US to take ‘extraordinary’ measures in face of migrant surge

A caravan of nearly seven thousand migrants from Central America walk toward Tapachula from Ciudad Hidalgo while en route to the United States, in Frontera Hidalgo, Mexico October 21, 2018. (File/Reuters)
Updated 27 December 2018
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US to take ‘extraordinary’ measures in face of migrant surge

  • US Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan warned Wednesday that the agency was unable to cope with the thousands of arrivals
  • In the last two months, Border Patrol has apprehended 139,817 people on the southwest border, compared with 74,946 during the same period a year earlier

EL PASO, United States: The United States will take “extraordinary” protective measures to deal with a surge of immigrant children in custody, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said Wednesday after a second Guatemalan child died in custody.
Nielsen plans to travel later this week to the Mexico border region to witness medical screenings and conditions at Border Patrol stations, she said in a statement, as Congress and Donald Trump remain deadlocked over the president’s demands for billions of dollars to fund a wall along the border.
“In response to the unprecedented surge of children into our custody, I have directed a series of extraordinary protective measures,” she said in a statement after the “deeply concerning and heartbreaking” death of the child.
Nielsen has asked experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to investigate “the uptick in sick children crossing our borders” and to identify what further steps border hospitals should take in preparation, her statement said.
Nielsen added that she has asked the US Coast Guard medical corps to assess and “make appropriate recommendations” about Border Patrol medical programs, and has sought additional medical professionals from the Department of Defense.
US Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan warned Wednesday that the agency was unable to cope with the thousands of arrivals, as most facilities were built decades ago for men arriving alone.
“We need help from Congress. We need to budget for medical care and mental health care for children in our facilities,” he told CBS News.
Eight-year-old Felipe Gomez, who collapsed after running a fever, was among almost 25,000 migrant children in US custody, according to McAleenan — the greatest number ever recorded.
“That’s an enormous flow. That’s very different from what we’ve seen before,” he said, adding that the onset of the flu season was putting further pressure on health care services.
In the last two months, Border Patrol has apprehended 139,817 people on the southwest border, compared with 74,946 during the same period a year earlier, Nielsen said.
More than 68,500 were “family units” while almost 14,000 others were unaccompanied children, she said, and the system has been pushed to “breaking point.”
Augusto Mendoza, a Guatemalan migrant in El Paso with his one-year-old son, told AFP he would “never” consider making the journey again.
“It’s been very, very hard. I would never think about doing it again, I regret it for my son,” said Mendoza, who was separated from his wife at the border and released from detention on Christmas Day.
DHS officials said all children in border patrol custody would be given a thorough medical screening, reaffirming McAleenan’s commitment to “secondary medical checks” with a focus on those under 10.
And Guatemala has called for an investigation into the boy’s death, which came just three weeks after a seven-year-old girl from the country died in similar circumstances.
Gomez was detained with his 47-year-old father at a crossing in El Paso, Texas on December 18 and had been transferred to a New Mexico medical center showing signs of sickness on Monday, the CBP said.
Staff diagnosed him with a cold but later discovered a fever. He was discharged at midday, with prescriptions for ibuprofen and the antibiotic amoxicillin.
The boy was later sent back to the hospital suffering from nausea and vomiting. He died shortly before midnight on December 24.
CBP said it had not established the cause of death but would “ensure an independent and thorough review of the circumstances.”
Nielsen said that in the last fiscal year there were six migrant deaths in custody, but no child had died in Border Patrol custody for more than a decade.
“It is now clear that migrants, particularly children, are increasingly facing medical challenges and harboring illness caused by their long and dangerous journey,” she said.
Opposition Democrats reacted to Gomez’s death by accusing Trump — who has made hard-line immigration policies a central plank of his presidency — of demonizing migrants for political gain.
“The Trump administration must be held accountable for this child’s death and all the lives they have put in danger with their intentional chaos and disregard for human life,” Senator Martin Heinrich of New Mexico tweeted.
Nydia Velazquez, a Democratic congresswoman from New York, demanded “accountability” and an end to the White House’s “hateful, dangerous anti-immigrant policies.”
The boy’s death came on the same day that Jakelin Caal, a Guatemalan girl who died in US custody, was buried.
Her body arrived on Sunday in San Antonio Secortez, the remote village where her family — members of the indigenous Q’eqchi’ Maya people — live without electricity and other basic services.


Report raises fresh doubts over Trump’s NATO commitment

Updated 16 January 2019
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Report raises fresh doubts over Trump’s NATO commitment

  • Last year, Trump repeatedly told senior officials that he did not see the point of NATO
  • Before taking office, Trump called NATO “obsolete”

WASHINGTON: Fresh doubts surfaced Tuesday over President Donald Trump’s commitment to NATO, after he was reported to have discussed a desire to pull out of the trans-Atlantic military alliance.
Last year, Trump repeatedly told senior officials that he did not see the point of NATO — the historic alliance that forms the backbone of the West’s post-World War II security order — and that he wanted to withdraw, The New York Times reported.
He has often blasted members of the 29-nation partnership for not paying more into their national defense budgets.
Before taking office, Trump called NATO “obsolete” and soon after a tumultuous summit in July, he questioned whether the US would honor the alliance’s founding principle of mutual defense for newest member Montenegro.
Eric Pahon, a Pentagon spokesman, said the US remains “100 percent” committed to NATO.
At the summit the president said the US “commitment to NATO is very strong” and “tremendous progress has been made” by allies and partners.
“That has not changed,” Pahon said in a statement.
“NATO remains the cornerstone of transatlantic security.”
In Brussels, a NATO official also highlighted Trump’s comments from the July summit.
“The United States is strongly committed to NATO and to transatlantic security,” the official told AFP.
“The US has significantly boosted its commitment to the defense of Europe, including with increased troop commitments.”
Turning 70 this year, NATO has underpinned Western security in Europe for decades, first countering the Soviet Union and then Russian expansionism.
A US withdrawal from NATO would be a strategic gift of epic proportions to Russia, which is accused of meddling in the 2016 presidential elections to help Trump win.
Former defense secretary Jim Mattis was a staunch proponent of NATO and repeatedly visited its Brussels headquarters, where he sought to reassure allies about America’s commitment to the alliance.
But Mattis quit last month, and observers see a shrinking coterie of advisers around Trump willing to push back against him.
The US Congress, including Trump’s own Republican Party, would likely push back against any effort to withdraw from NATO.
The only country to have ever invoke Article 5, NATO’s collective defense principle, was America following the September 11, 2001 attacks.