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)

As tensions over aid rise, Venezuelan troops fire on villagers, kill two

People waiting to cross to Venezuela gesture at the border between Venezuela and Brazil in Pacaraima, Roraima state, Brazil, February 22, 2019. REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes

By Carlos Suniaga and Nelson Bocanegra

KUMARAKAPAY, Venezuela/CUCUTA, Colombia (Reuters) – Venezuelan soldiers opened fire on indigenous people near the border with Brazil on Friday, killing two, witnesses said, as President Nicolas Maduro sought to block U.S.-backed efforts to bring aid into his economically devastated nation.

The United States, which is among dozens of Western nations to recognize opposition leader Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s legitimate president, has been stockpiling aid in the Colombian frontier town of Cucuta to ship across the border this weekend.

With tensions running high after Guaido invoked the constitution to declare an interim presidency last month, Maduro has denied there is a humanitarian crisis in Venezuela despite widespread shortages of food and medicine and hyperinflation.

Maduro, who took power in 2013 and was re-elected in an election last year widely viewed as fraudulent, says opposition efforts to bring in aid are a U.S.-backed “cheap show” to undermine his government.

The socialist president has declared Venezuela’s southern border with Brazil closed and threatened to do the same with the Colombian border ahead of a Saturday deadline by the opposition to bring in humanitarian assistance.

A fundraising concert for Venezuela, backed by British billionaire Richard Branson and featuring major Latin pop stars like Luis Fonsi of “Despacito” fame, attracted nearly 200,000 in Cucuta on Friday, organizers said.

Some political analysts say Saturday’s showdown is less about solving Venezuela’s needs and more about testing the military’s loyalty toward Maduro by daring it to turn the aid away.

With inflation running at more than 2 million percent a year and currency controls restricting imports of basic goods, a growing share of the country’s roughly 30 million people is suffering from malnutrition.

Friday’s violence broke out in the village of Kumarakapay in southern Venezuela after an indigenous community stopped a military convoy heading toward the border with Brazil that they believed was attempting to block aid from entering, according to community leaders Richard Fernandez and Ricardo Delgado.

Soldiers later entered the village and opened fire, killing a couple and injuring several others, they said.

“I stood up to them to back the humanitarian aid,” Fernandez told Reuters. “And they came charging at us. They shot innocent people who were in their homes, working.”

Seven of the 15 injured earlier on Friday were rushed by ambulance across the border and were being treated at the Roraima General Hospital in the Brazilian frontier city of Boa Vista, a spokesman for the state governor’s office said.

Venezuela’s Information Ministry did not reply to a request for comment. Diosdado Cabello, one of the most prominent figures in Maduro’s Socialist Party, accused the civilians involved in the clash of being “violent groups” directed by the opposition.

Venezuelan security forces have executed dozens and detained hundreds of others since protests broke out in January against Maduro’s swearing-in, according to civil rights groups.

The United States condemned “the killings, attacks, and the hundreds of arbitrary detentions”, a State Department official said on Friday.

Meanwhile China, which along with Russia backs Maduro, warned humanitarian aid should not be forced in because doing so could lead to violence.

BLOODSHED ‘NOT IN VAIN’

The bloodshed contrasted with the joyous ambiance at Branson’s “Venezuela Aid Live” in Cucuta, where Venezuelan and Colombian attendees, some crying, waved flags and chanted “freedom” under a baking sun.

“Is it too much to ask for freedom after 20 years of ignominy, of a populist Marxist dictatorship?” Venezuelan artist Jose Luis “El Puma” Rodreguez asked. “To the Venezuelans there, don’t give up, the blood that has been spilled was not in vain”.

Earlier in the day, Branson held a news conference near a never-used road border bridge that has become a symbol of Maduro’s refusal to let aid in after authorities blocked the bridge with shipping containers.

“What we’re hoping is that the authorities in Venezuela will see this wonderful, peaceful concert…and that the soldiers will do that right thing,” Branson said.

Guaido has vowed the opposition will on Saturday bring in foreign aid being stockpiled in Cucuta, the Brazilian town of Boa Vista and the Dutch Caribbean island of Curacao, setting up more clashes with Maduro’s security forces.

He set off toward the Colombian border on Thursday in a convoy with opposition lawmakers to oversee the effort but did not disclose his location on Friday out of security concerns, according to his aides.

“You must decide which side you are on in this definitive hour,” Guaido wrote on Twitter. “To all the military: between today and tomorrow, you will define how you want to be remembered.”

Venezuelan National guards block the road at the border between Venezuela and Brazil in Pacaraima, Roraima state, Brazil, February 22, 2019. REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes

Venezuelan National guards block the road at the border between Venezuela and Brazil in Pacaraima, Roraima state, Brazil, February 22, 2019. REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes

Guaido’s move to assume the interim presidency and international backing has galvanized Venezuela’s opposition, which has vowed to keep protesting until Maduro steps down. It previously staged major protests in 2014 and 2017 that waned in the face of government crackdowns.

Yet some government critics are concerned it will take more than pressure to force Maduro to step down.

“The truth is that not even 10 concerts will make damned Maduro leave office,” said Darwin Rendon, one of the 3.4 million Venezuelans to have emigrated since 2015 to find work. He sends what little he can earn selling cigarettes back to his family in Caracas.

“This regime is difficult to remove,” he added.

(Reporting by Carlos Suniaga and William Urdaneta in Kumarakapay, Venezuela; Nelson Bocanegra and Steven Grattan in Cucuta, Colombia; Julia Symmes Cobb and Helen Murphy in Bogota; Brian Ellsworth, Vivian Sequera, Corina Pons and Sarah Marsh in Caracas; Lesley Wroughton in Washington Additional reporting by Anthony Boadle in BrasiliaWriting by Sarah MarshEditing by Bill Trott and Paul Simao)

Trump heads to U.S. border with Mexico to press case for wall

U.S. President Donald Trump talks to reporters as he departs for a visit to the U.S. southern border area in Texas from the White House in Washington, U.S., January 10, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump heads to Texas on Thursday to press his case that the country is facing a crisis that can only be solved by spending billions of dollars to construct a wall along the border with Mexico.

His trip to the border town of McAllen, Texas, comes on the 20th day of a partial government shutdown that has left hundreds of thousands of Americans out of work or working without pay, while Trump and fellow Republicans fight with Democrats over his demand for $5.7 billion this year to construct the barrier.

Trump’s plan to build a wall at the southern border was a central promise of his 2016 presidential campaign. He said last month he would be “proud” to shut the government down over the issue but has since blamed Democrats.

He also has been considering whether to declare a national emergency and use it to circumvent Congress by building the wall with money allocated for the Department of Defense. Democrats who control the House of Representatives refuse to approve the wall funding.

Critics say such a move by Trump would be illegal and plan to immediately challenge it in court. Even some Republicans who want to build a wall have said they do not want money to be taken from the military to pay for it.

Trump will travel to Texas with the state’s two U.S. senators, Republicans John Cornyn and Ted Cruz. After Trump’s midday visit, Cornyn will host a roundtable discussion with area mayors, judges, law enforcement personnel and others involved with the border issue.

On Dec. 22, about 25 percent of the government – excluding mainly the Department of Defense and health-related programs – shut down because of Congress’ inability to complete work by a September deadline on funding all government agencies.

Backed by most Republicans in Congress, as well as his most ardent supporters, Trump has said he will not sign any bill to reopen the government that does not provide the funds he wants for the wall.

“There is GREAT unity with the Republicans in the House and Senate, despite the Fake News Media working in overdrive to make the story look otherwise,” Trump tweeted on Thursday ahead of his departure. “The Opposition Party & the Dems know we must have Strong Border Security, but don’t want to give ‘Trump’ another one of many wins!”

ACRIMONIOUS MEETING

The impasse has continued while Trump’s meetings with Democratic congressional leaders have ended in acrimony. On Wednesday, he stormed out of a meeting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, calling it “a total waste of time.”

Trump says undocumented immigrants and illegal drugs are streaming across the border from Mexico, despite statistics that show illegal immigration there is at a 20-year low and that many drug shipments likely are smuggled through legal ports of entry.

Democrats accuse Trump of using fear tactics and spreading misinformation about the border situation in order to fulfill a 2016 campaign promise as he looks toward his race for re-election in 2020.

The president has been working to make his case to the public, and bolster any congressional Republicans who might be wavering.

Pressure on them could intensify on Friday when about 800,000 federal employees – including border patrol agents and airport security screeners – miss their first paychecks.

On Tuesday, Trump said in his first prime-time television address from the Oval Office that there was a growing security and humanitarian crisis at the border.

On Wednesday, he visited Republican lawmakers at the U.S. Capitol, emerging from a meeting to say his party was “very unified.”

Less than two hours later, eight Republicans in the House voted with majority Democrats on a bill that would reopen the Treasury Department and some other programs and did not include any funding for the wall.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has made clear, however, that he will not allow that chamber to vote on any measure that does not include wall funding.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Additional reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Peter Cooney and Bill Trott)

Citing ‘crisis,’ Trump to seek border wall support in televised address

A woman walks past the entrance to the National Archives which is closed due to a partial government shutdown continues, in Washington, U.S., January 7, 2019. REUTERS/Jim Young

By Jeff Mason

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump will make his case to Americans on Tuesday that a wall is urgently needed to resolve what he calls a crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border, trying to make good on a campaign promise in a dispute that has sparked an 18-day partial government shut-down.

Trump’s prime-time address, scheduled for 9 p.m. will be the Republican president’s latest attempt to persuade Democrats to back his push for a steel barrier on the southern border.

Amid his talk of crisis, Trump is considering declaring the border situation a national emergency, which could get him out of an impasse by enabling him to bypass Congress’ mandate to approve federal spending and to build the wall without its approval. However, such a step would likely face an immediate legal challenge.

Trump has long maintained that a border wall is needed to stem the flow of illegal immigration and drugs, and in recent weeks has made the issue a priority. Democrats, who now control the House of Representatives, have consistently opposed it, calling it an expensive, inefficient and immoral way of trying to resolve immigration issues.

The dispute over wall funding – with Trump demanding $5.7 billion to help build it – led to a stalemate in Congress over funding for parts of the government. About a quarter of U.S. agencies have been shut down since last month and hundreds of thousands of government workers are likely to miss paychecks this week.

Trump’s remarks from the White House will also aim to shore up support among Republican lawmakers, who are wary of a potential backlash from the public as the effects of the shutdown intensify. Vice President Mike Pence was scheduled to meet with Republican lawmakers later on Tuesday, before Trump’s speech.

Trump will tell the American people that there is “a humanitarian and security crisis” at the border, Pence said in television interviews on Tuesday morning.

The White House has not said why the situation constitutes a national emergency. Pence did not say whether Trump had made a decision or if the White House had completed its legal review of such a declaration.

“We believe we can solve this through the legislative process,” Pence told CBS, urging Democrats to negotiate.

While Trump has frequently painted a picture of an “unprecedented crisis” of illegal immigration at the U.S.-Mexican border, illegal crossings there have dropped dramatically in recent years. There were nearly 400,000 apprehensions on the border in the 2018 fiscal year, far down from the early 2000s when arrests regularly topped 1 million annually.

But in recent years, the border has seen many more Central American families and unaccompanied children turning up – sometimes in caravans of thousands of people – to seek asylum and the government does not have the facilities to take care of them. Such asylum-seekers often present themselves at official crossing points, something that would not change if a wall were built.

Despite the focus on the border with Mexico, most immigrants living in the United States without authorization entered with visas and then stayed on when their documents ran out.

‘DRASTICALLY MISINFORMING’

All major U.S. television networks agreed to broadcast Trump’s speech, prompting Democrats to seek equal air time.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer will deliver a televised response after Trump speaks on Tuesday night.

Democrats have said they support increased border security measures such as additional U.S. border agents and technology, but have rejected the administration’s claims about the security risks at the border and have raised concerns that Trump will use his speech to present a false narrative.

“Someone is drastically misinforming him,” Democratic U.S. Senator Joe Manchin told CNN.

Trump will continue pressing his case with a trip to the border on Thursday.

Pence said on Monday that progress was made in weekend talks that he led between administration officials and congressional staff over how to break the funding impasse and reopen the government.

Federal employees will feel the pinch from the shutdown on Friday when they will miss their paychecks for the first time, unless a deal is reached. The shutdown, which has left some 800,000 government workers furloughed or working without pay, is also affecting national parks, airline security screening, housing and food aid, and economic data.

“This isn’t about Democrats not wanting to talk about border security,” Democratic U.S. Senator Chris Murphy told MSNBC. “It’s about making sure that the federal workforce isn’t used over and over again as a hostage for the president’s campaign promises.”

Trump made his promise for a wall a signature issue in his 2016 White House run. He said Mexico would pay for it, although Mexico was always clear it would not, and he has now turned to Congress for the money.

In rejecting Trump’s demands, Democrats also point to the Trump administration’s controversial handling of families and other migrants from Central America at the border.

Critics have decried the previous separation of migrant children from families, the use of tear gas at the border and the case of two Guatemalan migrant children who died in U.S. custody in December.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason; Additional reporting by Susan Heavey in Washington and Kenneth Li and Mica Rosenberg in New York; Writing by Alistair Bell; Editing by Frances Kerry)

Trump warns Mexico on migrant caravan, threatens to close border

Honduran migrants, part of a caravan trying to reach the U.S., walk on a bridge during their travel in Guatemala City, Guatemala October 18, 2018. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido

By Susan Heavey

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump threatened to deploy the military and close the southern U.S. border on Thursday if Mexico did not move to halt large groups of migrants headed for the United States from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

“I must, in the strongest of terms, ask Mexico to stop this onslaught – and if unable to do so I will call up the U.S. Military and CLOSE OUR SOUTHERN BORDER!” Trump wrote on Twitter.

Trump threatened to withhold aid to the region as a caravan with several thousand Honduran migrants traveled this week through Guatemala to Mexico in hopes of crossing into the United States to escape violence and poverty in Central America.

Trump’s threat came as U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo prepared to travel later in the day to Panama and then Mexico City, where he was to meet with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto on Friday.

Mexico’s foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Trump, who has sought to curtail immigration and build a border wall on the Mexican border, this week threatened to halt aid if Central American governments did not act.

Frustrated by Congress’ failure to fully fund his proposed wall at the border with Mexico, Trump in April ordered National Guard personnel to help the Department of Homeland Security secure the border in four southwestern U.S. states.

In a string of tweets on Thursday, Trump also said the issue was more important to him than the new trade deal with Mexico to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement pact.

“The assault on our country at our Southern Border, including the Criminal elements and DRUGS pouring in, is far more important to me, as President, than Trade or the USMCA. Hopefully Mexico will stop this onslaught at their Northern Border,” Trump wrote. He was referring to the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, which is awaiting ratification.

More Honduran migrants tried to join a caravan of several thousand trekking through Guatemala on Wednesday, defying calls by authorities not to make the journey. The caravan has been growing steadily since it left the violent Honduran city of San Pedro Sula on Saturday.

Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales said on Wednesday his government dismissed threatened constraints placed on foreign aid.

He said he had spoken with Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez about ensuring the migrants who want to return home can do so safely.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey and Doina Chiacu; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Jeffrey Benkoe)

California not taking part in enhanced U.S. border security operation

FILE PHOTO: Members of the Texas National Guard watch the Mexico-U.S. border from an outpost along the Rio Grande in Roma, Texas, U.S., April 11, 2018. REUTERS/Loren Elliott

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The state of California has opted not to take part in the Trump administration’s effort to send National Guard troops to the country’s southern border with Mexico, a Defense Department official said on Monday.

Robert Salesses, a deputy assistant secretary at the Defense Department, said at a media briefing that California has declined a request to commit more than 200 troops to the effort. Salesses said talks with California are ongoing.

Earlier this month, President Donald Trump and Defense Secretary James Mattis authorized up to 4,000 National Guard personnel to help the Department of Homeland Security secure the border in four southwestern U.S. states.

Currently, 900 National Guard troops have been deployed in Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, officials said Monday.

Lieutenant Colonel Tom Keegan, a spokesman for the California National Guard, said in a statement that “state officials have not rejected anything” since California Governor Jerry Brown responded last week with a proposed agreement.

Keegan added: “The federal government has not yet responded. The next step is for the federal government to respond by signing the Memorandum of Agreement.” Brown’s office referred questions to Keegan.

Tyler Houlton, a spokesman for Homeland Security, said Brown “shares our interest in securing our southern border. DHS and our federal partners are committed to working with the governor to mobilize the California National Guard to assist DHS’s frontline personnel in our vital missions.”

Salesses said the federal government had asked California to provide 237 National Guard troops to two sectors near the Mexican border. “They will not perform those missions,” Salesses said, adding talks are continuing with the California National Guard.

He said the tasks sought were primarily operational support, including motor transport maintenance, radio communications, heavy equipment operations, administrative responsibilities and operating remote surveillance cameras.

Ronald Vitiello, acting deputy commissioner at U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, said Monday California may be willing to take part in other missions but Brown had determined that some tasks sought for assistance were “unsupportable.”

Trump has been unable to get the U.S. Congress or Mexico to fund his proposed wall along the border. National Guard troops will not construct any sections of a proposed border wall, officials said Monday.

National Guard troops are not taking part in direct border security and are not performing law enforcement work.

Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto has sharply rebuked Trump over the plan.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; editing by Leslie Adler and James Dalgleish)

Trump expected to launch measures to curb illegal immigration

boy watching U.S. workers

By Julia Edwards Ainsley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump is expected to begin signing executive orders aimed at curbing illegal immigration on Wednesday, beginning with a directive to build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico and another to boost personnel needed to crack down on illegal immigrants, congressional aides with knowledge of the plan told Reuters.

In the coming days, Trump is expected to limit the number of refugees admitted to the United States to 50,000 a year, down from 100,000, and to impose a temporary ban on most refugees.

Trump, who took office last Friday, will begin signing the orders at the Department of Homeland Security on Wednesday. On Twitter on Tuesday night, Trump reiterated his promise to build the border wall, which was a cornerstone of his presidential campaign and which he has promised to make Mexico pay for.

The border enforcement order includes plans to hire 5,000 more U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents used to apprehend migrants at the border and to triple the number of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agents used to arrest and deport migrants living in the United States illegally.

The Customs and Border Protection agency has already struggled to meet its hiring mandate, with a little more than 19,000 agents on the payroll, out of a congressionally mandated 21,000.

Immigration enforcement away from the border is also expected to be strengthened by seeking an end to “sanctuary cities” where local law enforcement officials refuse to cooperate with federal immigration authorities.

Trump will call for an end to this practice and may instruct the federal government to stop providing certain funds to cities that refuse to comply.

Later in the week, Trump is expected to suspend the issuing of visas to people from countries where it is deemed that adequate screening cannot occur. Immigration experts expect those countries to include Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Iraq, Iran, Libya and Yemen.

A review will be conducted by the Trump administration to determine what screening must occur before travel for citizens from such countries can resume.

(Reporting by Julia Edwards Ainsley; Writing by Susan Heavey; Editing by Franklin Paul and Frances Kerry)