Color-coded passage: Why smugglers are tagging U.S.-bound migrants with wristbands

y Adrees Latif, Laura Gottesdiener and Mica Rosenberg

PENITAS, Texas (Reuters) – Along the banks of the Rio Grande in the scrubby grassland near Penitas, Texas, hundreds of colored plastic wristbands ripped off by migrants litter the ground, signs of what U.S. border officials say is a growing trend among powerful drug cartels and smugglers to track people paying to cross illegally into the United States.

The plastic bands – red, blue, green, white – some labeled “arrivals” or “entries” in Spanish, are discarded after migrants cross the river on makeshift rafts, according to a Reuters witness. Their use has not been widely reported before.

Some migrants are trying to evade border agents, others are mostly Central American families or young children traveling without parents who turn themselves into officials, often to seek asylum.

Border Patrol agents in the Rio Grande Valley sector, which spans more than 34,000 square miles (88,000 square kilometers) along the border in southeast Texas, have recently encountered immigrants wearing the bracelets during several apprehensions, said Matthew Dyman a spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

The “information on the bracelets represents a multitude of data that is used by smuggling organizations, such as payment status or affiliation with smuggling groups,” Dyman told Reuters.

The differing smuggling techniques come as Democratic President Joe Biden’s administration has sought to reverse restrictive immigration polices set up by his predecessor, former President Donald Trump. But a recent jump in border crossings has Republicans warning the easing of hardline policies will lead to an immigration crisis.

U.S. border agents carried out nearly 100,000 apprehensions or rapid expulsions of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border in February, according to two people familiar with preliminary figures, the highest monthly total since mid-2019.

PURPLE BRACELET

The categorization system illustrates the sophistication of organized criminal groups ferrying people across the U.S.-Mexico border, said Theresa Cardinal Brown, director of immigration and cross-border policy at the Washington-based Bipartisan Policy Center

“They run it like a business,” said Cardinal Brown, which means “finding more patrons and looking for efficiencies.” Migrants can pay thousands of dollars for the journey to the United States and human smugglers have to pay off drug cartels to move people through parts of Mexico.

“This is a money-making operation and they have to pay close attention to who has paid,” she said. “This may be a new way to keep track.”

Criminal groups operating in northern Mexico, however, have long used systems to log which migrants have already paid for the right to be in gang-controlled territory, as well as for the right to cross the border into the United States, migration experts said.

When increased numbers of Central Americans were arriving at the border on express buses in 2019, smugglers kept tabs on them by double checking “the names and IDs of migrants before they got off the bus to make sure they had paid,” Cardinal Brown said.

A migrant in Reynosa – one of the most dangerous cities in Mexico across the border from McAllen, Texas – who declined to give his name for fear of retaliation, showed Reuters a picture of a purple wristband he was wearing.

He said he paid $500 to one of the criminal groups in the city after he arrived a few months ago from Honduras to secure the purple bracelet to protect against kidnapping or extortion. He said once migrants or their smugglers have paid for the right to cross the river, which is also controlled by criminal groups, they receive another bracelet.

“This way we’re not in danger, neither us nor the ‘coyote,'” he said, using the Spanish word for smuggler.

One human smuggler who spoke on conditions of anonymity, confirmed the bracelets were a system to designate who has paid for the right to transit through cartel territory.

“They are putting these (bracelets) on so there aren’t killings by mistake,” he said.

Migrants and smugglers say the use of bracelets to designate who has paid for the right to cross the river is a system required by the cartels that control waterfront territory in the conflict-ridden state of Tamaulipas.

In January, a group of migrants were massacred in Tamaulipas state just 40 miles (70 km) west of Reynosa. Twelve local Mexican police have been arrested in connection with the massacre.

(Reporting by Adrees Latif in Texas and Laura Gottesdiener in Monterrey, Mexico; Writing by Mica Rosenberg; Editing by Ross Colvin and Lisa Shumaker)

U.S. Supreme Court throws out challenge to Trump census immigrant plan

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday threw out a lawsuit seeking to block President Donald Trump’s plan to exclude immigrants living illegally in the United States from the population count used to allocate congressional districts to states.

The 6-3 ruling on ideological lines, with the court’s six conservatives in the majority and three liberals dissenting, gives Trump a short-term victory as he pursues his hardline policies toward immigration.

“At present, this case is riddled with contingencies and speculation that impede judicial review,” the ruling said. The decision noted that the court was not weighing the merits of Trump’s plan.

Challengers led by New York state and the American Civil Liberties Union said Trump’s proposal would dilute the political clout of states with larger numbers of such immigrants, including heavily Democratic California, by undercounting state populations and depriving them of seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.

“If the administration actually tries to implement this policy, we’ll sue. Again. And we’ll win,” said Dale Ho, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union who represents the challengers.

The administration has not disclosed what method it would use to calculate the number of people it proposed to exclude or which subsets of immigrants would be targeted. Acting Solicitor General Jeffrey Wall told the justices during the Nov. 30 oral argument in the case that the administration could miss a Dec. 31 statutory deadline to finalize a Census Bureau report to Trump containing the final population data, including the number of immigrants excluded.

During the oral argument, Wall told the justices that it is “very unlikely” the administration would amass data to exclude all immigrants in the country illegally. Instead, Wall said, it may propose excluding certain groups, such as the fewer than 100,000 in federal detention, and the total number may not be high enough to affect apportionment.

Liberal Justice Stephen Breyer wrote in a dissenting opinion that the government can currently try to exclude millions of individuals, including those who are in immigration detention or deportation proceedings, and the some 700,000 young people known as “Dreamers” who came to the U.S. illegally as children.

“Where, as here, the government acknowledges it is working to achieve an allegedly illegal goal, this court should not decline to resolve the case simply because the government speculates that it might not fully succeed,” Breyer added.

There are an estimated 11 million immigrants living in the United States illegally. The challengers have argued that Trump’s policy violates both the Constitution and the Census Act, a federal law that outlines how the census is conducted.

The Constitution requires apportionment of House seats to be based upon the “whole number of persons in each state.” Until now, the U.S. government’s practice was to count all people regardless of their citizenship or immigration status.

By statute, the president is required to send Congress a report in early January with the population of each of the states and their entitled number of House districts.

The challengers have argued that Trump’s plan could leave several million people uncounted and cause California, Texas and New Jersey to lose House seats.

A three-judge panel in New York ruled against the administration in September.

The Supreme Court in June 2019 ruled against Trump’s effort to add a citizenship question to the census. Critics said the question was intended to frighten immigrants from taking part in the population count and artificially reduce population numbers in heavily Democratic areas.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; additional reporting by Andrew Chung; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

‘You are no longer my mother’: How the election is dividing American families

By Tim Reid, Gabriella Borter and Michael Martina

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – When lifelong Democrat Mayra Gomez told her 21-year-old son five months ago that she was voting for Donald Trump in Tuesday’s presidential election, he cut her out of his life.

“He specifically told me, ‘You are no longer my mother, because you are voting for Trump’,” Gomez, 41, a personal care worker in Milwaukee, told Reuters. Their last conversation was so bitter that she is not sure they can reconcile, even if Trump loses his re-election bid.

“The damage is done. In people’s minds, Trump is a monster. It’s sad. There are people not talking to me anymore, and I’m not sure that will change,” said Gomez, who is a fan of Trump’s crackdown on illegal immigrants and handling of the economy.

Gomez is not alone in thinking the bitter splits within families and among friends over Trump’s tumultuous presidency will be difficult, if not impossible, to repair, even after he leaves office – whenever that is.

In interviews with 10 voters – five Trump supporters and five backing Democratic candidate Joe Biden – few could see the wrecked personal relationships caused by Trump’s tenure fully healing, and most believed them destroyed forever.

Throughout his nearly four-year norm-smashing presidency Trump has stirred strong emotions among both supporters and opponents. Many of his backers admire his moves to overhaul immigration, his appointment of conservative judges, his willingness to throw convention to the wind and his harsh rhetoric, which they call straight talk.

Democrats and other critics see the former real estate developer and reality show personality as a threat to American democracy, a serial liar and a racist who mismanaged the novel coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 230,000 people in the United States so far. Trump dismisses those characterizations as “fake news.”

Now, with Trump trailing Biden in opinion polls, people are beginning to ask whether the fractures caused by one of the most polarizing presidencies in U.S. history could be healed if Trump loses the election.

“Unfortunately, I don’t think national healing is as easy as changing the president,” said Jaime Saal, a psychotherapist at the Rochester Center for Behavioral Medicine in Rochester Hills, Michigan.

“It takes time and it takes effort, and it takes both parties – no pun intended – being willing to let go and move forward,” she said.

Saal said tensions in people’s personal relationships have spiked given the political, health and social dynamics facing the United States. Most often she sees clients who have political rifts with siblings, parents or in-laws, as opposed to spouses.

NEIGHBOR VS NEIGHBOR

Trump’s election in 2016 divided families, tore up friendships and turned neighbor against neighbor. Many have turned to Facebook and Twitter to deliver no-holds-barred posts bashing both Trump and his many critics, while the president’s own freewheeling tweets have also inflamed tensions.

A September report by the non-partisan Pew Research Center found that nearly 80% of Trump and Biden supporters said they had few or no friends who supported the other candidate.

A study by the Gallup polling organization in January found that Trump’s third year in office set a new record for party polarization. While 89% of Republicans approved of Trump’s performance in office in 2019, only 7% of Democrats thought he was doing a good job.

Gayle McCormick, 77, who separated from her husband William, 81, after he voted for Trump in 2016, said, “I think the legacy of Trump is going to take a long time to recover from.”

The two still spend time together, although she is now based in Vancouver, he in Alaska. Two of her grandchildren no longer speak to her because of her support for Democrat Hillary Clinton four years ago. She has also become estranged from other relatives and friends who are Trump supporters.

She is not sure those rifts with friends and family will ever mend, because each believes the other to have a totally alien value system.

Democratic voter Rosanna Guadagno, 49, said her brother disowned her after she refused to support Trump four years ago. Last year her mother suffered a stroke, but her brother – who lived in the same California city as her mother – did not let her know when their mother died six months later. She was told the news after three days in an email from her sister-in-law.

“I was excluded from everything that had to do with her death, and it was devastating,” said Guadagno, a social psychologist who works at Stanford University, California.

Whoever wins the election, Guadagno is pessimistic that she can reconcile with her brother, although she says she still loves him.

UNCERTAIN POST-TRUMP WORLD

Sarah Guth, 39, a Spanish interpreter from Denver, Colorado, said she has cut several Trump-supporting friends out of her life. She could not reconcile herself to their support for issues such as separating immigrant children from parents at the southern border, or for Trump himself after he was caught on tape bragging about groping women.

Guth and her Trump-voting father did not speak to each other for several months after the 2016 election. The two now do speak, but avoid politics.

Guth says some of her friends cannot accept her support for a candidate – Joe Biden – who is pro-choice on the question of abortion.

“We had such fundamental disagreements about such basic stuff. It showed both sides that we really don’t have anything in common. I don’t believe that will change in the post-Trump era.”

Fervent Trump supporter Dave Wallace, 65, a retired oil industry sales manager in West Chester, Pennsylvania, is more optimistic about feuding families in a post-Trump world.

Wallace says his support for Trump has caused tensions with his son and daughter-in-law.

“The hatred for Trump among Democrats, it’s just amazing to me,” Wallace said. “I think it’s just Trump, the way he makes people feel. I do think the angst will decrease when we’re back to a normal politician who doesn’t piss people off.”

Jay J. Van Bavel, a professor of psychology and neural science at New York University, said this “political sectarianism” has become not only tribal, but moral.

“Because Trump has been one of the most polarizing figures in American history around core values and issues, people are unwilling to compromise and that is not something you can make go away,” Van Bavel said.

Jacquelyn Hammond, 47, a bartender in Asheville, North Carolina, no longer speaks to her Trump-supporting mother Carol, and is also discouraging her son from speaking to her.

She said she would like to heal the relationship, but believes that will be difficult, even if Trump loses the election.

“Trump is like the catalyst of an earthquake that just divided two continents of thought. Once the Earth divides like that, there’s no going back. This is a marked time in our history where people had to jump from one side to the other. And depending on what side you choose, that is going to be the trajectory for the rest of your life,” she said.

Hammond said she first realized her relationship with her mother was in trouble shortly after the 2016 election when she defended Clinton while driving with her mother.

“She stopped the car and told me not to disrespect her politics. And if I don’t want to respect her politics, I can get out of the car.”

Bonnie Coughlin, 65, has voted mostly Republican all her life, except in 2016 when she backed a third party candidate. This time she is all in for Biden, even holding a small rally for him on the side of a highway near Gilbertsville, Pennsylvania.

Raised in a Republican, religiously conservative family in Missouri, she says her relationships with her sister, father and some cousins – all ardent Trump supporters – have soured.

Coughlin says she still loves them, but “I look at them differently. It’s because they have willingly embraced someone who is so heartless and just shows no empathy to anyone in any circumstances.”

She added: “And if Biden wins, I don’t think they will go quietly into the night and accept it.”

(Reporting by Tim Reid in Los Angeles, Gabriella Borter in Raleigh, N.C. and Michael Martina in Detroit; Additional reporting by Elizabeth Culliford in London; Editing by Ross Colvin and Daniel Wallis)

U.S. Supreme Court gives states latitude to prosecute illegal immigrants

By Andrew Chung

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday widened the ability of states to use criminal laws against illegal immigrants and other people who do not have work authorization in the United States in a ruling involving identity theft prosecutions in Kansas.

The 5-4 ruling, with the court’s conservative justices in the majority, overturned a 2017 Kansas Supreme Court decision that had voided the convictions of three restaurant workers for fraudulently using other people’s Social Security numbers.

In the opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito, the high court found that Kansas did not unlawfully encroach on federal authority over immigration policy.

The court’s four liberal justices disagreed. While a 1986 federal law called the Immigration Reform and Control Act did not explicitly prevent states from pursuing such prosecutions, they said in a dissent written by Justice Stephen Breyer, the law’s overall purpose hands the policing of work authorization fraud “to the federal government alone.”

President Donald Trump’s administration backed Kansas in the case. Trump has made his hardline policies toward immigration a centerpiece of his presidency and 2020 re-election campaign. Kansas is one of several conservative states that have sought to crack down on illegal immigrants.

In the dissent, Breyer said allowing prosecutions like those pursued by Kansas “opens a colossal loophole” in allowing states to police federal work authorization.

Though immigration-related employment fraud is a federal matter, Kansas contended that its prosecutions were not immigration-related and did not conflict with federal immigration law. Kansas had argued that a ruling in favor of the immigrants would undermine its ability to combat the growing problem of identity theft.

Immigrant rights groups have said that giving states power to prosecute employment fraud would let them take immigration policy into their own hands.

The three men – Ramiro Garcia, Donaldo Morales and Guadalupe Ochoa-Lara – were not authorized to work in the United States and provided their employers Social Security numbers that were not their own.

A Social Security number is used to identify people for employment and tax purposes. People who enter the country illegally do not get assigned Social Security numbers, which are given by the U.S. government to all legal residents.

The case focused on the employment verification process under federal immigration law requiring employers, on a form known as the I-9, to attest that an employee is authorized to work. The law also states that the form “may not be used for purposes other than for enforcement of this act.”

While the federal government has the sole authority to prosecute individuals for providing fraudulent information during the I-9 employment verification process, the state prosecuted the three men for using the same false information on different forms used to withhold wages for tax purposes.

In Tuesday’s ruling, Alito wrote, “The submission of tax-withholding forms is fundamentally unrelated to the federal employment verification system.”

The ruling, by giving states some latitude in law enforcement affecting illegal immigrants, could provide ammunition to California in its defense of its so-called sanctuary policies. These policies limit cooperation with federal immigration authorities to protect certain illegal immigrants from deportation.

Trump’s administration sued California and is appealing to the Supreme Court after losing in a lower court. The justices could act in that case as early as next week. The administration also has sued other states and localities over sanctuary policies.

(Reporting by Andrew Chung; Additional reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham)

Court rules Trump can withhold funds from ‘sanctuary’ jurisdictions

By Jonathan Stempel

NEW YORK (Reuters) – President Donald Trump’s administration can withhold millions of dollars in law enforcement funds from states and cities that refuse to cooperate with federal immigration authorities, a U.S. appeals court ruled on Wednesday.

The unanimous decision by a three-judge panel of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan was a victory for Trump in his years-long fight with so-called sanctuary jurisdictions.

It overturned a lower court ruling directing the release of federal funds to New York City and the states of New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Virginia and Washington.

The states and city sued over a 2017 policy conditioning receipt of the funds by state and local governments on their giving federal immigration officials access to their jails, and advance notice when immigrants in the country illegally are being released from custody.

Three federal appeals courts in Chicago, Philadelphia and San Francisco have upheld injunctions barring enforcement of at least some of the administration’s conditions on the so-called Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grants.

Wednesday’s decision sets up a possible appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, which often resolves legal disputes that divide lower courts.

In the decision, Judge Reena Raggi said the case “implicates several of the most divisive issues confronting our country” including immigration policy and law enforcement, illegal immigrants, and the ability of state and local governments to adopt policies the federal government dislikes.

The office of New York Attorney General Letitia James said it was reviewing the decision. New York City’s law department had no immediate comment.

A U.S. Justice Department spokesman called the decision a “major victory for Americans” in recognizing Attorney General William Barr’s authority to ensure that grant recipients do not thwart federal law enforcement priorities.

Trump, a Republican seeking re-election on Nov. 3, takes a hardline stance toward legal and illegal immigration.

His battle against Democratic-led “sanctuary” jurisdictions focuses on laws and policies making it harder for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials to find and arrest immigrants they consider deportable.

The funding conditions announced by then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions affected nearly $26 million of annual grants to the seven states and $4 million to New York City.

U.S. District Judge Edgardo Ramos in Manhattan in Nov. 2018 declared the conditions unconstitutional, saying the administration acted arbitrarily and capriciously in withholding grants without considering the impact on local law enforcement.

Raggi, however, said the conditions “help the federal government enforce national immigration laws and policies supported by successive Democratic and Republican administrations.”

Byrne was a New York City police officer shot to death at age 22 in 1988 while guarding the home of a Guyanese immigrant helping authorities investigate drug trafficking.

The case is New York et al v U.S. Department of Justice et al, 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Nos. 19-267, 19-275.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Will Dunham)

Mexico says migrant numbers will fall further, wants no clash with U.S.

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mexico’s foreign minister said on Thursday he expected the number of U.S.-bound migrants to fall further and that it was in his country’s interest to avoid tensions with Washington on migration in the run-up to the 2020 U.S. presidential election.

Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard also said Mexico took a different view from the one expressed on Wednesday by the U.S. Supreme Court, which granted a request by the Trump administration to fully enforce a new rule that would curtail asylum applications by immigrants at the U.S.-Mexico border.

“This is the ruling by the court, it’s a U.S. issue, and obviously we don’t agree with it, we have a different policy,” Ebrard told a regular news conference.

(Reporting by Stefanie Eschenbacher; Editing by Dave Graham and Deepa Babington)

Trump considers executive order to add citizenship question to U.S. census

FILE PHOTO: Balloons decorate an event for community activists and local government leaders to mark the one-year-out launch of the 2020 Census efforts in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S., April 1, 2019. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump on Friday said he may issue an executive order in an effort to add a contentious citizenship question to the 2020 U.S. census as his administration faces a Friday afternoon court deadline to reveal its plans.

“We’re working on a lot of things including an executive order,” Trump told reporters outside the White House as he left for his resort in Bedminster, New Jersey.

He also suggested that a query about citizenship could be added at a later date even if it is not on the questionnaire currently being printed.

Maryland-based U.S. District Court Judge George Hazel wants the administration to state its intentions by 2 p.m.

A White House spokesman said on Thursday that officials are examining “every option” available to add the query to the decennial population survey.

Trump administration officials have been scrambling in the aftermath of a Supreme Court ruling on June 27 that blocked the inclusion of the question, saying administration officials had given a “contrived” rationale for including it. But the court left open the possibility that the administration could offer a plausible rationale.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross on Tuesday said the Census Bureau had started the process of printing the census questionnaires without the citizenship query, giving the impression that the administration had backed down.

But Trump then ordered a policy reversal via tweet on Wednesday, saying he would fight on, although the government has said the printing process continues.

The census is used to allot seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and distribute some $800 billion in federal services, including public schools, Medicaid benefits, law enforcement and highway repairs.

Critics have called the citizenship question a Republican ploy to scare immigrants into not participating and engineer a population undercount in Democratic-leaning areas with high immigrant populations. They say that officials lied about their motivations for adding the question and that the move would help Trump’s fellow Republicans gain seats in the House and state legislatures when new electoral district boundaries are drawn.

Trump and his supporters say it makes sense to know how many non-citizens are living in the country. His hard-line policies on immigration have been a key element of his presidency and 2020 re-election campaign.

A group of states including New York and immigrant rights organizations challenged the legality of the citizenship question, arguing among other things that the U.S. Constitution requires congressional districts to be distributed based on a count of “the whole number of persons in each state” with no reference to citizenship. Three different federal judges blocked the administration before the Supreme Court intervened.

The Supreme Court ruled that in theory the government can ask about citizenship on the census, but rejected the rationale given by the Trump administration for adding.

The administration had originally told the courts the question was needed to better enforce a law that protects the voting rights of racial minorities.

Administration officials had repeatedly told the Supreme Court they needed to finalize the details of the census questionnaire by the end of June.

Even if a citizenship question is not included, the Census Bureau is still able to gather data on citizenship, which the Trump administration could provide to states when they are drawing new electoral districts.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Additional reporting by Alexandra Alper and David Morgan; Editing by Grant McCool)

Trump vows rapid, high tariffs on Mexico unless illegal immigration ends

FILE PHOTO: Joe Alvarado, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Agriculture Specialist, checks imported broccoli from Mexico at the Pharr Port of Entry in Pharr, Texas, October 4, 2018. REUTERS/Adrees Latif/File Photo

By Steve Holland and Frank Jack Daniel

WASHINGTON/MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump, responding to a surge of illegal immigrants across the southern border, vowed on Thursday to impose a tariff on all goods coming from Mexico, starting at 5% and ratcheting much higher until the flow of people ceases.

Trump’s move dramatically escalates his battle to control a wave of tens of thousands of asylum seekers, including many Central American families fleeing poverty and violence, that has swelled alongside his promises to make it harder to get U.S. refuge and his efforts to build a wall on the Mexican border.

The announcement rattled investors who feared that worsening trade friction could hurt the global economy. The Mexican peso, U.S. stock index futures and Asian stock markets tumbled on the news, including the shares of Japanese automakers who ship cars from Mexico to the United States.

The president’s decision, announced on Twitter and in a subsequent statement, was a direct challenge to Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and took the Mexican government by surprise on a day when it had started a formal process to ratify a trade deal with the United States and Canada (USMCA).

It raised the risk of devastating economic relations with the biggest U.S. trade partner for goods. Mexico, heavily dependent on cross-border trade, rose to that ranking as a result of Trump’s trade war with China.

The measures against Mexico open up a new front on trade and if implemented are bound to trigger retaliation that would hit heartland, Trump-supporting farming and industrial states.

Higher tariffs will start at 5% on June 10 and increase monthly up to 25% on Oct. 1, unless Mexico takes immediate action, he said.

“If the illegal migration crisis is alleviated through effective actions taken by Mexico, to be determined in our sole discretion and judgment, the tariffs will be removed,” Trump said.

Lopez Obrador responded in a letter he posted on Twitter, calling Trump’s policy of America First “a fallacy” and accusing him of turning the United States into a “ghetto,” that stigmatized and mistreated migrants.

“President Trump, social problems are not resolved with taxes or coercive measures,” he wrote, adding that a delegation led by Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard would travel to Washington on Friday. He did not threaten to retaliate, saying he wanted to avoid confrontation.

Lopez Obrador pushed back against Trump’s assertion that Mexico let immigration happen through “passive cooperation,” saying: “you know we are fulfilling our responsibility to stop (migrants) moving through our country, as much as possible and without violating human rights.”

Determined to avoid a break down in Mexico’s most important bilateral relationship, since Trump threatened to close the world’s busiest land border over the migrant surge, Lopez Obrador’s government has drastically tightened controls on the movement of migrants, detaining and deporting thousands in recent months, while calling for U.S. aid to tackle root causes.

“We’re in a good moment building a good relationship (with the United States) and this comes like a cold shower,” said Mexico’s deputy foreign minister for North America, Jesus Seade, who had been in Mexico’s Senate delivering the USMCA trade deal for ratification shortly before the news broke.

In Beijing, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang expressed sympathy with Mexico.

“The United States has repeatedly taken trade bullying action. China is not the only victim,” Geng told reporters.

Cross border trade between Mexico and the United States: https://tmsnrt.rs/2V59n2R

SIDING WITH HAWKS

Despite Trump’s assertion that Mexico could easily end Central American immigration, its relatively small security forces, also struggling with a record level of gang violence and homicide, are having a hard time controlling the flows.

In the biggest migrant surge on the U.S-Mexican border in a decade, U.S. officials say 80,000 people are being held in custody with an average of 4,500 mostly Central American migrants arriving daily, overwhelming the ability of border patrol officials to handle them. A senior White House official said Trump was particularly concerned that U.S. border agents apprehended a group of 1,036 migrants as they illegally crossed the border from Mexico on Wednesday. Officials said it was the largest single group since October. Before unveiling the tariff threat, Trump posted a video purporting to be of the crossing on his Twitter feed.

A source close to Trump said there had been a debate inside the White House over whether to go forward with the new policy, with immigration hawks fighting for it and others urging a more diplomatic approach. Trump sided with the hawks.

“The last thing he wants is to look weak,” said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Trump’s directive also spelled the potential for chaos for his efforts to get the U.S. Congress to approve the USMCA deal, which he negotiated as a replacement to the North American Free Trade Agreement between the United States, Mexico and Canada.

Doug Ducey, the governor of Arizona, which shares a 370-mile (595-km) border with Mexico, said on Twitter that he spoke to the White House and it was time for Congress to act on border security and the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement.

“Everyone knows I am opposed to tariffs and deeply value Arizona’s relationship with Mexico. I prioritize national security and a solution to our humanitarian crisis at the border above commerce,” he said on Twitter.

Trump said he was acting under the powers granted to him by the International Emergency Economic Powers Act. He campaigned for election in 2016 on a vow to crack down on immigration.

Jaime Serra, Mexico’s former trade minister who negotiated the original NAFTA, told Reuters the announcement was unacceptable and “in total violation of NAFTA.” Another negotiator said Trump risked violating World Trade Organization rules.

WHITE HOUSE WANTS ACTION ‘TONIGHT’

White House acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, asked in a conference call with reporters which products from Mexico could be affected by the tariffs, said: “All of them.”

Mulvaney added, “We are interested in seeing the Mexican government act tonight, tomorrow.”

Shares in Toyota Motor Corp, Nissan Motor Co and Honda Motor Co all fell around 3% or more, while Mazda Motor Co fell nearly 7%. All four operate vehicle assembly plants in Mexico.

“Mexico is the U.S.’s largest trading partner and a flare-up in trade tensions was definitely not on the market radar,” said Sean Callow, a senior currency analyst at Westpac.

The benchmark S&P 500 e-mini futures dropped 0.82% to the lowest the contract has traded since early March. Investors scooped up safe assets, driving the yield on the 10-year U.S. Treasury note to 2.18%, the lowest since September 2017.

The dollar surged more than 2.5 percent against the Mexican peso.

(Reporting by Steve Holland, Eric Beech and Mohammed Zargham; additional reporting by Mica Rosenberg in New York,Noe Torres and Anthony Esposito in Mexico City, and Cate Cadell in Beijing; Editing by Grant McCool and Clarence Fernandez)

Citing ‘crisis,’ Trump to seek border wall support in televised address

A woman walks past the entrance to the National Archives which is closed due to a partial government shutdown continues, in Washington, U.S., January 7, 2019. REUTERS/Jim Young

By Jeff Mason

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump will make his case to Americans on Tuesday that a wall is urgently needed to resolve what he calls a crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border, trying to make good on a campaign promise in a dispute that has sparked an 18-day partial government shut-down.

Trump’s prime-time address, scheduled for 9 p.m. will be the Republican president’s latest attempt to persuade Democrats to back his push for a steel barrier on the southern border.

Amid his talk of crisis, Trump is considering declaring the border situation a national emergency, which could get him out of an impasse by enabling him to bypass Congress’ mandate to approve federal spending and to build the wall without its approval. However, such a step would likely face an immediate legal challenge.

Trump has long maintained that a border wall is needed to stem the flow of illegal immigration and drugs, and in recent weeks has made the issue a priority. Democrats, who now control the House of Representatives, have consistently opposed it, calling it an expensive, inefficient and immoral way of trying to resolve immigration issues.

The dispute over wall funding – with Trump demanding $5.7 billion to help build it – led to a stalemate in Congress over funding for parts of the government. About a quarter of U.S. agencies have been shut down since last month and hundreds of thousands of government workers are likely to miss paychecks this week.

Trump’s remarks from the White House will also aim to shore up support among Republican lawmakers, who are wary of a potential backlash from the public as the effects of the shutdown intensify. Vice President Mike Pence was scheduled to meet with Republican lawmakers later on Tuesday, before Trump’s speech.

Trump will tell the American people that there is “a humanitarian and security crisis” at the border, Pence said in television interviews on Tuesday morning.

The White House has not said why the situation constitutes a national emergency. Pence did not say whether Trump had made a decision or if the White House had completed its legal review of such a declaration.

“We believe we can solve this through the legislative process,” Pence told CBS, urging Democrats to negotiate.

While Trump has frequently painted a picture of an “unprecedented crisis” of illegal immigration at the U.S.-Mexican border, illegal crossings there have dropped dramatically in recent years. There were nearly 400,000 apprehensions on the border in the 2018 fiscal year, far down from the early 2000s when arrests regularly topped 1 million annually.

But in recent years, the border has seen many more Central American families and unaccompanied children turning up – sometimes in caravans of thousands of people – to seek asylum and the government does not have the facilities to take care of them. Such asylum-seekers often present themselves at official crossing points, something that would not change if a wall were built.

Despite the focus on the border with Mexico, most immigrants living in the United States without authorization entered with visas and then stayed on when their documents ran out.

‘DRASTICALLY MISINFORMING’

All major U.S. television networks agreed to broadcast Trump’s speech, prompting Democrats to seek equal air time.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer will deliver a televised response after Trump speaks on Tuesday night.

Democrats have said they support increased border security measures such as additional U.S. border agents and technology, but have rejected the administration’s claims about the security risks at the border and have raised concerns that Trump will use his speech to present a false narrative.

“Someone is drastically misinforming him,” Democratic U.S. Senator Joe Manchin told CNN.

Trump will continue pressing his case with a trip to the border on Thursday.

Pence said on Monday that progress was made in weekend talks that he led between administration officials and congressional staff over how to break the funding impasse and reopen the government.

Federal employees will feel the pinch from the shutdown on Friday when they will miss their paychecks for the first time, unless a deal is reached. The shutdown, which has left some 800,000 government workers furloughed or working without pay, is also affecting national parks, airline security screening, housing and food aid, and economic data.

“This isn’t about Democrats not wanting to talk about border security,” Democratic U.S. Senator Chris Murphy told MSNBC. “It’s about making sure that the federal workforce isn’t used over and over again as a hostage for the president’s campaign promises.”

Trump made his promise for a wall a signature issue in his 2016 White House run. He said Mexico would pay for it, although Mexico was always clear it would not, and he has now turned to Congress for the money.

In rejecting Trump’s demands, Democrats also point to the Trump administration’s controversial handling of families and other migrants from Central America at the border.

Critics have decried the previous separation of migrant children from families, the use of tear gas at the border and the case of two Guatemalan migrant children who died in U.S. custody in December.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason; Additional reporting by Susan Heavey in Washington and Kenneth Li and Mica Rosenberg in New York; Writing by Alistair Bell; Editing by Frances Kerry)

Standoff over Trump border wall puts U.S. Congress in budget ‘pickle’

FILE PHOTO: The U.S. Capitol is pictured in Washington, U.S., November 13, 2018. REUTERS/Al Drago/File Photo

By Richard Cowan and Amanda Becker

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump and Congress, embroiled in a feud over his proposed U.S.-Mexico border wall, have only five days to reach a deal before a partial government shutdown could leave about a quarter of the federal workforce without paychecks.

Trump has demanded $5 billion as a down payment on construction of a huge wall that he argues is the only way to keep illegal immigrants and drugs from crossing into the United States, again pushing the proposal in an early morning tweet on Monday. Democrats and some Republicans argue there are less costly, more effective border controls.

FILE PHOTO: Workers on the U.S. side, paint a line on the ground as they work on the border wall between Mexico and the U.S., as seen from Tijuana, Mexico, December 13, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

FILE PHOTO: Workers on the U.S. side, paint a line on the ground as they work on the border wall between Mexico and the U.S., as seen from Tijuana, Mexico, December 13, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

The money Trump wants is only a small fraction of the roughly $450 billion Congress was poised to approve – before the latest battle over the proposed wall – to fund several agencies which will otherwise run out of money on Dec. 21.

Large swaths of the government already are funded through next September, including the U.S. military and agencies that operate public healthcare, education and veterans’ programs.

Several Republican and Democratic congressional aides on Friday said there was no apparent progress being made toward resolving the standoff, after Trump and leading congressional Democrats battled each other on Tuesday in front of television cameras in the White House Oval Office.

“I am proud to shut down the government for border security,” Trump told House of Representatives Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer.

Since then, a senior House Republican aide said his party was “in a pickle” over how to keep the government open.

The aide noted that Republicans, who will control both houses of Congress until Jan. 3, will not be able to muster the minimum 218 votes needed in the House to pass a funding bill if it contains Trump’s demand for border wall money, which Democrats oppose.

Agent J. Cruz of the U.S. Border Patrol looks on along the newly completed wall during U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen's visit to U.S. President Donald Trump's border wall in the El Centro Sector in Calexico, California, U.S. October 26, 2018. REUTERS/Earnie Grafton

Agent J. Cruz of the U.S. Border Patrol looks on along the newly completed wall during U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen’s visit to U.S. President Donald Trump’s border wall in the El Centro Sector in Calexico, California, U.S. October 26, 2018. REUTERS/Earnie Grafton

If funds run out on Dec. 21, the NASA space program would potentially be unfunded, along with national parks, the U.S. diplomatic corps and agriculture programs.

Similarly, the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security would be vulnerable to shutdowns, although “essential” employees, such as FBI agents, airport security screeners and border patrol agents, would still report to work.

Their paychecks, however, would not be issued until the shutdown ends and Congress would have to decide whether to award back pay for them as well as any furloughed workers.

A government in such disarray might not play well for Republicans over the holiday period, especially if Americans also view images for two weeks of Trump vacationing at his exclusive Florida beach-front mansion.

“After the president’s comments earlier this week when he said he was going to own the shutdown, that sealed the deal for Democrats. There is absolutely no reason for them to cut a deal with this president,” said Jim Manley, a political strategist and former Senate Democratic leadership aide.

With the clock ticking, the House is not even bothering to come to work until Wednesday night.

For now, Democrats are waiting for the White House to signal whether it will engage on legislation that would keep programs operating, but without money for Trump’s wall.

White House adviser Stephen Miller told CBS News’ “Face the Nation” program on Sunday that the administration would “do whatever is necessary to build the border wall.” Asked if that included shutting down the government, he said: “If it comes to it, absolutely.”

If not, Manley predicted the government will limp along until Jan. 3, when Democrats take control of the House and Pelosi likely becomes the speaker and promptly advances funding, daring the Republican-led Senate to reject it.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan and Amanda Becker; Additional reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh, Leslie Adler and Paul Simao)