Exclusive: Brazil facilitates deportation of its nationals after U.S. pressure

FILE PHOTO: Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro and U.S. President Donald Trump shake hands during a bilateral meeting at the G20 leaders summit in Osaka, Japan, June 28, 2019. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

By Lisandra Paraguassu

BRASILIA (Reuters) – Brazil is making it easier for the United States to deport undocumented Brazilians by asking U.S. airlines to board deportees even when they have no valid passports, following pressure from the Trump administration, three Brazilian government sources said.

The Federal Police sent airlines a memo in June allowing them to board Brazilian deportees with just a certificate of nationality issued by a consulate if they lack a valid passport, previously needed to travel to Brazil, the sources said.

The move by right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro’s government aims to facilitate repatriation of deportees by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and efforts by the Trump administration to speed the removal of undocumented immigrants.

The officials, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly on the matter, said Brazil has come under increasing pressure from the Trump administration to facilitate deportations of its detained nationals, to the point of risking sanctions.

They did not detail what kind of sanctions.

“When Donald Trump became U.S. president, illegal immigration became a central political issue. Pressure increased a lot and Brazil was even threatened with sanctions,” one of the sources with knowledge of the matter told Reuters.

Brazil was labeled as “at risk of non-compliance” with the repatriation of deportees in a U.S. Department of Homeland Security report in March on the barriers ICE faces to timely removal of detained immigrants.

Trump has been cracking down on recalcitrant countries that do not accept immigrants ordered deported, under an executive order issued immediately after he took office.

The deportation of undocumented Brazilians has risen from 1,413 in fiscal year 2017 to 1,691 in fiscal 2018, with Brazilians the sixth-largest group of nationals being removed from the United States, according to ICE data.

This fiscal year there have been 1,117 removals of Brazilians through June 10, ICE said. The U.S. fiscal year runs from Oct. 1 through Sept. 30.

Brazil’s Foreign Ministry confirmed that certificates of nationality are issued by its consulates in the United States when detained deportees have exhausted their appeals process and have no passport. Brazilian passports are issued only to nationals who apply for them.

Many countries have arrangements with the U.S. government and foreign countries that allow for a document – other than a passport – issued by an embassy or consulate to serve as an authorization to travel.

Delta Airlines and American Airlines did not respond to requests for comment.

As of December, there were 334 Brazilians in ICE detention awaiting trial or deportation, the ministry said.

Since he took office in January, Bolsonaro has established close ties with Trump and the two are looking to negotiate a trade agreement.

Bolsonaro has made disparaging statements about immigrants. In March, speaking on Fox News during a visit to Washington, he praised Trump’s plan for a wall on the Mexican border, adding that “most immigrants do not have good intentions.”

His son Eduardo Bolsonaro, whom he has nominated to be Brazil’s ambassador in Washington, told reporters during that visit that illegal Brazilian immigrants were “a problem for Brazil, an embarrassment to us.”

(Reporting by Lisandra Paraguassú; additional reporting and writing by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Daniel Flynn and Dan Grebler)

Allegations of labor abuses dogged Mississippi plant years before immigration raids

FILE PHOTO: Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) officers from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) look on after executing search warrants and making arrests at an agricultural processing facility in Canton, Mississippi, U.S. in this August 7, 2019 handout photo. Immigration and Customs Enforcement/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo

By Mica Rosenberg and Kristina Cooke

(Reuters) – Long before U.S. immigration authorities arrested 680 people at agricultural processing facilities in Mississippi this week, one of the five targeted companies faced allegations of serious labor violations including intimidation, harassment and exploitation of its largely immigrant work force, according to a federal lawsuit.

Last August, Illinois-based poultry supplier Koch Foods settled a multi-year lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on behalf of more than 100 workers at the Morton, Mississippi, plant over claims the company knew – or should have known – of sexual and physical assaults against its Hispanic workers.

The workers’ complaints spanned 2004 to 2008, when the plant employed more than 500 people. They allege that a manager would grope women from behind while they were working, punch employees and throw chicken parts at them. Workers also alleged that supervisors coerced payments from them for everything from medical leave and promotions to bathroom breaks.

Privately-held Koch Foods, run by billionaire Joseph Grendys, did not respond to requests for comment. In court filings, the company called the claims of abuse and harassment “baffling” and “outrageous.” Koch said the plaintiffs made claims against the company as a means to obtain U.S. visas for crime victims who collaborate with law enforcement, according to the court documents.

The company settled the allegations last year by paying a $3.75 million and entering into a three-year consent decree to prevent future violations. It agreed to implement new policies such as creating a 24-hour complaint hot line and publicly posting anti-discrimination policies, according to the EEOC.

Some workers at the Mississippi plant who lacked legal immigration status alleged in court documents that supervisors threatened to turn them in to authorities if they spoke out about their concerns, according to the EEOC complaint.

Former federal officials and immigration attorneys said mass deportation operations like the ones conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on Wednesday in Mississippi can have a chilling effect on future labor complaints.

“If workers are being threatened with being turned over to ICE, and then here comes ICE and arrests workers,” people could be more reluctant to speak up, said John Sandweg, a former acting ICE director during the Obama administration.

In the EEOC lawsuit, one Koch Foods employee without legal immigration status alleged that a manager sexually harassed his wife and made him pay to use the bathroom, once waiting until he had soiled himself to give him permission to leave his spot on the production line.

“If he found out that I had talked about anything that he was doing, charging money, the way he mistreated us, the dirty words he used, he told me that if I went to complain in the office that he had contacts in immigration,” the worker said in a 2012 deposition that was filed as part of the suit. “And that he knew where I lived.”

Maria Cazorla, a Cuban immigrant and lead plaintiff in a lawsuit against the company that was wrapped into the EEOC case, said in an interview Thursday that a manager inappropriately touched her and hit her then-husband, also a co-worker, in the ribs while he was working.

According to Cazorla’s interview and court documents, her husband at the time was targeted by management and fired over his immigration status after she filed her lawsuit against the company in 2010. Cazorla, now a U.S. citizen, left the company and Mississippi and now renovates houses in Florida.

Even after the manager accused of some of the most serious violations was fired in 2008, workers continued to be subjected to threats of violence and reprisals in the workplace, the lawsuit said.

The EEOC enforces federal anti-discrimination laws and can investigate employee complaints. The agency tries to settle the claims but, if unsuccessful, it can file a lawsuit against employers for workplace discrimination.

Marsha Rucker, EEOC Regional Attorney based in Birmingham, Alabama who oversaw the lawsuit, said she did not believe the EEOC’s civil complaint was connected to the ICE action this week.

SCENES OF MASS ARRESTS

The dramatic operation on Wednesday was the biggest workplace immigration sweep since December 2006, when ICE targeted meatpacking plants in six states and arrested almost 1,300 people.

Some children of workers were left traumatized by their parents’ detention on what was for many the first day of school, according to local media reports.

“Government, please,” an 11-year-old girl said on a CBS News segment, weeping in front of a community center where she and other children were sent to spend the night. “My dad didn’t do nothing. He’s not a criminal.”

ICE officials told reporters on a call on Thursday that they had released 303 people for humanitarian reasons – if they were pregnant or a primary caretaker of children, for example. Among those released pending a hearing before an immigration judge were 18 “juveniles” who had been working in the plants, ICE said, including one 14-year-old.

Koch Foods has been the target of worksite enforcement in the past.

In August 2007, immigration agents arrested more than 160 employees of a Koch Foods chicken plant in Fairfield, Ohio, and paid about a half-million dollars in fines. At the time, ICE said Koch Foods was being investigated for federal crimes including encouraging, inducing or harboring immigrants in the United States illegally.

The company, which according to its website is not affiliated with Koch Industries or the Koch brothers, started with 13 employees deboning and cutting up chicken in one room in 1985. It now counts more than 13,000 employees and bills itself as one of the biggest poultry processors in the United States, with facilities in Alabama, Georgia, Ohio, Tennessee and Illinois as well as Mississippi.

In a letter to President Donald Trump, who has made cracking down on immigration a centerpiece of his administration, the National Chicken Council – a lobbying group – said the poultry industry “uses every tool available to verify the identify and legal immigration status of all prospective employees” but said there was no government system available to “confirm with confidence that new hires are legally authorized to work in the United States.”

(Mica Rosenberg reported from New York and Kristina Cooke from San Francisco; Editing by Julie Marquis and Marla Dickerson)

Fourth Ebola case found in Congo city, raising fears of faster spread

FILE PHOTO: Congolese health workers prepare to administer ebola vaccination to residents at a centre in Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo, August 1, 2019. REUTERS/Djaffer Sabiti

GOMA, Democratic Republic of Congo (Reuters) – A fourth case of Ebola has been confirmed in the eastern Congo city of Goma, the government said late on Thursday, raising fears of an acceleration in infections close to the border with Rwanda.

The new case is the wife of a miner who died of the virus earlier this week and who only sought treatment more than a week after starting to show symptoms, authorities said.

“This time … the individual concerned spent time with his family and spent time [being] very symptomatic within the community. So we did expect further cases and we are seeing further cases,” said Margaret Harris, a spokeswoman for the World Health Organization (WHO).

One of the couple’s daughters has also tested positive for Ebola though the government said on Friday two others were negative in preliminary checks. More than 200 people who came into contact with the man have been tracked and 160 of them vaccinated.

An outbreak on Ebola has killed more than 1,800 people in other parts of Democratic Republic of Congo since it was declared one year ago, making it the second-worst on record. Two people have died in Uganda, which also borders Congo, but no registered cases have occurred in Rwanda.

Fears the disease was gaining a foothold in Goma, a city of 1 million people, had subsided after its first case emerged in July but was not immediately followed by more. The new cases confirmed this week were not linked to that first case, authorities said.

BORDER TOWN

Nestled in hilly country at the foot of an active volcano, Goma lies just 7 km (4.5 miles) from Rwanda’s main border town of Gisenyi.

On Thursday, Rwanda briefly shut its border crossings with Congo around the city, after the new cases emerged.

Increased health screenings caused traffic slowdowns at the border, Rwandan Health Minister Diane Gashumba said, hours after Congolese traders had reported it shut. About 45,000 people a day go through the main border post, an immigration official said.

In July, the outbreak was declared an international health emergency by the WHO, but the body said there should be no trade or travel restrictions.

“When you close borders… two things happen: first you get panic, people see this as a signal to start panicking,” Harris told reporters in Geneva.

“Secondly, people who do have symptoms go underground. Because they don’t want to be seen and they do want to continue their daily lives, and so we are even less likely to detect where this virus is moving,” she added.

(Reporting by Fiston Mahamba in Goma, Anna Pujol-Mazzini in Dakar and Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; editing by Alison Williams, Larry King and Andrew Heavens)

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. judge declines to block Trump’s new asylum border rule

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers make an arrest after carrying out a raid in San Francisco, California, U.S. in this July 7, 2019 handout photo. Ron Rogers/U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement/Handout via REUTERS

(Reuters) – A U.S. district judge on Wednesday declined to block a new rule that bars almost all immigrants from applying for asylum at the country’s southern border, handing a victory to U.S. President Donald Trump’s crackdown on immigration.

Judge Timothy Kelly in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia denied a temporary restraining order that would have blocked a rule the Trump administration implemented on July 16 that requires asylum-seekers to first pursue safe haven in a third country through which they had traveled on their way to the United States, according to a court filing.

Oral arguments took place on Monday.

The ruling was issued in a lawsuit filed by the Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights Coalition.

The suit is similar to an action led by the American Civil Liberties Union that challenged the Trump administration rule in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. That case is due for a hearing on Wednesday.

Trump’s rule to restrict asylum-seekers was his latest anti-immigration measure ahead of the 2020 presidential election. Trump promised during the 2016 campaign to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border and called for a ban on Muslims entering the United States.

The Trump administration has issued a rapid-fire series of anti-immigration edicts recently, the latest coming on Monday with a new rule to expedite deportations for immigrants who have crossed illegally and are caught anywhere in the United States, expanding 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.

(Reporting by Mica Rosenberg and Daniel Trotta; Editing by David Gregorio and Paul Simao)

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)

Pentagon approves additional 2,100 troops to U.S.-Mexico border

A member of the Texas National Guard watches the Mexico-U.S. border from an outpost along the Rio Grande in Roma, Texas, U.S., April 11, 2018. REUTERS/Loren Elliott

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Pentagon said on Wednesday it had approved a request to send an additional 1,000 Texas National Guard and 1,100 active-duty troops to the border with Mexico, the latest deployment in support of President Donald Trump’s controversial immigration crackdown.

Major Chris Mitchell, a Pentagon spokesman, told Reuters that acting Defense Secretary Richard Spencer had approved the additional troops on Tuesday night, and they would be assisting with tasks like logistical support and aerial surveillance.

There are currently about 4,500 active duty and National Guard troops on the border with Mexico.

(Reporting by Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

Facing new asylum curb, nerves for those waiting at U.S.-Mexico border

A board with the number of migrants that are requesting asylum is pictured at the premises of the state migrant assistance office in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, July 15, 2019. REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez

By Julia Love

CIUDAD JUAREZ (Reuters) – Number 12,026 – better known as Marcial Artigas, 33, from Holguin, Cuba – waited nervously at a migration office at the U.S.-Mexico border as a Mexican official called out numbers from a long list of hopefuls waiting to cross to the United States.

Artigas said he was praying his number would be called next, before a new U.S. policy announced on Monday enters into force that bars almost all immigrants from applying for asylum at the country’s southern border.

The Trump administration’s interim rule, set to take effect Tuesday, requires asylum-seekers to first pursue safe haven in a third country through which they traveled en route to the United States.

The former cafeteria worker said he left Cuba in February, traveling to Nicaragua by plane before heading north through Central America and into Mexico by bus. If the new policy sticks, he could be required to apply for asylum in Mexico, or any one of the countries he passed through en route.

He had been waiting his turn to cross to El Paso, Texas, from Ciudad Juarez since mid-April, joining a line of thousands, according to officials and a list of asylum-seekers the city keeps.

By 9.20 a.m, the official calling out numbers from the National Migration Institute’s Grupo Beta unit had read out 10. He reached number 12,025 and called it a day.

As the other migrants clapped, number 12,025 rose, pumped his fist, and followed the official to cross to the United States to begin his asylum process.

Artigas was wearing a black backpack stuffed with clothing and other essentials, ready to leave Mexico behind for good. If he felt despair at falling a single digit short, the Cuban remained stoic.

He hoped there would be another round of numbers called that afternoon at the migration office, he said.

Still, he said, the constant shifts in U.S. policy made him feel annoyed that while he was playing by the rules, people who crossed illegally and then requested asylum were at an advantage.

“One is here patiently doing things as they should be done,” he said. “There are people who go illegally.”

Beside him, most of the nearly two dozen migrants at the office, in the shadow of the bridge connecting the two counties, appeared not yet to have heard about the newest U.S. policy.

If they had, they appeared unsure about what it might mean for their asylum chances.

Carolina Puente, 35, still had a crushing wait ahead. At number 17,243, hundreds more were scheduled to cross ahead of her, she said.

“I’m desperate,” she said. “Desperate is the word.”

Puente said she had fled violence in Quito, Ecuador, and moved to Cuba two years ago, to live with her husband’s family. But in Cuba she faced poverty and a lack of economic opportunities.

Since June 24, she had been renting a house in Ciudad Juarez. But she said she had little faith in Mexico, which is racked by drug-related violence and high murder rates and notoriously unsafe for migrants.

“This country has opened the doors for us, but it’s an unsafe country,” she said.

Enrique Valenzuela, head of COESPO, the state population commission which oversees the center for migrants in Ciudad Juarez, said he had no prior knowledge of the new U.S. measure, having learned about it on television.

The number of people adding themselves to the asylum list in Ciudad Juarez had been dropping this month and last, he said.

But if the new policy holds, he said, “The number of (asylum) applicants will rocket in Mexico.”

(Reporting by Julia Love; writing by Delphine Schrank; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Tom Brown)

U.S. holding 200 children at border, down from 2,500 in May

A teacher uses the Pledge of Allegiance in a reading class the U.S. government's newest holding center for migrant children in Carrizo Springs, Texas, U.S. July 9, 2019. Picture taken July 9, 2019. Eric Gay/Pool via REUTERS

By Daniel Trotta

(Reuters) – U.S. immigration authorities held about 200 unaccompanied children at locations along the southwest border as of Wednesday, down from more than 2,500 in May as funding increases enabled a U.S. health agency to take custody of them.The reduction in detainees as reported by a senior U.S. Customs and Border Protection official follows a pair of recent internal government inspections that revealed overcrowding and filthy conditions for immigrants that inflamed the debate about President Donald Trump’s hardline immigration policy.

Staff oversee breakfast at the U.S. government's government's newest holding center for migrant children in Carrizo Springs, Texas, U.S. July 9, 2019. Picture taken July 9, 2019. Eric Gay/Pool via REUTERS

Staff oversee breakfast at the U.S. government’s government’s newest holding center for migrant children in Carrizo Springs, Texas, U.S. July 9, 2019. Picture taken July 9, 2019. Eric Gay/Pool via REUTERS

Almost all detained unaccompanied children picked up by border officers are being turned over to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) officials within 72 hours of apprehension, the official told reporters on a conference call, speaking on the condition he not be named.

Criticism mounted after government inspectors and immigration lawyers found evidence children were being held long past legal limits at border facilities not equipped to house them.

Increasing numbers of mostly Central American families and children traveling alone – many seeking asylum in the United States – have overwhelmed authorities at a time when the Trump administration is pushing to limit legal and illegal immigration.

From late May to early June, the United States held about 2,500 to 2,700 children who were detained after crossing the border by themselves or who were separated from adults who were not their parents, the official said.

“To see these numbers currently at about 200 is very positive. That’s a huge difference since HHS has received their funding,” the official said. “Our goal is to get these individuals out of our custody as quickly as possible to HHS so they can have all the proper care and the long-term needs met for them.”

The U.S. Congress in June approved a $4.5 billion emergency supplemental funding bill aimed at improving conditions at the border, including $2.88 billion for HHS to provide shelter and care for unaccompanied children.

A legal settlement and anti-trafficking laws mandate that unaccompanied children traveling without a parent or legal guardian must be transferred to specialized facilities run by HHS. From there they are often released to sponsors in the United States as they pursue their immigration cases in court.

(Reporting by Daniel Trotta; Editing by James Dalgleish)

Congress clashes over border funding as migrant emergency continues

Asylum seekers waiting in hopes of being let through the nearby U.S. port of entry line up for a meal provided by volunteers at a makeshift migrant camp by the Gateway International Bridge in Matamoros, Tamaulipas, Mexico, June 26, 2019. REUTERS/Loren Elliott

(Reuters) – The U.S. House and Senate will try to resolve their conflicting versions of an emergency funding bill on Thursday to address worsening humanitarian conditions for migrant children and families on the U.S.-Mexico border.

The Republican-controlled Senate passed by an overwhelming 84-8 vote a $4.6 billion spending bill on Wednesday. The Democratic-led House of Representatives on Tuesday night tied more strings to its approval of the money, setting standards for health and nutrition of migrants in custody after reports they lacked necessities such as soap and diapers.

A photo of drowned migrants, and reports of horrendous conditions for detained children have spurred efforts to craft compromise legislation to send to U.S. President Donald Trump before Congress breaks this week for the U.S. Independence Day holiday.

Whether Trump will sign a deal is uncertain as he continues to push for spending on the kind of border security some Democratic adversaries blame for migrant deaths.

Trump has made cracking down on immigration a centerpiece of his administration but officials are saying they will soon run out of money for border agencies. Border crossings hit their highest level in more than a decade in May, straining resources and creating chaotic scenes at overcrowded border patrol facilities.

The need for funding has become more urgent as attorneys last week called attention to more than 300 children detained in squalid conditions at a border patrol facility in Clint, Texas.

Reporters given a short tour of the facility on Wednesday were told by Station Chief Matthew Harris that it currently has 117 children in custody, but that a month and a half ago the number peaked at almost 700 children.

Harris said the facility was designed to hold people in custody for eight to ten hours. He said the average stay now was six to ten days, with teenage mothers staying up to two weeks, and some medical cases more than a month in the hospital.

Some older teenage girls could be seen talking and laughing, while others wore distraught looks. Some teenage boys played soccer while small children sat on the floor with blankets.

Trump has made building a wall along the southern border a key goal of his administration, but government officials say they need money to keep migrant housing facilities open past month end.

Border crossings hit their highest monthly level since 2006 in May, with more than 60% of migrants either children or families, mostly from Central America.

Lawyers and human rights workers said they found sick and hungry children when they visited the border patrol facility in Clint, Texas earlier this month.

“Many had been detained for weeks, one even up to a month in really horrific conditions,” said Clara Long, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch.

The conditions of unaccompanied children crossing the border has become a key issue in the 2020 presidential race. During a debate on Wednesday night, many of the Democratic candidates called for an overhaul of U.S. immigration laws and about 12 of them are set to visit a Florida facility this week.

A photo of a Salvadoran father and his toddler daughter who drowned attempting to cross the Rio Grande added urgency on both sides of the aisle to reach a funding deal.

Trump criticized the House bill on Wednesday, telling Fox Business Network he wanted more money for “protection” from the drug traffickers and other criminals he says are taking advantage of the family surge to slip into the country.

(Reporting by Susan Cornwell and Richard Cowan in Washington; Additional reporting by Omar Younis in Los Angeles and Julio-Cesar Chavez in El Paso, Texas; Writing by Andrew Hay; Editing by Bill Tarrant, Lisa Shumaker and Chizu Nomiyama)