Category Archives: USA

US-Mexico border official says migrant crisis ‘at breaking point’

US-Mexico photoCentral American migrants are seen inside an enclosure in El Paso after crossing the border between Mexico and the United States illegally and turning themselves in to request asylum

The US-Mexico border has reached “breaking point”, US officials say, amid an “unprecedented” surge in migrant numbers.

Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Commissioner Kevin McAleenan said it is “a matter of time” before tragedy strikes at one of their facilities.

More than 13,000 migrants have been taken into custody along the border just this week, he said.

Most of the migrants entering the US are families or unaccompanied children.

“On Monday and Tuesday, CBP started the day with over 12,000 migrants in our custody,” Mr McAleenan said at a news conference on Wednesday.

“As of this morning, that number was 13,400. A high number for us is 4,000. A crisis level is 6,000. 13,000 is unprecedented.”

During previous immigration surges, many of those seeking entry were single adults, the commissioner said.

But because these are family units and children, they cannot be easily repatriated and instead, are “almost guaranteed to be released to remain in the US indefinitely”.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) still do not have the capacity to detain families and children, officials said.

Mr McAleenan said his agency expects 40,000 children to enter CBP custody in March after entering the US unaccompanied, “in the hands of violent and callous smugglers”.

“We are doing everything we can to simply avoid a tragedy in a CBP facility,” he added. “But with these numbers, with the types of illnesses we’re seeing…I fear that it’s just a matter of time.”

CBP officials are on pace to manage over 100,000 migrants this month – the highest in a month since 2008.

The agency has now redirected 750 agents from their roles at ports of entry to instead support the “humanitarian mission”.

“We have in some sectors an average of 40% of our Border Patrol agents all fully engaged in just the care, transport, and processing of migrants.”

CBP is asking for assistance from other federal agencies including the National Guard and Department of Defence to increase the capacity to process migrants.

Mr McAleenan has also asked for immediate legislative action from Congress so the agency can detain families together. as well as for the government to fix issues in the legal process for asylum seekers.

He noted that it often takes two to five years for asylum seekers to see a judge, and only around 10 to 15% of migrants actually have a legitimate claim.

 

 

 

 

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-47736603

Amid continued Midwest flooding, Catholic groups step up to help

Nebraska photoFlooding in Bellevue, Nebraska, March 2019. Credit: Aspects and Angles / Shutterstock.

By Michelle La Rosa

Omaha, Neb., (CNA)- As devastating flood waters continue to rise in parts of the Midwest, Catholics are working to raise funds for both short-term aid and long-term rebuilding efforts.

“Please join Archbishop [George] Lucas in praying for all those displaced or otherwise affected by the ongoing flooding,” said the Archdiocese of Omaha, Nebraska.

A special collection in Omaha this weekend will help fund recovery efforts. Parishes have been asked to evaluate needs in their communities and request funds for both immediate recovery needs and long-term rebuilding.

“Grants may be distributed to purchase water, food, shelter, cleaning supplies, tools, building materials, and tuition assistance for displaced employees,” said archdiocesan spokesman Deacon Tim McNeil said.

He added that funds can go not only to the immediate needs of parishes, but to help with broader community assistance.

Nebraska has been among the hardest-hit states by severe flooding in recent days, although several other Midwestern states have also been affected as a “bomb cyclone” tore through the region last week, bringing with it strong winds and heavy rain. The floods that have resulted have washed out roads, destroyed homes, and burst dams, compounding the damage throughout the area.

The majority of counties in Nebraska are currently under a state of emergency, as are nearly half of the counties in Iowa.

Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts said the storm has already caused “the most extensive damage our state has ever experienced.” Repairing damaged infrastructure could take months, and agricultural losses in ranching and growing crops could reach nearly $1 billion.

As residents scramble to evacuate, watching their livelihoods wash away in front of their eyes, their neighbors are doing what they can to offer support.

Catholic Social Services of Southern Nebraska is currently holding a bottled water drive to help students at Peru State College, who have been displaced for several days and are facing contaminated water for the foreseeable future.

The organization is also accepting donations to aid those who are suffering from the flooding.

“It is at times like these that we are all called to help our friends, relatives and neighbors who are suffering,” Catholic Social Services said in a statement. “Please help us help those who have lost so much.”

St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Elkhorn, Nebraska, is teaming up with Bethany Lutheran, Brookside, Peace Presbyterian and COPE to help with long-term rebuilding support for flood victims.

Proceeds from the March 15 Lenten Fish Fry at St. Patrick’s were donated to flood relief efforts.

Meanwhile, northwestern counties in the diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph are in the path of the flood waters.

“The towns are preparing,” said Kevin Murphy, executive director of marketing and communications for Catholic Charities in the diocese.

He told CNA that the major highway in the area has been closed, as the Missouri River is expected to reach near-record flooding levels.

Catholic Charities of Kansas City-St. Joseph could also be feeling the effects of the flooding in a very direct way – the organization’s satellite office in Buchanan County sits just about 5000 feet from the river.

“We are monitoring the situation closely,” Murphy said.

Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, head of the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, offered his prayers as the floods continue, while also calling Catholics to participate in relief efforts.

“We are deeply saddened by the loss of life and the damage caused by the flooding throughout the Midwest these past few days,” he said in a March 19 statement.

The bishop prayed “that those affected by the floods will find the strength to rebuild.”

“We trust that the Lord will console them in their suffering,” he said. “Let us answer the Lord’s call to love one another and generously support our neighbors in this time of need.”

He noted that Catholic Charities USA is collecting funds to help flood victims throughout the entire region.

 

 

 

https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/amid-continued-midwest-flooding-catholic-groups-step-up-to-help-64023

Filth, mold, abuse’: report condemns state of California homeless shelters

image

A man sleeps on the sidewalk in Hollywood. Tens of thousands of people are homeless in California. Photograph: Frederic J Brown/AFP/Getty Images

Carla Green in Los Angeles

When she first moved into the Bridges at Kraemer Place shelter, Jan was optimistic. The southern California homeless shelter, which had just opened a couple months prior, seemed clean and well-organized. “It was so fun,” she said. “There was karaoke.”

But things quickly went downhill, said Jan, who asked that we only use her first name for fear of retribution over speaking out about the shelter conditions.

“Within a month, everything was rotten,” she said. “There was filth and mold and abuse by the staff. Mold on the floor of the bathroom, mold by the microwave … The only time it looked nice was when somebody would come to see it, like the media or someone from the board of supervisors.”

Bridges at Kraemer Place is one of three California shelters condemned for its bleak conditions in a new report from the ACLU. All are in Orange county, one of the wealthiest counties in California, which has been ravaged by a homelessness crisis. Last year there was an outcry after bus stops abutting Disneyland, one of the county’s largest employers, were stripped of benches that homeless people slept on, and local authorities were criticized for evicting hundreds of people living in a riverbed without offering them an alternative place to stay.

The ACLU report details a dizzying list of abuses and unlivable conditions, as reported by shelter residents, volunteers and staff.

The shelters were racked by infestations of rodents, roaches, bedbugs and other pests, and plagued by a culture of neglect and abuse by shelter staff, the report alleges.

“The shelters … fail to conform to standards set forth by international human rights law, which establish the minimum standard of living adequate for health and well-being,” its authors write.

“To the extent that the county or its agents have subjected people experiencing homelessness using emergency shelters to foreseeable harm and failed to intercede, it is responsible for state-created danger.”

The report includes a list of 10 recommendations to improve shelter conditions, including uniform health guidelines and due process for sanctions within the shelter system.

In response to the report, the county issued a statement saying officials are “committed to ensuring our emergency shelters are safe for all our clients”, and that they would take time to review the report before responding in detail.

This is not the first time that Orange county has been criticized for its treatment of the homeless.

Homeless advocates say the county and its cities are violating their responsibility to provide housing – or, at a minimum, shelter beds – for people living on the streets. Both the county and several of its cities are facing lawsuits alleging that they are mistreating homeless residents, in part by failing to provide enough shelter beds for them.

But the ACLU report demonstrates that itis not just the availability of shelter beds – but the quality of the shelters themselves – that’s important.

“Some of these violations [are] so egregious that they’re just hard to digest,” said Eve Garrow, a policy analyst at the ACLU of Southern California and co-author of the report.

Shelters are supposed to be humane places that actually help people and help them recover from life on the streets,” she said. “It was rather shocking to find out that not only were these shelters not living up to their promise, they’re actually harming the people they’re supposed to be serving.”

In a few cases, residents have died on shelter premises. The report notes that there were seven recorded deaths at one shelter, and another four people who died either in transit from the shelter to the hospital, or upon arrival at the hospital from the shelter.

It wasn’t long after Jan moved into Kraemer Place that she saw her first death. The man who died had been a friend of hers, she said. His name was Robert Estle.

“He said to me ‘If I don’t get out of here ‘into housing’, the only way I’ll get out is in a body bag,” Jan said. “And that’s exactly what happened.”

Estle died in a shelter bathroom in April 2018. Jan knew something was wrong when the bathroom door was locked overnight, she said.

“I’d been telling [shelter staff], ‘break down the door, something’s wrong’,” she said. “They didn’t do anything.”

When they finally opened the door, Estle was found dead, Jan said. Kraemer Place did not respond to a request for comment.

Igmar Rodas is a former resident of The Courtyard, another shelter profiled in the ACLU report. Rodas, who identifies himself as a homeless advocate and reporter, was living in his car before he moved into the shelter about three years ago. He saw similar conditions to what is detailed in the report, he said, “especially around the port-a-potties, it was full of feces. Varmints, rodents, roaches”.

Residents’ personal property was kept in trash bins, Rodas said. “One time I saw this big old rat coming out of one of the trash bins.”

“Let me put it this way. I interview people, and I ask them ‘why don’t [you] stay at The Courtyard?’ You know what they say? ‘I feel safer on the streets’.”

The Courtyard referred a request for comment to the statement issued by Orange county.

Both Rodas and Jan have moved into housing now – “by the grace of God, I got out”, Jan said – but because of their experience with the shelter system, they have both dedicated themselves to changing Orange county’s shelter system for the better.

“Now I’m blessed, but not everyone’s blessed,” Jan said.

 

 

 

 

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/mar/16/homeless-shelters-orange-county-aclu-report-condemns

Catholic leaders speak out against ‘Remain in Mexico’ policy

imageCredit: Herika Martinez /AFP/ Getty Images

Washington D.C., Mar 14, 2019 / 06:32 pm (CNA).- Catholic leaders released a statement this week in disagreement with the United States’ expansion of a policy that restricts asylum seekers at the U.S.-Mexico border.

“We oppose U.S. policy requiring asylum seekers to remain in Mexico while waiting to access protection in the United States. We urge the Administration to reverse this policy, which needlessly increases the suffering of the most vulnerable and violates international protocols,” the statement read.

Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration, and Sean Callahan, president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services, released the joint statement on March 13.

First implemented in January, the Migrant Protection Protocols require asylum seekers at the San Ysidro border crossing to remain in Mexico while immigration courts process their case – a procedure that may take years. In previous administrations, asylum seekers were often permitted to remain in the U.S. while awaiting their court dates.

The U.S. government announced Tuesday that the program would now be expanded to the border crossing in Calexico, which is about 120 miles outside of San Diego. Department of Homeland Security officials stated that 240 asylum seekers have been returned to Mexico since the policy was enacted. They anticipate that the number will grow significantly as the program expands.

In February, a lawsuit was introduced in federal court challenging the policy, which is known unofficially as the “Remain in Mexico” policy. The suit claims that the program puts asylum seekers at risk because of Mexico’s dangerous conditions. A federal judge has not yet announced whether an injunction will be granted to block the policy while it is being considered in court.

The Associated Press reported that Mexico’s Foreign Relations and Interior departments objected to the policy update, which they say was made unilaterally by the United States. However, citing “humanitarian reasons,” the departments said a majority of the asylum seekers returned to Mexico will be allowed to stay.

Vasquez and Callahan also voiced opposition to the policy, emphasizing the rights of the people seeking shelter from harsh conditions, especially from the dangers witnessed in Central America.

“We steadfastly affirm a person’s right to seek asylum and find recent efforts to curtail and deter that right deeply troubling. We must look beyond our borders; families are escaping extreme violence and poverty at home and are fleeing for their lives,” the statement read.

The Church leaders reiterated the call of Pope Francis to protect and welcome immigrants and encouraged the government to respond with policies that best promote human dignity.

“Our government must adopt policies and provide more funding that address root causes of migration and promote human dignity and sustainable livelihoods,” they said.

 

 

 

 

https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/catholic-leaders-speak-out-against-remain-in-mexico-policy-59110

House passes first major gun control legislation in nearly quarter of a century

Gun photoNancy Pelosi on Capitol Hill on 26 February. For now the measure is a mostly symbolic gesture, not likely to be taken up in the Republican-controlled Senate. Photograph: Joshua Roberts/Getty Images

By David Smith

Gun control campaigners celebrated a precious win on Wednesday when the US House of Representatives passed its first major legislation on the issue in nearly a quarter of a century.

Members of Congress approved a measure requiring federal background checks for all firearms sales, including online and at gun shows, by 240 votes to 190. But for now it is a mostly symbolic gesture, not likely to be taken up in the Republican-controlled Senate.

Even so, Democrats characterised it as a significant move towards relaxing the gun lobby’s grip on Washington and addressing a national epidemic of gun violence, including the deaths of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school in Parkland, Florida, last year that prompted a fresh surge of activism.

The bill, HR 8, bans firearms transfers by a person who is not a licensed dealer but its exemptions include “gifts to family members and transfers for hunting, target shooting, and self-defense”, the House judiciary committee website says.

In a debate on the House floor on Wednesday, the speaker, Nancy Pelosi, said: “Here are the facts: nearly 40,000 lives are cut short every year from gun violence. An average of 47 children and teenagers are killed by guns every single day.

“It’s all about the children, the children, the children. We read about the tragic mass murders that have happened in our country and they stir us to action, hopefully. Here it’s been they stir us to a moment of silence, and now finally to action.”

Democrats made the case that 97% of Americans support background checks, including 94% of gun-owning households. More than a hundred gun violence survivors, student activists and other campaigners, including Connecticut senator Chris Murphy, watched from the House gallery.

The bill passed largely along party lines with only eight Republican members voting in favor and two Democrats against. A late, Republican-backed amendment requires Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Ice) to be notified when illegal immigrants attempt to buy a firearm.

The bill is the first of two that Democrats are bringing to the House floor this week as part of an effort to tighten gun laws following eight years of Republican control, which in June 2016 saw Democrats stage a sit-in protest over 26 hours. The other would extend the review period for a background check.

But neither bill stands much chance of success in the face of the Republican-controlled Senate and veto threats from Donald Trump. John Thune, the Republican majority whip in the Senate, told CNN it is “unlikely” his party will take up the bill for debate any time soon.

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/feb/27/house-gun-control-legislation-passed

El Chapo drug trafficking trial: Mexican cartel boss found guilty

Drug photoEl Chapo twice escaped prison before his final capture in 2016. Photograph: Eduardo Verdugo/AP

The notorious cartel boss Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán has been found guilty of 10 counts of drug trafficking, at the end of a three-month New York trial that featured dramatic testimony of prison escapes, gruesome killings and million-dollar political payoffs.

Guzmán, who rose from poverty in rural Mexico to build a drug empire worth billions of dollars, is likely to spend the rest of his life in jail.

The 61-year-old showed no emotion as the verdict was read. Jurors had spent six days weighing the evidence against Guzmán, including testimony from more than 50 witnesses. Once the jury left the room, he and his wife Emma Coronel, put their hands to their hearts and gave each other the thumbs up sign. His wife shed tears.

US district judge Brian Cogan lauded the jury’s meticulous attention to detail and the “remarkable” approach it took toward deliberations. Cogan said it made him “very proud to be an American”.

Guzmán is set to be sentenced on 25 June. He is expected to receive life without parole.

The trial afforded a glimpse into the inner workings of the Sinaloa cartel, named for the Mexican state where Guzmán was born.

US prosecutors said he trafficked tons of cocaine, heroin, marijuana and methamphetamine into the United States over more than two decades, consolidating his power in Mexico through murders and wars with rival cartels.

Guzmán smuggled drugs into the US through secret tunnels, or hidden in tanker trucks, prosecutors said. The cartel would also conceal their cargo in the undercarriage of passenger cars and packed in rail cars passing through legitimate points of entry.

Witnesses testifying against Guzmán included former cartel lieutenants and a cocaine supplier who underwent plastic surgery to disguise his appearances. The court heard stories of Mexican workers getting contact highs while packing cocaine into thousands of jalapeño cans shipments that totaled 25 to 30 tons of cocaine worth $500m each year.

One cartel member turned government witness told of how Guzmán sometimes acted as his own hitman. The witness said Guzmán had kidnapped, beat and shot a man who had dared to work for another cartel. Guzmán then ordered his men to bury the victim while he was still alive.

In contrast to the weight of evidence presented by the prosecution, the defense case lasted just half an hour. Guzmán’s lawyers did not deny his crimes, instead arguing their client was a fall guy for government witnesses who were more evil than he was.

Defense attorney Jeffrey Lichtman urged the jury in closing arguments not to believe government witnesses who “lie, steal, cheat, deal drugs and kill people.”

Jurors spent six days weighing the charges against Guzmán, their deliberations complicated by the trial’s vast scope. The jury members, whose identities were kept secret, were tasked with making 53 decisions about whether prosecutors had proven different elements of the case.

The trial cast a harsh glare on the corruption that allowed the cartel to flourish. Colombian trafficker Alex Cifuentes caused a stir by testifying that former Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto took a $100m bribe from Guzman. Peña Nieto denied it, but the allegation fit a theme: politicians, army commanders, police and prosecutors, all on the take.

The tension at times was cut by some of the trial’s sideshows, such as the sight of Guzmán and his wife, Emma Coronel Aispuro, showing up in matching burgundy velvet blazers in a gesture of solidarity.

One day a Chapo-size actor who played the kingpin in the TV series Narcos: Mexico came to watch, telling reporters that seeing the defendant flash him a smile was “surreal”.

While the trial was dominated by Guzmán’s persona as a near-mythical outlaw who carried a diamond-encrusted handgun, the jury never heard from Guzmán himself, except when he told the judge he wouldn’t testify.

But recordings of intercepted calls gave the court plenty of opportunity to hear Guzman speak.

“Amigo!” he said to a cartel distributor in Chicago. “Here at your service.”

One of the trial’s most memorable tales came from Guzmán’s then girlfriend Lucero Guadalupe Sanchez Lopez. Sanchez testified that she was in bed in a safe house with an on-the-run Guzmán in 2014, when Mexican marines started breaking down the door.

She said Guzmán led her to a trap door beneath a bathtub that opened up to a tunnel that allowed them to escape.

Asked what he was wearing, she replied: “He was naked. He took off running. He left us behind.”

Guzmán had staged escapes from jail in 2014 and 2001. In the earlier breakout Guzmán hid in a laundry bin before being escorted to a mountainside hideaway by corrupt police officers.

In 2014 Guzmán escaped from a high-security jail via a mile-long lighted tunnel on a motorcycle on rails.

Acting attorney general Matthew Whitaker said the trial demonstrated the US government’s “tenacity and commitment to pursuing kingpins like Guzman”.

“This conviction serves as an irrefutable message to the kingpins that remain in Mexico, and those that aspire to be the next Chapo Guzmán, that eventually you will be apprehended and prosecuted,” Whitaker said.

Guzmán’s lawyers, meanwhile, said they would appeal the verdict.

“We were faced with extraordinary and unprecedented obstacles in defending Joaquin, including his detention in solitary confinement,” the lawyers said in a statement.

 

 

 

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/feb/12/el-chapo-mexican-drug-kingpin-guilty-drug-trafficking

 

 

Venezuela moves to replace US executives on Citgo board

Citgo photoCitgo is facing unprecedented challenges to its finances and management after the US imposed sanctions on PDVSA [File: Reuters]

Venezuela’s state-run oil company Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) is taking steps to remove at least two American executives from the board of directors of its United States’ refining subsidiary, Citgo Petroleum Corp, according to people close to the matter.

Citgo is facing unprecedented challenges to its finances and management after the US government last week imposed tough sanctions on PDVSA designed to prevent oil revenue from going to leftist President Nicolas Maduro.

The US and dozens of other nations have refused to recognise Maduro, viewing his re-election last year to another six-year term as fraudulent.

Venezuelan’s self-proclaimed president Juan Guaido is setting up bank accounts with US help that would take income accrued by Citgo, Venezuela’s top foreign asset, to finance an interim government.

Maduro has denounced Guaido as a US puppet who is seeking to foment a coup.

The board of Houston-based Citgo includes at least two US citizens, Art Klein and Rick Esser, as well as Venezuelans Asdrubal Chavez, Frank Gygax, Nepmar Escalona, Simon Suarez and Alejandro Escarra, according to one of the people familiar with the matter.

Citgo also has an executive board that includes the refiner’s general managers, its corporate treasurer and the controller, and other vice presidents.

PDVSA and Citgo did not respond to Reuters’ requests for comment. Esser and Klein did not immediately reply to emails and phone calls seeking comment on their status, the news agency said.

It was unclear if PDVSA’s board has already approved the changes at Citgo’s board and who would replace the American executives.

 

 

 

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/02/venezuela-moves-replace-executives-citgo-board-190209175503677.html