US conducts medical checks on children after 2 deaths
By NOMAAN MERCHANT
Wednesday, December 26
HOUSTON (AP) — U.S. immigration authorities said Wednesday that they have done new medical checks on nearly every child in Border Patrol custody after the death of a second youngster in the agency’s care in the span of less than three weeks.
Authorities did not disclose the results of the examinations.
An 8-year-old boy identified by Guatemalan authorities as Felipe Gómez Alonzo died on Christmas Eve just before midnight. He had been in the custody of U.S. Customs and Border Protection with his father since Dec. 18.
The boy suffered from a cough, “glossy eyes,” fever and vomiting and was hospitalized twice on Monday with what was initially diagnosed as a cold, the agency said in a statement. The cause of death was under investigation.
Officials at the Department of Homeland Security, the Border Patrol’s parent agency, said that almost all checks ordered in reaction to the boy’s death had been completed.
Some children detained in more remote areas were re-screened by emergency medical technicians or Border Patrol agents, officials said. In other places, some children were taken to medical facilities.
Homeland Security would not say how many children are in Border Patrol custody.
The department also wouldn’t say why Felipe and his father were detained for almost a week, an unusually long time, or why they were placed back in detention — at a Border Patrol highway checkpoint — after being released from the hospital.
Another Guatemalan child in U.S. custody, 7-year-old Jakelin Caal, died on Dec. 8 after she began vomiting. U.S. officials said she had walked for days in the desert without food or water, but her family disputed that.
Her death — which brought down heavy criticism on U.S. immigration authorities — is also under investigation.
Immigration advocates and human rights groups sharply criticized CBP in the wake of Felipe’s death.
Margaret Huang, executive director of Amnesty International USA, said the Trump administration’s “policies of cruelty toward migrants and asylum-seekers at the border must cease immediately before any more children are harmed.”
CBP said in a statement late Tuesday that it needs the help of other government agencies to provide health care.
The agency “is considering options for surge medical assistance” from the Coast Guard and may request help from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Defense and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
With border crossings surging, CBP processes thousands of children — both alone and with their parents — every month. According to CBP statistics, border agents detained 5,283 children unaccompanied by a parent in November alone. Agents last month also apprehended 25,172 “family units,” or parents and children together.
CBP typically holds children for no more than a few days. Youngsters who arrive unaccompanied are turned over to longer-term facilities operated by the HHS. The Associated Press reported this month that 14,300 children were being detained by HHS, most in facilities with more than 100 kids.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan said Wednesday that the agency has more than 1,500 emergency medical technicians on staff and that officers are taking dozens of sick children to hospitals every day.
“This is an extraordinarily rare occurrence,” McAleenan told “CBS This Morning” of the recent child deaths. “It’s been more than a decade since we’ve had a child pass away anywhere in a CBP process, so this is just devastating for us.”
Border officers remain on the job despite the partial government shutdown over President Donald Trump’s demand for funding for a border wall.
CBP typically detains adult immigrants for no more than a few days when they cross the border before either releasing them or turning them over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement for longer-term detention.
Associated Press writers Mary Hudetz in Albuquerque, New Mexico; Sonia Perez D. in Guatemala City; and Mark Stevenson in Mexico City contributed to this report.
Patrol reports nine traffic deaths during Christmas weekend
Ohio State Highway Patrol
December 26, 2018
COLUMBUS – The Ohio State Highway Patrol is reporting nine deaths on Ohio roadways during the 2018 Christmas weekend according to provisional statistics. Three fatalities were the result of not wearing a seat belt when available and three were OVI-related. The five-day reporting period began at midnight Friday, December 21 and ran through 11:59 p.m. on December 25. This number is the same as 2017 holiday weekend, but lower than 2016 when 14 people were killed in traffic crashes.
Troopers made 4,600 traffic enforcement contacts; including 404 OVI arrests, 164 drug arrests and 635 safety belt citations. In addition, the Patrol made 10,001 non-enforcement contacts including 2,148 motorist assists.
“Troopers were highly visible this weekend encouraging motorists to drive safely,” said Colonel Paul A. Pride, Patrol superintendent. “We thank everyone who slowed down, buckled up and designated sober drivers this weekend. We ask that you do the same everytime you get behind the wheel.”
Year-to-date, there have been 1,046 confirmed fatalities on Ohio’s roads; a 10 percent decrease over the same time last year. Roadway safety is a shared responsibility; everyone can contribute to making our roadways safer by following traffic laws, wearing safety belts and driving sober.
A statistical analysis of the Patrol’s enforcement activity over the holiday is available at: https://www.statepatrol.ohio.gov/media/2018/ChristmasHoliday2018.pdf
Trump in Iraq on first visit to troops in troubled region
By DARLENE SUPERVILLE
Wednesday, December 26
AL-ASAD AIRBASE, Iraq (AP) — President Donald Trump made an unannounced visit to Iraq on Wednesday, leaving behind a partially shuttered U.S. government to greet American troops helping hold off extremists in a country where thousands of Americans died during the recent war.
It comes a week after Trump stunned his national security advisers by announcing that he would withdraw U.S. troops from neighboring Syria where they have been fighting Islamic State militants. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis abruptly resigned following the announcement, and Trump’s decision rattled allies around the world, including in Iraq.
Trump’s trip was shrouded in secrecy. Air Force One flew overnight from Washington, landing at an airbase west of Baghdad under the cover of darkness Wednesday evening. It is his first visit with troops stationed in a troubled region.
Fifteen years after the 2003 invasion, the U.S. still has more than 5,000 troops in Iraq supporting the government as it continues the fight against remaining pockets of resistance by the Islamic State group. IS has lost a significant amount of territory in Iraq and Syria but is still seen as a threat.
Trump, who speaks often about his support for the U.S. military, had faced criticism for not yet visiting U.S. troops stationed in harm’s way as he comes up on his two-year mark in office. He told The Associated Press in an interview in October that he “will do that at some point, but I don’t think it’s overly necessary.” He later began to signal that such a troop visit was in the offing.
Trump had planned to spend Christmas at his private club in Florida, but stayed behind in Washington due to the shutdown. It’s unclear whether his trip to Iraq was added after it became apparent that the government would be shut down indefinitely due to a stalemate between Trump and congressional Democrats over the president’s demand for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Adding to the tumult, the stock market has been experiencing heavy losses over concerns about a slowing global economy, Trump’s trade war with China and the president’s public slamming of the Federal Reserve and its chairman over interest rate hikes by the independent agency.
Trump’s visit comes at a time when his Middle East policy is in flux. He went against the views of his top national security advisers in announcing the Syria withdrawal, a decision that risks creating a vacuum for extremists to thrive.
There are dire implications in particular for neighboring Iraq. The Iraqi government now has control of all the country’s cities, towns and villages after fighting its last urban battles against IS in December 2017. But its political, military and economic situation remains uncertain, and the country continues to experience sporadic bombings, kidnappings and assassinations, which most people attribute to IS.
Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi recently said Iraqi troops could deploy into Syria to protect Iraq from threats across its borders. Iraq keeps reinforcements along its frontier to guard against infiltration by IS militants, who hold a pocket of territory along the Euphrates River.
Trump campaigned for office on a platform of ending U.S. involvement in foreign trouble spots, such as Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. The Syria decision will ultimately affect all of the approximately 2,000 troops deployed in the war-torn country. The Pentagon is also said to be developing plans to withdraw up to half of the 14,000 American troops still serving in Afghanistan.
During the presidential campaign, Trump blamed Democrat Hillary Clinton for the rise of IS, due to the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq at the end of 2011 during her tenure as secretary of state.
President George W. Bush is the one who set the 2011 withdrawal date as part of an agreement with the Iraqi government to gradually shrink the U.S. footprint and slowly hand off security responsibilities to the government and Iraqi security forces.
His successor, President Barack Obama, wanted to leave a residual force in Iraq to help the government manage ongoing security challenges. But he ultimately went ahead with the scheduled pullout in 2011 after Iraqi’s political leaders rejected terms the U.S. sought for legal protections for the U.S. troops that would have remained.
Two of Trump’s recent predecessors visited Iraq early in their terms.
Bush visited Iraq in November 2003, about eight months after that conflict began. Due to security concerns, Bush waited until 2006 to make his first visit to Afghanistan.
Obama visited Iraq in April 2009, the first year of his eight years in office, as part of an overseas tour. He visited Afghanistan in 2010.
Vice President Mike Pence visited Afghanistan in December 2017, not long after Trump outlined a strategy to break the stalemate in America’s longest war. Pence met with Afghan leaders and visited with U.S. troops stationed in the country. Trump has not visited Afghanistan.
Associated Press writer Philip Issa contributed to this report.
Follow Darlene Superville on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/dsupervilleap
Open and closed: shutdown’s varied impact on parks, tourists
By MICHAEL R. SISAK
Saturday, December 22
NEW YORK (AP) — The huddled masses are still able to visit the Statue of Liberty. The Grand Canyon is open for business. The government says other national parks “will remain as accessible as possible,” although some roads at Rocky Mountain National Park are closed as snow goes unplowed.
But, while the star-spangled banner yet waves at Fort McHenry in Baltimore, the gates at the War of 1812 landmark are locked.
Tourists trekking to parks and historic sites across the U.S. on Saturday are seeing a mix of impacts from the federal government’s second shutdown in less than a year.
Some attractions are staying open thanks to funding from states and charitable groups.
At some parks, you’re welcome to take a hike — but you’re largely on your own. At others, like the closed Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania, you’re out of luck.
Utah’s state government is paying to staff the visitor centers at Arches, Bryce Canyon and Zion national parks. Arizona is ponying up to keep trails, shuttles and restrooms open at the Grand Canyon. New York is footing the bill for the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island for the third shutdown in five years.
“Many travelers have planned their visit for months in advance and have traveled from all over the world to be here,” said Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, a Republican. “We want them to return home with memories of magnificent vistas and welcoming people, not locked doors.”
The shutdown is affecting nine of the 15 Cabinet-level departments, including Interior, which runs national parks, and Agriculture, which runs national forests. About 16,000 National Park Service employees — 80 percent of the agency’s workforce — are being furloughed.
It’s also closing some of the nation’s presidential libraries.
The George H.W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum in College Station, Texas, is closed, but the family gravesite — where the 41st president was recently buried — will stay open. George W. Bush’s presidential library in Dallas is open, but archive services won’t be available.
Temporary and permanent exhibits at the Clinton Presidential Library and Museum, a top tourist attraction in Little Rock, Arkansas, are closed, but the restaurant is open and offering “Shutdown Specials.”
At Acadia National Park in Maine, austerity measures include closing some bathrooms, curbing trash collection and cutting back on snowplowing.
A lack of plowing is closing roads at Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, the fourth most popular national park in the country, and the visitor centers are locked. “This is really disappointing,” said Sarah Schlesinger of Boulder, Colorado, who went to the park with two nieces from Florida who had never seen snow before.
Unplowed roads also could hinder access to Crater Lake in Oregon, Mount Rainier in Washington and other parks normally inundated with snow this time of year.
Hotels, restaurants, stores and gas stations at Yosemite National Park in California remain open and seem unaffected by the shutdown, which has canceled some programs, closed visitor centers and left campgrounds unstaffed.
“It’s basically free to get in the park and people are coming and going as they please,” said Jade Lezon, a cashier at the El Portal Market, near an entrance to the park. “It looks like summer today. Perfect weather for a government shutdown.”
Superintendent Cassius Cash of Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee said visitors should practice “leave no trace” principles to avoid fouling up the park when no visitor services are available. The holiday period is typically one of the park’s busiest weeks, he said.
“During the government shutdown national parks will remain as accessible as possible,” said National Park Service spokesman Jeremy Barnum, noting that wilderness-type vault toilets are still available where visitor centers are closed.
At Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, nonprofit organizations are teaming up to keep the visitor center open at the government-run USS Arizona Memorial. The memorial itself is closed until March for repairs to the loading dock, but visitors are still being taken on a narrated harbor tour of Battleship Row and the surrounding area.
Navy sailors operating the tour boats aren’t affected by the shutdown.
At Alcatraz, getting in might be harder than getting out. The company that provides ferry services to the federal penitentiary-turned-National Park site in San Francisco Bay kept its daytime tours going on Saturday, but canceled behind-the-scenes and night tours.
At the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, it was business as usual after New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, said the state would fund operations, as it did when the federal government shut down in 2013 and in January. It’ll cost the state about $65,000 per day, Cuomo said.
“Thanks to New York kicking in the funding!” said Steffen Manheim, a tourist from Maine.
In Arizona, Gov. Doug Ducey activated the state’s Grand Canyon Protection Plan, which calls for the state to underwrite the cost of public safety and basic services at the desert treasure. Arizona developed the plan after it stepped in to fund operations during the last shutdown, 11 months ago.
“Regardless of what happens in Washington, the Grand Canyon will not close on our watch,” said Ducey, a Republican. “If you have plans to visit the Grand Canyon over the weekend, keep ‘em. The Grand Canyon will remain open.”
Follow Sisak at twitter.com/mikesisak
Associated Press reporters Julie Walker in New York, David McFadden in Baltimore, Juan Lozano in Houston, Wilson Ring in Montpelier, Vermont, Paul Davenport in Phoenix, Kimberlee Kruesi in Nashville, Tennessee, and Daisy Nguyen in San Francisco contributed to this report.
Oklahoma quickly becoming medical marijuana hotbed
By SEAN MURPHY
Saturday, December 22
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The rollout of statewide medical and recreational marijuana programs typically is a grindingly slow process that can take years. Not so in Oklahoma, which moved with lightning speed once voters approved medical cannabis in June.
The ballot question received 57 percent support and established one of the nation’s most liberal medical pot laws in one of the most conservative states. Six months later, the cannabis industry is booming.
Farmers and entrepreneurs are racing to start commercial grow operations, and the state is issuing licenses to new patients, growers and dispensary operators at a frantic pace. Retail outlets opened just four months after legalization.
By contrast, voters in North Dakota, Ohio and neighboring Arkansas approved medical pot in 2016 but have yet to see sales begin amid legal wrangling and legislative meddling.
“I think we really are the wild, wild West in many respects,” said attorney Sarah Lee Gossett Parrish, whose firm in Norman represents several cannabis businesses. “Here in Oklahoma, we’re a pretty independent constituency. We are primarily a red state, but we don’t like a lot of government controls.”
Indeed, unlike virtually every other state, Oklahoma officials created no list of qualifying medical conditions for people to get medicinal marijuana. That has prompted a flood of applications for personal licenses to purchase pot.
Since August more than 22,000 have been approved and thousands more are in the pipeline. There are now 785 licensed dispensaries. Some small Oklahoma towns have as many as a half-dozen. Norman and Stillwater, the state’s two largest college towns, have 45 combined.
Sage Farms is among more than 1,200 licensed commercial growers. Owner Ben Neal has been using high-tech growing techniques for years to produce tomatoes, lettuce, peppers and other vegetables at his six greenhouses in rural Tulsa County. He’s now converted a third of his operation to growing marijuana, hired three new workers and just harvested 200 pounds of various strains that will be auctioned next month.
Neal said he has been offered $2,800 per pound for the entire crop, a total of $560,000. He’s shocked at how quickly Oklahoma has embraced the industry.
“Nine months ago, I was saying that Oklahoma would be the last state that ever does it, and then all of a sudden this happened,” Neal said.
In the bedroom community of Shawnee, east of Oklahoma City, business is steady at the Oklahoma Roots dispensary. Chance Gilbert grows, processes and sells marijuana inside what once was a metal fabrication shop.
“It’s kind of radical how fast it’s gotten going,” said Gilbert, who expects to produce about 50 pounds of marijuana a month once at full capacity. “We assumed it would be an Arkansas model, that it would be years before it was implemented and rolled out.”
The primary driver behind Oklahoma’s quick rollout was a broadly written, citizen-led ballot question that included quick deadlines and required regulators to grant a license to every qualified applicant. But several political ingredients combined to push the effort along.
First, instead of the general election in November, Gov. Mary Fallin placed the question on the June primary ballot, where it passed overwhelmingly despite opposition from law enforcement, doctors and clergy. That allowed more time for the program to ramp up before the Legislature returns in February.
Then, when the Oklahoma State Board of Health tried to impose heavy-handed restrictions, such as banning smoke-able pot and requiring a pharmacist at every dispensary, the public was outraged. Every segment of the pro-marijuana movement mobilized and even the state’s Republican attorney general weighed in with a legal opinion that the board had gone too far.
“I think every Oklahoman who has a soul was appalled that they tried to change a political decision that the people of Oklahoma had just made,” said Chip Paul, who helped write and push for State Question 788. “After that board meeting and after the attorney general’s letter, the third rail of politics would be to mess with SQ 788.”
Oklahoma’s conservative Legislature took notice. While GOP leaders still plan to implement some general standards for lab testing, packaging and measures to prevent pot from ending up on the black market, they appear in no rush to make wholesale changes.
“I do not see an appetite at all to go in and try to undo the will of the people and get rid of medical marijuana,” said state Sen. Greg McCortney, R-Ada, who served on a medical pot task force.
The state’s new Medical Marijuana Authority already has raked in more than $7.5 million from registration fees from patients, growers and dispensaries. The first revenue from the new 7 percent sales tax on pot sales began dribbling into state coffers last month.
Even members of law enforcement, who were among the most vocal opponents, appear to accept that the public’s attitudes about marijuana have shifted.
“There are many, many people out there who like to go on their back porch in the evening in the privacy of their own homes and they like to smoke marijuana,” said Wagoner County Sheriff Chris Elliott, who worked for 27 years as a Tulsa police officer before being elected sheriff. “These are not what you would consider druggies or seedy people. These are people who work, they pay taxes and they go to church. And they’ve had to sneak around because they’ve lived in fear of me, law enforcement.”
Follow Sean Murphy at www.twitter.com/apseanmurphy. Find complete AP marijuana coverage here: https://apnews.com/LegalMarijuana