have to do it,” he said.

(Writing by Maayan Lubell; editing by Jeffrey Heller and David Clarke)