Most children, parents separated at U.S.-Mexican border reunited: court filing

After being reunited with her daughter, Sandra Elizabeth Sanchez, of Honduras, speaks with media at Catholic Charities in San Antonio, Texas, U.S., July 26, 2018. REUTERS/Callaghan O'Hare

By Tom Hals

(Reuters) – About 1,400 children of some 2,500 separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexican border have been reunited with their families, the U.S. government said in a court filing on Thursday.

Government lawyers said 711 other children were not eligible for reunification with their parents by Thursday’s deadline, which was set by a federal judge in San Diego. In 431 of these cases, the families could not be reunited because the parents were no longer in the United States.

The parents and children were separated as part of President Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy toward illegal immigration. Many of them had crossed the border illegally, while others had sought asylum at a border crossing.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which brought the case against the government, said in Thursday’s court filing that data showed “dozens of separated children still have not been matched to a parent.”

ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt accused the government in a statement of “picking and choosing who is eligible for reunification” and said it would “hold the government accountable and get these families back together.”

In a call with journalists after the court filing, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services official Chris Meekins said it was awaiting guidance from the court about how to proceed with the children of 431 parents no longer in the United States. The Office of Refugee Resettlement is an agency of department.

The government did not say in the call or in its court filing how many of those parents were deported.

One immigrant, Douglas Almendarez, told Reuters he believed that returning to Honduras was the only way to be reunited with his 11-year-old son.

“They told me: ‘He’s ahead of you’,” said Almendarez, 37, in the overgrown backyard of his modest soda shop several hours drive from the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa. “It was a lie.”

The ACLU said the government has not yet provided it with information about the reunifications of children aged 5-17 with their parents, including the location and timing of them.

“This information is critical both to ensure that these reunifications have in fact taken place, and to enable class counsel to arrange for legal and other services for the reunited families,’ it said.

LOST IN ‘BLACK HOLE’

Immigration advocates said the government’s push to meet the court’s deadline to reunite families was marred by confusion, and one said children had disappeared into a “black hole.”

Maria Odom, vice president of legal services for Kids in Need of Defense, said two children the group represented were sent from New York to Texas to be reunited with their mother. When they arrived, they learned their mother had already been deported, Odom told reporters during a conference call.

Odom said her group does not know where the children, aged 9 and 14, have been taken.

It was an example, she said, “of how impossible it is to track these children once they are placed in the black hole of reunification.”

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

An outcry at home and abroad forced U.S. President Donald Trump to order a halt to the separations in June. U.S. Judge Dana Sabraw in San Diego ordered the government to reunite the families and set Thursday as the deadline.

Sabraw has criticized some aspects of the process, but in recent days, he has praised government efforts.

The ACLU and government lawyers will return to court on Friday to discuss how to proceed.

(Reporting by Tom Hals in Wilmington, Del.; additional reporting by Loren Elliott in McAllen, Texas, Nate Raymond in Boston and Callaghan O’Hare in San Antonio; writing by Bill Tarrant; editing by Grant McCool)

Judge to hear how U.S. plans to reunite immigrant families

FILE PHOTO: Immigrant children, many of whom have been separated from their parents under a new "zero tolerance" policy by the Trump administration, are shown walking in single file between tents in their compound next to the Mexican border in Tornillo, Texas. REUTERS/Mike Blake

By Daniel Trotta

(Reuters) – Lawyers for the U.S. government will return to a San Diego courtroom on Monday to update a judge about Trump administration plans for meeting a July 26 deadline to reunite as many as 2,500 immigrant children with their parents after separating them at the U.S.-Mexican border.

The hearing before U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw will be the first since the judge chastised the government on Friday for asserting that pressure from the court to expedite reunifications could put children at risk.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which has custody of the children, has since submitted a fuller plan for reuniting families by the deadline.

The case was brought by the American Civil Liberties union to challenge a policy of President Donald Trump’s administration to separate families as part of a broader crackdown on illegal immigration. The president ordered the practice stopped on June 20 after widespread public outcry.

Many of the immigrants separated from their children were seeking asylum after fleeing violence and crime in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. Children were sent to multiple care facilities across the country, and their parents were incarcerated in immigration detention centers or federal prisons.

Sabraw ordered that children should be returned to their parents and is overseeing the process.

The government failed to meet its first court-imposed deadline of July 6 for reuniting all children under 5 with their families, about 100 in total. With virtually all of the approximately 60 children under 5 deemed eligible for reunification now back with their families, attention has turned to those aged 5 to 17.

A government plan filed with the court on Sunday calls for the Health Department to move the children to eight locations operated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in coming days, possibly requiring round-the-clock hours, according to an operation plan submitted to the judge.

ICE and the Office of Refugee Resettlement will verify parentage and screen adults to weed out those with serious criminal backgrounds or other issues that could endanger children.

Once verification is complete, parents and children will be reunited.

(Reporting by Daniel Trotta, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)

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

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

By Tom Hals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The organization provided first names only.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

U.S. to reunite only half of young migrant children by Tuesday deadline

FILE PHOTO: Immigrant children now housed in a tent encampment under the new "zero tolerance" policy by the Trump administration are shown walking in single file at the facility near the Mexican border in Tornillo, Texas, U.S. June 19, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo

By Marty Graham and Tom Hals

SAN DIEGO/WILMINGTON, Del. (Reuters) – The U.S. government is struggling to reunite immigrant families it separated at the border with Mexico and only about half the children under age 5 will be back with their parents by a court-ordered deadline of Tuesday, a government attorney told a judge on Monday.

U.S. Judge Dana Sabraw in San Diego last month ordered the government to reunite the approximately 100 children under the age of 5 by Tuesday, and the estimated 2,000 older children by July 26.

Sarah Fabian, an attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice, said 54 children younger than 5 would be reunited with parents by the end of Tuesday, and the number could increase depending on background checks.

The other parents have either been deported, failed a criminal background check, were unable to prove they were the parent or had been released and immigration agents had been unable to contact them, said Fabian.

The children were separated under U.S. President Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy that called for the prosecution of immigrants crossing the border illegally. The separations were in place from early May until Trump stopped the practice last month in the face of intense criticism.

Trump made cracking down on illegal immigration a key part of his presidential campaign in 2016.

The judge directed the government to file a detailed accounting of the reunification process and scheduled a hearing for Tuesday at 11 a.m. PDT (1800 GMT).

Lee Gelernt, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, which brought the case, said he did not think the government was complying with the reunification order.

“It is very troubling that there are children and parents who are not in some kind of government tracking system,” he said after the court hearing. He added that nonprofit groups were trying to find parents the government had failed to locate, who are mostly from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

He also questioned if the government’s list of children under the age of 5 was accurate.

Gelernt added, however, that he believed the government had made “significant” steps in the past 48 hours to unite parents with their children, and he called the effort “a blueprint for going forward with the remaining more than 2,000 families.”

Fabian told the judge that once parents and children were reunited, they would likely be released from immigration custody. A legal settlement dating from the 1990s only allows the government to detain children in adult centers for a brief period.

Gelernt said the ACLU was concerned that parents would be put on the street without any money in an unfamiliar city.

The organization and government agreed the locations of the releases would not be disclosed, and the government agreed to work with immigration advocates to ensure the parents had money for a hotel and other necessities.

(Reporting by Marty Graham in San Diego and Tom Hals in Wilmington, Del.; Additional reporting by Yeganeh Torbati in Washington; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Peter Cooney)

U.S. seeks court guidance on deadlines to reunite migrant families

FILE PHOTO: Immigrant children, many of whom have been separated from their parents under a new "zero tolerance" policy by the Trump administration, are being housed in tents next to the Mexican border in Tornillo, Texas, U.S., June 18, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo

The U.S. government is seeking guidance from a federal court over its efforts to reunite migrant parents and their children before court-imposed deadlines, after the administration separated the families for crossing the U.S.-Mexico border illegally.

In a filing overnight, U.S. Department of Justice officials asked the United States District Court for the Southern District of California for more details about procedures to reunite migrant families, saying in some cases the government may need additional time.

The separations have sparked a fierce outcry and numerous protests, part of a political firestorm over U.S. President Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy and beefed-up efforts to deter illegal U.S. entry.

The Trump administration had implemented the separation policy as part of stepped-up efforts to deter immigrants from crossing the U.S. border from Mexico.

But it reversed course last month amid a groundswell of global opposition and said it would keep families together if possible.

U.S. officials are now rushing to reunite more than 2,000 children separated from their parents at the border after the court in San Diego ordered the government last month to halt the practice.

Democrats and even some allies of the Republican president as well as foreign leaders and the Pope have condemned the separations, and protests continued over the weekend in cities across America over the issue.

Advocacy groups including the ACLU, which filed the lawsuit, have questioned the government’s contention it may need more time to safely reunite families, and have raised concerns about whether it has a comprehensive plan to bring families together.

The U.S. government is scheduled to update the federal judge in the San Diego case on the reunification process later on Friday.

U.S. Judge Dana Sabraw last month ordered that children under 5 years old be reunited with their parents by July 10, and for all children to be reunited by July 26. He also ordered that parents have phone contact with their children by Friday.

On Thursday, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar told reporters there were now “under 3,000” children in HHS care, including about 100 under the age of 5.

Azar said the U.S. government was relocating parents of children under 5 years old to detention facilities close to their children to help speed up family reunification.

The government, in its filing overnight, said the process could further be delayed by steps that were required before parents could be reconnected with their children, according to its interpretation of the court order: DNA testing to verify parentage, a criminal history check, and assurance that parents could provide for the child’s physical and mental well being.

As a result, some cases may require more time than allotted by the court, officials said, asking the court for guidance.

“HHS anticipates, however, in some instances it will not be able to complete the additional processes within the timelines the Court prescribed, particularly with regard to class members who are already not in Government custody,” they wrote.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey and Yeganeh Torbati; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

Trump says he won’t let U.S. become ‘migrant camp’

A view of inside U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) detention facility shows detainees inside fenced areas at Rio Grande Valley Centralized Processing Center in Rio Grande City, Texas, U.S., June 17, 2018. Picture taken on June 17, 2018. Courtesy CBP/Handout via REUTERS

By Lisa Lambert and Makini Brice

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said on Monday he would not allow the United States to become a “migrant camp” as his administration faced a barrage of criticism for separating immigrant children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Democrats and some in Trump’s own Republican Party have blasted the administration for separating nearly 2,000 children from their parents at the border between mid-April and the end of May. Medical professionals have said the practice could cause lasting trauma to children.

The family separations are the result of the administration’s “zero tolerance” policy that arrests all adults who are caught trying to enter the United States illegally, including those seeking asylum.

While parents are held in jail, their children are sent to separate detention facilities. Video footage released by the government showed migrant children held in wire cages, sitting on concrete floors.

Trump, who has made a tough stance on immigration a major goal of his presidency, responded sharply to critics on Monday.

“The United States will not be a migrant camp, and it will not be a refugee holding facility. It won’t be. You look at what’s happening in Europe, you look at what’s happening in other places – we can’t allow that to happen to the United States, not on my watch,” Trump said. He was speaking at the White House while announcing an unrelated policy.

Trump has sought to use the widespread outrage over the family separations to push through other immigration priorities that have stalled in Congress, such as funding for his long-promised wall along the Mexican border.

He has consistently blamed Democrats for the impasse, even though his fellow Republicans control both chambers in Congress. Democrats have accused the president of using children as hostages in the political dispute over immigration.

“This was done by the president, not Democrats. He can fix it tomorrow if he wants to, and if he doesn’t want to, he should own up to the fact that he’s doing it,” Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said in a prepared statement.

Earlier, Trump said on Twitter that people should be wary of what he called the cultural change caused by migrants in Europe. He cited immigration for causing political instability in Germany and said inaccurately that crime in Germany was “way up.”

“Big mistake made all over Europe in allowing millions of people in who have so strongly and violently changed their culture!” he tweeted.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions defended the way migrant children are being treated. “They’re not put in jail, of course. They’re taken care of,” he said at the National Sheriffs’ Association convention in New Orleans on Monday.

Trump administration officials say the zero-tolerance policy, which was not practiced by the two previous administrations, is necessary to secure the border and deter illegal immigration, but they are facing a growing chorus of criticism from their Republican allies.

“Why we would even think that this is a tool that is needed to defend our borders is insane,” Republican Representative Will Hurd, who represents a Texas district along the border, told National Public Radio.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres weighed in, saying refugee and migrant “children must not be traumatized by being separated from their parents.” In Geneva, the top U.N. human rights official called on the Trump administration to halt its “unconscionable” policy of forcibly separating children from migrant parents.

PRESSURE ON CONGRESS

Trump was due to meet with Republicans in the House of Representatives on Tuesday as they prepared to vote on two immigration bills.

One would end the separation policy, fund the border wall and give legal protections to some immigrants who entered the country as children. Details were still in flux.

The bill faces strong headwinds as it is opposed by Democrats, who object to another provision that would cut legal immigration levels, and conservative Republicans who are backing a rival bill that takes a harder line on immigration.

Trump again blamed Democrats for the family separations on Monday, tweeting, “It is the Democrats (sic) fault for being weak and ineffective with Boarder (sic) Security and Crime.”

His tweet about Germany referred to a political dispute over German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s open-door migrant policy that is threatening her governing coalition.

More than 1.6 million migrants, mostly Muslims fleeing wars in the Middle East, have arrived in Germany since 2014. Contrary to Trump’s assertion, the crime rate in Germany is at its lowest point in more than 30 years, according to figures reported by the country’s internal ministry last month.

Illustrating the wide concern in the United States over the family separations, Laura Bush, married to the last Republican president before Trump, took the highly unusual step of publishing an opinion piece in the Washington Post on Sunday, Father’s Day.

She wrote, “this zero-tolerance policy is cruel. It is immoral. And it breaks my heart.”

(Reporting by Lisa Lambert and Makini Brice; Additional reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva and Nathan Frandino in Washington; Writing by Andy Sullivan; Editing by Frances Kerry)

Trump threatens to cut aid to countries that do not stop MS-13 gang migrants

U.S. president Trump supporter holds a banner against MS-13 before a forum about Central American-based Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) gang organization at the Morrelly Homeland Security Center in Bethpage, New York, U.S., May 23, 2018. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

By Steve Holland

BETHPAGE, N.Y. (Reuters) – President Donald Trump warned on Wednesday he was working on a plan to reduce U.S. aid to countries he says are doing nothing to stop MS-13 gang members from crossing into the United States illegally.

“We’re looking at our whole aid structure. It’s going to be changed very radically,” Trump told a roundtable discussion about the threat posed by the violent gang.

MS-13, or the Mara Salvatrucha gang, was founded in Los Angeles in the 1980s in part to protect immigrants from El Salvador and has since grown into a sprawling cross-border criminal organization.

Trump has made the fight against the gang a major part of his drive to stem the flow of immigrants illegally entering the United States.

Elizabeth Alvarado and Robert Mickens, whose daughter Nisa Mickens was killed by MS-13 gang members, participate in a roundtable on immigration and the gang MS-13 attended by U.S. President Donald Trump at the Morrelly Homeland Security Center in Bethpage, New York, U.S., May 23, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Elizabeth Alvarado and Robert Mickens, whose daughter Nisa Mickens was killed by MS-13 gang members, participate in a roundtable on immigration and the gang MS-13 attended by U.S. President Donald Trump at the Morrelly Homeland Security Center in Bethpage, New York, U.S., May 23, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Last week, he called gang members “animals,” drawing scorn from Democrats. On Wednesday, he defended his description.

“I called them ‘animals’ the other day and I was met with rebuke,” Trump said. “They said: ‘They are people.’ They’re not people. These are animals,” he said.

Trump was joined at the event by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who has drawn criticism from the president for his handling of a federal investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign.

Rosenstein said MS-13 gang members were preying on unaccompanied children who cross into the United States illegally, most of whom must be released from custody.

“Some develop gang ties,” Rosenstein said.

Trump praised his homeland security secretary, Kirstjen Nielsen, whom the president has criticized privately for not doing enough in his view to stop illegal immigrants.

“You’re doing a really great job,” Trump told her, adding that her job was “not easy.”

Trump did not give details on his plan to cut funding for countries from which MS-13 gang members originate, but said the penalties would be large. He also did not identify any countries by name.

“We’re going to work out something where every time someone comes in from a certain country, we are going to deduct a rather large sum of money,” he said.

Illegal border crossings fell to record lows with about 15,700 immigrants arrested along the U.S.-Mexico border in April of last year.

But those numbers soon began creeping back up and in recent months have surpassed levels seen during the administration of President Barack Obama. Trump has voiced increasing frustration with the trend as border apprehensions reached more than 50,900 in April 2018.

But longer-term, crossings have fallen sharply. So far in 2018, 212,000 immigrants have been arrested on the southwest border, a fraction of the more than 1 million caught during the same period in 2000.

(Reporting by Steve Holland; Additional reporting by Reade Levinson; Editing by Peter Cooney)

Trump, stymied on wall, to send troops to U.S.-Mexico border

Border patrol agents apprehend people who illegally crossed the border from Mexico into the U.S. in the Rio Grande Valley sector, near Falfurrias, Texas, U.S., April 4, 2018. REUTERS/Loren Elliott

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump, unable to get the U.S. Congress or Mexico to fully fund his border wall, will post National Guard troops along the Mexican frontier, officials said on Wednesday, in a move that was likely to escalate tensions with a key U.S. ally.

The Trump administration was working with the governors of the four southwestern U.S. states along the border to deploy the Guard, said Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, adding that the troops would not be involved in law enforcement.

In a supporting role, possibly for aerial reconnaissance, the Guard will help U.S. Customs and Border Protection personnel with stopping illegal immigrants from entering the country, Nielsen said at a White House briefing with reporters.

In a memorandum laying out the new initiative, Trump directed Defense Secretary James Mattis to request the use of National Guard personnel to help the Department of Homeland Security in securing the southern border.

He ordered Mattis, Nielsen and Attorney General Jeff Sessions to submit a report within 30 days detailing an action plan and recommendations for any other executive authorities to be invoked to protect the border.

The administration’s move drew criticism from Democrats. Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado said Trump has failed to engage with lawmakers on bipartisan immigration reform that would satisfy both parties’ agendas on the volatile issue.

“Unfortunately, the president failed to lead, and rather than find real solutions on immigration, he continues to stoke fear,” Bennet said in a statement.

The Mexican government has told the United States that “if the announced deployment of the National Guard turned into a militarization of the border, that would gravely damage the bilateral relationship,” Mexico’s Foreign Ministry said.

It said Nielsen discussed the planned National Guard deployment with Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray on Wednesday and told him the troops will not carry arms.

In keeping with a theme he often invoked as a candidate in 2016 and has continually returned to since taking office, Republican Trump has sharpened his anti-immigrant rhetoric, warning that illegal immigrants threaten U.S. safety and jobs.

His plan to deploy troops comes after his failure so far to persuade either the Mexican government or the U.S. Congress to fully fund a wall he wants to build along the border.

At the same time, the Republican-controlled Congress has failed to meaningfully overhaul U.S. immigration law, despite demands from Trump for a deal. With campaigning by lawmakers for November’s midterm congressional elections getting under way, little legislative action was expected in months ahead.

The National Guard is a reserve wing of the U.S. armed forces that is partially under the authority of governors.

Trump’s plans were hailed as welcome and needed by the Republican governors of Arizona and Texas.

The California National Guard will promptly review Trump’s request “to determine how best we can assist our federal partners,” said a spokesman for the state’s unit in a statement. He added he was speaking for Governor Jerry Brown, a Democrat.

A general view shows San Diego, U.S. and Tijuana, Mexico (R) in this picture taken from the Mexican side of the border in Tijuana, Mexico 4, 2018. REUTERS/Jorge Duenes

A general view shows San Diego, U.S. and Tijuana, Mexico (R) in this picture taken from the Mexican side of the border in Tijuana, Mexico 4, 2018. REUTERS/Jorge Duenes

WALL ON BASES?

Trump last month signed a federal spending bill that contained $1.6 billion to pay for six months of work on his wall. He had asked for $25 billion for it.

Nielsen told reporters the administration was looking into possibly constructing some wall on border land owned by the U.S. military.

After Nielsen spoke, a senior administration official said, “We expect personnel to be on the border quickly but at this time we don’t have a date, but that will be coming soon.”

Many National Guard personnel are federally funded and can be put under the direction of Washington when they are carrying out federal missions. There are thousands of U.S. National Guard now serving on federal missions, including in Afghanistan.

Nielsen did not give details on the number of the troops to be deployed to the border or the cost of the operation.

She said the administration had drafted legislation and would be asking Congress to provide the legal authority and resources to address “this crisis at our borders.” She said the Guard could conduct aerial surveillance along the border.

Nielsen said that despite steps taken by the administration, drug smuggling, illegal immigration and dangerous gang activity across the border were at unacceptable levels.

“Until we can have a wall and proper security we’re going to be guarding our border with the military,” Trump told reporters at the White House on Tuesday, lamenting what he called “horrible” U.S. laws that left the border poorly protected.

On Wednesday, he said in a tweet: “Our Border Laws are very weak while those of Mexico and Canada are very strong. Congress must change these Obama era, and other, laws NOW!”

While the Trump administration speaks of an immigration “crisis” on the border, U.S. Border Patrol statistics show the fewest apprehensions of illegal immigrants on the border in 46 years. In the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, 2017, there were 303,916 such arrests, the lowest level since fiscal 1971.

Under Republican President George W. Bush, the National Guard between 2006 and 2008 provided border-related intelligence analysis, but had no direct law enforcement role.

In 2010, President Barack Obama sent National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexican border to provide intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance support to U.S. Border Patrol agents.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason, Richard Cowan and Phil Stewart in Washington, Ben Klayman in Chicago and Julia Love in Mexico City; Writing by Mohammad Zargham; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Sandra Maler)

Trump to order National Guard to protect border with Mexico

FILE PHOTO - Members of the U.S Army National Guard monitor the Oculus transportation hub ahead of the U.S presidential election in Manhattan, New York, U.S., November 7, 2016. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump will sign a proclamation on Wednesday ordering the deployment of the National Guard to help protect the border with Mexico, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said.

Troops may be heading to the border as early as Wednesday night, Nielsen said, saying that the National Guard would support U.S. Custom and Border Protection but would not be involved in enforcement.

Nielsen spoke at a White House news briefing a day after Trump sharpened his anti-immigration rhetoric by saying he wanted to deploy U.S. military forces until his promised border wall is built.

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen speaks during a press briefing on border security at the White House in Washington, U.S., April 4, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen speaks during a press briefing on border security at the White House in Washington, U.S., April 4, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

“The president has directed that the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security work together with our governors to deploy the National Guard to our southwest border to assist the Border Patrol,” Nielsen said. “The president will be signing a proclamation to that effect today.”

She said the administration had drafted legislation and would be asking Congress to provide the legal authority and resources to address “this crisis at our borders.”

She did not give the number of the troops to be deployed or the cost of the operation.

Nielsen said that despite steps taken by the administration, the levels of drug smuggling, illegal immigration and dangerous gang activity across the border were unacceptable.

Trump met with Defense Secretary James Mattis, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Nielsen and other officials to discuss border issues on Tuesday.

“Until we can have a wall and proper security we’re going to be guarding our border with the military,” Trump told reporters at the White House on Tuesday, lamenting what he called “horrible” U.S. laws that left the southern border poorly protected.

On Wednesday, Trump said in a tweet: “Our Border Laws are very weak while those of Mexico andCanada are very strong. Congress must change these Obama era, and other, laws NOW!”

(This version of the story was refiled to add dropped word “but” in paragraph two)

(Reporting by Jeff Mason; Writing by Mohammad Zargham; Editing by Eric Beech and Leslie Adler)

Cash or custody: Israel kicks off deportation of African migrants

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

By Maayan Lubell and Elana Ringler

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BACKLASH BUILDING

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MORAL COMPASS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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