Nation and World briefs for July 5

Pregnant teens especially vulnerable in border centers

PHOENIX — As tales of wretchedness and overcrowding in government border detention facilities abound, one group of migrants is particularly vulnerable: teen moms and pregnant girls without parents of their own.

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Immigrant advocates and lawyers say the young mothers don’t get special medical consideration while they’re being crammed into U.S. facilities so packed that migrants are forced to sleep on floors or stand for days on end. As a result, the girls say they’re underfed, have poor hygiene and their babies get sick.

Their hardships aren’t over once they’re released, which can’t happen until a vetted sponsor — usually a relative — takes them in as their immigration cases wind their way through the courts. Their lack of legal status and inability to afford child care makes it nearly impossible for them to find a job, and staying in the U.S. legally is an uphill battle even if their children are American citizens.

“The average unaccompanied minor who’s coming is facing so many challenges because of lack of access to legal representation, issues in education, lack of support, lack of mental health treatment,” said Priya Konings, the deputy director of legal services for Kids in Need of Defense, which helps unaccompanied minors. “When you compound that with anything else such as being a young parent or being pregnant, everything becomes twice as hard.”

An attorney’s shocking discovery last month of an ailing 17-year-old girl from Guatemala cradling a clearly premature infant inside a U.S. detention center prompted a national outcry and highlighted the challenges facing the teens. The mother had had an emergency cesarean section in Mexico in early May and crossed the border with the baby on June 4. She was in a wheelchair in extreme pain when legal advocates found her.

Best way to fight climate change? Plant a trillion trees

WASHINGTON — The most effective way to fight global warming is to plant lots of trees, a study says. A trillion of them, maybe more.

And there’s enough room, Swiss scientists say. Even with existing cities and farmland, there’s enough space for new trees to cover 3.5 million square miles (9 million square kilometers), they reported in Thursday’s journal Science . That area is roughly the size of the United States.

The study calculated that over the decades, those new trees could suck up nearly 830 billion tons (750 billion metric tons) of heat-trapping carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. That’s about as much carbon pollution as humans have spewed in the past 25 years.

Much of that benefit will come quickly because trees remove more carbon from the air when they are younger, the study authors said. The potential for removing the most carbon is in the tropics.

“This is by far — by thousands of times — the cheapest climate change solution” and the most effective, said study co-author Thomas Crowther, a climate change ecologist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich.

Deadly land, deadly sea: Libya migrants face brutal choice

CAIRO — A boat from Libya carrying 86 migrants sank in the Mediterranean and left only three survivors, authorities said Thursday, after an airstrike on a detention center near the Libyan capital killed dozens of others.

The twin tragedies illustrate the almost unthinkable choice facing those who have reached the North Africa coast while seeking a better life in Europe: Risk a hazardous sea voyage in a flimsy, rubber-sided boat, or face being crammed into a detention center, where some of the migrants say they have been forced to assemble weapons for someone else’s war.

“I fled from the war, to come to this hell of Libya,” said one teenager from sub-Saharan Africa who suffered minor injuries in Tuesday night’s airstrike near Tripoli. “My days are dark here.”

The International Organization for Migration said the boat sank late Wednesday off the Tunisian city of Zarzis and 82 of the migrants who had been on board were missing. Fishermen pulled four men from the water, and one died overnight, said Lorena Lando, the agency’s head in Tunisia, said.

The boat, which had sailed from the Libyan port of Zuwara, was carrying twice as many people as should have been aboard, said Chamseddine Merzoug, a Tunisian Red Crescent volunteer in an interview via Skype.

Ex-Venezuela spy chief says Maduro ordered illegal arrests

WASHINGTON — Cruising around Caracas in a convoy with five cellphones full of valuable contacts, Gen. Manuel Cristopher Figuera displayed trappings that befitted his reputation as a loyal soldier who rose from an upbringing in a dirt-floored hut to become Venezuela’s spy chief.

But as President Nicolás Maduro began to lean on the brawny 55-year-old to do his dirty work — in Cristopher Figuera’s telling, ordering him to jail opponents and victims of torture — the Cuban and Belarusian-trained intelligence officer gradually lost faith. In a show of nerve, he betrayed the leader he met with almost daily and secretly plotted to launch a military uprising that he said came close to ousting Maduro.

Now one of the most prominent defectors in two decades of socialist rule in Venezuela has come to Washington seeking revenge against his former boss. He is looking to help the same U.S. “empire” he was taught to hate investigate human-rights violations and corruption. On Tuesday, he met with the U.S. special envoy to Venezuela, Elliott Abrams.

It’s unclear whether Cristopher Figuera still has influence inside the government and can collect evidence against his former comrades. But he’s talking a big game.

“I’m like a soldier who raises the flag upside-down to signal distress,” Cristopher Figuera told The Associated Press. “My mission is to seek help to free my country from disgrace.”

Florida’s most famous cheerleader, Mr. Two Bits, dies at 97

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The University of Florida’s most famous cheerleader has died.

George Edmondson Jr., better known as Mr. Two Bits while riling up crowds at Florida home games for 60 years, died Tuesday at age 97, the school announced Thursday.

Edmondson officially retired from his role after the 2008 season. He never attended Florida but was named an honorary alumnus in 2005.

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Edmondson first performed his “Two Bits” cheer in 1949. He was in the stands at Florida Field when fans booed the Gators as they took the field for the season opener against the Citadel. An insurance agent from Tampa, Edmondson decided to cheer and encouraged others to join him.

His “Two bits, four bits, six bits a dollar … all for the Gators, stand up and holler!” routine took hold, and he quickly became a well-known figure at games. He always wore khaki pants, a yellow dress shirt, an orange-and-blue striped tie and brown-and-beige saddle shoes. He would move from section to section, with a whistle around his neck and a rolled-up “2-Bits” sign in his back pocket. During stoppages in play, he would blow the whistle while holding up his sign and then lead those nearby in the recognizable cheer.

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