Trump tries to defuse immigrant crisis, but policy hit by confusion

WASHINGTON/MCALLEN, Texas (Reuters) - President Donald Trump ordered federal agencies on Thursday to begin reuniting immigrant families recently separated at the U.S.-Mexico border, but his efforts to roll back a policy that drew global condemnation were beset by confusion.

Despite Trump’s order, it remained unclear how and when more than 2,300 children who have been separated from their parents in the past few weeks would be reunited with them, and where the families would be held while the parents face criminal charges.

It was also not clear if the government would keep prosecuting cases against people caught crossing the border illegally.

While prosecutors said they were not dismissing any cases, some hearings on Thursday did not proceed as scheduled. In McAllen, Texas, 17 immigrants were told by their public defenders that their cases were not proceeding for now.

Separately, the U.S. military was asked by the government to get ready to house up to 20,000 unaccompanied immigrant children at military bases, Pentagon spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Jamie Davis said.

Video footage of children who had been separated from parents sitting in cages and an audiotape of wailing children had sparked worldwide anger over Trump’s “zero tolerance” immigration policies.

The fierce criticism forced Trump to backtrack and sign an executive order on Wednesday to keep families together in detention during immigration proceedings.

First lady Melania Trump on Thursday visited children displaced by the immigration crisis .

But the olive green jacket she wore as she boarded the plane for Texas - daubed with the words “I REALLY DON’T CARE, DO U?” on the back - appeared to undercut the message of compassion.

The White House responded to criticism by saying there was no hidden message. “It’s a jacket,” said Stephanie Grisham, Melania Trump’s spokeswoman. “After today’s important visit to Texas, I hope the media isn’t going to choose to focus on her wardrobe.”

LEGAL BATTLES

In a filing in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, the Justice Department asked a judge to modify a 1997 settlement that has been interpreted as setting a 20-day limit on detaining children who entered the country illegally, regardless of whether they entered with a parent.

It also sought an exemption from state licensing requirements for federal facilities that house the children.

The Justice Department said the recent surge in the number of illegal border crossings by families had created a “destabilizing migratory crisis” that put those families at risk and threatened public safety.

U.S. President Donald Trump holds a cabinet meeting at the White House in Washington, U.S. June 21, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

“Under current law and legal rulings,” the Justice Department said, “it is not possible for the U.S. government to detain families together during the pendency of their immigration proceedings. It cannot be done.”

During a Cabinet meeting at the White House, Trump said he did not want to separate children from their parents and had directed the departments of Justice, Homeland Security and Health and Human Services “to work together to keep illegal immigrant families together during the immigration process and to reunite these previously separated groups.”

The executive order was an unusual retreat for Trump, who made cracking down on illegal immigration a key part of his presidential campaign.

It moves parents with children to the front of the line for immigration proceedings, but the Trump administration said it did not end the 10-week-old zero tolerance policy that calls for prosecution of immigrants crossing the border illegally under the country’s criminal entry statute.

The U.S. Border Patrol will continue to refer for prosecution adults who are caught crossing the border illegally, a spokesman for the Customs and Border Protection said on Thursday.

“Family unity will be maintained for families apprehended crossing the border illegally, and they will be transferred together to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement,” the spokesman said in a statement.

The administration also has sought a permanent legislative fix on the issue, but the U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday rejected a bill favored by conservatives that would have halted the practice of splitting up families and addressed a range of other immigration issues.

The House rejected the conservative bill on a 193-231 vote, with 41 Republicans joining the opposition. It also postponed until Friday a vote on a compromise bill in order to try to drum up more support.

Both House bills, backed by Trump but opposed by Democrats and immigration advocacy groups, would fund the wall Trump has proposed along the U.S. border with Mexico and reduce legal migration, in part by denying visas for some relatives of U.S. residents and citizens living abroad.

Reporting by Richard Cowan and Steve Holland; Additional reporting by Tim Ahmann, Amanda Becker, James Oliphant and Yeganeh Torbati in Washington and Mitchell Ferman in McAllen, Texas; Writing by John Whitesides; Editing by Bill Trott and Peter Cooney.

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US Detention Centers 'Force Migrant Children To Take Drugs'

Some children said they had been held down and given injections when they refused to take the medication voluntary, the new lawsuit says.

Immigrant children are being routinely and forcibly given a range of psychotropic drugs at U.S. government-funded youth shelters to manage their trauma after being detained and in some cases separated from parents, according to a lawsuit.

RELATED: World Refugee Day: End Wars to Halt Refugee Crisis

Children held at facilities such as the Shiloh Treatment Center in Texas are almost certain to be administered the drugs, irrespective of their condition and without their parents' consent, according to the lawsuit filed by the Los Angeles-based Center for Human Rights & Constitutional Law.

The Shiloh center, which specializes in services for children and youths with behavioral and emotional problems, did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

The lawsuit was filed on April 16, days after the introduction of the Trump Administration's 'zero tolerance' policy separating children from parents who cross the U.S.-Mexico border illegally. Trump abandoned the policy on Wednesday.

"If you're in Shiloh then it's almost certain you are on these medications, so if any child were placed in Shiloh after being separated from a parent then they're almost certainly on psychotropics," said Carlos Holguin, a lawyer representing the Center for Human Rights & Constitutional Law.

Officials at the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), which oversees such centers, were not immediately available for comment.

Taking multiple psychotropic drugs at the same time can seriously injure children, according to the filing, which highlights the need for oversight to prevent medications being used as "chemical straight jackets" rather than treating actual mental health needs.

ORR-run centers unilaterally administer the drugs to children in disregard of laws in Texas and other states that require either a parent's consent or a court order, the filing said.

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Jeff Flake threatens to block Trump's appellate court nominees over Cuba travel, tariffs

Sen. Jeff Flake is warning that he may block votes on the nominations of all of President Donald Trump's pending appellate court nominees unless he gets favorable action on two issues unrelated to the judiciary.

According to one source, Flake wants to spur discussions on travel restrictions to Cuba as well as issues related to tariffs.

"We're discussing it," the Arizona Republican said in a brief interview with CNN as he came out of an immigration negotiation.

Flake sits on the Judiciary Committee, where Republicans have a slim 11-10 advantage over Democrats. If he does not relent, he could bring the work of the powerful committee to a halt as it applies to appellate court nominees, who are often voted out on party lines.

Confirming these influential circuit court nominees has been a top priority and bragging point for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Trump.

So far, the Senate has pushed through an unprecedented number of appeals court nominees. Indeed, McConnell tweeted publicly in January: "@potus was able to seat more Circuit Court judges in the 1st year of his presidency than anyone in history."

On Wednesday night, Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican, acknowledged that if Flake moved to block the nominees, his hands could be tied.

Grassley told CNN he will not schedule votes on these nominees until Flake's issues are resolved and he is on board.

"If it is a controversial one, we probably would have to have all 11 Republicans. So if one Republican wouldn't vote, and it's 10 to 10, then we're not going to take it up," he said.
But Grassley added that the Senate nominations calendar is so full right now he doesn't feel any pressure for the Judiciary Committee to move anyone out until September.

"I could probably wait for a month to vote any more judges out, so there is nothing immediately of concern to me as far as the work of the committee is concerned," he said.

Grassley noted he hadn't spoken directly with Flake on the matter.
"So we can just delay and delay and delay," Grassley said. "If we don't vote for any more judges that Flake doesn't want to vote for until September, we still probably got plenty to do."

Flake, who has announced he will not be seeking re-election, has been an outspoken critic of Trump. He could exercise rare leverage over the President by holding up these nominees.

In addition, GOP leaders recognize that at this point, because of the absence of Sen. John McCain, his fellow Arizona Republican, Flake has extraordinary power to affect the confirmation of nominees not just in committee but on the floor too.

Even if these nominees were voted out of committee -- or if leaders used procedural tools to move them to the floor without a vote of approval from the Judiciary Committee -- Flake could help block them on cloture, the procedural motion to end debate that needs a majority of senators.

If Flake voted with Democrats on cloture, he could defeat the motion to advance the nominee 49-50.

Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, who is the second-ranking Republican in the Senate and a member of the Judiciary Committee, said he was not aware of Flake's specific concerns but wanted to talk to him to see if they could be resolved.

A source familiar with Flake's issues complained that it is a "bizarre situation where a senator is holding nominations hostage for his pet projects."

Kristine Lucius, a longtime Democratic staffer on the Senate Judiciary Committee who is now the executive vice president for policy at the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, welcomed the news of Flake's hesitation.

"Senators are supposed to be making independent decisions about the suitability of any nominee for a lifetime appointment, " she said and criticized Republicans for voting in "lockstep" for every one of the President's nominees.

"There would be nothing inappropriate for a senator to start weighing those decisions more carefully," she said.

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Trump Orders End To Family Separations At US-Mexico Border

After global outrage over U.S. President Donald Trump's policy to separate asylum-seeking families at the Mexican border, he signs to end the practice.

U.S. President Donald Trump signed an executive order on Wednesday to end the separation of undocumented migrant parents and children seeking to enter the United States at the Mexico border.

RELATED: US Protests Against Border Separations, How We Got Here

The Trump administration had separated 2,000 families in the past six weeks at the U.S.-Mexico border, holding children as young as four years old in cages within cold warehouses in border states. The warehouses have become known as #Trumpcamps and have been likened to the U.S. Japanese internment camps during WWII.

Social media outlets lit up this week with domestic and international backlash protesting Trump's family separation policy. A June 18 Quinnipiac poll found that U.S. residents opposed the policy 66-27.

Pope Francis and outgoing United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein called the administration's actions "unconscionable" and called for an immediate end to the policy. Even the president's wife, Melania, urged her husband to cease and desist.

Earlier this week, Trump and his Director of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Kirstjen Nielsen tried to blame the practice on Democrats and some unnamed law they claimed the party had passed.

By the time of the signing, Trump publicly delivered a different message: "It's about keeping families together while at the same time making sure that we have a very powerful, very strong border," he said, signing the order in a hastily arranged Oval Office gathering that many in his closest circle were unaware was happening until it was over.

"I didn't like the sight or the feeling of families being separated," said the president, flanked by Homeland Security Secretary Nielsen and Vice President Mike Pence. "I think anybody with a heart would feel strongly about it. We don't like to see families separated."

Trump also took the opportunity to reiterate his zero-tolerance policy: "We are keeping a very powerful border and it continues to be zero tolerance. We have zero tolerance for people that enter our country illegally."

His somber tone on Wednesday was a far cry from his tweets on Monday, in which he criticized Germany and Europe for immigration policies he claimed had "violently changed their culture."  

"Big mistake made all over Europe in allowing millions of people in who have so strongly and violently changed their culture!" tweeted Trump.

The vast majority of separated families were Central Americans trying to gain political asylum, to which they are entitled under international law.

The U.S. border patrol took up the practice of "preventing refugees from coming to ports of entry, turning them away... and making them wait for indeterminate periods of time in Mexico," Jeremy Slack, assistant professor of geography in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at the University of Texas in El Paso, told teleSUR.

Last month, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials told the media they couldn't receive any more asylum seekers "until space becomes available."

Such families were forced to enter 'illegally' at non-port entries, where they were then picked up by border patrol agents and adults put on the path to be tried for misdemeanors or felonies. This obliged authorities to place children in the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement. Prior administrations and even Trump had previously treated these cases administratively, which allowed families to stay together.

The order requires that immigrant families be detained together after entering the country. However, several Republican members of the House of Representatives – briefed by Homeland Security Secretary Nielsen on Wednesday about the president's decree – said they "do not know if it would prevent family separations during detentions longer than 20 days," Reuters reports.

The Families Belong Together  organization is planning a national-level U.S. protest against the president's immigration policy on June 30.

  • Published in World

Trudeau Criticizes Trump's Policy of Separating Migrant Families

Ottawa, Jun 20 (Prensa Latina) Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau today called ''wrong'' the migration policy of U.S. President Donald Trump, which caused the separation of more than 2,000 children from their undocumented parents.

In brief statements in this capital, the President lamented what happens in the neighboring country with these children, by saying he cannot imagine what the families living through this situation are enduring and that this is not the way they do things in Canada.

According to CBC News channel, Trudeau's affirmation constitutes a change in the tone of the Liberal Party that up to now has avoided criticizing directly the measures adopted by Trump against the children of immigrants who irregularly cross the border with Mexico.

In this regard, the Canadian Minister of Immigration, Ahmed Hussen, said this week that all Canadians are upset with the images coming from the United States, but did not go into detail and described immigration agreements between Washington and Ottawa as very good.

Measures against families arriving in the country began this year after the U.S. Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, announced a new policy of zero tolerance and prosecution against those who cross borders without permission.

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Actor Peter Fonda suggests Trump’s son should be put ‘in a cage with pedophiles’ in a Twitter rant

Hollywood actor and activist Peter Fonda has let loose on Twitter in protest at the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policies which have seen 2,000 children separated from parents at the US-Mexico border.

During the multiple-tweet rant, Fonda suggested that Trump’s 12-year-old son Barron should be ripped away from his mother Melania and put “in a cage with pedophiles” to see if she will “stand up against” her husband then.

@iamfonda WE SHOULD RIP BARRON TRUMP FROM HIS MOTHER’S ARMS AND PUT HIM IN A CAGE WITH PEDOPHILES AND SEE IF MOTHER WILL WILL STAND UP AGAINST THE GIANT ASSHOLE SHE IS MARRIED TO. 90 MILLION PEOPLE IN THE STREETS ON THE SAME WEEKEND IN THE COUNTRY. FUCK

Fonda appears to be referencing allegations that migrant children are being held in what the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) has said are “highly inappropriate and even unsafe” circumstances with adults they do not know and “without the proper privacy” that they need.

But Fonda didn’t stop there. Next he directed his ire at the Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kristjen Nielsen, calling her a “lying gash” that should be “put in a cage and poked at” by people walking past. “The gash should be pilloried in Lafayette Square naked and whipped by passersby while being filmed for posterity,” the actor wrote.

In his next tweet, Fonda took aim at White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders, also calling her a “lying gash” and clarifying that the word “gash” is “much worse than c**t” and suggesting that her children should be taken away from her.

@iamfonda Kristjen Nielsen is a lying gash that should be put in a cage and poked at by passersby. The gash should be pilloried in Lafayette Square naked and whipped by passersby while being filmed for posterity.

@iamfonda SS (Sarah Sanders) is a lying gash, too. And “gash” is much worse than cunt. Maybe we should take her children away and deport her to Arkansas, and giving her children to Stephen Goebbels Miller for safe keeping.

In another tweet, Fonda attacked White House senior advisor Stephen Miller, adding “Goebbels” into the middle of his name, a reference to Nazi Germany’s infamous propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels.

Fonda urged his followers to find the addresses of Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers and “surround their homes” in protest. He then suggested that people should go to the schools of the ICE official’s children to “scare the s**t out of them.”

While Fonda saw some support for his rant and engaged with his followers about how to start a huge countrywide protest against the Trump administration’s policies, others were not so happy about his approach.

TV presenter Piers Morgan tweeted that, while he too found the child-separation policy “abhorrent”, Fonda’s response to it was “disgusting too”.

A number of conservative commentators criticized Fonda for his “deranged” meltdown, calling him “unhinged” and “unstable”.

  • Published in Culture

US 'Withdrawing From UN Human Rights Council': Ambassador Haley

United Nations officials privately confirmed they were expecting the U.S. decision to quit the rights body.

The United States withdrew from the United Nations Human Rights Council on Tuesday after no other countries "had the courage to join our fight" to reform the "hypocritical and self-serving" body, said U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley.

RELATED: Gaza 'Close to the Brink of War' Says UN Chief Guterres

"In doing so, I want to make it crystal clear that this step is not a retreat from our human rights commitments," Haley told a press conference with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Washington, D.C.

Haley has repeatedly threatened to quit the Geneva-based body, established in 2006 to promote and protect human rights worldwide.

The withdrawal followed strong UN criticism of Trump's policy to separate migrant children from their families at the U.S.-Mexico border.

UN rights chief Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein said Monday: "The thought that any state would seek to deter parents by inflicting such abuse on children is unconscionable."

Human Rights Watch criticized the move, warning that Washington's absence at the top UN body would put the onus on other governments to address the world's most serious rights problems.

"The Trump administration's withdrawal is a sad reflection of its one-dimensional human rights policy: defending Israeli abuses from criticism takes precedence above all else," said HRW Executive Director Kenneth Roth. "The UN Human Rights Council has played an important role in such countries as North Korea, Syria, Myanmar and South Sudan, but all Trump seems to care about is defending Israel."

U.S. criticism stems from the fact that Israel is the only country that has a dedicated agenda item, known as Item 7, at the rights council, meaning its treatment of Palestinians comes under scrutiny at each of the body's three annual sessions.

The United States refused to join the body when it was created in 2006, when George W. Bush was in the White House and his ambassador to the UN was John Bolton, Trump's current hawkish and UN-skeptic national security advisor. It was only after Barack Obama came to power that Washington joined the council in 2009.

Since Trump took office, the United States has quit the UN cultural agency UNESCO, cut UN funding and announced plans to quit the UN-backed Paris climate agreement.

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Trump Orders Creation Of New "Space Force", Sixth Branch Of Armed Forces

Washington:  US President Donald Trump said Monday that he would direct the Defense Department and the Pentagon to create a new "Space Force" - an independent sixth branch of the armed forces.

Trump has floated this idea before - in March, he said he initially conceived it as a joke - but has offered few details about how the Space Force would operate.

Trump said Monday that the branch would be "separate but equal" from the Air Force. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, would oversee its creation.

Saying that he does not want "China and other countries leading us," Trump said space was a national security issue.

The Outer Space Treaty, which the United States signed in 1967, bars states from testing weapons and establishing military bases on the moon and other celestial bodies. It also prohibits the placement of weapons of mass destruction in orbit around Earth. But the treaty has no enforcement mechanism (indeed, the Air Force's unmanned space plane, the X-37B, has completed several clandestine missions).

Trump has floated creating a Space Force for months, but the idea goes back at least a year to a proposal by Rep. Mike D. Rogers, R-Ala., and Rep. Jim Cooper, D.-Tenn. Rogers, chairman of the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee, and Cooper, the ranking Democrat on the subcommittee, argued that it made sense to have a "Space Corps," a separate branch of service with its own four-star general serving on the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Under their plan, it would have reported to the Department of the Air Force, in similar fashion to how the Marine Corps reports to the Department of the Navy.

Last fall, that proposal was scrapped amid resistance from senior Pentagon officials, including Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein, who said it would create unnecessary costs and bureaucracy.

"I oppose the creation of a new military service and additional organizational layers at a time when we are focused on reducing overhead and integrating joint warfighting functions," Mattis said in October in a memo to Sen. John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Some are worried that the Space Force would duplicate existing efforts. The Air Force already maintains a Space Command, for example.

Retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Dave Deptula, dean of the Air Force Association-founded Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies, described the decision to create a Space Force as "another example of ready, fire, aim," in a Monday news briefing.

The announcement was made at a meeting of the National Space Council, at which Trump signed a new space policy directive aimed at reducing debris in Earth's orbit. The policy sets up new guidelines for satellite design and operation, as well as tracking the growing amount of clutter in space.

But, citing the number of regulations his administration has dismantled since he took office, Trump warned the space council, "Don't get too carried away."

The president also reasserted plans to land astronauts on the moon again and, eventually, Mars. But his administration has provided few specifics about the architecture of its moon program or a timeline for returning to the lunar surface.

The Washington Post's Aaron Gregg contributed to this report.

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