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Are there really 600 criminals in the migrant caravan at the border?

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By Julia Ainsley and Jacob Soboroff

WASHINGTON — In defending the use of tear gas, troop deployment and other crowd control measures on the border, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said last week that 600 of the 8,500 migrants waiting to enter California from Mexico as part of the Honduran caravan were confirmed as convicted criminals.

NBC News has learned that more than three-quarters of those 600 have been charged with illegal entry into the United States, illegal re-entry after a deportation order, and drunk driving, according to two sources. The remainder have been charged with more serious crimes.

Kirstjen Nielsen, from center, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, tours the border area with San Diego Section Border Patrol Chief Rodney Scott, from left, at Borderfield State Park along the United States-Mexico Border fence in San Ysidro, California on November 20, 2018.Sandy Huffaker / AFP – Getty Images file

The breakdown of charges provides context over what has become a fraught political issue. President Donald Trump repeatedly warned of dangers posed by the caravan ahead of the midterm election, even saying there could be terrorists from the Middle East among them

Immigrants routinely cross between ports of entry illegally because they are forced to wait for long periods in dangerous border towns if they attempt to cross at legal ports, and doing so does not make them a public safety threat, said Greg Chen, director of government relations at the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

“Many people who cross the border between ports of entry have valid asylum claims and have previously attempted to cross at ports of entry. People we have talked to have been blocked from entering and forced to return in weeks, or even months,” Chen said.

Still, some of the convictions are for more serious crimes. Those include at least one case each of murder, assault and sexual exploitation of a minor.

“I’d push back on the notion that because the crimes aren’t heinous they are not criminals,” said one official on the condition of anonymity.

Under U.S. law, it is a felony to re-enter the United States after being ordered deported. The Obama administration included these immigrants who attempted reentry as priorities for deportation when it focused Immigration and Customs Enforcement resources on criminals.

Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker recently used his authority to review an immigration court case that could set precedent for whether multiple convictions of driving under the influence should be taken into account in determining whether someone has “good moral character” and should be ruled ineligible for asylum.

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Warren pushes back on Native American jab, says Trump he may not be ‘free person’ by 2020

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By Allan Smith

Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts responded Sunday to President Donald Trump’s tweet a day earlier mocking her claims of Native American heritage. She suggested that the president may be in prison by the time the 2020 election rolls around.

At an Iowa rally on Sunday, Warren said Trump often posts tweets that are “racist” and “hateful.”

“Here’s what bothers me, by the time we get to 2020, Donald Trump may not even be president,” she said. “In fact, he may not even be a free person. But … Donald Trump is not the only problem we’ve got.”

Trump taunted Warren on Twitter after she announced her presidential bid at a large Massachusetts rally Saturday, asking if she will “run as our first Native American presidential candidate, or has she decided that after 32 years, this is not playing so well anymore?”

“See you on the campaign TRAIL, Liz!” he added. On Instagram, his eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., responded to the tweet by saying, “Savage!!! I love my president!”

The president’s comment was seen by many as a reference to the Trail of Tears, the forced relocation of Native Americans in the mid-19th century from tribal lands, during which thousands died. The policy was pursued by the administration of Andrew Jackson, whom Trump has repeatedly praised as a great president.

Republican Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming brushed aside the tweet during an interview with CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday, saying Warren has “made herself a laughingstock.”

“I have concerns about somebody like Elizabeth Warren pretending to be a Native American,” Cheney said, calling Warren’s past assertions a “disgrace.”

“I don’t think anybody should be surprised that that is the reaction to her and her repeated claims,” Cheney said, adding Warren is “somebody who can’t be trusted.”

CNN’s Jake Tapper concluded the exchange by noting that Cheney did not directly address the content of Trump’s tweet.

Earlier this year, Trump made a joking reference to the Wounded Knee massacre of Native Americans and the Battle of Little Bighorn to take a shot at Warren, whom he regularly refers to as “Pocahontas.”

Warren has faced backlash and has apologized for claiming Native American ancestry in her past. She took a DNA test last year and revealed she was between 1/64 and 1/1024 Native American and has since apologized to Cherokee Nation leaders. Last week, The Washington Post reported that she listed her race as “American Indian” on a Texas State Bar registration card in 1986, which has renewed conservative mocking of her.



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2020 candidate Buttigieg backs Green New Deal

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By Allan Smith

Pete Buttigieg, the Democratic mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and a 2020 presidential candidate, said Sunday that a “Green New Deal” resolution being pushed by lawmakers of his party is “the right beginning” for a broad plan to combat climate change.

“This is a national emergency,” Buttigieg said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “I think the elegance from a policy perspective of the concept of the Green New Deal is it matches a sense of urgency about that problem of climate change with a sense of opportunity around what the solutions might represent.”

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts have introduced a resolution on the Green New Deal calling for a complete transition to renewable energy by 2030, seeking to “achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions through a fair and just transition for all communities and workers.”

The measure calls for a massive 10-year infrastructure plan and large spending increase, but has faced criticism over some of its proposals and for not addressing how the plan would be paid for.

The plan was met with backlash on the right, particularly over draft language sent to news outlets that included provisions like cutting down on air travel and providing economic security to people who are “unable or unwilling to work.”

Ocasio-Cortez, a freshman legislator, tweeted Sunday that the resolution, which would not carry the force of law if passed, was only meant to define the scope of the proposal.

She said in a Thursday news conference announcing the resolution, which is backed by prominent 2020 presidential contenders and numerous senators and House members, that lawmakers “must be as ambitious and innovative in our solution [to climate change] as possible.”

Buttigieg told CNN on Sunday that conservative bashing of “socialism” won’t work the same way it has in the past.

“If you grew up during that Cold War period, then you saw a time in politics when the word socialism could be used to end an argument,” he said, adding, “You can no longer simply kill off a line of discussion about a policy by saying that it’s socialist.”

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., speaks at a news conference on Capitol Hill on Jan. 30, 2019.Andrew Harnik / AP file

Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut said on the same program that the proposal was “absolutely realistic” and that lawmakers need to “set our sights high” to combat climate change. He compared the situation to former President John F. Kennedy’s mission to put a man on the moon by the end of the 1960s, which was considered an unrealistic goal at the time.

“If we don’t command this country to think big about saving our nation and our world from destruction, then I don’t think we’re going to get close to meeting the mark,” he said.



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For those at the border, the reality is different than Trump’s rhetoric

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By Mark Murray

WASHINGTON — As he’s tried to sell the need for his border wall to the American public over the past month, President Donald Trump has painted a dark picture of life on the U.S.-Mexico border.

Visiting McAllen, Texas, on the state’s southern tip, on Jan. 10, Trump talked about the “tremendous flood of illegal immigration, drug trafficking, human trafficking” and about “the criminal gangs coming in.”

Then, in his State of the Union address last Tuesday, he called El Paso, Texas, “one of our nation’s most dangerous cities” — that is, he said, before it erected a new border fencing.

Trump is slated to hold a rally for his wall in El Paso on Monday night.

But politicians and business leaders from these cities say that Trump’s portrayal is unfair, misleading and exaggerated — hardly reflecting what it’s like living on the United States side of the border.

“While there are problem areas along the U.S.-Mexico border, the problem he has described is grossly distorted from reality,” said Michael Blum, a local business and community leader in McAllen.

There’s no dismissing that border cities like McAllen and El Paso have been thoroughfares for illegal immigration and illicit drugs due to their proximity to Mexico.

And in recent years, drug violence across the border in Mexico has worsened, while families and children fleeing Central America have reached these cities, especially McAllen.

Those facts, however, tell only part of what it’s like to live on the border, where trade and commerce flourish between the United States and Mexico, where culture between the two countries is interconnected, and where there’s less violent crime than in other metropolitan areas.

In El Paso — a city with a population of about 700,000 — violent crime has been cut in half since the 1990s, and the most up-to-date crime rate there was fewer than 400 incidents per 100,000 people.

That’s less than New York City’s rate of nearly 600 violent crimes per 100,000 residents and Washington’s rate of 1,200 violent crimes per 100,000 people.

The statistics also contradict Trump’s claim about El Paso’s border fencing: They show that violent crime was already on the downswing before the fencing was completed in 2009, and then it slightly increased after it was finished.

“El Paso was NEVER one of the MOST dangerous cities in the US,” El Paso Mayor Dee Margo, a Republican, tweeted after Trump’s State of the Union. “We‘ve had a fence for 10 years and it has impacted illegal immigration and curbed criminal activity. It is NOT the sole deterrent.”

When Acting U.S. Attorney General Matthew Whitaker was asked at a congressional hearing Friday about the validity of those crime statistics in El Paso, he replied: “I do not have any reason to disagree with the FBI’s data.”

The per-capita rate of violent crime in McAllen — a city of about 150,000 residents — was 131 crimes per 100,000 people in 2014, lower than El Paso’s.

The number of undocumented immigrants apprehended at the border — probably the best way to measure the traffic of illegal immigration — also has declined in both cities.

Apprehensions in El Paso have plummeted from nearly 120,000 in 2000 to 25,000 in 2017, according to U.S. Border Patrol statistics.

And while apprehensions spiked in McAllen in 2014, due in large part to unaccompanied minors from Central America, they’ve been on the decline since then.

Ahead of the president’s visit to El Paso on Monday, Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-Texas, wrote Trump a letter asking him to apologize for his portrayal of the city in his State of the Union address.

Escobar’s predecessor — former El Paso Rep. (and potential 2020 Democratic presidential candidate) Beto O’Rourke — plans to participate in a counter-programming event Monday night celebrating the city’s culture and diversity.

“I urge you to treat this visit as your opportunity not only to correct the record and ensure that the misinformation you stated on the national stage is retracted,” Escobar told Trump, “but also an opportunity to apologize to El Pasoans for the disparagement of our community.”



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