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Under New Immigration Guidelines, ‘Dreamers’ Are Safe — For Now

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump’s administration will leave protections in place for immigrants who entered the country illegally as children, known as “dreamers,” but will consider all other illegal immigrants subject to deportation, according to guidance released on Tuesday.

The Department of Homeland Security guidance is the implementation plan for executive orders on border security and immigration enforcement that Trump signed on Jan. 25, days after taking office.

The Republican president campaigned on a pledge to get tougher on the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States, playing on fears of violent crime while promising to build a wall on the border with Mexico and to stop potential terrorists from entering the country.

DHS officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity on a conference call with reporters, said that although any immigrant in the country illegally could be deported, the agency will prioritize those deemed as posing a threat.

These include recent entrants, those convicted of a crime, and people charged but not yet convicted.

However, many of the instructions to immigration agents outlined in the guidance will not be implemented immediately because they depend on Congress, a public comment period or negotiations with other nations, the officials said.

For example, the DHS will need to publish a notice in the Federal Register subject to review in order to implement one part of the plan that calls on U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents to increase the number of immigrants who are not given a hearing before being deported.

The new guidance would subject immigrants who cannot show they have been in the country for more than two years to “expedited removal.” Currently, only migrants apprehended near the border who cannot show they have been in the country more than 14 days are subject to rapid removal.

The memos also instructs ICE to detain migrants who are awaiting a court decision on whether they will be deported or granted relief, such as asylum. DHS officials said they are reviewing what jurisdictions may have laws in place that prevent the amount of time immigrants can be held.

The agency also plans to send non-Mexican migrants crossing the southern U.S. border back into Mexico as they await a decision on their case. The DHS officials said this plan would be dependent on partnerships with the Mexican government and would not be implemented overnight.

Trump’s planned measures against illegal immigrants have drawn protests, such as an event last week that activists called “A Day Without Immigrants” to highlight the importance of the foreign-born, who account for 13 percent of the U.S. population, or more than 40 million naturalized American citizens.

(Reporting by Julia Edwards Ainsley; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Frances Kerry)

IMAGE: A young boy holds U.S. flags as 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  

Trump Team Drafts Plan To Raise Asylum Bar, Speed Deportations

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Department of Homeland Security has prepared new guidance for immigration agents aimed at speeding up deportations by denying asylum claims earlier in the process.

The new guidelines, contained in a draft memo dated February 17 but not yet sent to field offices, directs agents to only pass applicants who have a good chance of ultimately getting asylum, but does not give specific criteria for establishing credible fear of persecution if sent home.

The guidance instructs asylum officers to “elicit all relevant information” in determining whether an applicant has “credible fear” of persecution if returned home, the first obstacle faced by migrants on the U.S.-Mexico border requesting asylum.

Three sources familiar with the drafting of the guidance said the goal of the new instructions is to raise the bar on initial screening.

The administration’s plan is to leave wide discretion to asylum officers by allowing them to determine which applications have a “significant possibility” of being approved by an immigration court, the sources said.

The guidance was first reported and posted on the internet by McClatchy news organization.

In 2015, just 18 percent of asylum applicants whose cases were ruled on by immigration judges were granted asylum, according to the Justice Department. Applicants from countries with a high rate of political persecution have a higher chance of winning their asylum cases.

A tougher approach to asylum seekers would be an element of President Donald Trump’s promise to crackdown on immigration and tighten border security, a cornerstone of his election campaign and a top priority of his first month in office.

The DHS declined to comment for this story, referring questions to the White House, which did not respond to a request for comment.

WHAT IS “CREDIBLE FEAR”?

Under the Immigration and Nationality Act, an applicant must generally demonstrate “a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.”

Immigration lawyers say any applicants who appear to meet that criteria in their initial interviews should be allowed to make their cases in court. They oppose encouraging asylum officers to take a stricter stance on questioning claims and rejecting applications.

Interviews to assess credible fear are conducted almost immediately after an asylum request is made, often at the border or in detention facilities by immigration agents or asylum officers, and most applicants easily clear that hurdle. Between July and September of 2016, U.S. asylum officers accepted nearly 88 percent of the claims of credible fear, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services data.

Asylum seekers who fail the credible fear test can be quickly deported unless they file an appeal. Currently, those who pass the test are eventually released and allowed to remain in the United States awaiting hearings, which are often scheduled years into the future because of a backlog of more than 500,000 cases in immigration courts.

Between October 2015 and April 2016, nearly 50,000 migrants claimed credible fear, 78 percent of whom were from Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, or Mexico, according to statistics from USCIS.

The number of migrants from those three countries who passed credible fear and went to court to make their case for asylum rose sharply between 2011 and 2015, from 13,970 claims to 34,125, according to data from the Justice Department.

Former border patrol chief Mike Fisher credits that trend to advice from immigration lawyers who know “asylum officers are going to err on the side of caution and refer most cases to a judge.”

The new guidance on asylum seekers is for border personnel implementing Trump’s Jan. 25 executive order on tightening U.S. border security.

Among other measures, the president’s directive calls for expediting eligibility claims of those attempting to stay in the United States and promptly deporting those whose claims are rejected.

COMPLICATED LOGISTICS

Some immigration officers familiar with the draft guidance say they are concerned that a rapid increase in deportations of asylum seekers could strain overcrowded detention facilities and create transportation problems.

Deportations take time and coordination, even when immigrants are quickly targeted for expulsion. U.S. officials must get approval from a deportee’s home country before repatriation can take place, and transportation can be complicated and expensive. Immigrants from non-contiguous countries are flown home by plane, while Mexicans are often bused across the border.

Homeland Security personnel who worked on the guidance say they hope to expand detention space by at least 8,000 beds. The money to pay for that would require congressional sign-off.

The extra beds, they say, would further the president’s goal, expressed in his executive order on border security, of ending the practice known as “catch and release” in which migrants, including asylum seekers, are freed pending a court hearing. The new guidance calls for expanding detention, but acknowledges that ending the practice “may not be immediately possible.”

A congressional aide familiar with the administration’s plans said DHS is considering expanding its contracts with private prison companies like GEO Group and CoreCivic, which currently hold most immigrant detainees.

Immigrants rights advocates say they fear that raising the bar on the credible fear test could screen out migrants with a rightful claim to asylum, because asylum officers may dismiss cases that could make it through court if the asylum seeker were given legal counsel, said Marielena Hincapie, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center.

Asylum applicants have the right to appeal denials of credible fear claims and may request to see a judge to assert their claim to be in the United States for other reasons, such as family ties. For that reason, raising the bar on credible fear might not deter asylum seekers as much as the Trump administration hopes, said former border patrol head Fisher.

(Reporting by Julia Edwards Ainsley, editing by Sue Horton, Ross Colvin and Michael Perry)

Over 680 Arrested Across The U.S. In Immigration Raids

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. immigration officers have arrested more than 680 people in recent operations, 75 percent of whom have criminal records, the homeland security chief said on Monday of actions that have alarmed immigrant rights groups.

U.S. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said the operations were routine and consistent with regular operations carried out by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE.

Immigration rights advocates say agents are deporting migrants indiscriminately and that the operations, which they describe as raids, do not take into account an immigrant’s threat level or family ties to the United States.

Kelly said in a statement that crimes committed by the illegal immigrants ranged from homicide to driving under the influence of alcohol.

Some of the immigrants arrested had ignored final orders of deportation, according to ICE, the agency responsible for immigrant arrests and deportations. The agency did not specify its reasoning for a handful of immigrants other than that they were in the country illegally.

Former Democratic President Barack Obama was criticized for being the “deporter in chief” after he deported over 400,000 people in 2012, more than any president in a single year.

In 2014, Obama’s homeland security chief issued a memo directing agents to focus on deporting a narrow slice of immigrants, namely those who had recently entered the country or committed serious felonies. Immigrants who were arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol, for example, were treated as lower priorities for deportation.

President Donald Trump promised to deport 2 million to 3 million migrants with criminal records on taking office.

At a news conference with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Monday, Trump said his administration had “really done a great job” in its recent arrests of immigrants.

“We’re actually taking people that are criminals, very, very, hardened criminals in some cases with a tremendous track record of abuse and problems,” Trump said.

ICE said in a statement on Monday that the operations targeted immigrants in the Midwest, Los Angeles, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and San Antonio.

Not every immigrant arrested had a criminal record or prior order to leave the country, according to the data released by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

In Los Angeles, for example, 151 out of the 161 immigrants arrested had criminal records, but the agency did not give a reason for the arrests of the 10 migrants with no criminal record.

The immigrants’ arrests followed Trump’s Jan. 27 executive order temporarily banning people from seven predominantly Muslim countries and all refugees from entering the United States. That order was suspended by a U.S. district judge, in a ruling upheld by a federal appeals court.

(Reporting by Julia Edwards Ainsley, Additional reporting by Emily Stephenson and Kristina Cooke; Editing by Peter Cooney)

IMAGE: People participate in a protest against U.S. President Donald Trump’s immigration policy and the recent Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids in New York City, U.S. February 11, 2017. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith

Exclusive: Border ‘Wall’ To Cost $21.6 Billion, Take 3.5 Years To Build

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump’s “wall” along the U.S.-Mexico border would be a series of fences and walls that would cost as much as $21.6 billion, and take more than three years to construct, based on a U.S. Department of Homeland Security internal report seen by Reuters on Thursday.

The report’s estimated price-tag is much higher than a $12-billion figure cited by Trump in his campaign and estimates as high as $15 billion from Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

The report is expected to be presented to Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary John Kelly in coming days, although the administration will not necessarily take actions it recommends.

The plan lays out what it would take to seal the border in three phases of construction of fences and walls covering just over 1,250 miles (2,000 km) by the end of 2020.

With 654 miles (1,046 km) of the border already fortified, the new construction would extend almost the length of the entire border.

Many cost estimates and timelines have been floated since Trump campaigned on the promise of building a wall. The report seen by Reuters is the work of a group commissioned by Kelly as a final step before moving forward with requesting U.S. taxpayer funds from Congress and getting started on construction.

A DHS spokeswoman said the department does “not comment on or confirm the potential existence of pre-decisional, deliberative documents.”

A White House spokeswoman said it would be “premature” to comment on a report that has not officially been presented to the president.

The report said the first phase would be the smallest, targeting sections covering 26 miles (42 km) near San Diego, California; El Paso, Texas; and in Texas’s Rio Grande Valley.

The report assumes DHS would get funding from Congress by April or May, giving the department sufficient time to secure contractors and begin construction by September. Trump has said Congress should fund the wall upfront, but that Mexico will reimburse U.S. taxpayers. Mexico has said it will not pay.

Several U.S. congressional delegations are visiting the border this month to assess funding needs, according to several people familiar with the travel plans.

The report shows the U.S. government has begun seeking waivers to address environmental laws on building in some areas. It also shows the government has begun working with existing contractors and planning steel purchases for the project.

Trump told law enforcement officials on Wednesday, “The wall is getting designed right now.”

The report accounted for the time and cost of acquiring private land, one reason for its steep price increase compared to estimates from Trump and members of Congress.

Bernstein Research, an investment research group that tracks material costs, has said that uncertainties around the project could drive its cost up to as much as $25 billion.

The second phase of construction proposed in the report would cover 151 miles (242 km) of border in and around the Rio Grande Valley; Laredo, Texas; Tucson, Arizona; El Paso, Texas and Big Bend, Texas. The third phase would cover an unspecified 1,080 miles (1,728 km), essentially sealing off the entire U.S.-Mexico border.

BARRIERS TO CONSTRUCTION

The report lays out costs to cover the border with barriers, but funding constraints and legal battles are likely to place limits on those plans.

It also does not account for major physical barriers, like mountains, in areas where it would not be feasible to build.

A source familiar with the plans said DHS may have to go to court to seek eminent domain in order to acquire some of the private land needed to cover the final and most ambitious phase.

The first phase, estimated to cost only $360 million, could be a relatively easy way for Trump to satisfy supporters eager to see him make good on his campaign promises to limit illegal migration. But the rest of the construction will be markedly more expensive, covering a much larger stretch of land, much of it privately owned or inaccessible by road.

In addition to seeking eminent domain and environmental waivers, the U.S. government would also have to meet the requirements of the International Boundary and Water Commission, a U.S.-Mexico pact over shared waters. The report estimated that agreement alone could bring the cost from $11 million per mile to $15 million per mile in one area.

(Reporting by Julia Edwards Ainsley; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Alistair Bell)

IMAGE: A Donald Trump for President campaign sticker is shown attached to a U.S. Customs sign hanging on the border fence between Mexico and the United States near Calexico, California, U.S. February 8, 2017. Picture taken February 8, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake

Sessions Confirmed As Attorney General After Fierce Battle With Democrats

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A bitterly divided U.S. Senate confirmed Republican Senator Jeff Sessions on Wednesday as the next attorney general of the United States after strong pushback from Democrats concerned about his record on civil rights.

Sessions, 70, who has served two decades in the Senate from Alabama, was confirmed by a 52-47 vote largely along party lines after Democrats raised public opposition to his confirmation.

In a rare move for a senator recently confirmed to a Cabinet position, Sessions took to the floor of the chamber after the vote and called for members of Congress to have some “latitude” in their relationships with members of the other party.

“I want to thank those who after it all found sufficient confidence to confirm me as the next attorney general,” Sessions said.

“Denigrating people who disagree with us, I think, is not a healthy trend for our body,” he said, referring to the Senate.

On Tuesday, Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren, a darling of the political left, was silenced in the Senate for reading a 1986 letter from Coretta Scott King, the widow of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., that criticized Sessions for his civil rights record.

Democrats, civil rights, and immigration groups have voiced alarm about Sessions’ record of controversial positions on race, immigration and criminal justice reform.

With Sessions as attorney general, eight of President Donald Trump’s 22 Cabinet nominees have been confirmed.

The Republican-led Senate also voted on Wednesday to advance Representative Tom Price’s nomination to head the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Senate is likely to vote to confirm Price on Friday.

TRUMP JUSTICE DEPARTMENT

Sessions, a known immigration hardliner, will take the lead of the Justice Department as its lawyers are defending Trump’s temporary entry ban on people from seven predominantly Muslim countries and all refugees, the most controversial executive order of the young administration.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is due to rule this week on whether to overrule a district court judge in Seattle who suspended the ban last week.

Civil rights groups worry that the Justice Department’s civil rights division will not be aggressive in prosecuting abuses under Sessions.

They cite his failure to win Senate confirmation to become a federal judge in 1986 because of allegations he made racist remarks, including testimony that he had called an African-American prosecutor “boy,” an allegation Sessions denied.

Sessions said at his hearing in 1986 that groups such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the American Civil Liberties Union could be considered “un-American.” He also acknowledged he had called the Voting Rights Act of 1965 a “piece of intrusive legislation.”

The left-leaning Center for American Progress think tank questioned whether Sessions would be an independent legal voice to challenge Trump’s agenda.

“Trump has shown little respect for the courts or the constitutional limits on his power, and there is no reason to think that Attorney General Sessions will act as an independent check on the president,” said Michele Jawando, vice president for legal progress at the think tank.

Sessions has pushed to curb immigration into the United States, including by those who enter legally on work permits.

He has also voted against many measures to reduce sentences for prisoners.

The Republican National Committee pushed back against what it called “obstructing” by Democrats.

“That Democrats would try to skew Sessions’ strong civil rights record and consistent adherence to rule of law in a partisan effort to block their colleague’s nomination shows their only commitment is to blindly obstructing this administration,” Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said on Sessions’ confirmation.

(Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu in Washington, Emily Stephenson in Baltimore and Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Alistair Bell and Peter Cooney)

IMAGE: Donald Trump sits with U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) at Trump Tower in Manhattan, New York, U.S., October 7, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar/File Photo

U.S. To Resume Admitting Refugees As Trump Fights Judge’s Order

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. State Department on Saturday moved to begin admitting refugees, including Syrians, as soon as Monday after a federal judge on Friday blocked a Trump administration temporary ban on refugee admissions. An email from the State Department’s refugee office reviewed by Reuters on Saturday said the U.S. government is working with its legal team and interagency and overseas partners to comply with the ruling.

Trump’s Jan. 27 executive order had suspended refugee admissions for 120 days and indefinitely barred Syrian refugees but U.S. Judge James Robart in Seattle on Friday blocked the president’s order.

A U.S. State Department official told Reuters on Saturday that officials “expect some refugees to arrive Monday.”

The U.S. instructed the International Organization for Migration “to rebook refugees of all nationalities, including Syrians, who were” to schedule to arrive since the Trump’s order was signed, the email said.

“We are focusing on booking refugee travel through February 17. We are asking that arrivals resume this Monday, the first normal travel day of the week, if possible. We are aware that some refugees may not be ready to depart on short notice,” the email said.

A United Nations spokesman, Leonard Doyle, told the New York Times about 2,000 refugees were ready to travel.

Refugees do not usually enter on weekends, a U.S. official said, as the department hews to a strict set of rules on how their admissions are processed.

Other travelers from seven Muslim majority countries affected by President Donald Trump’s week-old curb on immigration can rework their flights after the judge’s order, as long as they have valid visas.

Refugees fleeing war, hunger and persecution have less autonomy. Advocates working on their behalf urged the government to move quickly on admitting them.

International Refugee Assistance Project Director Becca Heller called for “the instant resumption of the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program to immediately take the most vulnerable refugees out of harm’s way.”

During the week of the ban, the government admitted 843 refugees — but no Syrian refugees, government figures show. Officials previously told Reuters that they were “in transit” and had already been cleared for resettlement before the ban took effect.

For refugee families, they are trying to keep expectations in check and hope they do not end up back where they started.

Ayham Oubeid, a Syrian living in Cleveland, has been waiting for over a year for his brother George’s family to come to the United States as refugees. His brother, who has health issues, is living in Dubai on a work visa that covers him, his six-year-old daughter and five-months pregnant wife.

George left his job and moved the family out of their apartment when he was told they would be resettled in the United States on Feb. 13. But the family’s plane tickets were canceled when Trump announced the temporary ban. Without George’s job, the family could lose the work visa and be sent back to Syria in the midst of its deadly civil war.

Upon hearing of the judge’s ruling from Friday, Oubeid called George. He was careful not to be too hopeful, knowing the judge’s order could be overturned.

“I don’t want to get excited. I don’t want my brother to get excited. Because it was hard for him when he lost everything and was told he couldn’t come,” Oubeid said.

(Reporting by Julia Edwards and David Shepardson in Washington, Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Editing by Mary Milliken, Dan Grebler and Diane Craft)

IMAGE: In internally displaced Syrian boy looks out his tent in the Bab Al-Salam refugee camp, near the Syrian-Turkish border, northern Aleppo province, Syria December 26, 2016. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi

Trump Orders Building Of Mexico Border Wall, Targets ‘Sanctuary’ Cities

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump signed directives on Wednesday to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border and strip funding from cities that shield illegal immigrants as he charged ahead with sweeping and divisive plans to transform how the United States deals with immigration and national security.

The Republican president is expected to take additional steps in the coming days to limit legal immigration, including executive orders restricting refugees and blocking the issuing of visas to people from several Muslim-majority Middle Eastern and North African countries including Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Iraq, Iran, Libya, and Yemen.

The intent of those proposals is to head off Islamist violence in the United States, although critics have said it soils America’s reputation as a welcoming place for immigrants of all stripes.

Trump signed two executive orders, directing the construction of a wall along the roughly 2,000-mile (3,200-kilometer) U.S.-Mexico border, moving to peel away federal grant money from “sanctuary” states and cities that harbor illegal immigrants, and beefing up the force of immigration agents.

“We are in the middle of a crisis on our southern border: The unprecedented surge of illegal migrants from Central American is harming both Mexico and the United States,” Trump said in remarks at the Department of Homeland of Security after signing the directives.

“And I believe the steps we will take starting right now will improve the safety in both of our countries,” Trump said, adding: “A nation without borders is not a nation.”

His plans prompted an immediate outcry from immigrant advocates and others who said Trump was jeopardizing the rights and freedoms of millions of people while treating Mexico as an enemy, not an ally.

Local officials in cities such as New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, Denver, Washington, San Francisco, and Seattle offer some forms of protection to illegal immigrants. Billions of dollars in federal aid to those cities, often governed by Democrats, could be at risk.

“The American people are no longer going to have to be forced to subsidize this disregard for our laws,” White House spokesman Sean Spicer said.

In an interview with ABC News on Wednesday, Trump said construction on the wall would start within months, with planning starting immediately, and that Mexico would pay back to the United States “100 percent” of the costs. Mexican officials have said they will not pay for the wall.

During a White House briefing, Spicer referred to the wall as “a large physical barrier on the southern border.”

“Building this barrier is more than just a campaign promise, it’s a common-sense first step to really securing our porous border,” Spicer added. “This will stem the flow of drugs, crime, illegal immigration into the United States.”

Trump’s actions could fundamentally change the American stance on immigration, as well as further testing relations with Mexico.

Spicer said Trump’s goal was to get the wall project started as quickly as possible using existing government funds and then work with the Republican-led Congress on further appropriations.

“We’ll be reimbursed at a later date from whatever transaction we make from Mexico,” Trump told ABC on Wednesday. “I’m just telling you there will be a payment. It will be in a form, perhaps a complicated form. What I’m doing is good for the United States. It’s also going to be good for Mexico. We want to have a very stable, very solid Mexico.”

‘POLITICAL THEATER’

Trump made cracking down on illegal immigration a key element of his presidential campaign, with supporters at his rallies often chanting: “Build the wall.”

“The border wall is about political theater at the expense of civil liberties,” said Christian Ramirez, director of the Southern Border Communities Coalition immigrant advocacy group.

“It is not national security policy. Border communities are among the safest in the nation and patrolling them with tens of thousands of heavily armed, poorly trained, unaccountable agents puts lives at risks. This will turn these communities into de facto military zones,” Ramirez said.

The cost, nature, and extent of the wall remain unclear. Trump last year put the cost at “probably $8 billion,” although other estimates are higher, and he said the wall would span 1,000 miles (1,600 km) because of the terrain of the border.

Many Democrats have opposed the plan and could try to thwart any legislation to pay for the construction in the U.S. Congress, although Republicans control both the Senate and House of Representatives.

Trump said his directive would also end the practice known by critics as “catch and release” in which authorities apprehend illegal immigrants on U.S. territory but do not immediately detain or deport them.

The directives also include hiring 5,000 more U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents used to apprehend people seeking to slip across the border and tripling the number of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents used to arrest and deport immigrants living in the United States illegally.

They also create more detention space for illegal immigrants along the southern border to make it easier and cheaper to detain and deport them.

Many Americans view their country with pride as “a nation of immigrants,” and President John Kennedy wrote a book with that title more than half a century ago. Trump successfully tapped into resentment toward the roughly 11 million illegal immigrants already in the United States and said during the campaign he would deport them all.

Trump, who in announcing his presidential bid in June 2015 accused Mexico of sending rapists and criminals into the United States, has also threatened to slap hefty taxes on companies that produce in Mexico for the U.S. market and to tear up the North American Free Trade Agreement among Mexico, Canada, and the United States.

Trump and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto are due to meet next week.

Asked about Trump’s wall, Republican U.S. Senator John McCain said a physical barrier was not enough to secure the border and called for the additional use of observation towers, drones, and other technology.

“Walls can be easily breached,” McCain, whose home state of Arizona borders Mexico, told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program.

(Reporting by Julia Edwards Ainsley; Additional reporting by Mica Rosenberg, Doina Chiacu, Andy Sullivan and Susan Heavey; Writing by Will Dunham; Editing by Alistair Bell and Peter Cooney)

IMAGE: Construction on the area around the port of entry from Mexico to the United States continues next to the border wall in San Ysidro, California, U.S., January 25, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake

Trump Administration Will Likely Face Legal Challenges For Ban On Refugees

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump is expected to sign executive orders starting on Wednesday that include a temporary ban on most refugees and a suspension of visas for citizens of Syria and six other Middle Eastern and African countries, say congressional aides and immigration experts briefed on the matter.

Trump, who tweeted that a “big day” was planned on national security on Wednesday, is expected to ban for several months the entry of refugees into the United States, except for religious minorities escaping persecution, until more aggressive vetting is in place.

Another order will block visas being issued to anyone from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen, said the aides and experts, who asked not to be identified.

In his tweet late on Tuesday, Trump said: “Big day planned on NATIONAL SECURITY tomorrow. Among many other things, we will build the wall!”

The border security measures probably include directing the construction of a border wall with Mexico and other actions to cut the number of illegal immigrants living in the United States.

The sources say the first of the orders will be signed on Wednesday. With Trump considering measures to tighten border security, he could turn his attention to the refugee issue later this week.

Stephen Legomsky, who was chief counsel at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in the Obama administration, said the president had the authority to limit refugee admissions and the issuance of visas to specific countries if the administration determined it was in the public’s interest.

“From a legal standpoint, it would be exactly within his legal rights,” said Legomsky, a professor at Washington University School of Law in St. Louis. “But from a policy standpoint, it would be terrible idea because there is such an urgent humanitarian need right now for refugees.”

The Republican president, who took office last Friday, was expected to sign the first of the orders at the Department of Homeland Security, whose responsibilities include immigration and border security.

On the campaign trail, Trump initially proposed a temporary ban on Muslims entering the United States, which he said would protect Americans from jihadist attacks.

Both Trump and his nominee for attorney general, Senator Jeff Sessions, have since said they would focus the restrictions on countries whose migrants could pose a threat, rather than a ban on those of a specific religion.

Many Trump supporters decried former President Barack Obama’s decision to increase the number of Syrian refugees admitted to the United States over fears that those fleeing the country’s civil war would carry out attacks.

LEGAL CHALLENGES POSSIBLE

Detractors could launch legal challenges if all the countries subject to the ban are Muslim-majority nations, said immigration expert Hiroshi Motomura at UCLA School of Law.

Legal arguments could claim the executive orders discriminate against a particular religion, which would be unconstitutional, he said.

“His comments during the campaign and a number of people on his team focused very much on religion as the target,” Motomura said.

To block entry from the designated countries, Trump is likely to tell the State Department to stop issuing visas to people from those nations, according to sources familiar with the visa process. He could also instruct U.S. Customs and Border Protection to stop any current visa holders from those countries from entering the United States.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer said on Tuesday the State and Homeland Security Departments would work on the vetting process once Trump’s nominee to head the State Department, Rex Tillerson, is installed.

Other measures may include directing all agencies to finish work on a biometric identification system for non-citizens entering and exiting the United States and a crackdown on immigrants fraudulently receiving government benefits, according to the congressional aides and immigration experts.

To restrict illegal immigration, Trump has promised to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border and to deport illegal migrants living inside the United States.

Trump is also expected to take part in a ceremony installing his new secretary of homeland security, retired Marine General John Kelly, on Wednesday.

AUSTRALIA DEAL UNDER THREAT

Trump’s executive order threatens a refugee resettlement deal with Australia signed late last year, and could leave more than 1,000 asylum seekers in limbo.

The U.S. agreed to resettle an unspecified number of refugees being held in Papua New Guinea (PNG) and the tiny South Pacific island nation of Nauru on Australia’s behalf, under a deal to be administered by the U.N. refugee agency.

“Any substantial delay in the relocation of refugees…would be highly concerning from a humanitarian perspective,” Catherine Stubberfield, a spokeswoman of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, told Reuters by email.

“These men, women and children can no longer afford to wait.”

The deal followed agreement by Australia in September to join a U.S.-led program to resettle refugees from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador as part of its annual intake.

Australia’s tough border security laws mandate that asylum seekers intercepted trying to reach the country by boat go for processing to detention camps on PNG’s Manus island and Nauru.

Australia does not provide information on the nationalities of those held, but around a third of the 1,161 detainees were from countries covered by the executive orders, lawyers and refugee workers for the asylum seekers told Reuters.

“We already didn’t have much hope the U.S. would accept us,” Behrouz Boochani, an Iranian refugee who has spent more than three years on Manus island, told Reuters.

“If they do not take us, Australia will have to.”

A spokeswoman for Australia’s Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull declined to comment.

(Reporting by Julia Edwards Ainsley; Additional reporting by Mica Rosenberg; Additional reporting by Colin Packham in Sydney; Editing by Leslie Adler and Clarence Fernandez)

IMAGE: Syrian refugees wait to board a Jordanian army vehicle after crossing into Jordanian territory with their families, in Al Ruqban border area, near the northeastern Jordanian border with Syria, and Iraq, near the town of Ruwaished, 240 km (149 miles) east of Amman September 10, 2015. Picture taken September 10, 2015. REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed

Yes, Trump Intends To Build That Wall — Even If Mexico Won’t Pay For It

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump is expected to begin signing executive orders aimed at curbing illegal immigration on Wednesday, beginning with a directive to build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico and another to boost personnel needed to crack down on illegal immigrants, congressional aides with knowledge of the plan told Reuters.

In the coming days, Trump is expected to limit the number of refugees admitted to the United States to 50,000 a year, down from 100,000, and to impose a temporary ban on most refugees.

Trump, who took office last Friday, will begin signing the orders at the Department of Homeland Security on Wednesday. On Twitter on Tuesday night, Trump reiterated his promise to build the border wall, which was a cornerstone of his presidential campaign and which he has promised to make Mexico pay for.

The border enforcement order includes plans to hire 5,000 more U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents used to apprehend migrants at the border and to triple the number of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agents used to arrest and deport migrants living in the United States illegally.

The Customs and Border Protection agency has already struggled to meet its hiring mandate, with a little more than 19,000 agents on the payroll, out of a congressionally mandated 21,000.

Immigration enforcement away from the border is also expected to be strengthened by seeking an end to “sanctuary cities” where local law enforcement officials refuse to cooperate with federal immigration authorities.

Trump will call for an end to this practice and may instruct the federal government to stop providing certain funds to cities that refuse to comply.

Later in the week, Trump is expected to suspend the issuing of visas to people from countries where it is deemed that adequate screening cannot occur. Immigration experts expect those countries to include Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Iraq, Iran, Libya and Yemen.

A review will be conducted by the Trump administration to determine what screening must occur before travel for citizens from such countries can resume.

(Reporting by Julia Edwards Ainsley; Writing by Susan Heavey; Editing by Franklin Paul and Frances Kerry)

IMAGE: People in Mexico wave at U.S. Border Patrol agents on horseback patrolling the U.S.-Mexico border fence near San Diego, California, U.S., November 10, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo

DOJ Investigating FBI Decisions In Clinton Email Probe

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A U.S. government watchdog said on Thursday it would examine whether the Federal Bureau of Investigation followed proper procedures in its probe of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server.

The inspector general’s announcement comes amid outcry from Democrats who say Clinton’s loss to President-elect Donald Trump was in part due to Comey’s bringing Clinton’s emails back into the public spotlight less than two weeks before the 2016 election.

The Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General said its probe would focus in part on decisions leading up to public communications by FBI Director James Comey regarding the Clinton investigation, and whether underlying investigative decisions may have been based on “improper considerations.”

Although the FBI ultimately decided not to refer Clinton’s case for prosecution, Comey aroused suspicion that may have diminished trust in Clinton among voters.

The controversy involved Clinton’s use of a private email server for official correspondence when she was secretary of state under President Barack Obama, including for messages that were later determined to contain classified information.

Comey publicly announced the status of the agency’s investigation into Clinton’s emails two times in 2016.

In July, Comey held a press conference and testified before Congress to explain why the FBI had decided not to refer Clinton for prosecution, explaining that she was “extremely careless” but should not be charged with gross negligence or any other federal crime.

In October, less than two weeks before the Nov. 8 election, Comey said the FBI was continuing the investigation because of new emails found on the computer of disgraced former Representative Anthony Weiner, the husband of one of Clinton’s top aides.

On Nov. 6, Comey said the investigation into Weiner’s computer produced no new evidence that would incriminate Clinton.

Brian Fallon, Clinton’s spokesman, told MSNBC on Thursday that Comey’s actions “cried out for an independent review.”

It is the usual practice of prosecutors and law enforcement, including the FBI, not to disclose information about investigations that do not end in criminal charges.

(Reporting by Timothy Ahmann; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

IMAGE: Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton arrives at the airport following a campaign Voter Registration Rally at the University of South Florida in Tampa, Florida, United States, September 6, 2016. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Sessions Takes On Racism Charges, Favors Special Prosecutor For Any Clinton Probe

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Republican Senator Jeff Sessions said on Tuesday he would recuse himself from investigating Hillary Clinton’s email practices and charitable foundation if confirmed as attorney general and he would favor the appointment of a special prosecutor for any such investigation.

“I have said a few things,” Sessions said about his comments during the presidential race accusing former Democratic candidate Clinton of illegal activity. “I think that is one of the reasons why I should not make a decision in that case.”

Sessions was responding to questions at a sometimes rowdy Senate confirmation hearing, the first in a series of hearings this week for Republican President-elect Donald Trump’s Cabinet nominees.

The gathering was contentious as senators pushed Sessions on his and Trump’s positions on issues such as civil rights and immigration. Protesters charging Sessions has a poor record on rights interrupted the proceedings five times.

Sessions was asked how he would handle the issue of former candidate Clinton. Trump said during the campaign that if elected he would ask his attorney general to appoint a special prosecutor to see that Clinton go to jail for her use of a private email server while she was secretary of state and her relationship with her family’s charitable foundation.

“We can never have a political dispute turn into a criminal dispute,” Sessions said. “This country does not punish its political enemies but this country ensures that no one is above the law.”

He said later that he would favor the appointment of a special prosecutor for any investigation into Clinton.

Sessions, 70, became the first sitting senator to endorse Trump for the presidency in early 2016 and has remained a close advisor on issues such as immigration. He is being reviewed by the Senate Judiciary Committee, a panel on which he serves, and is widely expected to be confirmed by the Republican-controlled Senate.

Many questions aimed to establish how closely he hewed to some of the positions of Trump, who takes office on Jan. 20 after winning November’s election following an often bitter campaign.

Sessions said he agreed with Trump in opposing Democratic President Barack Obama’s executive action that granted temporary protection to immigrant children brought to the country illegally by their parents and would not oppose overturning it.

Defending Trump against accusations of prejudice toward Muslims, Sessions said that both he and the president-elect believe that people can be restricted from entering the United States if they come from countries harboring terrorists, but not because they are Muslim. During his campaign, Trump at one point proposed a temporary ban on Muslims entering the country.

Sessions also said he agreed with his many of his fellow Republicans that the military prison for foreign terrorism suspects in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba remain open. The Obama administration has sought to close the prison, opened by former President George W. Bush in 2002, and bring its prisoners to U.S. civilian courts to be tried.

DEFENSE AGAINST RACISM

Sessions several times defended himself against charges of racism. He said allegations that he harbored sympathies toward the Ku Klux Klan, a violent white supremacist organization, are false.

“I abhor the Klan and what it represents and its hateful ideology,” Sessions said in his opening remarks.

“End racism Stop Sessions,” and “End hate Stop Sessions,” read some of the signs carried by protesters.

Sessions was denied confirmation to a federal judgeship in 1986 after allegations emerged that he made racist remarks, including testimony that he called an African-American prosecutor “boy,” an allegation Sessions denied.

Democratic Senator Diane Feinstein said the Senate Judiciary Committee had received letters from 400 civil rights organizations opposing his confirmation to the country’s top law enforcement post.

“This job requires service to the people and the law, not the president,” Feinstein said.

“There is a deep fear about what a Trump administration will bring in many places. And this is the context in which we must consider Senator Sessions’ record and nomination,” Feinstein added.

Sessions has opposed abortion and same-sex marriage as a senator, but said on Tuesday that if confirmed as attorney general he would follow the Supreme Court rulings that legalized both abortion and same-sex marriage.

AMERICA’S TOP PROSECUTOR

The attorney general is the country’s top prosecutor and legal adviser to the president. As head of the Justice Department, the attorney general also oversees the immigration court system that decides whether immigrants are deported or granted asylum or some other kind of protection.

A key plank of Trump’s election campaign was his pledge to deport illegal immigrants and to build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico.

In 2015, Republicans held up the nomination of Loretta Lynch, the current attorney general, for 166 days, longer than any nominee in 30 years, over her support for Obama’s executive actions on immigration.

Sessions, who has represented the deeply conservative Southern state of Alabama for 20 years, has a long, consistent record of opposing legislation that provides a path to citizenship for immigrants. He has also been a close ally of groups seeking to restrict legal immigration by placing limits on visas used by companies to hire foreign workers.

On Monday, a group of civil liberties and internet freedom groups sent a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee describing Sessions as a “leading proponent of expanding the government’s surveillance authority of ordinary Americans.”

Asked by Republican Senator Orrin Hatch what he would do to protect digital privacy, Sessions said he did “not have firm and fast opinions on the subject.”

Sessions said he had not been briefed by the FBI on its conclusion that Russia interfered in the U.S. election campaign to try to tilt the election in Trump’s favor, including by hacking into Democratic Party email systems, but he trusted the conclusion was “honorably reached.”

For weeks, Trump questioned the U.S. intelligence services’ charge that Russia was behind the hacks, although last week he said he accepted this conclusion.

(Reporting by Julia Edwards Ainsley; Additional reporting by Dustin Volz and Ian Simpson; Editing by Frances Kerry)

IMAGE: Protesters take positions at the start of a Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing for U.S. Attorney General-nominee Sen. Jeff Sessions on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., January 10, 2017.  REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Immigration Takes Center Stage As Senate Confronts Trump Nominees

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Immigration and domestic security, key themes in Donald Trump’s successful campaign, will likely dominate two U.S. Senate hearings on Tuesday as lawmakers begin several days of questioning the president-elect’s Cabinet nominees.

First to appear before lawmakers will be Trump’s pick for attorney general, Republican Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama. Sessions, a close ally of Trump, helped shape his pro-enforcement, anti-amnesty policy on illegal immigration.

Next will be John Kelly, a retired four-star Marine general tapped to head the Department of Homeland Security. In earlier congressional testimony, Kelly characterized inadequate policing of the U.S.-Mexico border as a national security threat.

Both men will face questions from Democrats and Republicans seeking specifics on Trump’s plans following his Jan. 20 inauguration to crack down on illegal immigration – an issue central to his explosion onto the political scene, but on which he has since wavered in some ways.

On the campaign trail, Trump promised to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, force Mexico to pay for it and deport 11 million immigrants living illegally in the United States.

But since he was elected president on Nov. 8, the New York businessman has said part of the wall could be a fence, Congress should fund it with the expectation that Mexico will repay U.S. taxpayers, and that he will focus on deporting immigrants with criminal records and later decide what to do with others.

Both Sessions and Kelly will be major players in immigration policy. In addition to counterterrorism, the Homeland Security secretary oversees immigration enforcement and has discretion over which categories of immigrants are arrested and deported.

AMERICA’S TOP PROSECUTOR

The attorney general is the nation’s top prosecutor and legal adviser to the president. As head of the Justice Department, the attorney general also oversees the immigration court system that decides whether immigrants are deported or granted asylum or some other kind of protection.

“Sessions was a close adviser to Trump. … They’re going to ask, ‘How are you going to use your position to further the president’s agenda?'” said Elizabeth Taylor, a former staffer for the Senate Judiciary Committee who advised Republicans during Eric Holder’s nomination to be Democratic President Barack Obama’s first attorney general.

“But,” Taylor added, “historically, attorney general nominees are also asked if they’re willing to stand up to the president.”

In 2015, Republicans held up the nomination of Loretta Lynch, the current attorney general, for 166 days, longer than any nominee in 30 years, over her support for Obama’s executive actions on immigration.

Sessions, 70, and Kelly, 66, are widely expected to be confirmed by the Republican-dominated Senate, but their hearings could be contentious.

Sessions, who has represented the deeply conservative Southern state of Alabama for 20 years, has a long, consistent record of opposing legislation that provides a path to citizenship for immigrants. He has also been a close ally of groups seeking to restrict legal immigration by placing limits on visas used by companies to hire foreign workers.

Roy Beck, president and founder of NumbersUSA, which advocates a reduction in illegal and legal immigration, endorsed Sessions in a letter to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley.

“Sessions always has made immigration decisions based on protecting the economic interests of hard-working women and men whose incomes and very jobs have been threatened by the desire of various business lobbies to increase the foreign labor competition in their occupations,” Beck wrote in a Jan. 3 letter.

Civil liberties groups have raised concerns about Sessions’ record on immigration and other positions, including government surveillance, civil rights and marijuana legalization.

He was denied confirmation to a federal judgeship in 1986 after allegations emerged that he made racist remarks, including testimony that he called an African-American prosecutor “boy,” an allegation Sessions denied.

The American Civil Liberties Union’s legal director will testify at Sessions’ confirmation hearing and “raise significant, serious questions about his hostility to civil rights and civil liberties,” the organization said in a statement. The group said it is making an exception to its longstanding policy of not interfering with federal nominations in this case.

On Monday, a group of civil liberties and internet freedom groups sent a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee describing Sessions as a “leading proponent of expanding the government’s surveillance authority of ordinary Americans.”

Sessions has long condemned marijuana use, which has been legalized for recreational use in eight U.S. states and the District of Columbia but remains banned by federal law. As attorney general, Sessions would have the power to intervene in states that are not in compliance with federal law. He has also opposed attempts to reduce prison sentences for nonviolent drug offenders.

(Reporting by Julia Edwards Ainsley; additional reporting by Dustin Volz and Ian Simpson; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Jonathan Oatis)

IMAGE: Donald Trump sits with U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) at Trump Tower in Manhattan, New York, U.S., October 7, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar/File Photo

Exclusive: Trump Team Seeks Agency Records On Border Barriers, Surveillance

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – In a wide-ranging request for documents and analysis, President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team asked the Department of Homeland Security last month to assess all assets available for border wall and barrier construction.

The team also asked about the department’s capacity for expanding immigrant detention and about an aerial surveillance program that was scaled back by the Obama administration but remains popular with immigration hardliners. And it asked whether federal workers have altered biographic information kept by the department about immigrants out of concern for their civil liberties.

The requests were made in a Dec. 5 meeting between Trump’s transition team and Department of Homeland Security officials, according to an internal agency memo reviewed by Reuters. The document offers a glimpse into the president-elect’s strategy for securing the U.S. borders and reversing polices put in place by the Obama administration.

Trump’s transition team did not comment in response to Reuters inquiries. A spokeswoman for the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Customs and Border Protection declined to comment.

In response to the transition team request, U.S. Customs and Border Protection staffers identified more than 400 miles along the U.S.-Mexico border, and about the same distance along the U.S.-Canada border, where new fencing could be erected, according to a document seen by Reuters.

Reuters could not determine whether the Trump team is considering a northern border barrier. During the campaign, Trump pledged to build a wall and expand fencing on parts of the U.S.-Mexico border but said he sees no need to build a wall on the border with Canada.

One program the transition team asked about, according to the email summary, was Operation Phalanx, an aerial surveillance program that authorizes 1,200 Army National Guard airmen to monitor the southern border for drug trafficking and illegal migration.

The program once deployed 6,000 airmen under President George W. Bush but was downsized by Barack Obama, a move blasted by some conservatives who argue the surveillance is vital to border security.

POLICY SHIFT

The transition team also asked for copies of every executive order and directive sent to immigration agents since Obama took office in 2009, according to the memo summarizing the meeting.

Trump has said he intends to undo Obama’s executive actions on immigration, including a 2012 order to allow children brought to the U.S. illegally by their parents to remain in the country on temporary authorizations that allow them to attend college and work.

The program, known as DACA, collected information including participants’ addresses that could theoretically be used to locate and deport them if the policy is reversed. Another request of the transition team was for information about whether any migrant records have been changed for any reason, including for civil rights or civil liberties concerns, according to the internal memo seen by Reuters.

A Department of Homeland Security official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the agency interpreted the request to mean the transition team wanted to make sure that federal workers were not tampering with information to protect DACA recipients and other migrants from deportation.

On the campaign trail, Trump vowed to deport more undocumented immigrants, a promise that may have prompted the transition team’s request for information about the feasibility of expanding temporary detention facilities.

The internal memo summarizing the meeting between Trump’s transition team and U.S. Customs and Border protection said the team had requested a comprehensive picture of border security as well as resources available for walls and barriers.

The Department of Homeland Security official said agency representatives who attended the meeting believed the request to include both the northern and southern borders. U.S. Customs and Border Protection then prepared a report on specific locations and costs of building a fence along the U.S.-Canada border.

Reuters reviewed a copy of the report, which estimated the cost of building fencing along the northern border fence would be $3.3 billion and cover 452 miles along border of Canada and the states of Washington, Idaho, Montana, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine.

Adding 413 miles of fencing on the southwest border would be more expensive, according to the estimate of $11.37 billion, because it would be aimed at keeping pedestrians as well as vehicles from crossing.

Pedestrian fences require more staff and would cost $11.2 million per mile versus $4.1 million per mile to build to build, according to the report.

In fiscal year 2015, the latest year for which data is available, border patrol agents apprehended 2,626 illegal migrants on the U.S.-Canada border compared to 331,333 apprehended on the U.S.-Mexico border.

(Reporting by Julia Edwards Ainsley; Editing by Sue Horton and Brian Thevenot)

IMAGE: Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks to the media after receiving former Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson’s endorsement at a campaign event in Palm Beach, Florida March 11, 2016.   REUTERS/Carlo Allegri