MS-13 gang used California farm town as a base for crime | Yahoo News

More than two dozen MS-13 gang members and affiliates were arrested and charged following a monthslong murder and drug trafficking investigation centered on a rural California farm city that the gang turned into a base for its operations, U.S. and state prosecutors said Friday.

MS-13 took advantage of limited resources in the city of Mendota and used it and other areas of Fresno County to “conduct their crimes, to hide out from crimes that they committed in other jurisdictions and to prepare to commit crimes in states as far away as New York,” Fresno County District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp said at a news conference in Fresno with state and federal officials.

Mendota has a population of roughly 11,000 people and lies 35 miles (60 kilometers) west of Fresno in California’s agriculturally rich Central Valley. Nearly the entire population is Hispanic, with many immigrants from El Salvador.

MS-13 is linked to more than 12 murders in Mendota and western Fresno County over the past two years, said McGregor Scott, the U.S. attorney in Sacramento. The federal charges announced Friday include allegations that two MS-13 gang members kidnapped and murdered a Fresno County man in December.

Scott said the investigation — dubbed “Blue Inferno” — uncovered evidence tying the gang to at least 30 murders and assaults in Mendota, Los Angles, Las Vegas, New York City and Houston. The evidence has prompted additional prosecutions in other cities, he said.

“This is a good day,” he said. “An extremely violent street gang which has terrorized western Fresno County has been completely dismantled and several murders and violent crimes across the nation have been resolved in a resounding way,” he said.

MS-13, or La Mara Salvatrucha, was formed in Los Angeles in the 1980s by refugees from El Salvador and is linked to many slayings in certain parts of the U.S. In California, the gang has clashed with rival Nortenos gang members. It also targets its own members for violating gang rules.

Nortenos are a street gang connected to the Nuestra Familia, a prison gang that originally formed in the California state prison system in the 1960s, according to federal prosecutors.

President Donald Trump has singled out the MS-13 gang as a threat to the U.S. and blames weak border enforcement for the group’s crimes. But many gang members were born in the U.S.

Source: Yahoo News

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Trump administration says it won’t return children to immigrant parents in custody, but a judge orders families be reunited | LA Times

Hours after a Trump Cabinet member told Congress that the administration would not reunite migrant children with parents still held in immigrant detention facilities, a federal judge in San Diego ordered the government to begin doing just that.

In a preliminary injunction issued late Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw ordered the government to reunite nearly all children under age 5 with their parents within 14 days and older children within 30 days.

The administration’s actions related to separating families “belie measured and ordered governance, which is central to the concept of due process enshrined in our Constitution,” the judge wrote. “This is particularly so in the treatment of migrants, many of whom are asylum seekers and small children.”

The order appears to set the stage for a legal clash over a crisis that was created by the White House and has sown increasing levels of fear and confusion.

Earlier Tuesday, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, testifying on Capitol Hill, said the only way parents can quickly be reunited with their children is to drop their claims for asylum in the United States and agree to be deported.

If parents pursue asylum claims, administration officials planned to hold them in custody until hearings are complete — a process that can take months and in some instances years because of a backlog of several hundred thousand cases.

And while that process takes place and the parents are in custody, their children would not be returned to them, Azar said, citing current rules that allow children to be held in immigrant detention for no more than 20 days.

“If the parent remains in detention, unfortunately, under rules that are set by Congress and the courts, they can’t be reunified while they’re in detention,” Azar told the Senate Finance Committee. He said the department could place children with relatives in the United States if they can be located and properly vetted.

Azar’s department has custody of 2,047 children separated from their parents after they were apprehended crossing the border illegally since May. That’s when the Trump administration began enforcing a “zero tolerance” policy that required prosecution of all adults crossing the border — and separate detention of any minors with them.

His statement brought angry protests from Democrats and immigrant advocates.

“The administration is holding children hostage to push parents to drop their asylum claims,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) tweeted.

The uncertain fate of the children, and wrenching reports of their plight, has created a political firestorm for the White House and a nightmare for the families affected. In some cases, parents have been deported without their children, or infants and young children have been moved to distant states while their parents await court processing.

The “zero tolerance” policy already has run partially aground over a lack of resources. On Monday, Border Patrol officials announced they had stopped handing over immigrant parents for prosecution because they were running out of beds. The reversal means newly apprehended families, in theory, could be released pending their court dates.

The limit on how long children can be held in immigrant detention facilities stems from a 1997 court ruling known as the Flores settlement. The administration has asked a federal judge to modify those rules and allow families to be held together in custody for longer periods.The Obama administration made a similar request in 2015, but a judge refused.

The White House has also asked Congress to change federal law to allow longer detentions. That process is moving slowly, and President Trump has proved an uncertain ally for Republican leaders, vacillating as to whether he wants new legislation or not.

The House is scheduled to vote on a Republican-drafted bill on Wednesday that would overhaul the immigration system, but its prospects are dim — and it almost certainly would die in the Senate.

Last-minute arguments over what should be in the bill led one of its lead sponsors, Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Turlock), to declare the measure essentially dead.

“At the end of the day it is very clear that the Republicans cannot pass an immigration bill,” Denham said late Tuesday. “I think it’s a very clear message that Democrats and Republicans need to work together on an American solution. That’s the only way this is going to get done.

If the bill fails, as expected, the House may take up narrower legislation focused specifically on family separation. But Congress is set to recess on Thursday for an extended Fourth of July holiday, so the schedule will allow just hours to consider that proposal.

Trump signed an executive order last week that he said would halt the separation of parents and children by detaining families together. Since then, his administration has struggled to articulate a plan to reunite families.

Over the weekend, the departments of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services released a joint statement saying they had come up with a central database to link families and were working on ensuring children stayed in contact with their parents.

On a conference call with reporters Tuesday, Health and Human Services officials refused to say whether they were still receiving children taken from parents at the border. The government has not released data on the ages of children in custody, nor how many in total have been separated or released.

Jonathan White, head of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, a branch of the Health and Human Services Department, said only that the department was working with other agencies “to facilitate reunification with a child as soon as that is practical.”

He suggested the department’s sole responsibility for now “is to determine whether the child has a safe place to go.”

White said his office knew “the status, whereabouts and care of every child” in its custody. “We have always known where all the children are,” he said.

But Azar conceded in his Senate testimony that the department has not yet been able to put all the parents in communication with their children.

“We want every child and every parent to be in communication at least twice a week so that they’re talking, by Skype or by phone,” he said. “We want this to happen.”

He also warned that if parents remain in a detention facility and the agency gives custody of a child to someone else — a relative in the U.S., for example — the parents eventually might have to go to court to get the child back.

“We cannot sort of pull a child back from a relative. We don’t have the legal authority,” he said.

Lawyers decried officials’ decision not to reunite children with their parents in detention as inhumane.

Jodi Goodwin, a south Texas immigration lawyer who mobilized a rapid-response team of attorneys to aid immigrant parents detained at the Port Isabel Detention Center on the Texas Gulf Coast, said officials needed to release parents with ankle monitors or bond so that they can be reunited with their children.

“That’s the only way to end the tragedy that has happened,” she said.

Zenen Jaimes Perez of the Texas Civil Rights Project said parents were so desperate they would waive their rights, drop their asylum claims and agree to deportation, not understanding that even that choice does not guarantee they will see their children again. Of the 400 parents his organization has interviewed, only four have been reunited with their children, he said.

“We know a lot of people are making these decisions under duress, with no counsel, and that is particularly cruel,” he said.

As families grappled with that choice, 17 states — including California — and the District of Columbia filed suit against the administration over its detention policies. The case joins a growing pile of lawsuits against the administration’s policies.

The continued action in Congress and the courts will keep the emotion-charged family separations in the public eye as lawmakers return to their districts four months before the midterm election.

Trump has blamed Democrats for the stalemate in Congress, but he has given wildly mixed signals about what he wants from Republicans.

The president initially said he opposed the compromise bill, then told Republican lawmakers he was “1,000%” for immigration legislation, and then tweeted that Republicans “should stop wasting their time” by trying to pass an immigration bill before the November election.

House Republican leaders acknowledged that they still don’t have the 218 votes needed to pass the compromise bill despite holding 235 seats in the chamber. They blamed Democrats, however, for not supporting their bill.

“Why doesn’t a few Democrats move over? If they are honest about wanting to secure the border, here is the opportunity,” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) said Monday on Fox News.

Few Democrats are inclined to help rescue Trump from a crisis he created. Moreover, Democrats had no role in crafting the bill.

“It’s just a bad bill. It has nothing to do with even being locked out of the process — it’s just a bad bill,” Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-Redlands) said.

At his weekly news conference Tuesday, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) wouldn’t discuss a proposed bill targeting only the family separations. A Senate proposal would add 225 immigration judges and expedite court proceedings for families, and there are indications that plan could get a vote this week.

Ryan said he wants to “do as well as we possibly can” in Wednesday’s vote, adding, “If that doesn’t succeed, then we’ll cross that bridge.”

Source: LA Times

Mexican Congress passes bill opening oil industry to U.S., others | CBS News

MexicoProtestsMexico’s Congress voted Thursday to open the country’s moribund state-run oil industry to foreign and domestic investors, casting aside nationalist opposition to approve the most dramatic energy reform in seven decades.

The 353-134 vote will allow the government to give private companies contracts and licenses to explore and drill for oil and gas, deals now prohibited under Mexico’s constitution.

The final step, approval by 17 of Mexico’s 31 states, is widely seen as assured.

The state-run oil company, Petroleos Mexicanos, or Pemex, has had a monopoly since the government took over operations of foreign oil companies in 1938, a move that has been revered ever since as a symbol of national sovereignty.

Opponents say they fear that multinationals, especially from the U.S., will once again regain the sort of domination they had over Mexico’s oil before 1938. Mexico remains one of the top five crude exporters to the U.S., shipping more than 1 million barrels a day.

Leftist lawmakers tried to block discussion of the measure on Wednesday by seizing the main chamber of the House of Deputies, blocking access with chairs and tables.

When the debate was moved to another room, they dragged out discussion for 20 hours before the measure was finally approved.

“The homeland is not for sale! The homeland is to be defended!” they shouted while holding protest signs and Mexican flags.

One congressman of the leftist Democratic Revolution Party, Antonio Garcia Conejo, undressed during a speech Wednesday to dramatize his assertion the bill is a “plunder of the nation.”

But most oil analysts had a positive view of the bill hashed out by President Enrique Pena Nieto’s Institutional Revolutionary Party and the conservative National Action Party.

They say major change is needed to rescue Mexico’s oil industry, where production has declined, and where Pemex hasn’t had the finances or expertise needed to tap the country’s vast deep-water and shale reserves.

While oil output has been rising in the U.S. and Canada, Mexico’s production has fallen 25 percent since 2004 despite increased investment.

According to Pemex statistics, the company has nearly 14 billion barrels in proven reserves and up to 115 billion barrels in prospective reserves, about half of which are in deep water or shale oil and gas.

“The opening of Mexico’s markets to put it bluntly, we believe is very good for the people of Mexico and the people everywhere in the world that uses energy,” William Colton, Exxon Mobil’s vice president of corporate strategic planning, said in a webcast before the vote Thursday. “It’s win-win if there ever was one.”

Supporters say a better energy sector could add at least a full percentage point to Mexico’s annual growth rate, which was scaled back dramatically this year from a projected 3.5 percent to 1.3 percent. Backers also say it will be a boon to all three countries, the U.S., Canada and Mexico, in the North American Free Trade Agreement.

“We are going to be able to develop services and competencies in dealing with energy that are transferrable from one country to another,” Thomas Donohue, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, told The Associated Press. “They all have some differences in commodities and have their own regulatory systems, but all of it will be in the context of a lot oil, a lot of gas, a lot of coal and a fundamental ability to attract manufacturing, to improve supply chain and to drive the creation of jobs and economic growth.”

Barclays Research, part of the Corporate and Investment Banking division of Barclays Bank, says the process of boosting production will be slow. Pemex estimates it needs more than $60 billion a year in investment to explore reserves, and currently gets about $24 billion.

“We have to recognize that this is an important effort in a historic sense. However, the challenges are huge because of the amount that has to be done to implement the reform as it is designed,” said Michelle Michot Foss, head of the University of Texas’ Center for Energy Economics.

The measure would allow contracts for profit- and production-sharing as well as licenses under which companies would pay royalties and taxes to the Mexican government for the right to explore and drill.

Private companies could post reserves as long as they specify in contracts that all oil and gas belongs to Mexico. The constitution would continue to prohibit oil concessions, considered the most liberal kind of access for private oil companies.

The bill also calls for mechanisms to prevent, detect and punish corruption in all new contracts, though the specifics must be worked out in what’s known as the secondary laws.

It also appears to reduce the influence of the powerful oil union run by Carlos Romero Deschamps, whose family is famous for its ostentatious lifestyle.

Pemex has an estimated 155,000 employees, of which about 101,000 are unionized, according to Mexico’s Center for Economic Investigation and Education.

Romero Deschamps, who is also a senator for Pena Nieto’s Institutional Revolutionary Party, was initially in favor of the reform proposal, which barely touched Pemex or the union. But in a last-minute change approved by both houses, the bill effectively removed the union’s representation on the Pemex board of directors.

Romero Deschamps walked out of the Senate and didn’t vote.

Source: CBS News