CHILD ABUSE: A TRUMP ADMINISTRATION “STRATEGY” – “[T]he backup also was a result of policy decisions that officials knew would ensnare unaccompanied minors in bureaucratic tangles and leave them in squalid conditions.”

Neena Satija
Neena Satija
Investigative Reporter
Washington Post
Karoun Demirjian
Karoun Demirjian
National Security Reporter
Washington Post
Abigail Hauslohner
Abigail Hauslohner
National Immigration Reporter, Washington Post
Josh Dawsey
Josh Dawsey
White House Reporter
Washington Post

From the WashPost:


Neena Satija,

Karoun Demirjian,

Abigail Hauslohner and

Josh Dawsey

November 12, 2019 at 12:13 p.m. EST

When thousands of migrant children ended up stranded in U.S. Border Patrol stations last spring, President Trump’s administration characterized the crisis as a spontaneous result of the record crush of migrants overwhelming the U.S. immigration system. But the backup also was a result of policy decisions that officials knew would ensnare unaccompanied minors in bureaucratic tangles and leave them in squalid conditions, according to dozens of interviews and internal documents viewed by The Washington Post.The policies, which administration officials began pursuing soon after Trump took office in January 2017, made it harder for adult relatives of unaccompanied minors to secure the children’s release from U.S. custody. Enhanced vetting of sponsors — including fingerprints and other paperwork — and the sharing of that information between child welfare and immigration authorities slowed down the release of children and exposed the sponsors to deportation.

The government knew the moves would strain child shelters, according to documents and current and former officials, but it was aimed at sending a message to Central American migrants: Coming to the United States illegally has consequences.

Administration officials said the policy was designed to protect children from potential abusers or criminals, but they also wanted to create a broad deterrent effect; they reasoned that undocumented migrants might hesitate to claim their children for fear of being deported. Authorities weighed deterrence — a central aspect of U.S. immigration policy under both President Barack Obama and Trump — against the possibility of children crowding into border stations. And they chose to push forward, knowing what would result.

“This will strain bed capacity,” authorities wrote in a discussion paper in February 2018.

The approach caused thousands of unaccompanied minors to be stranded in U.S. custody and exacerbated the appearance of a crisis on the southern border — a major element underlying the administration’s public request for billions of dollars in additional funding from Congress.

A boy sits in the U.S. Border Patrol Central Processing Center in McAllen, Tex., in August. Border facilities were overwhelmed this year as a record number of Central American migrant families crossed the southern border. (Carolyn Van Houten/The Washington Post)

Lawyers were allowed to visit children in the border stations, and Democratic lawmakers were invited to tour the facilities when they were at their worst. They witnessed — and shared with the public — scenes of desperate children held in crowded cells without basic necessities.

According to current and former government officials, and emails and memos detailing the Trump administration’s strategy, it is clear they knew that without enough beds in government shelters, children would languish in Border Patrol stations not equipped to care for them, making the government a target of lawsuits and public criticism — both of which occurred.

One of the key figures in that strategizing, Chad Wolf, is set to take the helm at the Department of Homeland Security. Senators on Tuesday are expected to first vote on Wolf’s confirmation to his current job as undersecretary for strategy, policy and plans. Wolf is Trump’s favored pick to then take over as acting head of the agency, just as officials brace for what could be another increase in migrant crossings.

Top DHS officials have warned that the reprieve from the record influx of migrants in recent months is probably temporary. Acting Customs and Border Protection commissioner Mark Morgan said last month that the number of people crossing the border is still higher than at the same time last year and remains a “crisis.” Migration also typically increases in the spring, and the U.S. government is preparing for another surge of families and unaccompanied minors.

Such a potential wave of children is what inspired the early discussions about policy changes within the Trump administration in 2017 — along with debate about the policy’s effects.

The Trump administration’s wildly contradictory statements on family separation

The Trump administration changed its story on immigrant family separation no fewer than 14 times in one week. (JM Rieger/The Washington Post)

‘Safety’ vs. ‘anguish’

Staff at the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement, which is in charge of caring for unaccompanied migrant children, argued against the policy in weekly memos during the summer of 2017. Jonathan White, then deputy director of the ORR’s children’s program, warned in a July 2017 memo that the administration’s plan to separate children from their families and to alter the process of handing children over to sponsors would “result in significant increases” in how long children would be held.

White wrote that children would spend an average of 95 days in federal custody and that the department would need at least 6,500 additional beds in just three months. White declined to comment for this story.

Documents reviewed by The Post show that officials also estimated that HHS would need an additional $686 million in funding — more than 50 percent above its planned budget — to accommodate the policy and create additional bed space.

But the administration did not formally request extra money for that purpose at the time, according to senior Democratic and Republican congressional aides who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private negotiations.

Mark Weber, an HHS spokesman, did not dispute those details but maintained that the border backups resulted from a historic influx of unaccompanied children. In May alone, 9,000 children were referred to the government’s care, he said.

Migrants are gathered behind a fence at a makeshift detention center in El Paso on March 27, when U.S. authorities said the immigration system was at a breaking point. (Sergio Flores/For The Washington Post)

Administration officials also thought the backlog would be short-lived.

“At some point in FY19, the deterrent effect of the new policy should stop families and unscrupulous adult aliens from using the reunification process, normalizing and reversing the volume trend” of unaccompanied minors arriving at the border, authorities wrote in a discussion paper that the National Security Council shared with senior administration officials. The paper was shared with an interagency group that met regularly in the White House Situation Room to discuss immigration and border security.

Some senior officials acknowledged in interviews that they expected some children to remain in custody for longer periods of time, but they said the policy was developed with child safety in mind; they did not want children to be released to smugglers or criminals.

“My number one concern on this was making sure that kids were safe,” Tom Homan, former acting director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said in an interview. “I know it’s a tough decision. It was never easy. You have to weigh the operational concerns, and the humanitarian concerns, and how long they’re going to stay in detention. . . . Yeah, it was going to increase the bed stay, but it wouldn’t be like twofold, threefold, fourfold. We thought it was worth a try, and it if doesn’t work, we can always pedal back and change gears.”

Acting ICE director Matthew Albence said the policy was part of the “deterrent effect” the government was seeking: “The goal was to prevent these children from coming on this dangerous journey.”

Almairis Guillen and her son, Miguel de Jesus Oseguera, 4, sweep with a homemade broom where they and other members of a migrant caravan were resting in Juchitan, Mexico, in October 2018. Thousands of people were part of their caravan, which was heading north to the U.S. border. (Carolyn Van Houten/The Washington Post)The shadows of minors awaiting processing darken the floor of the U.S. Border Patrol center in McAllen on Aug. 12. (Carolyn Van Houten/The Washington Post)

Albence, Homan and other Trump administration officials say the backlog arose because of Washington politics, blaming Democrats in Congress for being too slow to authorize funding for more shelter beds at facilities designed to care for children.

“No one who values child welfare and safety would argue smuggled, exploited and unaccompanied children at the southern border should be handed over to illegal alien ‘sponsors’ without reliable identity confirmation and background checks,” said deputy White House press secretary Hogan Gidley. “The only ones responsible for crowded shelters are Democrats who want to preserve and expand loopholes used by child smugglers for purely political purposes.”

A few months after the policy was implemented, HHS officials determined that it was not improving child safety. They concluded that the added vetting was redundant and needlessly extended the time children remained in custody, according to internal documents that ORR Deputy Director Jallyn Sualog presented to Congress, and to testimony on Capitol Hill.

Advocates saw a darker motive in policies that they say were “intentionally developed to inflict maximum anguish on children,” said Heidi Altman, of the National Immigrant Justice Center. She said officials knew that their plans “would trigger a chain of events that left children hungry, abused and sick in overcrowded CBP facilities.”

Democrats likewise have argued that the White House set up the crisis. Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro (D-Conn.), presiding over a House Oversight subcommittee hearing last month, noted that it had always been possible for the government to ease conditions but that officials chose not to.

“We did not have to have a backlog. We did not,” DeLauro said. “That was created.”

Wrapped in foil blankets, migrants try to stay warm while waiting to be processed and transported by the Border Patrol in El Paso in February. (Carolyn Van Houten/The Washington Post)

Tightening the rules

The Department of Homeland Security did a test run of the policy in the summer of 2017, instructing border agents to interview young migrants about the relatives they wanted to live with in the United States. They then created “target folders” for those adults that could be used to take action against them, according to internal emails that the American Immigration Council obtained via the Freedom of Information Act and made available online.


At the ORR, then-director Scott Lloyd was thinking about the administration’s “moral imperative” to protect children from smugglers and to ensure that gangs were not exploiting the child shelter system to enter the country.

“Our legal responsibilities are child welfare,” Lloyd said in an interview. “But even from a child welfare perspective, it’s desirable to deter people from taking that risk, putting their kids in that type of harm.”

Lloyd said he and his staff agreed that better communication between his agency and DHS was the best way to address those concerns.

“We needed to know if a kid had any gang ties or gang ties in their family — we needed to make sure that DHS had that information and that we had that information,” Lloyd said.

The partnership was formalized in an agreement that mandated significantly stricter fingerprinting and screening requirements for all adults who hoped to sponsor a migrant child or who lived in a house where a migrant child might stay.

“If this could get finalized and implemented soon, it would have a tremendous deterrent effect,” Gene Hamilton, counsel to then-attorney general Jeff Sessions, wrote in notes he sent by email in December 2017 to Wolf, the senior DHS official who is now in line to take over as acting secretary. The existence of the notes — but not the identity of the authors or the recipients — was first reported by NBC News.

Wolf declined to comment.

Alexei Woltornist, a Justice Department spokesman, said the agreement was just one of “numerous steps” to prevent the victimization of children: “Ending the trauma these children can face requires taking action against all parties who entrust criminals and cartels to transport their children across the border.”

HHS Secretary Alex Azar and then-DHS secretary Kirstjen Nielsen — the two department heads tasked with carrying out the policy — voiced serious concerns, according to two officials familiar with the discussions. They worried that the agreement would be impossible to implement, could lead to longer detention times for children and would be viewed publicly as unnecessarily harsh, said the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal policy deliberations.

Caitlin Oakley, an HHS spokeswoman, did not dispute that account, but she said in a statement that Azar “supports the Trump administration’s goal of enforcing immigration laws and securing the border.”

“The backup at the border of minors witnessed this summer was the consequence of a broken immigration system,” Oakley added.

Nielsen declined to comment.

One HHS employee who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal matters recalled Lloyd telling staffers that the White House wanted them “to do everything you can to prevent backups into border stations. But it is better that there be a backup in a border station than that we not enforce immigration laws and that we not deter migration.”

Lloyd denied that account.

“I don’t ever recall holding, even temporarily, the idea that backups at border stations was a remotely acceptable scenario,” Lloyd said.

Migrants wait inside the fence of a makeshift detention center in El Paso in March. (Sergio Flores/For The Washington Post)

Internal memos show that for months before implementing the policy, government lawyers worried about lawsuits and discussed ways to claim that the policy would make children safer. In a January 2018 draft memo, viewed by The Post, Justice Department lawyers proposed defending the plan to conduct enhanced background checks and share them with enforcement agents as a means of protecting migrant children from witnessing the eventual deportation of their parents or relatives.

“We can argue that whether a proposed sponsor is subject to removal is a key factor in determining suitability, given the impact that immigration enforcement against, or detention of, a sponsor would have on the circumstances faced by” unaccompanied minors living with the sponsor, Justice Department lawyers wrote in January 2018 correspondence with DHS and HHS officials as part of an “analysis of litigation risk” associated with the agreement.

Federal judge blocks Trump administration from detaining migrant children for indefinite periods

The administration also developed and rolled out its family separation policy in the spring of 2018, part of its “zero tolerance” approach at the border. The months-long initiative, which separated thousands of children from their parents, compounded the need for shelter space. After a public outcry, the administration ended the policy.

By the fall of 2018, most of the families had been reunited, and the number of unaccompanied children crossing the border had fallen, but the population of children in the shelters continued to grow, according to HHS data. By October 2018, migrant children were spending an average of more than 90 days in federal custody — exactly as White had predicted — more than twice the length of stays two years earlier.

While some adult migrants were afraid to come forward to claim their children, the contractors tasked with carrying out the background checks and fingerprinting were overwhelmed, according to current and former HHS officials. The American Civil Liberties Union and other advocates filed lawsuits challenging the policy, arguing that parents waited months for fingerprinting results.

Migrant teens walk through a camp in Tornillo, Tex., in December 2018. The Trump administration announced in June 2018 that it would open a temporary shelter for up to 360 migrant children in this remote corner of the Texas desert. Six months later, the facility had expanded into a camp holding thousands of teenagers. (Andres Leighton/AP)

Time in custody grows

Kevin Dinnin, the head of the nonprofit that operated a shelter for migrant children in Tornillo, Tex., said the crush of minors became increasingly severe through late 2018, and he told the agency he could not continue. Images of teenagers behind chain-link fences shuffling single-file from tent to tent had drawn public outrage, and Dinnin could not understand why children continued arriving at the shelter even though migrant crossings had slowed and family separations had ended.

“The problem was, kids were coming and not being discharged,” Dinnin said. “The average length of stay just kept increasing.”

An HHS official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive policy decisions said the agency would never have opened the Tornillo shelter had it not been for the agreement with DHS.

“It was the increase in average length of care that created a need for thousands of beds,” the official said.

U.S. returns 100 migrant children to overcrowded border facility as HHS says it is out of space

HHS career staff members decided that the agency had no choice but to eliminate some aspects of the background checks to relieve the pressure on the system. To avoid roiling the White House, they slowly rolled back the policy through several “operational directives” over a period of months, according to current and former HHS officials.

The agency announced that it would stop fingerprinting all adult members of a sponsor’s household in December 2018, and the government then quickly released thousands of children from custody. The Tornillo shelter closed a few weeks later.

But with the agency still fingerprinting sponsors, some children continued to languish in custody for months, especially when migrant crossings surged again in the spring. Children apprehended at the border were left in Border Patrol stations as a result.

Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) addresses the media July 1 after touring the Clint, Tex., Border Patrol facility. Reports of inhumane conditions plagued the facility, where migrant children were being held. (Christ Chavez/Getty Images)Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), center, departs after a House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing on family separation and detention centers on July 12. She gave an impassioned speech, shedding tears while describing the conditions she witnessed along the border. (Al Drago/Bloomberg News)

Democratic lawmakers, lawyers and advocates toured Border Patrol stations in late spring and early summer and delivered scathing descriptions of the suffering they witnessed. DHS and HHS officials pleaded with Congress for more money, saying they had been blindsided by the numbers. HHS canceled English classes, soccer and legal aid for migrant children, citing inadequate funds.

In June, Congress approved a $4.6 billion emergency border spending package, shortly after hearing the government’s pleas about what they described as a humanitarian crisis at the border.

Officials credited the subsequent release of hundreds more children to the aid package. But in court documents and congressional testimony, they acknowledged that moves to scale back the enhanced background checks had made the difference. Those included a final directive in June to stop fingerprinting aunts, uncles and grandparents seeking custody of migrant children, speeding up the release of more than 1,000 children in a matter of weeks and allowing the emergency shelter in Homestead, Fla., to close.

“I do support the four operational directives in order to expedite the release of children to properly vetted sponsors,” ORR Director Jonathan Hayes said at a congressional hearing in July. “I want to see the children back with their families.”

Officials have argued that shortening the time that children are held in federal custody will boost the incentive for migrant families to seek entry into the United States.

“The shorter the stay, the more likely they’re willing to take it on,” Homan said. “If I think I’ll be detained for a year, I might not come. But if I’ll be detained for a week and be released, that may convince me to make that trip.”

Nick Miroff, Maria Sacchetti, Paul Kane and Yasmeen Abutaleb contributed to this report.



The Trump Administration continues to intentionally misrepresent the conditions in the Northern Triangle that are sending families and children in flight to the U.S., notwithstanding their knowledge of the dangers and the overt cruelty and racism of the Trump Administration directed against them.

While the Trump Administration keeps on putting forth the knowingly false narrative that this “crisis” is caused by “loopholes” in U.S. law, that’s demonstrably untrue. Over 50% off the nearly 26 million refugees worldwide are children under the age of 18.   

Obviously, the increasing number of child refugees is part of a tragic worldwide phenomenon having no causal relationship to U.S. laws or court decisions. It’s a result of conditions in the sending countries and won’t be stopped or prevented by unilateral actions on the part of receiving countries, even extreme cruelty.  The phenomenon might, however, be increased by the overtly anti-refugee policies and statements of the Trump Administration and the actions of the Trump Administration in coddling dictators and tyrants, which actually produces more child refugees.

Also, what about the criminals over at HHS who have abandoned their Congressionally-assigned duty to protect and look out for the best interests of children for a White Nationalist, racist, nativist enforcement policy that targets kids. When folks like Alex Azar & company are sent packing from Government some day, remember for what they really stand!

We’re allowing shameless thugs to run our national immigration policies. There will be consequences!




“FLOATERS” IN THE RIO GRANDE: How Is This An Appropriate Response Of World’s Most Prosperous Country To Individuals Seeking Protection Under Our Laws Or, At Worst, A Better Life?

“Floaters — How The World’s Richest Country Responds To Asylum Seekers”
EDS NOTE: GRAPHIC CONTENT – The bodies of Salvadoran migrant Oscar Alberto Mart??nez Ram??rez and his nearly 2-year-old daughter Valeria lie on the bank of the Rio Grande in Matamoros, Mexico, Monday, June 24, 2019, after they drowned trying to cross the river to Brownsville, Texas. Martinez’ wife, Tania told Mexican authorities she watched her husband and child disappear in the strong current. (AP Photo/Julia Le Duc)
Abigail Hauslohner
Abigail Hauslohner
National Immigration Reporter, Washington Post

Abigail Hauslohner reports for WashPost:

ABRAM, Tex. — The dead man was face down near the riverbank, visible mostly because of the slivers of red on the soles of his sneakers.

“We’ve got a floater,” U.S. Border Patrol agent Deborah Villarreal called out to the rest of her unit. She swung the patrol boat around to get a closer look.

It was predawn, early in Villarreal’s shift, and the purplish-pink sky reflected in the placid waters of the Rio Grande. She furrowed her brow at the grim start to her day, and she thought about the family out there somewhere, missing this man, wondering where he was, not knowing he was dead.

“I hate to see that,” she said.

Villarreal sees dead bodies regularly, floating in this river that separates Mexico from the United States. This was the second her unit had spotted along this particular stretch in about a week.

By the end of her day, she would have steered the boat up and down the river a couple dozen more times, passing the body again and again before Mexican authorities arrived to take it away. She would pass the same series of concrete sheds — holes drilled into the sides so the drug cartels can use them as lookout points — and the same run-down riverfront cafe, where a black car loitered, and a man watched the boat pass. She would wave to the Mexican national guardsmen at their sleepy encampment, push through a cloud of skunk odor — it was their mating season — scour the river reeds for signs of footsteps into the United States, and send her agents up the bank and into the brush after a pair of Mexican migrants, ultimately catching up to them on the edge of a cane field.

This, relative to recent months, was a slow day in the Rio Grande Valley.

The winding body of the river here in South Texas — with its submerged remnants of rafts, its banks trampled by migrant families and cartel workers, and now, by Mexican forces — is a microcosm of all the ebbs and flows of the nation’s approach to immigration. This sliver of the 1,954-mile border with Mexico is primed to deliver a verdict on the effectiveness of the Trump administration’s border policies.

It is here that the spring influx of migrant families and children reached its peak, inundating U.S. Border Patrol stations with too many detainees. But apprehensions in the Rio Grande Valley have dropped 55 percent since May, down from nearly 50,000 to just more than 22,000 in August. Though this area still sees more migrant crossings than any other sector of the border, border agents here have witnessed how Washington policies aimed at decreasing the flow have played out in real time.

To them, it is President Trump’s deal with Mexico to intercept migrants before they cross into the United States that has seemed to have the most impact. They do not know the details of the accord or how long it will last, but they can see the Mexican forces on the other side of the Rio Grande.

“You see a difference,” said Ryan Ansbro, a Border Patrol agent who works alongside Villarreal.

Villarreal and her team, who patrol the river by boat, rush to intercept migrants and smugglers before they cross, and they pluck people from the water when they wind up in it. The precipitous summer decline in migrant crossings has meant quieter shifts on a river that is suddenly more manageable, less frantic.

But the constants remain: the desperation that cannot be deterred by danger; the drug cartels that devise new methods as fast as authorities try to thwart them; the everyday logistical challenges facing the Border Patrol, even as Trump focuses money and rhetorical energy on a border wall.

Though lower than earlier in the year, last month still saw more crossings than any other August in a decade. Will large groups of families and children — sometimes as many as 300 people at once — again pull agents away from their patrol duties, forcing them to become processors and jail guards? Will Mexican troops be able to sustain their effort?

“We’re all in limbo,” Villarreal said. “We don’t know if it’s going to skyrocket again or if this is going to be what helps us. It’s just an unknown.”

The chase is always on

On the river, the chase is always on. Cartel scouts along the Mexican side keep watch for the Border Patrol, launching rafts to the United States full of migrants or drugs whenever they find a gap.

The agents, in turn, speed back and forth, hoping to keep up. They rely heavily on eyes in the sky: helicopters, blimps with cameras, and stationary surveillance technology mounted on the edges of walls and fields to warn them of a raft hitting the water. If they get to the launch point quickly enough, the rafts often double back — sometimes tossing migrants into the water as they do.

“Our job is more of a deterrence unit,” Villarreal said. “And we are involved in a lot of rescues.”

The pale-green water in this region is flat and still, its current barely discernible from the boat deck, as it winds snakelike through the thick scrubland, with curves and switchbacks. Some of the narrowest areas and favored crossing points are less than a football field wide. But the water can be deceiving.

“You look at it right now, and you think there’s no current,” Ansbro said. “But you get in, and you find out there is a current. And a lot of them can’t swim,” he said of the migrants. Others get disoriented in the thick brush on the U.S. side, and in their exhaustion, they try to swim back.

Thick tangles of reeds, known locally as carrizo cane, create dense jungles that stretch from the riverbanks inland, thwarting the movements of migrants and the Border Patrol agents seeking to apprehend them.

The Border Patrol agents tell stories of the people they have found: the 18-year-old who medic Salvador Pastran discovered face up and arms spread in the middle of a dirt road a few years ago, the body reminding him of a snow angel; the young woman and three babies that agent Sheymarie Rosa and colleagues spotted recently, so close to a road, but all dead; or the group of 20 children and adults who Villarreal and her team rescued from the reeds at the water’s edge earlier in the summer.

In three days on the river this month, agents from the McAllen Border Patrol station, including Villarreal’s unit, encountered migrants during every shift who were suffering from heat exhaustion in the cane fields and citrus orchards between the river and the roads, even though the weather was cooler — in the 80s — than it had been in weeks.

‘This is the new Ellis Island, and we are turning people away’: A lawyer struggles to help migrants

(Zoeann Murphy/The Washington Post)

There was a Nicaraguan man who told agents he had lost consciousness in the brush after being deposited there by smugglers early in the morning. Hours later, he came to and crawled out onto a levee, where he was able to seek help from two U.S. National Guardsmen who have been deployed to the border in recent months to assist the Border Patrol.

There was another migrant, who agents believed to be a Chinese national, who began vomiting incessantly — a common symptom of heat exhaustion, Pastran said — shortly after they gave him water to drink.

Many of the migrants are leaving behind abject poverty, gangs, violence — and the dangers of a northbound trek and a hazardous crossing do not dilute the potential promise of life in the United States.

“The conditions here are still better,” Ansbro said.

Echoing the broad contours of arguments the Trump administration has made about why it is necessary to more aggressively deport those who are in the country illegally, Villarreal, Ansbro and other agents said they believe little can be done to stop the flow of migrants without tightening the laws to make it more difficult for asylum seekers and illegal entrants to remain in the United States.

“If they think they can come and stay, they’re going to do it,” Villarreal said.

Policies such as the administration’s Migrant Protection Protocols, which pushes asylum seekers back into Mexico to await U.S. court hearings, and other restrictions such as requiring migrants to first seek asylum in countries they transit on their way to the United States, are aimed at preventing people from even attempting a crossing.

But the Mexican forces are the only policy that the agents on the river can see for themselves.

Change on the Rio Grande

The change came earlier this summer.

Early one morning, Villarreal and her unit caught a glimpse of something unusual in the dark. There, on the Mexican side of the river, was a collection of colorful tent canvases, like a family campsite at a national park. But this was the bank of the Rio Grande, just north of the Mexican city of Reynosa, where the government had notoriously little authority in the face of cartel control. It was only after the tents’ occupants came to life under the beams of the Border Patrol’s flashlights that Villarreal and her agents realized what they were seeing.

“Oh, it’s the Mexican military,” she said, recalling her surprise, referring to the Mexican national guard forces. “We woke those poor guys up.”

There is little direct communication between the agents and the Mexican authorities. An international liaison handles that.

But on this day, Villarreal waved to the men in fatigues as her boat passed. We haven’t seen much today, she calls out to them in Spanish through the boat’s loudspeaker, “but we’ll let you know if we do.”

Two of the men responded with a thumbs-up.

When a late morning call came in over the radio about a group crossing downriver, the intelligence was coming from an agent watching an aerial camera, and Villarreal’s boat unit took off at 47 mph, past the inlet where agents have seen alligators, and past the remnants of a dozen green plastic rafts snagged on tree branches in the shallows.

“Mira,” Rosa told Villarreal in Spanish. “Look.”

The boat slowed next to a forested bank across from an empty Mexican cafe.

“There’s a guy right there.” Across the river, a man was watching them.

They moved up and down along the river bank, searching for signs of trampled reeds. The raft had already crossed. Finding fresh footprints in the mud, Ansbro and Rosa set off in pursuit through the brush, where their uniforms snagged on blades of cane and the air felt heavy and suffocating.

They followed the tracks out to a dirt road along another dense field of cane, and up the road, a snake slipping over the sandy berm to get out of their way. A helicopter moved in overhead.

“Fifty yards ahead of you, there’s going to be two of them,” came a voice from the helicopter over the radio after several minutes. “Right shoulder. Go into the field right there.” And the agents plunged into the cane, emerging seconds later with two muddied men handcuffed together.

They sat them down on the road to collect their belongings and to begin the typical questioning. One was a 44-year-old fisherman from the southern Mexican state of Veracruz. The other was a 32-year-old from Guerrero. Both were fathers of three. Both were exhausted.

They had not eaten in two or three days, the fisherman said. They had come to the United States to look for work.

The agents led them back to the boat, took them upriver, and handed them off to another agent with a truck. They would likely face swift deportation.

In the afternoon, the tiny boat Villarreal had been waiting for since dawn appeared around a river bend. Two bomberos — Mexican firefighters in red vests — stood side-by-side as they steered upriver. Villarreal’s team guided them to the body they had reported that morning.

The man, whose name they would likely never know, was just as they had left him, the red of his sneakers still peeking above the murky green in the shadow of the reeds. They guessed he had been dead for days, and Villarreal furrowed her brow again, this time in pity for what the firefighters would have to do.

“I feel bad for the bomberos. They pay them nothing,” she said as she watched them delicately tie the body to a rope attached to their boat.

When bodies end up on the U.S. side of the border, agents call the local sheriff’s office or justice of the peace to handle the remains and seek identification. When they are on the Mexican side, it is up to the bomberos.

Ansbro and Rosa asked what would become of him. Villarreal shrugged. If he has no identification, she said, he rwill probably be placed in a grave of unknowns.

The bomberos motored away, dragging the man in the boat’s wake.

Villarreal picked up the radio.

“The body has been recovered.”


“Floaters” were actually once live human beings, like you and me.

Dehumanization of migrants and forcing them into life-threatening situations is a morally and legally unacceptable means of “deterrence.” To what depths will we sink under Trump?



FRAUD & ABUSE: TRUMP SEEKS DEATH AND DISRUPTION FOR REFUGEES: Claims To Have Duressed Guatemala, One Of The, Poorest, Most Corrupt, Most Dangerous REFUGEE SENDING Countries Into Outrageously Illegal “Safe Third Country” Agreement! — “Big Mac With Lies” Says Guatemala Not Much Different From U.S.!

Seung Min Kim
Seung Min Kim
White House Reporter
Washington Post
Kevin Sieff
Kevin Sieff
Latin American Correspondent, Washington Post
Abigail Hauslohner
Abigail Hauslohner
National Immigration Reporter, Washington Post

From the Washington Post:

By Seung Min Kim ,

Kevin Sieff and

Abigail Hauslohner

July 26 at 6:45 PM

President Trump on Friday said he has struck a deal that would designate Guatemala as a safe third country for people seeking asylum in the United States — a plan that is facing significant legal hurdles in the Central American country as the Trump administration continues to struggle with the high number of migrants arriving at the southern U.S. border.

The White House did not immediately release details of the agreement, and it is unclear how it would be implemented considering Guatemala’s constitutional court has ruled any safe third country agreement would require legislative approval and the proposal has been widely criticized there.

Trump announced the arrangement in a previously unscheduled appearance in the Oval Office with Enrique Degenhart, the Guatemalan minister of government, and acting homeland security secretary Kevin McAleenan.

“We’ve long been working with Guatemala, and now we can do it the right way,” Trump said Friday. He claimed the agreement will put “coyotes and the smugglers out of business.”

He added: “These are bad people.”

Trump said the agreement will offer safe harbor for asylum applicants deemed legitimate, and that he plans to sign agreements with other countries soon.

The announcement comes just days after Trump threatened retaliation against Guatemala as discussions stalled over designating the Central American nation as a safe third country, which means migrants traveling through the country on their journey to the United States would be directed to first seek protection there.

The Trump administration has been seeking to sign these agreements to cut down on the number of Central American migrants arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border, which officials say is overwhelming the U.S. immigration system. The administration has come under heavy criticism from Democrats and immigration advocates who argue asylum seekers and other migrants face inhumane conditions in the U.S. facilities where they are being housed.

On a call with reporters Friday, McAleenan said the agreement with Guatemala would “be up and running in August,” after the two governments had completed several steps to ratify the deal. Under the agreement, Salvadorans and Hondurans would need to seek asylum in Guatemala, McAleenan said.

“If you have, say, a Honduran family coming across through Guatemala to the U.S. border, we want them to feel safe to make an asylum claim at the earliest possible point,” he said. “If they do instead, in the hands of smugglers, make the journey all the way to the U.S. border, [they would] be removable back to Guatemala.”

Guatemala’s only public statement about the agreement did not explicitly say it would serve as a safe third country, but alluded vaguely to “a plan that will be applied to Salvadorans and Hondurans.”

The statement said the United States would allocate temporary agricultural work visas to Guatemalans, adding that country’s president, Jimmy Morales, negotiated the deal “to counter grave economic and social repercussions.”

A proposal to designate Guatemala as a safe third country is already facing significant legal and logistical challenges. For one, the deal would force thousands of Hondurans and Salvadorans to apply for asylum in Guatemala, one of the region’s poorest countries, which has in some cities struggled to defeat transnational gangs, including MS-13.

Last year, Guatemala received 259 asylum applications, a tiny number compared with the United States and even Mexico. Of those, not a single application was approved, in part because the country is still building institutions to review those cases.

“Guatemala’s asylum system isn’t prepared to increase its capacity to 50,000 in less than a year,” said one United Nations official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, which currently supports Guatemala’s fledgling asylum system, was not consulted as part of the negotiations, officials said. McAleenan also likened the third party agreement to arrangements between European countries and Turkey to stem the Syrian migrant crisis in 2015. He declined to say whether the U.S. government would be providing any assistance to Guatemala to improve safety and security for Honduran and Salvadoran refugees.

When read the State Department’s description of the security situation in Guatemala, which includes notations that murder is “common,” gang activity is “widespread” and police are ineffective, McAleenan, the Homeland secretary, said one should not “label an entire country as unsafe,” and likened Guatemala to parts of the United States.

The announcement prompted immediate backlash from Democratic lawmakers and human-rights groups who warned that Guatemala did not have the capacity to accept all the migrants who would now be required to apply for asylum there, nor is such an arrangement legal.

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), who along with Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) toured Border Patrol facilities in El Paso on Friday, noted that Guatemala has one of the world’s highest homicide rates and that they had visited with families earlier in the day who said they had fled the country because of the danger.

“It’s just Kafkaesque to say about that country, ‘Oh, safe third country,’ ” Kaine said. “You can’t just attach a label of safe third country and make it so.”

The Trump administration has taken a variety of unilateral actions to address the challenges at the border, and it has also received an additional $4.6 billion from Congress to deal with the crisis.

In June, Customs and Border Protection apprehended 94,000 migrants at the southern border, a 29 percent drop from the 133,000 who were detained in May. Border crossings tend to drop as the temperature rises in the summer, but administration officials have pointed to the lower figures as a sign that Trump’s border plan is working.

For months, Morales dispatched members of his administration from Guatemala to Washington to negotiate a safe third country agreement with the United States. But earlier this month, shortly before Morales was scheduled to sign the agreement in the White House, Guatemala’s constitutional court ruled he did not have the authority to sign the deal without legislative approval.

The meeting with Trump was canceled. In a statement, Morales then denied he had ever attempted to negotiate such an agreement. He is in the twilight of his scandal-ridden presidency, with elections scheduled for Aug. 11.

But when Trump threatened to impose tariffs on Guatemala and tax remittances, Morales resumed negotiations. Members of the country’s business community urged him on, raising alarm about the impact of tariffs, but most Guatemalans believe the country is wildly unprepared to offer asylum to thousands of Central Americans.

A number of Guatemalan congressmen and human rights officials said they would soon challenge the legality of Friday’s agreement in the country’s courts.

Jordán Rodas, Guatemala’s human rights prosecutor, said the country’s interior minister, who signed the deal on Friday, “does not have the power to sign an agreement of this nature.”

He said he was analyzing the agreement, and if he determined it was illegal, he would demand the constitutional court suspend its implementation.

“We are two weeks from an election,” said Edgar Gutierrez, one of five Guatemalan ex-foreign ministers who had earlier filed a petition in the court to block the signing of the agreement. “The signing of this accord will destabilize the country.”

Some Guatemalan analysts said the timeline for the agreement made it even more unrealistic.

“One month to be a safe country,” said Pedro Pablo Solares, a leading Guatemalan columnist who frequently writes about migration. “It couldn’t be more absurd.”

This year, for the first time in history, more Guatemalans have been apprehended at the U.S. border than citizens of any other country. It remains one of the region’s poorest countries, where migration is seen by many as the only way into a tiny middle class. In 2017, Guatemalans received a total of $8.2 billion in remittances, 11 percent of Guatemalan GDP.

Guatemalan politicians and analysts were taken aback by the agreement, which most discovered through a White House tweet.

“One characteristic of this government is that it does whatever it wants, in spite of what the law says. This is another example,” said Sandra Morán Reyes, a congresswoman from the Convergencia party.

Sieff reported from Mexico City. Mary Beth Sheridan in Mexico City and Bob Moore in El Paso contributed to this report.


Wow! Talk about turning the law, logic, and human morality on its head! “Safe Third Country” agreements are supposed to be between countries with fair, due process oriented asylum systems, like the existing agreement between the U.S. and Canada. They are not a gimmick for dishonest officials like Trump and McAleenan to “outsource” legal protection responsibilities to dangerous, poor, REFUGEE SENDING countries like Guatemala that can’t possibly live up to their international obligations under the U.N Convention. 

This is nothing short of high level fraud that will result in death, torture, and abuse of asylum seekers! Not to mention that the presence of lots of deported asylum seekers will further destabilize the already unstable country of Guatemala. Trump is about to create an unmitigated international disaster by grossly unlawful conduct. Will we be able to stop him before it’s to late for us and for the rest of humanity?