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Migrant Surge at US- Mexico Border Accelerates

More than 300,000 mostly Central American undocumented immigrants apprehended or requesting asylum so far in the current fiscal year

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Migrant Surge, US- Mexico Border
The Trump administration has requested supplemental funds for the current fiscal year and substantial increases in next year's DHS budget to address the border crisis. Pixabay

The Trump administration on Thursday said a surge of migrant arrivals at the southern U.S. border continues to accelerate, with more than 300,000 mostly Central American undocumented immigrants apprehended or requesting asylum so far in the current fiscal year, which began last October.

“We are in the midst of an ongoing humanitarian and security crisis at the southwest border,” acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan told a Senate panel. “Almost 110,000 migrants attempted to cross without legal status last month, the most in over a decade, and over 65% were families and unaccompanied children.”

At the current pace, 2019’s total for migrant arrivals would more than triple the number reported for all of 2018, which was 169,000.

Factors in migration

McAleenan said that while gang violence and rampant insecurity in three Central American nations has started to ebb, other factors, such as persistent droughts and a lack of economic opportunity, continue to compel a large number of people to trek north.

Migrant Surge, US- Mexico Border
Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan testifies before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee in Washington, May 23, 2019. VOA

The DHS acting secretary also highlighted U.S. policy as a “pull factor” for migrants.

“Families [apprehended at the border] can no longer be held together through an appropriate and fair proceeding, and essentially have a guarantee of release and an indefinite stay in the United States,” McAleenan told the Senate Homeland Security Committee. “It’s been exploited by smugglers who are advertising that opportunity, and that’s what’s causing the significant surge that we see this year.”

The administration’s handling of migrant children continued to be a focus of congressional scrutiny after news broke earlier this week that a sixth minor — a 10-year-old girl from El Salvador — had died in U.S. government custody.

“We all agree that we must absolutely secure our borders, but the death of children in custody is simply unacceptable,” the panel’s top Democrat, Michigan Sen. Gary Peters, said. “We must identify what went wrong and ensure that this doesn’t happen again.”

Overwhelmed system

McAleenan said he has directed that all arriving children receive health screenings, and that, on average, 65 migrants are taken to hospitals daily. Overall, he pointed to an overwhelmed system pushed to the breaking point.

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“Given the scale of what we are facing, we will exhaust our resources before the end of this fiscal year,” said McAleenan, who also serves as chief of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, an agency within DHS.

The Trump administration has requested supplemental funds for the current fiscal year and substantial increases in next year’s DHS budget to address the border crisis. The panel’s chairman echoed the calls.

“This is a growing crisis and we have to … pass that emergency spending bill,” Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin said.

While agreeing that more resources are needed, several lawmakers said money alone can’t resolve the situation.

FILE – In this April 29, 2019, photo, Cuban migrants are escorted by Mexican immigration officials in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, as they cross the Paso del Norte International bridge to be processed as asylum seekers on the U.S. side of the border. VOA

“I think the smartest thing we could actually do would be comprehensive immigration reform, and God willing, someday we’ll get back and do that,” Delaware Democratic Sen. Tom Carper said. (VOA)

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Trump to Pursue Higher Sales Age for Vaping Devices: ‘An Age Limit of 21 or So’

Trump told reporters his administration will release its final plans for restricting e-cigarettes next week but provided few other details

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Trump, Sales, Vaping
President Donald Trump speaks to reporters on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Nov. 8, 2019. VOA

President Donald Trump said Friday his administration will pursue raising the age to purchase electronic cigarettes from 18 to 21 in its upcoming plans to combat youth vaping.

Trump told reporters his administration will release its final plans for restricting e-cigarettes next week but provided few other details.

“We have to take care of our kids, most importantly, so we’re going to have an age limit of 21 or so,” said Trump, speaking outside the White House.

Currently the minimum age to purchase any tobacco or vaping product is 18, under federal law. But more than one-third of U.S. states have already raised their sales age to 21.

Trump, Sales, Vaping
FILE – A woman buys refills for her Juul at a smoke shop in New York, Dec. 20, 2018. VOA

A federal law raising the purchase age would require congressional action.

Administration officials were widely expected to release plans this week for removing virtually all flavored e-cigarettes from the market. Those products are blamed for soaring rates of underage use by U.S. teenagers.

However, no details have yet appeared, leading vaping critics to worry that the administration is backing away from its original plan.

Trump resisted any specifics on the scope of the restrictions.

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“We’re talking about the age, we’re talking about flavors, we’re also talking about keeping people working — there are some pretty good aspects,” Trump said.

Mint flavor

Underage vaping has reached what health officials call epidemic levels. In the latest government survey, 1 in 4 high school students reported using e-cigarettes in the previous month.

Fruit, candy, dessert and other sweet vaping flavors have been targeted because of their appeal to underage users.

Trump, Sales, Vaping
FILE – A man blows a puff of smoke as he vapes with an electronic cigarette, Oct. 18, 2019. VOA

On Thursday, Juul Labs, the nation’s largest e-cigarette maker, announced it would voluntarily pull its mint-flavored e-cigarettes from the market. That decision followed new research that Juul’s mint is the top choice for many high school students who vape.

With the removal of mint, Juul only sells two flavors: tobacco and menthol.

Vaping critics say menthol must be a part of the flavor ban to prevent teens who currently use mint from switching over.

‘Tobacco 21’ law

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Juul and other tobacco companies have lobbied in support of a federal “Tobacco 21” law to reverse teen use of both e-cigarettes and traditional tobacco products. The effort also has broad bipartisan support in Congress, including a bill introduced by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

The logic for hiking the purchase age for cigarettes and other products is clear: Most underage teens who use e-cigarettes or tobacco get it from older friends. Raising the minimum age to 21 is expected to limit the supply of those products in U.S. schools.

Delaying access to cigarettes is also expected to produce major downstream health benefits, with one government-funded report estimating nearly 250,000 fewer deaths due to tobacco over several decades.

Still, anti-tobacco groups have insisted that any “Tobacco 21” law must be accompanied by a ban on flavors, which they say are the primary reason young people use e-cigarettes. (VOA)