“Birth tourism” is Trump’s next immigration target

The Trump administration has a new target on the immigration front — pregnant women visiting from other countries — with plans as early as this week to roll out a new rule cracking down on “birth tourism,” three administration officials told Axios.

Why it matters: Trump has threatened to end birthright citizenship and railed against immigrant “anchor babies.” The new rule would be one of the first tangible steps to test how much legal authority the administration has to prevent foreigners from taking advantage of the 14th Amendment’s protection of citizenship for anyone born in the U.S.

  • “This change is intended to address the national security and law enforcement risks associated with birth tourism, including criminal activity associated with the birth tourism industry,” a State Department official told Axios.
  • The regulation is also part of the administration’s broader efforts to intensify the vetting process for visas, according to another senior administration official.

The big picture: “Birth tourists” often come to the U.S. from China, Russia and Nigeria, according to the AP.

  • There’s no official count of babies born to foreign visitors in the U.S., while the immigration restrictionist group Center for Immigration Studies — which has close ties to Trump administration immigration officials — puts estimates at around 33,000 every year.

How the new regulation would work: It would alter the requirements for B visas (or visitor visas), giving State Department officials the authority to deny foreigners the short-term business and tourism visas if they believe the process is being used to facilitate automatic citizenship.

  • It’s unclear yet how the rule would be enforced — whether officials would be directed to consider pregnancy or the country of the woman’s citizenship in determining whether to grant a visa.
  • Consular officers who issue passports and visas “are remarkably skilled at sussing out true versus false claims,” the senior official said.
  • “The underlying practical issue is that very few people who give birth in the U.S. got a visa for that specific purpose. Most people already have visas and come in later,” according to Jeffrey Gorsky, former chief legal adviser in the State Department visa office.

This is but one step in the administration’s plans to make it harder for people from other countries to benefit from birthright citizenship.

  • “Rome wasn’t built in a day,” the senior official said. “Just the legal recognition that this is improper and wrong and not allowed is a significant step forward.”
  • The plans to address the use of B visas for birth tourism were included in the latest version of the Unified Agenda of Federal Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions.
  • Immigration experts expect there to be a similar rule for Customs and Border Protection to go along with the State Department’s regulation.

What to watch: Most of Trump’s major immigration moves have been met with lawsuits. If the regulation leaves it to officers’ discretion to ensure that B visas aren’t used for birth tourism, it would be difficult to challenge in court, according to Lynden Melmed, an attorney and former chief counsel at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

  • “State Department officials have all the discretion in the world to deny people visas,” said Sarah Pierce of the Migration Policy Institute. Foreign nationals who are outside the U.S. and have not yet received visas “don’t have a lot of legal standing.”
  • But specific restrictions that could keep out non-birth tourism visitors — such as pregnant women coming to the U.S. for business, etc. — would be legally questionable, according to Melmed and Gorsky.

[Axios]

Trump Retweets Image of Speaker Pelosi and Senator Schumer in Traditional Islamic Clothing Before Iranian Flag

President Donald Trump took his attacks on Speaker Nancy Pelosi Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer to a whole new level Monday morning, by retweeting a photoshopped image of the two in traditional Muslim garb before an Iranian flag.

The tweet came in a flurry of frenzied presidential tweets (and retweets) critical of Speaker Pelosi’s criticism of the Trump administrations handling of Iranian foreign relations, in particular, that following the deadly drone strike that took the life of Quds force leader and Iranian Republican Guard Major General Qasam Soleimani.

In the days that followed Soleimani’s death, a million Iranians reportedly flooded the streets of Teheran to protest the U.S. killing of the number two leader of Iran. But as Iran eventually admitted to shooting down a Ukranian airliner and killing 167 civilians, protests have started against the Iranian regime.

[Mediaite]


Trump administration refuses to release all available aid to Puerto Rico despite earthquakes

The Trump administration is refusing to release all available disaster aid to Puerto Rico despite this week’s earthquakes, citing concerns about “corruption” and “financial mismanagement” on the island, the Daily News has learned.

President Trump’s Department of Housing and Urban Development was supposed to start disbursing $9.7 billion in aid to Puerto Rico in September as part of a congressional allocation to beef up natural disaster readiness following the devastating hurricanes that battered the island in 2017 and killed nearly 3,000 people.

But HUD has to date only released about $1.5 billion of those funds, and a senior agency official said Thursday that the remainder of the relief cash won’t be released anytime soon despite a string of earthquakes that rocked the island this week and left thousands of residents without power.

“Given the Puerto Rican government’s history of financial mismanagement, corruption and other abuses, we must ensure that any HUD assistance provided helps those on the island who need it the most: the people of Puerto Rico,” the HUD official told The News, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss internal operations.

The official did not give a timeline for when the aid will be released and downplayed the island’s need for more assistance.

“Puerto Rico already has access to $1.5 billion and has so far only spent $5.8 million — less than 1% of those funds,” the official said.

Congressional Democrats were outraged and said the Trump administration is breaking the law by withholding the congressionally approved money.

“The ongoing withholding of funds appropriated by Congress to Puerto Rico is illegal,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told reporters at a Thursday press conference.

Queens-Brooklyn Rep. Nydia Velazquez, who grew up in Puerto Rico, said HUD’s own inspector general recently concluded there’s nothing to suggest the island can’t properly manage the aid.

She also said it isn’t HUD’s prerogative to block the funds, as they were approved by Congress.

“The real motivation for withholding these dollars is Donald Trump’s disdain for the people of Puerto Rico and heartless disregard for their suffering,” Velazquez told The News.

Velazquez joined Queens-Bronx Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) in sending a letter earlier this week to HUD Secretary Ben Carson demanding the outstanding $8.3 billion be released to Puerto Rico immediately, arguing the island needs whatever assistance it can get in the wake of the earthquakes.

Schumer said Carson had not responded as of Thursday and reiterated a call for the administration to end its “counterproductive vendetta” with Puerto Rico.

“As opposed to erecting hurdles to recovery, the administration should be clearing a path, righting past wrongs and delivering the support our fellow American citizens so clearly need,” he said.

At least one person has died since a magnitude 6.4 earthquake shook Puerto Rico on Tuesday. Several major aftershocks have followed, destroying homes and leaving two-thirds of the island without electricity.

Trump declared a state of emergency for Puerto Rico earlier this week, opening up about $5 million in federal funds to be spent on emergency services in light of the earthquake.

But Democrats say that’s not close to enough and urged the administration to stop withholding the hurricane relief cash that was supposed to be released months ago.

“Holding these resources back means delaying the island’s economic and physical recovery, period,” Velazquez said.

Trump has had a thorny relationship with Puerto Rico’s leaders for years.

After the 2017 hurricanes, critics accused the president of racism after he expressed reluctance about releasing aid to Puerto Rico while pledging sweeping support for states like Texas and Florida when they suffered natural disasters.

Trump infamously tossed paper towels at a crowd of Puerto Ricans when he visited the island in the wake of Hurricane Maria in October 2017.


[New York Daily News]

‘All is well!’ Trump tweets after Iran targets and injures U.S. forces in missile attack in Iraq

Despite early reports that no Americans were harmed, 11 U.S. service members did sustain injuries in a ballistic missile attack this month that required transport for follow-up care, officials with U.S. Central Command have confirmed.

On Jan. 8, Iran struck Iraqi bases at Al Asad and Erbil, where U.S. and Iraqi troops trained together. The attack was in retaliation for a U.S. airstrike days before that killed Iranian Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani. While U.S. officials have not yet released a full accounting of damage sustained on the bases, it was described by President Donald Trump the following day as “minimal.”

“I’m pleased to inform you: The American people should be extremely grateful and happy no Americans were harmed in last night’s attack by the Iranian regime,” Trump said in a Jan. 9 address to the nation. “We suffered no casualties, all of our soldiers are safe, and only minimal damage was sustained at our military bases.”

On Thursday, however, DefenseOne first reported that 11 troops were actually hurt in the blast, requiring medical evacuation to locations in Germany and Kuwait.

In a statement released late Thursday night, CENTCOM spokesman Navy Capt. Bill Urban confirmed the reporting.

“While no U.S. service members were killed in the Jan. 8 Iranian attack on Al Asad Air base, several were treated for concussion symptoms from the blast and are still being assessed,” he said. “As a standard procedure, all personnel in the vicinity of a blast are screened for traumatic brain injury, and if deemed appropriate are transported to a higher level of care.”

Eight individuals were transported to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, he said, and three were moved to Camp Arifjan, Kuwait for follow-on screening in what Urban described as an “abundance of caution.”

“When deemed fit for duty, the service members are expected to return to Iraq following screening,” he said. “The health and welfare of our personnel is a top priority and we will not discuss any individual’s medical status.”

In a Thursday briefing, Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman credited military early warning systems with detecting incoming missiles and allowing troops to reach shelter as the strikes began.

Follow-up reporting, though, has made clear that missiles did come frighteningly close to where troops sheltered and operated. One Army drone operator told the New York Times “it was like a scene from an action movie;” photographs from the publication show the wreckage of a hangar and other structures destroyed by the blasts.

[Military]

Phrase ‘White Nationalists’ Cut From Measure To Screen Military Enlistees

A measure in the National Defense Authorization Act meant to keep white nationalists out of the U.S. military no longer mentions “white nationalists” after Congress quietly altered the text after it initially passed the House.

The change, which has not been previously reported, could water down a House-passed amendment meant to address the threat of white nationalists in the military. The House language was specifically drafted to encourage screening for white nationalist beliefs in military enlistees. But after the Republican-controlled Senate passed its own version of the massive military spending bill and the two chambers’ bills were reconciled, the final NDAA instead requires the Department of Defense to study ways to screen military enlistees for “extremist and gang-related activity.”

While it may seem like a minor tweak, the removal of the term “white nationalists” from the amendment text was concerning to Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.), who introduced the amendment in July after alarming reports about white nationalists in the U.S. military. 

Earlier this year, federal authorities arrested a Coast Guard lieutenant for allegedly stockpiling weapons in preparation for a terror attack. A series of HuffPost investigations also exposed 11 U.S. service members who had ties to Identity Evropa, a white nationalist group best known for helping organize the deadly 2017 “Unite The Rally” in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Stripping the specific mention of “white nationalists” from the legislation could leave the door open for more white nationalists to join the military and could leave the U.S. military off the hook for what many critics say are lackluster efforts to screen enlistees for white nationalist beliefs.

It’s not clear who approved the language change or why. Senators on the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee, including Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), did not respond to HuffPost’s requests for comment on the language.

After the House and Senate each passed their own versions of the NDAA, lawmakers from both chambers met to reconcile differences between the two. The final NDAA was then approved by both chambers.

Aguilar said the fact that the final NDAA does not mention “white nationalism” indicates the Senate may not be taking white nationalism seriously.

In a statement to HuffPost, he noted that white nationalists have “successfully enlisted in our military in order to gain access to combat training and weaponry.”

To prevent more white nationalist violence, Aguilar said, “we cannot turn a blind eye to this growing problem which puts our national security and the safety of the brave men and women serving our country in jeopardy.”

“It’s disappointing that Senate Republicans disagree,” he added.

Academics and law enforcement officials have long warned of the specific threat posed by white nationalists who join the military, where they receive combat training they can use to inflict violence on civilians. White supremacists have long been attracted to the U.S. military, and often for good reason. In the 1970s, for example, a Department of Defense directive allowed service members to join the Ku Klux Klan.

Although military rules prohibit service members from committing acts of discrimination or engaging in extremist activity, an unnerving 2017 Military Times poll found that nearly 25% of American service members reported encountering white nationalists within their ranks.

Just this week, an ESPN article revealed the Army football team’s motto had origins in the neo-Nazi gang the Aryan Brotherhood; two cadets flashed the “OK” hand sign, often a white power symbol, on live television during the Army-Navy football game; and Army units memorialized World War II’s Battle of the Bulge on social media by posting a photo of a Nazi war criminal.

Last month, Vice News confirmed that three members of the U.S. military were registered users of the online neo-Nazi forum Iron March.

And in 2018, a series of investigative reports by ProPublica and “Frontline” found multiple members of violent neo-Nazi groups in the armed services.

Aguilar’s amendment to the NDAA this year sought to address this long-standing problem by requiring the Secretary of Defense to “study the feasibility” of screening for “individuals with ties to white nationalist organizations” during initial background investigations of enlistees.

The amendment also requires the Department of Defense to study whether two FBI resources — the Tattoo and Graffiti Identification Program and The National Gang Intelligence Center — could aid the military in this effort.

[Huffington Post]

Trump Goes Full Anti-Semite in Room Full of Jewish People

Back in February 2017, Donald Trump was asked what the government planned to do about an uptick in anti-Semitism, to which he characteristically responded, “I am the least anti-Semitic person that you’ve ever seen in your entire life.” That statement, like the ones he’s previously made about being “the least racist person there is anywhere in the world,” was, and is, obviously not true at all. Prior to being elected, Trump seemed to suggest to a room full of Jews that they buy off politicians; tweeted an image of Hillary Clinton’s face atop a pile of cash next to the Star of David and the phrase, “Most Corrupt Candidate Ever!”; and released an ad featuring the faces of powerful Jewish people with a voiceover about them being part of a “global power structure” that has “robbed our working class” and “stripped our country of its wealth.” After moving into the White House, and just a few short months following his assertion that he is the least anti-Semitic person to walk the earth, Trump refused to condemn neo-Nazis and, just last August, accused American Jews of being “disloyal” to Israel by voting for Democrats. And if you thought the coming holiday season would inspire the president to pump the brakes on blatant anti-Semitism, boy, do we have a surprise for you!

Speaking at the Israeli American Council in Hollywood, Florida, on Saturday night, Trump hit all of his favorite anti-Semitic tropes before a room full of Jewish people. He started off by once again invoking the age-old cliché about “dual loyalty,” saying there are Jews who “don’t love Israel enough.” After that warm-up he dove right into the stereotype about Jews and money, telling the group: “A lot of you are in the real estate business, because I know you very well. You’re brutal killers, not nice people at all,” he said. “But you have to vote for me—you have no choice. You’re not gonna vote for Pocahontas, I can tell you that. You’re not gonna vote for the wealth tax. Yeah, let’s take 100% of your wealth away!” (It feels beside the point that neither Elizabeth Warren nor any other Democratic candidate has proposed a 100% wealth tax.) He continued: “Some of you don’t like me. Some of you I don’t like at all, actually. And you’re going to be my biggest supporters because you’re going to be out of business in about 15 minutes if they get it. So I don’t have to spend a lot of time on that.”

Not surprisingly, the remarks by the self-described “King of Israel” were swiftly condemned by Jewish organizations. “Dear @POTUS,” the American Jewish Committee tweeted Sunday afternoon, “Much as we appreciate your unwavering support for Israel, surely there must be a better way to appeal to American Jewish voters, as you just did in Florida, than by money references that feed age-old and ugly stereotypes. Let’s stay off that mine-infested road.” Calling the comments “deeply offensive” and “unconscionable,” the Jewish Democratic Council of America said in a statement, “We strongly denounce these vile and bigoted remarks in which the president—once again—used anti-Semitic stereotypes to characterize Jews as driven by money and insufficiently loyal to Israel. He even had the audacity to suggest that Jews ‘have no choice’ but to support him. American Jews do have a choice, and they’re not choosing President Trump or the Republican Party, which has been complicit in enacting his hateful agenda.” The group’s executive director added: “Jewish support for the GOP has been halved since Trump has been in office, from 33 percent in 2014 to 17 percent in 2018, because Trump’s policies and rhetoric are completely antithetical to Jewish values.”

Trump, on whose watch hate crimes have hit historic levels, has not seen fit to respond to any of the criticism yet, but presumably when he does it’ll be to note his appointment as “the second coming of God” and all of his many Jewish friends.

[Vanity Fair]

Far-right, anti-Islam hate group plans to hold event at Mar-A-Lago hotel

A far-right group that alleges that Islamic extremists are infiltrating the U.S. government is set to hold a banquet this weekend at President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club, according to permits for the event obtained by The Washington Post.

The Center for Security Policy and its leaders have spread the lie that former President Barack Obama is a Muslim and have also falsely alleged that Muslim organizations in the United States have anti-American beliefs, according to the Post. It is labeled a designated hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center 

The group has rented a ballroom for Saturday at Trump’s club in Palm Beach, Fla., for its annual Freedom Flame Award dinner, according to the Post. This is the first time the event, which has previously been held in New York City and Washington, D.C., is being held in Palm Beach, according to the Post’s public records request.

The White House declined to comment to the Washington Post, and the Trump Organization did not respond to the newspaper’s request for comment.

The permit obtained by the Post says the event will cost approximately $53,000. The organization told the newspaper that it is “a private event.”

Fred Fleitz, a former Trump administration official who is the president and chief executive of the Center for Security Policy, told the newspaper after its initial report was published that the group is not prejudiced against Muslims.

“Muslims are part of our country and our society, this is a good thing,” Fleitz told PJ Media in January, which he cited to the Post. “But what we don’t welcome is the radical ideology that promotes violence.”

Trump cited the group’s research when he proposed “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States” during his presidential campaign in 2015, the BBC reported.

According to the Post, Ibrahim Hooper of the Council on American-Islamic Relations alleged that former Reagan administration official Frank Gaffney – who is the founder of the Center for Security Policy and has ties to the Trump administration – is “one of the key figures in the Islamophobia industry.”

“They get the influence they seek by handing him money, and he gets the money,” Hooper told the Post.

Earlier this year, ACT for America, which has called Islam a “cancer,” was also set to hold a banquet at Mar-a-Lago but later canceled the event, the Washington Post reported.

The Hill has reached out to the White House, the Trump organization and the Center for Security Policy for comment.

[The Hill]

Trump: Erdoğan has ‘great relationship with the Kurds’

President Trump on Wednesday said his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has a “great relationship with the Kurds” amid concerns of possible ethnic violence against the minority group in northern Syria.

The two leaders met for the first time in Washington one month after Turkey launched its offensive into northeastern Syria against Kurdish forces allied with the U.S. in the fight against ISIS. Turkey claims the Kurdish group is an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which is designated as a terrorist group by both Ankara and Washington.

“I think the president has a great relationship with the Kurds,” Trump said. “Many Kurds live currently in Turkey, and they’re happy, and they’re taken care of, including health care — we were talking about it before — including health care and education and other things, so that’s really a misnomer.”

The question came from reporter Rahim Rashidi of the Iraqi Kurdistan network K24, who was dubbed “Mr. Kurd” by Trump during a press conference last year when discussing the fight against ISIS. Rashidi has adopted the nickname, putting it on business cards and introducing himself that way when interviewing the president and other lawmakers.

Erdoğan reasserted that Turkey’s offensive is rooting out “terrorist organizations.”

“We have no problems with the Kurds. We have problems with terrorist organizations, and of course you’re not going to own up to the terrorists, are you?” he asked.

Turkey is home to one of the largest populations of Kurdish minorities, about 19 percent of its population.

[The Hill]

Trump Just Called DACA Recipients ‘Hardened Criminals’ Hours Before Their Supreme Court Case

Hours before the Supreme Court would hear arguments in a case to determine the legal status of nearly 700,000 immigrants who came to the U.S. as children, President Trump tweeted a message for them.

“Many of the people in DACA, no longer very young, are far from ‘angels.’ Some are very tough, hardened criminals,” wrote Trump, referring to immigrants who’ve benefited from the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA.

The missive came as protestors and activists swarmed the Supreme Court ahead of its hearing on the Obama-era law that gives certain immigrants temporary legal status and a work permit, which they can renew every two years. Recipients need to have come to the U.S. before age 16, graduated high school (or be enrolled), and passed a background check.

Trump’s Tuesday morning tweet echoes the language he frequently uses to describe immigrants. But according to a 2017 report from the libertarian think tank CATO Institute, DACA recipients have lower incarceration rates than people born in the U.S. And to be eligible for the program, applicants can’t have been convicted of a felony — or even a string of misdemeanors.

After he took office, Trump initially waffled on whether his administration would preserve the policy. In February of 2017, Trump called DACA beneficiaries “absolutely incredible kids.” But facing pressure from immigration hard-liners, Trump swiftly changed his tune. By September of that year, he announced that the Department of Homeland Security would end the program completely.

That fight has now arrived at the Supreme Court, which will decide whether it’s lawful for the Trump administration to end the program. Nearly 700,000 immigrants rely on DACA to live and work in the U.S., the vast majority of which are women under the age of 25.

Despite the fact that his own administration is pushing to dismantle the program, Trump has punted the issue to Democrats in Congress. He added in his tweet that, if the Supreme Court rules in his administration’s favor, the White House will work with Democrats on a plan to keep DACA beneficiaries in the U.S.

“President Obama said he had no legal right to sign order, but would anyway. If Supreme Court remedies with overturn, a deal will be made with Dems for them to stay!” Trump wrote.

[VICE]

On Veterans Day, Trump Laments Passing Whistleblower Law Meant to Improve VA: ‘To Think I Signed!’

On Veterans Day, President Donald Trump lamented passing a whistleblower law meant to increase protections for employees who uncovered wrongdoing in the Department of Veterans Affairs.

“To think I signed the Whistleblower Protection Act!” Trump said Monday, stepping on an announcement from the White House twitter account praising Trump’s accomplishments for veterans.

The actual Whistleblower Protection Act was passed in 1998, but Trump has passed at least two laws related to whistleblower protections, according to a review of the congressional record.

The White House tweet is apparently referring to the Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017, which was sponsored by GOP Sen. Marco Rubio. The law passed the Senate via voice vote.

The law established a new special office in the VA to protect whistleblowers from retaliation and makes it easier to fire employees accused of misconduct. However, an Inspector General report released late last month found the office had largely failed in its mission to protect whistleblowers and conducted corrupt investigations.

Trump also signed the Dr. Chris Kirkpatrick Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017 into law, which is named for a VA doctor who was ousted and later killed himself after he blew the whistle on the over-prescription of opiates at his VA facility.

[Mediaite]

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