US Dept of Homeland Security requests 1,000 soldiers to manage migrant crisis

Migrant families overcrowding a Border Patrol facility on June 11, 2019 in Weslaco, Texas. (AFP/DHS Inspector General Office)
Updated 09 July 2019
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US Dept of Homeland Security requests 1,000 soldiers to manage migrant crisis

  • Thousands of active duty and National Guard troops have already been deployed for months along the US-Mexico border to support immigration officials
  • The Department of Homeland Security has been criticized after a report from its inspector general after “dangerous overcrowding” in migrant detention facilities in Texas

WASHINGTON: The US Department of Homeland Security requested 1,000 additional soldiers to help manage the migrant crisis in Texas, the Pentagon said Monday, amid growing outcry over conditions in migrant detention facilities.
In a statement, the Pentagon said they had been asked to authorize the Texas National Guard to lend support to Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials, who say they are overwhelmed by the numbers of refugees crossing the southern US border.
Thousands of active duty and National Guard troops have already been deployed for months along the US-Mexico border to support immigration officials.
“DHS requests authorization for 1,000 Texas National Guard members... to provide supplemental holding and Port of Entry (POE) enforcement support to CBP within the State of Texas,” the statement said.
The Guard members will help manage CBP-run holding facilities for single, adult migrants in the towns of Donna, on the eastern end of the border with Mexico, and Tornillo, which is in the middle of the border.
They will also provide support at ports of entry and commercial airports in El Paso and Laredo, in order to improve border security and traffic flow.
While the Pentagon did not specify when they received the request or if they had made a decision, the statement did note that “Texas Governor (Greg) Abbott has consented to the use of the National Guard to support CBP.”
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has been criticized after a report from its inspector general, a watchdog, last week warned about “dangerous overcrowding” in migrant detention facilities in Texas.
The report included images taken at several Texas sites, showing dozens of migrants including young children packed shoulder to shoulder into cage-like holding areas or cells.
Most single adults had not had a shower in a month and were being given wet wipes. Some detainees were suffering from constipation after a diet consisting only of bologna sandwiches.
The report came a day after a group of Democratic lawmakers toured the detention centers and denounced the conditions as “horrifying.”
Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who toured two such centers, told reporters the migrants were being subjected to “abuse.”
“They put them in a room with no running water and these women were being told by CBP officers to drink out of the toilet,” she said upon returning to New York.
CBP deputy commissioner Robert Perez, appearing on CNN, said the detention centers were “never designed to deal with the volume of migrants coming our way” and the Border Patrol is doing its best to deal with “absolutely oversaturated conditions.”
According to Border Patrol figures, 223,263 people were detained in the Rio Grande Valley sector between October 2018 and May 2019, up 124 percent from the same period a year earlier.
In April the US Defense Department said it would deploy about 320 additional troops to the southern border, adding to around 2,900 active duty military and 2,000 National Guard members currently posted to the boundary region.


Firefighters battle wildfire in Portugal, 32 people hurt

Updated 22 July 2019
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Firefighters battle wildfire in Portugal, 32 people hurt

COLOS, Portugal: More than 1,000 firefighters battled a major wildfire Monday amid scorching temperatures in Portugal, where forest blazes wreak destruction every summer.
About 90% of the fire area in the Castelo Branco district, 200 kilometers (about 125 miles) northeast of the capital Lisbon, was brought under control during cooler overnight temperatures, according to local Civil Protection Agency commander Pedro Nunes.
But authorities said they expected heat in and winds to increase again in the afternoon, so all firefighting assets remained in place. Forests in the region are tinder-dry after weeks with little rain.
The Portuguese Civil Protection Agency said 321 vehicles and eight water-dumping aircraft were deployed to tackle the blaze, which has raced through thick woodlands.
Nunes told reporters that the fire, in its third day, has injured 32 people, one seriously.
Police said they were investigating what caused the fire amid suspicions it may have been started deliberately.
Temperatures were forecast to reach almost 40 C (104 F) Monday — prolonging a spell of blistering weather that is due to hit northern Europe late this week.
Recent weeks have also seen major wildfires in Spain, Greece and Germany. European Union authorities have warned that wildfires are “a growing menace” across the continent.
In May, forest fires also plagued Mexico and Russia.
Huge wildfires have long been a summer fixture in Portugal.
Residents of villages and hamlets in central Portugal have grown accustomed to the summer blazes, which destroy fruit trees, olive trees and crops in the fields.
In the hamlet of Colos, 50-year-old beekeeper Antonio Pires said he had lost half of his beehives in the current wildfire. Pires sells to mainly Portuguese and German clients, but also to Brazil and China.
“(I lost) 100 out of 230 (hives), so almost half,” Pires said. “A lot of damage.”
The country’s deadliest fire season came in 2017, when at least 106 people were killed.
The average annual area charred by wildfires in Portugal between 2010 and 2016 was just over 100,000 hectares (247,000 acres). That was more than in Spain, France, Italy or Greece — countries which are significantly bigger than Portugal.
Almost 11,500 firefighters are on standby this year, most of them volunteers. Volunteers are not uncommon in fire brigades in Europe, especially in Germany where more than 90% are volunteers.
Experts and authorities have identified several factors that make Portugal so particularly vulnerable to forest blazes. Addressing some of them is a long-term challenge.
The population of the Portuguese countryside has thinned as people have moved to cities in search of a better life. That means woodland has become neglected, especially as many of those left behind are elderly, and the forest debris is fuel for wildfires.
Large areas of central and northern Portugal are covered in dense, unbroken stretches of forest on hilly terrain. A lot of forest is pine and eucalyptus trees, both of which burn fiercely.
Environmentalists have urged the government to limit the area of eucalyptus, which burns like a torch. But it is a very valuable crop for Portugal’s important paper pulp industry, which last year posted sales worth 2.7 billion euros ($3 billion). The government says it is introducing restrictions gradually.
Experts say Portugal needs to develop a diversified patchwork of different tree species, some of them more fire-resistant and offering damper, shaded.
Climate change has become another challenge, bringing hotter, drier and longer summers. The peak fire season used to run from July 1 to Sept. 30. Now, it starts in June and ends in October.
After the 2017 deaths, the government introduced a raft of measures. They included using goats and bulldozers to clear woodland 10 meters (33 feet) either side of country roads. Property owners also have to clear a 50-meter (164-feet) radius around an isolated house, and 100 meters (328 feet) around a hamlet.
Emergency shelters and evacuation routes have been established at villages and hamlets. Their church bells aim to toll when a wildfire is approaching.
With 98% of blazes caused by human hand, either by accident or on purpose, officials have also been teaching people how to safely burn stubble and forest waste. Police, army and forest service patrols are also increased during the summer.