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US Expands ‘Remain in Mexico’ to Dangerous Part of Border

The U.S. government on Friday expanded its policy requiring asylum-seekers to wait outside the country to one of Mexico’s most dangerous cities, where thousands of people are already camped, some for several months.

The Department of Homeland Security said Friday that it would implement its Migrant Protection Protocols in Brownsville, Texas, across the border from Matamoros, Mexico. DHS says it anticipates the first asylum-seekers will be sent back to Mexico starting Friday.

Under the so-called Remain in Mexico policy, asylum-seekers are briefly processed and given a date to return for an immigration court hearing before being sent back across the southern border. Since January, the policy has been implemented at several border cities including San Diego and El Paso, Texas.

The U.S. is trying to curtail the large flow of Central American migrants passing through Mexico to seek asylum under American law. The Trump administration has pressured Mexico to crack down on migrants, threatening earlier this year to impose crippling tariffs until both sides agreed on new measures targeting migration.


Matamoros is at the eastern edge of the U.S.-Mexico border in Tamaulipas state, where organized crime gangs are dominant and the U.S. government warns citizens not to visit due to violence and kidnappings.

FILE – Asylum-seekers line up for a meal provided by volunteers as they wait in a makeshift migrant camp near the Gateway International Bridge in Matamoros, Tamaulipas, Mexico, June 29, 2019.

The city is also near where a Salvadoran father and his 23-month-old daughter were found drowned in the Rio Grande, in photos that were shared around the world.

Many people have slept for the last several months in a makeshift camp near one of the international bridges, including families with young children. Thousands more stay in hotels, shelters, or boarding houses. Only a few migrants daily have been allowed to seek asylum under another Trump administration policy limiting asylum processing known as “metering.” 
A list run by Mexican officials has more than 1,000 people on it, said Elisa Filippone, a U.S.-based volunteer who visits Matamoros several times a week to deliver food and donated clothes. But many others not on the list wait in shelters. There are frequent rumors that migrants are shaken down for bribes to join the list, Filippone said.

She described a desperate situation that could be made worse if people are forced to wait longer in Mexico for their asylum claims to be processed.

“I’m afraid that Matamoros is about to catch on fire,” she said.

Nuevo Laredo 

The Department of Homeland Security said it had coordinated with the Mexican government on the policy. The Mexican government did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Filippone said Friday that she saw the camp closest to one of the bridges being cleared away, though it was not immediately clear why or where the people detained would go. 
DHS recently implemented the Remain policy for migrants in Nuevo Laredo, across from Laredo, Texas. About 1,800 asylum-seekers and migrants are currently waiting in Nuevo Laredo, where some have reported being kidnapped and extorted by gangs.

“I don’t want to go out on the street. I’m afraid the same men … will do something to me or my boys,” said one woman, insisting on speaking anonymously out of fear for their safety.

Trump Administration Trying to Bring A$AP Rocky Home

First lady Melania Trump says her husband’s administration is working with the State Department to try to bring rapper A$AP Rocky home.

The president also tells reporters that many members of the African American community have asked him to intervene.

The platinum-selling, Grammy-nominated artist has been behind bars in Sweden while police investigate a fight he was involved in in Stockholm earlier this month.

Kim Kardashian West, Diddy, Justin Bieber, Shawn Mendes and Nicki Minaj are some of the celebrities who have shown public support for the Grammy-nominated Rocky.

Kardashian West thanked Trump, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner on Twitter Thursday evening for their “efforts to Free ASAP Rocky & his two friends.”

She says their “commitment to justice reform is so appreciated.”

Astrophysicists to Hawaii: Stop ‘Criminalizing’ Telescope Protesters

A group of international astrophysicists and astronomers are speaking out against what they call the “criminalization” of Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiians) and their allies protesting the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) on the summit Mauna Kea on Hawaii’s “big island.”

In an open letter published on Google, authors call on TMT and the government of Hawaii to stop arresting and charging people and to remove military and law enforcement personnel from the mountain. The letter is signed by 85 graduate students and more than 400 undergraduate students.

“We want to acknowledge the investment that so many colleagues within the astronomy community have made towards the project’s completion,” the letter reads. “We write today, not to place a value judgment on the future of TMT on Maunakea, but to question the methods by which we are getting the telescope on the mountain in the first place.”

Authors also called on the community to consider whether the project is worth “the damage to our relationship with Kanaka Maoli.”

Separately, a Change.org petition calling for a halt to the telescope’s construction, as of Friday morning, had garnered more than 80,000 signatures. It reads, in part, “This is not just about one mountain in Hawaii. This is a global movement, and the world is watching.

Demonstrators gather to block a road at the base of Hawaii’s tallest mountain, Monday, July 15, 2019, in Mauna Kea, Hawaii, to protest the construction of a giant telescope on land that some Native Hawaiians consider sacred.


Protesters insist they won’t back down and are calling on Hawaii Governor David Ige to rescind an  emergency proclamation he issued Wednesday that broadens the state’s power to restrict access to Maunakea and clear the way for construction crews.

The proclamation followed the arrest of a group of more than 30 activists who refused to move from the site Wednesday.

‘Reserved for the gods’

In February, Lanakila Mangauil, activist and director of the Hawaiian Cultural Center of Hamakua, told VOA why the Kanaka oppose the project so vehemently.

“Because the mountain, this whole area, is actually zoned as conservation land.  There are already something like 26 different structures at the summit,” he said.  “And when you drive up there now, you’d never know you were in a conservation area. It feels like an industrial park.”

But it’s much more than that, he said.  The Kanaka consider the mountain to be sacred.

“It was reserved for the gods.”

Further, he said, the protesters — who prefer the use of the term “protectors” — were not given any voice in the decision to construct the TMT.

FILE – Observatories and telescopes sit atop Mauna Kea, Hawaii’s tallest mountain and designated construction site for a new $1.4 billion telescope, near Hilo, Hawaii, Aug. 31, 2015.

‘Probing time and space’

The University of California and the California Institute of Technology in 2003 began developing the new telescope which they say will allow astronomers an unprecedented view of the universe, perhaps as far back as the Big Bang, more than 13 billion years ago.

One of the hot topics in astronomy now is figuring out what happened between Big Bang and what happened with the first generation of galaxies,” Doug Simons, director of the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope, which has been operating on Mauna Kea since 1979, told VOA in an earlier interview. “These big telescopes will be first opportunity to probe time and space.”

Simons also said he respects the protesters, explaining that Mauna Kea is part of land that belonged to the Hawaiian Kingdom before it was overthrown in 1893 with support from the U.S.

“And that is an open wound from a very proud internationally-recognized kingdom,” Simons said.  “That sense of injustice has perpetuated until today.”

Spain’s Socialists, Far-Left Party Move Closer to Govt Deal

Spain’s center-left Socialist party and the United We Can party edged closer to a deal on forming a coalition government after the far-left party’s leader removed a key obstacle by saying Friday he would not insist on being part of a future Cabinet.

Isabel Celaa, the spokeswoman for the Socialist caretaker government, said acting Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez was ready to create a coalition with the United We Can party, so long as its leader, Pablo Iglesias, was not part of it.

Sanchez said Thursday he has deep differences of opinion with Iglesias on such issues as the Catalonia region’s demands for independence, which the Socialists oppose.

Nevertheless, Celaa said Friday that “the offer of a coalition government is on the table” for United We Can to consider before parliament next week holds confidence votes on the Socialist party’s bid to take office.

Iglesias signaled he was thinking of taking the offer.

“I won’t be the Socialists’ excuse for there not to be a coalition of parties on the left,” he said in a tweet hours after Celaa spoke.

However, he said he wants his party’s Cabinet seats to be proportional to the number of parliamentary seats it captured in April’s general election, where United We Can earned 42 seats, compared with 123 for the Socialists.

The Socialists require parliament’s endorsement and are shy of the 176 votes they need to achieve a majority in the 350-seat chamber next Tuesday. Even with United We Can’s backing, Sanchez would still need other smaller parties’ support to win that vote.

If that bid fails, a second vote is scheduled for Thursday, when Sanchez will only need to get more “Yes” votes than “No votes.


US Brings Back Suspected American IS Fighter From Syria to Face Charges 

An American suspected of fighting with the Islamic State terror group in Syria is back in the United States, where he is expected to be charged with and tried for terrorism-related crimes. 
U.S. defense officials confirmed the transfer of the suspect Thursday, saying U.S. troops assisted in bringing the U.S. national back home for prosecution. 
According to a Pentagon statement, the suspect “was previously held by Syrian Democratic Forces as a suspected member of ISIS.” It referred other questions to the Department of Justice. Justice Department officials said they were aware of the transfer, first reported by CNN, but declined to comment. 

FILE – In this picture taken July 21, 2017, Kurdish soldiers from the Anti-Terrorism Units, background, stand in front a blindfolded suspected Islamic State member from Turkey at a security center, in Kobani, Syria.

Holding foreign fighters 
Since the collapse of the Islamic State’s physical caliphate in Syria in March, U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces have been holding an estimated 2,000 foreign fighters from more than 50 countries in makeshift prisons. In addition, the SDF has processed tens of thousands of civilians linked to IS, including the wives and children of the foreign fighters. 
There are no official estimates of how many of the IS prisoners were U.S. citizens or residents. But in comments to VOA this past June, Kurdish officials suggested more Americans were in custody. 
“It’s up to the U.S. government whether it wants to take back more of its citizens held by our forces,” said Kamal Akif, a spokesman for the Kurdish-led administration in northeast Syria. 
Independent research by George Washington University’s Program on Extremism has identified 79 U.S. citizens or residents who traveled to Syria or Iraq to join extremist groups since 2011, 75% of whom aligned themselves with IS.
In June, the U.S. repatriated two American women accused of joining IS, along with their six children. It is unclear whether the women will face charges. 

Four to face charges
Four other U.S. citizens — three men and one woman — who left the country to join IS have also been brought back to face charges. 
Most recently, the U.S. brought back Warren Christopher Clark in January. 
Last July, the U.S. repatriated Ibraheem Musaibli and Samantha ElHassani from Syria. Musaibli, a resident of Dearborn, Michigan, was charged with joining IS in 2015. ElHassani was charged with providing material support to IS and with helping other individuals join the terror group. Her four children, who also came back with her from Syria, were placed in the custody of officials with the U.S. state of Indiana. 
In June 2017, the U.S. brought back Mohamad Jamal Khweis of Alexandria, Virginia. Khweis, who was found wandering in Iraq by Kurdish peshmerga forces, was found guilty of providing material support to IS. 

Graphic of Americans who have repatriated from Syria

Western nations’ fighters 
To help ease the burden on the SDF, the U.S. has been pushing for Western nations especially to repatriate their foreign fighters and prosecute them. 
But at times, Washington has balked at taking back some of those with ties to the U.S., such as American-born Hoda Muthana, 24, whose father was a Yemeni diplomat around the time of her birth. 
U.S. officials have said they continue to work to verify the U.S. citizenship of those individuals in the conflict zone on a case-by-case basis. 
U.S. counterterrorism officials estimate that more than 45,000 foreign fighters flocked to Syria and Iraq following the start of the Syrian civil war, including 8,000 from Western countries. 
An independent estimate by researchers at the International Center for the Study of Radicalization, just published by the Combating Terrorism Center’s CTC Sentinel, estimates IS still counts almost 53,000 foreigners among its ranks in Syria and Iraq, including more than 6,900 foreign women and up to 6,600 foreign children.

Trump’s Latest Target for Ridicule: A Muslim Congressional Newcomer

Mark LaMet and Lynn Davis contributed to this report.

U.S. President Donald Trump has found his latest target for acerbic ridicule — a hijab-wearing Muslim newcomer to Congress named Ilhan Omar. She is a Somali refugee but naturalized U.S. citizen whom Trump views as something less than a patriotic red, white and blue American.

Trump railed against the lawmaker Wednesday night at his 2020 re-election campaign rally in North Carolina. He stoked the packed crowd at a college basketball arena with his claims that she is proud of al-Qaida terrorists, blames the U.S. for the political crisis in Venezuela and launches “vicious anti-Semitic screeds.”

FILE – Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, left, looks at a paper held by President Donald Trump about Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., as Trump speaks during a Cabinet meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House, July 16, 2019.

“Send her back! Send her back!” the frenzied crowd of Trump supporters chanted as he paused to listen for 13 seconds but without responding. It was reminiscent of Trump’s 2016 campaign, when supporters regularly shouted, “Lock her up!” in a call to jail his opponent, Democrat Hillary Clinton, the former U.S. secretary of state.

Back in Washington on Thursday, the president disavowed the chant against Omar, saying, “I was not happy with it. I disagree with it.”

Still, to Trump, Omar has in short order become a suitable proxy for opposition Democrats trying to oust him next year after a single term in the White House. He singled her out last weekend, along with three other Democratic lawmakers who also are women of color, but unlike Omar, all U.S. citizens by birth. The president said they ought to “go back” to their home countries to “fix” things there before criticizing the U.S.

House condemnation

The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives voted to condemn Trump’s remarks as “racist,” but Trump dismissed any contention he is a racist. Instead, he praised the almost unanimous support he won from Republican lawmakers who opposed the resolution, only four of whom voted with Democrats against him.

“These left-wing ideologues see our nation as a force for evil,” Trump said at the rally, describing them as “hate-filled extremists who are constantly trying to tear our country down.”

“They don’t love our country,” he said. “I think, in some cases, they hate our country. You know what? If they don’t love it, tell them to leave it.”

“Tonight, we renew our resolve that America will never be a socialist country,” Trump said. “A vote for any Democrat in 2020 is a vote for the rise of radical socialism and the destruction of the American Dream — frankly, the destruction of our country.”

FILE – Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., speaks at the 2019 Essence Festival at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans, July 6, 2019.

Omar swiftly rebuffed Trump, saying, “We have said this president is racist. We have condemned his racist remarks. I believe he is fascist.”

Now in her late 30s, Omar told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that she, like many refugees, does not have a birth certificate. She is the mother of two daughters and a son, ranging in age from 7 to 15. Since January she has been a congresswoman from Minneapolis, a large city in the U.S. heartland state of Minnesota. Once divorced, she is married to Somali-born Ahmed Abdisalan Hirsi, the father of her three children and recently an aide to a Minneapolis City Council member.

She has been a naturalized U.S. citizen for about two decades, after fleeing the civil war in Somalia with her family in 1991 when she was a child. She lived in a Kenyan refugee camp for four years before moving to the U.S. in the mid-1990s. She held several politics-related jobs in Minneapolis in recent years, before winning a seat in the Minnesota House of Representatives in 2016, becoming the first Somali-American Muslim legislator in U.S. history.

Fierce critic

Last year, she won her congressional seat, overwhelming a Republican candidate to fill the seat of a Democratic congressman — Keith Ellison, also a Muslim American — who left it to win election as the state’s attorney general.

Now Omar has become one of Trump’s fiercest critics, regularly attacking his immigrant detention policies at the southern U.S. border with Mexico as immoral and assailing the country’s long-standing support and alliance with Israel, which she says comes at the expense of Palestinians living alongside the Israelis.

FILE – In this Jan. 3, 2017, file photo, State Rep. Ilhan Omar takes the oath of office as the 2017 Legislature convened in St. Paul, Minn.

More broadly, she has attacked her adopted country, saying it has “failed to live up to its founding ideals,” a place that had disappointed her and so many immigrants, refugees and minorities like her.

Aside from drawing Trump’s attention and his ire, the outspoken Omar has in six-plus months in Congress often rankled her Democratic colleagues, a number of them Jewish and more broadly, regardless of their religion, longtime supporters of Israel.

Earlier this year, the freshman lawmaker made a statement that played off tropes questioning the influence of Jewish money in American politics. Later, she said, “I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is OK for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country,” specifically Israel.

In both instances, the uproar and condemnation from her Democratic colleagues, and many Republican lawmakers as well, was quick and unrelenting. She subsequently apologized to Jewish groups for some of her comments.

Both times, within days, the House of Representatives approved resolutions to indirectly rebuke Omar that condemned anti-Semitism. Neither statement named her, even though some lawmakers wanted to.

‘Go back’ to their countries

Omar, along with three other progressive congresswomen, argued with congressional Democratic leaders over the treatment of migrants at the U.S.-Mexican border. Omar, along with the three others Trump denigrated —  Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York,  Ayana Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan — wanted more compassionate control over government actions, and they voted against most Democrats. 

FILE – From left, U.S. Reps. Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez respond to base remarks by President Donald Trump, at the Capitol in Washington, July 15, 2019.

Asked about their split with party leaders, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi seemed dismissive, saying the group, collectively known as “the squad,” amounted to only four lawmakers who had rallied no one else to their views demanding more controls on the treatment of migrants.

But after Trump vilified the four with his “go back” to their countries demand, Pelosi led the fight to condemn Trump’s language as racist.

Omar’s comity with her Democratic colleagues, however, could be short-lived.

She is proposing a resolution defending the pro-Palestinian boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.

“We are introducing a resolution … to really speak about the American values that support and believe in our ability to exercise our First Amendment rights [in the U.S. Constitution] in regard to boycotting,” Omar said.

But a competing resolution condemning the BDS movement has wide support in the House and is much more likely to win approval, if any resolution passes.

Even so, Omar remains undaunted, saying, “I am very much driven by the moral clarity that I was sent to govern with, and I’m quite confident that it will withstand pressure.”

US Sanctions 4 Iraqis Accused of Rights Abuses, Corruption

The United States sanctioned two Iraqi militia leaders and two former Iraqi provincial governors it accused of human rights abuses and corruption, the U.S. Treasury Department said Thursday.

The sanctions targeted militia leaders Rayan al-Kildani and Waad Qado and former governors Nawfal Hammadi al-Sultan and Ahmed al-Jubouri, the department said in a statement.

“We will continue to hold accountable persons associated with serious human rights abuse, including persecution of religious minorities, and corrupt officials who exploit their positions of public trust to line their pockets and hoard power at the expense of their citizens,” Sigal Mandelker, Treasury undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said.

The department said many of the actions that prompted the sanctions occurred in “areas where persecuted religious communities are struggling to recover from the horrors inflicted on them” by Islamic State, the militant group that controlled parts of Iraq for several years.

Militia leaders

The Treasury Department said Kildani is the leader of the 50th Brigade militia and is shown cutting off the ear of a handcuffed detainee in a video circulating in Iraq last year.

It said Qado is the leader of the 30th Brigade militia, which engaged in extortion, illegal arrests and kidnappings. Sultan and Jubouri were designated for being engaged in corruption, including the misappropriation of state assets, and other misdeeds, the department said.

Iraq in March issued a warrant for the arrest of Sultan, the former governor of Nineveh province, on corruption charges after at least 90 people were killed in a ferry accident in the provincial capital, Mosul.

As a result of the designation, any property the four persons hold in the United States would be blocked and U.S. persons are barred from business dealings with them.

Taliban Raid Afghan Provincial Police Headquarters

Taliban insurgents assaulted a provincial police headquarters Thursday in southern Afghanistan, killing at least 12 people and wounding more than 60 others.

Officials said multiple heavily armed men wearing suicide vests stormed the well-guarded building in the center of Kandahar about 5 p.m. local time. The attack began with a suicide bomber detonating an explosives-packed vehicle at the main entrance to police headquarters.

A large number of civilians were said to be among the casualties because the security installation is near residential areas. The siege was ongoing six hours later, according to residents and insurgent officials.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the violence, saying they had killed and injured dozens of security forces, though insurgent claims are often inflated.

“Kandahar police headquarters initially came under a tactical bomb blast that enabled several martyrdom-seeking mujahedeen [holy warriors], equipped with heavy and light weapons, to enter the compound and launched [the] operation inside the [police] headquarters,” the group asserted in a statement.

Other attacks

This was the second deadly Taliban assault on government forces in as many days.

On Wednesday, authorities said an insurgent attack in Badghis province killed more than 30 U.S.-trained Afghan commandos and captured an unspecified number of others. The slain forces reportedly had been assigned to storm a Taliban-run prison to free inmates.

The spike in insurgent attacks in Afghanistan comes as the United States is negotiating a political settlement to the conflict with the Taliban.

Critics say the rise in Taliban attacks could be aimed at increasing its leverage in the months-long peace dialogue between the two adversaries in the war, the longest U.S. foreign military intervention.

Paris Exhibit Takes Long View of Soccer and a Post-Colonial, Multi-Cultural Society 

As Algeria takes on Senegal in Friday’s Africa Cup of Nations final, a Paris exhibit takes the long view of soccer (football) — exploring its multi-faceted link to people and politics in the Arab world, and former colonial power France. 

In a darkened room, children watch a replay of the 1998 world cup final that took place years before they were born. There’s the intent face of Zinedine Zidane, the star French player of Berber origin. He counted among France’s winning, multicultural team, that rallied the nation under the slogan “black, blanc, beur,” or “black, white, Arab.” 

Children watch star player Zinedine Zidane of Algerian descent in replay of 1998 French World Cup victory. (Lisa Bryant/VOA)

It’s one of the many snapshots of soccer’s powerful role in shaping history and society in the Arab world, featured in this exhibit titled: Soccer and the Arab World: The Revolution of the Round Ball.

“Football in the Arab world is always linked to the history of the country and also linked to politics,” said show curator Aurelie Clemente-Ruiz. “Because in the stadium, the fans and even the team really reflect what’s happen in all society.”

The show examines soccer’s role as a vehicle for political expression, women’s emancipation and soft power. Besides the Nations Cup, it was timed to coincide with another major soccer event — the Women’s World Cup in France, which sparked a global debate about gender equality in sports.

The Arab World Institute’s exhibit was timed to coincide both with the Nations Cup and the Women’s World Cup. (L. Bryant/VOA)

This exhibit looks at another game changer— focusing on Jordan’s 16-year-old female soccer team. 

“It’s really interesting to see how these women really want to play football, against their fathers sometimes, their families … and most of the time they can play football,” Clemente-Ruiz said.  “It shows something a little bit different that we all have [in our minds] of women in the Arab World.”

Several female Arab soccer teams were formed early in this century. (L. Bryant/VOA)

The exhibit also traces the origins of Algeria’s first team, formed by players who quit the French team during their country’s war of independence. It examines soccer’s role in the Arab spring uprisings and Qatar’s winning but controversial bid to host the Middle East’s first World Cup in 2022. And the evolution of France’s own multicultural team to symbolize the country today. 

Teenager Ellie Makosso says she loved the show, especially the parts dealing with youth and female soccer players. 

Images tied to soccer’s role in the Arab Spring uprisings. (L. Bryant/VOA)

French Algerian soccer fan Saber Gherghout liked learning how the game evolved from his parents’ time. Not surprisingly, he’s rooting for an Algerian victory on Friday. 

He’s not the only one. 

“Of course we be very glad if Algeria could win … yeah, it would be great,” Clemente-Ruiz said. 

The Arab World Institute planned to broadcasting the Nations Cup final on a giant outdoor screen. There was also a miniature football field for the amateurs.