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)

Slovenia erects more border fence to curb migrant inflow

Workers installs a fence on the bank of the Kolpa river in Preloka, Slovenia, August 22, 2019. REUTERS/Srdjan Zivulovic

PRELOKA, Slovenia (Reuters) – Slovenia has begun work on an additional stretch of fence along its southern border with Croatia with which it aims to keep out a rising number of migrants entering the country illegally.

Slovenia’s police registered 7,415 illegal migrants in the first seven months of this year, a jump of 56% compared to the same period of 2018 as more people are trying to reach wealthy Western states via the Balkans.

Last month the government signed a contract with a Serbian firm Legi-SGS to put up 40 kilometers (25 miles) of fence on the border with Croatia. Once that section is completed, the total length of fence will be 219 kilometers and cover almost a third of the Slovenian border with Croatia. Slovenia’s total land and sea border is 1,370 km long.

“The fence will be erected temporarily in the areas where it is necessary to prevent illegal crossings of the state border and ensure the safety of people and their property,” said Irena Likar, a spokeswoman of the Interior Ministry.

A Reuters photographer near the village of Preloka in southern Slovenia saw construction work underway at the site.

Likar said the exact time plan and location of for the erection of the fence would not be made public.

Slovenia first began constructing a border fence during the refugee crisis of 2015 when in a period of six months about half a million illegal migrants passed through the country.

This new stretch of fence is around 2.5 meters high and is being erected on the banks of the river Kolpa which runs between Slovenia and Croatia.

The government’s immigration policy has met with little opposition in Slovenia, although some civil society groups are against the wire fence.

Most illegal migrants come from Pakistan, Algeria, Afghanistan, Morocco and Bangladesh. Only a fraction seek asylum in Slovenia, with most continuing on to neighboring Italy and Austria.

Last month Italian and Slovenian police started joint border patrols in order to curb the flow of illegal migrants.

(Reporting by Srdjan Zivulovic and Marja Novak; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

U.S. judge blocks Trump’s latest sweeping asylum rule

Migrants wait to apply for asylum in the United States outside the El Chaparral border, in Tijuana, Mexico July 24, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Jasso

By Daniel Trotta and Kristina Cooke

(Reuters) – A federal judge in San Francisco on Wednesday blocked the Trump administration from enforcing a new rule that aimed to bar almost all asylum applications at the U.S.-Mexico border.

U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar in the Northern District of California issued a preliminary injunction blocking the rule, which would require asylum-seekers to first pursue safe haven in a third country they had traveled through on their way to the United States.

The decision makes inconsequential a ruling by Washington D.C. District Judge Timothy Kelly earlier in the day that declined to block the rule in a different lawsuit brought by immigration advocacy groups, lawyers said.

The Trump administration had been quick to celebrate that decision, saying it would discourage abuse of the asylum process.

Following the action by the San Francisco court, the rule will now be suspended pending further proceedings.

“Today’s ruling is an important victory for incredibly vulnerable individuals and families,” said Melissa Crow, an attorney from the Southern Poverty Law Center – one of the groups challenging the ban – in a statement.

The Trump administration has sought to curtail the increasing numbers of mostly Central American migrants arriving at the U.S. -Mexico border after fleeing violence and poverty in countries such as Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. It has characterized the vast majority of their asylum claims as bogus.

After the White House announced the rule on July 15, the American Civil Liberties Union and other rights groups sued in California on the grounds it violates U.S. law that welcomes those who come to the United States fleeing persecution at home.

Immigration is shaping up to be a focus of the presidential campaign again in 2020. In the 2016 election, voters rewarded then-candidate Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric, sending him to the White House after he promised to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border and called for a ban on Muslims entering the United States.

DANGERS IN MEXICO

Opponents of the new rule contend the United States cannot force migrants to first apply for asylum in another country, such as Mexico or Guatemala, unless Washington first has a “safe third country” agreement with that government. Both Mexico and Guatemala have resisted Trump administration efforts to reach such a deal.

In an hour-long hearing in California, Tigar said he was struck by the dangers faced by people passing through Mexico, which was significant because the Trump administration argued that country was a safe haven.

“The administrative record about the dangers faced by persons transiting through Mexico and the inadequacy of the asylum system there … is stunning,” Tigar said from the bench.

Tigar in November struck down a different asylum ban that attempted to block all migrants crossing illegally from asking for refuge in the United States.

The Trump administration has issued a rapid-fire series of anti-immigration edicts recently.

Last week, the administration issued another rule to expedite deportations for immigrants who have crossed illegally within the last two years and are caught anywhere in the United States. The rule eliminated a level of judicial review and expanded a program typically applied only along the southern border with Mexico.

Democrats have blasted the policies as cruel, faulting the Trump administration for warehousing migrants in crowded detention facilities along the border and separating immigrant children from the adults they have traveled with.

(This story corrects date rule was announced to July 15 in paragraph 8).

(Reporting by Kristina Cooke in San Francisco, Mica Rosenberg and Daniel Trotta in New York, and Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware; Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Sonya Hepinstall)

U.S. to ramp up rapid deportations with sweeping new rule

A U.S. Customs and Border Protection vehicle parks near the border fence between Mexico and U.S. as seen from Tijuana, Mexico July 22, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Jasso

By Tom Hals

(Reuters) – The Trump administration said on Monday it will expand and speed up deportations of migrants who enter the United States illegally by stripping away court oversight, enabling officials to remove people in days rather than months or years.

Set to be published in the Federal Register on Tuesday, the rule will apply “expedited removal” to the majority of those who enter the United States illegally unless they can prove they have been living in the country for at least two years.

Legal experts said it was a dramatic expansion of a program already used along the U.S.-Mexican border that cuts out review by an immigration judge, usually without access to an attorney. Both are available in regular proceedings.

“The Trump administration is moving forward into converting ICE (Immigrations and Customs Enforcement) into a ‘show me your papers’ militia,” said Vanita Gupta, the president of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, on a call with reporters.

It was likely the policy would be blocked quickly by a court, several experts said. The American Civil Liberties Union, which has filed suit to block numerous Trump immigration policies in court, has vowed to sue.

President Donald Trump has struggled to stem an increase of mostly Central American families arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border, leading to overcrowded detention facilities and a political battle over a growing humanitarian crisis.

The government said increasing rapid deportations would free up detention space and ease strains on immigration courts, which face a backlog of more than 900,000 cases.

Nearly 300,000 of the approximately 11 million immigrants in the United States illegally could be quickly deported under the new rule, according to the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said 37%, or 20,570, of those encountered by ICE in the year to September, had been in the country less than two years.

People in rapid deportation proceedings are detained for 11.4 days on average, according to DHS. People in regular proceedings are held for 51.5 days and are released into the United States for the months or years it takes to resolve their cases.

Legal experts said the rule shreds basic due process and could create havoc beyond immigrant communities.

“ICE has been detaining and deporting U.S. citizens for decades,” said Jackie Stevens, a political science professor at Northwestern University. That policy came at a great cost to U.S. taxpayers in terms of litigation and compensation, she added.

    ICE in 2003 became a successor agency to Immigration and Naturalization Services.

U.S. citizens account for about 1% of those detained by ICE and about 0.5% of those deported, according to Stevens’ research.

“Expedited removal orders are going to make this much worse,” she said.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit in San Francisco in March ruled that those ordered deported in the sped-up process have a right to take their case to a judge.

Previously, only those immigrants caught within 100 miles of the border who had been in the country two weeks or less could be ordered rapidly deported. The policy makes an exception for immigrants who can establish a “credible fear” of persecution in their home country.

(Reporting by Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware and Mica Rosenberg in New York; Editing by Richard Chang and Rosalba O’Brien)