On Day 28, no sign of end to U.S. partial government shutdown

Long lines are seen at a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) security checkpoint at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport amid the partial federal government shutdown, in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S., January 18, 2019. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage

By James Oliphant

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – As the partial U.S. government shutdown hit the four-week mark on Friday, tensions mounted in Washington on either side of the standoff over President Donald Trump’s demand for $5.7 billion to help fund a U.S.-Mexico border wall.

That ultimatum, which congressional Democrats have rejected, has prevented Congress from approving legislation to restore funding to about a quarter of the federal government, which closed down partially on Dec. 22 when several agencies’ funds expired for reasons unrelated to the border.

The Democratic-led House of Representatives has left town for a three-day weekend, returning late on Tuesday. The Senate was expected to reconvene on Friday, but its exact plans were unsettled.

The Republican-controlled Senate, toeing Trump’s line on the wall, has not acted on any of several shutdown-ending bills approved in recent days by the House, all lacking wall funding.

The partial shutdown – already the longest in U.S. history – seemed certain to drag well into next week, meaning 800,000 federal workers nationwide would continue to go unpaid and some government functions would remain impaired.

Any serious debate about immigration policy has deteriorated into a test of political power. After House Speaker Nancy Pelosi suggested to Trump that he delay the annual State of the Union address until after the government reopens, Trump responded by denying Pelosi and a congressional delegation use of a military aircraft for a planned trip to Belgium and Afghanistan.

Trump’s intervention stopped the trip just as Pelosi and other lawmakers were about to travel.

Pelosi’s spokesman said on Friday that the congressional delegation had been prepared to fly commercially after the military plane was revoked, but learned the administration had also leaked the commercial travel plans.

“In light of the grave threats caused by the President’s action, the delegation has decided to postpone the trip so as not to further endanger our troops and security personnel, or the other travelers on the flights,” Drew Hammill wrote on Twitter.

Hammill said the State Department had to pay for the commercial flight, which was how the White House knew about the travel plans that Hammill said were leaked.

A White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity, denied leaking the travel plans, adding, “When the speaker of the House and about 20 others from Capitol Hill decide to book their own commercial flights to Afghanistan, the world is going to find out.”

In tweets on Friday, Trump reiterated his claim that farmworkers would still be able to enter the country and stressed again his demand for the border wall, which he says is needed to stem illegal immigration and drug trafficking. Democrats have resisted the wall as wasteful and unworkable.

The House has passed short-term spending bills that would end the shutdown and reopen the government, but Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has refused to allow a floor vote on them, saying they lacked White House support.

A House Republican aide told Reuters on Thursday that no back-channel talks to resolve the shutdown were taking place.

During the week, a small group of Senate Republicans sought support for a plan to urge Trump to agree to a short-term funding bill in exchange for a debate on border security. Their efforts went nowhere.

The Trump administration worked to minimize the damage being done to government operations across the country. On Thursday, the State Department said it was calling furloughed employees back to work.

(Reporting by James Oliphant; additional reporting by Richard Cowan, Susan Cornwell, Jeff Mason and Makini Brice; editing by Kevin Drawbaugh, Peter Cooney and Jonathan Oatis)

Venezuela children left behind as parents flee to find work abroad

Iris Olivo holds her grandson Andrew Miranda's hand at the slum of La Vega in Caracas, Venezuela November 16, 2018. REUTERS/Marco Bello

By Shaylim Castro

CARACAS (Reuters) – Yusneiker and Anthonella have been living with their grandmother since their father left Venezuela and its collapsing economy last year for Peru, to try and earn enough to feed them. Two years earlier, their mother fled for the Dominican Republic for the same reason.

Yusneiker, 12, and Anthonella, 8, are eating better thanks to hard currency remittances from their parents, according to their grandmother Aura Orozco, who is grateful for the dollars that offer a reprieve from Venezuela’s annual inflation of nearly 2 million percent.

Still, she said, they miss their parents.

When they fall sick, they clamor for their mother. Though Yusneiker has adapted, Anthonella’s grades have slipped. The dark-eyed, curly-haired girl has clammed up and often answers her grandmother by simply nodding or shaking her head.

“To this day, she will lay down and if you ask her ‘what is wrong?’ she will say ‘I miss my mommy,'” said Orozco, 48, in her home in the hillside Caracas slum of Cota 905.

Some 3 million Venezuelans have migrated in three years, putting a growing strain on the country’s children as more parents are forced into the heart-wrenching decision to leave.

There is no official data on the phenomenon from the government of President Nicolas Maduro, which disputes the idea that there is an exodus, saying international aid agencies are inflating figures to give the administration a black eye. Despite this official skepticism, Maduro has touted a program to help migrants return.

Childhood hunger, decrepit schools and shortages of medicine and vaccinations already were problems amid the collapse of an economy once renowned for abundant oil wealth. With more parents migrating, experts interviewed by Reuters said growing problems facing Venezuelan children now include slumping school performance and malnutrition of newborns separated from would-be nursing mothers.

“These are lose-lose decisions for the parents – do I lose more by not being able to cover basic needs in the country, or by sacrificing the relationship with my child?” said Abel Saraiba, a psychologist with Caracas-based child advocacy group Cecodap.

Venezuelan migration, for years a middle-class phenomenon that involved air travel, is now dominated by working-class citizens who take long bus rides or walk along dangerous paths that are unsuitable for children.

Many also know they face challenging economic circumstances and want to be free to work all-day shifts to send more money home.

Cecodap said problems associated with children left behind by emigrating parents comprised its third most common request for help in 2018, up from fifth place in 2017.

Catholic organization Faith and Happiness, which runs schools in poor neighborhoods, said at least 5 percent of students had seen their parents emigrate as of the start of 2019.

MATERIAL BENEFITS

Children often gain material benefits from their parents’ migration, because sending hard currency to relatives provides greater access to food and medicine and even the occasional gift. Yusneiker’s grandmother was recently able to surprise him with a new pair of sneakers.

Parents say this is little consolation for breaking up a family.

“Even though my kids are older, it still hurts. I miss them so much,” said Omaira Martinez, who left her 17-year-old and 21-year-old children with their grandmother when she moved to Chile six months ago, where she now works washing dishes. “The first few months were hard. I cried a lot.”

Anthonella Peralta looks at photos sent by her mother Yusmarlys Orozco, who lives in Dominican Republic, on grandmother Aura's phone, in their home in the slum Cota 905 in Caracas, Venezuela December 18, 2018. REUTERS/Marco Bello

Anthonella Peralta looks at photos sent by her mother Yusmarlys Orozco, who lives in Dominican Republic, on grandmother Aura’s phone, in their home in the slum Cota 905 in Caracas, Venezuela December 18, 2018. REUTERS/Marco Bello

Venezuela’s Information Ministry, which handles media inquiries for the government, did not respond to a request for comment.

Maduro has warned migrants that they face xenophobia and exploitation in other countries, and has launched a repatriation effort called “Return to the Homeland” that he says has helped some 12,000 unhappy migrants return home.

Often parents are unable to return quickly despite having promised to do so.

When Angymar Jimenez, 27, left for Ecuador to work as a manicurist, she planned to be back in several months. Two years later, her two children Andrew, 5, and Ailin, 10, are still in the care of their grandmother, Iris Olivo.

“(Ailin) at first would say that her mom was coming to get her, she would say goodbye to her friends because she thought she was leaving,” said Olivo. “Eventually she realized that wasn’t happening.”

In extreme cases, migration of a nursing mother can lead to illness and malnutrition.

One-year-old Leanny Santander in the western Falcon state has been suffering from diarrhea and vomiting since her mother moved to Colombia in search of work and stopped breastfeeding her, said her grandmother, Nelida Santander.

Santander said doctors told her Leanny’s health problems, which now include bronchitis, resulted from the early end of breast-feeding.

“I prefer for my granddaughter to be here with me – if her mother took her over there it would be worse,” said Santander, 50. “Here she is sick, but at least I can attend to her.”

The decision to migrate is often made quickly, which means parents are likely to leave children with relatives without giving them custody, putting children in a legal limbo.

A 2018 survey on migration issues by pollster Datanalisis found that about half the households surveyed had not legally placed children in a guardian’s care. That complicates signing up for school, where the presence of both parents is legally required.

The situation puts further pressure on kids to grow up early, sometimes to comfort their own anguished parents.

“I speak to her every day,” said Yusneiker of his mother in the Dominican Republic. “I tell her I miss her, that she should not worry, and that I know she has not abandoned me.”

(Additional reporting by Mircely Guanipa in Punto Fijo; Editing by Alexandra Ulmer and David Gregorio)

Grisly Mexican gang battle near U.S. border leaves 21 dead

FILE PHOTO: A logo patch is shown on the uniform of a U.S. Border Patrol agent near the international border between Mexico and the United States south of San Diego, California March 26, 2013. REUTERS/Mike Blake

By Delphine Schrank

REYNOSA, Mexico (Reuters) – The charred remains of 21 people killed in a suspected gang battle have been found in a Mexican border town, just over the river from where U.S. President Donald Trump was seeking to win support on Thursday for his plan to build a border wall.

Officials in the notoriously violent border state of Tamaulipas said they were investigating the incident, which took place in Ciudad Miguel Aleman, after discovering the bodies on Wednesday. Seventeen of the bodies were burned.

Photos shared with Reuters by a state official show the deceased scattered along a dirt track in scrubland, alongside burned-out vehicles.

Trump visited McAllen, Texas on Thursday afternoon, about 90 kilometers (56 miles) from Ciudad Miguel Aleman. He threatened to use emergency powers to bypass Congress and get billions of dollars to pay for the wall.

He has justified that demand by saying that undocumented migrants, criminals and illegal drugs have been pouring across the border. Statistics show illegal immigration has fallen to a 20-year low, while many drugs are believed to enter through legal ports of entry.

In Tamaulipas, turf wars between the local Gulf Cartel and its chief rival, the Zetas, have been a key source of bloodshed over recent years.

One body found was wearing the remains of a baseball cap bearing the letters and logo of the Gulf Cartel, while others wore the remains of bullet-proof vests with the same insignia, according to the photos.

Luis Rodriguez, a spokesman for state police, said in a statement that it appeared gunmen from the Gulf Cartel had fought with members of the Northeast Cartel, a group that split off from the Zetas.

Irving Barrios, the state’s attorney general, said in a radio interview that authorities found semi-automatic weapons and bulletproof vehicles at the site.

The area is “greatly fought over” by traffickers of arms and drugs as well as those who help undocumented migrants to cross to the United States, he said.

Another confrontation on Thursday morning between an armed group and military forces in Nueva Ciudad Guerrero, also in Tamaulipas, left five people dead and one military officer injured, said a representative from the state’s peace coordination group.

Tens of thousands of people have been killed in Mexico during years of fighting between security forces and cartels warring over drug trafficking, extortion rackets and the exploitation of migrants.

(Reporting by Delphine Schrank in Reynosa, additional reporting by Lizbeth Diaz in Tijuana and Michael O’Boyle and Daina Beth Solomon in Mexico City; editing by Rosalba O’Brien)

Mexico prepares for arrival of next Central American migrant caravan

FILE PHOTO: Migrants, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America trying to reach the United States, leave a temporary shelter voluntarily, which is to be closed by Mexican authorities for sanitary reasons, in Tijuana Mexico January 5, 2019. REUTERS/Jorge Duenes

By Diego Oré

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mexican authorities will meet with Central American officials to prepare for the arrival of a planned new caravan of migrants headed to the United States next week.

The head of Mexico’s immigration office, Tonatiuh Guillen, left on Wednesday on a trip to El Salvador and Honduras to meet with his counterparts and other authorities, said Interior Ministry spokesman Hector Gandini.

Mexico hopes to discourage a mass exodus from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, and wants Central Americans who decide to migrate north to do so in an orderly way and through legal ports of entry.

“The doors to Mexico are open to anyone who wants to enter in an orderly fashion,” Gandini told Reuters in a telephone interview. “But whoever wants to come in illegally will be deported.”

Previous Central American caravans became a flashpoint in the debate over U.S. immigration policy.

That was intensified by the recent deaths of two migrant children in American custody and a partial U.S. government shutdown over U.S. President Donald Trump’s demand for $5.7 billion in funding for a wall along the border with Mexico.

There are 12 legal ports of entry for Central Americans on Mexico’s southern border, but Mexican authorities have identified an additional 370 illegal points of entry on that frontier, Interior Minister Olga Sanchez said this week.

Mexico borders in the south with Guatemala and Belize.

The illegal entry points will be “monitored and controlled to avoid undocumented access of people to our territory,” Sanchez said.

Guatemala’s deputy foreign minister, Pablo Cesar Garcia, met with Mexican authorities on Tuesday to discuss the caravan and to “provide all the necessary support to the migrants,” said Guatemalan Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Marta Larra.

“In Honduras, they kill us,” read an appeal circulating on social media for people to assemble in the violent Honduran city of San Pedro Sula next Tuesday to start the long trek north to the United States.

While other social media posts invite people to leave from nearby Santa Barbara on Jan. 20, U.S. authorities hoped to dissuade Central Americans from making the journey.

“The risks of illegal immigration are serious. Don’t waste your time and money on a trip destined to fail. The road is long and very dangerous. Thousands of Hondurans who participated in the caravan came back sorry,” Heide Fulton, the U.S chargé d’affaires to Honduras, said on Twitter on Wednesday.

(Reporting by Diego Ore; Additional reporting by Gustavo Palencia in Tegucigalpa, Sofia Menchu in Guatemala City, Nelson Renteria in San Salvador and Lizbeth Diaz in Tijuana, Mexico; Writing by Anthony Esposito; Editing by Peter Cooney)

Border patrol chief defends agents in child deaths

U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan addresses a news conference on the Trump administration's plan to deploy U.S. military forces to the Southwest border at U.S. Customs & Border Protection headquarters in Washington, U.S., October 29, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

By Doina Chiacu

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The head of U.S. Customs and Border Protection on Sunday defended his agents’ handling of two sick children who died in their custody, saying they did everything they could to get medical help for them in difficult circumstances.

The deaths have intensified the debate over U.S. immigration policy as President Donald Trump holds onto his demand that lawmakers give him $5 billion to fund a wall along the border with Mexico.

The impasse over Trump’s border wall resulted in a partial government shutdown that entered its ninth day on Sunday.

CBP Commissioner Kevin McAleenan told ABC’s “This Week” it had been a decade since a child had died in the agency’s custody and that the loss of two Guatemalan children in three weeks was “just absolutely devastating for us on every level.”

Felipe Gomez Alonzo, 8, died on Christmas Day. In early December, 7-year-old Jakelin Caal died after being detained along with her father by U.S. border agents in a remote part of New Mexico.

On Saturday, Trump blamed Democrats for the deaths of the two children in a Twitter post, drawing criticism that he was politicizing the tragedies.

The standoff over his demand for wall funding will be a test for Congress when it returns this week with Democrats in control of the House of Representatives.

Trump sees the wall as vital to stemming illegal immigration, while Democrats and some Republicans see it as impractical and costly.

After the death of the second child, the CBP said it will conduct secondary medical checks on all children in its custody, with a focus on those under 10.

Caal was 94 miles (150 km) from a Border Patrol station when she began vomiting on a bus ride to the station, McAleenan said on ABC. He said a Border Patrol agent who was a paramedic revived her there and she was taken to a children’s hospital in El Paso, where she died.

In the boy’s case, McAleenan said, it was a Border Patrol agent who first noticed he was ill and sent him and his father to a hospital. State officials in New Mexico said on Friday that Felipe had the flu before he passed away.

“Our agents did everything they could, as soon as these children manifested symptoms of illness, to save their lives,” McAleenan said.

‘VULNERABLE POPULATIONS’

McAleenan said the number of families and children crossing the border illegally has increased steadily in recent months and made up 65 percent of crossings in December. Those families and children are entering a system set up for adults.

“We don’t want them in border patrol stations. We want them in a better scenario for these vulnerable populations that we are seeing,” he said.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, the incoming chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he would hold hearings on the deaths and “the policies that entice people to come.”

A border wall was the last measure listed by McAleenan as necessary to address what he called a crisis at the southern border – after new legislation in Congress, investing in Central American nations to help improve life there, and working with Mexico on a joint plan for handling migrants.

“We need a sober-minded nonpartisan look at our immigration laws to really confront and grapple with the fact that children and families are coming into this cycle,” he said. “That’s first and foremost.”

Before it can hope to tackle complex immigration legislation, Congress must reach a deal on the critical spending measure.

Graham on Sunday proposed enticing Democrats into supporting Trump’s border wall by offering in return a measure providing legal status for 700,000 so-called Dreamers, children who were brought to the United States illegally.

“So to my Democratic friends, there will never be a deal without wall funding and many Republicans are going to offer something as an incentive to vote for wall funding that you have supported in the past,” he said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

However, fellow Republican Senator Richard Shelby warned on CBS’ “Face the Nation” that negotiations were at an impasse and the shutdown “could last a long, long time.”

Democratic U.S. Representative Hakeem Jeffries said the country needs comprehensive immigration reform and border security.

“But we are not willing to pay $2.5 billion or $5 billion and wasting taxpayer dollars on a ransom note because Donald Trump decided that he was going to shut down the government and hold the American people hostage,” Jeffries said on ABC.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Phil Berlowitz and Daniel Wallis)

Bereaved Guatemalan mother recalls hopes son would ease U.S. entry

Catarina Perez (C), grandmother of Felipe Gomez Alonzo, a 8-year-old boy detained alongside his father for illegally entering the U.S., who fell ill and died in the custody of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), gestures at an altar in memory of Felipe at the family's home in the village of Yalambojoch, Guatemala December 27, 2018. REUTERS/Luis Echeverria

By Sofia Menchu

YALAMBOJOCH, Guatemala (Reuters) – Between heavy sobs, Catarina Alonzo explained that when her husband left Guatemala to try to reach the United States, they hoped taking their 8-year-old son would make it easier for the pair to get in. Instead, the boy fell ill and died.

Detained on the U.S. border, Felipe Gomez Alonzo died late on Christmas Eve in a New Mexico hospital a few weeks after setting off with his father, becoming the second Guatemalan child to die this month while in U.S. custody.

The two deaths have led to increased criticism of the Trump administration’s hardline stance on illegal immigration, as well as fresh scrutiny of why some migrants from Central America travel with children on the long, dangerous road north.

Speaking at her home in a mountainous region of western Guatemala, Catarina Alonzo said neighbors had told the family that taking a child would provide her husband with a way in.

“Lots of them have gone with children and managed to cross, even if they’re held for a month or two. But they always manage to get across easily,” she told Reuters in an interview.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has yet to give an official cause of death for the boy, prompting Democratic lawmakers to intensify calls for an investigation.

The Department of Homeland Security, which says that Felipe Gomez Alonzo and 7-year-old Jakelin Caal, who died on Dec. 8, were the first children to die in CBP custody in a decade, this week said it would step up medical checks of migrant children to try to prevent any more deaths.

Alonzo, an indigenous Maya and native speaker of Chuj, has little Spanish and communicated through a translator. Wearing a sweatshirt and a purple dress, she spoke outside her hut in Yalambojoch, a village of about 1,000 people near the Mexican border.

She related how her son and his father, Agustin, an agricultural worker, had left in early December to find work in the United States to pay off debts. The two also hoped the boy would get a better education in the United States, she said.

Still, Alonzo said her husband had doubts and at one point decided he did not want to take the boy. But that upset the boy, so they resolved he should go.

Alonzo’s sobs could be heard for minutes outside the house before she came out to be interviewed. Afterward she went back inside to a tiny altar she had adorned with three photos of the boy that a local schoolteacher had printed out for her.

The altar stood to one side of a room with cement walls that serves as a bedroom and living area for Alonzo and her three surviving children. Adjoining it was a kitchen with a dirt floor and wooden walls.

Her husband remains in U.S. custody.

“NOW OR NEVER”

Marta Larra, a spokeswoman for Guatemala’s Foreign Ministry, said smugglers known as “coyotes” often encourage migrants to take children as a form of “visa.” Many coyotes, she noted, are trusted by migrant families, so their word carries weight.

But Lucas Perez, the mayor of Yalambojoch, said some coyotes are only interested in ripping off people. Still, for many migrants trying to cross the U.S. border, taking a child along was the “only option,” he told Reuters.

Describing migration from the area as “constant,” Perez estimated about 200 people from the tiny village live in the United States.

Agustin Gomez, the boy’s father, has two brothers in the United States he hoped to meet, his wife said.

Next to her hut, laborers worked on a two-story concrete house with a twin-gabled, tiled roof – evidence of the money coming back from the United States, the mayor said.

Under U.S. law, families from countries that do not border the United States cannot be immediately deported, and because of a longstanding legal settlement, there are restrictions on how long U.S. authorities can detain migrant children.

As a result, families with children are often released to await an immigration court hearing, which can be scheduled well into the future due to ballooning backlogs.

U.S. President Donald Trump has tried to reverse the policy, which he calls “catch and release,” but has been blocked by lawsuits in federal court.

His Democratic opponents have seized on the deaths of the two Guatemalan children to attack his policies. On Thursday, Senator Dianne Feinstein urged the Senate to hold a hearing in the new year on how children are treated in U.S. custody.

In the meantime, Trump’s insistence on building a southern border wall has given coyotes a fresh argument to promote migration, Larra said.

“According to interviews (with migrants), the coyotes are saying ‘it’s now or never’ because the wall is going to be built, and it won’t be possible to cross,” she said.

(Reporting by Sofia Menchu; Additional reporting by Stefanie Eschenbacher in Mexico City and Mica Rosenberg in New York; Editing by Dave Graham, Rosalba O’Brien and Leslie Adler)

Mexico vows to end ‘horror’ migrants face, seeks more detail on U.S. plan

By Dave Graham

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – The Mexican government on Monday pledged to end the “horror” migrants face crossing the country en route to the U.S. border, and pressed Washington for more details of its plan to send asylum-seekers to Mexico while their requests are processed.

Mexico’s government had said it would on Monday set out its position on the Trump administration’s radical policy change, announced last week, that migrants seeking refuge in the United States would be sent to Mexico while their cases are pending.

But for the second time running, Mexican foreign minister Marcelo Ebrard told a regular news conference that he would seek “more information” from U.S. authorities about the plan both sides unveiled on Thursday.

Most migrants traveling to the United States are from poor and violent countries in Central America. Caravans of them from the region have in recent months fanned tensions between Mexico and U.S. President Donald Trump over border security.

Ebrard reiterated his government would not sign any accord that made Mexico a “safe third country” – an agreement Mexico says U.S. officials have requested which would oblige migrants who arrive first in Mexico to file asylum requests there.

Instead, the minister said, Mexico would “drastically” change its migration policy to ensure that its response to the mass movement of people was humanitarian.

“Today there’s only one way of describing the experience of the migrants that travel through our country: It is a horror. Humiliations, abuses, violations, and outrages,” Ebrard said alongside President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

Deflecting attention from Trump’s often pointed criticism, Mexico has tried to take the higher ground in the debate by promising to help migrants get jobs and visas.

Interior Minister Olga Sanchez told the news conference that migrants would in future enter Mexico in an “orderly” and “safe” way, vowing a shift away from what she called a policy of “repression and militarization” at its southern border.

But many questions remain about how Mexico will cope with an influx of potentially thousands of Central Americans into the country for cases that may take years to process.

Lopez Obrador has sought not to antagonize Trump by commenting on the U.S. president’s demands for a southern border wall, and on Monday he again declined to do so.

“There’s a special situation in the United States and I don’t wish to offer a point of view,” he told reporters. “I will keep my counsel. There will be time.”

(Reporting by Dave Graham; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Jonathan Oatis)

Two million more Venezuelans could flee next year: U.N.

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) – An estimated two million Venezuelans could join the ranks of migrants and refugees next year, swelling the total to 5.3 million as the country’s meltdown continues, the United Nations said on Friday.

About 5,000 Venezuelans flee their homeland daily, down from a peak of 13,000 in August, said Eduardo Stein, a joint special representative for the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

Stein described the two million figure as a planning estimate for migrants and refugees leaving for neighboring countries in the next 14 months who will need aid.

“The region had to respond to an emergency that in some areas of concern was almost similar to a massive earthquake. We are indeed facing a humanitarian earthquake,” he told a news briefing.

The U.N. appealed last week for $738 million in 2019 to help Venezuela’s neighbors cope with the inflow of millions of refugees and migrants who have “no prospect for return in the short- to medium-term”.

About 3.3 million Venezuelans have fled the political and economic crisis in their homeland, most since 2015, the UNHCR said.

About 365,000 of them have sought asylum, U.N. refugee boss Filippo Grandi said.

“The reasons these people left are ranging from pure hunger to violence and lack of security … We at UNHCR believe many have valid reasons to seek international protection,” he said.

Colombia has taken in one million Venezuelan nationals, with most others going to Brazil, Ecuador and Peru.

A bipartisan group of U.S. Senators proposed on Thursday giving temporary protected status to Venezuelan migrants to the United States.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro blames its economic problems on U.S. financial sanctions and an “economic war” led by political adversaries.

The U.N. aid plan, presented to donors on Friday, aims to help Venezuelans to become productive contributors in host countries, said Antonio Vitorio, director-general of the IOM.

“This means focusing on access to the labor market, recognition of qualifications and also guaranteeing that the provision of social services in those countries – especially housing, health, and education – are up to the stress that derives from the newcomers,” he said.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; editing by David Stamp)

Trump administration asks top court to restore asylum order

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump delivers remarks on immigration and border security in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, U.S., November 1, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo

By Andrew Chung

(Reuters) – President Donald Trump’s administration asked the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday to let his order barring asylum for immigrants who enter the United States illegally take effect even as litigation over the matter proceeds.

The U.S. Justice Department asked the court to lift a temporary restraining order against the asylum rules issued by San Francisco-based U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar. Trump has taken a hard line toward legal and illegal immigration since taking office last year.

Citing what he called an overwhelmed immigration system, Trump issued a proclamation on Nov. 9 that authorities process asylum claims only for migrants crossing the southern U.S. border at an official port of entry. Tigar blocked the rules on Nov. 19, drawing Trump’s ire.

The San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals refused on Friday to lift Tigar’s injunction pending an appeal by the administration, saying the government “has not established that it is likely to prevail.”

The Justice Department said in its request to the Supreme Court that the injunction frustrated the government’s effort to re-establish control over the southern border and reduce illegal crossings.

Trump issued his proclamation alongside a new administration rule that effectively prohibited asylum for migrants crossing from Mexico outside a port of entry. The policy came as the government sought ways to block thousands of Central Americans traveling in caravans to escape violence and poverty at home from entering the United States.

Immigrant rights groups immediately sued, arguing the policy violated federal immigration and administrative law.

In his ruling, Tigar said Congress clearly mandated that immigrants were eligible for asylum regardless of where they enter the country.

The ruling prompted Trump to blast the 9th Circuit as a “disgrace” and dismiss Tigar as an “Obama judge.” Tigar was appointed to the bench by former President Barack Obama, a Democrat.

That criticism led to an extraordinary rebuke by U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts, who issued a public response to Trump.

“We do not have Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges,” said Roberts, a conservative who was appointed by Republican former President George W. Bush.

(Reporting by Andrew Chung in New York; Editing by Will Dunham and Peter Cooney)

Many U.S.-bound caravan migrants disperse as asylum process stalls

A migrant, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America trying to reach the United States, shelters as he rests on a street in Tijuana, Mexico, December 7, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

By Christine Murray

TIJUANA, Mexico (Reuters) – Thousands of Central American migrants spent weeks traveling north through Mexico in caravans, walking and hitching rides when possible, only for many to give up hope and turn back when they met resistance at the U.S. border.

Others hopped the border fence, often directly into the hands of immigration authorities on the U.S. side, while still others dug in at temporary lodgings in Tijuana for the long process of seeking asylum from a reluctant U.S. government.

As rain poured down on a former music venue in Tijuana that holds a diminished crowd of 2,500 migrants, Jessica, 18, grabbed her feverish 1-year-old daughter and took her inside to a friend while she figured out what to do with her broken tent.

Migrants, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America trying to reach the United States, line up for a food distribution outside a temporary shelter in Tijuana, Mexico, December 7, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

Migrants, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America trying to reach the United States, line up for a food distribution outside a temporary shelter in Tijuana, Mexico, December 7, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

Jessica had traveled from El Salvador and said she and her husband were waiting in the Barretal camp for the right moment to try to cross the border illegally.

“Getting asylum is really difficult,” she said. “They ask you for a lot of evidence and it’s impossible. It’s not like they say it is.”

Other migrants face the same dilemma. Of 6,000 who arrived in Tijuana in the caravans last month, 1,000 have scrambled over border fences, and most of those were detained, the head of Mexico’s civil protection agency David Leon told local media on Wednesday.

A further 1,000 have accepted voluntary deportation, he said, while others are living on the street outside the municipal sports center where they first arrived, or in smaller shelters. The director of the Barretal camp, Mario Medina, said he expected hundreds more to arrive within days.

U.S. President Donald Trump has sought to make it harder to get asylum, but a federal court last month placed a temporary restraining order on his policy that only permitted asylum claims made at official ports of entry.

Under former President Barack Obama a system dubbed “metering” began, which limits how many can ask for asylum each day in Tijuana. Lawyers say Trump is using the system more aggressively to stem the flow at the port of entry.

A U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) spokeswoman said the agency works with Mexico and charities to manage the flow but denied that people were being prevented from making asylum claims.

Mexico’s National Immigration Institute, which did not respond to requests for comment, has said in the past it protects migrants rights while respecting other countries’ immigration policies.

Looking after the large groups of Central Americans is a challenge for Mexico. New President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has vowed to issue more work visas and on Friday pledged to do more to improve conditions at the Barretal shelter.

His government is in talks with Washington about an immigration plan, including a U.S. proposal to make asylum seekers stay in Mexico until their claim is decided, a process that can take years. Some believe that would deter people from seeking refuge.

 

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials detain a group of migrants, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America trying to reach the United States, after they crossed illegally from Mexico to the U.S, as seen from Tijuana, Mexico, December 7, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials detain a group of migrants, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America trying to reach the United States, after they crossed illegally from Mexico to the U.S, as seen from Tijuana, Mexico, December 7, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

NAVIGATING THE LIST

Despite the wait, more people are adding their names to the semi-formal asylum list. Created a couple of years ago around the time an influx of Haitians arrived in Tijuana seeking to enter the United States, it has been challenged in a U.S. lawsuit that claims it deliberately delays asylum seekers.

Migrants put their names in a black-and-white ledger, controlled by around eight migrant volunteers. Those on the list are given a number and must wait months to pass through for an interview. The list contains thousands of names from around the world.

Each day, CBP officials communicate with Mexican immigration officials who then tell the migrants how many can go through, according to volunteers, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. They said between 40 and 100 per day are usually sent.

At the end of each day, Mexican immigration officials guard the ledger. Lawyers have cited multiple problems with this system. For instance, they have said, some people on the list could be Mexicans fleeing the federal government.

Some migrants expressed distrust of the list. Honduran Anabell Pineda, 26, said she thought the process was not for her as she left behind a daughter in Honduras.

“They say, though I don’t know, that asylum is for people that don’t want to go back to their country, and I do want to go back,” she said.

Pineda, traveling with her son, said that once she gets her paperwork, she plans to find a job in Mexico City.

Pineda has applied for a humanitarian visa that will get her a work permit in Mexico, a better bet than trying to get to the United States, she said.

“It’s really difficult to cross, because of what happened last time. I don’t want to put my children in danger,” she said, referring to disturbances in which U.S. officials launched tear gas at migrants last month.

At a jobs fair set up by the federal Labor Ministry, coordinator Nayla Rangel said more than 3,000 migrants, mainly from the caravan, had job interviews.

Rangel said there were more than 10,000 jobs open in the state of Baja California, with salaries around 1500 pesos ($74) per week. For many migrants hoping to send money to families in Central America, that likely would not be enough.

(Reporting by Christine Murray; Editing by Daniel Flynn, David Gregorio and Tom Brown)