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High Winds Blow Down Border Wall In California

A section of the border wall in southern California was blown over by high winds on Wednesday, causing the structure to fall into Mexico, CNN reported.

Mexican officials were forced to divert traffic from the area.

In an email Thursday, Ralph DeSio, a Customs and Border Protection official, said high winds “impacted a handful of panels,” adding that there were no injuries or property damage.

DeSio said that the 30-foot high wall tipped into Mexico while the concrete holding the wall in place was still drying, confirming CNN’s report. DeSio called the incident “an uncommon event,” noting winds reached speeds well over 30 miles per hour on Wednesday.

DeSio also confirmed that the construction company SLSCO Ltd was under contract for that particular section of the border wall.

In a June 2019 press release, CPB said SLSCO had been awarded an $88 million contract to replace an 11-mile section of dilapidated border wall in Calexico. According to a 2019 Forbes report, SLSCO has received contracts for border wall projects totaling almost half a billion dollars since Trump took office.

A Texas-based company, SLSCO was founded by three brothers, John, Billy, and Todd Sullivan. According to MarketWatch, the brothers donated a total of $68,000 to Republican groups or candidates in the 2018 election cycle. The only donation to a Democrat came from Johnny, who gave $2,700 to Texas Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee.

In an email, SLSCO did not provide any comment about the Calexico incident, instead referring all media inquiries to CBP.

In addition to Calexico, Forbes reported that SLSCO’s other border wall projects include several controversial stretches along the Texas-Mexico border.

In one spot, the SLSCO’s construction will reportedly run straight through the National Butterfly Center, a private nature preserve. The center’s executive director, Marianna Wright, told Forbes that “big monarchs can soar over the wall to fulfill their migration instincts” but “some species like the endangered Quino checkerspot butterfly … prefer to flit closer to the ground and will not be able to get over the wall.”

The Catholic Church in Hidalgo County is also upset that the border wall will cut off access to La Lomita Chapel, a small historic structure dating back to 1865 when it was built by French missionaries.

Building a border wall was one of Trump’s signature campaign promises during the 2016 election. At the time, he promised Mexico would pay for it. But when the Mexican government refused to do so, and Congress refused to provide $5 billion in taxpayer funds to do so, Trump declared a national emergency at the southern border.

He then reallocated $3.6 billion meant for the military, such as school buildings for children of active service members, to fund additional sections of the wall.

According to CBP, the Calexico border wall that was blown over was funded using 2018 appropriations, not funding from Trump’s emergency declaration.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

Democrats Demand Border Patrol Explain Deaths Of Migrant Children In Custody

Reprinted with permission from ProPublica.

After a ProPublica investigation into the death of a teenager in Border Patrol custody, House Democrats are ramping up pressure on the Trump administration to explain how six migrant children died after entering the U.S.

“I find it appalling that (Customs and Border Protection) has still not taken responsibility for the deaths of children in their care,” said Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.

Thompson said that while some of the children’s deaths may not have been preventable, Customs and Border Protection, the federal agency that first deals with children who cross the border, seems “all too quick to pat themselves on the back for their handling of children last year. These deaths happened under their watch. I remain skeptical that real changes have been made.”

The Homeland Security border subcommittee will hold a hearing Tuesday to examine the administration’s efforts to treat sick migrant children. The six who died in government custody between September 2018 and May 2019 were the first such deaths in a decade.

ProPublica’s December investigation into the death of Carlos Gregorio Hernandez Vasquez, a 16-year-old Guatemalan boy who died in a South Texas Border Patrol cell, raised concerns about actions by Border Patrol agents and contract medical personnel and whether the agency was truthful about the circumstances of the teenager’s death. The boy died on the floor of his cell on May 20, and a surveillance video obtained by ProPublica showed he was left alone for hours as his illness worsened.

Carlos was the last of six children to die. Three children died from flu-related complications, one died of a massive bacterial infection and two died from chronic conditions they had before crossing the border, according to autopsies and other medical reports.

A spokesperson for CBP, the Border Patrol’s parent agency, said the department has made sweeping changes at the border in the past year. About 300 contract medical personnel work any given day at 40 border stations, up from 20 trained medical providers in December 2018, the spokesperson said.

The Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General in late December issued one-page findings on the December 2018 deaths of two Guatemalan children. Investigators “found no misconduct or malfeasance by DHS personnel” in the deaths of Jakelin Caal Maquin, 7, and Felipe Gomez Alonzo, 8.

“The inspector general’s one-page summaries on the investigation into the December 2018 deaths are clearly insufficient. Congress has yet to get a full accounting of how the investigation took place and how the inspector general came to its conclusions,” Thompson said.

The inspector general rejected Thompson’s criticism, saying the agency has fully briefed his staff on the investigations.

“We stand by our investigations. On Jan. 10, 2019, the Office of the Inspector General provided the Committee on Homeland Security staff a comprehensive briefing on both investigations and our conclusions. We have also provided the complete reports of investigation to the committee, per the chairman’s request,” inspector general spokeswoman Erica Paulson said. She said complete reports can’t be made public because of privacy laws.

A committee spokesman said the inspector general’s office has declined to testify at Tuesday’s hearing.

Jakelin died of streptococcal sepsis two days after she and her father crossed the border in remote southwest New Mexico. Felipe died of flu complications six days after he and his father crossed the border in El Paso, Texas.

The DHS inspector general continues to investigate Carlos’ death. He died of flu complications in a cell in Weslaco, Texas, a week after crossing the border.

The DHS inspector general is not investigating the deaths of three children who died after being released from Border Patrol custody, a CBP spokesperson said.

Two of those children — a 10-year-old Salvadoran girl in September 2018 and a 16-year-old Guatemalan boy in April 2019 — died after being sent from Border Patrol to the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which is part of the Department of Health and Human Services. No autopsies were conducted, but the cause of death for each was listed as a chronic condition that predated their arrival.

An HHS spokesman didn’t respond to questions about whether that agency was investigating the deaths of those two children.

The sixth death involved a 2-year-old Guatemalan boy who died in El Paso in May, several weeks after he and his mother crossed the border. Both were released from custody while he was in the hospital. An autopsy found that the boy, Wilmer Josue Ramirez Vasquez, died of the flu and other respiratory and intestinal infections.

Four of the six children who died were taken into custody by the Border Patrol’s El Paso sector. Rep. Veronica Escobar, an El Paso Democrat, said Trump administration officials have refused to provide her with information on the deaths of the migrant children, citing the need to protect internal investigations.

Escobar in July asked DHS and CBP to preserve videos of border detention facilities since December 2018 and asked for copies of videos of the detention of children and adults who died in custody. In November, Acting CBP Commissioner Mark Morgan sent a letter to Escobar telling her that videos are routinely erased.

Morgan said the agency’s policy “does not specifically outline video recording standards.” He said that because of limited storage capacity, the agencies’ video systems overwrite recordings every 30 to 60 days.

Morgan said videos are preserved for investigations “where a death in custody occurred in a CBP controlled space.” Carlos was the only child to die in a CBP facility; the others died after being transferred to outside medical facilities.

“It’s disappointing, obviously, that my request that the videos be preserved isn’t being followed,” Escobar said. She added that other records of the deaths haven’t been provided by the Trump administration to Congress, which may have to use its subpoena power to obtain them.

ProPublica obtained video of Carlos’ death through a request under Texas open records laws to the Weslaco Police Department, which briefly investigated the boy’s death. CBP provided video of Carlos’ cell from the morning of his death to Weslaco police, though the video included an unexplained gap of more than four hours.

On Dec. 30, CBP released a new medical directive on the care of migrants in custody. The policy replaces an interim plan created in January 2019 in the wake of the deaths of Jakeline and Felipe.

“We take our responsibility to provide adequate health care to everyone in our custody extremely seriously and will continue to make adjustments and improvements as the situation changes,” the agency said in a statement.

But a leading public health expert said the medical directive is so vague that it is essentially meaningless.

“What they’re saying in the press statement makes it sound like things are moving and going on, but in the official document there’s nothing there to be able to parse out to say what are they truly going to do,” said Dr. Paul Spiegel, director of the Center for Humanitarian Health at Johns Hopkins University.

The directive calls for agents to tell migrants to report if they’re feeling sick. In a second phase, Border Patrol agents would provide a health interview to all migrants under 18. In a third phase, if funding is available, all children under 12 would get a medical assessment.

In the fiscal year 2020 funding bill for DHS that passed in December, Congress directed CBP to develop a medical policy that included clear metrics to determine if detention conditions were creating a public health crisis. The “explanatory statement” for the appropriations bill also calls on CBP to develop a “peer review process for deaths in custody.” The Dec. 30 medical directive doesn’t mention metrics or a review process when migrants die in custody.

The CBP spokesperson said the agency “is working with DHS headquarters, multiple federal agencies and other stakeholders to address the items noted in the FY20 appropriations bill.”

Texans Fight Trump Over Land Seizures For Border Wall

The Trump administration is looking to seize land from Texans in order to build a border wall — and now, some are fighting back to stop it from happening.

Becky Jones, a Texas landowner, is preparing to take the Trump administration to court to keep her land, she told the New York Times this week. Her decision came after receiving a letter from the government demanding she allow officials to survey her farmland as the first step towards seizing it to build a border wall.

Jones told the Times that the border wall would harm wildlife in the area, which is near the Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge. A 2019 congressional spending bill specified property within that refuge is off limits from a border wall, according to the Times.

Richard Drawe, another Texas landowner, took a different route, grudgingly accepting a Trump administration financial offer for land his grandfather purchased in the 1920s. Drawe’s family owns a farm near the Rio Grande river with breathtaking views, according to the Times, but a future border wall will ruin that view.

“We just finally gave up,” Drawe told the Times. “If they offered me a million dollars to build the wall, I would refuse it if I knew they wouldn’t build it. I don’t want the money. This is my life here.”

Jones and Drawe are not alone in lamenting Trump’s efforts to seize private land for his border wall. According to the Texas Tribune, many other landowners are fighting the Trump administration’s efforts to survey their land for a border wall.

Ricky Garza, an attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project, told the Tribune that he has several clients currently fighting the Trump administration in court over the issue of property access to survey land.

“Hell no, we’re not signing anything,” David Acevedo, a landowner near Loredo, told the Tribune when he was asked if he would give permission to federal agents to survey his land.

According to the Associated Press, the Trump administration has ramped up efforts to take land from private citizens, filing three lawsuits in December alone. The Times noted that courts generally defer to the executive branch in cases of emergencies, meaning most families will eventually be forced to settle for compensation for their land, even if they don’t want to lose it.

Donald Trump made a campaign promise in 2016 to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. At the time, he vowed that Mexico would pay for the wall, but that plan fell through when Mexico flatly refused to do so. Trump later declared a national emergency along the southern border to force through his plans for a wall and is using billions of dollars allocated to the military to pay for it.

Trump promised up to 450 miles of new border wall would be built by the end of 2020, according to the Times. However, thus far, the administration has build zero miles of new wall, and has simply replaced roughly 90 miles of older barriers.

The administration counts those replacements as “new wall,” according to the Times.

Property owners in the region say the fight to keep their lands is nothing new.

Pamela Rivas, a landowner near the Los Ebanos port of entry to Mexico, has been fighting to keep her land since the George W. Bush administration first tried to take it from her, her son, Michael Maldonado, told the Times.

“The longer that we can endure it, maybe something might change,” Maldonado said. “Maybe a new administration comes in and says, ‘you know, we’re not going to deal with this.'”

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

Poll: Warren’s Wealth Tax Far More Popular Than Trump’s Wall

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

It remains to be seen whether the Democratic Party will nominate a centrist like former Vice President Joe Biden for the 2020 presidential race or go with a staunch liberal/progressive like Sen. Elizabeth Warren or Sen. Bernie Sanders, but many of Warren’s ideas are quite popular among Democrats. And Business Insider, using Fox News polling data, reports that among voters in general, Warren’s proposed wealth tax is more popular than President Donald Trump’s U.S./Mexico border wall.

Fox’s poll, conducted December 8-11, found that among randomly selected voters, 68 percent of them supported a wealth tax — compared to only 44 percent of them supporting a border wall.

Warren’s wealth tax wouldn’t affect most U.S. taxpayers, including many millionaires. Her plan would kick in at $50 million, and the ultra-wealthy would pay a 2 percent tax on assets such as stocks, yachts and high-end properties. For fortunes over $1 billion, Warren’s wealth tax would increase to 6 percent.

Fox News’ poll addressed other matters as well, including the impeachment of Trump — which, not surprisingly, is much more popular among Democratic voters than it is among Republican voters. Fox News found that 85 percent of Democrats favor impeaching Trump and removing him from office, while 84 percent of Republicans are opposed. Among independents, support for impeachment was 45 percent in the poll — a 7 percent increase from 38 percent in a Fox News poll conducted in October.

Fox News said that its poll had a 3 percent margin of error.

Critics of Warren’s proposed wealth tax have argued that it would stifle economic growth, while its supporters — making classic New Deal and Great Society arguments — have asserted that reducing inequality in the U.S. must be a high priority. David Goldstein defended Warren in a December 3 op-ed for Business Insider, stressing that “concentrated wealth” must be addressed in 2019 just as President Franklin Delano Roosevelt aggressively addressed it with his New Deal programs of the 1930s.