Author: Fworld

US Senate Passes Defense Bill, Battle Looms with Trump over China’s ZTE

The U.S. Senate passed a $716 billion defense policy bill on Monday, backing President Donald Trump’s call for a bigger, stronger military but setting up a potential battle with the White House over Chinese telecommunications firm ZTE Corp.

The Republican-controlled Senate voted 85-10 for the annual National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, which authorizes U.S. military spending but is generally used as a vehicle for a broad range of policy matters.

Before it can become law, the bill must be reconciled with one already passed by the House of Representatives. That compromise measure must then be passed by both chambers and signed into law by Trump.

The fiscal 2019 Senate version of the NDAA authorizes $639 billion in base defense spending, for such things as buying weapons, ships and aircraft and paying the troops, with an additional $69 billion to fund ongoing conflicts.

This year, the Senate included an amendment that would kill the Trump administration’s agreement to allow ZTE to resume business with U.S. suppliers. That ZTE provision is not included in the House version of the NDAA.

While strongly supported by some of Trump’s fellow Republicans as well as some Democrats, the measure is opposed by the White House and some of its close Republican allies, who control the House as well as the Senate.

It could face a difficult path to being included in the final NDAA.

That bill is more likely to include a much less stringent provision, included in the House bill, that would bar the Defense Department from dealing with any entity using telecommunications equipment or services from ZTE or another Chinese company, Huawei Technologies.

Republicans and Democrats have expressed national security concerns about ZTE after it broke an agreement to discipline executives who had conspired to evade U.S. sanctions on Iran and North Korea.

The U.S. government placed a ban on ZTE earlier this year, but the Trump administration reached an agreement to lift the ban while it is negotiating broader trade agreements with China and looking to Beijing for support during negotiations to halt North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.

Foreign investment rules

The Senate version of the NDAA also seeks to strengthen the inter-agency Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, which assesses deals to ensure they do not compromise national security.

The bill would allow CFIUS to expand the deals that can be reviewed, for example making reviews of many proposed transactions mandatory instead of voluntary and allowing CFIUSto review land purchases near sensitive military sites.

The Senate NDAA also includes an amendment prohibiting sales to Turkey of F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jets made by Lockheed Martin Corp unless Trump certifies Turkey is not threatening NATO, purchasing defense equipment from Russia or detaining U.S. citizens.

Senators included the legislation because of the imprisonment of U.S. pastor Andrew Brunson and the purchase of the S-400 air defense system from Russia.

Shipbuilders General Dynamics Corp and Huntington Ingalls Industries Inc could benefit from the bill’s authorization of advance procurement of materials needed for the Virginia class nuclear submarines.

This year’s Senate bill was named after six-term Senator John McCain, the Armed Services Committee’s Republican chairman and Vietnam War prisoner of war, who has been absent from Washington all year as he undergoes treatment for brain cancer.

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US Senate Passes Defense Bill, Battle Looms with Trump over China’s ZTE

The U.S. Senate passed a $716 billion defense policy bill on Monday, backing President Donald Trump’s call for a bigger, stronger military but setting up a potential battle with the White House over Chinese telecommunications firm ZTE Corp.

The Republican-controlled Senate voted 85-10 for the annual National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, which authorizes U.S. military spending but is generally used as a vehicle for a broad range of policy matters.

Before it can become law, the bill must be reconciled with one already passed by the House of Representatives. That compromise measure must then be passed by both chambers and signed into law by Trump.

The fiscal 2019 Senate version of the NDAA authorizes $639 billion in base defense spending, for such things as buying weapons, ships and aircraft and paying the troops, with an additional $69 billion to fund ongoing conflicts.

This year, the Senate included an amendment that would kill the Trump administration’s agreement to allow ZTE to resume business with U.S. suppliers. That ZTE provision is not included in the House version of the NDAA.

While strongly supported by some of Trump’s fellow Republicans as well as some Democrats, the measure is opposed by the White House and some of its close Republican allies, who control the House as well as the Senate.

It could face a difficult path to being included in the final NDAA.

That bill is more likely to include a much less stringent provision, included in the House bill, that would bar the Defense Department from dealing with any entity using telecommunications equipment or services from ZTE or another Chinese company, Huawei Technologies.

Republicans and Democrats have expressed national security concerns about ZTE after it broke an agreement to discipline executives who had conspired to evade U.S. sanctions on Iran and North Korea.

The U.S. government placed a ban on ZTE earlier this year, but the Trump administration reached an agreement to lift the ban while it is negotiating broader trade agreements with China and looking to Beijing for support during negotiations to halt North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.

Foreign investment rules

The Senate version of the NDAA also seeks to strengthen the inter-agency Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, which assesses deals to ensure they do not compromise national security.

The bill would allow CFIUS to expand the deals that can be reviewed, for example making reviews of many proposed transactions mandatory instead of voluntary and allowing CFIUSto review land purchases near sensitive military sites.

The Senate NDAA also includes an amendment prohibiting sales to Turkey of F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jets made by Lockheed Martin Corp unless Trump certifies Turkey is not threatening NATO, purchasing defense equipment from Russia or detaining U.S. citizens.

Senators included the legislation because of the imprisonment of U.S. pastor Andrew Brunson and the purchase of the S-400 air defense system from Russia.

Shipbuilders General Dynamics Corp and Huntington Ingalls Industries Inc could benefit from the bill’s authorization of advance procurement of materials needed for the Virginia class nuclear submarines.

This year’s Senate bill was named after six-term Senator John McCain, the Armed Services Committee’s Republican chairman and Vietnam War prisoner of war, who has been absent from Washington all year as he undergoes treatment for brain cancer.

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Pentagon Suspends August Military Drills with South Korea

The Pentagon on Monday formally suspended a major military exercise planned for August with South Korea, a much-anticipated move stemming from President Donald Trump’s nuclear summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

 

Dana White, spokeswoman for the Defense Department, said planning for the summer drills has stopped, but there have been no decisions made on any other military exercises with South Korea. Military exercises with other countries in the Pacific will continue.

 

Speaking at a news conference last Tuesday after his summit with Kim, Trump abruptly announced that he was suspending military exercises with the South, “unless and until we see the future negotiation is not going along like it should.” He added that dumping the drills will save the U.S. “a tremendous amount of money. Plus, I think it’s very provocative.”

 

His announcement appeared to catch U.S. defense officials by surprise, and his comments ran counter to long-held American arguments that the exercises are critical for effective operations with allies and are defensive in nature. The Pentagon has for years flatly denied North Korean assertions that the exercises are “provocative.”

 

But as the days went by, the U.S. and Seoul began discussions about temporarily suspending the large Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercises that usually take place in August and possibly other joint drills while nuclear diplomacy with North Korea continues. Seoul’s Defense Ministry said Friday that Defense Minister Song Young-moo held “deep” discussions about the drills with U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis in a telephone conversation Thursday evening.

 

Trump’s decision to suspend the exercises, coupled with the vague joint statement issued after his summit with Kim, have reinforced fears in South Korea that the North is attempting to take advantage of a U.S. president who appears to care less about the traditional alliance than his predecessors.

 

Last year’s Ulchi Freedom Guardian went on for 11 days in August and involved about 17,500 U.S. troops. Also participating were troops from nations that contributed forces during the 1950-53 Korean War, including Australia, Britain, Canada and Colombia.

 

The other major U.S. exercises with South Korea — Key Resolve and Foal Eagle — took place earlier this spring. They historically include live-fire drills with tanks, aircraft and warships and feature about 10,000 American and 200,000 Korean troops. The drills typically begin in March but were delayed a bit because of the Winter Olympics in South Korea in February.

 

North Korea has always reacted to the Ulchi exercises with belligerence and often its own demonstrations of military capability.

During last year’s Ulchi exercises, North Korea fired a powerful new intermediate-range missile over Japan in what its state media described as a “muscle-flexing” countermeasure to the drills.

 

Military readiness and lethality have been key priorities for Mattis, so it is still not clear what, if any, smaller exercises may be conducted in the region with South Korea or if more desktop drills may be planned to compensate for the lack of larger, more coordinated events with various ships, aircraft and thousands of troops.

 

Defense officials are also scrambling to pull together cost estimates for the various exercises with the South to inform Trump’s assertion that the suspension will save an enormous amount of money. Mattis’s office sent out a request to military commands last Wednesday seeking information on costs, but the Pentagon has yet to provide a public answer.

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Pentagon Suspends August Military Drills with South Korea

The Pentagon on Monday formally suspended a major military exercise planned for August with South Korea, a much-anticipated move stemming from President Donald Trump’s nuclear summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

 

Dana White, spokeswoman for the Defense Department, said planning for the summer drills has stopped, but there have been no decisions made on any other military exercises with South Korea. Military exercises with other countries in the Pacific will continue.

 

Speaking at a news conference last Tuesday after his summit with Kim, Trump abruptly announced that he was suspending military exercises with the South, “unless and until we see the future negotiation is not going along like it should.” He added that dumping the drills will save the U.S. “a tremendous amount of money. Plus, I think it’s very provocative.”

 

His announcement appeared to catch U.S. defense officials by surprise, and his comments ran counter to long-held American arguments that the exercises are critical for effective operations with allies and are defensive in nature. The Pentagon has for years flatly denied North Korean assertions that the exercises are “provocative.”

 

But as the days went by, the U.S. and Seoul began discussions about temporarily suspending the large Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercises that usually take place in August and possibly other joint drills while nuclear diplomacy with North Korea continues. Seoul’s Defense Ministry said Friday that Defense Minister Song Young-moo held “deep” discussions about the drills with U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis in a telephone conversation Thursday evening.

 

Trump’s decision to suspend the exercises, coupled with the vague joint statement issued after his summit with Kim, have reinforced fears in South Korea that the North is attempting to take advantage of a U.S. president who appears to care less about the traditional alliance than his predecessors.

 

Last year’s Ulchi Freedom Guardian went on for 11 days in August and involved about 17,500 U.S. troops. Also participating were troops from nations that contributed forces during the 1950-53 Korean War, including Australia, Britain, Canada and Colombia.

 

The other major U.S. exercises with South Korea — Key Resolve and Foal Eagle — took place earlier this spring. They historically include live-fire drills with tanks, aircraft and warships and feature about 10,000 American and 200,000 Korean troops. The drills typically begin in March but were delayed a bit because of the Winter Olympics in South Korea in February.

 

North Korea has always reacted to the Ulchi exercises with belligerence and often its own demonstrations of military capability.

During last year’s Ulchi exercises, North Korea fired a powerful new intermediate-range missile over Japan in what its state media described as a “muscle-flexing” countermeasure to the drills.

 

Military readiness and lethality have been key priorities for Mattis, so it is still not clear what, if any, smaller exercises may be conducted in the region with South Korea or if more desktop drills may be planned to compensate for the lack of larger, more coordinated events with various ships, aircraft and thousands of troops.

 

Defense officials are also scrambling to pull together cost estimates for the various exercises with the South to inform Trump’s assertion that the suspension will save an enormous amount of money. Mattis’s office sent out a request to military commands last Wednesday seeking information on costs, but the Pentagon has yet to provide a public answer.

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Can ‘Land Banks’ Help Rebuild Post-industrial US Cities?

When Jamil Bey wanted to move back to the Pittsburgh neighborhood where he had grown up, he found the perfect house to buy. There was just one problem — a fall in property values on that street had left the owners trapped in negative equity.

Unable to agree on a price that would allow the sellers to pay off their mortgage, Bey realized he would not be able to buy a house in his old neighborhood — and that the owners would be stuck with a property they did not want.

Across the United States, former manufacturing centers like Pittsburgh have experienced overwhelming population declines in recent decades, pushing down property prices and leaving homes empty and neglected.

“For folks who have a connection to those neighborhoods because they grew up there, there’s not a whole lot of quality properties to chose from,” Bey told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “Even if you’re looking for property to invest in, you can’t fund new construction because the property values in those neighborhoods are too low.”

It took a trip to New York state for Bey to find a potential solution to the problem blighting his city — land banks, which have the power to search out vacant properties and work to return them to the market.

“I was in Syracuse and realizing that the vacant lots looked well taken care of — planted, with cut grass and nicely maintained,” he said. “And I was told, ‘We have a land bank’.”

Many former industrial cities, particularly in the northeastern United States, have lost a quarter of their population or more since the 1950s, according to census data.

Pittsburgh, once one of the largest and most prosperous cities in the country, has been among the hardest hit.

Some neighborhoods there have suffered population declines of 80 percent and more, said Bey, setting up a cycle of decline that has blighted entire communities.

Recycling Land

Bey is now vice chairman of the Pittsburgh Land Bank, which is set to start operating this summer, aiming to take on the growing numbers of abandoned properties in the city.

He describes its remit as “recycling land” — working through entanglements of ownership, addressing tax issues and fixing up or tearing down structures with a view to getting vacant property back on the market or giving it over as a public space.

Houses that have sat for long enough to become blighted are often saddled with significant tax arrears, reducing their appeal to investors.

Many land banks are able to short-circuit this process, clearing arrears before addressing regulatory violations to make the property appealing to new buyers.

Land banks have existed in the United States since the 1980s, but interest has spiked since the economic downturn of 2008-09, according to law professor Frank S. Alexander.

That created a wave of foreclosures in which “abandonment was occurring, particularly at the low end of the property spectrum,” said Alexander, a leading authority on land banking who said the sector had seen “tremendous growth” as a result.

Around 170 land banks were operating across the country as of January, according to the Center for Community Progress, which Alexander co-founded.

Land banking initially concentrated on post-industrial inner cities, but since the recession demand has expanded to other areas, said Alexander.

“I don’t go in and evangelize, but rather work with state and local officials on why vacant and abandoned properties are killing their neighborhoods and cities,” he said. And the first thing they need to do is acknowledge the cost of doing nothing.”

‘Missing Tooth’

In some places, authorities at the highest levels have taken this lesson to heart.

In 2013, New York’s attorney general announced the creation of a seed fund for land banks across the state, drawing on legal settlements from big financial institutions involved in the housing crisis that preceded the recession.

Today, there are 25 land banks operating across the state, which turned around more than $28 million worth of property through 2016 according to a report last year from the Center for Community Progress.

Jocelyn Gordon oversees a land bank in Buffalo, a city in western New York that has some of the oldest housing stock in the country but has lost half of its population.

The city has seen over 6,000 demolitions in the past decade and has thousands of vacant lots. Many of the houses that remain are enormous and so energy-inefficient that residents’ fuel bills can exceed their rents, Gordon said.

The situation, she says, is “desperate … it’s a huge problem.”

Her Buffalo Erie Niagara Land Improvement Corporation (BENLIC) is taking over vacant parcels of land and building or retrofitting to make smaller and more energy-efficient homes.

BENLIC takes on about 70 properties annually, a figure it hopes to increase to 120. It aims to take on the parcels of land it feels will have the biggest impact in a neighbourhood — what Gordon calls filling in a block’s “missing tooth.”

“If there’s a demolition on a lot in a marketable neighborhood, and we can strengthen that block,” she said, “that’s the most fulfilling part.”

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5 Dead as SUV Chased by Border Patrol Crashes in South Texas

At least five people were killed and several others hurt Sunday as an SUV carrying more than a dozen people during a suspected “smuggling event” crashed while fleeing from Border Patrol agents in South Texas, authorities said.

The SUV carrying 14 people went out of control at more than 100 mph and overturned on Texas Highway 85, ejecting most of the occupants, Dimmit County Sheriff Marion Boyd said.

“From what we can tell the vehicle ran off the road and caught gravel and then tried to recorrect,” Boyd said, adding that “caused the vehicle to turn over several times.”

Four victims were dead at the scene, Boyd said. He said at least one and possibly two others died at a hospital.

The Border Patrol said in a statement Sunday night that two other vehicles had been traveling alongside the SUV earlier in the day. An agent suspected they were conducting a “smuggling event,” according to the statement, which did not elaborate.

The border agent stopped one of the vehicles and another agent stopped a second one. Multiple people from both vehicles were arrested.

The third vehicle kept going when agents encountered it, and a sheriff’s deputy took over the chase prior to the fatal crash, the border patrol said.

The incident comes amid heightened tensions over the treatment of immigrants at the southern border. The Trump administration has said tougher immigration policies – even separating children from their parents – are needed to deter immigrants from coming to the country illegally. Over a six-week period ending in May, about 2,000 children had been separated from their families, administration officials said Friday.

Most of the occupants in the SUV were believed in the country without legal permission. Boyd said the driver and one passenger were believed to be U.S. citizens. The driver was among those hospitalized, and a deputy who assisted the Border Patrol with the chase found the driver sitting upright in his seat and took him and the passenger into custody.

“This, I think, is a perfect example, of why are borders need to be secured,” Boyd said.

Some injured were taken by helicopter to San Antonio, about 90 miles (144.83 kilometers) northeast. Dimmit County is directly north of Webb County and east of Maverick County, which border Mexico.

“Our deepest sympathies go out to the families of those who died in the crash,” The Border Patrol said in the statement.

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5 Dead as SUV Chased by Border Patrol Crashes in South Texas

At least five people were killed and several others hurt Sunday as an SUV carrying more than a dozen people during a suspected “smuggling event” crashed while fleeing from Border Patrol agents in South Texas, authorities said.

The SUV carrying 14 people went out of control at more than 100 mph and overturned on Texas Highway 85, ejecting most of the occupants, Dimmit County Sheriff Marion Boyd said.

“From what we can tell the vehicle ran off the road and caught gravel and then tried to recorrect,” Boyd said, adding that “caused the vehicle to turn over several times.”

Four victims were dead at the scene, Boyd said. He said at least one and possibly two others died at a hospital.

The Border Patrol said in a statement Sunday night that two other vehicles had been traveling alongside the SUV earlier in the day. An agent suspected they were conducting a “smuggling event,” according to the statement, which did not elaborate.

The border agent stopped one of the vehicles and another agent stopped a second one. Multiple people from both vehicles were arrested.

The third vehicle kept going when agents encountered it, and a sheriff’s deputy took over the chase prior to the fatal crash, the border patrol said.

The incident comes amid heightened tensions over the treatment of immigrants at the southern border. The Trump administration has said tougher immigration policies – even separating children from their parents – are needed to deter immigrants from coming to the country illegally. Over a six-week period ending in May, about 2,000 children had been separated from their families, administration officials said Friday.

Most of the occupants in the SUV were believed in the country without legal permission. Boyd said the driver and one passenger were believed to be U.S. citizens. The driver was among those hospitalized, and a deputy who assisted the Border Patrol with the chase found the driver sitting upright in his seat and took him and the passenger into custody.

“This, I think, is a perfect example, of why are borders need to be secured,” Boyd said.

Some injured were taken by helicopter to San Antonio, about 90 miles (144.83 kilometers) northeast. Dimmit County is directly north of Webb County and east of Maverick County, which border Mexico.

“Our deepest sympathies go out to the families of those who died in the crash,” The Border Patrol said in the statement.

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Erosion of Immigrant Protections Began With Trump Inauguration

The Trump administration’s move to separate immigrant parents from their children on the U.S.-Mexico border has grabbed attention around the world, drawn scorn from human-rights organizations and overtaken the immigration debate in Congress.

It’s also a situation that has been brewing since the week President Donald Trump took office, when he issued his first order signaling a tougher approach to asylum-seekers. Since then, the administration has been steadily eroding protections for immigrant children and families.

“They’re willing to risk harm to a child being traumatized, separated from a parent and sitting in federal detention by themselves, in order to reach a larger policy goal of deterrence,” said Jennifer Podkul, director of policy at Kids in Need of Defense, which represents children in immigration court.

To those who work with immigrants, the parents’ plight was heralded by a series of measures making it harder for kids arriving on the border to get released from government custody and to seek legal status here.

Backlash

The administration says the changes are necessary to deter immigrants from coming here illegally. But a backlash is mounting, fueled by reports of children being taken from mothers and distraught toddlers and elementary school age children asking, through tears, when they can see their parents.

About 2,000 children had been separated from their families over a six-week period ending in May, administration officials said Friday.

Among the parents caught up in the new rules is 29-year-old Vilma Aracely Lopez Juc de Coc, who fled her home in a remote Guatemalan village after her husband was beaten to death in February, according to advocates. When she reached the Texas border with her 11-year-old son in May, he was taken from her by border agents, she said.

Her eyes swollen, she cried when she asked a paralegal what she most wanted to know: When could she see her son again?

“She did not know what was going on,” said paralegal Georgina Guzman, recalling their conversation at a federal courthouse in McAllen, Texas.

Similar scenarios play out on a daily basis in federal courtrooms in Texas and Arizona, where dozens of immigrant parents appear on charges of entering the country illegally after traveling up from Central America. More than the legal outcome of their cases, their advocates say, they’re worried about their children.

Since Trump’s inauguration, the administration has issued at least half a dozen orders and changes affecting immigrant children, many of them obscure revisions. The cumulative effect is a dramatic alteration of immigration policy and practice.

The measures require a senior government official to sign off on the release of children from secure shelters and allow immigration enforcement agents access to information about sponsors who sign up to take the children out of government custody and care for them.

The crackdown expanded in April, when the administration announced a “zero tolerance” policy on the border to prosecute immigrants for entering the country illegally in the hopes they could be quickly deported and that the swift deportations would prevent more people from coming.

Parents are now being arrested and placed in quick federal court proceedings near the border. Since children cannot be jailed in federal prisons, they’re placed in shelters that have long existed for unaccompanied immigrant children arriving on the border alone.

The administration insists the new rules are necessary to send a message to immigrants.

“Look, I hope that we don’t have to separate any more children from any more adults,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said last week. “But there’s only one way to ensure that is the case: It’s for people to stop smuggling children illegally. Stop crossing the border illegally with your children. Apply to enter lawfully. Wait your turn.”

Immigration on the southwest border has remained high since the zero-tolerance policies took effect. Border agents made more than 50,000 arrests in May, up slightly from a month earlier and more than twice the number in May 2017. About a quarter of arrests were families traveling with children.

Asylum seekers

In addition to those trying to cross on their own, large crowds of immigrants are gathered at border crossings each day to seek asylum. Some wait days or weeks for a chance to speak with U.S. authorities. On a Texas border bridge, parents and children have been sleeping in sweltering heat for several days awaiting their turn.

Under U.S. law, most Mexican children are sent back across the border. Central American and other minors are taken into government custody before they are mostly released to sponsors in the United States.

The arrival of children fleeing violence in Central America is not new. President Barack Obama faced an even larger surge in border crossings that overflowed shelters and prompted the authorities to release many families. Nearly 60,000 children were placed in government-contracted shelters in the 2014 fiscal year.

Obama administration lawyers argued in federal court in Los Angeles against the separation of parents and children and in favor of keeping in family detention facilities those deemed ineligible for release.

Immigrant and children’s advocates said the new measures are not only cruel but costly. They argued that children fleeing violence and persecution in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras will continue to come to the United States and remain in government custody longer, costing taxpayers more money.

The government pays more than $1 billion a year to care for unaccompanied immigrant children, Sessions has said.

In May 2014, the average length of stay for children in custody was 35 days. So far this fiscal year, it’s taking 56 days for children to be released to sponsors — in most cases, their own relatives.

Many children were released to sponsors who did not have legal immigration status. That’s yet another concern child advocates now have since the Trump administration is requiring fingerprints of sponsors and their household members and will turn that data over to the immigration agency in charge of deportations.

Advocates say the new information sharing might lead some parents to shy away from sponsoring their own children and ask others to do so, a situation that can lead to cases of trafficking or neglect.

Simon Sandoval-Moshenberg, legal director of the immigrant advocacy program at the Legal Aid Justice Center in Virginia, said he’s never worked with immigrants who said U.S. policies influenced their decision to move. They are fleeing violence and persecution, and he doesn’t see that changing even if the government deports parents.

“Look six months out from now,” he said. “Are these moms going to stay in Guatemala? Hell no, they’re going to come back looking for their kids.” 

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