AP Exclusive: Migrant teen tent city staying open into 2019
By GARANCE BURKE and ANITA SNOW
Thursday, December 27
The Trump administration said Wednesday it will keep open through early 2019 a tent city in Texas that now holds more than 2,000 migrant teenagers, and also will increase the number of beds at another temporary detention center for children in Florida.
The Tornillo facility opened in June in an isolated corner of the Texas desert with capacity for up to 360 children. It eventually grew into a highly guarded detention camp where, on Christmas, some 2,300 largely Central American boys and girls between the ages of 13 and 17 slept in more than 150 canvas tents.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services spokesman Mark Weber said Tornillo, which originally was slated to close Dec. 31, has stopped receiving new referrals of migrant youth.
Tornillo will now shut down after the new year, Weber said, but he did not give an exact date or more precise time frame for when it might close for good.
The agency is working with its network of shelters including Tornillo to release the children “to suitable sponsors as safely and quickly as possible,” he said.
The government also plans to house more teens at another temporary shelter in Homestead, Florida, expanding the total number of beds from 1,350 to 2,350, he added.
Tornillo came under fire last month after revelations that the Trump administration had waived FBI fingerprint checks for the 2,100 staff working there and allowed the private contractor running the facility to have just one mental health clinician for every 100 children. In November, Health and Human Services officials said they hoped the fingerprints would be completed in a month but they haven’t given an update.
Lawmakers called for stricter background checks, more mental health support and a public hearing to further investigate problems at Tornillo raised by a federal watchdog report and an Associated Press investigation.
The federal program originally intended to offer a safe haven to vulnerable children fleeing danger across the globe has expanded considerably over the last two years. Three months after President Donald Trump took office there were 2,720 migrant youth in government care. Today, the system has 16,000 beds available for migrant children.
Confidential government data obtained and cross-checked by AP has shown that as the year draws to a close, about 9,800 detained migrant children are in facilities holding 100-plus total kids, including Tornillo and Homestead.
The American Academy of Pediatrics and many experts warn against institutionalizing children in large groups, saying the experience of treating the young migrants like cogs in a big machine can have severe psychological consequences and cause lifelong trauma.
Weber has said that sheltering children in large facilities, while not preferable, is a better alternative than holding them for long periods at Border Patrol stations ill-suited to care for them.
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Partial government shutdown likely to extend past Christmas
By LISA MASCARO, DARLENE SUPERVILLE and KEVIN FREKING
Saturday, December 22
WASHINGTON (AP) — The federal government was expected to remain partially shut down past Christmas as the standoff deepened Saturday over President Donald Trump’s demand for funds to build a border wall with Mexico.
With Trump’s insistence on $5 billion for the wall and negotiations with Democrats in Congress far from a breakthrough, even a temporary measure to keep the government running while talks continued seemed out of reach until the Senate returned for a full session Thursday.
From coast to coast, the first day of the shutdown played out in uneven ways. The Statue of Liberty was still open for tours, thanks to funding from New York state, and the U.S. Post Office was still delivering mail, as an independent agency.
Yet the disruption affected many government operations and the routines of 800,000 federal employees. Roughly 420,000 workers were deemed essential and were expected to work unpaid. An additional 380,000 were to be furloughed, meaning they will stay home without pay. The Senate had already passed legislation ensuring that workers will receive back pay, and the House was likely to follow suit.
No one knew how long the closures would last. Unlike other shutdowns, this one seemed to lack urgency, coming during the long holiday weekend after Trump had already declared Monday, Christmas Eve, a federal holiday. Rather than work around the clock to try to end the shutdown, as they had done in the past, the leaders of the House and the Senate effectively closed up shop. But they didn’t rule out action if a deal were struck.
“Listen, anything can happen,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters after he closed the Senate’s rare Saturday session hours after it opened.
But after ushering Vice President Mike Pence through the Capitol for another round of negotiations, the Republican chairman of the Appropriations Committee, Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, said a quick end to the shutdown was “not probable.”
At the White House, Trump hosted a lunch Saturday with conservative lawmakers, including House Freedom Caucus chiefs Mark Meadows of North Carolina and Jim Jordan of Ohio, and several senators. Absent from the guest list were GOP leaders or any Democrats, who would be needed for a deal.
“I am in the White House, working hard,” tweeted the president, who canceled his Florida holiday getaway to his club Mar-a-Lago due to the shutdown. First lady Melania Trump was flying back to Washington to be with her husband.
Trump’s re-election campaign sent out a fundraising email late Saturday launching what he called “the most important membership program ever – the OFFICIAL BUILD THE WALL MEMBERSHIP.” The president urged donors to sign up.
With Democrats set to take control of the House on Jan. 3, and Speaker Paul Ryan on his way out, the shutdown was providing a last gasp of the conservative majority before the new Congress.
Trump savored the prospect of a shutdown over the wall for months. Last week he said he would be “proud” to close down the government. He had campaigned on the promise of building the wall, and he also promised Mexico would pay for it. Mexico has refused to do so.
In recent days, though, Trump tried to shift blame to Democrats for not acceding to his demand. He has given mixed messages on whether he would sign any bill into law.
After the luncheon at the White House, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said, “It’s clear to me he believes the additional funding is necessary.”
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York met with Pence on Saturday at the request of the White House, according to Schumer’s office. But the senator’s spokesman said they remained “very far apart” on a spending agreement.
Schumer said the “Trump shutdown” could end immediately if the president simply dropped his demand for money. “If you want to open the government, you must abandon the wall,” Schumer said.
Democrats said they were open to other proposals that didn’t include the wall, which Schumer said was too costly and ineffective. They have offered to keep spending at existing levels of $1.3 billion for border fencing and other security.
But Trump, digging in, tweeted about “the crisis of illegal activity” at American’s southern border is “real and will not stop until we build a great Steel Barrier or Wall.”
Republican leaders largely stayed in the background of the negotiations. McConnell acknowledged that any deal to reopen government would require Democratic support for passage and the president’s signature.
Senators approved a bipartisan deal earlier in the week to keep the government open into February and provide $1.3 billion for border security projects, but not the wall. But as Trump faced criticism from conservatives for “caving” on a campaign promise, he pushed to House to approve a package temporarily financing the government but also setting aside $5.7 billion for the border wall.
A test vote in the Senate on Friday showed that Republicans lacked the 60 votes needed to advance the House plan.
Pelosi, poised to become speaker, said in a letter to colleagues Saturday that “until President Trump can publicly commit to a bipartisan resolution, there will be no agreement before January when the new House Democratic Majority will swiftly pass legislation to re-open government.”
The impasse blocked money for nine of 15 Cabinet-level departments and dozens of agencies, including the departments of Homeland Security, Transportation, Interior, Agriculture, State and Justice.
Those being furloughed included nearly everyone at NASA and 52,000 workers at the Internal Revenue Service. About 8 in 10 employees of the National Park Service were to stay home; many parks were expected to close.
Some agencies, including the Pentagon and the departments of Veterans Affairs and Health and Human Services, were already funded and will operate as usual. Also still functioning were the FBI, the Border Patrol and the Coast Guard. Transportation Security Administration officers continued to staff airport checkpoints and air traffic controllers were on the job.
Many of Congress’ most conservative Republicans welcomed such a confrontation, but most GOP lawmakers wanted to avoid one because polling showed the public opposed the wall and a shutdown over it.
Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee said, “This is a complete failure of negotiations and a success for no one.”
Associated Press writers Alan Fram, Mary Clare Jalonick and Jill Colvin in Washington contributed to this report.
The meaner Trump gets, the more kindness we feel
By Steve Klinger
“When someone stands up to violence a force for change is released. Every action for peace requires someone to exhibit the courage to challenge violence and inspire love.”
— Thich Nhat Hanh
In this difficult and traumatic holiday season it struck me tonight that a remarkable phenomenon is occurring. With desperate migrants on the move around much of the planet and authoritarian forces frantically erecting barricades, both literal and figurative, to turn them back, this country has shown it is not immune to the global dynamic. But the meaner Donald Trump gets, the more kindness the evolved among us seem to feel.
In our household we’re getting Christmas cards from unexpected sources, such as my 7-year-old grandson in Colorado, and a dear friend who turned a photograph of us into a greeting card of thank you and remembrance. Houses in southern New Mexico’s Mesilla Valley are aglow with extraordinary displays of welcoming lights. Cash-challenged charitable organizations are working overtime to remember those in need. A former president dons Christmas garb to distribute gifts to children.
Outside a cold full moon rises beside a stationary lenticular cloud that glows with eerie luminescence like an inscrutable mother ship. One can’t help speculating about some kind of confluence, though tonight it remains as Churchill would have said, a riddle wrapped in an enigma.
The government is in partial shutdown again, with 750,000 workers furloughed or expected to work without scheduled pay, just in time for the holidays. The president is going off the rails over funding for his “border wall,” while a senator noted dryly the only wall he’ll get is the one closing in on him from Robert Mueller. After a phone call with Turkey’s authoritarian, Trump summarily yanked 2,000 troops out of Syria, abandoning Kurdish allies and thus precipitating the resignation under protest of his Defense secretary. He is increasingly isolated in his own White House, making decisions that grow more impulsive and dangerous by the day. In banishing those who would disagree with him he now truly keeps his own demented counsel.
Meanwhile, Central American refugees seeking asylum under federal statute and international protocols are turned away from ports of entry, channeled toward life-threatening desert crossings, told to wait months or more likely years in Mexico. Acts of racism, anti-Semitism, hate crimes and mass shootings are on the upswing, in some cases exponentially.
Yet the midterm elections showed we also have an awakening populace, as women and minorities ran for and won elective races in record numbers, despite criminal voter suppression and outrageous gerrymandering. People are organizing on grassroots levels to foster change and accomplish it—in sustainable farming, maker spaces, arts and crafts cooperatives, intentional communities and centers of culture and learning. Creative expression is finally becoming acknowledged as a force for change.
In the vacuum created by the shameless example of the most powerful human in the free world—while he demonstrates daily that he is also the smallest, weakest, most petty and insecure—others are rediscovering their own humanity. In stark contrast to the example of Trump’s utter narcissism, we recently grieved the loss of a very human and dedicated public servant, George H.W. Bush, even as many of us acknowledged our deep disagreements over policy. A couple of years ago some of us might not have been quite so moved at his passing, or that of John McCain, but now we mourn them as an all-but-vanished breed.
As we sit under that cold moon tonight, there is no telling if the goodness in human hearts will triumph over the fear, anger and violence in those who refuse to relinquish so much as a thread of the gilded garments in which they cloak themselves, though they may sing seasonal songs of peace on earth and goodwill toward men as they do every year around this time. In their very unChristlike behavior they reek of hypocrisy, but they are armed and they are desperate. It will take all the good within us to subdue them or, better yet, awaken them.
We need to do it together, with love.
Steve Klinger is a veteran community journalist/editor/satirist and college English instructor based in southern New Mexico.
Iraqi lawmakers demand US withdrawal after Trump visit
By PHILIP ISSA
Thursday, December 27
BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraqi lawmakers Thursday demanded U.S. forces leave the country in the wake of a surprise visit by President Donald Trump that politicians denounced as arrogant and a violation of Iraqi sovereignty.
Politicians from both blocs of Iraq’s divided Parliament called for a vote to expel U.S. troops and promised to schedule an extraordinary session to debate the matter.
“Parliament must clearly and urgently express its view about the ongoing American violations of Iraqi sovereignty,” said Salam al-Shimiri, a lawmaker loyal to the populist cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.
Trump, making his first presidential visit to troops in a troubled region Wednesday, said he has no plans to withdraw the 5,200 U.S. forces in the country.
Containing foreign influence has become a hot-button issue in a year that saw al-Sadr supporters win the largest share of votes in May elections. Al-Sadr has called for curbing U.S. and Iranian involvement in Iraqi affairs.
U.S. troops are stationed in Iraq as part of the coalition against the Islamic State group. American forces withdrew in 2011 after invading in 2003 but returned in 2014 at the invitation of the Iraqi government to help fight the jihadist group.
But after defeating IS militants in their last urban bastions last year, Iraqi politicians and militia leaders are speaking out against the continued presence of U.S. forces in Iraqi soil.
Qais Khazali, the head of the Iran-backed Asaib Ahl al-Haq militia that fought key battles against IS in north Iraq, promised on Twitter that Parliament would vote to expel U.S. forces from Iraq, or the militia and others would force them out by “other means.”
Khazali was jailed by British and U.S. forces from 2007 to 2010 for managing sections of the Shia insurgency against the occupation during those years.
His militia is represented in Parliament by the Binaa bloc, a rival coalition to al-Sadr’s Islah. Binaa favors close ties with Iran and is aligned with Tehran on regional political issues.
Trump spent three hours at a U.S. air base meeting with American troops during his visit. The president defended his decision to withdraw 2,000 U.S. forces from neighboring Syria, saying the U.S. military had all but eliminated IS-controlled territory there.
He left without meeting any Iraqi officials, though he spoke to Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi by phone.
The prime minister’s office said in a statement after Trump’s visit that “differences in points of view” over arrangements led to a face-to-face meeting between the two leaders to be scrapped.
Al-Shimiri said Trump’s visit “violated several diplomatic norms.”
No end in sight to partial government shutdown
By DARLENE SUPERVILLE
Wednesday, December 26
WASHINGTON (AP) — Christmas has come and gone but the partial government shutdown is just getting started.
Wednesday brings the first full business day after several government departments and agencies closed up over the weekend due to a budgetary stalemate between President Donald Trump and Congress. And there is no end in sight.
So far, the public and federal workers have largely been spared inconvenience and hardship because government is closed on weekends and federal employees were excused from work on Christmas Eve and Christmas, a federal holiday. The shutdown began at midnight last Friday.
Trump said Tuesday that the closed parts of the government will remain that way until Democrats agree to wall off the U.S.-Mexico border to deter criminal elements. He said he’s open to calling the wall something else as long as he ends up with an actual wall.
Asked when the government would reopen fully, Trump said he couldn’t say.
“I can’t tell you when the government’s going to be open. I can tell you it’s not going to be open until we have a wall or fence, whatever they’d like to call it,” Trump said, referring to Democrats who staunchly oppose walling off the border.
“I’ll call it whatever they want, but it’s all the same thing,” he told reporters after participating in a holiday video conference with representatives from all five branches of the military stationed in Alaska, Bahrain, Guam and Qatar.
Trump argued that drug flows and human trafficking can only be stopped by a wall.
“We can’t do it without a barrier. We can’t do it without a wall,” he said. “The only way you’re going to do it is to have a physical barrier, meaning a wall. And if you don’t have that then we’re just not opening” the government.
Democrats oppose spending money on a wall, preferring instead to pump the dollars into fencing, technology and other means of controlling access to the border. Trump argued that Democrats oppose a wall only because he is for one.
The stalemate over how much to spend and how to spend it caused the partial government shutdown that began Saturday following a lapse in funding for departments and agencies that make up about 25 percent of the government.
Some 800,000 government workers are affected. Many are on the job but must wait until after the shutdown to be paid again.
Trump claimed that many of these workers “have said to me and communicated, ‘stay out until you get the funding for the wall.’ These federal workers want the wall. The only one that doesn’t want the wall are the Democrats.”
Trump didn’t say how he’s hearing from federal workers, excluding those he appointed to their jobs or who work with him in the White House. But many rank-and-file workers have gone to social media with stories of the financial hardship they expect to face because of the shutdown.
Associated Press writer Nomaan Merchant in Houston contributed to this report.
Follow Darlene Superville on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/dsupervilleap
White House, congressional Democrats see no deal on shutdown
By JULIET LINDERMAN and DARLENE SUPERVILLE
Thursday, December 27
WASHINGTON (AP) — Chances look slim for ending the partial government shutdown any time soon.
Lawmakers are away from Washington for the holidays and have been told they will get 24 hours’ notice before having to return for a vote. And although the Senate is slated to come into session Thursday afternoon, few senators were expected to be around for it.
After a weekend and two holiday days for federal employees, Wednesday was the first regularly scheduled workday affected by the closure of a variety of federal services.
Trump vowed to hold the line on his budget demand, telling reporters during his visit to Iraq on Wednesday that he’ll do “whatever it takes” to get money for border security. He declined to say how much he would accept in a deal to end the shutdown.
“You have to have a wall, you have to have protection,” he said.
Back from the 29-hour trip to visit U.S. troops, Trump said in a Thursday tweet “we desperately need” a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, funding for which has been a flashpoint between the White House and Congress ever since Trump took office.
He called on Democrats in Congress to fund his wall, saying the shutdown affects their supporters. He asserted without evidence: “Do the Dems realize that most of the people not getting paid are Democrats?”
Virginia Democratic Sen. Mark Warner called Trump’s comments “outrageous.” In his tweet, he added: “Federal employees don’t go to work wearing red or blue jerseys. They’re public servants. And the President is treating them like poker chips at one of his failed casinos.”
The shutdown started Saturday when funding lapsed for nine Cabinet-level departments and dozens of agencies. Roughly 420,000 workers were deemed essential and are working unpaid, while an additional 380,000 have been furloughed.
While the White House was talking to congressional Democrats — and staff talks continued on Capitol Hill — negotiations dragged Wednesday, dimming hopes for a swift breakthrough.
Republican Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina, a Trump ally who has been involved in the talks, said the president “is very firm in his resolve that we need to secure our border.” He told CNN, “If they believe that this president is going to yield on this particular issue, they’re misreading him.”
The impasse over government funding began last week, when the Senate approved a bipartisan deal keeping government open into February. That bill provided $1.3 billion for border security projects but not money for the wall. At Trump’s urging, the House approved that package and inserted the $5.7 billion he had requested.
But Senate Republicans lacked the votes they needed to force the measure through their chamber. That jump-started negotiations between Congress and the White House, but the deadline came and went without a deal.
The shutdown has been playing out against the backdrop of turmoil in the stock market.
Kevin Hassett, the chairman of the White House’s Council of Economic Advisers, said the shutdown does not change the administration’s expectation for strong growth heading into 2019. He told reporters a shutdown of a few weeks is not going to have any “significant effect on the outlook.”
Among those affected by the shutdown — the third of 2018 — are the departments of Homeland Security, Transportation, Interior, Agriculture, State and Justice. Those being furloughed include 52,000 workers at the Internal Revenue Service and nearly everyone at NASA. About 8 in 10 employees of the National Park Service are staying home, and many parks have closed.
The shutdown didn’t stop people from visiting the White Sands National Monument in southern New Mexico, where hundreds of unauthorized visitors have in recent days climbed over a fence to enter the monument, according to The Alamogordo Daily News. State highway workers were sent to the area Monday to erect “no parking” signs along U.S. 70 outside the monument.
Trump has claimed federal workers are behind him in the shutdown fight, saying many told him, “stay out until you get the funding for the wall.’” He didn’t say who told him that. Many workers have gone to social media with stories of the financial hardship they expect to face because of the shutdown.
One union representing federal workers slammed Trump’s claim. Paul Shearon, president of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, said the union has not heard from a single member who supports Trump’s position.
“Most view this as an act of ineptitude,” he said.
Superville reported from al-Asad Air Base in Iraq. Associated Press writers Zeke Miller in Washington and Paul Davenport in Alamogordo, New Mexico, contributed to this report.
Follow Darlene Superville on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/dsupervilleap