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Watchdogs: Rise In Southwest Border Crossings Fueled By Desperation

By Warren Rojas, CQ-Roll Call (TNS)

WASHINGTON — Immigration watchdogs say the significant uptick in the number of unaccompanied minors and families apprehended along the Southwest border late last year underscores how dire the situation has become in Central America.

“This is not regular migration. This is people who are trying to survive,” Guillermo Cantor, deputy director of research at the American Immigration Council, said of those fleeing El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

The latest figures released by the Department of Homeland Security show Customs and Border Protection stopped more than double the number of unaccompanied minors in October and November of 2015 as it did during the same period in 2014. The number of families arrested for illegally crossing during the same windows nearly tripled.

That increase is dwarfed by the tens of thousands of individuals who made the hazardous journey during the summer of 2014, a mass exodus that led to the arrest of approximately 68,000 families (compared to the 21,000 detained in recent months) and 69,000 children (17,000, today) along the same international boundary.

That headline-making flood of asylum seekers poured into the country at the same time President Barack Obama and Republican lawmakers remained deadlocked on how best to address the humanitarian crisis. Then-Speaker John A. Boehner attempted to advance an immigration bundle designed to incorporate law-abiding undocumented workers already living in the U.S. more fully into society, but was dogged by infighting about “pathways to citizenship” and “amnesty.”

The unexpected ouster of then-House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in his primary re-election loss a few months later knocked the wind out of the pro-reform efforts. President Barack Obama sought to relieve some of the burden via executive order, but also warned Central Americans considering making the trip that they would be sent right back.

Earlier this month, Obama authorized a crackdown on immigrants who arrived in 2014 who an immigration judge had ruled should be removed from the country, an operation that led to Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials incarcerating more than 100 individuals expected to face deportation.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid told reporters on Tuesday that he spoke with DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson, and he expected there would be a “pause” with respect to the deportations that have raised the ire of many Democrats.

“I think we’re moving forward to a resolution of this,” Reid said.

Later Reid’s office backed away from that assertion, a bit, saying Reid “hopes” for a pause.

Timothy Dunn, professor of sociology with the Charles R. and Martha N. Fulton School of Liberal Arts at Salisbury University and author of two books about immigration along the U.S.-Mexico border, chalked up the recent enforcement activity to reactionary politics.

“What happened to the big re-orientation of ICE to focus on ‘felons not families’? Guess that’s out now that ‘The Donald’ has stoked the public’s worst fears with complete disinformation and falsehoods about immigration,” he posited in an email, referring to GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump.

Customs and Border Protection officials say the agencies have been “closely monitoring these trends and coordinating across the whole of government to ensure an effective response to any changes in migration flows,” a spokesman said via email.

Denise Gilman, a professor at the University of Texas School of Law and director of the Immigration Clinic, is highly skeptical that traditional “pull” factors (think: surplus jobs, higher wages) are playing a significant role this time around.

“Mexican migration is at incredibly low levels, which you would expect to see change if workforce gains were an important cause of changes in the flows,” she asserted. When coupled with the fact that moms and kids are leading this charge rather than seasonal job seekers, Gilman said she believes fear is driving the new arrivals.

“These demographic realities point to violence, rather than employment issues, as the main triggers for migration,” she estimated.

Cantor said the mounting challenges — including extreme poverty, endemic gang violence, political corruption and crippling joblessness — heaped upon the average Central American are powerful motivators to risk everything and try whatever luck one may have left up north. “It is very hard for people to live there,” Cantor said.

And even though both the U.S. and Mexican authorities have in recent years ramped up efforts to return migrants to their place of origin (“Mexico has been very active in removing people and sending them back to Central America,” Cantor said.), getting stateside remains an incredible draw because so many others have already blazed the same trail.

According to a Migration Policy Institute fact sheet about the evolving immigration landscape, one in five Salvadorans and one in 15 Guatemalans and Hondurans already reside in the U.S.

“The U.S. appears like a natural choice when people are trying to escape,” Cantor said.

And that’s unlikely to change — unless the hazardous conditions plaguing Central Americans are finally addressed.

“Given the large number of people in the region who have ties to relatives and communities in the United States, as well as the lengthy backlogs in the U.S. court system for deciding their asylum claims, Central American migrants will continue to try to make their way to the United States, aided by smuggling networks that nimbly adapt to enforcement efforts, both in Mexico and the United States,” Migration Policy Institute scholars Marc R. Rosenblum and Isabel Ball predicted earlier this month.

Dunn said Uncle Sam ought to dig deep, because the U.S. has plenty to atone for, pointing to the U.S.’s “cold war support for allies that killed over 200,000 people in the 1980s in those three Central American nations (and 40,000 more if we include Nicaragua)” and blaming “disruptive trade policies” such as the Central America Free Trade Agreement “that leave few opportunities for small farmers or urban poor and workers.”

As for the future of enforcement, Dunn recommended taking a page from Nicaraguan leaders.

“Nicaragua has seen little migration to the U.S. (though lots to Costa Rica) despite great poverty, but has among lowest homicide rates in hemisphere. Their police approach is more aimed at prevention and youth and family programs, and much more successful,” he shared via email. “Our approach is a failure. We could learn from them.”

(Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.)

©2016 CQ-Roll Call, Inc., All Rights Reserved. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: A group of 16 Guatemalans receive instructions from an Hidalgo County Constable after they crossed the Rio Grande near Anzalduas Park outside McAllen, Texas, Junes 12, 2014. The group, from Guatemala, spent 3 weeks crossing Mexico. (Michael Robinson Chavez/Los Angeles Times/MCT)


Democrats Must Also Address Illegal Immigration

As respectable Republicans panic over Donald Trump’s storm of insults against Hispanics, Democrats may be tempted to sit back and watch the other party estrange millions of potential voters. But they do so at their own peril.

Democrats already have the luxury of being far less offensive, whatever position they take on immigration. But they must take a position, and that position must draw a line between legal and illegal. To do so, they can’t flinch when advocates of open borders unleash unpleasant accusations against any Democrat who attempts to honor that line.

Fear of uncontrolled immigration is not limited to crazed right-wing white folk. Blacks have long felt themselves unfairly replaced by immigrants. As poet Toni Morrison wrote, “whatever the ethnicity or nationality of the immigrant, his nemesis is understood to be African American.” The evidence remains anecdotal, but many blacks have expressed support for Trump over this issue.

Many immigrants also have highly mixed feelings about open borders. To my surprise, a nonwhite nurse from the Philippines, a friend, has been sending me pro-Trump literature.

Over half of Latinos in the U.S. workforce were born in this country. They are thoroughly American. And that doesn’t count the huge number of foreign-born Hispanic workers here legally.

Their wages and benefits are also being depressed by unauthorized migrants willing to work for less. And as many states and cities raise their minimum wages, some employers will be even more tempted to hire the undocumented under the table and at lower pay.

Many Democrats who honor and admire immigrants remain frustrated by a surge of unskilled foreign workers into the hard-hit bottom rungs of the labor market. It is one cause of economic inequality. A Pew Research Center poll has 79 percent of Democrats saying that the immigration system needs to be completely rebuilt. And just look at the exasperated comments by self-described liberals following opinion pieces praising the benefits of immigration without making any distinction between legal and not.

The reasonable path out of the mess is to legalize most of the undocumented while stopping future unauthorized migrants. President Obama valiantly tried to win over skeptics by demonstrating a will to enforce. For these efforts, the open-border crowd on the left condemns him as “deporter in chief.”

Note the hostile reaction to Obama’s recent move to discourage a new surge of illegal immigration from Central America. Agents for his Department of Homeland Security had arrested for deportation 121 migrants whose claims for asylum were denied in the courts.

“Our borders are not open to illegal migration,” Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said. In any other country, that would have been an unremarkable statement.

But advocates for undocumented immigrants and some Democrats in Congress went ballistic. They accused Obama of crimes against innocent families.

If powerful Democrats can’t back deporting 121 people whose appeals for asylum were turned down, why would the American public trust them to respect a comprehensive immigration solution?

As the party of unions and working people, the Democratic Party used to be more hawkish on immigration than the GOP — and with the support of its immigrant members. At a certain point, though, many leading Democrats replaced the labor agenda with an ethnic one.

Because Trump’s magic sauce includes a strong defense of the social security net, Bernie Sanders thinks he could attract some of the populist’s working-class supporters. He or Hillary Clinton probably could. But each must first make clear that our national labor market can’t be a global one. That means defending the principle, without apology, that who and how many come into this country matters.

Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at To find out more about Froma Harrop and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Web page at COPYRIGHT 2016 CREATORS.COM

Photo: Immigrants and community leaders rally in front of the U.S. Supreme Court to mark the one-year anniversary of President Barack Obama’s executive orders on immigration in Washington, November 20, 2015. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Court Blocks Deportations Of Several Central American Families

By Franco Ordonez, McClatchy Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — The nation’s highest immigration court has delayed the deportations of four families out of hundreds of Central American migrant adults and children rounded up in raids over the New Year’s weekend as part of a nationwide effort to combat illegal immigration, according to the families’ lawyers. They expected to win a fifth stay Wednesday.

The Board of Immigration Appeals’ decision, made late Tuesday, is a small yet potentially significant breakthrough for lawyers fighting the raids, as it raises questions about Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson’s assurances to the public earlier this week that those being deported had exhausted all their legal options.

The families’ lawyers said the stays of deportation had been granted to allow time to appeal their cases to the Board of Immigration Appeals — a step none of them had yet taken. The families had been scheduled to be deported from the United States on Wednesday morning back to their home countries of El Salvador and Honduras.

“What does it mean when we get five out of six cases stayed? That means something is wrong here,” said one of the lawyers, Laura Lichter, general counsel for the American Immigration Lawyers Association. “If there was no case, nothing here, we wouldn’t have gotten the stay.”

Johnson said this week that 121 people had been taken into custody, mainly in Georgia, North Carolina and Texas. The Obama administration operation focused on adults and their children who’d been apprehended as of last spring after crossing the southern border illegally, had been issued orders of removal by an immigration court and, Johnson said, “have exhausted appropriate legal remedies.”

“As I have said repeatedly, our borders are not open to illegal migration; if you come here illegally, we will send you back consistent with our laws and values,” Johnson said in a statement Monday.

The holiday raids were the first in a large-scale effort focused on Central Americans fleeing poverty and violence, and they drew swift criticism from activists. Lawyers advised the migrants to simply not open the door if approached by immigration agents.

Lichter and other lawyers, organized through the CARA Family Detention Pro Bono Project, charged the Obama administration with rushing to deport the families without properly screening whether they had exhausted their due process rights. The attorneys filed requests to stop the deportations for five out of a half-dozen cases they’d reviewed. The declarations to the Board of Immigration Appeals included the families’ affidavits explaining why they feared returning to their home countries.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest reminded critics of President Barack Obama’s November 2014 immigration priorities, which placed more emphasis on recent arrivals of individuals who’d crossed the border without proper legal documentation.

“This is consistent with the kinds of priorities that the president himself has talked about; that our enforcement efforts need to be focused on deporting felons, not families, and with a particular focus on individuals who have only recently crossed the border,” Earnest said.

©2016 McClatchy Washington Bureau. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Jeh Johnson talks to the media about holiday travel at Union Station in Washington, November 25, 2015. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas 


Homeland Security Chief Warns Mall Shoppers On Threat, Pleads For Funding

By Christi Parsons and Brian Bennett, Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama’s top Homeland Security official on Sunday warned Americans to be “particularly careful” after terrorist threats against the Mall of America and other shopping centers, and seized the opportunity to call on Congress not to let his department’s funding expire this week.

The warnings from Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson followed the release of a video from the al-Shabab terrorist group over the weekend that urged militants to attack American, Canadian and British shopping centers, including the mega-mall near Minneapolis. Al-Shabab is responsible for the 2013 attack on a Kenyan mall that left 67 people dead.

“If anyone is planning to go to the Mall of America today, they’ve got to be particularly careful,” Johnson told CNN’s Gloria Borgia.

“Any time a terrorist organization calls for an attack on a specific place, we’ve got to take that seriously,” he said. “So, through our intelligence bulletins, through working with state and local law enforcement, through working with the FBI, we take this kind of thing very seriously.”

But several U.S. officials said they had no other reason to believe there was an actual plot unfolding against any shopping centers in the U.S. One intelligence official said there was no evidence that the video represented anything more than a call to action, and that similar videos in the past had not been linked to subsequent attacks. But they said the prospect of violence from lone actors — unattached to a terrorist group but open to inspiration via the Internet — was a continuing concern.

Even before the latest threat, the administration was on high alert over the possibility that Homeland Security’s funding would dry up Saturday. Johnson played up both issues during appearances on several Sunday talk shows.

Al-Shabab’s video specifically mentioned the Mall of America and gave its GPS coordinates, not far from Minneapolis’ large Somali community. It appeared to be an explicit exhortation from the Somali-based terrorists to disaffected expatriates in Minnesota.

The Mall of America issued a statement in conjunction with law enforcement agencies, including the Justice Department and the Bloomington, Minn., Police Department.

“At this time there is no credible threat associated with Mall of America,” the statement said. “We take all security concerns seriously and have responded appropriately. Enhanced security measures … have been implemented and all information is being monitored.”

Asked whether foot traffic seemed any lighter Sunday, Mall of America spokeswoman Julie Hansen said in an email, “I did not notice a difference.”

Congress is at an impasse on funding Homeland Security, with most Republicans demanding that any funding bill nullify Obama’s pending executive actions to temporarily shield as many as 5 million immigrants in the country illegally from deportation, as well as those protected by a 2012 program, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

Most Democrats stand by the president’s immigration actions, and they have enough votes in the Senate to block the measure. When Congress returns from its holiday break Monday, the Senate will hold a fourth procedural vote on the bill, which has passed the House. Republican aides would not discuss how either chamber would proceed if, as expected, Democrats block it again.

Republicans are divided over the best way to challenge Obama’s actions. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) argued Sunday that it would be better to challenge the immigration measures in court, warning colleagues of the pitfalls of using national security to make a political point.

A federal judge in Texas imposed a temporary injunction against the immigration actions last week. The Justice Department is preparing to request an emergency stay of that injunction so the administration can implement its plans. White House officials say they expect the request to be filed by Monday.

Graham said he agreed with U.S. District Judge Andrew S. Hanen, who ruled in a lawsuit brought by 26 states, and hoped his party would focus on that case as a way to wage the immigration fight.

“If we don’t fund the Department of Homeland Security, we’ll get blamed as a party. And to anyone who is watching the world as it is, I’ve never seen more terrorist organizations with more safe havens, with more money, with more capability to strike the homeland today,” Graham told George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s This Week. “And that’s a direct result of a failed foreign policy by President Obama. And the worst thing to do is add gasoline to the fire by having the Republican Party defund the Department of Homeland Security.”

Johnson used the al-Shabab threats to illustrate a growing dynamic among competing terrorist groups such as al-Qaida and Islamic State, which are vying for recruits and targeting citizens in the West, he said.

“These groups are relying more and more on independent actors to become inspired, drawn to the cause … on their own, through their effective use of the Internet,” Johnson told CNN. “That’s why it’s critical that we work in the communities where these folks might be able to recruit to develop a counternarrative.”

The threats also show “why I need a budget,” he said. If funding isn’t approved by Friday, Johnson said, he’ll have to furlough about 80 percent of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s workers. Law enforcement and other crucial Homeland Security officials will simply have to work without pay, he said.

“It’s absurd that we’re even having this conversation about Congress’ inability to fund Homeland Security in these challenging times,” Johnson said.

He complained of a “frustrating” round of finger-pointing during his conversations on Capitol Hill.

“When I go to the Senate, they say, ‘It’s not us, it’s the House, go over to the House side and talk to them,’ ” Johnson said. “I go to the House and they say, ‘We passed our bill, it’s the Senate.’ ”

Johnson said that marketing by terrorists was entering a new phase in which groups such as Islamic State, al-Shabab and al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula are issuing public directions for individual actors to carry out attacks in their homelands.

“In my judgment, that represents a totally new environment,” Johnson said on CBS. “And we have to deal with it in a new and different way that involves a whole-of-government approach and involves working with state and local law enforcement, working with the community, working with community leaders to hopefully persuade people who might be inclined in this direction to turn away from violence.”

Threat or no threat, shoppers flocked to malls Sunday, including the sprawling Glendale Galleria, near Los Angeles. Families pushed strollers, couples held hands, drivers fought for precious parking spaces. Most patrons said they were unaware of, or unfazed by, al-Shabab’s message.

“Personally, I don’t live in fear. I’m tired of that,” said Tatiana Arrue, 22, a corporate recruiter from Downey, Calif. “The thought of going to a mall and possibly dying, well, if that’s how I’m going to go, that’s how I’m going to go. I’m tired of living in fear.”

Another customer read a copy of William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying while he waited for his steaming pizza to cool. He was unaware of the threat but said he would have come to the mall anyway.

“It doesn’t bother me,” said the man, who declined to give his name for an article about terrorism. “I don’t think people are sitting around planning to shoot up a mall and waiting for somebody to tell them to do it.”
Los Angeles Times staff writers Stuart Pfeifer and Matt Pearce in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons