Trump administration attempts to link terrorism cases with immigration

Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen (Evan Vucci / Associated Press)
Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen (Evan Vucci / Associated Press)

The Trump administration on Tuesday released a report attempting to link terrorism with migration, arguing that it was evidence of the need to dramatically reshape the nation’s immigration system.

The report, ordered by President Trump in an executive order last year, said that 75% of the 549 people convicted of terrorism charges since 9/11 were born outside the U.S. Administration officials called that a sign that the U.S. needs to scrap its policy of family preferences for visas, which they call “chain migration,” and a diversity visa lottery program.

But the report did not specify how many — if any — of the convicted terrorists entered the country through those means. It also did not detail how many of the convictions were related to attacks or plans in the U.S. versus overseas and how many involved people who went to fight overseas for the Islamic State or another terror group. Those details were not available, officials said.

“The focus of our immigration system should be assimilation,” a senior administration official said on Tuesday, speaking on condition that his name not be used. He said the nation should give priority to potential immigrants who speak English, who have an education and those who are “committed to supporting our values — not family members of people already here.”

“This report is likely just the tip of the iceberg,” Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen told the Senate Judiciary Committee during testimony Tuesday.

The report, due last year, is being released in a highly charged moment in the immigration debate, as Trump and some Republicans in Congress seek tough new border and immigration measures in return for a deal protecting the 690,000 people in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals  program. The official said the timing of the report was coincidental.

Latest updates

White House doctor says Trump scored perfect marks on cognitive test, needs to lose weight

President Trump registered a perfect score on a cognitive screening test as part of his physical examination taken last week, the White House physician said Tuesday, adding that Trump requested the test to rebut accusations that his mental faculties are declining.

“There’s no indication whatsoever that he has any cognitive issues,” Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson, the chief White House doctor, whose tenure treating presidents began with George W. Bush, told reporters during a lengthy White House briefing. “He’s very sharp. He’s very articulate when he speaks to me.”

“Absolutely, he’s fit for duty,” Jackson said.

Congress White House

Senate advances bill to continue NSA surveillance program; passage expected this week

The National Security Agency campus at Ft. Meade, Md. (Patrick Semansky / Associated Press) None
The National Security Agency campus at Ft. Meade, Md. (Patrick Semansky / Associated Press)

A bill to continue the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs for five more years advanced Tuesday in the Senate, overcoming objections that it did not do enough to protect Americans’ civil liberties.

Opponents came close to filibustering the measure, which was approved by the House last week. But the Senate’s narrow 60-38 vote puts it on track for final passage this week.

Voting stretched more than an hour as senators lobbied key holdouts in dramatic fashion on the Senate floor.

A coalition of Republicans and Democrats sought to limit the program, operating under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act’s section 702, ever since former federal contractor Edward Snowden disclosed its reach in 2013.

Two years ago, Congress agreed to reforms requiring the government to seek warrants for bulk data collection.

But civil libertarians wanted further restrictions to prevent eavesdropping on Americans without a court-issued warrant. Others argued the surveillance system was vital for national security.

President Trump confused matters last week when he tweeted criticism of the bill before quickly reversing himself, after House Speaker Paul D. Ryan intervened, ahead of the House vote.

The bill would reauthorize the program, with some changes, through 2023.

This is the test Trump’s doctor says the president aced. How well can you do?

At a press conference Tuesday, Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson, the chief White House doctor, stated that President Trump aced a cognitive screening testas part of his physical examination taken last week.

The test administered, Jackson noted, was the widely used Montreal Cognitive Assessment, a brief written and oral examination covering basic recall exercises, language questions, abstraction and more.

The president, according to Jackson, received a perfect score of 30.

See how well you do below:

Congress Immigration White House

Sen. Cory Booker calls Homeland Security chief ‘complicit’; Nielsen testifies she never met a ‘Dreamer’

Sen. @corybooker: “When the Commander-in-chief speaks or refuses to speak, those words just don’t dissipate like mist in the air. They fester. They become poison. The give license to bigotry and hate in our country.”

Sen. Cory Booker rebuked Homeland Security Secretary Kristjen Nielsen as “complicit” Tuesday for failing to recall — or object to — President Trump’s vulgar language about immigrants from Africa and other countries.

“Why is this so important? Why is this so disturbing? Why am I frankly seething with anger?” Booker asked at the Senate Judiciary Hearing.

“We have this incredible nation where we have been taught it doesn’t matter where you’re from. … It’s about the content of your character,” he said.

“You’re under oath,” he told Nielsen. “You and others in that room that suddenly cannot remember? … Your silence and your amnesia is complicity.”

The impassioned exchange came as Nielsen testified that she had never met with any “Dreamers” — the young immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children, who now face deportation under Trump’s decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, also known as DACA.

The personal stories of Dreamers’ accomplishments have captivated lawmakers. Trump last week rejected a bipartisan deal to help them during a White House meeting.

Trump ignited furor when he criticized the plan for allowing immigrants from Africa, Haiti and other “shithole” countries. Trump told the lawmakers he wanted more Europeans, specifically from Norway.

Two Republicans, Sens. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and David Perdue of Georgia, have given shifting accounts of the meeting, first saying they didn’t recall Trump using the word and then denying he did.

Nielsen told senators she did not hear Trump’s specific comments, but was struck by other “rough talk” in the Oval Office.

Booker, invoking Martin Luther King Jr. and other human rights leaders, described the president’s “shithole” remarks as part of a racially tinged pattern that included his support of “both sides” of the deadly neo-Nazi protest over the summer in Charlottesville, Va.

“We know what happens when people sit back and are bystanders and say nothing,” Booker said, noting the death threats he and other senators of color have received.

“When the commander in chief speaks or refuses to speak, those words don’t dissipate like mist in the air. They fester. They become poison. They give licenses to bigotry and hate in our country.”

Nielsen told the senator she shares his passion against white supremacists and insisted the department is going after those groups. “It can’t be tolerated in the United States,” she said.

Trump administration confirms it halved payment to U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees

 (EPA)
(EPA)

The Trump administration said Tuesday it had cut in half a scheduled annual payment to the United Nations relief agency that serves millions of Palestinian refugees across the Middle East.

A funding cut had been anticipated since Jan. 2, when President Trump complained on Twitter that the United States gives what he described as hundreds of millions dollars a year to the Palestinians, who do not show “respect or appreciation” in return.

After Trump’s tweet, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson put a hold on the annual U.S. payment to UNRWA, the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, while the State Department launched a review.

On Tuesday, the State Department said it would pay $60 million to UNRWA but would withhold an additional $65 million pending the review. As the world’s richest country, the U.S. is the largest donor to the U.N. agency.

Trump’s tweet followed widespread condemnation of his Dec. 6 decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and eventually to move the U.S. Embassy there from Tel Aviv. Palestinians, who consider Jerusalem the capital of a future state, said Trump’s move crippled chances for a negotiated peace deal to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The White House was especially angered on Dec. 21 when the U.N. General Assembly overwhelmingly voted, 128-9, to approve a nonbinding resolution that declared Trump’s decision “null and void,” despite Trump’s threats to cut funding from the world body.

According to its website, UNRWA helps provide education, healthcare and social services to more than 5 million Palestinians in parts of Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Created in 1949, it isn’t associated with the Palestinian government and doesn’t take part in peace talks with Israel.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said administration officials had considered cutting off all money to the relief agency but were convinced by neighboring Arab states that such a drastic move would be highly destabilizing.

She said the Trump administration wants to see other countries pay more to support the U.N. agency’s mission.

“This is not aimed at punishing anyone,” she said. “It has long been a concern … how UNRWA manages its money.”

DACA to remain in effect while Trump administration asks Supreme Court to overturn judge’s order

President Trump sits and Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions (Evan Vucci / Associated Press)
President Trump sits and Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions (Evan Vucci / Associated Press)

The Justice Department said Tuesday it will ask the Supreme Court to overturn a federal judge’s ruling that prevents President Trump from ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which currently offers protections from deportation for about 700,000 people who came to the U.S. as children.

But the administration has not asked courts to put the ruling by U.S. District Judge William Alsup on hold while the Supreme Court considers what to do. The effect will be to allow the DACA program to continue while the litigation proceeds.

“Until further notice … the DACA policy will be operated on the terms in place before it was rescinded” by Trump, a spokesperson for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services said Tuesday. “We are still accepting applications.”

Although the administration is seeking a speedy review by the high court, the justices are under no obligation to expedite the case — or even to hear the administration’s appeal. They could send the case back to a lower court for further proceedings.

At minimum, the high court would likely take several weeks to consider the case. That could buy congressional negotiators additional time to come up with a legislative solution for the so-called Dreamers, the young immigrants who came to the country illegally as children.

The Homeland Security Department announced Saturday that it would once again start processing applications for renewal of DACA permits because of Alsup’ ruling. The judge’s ruling also ordered the department not to terminate any existing permits.

The judge, who is based in San Francisco, made his ruling applicable nationwide.

“It defies both law and common sense for DACA … to somehow be mandated nationwide by a single district court in San Francisco,” said Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions.

UPDATE

11:50 a.m.: This article was was updated throughout with additional details and background.

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham: Let’s end this ‘s-show’ on immigration

Sen. Lindsey Graham speaks on Capitol Hill. (Alex Brand/Associated Press)
Sen. Lindsey Graham speaks on Capitol Hill. (Alex Brand/Associated Press)

A leading Republican senator on immigration urged President Trump to abandon his harsh and profane statements about Africa and some other countries and return to an attempt to get a bipartisan deal to protect young immigrants and boost border security.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who confronted Trump at a White House meeting last Thursday after the president apparently complained of immigrants from “shithole countries,” said Trump may have gotten bad advice from his staff before the meeting.

“This has turned into an s- show and we need to get back to being a great country,” Graham said Tuesday during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.

He said Trump needed to return to his mood and language of Jan. 9, when the president said he wanted a bipartisan deal that continued to protect from deportation about 800,000 people brought to the country illegally as children and was made with “love.”

The so-called Dreamers were allowed to apply for deferral from deportation under an Obama-era program known as DACA, but Trump last year moved to phase out the protection, kicking the sensitive issue to Congress for a solution.

Shortly before the meeting on Thursday, Trump had an agreeable conversation with Sen. Dick Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois, Graham said.

“What happened between 10 and 12?” Graham asked Kirstjen Nielsen, secretary of Homeland Security, who testified to the House committee. “I don’t [know] either and I’m going to find out.”

“Tuesday we had a president I was proud to golf with and call my friend,” Graham said. “I don’t know where that guy went. I want him back.”

Graham said Congress and the White House still could come up with a deal on DACA, as long as it contained some measures on border security and changes to the legal immigration system. He said Republicans would not support a so-called clean bill on DACA, that excludes other issues.

“I’m telling my friends on the other side – DACA and nothing else is not going to happen,” he said.

Homeland Security head, in sworn testimony, says she did not hear Trump call African countries ‘shitholes’

Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen (Evan Vucci / Associated Press)
Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen (Evan Vucci / Associated Press)

The head of the Homeland Security Department denied that President Trump referred to some countries as “shitholes” during a White House meeting about immigration —  though she didn’t dispute that Trump used vulgar language.

“The conversation was very impassioned,” secretary Kirstjen Nielsen testified Tuesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee. “I don’t dispute that the president was using tough language. Others in the room were also using tough language.”

“I did not hear that word used, no sir,” Nielsen said, responding to a question from Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.). She didn’t specify what Trump did say. Nielsen is the only Cabinet member who was in the room.

Pressed about Trump’s expressed preference during the meeting for immigrants from Norway, Nielsen also said she couldn’t be sure that the country’s population is mostly white.

“Norway is a predominantly white country, isn’t it?” Leahy asked.

“I actually do not know that, sir, but I imagine that’s the case,” she said.

Reports last week said that Trump said he wanted fewer immigrants from “shithole countries” in Africa and more from places like Norway. Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) confirmed Trump’s statements after the first reports.

Pressed by Durbin on Tuesday, Nielsen said she did not “specifically remember the categorization of countries in Africa.”

“Do you remember him saying, “I want more Europeans; why can’t we have more immigrants from Norway?” he asked.

Nielsen said she remembered Trump calling immigrants from Norway hard-working.

The White House did not deny that Trump made the comment after reports on the meeting surfaced last week. Over the weekend, the president and some Republican senators have disputed it. Some White House aides have said Trump actually used the word “shithouse.”

Trump’s language has further inflamed the debate on how to address immigration and a deal on the DACA program, which provides protections from deportation.

White House

A week after California mudslides, Trump sends condolences through press secretary statement

 (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

Nearly a week after horrific mudslides hit California’s Central Coast and killed at least 20 people, President Trump sent his condolences to those affected in his first public statement on the disaster.

The two-sentence statement was released by the White House press secretary on Monday.

“The President has been briefed and will continue to monitor the mudslides in California. The President and First Lady extend their deepest sympathies to the families affected, their appreciation for the first responders saving lives, and their prayers for those who remain missing.”

Trump’s belated response stood in contrast to his repeated statements and tweets of condolences and promises of aid after hurricanes slammed Texas, Louisiana and Florida last year — all states that, unlike California, backed Trump for president in 2016.

The mudslides’ toll could go higher. Four people remain missing, and authorities said Sunday their focus has gone from search and rescue to recovery. The disaster has wiped out 73 homes and damaged hundreds more.

Courtesy: Los Angeles Times

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