US arrests religious leaders, activists at border protest

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Pro-migrants activists demonstrate next to US border patrol agents against US migration policies near the US-Mexico border fence at Imperial beach in San Diego county, US, as seen from Playas de Tijuana, Baja California state, Mexico, on December 10, 2018. (AFP)
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A girl waves to a young man watching from Mexican territory who said he was her cousin, as a group of Honduran asylum seekers is taken into custody by US Border Patrol agents after the group crossed the US border wall into San Diego, California, seen from Tijuana, Mexico, Monday, Dec. 10, 2018. (AP)
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A man holds his hands in the air in front of a line of Border Patrol agents during a protest Monday, Dec. 10, 2018, in San Diego. (AP)
Updated 11 December 2018

US arrests religious leaders, activists at border protest

  • US immigration officials say these claims, most of which are accepted, exploit a legal loophole allowing migrants to enter the United States while they await a court hearing on their asylum case

SAN DIEGO : Kneeling in front of riot police, 32 religious leaders and activists were arrested at the US border fence in San Diego on Monday during a protest to support the Central American migrant caravan.
More than 400 demonstrators, many leaders of churches, mosques, synagogues and indigenous communities, sought a halt to detention and deportation of migrants and for the United States to welcome the caravan that arrived in Tijuana, Mexico in November.
Singing and praying, religious leaders moved forward in lines of four to six, some wearing T-shirts reading, “Love Knows No Borders.” They were handcuffed and led away by federal agents upon entering a restricted area in front of the fence.
“As a Quaker who believes in our shared humanity...We’re calling on the US to respect the rights of migrants,” said Joyce Ajlouny, general secretary of the American Friends Service Committee, which has run a week of actions to back migrants.
US Border Patrol spokesman Theron Francisco said 31 people were arrested by Federal Protective Services for trespassing and one was arrested by Border Patrol for assaulting an agent.
The arrests marked the second confrontation with US authorities since the caravan reached Tijuana. US Border Patrol agents fired tear gas at migrants on Nov. 25 after they said they had stones thrown at them.
Thousands of migrants are living in crowded shelters and encampments in Tijuana after traveling from Central America to escape poverty and violence. They may have to wait weeks or months to claim asylum at the US border.
Data released on Monday by US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) showed asylum claims at the US-Mexico border rose 67 percent in the 2018 fiscal year from a year earlier.
US immigration officials say these claims, most of which are accepted, exploit a legal loophole allowing migrants to enter the United States while they await a court hearing on their asylum case.
“As the majority of these claims will not be successful when they are adjudicated by an immigration court, we need Congress to act to address these vulnerabilities,” CBP Commissioner Kevin McAleenan said in a statement.
Protest leaders said President Donald Trump had portrayed the caravan as a security threat to advance his “anti-immigrant” agenda and further restrict migrants’ ability to seek asylum.
A US judge in November blocked Trump’s proclamation to bar migrants who cross the US-Mexico border illegally from seeking asylum.


Smoke haze settles over Australian capital as bushfires burn

Updated 5 min 23 sec ago

Smoke haze settles over Australian capital as bushfires burn

  • Residents of Canberra in the country’s southeast woke up to see the capital shrouded in haze Sunday
  • The state’s Bureau of Meteorology warned that the massive fires are 'in some cases just too big to put out at the moment.'
SYDNEY: Smoke haze from bushfires raging in Australia spread to the capital Sunday, as firefighters raced to contain more than 140 blazes ahead of a heatwave forecast early this week.

Australia is experiencing a horrific start to its fire season, which scientists say began earlier and is more extreme this year due to a prolonged drought and the effects of climate change.

Residents of Canberra in the country’s southeast woke up to see the capital shrouded in haze Sunday, joining those in Sydney who have endured weeks of toxic air pollution caused by bushfire smoke.

Officials said favorable weather conditions had given them a chance to bring several blazes under control before the forecast return of strong winds and high temperatures Tuesday.

Among those is a “mega fire” burning across 250,000 hectares within an hour’s drive of Sydney, Australia’s largest city, where ash from the fires has occasionally fallen.

Firefighters are now bracing for Tuesday, when temperatures are expected to reach above 40 Celsius in parts of New South Wales state — worst-hit by the bushfires — and gusting westerly winds are likely to fan the flames.

“Today (fire) crews will be doing what they can to consolidate and strengthen containment lines, which in some areas will include backburning,” NSW Rural Fire Service spokesman Greg Allan told AFP.

But the state’s Bureau of Meteorology warned that the massive fires are “in some cases just too big to put out at the moment.”

“They’re pumping out vast amounts of smoke which is filling the air, turning the sky orange & even appearing like significant rain on our radars,” the department tweeted.

Nearly 50 reinforcements from the United States and Canada have been flown in to support fatigued firefighters in recent days, with the international contingent tasked with providing logistical assistance.

In neighboring Queensland, the focus was also on managing fatigue among frontline firefighters — who in both states are almost all volunteers — as weather there provided a brief reprieve from weeks of battling blazes.

“We’re just looking to wind down and recover and prepare for the next round, whenever that may be,” a Queensland Fire and Emergency Service spokesman told AFP.

Since the crisis began in September, six people have been killed, more than 700 homes destroyed and an estimated two million hectares (almost five million acres) scorched.

Though the human toll has been far lower than the deadliest fire season in 2009 — when almost 200 people died — the scale of this year’s devastation has been widely described as unprecedented, as Australians grapple with the impacts of a changing climate.

Official data shows 2019 is on track to be one of the hottest and driest years on record in Australia.