Category Archives: World

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UN: US Withdrawal from Human Rights Council Uncharted Territory

The United Nations has begun the process of filling the seat the United States left vacant at the U.N. Human Rights Council now that it has received official notification that Washington is resigning from the council.

The U.N. body wasted no time adjusting to the new reality. It already has removed the U.S. nameplate from the area where the 47-members of the Human Rights Council sit and has placed it among the observer states.

Council spokesperson Rolando Gomez told VOA the seat eventually will be filled by a new member elected by the General Assembly.

“This is new uncharted territory,” he noted. “This is something — a first — that has never happened before where a member of the council has withdrawn its membership. So, we are moving the best way we can in following the proper procedures.”

Council members are elected from five regional groups — the African, Asian, Eastern European, Latin American and Caribbean, and Western groups. Gomez said the U.S. vacancy will be filled by a country from the Western Group, including Canada, New Zealand, Australia and Israel.

“In theory yes, Israel could assume membership as they are members of the western group,” he said. “Any state within the western group has potential to fulfill that vacancy.

The irony of such an outcome is not lost on observers considering that Washington blames what it calls the hypocrisy of the U.N. council and its chronic bias against Israel for its decision to quit the council.

Gomez said the United States can continue to participate and play an influential role as an observer state. He said it is their prerogative to engage or disengage.

“The key difference between a member and an observer is that members can vote, and observers cannot,” he said. “… The United States would be able to sponsor resolutions, hold side events, influence language and resolutions. The key difference is they would not be able to vote.”

While the United States can continue to exert immense influence as an observer, Gomez noted it is always better to be part of the equation than to be on the sidelines watching.

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Trump to Meet Jordan’s King Abdullah at White House June 25

 U.S. President Donald Trump will welcome King Abdullah of Jordan to the White House on June 25, the White House said in a statement on Thursday.

“Trump looks forward to reaffirming the strong bonds of friendship between the United States and Jordan. The leaders will discuss issues of mutual concern, including terrorism, the threat from Iran and the crisis in Syria, and working towards a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians,” it said.

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Immigrant Families Could End Up at Military Facilities

The U.S. military is prepared to provide housing for men, women and children detained for trying to enter the country illegally along the country’s southwestern border.

The executive order signed by President Donald Trump on Wednesday calls for the U.S. secretary of defense to “take all legally available measures” to provide housing for the immigrants either at existing facilities or at facilities to be constructed if needed.

“We support DHS [Department of Homeland Security],” Mattis told reporters earlier in the day, before a meeting at the Pentagon with the German defense minister.

“This is their lead,” he added. “We’ll respond if requested.”

Four installations considered

Already, four military installations, three in Texas and one in Arkansas, are being considered as possible locations for housing house children detained at the border.

Pentagon officials say that so far, the facilities at Fort Bliss, Dyess Air Force Base and Goodfellow Air Force Base in Texas and at Little Rock Air Force Base in Arkansas have been assessed only as potential sites and that no final determination has been made.

They also say that if the sites are used, the military would not be responsible for providing security or other services.

Mattis noted this would not be the first time the military has been asked to help house civilians.

“We have housed refugees. We have housed people thrown out of their homes by earthquakes and hurricanes,” he told reporters. “We do whatever is in the best interest of the country.”

​No direct military role

The Pentagon has not played a direct role in addressing the situation along the country’s border with Mexico, though it has facilitated the deployment of National Guard forces to border states.

Those troops have been helping with some aerial surveillance, logistics and infrastructure support but have not been carrying out any patrols and have not been making any arrests.

In a symbolic protest against the president’s initial “zero-tolerance” policy of separating children from their families, the governors of almost a dozen U.S. state announced they would be recalling their National Guard units.

Asked if those withdrawals had made any impact on the National Guard’s mission at the border, Mattis said, “Not right now, no.”

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Poll: Voters Give Trump Mixed Grades on Foreign, Domestic Issues

More than half of American voters say U.S. President Donald Trump’s recent meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un reduced the likelihood of nuclear war, according to a poll released Wednesday.

The poll, administered by Quinnipiac University, found that 54 percent of voters thought the summit, which took place June 12 in Singapore, reduced the risk of war. Thirty-seven percent of respondents said they felt it did not reduce the chance.

“American voters say President Donald Trump deserves a pat on the back for his summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ,” said Tim Malloy, assistant director of the poll.

Fifty percent of voters, however, said they did not think the summit would lead to peace between the two nations, and seven out of 10 disagreed with Trump’s June 13 claim that North Korea was “no longer a nuclear threat,” the poll found.

During the summit, Trump and Kim signed a document pledging both countries would “work to complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” and attempt to establish “new U.S.-DPRK relations.”

North Korea, however, has made several pledges to denuclearize in the past to no avail. In 2016, during the Obama administration, the North “signal[ed] a willingness to resume negotiations on denuclearization,” according to arms control advocacy group the Arms Control Association.

No to Nobel Prize

According to the poll, 66 percent of voters disagreed with the notion that Trump deserves the Nobel Peace Prize. In May, 18 Republican members of the U.S. House of Representatives wrote to the Norwegian Nobel Committee to formally nominate him. The committee is in charge of awarding the prize.

“Since taking office, President Trump has worked tirelessly to apply maximum pressure on North Korea to end its illicit weapons program and bring peace to the region,” the letter read.

Overall, 52 percent of voters said they disapproved with Trump’s performance as president, whereas 43 percent said they approved. The last Quinnipiac poll, released June 6, also found more voters disapproved than approved of the president’s performance by a margin of 51 percent to 40 percent.

Trust in media

Fifty-three percent of those polled said they trusted the news media more than Trump, while 65 percent believed that the media is an important part of democracy.

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees freedom of speech and the press. Trump, however, has often attacked leading news outlets such as CNN and The New York Times, often claiming that they are biased against him. In February 2017, Trump called the media “the enemy of the American People” in a tweet.

November elections

Ahead of this November’s midterm elections, in which all 435 seats of the U.S. House of Representatives and 35 of the 100 U.S. Senate seats are up for election, the poll found American voters wanted Democrats to take control of both Republican-held chambers of Congress. Voters favored Democrats over Republicans 49-43 in the House, and 49-44 in the Senate. Democrats need to gain two seats to take control of the Senate, and 24 to take control of the House.

J. Miles Coleman, an electoral analyst for American election calling group Decision Desk HQ, told VOA while Trump’s approval numbers appear to be stable, Democratic incumbents are doing better than he would expect at this time.

On Wednesday, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a billionaire who was first elected to office as a Republican before becoming an Independent in 2007, announced he would be pledging $80 million toward helping Democratic candidates in the elections.

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McCaskill’s Husband Invested $1 Million in Offshore Hedge Fund

Four years after Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill co-sponsored legislation targeting tax havens such as the Cayman Islands, her husband began investing in a hedge fund registered in the Caribbean nation — an investment that has paid off handsomely.

The Kansas City Star reported Wednesday that Joseph Shepard has invested $1 million in Matrix Capital Management and that it has earned him between $230,000 and $2.1 million in income. The Star cited McCaskill’s financial disclosure forms, which only show a range of income.

Shepard declined the newspaper’s request for comment. He and McCaskill file their taxes separately.

McCaskill is running for re-election this year. Campaign spokeswoman Meira Bernstein told the Star that the senator has no involvement in her husband’s investments, and doesn’t consider his business interests when doing her job in the Senate.

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Youngest Migrants Held in ‘Tender Age’ US Shelters

Trump administration officials have been sending babies and other young children forcibly separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border to at least three “tender age” shelters in South Texas, The Associated Press has learned. 

Lawyers and medical providers who have visited the Rio Grande Valley shelters described play rooms of crying preschool-age children in crisis. The government also plans to open a fourth shelter to house hundreds of young migrant children in Houston, where city leaders denounced the move Tuesday.

Since the White House announced its zero tolerance policy in early May, more than 2,300 children have been taken from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border, resulting in a new influx of young children requiring government care. The government has faced withering critiques over images of some of the children in cages inside U.S. Border Patrol processing stations.

Decades after the nation’s child welfare system ended the use of orphanages over concerns about the lasting trauma to children, the administration is standing up new institutions to hold Central American toddlers that the government separated from their parents.

“The thought that they are going to be putting such little kids in an institutional setting? I mean it is hard for me to even wrap my mind around it,” said Kay Bellor, vice president for programs at Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, which provides foster care and other child welfare services to migrant children. “Toddlers are being detained.” 

Bellor said shelters follow strict procedures surrounding who can gain access to the children in order to protect their safety, but that means information about their welfare can be limited.

By law, child migrants traveling alone must be sent to facilities run by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services within three days of being detained. The agency then is responsible for placing the children in shelters or foster homes until they are united with a relative or sponsor in the community as they await immigration court hearings. 

But U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ announcement last month that the government would criminally prosecute everyone who crosses the U.S.-Mexico border illegally has led to the breakup of hundreds of migrant families and sent a new group of hundreds of young children into the government’s care. 

The United Nations, some Democratic and Republican lawmakers and religious groups have sharply criticized the policy, calling it inhumane. 

Not so, said Steven Wagner, an official with the Department of Health and Human Services. 

“We have specialized facilities that are devoted to providing care to children with special needs and tender age children as we define as under 13 would fall into that category,” he said. “They’re not government facilities per se, and they have very well-trained clinicians, and those facilities meet state licensing standards for child welfare agencies, and they’re staffed by people who know how to deal with the needs – particularly of the younger children.” 

Until now, however, it’s been unknown where they are.

“In general we do not identify the locations of permanent unaccompanied alien children program facilities,” said agency spokesman Kenneth Wolfe.

Drawing the line

The three centers – in Combes, Raymondville and Brownsville – have been rapidly repurposed to serve needs of children including some under 5. A fourth, planned for Houston, would house up to 240 children in a warehouse previously used for people displaced by Hurricane Harvey, Mayor Sylvester Turner said.

Turner said he met with officials from Austin-based Southwest Key Programs, the contractor that operates some of the child shelters, to ask them to reconsider their plans. A spokeswoman for Southwest Key didn’t immediately reply to an email seeking comment. 

“And so there comes a point in time we draw a line and for me, the line is with these children,” said Turner during a news conference Tuesday.

On a practical level, the zero tolerance policy has overwhelmed the federal agency charged with caring for the new influx of children who tend to be much younger than teens who typically have been traveling to the U.S. alone. Indeed some recent detainees are infants, taken from their mothers. 

Doctors and lawyers who have visited the shelters said the facilities were fine, clean and safe, but the kids – who have no idea where their parents are – were hysterical, crying and acting out. 

“The shelters aren’t the problem, it’s taking kids from their parents that’s the problem,” said South Texas pediatrician Marsha Griffin who has visited many. 

Alicia Lieberman, who runs the Early Trauma Treatment Network at University of California, San Francisco, said decades of study show early separations can cause permanent emotional damage. 

“Children are biologically programmed to grow best in the care of a parent figure. When that bond is broken through long and unexpected separations with no set timeline for reunion, children respond at the deepest physiological and emotional levels,” she said. “Their fear triggers a flood of stress hormones that disrupt neural circuits in the brain, create high levels of anxiety, make them more susceptible to physical and emotional illness, and damage their capacity to manage their emotions, trust people, and focus their attention on age-appropriate activities.” 

A call for shelter

Days after Sessions announced the zero-tolerance policy, the government issued a call for proposals from shelter and foster care providers to provide services for the new influx of children taken from their families after journeying from Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico.

As children are separated from their families, law enforcement agents reclassify them from members of family units to “unaccompanied alien children.” Federal officials said Tuesday that since May, they have separated 2,342 children from their families, rendering them unaccompanied minors in the government’s care. 

While Mexico is still the most common country of origin for families arrested at the border, in the last eight months Honduras has become the fastest-growing category as compared to fiscal year 2017. 

During a press briefing Tuesday, reporters repeatedly asked for an age breakdown of the children who have been taken. Officials from both law enforcement and Health and Human Services said they didn’t how many children were under 5, under 2, or even so little they’re non-verbal. 

“The facilities that they have for the most part are not licensed for tender age children,” said Michelle Brane, director of migrant rights at the Women’s Refugee Commission, who met with a 4-year-old girl in diapers in a McAllen warehouse where Border Patrol temporarily holds migrant families. “There is no model for how you house tons of little children in cots institutionally in our country. We don’t do orphanages, our child welfare has recognized that is an inappropriate setting for little children.” 

So now, the government has to try to hire more caregivers. 

The recent call for proposals by the federal government’s Office of Refugee Resettlement said it was seeking applicants who can provide services for a diverse population “of all ages and genders, as well as pregnant and parenting teens.” 

Even the policy surrounding what age to take away a baby is inconsistent. Customs and Border Protection field chiefs over all nine southwest border districts can use their discretion over how young is too young, officials said. 

For 30 years, Los Fresnos, Texas-based International Education Services ran emergency shelters and foster care programs for younger children and pregnant teens who arrived in the U.S. as unaccompanied minors. At least one resident sued for the right to have an abortion in a high-profile case last March.

For reasons the agency did not explain, three months ago the government’s refugee resettlement office said it was ending their funding to the program and transferred all children to other facilities. This came weeks before the administration began its “zero tolerance” policy, prompting a surge in “tender age” migrant children needing shelter. 

In recent days, members of Congress have been visiting the shelters and processing centers, or watching news report about them, bearing witness to the growing chaos. In a letter sent to Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Tuesday, a dozen Republican senators said separating families isn’t consistent with American values and ordinary human decency.

On Tuesday, a Guatemalan mother who hasn’t seen her 7-year-old son since he was taken from her a month ago sued the Trump administration. She was released from custody while her asylum case is pending and thinks her son, Darwin, might be in a shelter in Arizona. She has been able to speak with him on the telephone.

“I only got to talk to him once and he sounded so sad. My son never used to sound like that, he was such a dynamic boy,” Mejia-Mejia said as she wept. “I call and call and no one will tell me where he is.” 

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US Governors Pull National Guard Over Immigration Policy

The governors of multiple East Coast states have announced that they will not deploy National Guard resources near the U.S.-Mexico border, a largely symbolic but politically significant rejection of the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” immigration policy that has resulted in children being separated from their families.

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, a Republican, announced Tuesday morning on his Twitter account that he has ordered four crew members and a helicopter to immediately return from where they were stationed in New Mexico.

“Until this policy of separating children from their families has been rescinded, Maryland will not deploy any National Guard resources to the border,” Hogan tweeted.

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker, who like Hogan is a Republican governor in a blue state, on Monday reversed a decision to send a National Guard helicopter to the border, citing the Trump administration’s “cruel and inhuman” policy.

On the Democratic side, governors in Connecticut, Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, New York and Virginia have all indicated their refusal to send Guard resources to assist with immigration-related issues.

The resources in question from each state are relatively small, so the governors’ actions aren’t likely to have a huge practical impact. But they are a strong symbolic political gesture, said Mileah Kromer, the director of the Sarah T. Hughes field Politics Center at Goucher College in Towson, Maryland.

“I think at a time when you have a large percentage of the country questioning the leadership of the Trump administration, it certainly is a moment for the governors across the country to show leadership, particularly at a time when this is so divisive,” Kromer said.

The forced separation of migrant children from their parents has fueled criticism across the political spectrum and sparked nationwide protests of President Donald Trump’s immigration policies.

“Ever since our founding — and even before — our nation has been a beacon for families seeking freedom and yearning for a better life,” Democratic New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy said Tuesday as he signed an executive order prohibiting the use of state resources. “President Trump has turned this promise on its head by doubling down on his inhumane and cruel policy of separating families.”

In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo on Monday reiterated a decision he first made earlier this year to not send Guard resources to the border to assist with immigration-related duties. He’s also asked for a federal investigation of the policy relating to the separation of the children from their families.

Delaware Governor John Carney, a Democrat, said he turned down a request he received Tuesday to send National Guard troops to the southwest border, while the Democratic governors of Virginia and North Carolina said they would recall Guard members and equipment they already had sent to the border.

“If President Trump revokes the current inhumane policy of separating children from their parents, Delaware will be first in line to assist our sister states in securing the border,” Carney said in a statement.

Governors are not the only ones taking action: Mayors from across the U.S. announced plans to travel to the Texas border on Thursday to protest the “zero-tolerance” policy. The mayors will gather at a point of entry near where migrant minors began arriving at a tent-like shelter last week.

The U.S. Conference of Mayors last week unanimously passed a resolution registering its opposition to separating children from their families at the border.

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White House Deputy Chief of Staff to Leave in July

The White House aide who led the planning for President Donald Trump’s meeting last week with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un has decided to leave the Trump administration to return to the private sector.

 

Joe Hagin, the White House deputy chief of staff for operations, has served in every Republican White House since the Reagan administration. He held the same title in George W. Bush’s White House.

 

Hagin’s departure comes as the Trump administration continues to set records for staff turnover. More than 60 percent of those who served in senior positions at the beginning of the administration have exited.

 

No successor has yet been identified.

 

A White House official said that after departing Singapore last week, Trump made a rare appearance in the staff cabin of Air Force One to praise Hagin for organizing the Kim summit and led White House staff in a round of applause for the aide.

 

Hagin was recruited to the Trump White House by former chief of staff Reince Priebus to bring a seasoned hand to a West Wing that had few experienced veterans. He had planned on staying only six months to a year, and considered leaving in the spring, but delayed due to planning for the Singapore summit.

 

Trump, in a statement, said Hagin has been a “huge asset to my administration,” and credited him with planning his Asia trip last year — the longest foreign trip by a U.S. president in a half-century.

 

Chief of Staff John Kelly praised Hagin’s work, saying his “selfless devotion to this nation and the institution of the Presidency is unsurpassed.”

 

Hagin was considered for the No. 2 posts at the Central Intelligence Agency or the Department of Homeland Security, but he decided to leave government service.

 

Hagin’s portfolio includes oversight of the scheduling and advance staffs, as well as the military office — including the replacement projects for Air Force One and Marine One.

 

His last day will be July 6.

 

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Amid Outcry, Trump Doubles Down on ‘Zero Tolerance’ Immigration Enforcement

U.S. President Donald Trump is doubling down on his “zero tolerance” policy on illegal immigration, a crackdown that has led to at least 2,000 undocumented children being separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border. VOA Senate correspondent Michael Bowman reports, human rights advocates and lawmakers of both political parties are outraged, sparking action on Capitol Hill.

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Recording of Screaming Children at Border Released

An audio recording was released Monday depicting children desperately crying and begging for their parents after being separated from them by U.S. immigration authorities at its southwestern border, sparking new outrage against the Trump administration and its new “zero-tolerance policy” towards illegal immigrants.

The nearly eight-minute long recording was released by ProPublica, an independent, investigative news site. ProPublica says an unidentified whistleblower passed on the recording to a civil rights attorney, who gave it to the website.

Among the disturbing sounds heard on the recording was a child identified by ProPublica as a six-year-old girl from El Salvador begging authorities in Spanish to call her aunt to pick her up from the detention center. 

At one point in the audio, a man identified as a Border Patrol agent said in Spanish over the cries of scores of children: “Well, we have an orchestra here. What’s missing is a conductor.”

LISTEN: ProPublica recording of children

President Donald Trump defended his administration’s policy of forcibly separating children from parents at the U.S. border with Mexico on Monday, saying “The United States will not be a migrant camp and it will not be a refugee holding facility.”

WATCH: Trump Immigration Enforcement

Trump, speaking in the White House East Room during a National Space Council meeting, warned that “what’s happening in Europe … we can’t allow that to happen to the United States – not on my watch.”

Earlier in the day, on the Twitter social media platform, the president inaccurately linked migration in Germany to a rising crime rate. (Actually, the latest German government statistics show reported crimes at the lowest level in 30 years.)

Nearly 2,000 children were sent to mass detention centers or foster care from mid-April to the end of May, according to government officials.

The regular White House briefing was delayed several times Monday amid the furor as officials huddled with Trump in the West Wing.

‘Zero-tolerance’ policy

Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders finally introduced Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen by late evening, and she defended the administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy that is breaking up families at the southwestern U.S. border.

Nielsen forcefully pushed back at the negative media coverage, asserting that what U.S. authorities are doing is properly enforcing the law.

“What has changed is that we no longer exempt entire classes of people who break the law,” she said.

Asked about critics accusing the administration of using children as “pawns” to demand legislative actions from Congress, the DHS secretary replied, “I say that is a very cowardly response,” adding it is clearly within Congress’ power “to make the laws and change the laws. They should do so.”

Trump’s Republican party controls both chambers in Congress, and the family border policies were set by his administration.

In a tweet displaying photographs of a detention facility, showing children sleeping on mats with foil blankets, Democrat Senator Tim Kaine wrote: “The real Trump Hotel.”

Kaine, a member of a subcommittee on children and families, was his party’s vice presidential nominee on the ticket with Hillary Clinton, which lost to Trump and Mike Pence in 2016. 

Kamala Harris, one of the two Democratic Party senators from California, the most populous state, called Monday for Nielsen’s resignation. 

Harris, mentioned as a likely presidential candidate in 2020, said under Nielsen’s watch “our government has committed human rights abuses by breaking up families along the southern border. And she has failed to be accountable and transparent with the American people.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi also added her voice to those calling for Nielsen to quit her post.

Both Nielsen and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, in speeches to a law enforcement group in New Orleans earlier on Monday, defended the administration’s stance.

Sessions said that while the Trump administration does not want to separate children from their parents “we cannot and will not encourage people to bring children by giving them blanket immunity from our laws.”

UN rebuke

In a rare rebuke of the United States, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said migrant children should not be separated from their families at the U.S.-Mexico border.

“Children must not be traumatized by being separated from their parents. Family unity must be preserved,” a spokesman for Guterres said in a statement.

“This is a manufactured crisis. It is not necessary to separate parents and children to effectively enforce the nation’s immigration laws,” said Doris Meissner, who was commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service for seven years during the Clinton administration.

“Earlier administrations have grappled with comparable issues and their responsibility for enforcing the same laws,” she added. “They have made different choices on how best to enforce the laws because they have understood and recognized that the practices we are witnessing today are at odds with fundamental American values and principles.”

The House of Representatives is preparing for expected votes this week on major changes to U.S. immigration laws. 

Trump is scheduled to meet with House Republicans on Tuesday to discuss two competing Republican immigration reform bills.

Sanders on Monday told reporters Trump is willing to sign either bill.

Both would provide legal status to hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children, make sweeping changes to legal immigration, and boost U.S. border security. However, it is unclear if either will attract enough votes to pass. 

“The degree to which the president seemingly believes and continues to equate immigrants and refugees with crime and danger contributes to heightening fear and opposition to immigration,” Meissner told VOA. “This makes it very difficult for members of Congress to reach agreement on important legislative measures that the country should be taking to manage immigration challenges more effectively.”

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