Author: Fworld

US Sanctions Russian Firm for Helping N. Korea Evade Sanctions

The United States has slapped sanctions on a Russian financial entity for helping North Korea evade international sanctions.

The Treasury Department on Wednesday targeted the Russian Financial Society and blocked all its assets in the United States. U.S. citizens are also barred from doing business with the firm.

“Treasury continues to enforce existing U.S. and U.N. sanctions against individuals and entities in Russia and elsewhere who facilitate illicit trade with North Korea,” Treasury Undersecretary Sigal Mandelker said.

Treasury officials accused the Russian Financial Society of opening bank accounts for a North Korean company owned by the North Korean Foreign Trade Bank, and also for a representative of a second company, the Korea Zinc Industrial Group.

The bank, its Moscow representative, Han Jang Su, and Korea Zinc are already under U.S. sanctions.

Treasury said the Russian Financial Society allowed North Korea to evade sanctions to gain access to the global financial system so the country could earn revenue for the North’s nuclear program.

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Hicks Won’t Talk About Trump White House in Interview

Former top White House adviser Hope Hicks was refusing to answer questions related to her time in the White House in an interview Wednesday with the House Judiciary Committee, dimming Democrats’ chances of obtaining new or substantive information about President Donald Trump as part of their investigation into obstruction of justice.  
  
Less than an hour into the interview, frustrated Democrats taking breaks from the meeting said Hicks and her lawyer were following White House orders to stay quiet about her time there working for Trump. She was answering some questions about her time on Trump’s campaign, the lawmakers said.  
  
“She’s objecting to stuff that’s already in the public record,” said California Rep. Karen Bass. “It’s pretty ridiculous.” 
 
Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., called her answers “a farce.” California Rep. Ted Lieu tweeted about the interview, writing that Hicks refused to answer even innocuous questions such as whether she had previously testified before Congress.  
  
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., declined to comment on the substance of the interview so far, saying “all I’ll say is Ms. Hicks is answering questions put to her and the interview continues.” 
 
Republicans had a different perspective, saying she was cooperative and that the interview was a waste of time. The top Republican on the panel, Georgia Rep. Doug Collins, said they were “simply talking about things that are already out there in public or getting the same answers over and over.” 
 
It was so far unclear whether Democrats would take Hicks or the administration to court to challenge the claim of immunity. In a letter Tuesday to Nadler, White House counsel Pat Cipollone wrote that Trump had directed Hicks not to answer questions “relating to the time of her service as a senior adviser to the president.” 
 
Cipollone said Hicks, as one of Trump’s former senior advisers, is “absolutely immune” from compelled testimony with respect to her service to the president because of the separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches. The White House has similarly cited broad executive privilege with respect to many of the Democrats’ investigative demands, using the president’s power to withhold information to protect the confidentiality of the Oval Office decision-making process. 
 

Democrats say they disagree that Hicks’ answers are covered by such immunity or privilege, especially since she has already cooperated with Mueller. 
 
Jayapal said that at one point Hicks started to answer a question, and the lawyers jumped in and said, “We’re starting executive.” 
 
“Basically, she can say her name,” Jayapal said. 
 
As Hicks spoke to the lawmakers, Trump tweeted that the investigation is “extreme Presidential Harassment.” He wrote that Democrats “are very unhappy with the Mueller Report, so after almost 3 years, they want a Redo, or Do Over.” 
 
The interview marks the first time lawmakers are hearing from a person linked to Trump’s inner circle since the release of Mueller’s report. Obtaining the testimony Wednesday from Hicks, a former White House communications director and a trusted former Trump aide, was a victory for the committee, given that Trump has broadly stonewalled their investigations and said he will fight “all of the subpoenas.”  
 
The Judiciary panel wanted a higher-profile interview with Hicks, subpoenaing her for public testimony. But they agreed to the private interview after negotiations. A transcript of the session will be released in the days afterward. 
 
The committee has also subpoenaed Hicks for documents, but she has only partially complied. She agreed to provide some information from her work on Trump’s campaign, but none from her time at the White House because of the administration’s objections. 

Hicks was a key witness for Mueller, delivering important information to the special counsel’s office about multiple episodes involving the president. Mueller wrote in his 448-page report released in April that there was not enough evidence to establish a criminal conspiracy between Trump’s 2016 campaign and Russia, but he said he could not exonerate Trump on obstruction of justice. The report examined several situations in which Trump attempted to influence or curtail Mueller’s investigation. 
 
Democratic aides said they planned on asking Hicks about several of those episodes, including efforts to remove Mueller from the investigation, pressure on former Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the firing of FBI Director James Comey. The aides spoke on condition of anonymity. 
 
The aides said that lawmakers also planned to ask about Hicks’ knowledge of hush-money payments orchestrated by former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen to two women who claimed to have had sexual encounters with Trump — porn actress Stormy Daniels and model Karen McDougal. Trump has denied the allegations. Cohen is now serving three years in prison partly for campaign violations related to the payments. 
 
Testimony from witnesses such as Hicks is one step in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s methodical approach to investigating Trump. More than 60 lawmakers in her caucus — including around a dozen on the Judiciary Committee — have called for opening an impeachment inquiry, but she has said she wants committees to investigate first and decide on impeachment later. 

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Pompeo Cancels Visit to Sri Lanka

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is canceling a visit to Sri Lanka during his upcoming visit to the Indo-Pacific region that includes accompanying President Donald Trump to the G-20 summit in Japan. 

The U.S. Embassy in Colombo said “unavoidable scheduling conflicts” necessitated the cancellation. The visit would have come nearly two months after the deadly Easter Sunday terror attacks that killed more than 250 people at hotels and churches. 

Pompeo “regrets that he is no longer able to visit Colombo at this time,” the embassy said in a statement. “He hopes to travel to Sri Lanka at a later date to underscore our strong partnership with Sri Lanka, which is rooted in a commitment to democracy, economic growth and a free, open Indo-Pacific region.” 

The top U.S. diplomat is traveling to India, Japan and South Korea June 24-30 to try to broaden Washington’s partnerships with allies in the Indo-Pacific region.  Trade and North Korea will be high on the agenda.  

The secretary of state’s visit to New Delhi comes after a decision by Trump to end preferential trade treatment for India amid a deepening dispute over protectionism. 

“We remain open to dialogue, and we hope that our friends in India will drop their trade barriers,” said Pompeo during a recent event at the U.S.-India Business Council.  

In New Delhi, Pompeo will discuss the U.S.-India strategic partnership with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who won re-election last month. 

The top U.S. diplomat will join Trump for the G-20 leaders’ summit, where the president is expected to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping amid escalating trade disputes between the world’s leading economies.  

The highly anticipated Trump-Xi meeting also comes after Xi’s scheduled visit to North Korea later this week, which makes Xi the first Chinese leader to visit Pyongyang in 14 years.  

In Washington, U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun said the U.S. has no preconditions for a new talk with North Korea. Negotiations have been in a “holding pattern” since a summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi in February.  

“The door is wide open to negotiations,” said Biegun at an event Wednesday at the Atlantic Council. “We expect and hope that in the not too distant future we will be re-engaged in this process in a substantive way.” 

Pompeo will join Trump in a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on the sidelines of G-20 summit.  Following the G-20, the secretary will also accompany Trump to Seoul to meet with President Moon Jae-in, according to the State Department.  

Officials say U.S., South Korean and Japanese leaders will strengthen trilateral cooperation on a unified approach to achieve “the final, fully verified denuclearization” of North Korea. 

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Murder or Mutiny? Arguments Begin in Navy SEAL’s Court Martial in San Diego

Did decorated U.S. Navy SEAL Chief Ed Gallagher murder a teenage Islamic State fighter or is he being framed by mutinying sailors he commanded and who are testifying against him?

That is the question a seven-sailor jury must decide in Gallagher’s court martial, which began on Tuesday at the U.S. Naval Base in San Diego.

Prosecutors say Gallagher, 39, who began his 18-year career as a medic, briefly treated the young Islamic State fighter, then pulled out his knife and stabbed him in the neck several times.

Prosecutor Jeff Pietrzyk introduced a photo showing Gallagher holding the dead youth by the hair. “Then he celebrated that stabbing, celebrated the murder, when he took photos and performed his re-enlistment ceremony over that body,” Pietrzyk said.

Defense attorney Timothy Parlatore told the jury in his opening statement the prosecution cannot present a body or a crime scene and therefore no case.

“This is about a group of mutinous sailors and a sham investigation.”

Gallagher could face life in prison if convicted in the trial arising from his 2017 deployment to Mosul, Iraq.

The platoon leader is also charged with attempted murder in the wounding of two civilians – a schoolgirl and an elderly man – shot from a sniper’s perch in Iraq.

He maintains fellow SEAL team members in his platoon, who turned him in and are testifying against him under grants of immunity, are disgruntled subordinates who fabricated allegations to force him from command.

Possible pardon

The court martial has drawn national attention – including that of President Donald Trump who said last month that he is considering pardons for a number of military service members accused of war crimes, and Gallagher’s case was believed to be one of those under review.

Gallagher, a career Navy officer, was on his eighth deployment, this time to Iraq where SEALs were training Iraqi military as they pushed Islamic State fighters out of Mosul in a fight that went block by block through the war ravaged city. 

Iraqi forces came across the Islamic State fighter after he had been shot in the leg and was struggling to breathe during the fighting in Mosul. They tied him to the hood of a Humvee before driving two hours to their operating base, where he was placed on the ground and died 20 minutes later.

It was there, the prosecution says, that Gallagher stabbed the fighter to death. There’s no video from the helmet-cameras troops in the field wear, but some video was deleted, according to testimony from one of the prosecution’s witnesses, Lieutenant Thomas MacNeil. He was one of those in the group photo showing Gallagher holding the dead fighter up by hair.

“Is the photo (of the group with the dead youth) in poor taste? Probably. Is it evidence of a murder? No,” Parlatore said.

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Overruling His Experts, Pompeo Keeps Saudis Off US Child Soldiers List

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has blocked the inclusion of Saudi Arabia on a U.S. list of countries that recruit child soldiers, dismissing his experts’ findings that a Saudi-led coalition has been using under-age fighters in Yemen’s civil war, according to four people familiar with the matter.

The decision, which came after a fierce internal debate, could prompt new accusations by human rights advocates and some lawmakers that U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration is prioritizing security and economic interests in relations with oil-rich Saudi Arabia, a major U.S. ally and arms customer.

Pompeo’s move comes amid heightened tensions between the United States and Iran, the Saudis’ bitter regional rival. State Department experts recommended adding Saudi Arabia to the soon-to-be released list based in part on news reports and human rights groups’ assessments that the desert kingdom has hired child fighters from Sudan to fight for the U.S.-backed coalition in Yemen, the four sources said. 

The experts’ recommendation faced resistance from some other State Department officials who, according to three of the sources, argued that it was not clear whether the Sudanese forces were under the control of Sudanese officers or directed by the Saudi led coalition.

A New York Times report in December cited Sudanese fighters saying their Saudi and United Arab Emirates commanders directed them at a safe distance from the fighting against the coalition’s foes, Iran-aligned Houthi militias.

“The allegations of recruiting child soldiers are completely incorrect and are not based on any evidence or factual findings,” said Colonel Turki al-Malki, a spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition. He instead accused the Saudis’ foes of using child fighters in Yemen.

Pompeo rejected the recommendation from the experts, who are from the State Department’s anti-human trafficking office, said the four sources who spoke on condition of anonymity. The office has a key role in investigating the use of child soldiers worldwide.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, center, is accompanied by Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir, secod left, as he departs from Saudi Arabia’s King Khalid International, in Riyadh, Monday, January 14, 2019.

The United States condemns the unlawful recruitment and use of child soldiers. We place great importance on ending the practice wherever it occurs,” a State Department official said in response to Reuters’ questions. The official, however, did not specifically address the Saudi decision or whether any consideration was given to Riyadh’s security ties to Washington.

Instead of adding Saudi Arabia to the list, Sudan will be reinstated after being removed last year, three of the sources said.

A spokesman for Sudan’s paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, which has contributed fighters to the Yemen war, said the force is affiliated with Sudan’s military. “Based on Sudanese laws, it does not recruit minors,” he said. He did not directly respond to a question on who controlled Sudanese forces in Yemen. The UAE government did not respond to a request for comment.

The child soldiers list will be part of the State Department’s annual global Trafficking in Persons report, which the sources said is expected to be released as early as Thursday.

Ban on US aid

The Child Soldiers Prevention Act of 2008 requires the State Department to report annually on countries using child fighters, defined as “any person under 18 years of age who takes a direct part in hostilities as a member of governmental armed forces.” 

Foreign militaries on the list cannot receive U.S. aid, training and weapons unless the president issues full or partial waivers of those sanctions based on national interest. Trump and his predecessors have done this in the past for countries with close security ties to the United States.

This decision shows clearly that the Trump administration is using political manipulation and dismissing evidence at the expense of kids “in order to protect Saudi Arabia,” said Sarah Margon, director of Human Right Watch’s Washington office. While internal debates over issues like child soldier violations often take place ahead of the release of the annual State Department list, this one was especially heated, several of the sources said.

Since the end of 2016, the Saudi-led coalition has deployed as many as 14,000 Sudanese at any given time, including children as young as 14, to fight in Yemen, offering payments of up to $10,000 per recruit, according to the New York Times. The article cited Sudanese fighters who had returned home and Sudanese lawmakers.

In Washington, the Yemen conflict is a contentious issue well beyond the State Department.

Republican and Democratic lawmakers, citing evidence of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s role in the 2018 killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi and angered by the civilian toll from the Saudi-led air campaign in Yemen, have ramped up efforts to block Trump’s multibillion-dollar arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi speaks during a press conference in Manama, Bahrain, Feb. 1, 2015.

Congressmen Tom Malinowski and Ted Lieu organized a letter to Pompeo from more than a dozen lawmakers in March that said they were gravely concerned by credible reports of the Saudi-led coalition deploying Sudanese child fighters in Yemen.

They called for a U.S. investigation, including into whether they had been armed with U.S.-made weapons, and also asked for an inquiry into credible evidence of Houthi forces forcibly conscripting minors into combat.

Bloody conflict

Sudan sent thousands of troops to Yemen with the Saudi-led coalition that intervened in the civil war in 2015 against the Houthis, who had captured most of the main populated areas of the country and forced President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi into exile.

Almost from the start, accusations of the use of child soldiers have dogged the parties to the bloody conflict. A report by an independent group of experts to the U.N.

Human Rights Council in August 2018 found that all sides in Yemen “conscripted or enlisted children into armed forces or groups and used them to participate actively in hostilities.”  The Trump administration has faced controversy in the past over its handling of the child soldier issue.

Reuters reported in 2017 that then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson opted to remove Iraq and Myanmar from the child soldiers list and rejected a recommendation to add Afghanistan to it, despite the department publicly acknowledging that children were still being conscripted in those countries.

The State Department said at the time that while the use of child soldiers was abhorrent, it was still in technical compliance with the law. Pompeo, who succeeded Tillerson, reinstated Iraq and Myanmar on the list last year.

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Trump Officially Kicks Off Re-election Campaign

U.S. President Donald Trump kicked off his re-election campaign at a rally  in Orlando, Florida, one of the swing states that fueled his poll-defying victory in 2016.

The crowd greeted him with “USA” chants as he recalled the “movement” he started four years ago.

“It turned out to be more than just a great political campaign. It turned out to be a great political movement because of you,” the president said, echoing the same  message of his first presidential run. “It’s a movement made up of people… who believe that a nation must care for its own citizens first.”

While promoting issues like the economy and border security, the president also condemned his Democratic opponents as “socialists” and “left-wing” extremists who have tried to destroy him and his family, and have “looked down” on his supporters.

The president promoted issues like border security and trade tariffs, and chastised the media and the Democrats for spotlighting the Russian issue and other controversies surrounding his presidency.

President Donald Trump supporters shake their fists at the media as Trump formally announced his 2020 re-election bid, June 18, 2019, in Orlando, Fla

“Nobody has done what we have done in two-and-a-half years,” he said.

Tim Murtaugh, Director of Communications of the Trump-Pence 2020 Campaign, stressed Trump’s record of “promises made, promises kept”.

“When he was a candidate in 2016. He promised a lot of things he was going to lead America back to world prominence. He was going to improve the economy. And he did exactly those things. The economy is booming. America is back to its rightful place as the leader of the free world. And the president is going to be running on keeping those promises,” Murtaugh said.

Supporters line up

From early afternoon, thousands of people have lined up to enter the 20,000-capacity venue. But many will have to watch outside on giant television screens under the downpour that has been drenching supporters and volunteers on and off all day.

Supporters of President Donald Trump, from left, James DeWilde, Laureen Vartanian and Maureen Bailey wait in line with others on Monday, June 17, 2019, in Orlando, Fla.

Trump’s most loyal fans have camped outside the Amway Center since early Monday to claim their spot in line. Monday night, several hundred were gathered a block away from the rally venue, with the first ones in line saying they have been there since 4 a.m. They brought tents, lawn chairs and coolers full of snacks and beverages, and plenty of umbrellas to protect against the elements, including a thunderstorm that lasted about an hour in the early evening.

Many of them say they support Trump’s economic and immigration policies.

Nathan Gunn, first time voter in 2020.

Nathan Gunn, who will be voting for the first time in 2020, said he supports Trump’s America First agenda and loves what the president is doing with “the big crisis we have in the border with people flooding in.” Gunn also likes the fact that Trump is “not politically correct.”

“People don’t really see what’s really true about him, and that’s why they hate him,” Gunn said. “They don’t really see what he’s capable of, what he’s actually doing for the country.”

Maureen Bailey from Volusia County and her twin sister Laureen arrived at 6 a.m. She said she is a lifelong Republican who prior to 2016 has always supported establishment candidates. Bailey used to think that Trump’s name-calling was “unnecessary” but now finds his controversial speech “refreshing.”

“He’s just a breath of fresh air,” Bailey said. “He just gets up there and he goes off script. You just never know what’s going to come out of his mouth.”

Tweeting supporters

Monday night Trump tweeted about those waiting. 

Thousands of people are already lined up in Orlando, some two days before tomorrow nights big Rally. Large Screens and food trucks will be there for those that can’t get into the 25,000 capacity arena. It will be a very exciting evening! Make America Great Again!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 18, 2019

Christian Ziegler, vice chairman of the Florida Republican Party, said that Trump has truly energized the party.

“It’s night and day difference versus other cycles for the Republican Party,” he said, adding that it’s normally difficult to get volunteers. “When you look at McCain (in) 2008 and Romney (in) 2012, we couldn’t give away yard signs,” Ziegler said.

Not all who show up Tuesday will be supporters.

Protestors hold up anti President Donald Trump signs during a rally, June 18, 2019, in Orlando, Fla.

The Miami Chapter of the Democratic Hispanic Caucus of Florida and the Puerto Rican Democratic Club of Miami Dade have organized a “caravan” from Miami to Orlando to give the president the message that he is not welcomed.

The bus and the car caravan made stops in Palm Beach and Boca Raton, and eventually joined activists from various groups in an Orlando rally hours before the event. They say they are mobilizing to demand that Trump stop what they call “attacks on the Hispanic communities.”

Several of Trump’s former employees at his golf clubs in New York and New Jersey who were fired after revealing their undocumented status are also crashing his 2020 campaign kickoff.  

Trump Org. undocumented ex-employees traveling to Orlando to Trump rally. They have a message for America. “We are good people who love America and deserve better. Together we make this country the greatest in the world” Get to work Congress! pic.twitter.com/ok0cImEWSo

— Abogado Anibal NY/NJ (@AnibalRomeroLaw) June 17, 2019

Florida is key

With its 29 electoral college votes, Florida is one of the biggest swing states in the nation, and winning it is key. Republican pollster Whit Ayres called Florida “absolutely critical” for the president’s re-election prospects. “It’s very difficult to put together the pieces to get 270 electoral votes without Florida’s votes,” he said.

Trump won Florida by a margin on one percentage point in 2016, and his re-election launch specifically targets Central Florida, where Orlando is located. The region is strategic politically, given the fact that other parts of the state are either solidly Democrat or Republican. But Central Florida, where about half of the state’s registered voters live, is largely independent.

Orlando, the town most known as a tourist destination, home of Universal Studios and Sea World, is part of what is known as the I-4 corridor — the 214-kilometer-long interstate highway that goes from the eastern to the western part of Florida.

President Donald Trump speaks during his re-election kickoff rally at the Amway Center, June 18, 2019, in Orlando, Fla.

Linda Trocine, chairman of the Republican Party of Seminole County, one of the most densely populated suburbs of Orlando, leads a team of Trump volunteers in the area. She explained how the I-4 corridor is the swing part of the state and decides how the state will vote.

Trocine said that 2020 is different than 2016 because now there is “complete unity.”

“We have unity at the Republican National Committee level, at the Republican Party of Florida level, and here locally in Seminole County,” she said.

Luisana Perez, Hispanic spokesperson for the Democratic Party, acknowledged that Trump is eyeing independent voters.

“He’s trying to say that he cares about our communities when we know that’s not true,” she said, adding that Trump continues to focus on his base voters.

Perez said that the Democratic Party are talking to voters about core Democratic values, including more funds for public education, affordable health care, protection for immigrant communities and minorities, including LGBTQ.

While Florida’s state legislators and governorship have been controlled by Republicans since the mid-’90s, in presidential elections, the state has flipped back and forth and usually by a very narrow margin. This includes the 2000 presidential race when George W. Bush was declared the winner over Democrat Al Gore by about 500 votes.

In the past 50 years, with the exception of Bill Clinton in 1992, the road to the White House has always included Florida.

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Kenyan Immigrant Spends a Decade Fighting Deportation

Sylvester Owino is a small business owner in San Diego, California. His family owns Rafikiz Foodz — an authentic African food vendor offering “Kenyan food for your soul,” using fresh ingredients from the local farmers market.

Those who encounter Owino’s welcoming personality are not aware what happens once he is done working for the day. He is fighting to stay in the United States through an asylum case that has lasted a decade.

Owino arrived in the U.S. from Kenya in 1998 on a student visa, leaving a country where he said he was beaten, jailed and threatened by the government.

Five years later, an addiction to alcohol and gambling derailed him.

“I was going to college, but I used to drink too much,” he said. “And I just quit college because of what had happened in my path and everything. I found this job after leaving college. I was working with disadvantaged people. And then I met some friends through work, and we started drinking after work, go to the casinos, and they introduced me to gambling,” he said.

During one of his last visits to the casino, he found himself out of money and decided to rob a nail salon. He was convicted of second-degree robbery.

“I thought I was going to get probation. And nobody never explained to me the immigration consequences. So I took a plea, which gave me three years,” Owino said.

He completed a two-year prison sentence and was transferred to the Otay Mesa Detention Center, as Immigration and Customs Enforcement began removal proceedings.

While in detention, Owino fought his deportation, an ordeal that has taken nine years and four months.

Inside detention

Subject to mandatory immigration detention, Owino was not entitled to a bond hearing.

“When I got there, I was in a complete shock. I thought, ‘This was supposed to be better (than state prison,)’ but actually it was worse. … The officers treated us like we have no rights, like we are not human beings,” Owino said.

In a recent interview with reporters, David Fathi, director at ACLU’s National Prison Project, said most people do not think about mass incarceration and unhealthy conditions when they think of immigration detention.

“These are very vulnerable people. Many of them have suffered major physical and emotional trauma, beatings, starvation or rape, either in their home country or on their journey to the United States,” Fathi said.

Those who are “less” traumatized often suffer from cultural dislocation, family separation and the stresses of incarceration, including overcrowding and solitary confinement.

FILE-U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents surround and detain a person during a raid in Richmond, Va.

A Homeland Security inspector general report released at the beginning of the month showed that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) had failed to meet government standards for housing migrant detainees at multiple facilities in 2018.

Investigators conducted unannounced inspections at the Adelanto ICE Processing Center in California, the LaSalle ICE Processing Center in Louisiana, the Essex County Correctional Facility in New Jersey), and the Aurora ICE Processing Center in Colorado.

At one of the facilities, inspectors saw mold throughout all the walls in the bathroom area, including shower stalls, ceilings, mirrors, and vents, and warned that prolonged exposure to mold and mildew can cause long-term health issues or allergic reactions.

ICE sent a statement to VOA saying the agency “appreciates” the efforts of the Office of Inspector General and that it concurs” with the report’s recommendation and the corrective actions detailed in the report.
 
“The safety, rights, and health of detainees in ICE’s custody are paramount,” ICE said. “ICE uses a layered approach to monitor conditions at facilities, with processes in place to implement corrective actions in instances of non-compliance with ICE detention standards.”

On the solitary confinement issue, ICE said the use of restrictive housing in ICE detention facilities is “exceedingly rare, but at times necessary,” to ensure the safety of staff and individuals in a facility.

ICE’s policy to use “special management units” — or solitary confinement cells — is to protect detainees, staff and contractors from harm by segregating certain detainees from the general population for both administrative and disciplinary reasons.

The agency’s spokesperson added that in 2013, ICE issued a directive titled “Review of the Use of Segregation for ICE Detainees,” which requires agency reporting, review, and oversight of every decision to place detainees in segregated housing for over 14 days, and requires immediate reporting and review of segregation placements when heightened concerns exist based on the detainee’s health or other factors.

VOA also asked about ICE’s position when detainees complain or file cases of abuse, and about some of the measures taken to deal with the overcrowding situation in detention facilities. Those questions were not answered in the emailed statement.

To Liz Martinez, director of advocacy and strategic communications at Freedom for Immigrants, a nonprofit that has been monitoring the conditions at ICE facilities for years, nothing in the OIG report is “new.”

“The people who are in immigration detention and call us on our free hotline have been reporting these kinds of abuses all the time.” she said.

Martinez said the “egregious” violations the OIG found are human rights violations.

“They keep happening over and over again, and no one is held accountable,” she added.

Freedom for Immigrants maintains an up-to-date map of the U.S. immigration detention system with more than 200 immigrant prisons and jails across the country.

According to government data, in fiscal year 2018, about 396,448 people were initially booked into an ICE detention facility, an increase of 22.5% from 2017. ICE’s interior enforcement efforts resulted in a 10% increase in book-ins resulting from ICE arrests.

Freedom for Immigrants’ website shows that 60% of people are held in privately run immigrant prisons.

Alternative to detention

Naureen Shah, a senior policy and advocacy counsel with the ACLU, agreed with the use of community-based alternatives to detention. She said alternatives to detention programs that are more humane allow individuals better access to capital and meaningful opportunities to make their claims for asylum and seek other forms of relief, if necessary.

According to ACLU experts, detained immigrants are the fastest growing sector of the incarcerated population, from about 35,000 during the Obama years to 52,000.

“That’s well above the 45,274 that Congress funded for fiscal year 2019,” Shah said.

On June 5, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security approved the fiscal year 2020 bill, which provides a gross total of $63.8 billion in discretionary appropriations for the Department of Homeland Security.

Shah said though the legislation has loopholes, where the DHS secretary could argue to use a slush fund for more detention beds, it does expand alternatives to detention —
about $64 million above the initial requested number to continue expanding alternatives to detention, of which $20 million is for family case management, according to the bill’s text.

Fighting deportation

After having his case go to the Board of Immigration Appeals twice, and then to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, Owino was granted bond with the help of Freedom for Immigrants.

He said it was difficult fighting a deportation case from detention, since unlike in criminal proceedings, immigrants are not entitled to court-appointed attorneys.

Though there were days he thought about accepting deportation, Owino said he decided to make a plan for himself, instead.

“I was scared to go back (to Kenya) based on what happened to me. … I set a program for myself. I thought, ‘If I get out, no more drinking.’ So, I stayed away from that, and that was my No. 1 priority,” he told VOA.

Owino’s next court date is in September. In the meantime, he enjoys the company of his wife and 11-month-old daughter.

He sees himself as an example of what could happen if detained immigrants are given an opportunity to rebuild their lives.

“I’m just blessed, you know?”

 

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Fans, Protesters Line Up for Trump’s Re-election Rally

U.S. President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign will kick-off with a rally in downtown Orlando, Florida, Tuesday night, but his most loyal fans have already camped outside of the Amway Center since early Monday to claim their spot in line.

Several hundred Trump supporters were gathered a block away from the rally venue Monday evening, with the first ones in line saying they have been there since 4 am. They brought tents, lawn chairs and coolers full of snacks and beverages, and plenty of umbrellas to protect against the elements, including a thunder storm which lasted about half an hour in the early evening.

Nathan Gunn, first time voter in 2020.

Many of them say they support Trump’s economic and immigration policies. Nathan Gunn, who will be voting for the first time in 2020 said he supports Trump’s America First agenda and loves what the president is doing with “the big crisis we have in the border with people flooding in”. Gunn also like the fact that Trump is “not politically correct”.

“People don’t really see what’s really true about him, and that’s why they hate him,” Gunn said. “They don’t really see what he’s capable of, what he’s actually doing for the country.”

Maureen Bailey from Volusia County and her twin sister Laureen came at 6 am. She said she is a life-long Republican who prior to 2016 has always supported establishment candidates. Bailey used to think that Trump’s name-calling as “unnecessary” but now finds Trump’s controversial speech “refreshing”.

Twin sisters Maureen Bailey and Laureen Vartanian lined up more than 36 hours ahead of the rally in Oralndo, Florida, June 17, 2019.

“He’s just a breath of fresh air,” Bailey said. “He just gets up there and he goes off script. You just never know what’s going to come out of his mouth.”

Monday night Trump tweeted about those waiting.

Thousands of people are already lined up in Orlando, some two days before tomorrow nights big Rally. Large Screens and food trucks will be there for those that can’t get into the 25,000 capacity arena. It will be a very exciting evening! Make America Great Again!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 18, 2019

Not all who will show up Tuesday are supporters.

The Miami Chapter of the Democratic Hispanic Caucus of Florida and the Puerto Rican Democratic Club of Miami Dade are organizing a “caravan” from Miami to Orlando to give the president the message that he is not welcomed.

The bus and the car caravan will make stops in Palm Beach and Boca Raton and eventually join activists from various groups in an Orlando rally scheduled for 5:00 p.m., hours before the Trump rally. They say they are mobilizing to demand Trump to stop what they call “attacks on the Hispanic communities”.

Several of Trump’s former employees at his golf clubs in New York and New Jersey who were fired after revealing their undocumented status to the media are also crashing his 2020 campaign kickoff.  Anibal Romero, a lawyer for the workers said they plan to hold a press conference outside the rally venue Tuesday morning.

Trump Org. undocumented ex-employees traveling to Orlando to Trump rally. They have a message for America. “We are good people who love America and deserve better. Together we make this country the greatest in the world” Get to work Congress! pic.twitter.com/ok0cImEWSo

— Abogado Anibal NY/NJ (@AnibalRomeroLaw) June 17, 2019

“Trump Org. undocumented ex-employees traveling to Orlando to Trump rally. They have a message for America. “We are good people who love America and deserve better. Together we make this country the greatest in the world” Get to work Congress!”
 
Florida is key

With its 29 electoral college votes, Florida is one of the biggest swing state in the nation, and winning it is key. Republican Pollster Whit Ayres called Florida “absolutely critical” for the president’s re-election prospects. “It’s very difficult to put together the pieces to get 270 electoral votes without Florida’s votes,” he said.

Trump won Florida by a margin on one percentage point in 2016 and his re-election launch is specifically targeting Central Florida, where Orlando is located. The region is strategic politically, given the fact that other parts of the state are either solidly Democrat or Republican, but Central Florida where about half of the state’s registered voters live, is largely independent.

Trump supporters have set up camp since Monday morning, a block away from his reelection rally venue.

Orlando, the town most known as a tourist destination, home of Universal Studios and Sea World, is part of what is known as the I-4 corridor — the 214 kilometer long interstate highway that goes from the east to the west part of Florida.

Linda Trocine, Chairman of the Republican Party of Seminole County, one of the most densely populated suburbs of Orlando, leads a team of Trump volunteers in the area. She highlighted how the I-4 corridor is the swing part of the state and decides the how the state will vote.

Trocine said that 2020 is different than 2016 because now there is “complete unity”. “We have unity at the Republican National Committee level, at the Republican Party or Florida level, and here locally in the in Seminole County,” she said.

While Florida’s state legislators and governorship are controlled by Republicans since the mid-90s, in presidential elections, the state has flipped back and forth and usually by a very narrow margin. This includes the 2000 presidential race when George W. Bush was declared the winner over Democrat Al Gore by about 500 votes out of 6 million.

In the past 50 years, the road to the White House has always included taking Florida, with the exception of Bill Clinton in 1992.

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Trump to Launch Re-Election Bid Tuesday in Florida video player.
WATCH: Jim Malone’s report on Trump’s Orlando rally

 

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