Jan 20, 2020 9:00 PM

Illegal crossings plunge as US extends policy across border

Posted Jan 20, 2020 9:00 PM
As the sun sets near McAllen, TX, migrants who crossed the Rio Grande surrender to U.S. Border Patrol agents near an area known as Rincon on June 5, 2019 From here, they will be transported to a processing center. photo courtesy U.S. Customs and Border Protection
As the sun sets near McAllen, TX, migrants who crossed the Rio Grande surrender to U.S. Border Patrol agents near an area known as Rincon on June 5, 2019 From here, they will be transported to a processing center. photo courtesy U.S. Customs and Border Protection

YUMA, Ariz. (AP) — Adolfo Cardenas smiles faintly at the memory of traveling with his 14-year-old son from Honduras to the U.S.-Mexico border in only nine days, riding buses and paying a smuggler $6,000 to ensure passage through highway checkpoints.

Father and son walked about 10 minutes in Arizona’s stifling June heat before surrendering to border agents. Instead of being released with paperwork to appear in immigration court in Dallas, where Cardenas hopes to live with a cousin, they were bused more than an hour to wait in the Mexican border city of Mexicali.

“It was a surprise. I never imagined this would happen,” Cardenas, 39, said while waiting at a Mexicali migrant shelter for his fifth court appearance in San Diego, on Jan. 24.

Illegal crossings plummeted across the border after the Trump administration made more asylum-seekers wait in Mexico for hearings in U.S. court. The drop has been most striking on the western Arizona border, a pancake-flat desert with a vast canal system from the Colorado River that turns bone-dry soil into fields of melons and wheat and orchards of dates and lemons.

Arrests in the Border Patrol’s Yuma sector nearly hit 14,000 in May, when the policy to make asylum-seekers wait in Mexico took effect there. By October, they fell 94%, to less than 800, and have stayed there since, making Yuma the second-slowest of the agency’s nine sectors on the Mexican border, just ahead of the perennially quiet Big Bend sector in Texas.

Illegal crossings in western Arizona have swung sharply before, and there are several reasons for the recent drop. But Anthony Porvaznik, chief of the Border Patrol’s Yuma sector, said the so-called Migration Protection Protocols have been a huge deterrent, based on agents’ interviews with people arrested.

“Their whole goal was to be released into the United States, and once that was taken off the shelf for them, and they couldn’t be released into the United States anymore, then that really diminished the amount of traffic that came through here,” Porvaznik said.

In the neighboring Tucson sector, arrests rose each month from August to December, bucking a border-wide trend and making it the second-busiest corridor after Texas’ Rio Grande Valley. Porvaznik attributes Tucson’s spike to the absence of the policy there until three months ago.

In late November, the administration began busing asylum-seekers five hours from Tucson to El Paso, Texas, for court and delivering them to Mexican authorities there to wait. This month, officials scrapped the buses by returning migrants to Mexico near Tucson and requiring them to travel on their own to El Paso.

More than 55,000 asylum-seekers were returned to Mexico to wait for hearings through November, 10 months after the policy was introduced in San Diego.

The immigrants were from more than three dozen countries, and nearly 2 out of 3 were Guatemalan or Honduran, according to Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse. Mexicans are exempt.

Critics say the policy is unfair and exposes asylum-seekers to extreme violence in Mexican border cities, where attorneys are difficult to find.

The American Civil Liberties Union and other groups asked to put the policy on hold during a legal challenge. The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments Oct. 1 and has not indicated when it will decide.

On Tuesday, critics scored a partial victory in a separate lawsuit when a federal judge in San Diego said asylum-seekers who are being returned to Mexico from California must have access to hired attorneys before and during key interviews to determine if they can stay in the U.S. while their cases proceed.

Immigration judges hear cases in San Diego and El Paso, while other asylum-seekers report to tent camps in the Texas cities of Laredo and Brownsville, where they are connected to judges by video.

In Yuma, asylum-seekers are held in short-term cells until space opens up to be returned to Mexicali through a neighboring California sector. Those interviewed by The Associated Press waited up to a week in Yuma, though Border Patrol policy says people generally shouldn’t be held more than 72 hours.

Volunteers visit Mexicali shelters to offer bus tickets or a two-hour ride to Tijuana, along with hotel rooms for the night before court appearances in San Diego.

Cardenas, who worked construction in the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa, said he feels unsafe in Mexico and that it was impossible to escape gangs in Honduras. “They are in every corner,” he said.

Enma Florian of Guatemala, who crossed the border illegally with her 16- and 13-year-old sons near Yuma in August, doesn’t know if she would stay in Mexico or return to Guatemala if denied asylum in the U.S. The grant rate for Guatemalan asylum-seekers was 14% for the 12-month period that ended Sept. 30, compared with 18% for Salvadorans, 13% for Hondurans and 11% for Mexicans.

“The dream was to reach the United States,” she said, holding out hope that she will settle with relatives in Maryland.

While illegal crossings have nosedived in Yuma, asylum-seekers still sign up on a waiting list to enter the U.S. at an official crossing in San Luis, Arizona. U.S. Customs and Border Protection calls the Mexican shelter that manages the list to say how many asylum claims it will process each day. The shelter estimates the wait at three to four months.

Angel Rodriguez, one of 143 Cubans on the shelter’s waiting list of 1,484 people, has had bright moments in Mexico, including a beautiful Christmas meal. But the 51-year-old rarely goes outside and he dreads the possibility of being forced to wait for hearings in Mexico after his number is called to make an initial asylum claim in the US.

“That’s sending me to hell again,” said Rodriguez, who hopes to settle with friends in Dallas or Miami. “If I’m going to seek asylum, I’m going to look to a country that is the safest and respects human rights. That country is the United States of America.”

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Jan 20, 2020 9:00 PM
Gunman in mass shooting at KC club had weapons charge dropped

Police on the scene of the shooting photo courtesy KCTV

KANSAS CITY (AP) — A gunman who opened fire outside of a Kansas City nightclub, killing a woman and injuring at least 15 other people before a guard killed him, had a past weapons charge dropped after lawmakers loosened the state's gun laws.

Jahron Swift, 29, had been in trouble with the law before he opened fire on people leaving or waiting to get into the 9ine Ultra Lounge in eastern Kansas City late Sunday, when the city was celebrating the win that put the Kansas City Chiefs in the Super Bowl.

Swift was sentenced to probation for an August 2015 traffic stop in which he was caught with cocaine and a .45-caliber semi-automatic handgun, court documents say. Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker said Tuesday that Swift was charged in August 2016 with a concealed weapon violation, which might have led to a probation violation that could have landed him a short stint behind bars or more probation. But the following month, Missouri's Republican-led Legislature overrode Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon's veto to pass sweeping gun legislation that allowed most adults to carry concealed weapons without needing a permit.

“I have really thought about what is comparable," Baker told The Associated Press. “The only comparable I can think of is prohibition. All those whiskey charges that were pending in 1932, prosecutors couldn't carry them anymore."

Baker, who opposed the changes to the state's gun laws, said prosecutors had to “dismiss a slew of cases," including Swift's. Baker said Swift also faced a robbery charge in 2013 that prosecutors couldn't get past the preliminary hearing stage because of problems getting victims to cooperate.

“We had the double whammy of non-cooperative victims and the law change later down the road," she said. “What I used to love about these gun charges is you had police as your witnesses. We do struggle with witnesses. Then the law change took those charges away from us.”

Police were trying to determine a motive for this weekend's attack, and it wasn't known if Swift knew any of the victims, including the 25-year-old Kansas City woman who was killed, Raeven Parks. Authorities haven't said how many of the injured had been shot, but three of them were in critical condition.

A cousin of Parks, Tamela Smith, told television station KSHB that Parks had been texting family and was leaving the club when she was shot.

“She was walking out, and just walked into the midst of it,” said Smith, who described her cousin as a “beautiful, beautiful woman.”

In a Facebook post, the club's owners described the shooting as a “shameless and senseless act of violence” and said they had “little in the way of answers."

The shooting led to quick calls by some to shutter the club permanently. Only about a week ago, there was a drive-by shooting in the parking long, and police had received complaints about the club in the past, said police Chief Richard Smith, who has no known relation to Tamela Smith.

Mayor Quinton Lucas said city officials would soon review whether the nightclub could be considered a nuisance, which might lead to its license being temporarily revoked, The Kansas City Star reported.

Just before Sunday's shooting, officers drove through the parking lot and saw nothing suspicious, the police chief said Monday. A disturbance occurred in the line to get into the club shortly before the shooting, but it wasn't clear if the suspect was involved in that confrontation, he said. The security guard, who is licensed to be a guard but is not an off-duty officer, heard the disturbance from inside the bar and went outside and confronted the shooter, Smith said. Police officers didn't fire any shots at the scene. The guard's name hasn't been released.

Police recovered multiple guns at the scene, all of which were believed to be the suspect’s.

Kansas City has one of the highest homicide rates in the U.S., and the rate rose last year despite it dropping in many other major cities.

“We've got a problem in Kansas City,” Lucas said Monday. “We've said a few times that it is an epidemic of gun violence. We're losing too many lives, we had too many shot each year. We will remain committed, both at City Hall and the police department, and every agency in Kansas City is making sure that we stop this problem.”

Chief Smith said the shooting happened despite having extra officers and increased security across the region because of the AFC Championship game, which attracted visitors from across the country.

KANSAS CITY— Law enforcement authorities continue to investigate the fatal Sunday night shooting outside a bar in Kansas City. 

The shooter outside 9ine Ultra Lounge was identified as 29-year-old Jahron Swift of Kansas City, Missouri, according to Chief of Police Richard Smith during a Monday news conference.  A private security guard shot and killed him.

The victim was identified as Raeven A. Parks, 25, Kansas City.

Police did not fire any shots. The only shots fired were from the security guard and the suspect, according to Smith.

In addition, 15 people were injured and transported to area hospitals, according to Smith. He did not have details on the extent of the injuries.

Police are also still working to determine the motive for the shooting, according to Smith.

The venue was hosting a celebration of the Kansas City Chiefs win to earn a trip to the Super Bowl.

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — An armed security guard may have shot and killed a man suspected of fatally shooting a woman and injuring 15 more people outside a bar in Kansas City, Missouri, police said Monday.

A motive for the attack shortly before midnight Sunday outside 9ine Ultra Lounge was not immediately clear.

Kansas City Police Capt. David Jackson told reporters that responding officers found “a chaotic scene.” A man and a woman were killed and police believe the shooter is the deceased man, Jackson said.

A spokesman said a gunman opened fire on a line of people waiting to enter the bar. The shooter was shot by an armed security guard, police said.

At least 15 went to hospitals with injuries related to the shooting, police said. It's unclear whether all the injured victims suffered gunshot wounds. At least three people are in critical condition, police said.

Also late Sunday, two people were shot to death and at least five were injured in an attack outside a bar in San Antonio, Texas. The suspected gunman was still on the loose Monday, police said.

A Facebook post on 9ine Ultra Lounge's page advertised Sunday night's “Sold Out Sundays” event, which appeared to be a celebration of the Kansas City Chiefs. The Chiefs — featured on the event's artwork — beat the Tennessee Titans on Sunday to advance to the Super Bowl.

“It just put such a tragic end to such a wonderful day in Kansas City,” Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker said at the scene, referencing the win. “It's just hard to stand here and talk about this kind of tragedy on really one of the best days Kansas City has had in a long time.”

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KANSAS CITY (AP) — Police in Kansas City say at least two people are dead and 15 people were reportedly injured in a shooting outside a bar.

The shooting took place shortly before midnight Sunday, Kansas City police said at the scene. Capt. David Jackson told news outlets at the scene that responding officers found “a chaotic scene” and had to call in help from around the city. A man and a woman were found dead.

Police believe the shooter is the deceased man, Jackson said in a statement. A spokesman said the shooter opened fire on a line of people waiting to enter a bar, but the motive for the shooting wasn't immediately clear. The shooter was shot by an armed security guard, police said.

During the investigation, police heard that people — at least 15 — were showing up to local hospitals with injuries from the shooting. At least three people were in critical condition, police said.

The scene was near U.S. Highway 40. News outlets at the scene identified the bar outside which the shooting took place as 9ine Ultra Lounge. A Facebook post on the club's page advertised Sunday night's “Sold Out Sundays” event, which appeared to be a celebration of the Kansas City Chiefs. The Chiefs — featured on the event's artwork — beat the Tennessee Titans on Sunday to advance to the Super Bowl.

“It just put such a tragic end to such a wonderful day in Kansas City,” Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker said at the scene, referencing the win. “It's just hard to stand here and talk about this kind of tragedy on really one of the best days Kansas City has had in a long time.”