Homeland Security secretary visits Nogales, cites ‘lawlessness’ of border

Kirstjen Nielsen, secretary of homeland security, right, and Congresswoman Martha McSally at the DeConcini Port of Entry on Thursday. Mike Christy/Arizona Daily Star

NOGALES — The border is in crisis and being exploited by smugglers, but the administration is taking steps to put an end to the lawlessness, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said Thursday.

People continue to cross the border illegally, she said, “because they can and because they do not face any consequences.”

Nielsen visited Nogales as part of a Southern Arizona tour that included the ports of entry in Douglas and Nogales and roundtable discussions with border community business leaders, ranchers and law enforcement officials. She was hosted by Rep. Martha McSally and accompanied by Rep. David Schweikert, both Republicans from Arizona.

In a brief news conference after Nielsen toured the ports of entry and met with stakeholders, she spoke about the deployment of the National Guard and the administration’s zero-tolerance policy to refer for prosecution everyone apprehended by Border Patrol.

She also said her agency will use funding from fiscal years 2017 and 2018 to build 150 new miles of wall and refurbish other fencing that needs upgrading. Congress needs to support a wall system that will enable agents and officers to keep the community safe, she said.

“It’s a very large and dangerous mission we’re undertaking here to secure the border on behalf of the American people and we couldn’t do it without their support,” she said.

Continue reading at the Arizona Daily Star.

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Parents, children ensnared in ‘zero-tolerance’ border prosecutions

A Mexican woman alters her pants at Casa Alitas after being released by Immigration and Customs Enforcement and fitted with an ankle monitoring bracelet. Perla Trevizo/Arizona Daily Star

Alma Jacinto covered her eyes with her hands as tears streamed down her cheeks.

The 36-year-old from Guatemala was led out of the federal courtroom without an answer to the question that brought her to tears: When would she see her boys again?

Jacinto wore a yellow bracelet on her left wrist, which defense lawyers said identifies parents who are arrested with their children and prosecuted in Operation Streamline, a fast-track program for illegal border crossers.

Moments earlier, her public defender asked the magistrate judge when Jacinto would be reunited with her sons, ages 8 and 11. There was no clear answer for Jacinto, who was sentenced to time served on an illegal-entry charge after crossing the border with her sons near Lukeville on May 14.

Parents who cross the border illegally with their children may face criminal charges as federal prosecutors in Tucson follow through on a recent directive from Attorney General Jeff Sessions to prosecute all valid cases, said U.S. Attorney’s Office spokesman Cosme Lopez.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection started referring families caught crossing illegally for prosecution several weeks ago, Lopez said. Those prosecutions unfold both in Streamline cases and through individual prosecutions.

On Thursday, Efrain Chun Carlos, also from Guatemala, received more information than Jacinto when he asked Magistrate Judge Lynnette C. Kimmins about his child during Streamline proceedings.

“I only wanted to ask about the whereabouts of my child in this country,” Chun said.

Kimmins responded she didn’t know where his child was and suggested he ask officials at the facility where he will be detained.

Christopher Lewis, the federal prosecutor at the hearing, told Kimmins that children from countries that are not contiguous to the United States will be placed in foster care with the Office of Refugee Resettlement.

“When they will be reunited, I cannot say because that’s an immigration matter,” Lewis said.

Continue reading at the Arizona Daily Star.

Families seeking asylum wait days at Nogales port of entry, advocates say

Johanna Williams with the Kino Border Initiative on Monday speaks to a group of mostly Guatemalan parents and their children who started to arrive in Nogales on Saturday to present themselves at the port of entry to seek asylum. Perla Trevizo/Arizona Daily Star

Families continue arriving at the Nogales port of entry, many of them to seek asylum, but Customs and Border Protection has declined to provide updated information on the numbers or the process.

Since about May 12, dozens of parents with their children have been lining up at the pedestrian entrance of the port waiting to seek humanitarian protection. Most are Guatemalans; some are from Honduras and Mexico.

Many report fleeing cartels or gangs, domestic violence situations and extortion, said Joanna Williams with the Kino Border Initiative, a binational migrant aid organization.

On average, families are now waiting four days to be processed, which raises health and safety concerns, she said.

Initially, CBP issued a written statement saying the agency was processing people as quickly as possible and that the number varied on factors such as case complexity, resources and space available, and overall port volume.

Williams said a current delay seems to be with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement unit that transports people to a detention center or to a shelter, in the case of some families.

There are about 45 parents and children waiting in line at any given time with about 10 allowed in daily, Williams said. While they await their turn, they generally sit and sleep on the floor. A few have been hosted overnight at the group’s shelter or by the Mexican Red Cross. There’s a bathroom nearby they can use but few have opportunities to shower. Volunteers provide them with water, food and diapers and other basic necessities.

Continue reading at the Arizona Daily Star.

Arizona National Guard’s deployment allows for more border agents to be on patrol

Sgt. 1st Class Thomas Evitts, with the Arizona Army National Guard, and Border Patrol agent Stephanie Dixon interact with Cobalt in Nogales. Evitts frees up two border agents by tending to the horses’ needs at the agency’s corrals. Mike Christy/Arizona Daily Star

The current border mission of the Arizona National Guard is to help get more Border Patrol agents on the ground, but quantifying how many more is not that simple, officials said Wednesday.

“It depends on the task at hand. It’s not a 1-for-1 (ratio) in every case,” said Daniel Hernandez, a Border Patrol spokesman for the Tucson Sector, during a media tour of the various tasks the soldiers are doing in Nogales.

As of this week, there are about 240 National Guard members deployed as part of Operation Guardian Support in the Tucson Sector, with more than 30 working out of the Nogales station. Each of the nine Border Patrol stations in the sector have some guard members serving in a support role, Border Patrol and National Guard officials said.

Last month, Gov. Doug Ducey announced the deployment of the National Guard at President Trump’s request. As of today, the Guard is authorized to deploy about 600 members through the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30, said Capt. Aaron Thacker, a spokesman for the Arizona National Guard.

For instance, Thomas Evitts, a sergeant first class, is now tasked with caring for the horses in Nogales, relieving two Border Patrol agents who can now go out on patrol.

Evitts grew up around horses in Gilbert and now cleans the stables, makes sure the horses have food and water and that those like Cobalt, who is recovering from a torn ligament, have adequate care.

“I’ve always liked horses. My son has horses,” he told reporters. “I like animals.”

While he didn’t imagine he was volunteering to care for horses, he said he is used to performing a variety of tasks for the National Guard, which he joined in 2001.

Continue reading at the Arizona Daily Star.

Dozens of families, many from Guatemala, arrive in Nogales seeking US asylum

About two dozen people, mostly Guatemalan parents and their children, waited Monday to seek asylum in the U.S. at the pedestrian entrance of the DeConcini Port of Entry in Nogales. Perla Trevizo/Arizona Daily Star

NOGALES, Sonora — Faith they would make it across Mexico. Faith that U.S. officials would let them in. Faith they wouldn’t be separated once they crossed over. It bound them together through their travels and sustained them to the end, as they waited to be processed at the port of entry.

Dozens of families started showing up Saturday at the downtown port in Nogales to seek asylum, and officials processed a handful at a time.

By Monday, there were several who had slept on the floor, using cardboard and blankets as cushions, for two nights. More arrived Sunday and Monday.

By the end of the day, Mexican Red Cross workers said there were a few still left.

In a written statement, Customs and Border Protection said it processed people as quickly as possible “without negating the agency’s overall mission or compromising the safety of individuals within our custody.”

The number of people CBP can process, it said, “varies based upon case complexity; available resources; medical needs; translation requirements; holding/detention space; overall port volume; and ongoing enforcement actions.”

The number of families presenting themselves at ports of entry and between the ports has increased over the last several years.

Continue reading at the Arizona Daily Star.

Border agent Lonnie Swartz to be tried again in cross-border shooting of teen

“They gave me and my family good news,” Araceli Rodriguez, the mother of Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez, said after a retrial was announced Friday in the shooting death of her son. The trial is set to start Oct. 23. Kelly Presnell / Arizona Daily Star

Border Patrol agent Lonnie Swartz will be tried again in the killing of 16-year-old Jose Antonio Elena Rodríguez.

Federal prosecutors announced their decision for a new trial on voluntary and involuntary manslaughter charges at a hearing Friday in Tucson’s federal court. The trial is scheduled to start Oct. 23.

Swartz, originally charged with second-degree murder in the 2012 shooting, was acquitted of that charge on April 23 by a jury of eight women and four men. U.S. District Judge Raner Collins gave them the option to consider voluntary and involuntary manslaughter if they were unable to reach a verdict. But after four days of deliberation, the jurors told the judge they couldn’t reach a unanimous decision on the lesser charges.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Mary Sue Feldmeier said she couldn’t comment on the government’s decision to retry the case. But Sean Chapman, one of two defense attorneys representing Swartz, said he wasn’t surprised.

“It’s typical in a homicide case where there was a mistrial on some counts,” he said.

Continue reading at the Arizona Daily Star.

Full coverage or the Lonnie Swartz trial.

Arizona federal courts too busy to add more border-crosser cases, chief judge says

U.S. District Court in Tucson. Arizona Daily Star / file

Federal district courts in Arizona are already working at capacity and can’t take more prosecutions, their chief judge said Monday. He was responding to the U.S. attorney general’s announcement that the Department of Homeland Security is now referring 100 percent of unauthorized border crossings for prosecution.

“We can only do what we do now,” said U.S. District Court Judge Raner Collins. “We are at our limit.”

In fiscal 2017, more than 14,000 people were sentenced to prison for crossing the border illegally (entry and re-entry) in the District of Arizona, according to data compiled by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University.

Last fiscal year, the Border Patrol made nearly 39,000 apprehensions in its Tucson sector and close to 13,000 in its Yuma sector — numbers that could potentially mean doubling the number of prosecutions if everyone is prosecuted. While a person can be apprehended more than once in a given year, the recidivism rate among the agency’s arrestees has decreased significantly over the years.

“If you cross this border unlawfully, then we will prosecute you,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Monday. “It’s that simple.”

This includes parents who come with their children. “If you are smuggling a child, then we will prosecute you and that child may be separated from you as required by law,” Sessions said. “… So if you’re going to come to this country, come here legally. Don’t come here illegally.”

In the first four months of the year, the Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project, an Arizona-based organization that provides free legal services to those in immigration detention, has seen 135 cases of parents separated from their children, said Lauren Dasse, the group’s executive director. It had 213 cases in all of 2017, she said, up from 190 the previous year.

“We have concerns, especially when we talk about prosecuting every single immigrant,” Dasse said.

Continue reading at the Arizona Daily Star.