Canada granting refugee status to fewer illegal border crossers

FILE PHOTO: A family who identified themselves as being from Hait, are confronted by a Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) officer as they try to enter into Canada from Roxham Road in Champlain, New York, U.S., August 7, 2017. REUTERS/Christinne Muschi/File Phot

By Anna Mehler Paperny

TORONTO (Reuters) – Canada is rejecting more refugee claims from people who crossed its border illegally as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government seeks to dissuade, block and turn back thousands more, according to new data obtained by Reuters.

Forty percent of such border crossers whose claims were finalized in the first three months of this year were granted refugee status, down from 53 percent for all of 2017, according to data provided by Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Board. There were no claims finalized in the first three months of 2017.

FILE PHOTO: A group of asylum seekers wait to be processed after being escorted from their tent encampment to the Canada Border Services in Lacolle, Quebec, Canada, August 11, 2017. REUTERS/Christinne Muschi/File Ph

FILE PHOTO: A group of asylum seekers wait to be processed after being escorted from their tent encampment to the Canada Border Services in Lacolle, Quebec, Canada, August 11, 2017. REUTERS/Christinne Muschi/File Photo

The Immigration and Refugee Board said on Tuesday it has received no directives or guidance on how to deal with these border crossers.

The government’s “first priority remains the safety and security of Canadians and the integrity of our immigration system,” a spokesman for Immigration and Refugee Minister Ahmed Hussen said in an email.

The wave of border crossings started up in January 2017 and ramped up over the summer as many Haitian immigrants in the United States who were at risk of losing their temporary legal status streamed into Canada on expectations they could find a safe haven. In the months since, thousands of Nigerians have made the same crossing.

More than 27,000 asylum seekers have walked across the Canada-U.S. border since President Donald Trump took office, some of whom have told Reuters they left the United States because of Trump’s policies and anti-immigrant rhetoric.

The influx has strained Canada’s backlogged system for assisting people seeking refugee status, leaving aid agencies scrambling to meet growing demand for housing and social services.

Trudeau’s government has sought to stem the influx by amending a U.S.-Canadian border pact that turns back asylum seekers at border crossings, but allows immigrants who enter the country outside of an official border crossing to apply for refugee status.

Canada sent its immigration and refugee minister to Nigeria, asking the Nigerian government to help discourage its citizens from crossing into Canada, and asking the United States to deny visas to people who might then go to Canada.

Immigration and Refugee Board data shows that while only a small number of border-crosser claims have been processed, acceptance rates are down for all groups seeking refugee status. The success rate is especially low for Haitians and Nigerians, with overall acceptance rates of 9 percent and 33.5 percent, respectively.

Graphic on the impact asylum seekers are having in Canada: tmsnrt.rs/2HCp4aD

(Reporting by Anna Mehler Paperny; editing by Jim Finkle, Leslie Adler and Bill Berkrot)

Supreme Court restricts deportations of immigrant felons

FILE PHOTO: Police officers stand in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, DC, U.S., January 19, 2018. REUTERS/Eric Thayer/File Photo

By Andrew Chung

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday that an immigration statute requiring the deportation of noncitizens who commit felonies is unlawfully vague in a decision that could limit the Trump administration’s ability to step up the removal of immigrants with criminal records.

The court, in a 5-4 ruling in which President Donald Trump’s conservative appointee Neil Gorsuch joined the court’s four liberal justices, sided with convicted California burglar James Garcia Dimaya, a legal immigrant from the Philippines.

The court upheld a 2015 lower court ruling that the Immigration and Nationality Act provision requiring Dimaya’s deportation created uncertainty over which crimes may be considered violent, risking arbitrary enforcement in violation of the U.S. Constitution.

The ruling helps clarify the criminal acts for which legal immigrants may be expelled at a time of intense focus on immigration issues in the United States as Trump seeks to increase deportations of immigrants who have committed crimes.

Liberal Justice Elena Kagan wrote the court’s ruling, delivering a setback to the Trump administration, which had defended the law at issue.

“Vague laws invite arbitrary power,” Gorsuch wrote in a concurring opinion, adding that the American colonies in the 18th century cited vague English law like the crime of treason as among the reasons for the American revolution.

“Today’s vague laws may not be as invidious, but they can invite the exercise of arbitrary power all the same – by leaving the people in the dark about what the law demands and allowing prosecutors and courts to make it up,” Gorsuch added.

Dimaya came to the United States from the Philippines as a legal permanent resident in 1992 at age 13. He lived in the San Francisco Bay area.

Federal authorities ordered Dimaya deported after he was convicted in two California home burglaries, in 2007 and 2009, though neither crime involved violence. He received a two-year prison sentence for each conviction.

In 2010, the government sought to deport Dimaya. The Justice Department’s Board of Immigration Appeals, an administrative body that applies immigration laws, refused to cancel his expulsion because the relevant law defined burglary as a “crime of violence.”

In the federal criminal code, a “crime of violence” includes offenses in which force either was used or carried a “substantial risk” that it would be used.

The San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 2015 that the definition as applied to legal immigrants was so vague that it violated their rights to due process of law under the U.S. Constitution. The language of the law could lead arbitrary or discriminatory enforcement, that court said.

The appeals court relied on a decision that same year by the U.S. Supreme Court, which found that a similar provision in a federal criminal sentencing law was overly broad.

The federal government appealed to the Supreme Court, arguing that the U.S. Congress had reasonably identified a category of crimes that carry the risk of violence, and suggested that the justices should defer to the immigration authorities.

The Supreme Court heard arguments in the case on Oct. 2, the first day of its current nine-month term. It initially heard arguments in January 2017 when the nine-seat court was one justice short, but decided in June after Gorsuch brought the court to full strength to have the case re-argued.

(Reporting by Andrew Chung; Editing by Will Dunham)

Trump threatens aid for Honduras, other nations over ‘caravan’

U.S. President Donald Trump arrives for the Easter service at Bethesda-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church in Palm Beach, Florida, U.S., April 1, 2018. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump said on Tuesday U.S. foreign aid to Honduras and other countries was at risk unless they stop a so-called caravan of more than 1,200 Central American migrants headed to the U.S. border with Mexico.

Trump’s latest salvo against the migrants’ journey comes as the president has stepped up his immigration rhetoric in recent days and his administration has moved to further crack down on people who are in the United States illegally.

The migrants’ 2,000-mile (3,200-km) journey from the Mexico-Guatemalan border is expected to end at the U.S. border. Mexico’s government has said such caravans of mostly Central Americans, including many escaping violence in Honduras, have occurred since 2010.

Trump has already blasted Mexico and threatened to upend the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) over the caravan, and on Tuesday also raised the prospect of withholding U.S. assistance. The current trip has also put pressure on Mexican authorities ahead of the July 1 presidential election there.

“The big Caravan of People from Honduras, now coming across Mexico and heading to our ‘Weak Laws’ Border, had better be stopped before it gets there. Cash cow NAFTA is in play, as is foreign aid to Honduras and the countries that allow this to happen. Congress MUST ACT NOW!” Trump wrote in an early morning post on Twitter.

On Monday, the Republican president railed against Democrats over immigration and again pressed U.S. lawmakers to pass legislation to build his long-promised border wall between the United States and Mexico.

Despite months of efforts, no immigration deal has emerged in the Republican-led Congress, where lawmakers are not expected to pass much major legislation ahead of November’s midterm congressional elections.

(Writing by Susan Heavey; Editing by Frances Kerry)

Migrant caravan heading to U.S. border puts Mexico in tough spot with Trump

Central American migrants participating in a caravan heading to the U.S. take a pause from their journey in Matias Romero, Oaxaca, Mexico April 2, 2018. REUTERS/Jose de Jesus Cortes

By Delphine Schrank and Mica Rosenberg

IXTEPEC, Mexico/EDINBURG, Texas (Reuters) – In some of the Mexican towns playing host to a “caravan” of more than 1,200 Central American migrants heading to the U.S. border, the welcome mat has been rolled out despite President Donald Trump’s call for Mexican authorities to stop them.

Local officials have offered lodging in town squares and empty warehouses or arranged transport for the migrants, participants in a journey organized by the immigrant advocacy group Pueblo Sin Fronteras. The officials have conscripted buses, cars, ambulances and police trucks. But the help may not be entirely altruistic.

“The authorities want us to leave their cities,” said Rodrigo Abeja, an organizer from Pueblo Sin Fronteras. “They’ve been helping us, in part to speed the massive group out of their jurisdictions.”

At some point this spring, the caravan’s 2,000-mile (3,200-km) journey that began at Tapachula near the Guatemalan border on March 25 will end at the U.S. border, where some of its members will apply for asylum, while others will attempt to sneak into the United States.

So far the Mexican federal government has provided little guidance on how to handle the migrants but Abeja worries that local reactions will change.

“There’s a lot of pressure from authorities to stop the caravan because of Donald Trump’s reaction,” he said.

Trump railed on Twitter against the caravan on Monday, accusing Mexico of “doing very little, if not NOTHING” to stop the flow of immigrants crossing the U.S. border illegally. “They must stop the big drug and people flows, or I will stop their cash cow, NAFTA,” he concluded.

Mexico’s interior minister Alfonso Navarrete did not directly address the caravan, but he wrote on Twitter that he spoke to the U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen on Monday, and that the two had “agreed to analyze the best ways to attend to the flows of migrants in accordance with the laws of each country.”

Mexico must walk a delicate line with the United States as the countries are in the midst of renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) along with Canada. At the same time, Mexican left-wing presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has an 18-point lead ahead of the July 1 election, according to a poll published on Monday. A Lopez Obrador victory could usher in a Mexican government less accommodating toward the United States on both trade and immigration issues.

Mexican Senator Angelica de la Pena, who presides over the Senate’s human rights commission, told Reuters that Mexico should protect migrants’ rights despite the pressure from Trump.

Former President Vicente Fox called for Mexican officials to take a stand against Trump’s attacks. Trump keeps “blackmailing, offending and denigrating Mexico and Mexicans,” he wrote on Twitter on Monday.

Under Mexican law, Central Americans who enter Mexico legally are generally allowed to move freely through the country, even if their goal is to cross illegally into the United States.

‘WE’RE SUFFERING’

Migrants in the caravan cite a variety of reasons for joining it. Its members are disproportionately from Honduras, which has high levels of violence and has been rocked by political upheaval in recent months following the re-election of U.S.-backed president, Juan Orlando Hernández in an intensely disputed election.

Maria Elena Colindres Ortega, a member of caravan and, until January, a member of Congress in Honduras, said she is fleeing the political upheaval at home. “We’ve had to live through fraudulent electoral process,” she said. “We’re suffering a progressive militarization and lack of institutions, and … they’re criminalizing those who protested.”

Colindres Ortega, who opposed the ruling party in Honduras, said she spiraled into debt, after serving without pay for the last 18 months of her four-year term. She decided to head north after a fellow congressman from her party put out word on Facebook that a caravan of migrants was gathering in southern Mexico, leaving home with a small bag with necessities and photos of her children.

Pueblo Sin Fronteras has helped coordinate migrant caravans for the last several years, though previously they had a maximum of several hundred participants. During the journey members of the organization instruct the migrants about their rights.

“We accompany at least those who want to request asylum,” said Alex Mensing, Pueblo Sin Fronteras’ program director. “We help prepare them for the detention process and asylum process before they cross the border, because it’s so difficult for people to have success if they don’t have the information.”

Typically, Central Americans have not fared well with U.S. asylum claims, particularly those from Honduras. A Reuters analysis of immigration court data found that Hondurans who come before the court receive deportation orders in more than 83 percent of cases, the highest rate of any nationality. Hondurans also face deportation in Mexico, where immigration data shows that 5,000 Hondurans were deported from Mexico in February alone, the highest number since May 2016.

Maunel Padilla, chief of the border patrol’s Rio Grande Valley sector, one of the busiest crossing points on the U.S. Mexico border, said in an interview with Reuters that he worries the caravan could “generate interest for other groups to do the same thing,” but he was not terribly nervous about coping with the group currently traveling.

“Not to be flippant,” Padilla said, “but it’s similar numbers to what we are seeing every day pretty much.”

(Reporting by Delphine Schrank and Mica Rosenberg; Additional reporting by Dave Graham, Lizbeth Diaz, Diego Ore and Daina Beth Solomon; Editing by Sue Horton and Lisa Shumaker)

Mexico swinging against the establishment as presidential campaign starts

FILE PHOTO: Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto is pictured during the 80th anniversary of the expropriation of Mexico's oil industry in Mexico City, Mexico March 16, 2018. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido

By Frank Jack Daniel

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mexicans tired of graft and chaotic violence look set to reject the party that has governed the country for most of the past century, embracing a global anti-establishment mood by favoring a leftist dissenter in a presidential election.

Campaigning formally starts on Friday for the July 1 election and major opinion polls show Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador with a large lead, with the mainstream opposition challenger second and the ruling party candidate far behind.

Mexico suffered its worst murder toll on record last year as organized crime ran rampant smuggling drugs, fuel and people, while corruption scandals battered the credibility of President Enrique Pena Nieto’s Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).

Those issues rather than the economy are topping Mexicans’ concerns going into the campaign, but the outcome could mark a shift away from decades of gradual economic liberalization.

While Lopez Obrador now embraces the North American Free Trade Agreement and has softened his opposition to existing private investment in the energy sector, he has flagged a more cautious approach to further opening up the economy.

His popularity has been fanned by U.S. President Donald Trump’s tough policies on trade and immigration and insults that have angered Mexicans. His government could seek to row back bilateral cooperation that has gathered pace under Pena Nieto.

“The people want a change, that’s why our adversaries are getting really nervous,” Lopez Obrador said last week.

The centrist PRI has ruled Mexico continuously since 1929, except for a 12-year break when Vicente Fox and his successor led the National Action Party (PAN) to power in 2000 and 2006.

Both the PAN and the PRI favored opening the economy to more foreign investment and close ties with the United States.

DEEP-ROOTED CORRUPTION

Variously described as a left-winger, a populist and a nationalist, Lopez Obrador quit the PRI in the 1980s and his subsequent political career included a stint as mayor of Mexico City, one of the world’s largest metropolises. He has been in permanent opposition since first running for president in 2006.

He says only he can clean up deep-rooted corruption in the traditional parties. At the same time, he promises to change the constitution if he wins to end immunity for sitting presidents and hold regular referendums on key issues, including one every two years on whether he should continue his six-year term.

“We Mexicans are now seeing there are definitely two alternatives before us,” Tatiana Clouthier, a senior member of the Lopez Obrador campaign said on Thursday: more of the same, or a government that will spread the wealth more widely.

In second place is former PAN chief Ricardo Anaya, whose coalition includes center-left parties once allied to Lopez Obrador. He has pitched himself as a modern alternative to the unpopular PRI and to Lopez Obrador’s personalized leadership.

For many voters, July 1 will be about rejecting either the corruption of the ruling party, or Lopez Obrador, said Ernesto Ruffo, a PAN senator who in 1989 became the first politician to wrest control of a state government from the PRI.

“This is an election not for, but against,” he said.

Only Anaya, said Ruffo, offered a vision of the future.

The campaign of PRI candidate Jose Antonio Meade, who is not a member of the PRI, admits political parties are deeply mistrusted but says Meade is best placed to capture the mood.

Meade says Lopez Obrador’s jabs at the private sector, much of which the 64-year-old has excoriated as corrupt, will damage investment sentiment.

“When there’s investment there are jobs,” Meade told Mexican radio on Thursday. “When there are jobs we fight poverty.”

(Additional reporting by Dave Graham; Editing by Dave Graham and Paul Tait)

U.S. visa applicants to be asked for social media history: State Department

FILE PHOTO - A man is silhouetted against a video screen with a Twitter and a Facebook logo as he poses with a laptop in this photo illustration taken in the central Bosnian town of Zenica, August 14, 2013. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic

By Brendan O’Brien

(Reuters) – The U.S. government plans to collect social media history from nearly everyone who seeks entry into the United States, State Department proposals showed on Friday as part of President Donald Trump’s policy of “extreme vetting.”

Most immigrant and non-immigrant visa applicants – about 14.7 million people – will be asked to list on a federal application form all of the social media identities that they have used in the past five years – information that will be used to vet and identify them, according to the proposals.

The State Department will publish the proposals in a notice in the Federal Register on Friday seeking approval from the Office of Management and Budget. The public has 60 days to comment on the requests.

The proposals support President Donald Trump’s campaign pledge in 2016 to crack down on illegal immigration for security reasons and his call for “extreme vetting” of foreigners entering the United States.

The department said it intends not to routinely ask most diplomatic and official visa applicants for the social media information.

If approved, applicants also will be required to submit five years of previously used telephone numbers, email addresses and their international travel history. They will be asked if they have been deported or removed from any country and whether family members have been involved in terrorist activities, the department said.

Courts have struck down the first two versions of Trump’s travel ban and the current one is narrower in scope than its predecessors. The Supreme Court will consider its legality this spring and a decision is expected in June.

(Editing by Bill Trott)

Trump threatens to veto spending bill, raising government shutdown risk

The U.S. Capitol building is seen in Washington, U.S., February 8, 2018. REUTERS/ Leah M

By Richard Cowan and Steve Holland

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump made a surprising threat to veto Congress’ newly passed $1.3 trillion spending bill, a move that raised the specter of a possible government shutdown ahead of a midnight Friday deadline to keep federal agencies open.

In a tweet on Friday morning Trump said he was displeased about immigration issues in the bill, even though the White House had given assurances on Thursday that he would sign it. Lawmakers in the Senate and House of Representatives, which both are dominated by Trump’s fellow Republicans, had left Washington after passing the measure.

“I am considering a VETO of the Omnibus Spending Bill based on the fact that the 800,000 plus DACA recipients have been totally abandoned by the Democrats (not even mentioned in Bill) and the BORDER WALL, which is desperately needed for our National Defense, is not fully funded,” Trump wrote.

Trump has sought to make good on his campaign promise to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and the bill includes $1.6 billion for six month’s of work on the project, although he had sought $25 billion for it. In a tweet on Thursday he had seemed not to have a problem with partial funding because “the rest will be forthcoming.”

Trump also has been at odds with Democrats in Congress over the fate of Dreamer immigrants – those brought to the United States illegally when they were children.

At the White House, many aides were caught by surprise by the veto threat and were scrambling for answers. There was no immediate explanation for what prompted the threat other than Trump’s frequent complaints that he felt Democrats were unwilling to move his way on immigration issues.

Trump appeared to have tweeted from the White House residence, as there is no Marine guard posted outside the door of the West Wing, which is what happens when the president is in the West Wing.

A White House official would say only that “it’s the president’s tweet” and could not answer further questions. Trump is scheduled to leave later in the day for a weekend at his private resort in Palm Beach, Florida.

There was no immediate comment from Republican leaders in Congress.

THREAT OR BLUFF?

As the six-month spending deal was coming together, there were reports Trump had balked at the deal and had to be persuaded by Republican Speaker Paul Ryan to support it.

Only minutes before Trump’s threat, Ryan had tweeted: “Our men and women in uniform have earned a pay raise. That’s why yesterday, we voted to provide the biggest pay raise for our troops in 8 years.”

Conservatives and deficit hawks in Trump’s party had panned the bill because of its spending increases. Some cheered his threat to veto it.

“Please do, Mr. President,” Republican Senator Bob Corker said on Twitter. “I am just down the street and will bring you a pen. The spending levels without any offsets are grotesque, throwing all of our children under the bus.”

Democratic lawmakers said Trump created his own crisis by canceling the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that gives work permits to certain young immigrants and protects them from deportation. The decision is currently tied up in court cases.

Trump had agreed to extend the program if Congress agreed to sweeping changes in immigration laws and provided $25 billion to build the wall and increase border security. Democrats rejected the plan.

“NOW you care about the Dreamers Mr. President?” Democratic Representative Jan Schakowsky said on Twitter. “Six months after throwing their lives into chaos? Is this a cruel joke?”

In a hastily arranged news conference on Thursday, Trump’s budget director and top legislative aide insisted he would sign the bill and tried to cast the $1.6 billion in funding for border security as a downpayment on Trump’s wall pledge.

“It does a lot of what we wanted – not everything we wanted – but a lot of what we wanted on immigration,” White House budget director Mick Mulvaney told reporters.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan and Steve Holland; additional reporting by Roberta Rampton, Susan Heavey and Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Bill Trott)

Trump threatens to veto spending bill over DACA, border wall

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said on Friday he was considering vetoing Congress’ $1.3 trillion spending bill over immigration issues, including full funding for his proposed border wall and young ‘Dreamer’ immigrants.

“I am considering a VETO of the Omnibus Spending Bill based on the fact that the 800,000 plus DACA recipients have been totally abandoned by the Democrats (not even mentioned in Bill) and the BORDER WALL, which is desperately needed for our National Defense, is not fully funded,” Trump wrote on Twitter.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey and Justin Mitchell; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)

Facing far-right challenge, minister says Islam ‘doesn’t belong’ to Germany

German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer is sworn-in by Parliament President Wolfgang Schaeuble in Germany's lower house of parliament Bundestag in Berlin, Germany, March 14, 2018. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach

By Michelle Martin

BERLIN (Reuters) – New Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said Islam does not belong to Germany, and set out hardline immigration policies in his first major interview since being sworn in this week, as he sought to see off rising far-right challengers.

His comments put him on a collision course with Chancellor Angela Merkel, who on Friday reiterated her long-held view that Islam was a part of Germany, even if the country was traditionally characterized by Christianity and Judaism.

“Islam does not belong to Germany,” Seehofer, a member of Merkel’s CSU Bavarian allies who are further to the right than her own Christian Democrats (CDU), told Bild newspaper in an interview published on Friday.

Seehofer said he would push through a “master plan for quicker deportations” and classify more states as ‘safe’ countries of origin, which would make it easier to deport failed asylum seekers.

Seehofer is particularly keen to show his party is tackling immigration ahead of Bavaria’s October regional election, when the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) is expected to enter that state assembly.

Both Merkel’s conservatives and their centre-left coalition partners – the Social Democrats – lost ground to the anti-immigrant AfD in September’s national election following the arrival in Germany of more than a million migrants and refugees.

Merkel, who has faced strong criticism from some Germans as well as elsewhere in Europe for agreeing to take in so many migrants, most of them Muslims, reaffirmed on Friday her vision of an inclusive, multi-ethnic Germany.

“There are now four million Muslims living in Germany and they practice their religion here and these Muslims belong to Germany, as does their religion – Islam,” she said.

“LIVE WITH US”

Many of the Muslims living in Germany are of Turkish origin. But a majority of those who have arrived in the past three years are from Syria, Iraq and other conflict zones in the Middle East and beyond.

Seehofer’s comments come at a sensitive time for Germany’s Muslim community. Several organisations representing them complained on Thursday that politicians were not showing enough solidarity after a spate of attacks on mosques.

“Of course the Muslims living here do belong to Germany,” Seehofer told Bild, but added that Germany should not give up its own traditions or customs, which have Christianity at their heart.

“My message is: Muslims need to live with us, not next to us or against us,” he said.

Andre Poggenburg, head of the AfD in the eastern state of Saxony, said Seehofer was copying his party with a view to Bavaria’s October regional election: “Horst Seehofer has taken this message from our manifesto word for word.”

The far-left Linke and Greens condemned Seehofer’s message, and the Social Democrats’ Natascha Kohnen told broadcaster n-tv: “Saying that incites people against each other at a time when we really don’t need that. What we really need is politicians who bring people together.”

In their coalition agreement, Merkel’s CDU/CSU conservative bloc and the Social Democrats agreed they would manage and limit migration to Germany and Europe to avoid a re-run of the 2015 refugee crisis.

They also said they did not expect migration (excluding labor migration) to rise above the range of 180,000 to 220,000 per year.

(Reporting by Michelle Martin; Editing by Gareth Jones)

Fight over U.S. spending bill rekindles immigration debate

FILE PHOTO: The United States Capitol Dome is seen before dawn in Washington March 22, 2013. REUTERS/Gary Cameron

By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – As another U.S. government funding deadline looms, a huge spending bill is ground zero in the latest battle between Republicans and Democrats in Congress over President Donald Trump’s push to toughen immigration policy.

Lawmakers have until March 23 to work out how to fund an array of government agencies for the next six months. But their behind-the-scenes negotiations are complicated by the immigration issue.

Republicans are seeking hundreds of millions of dollars more for the Department of Homeland Security to expand the number of beds for immigrant detainees and to hire more federal agents to patrol U.S. borders and the country’s interior.

That is aimed at finding and potentially deporting more illegal immigrants, a central pledge of Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.

“If you increased the number of beds, the number of people detained in this country will likely be increased,” said Sarah Pierce, a policy analyst for the non-partisan Migration Policy Institute.

She said that would help Trump carry out initiatives to expand detentions, including possibly those of children who are in the country illegally. For some immigrants, it could mean spending as long as two years in detention while their cases wind through an overburdened court system, instead of being under looser government controls during the process.

Congressional negotiators also are tussling over a Republican provision prohibiting the use of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement funds to facilitate abortions for immigrant detainees.

There is also a push for $1.6 billion to begin construction on a border wall, which Trump promised during his campaign would be paid for by Mexico – an unwilling partner in that pledge. That would be a down payment on a construction project likely to end up costing more than $18 billion.

During a visit to California on Tuesday, Trump inspected wall prototypes and urged Congress to fund it.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, an advocate for Trump’s immigration agenda, told reporters on Wednesday, “If there are additional appropriations added, I certainly would be supportive of that.”

Democrats, whose votes in the Republican-controlled Congress are likely needed to pass the trillion-dollar spending bill, are pushing back against a wall that they see as a waste of money.

A coalition of 83 Hispanic, African-American and Asian-American members of the House of Representatives wrote this week to congressional leaders urging them to also “reduce funding to DHS’s detention and deportation machine.”

Democratic Representative Michelle Lujan Grisham, who heads the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, told reporters: “It’s wasteful and it’s harmfully targeting and deporting non-criminal immigrants, separating families and terrorizing frankly whole communities.”

BATTLEGROUND

Appropriations bills in Congress are the lifeblood of Washington policymakers, providing the money to carry out their priorities.

Over the past several months, appropriations bills to fund an array of federal programs have been the battleground in which Trump and Congress fought over the future of young people brought to the country illegally as children.

That six-month skirmish ended last month with Congress unable to legislate new protection from deportation for 700,000 “Dreamers” after Trump ended an Obama-era program giving them temporary legal status. At one point, the standoff forced Washington into a three-day government shutdown in January when funding ran out.

This time, Republicans hope to get enough money to hire 500 more Customs and Border Protection agents and 1,000 more Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials. That would be the start of an eventual increase of CBP’s workforce by 5,000 and ICE’s by 10,000.

Democrats have noted that the agencies are falling short in filling all positions Congress already has authorized.

Negotiators are expected to work through the weekend as House of Representatives leaders hope to unveil a bill early next week so it can be debated on the House floor by midweek, with a Senate vote by the March 23 deadline.

Failure to meet the deadline could result in the second partial government shutdown this year.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan; Editing by Caren Bohan, Peter Cooney and Bill Trott)