Number of asylum seekers sent back over border to grow
WASHINGTON — Border officials are aiming to more than quadruple the number of asylum seekers sent back over the southern border each day, a major expansion of a top government effort to address the swelling number of Central Americans arriving in the country, a Trump administration official said Saturday.
It was the latest attempt to ease a straining immigration system that officials say is at the breaking point. Hundreds of officers who usually screen cargo and vehicles at ports of entry were reassigned to help manage migrants. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen asked for volunteers from non-immigration agencies within her department, sent a letter to Congress late this past week requesting resources and broader authority to deport families faster, and she met with Central American and Mexican officials.
The efforts are being made while President Donald Trump is doubling down on threats to shutter the U.S.-Mexico border entirely, a move that would have serious economic repercussions for both the U.S. and Mexico but wouldn’t stop migrants from crossing between ports. His administration also announced it was cutting aid to the Central American countries home to most of the migrants.
Right now, about 60 asylum seekers a day are returned to Mexico at the San Ysidro, Calexico and El Paso ports to wait out their cases, the official said. They are allowed to return to the U.S. for court dates. The plan was announced Jan. 29, partially to deter false claimants from coming across the border. With a backlog of more than 700,000 immigration cases, asylum seekers can wait years for their cases to progress, and officials say some people game the system in order to live in the U.S.
Officials hope to have as many as 300 people returned per day by the end of the week, focusing particularly on those who come in between ports of entry, said the official, who had knowledge of the plans but was unauthorized to speak publicly and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
Judge restores Obama-era drilling ban in Arctic
President Donald Trump exceeded his authority when he reversed bans on offshore drilling in vast parts of the Arctic Ocean and dozens of canyons in the Atlantic Ocean, a U.S. judge said in a ruling that restored the Obama-era restrictions.
U.S. District Court Judge Sharon Gleason in a decision late Friday threw out Trump’s executive order that overturned the bans that comprised a key part of Obama’s environmental legacy.
Presidents have the power under a federal law to remove certain lands from development but cannot revoke those removals, Gleason said.
“The wording of President Obama’s 2015 and 2016 withdrawals indicates that he intended them to extend indefinitely, and therefore be revocable only by an act of Congress,” said Gleason, who was nominated to the bench by Obama.
A Department of Justice spokesman, Jeremy Edwards, declined comment Saturday.
Stones postpone tour as Jagger receives medical treatment
NEW YORK — The Rolling Stones are postponing their latest tour so Mick Jagger can receive medical treatment.
The band announced Saturday that Jagger was told by doctors “he cannot go on tour at this time.” The band added that Jagger “is expected to make a complete recovery so that he can get back on stage as soon as possible.”
No more details about 75-year-old Jagger’s condition were provided.
The Stones’ No Filter Tour was expected to start April 20 in Miami. Other stops included Jacksonville, Florida; Houston; the New Orleans Jazz Festival; Pasadena and Santa Clara in California; Seattle; Denver; Washington, D.C.; Philadelphia; Foxborough, Massachusetts; East Rutherford, New Jersey; Chicago; and Ontario, Canada.
“I really hate letting you down like this,” Jagger tweeted Saturday. “I’m devastated for having to postpone the tour but I will be working very hard to be back on stage as soon as I can.”
Cities go dark for Earth Hour, bring light to climate change
NEW YORK — Cities around the world marked Earth Hour on Saturday by turning off lights at 8:30 p.m. local time in a call for global action on climate change.
Earth Hour, spearheaded by the World Wildlife Fund, calls for greater awareness and more sparing use of resources, especially fossil fuels that produce carbon gases and lead to global warming. Beginning in Sydney in 2007, Earth Hour has spread to more than 180 countries, with tens of millions of people joining in.
The Empire State Building participated as clocks hit 8:30 p.m. on the U.S. East Coast with a dimming of the skyscrapers’ lights.
In Hong Kong, major buildings along Victoria Harbour turned off their non-essential lights and the city’s popular tourist attraction known as the Symphony of Lights was canceled.
Over 3,000 corporations in Hong Kong signed up for Earth Hour 2019, according to the WWF Hong Kong website. Iconic skyscrapers including the Bank of China Tower and the HSBC Building in Central, the city’s major business district, switched off their lights in response to the global movement.
O’Rourke champions US-Mexico border during Texas kickoff
EL PASO, Texas — Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke declared that immigrants make the country safer as he staged rallies across Texas on Saturday to formally kick off his 2020 White House bid, looking to shore up his deeply conservative home state and champion the U.S.-Mexico border at a time when President Donald Trump has threatened to shut it.
The former congressman, who represented El Paso for three House terms until last year, began the day addressing 1,000-plus supporters in his hometown, across the border from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. He later spoke at historically black Texas Southern University in Houston, before heading to Austin for a third event in the shadow of the red-granite state Capitol.
Bounding onto a makeshift El Paso stage in a blue-button-down shirt to The Clash’s “Clampdown,” O’Rourke declared: “We are safe, not despite the fact that we are a city of immigrants and asylum seekers. We are safe because we are a city of immigrants and asylum seekers.”
“We have learned not to fear our differences, but to respect and embrace them,” he told a crowd that waved small American flags and black-and-white signs reading “Viva Beto” while often interrupting their candidate to chant his first name.
In a series of tweets Friday, Trump warned he could close the U.S. southern border next week “if Mexico doesn’t immediately stop ALL illegal immigration coming into the United States.” In later comments to reporters he added: “We’ll keep it closed for a long time. I’m not playing games.”
AP investigation: Busted spa owners often got off easy
ORLANDO, Fla. — When Florida authorities shut down 10 massage spas last month and charged hundreds of men with buying sex, they broke a longstanding pattern of meting out minor charges and punishment for owners, letting patrons off scot-free and turning a mostly blind eye to signs of human trafficking.
An Associated Press review of state records over the past decade shows that while police officers and sheriff’s deputies in Florida have investigated hundreds of individual massage parlors within their own counties for illegal sexual activity, it was usually low-level massage therapists who were arrested, while owners mostly were exempted or charged with misdemeanors resulting in fines and probation. Johns usually were not charged at all.
In stark contrast, the investigation announced last month spanned several jurisdictions between Palm Beach and Orlando and focused heavily on the possibility of widespread human trafficking. Several spa owners, most of them women originally from China, were charged with felony racketeering and money laundering and could face years in prison.
Authorities also charged 300 men accused of being patrons, including New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft and former Citigroup President John Havens. Authorities say Kraft was twice recorded on video engaging in and then paying for sex acts at the Orchids of Asia Day Spa, located in a shopping center in Jupiter. Both men have denied wrongdoing.
Florida has more than 8,600 licensed massage therapy establishments. It’s difficult to know how many of them sell sex, based on the records. Nationwide, the anti-trafficking advocacy group Polaris estimates there are 9,000 massage establishments with therapists who are trafficked from other places and forced to provide sex acts.