Hundreds of children wait in Border Patrol facility in Texas

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A Mission Police Dept. officer (L), and a US Border Patrol agent watch over a group of Central American asylum seekers before taking them into custody on June 12, 2018 near McAllen, Texas. (AFP)
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A two-year-old Honduran asylum seeker cries as her mother is searched and detained near the U.S.-Mexico border on June 12, 2018 in McAllen, Texas. (AFP)
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Central American asylum seekers, including a Honduran girl, 2, and her mother, are taken into custody near the US-Mexico border on June 12, 2018 in McAllen, Texas. (AFP)
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In this file photo taken on September 8, 2014 women and children sit in a holding cell at a US Border Patrol processing center after being detained by agents near the US-Mexico border near McAllen, Texas. (AFP)
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A US Border Patrol spotlight shines on a terrified mother and son from Honduras as they are found in the dark near the U.S.-Mexico border on June 12, 2018 in McAllen, Texas. (AFP)
Updated 18 June 2018
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Hundreds of children wait in Border Patrol facility in Texas

  • Nearly 2,000 children have been taken from their parents since Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the policy
  • Stories have spread of children being torn from their parents’ arms, and parents not being able to find where their kids have gone

McALLEN, Texas: Inside an old warehouse in South Texas, hundreds of children wait in a series of cages created by metal fencing. One cage had 20 children inside. Scattered about are bottles of water, bags of chips and large foil sheets intended to serve as blankets.
One teenager told an advocate who visited that she was helping care for a young child she didn’t know because the child’s aunt was somewhere else in the facility. She said she had to show others in her cell how to change the girl’s diaper.
The US Border Patrol on Sunday allowed reporters to briefly visit the facility where it holds families arrested at the southern US border, responding to new criticism and protests over the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy and resulting separation of families.
More than 1,100 people were inside the large, dark facility that’s divided into separate wings for unaccompanied children, adults on their own, and mothers and fathers with children. The cages in each wing open out into common areas to use portable restrooms. The overhead lighting in the warehouse stays on around the clock.
The Border Patrol said close to 200 people inside the facility were minors unaccompanied by a parent. Another 500 were “family units,” parents and children. Many adults who crossed the border without legal permission could be charged with illegal entry and placed in jail, away from their children.
Reporters were not allowed by agents to interview any of the detainees or take photos.
Nearly 2,000 children have been taken from their parents since Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the policy, which directs Homeland Security officials to refer all cases of illegal entry into the United States for prosecution. Church groups and human rights advocates have sharply criticized the policy, calling it inhumane.
Stories have spread of children being torn from their parents’ arms, and parents not being able to find where their kids have gone. A group of congressional lawmakers visited the same facility Sunday and were set to visit a longer-term shelter holding around 1,500 children — many of whom were separated from their parents.
“Those kids inside who have been separated from their parents are already being traumatized,” said Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon, who was denied entry earlier this month to children’s shelter. “It doesn’t matter whether the floor is swept and the bedsheets tucked in tight.”
In Texas’ Rio Grande Valley, the busiest corridor for people trying to enter the US, Border Patrol officials argue that they have to crack down on migrants and separate adults from children as a deterrent to others.
“When you exempt a group of people from the law ... that creates a draw,” said Manuel Padilla, the Border Patrol’s chief agent here. “That creates the trends right here.”
Agents running the holding facility — generally known as “Ursula” for the name of the street it’s on — said everyone detained is given adequate food, access to showers and laundered clothes, and medical care. People are supposed to move through the facility quickly. Under US law, children are required to be turned over within three days to shelters funded by the Department of Health and Human Services.
Padilla said agents in the Rio Grande Valley have allowed families with children under the age of 5 to stay together in most cases.
An advocate who spent several hours in the facility Friday said she was deeply troubled by what she found.
Michelle Brane, director of migrant rights at the Women’s Refugee Commission, met with a 16-year-old girl who had been taking care of a young girl for three days. The teen and others in their cage thought the girl was 2 years old.
“She had to teach other kids in the cell to change her diaper,” Brane said.
Brane said that after an attorney started to ask questions, agents found the girl’s aunt and reunited the two. It turned out that the girl was actually 4 years old. Part of the problem was that she didn’t speak Spanish, but K’iche, a language indigenous to Guatemala.
“She was so traumatized that she wasn’t talking,” Brane said. “She was just curled up in a little ball.”
Brane said she also saw officials at the facility scold a group of 5-year-olds for playing around in their cage, telling them to settle down. There are no toys or books.
But one boy nearby wasn’t playing with the rest. According to Brane, he was quiet, clutching a piece of paper that was a photocopy of his mother’s ID card.
“The government is literally taking kids away from their parents and leaving them in inappropriate conditions,” Brane said. “If a parent left a child in a cage with no supervision with other 5-year-olds, they’d be held accountable.”
Dr. Colleen Kraft, the head of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said that she visited a small shelter in Texas recently, which she declined to identity. A toddler inside the 60-bed facility caught her eye — she was crying uncontrollably and pounding her little fists on mat.
Staff members tried to console the child, who looked to be about 2 years old, Kraft said. She had been taken from her mother the night before and brought to the shelter.
The staff gave her books and toys — but they weren’t allowed to pick her up, to hold her or hug her to try to calm her. As a rule, staff aren’t allowed to touch the children there, she said.
“The stress is overwhelming,” she said. “The focus needs to be on the welfare of these children, absent of politics.”


‘Shameful’: US lawmakers blast Trump over Putin summit

Updated 48 min 33 sec ago
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‘Shameful’: US lawmakers blast Trump over Putin summit

  • ‘Today’s press conference in Helsinki was one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory’
  • Astonished Republicans and Democrats uniformly condemned Trump, with harsh criticism coming even from hosts on Fox News — a network normally friendly to the president

WASHINGTON: Donald Trump returned late Monday from his European tour to face ire in Washington, where US intelligence officials and senior Republicans were denouncing the president as “shameful” and “disgraceful” after he refused to challenge Russian leader Vladimir Putin over interference in American elections.
Republican Senator John McCain said Trump’s seeming acceptance of Putin’s denial was a historical “low point” for the US presidency and the Helsinki summit between the two leaders a “tragic mistake.”
“Today’s press conference in Helsinki was one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory. The damage inflicted by President Trump’s naivete, egotism, false equivalence, and sympathy for autocrats is difficult to calculate,” McCain said in a blistering statement.
“No prior president has ever abased himself more abjectly before a tyrant.”
Taking direct issue with the president who appointed him, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said US spy agencies have been “clear” and “fact-based” in their assessment that Moscow interfered in the presidential race two years ago — an assessment that Trump refused to endorse in Helsinki.
Coats added that Russia remains behind “ongoing, pervasive efforts to undermine our democracy.”
Trump stunned US political allies and foes alike with his answer to a question about Russian hacking and interference in the 2016 election which saw him defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Putin “just said it is not Russia. I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be,” Trump said.
That came three days after the US Justice Department indicted 12 Russians for hacking Democratic Party computers, the latest in a series of actions taken by the US government since late 2016 in retribution for what intelligence agencies say was a broad plan to support Trump’s election campaign directed by Putin himself.
Yet Trump appeared to take Putin’s word in dismissing that conclusion.
“I have great confidence in my intelligence people. But I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.”
Trump also appeared to embrace Putin’s offer to have Russian investigators work together with US prosecutors on the case of the 12 just indicted.
“I think that’s an incredible offer.”
Astonished Republicans and Democrats uniformly condemned Trump, with harsh criticism coming even from hosts on Fox News — a network normally friendly to the president.
“The president must appreciate that Russia is not our ally,” said Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan.
“There is no moral equivalence between the United States and Russia, which remains hostile to our most basic values and ideals,” he said.
Senior Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said Trump’s answer on meddling “will be seen by Russia as a sign of weakness.”
Bent on forging a personal bond with the Kremlin chief, Trump headed into the summit blaming the “stupidity” of his predecessors for plunging ties to their present low.
“This is shameful,” said Senator Jeff Flake, a fellow Republican and staunch critic of the president.
“I never thought I would see the day when our American president would stand on the stage with the Russian president and place blame on the United States for Russian aggression.”
The language used by Democrats was much harsher, including accusations of “treason.”
“For the president of the United States to side with President Putin against American law enforcement, American defense officials, and American intelligence agencies is thoughtless, dangerous, and weak,” said Chuck Schumer, the senior Democrat in the Senate.
Democratic California Representative Jimmy Gomez charged: “To side with Putin over US intelligence is disgusting; to fail to defend the US is on the verge of treason.”
Congressman Adam Schiff, the senior Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said Trump had given Putin “a green light to interfere in 2018.”
Democratic Senator Chris Murphy was blunter: “This entire trip has just been one giant middle finger from President Trump to his own country. Just jaw dropping,” he wrote on Twitter.
Coats’ statement was seen as an uncommonly brusque pushback by the US intelligence community against the White House.
Retired spy chiefs were more direct however.
Coat’s predecessor, James Clapper, called Trump’s acquiescence to Putin “an incredible capitulation,” while former CIA chief John Brennan labelled it “nothing short of treasonous.”