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

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

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

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

Sixteen U.S. Marines arrested on suspicion of human trafficking

FILE PHOTO: The U.S. Marine Corps Color Guard Platoon during a ceremony at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California, U.S., March 15, 2018. Lance Cpl. Rhita Daniel/U.S. Marines/Handout via REUTERS

By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Sixteen U.S. Marines were arrested on Thursday at their base in Southern California on suspicion of drug-related offenses and the smuggling of undocumented migrants along the U.S.-Mexico border, U.S. military officials said.

The arrests at Camp Pendleton stemmed from a separate investigation of two other Marines arrested earlier this month on human trafficking charges filed by federal prosecutors in San Diego, a base spokesman said.

Those two Marines, Lance Corporals Byron Darnell Law II and David Javier Salazar-Quintero, were also stationed at Camp Pendleton, about 55 miles (88 km) north of San Diego, according to the spokesman, Marine First Lieutenant Cameron Edinburgh.

“Information gained from the previous investigation gave way to this string of arrests,” Edinburgh told Reuters.

The Marine Corps said that in addition to the Marines arrested on Thursday, eight others were detained for questioning on unrelated alleged drug offenses.

The 16 taken into custody were all part of the 1st Marine Division at Camp Pendleton, one of the largest Marine Corps bases in the United States.

None one of those arrested or detained on Thursday was serving in support of the military’s mission along the border with Mexico, the Marine Corps said.

Unlike Salazar and Law, the Marines faced prosecution under the military justice system but no formal charges have been brought against them as yet, Edinburgh said.

The precise nature of the alleged wrongdoing was not disclosed, but Edinburgh said the troops were suspected of involvement in the smuggling of undocumented immigrants into the United States from Mexico and various unspecified drug-related offenses.

The two Marines arrested July 3 on charges of transporting aliens for financial gain were arrested by U.S. Border Patrol agents several miles north of the border along a highway in San Diego County.

According to court documents filed in that case, Salazar and Law picked up three undocumented Mexican immigrants by car near the border, guided to a pre-arranged location via cellphone instructions. The three migrants were found riding in the back seat of the Marines’ car, and they told investigators they had agreed to pay $8,000 to be smuggled into the United States.

Thursday’s arrests came a day after the military said a Navy SEAL team was sent back from Iraq because of discipline issues. An official said it was because, in part, they had been drinking alcohol, something that is prohibited.

(Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; additional reporting by Idrees Ali in Washington; editing by Cynthia Osterman)

Special Report: The non-profits, startups and PACs seizing on Trump’s dream wall

FILE PHOTO: Heavy machinery moves a bollard-type wall, to be placed along the border of private property using funds raised from a GoFundMe account, at Sunland Park, N.M., as seen from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico May 27, 2019. REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez/File Photo

By Julia Harte and Joseph Tanfani

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump’s signature campaign vow to erect a wall on the southern U.S. border with Mexico has been mired in cross-border bickering and opposition from Democratic lawmakers with power over the government’s purse strings.

But amid the political stalemate, a wave of only-in-America entrepreneurs, fundraisers and profiteers have taken the issue into their own hands.

Tapping into Trump’s outrage over immigrants pouring into the United States, several dozen citizens have created non-profit and for-profit organizations, started GoFundMe pages, and launched political action committees to raise money to fund the wall or support like-minded candidates. In all, more than $25 million has poured in, the vast majority to a venture led by an Air Force veteran who has become the most public face of the fundraising mission.

Who’s paying the bill? Americans such as Arlene Mackay, 80, a Montana cattle rancher who gave $1,000 in January to what she thought was a multi-million dollar fundraiser, dubbed We Build the Wall, to construct a border wall. In fact, her money went to a different venture with a similar name: Build the Wall.

“I thought I might be buying a piece of the wall, like an inch,” said Mackay, when informed her donation had not reached its intended target. The money, she said, could have gone instead to buy half a cow. I’m just going to say I better be very cautious from now on.”

In all, Reuters found, more than 330,000 Americans have dipped into their wallets to bankroll emerging border wall campaigns. With their investments have come big promises, but few concrete results. The most noticeable impact so far: A half-mile of new bollard-style fencing in eastern New Mexico, built by the largest border wall fundraiser.

Even that project has been beset by regulatory concerns. Meanwhile, wall-themed novelty toy sellers and failed political action committees have left behind some disappointed customers and donors.

Yet even if these efforts don’t deliver a full border wall, some backers express no regrets.

“I don’t expect a private organization to actually finish it, but what I’m hoping is that it will resonate with other politicians and government, and show that we’ve got a movement,” said Richard Mills, 68, an Ohio information technology worker who gave $400 to two border wall fundraisers.

WALL CROWDFUNDING

U.S. government analysts have been skeptical about the need to seal off the Mexican border with 1,300 more miles of wall. Each new mile of fencing and barriers would yield diminishing returns while costing more in installation and maintenance, concluded a 2016 Congressional Research Service report.

And then there’s the cost to build: $21.6 billion, according to an internal Department of Homeland Security report.

The idea of sealing off the U.S. border with Mexico has been a Trump fixation, ever since his June 2015 campaign promise to build a “great, great wall on our southern border” galvanized voters angry over illegal immigration. Since his election, the wall plans have stalled. When Congress refused to meet Trump’s requests for billions in wall funding, he forced a 35-day government shutdown at the end of 2018, then declared an emergency in February, a maneuver hung up in federal court challenges.

Meanwhile, a handful of fundraising campaigns have sprung up to solicit cash from fervent believers who want more miles built. The groups are run by veterans, ex-government officials, even a seven-year-old Texas boy who raised wall money with a hot chocolate stand.

FILE PHOTO: Trump supporters hug after U.S. President Donald Trump's motorcade drove past them following his viewing of border wall prototypes in San Diego, California, U.S., March 13, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo

FILE PHOTO: Trump supporters hug after U.S. President Donald Trump’s motorcade drove past them following his viewing of border wall prototypes in San Diego, California, U.S., March 13, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo

Ray Nurnberger, general manager at a Long Island lumber yard, has donated more than $300 to three different border wall fundraisers over the past year, even while saving up for a wedding and preparing to support his first child.

“I’ll keep giving because I don’t want my kid to not be able to find a job, or have to compete with people who didn’t come here legally,” said Nurnberger, 46.

His donations shed light on the circuitous path contributions can follow once they leave donors’ hands.

His first went to the Border Wall Foundation, a non-profit created in 2018 by Ken Downey, a veteran and former Border Patrol communications supervisor, who said he did it as a civics lesson for his teenage daughter. They created a website, set up social media pages – but raised just $2,450, which he holds in an account while continuing to fundraise.

“If someday we get too frustrated and decide to quit and throw our hands in the air and say ‘we’re not getting there, we’d donate it to another effort to build the wall,” said Downey, of Washington State.

Next, Nurnberger gave $100 to a border wall fundraiser launched by the National Sheriffs Association in March 2018, with a promise that “100% of your tax-deductible donation will go to secure America’s southern border.” But the logistics of collecting donations began to overwhelm the association, and some sheriffs argued against supporting Trump’s border wall.

In September 2018, the sheriffs decided to donate their funds, which totaled around $25,000 at the time, to another non-profit campaign, Fund the Wall. That effort was founded by a Maryland IT professional, Quentin Kramer, who had registered the web domain name before Trump ran for president. On the day the sheriffs’ donations started flowing into Kramer’s group, Bristol County, Massachusetts, Sheriff Thomas Hodgson appeared on Fox television to promote the sheriffs’ fundraising website. Donations poured in: $100,000 that week, Kramer said.

But the effort had already hit its own wall. Kramer’s plan was to send donations to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to be used for wall construction. DHS said it couldn’t take the money, telling Kramer it “did not have the resources to process external donations at this time.”

Hodgson told Kramer the sheriffs had already been talking to DHS and could cut through the red tape. In November, Hodgson submitted a form on behalf of Fund the Wall, offering to donate $100,000 to DHS, stipulating that the agency “may only use this gift to construct border barriers (e.g. a wall) on the southern border of USA,” according to the form, reviewed by Reuters.

DHS said its office that processes gifts had not seen the form and that it had “no information to offer on the status of a donation.” Hodgson said he would go back to DHS to figure out what happened.

Today, Nurnberger’s $100 sits in the bank account of Fund the Wall, along with $222,267 in other donations. Nurnberger said he had no idea where his money had landed until contacted by Reuters.

“I guess that approach wasn’t the right way to go about it, because they don’t seem to have the ability to get that money to DHS,” he said.

‘WE BUILD THE WALL’

Meanwhile, Nurnberger had already donated an additional $100 to another border wall fundraiser, this one launched on the online fundraising platform GoFundMe in December 2018.

That effort initially named “We The People Will Fund The Wall,” was spearheaded by Brian Kolfage. A triple amputee U.S. Air Force veteran, Kolfage formerly ran a company that made millions running right-wing media pages. His border wall fundraiser pulled in $20 million in donations within a month, promoted by prominent immigration skeptics such as Trump’s former campaign manager Steve Bannon and former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach.

At first, Kolfage pledged to send donations to the U.S. government. But in January, he updated the GoFundMe site to say his team had decided to use the money instead to hire private contractors and build the wall themselves, rebranding the fundraiser as “We Build the Wall.”

Under GoFundMe rules, that meant the donors got their money back. But most of them, accounting for $14 million, kept their money with Kolfage. With more than $11 million in new donations, he’s now raised over $25 million.

Kolfage drew support from fundraisers such as Benton Stevens, the seven-year-old Texas boy who set up a hot chocolate stand to raise money for a border wall after watching Trump’s State of the Union speech. We Build the Wall contacted Stevens’ family after his stand made the news in February, and his parents eventually donated the funds to Kolfage’s effort, said his father Shane, who estimated his son raised $28,000. Benton still draws donations from Benton’s Stand, a website selling hot chocolate mix, powdered lemonade and Trump-themed products.

At the end of May, Kolfage unveiled the first fruits of his project: the steel bollard fence on private property near the U.S.-Mexico border in Sunland Park, New Mexico. Benton Stevens and Kolfage jointly wielded the scissors during the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

The wall, which Kolfage said cost around $7.5 million, immediately hit resistance. Sunland Park city officials issued a cease and desist order, saying the project was not properly permitted. In turn, Kolfage told his thousands of supporters the city was in league with drug cartels, urging them to pressure local officials to allow construction to proceed.

Over the next two days, the city pushed through approvals, on condition Kolfage met all code requirements. Sunland Park city officials declined comment.

We Build the Wall ran into similar permitting problems with an agency called the International Boundary and Water Commission, which controls an access road into Mexico near the site. Kolfage’s team built a gate across the road. Kolfage and the commission worked out an arrangement under which the gate remains closed at night but open during the day.

Days before his team broke ground, Kolfage said, a White House official he would not name told the boundary commission “not to mess with” his operation.

The commission “looked into that claim and could not find anyone who had received that call,” said spokeswoman Sally Spener. The White House did not return calls for comment.

The half-mile of wall did not succeed in completely sealing the border near Sunland Park; video showed migrants running across the border a few miles away.

“You gotta start somewhere, that’s how we look at it,” said Kolfage, comparing the border to a leaky hose that must be patched in multiple spots.

A budget of estimated project expenses he submitted to the state of Florida, where his organization is registered, sets aside $690,000 for salaries and $350,000 for “professional and consulting” expenses in 2019. He said the salaries are for his eight or nine full-time employees, including his spokesperson and Kobach, his general counsel. Kolfage says he is taking no compensation.

After complaints to the Florida Attorney General, the state’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services opened a review. The complaints noted that Kolfage was promoting a donor-only raffle to win a trip to visit the wall, but Florida law says charities must allow anyone, not just donors, to enter contests. Kolfage dismissed the inquiry as ‘smoke and mirrors.’ The department said the probe is ongoing and declined further comment.

Such controversy has concerned some fellow fundraisers. “You get too many black eyes like this and people are gonna lose faith,” said Jon Brimus, spokesman for Fund the Wall.

Kolfage said his success had bruised the egos of critics, but acknowledged his effort alone could never raise enough money to fund the entire wall. “Our end game is really just to keep the pressure on our government to fix this crisis from both sides.”

Linda Kilgore, a Washington State retiree, donated $100 to both Kolfage’s GoFundMe and Downey’s Border Wall Foundation. Kilgore, 65, said her career as a school teacher showed her illegal immigrants were overwhelming public schools, so she began donating to the border wall after a lifetime supporting causes such as wildlife conservation. She was happy to hear of Florida’s scrutiny of Kolfage.

“If somebody is taking my money, and I don’t care if it’s for polar bears or penguins, I’m hoping you’re above board, and if somebody’s looking over your shoulder, that’s great, “she said.

Georgia Hostetler, 89, of South Carolina, has sent Kolfage’s group $30 a month since December. “When I see that man that lost two legs and an arm, I just love what he’s doing,” she said of the veteran.

PAC POLITICS

Trump’s border wall has become a magnet for political PACs, independent committees that operate with far fewer rules than campaigns on contributions and spending. At least four committees geared toward supporting the wall and like-minded political candidates were launched after his election.

All four failed to generate much if any, money. They did confuse some donors.

“I thought it was going to go right to the wall,” said Chris Kilsdonk, 63, who runs a small business boarding and grooming dogs in rural Montana. She gave $400 to Raise the Wall, a committee started by a Republican political consultant in suburban Washington, D.C.

Kilsdonk gave after reading “a lot of articles on Facebook.” She said she was not aware she was giving to a political committee.

Raise the Wall Treasurer Chris Marston said he created the PAC in 2017 for a client, Mike Khristo, a web designer and Internet marketer from California. Donors were supposed to receive engraved bricks, but Marston said that proved to be too expensive.

“Fundraising costs ate up the whole amount that they raised,” Marston said. Raise the Wall received $13,246, but gave no money to support candidates before it was terminated six months later. Khristo declined to comment.

Another PAC, Build the Wall, began in January 2018, before Kolfage’s similarly named fund drive, by two California political consultants, Tommy Knepper and Briana Baleskie. Knepper said the plan was to raise funds for Republican Senate candidates in 2018, but his committee didn’t gain traction, raising $14,764 but giving nothing to support campaigns.

Knepper said he didn’t make any money from Build the Wall, and Baleskie, the treasurer, said she refunded a couple of misdirected contributions. They said they intend to shut it down. “We’re not out to frustrate people,” Baleskie said.

Political professionals weren’t the only ones getting involved. Daniel Schramek of St. Petersburg, Florida, is a Trump campaign volunteer once sanctioned by the Florida Supreme Court for practicing law without a license. Schramek started the Great Wall of America super PAC in 2017. The committee raised $700, which Schramek said he intends to refund to donors.

“It’s a lot of work getting people to donate money,” he said.

Another committee, the American Border Protection PAC, started in January. “There are greedy individuals who are raising enormous amounts of money to build the wall for personal gain and fame,” the committee’s website warns, saying all money would go to DHS for wall construction.

American Border Protection was the brainchild of Chrysalis Johnson, 43, a now-unemployed Arizona software designer who launched an earlier venture in cryptocurrency and an anti-Facebook campaign. He said his effort might help Americans living in border towns.

But, Johnson said, “No one wanted to buy into it.” He reported no contributions received.

(Editing by Ronnie Greene and Jason Szep)

Trump threatens to close U.S. border with Mexico next week

U.S. President Donald Trump arrives to speak at a campaign rally in Grand Rapids, Michigan, U.S., March 28, 2019. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

By Yeganeh Torbati and Jeff Mason

WASHINGTON/LAKE OKEECHOBEE, Fla. (Reuters) – President Donald Trump threatened on Friday to close the U.S. border with Mexico next week, potentially disrupting millions of legal border crossings and billions of dollars in trade if Mexico does not stop immigrants from reaching the United States.

“We’ll keep it closed for a long time. I’m not playing games. Mexico has to stop it,” Trump said on a visit to Florida. Asked if he would close the Mexican border to all trade, Trump told reporters: “It could be to all trade.”

Trump has repeatedly vowed to close the U.S. border with Mexico during his two years in office and has not followed through. But this time the government is struggling to deal with a surge of asylum seekers from countries in Central America who travel through Mexico.

Department of Homeland Security officials warned that traffic with Mexico could slow as the agency shifts 750 border personnel from ports of entry to help process asylum seekers who are turning up between official crossing points.

“Make no mistake: Americans may feel effects from this emergency,” Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said in a statement. Nielsen said the personnel shift would lead to commercial delays and longer wait times at crossing points.

Nielsen and other U.S. officials say border patrol officers have been overwhelmed by a dramatic increase in asylum seekers, many of them children and families, fleeing violence and economic hardship in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.

March is on track for 100,000 border apprehensions, the highest monthly number in more than a decade, U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan said on Wednesday. Some 90,000 will be able to remain in the United States while their asylum claims are processed, he said.

Mexico played down the possibility of a border shutdown.

“Mexico does not act on the basis of threats. We are a great neighbor,” Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said on Twitter.

It is not clear how shutting down ports of entry would deter asylum seekers, as they are legally able to request help as soon as they set foot on U.S. soil.

But a border shutdown would disrupt tourism and commerce between the United States and its third-largest trade partner, which totaled $612 billion last year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

“We’d be looking at losses worth billions of dollars,” said Kurt Honold, head of CCE, a business group in Tijuana, Mexico, in response to Trump’s threat. “It’s obvious he’s not measuring what he says.”

U.S. ports of entry recorded 193 million pedestrian and vehicle-passenger crossings last year, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

As president, Trump has legal authority to close particular ports of entry, but he could be open to a legal challenge if he decided to close all of them immediately, said Stephen Legomsky, a former chief counsel at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services under Democratic President Barack Obama.

Trump is trying to convince Congress to sign off on a revised trade agreement with Mexico and Canada that his administration negotiated last year.

“Mexico has for many years made a fortune off of the U.S., far greater than Border Costs. If Mexico doesn’t immediately stop ALL illegal immigration coming into the United States through our Southern Border, I will be CLOSING the Border, or large sections of the Border, next week,” he said on Twitter.

Trump launched his presidential bid in June 2015 with a promise to crack down on illegal immigration, saying Mexico was sending rapists and drug runners into the United States.

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said on Thursday that tackling illegal immigration is an issue chiefly for the United States and the Central American countries to address.

Trump has so far been unable to convince Congress to tighten asylum laws or fund a proposed border wall, one of his signature policies. Trump has declared a national emergency to justify redirecting money earmarked for the military to pay for its construction.

(Reporting by Yeganeh Torbati and Jeff Mason; Additional reporting by David Alexander, Anthony Esposito, Lizbeth Diaz and Andy Sullivan; Writing by Andy Sullivan; Editing by Tim Ahmann and Grant McCool)

Trump delays State of the Union Address until shutdown ends

Kera Myers, the wife of a member of the U.S. Coast Guard working without pay during the government shutdown, picks up produce, eggs, milk, bread and other supplies being distributed by Gather food pantry at the U.S. Coast Guard Portsmouth Harbor base in New Castle, New Hampshire, U.S., January 23, 2019. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

By Richard Cowan and John Whitesides

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said in a late night Tweet on Wednesday that he would delay a State of the Union address until the government shutdown was over, responding to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s move to obstruct his plans for the speech.

Earlier in the day, Democratic leaders in the House of Representatives floated the idea of ending the partial government shutdown by giving Trump most or all of the money he seeks for security along the Mexican border but for items other than the wall he wants.

As a shutdown that has left 800,000 federal workers without pay hit its 33rd day, Pelosi effectively disinvited Trump from delivering the annual State of the Union address in the House chamber until the government is fully opened.

The Republican president responded to the Democrat speaker with a tweet.

“This is her prerogative – I will do the Address when the Shutdown is over. I am not looking for an alternative venue for the SOTU Address because there is no venue that can compete with the history, tradition and importance of the House Chamber,” the president said in the tweet.

“I look forward to giving a great State of the Union Address in the near future!”

Other leaders in the Democratic-controlled House said they were drafting a funding offer they will likely make to Trump in a letter.

Representative James Clyburn, the No. 3 House Democrat, said Democrats could fulfill Trump’s request for $5.7 billion for border security with technological tools such as drones, X-rays and sensors, as well as more border patrol agents.

Representative Steny Hoyer, the No. 2 House Democrat, said Democrats also would discuss “substantial sums of additional money” for border security as part of a possible deal. He did not say if it would amount to the $5.7 billion sought by Trump.

The president triggered the shutdown last month by demanding money for the wall, opposed by Democrats, as part of any legislation to fund about a quarter of the government. Clyburn’s offer would be a significant monetary increase over bills previously passed by Democrats, which included only about $1.3 billion for this year in additional border security, with none for a wall.

“Using the figure the president put on the table, if his $5.7 billion is about border security then we see ourselves fulfilling that request, only doing it with what I like to call using a smart wall,” Clyburn told reporters.

Republican Representative Tom Cole, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, told reporters the Democratic proposal could help.

“Any movement, any discussion is helpful,” Cole said. “We’ve got to get past this wall-or-no-wall debate.”

The battle over border security and government funding spilled over into a parallel dispute over the president’s State of the Union address. Trump sent a letter to Pelosi on Wednesday saying he looked forward to delivering it as scheduled next Tuesday in the House chamber. Pelosi previously had asked Trump to consider postponing it because security could not be guaranteed during the shutdown.

But Pelosi told Trump on Wednesday the House would not consider a measure authorizing his address until the shutdown ends. “Again, I look forward to welcoming you to the House on a mutually agreeable date for this address when government has been opened,” Pelosi said to Trump in a letter.

In a sign Trump may be bracing for a long shutdown, a senior administration official said agencies without funding had been asked to give the White House a list of programs that could be hurt “within the coming weeks” if the funding lapse continues.

SENATE PLANS VOTES

The U.S. Senate, controlled by Trump’s fellow Republicans, planned votes for Thursday on competing proposals that face steep odds to end the shutdown.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell plans a vote on a Democratic proposal that would fund the government for three weeks but does not include the $5.7 billion in partial funding for a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.

Its prospects appeared grim. The House has passed several similar bills but Trump has rejected legislation that does not include the wall funding. McConnell previously said he would not consider a bill that Trump did not support.

McConnell also planned to hold a vote on legislation that would include wall funding and a temporary extension of protections for “Dreamers,” people brought illegally to the United States as children, an offer Trump made on Saturday. Trump’s 2017 plan to rescind protections against deportation for hundreds of thousands of “Dreamers” has been blocked by the courts.

Democrats have dismissed the offer, saying they would not negotiate on border security before reopening the government, and that they would not trade a temporary extension of the immigrants’ protections in return for a permanent border wall they have called ineffective, costly and immoral.

Barclays economists said on Wednesday they reduced their outlook on U.S. economic growth in the first quarter to an annualized rate of 2.5 percent from an earlier projection of 3 percent as a result of the shutdown.

Furloughed federal workers are struggling to make ends meet during the longest government shutdown in U.S. history. Many have turned to unemployment assistance, food banks and other support, or have sought new jobs.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan and John Whitesides; Additional reporting by Yasmeen Abutaleb, Roberta Rampton, Eric Beech, Susan Heavey, Doina Chiacu and Rich McKay; Writing by John Whitesides; Editing by Will Dunham, Peter Cooney & Simon Cameron-Moore)

U.S. to send some migrants back to Mexico as immigration cases proceed: Nielsen

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States will soon begin returning individuals who illegally cross the U.S. southern border back to Mexico to wait there while their immigration cases proceed, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said on Thursday.

The policy change is part of the Trump administration’s efforts to tighten U.S. immigration laws to let in fewer immigrants seeking to enter both legally and illegally.

“Aliens trying to game the system to get into our country illegally will no longer be able to disappear into the United States, where many skip their court dates,” Nielsen said in a statement. “Instead, they will wait for an immigration court decision while they are in Mexico.”

(Reporting by Yeganeh Torbati; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

First wave of Central American migrants arrives in Mexico City

Migrants, part of a caravan traveling en route to the United States, queue to receive food as they stay in a sport center used as shelter in Arriaga, Mexico November 4, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – The first Central American migrants from a caravan traveling through Mexico toward the United States in hopes of seeking asylum arrived in Mexico City on Sunday, taking up temporary shelter at a sports stadium.

More than 1,000 Central Americans, many fleeing gang violence and financial hardship in their home countries, bedded down at the stadium where the city government set up medical aid and food kitchens.

Ahead of U.S. congressional elections this Tuesday, President Donald Trump has warned repeatedly about the advance of the caravan and ordered thousands of troops to the Mexican border, where units strung up razor wire this weekend.

The migrants arrived in the capital, nearly 500 miles (805 kilometers) from the closest border crossings in Texas, four weeks after setting out from the Honduran city of San Pedro Sula.

“Our heads are set at getting to the United States, to fulfill the American dream,” said Mauricio Mancilla, who traveled with his six-year old son from San Pedro Sula. “We have faith in God that we will do this, whatever the circumstances.”

Thousands more Central Americans were moving in groups in the Gulf state of Veracruz, the central state of Puebla and in the southern state of Chiapas, local media reported.

“This is an exodus,” Alejandro Solalinde, a Catholic priest and migrant rights activist, told reporters. “It’s without precedent.”

The U.S. government has pressured Mexico to halt the advance of the migrants and President Enrique Pena Nieto has offered temporary identification papers and jobs if they register for asylum in the southern states of Chiapas and Oaxaca.

Mexico’s government said on Saturday it was processing nearly 2,800 asylum requests and that around 1,100 Central Americans had been deported.

At the capital’s famed shrine to the Virgin of Guadalupe, a group of Mexican volunteers called out on bullhorns, offering bus rides to migrants to the stadium.

Cesar Gomez, a 20-year old Guatemalan, said he jumped at joining the caravan to avoid the dangers of traveling alone and paying thousands of dollars to human smugglers.

“This was a good opportunity,” he said as he waited for a ride. “The first thing is to try for the United States. If not, maybe I will stay here.”

(Reporting by Josue Gonzalez, Stefanie Eschenbacher and Alberto Fajardo; Editing by Susan Thomas)

Trump vows to cut Central America aid, calls migrant caravan an emergency

Central American migrants walk along the highway near the border with Guatemala, as they continue their journey trying to reach the U.S., in Tapachula, Mexico October 21, 2018. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino

By Susan Heavey

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump said on Monday he has told the U.S. military and border authorities that a migrant caravan heading toward the United States from Central America represented a national emergency, as he vowed to cut aid to the region.

“Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador were not able to do the job of stopping people from leaving their country and coming illegally to the U.S. We will now begin cutting off, or substantially reducing, the massive foreign aid routinely given to them,” Trump wrote in a series of posts on Twitter.

Since Trump became president last year, the United States has already moved to sharply decrease aid to Central America.

In 2016, the United States provided some $131.2 million in aid to Guatemala, $98.3 million to Honduras, and $67.9 million to El Salvador, according to official U.S. data. By next year, those sums were projected to fall to $69.4 million for Guatemala, $65.8 million for Honduras, and $45.7 million in the case of El Salvador. Combined, the cuts amount to a reduction of almost 40 percent for the three nations.

Thousands of mostly Honduran migrants crowded into the Mexican border city of Tapachula over the weekend after trekking on foot from the Guatemalan border, defying threats by Trump that he will close the U.S.-Mexico border if they advanced, as well as warnings from the Mexican government.

Mexican police in riot gear shadowed the caravan’s arrival along a southern highway but did not impede the migrants’ journey.

“Sadly, it looks like Mexico’s Police and Military are unable to stop the Caravan heading to the Southern Border of the United States,” Trump wrote in a tweet, adding: “I have alerted Border Patrol and Military that this is a National Emergy.”

Trump, who has taken a hard line toward illegal immigration since taking office last year, gave no other details about his administration’s actions.

Representatives for the White House and the U.S. Border Patrol did not immediately reply to requests for comment. Representatives for the Pentagon and the U.S. State Department referred questions to the White House.

Trump and his fellow Republicans have sought to elevate the caravan as a campaign issue ahead of the Nov. 6 congressional elections in which his party is fighting to maintain control of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.

Congress has failed to fully fund Trump’s proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexican border, which he has argued is needed to combat illegal immigration.

NATIONAL GUARD AT BORDER

In April, Trump raised the prospect of sending military forces to the U.S.-Mexico border to stop illegal immigrants, raising questions in Congress and among legal experts about troop deployments on U.S. soil.

A 19th-century federal law restricts using the Army and other main branches of the military for civilian law enforcement on American soil, unless specifically authorized by Congress. But the military can provide support services to law enforcement and has done so on occasion since the 1980s.

Later in April, Trump and Defense Secretary James Mattis authorized up to 4,000 National Guard personnel to help the Department of Homeland Security secure the border if four Southwestern U.S. states.

Some specific statutes authorize the president to deploy troops within the United States for riot control or relief efforts after natural disasters.

Trump, who has made immigration a central part of his platform, earlier threatened to halt aid to the region, and potentially close the U.S. border with Mexico with the help of the military if the migrants’ march is not stopped.

Trump travels to Texas, a key border state, later on Monday to campaign for Republican U.S. Senator Ted Cruz. Cruz, who challenged Trump for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, is seeking re-election.

In a tweet on Monday, Republican U.S. Senator Marco Rubio wrote: “While unlawful migration to U.S. from Central America is caused by real crisis, the migrant ‘caravan’ was manufactured by supporters of a radical agenda who are using poor and desperate people to try and embarrass and undermine the U.S. in the region. But it’s going to backfire on them.”

(Reporting by Susan Heavey and Makini Brice; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

Another 49 Central Americans from caravan cross U.S. border

People traveling with a caravan of migrants from Central America line up for eat at a camp near the San Ysidro checkpoint, after U.S. border authorities allowed the first small group of women and children entry from Mexico on Monday night, in Tijuana, Mexico May 1, 2018. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido

By Delphine Schrank

TIJUANA, Mexico (Reuters) – Forty-nine Central Americans from a migrant caravan that angered President Donald Trump crossed into the United States to seek asylum on Wednesday morning, while dozens more woke to a rainy, cold third day camped outside a U.S. port of entry.

The 49 migrants, including a first group of mostly women, children and transgender people who had been waiting at the U.S. gate for about 15 hours, were let through by midday, according to the group’s organizers, raising the total number of migrants who had crossed to 74.

Since Monday, border officials have allowed only a trickle at a time to cross the U.S. border, saying that the busy San Ysidro crossing to San Diego is saturated and the rest must wait their turn.

More than 100 members of the caravan, most from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, have been camped in a square near the entrance of the San Ysidro pedestrian bridge that leads from Mexico to the United States, waiting for their turn to enter the facility.

A group of people travelling with a caravan of migrants from Central America line up to eat at a camp near the San Ysidro checkpoint, after U.S. border authorities allowed the first small group of women and children entry from Mexico overnight, in Tijuana, Mexico May 1, 2018. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido

A group of people travelling with a caravan of migrants from Central America line up to eat at a camp near the San Ysidro checkpoint, after U.S. border authorities allowed the first small group of women and children entry from Mexico overnight, in Tijuana, Mexico May 1, 2018. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido

At least 28 migrants who made it into the United States on Wednesday had been next on the list. Late Tuesday they had anxiously filed through the walkway to the U.S. gate.

Two by two, some walked up to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer standing in the gate to ask if they might pass through.

First to try was a man and his small nephew, a football under his arm; then a mother and child; then a women with her grandsons.

Turned away, they bedded down in a small space pressed up against metal bars separating them from the United States, bundled against the cold under blankets and sheets of tarpaulin tenting.

No one knew when, or how many of them, would next be allowed through.

Among them was Reina Isabel Rodriguez, who had fled Honduras with her grandsons. Throughout the caravan’s 2,000-mile (3,220-km) odyssey from southern Mexico, the possibility that U.S. officials might reject her plea for asylum, and of being separated from the boys for not being their biological parent, had never seemed so real.

“I’m scared, I’m so scared, I don’t want to be sent home,” she said, tears streaming down her face. Christopher, 11, watched her with anguish, and Anderson, 7, sat at her feet, his head drooping, a toy robot in his lap.

Rodriguez was among the many migrants of the caravan who told Reuters they were forced from their homes by Central America’s brutal Mara street gangs, along with other life-threatening situations.

Trump’s administration, however, cites a more than tenfold rise in asylum claims in the past seven years, growing numbers of families and children and a shift to more Central Americans as signs that people are fraudulently taking advantage of the system.

Trump wants to tighten U.S. law to make it harder for people to claim asylum. For now though, despite his orders to keep such migrant caravans out of the country, international and U.S. law obliges the government to listen to people’s stories and decide whether they deserve shelter.

The U.S. Department of Justice said on Monday it launched prosecutions against 11 “suspected” caravan members on charges of crossing the border illegally.

About half of them are represented by the federal public defender in San Diego, according to the office’s chief trial attorney, Shereen Charlick, including three women who had planned to present themselves and their children to make asylum claims at the official border port of entry.

Long lines at the entry point led the women and their children to try crossing a few miles away, she said, where they were apprehended by immigration authorities. Defense lawyers are trying to track down the location of their children, Charlick said.

She said some of the mothers apprehended are no longer with their children, and that lawyers in the office are trying to figure out how they were separated.

Nicole Ramos, an attorney advising caravan members in Mexico, said she did not believe the individuals facing U.S. criminal charges were part of the caravan group.

“Quite a few people have claimed to be part of the caravan, including a sizable contingent of Guatemalan men who were never part,” Ramos said.

(Reporting by Delphine Schrank, editing by Robert Birsel and Jonathan Oatis)

Senate Republican leader embraces Trump immigration plan

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) arrives for a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., February 6, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Senate Republicans on Tuesday turned up the heat on Democrats seeking protections for young “Dreamer” immigrants as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell embraced President Donald Trump’s demands for broad changes to the country’s immigration policies.

In announcing his support for legislation that would help immigrants who were brought illegally to the United States as children, McConnell also threw his weight behind building a U.S.-Mexico border wall and sharply curtailing visas for the parents and siblings of immigrants living in the United States legally.

“This proposal has my support and during this week of fair debate I believe it deserves support of every senator who’s ready to move beyond making points and actually making a law,” McConnell, a Republican, said in a speech on the Senate floor.

Even some Republicans, however, have expressed skepticism that such broad, fundamental changes in U.S. immigration law can pass the Senate by the Thursday deadline that No. 2 Republican Senator John Cornyn urged late on Monday.

Also on Monday, Democratic Senator Dick Durbin, who is leading the charge for Dreamers, told reporters that he thought early Senate votes on immigration legislation would begin with “expansive” measures that will fail to win the 60 votes needed to clear procedural hurdles.

Then, Durbin said, senators will be forced to move “toward the center with a moderate approach.”

But at least for now, Republicans were holding a tough line. Republican Senator Tom Cotton, interviewed on Fox News, said Trump’s immigration plan “is not an opening bid for negotiations. It’s a best and final offer.”

That ran counter to statements Trump has made in recent days, including early on Tuesday in which he said in a tweet that “Negotiations on DACA have begun.”

DACA is the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which Democratic former President Barack Obama initiated in 2012 and which has allowed around 700,000 Dreamers to legally study and work in the United States temporarily. Last September, Trump announced he would terminate the program on March 5.

During testimony before the Senate Budget Committee on Monday, White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney said he thought that a deal on immigration legislation will be reached “and that we have full funding on the (border) wall” of $18 billion over two years.

Durbin and other Democrats have talked of the possibility of a bill that provides for a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers and additional border security, which could include the construction of more border fencing and other high-tech tools to deter illegal immigrants.

(Reporting By Richard Cowan, additional reporting by Katanga Johnson; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Jonathan Oatis)