Exclusive: For migrant youths claiming abuse, U.S. protection can be elusive

An unidentified Honduran immigrant is photographed in his apartment in New York, U.S., March 1, 2019. REUTERS/Zachary Goelman

By Mica Rosenberg

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Growing up in eastern Honduras, Jose said his father would get drunk and beat him with a horse whip and the flat side of a machete. He said he watched his father, a coffee farmer whose crops succumbed to plague, hit his mother on the head with a pistol, sending her to the hospital for three days from the abuse.

At 17, Jose said, he hired a coyote to ferry him to the United States, seeking to escape his home life and violent feuding among his relatives, as well as seek better opportunities for himself and his siblings. He was picked up by border agents, then released pending deportation proceedings.

After struggling to get a good lawyer, Jose applied at 19 for special protection under a program for young immigrants subjected to childhood mistreatment including abuse, neglect or abandonment.

But like a growing number of applicants, his petition hit a series of hurdles, then was denied. Now he is appealing.

“It’s like being stuck not going forward or backwards,” said Jose, now 22 and living in New York. He spoke on condition his last name not be used because he is working without a permit and does not want to jeopardize his appeal. “You can’t advance in life,” he said.

As President Donald Trump vociferously pushes for a physical barrier across the country’s southern border, young people claiming to be eligible for protection under the Special Immigrant Juvenile (SIJ) program increasingly face a less publicized barrier: heightened demands for paperwork.

Data obtained by Reuters under the Freedom of Information Act show that the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has recently ramped up demands for additional documents through “Requests for Evidence” and “Notices of Intent to Deny,” which can tie up cases for months.

The program allows immigrants under 21 to apply for permanent residency in the United States if a state court determines that they need protection and that returning to their home countries would be unsafe. Since 2010, about 54,000 applications have been approved.

In fiscal year 2016, before Trump took office, USCIS issued 347 “Requests for Evidence,” the data show. A year later, the agency issued 4,153, while the overall number of new applications rose only slightly.

“Notices of Intent to Deny,” one of the last opportunities to submit additional information before a petition is rejected, doubled in fiscal year to 767 in 2017 compared to fiscal 2016.

Meanwhile, approvals of special immigrant juvenile status petitions dropped by nearly 60 percent in the 2018 fiscal year compared to a year earlier, to 4,712, while denials increased more than 88 percent, according to federal data.

USCIS Spokesman Michael Bars said in a statement that the agency evaluates every petition case by case and that requesting additional evidence “cut down on frivolous petitions and applications, reduce waste, and help to improve the integrity and efficiency of the immigration petition process.”

Immigrant advocates and attorneys have turned to the special protection program as one avenue to offer young migrants who had come from violent pasts a path to legal residency in the United States. Some apply for asylum at the same time.

But for years critics have seen the youth program and other forms of legal relief for Central Americans, including some asylum protections, as “loopholes” that are too permissive and end up encouraging more migration.

It’s “shockingly easy for any minor that is represented by a lawyer to meet the requirements of the law regardless of whether they have been abused, neglected and abandoned,” said Jessica Vaughan from the Center for Immigration Studies, which supports increased immigration restrictions.

‘LOW-HANGING FRUIT’

Migrant attorneys say the administration is using an administrative back door to curb the program. They say many of the requests for additional evidence are technical – requiring proof, for instance, that a state court’s order was issued according to that state’s law.

These advocates say a large chunk of cases being challenged by the Trump administration are those like Jose’s, in which applicants applied between the ages of 18 and 21, and in which the government has challenged the jurisdiction of state family courts in the proceedings.

Immigration rights groups have sued the government in California, New York and Washington state over what they say are blanket denials of petitions from that older group. In the California suit, a judge in February issued a preliminary ruling against the administration, saying state courts do have jurisdiction. A ruling is expected soon in New York, and the Washington suit was just filed Tuesday.

“These post-18 cases are the low-hanging fruit,” said Maria Odom, the former independent ombudsman for USCIS under President Barack Obama. “This is just one piece of (the administration’s) overall plan to destroy protections for unaccompanied minors to try to stop the flow.”

Rich Leimsider, Executive Director of Safe Passage Project speaks during an interview with Reuters at his office in New York, U.S., February 21, 2019. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

Rich Leimsider, Executive Director of Safe Passage Project speaks during an interview with Reuters at his office in New York, U.S., February 21, 2019. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

MISSION CREEP?

Underlying these disputes is a conflict over the purpose of the 1990 law authorizing the youth protection program.

The law was passed in response to growing concerns about foreign children becoming homeless or orphaned in the United States because of abandonment or abusive family situations. Eligibility was expanded in 2008 under a U.S. anti-human trafficking law to include kids abandoned by just one parent even if they were being cared for by the other.

Applications ballooned during the Obama administration following a surge in unaccompanied minors crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, many from violent countries in Central America.

The government received 1,646 applications for the status in fiscal year 2010; in 2018, the number of applications jumped more than thirteenfold.

“This is not what the original law anticipated,” said Vaughan from the Center for Immigration Studies. “It was meant for kids who were trafficked.”

By statute, USCIS is supposed to process applications in six months, but Randi Mandelbaum, who runs a legal clinic at Rutgers Law School that serves immigrant foster kids, said she is handling a dozen cases that have been pending longer than a year. The delays can be painful, she said.

Young people “are already very vulnerable and now they can’t move on,” Mandelbaum said. “Their lives are on hold.”

(This story has been refiled to correct the spelling of USCIS spokesman’s name in 13th paragraph)

(Reporting by Mica Rosenberg in New York; Additional reporting by Kristina Cooke in San Francisco; Editing by Julie Marquis and Marla Dickerson)

U.S. judge orders federal protection restored to Yellowstone grizzlies

FILE PHOTO: A grizzly bear roams through the Hayden Valley in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, U.S. on May 18, 2014. REUTERS/Jim Urquhart/File Photo

By Laura Zuckerman

PINEDALE, Wyo. (Reuters) – A federal judge on Monday ordered Endangered Species Act protections restored to grizzlies in and around Yellowstone National Park, halting plans for the first licensed trophy hunts of the bears in the region in more than 40 years.

U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen in Missoula, Montana, sided with environmentalists and native American groups by overruling the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decision to strip the grizzlies of their status as a threatened species.

The outcome caps one of the most high-profile legal battles over the Endangered Species Act in many years, rivaling previous disputes surrounding the gray wolf and northern spotted owl.

The ruling came as the Trump administration is seeking to rewrite Endangered Species Act regulations that scientists say would erode wildlife protection for the benefit of commercial interests.

The Trump administration’s decision in June of last year to “de-list” the grizzly, formally proposed in 2016 during the Obama era, was based on agency findings that the bears’ numbers had rebounded enough in recent decades that federal safeguards were no longer necessary.

The de-listing, welcomed by big-game hunters and cattlemen, had applied to about 700 Yellowstone-area grizzlies in Wyoming, Idaho and Montana.

Environmentalists countered that treating those bears separately from other grizzly populations in Montana and elsewhere in the Lower 48 states was biologically unsound and illegal under the Endangered Species Act, and the judge agreed.

Grizzlies, which are slow to reproduce, number fewer than 2,000 bears across the Lower 48. That is far below an historic high of 100,000 before widespread shooting, poisoning and trapping reduced the bears’ population to just several hundred by 1975, when they were placed under federal protection.

Environmentalists have said that while grizzlies have made a comeback, their recovery could falter without continued federal safeguards. They point to, among other things, alterations in the bears’ food supply from climate change and human threats posed by poachers and road traffic.

JUDGE FINDS REASONING ‘ILLOGICAL’

Christensen found that the Fish and Wildlife Service had failed to apply the best available science, as required under the law, in evaluating continued threats to grizzly populations, including limitations in its genetic diversity.

The judge pointed to two studies cited by the agency that he said actually contradicted the government’s own conclusions that the Yellowstone grizzlies could remain genetically self-sufficient. In his 47-page opinion, Christensen called the agency’s reasoning “illogical.”

The judge’s ruling makes permanent a court order barring Wyoming and Idaho from going ahead with plans to open grizzly hunting seasons allowing as many as 23 bears in the two states to be shot and killed for sport outside of Yellowstone park. The season had been set to begin on Sept. 1.

U.S. law prohibits hunting altogether inside the park, and Montana had decided against a grizzly hunt, citing its concerns about long-term recovery of a bear population that is arguably one of the most celebrated and photographed in the world.

Native American tribes, which revere the grizzly as sacred, sought reinstatement of its threatened status as essential to protecting their religious practices.

Ranchers, who make up a powerful political constituency in Western states, have strongly advocated de-listing grizzlies, arguing the bears’ growing numbers pose a threat to humans and livestock. Agitation for state management of the bears also came from hunters, who highly prize them as trophy animals.

The judge said he discounted such factors.

“This case is not about the ethics of hunting and it is not about solving human- or livestock-grizzly conflicts as a practical or philosophical matter,” he wrote. Instead, it turned strictly on his determination that the Fish and Wildlife Service had exceeded its authority.

The agency said it stood by its de-listing action, adding the was reviewing the ruling and “considering next steps.”

Wyoming Governor Matt Mead, a staunch critic of the Endangered Species Act, said he was “disappointed” by Monday’s decision, citing $50 million he said his state had spent on grizzly management over the past 15 years.

(Reporting by Laura Zuckerman; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Sandra Maler)

South Syrian rebels lay down arms as Assad seizes crossing

FILE PHOTO: A Syrian opposition flag is erected at the Syrian-Jordanian border at the Nasib crossing in Deraa province, Syria August 27, 2017.REUTERS/Alaa Al-Faqir/File Photo

AMMAN/BEIRUT (Reuters) – South Syrian rebels said they had agreed on Friday to lay down arms in a Russian-brokered deal that appeared to surrender Deraa province to the government in another major victory for President Bashar al-Assad.

The Syrian government recovered the crucial Nassib border crossing with Jordan, held by rebels for three years, state media reported, after a fierce assault in insurgent territory along the frontier backed by Russian air strikes.

Deraa province encompasses most of the area held by rebels in the southwest, one of their last remaining strongholds in Syria. Assad is also aiming to recover control of rebel-held areas of Quneitra province at the frontier with the Israei-occupied Golan Heights.

Government advances in Deraa in a two-week offensive had brought large parts of the province back under state control and caused a massive rapid human exodus as hundreds of thousands of people fled.

Rebel sources said the deal brokered by Russia would allow civilians to return to their villages and towns with Russia guaranteeing their protection.

Russian guarantees will also be extended to rebel fighters who wish to “settle their status” with the government – a process by which former insurgents accept to live under state rule again, the sources said.

Rebels who did not wish to come back under Assad’s rule would leave for the insurgent stronghold in northwest Syria, they said.

Several witnesses along the Jordan border fence with Syria said they spotted armored vehicles and a tank with a Russian flag heading to the Nassib crossing, an important trade artery.

A commander in a regional military alliance that backs Assad said an Israeli air strike had hit a Syrian village in Quneitra on Friday, causing no casualties. Israel’s military said it had hit a Syrian army post in that area.

(Reporting by Laila Bassam and Ellen Francis in Beirut, Suleiman al-Khalidi in Amman; Writing by Ellen Francis, Editing by Alison Williams, Tom Perry, William Maclean)

U.S. officials warn Congress on risks of drones, seek new powers

A sign at a downtown city park informs people the area is a no drone zone in San Diego, California, U.S., May 17, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Blake

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Trump administration urged Congress on Wednesday to give it new powers to disable or destroy threatening drones, according to testimony viewed by Reuters.

David Glawe, undersecretary for intelligence and analysis at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and Hayley Chang, DHS’ deputy general counsel, told the Senate committee that oversees the department that it needs new authority.

“Terrorist groups overseas use drones to conduct attacks on the battlefield and continue to plot to use them in terrorist attacks elsewhere. This is a very serious, looming threat that we are currently unprepared to confront,” the officials’ written testimony said.

A bipartisan group of senators including Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Ron Johnson, a Republican, and the committee’s top Democrat, Claire McCaskill, last month introduced legislation to give DHS and the Justice Department authority to “to protect buildings and assets when there is an unacceptable security risk to public safety posed by an unmanned aircraft.”

Johnson noted a bipartisan group of senators backs the legislation.

“The federal government does not have the legal authorities it needs to protect the American public from these kinds of threats. The threats posed by malicious drones are too great to ignore,” Johnson said.

Johnson said the number of drone flights over sensitive areas or suspicious activities has jumped from eight incidents in 2013 to an estimated 1,752 incidents in 2016, citing federal statistics.

The American Civil Liberties Union said in a letter to the committee that it opposes the bill, which “amounts to an enormous unchecked grant of authority to the government to forcefully remove drones form the sky in nebulous security circumstances.”

FBI deputy assistant director Scott Brunner told the committee the agency is “concerned that criminals and terrorists will exploit (drones) in ways that pose a serious threat to the safety of the American people.”

Threats could include surveillance, chemical, biological or radiological attacks or attacks “on large open air venues” like concerts and sporting events and attacks against government facilities, he said.

The DHS testimony noted a number of recent incidents involving drones.

In March, a Coast Guard helicopter in California was forced to take evasive action to avoid a drone. A drone recently landed on the deck of the Coast Guard Cutter Sea Lion in San Diego harbor.

DHS said despite upgraded security efforts in U.S. capital area, “we are still experiencing (drone) incidents … that require an appropriate response – even if they are nuisance or non-compliant operators who disregard the rules.”

In 2017, a small civilian drone struck a U.S. Army helicopter near New York City damaging a rotor blade. Since 2017, federal officials have banned drones over U.S. military bases, national landmarks, nuclear sites and other sensitive areas.

The Federal Aviation Administration said in January that more than 1 million drones have been registered. In May, the U.S. Department of Transportation picked 10 pilot projects allowing drone use at night, out of sight operations and over populated areas.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; editing by Michael Perry and G Crosse)

Trump Jr.’s wife hospitalized after suspicious powder scare: police

Donald Trump Jr. and his wife Vanessa speak with Jared Kushner during inauguration ceremonies for the swearing in of Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States on the West front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., January 20, 2017. REUTERS/Brian Snyder/File Photo

By Jonathan Allen and Peter Szekely

NEW YORK (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump’s daughter-in-law Vanessa Trump was taken to a New York hospital on Monday after she opened a piece of mail containing an unidentified white powder that was later determined to be non-hazardous, officials said.

Vanessa Trump, the wife of the president’s eldest son Donald Jr., was hospitalized after she complained of nausea following her exposure, New York officials said. Two other people who were present were also taken to the hospital.

“The substance had arrived by mail and it was addressed to Donald Trump Jr.,” said New York Police Department spokesman Carlos Nieves.

U.S. authorities have been on alert for mail containing white powder since 2001, when envelopes laced with anthrax were sent to media outlets and U.S. lawmakers, killing five people.

Three patients from the household were transported to the NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center for further evaluation, said Fire Department spokeswoman Sophia Kim.

The three included Vanessa Trump’s mother, although she had not complained of symptoms, the police spokesman said.

The package had a Boston postmark, ABC News and the New York Post reported, citing unnamed law enforcement sources. NYPD officials declined to comment on that detail.

“Thankful that Vanessa and my children are safe and unharmed after the incredibly scary situation that occurred this morning,” Trump Jr. said on Twitter. “Truly disgusting that certain individuals choose to express their opposing views with such disturbing behavior.”

The U.S. Secret Service, which is charged with protecting members of the president’s family, confirmed it was involved in the investigation, said spokesman Jeffrey Adams.

Trump Jr. in September briefly gave up his Secret Service protection, normally provided to the immediate families of all sitting presidents, the New York Times reported at the time, citing unnamed administration officials. His protective detail was restored after about a week, CNN reported, also citing unnamed sources.

Trump Jr. has been in the public eye for his role in a 2016 meeting in Trump Tower with a Russian attorney and others after the Trump campaign was offered potentially damaging information about Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.

Congress has held probes into that meeting and whether it was part of a Russian campaign to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Russia denies trying to influence the election. Trump dismisses any talk of collusion.

In 2016, white powder, which also proved harmless, was sent to the home of Eric Trump, Trump Jr.’s brother.

(Reporting by Peter Szekely and Jonathan Allen; Additional reporting by Roberta Rampton in Washington; Writing by Scott Malone; Editing by Peter Cooney, Alistair Bell and Cynthia Osterman)

Residents shield Christians in bold exodus from Philippines city

Soldiers onboard military trucks ride along the main street as government troops continue their assault on insurgents from the Maute group, who have taken over large parts of Marawi City, Philippines. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco

By Tom Allard

MARAWI CITY, Philippines (Reuters) – More than 160 civilians walked out of the besieged Philippines city of Marawi just after dawn on Saturday, deceiving Islamist fighters they encountered by hiding the identity of the many Christians among them.

The audacious exodus came after text message warnings that a major assault by Philippines aircraft and ground troops was imminent in the center of the southern city, where some 250 militants and more than 2,000 civilians remain trapped.

“We saved ourselves,” said Norodin Alonto Lucman, a well-known former politician and traditional clan leader who sheltered 71 people, including more than 50 Christians, in his home during the battle that erupted on May 23 in the town of more than 200,000 on the southern island of Mindanao.

“There’s this plan to bomb the whole city if ISIS don’t agree to the demands of the government,” he said, referring to local and foreign fighters who have sworn allegiance to the ultra-radical Islamic State.

Many evacuees told Reuters they had received text messages warning of a bombing campaign.

“We had a tip from the general commander that we should go out,” said Leny Paccon, who gave refuge to 54 people in her home, including 44 Christians. “When I got the text, immediately we go out … about 7 o’clock.”

By then, Lucman and his guests had begun their escape march from another area, holding white flags and moving briskly.

“As we walked, others joined us,” he told reporters. “We had to pass through a lot of [militant] snipers.”

Some of the civilians were stopped and asked if there were any Christians among them, said Jaime Daligdig, a Christian construction worker.

“We shouted ‘Allahu akbar’,” he told Reuters, adding that thanks to that Muslim rallying cry they were allowed to pass.

Those who fled included teachers from Dansalan College, a protestant school torched on the first day of the battle.

Christians have been killed and taken hostage by the militants, a mix of local fighters from the Maute Group and other Islamist outfits, as well as foreigners who joined the cause under the Islamic State banner.

The vast majority of Filipinos are Christian, but Mindanao has a larger proportion of Muslims and Islam is followed by the vast majority in Marawi City.

ROTTING BODIES, DEBRIS

Lucman said that many of those trapped were on the verge of starvation, which also gave them the courage to leave.

He described a scene of devastation in the town center, where the streets were strewn with rotting bodies and debris. “I almost puked as we were walking,” Lucman said, estimating that there were more than 1,000 dead.

Official government estimates recorded 120 militants, 38 government forces and 20 civilians as dead on Saturday.

Lucman and Paccon said militants had knocked on their doors while they sheltered the terrified Christians. They shooed them away saying there were women and children inside.

Adding to the anxiety, both said they were within 100 meters (320 feet) of militant command posts. Although the Philippines military knew civilians remained in their homes, ordnance exploded nearby repeatedly over the past week.

Resident Asnaira Asis said militants knocked on her door too, offering money or food if she handed over her 11-year-old son. “They wanted him to be a fighter,” she told Reuters after joining the morning exodus. “I said no.”

After an impromptu ceasefire as the civilians evacuated, bombing and ground skirmishes continued on Saturday, and FA50 fighter jets dropped bombs on the town center.

Philippines Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the conflict would be over soon but he gave no operational plans. He said there were 250 militants still in the town, far more than the 20-30 cited by the military on Friday.

“They can still put up a good fight. That’s why it’s giving us difficulty in clearing the area,” he told a news conference.

Lorenzana said there was still a big cohort of foreign fighters in Marawi.

Officials have said militants from as far away as Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Chechnya and Morocco joined the battle, raising concerns that Islamic State is seeking to establish a regional foothold there.

(Editing by John Chalmers and Helen Popper)

Pentagon to lease privately owned Trump Tower apartment for nuclear ‘football’: letter

The West facing entrance to Trump Tower on 5th Avenue in New York City, U.S., is seen April 26, 2017. Picture Taken April 26, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Segar

By Mark Hosenball and Phil Stewart

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Defense Department is finalizing a lease on a privately owned apartment in New York’s Trump Tower for the White House Military Office to use for supporting President Donald Trump without providing any benefit to Trump or his organization, according to a Pentagon letter seen by Reuters.

The Military Office carries and safeguards the “football,” the device that contains the top secret launch codes the president needs to order a nuclear attack, as well as providing him secure communications wherever he is.

The White House, Secret Service, and Defense Department had no comment on whether similar arrangements have been made at other properties Trump frequents – Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida and the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, where Trump is spending this weekend.

In a letter to Representative Jackie Speier, a Democrat on the House Armed Services and intelligence committees, Defense Department official James MacStravic, said the apartment is “privately owned and … lease negotiations have been with the owner’s representatives only.”

MacStravic, who wrote that he was “temporarily performing the duties of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics,” said any acquisition of leased space with “an annual rental in excess of $1 million must first be approved by my office.”

He “approved this action” after consulting with the White House Military Office and other officials, he said.

Officials declined to reveal the cost of the lease or identify the owners of the apartment.

MacStravic’s letter, dated March 3, added: “We are not aware of any means through which the President would personally benefit from a Government lease of this space.”

The letter explained that the White House Military Office, a Pentagon unit, “requested approval to lease space in the Trump Tower for personnel assigned to support the President when at his private residence.”

The letter said such arrangements are “typical of support provided” by the Military Office to previous U.S. presidents and vice presidents at their private residences. It is not clear, however, whether the office has ever paid to rent space to house the classified equipment presidents need when they are staying at homes they own outside Washington.

A White House spokeswoman said the White House had no information on the leasing issue. The Defense Department and U.S. Secret Service declined to comment.

The Trump Organization did not reply to an email requesting comment.

When the Pentagon in February first acknowledged that it was seeking to lease space in Trump Tower, some Democrats questioned whether such a move would produce a financial windfall for Trump.

“I am concerned by the appearance that the President of the United States will financially benefit from this deal at the expense of the Department of Defense – and ultimately, taxpayers,” Speier wrote to Defense Secretary James Mattis shortly after the Trump Tower issue became public in February.

By negotiating only with representatives of the owners of a private apartment, the Pentagon said it was seeking to avoid such concerns.

(Reporting By Mark Hosenball,; Phil Stewart, and Jonathan Landay.; Editing by John Walcott and Grant McCool)

Trump states Saudis not paying fair share for U.S. defense

U.S. President Donald Trump and Saudi Deputy Crown Prince and Minister of Defense Mohammed bin Salman enter the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, U.S., March 14, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

By Stephen J. Adler, Jeff Mason and Steve Holland

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump complained on Thursday that U.S. ally Saudi Arabia was not treating the United States fairly and Washington was losing a “tremendous amount of money” defending the kingdom.

In an interview with Reuters, Trump confirmed his administration was in talks about possible visits to Saudi Arabia and Israel in the second half of May. He is due to make his first trip abroad as president for a May 25 NATO summit in Brussels and could add other stops.

“Frankly, Saudi Arabia has not treated us fairly, because we are losing a tremendous amount of money in defending Saudi Arabia,” he said.

Trump’s criticism of Riyadh was a return to his 2016 election campaign rhetoric when he accused the kingdom of not pulling its weight in paying for the U.S. security umbrella.

“Nobody’s going to mess with Saudi Arabia because we’re watching them,” Trump told a campaign rally in Wisconsin a year ago. “They’re not paying us a fair price. We’re losing our shirt.”

The United States is the main supplier for most Saudi military needs, from F-15 fighters to control and command systems worth tens of billions of dollars in recent years, while American contractors win major energy deals.

The world’s top oil exporter and its biggest consumer have enjoyed close economic ties for decades, with U.S. firms building much of the infrastructure of the modern Saudi state after its oil boom in the 1970s.

Saudi officials could not immediately be reached for comment on Trump’s latest comments.

But Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir rejected similar comments from Trump during his election campaign, telling CNN during a visit to Washington last July that the Islamic kingdom “carries its own weight” as an ally.

Saudi Arabia’s powerful deputy crown prince Mohammed bin Salman met with Trump last month in a meeting that was hailed by a senior Saudi adviser as a “historical turning point” in relations. The talks appeared to signal a meeting of minds on many issues, including their shared view that Iran posed a regional security threat.

Riyadh and other Gulf allies see in Trump a strong president who will shore up Washington’s role as their main strategic partner and help contain Riyadh’s adversary Iran in a region central to U.S. security and energy interests, regional analysts said.

ISLAMIC STATE “HUMILIATION”

Asked about the fight against Islamic State, which Saudi Arabia and other U.S. allies are confronting as a coalition, Trump said the militant group had to be defeated.

“I have to say, there is an end. And it has to be humiliation,” Trump said, when asked about what the endgame was for defeating Islamist violent extremism.

“There is an end. Otherwise it’s really tough. But there is an end,” without detailing a strategy.

A visit to Israel would reciprocate a White House visit in February by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is due to meet Trump next Wednesday in Washington.

Trump has set a more positive tone with Israel than his Democratic predecessor, Barack Obama, who often clashed with the right-wing Israeli leader, and has raised concerns among Palestinians that their leaders may not get equal treatment.

Trump has also asked Israel to put unspecified limits on its building of Jewish settlements on land the Palestinians want for a state, and has promised to seek a Middle East peace deal that eluded his predecessors. However, he has offered no new diplomatic prescriptions.

“I want to see peace with Israel and the Palestinians,” he said. “There is no reason there’s not peace between Israel and the Palestinians – none whatsoever.”

Trump brushed aside a question of whether he might use a possible trip to Israel to declare U.S. recognition of the entire city of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, a reversal of longstanding U.S. foreign policy likely to draw international condemnation.

“Ask me in a month on that,” he said, without elaborating.

If Trump ties an Israel visit to next month’s Brussels trip, it would be around the time Israelis are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem, when Israel captured Arab East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war.

Successive U.S. administrations as well as the international community have not recognized Israel’s annexation of the eastern part of the city, and the future status of Jerusalem remains one of the thorniest issues in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.

Israel claims all of Jerusalem, which contains sites sacred to the Jewish, Muslim and Christian faiths, as its capital. Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state of their own.

(Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom; Writing by Yara Bayoumy and Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Howard Goller)

Trump administration sued over protection for vanishing bumble bee

Bumble Bee

By Laura Zuckerman

(Reuters) – An environmental group sued U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration on Tuesday for delaying a rule that would designate the rusty patched bumble bee as an endangered species.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, a branch of the Interior Department, in September proposed bringing the bee under federal safeguards.

The rule formalizing the listing of the vanishing pollinator, once widely found in the upper Midwest and Northeastern United States, was published in the Federal Register on Jan. 11 and was to take effect last Friday.

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) said the listing has been delayed until March 21 as part of a broader freeze ordered by Trump’s White House on rules issued by the prior administration aimed at protecting public health and the environment.

The group argued in a lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York that U.S. wildlife managers had violated the law by abruptly suspending the bumble bee listing without public notice or comment. They said the rule technically became final when it was published in the Federal Register.

The lawsuit seeks to have a judge declare that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service acted unlawfully and to order the agency to rescind the rule delaying the bumble bee’s listing.

“The science is clear – this species is headed toward extinction, and soon. There is no legitimate reason to delay federal protections,” Natural Resources Defense Council senior attorney Rebecca Riley said in a statement.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service could not immediately be reached for comment.

Bumble bees pollinate wildflowers and about a third of U.S. crops, from blueberries to tomatoes, according to the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation.

The bee’s population and range have declined by more than 90 percent since the late 1990s due to disease, pesticides, climate change and habitat loss, according to wildlife officials.

The insect is one of 47 varieties of native bumble bees in the United States and Canada, more than a quarter of which face the risk of extinction, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

In September, seven varieties of yellow-faced bees in Hawaii became the first such insects to be added to the U.S. list of endangered species because of losses due to habitat destruction, wildfires and the invasion of nonnative plants and insects.

(Reporting by Laura Zuckerman in Salmon, Idaho; Editing by Curtis Skinner)

Alabama Supreme Court Extends Child Protection Laws To Unborn Babies

The Alabama Supreme Court has issued a landmark ruling for the rights of unborn children.

In an 8 to 1 decision, the Court ruled that the state’s child protection laws apply to unborn children, declaring that the court believes a child in the womb has a right to life.

The ruling came in the case of a woman who had been using cocaine while pregnant.  When her child was born, the infant has cocaine in their system and the mother was charged with violation of the state’s chemical endangerment statute.

Her lawyers claimed that an unborn child was not a child under the definition of state law.

Mat Staver of the Liberty Counsel applauded the court’s decision.

“In an age where some judges do not know the difference between the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, or do not even care, finally the Alabama Supreme Court springs forth with a ray of light,” Staver said in a statement.