Exclusive: Brazil facilitates deportation of its nationals after U.S. pressure

FILE PHOTO: Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro and U.S. President Donald Trump shake hands during a bilateral meeting at the G20 leaders summit in Osaka, Japan, June 28, 2019. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

By Lisandra Paraguassu

BRASILIA (Reuters) – Brazil is making it easier for the United States to deport undocumented Brazilians by asking U.S. airlines to board deportees even when they have no valid passports, following pressure from the Trump administration, three Brazilian government sources said.

The Federal Police sent airlines a memo in June allowing them to board Brazilian deportees with just a certificate of nationality issued by a consulate if they lack a valid passport, previously needed to travel to Brazil, the sources said.

The move by right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro’s government aims to facilitate repatriation of deportees by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and efforts by the Trump administration to speed the removal of undocumented immigrants.

The officials, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly on the matter, said Brazil has come under increasing pressure from the Trump administration to facilitate deportations of its detained nationals, to the point of risking sanctions.

They did not detail what kind of sanctions.

“When Donald Trump became U.S. president, illegal immigration became a central political issue. Pressure increased a lot and Brazil was even threatened with sanctions,” one of the sources with knowledge of the matter told Reuters.

Brazil was labeled as “at risk of non-compliance” with the repatriation of deportees in a U.S. Department of Homeland Security report in March on the barriers ICE faces to timely removal of detained immigrants.

Trump has been cracking down on recalcitrant countries that do not accept immigrants ordered deported, under an executive order issued immediately after he took office.

The deportation of undocumented Brazilians has risen from 1,413 in fiscal year 2017 to 1,691 in fiscal 2018, with Brazilians the sixth-largest group of nationals being removed from the United States, according to ICE data.

This fiscal year there have been 1,117 removals of Brazilians through June 10, ICE said. The U.S. fiscal year runs from Oct. 1 through Sept. 30.

Brazil’s Foreign Ministry confirmed that certificates of nationality are issued by its consulates in the United States when detained deportees have exhausted their appeals process and have no passport. Brazilian passports are issued only to nationals who apply for them.

Many countries have arrangements with the U.S. government and foreign countries that allow for a document – other than a passport – issued by an embassy or consulate to serve as an authorization to travel.

Delta Airlines and American Airlines did not respond to requests for comment.

As of December, there were 334 Brazilians in ICE detention awaiting trial or deportation, the ministry said.

Since he took office in January, Bolsonaro has established close ties with Trump and the two are looking to negotiate a trade agreement.

Bolsonaro has made disparaging statements about immigrants. In March, speaking on Fox News during a visit to Washington, he praised Trump’s plan for a wall on the Mexican border, adding that “most immigrants do not have good intentions.”

His son Eduardo Bolsonaro, whom he has nominated to be Brazil’s ambassador in Washington, told reporters during that visit that illegal Brazilian immigrants were “a problem for Brazil, an embarrassment to us.”

(Reporting by Lisandra Paraguassú; additional reporting and writing by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Daniel Flynn and Dan Grebler)

Homeland Security Secretary Nielsen resigns amid Trump anger over border

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump talks to reporters as Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen (R) looks on at a signing ceremony for the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency Act in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S. November 16, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo

By Patricia Zengerle and Diane Bartz

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, who oversaw President Donald Trump’s bitterly contested immigration policies during her tumultuous 16-month tenure, resigned on Sunday amid a surge in the number of migrants at the border with Mexico.

A senior administration official said Trump asked for Nielsen’s resignation and she gave it.

Trump, who has recently expressed growing anger about the situation at the border, said on Twitter: “Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen will be leaving her position, and I would like to thank her for her service.”

In another tweet, Trump said Kevin McAleenan, the current U.S. Customs and Border Protection commissioner, would become acting DHS secretary.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen speaks during a visit U.S. President Donald Trump’s border wall in the El Centro Sector in Calexico, California, U.S. October 26, 2018. REUTERS/Earnie Grafton/File Photo

In a tweet late Sunday, Nielsen said that she would stay on until Wednesday.

“I have agreed to stay on as Secretary through Wednesday, April 10th to assist with an orderly transition and ensure that key DHS missions are not impacted,” she said.

Nielsen’s departure was first reported by CBS News.

Nielsen, 46, had been DHS secretary since December 2017. Her departure had been repeatedly rumored over the past year, particularly after a wave of anger over the administration’s 2018 family separation policy at the border with Mexico and most recently as U.S. border officials estimated that 100,000 migrants were apprehended at the southern border in March, the highest level in a decade.

Another senior administration official said Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, after a blowup with Nielsen late last year, also recommended to Trump that she should go.

Trump has made a clampdown on illegal immigration a centerpiece of his two-year-old presidency, leading chants of “Build that wall” at his rallies as he has sought to cut back on the number of newcomers entering the United States without proper documentation.

Many of the migrants picked up last month were Central Americans seeking U.S. asylum.

Trump was so frustrated about the increase that he announced he would cut off U.S. aid to Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. He also threatened to close the border with Mexico, although he later backed off that proposal with a threat to impose tariffs on auto imports.

In her resignation letter, Nielsen asked for more from Congress and the courts, which have opposed such Trump administration initiatives as his effort to limit immigration from Muslim nations and the border wall.

“I hope that the next Secretary will have the support of Congress and the courts in fixing the laws which have impeded our ability to fully secure America’s borders and which have contributed to discord in our nation’s discourse,” she wrote to Trump.

Trump also took aim at Congress in another tweet later on Sunday, saying: “Country is FULL,” and saying Democrats in Congress must “fix loopholes” and repeating his threats to close the border or impose tariffs if Mexico does not do more.

Nielsen’s resignation was the latest high-profile departure from the Trump administration and leaves just four women in his Cabinet. Among others, Trump currently lacks a permanent secretary of defense or chief of staff.

LIGHTNING ROD

Nielsen’s departure was announced two days after the Republican president abruptly said on Friday he was dumping his nominee to be the top official at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Ronald Vitiello, saying he wanted someone “tougher.”

ICE is under the jurisdiction of DHS, which was formed following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington.

Repeatedly subjected to tough questioning by Democrats at congressional hearings, Nielsen became a lightning rod for criticism of Trump’s policies. She was confronted by protesters last year at a Mexican restaurant in Washington.

Last year, Nielsen came under increasing pressure by critics to step aside after the Trump administration adopted the policy of separating migrant children from their parents as part of its “zero tolerance” approach intended to deter families from leaving home in the hope of entering the United States.

After criticism as pictures of children in cages were spread across the world, Trump signed an executive order in June ending family separations and requiring that families be held together in federal custody while the adults awaited prosecution for illegally crossing the border.

But the government reported that at least 245 children were taken from their families between that time and the first months of 2019.

Trump insists that the arrival of immigrants across the southern U.S. border constitutes a national emergency so important that he sidestepped Congress’ refusal to provide him with billions of dollars he requested to build the border wall.

Representative Bennie Thompson, the Democratic chairman of the House of Representatives Homeland Security Committee, said Nielsen’s tenure at DHS “was a disaster from the start.”

He said in a statement, however, that she should not serve as a scapegoat, blasting Trump for “terrible and cruel policies.” Noting that the department now has neither a permanent secretary nor deputy secretary, Thompson called on the administration to work with Congress “in good faith.”

Before she was nominated as secretary, Nielsen worked as a deputy to former Marine General John Kelly, who headed DHS before becoming White House chief of staff.

Kelly resigned as chief of staff on Jan. 2 amid reports of a strained relationship with Trump.

(Reporting by Diane Bartz and Patricia Zengerle; Additional reporting by Jeff Mason and Sarah N. Lynch and Rich McKay; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall and Peter Cooney)

Talks collapse on border deal as U.S. government shutdown looms

FILE PHOTO: Construction fencing surrounds part of the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, U.S. November 2, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo

By Richard Cowan and Doina Chiacu

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Talks on border security funding collapsed after Democratic and Republican lawmakers clashed over immigrant detention policy as they worked to avert another U.S. government shutdown, a Republican senator said on Sunday.

“The talks are stalled right now,” Republican Senator Richard Shelby told “Fox News Sunday.” He said the impasse was over Democrats’ desire to cap the number of beds in detention facilities for people who enter the country illegally.

Efforts to resolve the dispute over border security funding extended into the weekend as a special congressional negotiating panel aimed to reach a deal by Monday, lawmakers and aides said.

Democratic Senator Jon Tester played down any breakdown in talks. “It is a negotiation. Negotiations seldom go smooth all the way through,” he told the Fox program. Tester, one of 17 negotiators, said he was hopeful a deal could be reached.

But Shelby put the chances of reaching a deal by Monday at 50-50. No further talks were scheduled, a source told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

The lawmakers hoped to have an agreement by Monday to allow time for the legislation to pass the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate and get signed by President Donald Trump by Friday when funding for the Department of Homeland Security and other federal agencies expires.

Trump agreed on Jan. 25 to end a 35-day partial U.S. government shutdown without getting the $5.7 billion he had demanded from Congress for a wall along the border with Mexico, handing a political victory to Democrats.

Instead, a three-week spending deal was reached with congressional leaders to give lawmakers time to resolve their disagreements about how to address security along the border.

One sticking point has been the Democrats’ demand for funding fewer detention beds for people arrested by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents. Republicans want to increase the number as part of their drive to speed immigrant deportations.

Since he ran for president in 2016, Trump has pledged to stop the influx of undocumented immigrants by building a wall on the border and crack down on immigrants living in the United States illegally by aggressively conducting more deportations.

‘DESPERATELY NEEDED’

Democrats proposed lowering the cap on detention beds to 35,520 from the current 40,520 in return for giving Republicans some of the money they want for physical barriers, the source familiar with negotiations said.

But Democrats would create a limit within that cap of 16,500 beds at detention facilities for undocumented immigrants apprehended in the interior of the country. The remainder would be at border detention centers.

By having the interior cap, ICE agents would be forced to focus on arresting and deporting serious criminals, not law-abiding immigrants, a House Democratic aide said on Sunday.

Republicans balked at the Democrats’ sub-cap offer, the source said.

Trump weighed in Sunday, saying the Democratic proposal would protect felons. “They are offering very little money for the desperately needed Border Wall & now, out of the blue, want a cap on convicted violent felons to be held in detention!” Trump said on Twitter.

“Claims that this proposal would allow violent criminals to be released are false,” the Democratic aide said.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who is close to Trump, warned against limiting beds. “Donald Trump is not going to sign any legislation that reduces the bed spaces. You can take that to the bank,” he said on Fox News’ “Sunday Morning Futures.”

Lawmakers working on a border deal also have not yet nailed down the amount of money to go for physical barriers along the southern U.S. border, the source said.

While a growing number of Republicans in Congress have made it clear they would not embrace another shutdown, White House budget director Mick Mulvaney said he could not rule it out.

“You absolutely cannot,” Mulvaney, who is also Trump’s acting chief of staff, told NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday. “Is a shutdown entirely off the table? The answer is no.”

Lawmakers, however, were working to avoid it.

On Friday, some of the negotiators said that if Congress could not pass a border security bill by Friday, they would move to pass another stop-gap funding bill to avert a shutdown and allow more time to reach a border deal.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan, Doina Chiacu, Howard Schneider; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)

ICE arrests of immigrants in U.S. illegally highest since 2014

FILE PHOTO: Border Patrol agents arrest migrants who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border in the desert near Ajo, Arizona, U.S., September 11, 2018. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

By Yeganeh Torbati

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials arrested more immigrants who were in the United States illegally in the fiscal year through Sept. 30, 2018, than in any year since 2014, the agency said on Friday.

The 158,851 people arrested in the 2018 fiscal year by ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations division, the branch that carries out immigration arrests and deportations, represented an 11 percent increase over 2017, according to agency data.

ICE arrests of immigrants with no criminal history but who are in the country illegally increased by nearly one-third compared to 2017, to reach 20,464. Such arrests made up 13 percent of all ICE immigration arrests last year, compared to 11 percent the previous year.

Other immigrants arrested by ICE last year were either convicted criminals or had “pending criminal charges” at the time of their arrest, according to ICE data – though the latter category can include people who have been arrested by police but are not yet or ever charged with an actual crime. The number of people with pending charges arrested by ICE was 48 percent higher in 2018 than in 2017, while arrests of those with criminal convictions dropped slightly.

Those with criminal convictions made up 66 percent of all those arrested last year, while those with “pending” charges made up 21 percent.

Under President Donald Trump, U.S. immigration enforcement officers have expanded the arrest, detention and deportation of people in the United States illegally, including those with little or no criminal history or with deep roots in their communities.

The most common criminal charges or convictions for those arrested by ICE last year, according to its data, were driving under the influence, “dangerous drugs,” “traffic offenses,” and “immigration,” which includes crimes such as entering the country illegally, entering illegally more than once, falsely claiming U.S. citizenship, or “alien smuggling.”

(Reporting by Yeganeh Torbati; Editing by Phil Berlowit

Man deported six times charged with murder in California bludgeonings

Ramon Escobar, 47, appears in a booking photo provided by the Harris County Sheriff's Office in Houston, Texas, U.S., September 27, 2018. Harris County Sheriff's Office/Handout via REUTERS

By Steve Gorman and Alex Dobuzinskis

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – A man who police said fled to California from Texas after being questioned in the disappearance of two relatives was charged on Wednesday in Los Angeles with bludgeoning eight men, three fatally, in a string of attacks aimed mostly at homeless victims.

Ramon Alberto Escobar, 47, an El Salvador native and convicted burglar who has been repeatedly deported from the United States, was arrested on Monday after he allegedly clubbed a sleeping man in the head with bolt-cutters in the ocean-front city of Santa Monica, authorities said.

Seven other men were similarly attacked in Santa Monica and Los Angeles earlier this month, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.

Police have said one victim was sleeping under a pier after a night of fishing and that most of the rest of the victims were homeless, including three men battered with a baseball bat in downtown Los Angeles on Sept. 16.

Two of those victims and the man attacked beneath the pier died of their injuries. Some survivors were left in a coma.

On Wednesday, the district attorney’s office formally charged Escobar with three counts of murder, five counts of attempted murder and four counts of robbery. If convicted of murder, he faces a minimum sentence of life without parole.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials said Tuesday that Escobar had been deported back to El Salvador six times between 1977 and 2011 and has six felony convictions for burglary and illegal re-entry. Police have said he spent five years in a Texas prison for burglary from 1995 to 2000.

Escobar in 2016 filed an appeal of his immigration case, which U.S. courts granted in December of that year, and he was released from ICE custody on an “order of supervision” in January 2017, ICE spokesperson Paige Hughes said by email.

Escobar, now jailed without bond, briefly appeared in Los Angeles Superior Court on Wednesday, but the arraignment was postponed until Nov. 8. No plea was entered.

Judge Gustavo Sztraicher granted a defense motion barring public dissemination of the defendant’s image, including by photograph or courtroom sketch drawing, so as not to prejudice potential witnesses who might identify him for prosecutors.

Escobar appeared expressionless and said nothing except to answer, “Yes, sir,” when asked if he agreed to the postponement.

Defense lawyers declined to speak to reporters.

Meanwhile, police in Houston said Escobar was a “person of interest” in the investigation into the disappearance of an aunt and uncle with whom Escobar lived before they were reported missing in late August by other relatives.

The aunt’s van was later found burned and abandoned in Galveston, Texas, according to Houston police spokesman Kese Smith.

Escobar was questioned by Houston homicide detectives on Aug. 30, but they lacked probable cause to detain him at the time, Smith told Reuters on Wednesday, adding that Houston detectives would seek to “re-interview” Escobar in California.

Hayes said Escobar “fled” Texas by car soon after he was questioned in Houston, arriving in Los Angeles on Sept. 5. The first attack police linked to him occurred three days later.

(Reporting by Steve Gorman and Alex Dobuzinskis; Additional reporting by Gina Cherelus in New York; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Lisa Shumaker)

Fight over U.S. spending bill rekindles immigration debate

FILE PHOTO: The United States Capitol Dome is seen before dawn in Washington March 22, 2013. REUTERS/Gary Cameron

By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – As another U.S. government funding deadline looms, a huge spending bill is ground zero in the latest battle between Republicans and Democrats in Congress over President Donald Trump’s push to toughen immigration policy.

Lawmakers have until March 23 to work out how to fund an array of government agencies for the next six months. But their behind-the-scenes negotiations are complicated by the immigration issue.

Republicans are seeking hundreds of millions of dollars more for the Department of Homeland Security to expand the number of beds for immigrant detainees and to hire more federal agents to patrol U.S. borders and the country’s interior.

That is aimed at finding and potentially deporting more illegal immigrants, a central pledge of Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.

“If you increased the number of beds, the number of people detained in this country will likely be increased,” said Sarah Pierce, a policy analyst for the non-partisan Migration Policy Institute.

She said that would help Trump carry out initiatives to expand detentions, including possibly those of children who are in the country illegally. For some immigrants, it could mean spending as long as two years in detention while their cases wind through an overburdened court system, instead of being under looser government controls during the process.

Congressional negotiators also are tussling over a Republican provision prohibiting the use of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement funds to facilitate abortions for immigrant detainees.

There is also a push for $1.6 billion to begin construction on a border wall, which Trump promised during his campaign would be paid for by Mexico – an unwilling partner in that pledge. That would be a down payment on a construction project likely to end up costing more than $18 billion.

During a visit to California on Tuesday, Trump inspected wall prototypes and urged Congress to fund it.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, an advocate for Trump’s immigration agenda, told reporters on Wednesday, “If there are additional appropriations added, I certainly would be supportive of that.”

Democrats, whose votes in the Republican-controlled Congress are likely needed to pass the trillion-dollar spending bill, are pushing back against a wall that they see as a waste of money.

A coalition of 83 Hispanic, African-American and Asian-American members of the House of Representatives wrote this week to congressional leaders urging them to also “reduce funding to DHS’s detention and deportation machine.”

Democratic Representative Michelle Lujan Grisham, who heads the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, told reporters: “It’s wasteful and it’s harmfully targeting and deporting non-criminal immigrants, separating families and terrorizing frankly whole communities.”

BATTLEGROUND

Appropriations bills in Congress are the lifeblood of Washington policymakers, providing the money to carry out their priorities.

Over the past several months, appropriations bills to fund an array of federal programs have been the battleground in which Trump and Congress fought over the future of young people brought to the country illegally as children.

That six-month skirmish ended last month with Congress unable to legislate new protection from deportation for 700,000 “Dreamers” after Trump ended an Obama-era program giving them temporary legal status. At one point, the standoff forced Washington into a three-day government shutdown in January when funding ran out.

This time, Republicans hope to get enough money to hire 500 more Customs and Border Protection agents and 1,000 more Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials. That would be the start of an eventual increase of CBP’s workforce by 5,000 and ICE’s by 10,000.

Democrats have noted that the agencies are falling short in filling all positions Congress already has authorized.

Negotiators are expected to work through the weekend as House of Representatives leaders hope to unveil a bill early next week so it can be debated on the House floor by midweek, with a Senate vote by the March 23 deadline.

Failure to meet the deadline could result in the second partial government shutdown this year.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan; Editing by Caren Bohan, Peter Cooney and Bill Trott)