ICE denies hunger strike by immigrants at Texas detention center

(Reuters) - A group of immigrant fathers, recently reunified with their sons and detained in Texas, have gone on a hunger strike to demand their release, an immigrant rights group representing them said on Thursday.

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency said there had not been a hunger strike by residents of the Karnes County Residential Center, about 51 miles (82 km) southeast of San Antonio.

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“On Aug. 2, a small group of fathers and their children (fewer than 50 total) staged a brief sit-in and expressed their concerns about their immigration cases,” ICE said in a statement. The residents “appreciated the information and dispersed.”

It was not immediately clear how many fathers were in the group.

The immigrants said they were being held at the detention center with no notification from authorities on their immigration status, the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES) said.

Fathers had staged sit-ins, children were refusing to take part in school activities, and some fathers had started a hunger strike, RAICES spokeswoman Jennifer Falcon said on a conference call with reporters on Thursday.

“The dads are on a hunger strike and they are refusing to obey any directions from ICE and GEO guards,” she said, referring to private contractor GEO Group Inc (GEO.N) which runs the center. The hunger strike was said to have begun on Wednesday.

GEO did not respond to a request for comment.

Asked later to respond to the ICE statement, Falcon told Reuters: “There’s definitely a strike.”

She added that the group had audio recordings of the fathers saying they were on hunger strike.

U.S. President Donald Trump has made a hard-line stance on immigration an integral part of his presidency and has promised to keep immigrants targeted for deportation locked up “pending the outcome of their removal proceedings.”

Some 2,500 children were separated from their parents as part of a “zero tolerance” policy toward illegal immigration that began in early May. Many of them had crossed the U.S.-Mexican border illegally, while others had sought asylum. The U.S. government said last week it had reunited just over half of them.

Fathers at the Karnes center said they were misled into agreeing to deportation as a condition of seeing their children again, RAICES said. Others said they had not been given the opportunity to apply for asylum.

A federal judge in San Diego indefinitely suspended deportations last month.

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Trump pushes Sessions to end Mueller's Russia investigation 'right now'

Donald Trump appeared to order his attorney general Jeff Sessions to pull the plug “right now” on special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Trump campaign ties to Russia with a tweet on Wednesday morning.

Trump frequently rages on Twitter about the Mueller investigation, which the president calls a “witch hunt”. Trump reportedly ordered Mueller fired in 2017 but backed down in the face of internal White House resistance. Trump has said that he regretted appointing Sessions because Sessions recused himself from matters relating to the Mueller inquiry.

The phrase “17 angry Democrats” is Trump’s shorthand for a conspiracy theory imputing political bias to the special counsel’s team. Mueller is a Republican, his direct superior is a Republican, and his teams includes members who have made political donations in the past to both Democrats and Republicans.

Democratic congressman Adam Schiff, the ranking member of the House intelligence committee, expressed alarm at the president’s order.

“The President of the United States just called on his Attorney General to put an end to an investigation in which the President, his family and campaign may be implicated,” Schiff tweeted. “This is an attempt to obstruct justice hiding in plain sight. America must never accept it.”

Press secretary Sarah Sanders denied the tweet was an order for Sessions to act. “It’s not an order, it’s the president’s opinion,” she told reporters at the White House.

Two Trump lawyers also denied that the tweet was an order. “The president has issued no order or direction to the Department of Justice on this,” lawyer Jay Sekulow said in a statement to the Washington Post.

“I think it’s very well-established the president uses tweets to express his opinion,” Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani told the Post. “He very carefully used the word ‘should’.”

The White House has previously said that Trump’s tweets constitute official statements by the president. The attorney general was nominated by the president to his post, serves at his pleasure and may be dismissed by him at any time.

Sessions has made no indication of a willingness to take any such step.

Trump’s lashing out Wednesday morning appeared to be prompted by the trial of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, which began on Tuesday and which is being prosecuted by Mueller’s team.

“These old charges have nothing to do with Collusion – a Hoax!” Trump tweeted in reference to the Manafort trial.

Trump is correct that the 18 charges of bank fraud and tax evasion that Manafort currently faces in federal court in Virginia do not directly relate to alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives. In the five months he led the Trump campaign, Manafort remained in contact with his partners in Ukraine and Russia, at least one of whom had Russian intelligence ties, and Manafort offered a Russian oligarch private briefings on the campaign.

Mueller has indicted 31 individuals, including 12 Russian intelligence agents, and three former Trump aides have reached plea deals with prosecutors. Late on Tuesday it emerged that Mueller had referred a new case, involving the alleged failure of a Democratic lobbyist and a former Republican congressman to register as foreign agents, to prosecutors in New York.

Previously, Mueller referred a case involving former Trump attorney Michael Cohen to prosecutors in New York.

 

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"Some Are Very Mad": Anger In Google Over Reported China Search Engine

Beijing: Google is crafting a search engine that would meet China's draconian censorship rules, a company employee told AFP on Thursday, in a move decried by human rights activists.

Google withdrew its search engine from China eight years ago due to censorship and hacking but it is now working on a project for the country codenamed "Dragonfly", the employee said on condition of anonymity.

The search project -- which works like a filter that sorts out certain topics -- can be tested within the company's internal networks, the source said.

The news has caused anxiety within the company since it first emerged in US media reports on Wednesday, the employee said.

The tech giant had already come under fire this year from thousands of employees who signed a petition against a $10-million contract with the US military, which was not renewed.

"There's a lot of angst internally. Some people are very mad we're doing it," the source said.

A Google spokesman declined to confirm or deny the existence of the project.

"We provide a number of mobile apps in China, such as Google Translate and Files Go, help Chinese developers, and have made significant investments in Chinese companies like JD.com," spokesman Taj Meadows told AFP.

"But we don't comment on speculation about future plans."

Rights, Democracy Filtered Out

News website The Intercept first reported the story, saying the search app was being tailored for the Google-backed Android operating system for mobile devices.

Terms about human rights, democracy, religion and peaceful protests would be blacklisted, according to The Intercept. The app will automatically identify and filter websites blocked by China's Great Firewall, the news outlet said.

The New York Times, citing two people with knowledge of the plans, said that while the company has demonstrated the service to Chinese government officials, the existence of the project did not mean that Google's return to China was imminent.

Amnesty International urged Google to "change course".

"It will be a dark day for internet freedom if Google has acquiesced to China's extreme censorship rules to gain market access," Patrick Poon, a China researcher for Amnesty, said in a statement.

"In putting profits before human rights, Google would be setting a chilling precedent and handing the Chinese government a victory."

US internet titans have long struggled with doing business in China, home of a "Great Firewall" that blocks politically sensitive content, such as the 1989 Tiananmen massacre.

Twitter, Facebook and The New York Times website are blocked in China.

In early 2010, Google shut down its search engine in mainland China after rows over censorship and hacking.

Google had cried foul over what it said were cyberattacks aimed at its source code and the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists.

But the company still employs 700 people in China working on other projects.

In December, Google announced it would open a new artificial intelligence research centre in Beijing. Earlier last year, Chinese internet regulators authorised the Google Translate app for smartphones.

The search engine project comes amid a US-China trade war, with both sides imposing tit-for-tat tariffs and President Donald Trump accusing Beijing of stealing US technological know-how.

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U.S. Singer Madonna Confirms Recording of New Album

U.S. female singer Madonna confirmed here today that she is now working on a new album that will be in circulation soon this year.

The U.S. artist revealed to magazine Vogue Italy she is now living in Lisbon, Portugal, and her life there has influenced this new album a lot. The work will be released at the end of the year.

'I have met impressive musicians and I have worked with many of them in my new album, so Lisbon has a great influence in my music and work,' said the U.S. singer.

She confessed that it is impossible for her to spend a year in Portugal without being influenced by the Portuguese music.

Three years after her latest album, 'Rebel Heart' (2015), the 'queen of pop', as the artist is also known, arrives with this material on which she has not yet provided details.

Madonna, who turns 60 on August 16, has sold more than 300 million albums throughout her career, setting the world record for the most successful and best-selling solo artist of all times.

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Four people, including boy, killed in New York City shooting

(Reuters) - Four people, including a young boy, were shot and killed on Monday in a New York City apartment, police said.

Two females, one male and a boy, about five years old, were found dead from gunshot wounds inside the apartment in the borough of Queens, after police and emergency crews were called to the scene a little before 9 p.m., New York City Police Department Chief of Detectives Dermot Shea told a news conference.

Police are investigating if the shooting was a murder-suicide, Shea said.

“We will take the evidence where ever it leads us,” he said. “We don’t want to leave any stone unturned.”

 

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Calmer winds help firefighters battling deadly California blaze

REDDING, Calif. (Reuters) - An army of firefighters in northern California gained ground on Monday against a wildfire that has killed six people and caused far more devastation over the past week than any of the scores of blazes raging across the tinder-dry American West this summer.

The Carr Fire has burned in and around Redding, California, a city of 90,000 residents about 160 miles (260 km) north of the state capital Sacramento, since last Monday, reducing more than 800 homes to ash.

So far its footprint of scorched landscape has grown to nearly 104,000 acres (42,000 hectares) - more than triple San Francisco’s land mass.

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But helped by calmer winds, fire crews had carved buffer lines around 23 percent of its perimeter by late Monday, up from just 5 percent during much of the past week. The 36,000 firefighters, however, remained hampered by a lingering heat wave.

In another positive sign, authorities began allowing some displaced residents to return home, though an estimated 37,000 people still remained under mandatory evacuation orders.

The blaze stands as the deadliest of nearly 100 conflagrations burning from Texas to Oregon.

The Carr, one of 17 California wildfires, has claimed the lives of two firefighters and at least four civilians in the Redding area, including two young children and their great-grandmother, who according to family members perished while huddled under a wet blanket.

Authorities said they were still searching on Monday for seven people listed as missing since Thursday night, when gale-force winds whipped the blaze into a firestorm that jumped the Sacramento River and roared without warning into Redding and adjacent communities.

Whole neighborhoods, including the town of Keswick on the outskirts of Redding, were laid to waste as residents fled for their lives in a chaotic evacuation.

Collectively, wildfires have scorched 4.6 million acres (1.8 million hectares) so far this year, 24 percent more than the average of burned landscape tallied for the same-seven-month period over the past 10 years, according to federal data.

Authorities in California have reported levels of fire intensity and unpredictability they have seldom seen before, as a result of a volatile mix of drought-parched vegetation, triple-digit temperatures and erratic winds.

“We’re seeing extreme fire behavior,” said Corey Paulich, a spokesman for the sheriff’s office in Lake County, where a pair of fires burning about 30 miles apart have forced the evacuation of about 19,000 people in recent days and destroyed an unspecified number of homes.

“High winds are pushing the fires,” Paulich said.

Statewide, wildfires have charred nearly 410,000 acres since January, the highest year-to-date total for the end of July in a decade, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, CalFire.

Property losses from the Carr Fire have been staggering. CalFire reported 818 dwellings burned to the ground, and more than 300 other buildings destroyed by the blaze.

On social media, residents posted photos of wandering dogs and horses left behind by owners in the fire-stricken region, a popular fishing destination that lies just south of California’s largest man-made lake.

National Guard troops and police officers were stationed in evacuated neighborhoods to guard against looting after at least four arrests of people suspected of stealing from empty homes.

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Donald Trump Threatens US Government Shutdown Over Immigration

Washington: U.S. President Donald Trump said on Sunday he would allow the federal government to shut down if Democrats refuse to back his demand for a wall at the Mexican border and other major changes to immigration laws his administration wants.

"I would be willing to 'shut down' government if the Democrats do not give us the votes for Border Security, which includes the Wall! Must get rid of Lottery, Catch & Release etc. and finally go to system of Immigration based on MERIT! We need great people coming into our Country!" Trump said on Twitter.

The Republican president has used the threat of a government shutdown several times since taking office in 2017 in a bid to get his priorities in congressional spending bills, especially funding for a wall along the southern U.S. border.

A disruption in federal government operations in the months before November congressional elections could backfire on Trump if voters blame Republicans, who control Congress, for the interruption in services.

Trump wants Congress to pass legislation that addresses immigration issues, including the border wall, changing the way visas are allotted and other immigration restrictions.

Although Republicans control Congress, disagreements between moderates and conservatives in the party have impeded a speedy legislative fix.

Standoffs over spending levels and immigration led to a three-day government shutdown, mostly over a weekend, in January and an hours-long shutdown in February.

The Republican president has made tougher immigration laws a centerpiece of his administration, from the first ill-fated travel ban on people from predominantly Muslim nations to the current battle raging over the separation of illegal immigrant children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border.

A federal judge on Friday urged the U.S. government to focus on finding deported immigrant parents so it could reunite them with their children who remain in the United States.

Trump has requested $25 billion to build the border wall and $1.6 billion has already appropriated for the project.

U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan said lawmakers were considering an appropriations measure seeking an additional $5 billion for the wall.

However, its passage in the U.S. Senate, where Republicans have a slim majority, is a long shot.

Lawmakers met with Trump last week to discuss the appropriations process to fund the government by the September deadline.

"We really just want to get the military funded, on time, on budget on schedule this year. And that's the primary concern," Ryan said Wednesday on Fox News.

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'My kids are Deceased': US Wildfire Kills 2 Children, 4 Others

The weather on Sunday is expected to offer no relief for firefighters, with temperatures over 37.7 Celsius, low humidity and gusty winds, the National Weather Service said.

A 70-year-old woman and her two great-grandchildren were among six killed when a wildfire raged through an area of northern California and engulfed entire communities, officials and family members said.

RELATED: Red Alert Declared in Colombia Due to Rains

Shasta County Sheriff Tom Bosenko told a news conference in the city of Redding at the edge of the blaze on Sunday that one more person had died in a residence consumed by fire, bringing the total to six, including two firefighters. He said the latest victim had not complied with an evacuation order.

Bosenko said authorities are still looking for seven people after finding nine others who had been reported missing.

More than 38,000 people remained under evacuation orders on Sunday in and around Redding, a city of 90,000 people about 257 km north of the state capital Sacramento.

The Carr Fire, which has destroyed more than 500 buildings, is the deadliest and most destructive of nearly 90 wildfires burning from Texas to Oregon. The Carr Fire has charred 36,095 hectares of drought-parched vegetation since erupting last Monday.

Redding Police Sergeant Todd Cogle confirmed that three bodies discovered at a fire-ravaged home on the outskirts of Redding were two children and their great-grandmother. The victims identified by relatives on Facebook and in news media reports were James Roberts, 5, his sister Emily, 4, and their great-grandmother, Melody Bledsoe, 70.

Bledsoe’s granddaughter, Amanda Woodley, said on Facebook the elderly woman desperately put a wet blanket over the children as their home burned. “Grandma did everything she could to save them she hovered over them both with a wet blanket,” Woodley said in a Facebook post.

The children’s mother, Sherry Bledsoe, was quoted by the Sacramento Bee as saying: “My kids are deceased. That’s all I can say.”

“We are simply not getting a break,” said Chris Anthony, a division chief with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire). The blaze remained unpredictable, he said by telephone from Redding. “Under these conditions that we are seeing right now, it’s not going to take much for the fire to have the extreme spread that we saw a couple of days ago.”

Officials battling the blaze told the news conference in Redding they were feeling more optimistic on Sunday afternoon and starting to gain ground on Carr Fire. They pledged to return people to their homes as soon as possible.

An army of some 3,500 firefighters and a squadron of 17 water-dropping helicopters had carved buffer lines around just 5 percent of the fire’s perimeter as of Sunday. Officials at the news conference said over 160 fire departments from California and around the country have been deployed to help quell the week-long blaze.

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