Donald Trump Targets Undocumented Immigrants Who Were Given Reprieves From Deportation By Obama

In September 2014, Gilberto Velasquez, a 38-year-old house painter from El Salvador, received life-changing news: The U.S. government had decided to shelve its deportation action against him.

The move was part of a policy change initiated by then-President Barack Obama in 2011 to pull back from deporting immigrants who had formed deep ties in the United States and whom the government considered no threat to public safety. Instead, the administration would prioritize undocumented immigrants who had committed serious crimes.

Last month, things changed again for the painter, who has lived in the United States illegally since 2005 and has a U.S.-born child. He received news that the government wanted to put his deportation case back on the court calendar, citing another shift in priorities, this time by President Donald Trump.

The Trump administration has moved to reopen the cases of hundreds of undocumented immigrants who, like Velasquez, had been given a reprieve from deportation, according to government data and court documents reviewed by Reuters and interviews with immigration lawyers.

Trump signaled in January that he planned to dramatically widen the net of undocumented immigrants targeted for deportation, but his administration has not publicized its efforts to reopen immigration cases.

It represents one of the first concrete examples of the crackdown promised by Trump and is likely to stir fears among tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants who thought they were safe from deportation.

While cases were reopened during the Obama administration as well, it was generally only if an immigrant had committed a serious crime, immigration attorneys say. The Trump administration has sharply increased the number of cases it is asking the courts to reopen, and its targets appear to include at least some people who have not committed any crimes since their cases were closed.

Between March 1 and May 31, prosecutors moved to reopen 1,329 cases, according to a Reuters? analysis of data from the Executive Office of Immigration Review, or EOIR. The Obama administration filed 430 similar motions during the same period in 2016. 

Jennifer Elzea, a spokeswoman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, confirmed the agency was now filing motions with immigration courts to reopen cases where undocumented immigrants had ?since been arrested for or convicted of a crime.?

It is not possible to tell from the EOIR data how many of the cases the Trump administration is seeking to reopen involve immigrants who committed crimes after their cases were closed.

Attorneys interviewed by Reuters say indeed some of the cases being reopened are because immigrants were arrested for serious crimes, but they are also seeing cases involving people who haven?t committed crimes or who were cited for minor violations, like traffic tickets.

?This is a sea change, said attorney David Leopold, former president of the American ImmigrationLawyers Association. ?Before, if someone did something after the case was closed out that showed that person was a threat, then it would be reopened. Now they are opening cases just because they want to deport people.?

Elzea said the agency reviews cases, ?to see if the basis for prosecutorial discretion is still appropriate.?

POLICY SHIFTS

After Obama announced his shift toward targeting undocumented immigrants who had committed serious crimes, prosecutors embraced their new discretion to close cases.

Between January 2012 and Trump?s inauguration on Jan. 20, the government shelved some 81,000 cases, according to Reuters? data analysis. These so-called ?administrative closures? did not extend full legal status to those whose cases were closed, but they did remove the threat of imminent deportation.

Trump signed an executive order overturning the Obama-era policy on Jan. 25. Under the new guidelines, while criminals remain the highest priority for deportation, anyone in the country illegally is a potential target.

In cases reviewed by Reuters, the administration explicitly cited Trump?s executive order in 30 separate motions as a reason to put the immigrant back on the court docket. 

Since immigration cases aren?t generally public, Reuters was able to review only cases made available by attorneys.

In the 32 reopened cases examined by Reuters:

?22 involved immigrants who, according to their attorneys, had not been in trouble with the law since their cases were closed.

?Two of the cases involved serious crimes committed after their cases were closed: domestic violence and driving under the influence.

?At least six of the cases involved minor infractions, including speeding after having unpaid traffic tickets, or driving without a valid license, according to the attorneys.

In Velasquez?s case, for example, he was cited for driving without a license in Tennessee, where undocumented immigrants cannot get licenses, he said.

?I respect the law and just dedicate myself to my work,? he said. ?I don?t understand why this is happening.?

Motions to reopen closed cases have been filed in 32 states, with the highest numbers in California, Florida and Virginia, according to Reuters? review of EOIR data. The bulk of the examples reviewed by Reuters were two dozen motions sent over the span of a couple days by the New Orleans ICE office.

PUMPKIN SEED ARREST

Sally Joyner, an immigration attorney in Memphis, Tennessee said one of her Central American clients, who crossed the border with her children in 2013, was allowed to stay in the United States after the government filed a motion to close her case in December 2015.

Since crossing the border, the woman has not been arrested or had trouble with law enforcement, said Joyner, who asked that her client?s name not be used because of the pending legal action.

Nevertheless, on March 29, ICE filed a two-page motion to reopen the case against the woman and her children. When Joyner queried ICE, an official said the agency had been notified that her client had a criminal history in El Salvador, according to documents seen by Reuters.

The woman had been arrested for selling pumpkin seeds as an unauthorized street vendor. Government documents show U.S. authorities knew about the arrest before her case was closed.

Dana Marks, president of the National Association of Immigration Judges, said that revisiting previously closed matters will add to a record backlog of 580,000 pending immigration cases.

?If we have to go back and review all of those decisions that were already made, it clearly generates more work,? she said. ?It?s a judicial do-over.?

(Reporting by Mica Rosenberg and Reade Levinson in New York; Additional reporting by Julia Edwards Ainsley in Washington; Editing by Sue Horton and Ross Colvin)

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Al Jazeera Employees Fear Consequences Of Qatar Crisis For Network

WASHINGTON ? Several Arab nations? severing of ties with Qatar sparked speculation that the wealthy Gulf state will scale back or close its prized news outlet, Al Jazeera, as the price of reconciliation with its neighbors.

That Al Jazeera reported a massive cyberattack on its systems Thursday is only likely to buttress perceptions that the network is one of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and other regional governments? chief grievances with Qatar. Saudi Arabia effectively shut off Al Jazeera?s broadcasts in the kingdom, while the United Arab Emirates removed the company?s subsidiary beIN Sports from its airwaves.

The developments since the Qatar diplomatic crisis began Sunday have spooked some longtime Al Jazeera employees in Washington, D.C., where the network?s North and South American operations are based.  

Four employees at Al Jazeera?s Washington bureau spoke to HuffPost on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak on the matter. I know all four from my stint as a segment producer at the now-defunct channel, Al Jazeera America, which operated out of the same offices. 

In the D.C. newsroom, ?everyone?s obviously talking about? the Qatar crisis? potential impact on Al Jazeera, one employee told HuffPost.

The chatter is based not on any information from Al Jazeera?s management, but ?media reports suggesting the best bargaining chip for Qatar would be to close the network especially Egypt and Saudi Arabia,? he said. ?Personally, it freaks me out.? If Qatar starts to take a ?big time hit financially,? the nation is liable to begin cutting the network?s funding, he added.

Recent actions by management have only heightened employees? anxiety. In April, the network announced a restructuring aimed at reallocating resources to its digital news operations. Amjad Atallah, who ran Al Jazeera English?s American operations from the Washington bureau, was among those laid off in the first round of terminations. Last Friday, in a second round of terminations, the bureau laid off about 10 other other employees, including several video editors, the director of human resources and finance staff for Al Jazeera Arabic. 

?Since April, a lot of people have made their peace with the fact that there are gonna be changes we don?t know about,? said a second employee at the D.C. bureau. Now, since the Qatari diplomatic crisis hit, ?people started talking about Al Jazeera disappearing as a network.?

Al Jazeera Media Network, the parent company of Al Jazeera English, Al Jazeera Arabic and other, smaller news channels, denied that Qatar?s dispute with Arab nations would affect its future.

?In the past, we have had restrictions imposed upon us: our channels have been blocked in certain countries or regions; access to our digital platforms has been cut; we have had our offices closed down in some places; we have had licences revoked; and down through the years we have had tough experiences with some of our journalists being either killed, detained, imprisoned or threatened,? the network said in a statement. 

?The current crisis represents a new challenge and new circumstances,? the statement continued. ?But Al Jazeera remains committed to continue its pioneering and courageous journalism around the world in a professional, balanced and objective manner.?

Qatar changed the face of media in the Middle East when it created Al Jazeera Arabic in 1996. The channel earned a reputation for critical coverage that was unprecedented in the largely state-controlled Arab media landscape. 

Ten years later, the network inaugurated Al Jazeera English, which won a loyal English-speaking audience across the world with its comprehensive global coverage and willingness to challenge Western biases.

The outlet reached new fame during the Arab Spring uprisings, with its unsparing, on-the-ground coverage of the revolutions sweeping the Middle East in 2011.  

But the same reporting that won it international acclaim began to rankle Arab leaders wary of the democratization and Islamist movements unleashed by the revolution in Egypt in particular. 

Qatar had supported the Sunni Islamist Muslim Brotherhood?s rise in post-revolutionary Egypt, while Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and UAE backed the military coup that removed the democratically elected, Brotherhood-affiliated government from power in July 2013. 

Soon after Egyptian coup General Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi became president, he and his Saudi and Emirati backers accused Qatar of using Al Jazeera to promote the Brotherhood, which they deemed a terrorist organization. Al Jazeera argued that it was merely covering popular opposition to the coup and the victims of the government?s repression. And the network?s English-language coverage of Egypt continued to earn high marks from industry watchers.

Sisi?s forces nonetheless arrested three Al Jazeera English journalists in December 2013 on trumped-up charges of involvement with the Brotherhood.

As part of its efforts to reconcile with Egypt and its Gulf neighbors, Al Jazeera shuttered its Arabic-language Egyptian channel Mubasher Misr in December 2014. Egypt released the prisoners over the course of the following year. 

As Sunday?s rupture demonstrates, however, Egypt and its powerful Gulf state sponsors remain angry about Qatar?s support for Islamist groups, including Hamas, a militant Palestinian Brotherhood affiliate whose political leadership has enjoyed a safe haven in Doha. And Saudi Arabia and UAE?s subsequent moves to limit Al Jazeera broadcasts suggest they continue to view the network in general, and Al Jazeera Arabic in particular, as a vehicle for that agenda. 

Given the geopolitical wrangling that Al Jazeera is subject to, it is easy to wonder why Western journalists would choose to work there. But veterans of the Washington bureau say they are attracted to the higher-than-normal pay, decent working conditions and opportunity to work on substantive journalism. 

?Whatever happens politically, that?s the Qatari government. We just do our jobs as journalists. We produce very good journalistic products worldwide,? a third employee said. 

Working for a Qatari-funded outlet, with the risks it implies, is merely an unfortunate byproduct, according to the staff members.

?Everyone here sort of has qualms about who they work for and they realize, especially in the last few years, that geopolitics affects the company they work for,? the first employee said.

The political system of Qatar is an absolute monarchy and the country?s Emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, is head of state. Employees say they sometimes see traces of authoritarianism in the leadership?s opaque communication style with staff. Layoffs, which have become a virtually annual occurrence in recent years, are typically sudden, swift and inscrutable.

?It?s always been kind of the culture here; Doha dictates and then all of this stuff happens out of the blue,? a fourth employee said, in reference to management in Al Jazeera?s headquarters in the Qatari capital. ?We get the last shockwave from whatever is happening up in Doha.? 

One advantage to working under that kind of management is that employees are constantly prepared for the worst and eyeing their next job, several of the staff members said.

Not even President Donald Trump?s initial expression of support for the Arab nations? break with Qatar is enough to faze the employees who spoke to HuffPost. (He has since walked back his comments and offered to mediate the dispute.) 

?He?s just so bizarre you don?t know what he?s going to say or do next,? the fourth employee said.

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Man Allegedly Threatens Restaurant Staff Because Of Onions In His Food

Talk about raising a big stink.

A man is facing charges after he allegedly threatened to shoot a Pittsburgh restaurant owner because there were onions in his food.

Yuba Sharma was arrested Tuesday night outside of All India restaurant after officers responded to a call about a man described as ?drunk and angry.?

Owner Ravinder Singh told police that the suspect showed up Tuesday evening in a drunken rage still mad that servers had put onions in his food the night before, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune Review.

Investigators say the 43-year-old Sharma was asked multiple times to leave, but refused. Instead, he reached for his pants pocket while allegedly threatening to shoot the owner, according to KDKA.

That?s when police were called to the scene. Before the police arrived, Sharma allegedly pulled down his pants and exposed himself to the owner and a restaurant employee.

Initially, the owner didn?t want to pursue charges, but changed his mind, telling police that he ?no longer felt safe in his restaurant,? according to WTAE TV.

Police described Sharma as being so drunk he was speaking ?nonsense,? according to the station. He allegedly told an officer that he was arguing with staff ?because they put onions in his food.? 

Police said Sharma physically resisted being placed in the back seat of the cruiser, according to WPXI TV.

Sharma, 43, is currently being held in the Allegheny County Jail on charges of terroristic threats, indecent exposure, public drunkenness and resisting arrest, according to the Associated Press.

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