U.S. judge declines to block Trump’s new asylum border rule

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers make an arrest after carrying out a raid in San Francisco, California, U.S. in this July 7, 2019 handout photo. Ron Rogers/U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement/Handout via REUTERS

(Reuters) – A U.S. district judge on Wednesday declined to block a new rule that bars almost all immigrants from applying for asylum at the country’s southern border, handing a victory to U.S. President Donald Trump’s crackdown on immigration.

Judge Timothy Kelly in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia denied a temporary restraining order that would have blocked a rule the Trump administration implemented on July 16 that requires asylum-seekers to first pursue safe haven in a third country through which they had traveled on their way to the United States, according to a court filing.

Oral arguments took place on Monday.

The ruling was issued in a lawsuit filed by the Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights Coalition.

The suit is similar to an action led by the American Civil Liberties Union that challenged the Trump administration rule in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. That case is due for a hearing on Wednesday.

Trump’s rule to restrict asylum-seekers was his latest anti-immigration measure ahead of the 2020 presidential election. Trump promised during the 2016 campaign to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border and called for a ban on Muslims entering the United States.

The Trump administration has issued a rapid-fire series of anti-immigration edicts recently, the latest coming on Monday with a new rule to expedite deportations for immigrants who have crossed illegally and are caught anywhere in the United States, expanding a program typically applied only along the southern border with Mexico.

Democrats have blasted the policies as cruel, faulting the Trump administration for warehousing migrants in crowded detention facilities along the border and separating immigrant children from the adults they have traveled with.

(Reporting by Mica Rosenberg and Daniel Trotta; Editing by David Gregorio and Paul Simao)

Facing new asylum curb, nerves for those waiting at U.S.-Mexico border

A board with the number of migrants that are requesting asylum is pictured at the premises of the state migrant assistance office in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, July 15, 2019. REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez

By Julia Love

CIUDAD JUAREZ (Reuters) – Number 12,026 – better known as Marcial Artigas, 33, from Holguin, Cuba – waited nervously at a migration office at the U.S.-Mexico border as a Mexican official called out numbers from a long list of hopefuls waiting to cross to the United States.

Artigas said he was praying his number would be called next, before a new U.S. policy announced on Monday enters into force that bars almost all immigrants from applying for asylum at the country’s southern border.

The Trump administration’s interim rule, set to take effect Tuesday, requires asylum-seekers to first pursue safe haven in a third country through which they traveled en route to the United States.

The former cafeteria worker said he left Cuba in February, traveling to Nicaragua by plane before heading north through Central America and into Mexico by bus. If the new policy sticks, he could be required to apply for asylum in Mexico, or any one of the countries he passed through en route.

He had been waiting his turn to cross to El Paso, Texas, from Ciudad Juarez since mid-April, joining a line of thousands, according to officials and a list of asylum-seekers the city keeps.

By 9.20 a.m, the official calling out numbers from the National Migration Institute’s Grupo Beta unit had read out 10. He reached number 12,025 and called it a day.

As the other migrants clapped, number 12,025 rose, pumped his fist, and followed the official to cross to the United States to begin his asylum process.

Artigas was wearing a black backpack stuffed with clothing and other essentials, ready to leave Mexico behind for good. If he felt despair at falling a single digit short, the Cuban remained stoic.

He hoped there would be another round of numbers called that afternoon at the migration office, he said.

Still, he said, the constant shifts in U.S. policy made him feel annoyed that while he was playing by the rules, people who crossed illegally and then requested asylum were at an advantage.

“One is here patiently doing things as they should be done,” he said. “There are people who go illegally.”

Beside him, most of the nearly two dozen migrants at the office, in the shadow of the bridge connecting the two counties, appeared not yet to have heard about the newest U.S. policy.

If they had, they appeared unsure about what it might mean for their asylum chances.

Carolina Puente, 35, still had a crushing wait ahead. At number 17,243, hundreds more were scheduled to cross ahead of her, she said.

“I’m desperate,” she said. “Desperate is the word.”

Puente said she had fled violence in Quito, Ecuador, and moved to Cuba two years ago, to live with her husband’s family. But in Cuba she faced poverty and a lack of economic opportunities.

Since June 24, she had been renting a house in Ciudad Juarez. But she said she had little faith in Mexico, which is racked by drug-related violence and high murder rates and notoriously unsafe for migrants.

“This country has opened the doors for us, but it’s an unsafe country,” she said.

Enrique Valenzuela, head of COESPO, the state population commission which oversees the center for migrants in Ciudad Juarez, said he had no prior knowledge of the new U.S. measure, having learned about it on television.

The number of people adding themselves to the asylum list in Ciudad Juarez had been dropping this month and last, he said.

But if the new policy holds, he said, “The number of (asylum) applicants will rocket in Mexico.”

(Reporting by Julia Love; writing by Delphine Schrank; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Tom Brown)

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

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

By Julia Harte and Joseph Tanfani

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WALL CROWDFUNDING

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘WE BUILD THE WALL’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PAC POLITICS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Editing by Ronnie Greene and Jason Szep)

Migrants rush to enter Mexico ahead of security crackdown demanded by Trump

Migrants from Central America cross the Rio Bravo river to enter illegally into the United States to turn themselves in to request for asylum in El Paso, Texas, U.S., as seen from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico June 11, 2019. Picture taken June 11, 2019. REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez

By Hugh Bronstein

CIUDAD HIDALGO, Mexico (Reuters) – Central American migrants eager to beat a crackdown by Mexico on its southern border with Guatemala scrambled into the country on Thursday as the government prepared to send thousands of National Guard members to plug gaps in the porous frontier.

Mexico has agreed with the United States to demonstrate by late July that it can contain a surge in U.S.-bound migrants, following a threat from U.S. President Donald Trump to impose tariffs on Mexican goods if it failed to do so.

Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said this week that Mexico would beef up control of its southern border, including sending 6,000 members of the National Guard. The deployment was due to begin on Wednesday though witnesses saw no signs of the deployment.

Migrants from Central America run towards the Rio Bravo river to cross and enter illegally into the United States to turn themselves in to request for asylum in El Paso, Texas, U.S., as seen from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico June 12, 2019. Picture taken June 12, 2019. REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez

Migrants from Central America run towards the Rio Bravo river to cross and enter illegally into the United States to turn themselves in to request for asylum in El Paso, Texas, U.S., as seen from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico June 12, 2019. Picture taken June 12, 2019. REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez

As dawn broke on Thursday, a family of Honduran migrants floated across a narrow crossing of the Suchiate River from Guatemala on a raft and staggered onto Mexican soil.

“They told us that they were deploying the National Guard,” said Melvin Ochoa, 28, carrying his 20-month-old daughter. Beside him was his heavily pregnant wife. “It made us hurry. I’m pushing to continue faster so they won’t catch us.”

The trip was especially risky for Ochoa’s wife who was only one month shy of giving birth. She declined to give her name.

“But the risks at home were worse,” Ochoa said, explaining that the family had fled loan sharks affiliated with a criminal gang who demanded money even after they had paid them back.

“If not, they were going to kill us.”

Behind them, the steady daily traffic of the river continued unabated, with no Mexican official in sight. Migration officials remained in the shadow of immigration posts on a bridge linking the two countries.

Improvised rafts made of planks of wood floating on giant inner-tubes carried black-market Corona beer, coffee and other contraband toward Guatemala. Half a dozen more floated toward Mexico crowded with Central Americans fleeing gang violence and poverty.

It was business at usual too at immigration checkpoints along the highway north.

“We haven’t seen any increase,” said a police officer at a checkpoint, when asked about any build-up in security forces. He asked not to be identified because he lacked permission to speak to the press.

Mexico and the United States brokered an immigration agreement last week to prevent Washington from imposing tariffs starting at 5% on Mexican goods. The Mexican government has agreed to consider changing its migration laws after 45 days if it proves unable to stem the flow of people.

The standoff over the border has piled pressure on Mexico’s leftist President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. He has called for national unity, describing the tariff threat as unfair, but vowing to avoid confrontation with the United States, Mexico’s largest trading partner.

Threatening to raise tariffs on Mexican imports as high as 25%, Trump wants Mexico to accept asylum seekers as part of his effort to slow the flow of migrants and to relieve pressure on stretched U.S. border and immigration authorities.

Mexico in December agreed to start taking in mostly Central American asylum seekers while their cases are being heard in the United States and absorbed about 10,000 during the first few months of this year, according to the Mexican government.

However, under the deal struck last week, tens of thousands could be sent back to Mexico before the end of this year, putting increased pressure on Mexican migration authorities, said Deputy Interior Minister Alejandro Encinas.

“This has become a national problem,” he told Reuters.

‘AS FAR AS GOD PERMITS’

Mexico sends around 80% of its exports to the United States so any move by Trump to impose levies on its goods would have serious repercussions for the economy, which is already struggling after contracting in the first quarter.

Given that the United States had never managed to properly seal its own southern border, the chance of Mexico doing any better were extremely remote, said Andres Rozental, a former Mexican deputy foreign minister responsible for North America.

“We’re never going to be able to get what presumably Mr. Trump wants in 45 days,” Rozental told Reuters.

Complicating the deployment of the militarized police force along the border is the fact that the National Guard was only formally created a few weeks ago, and Lopez Obrador’s six-month-old administration is still finding its feet.

For some migrants, those issues are of small consequence.

“We have no plan. Only to go forward, as far as God permits,” said Antonio Hernandez, 29, stepping off another raft at dawn with his wife and 2-year-old son. Anxious and exhausted from days of travel since they fled El Salvador, they hustled on.

 

(Reporting by Hugh Bronstein; Additional reporting and writing by Dave Graham and Delphine Schrank in Mexico City; Editing by Daniel Flynn and Cynthia Osterman)

Mexico says presidential plane sale to help fund migration plan

Mexico's President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador attends a news conference at the National Palace in Mexico City, Mexico June 10, 2019. REUTERS/Gustavo Graf

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said on Wednesday the sale of the former presidential jet and other aircraft from the last government would help fund efforts to curb migration under a deal struck last week with Washington.

The agreement reached on Friday averted escalating import tariffs of 5% on Mexican goods, which U.S. President Donald Trump had vowed to impose unless Mexico did more to contain migration via Central America to the United States.

In return, Mexico has agreed to toughen up its migration controls, including deploying its National Guard security force to its southern border with Guatemala.

“About how much this plan is going to cost, let me say, we have the budget,” Lopez Obrador said at his regular daily news conference. “It would come out of what we’re going to receive from the sale of the luxurious presidential plane.”

Lopez Obrador said the price tag of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner used by his predecessor Enrique Pena Nieto would start at $150 million, citing a United Nations evaluation. The plane has been on sale for several months.

As soon as he took office in December, the leftist announced plans to sell the plane, whose spacious interior includes a bedroom and is emblazoned with official government seals on the walls and flat-screen monitors.

The jet was acquired in late 2012 for $218 million. It is on sale along with 60 government planes and 70 helicopters.

Lopez Obrador has shunned the often luxurious trappings of Mexico’s wealthy elites, choosing to fly coach.

He has also rolled out a string of welfare programs for the poor and the elderly, cut salaries for top civil servants and says he is saving public money by eliminating corruption.

(Reporting by Daina Beth Solomon, editing by Hugh Bronstein and Susan Thomas)

Mexico to ramp up southern border infrastructure to tackle migration

FILE PHOTO: Mexico's Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard speaks during a news conference at the National Palace in Mexico City, Mexico June 10, 2019. REUTERS/Gustavo Graf

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mexico must significantly improve border infrastructure on its southern frontier with Guatemala to make a success of a deal struck last week with the United States to reduce migration, Mexico’s foreign minister Marcelo Ebrard said on Tuesday.

Speaking at a regular government news conference, Ebrard said not enough priority had been given to Mexico’s southern border in the past and that the state needs to have a stronger presence across the frontier to deal with migrant flows.

Mexico and the United States signed an agreement on Friday, with Mexico agreeing to take steps to control the flow of people from Central America, including deploying 6,000 members of a new national guard across its border with Guatemala.

The deal averted escalating import tariffs of 5% on Mexican goods, which U.S. President Donald Trump had vowed to impose unless Mexico did more to curb migration.

Still, Mexico’s government said on Monday it had 45 days to show its measures were yielding results.

Taking questions alongside President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, Ebrard said Mexico was accelerating deployment of the national guard along the border with Guatemala and that migrants entering Mexico would all have to register with authorities.

To meet its commitments to Washington, Mexican migration facilities in the south need to be revamped, Ebrard added.

“There must be a different presence of the Mexican state in the south,” he told reporters, noting that the infrastructure along the southern frontier with Guatemala had for years been neglected while Mexico’s northern border was being modernized.

“You go to the south and the first thing you ask yourself is ‘right, where’s the border?’ There’s nothing. The idea is to make the south like the north as far as possible.”

Ebrard said there would need to be provisional installations built before rolling out a broader plan to cope with the flow of migrants arriving from Central America. “Because the reality is that a very big effort needs to be made,” he said.

(Reporting by Dave Graham; Editing by Hugh Bronstein and Susan Thomas)

Trump seen leaning hard on new Homeland Security chief over border

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin K. McAleenan speaks about the impact of the dramatic increase in illegal crossings that continue to occur along the Southwest during a news conference, in El Paso, Texas March 27, 2019. REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez/File Photo

By Yeganeh Torbati and Jeff Mason

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump’s new acting chief of Homeland Security will be under pressure to implement legally dubious solutions to an influx of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border – policies that his predecessor either could not, or would not, deliver.

Kevin McAleenan, presently commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), will be the fourth person to helm the agency under Trump. He takes over as U.S. border officials estimated that 100,000 migrants were apprehended at the southern border in March, the highest level in a decade.

The president, who made immigration a key campaign theme, has grown increasingly frustrated with his officials, even as they have implemented aggressive policies to limit immigration.

Immigration experts say Trump lately has called for policies that would violate U.S. laws, international agreements and court settlements or require U.S. Congress to pass major legislation.

On Friday, he called for Congress to “get rid of the whole asylum system” and get rid of immigration judges, and criticized a long-standing federal court decree mandating certain standards of care for migrant children.

A congressional official familiar with the matter said some in Congress believe Trump forced out Kirstjen Nielsen, who resigned as secretary on Sunday, in part because she was trying to obey laws on treatment of refugees, granting of amnesty and separation of families.

A source close to Nielsen said Trump was convinced to oust her by his senior aide Stephen Miller, an immigration hardliner.

Nielsen did not respond to a request for comment.

It was not immediately clear what strategies McAleenan could implement to achieve Trump’s objective of limiting migrant crossings at the southern border, especially as they are expected to reach their yearly peak in the coming months, experts said.

A U.S. judge on Monday halted the administration’s policy of sending some asylum seekers back across the border to wait out their cases in Mexico, a policy it said last week it planned to expand. The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

“So much of what the president put out there isn’t really legally feasible,” said Sarah Pierce, an immigration policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute, a non-partisan think tank in Washington. “I, like many, and maybe Nielsen herself are kind of puzzled as to what could happen.”

A CBP spokesman declined to comment and directed questions to the White House.

McAleenan follows Nielsen and Elaine Duke, who led the DHS on an acting basis after John Kelly, Trump’s first DHS secretary, became White House chief of staff in 2017. Trump took office in January that year.

‘ZERO TOLERANCE’

Nielsen oversaw a “zero tolerance” prosecution policy that led to the separation of thousands of parents and children, and launched a policy to return asylum seekers to Mexico until their claims are heard. Both policies garnered legal challenges, and both required extensive implementation by McAleenan and his agency.

Stephen Legomsky, a former chief counsel at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services under Democratic President Barack Obama, said McAleenan likely will not have much freedom to pursue policies opposed by Trump or Miller.

“Whoever is put in that position in this administration is going to have a very hard time resisting the philosophy of the White House,” Legomsky said.

John Sandweg, former acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) during the Obama administration, said the Trump administration’s focus on deterring migrants at the expense of other policies had hamstrung Nielsen and would likely hobble McAleenan.

“There’s nothing we can do that’s worse than what people are facing in Central America,” he said. “If we’re going to work our way through this problem, being tough is not a strategy, it’s a soundbite.”

NOT RADIOACTIVE

White House officials said Trump wanted someone at DHS who would focus on the border as the top priority. McAleenan is seen as having a good relationship with Trump and 20 years of experience, so the president felt he would be a good choice to handle the influx at the border, officials said.

The White House envisions McAleenan working more with Congress, one official said, though the official declined to be specific about policy details.

McAleenan is a rare Trump appointee with cordial relations with Democrats in Congress. After testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee in December, McAleenan chatted afterward for close to 15 minutes with Senator Dianne Feinstein and other Democrats on the committee.

“He’s not considered to be radioactive,” said a congressional Democratic aide on condition of anonymity.

Democratic Representative Joaquin Castro demanded McAleenan resign in December, after a Guatemalan migrant girl died in federal custody and McAleenan failed to report it to Congress within 24 hours, as required.

On Sunday, he said McAleenan’s appointment as acting secretary was “deeply disturbing.”

Trump further reshuffled the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on Monday by replacing the director of the Secret Service – which does not have immigration responsibilities – with a career agent.

(Additional reporting by Mark Hosenball and Andy Sullivan in Washington; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh, Susan Thomas and Sonya Hepinstall)

Border row pitches Mexican president into deep water with Trump

The border fence between Mexico and the United States is pictured from Tijuana, Mexico March 29, 2019. REUTERS/Jorge Duenes

By Dave Graham

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Donald Trump’s threat to shut the U.S. border if Mexico does not halt all illegal immigration has exposed the limitations of the new Mexican government’s strategy of trying to appease the U.S. president as he gears up for re-election.

Amid a surge in migrant detentions at the southwest U.S. border, Trump on Friday said he would close the 2,000-mile (3,200-km) frontier, or sections of it, during the coming week if Mexico did not halt the flow of people.

Casting the government under leftist President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador as the villain in his struggle to curb illegal immigration to the United States, Trump returned to a signature theme of his 2015-2016 presidential election bid.

His words were a slap in the face to Lopez Obrador, who has refused to answer back to provocative comments from Trump. Instead, the Mexican leader has worked to cement his power base by combating poverty with welfare handouts and lambasting his predecessors as corrupt.

On Friday, Lopez Obrador again said he would not quarrel with Trump, invoking “love and peace” and repeating his commitment to curbing migration.

However, for former Mexican foreign minister Jorge Castaneda, Mexico faces “incredibly damaging” consequences if Trump does order “go-slows” at the border, which would pitch Lopez Obrador into uncomfortable new territory.

“He’s totally unfamiliar with international affairs. He’d prefer not to have to worry about these things,” Castaneda said, noting that the U.S. president had tested many governments. “Nobody’s been able to find a way to manage Trump. It’s a mess.”

Staunchly non-interventionist in international affairs, Lopez Obrador shows little interest in diplomacy. He has often said “the best foreign policy is domestic policy.”

But as the destination of 80 percent of Mexico’s exports and workplace of hundreds of thousands of Mexicans, the United States offers Trump plenty of leverage to apply pressure via the border.

Policy experts say Trump’s demand is not realistic and that Mexican authorities are already stretched.

Still, Mexico has signaled it will redouble efforts to contain migration, which stems largely from three poor, violent Central American countries: Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said he did not believe Trump was demanding an outright stop to the migrant flow, which has run into the millions over the past decade.

“What can be done is to improve work on registering and regulating (migration),” Ebrard told Reuters. “They’re asking us to put into effect what we said we would do.”

The government has vowed to curb migration by addressing the root causes, keeping better tabs on the people entering Mexico and adopting a more humane approach to the phenomenon.

In exchange, Lopez Obrador has sought to enlist Trump’s aid in tackling the problems of Central America, which critics say has been scarred by a history of messy U.S. interventions.

On Thursday, Lopez Obrador said migration was chiefly a matter for Washington and the troubled region, reflecting the view that Mexico cannot help being sandwiched between the struggling countries and the richest nation on the planet.

Instead, the U.S. State Department said on Saturday it was cutting off aid to El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, raising questions about Trump’s commitment to helping there.

Soaring border arrests have rankled with the U.S. president.

U.S. Customs and Border Patrol projections are for over 90,000 apprehensions to be logged during March, according to data provided to the Mexican government. That is up more than 140 percent from March 2018, and a seven-fold jump from 2017. (Graphic: https://tmsnrt.rs/2V59n2R)

At the same time, Lopez Obrador is sending fewer migrants back home. In December-February, the administration’s first three months, the number dropped 17 percent from a year earlier to 19,360, data from the National Migration Institute show.

The fall partly reflects the government’s decision to issue humanitarian visas to encourage Central Americans to stay in Mexico. The visas proved so popular that the government had to suspend them, officials say.

Meanwhile, Lopez Obrador’s savings drive to pay for his social programs has cut the budget of the National Migration Institute by more than a fifth this year.

‘LIFE AND DEATH’

The clash illustrates Lopez Obrador’s miscalculation in thinking he could contain Trump’s hostility toward Mexico with U.S. presidential elections in 2020, said Agustin Barrios Gomez, a member of the Mexican Council on Foreign Relations.

Tension was inevitable given that Trump’s tough stance on illegal immigration is “immediately antagonistic” to Lopez Obrador’s core constituency: poorer Mexicans who often seek to better their lot in the United States, he argued.

Yet by agreeing in December to accept Central American asylum seekers while their claims are processed in the United States, Lopez Obrador gave the impression he could be “pushed around” by Trump, said former foreign minister Castaneda, who backed Lopez Obrador’s closest rival in the last election.

To keep the border open, Mexican business leaders say they are leaning on U.S. partners to pressure Congress.

A shutdown would be “very negative for both countries,” said deputy Mexican economy minister Luz Maria de la Mora, who saw Trump’s comments as part of his election campaign.

“I think the U.S. administration and the advisers in the White House know it’s not a good idea,” she told Reuters.

But if push came to shove, Mexico would suffer most, said Castaneda.

“The Americans have a much greater capacity … to outlast the Mexicans,” he said. “For Mexicans it’s a life or death issue. For Americans it’s a pain in the ass, but that’s it.”

(Reporting by Dave Graham; Additional reporting by Daina Beth Solomon, Delphine Schrank and Lizbeth Diaz; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

Trump administration to hasten officer deployment to U.S.-Mexico border: statement

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen speaks beside Honduras' President Juan Orlando Hernandez (not pictured) during a multilateral meeting at the Honduran Ministry of Security in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, March 27, 2019. REUTERS/Jorge Cabrera/File Photo

By Yeganeh Torbati

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Trump administration will speed up the deployment of hundreds of officers on the southern border of the United States and will dramatically expand a policy of returning migrants seeking asylum to Mexico, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said on Monday.

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency first announced the redeployment of 750 officers to process a surge of migrant families entering the United States last week.

In a written statement, Nielsen said she had ordered CBP Commissioner Kevin McAleenan to undertake “emergency surge operations” and immediately speed up the reassignment.

CBP also has the authority to raise the number of redeployed personnel past 750, and will notify Nielsen if they plan to reassign more than 2,000 officers.

The agency will also “immediately expand” a policy to return Central American migrants to Mexico as they wait for their asylum claims to be heard by “hundreds of additional migrants per day above current rates,” Nielsen said.

That would be a dramatic expansion of the policy, dubbed the Migrant Protection Protocols, put in place in January. As of March 26, approximately 370 migrants had been returned to Mexico, a Mexican official told Reuters last week.

Asked about the numbers, a DHS spokeswoman declined to confirm them and said the policy “is still in the early stages of implementation.”

The policy is aimed at curbing the flow of mostly Central American migrants trying to enter the United States. Trump administration officials say a system that allows asylum seekers to remain in the country for years while waiting for their cases to move through a backlogged immigration court system encourages illegal immigration.

The American Civil Liberties Union and other groups sued the Trump administration over the policy, claiming it violates U.S. law.

But following a March 22 hearing on whether the program should be halted, U.S. District Judge Richard Seeborg in San Francisco ordered both sides to submit further briefing on the question of whether or not the California court has jurisdiction to preside over the case, likely prolonging any decision on the policy.

(Reporting by Yeganeh Torbati; Editing by Grant McCool and Meredith Mazzilli)

Senate votes to terminate Trump national emergency

U.S. President Donald Trump walks down the U.S Capitol steps with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) after they both attended the 37th annual Friends of Ireland luncheon at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., March 14, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Senate on Thursday joined the House of Representatives in passing legislation that would defy President Donald Trump by terminating the national emergency on the southern border that he declared on Feb. 15.

Trump has vowed a veto – an act he has not yet taken as president. But enough Republicans in Congress are expected to block any veto override attempt. A two-thirds vote of the House and Senate are needed overturn a presidential veto.

The Senate voted 59-41 to end the emergency.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Lisa Lambert)