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APNewsBreak: About 500 kids reunited with families since May

Josseline Garcia, 20, and Jennifer Garcia, 24, sisters from Guatemala seeking asylum, cross a bridge to a port of entry in to the United States from Matamoros, Mexico, Wednesday, June 20, 2018, in Brownsville, Texas. Nearly 2,000 children have been separated from their families at the U.S. border over a six-week period during a crackdown on illegal entries, according to Department of Homeland Security figures obtained Friday by The Associated Press. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

EL PASO, Texas (AP) — The Latest on the separation of immigrant children from their parents following President Donald Trump’s order allowing them to remain with their parents (all times local):

8:25 p.m.

A senior Trump administration official says about 500 of the more than 2,000 children separated from their families at the border have been reunited since May.

The official said Thursday those children had been separated from their parents as a result of a “zero tolerance” policy that calls for the criminal prosecution of anyone caught crossing the U.S. border illegally. The official was not authorized to give out the number and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

The official says many of the children were reunited within days after being separated from their families. The official wasn’t certain how many of the reunited children remained in custody with their families or how many were no longer in the country.

The official says U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Health and Human Services are working to set up a centralized reunification process at the Port Isabel Detention Center near Los Fresnos, Texas.

—Associated Press writer Colleen Long in Washington, D.C.

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6:45 p.m.

An email from the federal public defender’s office that covers cases from El Paso to San Antonio shows that the U.S. Attorney’s Office will be dismissing cases in which parents were charged with illegally entering or re-entering the country and were subsequently separated from their children.

The notification came Thursday afternoon from the federal public defender’s office for the western district of Texas.

El Paso immigration attorney Carlos Spector says the notice puts “a major dent” in the zero-tolerance policy as it implies that federal officials will not be prosecuting these cases. It’s unclear how many cases have been and will be dismissed as a result.

With the criminal charges dismissed, Spector said this removes the basis for separating children from their parents.

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5:45 p.m.

Arkansas’ Republican governor says he’s opposed to the federal government using any facilities in the state to house migrant children who are separated from their parents.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Thursday he understands that officials are looking at the Little Rock Air Force Base and unused federal land in south Arkansas to house immigrants and that the decision on using the facilities is being made in Washington and not at the state level.

Hutchinson says any costs for housing immigrant families would be paid by the federal government.

Hutchinson a day earlier rejected calls from Democratic leaders in the majority-Republican legislature to recall the state’s National Guard soldiers deployed to assist in border surveillance.

4:50 p.m.

Pope Francis says countries should take in as many migrants as they can handle and properly integrate into their societies.

Speaking to reporters aboard his airplane as he flew back to Rome on Thursday after a daylong trip to Geneva, Francis reiterated that he supports the U.S. bishops who condemned the immigration policy of separating children from parents who enter the United States illegally.

Francis also endorsed European proposals to develop jobs and education in African countries to combat trafficking of migrants seeking better lives in Europe.

The pope decried that migrants sent back to Libya suffer torture and other abuse in prisons he likened to World War II concentration camps.

He said: “Each country can accept the migrants that they can handle and integrate,” including by having enough jobs.

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4:10 p.m.

Two Pennsylvania facilities are housing immigrant children separated from their families at the border under President Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that about 50 children have been sent to the Holy Family Institute in Emsworth, about 8 miles (13 kilometers) north of Pittsburgh since April.

Facility CEO Sister Linda Yankoski confirmed the Institute is under contract with the Office of Refugee Resettlement, is housing the children and has housed unaccompanied minors since 2010.

WHYY radio reports at least nine children have been sent to another shelter in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley.

Elizabeth Yaeger, supervising attorney for HIAS Pennsylvania’s Immigrant Youth Advocacy Project said she could not disclose the exact location or name of the shelter.

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3:30 p.m.

An attorney representing immigrant children says a decades-old court settlement doesn’t require or even imply that the U.S. government should separate families entering the country illegally.

Peter Schey said Thursday that he will oppose a Trump administration request for a federal judge in Los Angeles to alter the longstanding agreement that ensures children are released from detention facilities.

Schey says the administration is seeking to deflect blame for its recent family separation policy after public outcry and called the government’s filing “deceptive and dishonest.”

The judge ruled during the Obama administration that children had to be released from family detention facilities after authorities began detaining mothers with children in response to a surge in Central American immigrants seeking asylum.

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3:15 p.m.

The prospect of the U.S. government housing up to 20,000 migrant children on military bases has raised questions on Capitol Hill.

Sen. Chuck Schumer said Thursday that he wants to know how many children are already being held after illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border and in what conditions.

A defense official says the Department Health and Human Services asked for the space and the Pentagon agreed. The official had knowledge of the request and spoke on condition of anonymity because the arrangement hasn’t yet been announced.

Schumer asked why reporters haven’t been allowed to tour detention facilities and how the new plan would work. The New York Democrat also wondered how the Trump administration was keeping track of families separated under its “zero tolerance” policy on illegal border crossings.

— Associated Press journalist Robert Burns in Washington

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3:15 p.m.

A Florida criminal defendant says he’s been working at a Miami-area facility housing dozens of children separated from their families at the U.S.-Mexico border.

The Miami Herald reported that Franky Santos told Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Jeri Cohen this week that his job was “like a day care,” overseeing children ages 12 to 17. He said he wasn’t supposed to discuss it publicly.

Santos faces felony drug possession charges from a 2017 traffic stop where an officer found 20 grams of marijuana. He said the contractor running the facility knew his criminal history.

Cohen said Santos’ hiring was “a disgrace” and urged him to quit. She said people with pending criminal cases shouldn’t be working there.

The contractor, Comprehensive Health Services Inc., referred questions to the Department Health and Human Services.

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2:45 p.m.

A defense official says the Pentagon has agreed to provide housing on military bases for up to 20,000 migrant children detained after illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.

The official says the Department Health and Human Services asked for the space and the Pentagon agreed to support it. The official had knowledge of the request and spoke on condition of anonymity because the arrangement has not yet been announced.

It was first reported by The Washington Post.

It’s unclear which military bases would be used to house the children. HHS has assessed four military bases as prospective housing for child migrants.

Three are in Texas: Fort Bliss, Goodfellow Air Force Base and Dyess Air Force Base. The fourth is Little Rock Air Force Base in Arkansas. It’s not clear whether other bases are under consideration.

— Associated Press journalist Robert Burns in Washington

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2:45 p.m.

Washington and more than a half-dozen other states say they plan to sue the Trump administration over a policy that separated immigrant families illegally entering the United States.

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson made the announcement Thursday outside a federal prison in the city of SeaTac, south of Seattle, where about 200 immigration detainees have been transferred — including women separated from their children.

Ferguson says the separations violate the due process rights of children and their parents and that Trump’s executive order Wednesday halting the practice hasn’t resolved the legal concerns.

Massachusetts, California, Maryland, Oregon, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Minnesota plan to join the lawsuit. New York has separately announced plans to sue.

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1:05 p.m.

First lady Melania Trump boarded a flight to a facility housing migrant children separated from their parents wearing a jacket that read “I really don’t care, do u?”

The green hooded spring military jacket has the words written graffiti-style on the back.

When asked what message the first lady’s jacket intended to send, spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham said: “It’s a jacket. There was no hidden message.”

Mrs. Trump wore a different pale yellow jacket when the plane landed in McAllen, Texas, for a visit to the Upbring New Hope Children’s Center, which houses 55 migrant children.

The trendy jacket sharply contrasts with the first lady’s typically bold, foreign-flavored wardrobe.

In public appearances, the first lady has worn designs by Dolce & Gabbana, Del Pozo, Christian Dior, Emilio Pucci, Givenchy and Valentino, often with daringly high Christian Louboutin heels.

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1 p.m.

The Justice Department has agreed to release a child separated from his migrant mother after she sued in federal court.

Justice Department lawyer Sarah Fabian told U.S. District Court Judge Paul L. Friedman at a hearing Thursday that the child would be released in the afternoon.

The mother is Beata Mariana de Jesus Mejia-Mejia. She filed for political asylum after crossing the border with her 7-year old son Darwin following a trek from Guatemala.

Mother and son will be reunited in the Washington area before traveling to Texas, where they will live while her asylum claim is being decided.

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12:30 p.m.

The Justice Department has formally asked a federal judge to change the rules on detaining families caught at the border.

Lawyers on Thursday filed a memorandum to a class-settlement that governs how children are handled when they are caught crossing the U.S. border illegally.

The Flores settlement states that families cannot be detained longer than 20 days.

The move is aimed at stopping the separation of children from their families amid a new policy where anyone caught crossing the border is charged criminally.

President Donald Trump signed an order Wednesday stopping the practice that has resulted in the separation of more than 2,300 children from their families. Homeland Security officials will detain families together.

It’s not clear what will happen with the children already separated.

12:25 p.m.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam has ordered state officials to investigate claims made by immigrant teens of severe physical abuse at a juvenile detention facility.

Northam announced the probe in a tweet on Thursday, hours after The Associated Press reported on a half-dozen sworn statements from Latino teens held at the Shenandoah Valley Juvenile Center.

Youths as young as 14 say they were beaten while handcuffed and locked up for long periods in solitary confinement, left nude and shivering in concrete cells.

Detainees also say the guards stripped them of their clothes and strapped them to chairs with bags placed over their heads.

The governor, a Democrat, said the allegations are disturbing and ordered the state’s secretary of public safety and homeland security to report back to him about conditions inside the facility.

The center’s lawyers deny all abuse allegations.

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12:20 p.m.

Melania Trump in a visit to Texas facility got a firsthand look at some of the migrant children sent there by the U.S. government after their families entered the country illegally.

The first lady’s stop Thursday at Upbring New Hope Children’s Center came the morning after President Donald Trump signed an executive order halting the practice of separating these families.

She visited a one-story red brick building, which houses 55 children between the ages of 12 and 17.

Third-graders welcomed the first lady with a large paper American flag they’d signed taped to a wall.

With the words, “Welcome! First Lady” written in black marker across the red and white bars, Mrs. Trump also signed the flag, which the children gave to her.

___

11:20 a.m.

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in Portland has been closed for a second day because of a demonstration against Trump administration immigration policies.

Agency spokeswoman Carissa Cutrell says people who had appointments scheduled for Thursday will be contacted by deportation officers to have their meetings rescheduled. The appointments will not be reported as missed check-ins.

Cutrell declined to say how many people work at the Portland office, or if they have been working from home.

The round-the-clock protest began Sunday, with protesters calling for an end to the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy in which all unlawful border crossings are referred for prosecution.

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, a Trump critic, says he does not want city police involved in any effort to end the protest.

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11:10 a.m.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Justice says a report is inaccurate that parents who try to illegally cross the border with children will no longer be criminally prosecuted.

Spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores says there has been no change to the “zero tolerance” policy that resulted in the separation of more than 2,300 children from their parents.

President Donald Trump on Wednesday signed an order to stop the separations. Justice Department lawyers are working on a legal challenge to allow families to be detained longer than 20 days.

The Washington Post reported that the policy was suspended until U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement could find space to detain them.

In McAllen, Texas, a civil rights group attorney says federal prosecutors unexpectedly dropped misdemeanor charges against 17 adult immigrants who crossed the border with children Thursday.

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10:50 a.m.

Mayors who gathered at a holding facility for immigrant children at Texas’ border with Mexico say that President Trump has failed to address a humanitarian crisis of his own making with an executive order to halt the separation minors from families that are detained crossing the U.S. border illegally.

Seattle Mayor and former U.S. attorney Jenny Durkan said Thursday at a news conference on the outskirts of El Paso that immigrant shelters have been overwhelmed by criminal prosecutions ordered by the Trump administration.

She joined about 20 mayors from cities across the country to call for the immediate reunification of immigrant children with their families.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio says that separated immigrant children still don’t know when they will see their parents again.

Columbia, South Carolina Mayor Steve Benjamin says a request to tour the holding facility for minors at Tornillo, Texas, was denied by the Department of Health and Human Services.

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9:50 a.m.

An official says three immigrant children who have been staying in a Catholic Charities shelter in Fort Worth, Texas, are expected to be reunited with their family Thursday.

Heather Reynolds, the nonprofit’s director, says the three are among 12 immigrant children at the shelter who were separated from their parents under a Trump administration “zero tolerance” policy. She says half are boys and half are girls, and they range in age from age 5 to 12.

Reynolds declined to provide details about the three kids who are expected to be reunited with family Thursday.

She says Present Donald Trump’s executive order Wednesday allowing immigrant kids to remain with their parents mentions how future illegal border crossing will be handled, but it doesn’t address the more than 2,000 children who have already been separated since May. She says this leaves groups like hers “uncertain” about how to manage those kids already in detention in the U.S.

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9 a.m.

A civil rights group attorney says federal prosecutors unexpectedly dropped misdemeanor charges against 17 adult immigrants who crossed the border with children.

Efren Olivares, a lawyer with the Texas Civil Rights Project, said outside of the federal courthouse in McAllen, Texas, that the 17 immigrants were supposed to have been sentenced Thursday morning for improperly entering the U.S.

Olivares says the 17 will likely be placed in immigration detention, though he didn’t know whether they would be reunited immediately with their children or released altogether. Asked if they had any reaction to the charges against them being dropped, he said, “They’re asking about their children, frankly.”

The Texas Civil Rights Project is interviewing adults to track them and their children through separate government systems.

The dropping of the charges comes a day after President Donald Trump reversed a policy of forcibly separating immigrant children from their parents upon entering the U.S. without permission.

Copyright © 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.



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