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SAT: US Set to Expel Haitian Migrants From Border, Santa Fe Courthouse Welcomes New Canine, + More

Associated Press, Eric Gray
Haitian Migrants Using Dam To Cross Into U.S From Mexico

  Official: Us To Expel Haitians From Border, Fly To Haiti - By Eric Gay And Elliot Spagat Associated Press

The Biden administration plans the widescale expulsion of Haitian migrants from a small Texas border city by putting them on flights to Haiti starting Sunday, an official said Friday, representing a swift and dramatic response to thousands who suddenly crossed the border from Mexico and gathered under and around a bridge.

Details are yet to be finalized but will likely involve five to eight flights a day, according to the official with direct knowledge of the plans who was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity. San Antonio, the nearest major city, may be among the departure cities.

Another administration official speaking on condition of anonymity expected two flights a day at most and said all migrants would be tested for COVID-19.

U.S. authorities closed traffic to vehicles and pedestrians in both directions at the only border crossing in Del Rio, Texas, after chaos unfolded Friday and presented the administration with a new and immediate challenge as it tries to manage large numbers of asylum-seekers who have been reaching U.S. soil.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection said it was closing the border crossing with Ciudad Acuna, Mexico, "to respond to urgent safety and security needs." Travelers were being directed to Eagle Pass, Texas, 57 miles (91 kilometers) away. 

Haitians crossed the Rio Grande freely and in a steady stream, going back and forth between the U.S. and Mexico through knee-deep water, with some parents carrying small children on their shoulders. Unable to buy supplies in the U.S., they returned briefly to Mexico for food and cardboard to settle, temporarily at least, under or near the bridge in Del Rio, a city of 35,000 that has been severely strained by migrant flows in recent months.

Migrants pitched tents and built makeshift shelters from giant reeds known as carrizo cane. Many bathed and washed clothing in the river. 

The vast majority of the migrants at the bridge on Friday were Haitian, said Val Verde County Judge Lewis Owens, who is the county's top elected official and whose jurisdiction includes Del Rio. Some families have been under the bridge for as long as six days.

Trash piles were 10 feet (3.1 meters) wide, and at least two women have given birth, including one who tested positive for COVID-19 after being taken to a hospital, Owens said. 

Val Verde County Sheriff Frank Joe Martinez estimated the crowd at 13,700 and said more Haitians were traveling through Mexico by bus.

The flight plan, while potentially massive in scale, hinges on how Haitians respond. They may face a choice: stay put at the risk of being sent back to their impoverished homeland -- wracked by poverty, political instability and a recent earthquake — or return to Mexico. Unaccompanied children are exempt from fast-track expulsions.

About 500 Haitians were ordered off buses by Mexican immigration authorities in the state of Tamaulipas, about 120 miles (200 kilometers) south of the Texas border, the state government said in a news release Friday. They continued toward the border on foot.

Haitians have been migrating to the U.S. in large numbers from South America for several years, many of them having left the Caribbean nation after a devastating earthquake in 2010. After jobs dried up from the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, many made the dangerous trek by foot, bus and car to the U.S. border, including through the infamous Darien Gap, a Panamanian jungle.

It is unclear how such a large number amassed so quickly, though many Haitians have been assembling in camps on the Mexican side of the border, including in Tijuana, across from San Diego, to wait while deciding whether to attempt to enter the United States.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security did not respond to a request for comment. "We will address it accordingly," Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said on MSNBC.

An administration official, who was not authorized to address the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity, said the action is not targeting Haitians specifically and does not reflect a policy shift, just a continuation of normal practices.

The Federal Aviation Administration, acting on a Border Patrol request, restricted drone flights around the bridge until Sept. 30, generally barring operations at or below 1,000 feet (305 meters) unless for security or law enforcement purposes.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican and frequent critic of President Joe Biden, said federal officials told him migrants under the bridge would be moved by the Defense Department to Arizona, California and elsewhere on the Texas border.

Some Haitians at the camp have lived in Mexican cities on the U.S. border for some time, moving often between them, while others arrived recently after being stuck near Mexico's southern border with Guatemala, said Nicole Phillips, the legal director for advocacy group Haitian Bridge Alliance. A sense of desperation spread after the Biden administration ended its practice of admitting asylum-seeking migrants daily who were deemed especially vulnerable. 

"People are panicking on how they seek refuge," Phillips said.

Edgar Rodríguez, lawyer for the Casa del Migrante migrant shelter in Piedras Negras, north of Del Rio, noticed an increase of Haitians in the area two or three weeks ago and believes that misinformation may have played a part. Migrants often make decisions on false rumors that policies are about to change and that enforcement policies vary by city.

U.S. authorities are being severely tested after Biden quickly dismantled Trump administration policies that Biden considered cruel or inhumane, most notably one requiring asylum-seekers to remain in Mexico while waiting for U.S. immigration court hearings. Such migrants have been exposed to extreme violence in Mexico and faced extraordinary difficulty in finding attorneys.

The U.S Supreme Court last month let stand a judge's order to reinstate the policy, though Mexico must agree to its terms. The Justice Department said in a court filing this week that discussions with the Mexican government were ongoing.

A pandemic-related order to immediately expel migrants without giving them the opportunity to seek asylum that was introduced in March 2020 remains in effect, but unaccompanied children and many families have been exempt. During his first month in office, Biden chose to exempt children traveling alone on humanitarian grounds.

The U.S. government has been unable to expel many Central American families because Mexican authorities have largely refused to accept them in the state of Tamaulipas, which is across from Texas' Rio Grande Valley, the busiest corridor for illegal crossings. On Friday, the administration said it would appeal a judge's ruling a day earlier that blocked it from applying Title 42, as the pandemic-related authority is known, to any families.

Mexico has agreed to take expelled families only from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, creating an opening for Haitians and other nationalities because the U.S. lacks the resources to detain and quickly expel them on flights to their homelands.

In August, U.S. authorities stopped migrants nearly 209,000 times at the border, which was close to a 20-year high even though many of the stops involved repeat crossers because there are no legal consequences for being expelled under Title 42 authority. 

People crossing in families were stopped 86,487 times in August, but fewer than one out of every five of those encounters resulted in expulsion under Title 42. The rest were processed under immigration laws, which typically means they were released with a court date or a notice to report to immigration authorities.

U.S. authorities stopped Haitians  7,580 times in August, a figure that has increased every month since August 2020, when they stopped only 55. There have also been major increases of Ecuadorians, Venezuelans and other nationalities outside the traditional sending countries of Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

Courthouse Canine Starts New Job In Santa Fe - By Robert Nott, Santa Fe New Mexican

The new judge you may see in the First Judicial District courthouse downtown is about 2 feet tall, weighs less than 70 pounds and has expressive, loving eyes.

He also has four legs and a tail, which he lightly wags in a manner that says, "I'm here to help."

Judge is a 3-year-old yellow Lab and the first courthouse facility dog to be employed by District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies' office in a collaborative effort with Assistance Dogs of the West.

Yes, Judge is his real name, and neither he nor his role is a gimmick.

An assistance dog who underwent nearly two years of training, Judge has a serious job: His presence is meant to provide a sense of calm, support and love for adults and children who are victims or witnesses of traumatic and violent crimes as their cases move through the court system.

"It is the compassionate way of helping them go through this," Aimee Brown, a trainer for Assistance Dogs of the West in Santa Fe, said of the courthouse facility dog program, one gaining popularity around the country.

The dogs, who often sit next to victims or witnesses as they testify in court, can give a child or adult who feels alone on the stand a sense of security, Brown told The Santa Fe New Mexican.

"You have a buddy on the stand who is not judgmental," Brown said of the dogs. "They're there for you."

Long an organization that has trained dogs to give emotional and physical support for clients with disabilities, Assistance Dogs of the West began placing dogs in judicial districts in New Mexico, Arizona and California in 2010.

The organization also has placed dogs with police and fire departments to provide emotional, mental and physical support to vulnerable victims and others involved in stressful situations and cases.

To date, Assistance Dogs has trained and placed 35 dogs, including Judge, in courtrooms around New Mexico, said Linda Milanesi, CEO and president of the nonprofit. Her team puts incoming dogs in the program through temperament tests to see what job would best fit them.

A dog best suited to the job Judge earned must be patient and calm, plus display a connection to children and vulnerable people.

Biddability is another talent such dogs must display — the ability to work for others than just the trainer, so a courtroom handler like Irene Melendez, a victim advocate who handles Judge for the District Attorney's Office, can guide Judge through the necessary paces in the courtroom environment.

Melendez went through weeks of training with Brown and Judge, learning the many commands — 90 in all — needed for the job. She said Judge will start working in courtrooms Monday.

Last week, he went through his first "meet and greet" with a child and her mother involved in an upcoming case.

The young girl got to pet and talk with Judge for about 45 minutes, she said.

"He has to build a relationship with them without me being there," Melendez said of Judge.

If a judge allows it, Judge can sit in the witness box with a victim or witness who may be frightened — easing their anxiety as dogs can do when someone is simply petting them, Melendez said.

Otherwise, Judge will sit with Melendez within view of the witness.

Milanesi said dogs like Judge may work with a particular victim or witness for years, accompanying them through the early stages of collecting forensic evidence to pretrial interviews to the actual trial period.

The dog's presence can help those victims and witnesses open up and talk about what they have experienced, Milanesi said.

Carmack-Altwies wrote in an email Friday that her office's goal is to "center the safety of victims and witnesses, including emotional safety, and Judge is an important piece of that commitment. It is my hope that this is only the beginning of the program and that we will be able to build an even more robust system of support."

Her office has agreed to abide by the Assistance Dogs of the West Dog's Bill of Rights. That bill includes a promise to be aware of the dog's perception of its work and the world, take action to reduce the dog's stress, protect it from overwork, and find ways to help it relax and exercise.

Judge lives with Melendez and her other dog, Athena, in Albuquerque. He likes to tug, chew on a stuffed piglet and fetch balls when he is not working, she said.

Melendez, who said she responded to Carmack-Altwies' call for staff members to take part in the courthouse dog program, said Judge is well suited to his new job.

"He's very mellow, very calm," she said.

She said no matter how you look at it, he's bound to provide support in an environment that can be intimidating to some.

"A dog is a person's best friend, whether you are a man, a woman or a child," she said as Judge curled up under her legs, as he is trained to do with witnesses and victims in the courtroom.

Incidentally, the dog earned the name Judge long before he was headed into training for this job. Milanesi said his breeder named the pup Judge early on because "he was such a quiet puppy. He was sober as a judge."

Land Agency Moving Back To Dc, Reversing Trump-Era Decision - By Matthew Daly Associated Press

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland is moving the national headquarters of the Bureau of Land Management back to the nation's capital after two years in Colorado, reversing a decision by former President Donald Trump's administration to move the agency closer to the region it serves.

The land management bureau, which oversees nearly one-fifth of the nation's public lands, lost nearly 300 employees to retirement or resignation after its headquarters was moved to Grand Junction, Colorado, in 2019. Grand Junction will be rechristened the agency's "western headquarters," Haaland said in a news release, and "have an important role to play in the bureau's clean energy, outdoor recreation, conservation, and scientific missions."

With control of 245 million acres, the agency has broad influence over energy development and agriculture in the western U.S., managing public lands for uses ranging from fossil fuel extraction, renewable power development and grazing, to recreation and wilderness. 

Trump's first interior secretary, Ryan Zinke, initiated the headquarters move west and called it a needed reorganization that put top agency officials closer to the public lands it oversees. The move was completed under David Bernhardt, who succeeded Zinke in 2019.

Critics said the Trump administration intended to gut the agency and pointed to the number of people who refused to transfer to Colorado as evidence of the administration's bid to get rid of career employees. A similar mass exodus occurred after two Agriculture Department research agencies  were moved from Washington to Kansas City, Missouri, under Trump.

Haaland, who opposed the BLM move as a congresswoman from New Mexico, visited the Colorado headquarters in July a fter being confirmed as interior secretary.

Top Colorado Democrats, including Gov. Jared Polis and members of the state's Congressional delegation, wanted the headquarters to stay in Grand Junction. Democratic U.S. Sen. John Hickenlooper said Haaland's decision to keep a presence in Grand Junction "will help ensure we have a fully functioning agency that understands the West."

To succeed, the western headquarters "must be a strong, permanent presence that engages the community and adds a Western perspective and value to the BLM's mission," Hickenlooper said. The Trump administration "scattered jobs" throughout the region and assigned only a few dozen positions to "a shell headquarters in Grand Junction," Hickenlooper added. 

Haaland said in her statement that the past several years "have been incredibly disruptive to the organization, to our public servants and to their families."

"There's no doubt that the BLM should have a leadership presence in Washington, D.C. — like all the other land management agencies — to ensure that it has access to the policy, budget and decision-making levers to best carry out its mission,'' she said. BLM's presence in Colorado and across the West will continue to grow, she added.

Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso, the top Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said the bureau does not need two headquarters.

"The Biden administration's answer for everything is to double the size of government," Barrasso said. "The single headquarters of the Bureau of Land Management belongs in the West, closer to the resources it manages and the people it serves."

What the BLM needs "is an honest director who doesn't bring shame to the agency,'' Barrasso said, referring to President Joe Biden's nominee to lead the bureau, former Democratic aide Tracy Stone-Manning, who received no Republican support in an energy panel vote on her nomination in July. Barrasso and other GOP senators have lambasted Stone-Manning over alleged links to a 1989 environmental sabotage investigation.

Stone-Manning will face a full Senate vote in order to become the new director. It would take every Senate Republican plus at least one Democratic lawmaker to block her confirmation in the evenly divided chamber. Haaland, who would be Stone-Manning's boss, reiterated her full support for the nominee during her Colorado visit.

New Mexico Reports 5 Cases Of West Nile Virus Infections – Associated Press

State health officials say they have identified five cases of West Nile virus infections across New Mexico and that wet weather may be a factor.

The Department of Health said Friday that no deaths have been reported so far this year but that the five cases were reported among residents of Bernalillo, Dona Ana and Taos counties.

According to the department, recent rains have left areas of standing water that make good breeding grounds for mosquitos that spread the disease,

The department recommends that residents regularly drain containers or places of standing water such as empty cans, clogged gutters and wading pools.

West Nile symptoms can include fever, headache, fatigue, body aches, joint pains, vomiting, diarrhea, or rash. 

More serious symptoms include high fever, severe headache, neck stiffness, disorientation, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness, vision loss, numbness, and paralysis.