As costs for detaining migrant children soar, Trump administration draining cash from health, education programs

Costs of detaining migrant children at shelters in Tornillo, Texas, and other locations around the country are skyrocketing, with the Trump administration now saying it may cost $100 million a month just to operate the 3,800-bed tent facility outside of El Paso. The administration has not yet provided an accounting of how much in total it has been spending to detain children who either were separated from their parents or apprehended after crossing the border without a parent or guardian. But information provided so far indicates the amount is substantial, forcing the government to transfer hundreds of millions of dollars targeted for medical research, treatment and other programs so that it can care for a rapidly growing number of children in government custody. I have been writing about these issues for Texas Monthly and the Washington Post since June, when the government opened what was then a 400-bed shelter in Tornillo. While the world’s attention was focused on the controversial family separation policy, less attention was paid to other important changes to policies on how migrant children were treated.

Website to track border deaths by law enforcement officers wins startup grant

Washington, D.C. – A Spanish-language website and database to document incidents of undocumented immigrants killed by law enforcement on the southern border of the U.S. is among four media startups to receive a $12,000 grant from J-Lab. EncuentrosMortales.org is the idea of D. Brian Burghart, editor and publisher of the Reno News & Review, who created FatalEncounters.org, a crowd-sourced database attempting to track police use of deadly force in the United States. EncuentrosMortales.org will collect public records and media reports of undocumented people killed during interactions with law enforcement officers. “I’m very excited to be able to move forward with EncuentrosMortales.org. Law-enforcement-involved homicides along the U.S. border is an important and underreported issue, and I hope we can bring together technology, languages and volunteers to get a much better idea of our government’s activities,” he said.

Eliseo Medina, international secretary-treasurer for the Service Employees International Union, says Fast for Families will visit more than 100 key congressional districts where the group will invite people to join him and others in the fast. (Alejandro Alba/SHFWire)

Fast for Families tour of U.S. promotes immigration reform

WASHINGTON – Four activists for immigration reform are taking their cause on the road. They will board a bus Tuesday and urge people in 100 communities around the country to fast with them until Congress passes immigration reform. “We are going to be asking the American people to join us in fasting,” Eliseo Medina, international secretary-treasurer for the Service Employees International Union, said. “Judging from what happened in December, I think we are going to have tens of thousands of people joining us.”

The Fast for Families campaign began November when immigration activists sat outside the Capitol and fasted for 22 days. Medina is one of two people who will fast on the bus tour who also fasted at the Capitol.

A sign marks an area restricted by the U.S. Border Patrol near the line between Juarez and El Paso. (Mariana Dell/Borderzine.com)

House Republicans fume over border security issues

WASHINGTON – On the same day the Senate passed an immigration reform bill, a small group of House Republicans voiced concerns over border security problems.

Republican members of the House Subcommittee on National Security on Oversight and Government Reform brought up numerous concerns for border patrol executives about a new report and border security in general at a hearing Thursday. The Government Accountability Office testified about a report, also released Thursday, that said a $1 billion tax-funded border security program had failed. The Secure Border Initiative Network used technology to create a so-called “virtual fence.” Deemed a failure four years after it began, the program was shut down in 2011. “I know you can never satisfy any government agency’s appetite for money or land, but I’m really skeptical as to whether we can officially and effectively spend all the money we’re throwing at this effort,” Rep. John J. Duncan, R-Tenn., said. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, the subcommittee chair, said his main concern is that border agents do not track immigrants and international visitors when they leave the United States.

DEA Special Agent in Charge Joseph Arabit (far right) confirm that violence in Juárez was down about 74 percent from its peak in 2010. (Anoushka Valodya/Borderzine.com)

Juárez violence down 74 percent from 2010 peak

EL PASO – The word “partnership” was frequently used at the round table discussion of “Security Along the U.S.-Mexico Border” to explain what it takes to counter terrorism. This event was one of the many sessions of the 9th annual International Association For Intelligence Education (IAFIE) conference at the University of Texas at El Paso Wednesday. Five government officials of various agencies, such as the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) spoke in the panel. UTEP’s Vice-Provost Michael Smith began the session as the moderator. “This is a topic of keen interest obviously in El Paso and along the border region,” Smith said.

Amnesty prospects: Where do they come from, and where do they live?

IMPERIAL, Calif.—The first day of Senate debate on immigration reform ended in Washington today with several proposed changes accepted and several tossed by the 18-member committee poring over the merits of the almost 900-page S. 744, the proposed ‘‘Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act.’’

The bill would offer conditional amnesty and a path to citizenship to an estimated 11 million immigrants living illegally in the U.S., among other provisions, all of which will require months of debate and amending before adoption. In the meantime, fundamental questions like where those millions of people come from and where they live in America beg some answers. Statistics in the following video come from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Public Policy Institute of California.

El Paso, Texas, judge testifies at border subcommittee hearing

WASHINGTON – El Paso County Judge Veronica Escobar told a House subcommittee Wednesday that undocumented immigrants should get legal status without so much debate over whether U.S. borders are secure. Her opinion runs counter to what most Republicans and many Democrats have been saying in the debate over immigration reform. Escobar was invited to testify by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, the senior Democrat on the Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security, because of Escobar’s outspoken push for immigration reform. The subcommittee also heard from three witnesses from the Department of Homeland Security. The purpose of the hearing was to understand how border security should be measured.

(Gustavo Aguirre/Borderzine.com)

Bi-national task force says border security is better than ever but needs enhancement

A prominent bi-national task force argued that although the U.S.-Mexico border is tighter than ever, both countries should expand cooperative law-enforcement efforts along the border to enhance security. “As part of our border security recommendations the task force also urges a counterpart to the U.S Border Patrol on the Mexican side of the border,” said Robert Bonner, co-chair of the joint Task Force for the Pacific Council on International Policy (PCIP) and the Mexican Council on Foreign Relations (COMEXI). According to the task force, which met Feb. 27 at the Woodrow Wilson Center  in Washington, D.C., the border is more efficient and secure now than in previous years. “Border relationship has greatly evolved over the last few years,” said Duncan Wood, director of the Woodrow Wilson Mexico Institute.

(Gustavo Aguirre/Borderzine.com)

Actor Steven Seagal stars in a new role as a Doña Ana County Deputy Sheriff

EL PASO – Speeding west on Interstate 10 with the radio at full blast through the foul smelling dusty air shed by the New Mexican dairy farms, you could be pulled over by a Doña Ana County Sheriff’s cruiser carrying Hollywood tough guy Steven Seagal. In the county where Sheriff Pat Garrett once strutted around after gaining fame for gunning down Billy the Kid, Seagal is the new lawman in town. The 60-year-old, 7th-dan black belt in Aikido was sworn in on January 24 by County Sheriff Todd Garrison at the sheriff’s headquarters in a small ceremony. “When I first heard about this I didn’t believe it. I thought it was a joke,” said Isel Martinez, a graphic design major at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces.

(Left to right) Senators Dick Durban, D-Ill., John McCain, R-Ariz., Charles Schumer, D-N.Y, Robert Menendez, D-N.J. and Marco Rubio, R-Fla., present comprehensive immigration reform blueprint at Monday news conference. (Jasmine Aguilera/SHFWire)

Experts: immigration plans place too much emphasis on border security

WASHINGTON – Immigration experts who have been pushing for reform  welcome the attention to the issue but say the emphasis on border security and law enforcement are misplaced. A group of eight bipartisan senators introduced a proposal Monday that is meant to eventually give legal status to undocumented immigrants living in the United States. The proposal also aims to increase border security. Josiah Heyman, professor and chair of the department of sociology and anthropology at the University of Texas at El Paso, said the overall proposal for reform is necessary and good, but he disagrees with an increase in border security. “The border enforcement parts are very rhetorical and exaggerated,” Heyman said.