Migrants’ hopes dashed by surprise deportation to Haiti from U.S. border

By Daina Beth Solomon

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Haitian migrant Nikel Norassaint did not know where he was headed when Mexican migration officials put him on a flight last week in the southeastern city of Villahermosa, days after they had detained him near the U.S.-Mexico border.

The sea below was his only clue until the plane touched down in Port-au-Prince a few hours later, his first time in the country in five years.

“I said, ‘Wow, I’m in Haiti,'” Norassaint, 49, recalled. “My heart almost stopped.”

Norassaint, who has lived abroad for two decades, and another Haitian migrant on the flight said they were stunned to be returned to their homeland without warning.

They joined some 7,000 people expelled to Haiti from the United States after more than double that number amassed last month at an encampment in Del Rio, Texas on the Mexican border. Mexico has sent 200 people total back to Haiti as well.

Migrant advocacy groups and even a former U.S. special envoy to Haiti have condemned deportations to the Caribbean country beset by poverty and violence as inhumane, casting doubt on pledges from both the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden and Mexico’s President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador to aid struggling migrants.

Norassaint said he had been hopeful that Biden, who had advocated for a “humane” immigration policy, had “opened the door” for migrants when he crossed into Del Rio to seek entry to the United States.

But he decamped to Mexico once word began to spread of U.S. deportations. Migration officials detained him in the city of Ciudad Acuna opposite Del Rio and then bused him 930 miles (1,500 km) south to Villahermosa.

The Mexican government’s National Migration Institute (INM) had described the Sept. 29 flight to Port-au-Prince with 70 migrants on board as “voluntary assisted return.”

But for Norassaint, who lived in the Dominican Republic for 16 years before resettling in Chile in 2018, nothing about going back to Haiti was a matter of choice.

“There’s no work, it’s unsafe, there was an earthquake, many people are dead,” he said, noting even President Jovenel Moise was assassinated in July.

When asked about Norassaint’s experience, Mexico’s migration institute said it followed legal administrative protocol to return people to Haiti.

MIGRATION POLICY OF ‘EUPHEMISMS’

Jose Miguel Vivanco, head of Human Rights Watch in the Americas, said in an opinion article on Sunday that the group has documented past instances of Mexican officials pressuring migrants to agree to “voluntary” returns, and described the country’s migration policy as “riddled with euphemisms.”

The migration institute sent another 130 migrants back to Haiti by plane on Wednesday; that flight was not labeled “voluntary.” A video of migrants boarding the plane, filmed by a migrant rights activist and posted on social media, showed one man jumping from the stairs and dashing across the tarmac.

Norassaint is now staying with family in the coastal city of Miragoane and asking relatives in the United States to send money because he cannot withdraw funds from his Chilean bank account.

His 12-year-old daughter and 17-year-old stepson are still in Mexico with their mother.

Another man on the flight, Alfred, also mourned his surprise deportation to Haiti after he left the country in 2009 to live in the Dominican Republic, and then Chile.

He hoped to reach the United States to escape worsening discrimination in Chile, but hung back in Mexico to avoid deportation.

Officials detained Alfred, who requested anonymity because of Haiti’s precarious security situation, as he was leaving his hotel in Ciudad Acuna to buy food and supplies for his wife, who is two months pregnant.

Alfred had made it to Mexico by following tips in a WhatsApp group while his wife took a plane so she would not need to risk her life crossing the jungle between Colombia and Panama.

During the week in migration detention, he was allowed to make one brief call to his wife, who said she was making her way to the northern border city of Tijuana.

“I’m about to have a heart attack, thinking I left my wife behind,” Alfred said. “We’ve been together for ten years. Look where she is now, and I’m here.”

(Reporting by Daina Beth Solomon; Editing by Aurora Ellis)

Biden’s CIA director creates high-level unit focusing on China

By Mark Hosenball

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The career diplomat U.S. President Joe Biden named to lead the Central Intelligence Agency is creating a high-level unit aimed at sharpening the agency’s focus on China, at a time of tense relations between the world’s two largest economies.

CIA Director William Burns said on Thursday that the China Mission Center he was setting up “cuts across all of the agency’s mission areas,” while noting that the CIA’s concern is that “the threat is from the Chinese government, not its people.”

A senior CIA official compared Burns’ creation of the China unit to the agency’s tight focus on Russia during the Cold War and to its concentration on counter-terrorism following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington. No such high-level unit focusing explicitly on China had previously been set up by the agency, even in the wake of harsh attacks on China by former President Donald Trump and his aides.

The new China unit was one of several re-shuffles resulting from a broad review the agency launched last spring, the senior official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

In the Biden administration’s first months, relations with Beijing soured over deep differences on many issues including human rights, Hong Kong and the South China Sea. But top officials from both countries met this week to improve communication and set the stage for a virtual meeting of presidents by the end of the year.

Other agency moves include merging an Iran Mission Center set up by the Trump administration into a broader Middle East unit and merging a unit focusing on Korea with a broader East Asia-Pacific unit, the official said.

Burns said the CIA also was creating a position for a Chief Technology Officer as well as a new office called the Transnational and Technology Mission Center. This unit, the senior official said, would enable the agency to focus more tightly on issues such as global health, climate change, humanitarian disasters and disruption caused by new technologies.

The agency will also create a program under which it would encourage qualified employees to serve as “technology fellows” for a year or two in private industry.

The senior official said the agency had also set up an “incident cell” to oversee responses to the mysterious illness known as “Havana Syndrome” which has affected numerous diplomats and CIA employees, some of whom have been “diagnosed with real harm.”

(Reporting By Mark Hosenball; editing by Mary Milliken and Richard Pullin)

Biden says Republican stonewalling on debt ceiling risks U.S. default

By Susan Cornwell, Richard Cowan and Jarrett Renshaw

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -President Joe Biden said on Monday the federal government could breach its $28.4 trillion debt limit in a historic default unless Republicans join Democrats in voting to raise it in the two next weeks.

Senate Republicans, led by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, have twice in recent weeks blocked action to raise the debt ceiling – saying they do want action but will not help. Republicans say Democrats can use a parliamentary maneuver known as budget reconciliation to act alone. Top Democrats have rejected that approach.

“Raising the debt limit comes down to paying what we already owe … not anything new,” Biden said at a White House news conference.

Asked if he could guarantee the United States won’t breach the debt limit, the president answered: “No I can’t. That’s up to Mitch McConnell.” He said he intended to speak with McConnell about the matter.

In a high-stakes standoff over parliamentary maneuvers. McConnell for months has been saying that Democrats should use a process called “budget reconciliation” to get around the Senate’s filibuster rule, which requires 60 of 100 members to agree to pass most legislation. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat, has rejected that approach and Biden on Monday pleaded not to use the filibuster to block action.

“Just get out of the way,” Biden told Republicans. “If you don’t want to help save the country, get out of the way so you don’t destroy it.”

Late last month the U.S. House of Representatives passed and sent to the Senate a bill to suspend the limit on Treasury borrowing through the end of 2022.

Schumer on Monday said that later this week the Senate would vote for a third time on a measure to suspend the debt limit.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen last week warned lawmakers that the United States government was close to exhausting its federal borrowing capabilities by about Oct. 18.

Failure to act could have catastrophic economic consequences. Moody’s last month warned that it could cause a nearly 4% decline in economic activity, the loss of almost 6 million jobs, an unemployment rate of close to 9%, a sell-off in stocks that could wipe out $15 trillion in household wealth and a spike in interest rates on mortgages, consumer loans and business debts.

Democrats note that they voted to raise the debt limit during Republican Donald Trump’s administration even though they opposed deep tax cuts that added to the debt.

Biden said the United States racked up nearly $8 trillion in new debt over Trump’s four years in office, more than one quarter of the entire debt outstanding.

“Republicans in Congress raised the debt three times” under Trump, he said, with Democratic support.

STOCKS SLIDE

Concerns over the debt ceiling contributed to Monday’s drop in the stock market. Wall Street’s main indexes tumbled on Monday as investors shifted out of technology stocks in the face of rising Treasury yields, with concerns about U.S.-China trade, Taiwan and the debt ceiling in the forefront.

McConnell stuck to his guns in remarks to the Senate, and in an open letter to Biden on Monday.

“The majority needs to stop sleepwalking toward yet another preventable crisis. Democrats need to tackle the debt limit,” McConnell said on the Senate floor.

In a letter to Biden, McConnell said that the Democrats do not need Republican cooperation to pass a bill to raise the debt ceiling. Democrats have had nearly three months notice from Republicans about their position on the matter, McConnell wrote.

McConnell is known for standing his ground once he takes a controversial position. For example, in 2016 he refused to allow a Senate hearing on then-President Barack Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to a seat on the Supreme Court – holding the seat open until after Trump assumed office nearly a year later.

Schumer said the Senate will have to stay in session through the weekend and possibly into a planned recess next week if no progress is made on raising the debt limit.

Last week, the Senate’s parliamentarian ruled that Schumer could use the reconciliation process to bring a debt limit bill to the Senate floor, according to a source familiar with the ruling.

According to the parliamentarian, doing so would not jeopardize Democrats’ efforts to bring a second bill to the Senate floor under reconciliation. That is the multitrillion-dollar bill embracing Biden’s domestic agenda expanding social services and addressing climate change that Democrats are developing.

(Reporting by Susan Cornwell, Richard Cowan and Jarrett Renshaw; additional reporting by David Morgan, Jeff Mason, Steve Holland, Diane Bartz and Eric Beech; Editing by Scott Malone, Mark Porter and Grant McCool)

In political crosshairs, U.S. Supreme Court weighs abortion and guns

By Lawrence Hurley and Andrew Chung

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Just before midnight on Sept. 1, the debate over whether the U.S. Supreme Court’s conservative majority will dramatically change life in America took on a new ferocity when the justices let a near-total ban on abortion in Texas take effect.

The intense scrutiny of the court will only increase when the justices – six conservatives and three liberals – open their new nine-month term on Monday. They have taken up cases that could enable them to overturn abortion rights established in a landmark ruling 48 years ago and also expand gun rights – two cherished goals of American conservatives.

In addition, there are cases scheduled that could expand religious rights, building on several rulings in recent years.

These contentious cases come at a time when opinion surveys show that public approval of the court is waning even as a commission named by President Joe Biden explores recommending changes such as expanding the number of justices or imposing term limits in place of their lifetime appointments.

Some justices have given speeches rebutting criticism of the court and questions about its legitimacy as a nonpolitical institution. Its junior-most member Amy Coney Barrett, a conservative confirmed by Senate Republicans only days before the 2020 presidential election, said this month the court “is not comprised of a bunch of partisan hacks.”

“There’s no doubt that the court’s legitimacy is under threat right now,” lawyer Kannon Shanmugam, who frequently argues cases at the court, said at an event organized by the conservative Federalist Society. “The level of rhetoric and criticism of the court is higher than I can certainly remember at any point in my career.”

The court’s late-night 5-4 decision not to block the Republican-backed Texas law banning abortions after six weeks of pregnancy put abortion-rights advocates including Biden on high alert.

The justices now have a chance to go even further. They will hear a case on Dec. 1 in which Mississippi is defending its law banning abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. Mississippi’s Republican attorney general is asking the court to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion nationwide and ended an era when some states banned it.

In another blockbuster case, the justices could make it easier for people to obtain permits to carry handguns outside the home, a major expansion of firearms rights. They will consider on Nov. 3 whether to invalidate a New York state regulation that lets people obtain a concealed-carry permit only if they can show they need a gun for self-defense.

CONGRESSIONAL HEARINGS

Former President Donald Trump was able to appoint three conservative justices including Barrett who tilted the court further rightward, with the help of maneuvering by a key fellow Republican, Senator Mitch McConnell.

The Democratic-led Congress has held two hearings in recent months on how the court has increasingly decided major issues, including the Texas abortion one, with late-night emergency decisions using its “shadow docket” process that lacks customary public oral arguments.

“The Supreme Court has now shown that it’s willing to allow even facially unconstitutional laws to take effect when the law is aligned with certain ideological preferences,” Democrat Dick Durbin, the Senate Judiciary Committee’s chairman, said on Wednesday.

Conservative Justice Samuel Alito in a speech on Thursday objected to criticism that portrays the court’s members as a “dangerous cabal that resorts to sneaky and improper methods.”

“This portrayal feeds unprecedented efforts to intimidate the court or damage it as an independent institution,” Alito said.

Conservative Justice Clarence Thomas last month said judges are “asking for trouble” if they wade into political issues. Thomas has previously said Roe v. Wade should be overturned, as many conservatives have sought.

Liberal Justice Stephen Breyer noted in a May speech that the court’s legitimacy relies in part on avoiding major upheavals in the law when people have come to rely on existing precedents.

“The law might not be perfect but if you’re changing it all the time people won’t know what to do, and the more you change it the more people will ask to have it changed,” Breyer said.

Abortion rights advocates have cited the fact that Roe v. Wade has been in place for almost a half century as one reason not to overturn it.

Breyer, at 83 the court’s oldest member, himself is the focus of attention. Some liberal activists have urged him to retire so Biden can appoint a younger liberal who could serve for decades. Breyer has said he has not decided when he will retire.

George Mason University law professor Jenn Mascott, a former Thomas law clerk, said the justices should not be swayed by public opinion.

“What the justices have said they want to do is decide each case on the rule the law,” Mascott said. “I don’t think they should be thinking that the perception would be that they are too partisan one way or another.”

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley and Andrew Chung; Editing by Will Dunham and Scott Malone)

Senate Republicans block U.S. debt-limit hike again

By David Morgan and Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Senate Republicans blocked an attempt by President Joe Biden’s fellow Democrats on Tuesday to head off a potentially crippling U.S. credit default, raising questions about whether partisan tensions in Congress will threaten the nation’s economy.

With federal government funding due to expire on Thursday and borrowing authority set to run out on Oct. 18, Democrats who narrowly control both chambers of Congress are working to head off twin fiscal disasters while simultaneously trying to advance Biden’s ambitious legislative agenda.

So far, Republicans have prevented them from doing so.

Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday blocked a vote that would have suspended the nation’s $28.4 trillion debt limit. Senate Republicans a day earlier defeated legislation that would have raised the debt limit and extended government funding.

Lawmakers now have just three days to avert a possible government shutdown by midnight Thursday, the end of the current fiscal year. Failure to do so could result in furloughs for hundreds of thousands of federal workers in the middle of a public health crisis.

Democratic leaders in the House of Representatives and Senate said they would soon advance spending bills to head off a shutdown.

Fiscal brinkmanship has become a regular feature of U.S. politics thanks to ongoing partisan polarization.

The most recent government shutdown, occurring during the presidency of Biden’s Republican predecessor, Donald Trump, lasted 35 days before ending in January 2019.

A government shutdown or a default would be a setback for the Democrats, who ahead of next year’s congressional elections have portrayed themselves as the party of responsible government after Trump’s chaotic presidency.

Democrats are also struggling to unite behind two pillars of Biden’s domestic policy agenda: a $1 trillion infrastructure bill and a $3.5 trillion social spending package.

OCT. 18 DEADLINE

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told lawmakers that the government would run out of options to service the debt by Oct. 18. Republicans have refused to cooperate to raise the debt limit, saying they do not want to help Democrats spend more money. Democrats point out that much of the nation’s debt was incurred under Trump.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer proposed holding a vote to raise the debt limit that could pass with just the support of the chamber’s 48 Democrats and the two independents allied with them as long as Republicans agreed to allow the vote to occur.

“If Republicans really want to see the debt limit raised without providing a single vote, I’m prepared to hold that vote,” Schumer said on the Senate floor.

But McConnell blocked the vote, saying Democrats should fold the debt-ceiling increase into a $3.5 trillion spending bill that would expand the nation’s social safety net. Democrats have already set up special rules that would allow that package to pass the Senate without Republican support.

Democrats are still negotiating the size and content of that package. It could take several weeks to clear Congress and reach Biden’s desk, dangerously close to the debt-limit deadline.

Schumer called that approach a “non starter.”

Democrats had originally planned to handle the social-spending bill, championed by the party’s left wing, in tandem with a $1.1 trillion infrastructure package that has drawn bipartisan support. But they have scheduled a House vote on the infrastructure bill on Thursday even though the social-spending bill is still being negotiated.

Lawmakers on the party’s left insisted that Congress must first pass the social spending bill.

“We articulated this position more than three months ago, and today it is still unchanged,” Representative Pramila Jayapal, leader of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said in a statement.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan, David Morgan and Susan Cornwell; Editing by Andy Sullivan, Will Dunham and Jonathan Oatis)

Biden, Democrats may limit free college, childcare to shrink reconciliation bill -sources

By Jarrett Renshaw

(Reuters) -The White House and U.S. Democrats are weighing attaching or strengthening income caps to a number of key agenda items, including electric vehicle rebates and free community college, to shrink the $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill and pacify spending hawks, according to two officials familiar with the discussions.

Discussions about these income limits, known as means tests in Washington lingo, come as Democrats struggle to agree on the size of the sprawling social safety net and climate change package, a signature piece of President Joe Biden’s agenda.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki declined to comment on whether the administration would agree to income caps on things like free community college, but did note that means tests are common and that the president has supported placing income restrictions on government programs.

“Every family is not eligible for the child tax credit in this country. Every person is not eligible for the earned income tax credit,” Psaki noted.

The $3.5 trillion Biden proposal outlined earlier this year included free community college, expanded child tax credits and universal preschool for any U.S. citizen. But Democrats are now considering whether to cap eligibility based on income, the two sources told Reuters.

They’re also discussing limiting who can receive tax credits for electric cars.

The White House, for example, want to create a $7,500 tax credit for any taxpayers who purchase electric cars.

A House Democratic version of the bill said individual taxpayers must have an adjusted gross income of no more than $400,000 to get the credit, but Senate Democrats are considering a lower threshold that could go as low as $100,000, sources said.

Democrats are also considering whether to lower the income threshold for eligibility of the expanded child tax credit, which is set to expire at the end of the year unless Democrats make good on their promise to extend the added benefit by four years.

Currently, the tax credit phases out for married couples making over $400,000, but Democrats are considering lowering the cap, sources say.

(Reporting By Jarrett Renshaw; Editing by Heather Timmons and Jonathan Oatis)

For asylum advocates, border expulsions strain faith in Biden

By Mica Rosenberg and Kristina Cooke

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Confused and tired-looking toddlers clung to their parents at Port-au-Prince airport in Haiti on Tuesday, among the 360 family members rapidly expelled from the U.S. over the past three days.

These scenes came after U.S. border agents on horseback on Sunday used whip-like reins to block Haitian migrants wading across the Rio Grande with food and supplies from Mexico to a squalid encampment with nearly 10,000 people on the Texas side.

The images triggered anguish among some current U.S. officials interviewed by Reuters who said they once had high hopes that U.S. President Joe Biden would quickly reverse the hardline immigration policies of his Republican predecessor Donald Trump and, as he promised, “restore humanity and American values” to the immigration system.

Outside the government, disillusioned immigration advocates point to Biden’s refusal to repeal Trump’s most sweeping policy known as Title 42 – that allows border agents to quickly expel most migrants to Mexico or their home countries without a chance to apply for asylum.

Biden extended the March 2020 policy put in place by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, arguing it remained necessary as a public health measure amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“These deterrence (and) expulsion measures deny due process to asylum seekers and place them in harm’s way. That is a human rights violation,” Michael Knowles, president of AFGE Local 1924, the union that represents the asylum officers at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) told Reuters.

“Our members are outraged by the mistreatment of migrants and the refusal of our border authorities to allow them to have their asylum claims heard.”

Three other USCIS employees expressed similar concerns to Reuters, as did an official at another government agency.

Asylum officers interview migrants and refugees to determine if they need protection in the United States, while Border Patrol or Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents oversee border security and detention.

Top Democratic lawmakers joined in the criticism. The dwindling goodwill among allies comes as Biden’s immigration agenda was dealt a blow on Sunday when the Senate parliamentarian ruled Democratic proposals to give legal status to millions of immigrants in the United States could not be included in a budget reconciliation bill.

‘WHAT DO THEY BELIEVE IN?’

Biden did exempt unaccompanied children from Title 42 expulsions early in his presidency. But he has included families, even after a federal judge on Thursday ordered the government to stop expelling them. The administration is appealing the order.

A two-week stay on the order was “to allow the government time to organize itself,” said Lee Gelernt, the lead attorney from the American Civil Liberties Union suing the administration over the policy, “not to round up as many people as possible to expel them, and certainly not to expel desperate Haitian asylum seekers.”

The Trump administration argued many asylum claims were false and issued a flurry of policies to limit protections, moves that were often criticized by the USCIS’ union headed by Knowles.

One of the USCIS officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak to the press said it was understood it would take time to roll back the Trump-era measures, but that some are now losing patience in the face of slow reform.

“It’s appalling, disgusting,” the official said. “What do they believe in, if this is acceptable?” Some colleagues were considering whether to leave their jobs, the official said.

Another USCIS official spoke of being “personally mortified.”

USCIS referred a request for comment to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), who did not immediately respond.

RECORD CROSSINGS

On Tuesday, DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said Title 42 was being applied to the fullest extent possible, while at the same time condemning the actions of the agents on horseback saying the incident was being investigated and those involved had been assigned administrative duties.

As Biden is facing criticism from the left, Republicans say he has encouraged illegal migration by moving too fast to reverse other Trump-era immigration reforms.

In recent months, the number of crossings at the U.S.-Mexico border increased to 20-year highs with close to 200,000 encounters in August alone, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection data, though that is counting individuals who may have crossed multiple times.

Early in his presidency, Biden took several executive actions cheered by immigration groups – such as ending Trump’s travel bans on several Muslim-majority countries and scrapping a policy that sent asylum seekers to wait in Mexico for U.S. court hearings. He also exempted unaccompanied minors from Title 42 expulsions and reduced the number of families being expelled.

In a letter to Congress, retired Border Patrol Chief Rodney Scott said Biden’s reversals created a crisis at the border and constituted “a national security threat.” Unlike the USCIS union, the unions representing border and ICE agents have been vocal Trump backers.

Earlier this year, Biden also extended deportation relief to around 150,000 Haitians already living in the United States with Temporary Protected Status, though the benefits do not apply to anyone who arrived after July 29.

Biden acknowledged conditions are dire in the Caribbean country that has long struggled with violence and recently suffered a presidential assassination and a major earthquake.

(Reporting by Mica Rosenberg in New York; Additional reporting by Kristina Cooke in San Francisco; Editing by Donna Bryson and Aurora Ellis)

Biden urged to end Haitian border expulsions, Mexico detains migrants

By Daina Beth Solomon

CIUDAD ACUNA, Mexico (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden faced pressure on Tuesday to halt the expulsion of asylum seekers to Haiti from a Texas border camp, as worries about their safety compounded disquiet at images of officials on horseback using reins as whips against migrants.

Several hundred have been sent to Haiti from the camp in Del Rio, Texas, since Sunday. Thousands more have been moved into U.S. detention for processing and more flights are due to leave on Tuesday, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said.

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer urged fellow Democrat Biden to put an immediate end to the expulsions, adding to similar calls from several United Nations agencies.

Schumer said sending Haitians back to their home country, where a presidential assassination, rising gang violence and a major earthquake have spread chaos in recent weeks, “defies common sense.”

“It also defies common decency,” he said, calling images taken in recent days of mounted U.S. border agents using horse reins like whips “completely unacceptable.”

“The images turn your stomach. It must be stopped.”

The sprawling camp containing up to 10,000 mostly Haitian migrants under a bridge spanning the Rio Grande is a new flashpoint for the White House, already grappling with record numbers of border arrivals that Republican Senator Mitt Romney on Tuesday called a “disaster.”

The camp’s population peaked at up to 14,000 at the weekend, but has since diminished.

Mexican authorities also appeared to be detaining some of the migrants, who have regularly crossed back over to Mexico to get food.

A Reuters crew witnessed migrants who appeared to be Haitian detained on the streets of Ciudad Acuna across the river from the main camp on Monday by agents flanked by Mexico’s National Guard.

In one encounter, several migrants yelled and protested as agents boarded them into a National Immigration Institute (INM) van. INM did not immediately respond to a requests for comment.

The clashes at the border were also criticized by Mayorkas, who pushed ahead on Tuesday with moving migrants out of the camp to be flown to Haiti.

Speaking to CNN, Mayorkas said 4,000 Haitians had been moved from the camp. It was not clear if all of those were to be expelled from the United States, although he announced four flights were expected on Tuesday.

HOPE

Despite the risk of being returned to Haiti after sometimes years-long journeys through Latin America to reach the United States, the hope of being let in meant many migrants remain in the camp.

Carly Pierre, 40, said he was staying in the U.S. camp because he saw a chance to make it into the country with his wife and two children, ages 3 and 5, after several years living in Brazil.

“There are deportees, and there are people who will make it in,” he said, shorts still wet from having crossed the river to buy ice and soda at a convenience store on the Mexican side.

Despite the outcry over mistreatment and anger in Del Rio about the camp, Mayorkas emphasized that U.S. border agents were delivering medical attention and were working with the Red Cross.

In Ciudad Acuna, residents were also bringing relief to the migrants, after a couple of hundred gathered in a shady area resting on pieces of cardboard and blankets.

Jessica de la Garza, 22, who helped organize a drive on Facebook to collect donations, early on Tuesday distributed coffee, water, milk, sandwiches, cereal, beans and diapers.

“They say, ‘Thank you Mexico,’ because we are helping a little. The need is great, and so is the empathy.”

(Reporting by Daina Beth Solomon in Ciudad Acuna, Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu in Washington; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Rosalba O’Brien)

White House asks Congress for funding on Afghanistan and hurricanes

By Trevor Hunnicutt

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -President Joe Biden’s aides on Tuesday asked Congress for billions in new funds to deal with hurricanes and other natural disasters as well as the evacuation of tens of thousands of people from Afghanistan.

The White House said in a blog post at least $24 billion in new money will be needed for disasters, including Hurricane Ida, and $6.4 billion will be needed for the Afghan evacuation and refugee resettlement.

The request for Congress to pass a short-term funding bill known as a continuing resolution underscored the financial strain posed by two crises that have occupied Biden in recent days.

It also set up a coming showdown with Congress over whether it will fund the full set of Biden’s policy priorities or even ongoing government functions by raising what is known as the debt ceiling.

About 124,000 people were evacuated last month from Kabul in a U.S.-led airlift of U.S. and other foreign citizens as well as vulnerable Afghans as the Taliban took control of the country during the chaotic American withdrawal from Afghanistan.

The evacuation was one of the largest airlifts in history but thousands of at-risk Afghans and about 100 U.S. citizens have remained behind.

Meanwhile, Biden was traveling in flood-damaged New Jersey on Tuesday, one of several states suffering in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida. The president has sought to highlight the financial toll of stronger storms whipped up by climate change.

Biden’s acting director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), Shalanda Young, said in a blog post that some of the temporary funding would go to still-unmet needs from prior hurricanes and wildfires even as the government responds to Hurricane Ida.

She also said most of the funds directed toward the Afghan effort would be for sites to process refugees from the country recently overtaken by the Taliban as well as public health screenings and resettlement resources.

The funding measure would give lawmakers additional time to negotiate over Biden’s proposals to spend trillions on new social safety net programs, infrastructure and other priorities he wants to fund with tax hikes on corporations and wealthy individuals.

Biden in May proposed a $6 trillion budget plan for the fiscal year that starts on Oct. 1, reflecting a sharp increase including measures for climate resilience. Lawmakers are also tangling over separate, Biden-backed legislation that would spent $1 trillion on infrastructure and $3.5 trillion on social safety net spending.

Young said the short-term spending bill “will allow movement toward bipartisan agreement on smart, full-year appropriations bills that reinvest in core priorities, meet the needs of American families, businesses and communities, and lay a strong foundation for the future.”

Congressional debate is expected to heat up in the coming weeks over whether lawmakers will raise the debt ceiling, the government’s ability to borrow to pay for programs it has already authorized. The Treasury is due to run out of money sometime in October.

Biden’s Democratic Party controls the House of Representatives and Senate by only narrow margins, with the balance of power at stake in elections next year.

(Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt; Editing by Chris Reese and Alistair Bell)

Biden to outline plan to curb coronavirus Delta variant as cases grow

By Steve Holland and Nandita Bose

WASHINGTON/ABOARD AIR FORCE ONE (Reuters) -President Joe Biden on Thursday will present a six-pronged strategy intended to fight the spread of the highly contagious coronavirus Delta variant and increase U.S. COVID-19 vaccinations, the White House said on Tuesday.

The United States, which leads the world in COVID-19 cases and deaths, is struggling to stem a wave of infections driven by the variant even as officials try to persuade Americans who have resisted vaccination to get the shots. Rising case loads have raised concerns as children head back to school, while also rattling investors and upending company return-to-office plans.

White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters traveling with Biden aboard Air Force One that he will lay out the six-pronged strategy “working across the public and private sectors to help continue to get the pandemic under control.”

Asked about possible new mandates, Psaki said the White House would offer more details later about the plan and acknowledged that the federal government cannot broadly mandate that Americans get vaccinated.

“We need to continue to take more steps to make sure school districts are prepared and make sure communities across the country are prepared,” Psaki added.

On Wednesday, Biden is scheduled to meet with White House COVID-19 advisers.

The United States has recorded roughly 650,000 COVID-19 deaths and last week exceeded 40 million cases. Reuters data shows that more than 20,800 people have died in the United States from COVID-19 in the past two weeks, up about 67% from the prior two-week period.

Hospitalizations have grown, with seven U.S. states – Alaska, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Kentucky, Tennessee and Washington – reporting records this month.

Biden previously announced plans to offer booster shots more widely, pending regulatory approval. His chief medical adviser Anthony Fauci on Tuesday said officials are still aiming to do so starting the week of Sept. 20.

U.S. Food and Drug Administration advisers are scheduled to meet on Sept. 17 to consider a possible third shot of Pfizer Inc and BioNTech SE’s two-dose vaccine, the only COVID-19 vaccine yet to receive full approval from the agency.

Fauci told CNN Pfizer’s third shot appears likely to be rolled out first, with Moderna Inc’s version “close behind.” Moderna has sought full FDA approval of its two-dose vaccine.

Booster doses are already approved by U.S. regulators for people with compromised immune systems.

U.S. officials have said they expect vaccines to be approved for children younger than 12 this winter. With U.S. students already starting a new school year, battles over public health efforts including mandates that pupils wear masks erupted in many places across the country.

In the private sector, increasing numbers of U.S. employers have imposed vaccine mandates for employees. The Biden administration has hailed efforts by businesses, universities and others to bolster vaccinations.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 62.3% of Americans have received at least one vaccine dose and 53% – 176 million people – are fully vaccinated. Counting the population eligible for vaccines – people 12 and older – 72.9% have received at least one dose and 62% are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.

(Reporting by Steve Holland in Washington and Nadita Bose aboard Air Force One; Writing by Susan Heavey; Editing by Will Dunham)