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Texas county Republicans reject outing Muslim-American vice chair over his faith

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By Associated Press

FORT WORTH, Texas — Republicans in one of the most populous counties in Texas voted Thursday to keep a Muslim doctor as their party vice chairman following infighting over some members’ claims about his beliefs.

The executive committee of the Tarrant County Republican Party voted 139-49 to reject the effort to purge Shahid Shafi, a surgeon and City Council member in suburban Fort Worth.

“This vote reaffirms the commitment by a majority of Tarrant County Republicans to our core values and moral compass, a demonstration of our allegiance to the Texas Republican Party Platform and the Constitutions of the United States and Texas, which strictly prohibit religious and racial discrimination of any kind,” Tarrant County Republican Party Chair Darl Easton said in a written statement.

“While tonight’s vote brings an end to this unfortunate episode, it also demonstrates we are a party that respects the right of those who disagree on an issue to have a seat at the table and their voices heard,” according to the statement. “Religious liberty won tonight and while that makes a great day for the Republican Party of Tarrant County, that victory also serves notice that we have much work to do unifying our party.”

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported at least one precinct chair, Arlington Republican Dale Attebery, was said have to tossed his ID at the lecturn after the vote. Easton said he accepted that as Attebery’s resignation.

Shafi told reporters that his faith in Tarrant County Republicans had been reaffirmed.

“As we struggled through the last few months, it would have been easy for me to quit. But I stayed on to fight,” he said. “We were fighting for religious freedom … and today we have come out victorious.”

The Thursday vote result took a stand “against bigotry of all kinds,” he said. “Our union is a little more perfect today.”

A party precinct chairwoman, Dorrie O’Brien, had led the call to oust Shafi on claims that he may be more loyal to Islamic law or connected to a terrorist group. Shafi denied both claims and other Republicans have called them bigoted.

“Religious freedom is at the core of who we are as a nation and state,” Gov. Greg Abbott said in a statement Wednesday, “and attacks on Dr. Shafi because of his faith are contrary to this guiding principle.”

Other top Republicans, such as U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and Land Commissioner George P. Bush, also had condemned the effort to oust him.

Cruz tweeted at one point that discriminating against Shafi because of his religion was “wrong.” The First Amendment protects religious liberty for every faith, Cruz said on Twitter.

Former Tarrant County GOP leader William Busby earlier told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that some large corporate donors “don’t want to be associated with a party that’s going in the direction of excluding people based upon their religious beliefs.”

Shafi is one of two party vice chairmen and has worked for the party for about 10 years, including as a delegate to the state party convention. He’s serving a two-year term as vice chairman and his election in July drew one lone dissenting vote among the approximately 250 precinct chairmen who voted that day. That lone dissenter was O’Brien.

A handful of others have joined her in opposing Shafi. O’Brien did not respond to a request for comment by The Associated Press.

Her call to reconsider Shafi’s appointment gained traction with some party members after Tarrant County turned blue in the U.S. Senate race in November.

The State Republican Executive Committee in Austin responded to the move by passing a resolution recently that stressed Republican members across Texas have the “freedom to practice all faiths.”

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Katie Gorka lands spokesperson job at Customs and Border Protection

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WASHINGTON — Katie Gorka, wife of former White House adviser Sebastian Gorka, will become a spokeswoman for Customs and Border Protection, according to a Department of Homeland Security spokesperson. Gorka was passed over at the agency for a job overseeing a newly branded office of terror prevention, according to current and former DHS officials.

A DHS spokesperson told NBC News: “Katie has been a valuable member of the DHS team, helping to advance the Department’s mission of preventing targeted violence and countering terrorism, regardless of ideology. We look forward to her continued service with the Department in her new position at CBP as we work to secure the border and enforce our nation’s immigration laws.”

Gorka was on the Trump transition team and then served as an adviser to DHS. CNN was first to report Gorka’s appointment to the new position.

Multiple current and former DHS officials told NBC News that Gorka was considered the front-runner to lead the re-branded Office for Targeted Violence and Terrorism Prevention that was created in April but those same officials say she was informed in late May that she would not be named to run the office. David Gersten is serving as the acting director. Gorka left the agency in May after she was passed over.

Asked about the terrorism job, a DHS official said the agency does not comment on personnel decisions.

Katie Gorka, who previously co-authored papers on the threat of Islamic extremism with her husband, was passed over for the job in large part because of concerns that her previous work would be seen as controversial, according to the current and former DHS officials. Gorka has raised alarms about left-wing groups in the United States, while staying silent on the threat from white supremacist and sovereign citizen groups, which experts say are growing.

Her husband, Sebastian Gorka, whose views on Islam and counterterrorism are also considered controversial, served as an adviser in the Trump White House from January to August 2017. He left his job soon after adviser Steve Bannon departed the administration.

Officials within the agency were concerned Katie Gorka’s stance would distract from the new office’s mission to prevent both foreign and domestic terror threats, said the officials, which may indicate that the Department of Homeland Security is getting more serious about addressing domestic threats.

In previous speeches, including one from December 2015, Gorka criticized the Obama administration and cast doubt on surveys that showed law enforcement officers were concerned about right wing extremism. “The narrative has been put out that the real threat is from right-wing extremism, and so then if you look at surveys of law enforcement and if you had asked them a year ago,” they would say their biggest concern was right-wing extremism, she said, “because in a sense that’s what they had been told.”

Two former DHS officials who spoke to NBC News said Gorka would stay silent in meetings about domestic terrorism from right-wing extremists. One suggested she had a lack of interest; the other said she was listening and receptive to learning.

“Katie came in with some notions, but has been willing to listen and learn,” said the second former official, who worked with Gorka on terrorism prevention.

Gorka most recently worked in the DHS Office of Policy, where her work overlapped with the terrorism prevention office. There she was criticized in media reports and by former officials for not paying as much attention to domestic threats from far-right groups as from Islamic militants.

The Huffington Post reported in 2017 that Gorka was behind the decision to revoke a grant given under the Obama administration to Life After Hate, a nonprofit that helps reform former members of hate groups. In emails obtained by the Huffington Post, Gorka raised concerns about the group, pointing to a profanity-laced tweet attacking the president from the former executive director.

In her new role, Gorka will handle the communications for CBP, the nation’s largest law enforcement agency, as it struggles to handle the influx of undocumented immigrants crossing the border. CBP has also been criticized for policies implemented under the Trump administration, such as the separation of migrant children from their parents in the summer of 2018 and the deaths of three children in their custody since December.

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Do you have a question for the 2020 candidates? What would you ask at the first debate?

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What are the issues or topics that matter most to you in choosing what candidate to support in the 2020 presidential election? What’s the one question you would ask at the first Democratic presidential primary debate if you had the chance? Tell us here.

We are looking for questions from you before the debate, to be held June 26 and 27 in Miami. Your question could be chosen and asked live by one of our five moderators.

Download the NBC News app for breaking news and updates on the 2020 debates

You can watch the debate live on NBC News, MSNBC and Telemundo from 9-11 p.m. ET on both nights. The debate will also be streamed online free on NBC News’ digital platforms, including NBCNews.com, MSNBC.com, NBC News NOW, the NBC News Mobile App and OTT apps, in addition to Telemundo’s digital platforms.

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When migrants arrived in droves, this poor New Mexico city opened its arms

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“Make no mistake, it’s labor intensive,” said Fire Battalion Chief Edgar Davalos, “but the whole thing is we’ve still got to treat them like human beings, because that’s what they are. They’re here legally and they’re human beings, and we’re going to make them as comfortable until they finish their journey as we can.”

The deluge of migrants prompted the international humanitarian group Save the Children to come to Deming and set up a “child-friendly space” at the city’s migrant shelter. It’s the only emergency humanitarian operation Save the Children has ever set up in the U.S. that wasn’t in response to a natural disaster.

The group is also working with local law enforcement to spot and support children who’ve been trafficked or are facing trauma, leveraging their years of experience providing assistance in disaster situations.

“They’ve been away from their home. They’ve been in detention. They don’t know where they’re going,” said Jennifer Garner, the actress and Save the Children board member who was touring the shelter on the day NBC News visited.

“They don’t speak English. They’ve been ill. They’ve gone without baths, without food, without medical care, but they’re here, happy to hear me butcher ‘Goodnight Moon’ because they’re children.”

The support Save the Children provides is multipronged, but entirely funded by private donation.

Project manager Barbara Ammirati said the organization provides a wide range of resources — including medical supplies, hygiene kits and plush toys — as well as information to help them cope with their changing environments.

“Information so that children aren’t frightened,” Ammirati said. “They’ve never been in a bus station before, they’ve never been in an airport before.”

For Betsy, a mother of two from Honduras, the child-friendly space set up by Ammirati’s team was a respite for her children, ages 2 and 7.

Betsy said she was fleeing an impossible situation at home. “Lately the narcotraffickers have taken over the country, and they want us to distribute drugs for them. We refused, so they killed my brother,” she said. “I’m just asking for an opportunity for my children. I don’t want them to be killed.”

Betsy and 16 of her immediate family members began the journey from Honduras over two months ago, often struggling to find food and shelter along the way. Only Betsy, her husband and their children made it to the shelter in Deming. Betsy’s 12-year-old sister and Betsy’s mother, a diabetic, were separated and detained in El Paso after the family crossed the border into the U.S..

On the day NBC News spoke to Betsy, she was booked on an afternoon bus to Miami where her brother, her sponsor in the U.S., would give her a place to stay.

Just hours before her bus was scheduled to leave Deming, Betsy still hadn’t been able to contact her mother in the El Paso detention center. Neither of the women had working phones or any way to get in touch.

In March, the number of border crossings by undocumented immigrants, the vast majority of them Central Americans seeking asylum, topped 100,000. Last month, more than 140,000 crossed, overwhelming CBP officers and agents whose job it is to process immigrants and either send them to immigrant detention or release them with a court date, according to government data.

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