Trump expresses support for senators’ gun bill

 1:17
Gun control discussed after Florida school shooting

Politicians and others discussed gun control on Feb. 18, following a school shooting in Florida that left 17 dead. 

 February 19 at 10:34 AM 
President Trump signaled support for one piece of gun control legislation on Monday, five days after a mass shooting at a Florida high school left 17 people dead and scores injured.“The president is supportive of efforts to improve the federal background check system,” Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, wrote in a statement Monday morning.

Sanders said the president spoke to Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) on Friday to express support for the bill Cornyn has introduced with Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.). The bill is still being amended, the White House cautioned.

The statement did not address how the president would react to more aggressive gun control measures.

 2:09
The calls for action get louder as the Parkland community grieves

Grieving students, friends and family gathered outside of the Federal District Courthouse in downtown Fort Lauderdale to demand stricter gun control laws. 

The senators’ bill is narrow in focus, reinforcing the requirement that federal agencies report all criminal infractions to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) and creating financial incentives for states to do so, as well.

Federal agencies are required to report various felonies, indictments and other crimes — including domestic assaults — into the federal database, but Congress has no power to compel states to do the same. The Murphy-Cornyn legislation would offer direct financial incentives, as well as favorable future access to other federal assistance programs, to states that report infractions into the system.

The powerful National Rifle Association has not opposed the bill like it has more exhaustive pieces of legislation, such as banning assault rifles or limiting the sale of high-capacity magazines.

It’s unclear whether the legislation will go forward. After a mass shooting in Las Vegas last year, officials said they were studying a ban on bump stocks, an attachment that allows a rifle to fire more frequently.

Over the weekend at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, Trump weighed gun control measures in conversations with friends, according to people who spoke to him. He told them he was affected by seeing victims at a Florida hospital on Friday evening.

Trump has faced two of the country’s deadliest mass shootings as president, including a gunman opening fire from his hotel room in Las Vegas in October and the shooter at the Parkland school last week. Police say 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz admitted last week that he walked into the school — where he had been a former student — and began shooting at students and staff.

Thus far, Trump has not mentioned limiting gun access in his response to the most recent shooting. He initially focused on mental health issues, calling the shooting suspect “mentally disturbed” and saying that he wanted to support local jurisdictions in addressing mental health issues. He said that fixes in the system could prevent future crimes.

Trump also said that people needed to report more to law enforcement. “Neighbors and classmates knew he was a big problem. Must always report such instances to authorities, again and again!” he said Thursday in a tweet.

After the FBI admitted last week that it failed to investigate a warning from a person close to Cruz that he spoke about violence and might be capable of shooting up a school, Trump criticized the agency’s response. He accused the bureau of being too focused on finding wrongdoing related to him and his 2016 presidential campaign to follow up on a tip. His claim that the Russia investigation had anything to do with the Florida office’s failures was widely denounced.

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The president has publicly said little about the victims, but he refrained from golfing, which aides said was to show respect. On Monday, Trump arrived at his gold course around 9 a.m.

“Have a great, but very reflective, Presidents’ Day!” he tweeted.

Karoun Demirjian contributed to this report.

Courtesy: The Washington Post

Trump’s top security advisor says Russian meddling ‘incontrovertible’

McMaster last year with Trump
McMaster last year with Trump (Associated Press)

National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster said Saturday that evidence of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election was “now really incontrovertible” following the indictment of 13 Russian individuals and three companies.

Speaking at an international security conference in Munich, Germany, McMaster lent credence to a widening scandal that President Trump has routinely dismissed as a hoax.

“As you can see with the FBI indictment, the evidence is now really incontrovertible and available in the public domain,” McMaster said, noting that the United States was becoming “more and more adept at tracing the origins of this espionage and subversion.”

The 37-page indictment handed down Friday by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III describes a vast, secret, social-media campaign financed by a Russian entrepreneur with ties to President Vladimir Putin that worked to harm Hillary Clinton’s candidacy and promote Donald Trump.

These are the first criminal charges related to election meddling brought in the Mueller investigation. Deputy Atty. Gen. Rod J. Rosenstein said there was no allegation in the indictment of an American citizen participating willingly in the scheme.

In a tweet, Trump claimed that the charges prove his campaign “did nothing wrong.”

At the same Munich meeting with McMaster on Saturday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov dismissed the accusations against his countrymen as “just blabber.”

Courtesy: L A Times

After the tragedy in Florida, Trump struggles to show his empathetic side

After the tragedy in Florida, Trump struggles to show his empathetic side
President Trump pauses Thursday before speaking about the mass shooting at a Florida high school. (Carolyn Kaster / Associated Press)

 

There was a moment in President Trump’s speech Thursday about the deadly school shooting in Parkland, Fla., when his voice seemed to catch for just a moment as he conjured up a picture of parents kissing their children goodbye, sending them off to school for the last time.

“Each person who was stolen from us yesterday had a full life ahead of them,” he said, his voice faltering for a split-second, “a life filled with wondrous beauty and unlimited potential and promise.”

Given Trump’s otherwise stoic air, it was unclear whether he was stumbling over the words on his teleprompter or displaying emotion. His shoulders slumped heavily as he walked away from the podium, but that may have reflected the uncomfortable questions about gun control that reporters were shouting at him at the time.

Either way, the moment was notable mainly for its low-key nature, by contrast with Trump’s public response to other crises. His emotions run conspicuously high when he is angry or indignant — which has often been the case with crimes in which the alleged perpetrator comes from another country.

Every new president requires time to ease into the role of helping the nation through joys and sorrows. Whether in triumph or tragedy, the country has a need for displays of sensitivity and strength from its elected leader. No prior role serves as proper preparation, according to those who have watched previous presidents grapple with the challenge.

Trump struggles more than most to display responses other than presidential anger and outrage.

“The country needs the president to lead them through that dark moment,” said Joshua DuBois, a Pentecostal minister who advised President Obama through many crises. “But before we can do that, we need to know the president understands.”

“In a moment like this,” he said, “a president has to be willing to let his heart break.”

That ability has led to memorable moments of presidential leadership in the past: Ronald Reagan promising that Americans would never forget the Challenger astronauts nor the last glimpse of them as they “slipped the surly bonds of Earth to touch the face of God”; President George W. Bush climbing atop the rubble of the Sept. 11 attacks with a bullhorn; President Obama weeping over the death of schoolchildren at Sandy Hook Elementary School and singing “Amazing Grace” with survivors of a church massacre in Charleston, S.C.

Each of them, however, had rocky early days. Obama came off as aloof. Reagan could be stiff as both of the presidents Bush could be awkward.

Trump, by contrast, often barges in with guns blazing. When an Uzbek man was named as the suspect in the killing of eight people on a New York City bicycle path, Trump fired back with promises of a major crackdown on immigration. Two days after the terror attack in San Bernardino, he threatened a response to terrorists so tough it would get him “in trouble.”

Survivors say that bombastic responses aren’t helpful. They’d rather see the president come to town, pay tribute to victims and offer hope that things will get better.

Obama did that in tragedy after tragedy. Still, it was a piercing wound to some in Oak Creek, Wis., when he failed to visit a Sikh gurdwara immediately after a white supremacist massacred worshipers there. The Obama team’s response was otherwise strong, Sikh activist Valarie Kaur said at the time, but the president failed in the role only the chief executive can play.

“After the attack we endured, Sikh Americans, and all brown and black people in America for that matter, need our president to directly show the nation that we belong here,” she wrote.

Trump’s White House has started to get a stronger feel for how details of the president’s schedule are perceived in the wake of a tragedy. The White House shut down public appearances in the immediate aftermath of the Parkland shooting and canceled a Friday trip to Orlando. Trump’s political operation said he would also cancel a campaign trip to Pennsylvania that would likely have coincided with funerals in Florida.

In putting the president’s Thursday address together, his speech writing team crafted a message of sympathy that focused on the victims and survivors. It hit the same notes as previous presidents in promising federal support for state and local officials dealing with the aftermath.

The address angered some listeners who hoped that the deaths of schoolchildren might inspire Trump to consider changes to the nation’s gun laws. The gunman at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School mowed down 17 people with a semiautomatic AR-15, the same kind of gun used to kill 20 first-graders at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. In the six years since that massacre, there have been at least 239 shootings at schools across the country, wounding 438 people and taking the lives of 138.

As little as Trump reveals a softer side to the public, the few times he has done so have involved children. When he declared the opioid crisis to be a public health emergency, he spoke tenderly of the “beautiful, beautiful babies” he wanted to protect. “No child of God should ever suffer such horror,” he said of Syrian children suffering a chemical attack by forces loyal to the country’s leader, Bashar Assad.

“To every parent, teacher and child who is hurting so badly, we are here for you — whatever you need, whatever we can do, to ease your pain,” he said in his remarks Thursday. “We are all joined together as one American family, and your suffering is our burden also.”

Those words were appropriate, said DuBois, but still fell short.

“I do not sense vulnerability from him, and I did not hear real solutions,” he said. “That’s the barrier I believe he’ll have to overcome.”

Twitter: @cparsons

Courtesy: L A Times

13 Russian nationals indicted for interfering in US elections

A federal grand jury on Friday indicted 13 Russians and three Russian companies for allegedly interfering in the 2016 presidential election, in a case brought by Special Counsel Robert Mueller that detailed a sophisticated plot to wage “information warfare” against the U.S.

The Russian nationals are accused of setting a “strategic goal to sow discord in the U.S. political system, including the 2016 presidential election.”

The indictment – the first filed against Russian nationals as part of Mueller’s probe – effectively returns focus to the meddling activities out of Russia in the run-up to the 2016 election, following a string of charges relating to the actions of Trump associates.

Former Department of Justice official Robert Driscoll comments on the indictment of 13 Russian nationals and three Russian companies for attempting to interfere with the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Further, the DOJ made clear that the indictment does not allege that any of the interference changed the outcome of the presidential race.

“There is no allegation in this indictment that any American was a knowing participant in this illegal activity. There is no allegation in the indictment that the charged conduct altered the outcome of the 2016 election,” Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who oversees the special counsel probe, said at a Friday press conference.

President Trump reacted to the indictments by seizing on Rosenstein’s comment that the election results were not impacted by the Russians’ activity.

“Russia started their anti-US campaign in 2014, long before I announced that I would run for President,” Trump tweeted. “The results of the election were not impacted. The Trump campaign did nothing wrong – no collusion!”

The 37-page indictment, signed by Mueller, said the actions detailed by prosecutors date back to 2014.

The defendants are accused of spreading derogatory information about Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, denigrating Republican candidates Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio — and ultimately supporting Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders and then-Republican candidate Donald Trump.

“There is no allegation in the indictment that the charged conduct altered the outcome of the 2016 election.”

– Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein

It says the defendants spread derogatory information about various candidates throughout the 2016 campaign and by “early to mid-2016” were supporting Trump’s presidential campaign.

Rosenstein, though, said that after the election, the group worked both to stage rallies in favor of President-elect Trump and in opposition to his election.

Rosenstein on Friday described a sophisticated operation by Russian organization Internet Research Agency. He said the scheme involved setting up hundreds of social media accounts using stolen or fictitious identities to make it appear like the accounts were controlled by individuals in the U.S. He said the defendants posed as politically active Americans and recruited “real Americans” to stage rallies and engage in political activities.

But Rosenstein said those Americans did not know they were communicating with Russians.

Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein says the defendants posed as politically and socially active Americans to engage in informational warfare during presidential election and the early days of the Trump administration; no allegation in indictment that any American had knowledge of Russian activities.

“We have known that Russians meddled in the election, but these indictments detail the extent of the subterfuge,” House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said. “These Russians engaged in a sinister and systematic attack on our political system. It was a conspiracy to subvert the process, and take aim at democracy itself.”

Democrats on Capitol Hill, though, reacted by continuing to suggest that people associated with Trump or his campaign could have been involved in Russia’s meddling.

“It is imperative that the Special Counsel investigation be allowed to continue to follow the facts on the Trump-Russia scandal, unhindered by the White House or Republicans in Congress,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said. “The American people deserve to know the full extent of Russia’s interference in our election and the involvement of Trump officials.”

The president ignored shouted questions from reporters as he departed the White House for Florida on Friday afternoon.

But in a statement released by the White House, Trump said “We cannot allow those seeking to sow confusion, discord, and rancor to be successful.”

“It’s time we stop the outlandish partisan attacks, wild and false allegations, and far-fetched theories, which only serve to further the agendas of bad actors, like Russia, and do nothing to protect the principles of our institutions,” he said. “We must unite as Americans to protect the integrity of our democracy and our elections.”

READ THE INDICTMENT OF RUSSIAN NATIONALS

According to the special counsel, the indictment charges the defendants with conspiracy to defraud the United States, three defendants with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud and five defendants with aggravated identity theft.

The three entities charged in the indictment are Internet Research Agency LLC, Concord Management and Consulting LLC and Concord Catering.

The 13 Russians charged are: Yevgeniy Viktorovich Prigozhin; Mikhail Ivanovich Bystrov; Mikhail Leonidovich Burchik; Aleksandra Yuryevna Krylova; Anna Vladislavovna Bogacheva; Sergey Pavlovich Polozov; Maria Anatolyrvna Bovda; Robert Sergetevich Bovda; Dzheykhun Nasimi Ogly; Vadim Vladimirovich Podkopaev; Gleb Igorevich Vasilchenko; Irina Viktorovna Kaverzina and Vladimir Venkov.

The indictment says Internet Research Agency registered with the Russian government as a corporate entity in 2013. It employed hundreds of individuals for its online operations and had an annual budget equaling millions of U.S. dollars, the filing said.

Prosecutors accuse the Russians of communicating with a real U.S. person affiliated with a Texas-based grassroots organization. They learned from that person to focus their activities on “purple states like Colorado, Virginia and Florida,” the indictment says.

It also says the group’s employees – referred to as “specialists” – created social media accounts to look like they were operated by Americans. They created group pages on Facebook and Instagram with names like “Secured Borders,” “Blacktivist” (to promote the Black Lives Matter movement), “United Muslims of America,” “Army of Jesus,” “South United” and “Heart of Texas.”

They also created and controlled numerous Twitter accounts, like one named “Tennessee GOP” under the @TEN_GOP handle that attracted more than 100,000 followers.

According to the indictment, the specialists were instructed to post content online that criticized “Hillary and the rest (except Sanders and Trump – we support them).”

It said they used pro-Trump, anti-Clinton hashtags online like “#Trump2016,” “#TrumpTrain,” “#MAGA,” “#IWontProtectHillary,” and “Hillary4Prison.”

It says the defendants, around the latter half of 2016, encouraged minority groups in the United States not to vote in the election or vote for a third party candidate. An Instagram account they controlled called “Woke Blacks” posted a message on Oct. 16, 2016 that read: “We cannot resort to the lesser of two devils. Then we’d surely be better off without voting AT ALL.”

The special counsel’s office also said Friday that an American, Richard Pinedo, 28, of Santa Paula, Calif., pleaded guilty Feb. 12 to identity fraud as part of its investigation. A filing from prosecutors said Pinedo sold bank account numbers over the internet.

Fox News’ Jake Gibson contributed to this report.

Alex Pappas is a politics reporter at FoxNews.com. Follow him on Twitter at @AlexPappas.

Ex-GOP Lawmaker: It’s Time To Vote Republicans Out So We Can Get Gun Control

Ed Mazza

,

HuffPost
Ex-GOP Lawmaker: It’s Time To Vote Republicans Out So We Can Get Gun Control
“Republicans will never do anything on gun control,” says former GOP Rep. David Jolly.
More

“Republicans will never do anything on gun control,” says former GOP Rep. David Jolly. “The idea of gun policy in the Republican party is to try to get a speaking slot at the NRA and prove to that constituency that you are further right.”

If Americans want gun control legislation in the wake of Wednesday’s mass shooting at a Florida high school, they need to vote Republicans out of office, a former GOP lawmaker said.

“Republicans will never do anything on gun control,” former Rep. David Jolly (R-Fla.) said on CNN Wednesday.

Jolly said Republicans refuse to enact any gun control laws, even after a member of Congress was shot at a baseball practice last year.

“The idea of gun policy in the Republican party is to try to get a speaking slot at the NRA and prove to that constituency that you are further right than generations past on guns,” Jolly said.

Then, he called on voters to take to the ballot box in November:

“If this is the issue that defines your ideology as a voter, there are two things I would suggest tonight. First, flip the House. Flip the House. Republicans are not going to do a single thing after this shooting we saw today.”

Democrats should then bypass Republicans and go directly to the law enforcement community and work on real solutions for gun control, Jolly said. He also suggested it might be time to give his party the boot since Republicans in Congress have done little to keep President Donald Trump in check.

“We do know that we have a president who very well might put this nation at risk and this Republican Congress has done nothing to check his power,” Jolly added. “Democrats could, and we might be better off as a republic if they take the House in 2018.”

Courtesy: Yahoo News

Bipartisan Senate effort to protect Dreamers collapses after Trump threatens veto

A bipartisan bill that would prevent “Dreamers” from being deported failed to get enough support to advance

  

The latest attempt at immigration reform, including protections to prevent “Dreamers” from being deported, collapsed in the Senate on Thursday as a bipartisan bill seen as having the best chance at passage failed to get enough support to advance.

President Trump had threatened to veto the bill — which shielded the young immigrants in exchange for $25 billion in border security — because it did not include the curbs on legal immigration he sought.

 

The breakdown in the Senate likely leaves the fate of Dreamers — immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children —in the hands of federal courts. Two judges have temporarily blocked Trump from ending the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program on March 5. But Trump administration attorneys are seeking relief from the Supreme Court, which could announce as soon as Friday whether it will decide the matter.

 

Trump’s veto threat was the first of his presidency, a bold move against an effort that had been painstakingly crafted by a group of 16 senators — Republicans, Democrats and one independent — working for weeks behind closed doors to reach a consensus.

Trump said in a tweet shortly before the vote that passage would be a “total catastrophe,” in part because it did not include limits the White House wants on family visas and the diversity lottery.

 

The Senate voted 54-45 to advance the measure from Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) and Sen. Angus King (I-Maine). But the bill failed to reach the 60 votes needed to break a GOP-led filibuster.

 

Three Democrats — Sen. Kamala Harris of California and the two senators from New Mexico, Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich — voted against the measure, mainly out of a concern that its border security provisions went too far. Eight Republicans — those who were part of the bipartisan accord — voted in favor.

 

The White House and Republican leaders put their muscle behind a rival measure from Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, that would protect the Dreamers and provide border security funds, but also severely limit legal immigration in the future.

 

It also failed to advance, showing the limits of a Republican-only strategy. The Trump-backed measure drew less support than the bipartisan measure, failing 39-60.

Senators from the bipartisan group, disappointed that the White House and GOP leaders tipped the scales against their proposal, vowed to try again after Congress returns from a recess next week.

 

Rounds acknowledged that Trump’s veto threat hurt his group’s effort but said the White House may be willing to start negotiating, now that its own bill failed to pass. “We’ve always said we only thought this would pass out of here if the White House would come on board. I think they’ve put themselves in a position to where they can start negotiating.”

 

A resolution, though, remains difficult, especially amid Trump’s fluctuating views on immigration and both parties seeking advantage with voters ahead of midterm elections.

Just last month, Trump told senators meeting at the White House on immigration policy that whatever bipartisan solution they could develop for the Dreamers facing deportation, he would sign into law.

 

But the president’s commitment proved fleeting. Though he had originally promised to help Dreamers, he ultimately was convinced by aides and conservative lawmakers to use the sympathy for Dreamers to exact broader limitations on legal immigration.

Trump’s harsh criticism of the Rounds-King compromise marks a hardening of his immigration position.

 

“President Trump has shown a remarkable ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory,” Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said on the Senate floor.

 

Democrats slammed Trump for torpedoing the compromise bill. “The White House, with this take it or leave it position, is evidently more interested in hurting kids who grew up here than in creating jobs and generating economic growth,” said Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) “I think this is a decision our country is going to regret.”

 

But the president wasn’t acting alone, as Republican leaders, who had promised a free-wheeling and open debate, threw their support behind the White House’s preference, making sure the bipartisan effort was hobbled before the final vote.

 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and his leadership team appeared confident they could blame Democrats, after Schumer led his party into a three-day government shutdown to force the immigration votes, for failing to embrace the White House effort.

 

“The president’s provided a chance for these young people,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas). “It’s not Republicans’ fault.”

 

The Department of Homeland Security also launched a scathing attack on the Rounds-King bill ahead of Thursday’s votes, in a move that stunned some senators.

 

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said the department had “lost credibility” in acting like a “political organization” instead of offering constructive input.

“It seems as if DHS is intent on acting less like a partner and more like an adversary,” Graham said in a statement.

 

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), often seen as a centrist on immigration issues, said he voted against the bipartisan proposal because of the changes it would have made to deportation priorities, requiring immigration officials to first deport convicted criminals, national security threats and recent arrivals.

 

Corker said he felt that would encourage more people to come to the country. “The prioritization piece in essence began the process of creating another Dreamer category for 10 million people. I don’t think that is what they intended, ” Corker said.

He predicted the Senate will still have to deal with the end of DACA, adding that he thought a long-term extension of the program could be included in the omnibus budget bill coming up in several weeks.

 

The votes Thursday showed how far the brief, but intense, debate this week has moved senators from their staunch positions.

Democrats compromised by providing Trump $25 billion for beefed up border security, well beyond what had been imaginable at the start of the debate when just $1.8 billion in border funding was on the table.

 

Harris called $25 billion for border security, particularly a border wall, a waste. “I recognize that my colleagues faced the impossible challenge of crafting a bill that could meet the White House’s unreasonable and ever-shifting demands,” she said in a statement. “But regrettably this bill is simply not the answer.”

 

Democrats also gave up efforts to provide legal protections for the parents of Dreamers, who in most cases violated immigration laws by bringing the children with them illegally into the country. It was a huge concession, especially as Dreamers have fought to shield their parents from deportation.

 

For Republicans, the willingness to reconsider DACA, an Obama-era program they railed against as illegal, is substantial. They have largely agreed that Dreamers should be allowed to remain in the United States, and be able to pursue a path to citizenship.

Both the White House proposal, and the one from the bipartisan group, would allow the immigrants, after 10 years, to apply for citizenship if they are working and otherwise law-abiding.

Twitter: @LisaMascaro

UPDATES:

1:45 p.m.: This article was updated with comments from Rounds, Harris and Corker.

1:05 p.m.: This article was updated with the Senate rejecting a bill backed by President Trump.

12:45 p.m.: This article was updated with the Senate vote on the bipartisan bill.

11:00 a.m.: This article was updated with Trump administration quotes and additional reaction.

This article was originally published at 10:20 a.m

Courtesy: L A Times

ICE steps up enforcement at businesses in California, targeting employers and workers

ICE steps up enforcement at businesses in California, targeting employers and workers
Homeland Security Investigations, an arm of ICE, is increasingly targeting employers suspected of hiring workers in the country illegally. (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

 

The Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents put on their navy blue jackets and walked into a trucking company’s office in Carson this week, sending waves of anxiety rippling through the building.

In the lobby, a nervous office manager greeted the team from ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations, twisting a black pen in her hands like a wet towel. A second manager joined them.

 

“I see people with vests and cameras,” he said with an anxious chuckle. “That’s not good.”

The visit represents a renewed wave in ICE’s efforts to crack down on illegal immigration in the Trump era. Federal authorities are stepping up audits of businesses, hoping to catch employers who hired those here illegally. The agency’s acting director wants to increase work-site enforcement 400%, part of a much larger effort to identify and deport those here without proper papers.

During a five-day operation in the Los Angeles area that ended Thursday, more than 120 businesses were issued audit notices.

 

Officials said the purpose of the audits is twofold: to punish employers and employees breaking the rules as well as to discourage people from coming into the U.S. illegally for work, which critics have long said takes away job opportunities from citizens and legal residents.

 

“It’s a deterrent to somebody who is thinking about crossing the border, paying a smuggler and taking that perilous journey,” said Dani Bennett, an ICE spokeswoman. “If there isn’t that pull factor or perceived easy employment on the other side, there isn’t that incentive to cross in the first place.”

 

The aggressive actions are the latest in the continued standoff between the Trump administration, which has vowed to crack down hard on illegal immigration, and California, which in October declared itself a “sanctuary state” for immigrants.

After Gov. Jerry Brown signed the sanctuary state bill into law, ICE’s acting director, Thomas Homan, warned that California “better hold on tight.”

 

But the audits are not new, and according to statistics provided by ICE, they hit their peak in 2013 under President Obama, with more than 3,100 such audits conducted that fiscal year. The Obama administration then shifted focus to deporting those convicted of serious crimes. In fiscal year 2017, ICE said it completed 1,360 audits in the U.S.

Homeland Security Investigations agents visit businesses, asking for proof that employees are living and working in the U.S. legally.
Homeland Security Investigations agents visit businesses, asking for proof that employees are living and working in the U.S. legally. (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

 

The audits can lead to civil fines and even criminal prosecutions if they find employers knowingly violated the law, ICE officials said.

 

For years, federal law did not bar the hiring of people in the country illegally. That changed in 1986, when President Reagan signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act, commonly called IRCA. It granted residency to 3 million people in the country without legal status, bolstered border enforcement and for the first time established penalties for hiring people in the country illegally.

 

But experts said the employer sanctions were watered down to win the support of industry, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and agricultural delegations from the Midwest. IRCA set relatively low fines, and the law said that, to be convicted, employers had to have “knowingly employed” a person who was in the country without documentation.

 

When ICE descended on Bee Sweet Citrus in the town of Fowler as part of broader audits in the Central Valley, the business was told it was being audited for I-9 compliance, and dozens of employees reportedly lost their jobs. The I-9 forms, filled out when employees are first hired, attest to their status to work legally in the country.

 

As rumors spread in January about an ICE sweep across California, a new state law went into effect prohibiting employers from allowing ICE access to private areas of their businesses without a warrant. It also required businesses to notify employees within 72 hours if they have been given notice of an inspection.

 

California Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra warned businesses that not obeying the state law could result in a $10,000 fine.

 

Betty Jo Toccoli, president of the California Small Business Assn, said operations like recent sweeps of 7-Eleven stores unfairly target one type of business while giving others a pass. One of the group’s members, a tortilla factory, also received notice about an ICE visit, and 15 employees did not show up to work, she said.

 

“Why would you target a tortilla manufacturer? Because you think you’re going to find more people to deport,” Toccoli said.

 

The Times accompanied ICE agents on an audit operation around Los Angeles this week to see the process firsthand. The Times was allowed to ride along with ICE on the condition that the names of the businesses and employees would not be published.

At the Carson trucking company, an ICE auditor explained what was happening. ICE wanted to see the company’s I-9 forms, and the auditor showed company officials what the document looks like.

 

As the minutes ticked by and the managers realized this was not a raid, their moods relaxed. But they expressed ignorance of I-9 forms, and the operations manager said he had never seen any of his employees fill one out.

 

The ICE auditor said the agency wanted the most recent payroll and all employee I-9s in seven days. The law allows them to demand those documents within three days, the auditor explained, but the extra four days were being given as a courtesy.

 

Outside the building, the agents debated how bad a sign it was that the company’s managers had no idea what an I-9 form is. The auditor reasoned that it was not a big deal and that the company’s human resources manager — who was away from the office — probably was acquainted with the forms.

 

On the ride to the next business, Jennifer Reyes, special agent in charge for Homeland Security Investigations Los Angeles, talked about how ICE is blamed for people losing their jobs as a result of the audits. She argued that it was the employers’ fault for hiring people in the country illegally in the first place.

 

ICE is trying to strike a balance with these audits, she said. The agency was levying fines on businesses that violate the law that are stiff enough to deprive them of some of the profits gained by hiring people in the country illegally, but not so harsh that the companies are put in danger of having to close.

 

At another trucking company in Compton, the owner invited the ICE squad into his office. The room was decorated in memorabilia, including a signed Kobe Bryant jersey and an Elvis cardboard cutout.

 

This time, the owner, who said he was happy to give them a whole box full of I-9 forms, was well-versed in what the agents were looking for.

“You have seven days,” the ICE auditor said.

 

@adamelmahrek

Courtesy: L A Times

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