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Immigration Blog

Pence tells Central American leaders to do more to stem illegal immigration to the U.S.

Vice President Mike Pence demanded that Central American nations do more to stem illicit immigration, charging that few asylum seekers from the region had legitimate claims to safe haven in the United States.

“This exodus must end,” Pence told a meeting of leaders here Thursday from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras — which make up the so-called Northern Triangle that produces much of the illegal migration traffic to the U.S.-Mexico border.

“While many claim asylum, few are fleeing prosecution,” Pence said.

The comments came as the Trump administration has faced global condemnation for its now-discontinued “zero tolerance” policy, which resulted in the separation of more than 2,000 children from their families — mostly Central Americans. The U.S. vice president did not mention the family-separation issue.

President Trump reversed the policy last week, but numerous questions remain about how divided families will be reunited.

Pence focused on what he characterized as the shortcomings of Central American nations in failing to stem illegal immigration to the United States.

For years, U.S. authorities have rejected most Central American asylum applicants, deeming them economic migrants rather than refugees fleeing persecution because of various qualifying factors — such as race, religion, nationality or political opinion.

The Trump administration has reacted skeptically to the notion that people fleeing gang violence — which is endemic in the three nations — should qualify for asylum. That stance has angered human rights advocates here and in the United States.

“Just as we respect your borders and your sovereignty, we insist that you respect ours,” Pence said. “Our nation needs your nations to do more.”

He added, “Tell your people that coming to the United States illegally will only result in a hard journey and a harder life.”

The vice president called on the Central American countries to take a number of specific steps, including increasing the ranks of border police, enhancing anti-gang and anti-corruption efforts and removing “public advertisements for human traffickers within your nations” — the last an apparent reference to travel agencies, transport companies and other firms that publicly offer to facilitate trips to the U.S.-Mexico border.

“Don’t risk your lives or the lives of your children by coming to the United States on the road run by drug smugglers and human traffickers,” Pence said in a message to the Central American people. “Hold on to your homes and your homeland. Hold on to your children. Build your lives in your homes.”

There was no mention from Pence of past U.S. interventions in Central America or Washington’s past support for repressive Central American governments — a factor often cited by advocates seeking less restrictive U.S. immigration policy.

Central America, once a crucial Cold War battleground, has lately figured in U.S. policy mostly because it is a source of immigrants who enter the U.S. illegally and a transshipment point for cocaine destined for the United States.

Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador are home to the bulk of Central American asylum seekers arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Central American migrants, including many minors, have increasingly begun to outnumber Mexican nationals illegally crossing into the U.S. Most make a long and dangerous trek through Mexico to reach the border.

The vice president’s stop here continues a Latin American swing for Pence, who, while in Brazil, publicly discouraged Central Americans from making the journey through Mexico and to the U.S. border.

But critics say that is unlikely to stem the flow of people seeking to escape violence in their homelands.

“I think the president and the vice president should go read what’s on the Statue of Liberty again,” said Mike Donovan, president of Nexus Services, which has funded lawsuits and other efforts on behalf of children separated from their parents.

Immigration advocates argue that Pence should use his meeting with Central American leaders to focus on what they called a long-neglected issue: the root causes driving so many migrants to flee their home countries.

“The administration has been concentrating too long on how to stop people from entering rather than why they’re coming,” said Maureen Meyer, director for Mexico and migrant rights at the Washington Office on Latin America, an advocacy and research group.

Those factors include gang violence, drug-related slayings, political killings and abysmal economic conditions.

The Trump administration, however, is more likely to heed so-called immigration restrictionists, who want to reduce the number of immigrants in the U.S. and represent an important segment of the president’s base of supporters.

Under the Obama administration, Vice President Joe Biden spearheaded a nearly $1-billion program for Central America that helped finance police reform and development projects. But the Trump administration is seeking to slash aid to Central America by at least a third.

Trump has frequently complained that “Mexico is doing nothing” to help the U.S. immigration problem.

But migrants fleeing the Northern Triangle countries are often stopped in Mexico and sent home. Mexico has detained nearly 140,000 migrants from January 2017 to April of this year, according to the Mexican government. The vast majority were Central Americans.

The practice has been criticized by human rights activists who say many of the migrants are mistreated by Mexican immigration authorities and denied a proper opportunity to apply for asylum.

Julissa Reynoso, a former deputy assistant secretary of State for Central America and the Caribbean in the Obama administration, said that harsh penalties for crossing illegally into the United States cannot stop the flow.

“We have to do a much better job reinforcing institutions and opportunities” in the Northern Triangle countries, she said. “Unless we emphasize economic development … migrants will continue to take the risk to come.”

Almost 600 arrested at Washington protest over Trump immigration policy

Nearly 600 protesters, mostly women, were arrested on Thursday after they staged a non-violent action in the heart of a US Senate office building in Washington against Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy towards immigrants and separation of families at the border.

The mass protest was one of several demonstrations that erupted across the country, providing a taste of what are expected to be much larger demonstrations on Saturday called by the Women’s March and the Center for Popular Democracy Action. The rallies are likely to get a further boost as a result of the announcement on Wednesday by Anthony Kennedy that he is retiring from the US supreme court, providing Trump with the chance to make a second ultra-conservative appointment to the nation’s highest court and prompting fears of a rollback of liberal protections.

The largest demonstration on Thursday saw the 90ft atrium of the Senate Hart office building overrun by hundreds of women who sat on the floor pumping their fists in the air. Many were draped in foil sheets as a statement on the flimsy bedding given to children and adults as they are held at US border detention facilities.

The protesters chanted “abolish Ice” and “we care” – a jab at Melania Trump for wearing a jacket with the words “I really don’t care, do u?” painted on its back as she visited one of the immigrant detention centers in Texas last week.

Among those arrested in the senate building were Pramila Jayapal, a Democratic member of Congress representing Seattle. She said in a video posted on social media that she had joined the action to protest “the inhumane and cruel ‘zero tolerance’ policy of Donald Trump and this administration, the separation of families, the caging of children, and the imprisonment of asylum seekers”.

She added that she was proud to have been arrested among hundreds of others who believed that “the US is better and as a member of Congress I refuse to let this president and administration do what they are doing to children in my name”.

Daily images are still emerging of distraught immigrant children separated from parents and not yet reunited, despite an executive order last week ending the policy of summarily tearing families apart and arresting the adults after anyone is caught crossing the border illegally.

In a written statement, the Capitol police said around 575 people were charged with unlawfully demonstrating inside the office building. The police said those arrested were being released after they were processed.

Winnie Wong, political adviser for the Women’s March, said the crowd’s fervor would translate into “the energy we will need to see to at the ballot box in November”, when congressional control will be at stake.

The Democratic senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon, who was one of the first to draw attention to children being held in detention camps along the border after being separated from their parents, appeared before the crowd. So did the Democrats Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Edward Markey of Massachusetts.

“These folks are out here fighting for the core principles of our nation, and I applaud them for it,” Merkley said in an interview.

Meanwhile, hundreds more people gathered at a rally outside a federal courthouse in Brownsville, Texas, in the Rio Grande valley.

And dozens of protesters shut down a government meeting in Michigan in protest against a contract with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Ice) agency to house detainees at a local jail. Eight people also were arrested outside an Ice building in Portland, Oregon, that has been closed because of a round-the-clock demonstration

Melania Trump to make second visit to border immigration centers


Melania Trump headed back to the southern border on Thursday, to visit immigration centers housing apprehended migrants.

Trump’s spokeswoman declined to immediately release details about her planned stops.

Trump’s wardrobe became an issue last week, when she traveled to McAllen, Texas, wearing a jacket that said “I really don’t care, do U?” on the back. Trump’s spokeswoman said there was no hidden message intended. Donald Trump undercut that statement, tweeting it was about his wife not caring about “fake news”.

Either way, the choice overshadowed the trip to visit officials and migrant children detained at the border under the president’s “zero-tolerance” policy to prosecute people who cross the border illegally.

This time, Trump travels amid upheaval over her husband’s hardline approach to immigration. More than 2,300 children have been separated from their parents at the border and some were placed in government-contracted shelters hundreds of miles away from their parents.

Donald Trump last week signed an executive order to halt the separation of families at the border, at least for a few weeks, but the order did not address the reunification of families already separated.

A federal judge on Tuesday ordered that thousands of migrant children and parents be reunited within 30 days – and sooner if the youngster is under five. The order poses logistical problems for the administration, and it was unclear how it would meet the deadline.

U.S. agency asks military to house up to 12,000 immigrants

The U.S. military has been asked by the Department of Homeland Security to house and care for immigrant families totaling up to 12,000 people, the Pentagon said on Wednesday, in the latest sign the military is being drawn into a supporting role for President Donald Trump’s immigration policies.

The Pentagon said in a statement that the military had been asked to provide the capacity to house 2,000 people within 45 days.

If facilities were not available, semi-separate, soft-sided camp facilities capable of sheltering up to 4,000 people were to be constructed at three separate locations, the Pentagon said.

In the face of outrage at home and abroad over his crackdown on illegal immigration, Trump was forced last week to abandon his policy of separating children from parents who are apprehended for illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.

The Pentagon said the Department of Homeland Security preferred the facilities for migrants be in Texas, Arizona, New Mexico or California for access and supervision and to comply with the so-called Flores settlement provision that reasonable efforts be made to place minors in the geographic area where the majority were apprehended.

The 1997 Flores agreement set policy for the detention of minors in the custody of immigration officials.

On Monday, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said the military was preparing to house immigrants at Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas, and Goodfellow Air Base in San Angelo, Texas.

The U.S. military, and Mattis in particular, have stressed that it is simply providing logistical support to the Department of Homeland Security, which deals with immigration issues.

Last week, the U.S. military said it had been asked by the government to get ready to house up to 20,000 immigrant children.

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