Trump Rejects Bipartisan DACA Plan
President Donald Trump on Friday rejected a bipartisan “Dreamer” immigration plan proposed by a group of U.S. senators, saying it did not properly fund his long-touted wall along the southern border with Mexico and calling it “a step backward.”
“The so-called bipartisan DACA deal presented yesterday to myself and a group of Republican Senators and Congressmen was a big step backwards,” Trump wrote in a post on Twitter, one day after the group said it had reached a tentative agreement to protect young “Dreamer” immigrants from deportation.
Under the proposal, the United States “would be forced to take large numbers of people from high crime countries which are doing badly,” Trump added.
World Reacts to Trump’s Reported Use of Vulgar Language to Describe Haiti and African Nations
Reaction to U.S. President Donald Trump’s reported “s—hole countries” remark has been swift.
Trump stunned lawmakers in a White House meeting on immigration Thursday when he reportedly referred to Haiti and African nations as “s—hole countries.”
“Why are we having all these people from s—hole countries come here,” the president asked, as was first reported by media including The Washington Post, The New York Times and CNN. The crude term means dirty and impoverished.
Trump said the United States should let in more people from places such as Norway, whose prime minister met with him in the White House Wednesday.
In a tweet Friday morning, Trump seemed to suggest he didn’t use the words attributed to him:
The African Union said it is “frankly alarmed” by the president’s statement. AU spokeswoman Ebba Kalondo told the Associated Press, “Given the historical reality of how many Africans arrived in the United States as slaves, this statement flies in the face of all accepted behavior and practice. “She said, “This is particularly surprising as the United States of America remains a global example of how migration gave birth to a nation built on strong values of diversity and opportunity.”
The African National Congress, South Africa’s ruling party, said Trump’s remarks are “extremely offensive.”
The Daily Maverick, a South African media outlet said, “Casual Friday at the White House is soon to include hoods and tiki torches at this rate,” in a reference to the hoods that the Ku Klux Klan, a white supremacy group, wears and the torches that the alt right movement uses at its demonstrations.
Haiti has reportedly summoned a U.S. official to explain the president’s remarks.
Trump’s comments prompted former FBI director James Comey to take to Twitter to cite the greeting on the Statue of Liberty, the beacon in the New York City harbor that welcomed immigrants to the U.S. for decades.
“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door,” Comey wrote. “This country’s greatness and true genius lies in its diversity.”
Trump dismissed Comey last year as the FBI director over the agency’s probe into Trump’s campaign’s links to Russia.
Author Stephen King weighed in on Twitter to say, “Why would people from Norway want to immigrate here?They have actual health care and longer life expectancy.”
Former Mexican President Vicente Fox said on Twitter “your mouth is the foulest s—hole in the world…America’s greatness is built on diversity or have your forgotten your immigrant background, Donald?”
White House response
After being asked by media, including VOA, to respond, White House spokesperson Raj Shah issued a statement saying the president will only accept an immigration deal that “adequately addresses the visa lottery system and chain migration – two programs that hurt our economy and allow terrorists into our country.” Chain migration is a term used by immigration critics to refer to the system that allows relatives to sponsor family members to come to the United States.
Shah’s statement did not deny reports that the president used crude language when talking about Haiti and Africa.
It also said Trump will always reject “temporary, weak and dangerous stopgap measures that … undercut immigrants who seek a better life in the United States through a legal pathway.”
VOA also reached out to the offices of U.S. lawmakers who were reportedly present at the meeting. Aides to lawmakers who attended the meeting declined to provide comment on Trump’s remarks, according to the Associated Press.
Trump reportedly made the remark as Sen. Dick Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois, was explaining the outlines of an agreement reached by six bipartisan senators that would protect nearly 800,000 young immigrants from deportation as well as bolster border security, according to the Post.
Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida said in an interview, “It’s incomprehensible that these words came out of the mouth of the president of the United States of America, a country that was founded on being free from discrimination and treating people fairly and having people come here, the land of the free….This is a president that has had a sordid, terrible history of making racist statements.”
Ros-Lehtinen also tweeted Trump’s “calling #Haiti a ‘s—hole country’ ignores the contributions thousands of Haitians have made to our #SoFla community and nation. Language like that shouldn’t be heard in locker rooms and it shouldn’t be heard in the White House.”
Minnesota state Rep. Ilhan Omar, who in 2016 became the first Somali-American elected to a state legislative office in the United States, released a statement, saying, “I am not ashamed of the country where I was born. I am not ashamed to call myself an American now. I am a proud immigrant, refugee, Minnesotan and a proud State Legislator.
“But make no mistake, I am ashamed, disturbed, and outraged that the leader of the United States can’t see beyond his own embarrassing privilege to embrace the diversity that has made this country great for generations,” added Omar, a member of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party.
Republican Rep. Mia Love, whose family came from Haiti, said the president’s comments are “unkind, divisive, elitist, and fly in the face of our nation’s values. This behavior is unacceptable from the leader of our nation.”
Love, of Utah, called on Trump to apologize to the people of Haiti.
Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, also a Republican, said he wanted more details “regarding the president’s comments.”
“Part of what makes America so special is that we welcome the best and brightest in the world, regardless of their country of origin,” Hatch added.
Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, a Republican, tweeted late Thursday, “My ancestors came from countries not nearly as prosperous as the one we live in today. I’m glad that they were welcomed here.”
California Sen. Kamala Harris, a Democrat, said in a tweet, “Immigrants from countries across the globe — including and especially those from Haiti and all parts of Africa — have helped build this country. They should be welcomed and celebrated, not demeaned and insulted.”
Rep. Cedric Richmond of Louisiana, chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said, “President Trump’s comments are yet another confirmation of his racially insensitive and ignorant views. It also reinforces the concerns that we hear every day, that the President’s slogan Make America Great Again is really code for Make America White Again.”
New Mexico Rep. Michelle Lujan Gisham, chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, responded in a statement,” “The President’s statement is shameful, abhorrent, unpresidential, and deserves our strongest condemnation. We must use our voices to ensure that our nation never returns to the days when ignorance, prejudice, and racism dictated our decision making.
“Our nation’s strength and the American Dream stem from our immigrant roots and diversity,” she added.
“Immigrants add immeasurable value to our city and our nation – and they deserve respect,” Karl A. Racine, the attorney general of the District of Columbia wrote on Twitter.”I am proud to be Haitian-American, and I will continue to fight for the dignity and safety of every member of the District’s immigrant communities.”
Brian Concannon, executive director of the Boston-based Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, told VOA he is “outraged” at what he regards as an insult to the Haitian people. He said Trump’s apparent description of Haiti as a “s—hole” is “not an accurate description of Haiti.”
The NAACP said in a statement, “The United States’ position as a moral leader throughout the world has been thoroughly damaged by the continuous lowbrow, callous and unfiltered racism repeatedly espoused by President Trump. His decision to use profanity to describe African, Central American and Caribbean countries is not only a low mark for this president, it is a low point for our nation.”
The White House statement released Thursday:
“Certain Washington politicians choose to fight for foreign countries, but President Trump will always fight for the American people. The President will only accept an immigration deal that adequately addresses the visa lottery system and chain migration – two programs that hurt our economy and allow terrorists into our country. Like other nations that have merit-based immigration, President Trump is fighting for permanent solutions that make our country stronger by welcoming those who can contribute to our society, grow our economy and assimilate into our great nation. He will always reject temporary, weak and dangerous stopgap measures that threaten the lives of hardworking Americans, and undercut immigrants who seek a better life in the United States through a legal pathway.”
VOA correspondents Steve Herman and Michael Bowman contributed to this report.
US Military Probes Apparent Shooting Involving US Service Member in Afghanistan
U.S. military commanders are investigating a video that appears to show an American service member firing into the cab of a civilian truck in Afghanistan, an action one U.S. official told VOA appeared to be “deeply troubling.”
“There is an investigation underway,” Resolute Support spokesman Army Lt. Col. Kone Faulkner told VOA, adding the U.S. military started the investigation as soon as the U.S. news outlet Politico informed them of the video.
VOA has not seen the video that was uploaded anonymously to YouTube under the title “Happy Few Ordnance Symphony” and then quickly removed. But U.S. officials who have seen the video described it to VOA as a gun shooting montage with a Mk 19 grenade launcher shooting into a tree line in what appears to be Afghanistan.
The montage also includes what appears to be a U.S. military vehicle passing a small-cab dump truck, commonly referred to as a “jingle truck,” before firing into the side of the truck.
A driver is clearly visible in the truck before the gunshots shatter the window of the vehicle. A U.S. official says the status of the driver is unknown at this time and is being investigated.
“I can assure you that this video does not represent the professionalism or humanity of the men and women of U.S. Central Command,” U.S. Army Gen. Joseph Votel, the head of U.S. Central Command, said. “We reject the unprofessional and callous message this video conveys.”
Pentagon spokesman Air Force Lt. Col. Mike Andrews told VOA that “it’s important to wait until we have more context and understanding of this video, and the investigation will provide that.”
Andrews said protecting civilians remains the U.S. military’s “top priority” in Afghanistan.
In a statement, U.S. Central Command added that the video was a cause of “serious concern” and was neither official nor authorized.
Russia Warns of Additional Penalties for US Media
Russia’s government is threatening additional penalties against U.S. media operating in Russia. The threat is the latest in a back and forth dispute between Washington and Moscow over the treatment of media outlets operating in each other’s countries.
Ever since U.S. intelligence agencies issued a report last January, claiming a Russian media role in alleged Kremlin meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, the media have been garnering unwelcome headlines.
First, the U.S. demanded the Russian state-affiliated RT news service register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, or FARA, an 80-year-old law first introduced to counter Nazi propaganda during World War II.
In response, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law designating foreign media as “foreign agents.”
Voice of America, Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, and several affiliated projects with U.S. government backing were soon added to the list.
Then this week, Russia’s state-affiliated media outlet Sputnik announced that the United States was forcing its parent company, RIA Global, to register under FARA by early February.
In a statement issued online, Russia’s embassy in Washington called the move “unacceptable” and alleged that Russian journalists face problems with visas as well as harassment from U.S. security services.
While the U.S. has denied those accusations, Russia also warned that unavoidable “mirror measures” would be forthcoming, without elaborating.
Yet the media issue wasn’t the only irritant surrounding Russia’s debated role in the U.S. elections.
On Thursday, the Kremlin denounced a U.S. congressional report issued by Senate Democrats that accused Russia of mounting a protracted and asymmetrical assault on democracy in the U.S. and elsewhere.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called the report part of an ongoing “baseless” and “groundless” campaign against Russia.
RT editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan also weighed in, deriding the report as “boring.”
“Wake me up in five years when they find nothing and don’t want to admit there was no Russian interference,” she said.
Yet the issue is unlikely to disappear soon.
While the U.S. Congress has multiple ongoing investigations into Russian election meddling, Russian lawmakers have been conducting their own.
Of key interest to the Duma is how U.S. media might seek to influence Russia’s presidential elections, slated for March 2018.
US Creates New Team to Probe Hezbollah Finances, Drug Activities
The U.S. Department of Justice has assembled a team of leading prosecutors to investigate the finances and drug trafficking activities of the Iranian-backed Hezbollah terrorist organization, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced on Thursday.
Sessions said the Hezbollah Financing and Narcoterrorism Team will reexamine cases stemming from Project Cassandra, a Drug Enforcement Administration operation that targeted Hezbollah’s finances and drug trafficking activities in the United States and around the world.
The initiative follows a Politico report in December that Obama Administration officials had repeatedly hindered the DEA effort while the administration was negotiating a nuclear deal with Iran.
It comes as the Trump Administration ratchets up its rhetoric against Iran, accusing it of supporting terrorist organizations such as Lebanon-based Hezbollah and fomenting instability in the Middle East.
The Justice Department said the new team will investigate “individuals and networks providing support to Hezbollah and pursuing prosecutions in any appropriate cases.”
Led by Acting Assistant Attorney General John Cronan of the criminal division, the team is comprised of international narcotics trafficking, terrorism, organized crime, and money laundering prosecutors.
Sessions said the team will ensure that “all Project Cassandra investigations as well as other related investigations, whether past or present, are given the needed resources and attention to come to their proper resolution.”
“The Justice Department will leave no stone unturned in order to eliminate threats to our citizens from terrorist organizations and to stem the tide of the devastating drug crisis,” Sessions said in a statement.
Pro-DACA Court Ruling Changes Little for Recipients
Although a federal judge in California ordered the Trump administration to keep in place the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), recipients may not see any benefits soon, or at all.
In Tuesday’s court order, U.S. District Court Judge William Alsup said immigration officials must begin to process DACA renewal applications again.
The ruling applies only to those who had DACA before President Donald Trump ended the program in September and does not apply to first-time applicants.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) “shall post reasonable public notice that it will resume receiving DACA renewal applications and prescribe a process consistent with this order,” the court ruling says.
Immigration officials were also ordered to “keep records on all DACA-related applications and provide summary reports to the court (and counsel) on the first business day of each quarter.”
“It’s a victory for our democracy, in which the courts continue to serve as an important check and balance against the un-American and unlawful actions of this administration,” Marielena Hincapie, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, told reporters.
Hincapie, however, says it might be “days, weeks, months” before anyone benefits from the court’s order.
“The court in the decision has made very clear that people with renewal applications would be able to go forward, but that DHS (Department Homeland Security) should within a reasonable period of time issue notice explaining how individuals would be able to do that,” she said.
But the Trump administration has already announced its intention to appeal, setting off what advocates say will be a “legal ping-pong,” which could take months before actual relief is implemented, if at all.
Ruling’s effect on Congress
When he ended the program in September, Trump gave Congress six months to find a legislative fix for the roughly 800,000 immigrants who entered the country illegally when they were children.
Though the White House on Wednesday morning said the court decision was “outrageous,” it is not clear if it will impact the immigration negotiations in Congress.
“(Trump) persistently and relentlessly promised an end to DACA. Well, technically, he has announced that that will happen on March 5 of this year, but also he is working to trade it for a series of immigration enforcement deals,” Rep. Steve King, a Republican from Iowa, said.
Later Wednesday, Trump once again specified that funding for a border wall must be part of a DACA deal.
If Alsup’s 49-page ruling holds up, the March 5 deadline is gone. Alsup said the courts would need more time, and the temporary restraining order would remain in place past that date.
Anyone whose DACA benefits expire after March 5 could renew them until the case is fully litigated.
“DACA was implemented unilaterally after Congress declined to extend these benefits to this same group of illegal aliens. As such, it was an unlawful circumvention of Congress,” U.S. Department of Justice spokesman Devin O’Malley said in a statement reacting to the ruling. The Justice Department will “continue to vigorously defend this position and looks forward to vindicating its position in further litigation,” he said.
It is unknown when DOJ will file its appeal. The agency declined to comment to VOA.
Michael Tan, an attorney at the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project (IRP), said until the government does appeal, the ruling is in effect.
“They haven’t done so, yet. They could be quick. They could take their time. I think if they move ahead with an appeal, they will also seek a stay of the court’s order,” Tan said.
Lost in the mail
Separately, USCIS recently made an exception for DACA recipients to resubmit their documentation after U.S. Postal Service delays affected the arrival of renewal applications for benefits set to expire before March 5 — the last of the renewals to be processed with the program ending.
USCIS spokesman Steve Blando said 1,900 DACA recipients were affected. He said DACA recipients had 33 days to resubmit their renewal forms but priority would not be given to applicants who had their documents held up by the post office.
While the post office apologized for the delays, USCIS initially refused to accept the applications.
According to the agency, 200 applicants resubmitted their documents before the government reached out to them, and about 1,700 are expected to receive letters from the immigration agency.
Melissa Michelson, a professor of political science at Menlo College, said Americans may have a better idea on what will happen on DACA in the next nine days. Congress faces a Jan. 19 deadline to reach agreement on U.S. government spending, and Democrats may hold their votes unless there is a fix for DACA.
“What are the items the Democrats are going to insist upon? Is that going to include a clean DACA bill? What are they going to stand for, and what’s going to end up being let go?” Michelson said.
VOA’s Victoria Macchi contributed to this report.
White House ‘Disturbed’ by Reported Torture, Killings of Jailed Iranian Protesters
The White House is calling reports of Iranian protesters tortured or killed in prison “disturbing” and demands freedom for all political prisoners reportedly held in Iran.
“We will not remain silent as the Iranian dictatorship represses the basic rights of its citizens and will hold Iran’s leaders accountable for any violations,” a White House statement said Wednesday.
It says the Iranian people are expressing legitimate grievances over government oppression, corruption, waste and military adventurism.
“Iran’s regime claims to support democracy, but when its own people express their aspirations … it once again shows its true brutal nature,” the statement said.
Protests against bad economic conditions, regional military interference and perceived government corruption erupted across Iran on December 28.
A number of demonstrators also called for the end of the Islamic Republic, which seized power in Iran in 1979.
Some of the marches grew violent, with at least 21 deaths reported.
It is unclear how many protesters have been arrested. Reform-minded lawmaker Mahmoud Sadeghi puts the number at 3,700. Iranian officials say most have been released.
While the Iranian government said the protesters have the right to be heard, it says it will not tolerate violence.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has blamed the United States for instigating the protests and condemned President Donald Trump’s tweets that appear to egg on the marchers.
Norway’s PM Makes Business Case of ‘Green Economy’ to Trump
Norway’s prime minister told President Donald Trump on Wednesday that her country remains committed to the Paris climate agreement, making the business case of the “green economy” to the real estate developer-turned president.
Prime Minister Erna Solberg noted that many Norwegians drive U.S.-made Tesla electric cars and said her country saw “tremendous economic and business opportunities” as nations around the world fight climate change.
“Norway is combatting climate change — it’s an important issue for us and we are committed to the Paris agreement,” Solberg said during a joint news conference with Trump.
Paris climate deal discussed
Trump said the planned U.S. withdrawal from the Paris climate deal “wasn’t a major topic” during their discussions and repeated his claim that the climate agreement negotiated by the Obama administration and signed by countries around the globe “treated the United States very unfairly.”
Trump reiterated that the U.S. could “conceivably” return to the agreement but he added, “The Paris accord really would have taken away our competitive edge and we’re not going to let that happen — I’m not going to let that happen.”
Trump, who has previously called climate change a hoax, announced his intent to pull the U.S. out of the deal last year. Solberg, by contrast, cited her support of the agreement, which she said would help American businesses.
Norway buys F-35 aircraft
Encouraged by generous government tax credits, about one-third of Norwegians drive zero-emission electric cars — many of them American-made Teslas.
The exchange over the environment — and Solberg’s efforts to make the business case for fighting climate change — stood out as the two leaders bonded over economic ties and military might.
Trump’s meeting with Solberg was the first foreign leader visit with the president in 2018. Seated in the Oval Office, Trump noted that Norway has been a strong consumer of U.S.-built military equipment, including the F-35 aircraft.
Solberg said the U.S. was Norway’s “closest ally inside NATO” and noted her country’s investments in the U.S., which she said supported 470,000 U.S. jobs.
The conservative prime minister had said before the meeting that she’d put climate on the agenda in the bilateral talks.
Norway has sought to be an international leader in efforts to reduce planet-warming carbon emissions. While the Scandinavian country remains a major exporter of oil and gas, the Norwegian government was among the first to sign on to the landmark Paris climate deal, pledging to meet a 40 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2030.