Immigration

Immigration

U.S. ICE enforces immigration laws one person at a time

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Mexican national Adalberto Magana-Gonzalez, 44, waits to be processed after being taken into custody by a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Fugitive Operations team in Santa Ana, California, U.S., May 11, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
Mexican national Adalberto Magana-Gonzalez, 44, waits to be processed after being taken into custody by a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Fugitive Operations team in Santa Ana, California, U.S., May 11, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

By Sue Horton

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – An hour before dawn on May 11, a team of 10 officers for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) began assembling outside a coffee shop in the Southern California beach community of San Clemente.

The officers were about to embark on a targeted enforcement action, aiming to pick up five men believed to be in violation of U.S. immigration laws. The men had all been convicted of crimes, ranging from drunk driving to attempted murder, making them high priority targets for deportation.

The first stop was an apartment building not far from the coffee shop, where the armed agents arrested a 35-year-old immigrant from Iran who had served a year in jail on an attempted murder conviction.

Although he was not a citizen, the man was living in the United States with a so-called “green card” that allowed him legal residence and a path to eventual citizenship. Such legal residents can have their status revoked and be deported if they commit certain types of crimes.

It was still early morning when the officers pulled up to a waterfront home about 30 miles away in Newport Beach, where they found Adalberto Magana-Gonzalez, who had been hired to work on a boat docked behind the house.

The native of Mexico said in an interview with reporters after his arrest that he had expected ICE to come one day. By his estimate, he had illegally crossed the U.S.-Mexico border seven times, and he had been previously deported. Recently, he had served time in a U.S. jail for burglary and domestic violence.

Magana-Gonzalez said he knew his prior deportation and criminal conviction made him a target for ICE, but he had hoped “to stay until my daughter’s 18th birthday.” He offered few details about his family.

By morning’s end, the agents had arrested three of the men for whom they were looking. Two others could not be found.

About 90 percent of the immigrants apprehended by ICE in the Los Angeles area have committed crimes, according to agency data that goes through April 29.

“Taking them off the streets is protecting everybody,” said David Marin, director of enforcement and removal operations for the Los Angeles field office.

Since President Donald Trump took office, Marin said, some policies have changed. “In the past administration, there were classes of aliens that were exempt from being arrested,” he said. Trump has reversed some Obama immigration policies and has said that anyone who is in the United States illegally could face deportation.

The policy shift, Marin said, has given officers “more pride in their job,” but has not really changed things operationally in Southern California, where the focus is still on deporting criminals.

ICE announced on Wednesday that nationwide arrests were up nearly 40 percent over last year, but in Los Angeles, they have remained at about the same level, according to ICE data.

ICE critics note that not all regional offices are as selective about whom they arrest.

Since Trump took office, about one-third of those picked up nationally by the agency’s enforcement and removal operations do not have criminal records, according to ICE data. That represents a sharp uptick over 2015 and 2016, but it is about the same percentage as 2014 of arrests of non-criminals.

Immigrants with criminal records arrested by ICE usually “understand that what we are doing is just a byproduct of the acts they committed,” said Jorge Field, acting deputy director of enforcement and removal operations for ICE in Los Angeles. “Their criminal acts made them removable.”

Since Magana-Gonzalez’s arrest, his case has been accepted for prosecution by the U.S. attorney’s office, and he will face federal criminal charges for felony re-entry after deportation.

Magana-Gonzalez said he does not resent the agents for doing their job, but he does have regrets. To other immigrants in his situation, he had three words of advice: “Don’t make trouble.”

(Reporting by Sue Horton; Editing by Leslie Adler)

Working the farm, while Trump talks tough on immigration

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Foreman Roberto Navarrete, 30, supervises migrant farmworkers with H-2A visas as they harvest romaine lettuce in King City, California, U.S., April 17, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
Foreman Roberto Navarrete, 30, supervises migrant farmworkers with H-2A visas as they harvest romaine lettuce in King City, California, U.S., April 17, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

By Julia Love

KING CITY, Calif. (Reuters) – On an overcast spring morning, about 40 Mexican men turned out in the pre-dawn hours to board a bus for California’s Salinas Valley where they would harvest 16 acres (6.47 hectares) of lettuce over the next three days.

Hector Manuel Morales, 20, came north from Mexico to work the fields with his three cousins. He said his family worried about his journey, spooked by President Donald Trump’s talk of a crackdown on illegal immigrants. But he does not anticipate problems.

While about half of U.S. crop workers are in the country illegally, Morales and the other men have H-2A visas, which allow them to work temporarily as seasonal agricultural laborers on American farms.

“We are not violating any law here in the U.S.,” he said. “We come to work.”

His co-worker Rafael Gonzalez Arredondo, 23, said listening to Trump’s statements about Mexico was “difficult, but we are going to show him that Mexicans are hard working people, that we are not what he says.”

The men came to the country through a labor brokerage company, Fresh Harvest, which brings in H-2A laborers to work on farms in need of temporary workers. This year, the company’s owner, Steve Scaroni, says he expects to bring in about 4,000 workers.

Companies like Fresh Harvest are attractive for farmers who want to employ legal workers but do not want to deal with the considerable government red tape and regulations associated with the H-2A program. Employers who bring in workers on the visas must provide them with free transportation to and from the United States as well as housing and food once they arrive. Wage minimums are set by the government and are often higher than farmers are used to paying.

Still, Scaroni says he could find work for even more people if he had enough housing.

While use of the H-2A program has steadily increased over the past decade, it still accounts for only about 10 percent of the estimated 1.3 million farmworkers in the United States, according to government data. In 2016, the government granted 134,000 H-2A visas.

Alfredo Lopez Granados, 27, from Michoacan, Mexico has come north to work on an H-2A visa five times. He misses his family back home, he says, but the decision is not difficult.

“Once you are here,” he said, “in one day you make more than you make in a week in Mexico.”

(Additional reporting by Kristina Cooke in Los Angeles and Mica Rosenberg in New York; editing by Diane Craft)

Spooked by Trump, Central American immigrants turn to Mexico

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Migrants from Central America eat inside a migrant shelter, known as The 72, in Tenosique, Tabasco, Mexico, April 12, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Jasso
Migrants from Central America eat inside a migrant shelter, known as The 72, in Tenosique, Tabasco, Mexico, April 12, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Jasso

By Lizbeth Diaz

TENOSIQUE, Mexico (Reuters) – Cradling her newborn son in a steamy migrant shelter near the Guatemalan border, Concepcion Bautista says she still plans to reach the United States, but will linger in Mexico to see how U.S. President Donald Trump’s immigration policies play out.

Bautista fled Guatemala after gang members threatened to kill her and seized her home, demanding money to give it back.

Her ultimate goal is to reunite with her father and two sons up north, but for the time being, she believes applying for asylum in Mexico is smarter than trying to break into Trump’s United States.

“I’m not going back to Guatemala,” the 39-year-old said at the shelter in the southern Mexican city of Tenosique. “I have faith that we’ll be able to cross but for now, at least, I’m staying in Mexico.”

The Trump administration has pointed to a sharp decline in immigrant detentions in the first few months of this year as a vindication for the president’s tough immigration policies, which have sent shudders through immigrant communities across the continent.

Mexican asylum data and testimony from migrants in Tenosique suggest that although fewer Central Americans are trying to enter the United States, plenty are still fleeing their poor, violent home countries, with many deciding to stay longer in Mexico, which has traditionally been a transit country.

The number of people applying for asylum in Mexico has soared by more than 150 percent since Donald Trump was elected president, Reuters reported last month, while some Mexican immigrants would rather set up in Canada than the United States.

Between Trump’s election in November and March, 5421 people applied for asylum in Mexico, up from 2148 people in the same period a year earlier, Mexican government data shows.

Samuel, who used a pseudonym, was threatened with death after gangs kidnapped and murdered his 19-year-old son in El Salvador, prompting him to plan a move with his family to the United States. Trump’s election changed everything.

“I wanted to go to the United States with my family, but we’ve seen that the new government there has made things harder,” said Samuel,

“For the time being, we want to stay here in Mexico, and we’ve already applied for refugee status.”

Asylum applications in Mexico rose steadily in recent years as the flow of people leaving Central America increased. But in 2016, as Trump campaigned on a tough anti-immigration platform, applicants jumped to 8,781, up from just under 3,500 in 2015. Mexico’s refugee agency COMAR predicts it could receive more than 22,500 asylum applications in 2017.

Despite their concerns, some Central Americans are undeterred and have decided to try their luck at entering the United States.

In a remote, rocky tract of land near the Guatemalan border, Feliciano del Cid and two traveling companions were trying to sneak past Mexican immigration officers and avoid being assaulted by gang members on their long trek north.

The 60-year-old Guatemalan said the prices charged by people smugglers had risen sharply since Trump took office, now hovering around $10,000 dollars, up from about $6,000 a few years ago.

With Mexico’s immigration authorities controlling migration more assiduously, Central Americans were forced to take more isolated, dangerous routes where the chances of being mugged were higher.

“We’ve gone north (to the United States) several times, but every time it’s got harder,” said del Cid, who was deported from the United States in December. “(Now,) it’s better if we travel alone, along new routes.”

Irrespective of struggles in Mexico and the hard journey north, all of the migrants were certain they did not want to return home.

“Only death awaits me there,” said Samuel.

(Writing by Gabriel Stargardter; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel)

May Day rallies across U.S. target Trump immigration policy

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A woman wearing a costume stands during a May Day protest in New York, U.S. May 1, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Segar
A woman wearing a costume stands during a May Day protest in New York, U.S. May 1, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Segar

By Chris Francescani and Alex Dobuzinskis

NEW YORK/LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Labor unions and civil rights groups staged May Day rallies in several U.S. cities on Monday to denounce President Donald Trump’s get-tough policy on immigration, a crackdown they said preys on vulnerable workers in some of America’s lowest-paying jobs.

Protests and marches challenging Trump’s efforts at stepping up the deportation of illegal immigrants drew crowds by the thousands to the streets of New York, Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco, with smaller gatherings popping up across the country.

A broad coalition of groups behind the events also took aim at various other Trump policies they saw as discriminatory or xenophobic, including his bid, so far blocked by the courts, to ban travelers from several Muslim countries and temporarily turn away all refugees.

But the primary impetus cited by civil liberties and labor activists was Trump’s strict new immigration enforcement policy – falling most heavily on undocumented workers who toil in low-paying, non-unionized sectors such as fast-food, hospitality, child care and agriculture.

A May Day gathering grew unruly in Portland, Oregon, where a group of black-clad protesters roamed downtown streets in the late afternoon, setting fires, breaking storefront windows, throwing projectiles and vandalizing a police cruiser.

Police, referring to the perpetrators as “anarchists,” said they made three arrests.

Rallies elsewhere across the country were boisterous but mostly orderly, even festive.

In some cities, immigrant-run convenience stores and other businesses closed their doors in solidarity with the May Day rallies, and many protesters themselves gave up a day’s wages to make their voices heard.

“Money will come back later, but not this opportunity, not this day,” said David Anaya, 44, an illegal immigrant from Mexico, who chose to forfeit the $300 he would have otherwise earned at his job as a welder.

He was one of thousands who gathered at MacArthur Park near downtown Los Angeles for what organizers called a show of “resistance, unity and defiance,” then set off on an animated but peaceful march across town to City Hall.

A crowd of several thousand also assembled in Washington’s Dupont Circle for a rally ahead of a planned procession to Lafayette Square, across the street from the White House.

 

‘NOT AMERICA ANYMORE’

Earlier in the day, 500 protesters marched through midtown Manhattan and rallied in front of offices of Wells Fargo <WFC.N> and JPMorgan Chase & Co <JPM.N>. Twelve were arrested, according to a spokesman for Make the Road New York, an immigrant advocacy group that claims 20,000 members.

The two banks were targeted because of their dealings with private companies that have built or manage some immigrant detention centers for the government, according to Jose Lopez, Make the Road New York’s co-director of organizing.

“The messaging for today was to stop financing immigrant detention facilities,” Lopez said.

May Day, also known as International Workers’ Day, has typically been a quieter affair in the United States than in Europe, where it is a public holiday in many countries.

May Day unrest flared on Monday in France and Turkey, where demonstrators clashed with police.

The U.S. protests focused on Trump’s crackdown on illegal immigration as he presses police agencies around the country to assist federal efforts at rounding up individuals sought for deportation and threatens to withhold federal dollars from “sanctuary cities” that do not cooperate.

Retired social worker Christina Reilly Vaccarino, 78, who emigrated from Ireland at age 15 with a green card allowing her to work as a nanny, said she was “disgusted” by Trump’s policies on immigration, taxes and workers’ rights.

“I came to America at a time when everyone in Ireland believed that America is so wonderful, so great. And now, after all these years, to experience this? It’s not America anymore,” she said at an afternoon rally in Lower Manhattan.

Some Trump supporters said they would also turn out on May Day. Activist Joey Gibson said he and other conservatives would travel to Seattle to defend against what he described as communist and anti-fascist groups who have in the past faced off with police in the evening, after the conclusion of the usually peaceful daytime marches.

(Additional reporting by Jonathan Allen and Peter Szekely in New York, Ian Simpson in Washington and Tom James in Seattle; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Mary Milliken)

U.S. immigration crackdown undermines fight to end human trafficking -­ expert

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A U.S. border patrol agent keeps watch along the fence next to the Mexican border in Calexico, California, U.S. February 8, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake/Files - RTX31JZ5
A U.S. border patrol agent keeps watch along the fence next to the Mexican border in Calexico, California, U.S. February 8, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake/Files - RTX31JZ5

By Ellen Wulfhorst

WASHINGTON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Tougher anti-immigration policies in the United States under President Donald Trump make fighting human trafficking impossible, a top expert warned on Tuesday, describing the lack of political will to help victims as a “dirty little secret”.

Fear of being deported stops people in the United States from speaking up about their own or other trafficking cases, said Denise Brennan, professor and chair of the Department of Anthropology at Georgetown University in Washington D.C..

“The biggest deterrent for people blowing the whistle on either their own situation of abuse or maybe co-workers is the fear of people getting deported,” Brennan, author of “Life Interrupted: Trafficking into Forced Labor in the United States,” told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“We just simply cannot have policies of deportation or a deportation regime and fight trafficking at the same time. One policy undoes the other.”

During his 2016 presidential campaign Trump vowed to fight illegal immigration and build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.

Since becoming president, he has issued a temporary visa ban against seven Muslim-majority countries that was later blocked by federal courts, suspended a refugee program and initiated tougher deportation procedures.

“The criminalization of immigration makes it impossible to actually fight trafficking,” said Brennan, a speaker on Tuesday at Trust Conference/America Forum, a one-day Thomson Reuters Foundation event on the fight against slavery and trafficking.

“You cannot work on the exploitation of migrants while we are criminalizing migrants.”

LITTLE POLITICAL WILL

Up to 12 million people are estimated to be living illegally without documents in the United States.

While there are no official law enforcement statistics, in the United States nearly 32,000 cases of human trafficking have been reported to the National Human Trafficking Hotline in the last decade.

Globally, nearly 21 million people are victims of forced labor, made to work for free after falling into debt or forced to work due to deception, coercion or threat of violence, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO).

Brennan said there is little genuine political effort made to find and aid labor trafficking victims.

“The dirty little secret about trafficking in this environment of 2.5 million deportations under President Obama and now President Trump’s obvious anti-migrant stance is there has not been a political will to really find people,” she said.

Under a law passed in 2000, 5,000 visas are available each year to trafficking victims, Brennan said.

But only between 7,000 to 9,000 such visas have been issued in the past 17 years when the number could have been 85,000, she said.

“I just don’t think we’ve been looking for trafficked people,” said Brennan, who is currently writing a book, “Life without Papers,” about how undocumented people navigate threats of detention and deportation.

She said the fear of deportation extended further than those without legal papers.

Last week Trump ordered a review of a U.S. visa program for bringing high-skilled foreign workers into the country with a view to potentially modifying the system.

“Under President Trump, we have so many people who have various forms of temporary protective status,” she said. “If we start deporting people with green cards, we’re looking at millions of people who don’t have full U.S. citizenship.”

(Reporting by Ellen Wulfhorst, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith. Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)

U.S. Homeland Security not targeting Dreamers: Kelly

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Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly speaks at an event entitled
Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly speaks at an event entitled "Home and Away: Threats to America and the DHS Response" at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., U.S. April 18, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein

By Valerie Volcovici

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Department of Homeland Security will not target immigrants brought to the United States as children for deportation, despite conflicting statements within the Trump administration, its secretary John Kelly said on Sunday.

Kelly, asked on Sunday morning talk shows to clarify the department’s position on the status of these illegal immigrants protected under an Obama-era program, said the agency is focused on deporting only dangerous criminals.

“My organization has not targeted these so-called Dreamers,” Kelly told CNN, referring to the name given to those granted protections under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program created by Democratic President Barack Obama and extended by Republican President Donald Trump.

“We have many, many more important criminals to go after,” he said.

Trump has said Dreamers “have nothing to worry about,” but Attorney General Jeff Sessions last week said immigrants who arrived in the United States as children were “subject to being deported.”

On Sunday, Sessions walked back his earlier statement.

“I believe that everyone that enters the country unlawfully is subject to being deported; however, we’ve got — we don’t have the ability to round up everybody and there’s no plans to do that,” Sessions said on ABC. “But we’re going to focus first, as the president has directed us, on the criminal element.”

On Feb. 17, Juan Manuel Montes, 23, who had lived in the United States since he was 9, was deported from the border city of Calexico, California, after being questioned by a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer.

That was the first documented deportation of a Dreamer.

Kelly said in another Sunday interview on CBS that while Dreamers are not being targeted, several of them end up detained by immigration officers as they round up criminals.

“People fall into our hands incidentally that we have no choice in most cases but to go ahead and put in the system,” he said.

(Reporting By Valerie Volcovici; additional reporting by DOina Chiacu; Editing by Phil Berlowitz)

New sheriff in Arizona to close controversial ‘Tent City’ jail

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An inmate serving a jail sentence stands in the yard at Maricopa County's Tent City jail in Phoenix, Arizona, U.S. on July 30, 2010. REUTERS/Joshua Lott/File Photo
An inmate serving a jail sentence stands in the yard at Maricopa County's Tent City jail in Phoenix, Arizona, U.S. on July 30, 2010. REUTERS/Joshua Lott/File Photo

By David Schwartz

PHOENIX (Reuters) – A controversial outdoor tent jail in Arizona that became one of the signature tough-on-crime projects of former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio will be shut down, his replacement for the job said on Tuesday.

The canvas compound known as “Tent City” in southwest Phoenix, long branded inhumane by civil rights groups, was no longer needed to handle the inmate population, new Maricopa Sheriff Paul Penzone said.

“This facility is not a crime deterrent, it is not cost efficient and it is not tough on criminals,” said Penzone, who took office in January after beating Arpaio in last year’s election. He projected $4.5 million savings from closing Tent City.

Inmates serving a jail sentence walk back to the yard at Maricopa County's Tent City jail in Phoenix, Arizona, U.S. on July 30, 2010. REUTERS/Joshua Lott/File Photo
Inmates serving a jail sentence walk back to the yard at Maricopa County’s Tent City jail in Phoenix, Arizona, U.S. on July 30, 2010. REUTERS/Joshua Lott/File Photo

Penzone said the jail had become a circus that inmates preferred, rather than a prudent law enforcement tool to house law-breakers.

“Starting today that circus ends and these tents come down,” he told reporters at a news conference, adding that inmate transfers would begin in 45 to 60 days. “We’re going to give these criminals what they don’t want.”

The decision comes after Penzone appointed a committee in January to determine the fate of the outdoor facility, which opened in August 1993 with surplus military tents.

Billed as a cost-saver, the more than 2,000-bed facility was intended to help relieve an over-crowded jail system and quickly became one of Arpaio’s most high-profile acts during his six terms in office.

A string of politicians and visitors from across the world have toured the sun-scorched facility erected adjacent to a brick-and-mortar jail.

An inmate serving a jail sentence rests on his bed at Maricopa County's Tent City jail in Phoenix, Arizona, U.S. on July 30, 2010. REUTERS/Joshua Lott/File Photo
An inmate serving a jail sentence rests on his bed at Maricopa County’s Tent City jail in Phoenix, Arizona, U.S. on July 30, 2010. REUTERS/Joshua Lott/File Photo

Arpaio, who became known for his anti-illegal immigration stance and jail practices such as making inmates wear pink underwear and eat green bologna, vowed the jail would never close under his watch.

Alessandra Soler, executive director of the ACLU of Arizona, called the closure a “good step forward” but that still more work was needed.

“Maricopa County’s jails are plagued by the mistreatment of pre-trial detainees and remain under federal court oversight because of the ongoing abuse of people with mental health problems,” said Soler, in a statement. The dollars saved by the closure should be used for programs and services that address these and other problems, she added.

Arpaio, 84, was ousted in November after serving 24 years as sheriff. He faces a criminal contempt trial on April 25 for violating the orders of a federal judge in a racial profiling case.

Arpaio declined to comment for this story.

(Reporting by David Schwartz in Phoenix; Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Andrew Hay)

Treehouses and mansions: in the shadow of the fence

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Joaquin, 36, a chef from Guatemala who says he was deported from the United States, poses for a photograph while leaning on a section of the border fence separating Mexico and the United States, in Tijuana, Mexico, February 26, 2017.
Joaquin, 36, a chef from Guatemala who says he was deported from the United States, poses for a photograph while leaning on a section of the border fence separating Mexico and the United States, in Tijuana, Mexico, February 26, 2017. "I've tried to cross so many times that the (U.S.) border guards even got to know me, but I never made it back," said Joaquin, who makes a living by collecting trash in Tijuana that he tries to sell to a local recycling plant. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido SEARCH "FENCE GARRIDO" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.

The rust-red U.S. fence along the Mexican border has inspired various quirky architectural structures, from a frontier-themed mansion to a humble treehouse with uninterrupted views across the Californian scrubland.

Carlos Torres, an architect in the northern Mexican city of Tijuana, has lived in a house in the shadow of the U.S. border for three decades, and the fence that U.S. President Donald Trump has vowed to expand begins at the end of his garden.

Yet far from seeing the metal wall as an eyesore, he chose to make it a central piece of the design aesthetic of his lavish home, which he has named “The First House in Northwest Mexico.”

A specially erected viewpoint provides a panoramic vista into the United States, while his garden is littered with border paraphernalia, such as a signpost indicating the start of U.S. territory.

Although Torres has embraced his little section of wall, he doubted the larger fence that Trump envisages will work.

“Walls won’t halt immigration,” he said from his viewing balcony, which also looks out onto the Pacific Ocean. Trump, he said, “doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Here at this fence, people keep crossing every week.”

The wall also dominates Pedro and Carmen Hernandez’s garden, but unlike Torres, they don’t have the means to turn it into a design feature. Instead, they use the corrugated metal that looms over their modest home to hang their clothes to dry.

“Sometimes, we’ve had people in our gardens who are trying to cross over,” Carmen said. “This area has been dangerous for years. We’ve had murders and kidnappings. But one learns to live with it.”

A few kilometers east of Torres’ mansion, Guatemalan chef Joaquin set up a much simpler home in the branches of a tree, just meters from the border.

Deported from the United States a few years ago and with little money to spend, Joaquin – who did not want his last name used so he would not be identified – hoisted a scruffy mattress into the heart of the tree and spends his nights staring up through the leaves into the heavens. During the day, he often spots dozens of migrants trying to sneak into the United States.

“I’ve tried to cross so many times that the (U.S.) border guards even got to know me, but I never made it back,” said Joaquin, who makes a living by collecting trash in Tijuana that he tries to sell to a local recycling plant.

In Trump era, some Mexican migrants head north – to Canada

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Mexican deportee Nico talks to his family at Our Lady of Guadalupe migrant shelter in Reynosa, Mexico March 14, 2017. REUTERS/Daniel Becerril

By Gabriel Stargardter, Lizbeth Diaz and Anna Mehler Paperny

REYNOSA, Mexico/TORONTO (Reuters) – Shortly after crossing the Rio Grande into the gang-infested border city of Reynosa, dozens of Mexicans deported during U.S President Donald Trump’s first days in office said they would soon try to head north again – but this time to Canada.

In a Reynosa migrant shelter, just yards from the U.S. border, 26-year-old Cenobio Rita said he had earned about $3,000 a month installing playgrounds in Richmond, Virginia, before he was deported on Feb. 15 after police found marijuana in his car.

Having left Mexico as a 14-year-old, he fretted about returning to his violent home state of Michoacan. With Trump taking a tough stance on undocumented immigrants, he ruled out a common path for many deportees – back into the United States.

“I want to go to Canada with my passport,” he said. “For those without documents, I think (the United States) is over. Now it’s Canada’s turn.”

As Trump seeks to crack down on undocumented immigrants in the United States, about half of whom are Mexican, there are some nascent signs that more Mexican migrants see a future in Canada, which in December eased travel for visitors from Mexico.

Canadian government data shows a tripling of Mexicans seeking to travel to Canada in the three months since the visa requirement was shelved.

It is not a firm indicator as many people could be genuine tourists. But tie it to a surge in calls and emails to immigration lawyers from recently arrived Mexicans looking for work permits, as well as the accounts of deportees like Rita and Mexicans already in Canada, and it suggests a new migration pattern may be emerging.

Seven immigration lawyers, consultants and activists told Reuters that requests for legal advice from Mexicans who had entered Canada since Dec. 1 had roughly tripled compared with the same period in 2015-2016, while Mexico’s Canadian consulates are also receiving more requests for help.

Between December and late February, Canada has granted more than 61,500 eTAs (Electronic Travel Authorization forms) to Mexicans, about triple the number of quarterly tourist applications received in the year before the visa requirement was scrapped, official Canadian data shows. The true scale of Mexican immigration will only become fully apparent in June, when early arrivals on these eTAs are due to leave.

Flight bookings from Mexico to Canada also swelled 90 percent in January and February versus the same period in 2016, according to travel analysis company ForwardKeys, which reviews all major travel agency bookings. It is unclear what percentage of those bookings were made by people looking to work illegally in Canada.

Marcela Gonzalez’s telephone and Facebook page may be a good indicator. The immigration paralegal in Toronto used to receive four calls a month from Mexicans in Canada, before Trump’s election and the new visa-free travel.

“Now I get four in less than 10 minutes,” from people wanting to know how to get work permits and permanent residency, she said.

Gonzalez said 200 Mexicans looking for immigration advice wrote to her on Facebook on a recent day, including parents already in Canada asking her how to enroll their children in local schools.

Mexico’s foreign ministry said it, too, had noticed an uptick.

“Between January and March 2017, our consulates in Canada received more requests for assistance and protection than were seen in the same period of the previous year,” it said.

The ministry, which estimated 90,000 Mexicans live in Canada, said it did not think Trump’s election win was driving the surge, adding it was too early to detect a definitive trend.

Canada is closely monitoring “migration trends regarding Mexican travelers to Canada, including asylum claim rates,” said Camielle Edwards, spokeswoman for Immigration and Refugee Minister Ahmed Hussen.

Reuters spoke to about 30 Mexicans in Reynosa who had been deported the previous night. More than half said they wanted to head to Canada. While it is unclear how many will succeed, almost nobody envisaged a future in the United States.

But tough border checks, hard-to-find jobs and fine-tuned enforcement policies mean it can be hard to enter and harder to stay.

In 2015, Victor Avila, a 37-year-old architect from Oaxaca, returned home voluntarily from the United States after five years working illegally in Freehold, New Jersey. Shocked by the low wages in Mexico and traumatized by the local murder of his brother, he applied for an eTA.

Avila arrived in Toronto a few weeks ago and found work in a restaurant. He was in the process of applying for a work visa, but said he would stay on illegally for a year if it wasn’t granted.

“I think for many of us in Canada, there’s no other option but to stay and work illegally,” he said.

CAUTIONARY TALE

Many Mexicans believe the eTA is all they need to set up in Canada, but in almost all cases they are wrong, immigration lawyers said. The eTA does not even guarantee entry.

Even if they get past the airport, many low-skilled Mexicans hoping to work illegally are likely to be disappointed, lawyers said, noting that it’s difficult for those entering on tourist visas to get work permits without an employer’s sponsorship.

Some Mexican visitors told Reuters that Canadian immigration officials went through their phones and asked tough questions designed to trip up those seeking to stay and work illegally. While some got through, others were sent home.

Canada says those convicted of crimes, as well as gang members, are inadmissible, making it hard for criminally convicted Mexicans deported from the United States to enter.

Some 313 Mexicans with eTAs were denied access to Canada in January, according to official Canadian data obtained by Reuters, more than the total number rejected each year in 2012, 2013 and 2014. (For a graphic on the number of Mexicans blocked from entering Canada see http://tmsnrt.rs/2n5egvh)

Alejandro Becerra’s experience is a cautionary tale for Mexicans dreaming of a new life in Canada.

The 30-year-old former bankteller from Mexico City got a job offer to work in construction in Toronto and flew to the city on Feb. 7 on an eTA.

Becerra told a border official at the airport that he was coming as a tourist and showed him his return flight. The official didn’t believe him and examined his phone, where he found messages discussing Becerra’s job in Toronto.

Becerra spent the night in a detention center, and the next morning he was taken in handcuffs to a plane that would return him to Mexico.

($1 = 19.6240 Mexican pesos)

(Writing by Gabriel Stargardter; Additional reporting by Jeffrey Dastin in San Francisco; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Ross Colvin)

Trump signs new travel ban order, Iraq left off: officials

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U.S. President Donald Trump delivers his first address to a joint session of Congress from the floor of the House of Representatives iin Washington, U.S., February 28, 2017. REUTERS/Jim Lo Scalzo/Pool
U.S. President Donald Trump delivers his first address to a joint session of Congress from the floor of the House of Representatives iin Washington, U.S., February 28, 2017. REUTERS/Jim Lo Scalzo/Pool

By Steve Holland and Julia Edwards Ainsley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump signed a revised executive order for a U.S. travel ban on Monday, leaving Iraq off the list of targeted countries, after his controversial first attempt was blocked in the courts, senior administration officials said.

The new order, which the White House said Trump had signed, will keep a 90-day ban on travel to the United States by citizens of six Muslim-majority nations – Iran, Libya, Syria, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen, the officials said.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders had said earlier on Monday that the new order would take effect on March 16. The new directive delays implementation to limit the disruption that created havoc for some travelers when Trump issued his original order.

Trump had said the restrictive order is necessary to ensure domestic security. His secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, told reporters on Monday, “As threats to our security continue to evolve and change, common sense dictates that we continually re-evaluate and reassess the systems we rely upon to protect our country.”

Iraq was taken off the list in the original order, which was issued on Jan. 27, because the Iraqi government has imposed new vetting procedures, such as heightened visa screening and data sharing, and because of its work with the United States in countering Islamic State militants, a senior White House official said.

“There’s going to be a very orderly process,” a senior official from the Department of Homeland Security said. “You should not see any chaos so to speak, or alleged chaos at airports. There aren’t going to be folks stopped tonight from coming into the country because of this executive order.”

Thousands of Iraqis have fought alongside U.S. troops for years or worked as translators since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. Many have resettled in the United States after being threatened for working with U.S. troops.

The White House official said the new executive order also ensures that tens of thousands of legal permanent residents in the United States – or green card holders – from the listed countries would not be affected by the travel ban.

More than two dozen lawsuits were filed in U.S. courts against the original travel ban and the state of Washington succeeded in having it suspended by the 9th Circuit court of Appeals by arguing that it violated constitutional protections against religious discrimination.

Trump publicly criticized judges who ruled against him and vowed to fight the case in the Supreme Court, but then decided to draw up a new order with changes aimed at making it easier to defend in the courts.

Refugees who are “in transit” and already have been approved would be able to travel to the United States.

Trump’s original order barred travelers from the seven nations from entering for 90 days and all refugees for 120 days. Refugees from Syria were to be banned indefinitely but under the new order they are not given separate treatment.

“This executive order has scrapped that division and the indefinite suspension and has collapsed them into a single category of a 120-day suspension,” the White House official said.

(Additional reporting by Julia Edwards Ainsley, Patricia Zengerle, Doina Chiacu and Mica Rosenberg; Editing by Bill Trott and Nick Tattersall)

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