Los Angeles Office: 800-217-0042
8335 Sunset Blvd, Suite 201 West Hollywood, California 90069
Century City Office: 310-922-9728
1875 Century Park East,Suite 600, Los Angeles, CA 90067

Confusion, uncertainty at border after Trump’s about-face

The U.S. government wrestled with the fallout Thursday over President Donald Trump’s move to stop separating families at the border, with no clear plan to reunite the more than 2,300 children already taken from their parents and Congress again failing to take action on immigration reform.

In a day of confusion and conflicting reports, the Trump administration began drawing up plans to house as many as 20,000 migrants on U.S. military bases. But it was not immediately clear whether those beds would be for children or for entire families.

Meanwhile, the federal public defender’s office for the region that covers cases from El Paso to San Antonio said Thursday the U.S. Attorney’s Office would be dismissing cases in which parents were charged with illegally entering or re-entering the country and were subsequently separated from their children.

“Going forward, they will no longer bring criminal charges against a parent or parents entering the United States if they have their child with them,” wrote Maureen Scott Franco, the federal public defender for the Western District of Texas, in an email shown to The Associated Press.

And in the Texas border city of McAllen, federal prosecutors unexpectedly did not pursue charges against 17 immigrants. A federal prosecutor said “there was no prosecution sought” in light of Trump’s executive order ending the practice of separating families.

It was unclear whether that meant the Trump administration was dropping its months-old “zero tolerance” policy of prosecuting all adults caught trying to enter the country illegally.

The president did not answer the question directly but showed no sign of softening.

“We have to be very, very strong on the border. If we don’t do it, you will be inundated with people and you really won’t have a country,” Trump said.

Officials from the Defence Department and Health and Human Services said the Pentagon has agreed to provide space on military bases to hold up to 20,000 people detained after illegally crossing the Mexican border.

It was unclear which bases would be used. But Health and Human Services has assessed four as prospective housing for children: Fort Bliss, Goodfellow Air Force Base and Dyess Air Force Base in Texas, and Little Rock Air Force Base in Arkansas.

The Justice Department asked a federal judge to change the rules regarding the detention of immigrant children, seeking permission to detain them for longer than the permitted 20 days in an effort to keep them together with their parents.

Meanwhile, the mayors of about 20 U.S. cities gathered at a holding facility for immigrant children in the border city of El Paso. They accused Trump of failing to address a crisis of his own making.

They called for the immediate reunification of immigrant children with their families.

“This is a humanitarian crisis,” Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said.

Nearly 100 Indians held in US for illegal immigration

The Indian mission in the US has established contact with two immigration detention centres where nearly 100 Indians, mostly from Punjab, are detained for illegally entering the country through its southern border.

According to officials, around 40-45 Indians are at a federal detention centre in the southern American State of New Mexico while 52 Indians, mostly Sikhs and Christians, are held in Oregon.

The Indian Embassy in a statement said it has established contacts with both the detention facilities. “A consular official has visited the detention facility in Oregon and another one is scheduled to visit the detention facility in New Mexico. We are monitoring the situation,” the the statement said.

More than a dozen of them are being held at the New Mexico centre for months. And the rest of the Indians were brought to this detention centre about a week ago. Most of the detainees at the federal facilities are asking for asylum claiming that they “experienced violence or persecution” in their home country.

Satnam Singh Chahal, of the North American Punjabi Association (NAPA), believes that thousands of Indians, with overwhelming majority of them being from Punjab, are languishing in jails in the US.

According to information obtained by NAPA through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) between three years of 2013, 2014 and 2015, more than 27,000 Indians were apprehended at the US border. Of these, over 4,000 were women and 350 were children. Many of them, it is reported, are still languishing in jails.

According to a FOIA request in 2015, more than 900 Indians were in various federal prisons on charges of illegally staying in the country.

‘Human trafficking’
Chahal alleged that there is a nexus of human traffickers, officials and politicians in Punjab, who encourage young Punjabis to leave their homes to illegally enter the US and charge ₹35-50 lakhs from each individual.

“Human trafficking is a criminal act which affects the global community and consequently Punjabis are too victims of this episode. The Punjabis enthusiasm to migrate to affluent countries in search of greener pastures has given the traffickers to exploit them,” he said.

“Using different modus operandi, people of different backgrounds involved in human trafficking and often put the lives of their clients in considerable danger. Failure to reach their promised destination leads to deportation, exploitation, indebtedness, imprisonment and even death,” he rued.

He urged the Punjab government to strictly enforce human trafficking laws that have been passed by the State Assembly in recent years.

According to immigration attorney Akansha Kalra the largest number of Indians who enter the US illegally are from Punjab and Gujarat. Sharing her experience from her practice at an event organised by the Hindu American Foundation early this week, Kalra said that young Indians in 20s are crossing the border. “They pay around ₹35-40 lakhs to human smugglers just to help them cross the border. With this kind of administration’s policy, hopefully they would get deterred by it. But so far they keep on coming,” she said during fourth annual HAF Policy Conference at the US Capitol.

“They (Punjabi boys) use the same script that was used in the 80s,” she said, narrating the experience of her visits to one of these detention centres in Pennsylvania, which has several of illegal Indians being detained. Most of these Indians get nabbed at the Mexico border, get processed in Texas and then shipped out to the Pennsylvania detention centre, which is one of the largest of such detention facilities in the US.

President Donald Trump recently reversed his controversial decision on immigration by signing an executive order to end the separation of immigrant families on the US-Mexico border, following widespread protests against the move of his administration to separate children from their parents who illegally enter the country.

#OccupyICEPDX: Protesters ‘occupy ICE’ over US immigration policy

Dozens of protesters have occupied the grounds of the local US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office in Portland, Oregon to protest the Trump administration’s immigration policies, including the separation of thousands of children from their parents at the US-Mexico border.

The group, calling it itself #OccupyICEPDX, set up camp on Sunday, calling for the abolition of ICE and an end to government’s “zero tolerance” approach to immigration.

The protesters vowed to remain on Thursday after it successfully shut down the office a day earlier.

Since the camp was erected, up to 400 people have shown up for nightly vigils.

Individuals stand by the road holding signs such as “Everyone is Welcome Here”, “Stop Child Abuse – Abolish Ice” and “Close the Trump Concentration Camps”.

Roberta, who asked not to use her surname, held a sign reading: “Truth, Freedom, and Justice for all.”

She told Al Jazeera: “We’ve gotten lots of honks and only a few fingers.”

#OccupyICEPDX comes amid a widespread outcry over the government’s “zero tolerance” approach towards migrants and refugees who cross the US southern border without documents. The approach included a practice of separating children from parents who were held.

After repeatedly saying only legislators could end the controversial tactic, US President Donald Trump signed an executive order on Wednesday, to keep families together. It remains unclear, however, what will happen to the children who have already been separated from their families.

According to the Associated Press, about 500 of the 2,300 children separated have been reunited with their parents, but it was not clear if they remained in detention.

While the executive order ends the separation of families, many fear the practice will only shift to detaining families for long periods of time – a tactic likely to be challenged in the courts.

‘Occupy with a purpose’
The scene in Portland is a throwback to the 2011 Occupy Wall Street movement. That movement made income inequality a national issue but it lacked any concrete demands, and it fizzled out within months.

The difference this time is “it’s Occupy with a purpose – Abolish ICE,” said Amina Rahman, a labour organiser and Portland native .

The camp, which now includes about 50 tents, has a kitchen feeding hundreds, security patrols, media representatives, medical care, a library, a children’s area that includes storytelling and care for infants, and nightly entertainment such as a troupe of Aztec dancers.

Locals drive up and unload trays of food and cases of bottled water alongside the three-story ICE building that’s surrounded by an eight-foot metal fence and security cameras. A local ice cream shop sent its truck to hand out treats to protesters, and a pizzeria owner hand-delivered a stack of pies.

On Monday evening, as ICE employees in cars tried to leave work, 20 people locked arms and blocked the driveway, according to organiser Jacob Bureros.

The vehicles went back inside the facility and two police officers with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), under which ICE operates, tried to negotiate with protesters.

Bureros said police asked the protesters for “reasonable accommodation,” explaining that “nine of the employees inside need to go home to their families.”

He said protesters started yelling: “What about the families you are holding?”

The ICE facility includes a jail area meant for temporary detention before immigrants are shipped off to long-term holding facilities in the Pacific Northwest.

DHS police threatened to arrest protesters, but has not carried out the threat.

On Tuesday, protesters said about a dozen DHS police arrived and created a area to allow the remaining employees to leave.

Portland police have not been present at the protests.

On Wednesday, Mayor Ted Wheeler stated that he does not want the Portland police “to be engaged or sucked into a conflict, particularly from a federal agency that I believe is on the wrong track.”

At the time of publishing, ICE had not responded to Al Jazeera’s repeated requests for comment. According to local reports, ICE said it will not resume operations at the Portland office until “there are no longer security concerns resulting from the ongoing protests there.”

The ‘Occupy ICE’ protests have since spread to other cities, with demonstrators setting up camp outside ICE offices in New York, Los Angeles and other places.

Back in Portland, protesters vowed to remain.

“We need to make this a national movement,” Jenny Nickolaus told Al Jazeera.

“We are staying here until ICE is abolished or until we are physically removed.”

U.S. Prepares Housing Up to 20,000 Migrants on Military Bases

The United States is preparing to shelter as many as 20,000 migrant children on four American military bases, a Pentagon spokesman said on Thursday, as federal officials struggled to carry out President Trump’s order to keep immigrant families together after they are apprehended at the border.

The 20,000 beds at bases in Texas and Arkansas would house “unaccompanied alien children,” said a Pentagon spokesman, Lt. Col. Michael Andrews, although other federal agencies provided conflicting explanations about how the shelters would be used and who would be housed there. There were reports of widespread confusion on the border.

It was unclear whether the military housing would also house the parents of children in migrant families that have been detained, and officials at the White House, the Defense Department and the Department of Health and Human Services said on Thursday that they could not provide details.

The Pentagon announcement followed Mr. Trump’s executive order on Wednesday to keep families together after they illegally cross the Mexican border into the United States. The order called for detaining families at the same location.

Democrats questioned the 20,000-bed plan. “Is it even feasible?” Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the minority leader, asked from the Senate floor.

Advocates for the migrants expressed concern about the prospect of vast settlements of families housed on military bases.

“There’s conflicting instructions being given,” said Michelle Brané, the director of Migrant Rights and Justice at the Women’s Refugee Commission. “It’s another example of this administration making these big, bold policy announcements with no plan for how they are going to implement them.”

“It’s adding to the chaos on the ground,” she said. The tumult echoed the level of confusion among law enforcement agencies at airports after Mr. Trump barred travel for visitors from predominantly Muslim countries a week after he took office last year.

The president’s order this week directed Pentagon officials to provide “any existing facilities available for the housing and care of alien families” and to “construct such facilities if necessary and consistent with law.”

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis sidestepped questions on Wednesday about whether bases might be used as migrant camps, except to say: “We have housed refugees. We have housed people thrown out of their homes by earthquakes and hurricanes.”

On Thursday, the Pentagon did not say which bases would be used for the shelters.

According to estimates, more than 2,300 children under 12 — many of whom are toddlers and infants — are being held in special “tender age” shelters.

A Trump administration spokesman said on Wednesday afternoon that the government would not immediately reunite those children with their parents. But that was contradicted Wednesday night by a more senior official.

On Thursday, Justice Department officials denied a report, apparently issued by officials from another agency, that prosecutions of immigrants traveling with families had been suspended.

Scrambling to adjust and comply with the president’s order, the Border Patrol temporarily stopped referring immigration cases to the Justice Department for prosecution, setting off rumors that it would be halted altogether.

That forced the Justice Department to insist in a statement that “there has been no change to the department’s ‘zero tolerance’ policy to prosecute adults who cross our border illegally instead of claiming asylum at any port of entry at the border.”

Two internal Customs and Border Protection emails supplied to The New York Times showed similar confusion.

In one, sent at 9:54 p.m. Wednesday, Chief Patrol Agent Brian Hastings of the Border Patrol told supervisors that they could continue prosecution referrals for one parent who entered the country illegally if there was another adult migrant present.

But at 4:09 a.m. Thursday, he followed up, saying that agents should “maintain family unity for multi-parent/adult families.”

Last week, federal officials opened a tent city outside El Paso to house up to 360 immigrant teenagers in custody. The temporary shelter site, at a border station in Tornillo, Tex., was still in use on Thursday, and its capacity remains 360, officials said.

In the border city of Del Rio, Tex., American officials continued deporting undocumented immigrants. Luis Alexis Morales, 20, of Veracruz State in eastern Mexico, said he was left in the middle of a bridge that links Del Rio with Ciudad Acuña, Mexico.

“The Border Patrol caught me a week ago crossing the river near Piedras Negras,” Mr. Morales said, referring to a city in northern Mexico across from Eagle Pass, Tex. He said American authorities had held him in jail for the past seven days before deporting him.

On the legal front, Mr. Trump’s lawyers asked Judge Dolly M. Gee of Federal District Court in Los Angeles to modify a 1997 court ruling to allow the indefinite detention of families.

The ruling, known as the Flores settlement, requires that children must be released within 20 days. After that, they are to be sent to a family member or placed in the custody of a licensed, government-sponsored shelter.

The Justice Department said the only way to prevent migrant children from being separated from their parents would be to detain entire families. It seemed to suggest that the practice of separating families could resume if the judge refused to alter the 1997 ruling.

It also echoed a 2016 argument by the Obama administration during a similar migrant surge. The judge and an appeals court denied the requests by the administration’s lawyers.

In 2014, the Obama administration briefly sheltered migrant children at military bases in Texas, California and Oklahoma, establishing emergency housing for a steep increase in unaccompanied minors crossing the border. Around 7,000 children were housed on the bases for about three months until the number of migrants ebbed.

At the time, officials said the government was responding to a rise in the number of unaccompanied children fleeing violence in Central America. The military’s role then was limited to housing the migrants and giving officials from the Department of Health and Human Services access to bases.

It was unclear on Thursday whether the military would play a more central role in Mr. Trump’s plan.

At the White House, the president again lashed out at “extremist, open-border Democrats,” and he again falsely blamed Democrats for the political crisis that continues to roil his administration and was amplified in recent days by images and recordings of young children crying for their parents.

Choosing hard-edge remarks at a cabinet meeting before the House was scheduled to vote on overhauling immigration laws, Mr. Trump asked for Democratic lawmakers’ support on the legislation, even as he said they were causing “tremendous damage and destruction and lives.”

He repeated his false claim that Democrats forced family separations. “They don’t care about the children. They don’t care about the injury. They don’t care about the problems,” Mr. Trump said. “They don’t care about anything.”

In a stream-of-consciousness commentary, the president also attacked Mexico for what he claimed was a failure to help stop illegal immigration into the United States. He said the trek through Mexico from Central America was like a walk through Central Park.

“Mexico is doing nothing for us except taking our money and giving us drugs,” he said.

Mr. Trump said he has directed his administration to “keep illegal immigrant families together and to reunite these previously separated groups.” But he offered no details about how the government intends to reunite the families.

Melania Trump, the first lady, visited a facility in McAllen, Tex., that is holding 55 children who have been separated from their parents.

She took a tour of the Upbring New Hope Children’s Shelter, and in one classroom, she met with a group of children, some of whom spoke to her in English and others in Spanish, which was translated by a teacher.

Officials at the shelter said that the children held there were allowed to communicate with their families by phone twice a week.

“How long are you here? Where are you from?” asked Mrs. Trump, who traveled with Alex M. Azar II, the health and human services secretary. As she left, she said, “Be kind and nice to others, O.K.? Nice to meet you.”

Back in Washington, House lawmakers had been scheduled to vote on Thursday on two broad immigration proposals, even as Mr. Trump’s executive order relieved some of the pressure to act quickly.

The House rejected a hard-line immigration bill in a vote on Thursday afternoon, as had been expected. And Republican leaders delayed the vote on the second bill, which would provide a path to citizenship for young unauthorized immigrants while keeping migrant families together at the border.

That bill, a compromise between moderate and conservative Republicans, had been set for a vote early Thursday evening, but the vote will now take place next week, as it appeared destined to fail as Republicans remained at odds over immigration.

As Mr. Trump reiterated on Thursday his position that congressional action would be the best way to resolve the border crisis, critics of the president announced that they would not wait for such a measure.

A coalition of 10 states filed a lawsuit aimed at making sure that the Trump administration stops separating children from their parents at the border.

“President Trump yesterday signed an empty and meaningless order that claims to take back policies that he put in place himself as a political stunt,” said Xavier Becerra, the California attorney general, who is a plaintiff in the suit. “Meanwhile, these children, their parents and people around the world need answers regarding what comes next.”

The American Civil Liberties Union has already filed a separate lawsuit that demands the government stop separating families and reunite the children who have already been separated with the parents who brought them into the United States.

Translate »