Despite Biden claim, most migrant families not being expelled to Mexico

By Ted Hesson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. border agents expelled roughly a third of migrant parents and children traveling together and caught crossing the southwestern border in March, according to U.S. government data, undercutting a claim by President Joe Biden that most families are being sent back to Mexico.

About 17,000 of the nearly 53,000 parents and children caught at the border in March were expelled under a COVID-related public health order known as Title 42, an administration official said during a background briefing with reporters on Wednesday.

The rest were placed in U.S. immigration proceedings, in keeping with the practice before Title 42, which was implemented under former President Donald Trump in March 2020.

“We’re sending back the vast majority of the families that are coming,” Biden said during a March 25 news conference. “We’re trying to work out now, with Mexico, their willingness to take more of those families back.”

Commenting on the apparent disconnect between Biden’s statement and the latest figures, White House spokesman Vedant Patel said the administration’s policy is to expel single adults and families to Mexico under Title 42 if they are caught crossing the southwest border illegally, but he added that does not always happen.

“In the event that Mexico is not able to receive an individual or a family, they are placed in immigration proceedings in the United States,” he said in a statement.

Biden has defended his administration’s handling of a rise in border crossings in recent months. Republicans have criticized Biden, a Democrat, for easing some Trump-era restrictions, arguing his policies have encouraged illegal immigration. Biden and his top officials have blamed Trump for dismantling systems to receive asylum seekers and unaccompanied minors.

Overall, more than 172,000 migrants were caught at the U.S.-Mexico border in March, according to the administration official. Of those arrests, roughly 168,000 people were picked up by border patrol agents between ports of entry – the highest monthly tally since March 2001, when nearly 171,000 were caught.

Reuters reported similar preliminary border arrest figures last week.

For much of last year, unaccompanied children arriving at the border were expelled to Mexico under Title 42, but Biden exempted them from the expulsions in February.

Since then, a rising number of unaccompanied children have been taken into custody at the border and allowed into the United States to pursue immigration cases. The increase has caused crowded conditions in border stations and processing centers.

In March, border agents caught about 19,000 unaccompanied children attempting to cross the border, the administration official said on Wednesday, up from roughly 6,000 in January.

The administration official, who requested anonymity to discuss the border figures with reporters, said the expulsion of families back to Mexico is limited by Mexico’s ability to receive them in the state of Tamaulipas, which sits across from Texas’ Rio Grande Valley, where many families have been arriving.

(Reporting by Ted Hesson in Washington; Additional reporting by Nandita Bose; Editing by Ross Colvin and Aurora Ellis)

Republicans plan Senate floor ‘fireworks’ over surge at U.S.-Mexico border

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Republicans plan to take their opposition to President Joe Biden’s border policies to the U.S. Senate floor on Wednesday, attempting to move legislation that promises to tie up the chamber for hours, a source familiar with the matter said.

At least five Senate Republicans are expected to seek unanimous consent for a series of measures targeting Biden’s decision to reverse the border policies of former President Donald Trump, including a resolution labeling the current border situation a “crisis.”

The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the actions could lead to some rhetorical “fireworks” on the Senate floor if Democrats block the measures, as expected. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s office was not immediately available to comment on Democratic plans.

The anticipated actions are part of a mounting effort by Republicans in the Senate and the House of Representatives to pressure Biden and his fellow Democrats over a new flood of migrants, including unaccompanied children, to the U.S.-Mexico border. Republicans see an opportunity to retaliate against Democrats, who sharply criticized Trump’s border policies, ahead of the 2022 congressional elections.

A sharp rise in the number of migrants fleeing violence, natural disasters and economic hardship in Central America is testing Biden’s commitment to a more humane immigration policy than his predecessor’s.

Republicans say Biden’s decision to reverse Trump’s policies has given migrants an incentive to take the journey north and contend it poses health and security risks for American citizens.

Republicans are moving to capitalize on what Reuters/Ipsos polling shows to be an increasingly hostile attitude toward illegal immigrants among party voters. A Morning Consult poll released on Wednesday also showed that 48% of Democrats believe the United States is facing a “problem” with illegal immigration.

Details about the Republican measures to be offered on Wednesday were not immediately available. But the source said the effort could consume the Senate floor for up to three hours.

Biden was due to meet with immigration advisers and top Cabinet officials on Wednesday, while dispatching White House officials to a Texas resettlement facility as pressure mounts over a recent jump in migrant arrivals at the U.S. border.

(Reporting by David Morgan; Editing by Scott Malone and Jonathan Oatis)

Mexico to tighten borders against COVID-19 as U.S. offers vaccine help

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mexico’s government said on Thursday it would apply travel curbs on its southern border with Guatemala to help contain the spread of COVID-19 as officials said the Biden administration planned to loan Mexico vaccines to fight the pandemic.

The foreign ministry’s announcement that Mexico would restrict movement on its border with Guatemala comes just as the country plans to step up enforcement efforts in the area against illegal immigration, according to a Reuters report.

President Joe Biden is under increasing pressure to reduce a recent surge in migrants from Central America reaching the U.S. border while Mexico has been pressing the U.S. government for a loan of vaccines to help its drive to tackle COVID-19.

A U.S. congressional source said the mutually beneficial news on the vaccines and the border curbs was no coincidence. A Mexican official did not immediately reply to a request for comment on whether the two announcements were linked.

Confirming details reported by Reuters, Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said that Mexico and the United States were crafting a deal for 2.5 million doses of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine and that he would reveal more on Friday.

“This would be the best start for a broad cooperation on vaccines,” Ebrard said on Twitter.

A U.S. official told Reuters that under the loan deal, the United States would send Mexico 2.5 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine that it is not using. Canada is also set to receive 1.5 million doses under the arrangement.

In a statement, Mexico’s foreign ministry said restrictions for non-essential activities on its borders with the United States and Guatemala would take effect starting on Friday, and would remain in place until midnight of April 21.

During the past few months, Mexico had announced extensions to restrictions along its border with the United States as part of bilateral efforts to stem the spread of the pandemic.

Those monthly communiques did not mention the border with Guatemala, where average COVID-19 cases are now lower than they were in January, though they have been ticking up.

Mexico’s own infections have fallen sharply in the last few weeks, and the two southern states covering over 85% of the border with Guatemala are two of only three in the country at the lowest COVID-19 alert level, health ministry data show.

Mexico has 31 states.

(Reporting by Diego Ore and Dave Graham in Mexico City and Jeff Mason in Washington; Writing by Laura Gottesdiener; Editing by Andrea Ricci)

Mexican president sees U.S. election link to migrant caravan

By Sofia Menchu and Lizbeth Diaz

GUATEMALA CITY/MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on Friday said he suspected an ulterior motive behind a caravan of more than 2,000 migrants from Central America that set out just a month before the U.S. presidential election.

Lopez Obrador, who has taken measures against illegal immigration to keep Mexico off U.S. President Donald Trump’s campaign agenda, said he suspected the caravan’s departure from Honduras on Thursday was timed to provoke.

“It is very weird, very strange,” the president said at a regular government news conference.

“It’s a matter that I believe is linked to the U.S. election,” he said, adding that he did not have “all the elements” to support his theory.

On Thursday, more than 2,000 migrants, many wearing face masks against the coronavirus, barged past armed Guatemalan troops at the border, with some saying they were seeking to escape poverty exacerbated by the global pandemic.

Pressure has been building in Central America, where months of strict lockdowns have devastated local economies and spread hunger, while restrictions on freedom of movement have slowed traditional flows of immigration toward the United States.

On Friday morning there were signs some caravan members were choosing to return home following threats of consequences from the Mexican and Guatemalan governments and after spending a night in the open because churches and other shelters remain closed because of coronavirus risks.

Guatemala’s government invoked special powers in much of the country on Thursday to give security forces more latitude to break up the group.

Mexico warned of prison sentences of up to 10 years for people who “put in danger of contagion the health of others” in a statement instructing officials to toughen health checks at entry points on the border with Guatemala.

(Reporting by Sofia Menchu and Lizbeth Diaz; Writing by Frank Jack Daniel; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

U.S. Supreme Court blocks Trump bid to end ‘Dreamers’ immigrant program

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday dealt President Donald Trump a major setback on his hardline immigration policies, blocking his bid to end a program that protects from deportation hundreds of thousands of immigrants – often called “Dreamers” – who entered the United States illegally as children.

The justices on a 5-4 vote upheld lower court rulings that found that Trump’s 2017 move to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, created in 2012 by his Democratic predecessor Barack Obama, was unlawful.

Conservative Chief Justice John Roberts joined the court’s four liberals in finding that the administration’s actions were “arbitrary and capricious” under a federal law called the Administrative Procedure Act.

The ruling means that the roughly 649,000 immigrants, mostly young Hispanic adults born in Mexico and other Latin American countries, currently enrolled in DACA will remain protected from deportation and eligible to obtain renewable two-year work permits.

The ruling does not prevent Trump from trying again to end the program. But his administration is unlikely to be able to end DACA before the Nov. 3 election in which Trump is seeking a second four-year term in office.

“We do not decide whether DACA or its rescission are sound policies. We address only whether the agency complied with the procedural requirement that it provide a reasoned explanation for its action,” Roberts wrote.

The ruling marks the second time this week that Roberts has ruled against Trump in a major case following Monday’s decision finding that gay and transgender workers are protected under federal employment law. [L1N2DS0VW]

“These horrible & politically charged decisions coming out of the Supreme Court are shotgun blasts into the face of people that are proud to call themselves Republicans or Conservatives,” Trump wrote on Twitter after the DACA ruling.

The court’s four other conservatives including two Trump appointees, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, dissented.

“Today’s decision must be recognized for what it is: an effort to avoid a politically controversial but legally correct decision,” Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in dissent.

Thomas, whose dissent was joined by Gorsuch and Justice Samuel Alito, said DACA itself was “substantively unlawful.”

Trump’s administration has argued that Obama exceeded his constitutional powers when he created DACA by executive action, bypassing Congress.

A collection of states including California and New York, people currently enrolled in DACA and civil rights groups all filed suit to block Trump’s plan to end the program. Lower courts in California, New York and the District of Columbia ruled against Trump and left DACA in place, finding that his move to revoke the program violated the Administrative Procedure Act.

Only one justice, liberal Sonia Sotamayor, embraced arguments made by plaintiffs that the policy may have been motivated by discriminatory bias against immigrants. Sotamayor is the court’s first Hispanic justice.

Trump has made his crackdown on legal and illegal immigration, including pursuing construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border, a central part of his presidency and his 2020 re-election campaign.

‘I FEEL CONTENT’

DACA recipients and their supporters in Congress including House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi and in the business community welcomed the ruling and called for permanent protections to be enacted.

“I feel content. I think the decision was what we deserved, but at the same time I am also thinking we still have to defend the program,” said Melody Klingenfuss, a 26-year-old DACA recipient and organizer with the California Dream Network.

Roberts a year ago also cast the decisive vote in a Supreme Court loss for the Republican president when the justices blocked Trump’s administration from adding a citizenship question to the 2020 census that critics said was an effort to dissuade immigrants from taking part in the decennial population count. That case raised similar questions about whether Trump’s administration followed lawful procedures in a reaching policy decision.

Immigrants had to meet certain conditions to qualify for DACA enrollment such as not being convicted of a felony or significant misdemeanor and being enrolled in high school or having a high school diploma or equivalent.

Government figures show that upwards of 95 percent of current enrollees were born in Latin America, including 80 percent from Mexico, followed by El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. Nearly half live in California and Texas. The average age of DACA enrollees is 26.

Obama created the DACA program after Congress failed to pass bipartisan legislation that would have overhauled U.S. immigration policy and offered protections for the immigrants known as “Dreamers,” a moniker derived from the name of an immigration bill.

The young immigrants for whom the program was devised, Obama said, were raised and educated in the United States, grew up as Americans and often know little about their countries of origin. After Thursday’s ruling, Obama wrote on Twitter, “We may look different and come from everywhere, but what makes us American are our shared ideals.”

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Additional reporting by Ted Hesson, Kristina Cooke Andrew Chung and Jan Wolfe; Editing by Will Dunham)

Trump says he will block U.S. funds to ‘sanctuary’ jurisdictions

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump on Thursday said he would withhold money from so-called sanctuary jurisdictions after a U.S. court ruled that his administration could block federal law enforcement funds to states and cities that do not cooperate with federal immigration authorities.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan granted the move on Feb. 26, but three other federal appeals courts have agreed to uphold an injunction against the withholding of such funds, setting up a possible appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“As per recent Federal Court ruling, the Federal Government will be withholding funds from Sanctuary Cities. They should change their status and go non-Sanctuary. Do not protect criminals!” Trump tweeted, although he gave no other details.

The 2nd Circuit 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 funds. The latest ruling set up a possible battle at the U.S. Supreme Court, which often resolves legal disputes that divide lower courts.

The Republican president, who is seeking re-election in the Nov. 3 election, has taken 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.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Will Dunham)

Border arrests hit 11-year high, U.S. seeks to expedite deportations

Border arrests hit 11-year high, U.S. seeks to expedite deportations
By Julio-Cesar Chavez

EL PASO, Texas (Reuters) – Immigration arrests at the U.S. border with Mexico soared 88 percent in fiscal 2019 in what U.S. officials on Tuesday labeled a crisis while unveiling their latest measure to combat the trend: expediting the deportation of asylum seekers.

The number of people apprehended or turned away at the border actually fell in September to the lowest monthly total of the year, to 52,546, down 64% from a peak in May as migration typically slows during the hot summer months.

But the total still rose 4% over the same month a year ago, and border arrests for the fiscal year ending in September reached an 11-year high. Southern border apprehensions and rejections combined totaled 977,509.

Nearly half all those detained in September were children or families, many of them led by human-trafficking cartels, said Robert Perez, deputy commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

“They are profiting on the backs of this vulnerable population, and that’s why it’s still a crisis,” Perez told an outdoor news conference, standing before CBP personnel at the border barrier in El Paso.

Acting Commissioner Mark Morgan said the average 1,400 people apprehended each day underscored a security risk.

President Donald Trump has made restricting immigration a centerpiece of his first term and his 2020 re-election campaign, and U.S. officials and immigrant advocates alike say his policies and cooperation from Mexico have contributed to four straight months of declining arrests.

While Trump’s supporters cheer his crackdown on illegal border-crossings, critics have attacked his policies as cruel, resulting in overcrowded detention facilities and the separation of children from their parents.

U.S. policy has targeted asylum seekers, most of them from the impoverished and violent Central American countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

Now U.S. officials say they hope to speed up the processing of some asylum claims to just a few days, compared to the months or years it takes currently, in a shift that has raised concerns over due-process rights.

Morgan and Perez confirmed they launched a pilot program in El Paso earlier this month, the Prompt Asylum Claim Review, first reported by the Washington Post last week.

“The objective is within that same handful of days … to get people through an immigration process as quickly as we possibly can, so that a judge, hopefully, makes a decision,” Perez said.

Some immigration attorneys say they have yet to receive notification of the program, and that clients were placed in it without their knowledge.Attorneys also said they had only been given telephone access to clients.

U.S. Representative Veronica Escobar, a Democrat from El Paso, raised “pressing concerns” in a letter to Morgan after her staff received an informal Border Patrol briefing.

Migrants in custody would have 24 hours to contact an immigration lawyer, she said, and would be swiftly given an interview with an immigration officer to determine if they had a credible fear of persecution back home. If rejected, migrants could appeal through a phone interview with an immigration judge, Escobar said.

(Reporting by Julio-Cesar Chavez; Writing by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Bernadette Baum, David Gregorio and Cynthia Osterman)

U.S. apprehensions at Mexican border up 88% this year: CBP

U.S. apprehensions at Mexican border up 88% this year: CBP
EL PASO, Texas (Reuters) – U.S. border officials apprehended or rejected 970,000 people at or near the border with Mexico in the fiscal year ending in September, an 88 percent increase over the previous year, U.S. Customs and Border Protection Acting Commissioner Mark Morgan said on Tuesday.

But the numbers have been coming down recently, falling to 52,000 in September, the lowest monthly total for the year, Morgan told an outdoor news conference in front of the border barrier in El Paso, Texas.

(Reporting by Julio-Cesar Chavez; Writing by Daniel Trotta)

U.S. top court to hear Trump bid to revive law against encouraging illegal immigration

By Andrew Chung

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday agreed to hear a bid by President Donald Trump’s administration to resurrect a federal law that makes it a felony to encourage illegal immigrants to come or stay in the United States after it was struck down by a lower court as a violation free speech rights.

In a case involving a California woman named Evelyn Sineneng-Smith convicted of violating the law, the justices will review a ruling by the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals invalidating it for infringing on rights guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment.

Federal prosecutors in 2010 brought charges against Sineneng-Smith, a U.S. citizen who ran an immigration consultancy in San Jose, accusing her of making money by duping illegal migrants into paying her to file frivolous visa applications while remaining in the country indefinitely. Her business primarily served Filipinos who worked as home healthcare providers.

Sineneng-Smith was convicted in 2013 of violating provisions of the federal law that bar inducing or encouraging an illegal immigrant to “come to, enter or reside” in the United States, including for financial gain. She also was convicted of mail fraud and was sentenced to 18 months in prison and three years of supervised release.

The 9th Circuit in 2018 ruled that the law must be struck down because it is overly broad and criminalizes even simple speech that is protected by the First Amendment. For instance, a grandmother could theoretically be charged under the law for telling her grandson whose visa has expired, “I encourage you to stay,” the 9th Circuit noted.

The court begins its next nine-month term on Monday.

(Reporting by Andrerw Chung; Editing by Will Dunham)

Mexico president says ‘doing well’ on migration ahead of U.S. deadline

FILE PHOTO: Mexico's President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador attends a news conference at the National Palace in Mexico City, Mexico July 22, 2019. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido/File Photo

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mexico’s president said on Monday his country was “doing well” in addressing U.S. demands to contain illegal immigration and that Mexican and American officials will meet on Sept. 10 to take stock of the situation after a key deadline expires.

In June, Mexico’s government averted a threat by U.S. President Donald Trump to impose tariffs on all Mexican exports if it did not act by vowing to take tougher measures to curb a surge in U.S.-bound migrants within 90 days.

In late July, after an initial 45-day period to evaluate progress, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo praised Mexico’s efforts but said he would circle back with Trump about how to proceed.

The Trump administration has pressured Mexico to become a so-called safe third country for asylum seekers, which would require Central Americans to apply for refuge in Mexico rather than the United States.

Mexico rejects that demand, saying the measure is inappropriate and unnecessary.

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador struck an upbeat note at his regular morning news conference on Monday when he noted the 90-day period would conclude on Sept. 5.

“We’re fulfilling the commitment we made … we’re doing well,” he said.

Migrant apprehensions on the U.S. southern border fell in June to some 100,000 people, according to U.S. data, after Mexico enforced new measures including the deployment of militarized National Guard police to its borders.

(Reporting by Daina Beth Solomon; editing by Jonathan Oatis)