Federal politics unite unlikely coalitions at the border

The last two years of the Trump administration have been challenging for both environmental and immigrant advocacy groups at the border. Renewed calls to build a $25 billion wall that would cut through important wildlife habitat for species like the jaguar and the Mexican gray wolf, combined with the impacts of ramped-up militarization in border communities, have increasingly united conservationists and social justice activists. This newfound collaboration is especially strong in Las Cruces, in southern New Mexico. This story originally appeared at High Country News and is reprinted with permission. Here, in the Borderlands, groups like the faith-based organization NMCAFé and the American Civil Liberties Union Regional Center for Border Rights have long worked on immigration reform and fought for immigrant rights at detention facilities.

Migrants get a second chance at asylum. But it’s still “an uphill battle.”

Ruby Powers didn’t rush to celebrate when her client, a Honduran mother who has been separated from her 15-year-old son and detained for four months, passed her second “credible fear” interview to restart the asylum process. Although the president and the American Civil Liberties Union have come to an agreement giving migrant families separated at the border this summer a second chance to make their case for staying in the country, immigration lawyers say the Trump administration is still working overtime to upend the nation’s asylum process. And while a few hundred people may get a second chance at asylum, there are likely tens of thousands of asylum-seekers who will be subject to a tightened asylum process. “It’s infinitely harder on all levels,” Powers said. “With the chipping away of the asylum law, it’s an uphill battle to try to get an approval.”
The primary source of their unease?

“Where is my son?”: A migrant father was deported in May. His son is still in a Texas shelter.

SAN MIGUEL LIMÓN, Guatemala — Before he was deported in May, David Xol, an indigenous farmworker from Guatemala, made an urgent plea to U.S. officials at the immigrant processing center in McAllen. “There is no way I am going to leave my son here,” he told them. Earlier that month, Xol and his 7-year-old son, Byron, had travelled through Mexico for three days in a wooden crate stowed in the back of a tractor trailer, surviving on just an apple apiece and swallowing pills that kept them from defecating. When they reached the U.S. border in mid-May, Xol and Byron crossed the Rio Grande on a raft and were apprehended by Border Patrol officers, at the height of the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance immigration policy. A few days later, at the processing center, Xol was separated from Byron.

Border cleaves husband from wife – and a father from his children

EL PASO, Texas and VALLE DE JUÁREZ, Mexico – Gabriela Castañeda and Adrián Hernández were lovestruck teenagers when, in 2002, they crossed the border to start a life together far from the violence-plagued valley east of Ciudad Juárez. They never imagined the border would one day keep them apart. The two made a home for themselves in a colonia east of El Paso — Adrián working construction for big U.S. homebuilders, Gabriela keeping house and raising their growing family. But driving long distances to work left Adrián exposed. He picked up traffic violations that led to deportations.

Trump’s false narrative of chaos at the border

Este artículo también está disponible en Español aquí. California is often the first state in the West to test new solutions to social and environmental problems. These days, the state is at the fore of a much more ambitious challenge, as it finds its progressive ideals — and its increasingly diverse citizenry — in frequent opposition to the policies of President Donald Trump. Every month, in the Letter from California, we chronicle efforts in the state to grapple with its role in the changing, modern West. 

In 2010, back when I covered the border region for public radio, I visited a shelter for migrants, a modest building located a mile away, just south of the fence separating San Diego and Tijuana. There, recent deportees could find a bed for a few nights after Customs and Border Protection agents released them in Mexico. That’s where I met 34-year-old Verónica Vargas, a mother of two from Los Angeles, who’d been deported after a domestic violence incident.

In Las Cruces, Sessions talks stricter immigration efforts

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions outlined the Donald Trump administration’s immigration policies and enforcement while speaking at the Southwestern Border Sheriff’s Coalition and the Texas Border Sheriff’s Coalition spring conference in Las Cruces

Sessions reiterated pledges to increase prosecutions of those who enter the country illegally in an attempt to deter others from even attempting to enter. “If you break into our country, we will prosecute you,” Sessions said. Sessions said that Trump “expects us to not just play around with this problem, but to fix it and that’s certainly my goal.”

One way he said Trump would help solve illegal immigration is by building a border wall. He said the lack of such a wall was “an open invitation to illegal crossings.”

He also praised the U.S. Attorney’s office in New Mexico, which he said “already demonstrated its effectiveness over the last two years.” He said the office’s prosecutions of illegal crossings increased seven-fold from two years ago. Sessions described several so-called “loopholes” in the immigration process, including what he called a “credible fear loophole.” He was referring to a longstanding U.S. policy that allows  people who have a credible fear of persecution or torture in their home country to gain asylum admittance.

Federal government tells border prosecutors to adopt “zero-tolerance” policy on immigration

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Friday ordered federal prosecutors on the southwest border to adopt a “zero tolerance” policy against anyone who enters or attempts to enter the country illegally, a mandate he said “supersedes” any prior directives. “To those who wish to challenge the Trump Administration’s commitment to public safety, national security, and the rule of law, I warn you: illegally entering this country will not be rewarded, but will instead be met with the full prosecutorial powers of the Department of Justice,” Sessions said in a statement. “To the Department’s prosecutors, I urge you: promoting and enforcing the rule of law is vital to protecting a nation, its borders, and its citizens.”

The directive instructs all federal prosecutors on the southwest border to prosecute all Department of Homeland Security referrals for alleged violations of federal immigration illegal-entry laws. In a one-page memo sent to federal prosecutors on the southwest border, Sessions said the goal wasn’t merely developing more immigration cases, but instead an end to the “illegality in [the] immigration system.” He added that if the new policy requires more resources, the offices should identify and request those to the Department of Justice. The mandate comes the same week President Donald Trump has assailed Democrats for supporting what he said are “catch and release” policies where individuals apprehended by the Border Patrol are released while they await a court date.

Trump to send National Guard troops to border

Under President Donald Trump’s plan to send military troops to patrol the U.S.-Mexico border, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security would consult with the governors of border states to decide how many National Guard troops are needed. Kirstjen Nielsen, the secretary of DHS, made this announcement during a White House briefing on Wednesday. NM Political Report asked Gov. Susana Martinez’s office if she supports deploying troops along the border and if she had spoken with the White House about these plans. Her office did not respond by press time despite three emails to her public information officers. A spokesman did tell the Associated Press that she supported the move.

NM Environment Review: ‘Breakdown’ in KAFB leak partnership, plus climate and Borderlands

If you want to be ahead of the curve, sign up to receive our New Mexico Environment Review email on Thursday mornings. -John Fleck is no longer with the Albuquerque Journal, but he just can’t let go of the news. On Wednesday, he published a short piece on his blog about the “breakdown” in the partnership between Kirtland Air Force Base and the New Mexico Environment Department and the Albuquerque-Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority. The Air Force is responsible for the leakage of more than 24 million gallons of jet fuel into local groundwater supplies. According to a recent memo from the water authority to the New Mexico Environment Department, which Fleck posted online, the base’s new strategic plans are “disconnected from the stated goal of protecting drinking water and the aquifer and undermine Water Authority’s ability to ensure the safety and quality of drinking water.”

Furthermore, the memo notes that the updated strategy “implies that the site is moving from an active remediation strategy to a passive remediation strategy….” The authority opposes that “as it extends the damages to water resources and places liabilities on the water users and utilities, while allowing the responsible party to take minimal efforts towards corrective action.”

Read the entire memo here.

Dunn decries ‘federal land grab’ on state land on border

New Mexico’s State Land Commissioner said he will block the United States government from accessing some state lands along the border unless they can come to an agreement on access to the area. The newly-minted Libertarian, who is running for U.S. Senate, posted signs Tuesday along a mile of state trust land along the border with Mexico. In a press release, he called the construction of fences and roads on the land a “federal land grab.”

He told the Associated Press his office would install a fence to block access to the property if his office can’t come to an agreement with the federal government. Dunn said an investigation by his office found the federal government constructed a road and a fence on a stretch of land without acquiring the necessary right-of-way. Dunn wrote to the federal government about state lands along the border, and proposed a land swap, earlier this year.