U.S. watchdog investigating immigration detention center tied to allegations of improper hysterectomies

By Ted Hesson and Mark Hosenball

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Acting U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf said at a congressional hearing on Wednesday that the department’s internal watchdog is investigating a Georgia immigration detention center tied to allegations of improper hysterectomies and other gynecological procedures.

Wolf said the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) inspector general would interview people at the facility on Wednesday and Thursday, but cautioned that “some of the facts on the ground” did not back up the allegations.

“At this point, they are allegations, and we need to make sure that they fully investigate them so that all sides have a chance to be heard,” Wolf said during a confirmation hearing before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

The claims were made by Dawn Wooten, a former nurse at the Irwin County Detention Center, in a complaint filed to the inspector general last week.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has denied the allegations, which have shocked people across Latin America, from where many U.S. immigrants hail, and caused an outcry among Democratic lawmakers.

(Reporting by Ted Hesson and Lisa Lambert; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Jonathan Oatis)

Homeland Security chief says department is reviewing complaints excessive force used in Portland

By Mark Hosenball

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is reviewing “a number” of complaints that its agents used excessive force against anti-racism protesters in Portland, Oregon, though so far no one has been disciplined, the department’s acting head said on Thursday.

Acting Secretary Chad Wolf testified to the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs about the federal response to long-running protests in Portland, where state and city officials complained that the presence of federal officers inflamed protests.

He did not say how many complaints were being reviewed or provide any specifics of what had been alleged.

Largely peaceful protests have been held across the United States since the May 25 death of George Floyd, a Black man, while in Minneapolis police custody. Protests in cities, including Portland, have at times erupted into arson and violence, and federal officers sent into the Northwestern city have repeatedly clashed with crowds targeting the federal courthouse there.

Wolf denied that federal officers had cracked down on peaceful protesters, saying they had faced repeated overnight violence around a federal courthouse that became the focus of protests. Officers reported 277 injuries, he said.

“In no way are we doing anything on peaceful protests,” Wolf said.

He said that DHS believed there was “some coordination” between participants in Portland protests, who he said included “violent opportunists,” anarchists and members of the far-right Boogaloo movement, and he said Antifa activists had used online messaging to encourage violence. He said federal agencies had “very, very little” intelligence from inside the violent protest movement.

The House Intelligence Committee this week launched its own investigation into DHS’s intelligence office, including its actions in Portland, and its involvement in other anti-racism protests across the country.

(Reporting by Mark Hosenball in Washington; Editing by Scott Malone and Matthew Lewis)

U.S. House panel investigates DHS office over Portland, other protests

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. House Intelligence Committee launched an investigation on Monday into the Department of Homeland Security’s intelligence office, including its actions in Portland, Oregon, and its involvement in other anti-racism protests across the country.

“The reporting regarding the monitoring of peaceful protesters, creating and disseminating intelligence reports about journalists and protesters, and potential exploitation of electronic devices is deeply troubling,” Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, a Democrat, wrote in a letter to top DHS officials.

The United States has seen largely peaceful protests nationwide since the death of George Floyd, a Black man, while in Minneapolis police custody in May. Protests in cities, including Portland, have at times erupted into arson and violence, and federal officers sent into the Northwestern city have repeatedly clashed with crowds targeting the federal courthouse there.

The probe shows that Democrats will use congressional authority to investigate efforts by the Trump administration to demonize protesters and deploy federal personnel in law enforcement operations in several cities despite opposition from local mayors and governors.

In his letter to acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf and acting department intelligence chief Horace Jen, Schiff requested detailed intelligence reporting documents that informed a recommendation by the then-chief of the DHS intelligence operation on July 25 requesting that DHS reports on anarchist-related Portland protesters refer to them as “Violent Antifa Anarchists Inspired.”

The official who wrote the memo, acting DHS intelligence chief Brian Murphy, was subsequently transferred to a different job over the weekend.

In his letter to DHS, Schiff also requested that Jen, Murphy and several other DHS officials, including intelligence officials, give interviews to the committee this month.

Schiff said that if the department did not produce the witnesses and documents he requested, he would consider issuing subpoenas.

The Department of Homeland Security did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu and Mark Hosenball; Editing by Mary Milliken and Jonathan Oatis)

Portland has night without tear gas as feds withdraw

By Deborah Bloom

PORTLAND, Ore. (Reuters) – Portland had its first night in weeks without tear gas after state police took over from federal agents guarding a courthouse that has been the focal point of violence between protesters and tactical officers.

The agents withdrew under a deal between Oregon’s governor and U.S. officials to end a deployment that sparked a standoff between Republican President Donald Trump and Democratic mayors over the use of federal officers in their cities.

A few hundred people demonstrated outside the federal courthouse until around 2 a.m. when they left of their own accord, according to a Reuters reporter. On previous nights they had been dispersed with tear gas and other munitions fired by federal agents.

“Things went a lot better last night, last night was the first night in about two months that our officers and agents inside the federal court building there in Portland didn’t come under a direct and immediate threat of being burned alive,” said U.S. Border Patrol Chief Rodney Scott, whose Border Tactical Unit officers have been among Department of Homeland Security (DHS) agents in Portland.

Oregon State Police said around 100 of its officers took over security at the courthouse with some regular Federal Protective Service agents remaining.

DHS agents remain on standby in the city and National Guard troops could be sent in should state police be overrun, DHS Acting Secretary Chad Wolf told Fox News after Trump threatened such action on Thursday

Separately, a DHS spokesman said Wolf had ordered an intelligence unit to stop collecting information on American journalists covering protests in Portland, Oregon, after a media report on the practice.

The Washington Post on Thursday reported that the department compiled “intelligence reports” on journalists using a government system meant to share information about suspected terrorists and violent actors.

(Reporting by Deborah Bloom, Andrew Hay and Lisa Lambert; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Dan Grebler)

Trump says sending federal agents to more U.S. cities to fight violent crime

By Jeff Mason and Sarah N. Lynch

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump announced a plan on Wednesday to send federal agents to more U.S. cities to crack down on violent crime as he emphasizes a “law and order” mantra going into the Nov. 3 presidential election.

Trump, joined by Attorney General William Barr, unveiled an expansion of the “Operation Legend” program to include cities such as Chicago and Albuquerque, New Mexico, in a further effort by federal officials to tackle violence.

“Today I’m announcing a surge of federal law enforcement into American communities plagued by violent crime,” said Trump.

Trump said “we have no choice but to get involved” with a rising death toll in some major cities.

“This bloodshed must end, this bloodshed will end,” he said.

The program involves deploying federal law enforcement agents to assist local police in combating what the Justice Department has described as a “surge” of violent crime.

A Justice Department official said the initiative is not related to the use of federal agents from the Department of Homeland Security to quell unrest in Portland, Oregon.

The Republican president has sharply criticized Democratic leaders for presiding over cities and states that are experiencing crime waves, using the issue as part of a “law and order” push he hopes will resonate with his political base. Trump is trailing Democrat Joe Biden in national opinion polls.

It is not unusual for federal law enforcement to work alongside local partners. The Justice Department official said “Operation Legend” would provide additional resources to cities suffering from “traditional” violent crime.

Trump has emphasized a robust policing and military approach to the protests across the United States about racial inequality after the death of George Floyd, a Black man, in Minneapolis police custody.

The White House has sought to focus on city crime even as Trump’s approval numbers plummet in response to his handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

The “Operation Legend” program involves federal agents form the FBI, U.S. Marshals Service and other agencies, partnering with local law enforcement.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has said federal intervention was not required to help with violence in New York City, and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot has also urged Trump not to send unidentified federal agents to her city.

“Operation Legend” is named for LeGend Taliferro, a 4-year-old boy who was shot and killed while he slept early June 29 in Kansas City, Missouri, according to the Department of Justice’s website.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason and Sarah Lynch; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Jonathan Oatis)

Trump to send federal forces to more ‘Democrat’ cities

By Steve Holland and Lisa Lambert

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump on Monday said he would send law enforcement to more U.S. cities, as a federal crackdown on anti-racism protests in Oregon with unmarked cars and unidentified forces angered people across the country.

Trump, a Republican, cited New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Detroit, Baltimore and Oakland, California, as places to send federal agents, noting the cities’ mayors were “liberal Democrats.” Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot frequently blasts Trump on Twitter.

“We’re sending law enforcement,” Trump told reporters at the White House. “We can’t let this happen to the cities.”

State and local leaders in Oregon, as well as members of Congress, have called for Trump to remove Department of Homeland Security secret police forces from Portland, Oregon, after videos showed unidentified federal personnel rounding up people and whisking them away in black minivans.

“Not only do I believe he is breaking the law, but he is also endangering the lives of Portlanders,” the city’s mayor, Ted Wheeler, tweeted, having previously called the federal presence “political theater” in an election year.

Trump, trailing in opinion polls behind Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, in June declared himself “president of law and order” and threatened to send the U.S. military into cities after sometimes violent protests and looting in the aftermath of African American ‘s death in police custody in Minneapolis.

Federal agents last week began cracking down on Portland protests against police brutality and systemic racism, using tear gas to defend federal buildings and taking some activists into custody without explanation.

“They grab a lot of people and jail the leaders. These are anarchists,” Trump said of federal agents sent to the historically liberal city to quell often unruly protests.

Despite a national outcry over the tactics, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials on Monday said they would not back down and would not apologize.

The state of Oregon and the American Civil Liberties Union have sued the Trump administration for unlawfully detaining Oregon residents, and some Republicans spoke out against its tactics on Monday.

“There is no place for federal troops or unidentified federal agents rounding people up at will,” tweeted U.S. Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky.

The Chicago Tribune reported that Homeland Security was making plans to deploy around 150 agents in the city this week where police defending a statue clashed with protesters on Friday.

The DHS did not immediately respond to a request for additional comment.

(Reporting by Steve Holland, Doina Chiacu and Lisa Lambert in Washington, additional reporting by Maria Caspani in New York, Deborah Bloom in Portland; Sharon Bernstein in Sacramento; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Jonathan Oatis)

U.S. officials defend Portland crackdown: ‘We’re not going to apologize’

By Doina Chiacu and Lisa Lambert

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Top Homeland Security officials said on Monday they had no intention of pulling back in Portland, Oregon, and defended the federal crackdown on anti-racism protests, including the use of unmarked cars and unidentified officers in camouflage.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) sent law enforcement units to Portland to back up the Federal Protective Service responsible for guarding U.S. government facilities after receiving intelligence about planned attacks around July 4, the DHS officials said.

“DHS is not going to back down from our responsibilities. We are not escalating, we are protecting,” Chad Wolf, acting secretary of Homeland Security, told Fox News.

President Donald Trump condemned protests in Portland and violence in other “Democrat-run” cities on Sunday as his Republican administration moves to intervene in urban centers he says have lost control of demonstrations. Protests began across the country after the police killing of African American George Floyd in Minneapolis in late May.

In Portland, federal officers last week started cracking down on crowds, using tear gas to disperse protesters and taking some into custody in unmarked cars.

Portland Police early on Monday provided details on another tense night between protesters and federal law enforcement in the city, saying federal agents used tear gas to disperse a crowd that had gathered outside a federal courthouse downtown.

Wolf said federal law enforcement was doing its job.

“We’re not going to apologize for it,” he said. “We’re going to do it professionally and do it correctly.”

The clampdown in the liberal city has drawn widespread criticism and legal challenges as videos surfaced of officers without clear identification badges using force and unmarked vehicles to arrest protesters without explanation.

Ken Cuccinelli, the acting Department of Homeland Security (DHS) deputy secretary, said the federal officers wore the same uniforms every day and the crowds knew who they were. He also defended the use of unmarked cars as routine.

“Unmarked police vehicles are so common it’s barely worth discussion,” he told CNN.

Cuccinelli said if federal authorities receive the same kind of intelligence threat in other places, they would respond the same way. “It’s really as simple as that,” he said.

On Sunday, Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives demanded internal investigations into whether the Justice and Homeland Security departments “abused emergency authorities” in handling the Portland protests.

Portland’s mayor called the intervention an abuse of federal power and said it was escalating the violence. Oregon’s attorney general filed a lawsuit against the federal agencies, saying they had seized and detained people without probable cause.

Cuccinelli dismissed local leaders’ calls to leave the city.

“We will maintain our presence,” he said.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu and Lisa Lambert in Washington, additional reporting by Maria Caspani in New York; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Jonathan Oatis)

Trump attorney general’s ruling expands indefinite detention for asylum seekers

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Attorney General William Barr testifies before a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee hearing in Washington, U.S. April 10, 2019. REUTERS/Erin Scott/File Photo

By Mica Rosenberg and Kristina Cooke

NEW YORK/SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – The U.S. Attorney General on Tuesday struck down a decision that had allowed some asylum seekers to ask for bond in front of an immigration judge, in a ruling that expands indefinite detention for some migrants who must wait months or years for their cases to be heard.

The first immigration court ruling from President Donald Trump’s newly appointed Attorney General William Barr is in keeping with the administration’s moves to clamp down on the asylum process as tens of thousands of mostly Central Americans cross into the United States asking for refuge. U.S. immigration courts are overseen by the Justice Department and the Attorney General can rule in cases to set legal precedent.

Barr’s ruling is the latest instance of the Trump administration taking a hard line on immigration. This year the administration implemented a policy to return some asylum seekers to Mexico while their cases work their way through backlogged courts, a policy which has been challenged with a lawsuit.

Several top officials at the Department of Homeland Security were forced out this month over Trump’s frustrations with an influx of migrants seeking refuge at the U.S. southern border.

Barr’s decision applies to migrants who crossed illegally into the United States.

Typically, those migrants are placed in “expedited removal” proceedings – a faster form of deportation reserved for people who illegally entered the country within the last two weeks and are detained within 100 miles (160 km) of a land border. Migrants who present themselves at ports of entry and ask for asylum are not eligible for bond.

But before Barr’s ruling, those who had crossed the border between official entry points and asked for asylum were eligible for bond, once they had proven to asylum officers they had a credible fear of persecution.

“I conclude that such aliens remain ineligible for bond, whether they are arriving at the border or are apprehended in the United States,” Barr wrote.

Barr said such people can be held in immigration detention until their cases conclude, or if the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) decides to release them by granting them “parole.”DHS has the discretion to parole people who are not eligible for bond and frequently does so due to insufficient detention space or other humanitarian reasons.

Barr said he was delaying the effective date by 90 days “so that DHS may conduct the necessary operational planning for additional detention and parole decisions.”

The decision’s full impact is not yet clear, because it will in large part depend on DHS’ ability to expand detention,” said Steve Vladeck, a law professor at the University of Texas.

“The number of asylum seekers who will remain in potentially indefinite detention pending disposition of their cases will be almost entirely a question of DHS’s detention capacity, and not whether the individual circumstances of individual cases warrant release or detention,” Vladeck said.

DHS officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the decision. The agency had written in a brief in the case arguing that eliminating bond hearings for the asylum seekers would have “an immediate and significant impact on…detention operations.”

In early March, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the DHS agency responsible for detaining and deporting immigrants in the country illegally, said the average daily population of immigrants in detention topped 46,000 for the 2019 fiscal year, the highest level since the agency was created in 2003. Last year, Reuters reported that ICE had
“modified a tool officers have been using since 2013 when deciding whether an immigrant should be detained or released on bond, making the process more restrictive.”

The decision will have no impact on unaccompanied migrant children, who are exempt from expedited removal. Most families are also paroled because of a lack of facilities to hold parents and children together. 

Michael Tan, from the American Civil Liberties Union, said the rights group intended to sue the Trump administration over the decision, and immigrant advocates decried the decision.

Barr’s decision came after former Attorney General Jeff Sessions decided to review the case in October. Sessions resigned from his position in November, leaving the case to Barr to decide.

(Reporting by Mica Rosenberg in New York and Kristina Cooke in San Francisco; additional reporting by Yeganeh Torbati in Washington; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

Trump praises new chief of staff for avoiding controversy

U.S. President Donald Trump shakes hands with John Kelly after he was sworn in as White House Chief of Staff in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S., July 31, 2017.

By Roberta Rampton

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump swore in his new chief of staff John Kelly on Monday, a retired Marine Corps general who he praised for averting controversy during his tenure overseeing border security issues at the Department of Homeland Security.

Kelly is expected to bring a more disciplined approach to running Trump’s White House. He replaced Reince Priebus, who failed to mesh with the president’s freewheeling and untraditional management style and grappled with infighting during his six months in the job.

Trump praised Kelly for his work at the DHS, crediting him with reducing the number of people illegally crossing the southern U.S. border, and implementing a travel ban for refugees and people from a group of Muslim majority countries.

“He will do a spectacular job, I have no doubt, as chief of staff,” the Republican president said in brief remarks to reporters in the Oval Office, surrounded by his senior advisers, after Kelly was sworn in.

“With a very controversial situation, there’s been very little controversy, which is really amazing by itself,” Trump said.

Trump announced last Friday that Kelly would replace Priebus, at the end of a particularly chaotic week that saw his first legislative effort – healthcare reform – fail in Congress.

The last week heightened concerns in Trump’s party that the distractions and West Wing dysfunction would derail other legislative priorities, including tax reform and debt ceiling negotiations.

Trump pointed to the buoyant stock market and low unemployment rate as signs that his White House was working well. “No WH chaos!” he tweeted on Monday.

Asked by reporters what Kelly would do differently, Trump brushed aside concerns.

“We’re doing very well, we have a tremendous base, we have a tremendous group of support. The country is optimistic, and I think the general will just add to it,” he said.

 

(Reporting by Roberta Rampton; Editing by Frances Kerry)

 

‘No doubt’ Russia behind hacks on U.S. election system: senior Democrat

Vice Presidential debate in Virginia

By Dustin Volz

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A senior Democratic lawmaker said Sunday he had “no doubt” that Russia was behind recent hacking attempts targeting state election systems, and urged the Obama administration to publicly blame Moscow for trying to undermine confidence in the Nov. 8 presidential contest.

The remarks from Representative Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the intelligence committee in the U.S. House of Representatives, come amid heightened concerns among U.S. and state officials about the security of voting machines and databases, and unsubstantiated allegations from Republican candidate Donald Trump that the election could be “rigged.”

“I have no doubt [this is Russia]. And I don’t think the administration has any doubt,” Schiff said during an appearance on ABC’s “This Week.”

Schiff’s call to name and shame the Kremlin came a week after Trump questioned widely held conclusions made privately by the U.S. intelligence community that Russia is responsible for the hacking activity.

“It could be Russia, but it could also be China,” Trump said during a televised debate with Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. “It also could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds.”

On Saturday, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said hackers have probed the voting systems of many U.S. states but there is no sign that they have manipulated any voting data.

Schiff said he doubted hackers could falsify vote tallies in a way to affect the election outcome. Officials and experts have said the decentralized and outdated nature of U.S. voting technology makes such hacks more unlikely.

But cyber attacks on voter registration systems could “sow discord” on election day, Schiff said. He further added that leaks of doctored emails would be difficult to disprove and could “be election altering.”

The National Security Agency, FBI and DHS all concluded weeks ago that Russian intelligence agencies conducted, directed or coordinated all the major cyberattacks on U.S. political organizations, including the Democratic National Committee, and individuals, a U.S. official who is participating in the investigations said on Sunday.

However, the official said, White House officials have resisted naming the Russians publicly because doing so could result in escalating cyberattacks, and because it is considered impossible to offer public, unclassified proof of the allegation.

Schiff and Senator Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the U.S. Senate intelligence committee, said last month they had concluded Russian intelligence agencies were “making a serious and concerted effort to influence the U.S. election.”

(Reporting by Dustin Volz and John Walcott; Editing by Nick Zieminski)