Drugs, money and violence: The toll in Mexico

(CNN)Mexico is home to world-class museums, archaeological sites and cultural events — but in the past decade, drug cartel violence is often the first thing that comes to mind. The illegal drug trade has had an enormous cost on Mexico in lives lost.

Here are some statistics to put the drug war in context:

Killings in Mexico are trending up after a decline

The number of homicides in Mexico peaked in 2011 and then declined for three years. But the latest statistics show the trend reversed in 2015. Estimating how many homicides are related to drug violence is an imprecise science, but leading newspapers in Mexico estimate that since 2006, organized crime-style homicides account for 40% to 50%.

Mexico is NOT the deadliest country in the Americas

The grisliness of some of the drug cartel violence in Mexico — beheadings, mass killings, torture — gets a lot of attention. While there are some hot spots of violent activity, Mexico’s homicide rate is actually closer to the middle of the pack than the top, compared with other nations in the hemisphere.

Many kingpins have fallen, but the smuggling industry survives

The Mexican government points to evidence of its successes in the war on drugs: The leadership of the biggest cartels has been captured or killed (or recaptured, as in the case of serial escapee Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman). Critics of the so-called “kingpin strategy” say the focus on the bosses has only created more factions of traffickers.  Go here to see all graphs.


‘Narconomics’: How The Drug Cartels Operate Like Wal-Mart And McDonald’s

On how the Mexican gang ‘The Zetas’ franchise

In part, NPR: The Zetas are one of Mexico’s biggest drug cartels, and they’ve got a reputation for being one of the nastiest ones, so when you see pictures of people who’ve been beheaded or hung up from bridges, these are often the guys who are responsible. And while I was in Mexico, the Zetas expanded more quickly than any other cartel. It was extraordinary. Originally they came from the northeast of Mexico, but within a very short space of time, they spread across all of Mexico and in fact down into Central America as well. So I got to thinking about how they’d done this, and when you look at the way that they spread, it seems that what they do is that they go to local areas and they find out who the local criminals are, people who do the drug dealing and extortion and all the other kinds of crime, and they offer them a crime, they say, “OK, you can use our brand, you can call yourself the Zetas, just like us,” and they give them, believe it or not, baseball caps with embroidered logos and they give them T-shirts with their logo on and they train them in how to use weapons sometimes, and in return the local criminals give the Zetas a share of all of the money that they get from their criminal activity. In other words: It’s exactly like the kind of franchising model that many other well-known companies use.

And it comes with all the same advantages and disadvantages [of franchising]. One of the big advantages is that it has allowed the Zetas to grow much more quickly. One of the disadvantages though, and this is something you often see in the legitimate franchising business, is that the franchisees often start to quarrel among each other, and the trouble is that the interest of these franchisees, the local criminals, aren’t very well-aligned with the interests of the main company. Because as far as the main company is concerned — and this applies whether it’s the Zetas or McDonald’s — if you’ve got more branches, more franchises in a local area, that means more income for the main company, because they take their money as a slice of the income of the local franchisees. But the local franchisees have totally different motives. They want to be, if possible, the only ones in the area. They want as few branches as possible. And so you’ve had very often cases of franchisees suing the main brand over what they call “encroachment” — in other words, when the main brand has too many branches in the same area.

Jeh Johnson’s State of DHS, Judge for Yourself

Remarks by Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh C. Johnson on the State of Homeland Security

Washington, D.C.
Woodrow Wilson Center
(As delivered)

Good morning everyone. Thank you Jane and the Wilson Center for hosting me again for this annual ritual. Jane is a terrific supporter of our Department and our homeland security mission, and a voice of strength and common sense in this town. Jane, for the third year in a row, I continue to appreciate your leadership and mentorship. Thank you again.

Today I will outline progress we made in 2015 and the goals the President and I have for the Department of Homeland Security in 2016. In the remaining 344 days of this Administration, there is much to do. I intend to make every day count. The former president of my alma mater, Morehouse College, used to tell his students we only have just a minute, but eternity is in it, and it’s up to us to use it. With Deputy Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas as my partner, we will push an aggressive agenda to the end.

I begin these remarks with a shout-out to the men and women of DHS, led by the terrific component heads seated before me. It’s the nature of our business in homeland security that no news is good news. But no news is very often the product of the hard work and extraordinary, courageous effort our people put in every day to keep the American public safe.

Last fiscal year, for example, TSA screened 695 million passengers (3 million more than the year before); screened 450 million pieces of checked luggage (the highest in six years), and, at the same time, seized a record number 2,500 firearms from carry-on luggage, 84 percent of which were loaded.

Last fiscal year CBP screened 26.3 million containers, 11.3 million commercial trucks, 1 million commercial and private aircraft, 436,000 buses, ferries and trains, 103 million private vehicles, and 382 million travelers at land, marine and air ports of entry to the United States. At the same time, CBP collected nearly $46 billion in duties, taxes, and fees, making it the second largest revenue collector in the U.S. government.

Last fiscal year, HSI made a record high 33,000 criminal arrests, including 3,500 alleged members of transnational criminal gangs, and 2,400 alleged child predators.

Last fiscal year the Coast Guard saved over 3,500 lives, and seized 319,000 pounds of cocaine and 78,000 pounds of marijuana worth a total of $4.3 billion wholesale. In just one mission off the coast of Central and South America, the National Security Cutter STRATTON alone seized over $1 billion in cocaine, along with two drug cartel-owned submersibles.

Last year the Secret Service successfully orchestrated what may have been the largest domestic security operation in the history of this country, by providing physical security to 160 world leaders at the UN General Assembly, and, at the same time, providing security for Pope Francis as he visited New York, Washington, and Philadelphia.

Last year FEMA provided over $6 billion in federal disaster assistance, and was there to help communities recovering from flooding in Texas and South Carolina, tornadoes in Oklahoma, and typhoons in the Western Pacific.

This past Sunday, DHS personnel from the Secret Service, TSA, CBP, HSI, FEMA, I&A, NPPD, the Coast Guard, and other components led the federal effort to provide ground, air, maritime and cyber security for Super Bowl 50.

Then there are the individual acts of good and heroic work by our people, to save lives and go above and beyond the call of duty.

In late December nine Border Patrol agents traveled miles on foot or by horseback to come to the aid of an Arizona rancher who had fallen off her horse in a remote, mountainous area.

Last March two uniformed Secret Service officers helped save the life of a journalist who suffered a heart attack in the East Room of the White House.

Last July Coast Guard Petty Officer Darren Harrity swam nearly a mile, at night, in 57-degree water and 30-mph winds, to save the lives of four stranded fishermen.

Finally, we honor those killed in the line of duty. HSI Agent Scott McGuire was killed last month by a hit and run driver in Miami. I was glad to at least have had the opportunity to visit with Scott’s wife and five-year-old son, and hold Scott’s hand before he was officially declared brain dead. His funeral was 10 days ago in New Orleans.

Our people do extraordinary work every day to protect the homeland. Please consider thanking a TSO, a Coastie, a Customs officer, or a Border agent next time you see one.

Management Reform

Though our people do extraordinary work, I know we must improve the manner in which the Department conducts business. Like last year, reforming the way in which the Department of Homeland Security functions, to more effectively and efficiently deliver our services to the American people, is my New Year’s resolution for 2016. We’ve done a lot in the last two years, but, under the leadership of our Under Secretary for Management Russ Deyo, there is still much we will do.

My overarching goal as Secretary this last year is to continue to protect the homeland, and leave the Department of Homeland Security a better place than I found it.

The centerpiece of our management reform has been the Unity of Effort initiative I announced in April 2014, which focuses on getting away from the stove pipes, in favor of more centralized programming, budgeting, and acquisition processes.

We have transformed our approach to the budget. Today, we focus Department-wide on our mission needs, rather than through component stove pipes. With the support of Congress, we are moving to a simplified budget structure, in which line items mean the same across all components.

We have transformed our approach to acquisition. Last year I established a DHS-wide Joint Requirements Council to evaluate, from the viewpoint of the Department as a whole, our components’ needs on the front end of an acquisition.

We have launched the “Acquisition Innovations in Motion” initiative, to consult with the contractor community about ways to improve the quality and timeliness of our contracting process, and the emerging skills required of our acquisition professionals. We are putting faster contracting processes in place.

We are reforming our HR process. We are making our hiring process faster and more efficient. We are using all the tools we have to recruit, retain and reward personnel.

As part of the Unity of Effort initiative, in 2014 we created the Joint Task Forces dedicated to border security along the southern border. Once again, we are getting away from the stove pipes. In 2015, these Task Forces became fully operational. In 2016, we are asking Congress to officially authorize them in legislation.

We are achieving more transparency in our operations. We have staffed up our Office of Immigration Statistics and gave it the mandate to integrate immigration data across the Department. Last year, and for the second year in a row, we reported our total number of repatriations, returns and removals on a consolidated, Department-wide basis.

The long-awaited entry/exit overstay report was published in January, providing a clearer picture of the number of individuals in this country who overstay their visitor visas. It reflects that about one percent of those who enter this country by air or sea on visitor visas or through the Visa Waiver Program overstay.

We are working with outside, non-partisan experts on a project called BORDERSTAT, to develop a clear and comprehensive set of outcome metrics for measuring border security, apprehension rates, and inflow rates.

Since 2013 we’ve spearheaded something called the “DHS Data Framework” initiative. For the protection of the homeland, we are improving the collection and comparison of travel, immigration and other information against classified intelligence. We will do this consistent with laws and policies that protect privacy and civil liberties.

As we have proposed to Congress, I want to restructure the National Protection and Programs Directorate from a headquarters element to an operational component called the “Cyber and Infrastructure Protection” Agency.

I am very pleased with the 2016 DHS budget adopted by Congress and signed by the President as part of the omnibus spending deal reached in December. I’m very pleased with that. It funds all of our homeland security priorities, including, finally, the completion of the main building of the new DHS headquarters at St. Elizabeths campus in SE Washington. I will never get to work there, but perhaps they will name a courtyard or conference room after me.

The President’s budget request for 2017, released two days ago, funds our key priorities, to include aviation security, the Secret Service, recapitalization of the Coast Guard, and provides a huge increase in funding for cybersecurity.

Finally, we will improve the levels of employee satisfaction across the Department. We’ve been on an aggressive campaign to improve morale over the last two years. It takes time to turn a 22-component workforce of 240,000 people in a different direction. Though the overall results last year were still disappointing, we see signs of improvement. Employee satisfaction improved in a number of components, including at DHS headquarters.

This year we will see an improvement in employee satisfaction across DHS.


In 2016, counterterrorism will remain the cornerstone of the Department of Homeland Security’s mission. The events of 2015 reinforce this.

As I have said many times, we are in a new phase in the global terrorist threat, requiring a whole new type of response. We have moved from a world of terrorist directed attacks to a world that includes the threat of terrorist inspired attacks – in which the terrorist may have never come face to face with a single member of a terrorist organization, lives among us in the homeland, and self-radicalizes, inspired by something on the internet.

By their nature, terrorist-inspired attacks are harder to detect by our intelligence and law enforcement communities, could occur with little or no notice, and in general makes for a more complex homeland security challenge.

So, what are we doing about this?

First, our government, along with our coalition partners, continues to take the fight militarily to terrorist organizations overseas. ISIL is the terrorist organization most prominent on the world stage. Since September 2014, air strikes and special operations have in fact led to the death of a number of ISIL’s leaders and those focused on plotting external attacks in the West. At the same time, ISIL has lost about 40 percent of the populated areas it once controlled in Iraq, and thousands of square miles of territory it once controlled in Syria.

On the law enforcement side, the FBI continues to do an excellent job of detecting, investigating, preventing, and prosecuting terrorist plots here in the homeland.

As for the Department of Homeland Security, following the attacks in Ottawa, Canada in 2014, and in reaction to terrorist groups’ public calls for attacks on government installations in the western world, I directed our Federal Protective Service to enhance its presence and security at various U.S. government buildings around the country.

Given the prospect of the terrorist-inspired attack in the homeland, we have intensified our work with state and local law enforcement. Almost every day, DHS and the FBI share intelligence and information with Joint Terrorism Task Forces, fusion centers, local police chiefs and sheriffs.

In FY 2015 we provided over $2 billion in homeland security assistance to state and local governments around the country, for things such as active shooter training exercises, overtime for cops and firefighters, salaries for emergency managers, emergency vehicles, and communications and surveillance equipment. We helped to fund an active shooter training exercise that took place in the New York City subways last November and a series of these exercises just last weekend in Miami, Florida.

As I said at a graduation ceremony for 1,200 new cops in New York City in December, given the current threat environment, it is the cop on the beat who may be the first to detect the next terrorist attack in the United States.

We are enhancing information sharing with organizations that represent businesses, college and professional sports, faith-based organizations, and critical infrastructure.

We are enhancing measures to detect and prevent travel to this country by foreign terrorist fighters.

We are strengthening our Visa Waiver Program, which permits travelers from 38 different countries to come here without a visa. In 2014, we began to collect more personal information in the Electronic System for Travel Authorization, also known as the “ESTA” system, that travelers from Visa Waiver countries are required to use. As a result of these enhancements, over 3,000 additional travelers were denied travel here in FY 2015.

In August 2015, we introduced further security enhancements to the Visa Waiver Program.

Through the passage in December of the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015, Congress has codified into law several of these security enhancements, and placed new restrictions on eligibility for travel to the U.S. without a visa. We began to enforce these new restrictions on January 21. Waivers from these restrictions will only be granted on a case-by-case basis, when it is in the law enforcement or national security interests of the United States to do so. Those denied entry under the Visa Waiver Program as a result of this new law may still apply for a visa to travel to the U.S.

We are expanding the Department’s use of social media for various purposes. Today social media is used for over 33 different operational and investigative purposes within DHS. Beginning in 2014 we launched four pilot programs that involved consulting the social media of applicants for certain immigration benefits. USCIS now also reviews the social media of Syrian refugee applicants referred for enhanced vetting. Based upon the recent recommendation of a Social Media Task Force within DHS, I have determined that we must expand the use of social media even further, consistent with law.

CBP is deploying our Customs personnel at various airports abroad, to pre-clear air travelers before they get on flights to the United States. At present, we have this pre-clearance capability at 15 airports overseas. And, last year, through pre-clearance, we denied boarding to over 10,700 travelers (or 29 per day) seeking to enter the United States. As I said here last year, we want to build more of these. In May 2015, I announced 10 additional airports in nine countries that we’ve prioritized for preclearance.

For years Congress and others have urged us to develop a system of biometric exit – that is, to take the fingerprints or other biometric data of those who leave the country. CBP has begun testing technologies that can be deployed for this nationwide. With the passage of the omnibus bill, Congress authorized $1 billion in fee increases over a period of ten years to pay for the implementation of biometric exit. I have directed CBP begin implementing the system, starting at airports, in 2018.

Last month I announced the schedule for the final two phases of implementation of the REAL ID law, which goes into effect two and then four years from now. At present 23 states are compliant with this law, 27 have extensions, and 6 states or territories are out of compliance. Now that the final timetable for implementation of this law is in place, we will urge all states, for the good of their residents, to start issuing REAL ID-complaint drivers’ licenses as soon as possible.

In the current threat environment, there is a role for the public too. “If You See Something, Say Something™” must be more than a slogan. We continue to stress this. DHS has now established partnerships with the NFL, Major League Baseball and NASCAR, to raise public awareness at sporting events. An informed and vigilant public contributes to national security.

In December we reformed “NTAS,” the National Terrorism Advisory System. In 2011, we replaced the color-coded alerts with NTAS. But, the problem with NTAS was we never used it. It consisted of just two types of Alerts: “Elevated” and “Imminent,” and depended on the presence of a known specific and credible threat. This does not work in the current environment, which includes the threat of homegrown, self-radicalized, terrorist-inspired attacks.

So, in December we added a new form of advisory – the NTAS “Bulletin” – to the existing Alerts. The Bulletin we issued in December advises the public of the current threat environment, and how the public can help.

Finally, given the nature of the evolving terrorist threat, building bridges to diverse communities has become a homeland security imperative. Well informed families and communities are the best defense against terrorist ideologies. Al Qaeda and the Islamic State are targeting Muslim communities in this country. We must respond. In my view, this is as important as any of our other homeland security missions.

In 2015 we took these efforts to new levels. We created the DHS Office for Community Partnerships, headed by George Selim. George and this office are now the central hub of the Department’s efforts to counter violent extremism in this country, and the lead for a new interagency CVE Task Force that includes DHS, DOJ, the FBI, NCTC and other agencies.

Aviation Security

We are taking aggressive steps to improve aviation and airport security. The traveling public should be aware that, because of this and increased traveler volume, overall wait times have increased somewhat at airports, but we believe this is necessary for the public’s own safety.

Since 2014 we have enhanced security at overseas last-point-of-departure airports, and a number of foreign governments have replicated these enhancements.

As many of you know, in May of last year a certain classified DHS Inspector General’s test of TSA screening at eight airports, reflected a dismal fail rate and was leaked to the press. I directed a 10-point plan to fix the problems identified by the IG. Under the new leadership of Admiral Pete Neffenger over the last six months, TSA has aggressively implemented this plan. This has included “back to basics” retraining of the entire TSO force, increased use of random explosive trace detectors, testing and re-evaluating the screening equipment that was the subject of the IG’s test, a rewrite of the standard operating procedures manual, increased manual screening, and less managed inclusion. These measures were implemented on or ahead of schedule.

We are also focused on airport security. In April of last year TSA issued guidelines to domestic airports to reduce access to secure areas, to require that all airport and airline personnel pass through TSA screening if they board a flight, to conduct more frequent screening of airport and airline personnel, and to conduct continuous criminal background checks of airport and airline personnel. Since then employee access points have been reduced, and random screening of personnel within secure areas has increased four-fold. We are continuing these efforts in 2016. Two days ago TSA issued guidelines to further enhance the screening of aviation workers in the secure area of airports.


While counterterrorism remains a cornerstone of our Department’s mission, I have concluded that cybersecurity must be another. Making tangible improvements to our Nation’s cybersecurity is a top priority for me and President Obama before we leave office.

Two days ago the President announced his “Cybersecurity National Action Plan,” which is the culmination of seven years of effort by his Administration. The Plan includes a call for the creation of a Commission on Enhancing National Cybersecurity, additional investments in technology, federal cybersecurity, cyber education, new cyber talent in the federal workforce, and improved cyber incident response.

DHS has a role in almost every aspect of this plan.

As reflected in the President’s 2017 budget request, we want to expand our cyber response teams from 10 to 48.

We are doubling the number of cybersecurity advisors to in effect make “house calls,” to assist private sector organizations with in-person, customized cybersecurity assessments and best practices.

Building on DHS’s Stop.Think.Connect campaign, we will help promote public awareness on multi-factor authentication.

We will collaborate with Underwriters Laboratory and others to develop a Cybersecurity Assurance Program to test and certify networked devices within the “Internet of Things” — such as your home alarm system, your refrigerator, or even your pacemaker.

Last year we greatly expanded the capability of DHS’s National Cybersecurity Communications Integration Center, or “NCCIC.” The NCCIC increased its distribution of information, the number of vulnerability assessments conducted, and the number of incident responses.

At the NCCIC, last year we built a system to automate the receipt and distribution of cyber threat indicators in near real-time speed. We built this in a way that also includes privacy protections. We did this ahead of schedule.

I have issued an aggressive timetable for improving federal civilian cybersecurity, principally through two DHS programs:

The first is called EINSTEIN. EINSTEIN 1 and 2 have the ability to detect and monitor cybersecurity threats in our federal civilian systems, and are now in place across all federal civilian departments and agencies.

EINSTEIN 3A is the newest iteration of the system, and has the ability to actually block potential cyber attacks on our federal systems. Thus far E3A has actually blocked 700,000 cyber threats, and we are rapidly expanding this capability. About a year ago, E3A covered only about 20 percent of our federal civilian networks. In the wake of the OPM attack, in May of last year I directed our cybersecurity team to make at least some aspects of E3A available to all federal departments and agencies by the end of last year. They met that deadline. Now that the system is available to everyone, 50 percent are actually on line, including OPM, and we are working to get all federal departments and agencies on board by the end of this year.

The second program, called Continuous Diagnostics and Mitigation, helps agencies detect and prioritize vulnerabilities in their networks. In 2015, we provided CDM sensors to 97 percent of the federal civilian government. Next year, DHS will provide the second phase of CDM to 100 percent of the federal civilian government.

We have worked with OMB and DNI to identify the government’s high value systems, and we are working aggressively with the owners of these systems to increase their security.

In September, DHS awarded a grant to the University of Texas San Antonio to work with industry to identify a common set of best practices for the development of Information Sharing and Analysis Organizations, or “ISAOs.”

Finally, I thank Congress for passing the Cybersecurity Act of 2015. This new law is a huge assist to DHS and our cybersecurity mission. We are in the process of implementing this new law now.

Immigration/Border Security

Turning to immigration and border security:

As I explain it to both Democrats and Republicans, immigration policy must be two sides of the same coin. The resources we have to enforce immigration laws are finite, and they must be used wisely. This is true of every aspect of law enforcement. It’s referred to as “prosecutorial discretion.”

With the immigration enforcement resources we have, ICE is focused more sharply on public safety and border security. Those who are convicted of serious crimes or who are apprehended at the border are top priorities for removal. And we will enforce the law in accordance with these priorities.

Accordingly, over the last several years deportations by ICE have gone down, but an increasing percentage of those deported are convicted criminals. And, an increased percentage of those in immigration detention, around 85 percent, are in the top priority for removal. We will continue to focus our resources on the most significant threats to public safety and border security.

In furtherance of our public safety efforts, in 2014 we did away with the controversial Secure Communities program and replaced it with the new Priority Enforcement Program, or “PEP.” PEP fixes the political and legal controversies, in my judgment, associated with Secure Communities and enables us to take directly into custody from local law enforcement the most dangerous, removable criminals. Since PEP was created, cities and counties that previously refused to work with Secure Communities are coming back to the table. Of the 25 largest counties that refused to work with ICE before, 16 are now participating in PEP. In 2016, we want to get more to participate.

And, because we are asking ICE immigration enforcement officers to focus on convicted criminals and do a job that’s more in line with law enforcement, last year we reformed their pay scale accordingly. Now these immigration officers are paid on the same scale as the rest of federal law enforcement.

We have also prioritized the removal of those apprehended at the border. We cannot allow our borders to be open to illegal migration.

southwest border u s b p apprehensions f y 2000 - f y 2015

Over the last 15 years, our Nation – across multiple administrations — has invested a lot in border security, and this investment has yielded positive results. Apprehensions – which are an indicator of total attempts to cross the border illegally – are a fraction of what they used to be.

southwest border u s b p apprehensions f y 2000 - f y 2015 - noting numbers rose in 2014

In FY 2014, overall apprehensions increased, as we saw a spike in the number of families and unaccompanied children from Central America during the spring and summer of 2014. That year the overall number of apprehensions was 479,000. Across the government, we responded aggressively to this surge and the numbers fell sharply within a short period of time.

southwest border u s b p apprehensions f y 2000 - f y 2015 noting numbers fell in 2015

In FY 2015, the number of those apprehended on the southwest border was 331,000 – with the exception of one year, this was the lowest number since 1972.

From July to December 2015 the numbers of migrants from Central America began to climb again.

In January I announced a series of focused enforcement actions to take into custody and remove those who had been apprehended at the border in 2014 or later and then ordered removed by an immigration court. I know this made a lot of people I respect very unhappy. But, as I said, we must respect the law in accordance with our priorities and enforce it.

In January overall apprehensions on the southwest border dropped 36 percent from the month before. At the same time, the number of unaccompanied children apprehended dropped 54 percent, and the number of those in families dropped 65 percent. So far in February, the numbers have remained at this decreased level. This six-week decline is encouraging, but it does not mean we can dial back our efforts. We will continue to enforce the law consistent with our priorities for enforcement, which includes those apprehended at the border in 2014 or later.

Then there is the other side of the coin. The new enforcement policy the President and I announced in November 2014 makes clear that our limited resources will not be focused on the removal of those who have committed no serious crimes, have been in this country for years, and have families here. Under our new policy, these people are not priorities for removal, nor should they be.

In fact, the President and I want to offer, to those who have lived here for at least five years, are parents of U.S. citizens or lawful permanents residents, and who have committed no serious crimes, the opportunity to request deferred action on a case-by-case basis, to come out of the shadows, get on the books, and be held accountable. We are pleased that the Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case of Texas v. United States, which involves the new deferred action policies we announced in November 2014.

Our immigration enforcement priorities, the ending of Secure Communities, and the new deferred action policy now in the courts are among 10 executive actions the President and I announced in November 2014 to fix our broken immigration system.

We also issued a proposed rule to expand eligibility for “provisional” extreme hardship waivers of the 3- and 10-year bars to all persons who statutorily qualify for a waiver. The comment period is closed, and we are now preparing to issue the final rule on provisional waivers.

We published new guidance for public comment on the “extreme hardship” requirement. The comment period is closed and we plan to issue final guidance on extreme hardship very soon.

We are about to publish a final rule to strengthen the program that provides Optional Practical Training for students in STEM fields studying at U.S. universities.

We finalized a new rule that allows spouses of high-skilled H-1B workers who are here in the United States under H-4 visas to apply for work authorization.

We are working with the Department of Labor and other agencies to ensure, for the protection of workers, the consistent enforcement of federal labor, employment and immigration laws.

We are promoting and increasing access to citizenship through the new White House Task Force on New Americans. The week of September 14-21 we celebrated the “Stand Stronger Commit to Citizenship Campaign.” In that one week, USCIS naturalized 40,000 people.

We now permit credit cards as a payment option for naturalization fees.

Our overall policy is to focus our immigration resources more effectively on threats to public safety and border security, and, within our existing legal authority, do as much as we can to fix the broken immigration system. We’re disappointed that Congress has not been our partner in this effort, by passing comprehensive immigration reform legislation.

Finally, we recognize that more border security and deportations may deter illegal migration, but they do nothing to overcome the “push factors” that prompt desperate people to flee Central America in the first place. We are preparing to offer vulnerable individuals fleeing the violence in Central America a safe and legal alternate path to a better life. We are expanding our Refugee Admissions Program to help vulnerable men, women and children in Central America who qualify as refugees. We are partnering with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and non-governmental organizations in the region to do this as soon as possible. This approach builds on our recently established Central American Minors program, which is now providing an in-country refugee processing option for certain children with lawfully present parents in the United States.


We are doing our part to address the Syrian refugee crisis. USCIS, in conjunction with the Department of State, is working hard to meet our commitment to admit at least 10,000 Syrian refugees by the end of this fiscal year. We will do this carefully, screening refugees in a multi-layered and intense screening process involving multiple law enforcement, national security, and intelligence agencies across the Federal Government.

U.S. Secret Service

Over the last year, Director Joe Clancy of the Secret Service has done a tremendous job reforming his agency, including hiring a chief operating officer from outside the Secret Service, altering the structure and management of the agency, ramping up efforts to hire new members of its workforce, and expanding training opportunities. In 2016 we will continue to work on areas that still need improvement.

The U.S. Coast Guard

With the help of Congress, in 2016 we will continue to rebuild the Coast Guard fleet. This year Congress provided funding for a ninth National Security Cutter, design funding for the Offshore Patrol Cutter, and funding to continue production of our Fast Response Cutter. As reflected in the President’s 2017 Budget Request, we will also seek $150 million for the design of a new heavy icebreaker, in recognition of the expanding commercial activity in the Arctic.


Since 2012, our Federal Law Enforcement Training Centers (FLETC) has trained more than a quarter million federal, state and local officers and agents. At the same time, FLETC continually updates its curriculum to address the biggest challenges facing law enforcement, to include training for active shooter situations, in cyber forensics, and in human trafficking.


In 2016 FEMA will continue to do its extraordinary job of supporting the American people and communities to prepare for, respond to, and recover from various disasters. FEMA will continue to focus on efforts to enhance resilience and mitigation measures before disaster strikes, to prevent loss and save lives.

Lawful Trade and Travel

We continue to promote lawful trade and travel. We will continue to pursue the President’s U.S.-Mexico High Level Economic Dialogue and his Beyond the Border Initiative with Canada. We are implementing the “Single Window,” which, by December 2016, will enable the private sector to use just one portal to transmit information to 47 government agencies about exports and imports, thereby eliminating over 200 different forms and streamlining the trade process.

Last week the Secretary of Commerce and I joined the President of Mexico to open a new six-lane bridge near El Paso that will replace a 78-year-old two-lane one. Next week I will join the Mexican Secretary of Finance to inaugurate a pre-inspection pilot in Laredo, Texas.


In conclusion, according to Time Magazine, I have “probably the hardest job in America.” That’s not true. The President has the hardest job in America. But I may rank in the top ten. I have a lot of challenges, a lot of problems and a lot of headaches. There is also far too much partisanship in Washington, and, especially during an election year, politics has become a blood-sport in this town. Too often it is more important to score political points than achieve smart, sound government policy on behalf of the American people.

Through it all, I still love public service, and I am dedicated to serving the American people, protecting our homeland, and serving our President.

I find inspiration in the amazing stories of our workforce that I told you about at the beginning of this speech. I also find inspiration and strength in the weekly batch of letters I receive from the American people we serve, particularly from the school kids. Here’s one from a young man named Brett Shepard, handwritten in pencil:

“To Jeh Johnson…I just wanted to say I think you’re doing a good job… I ran for class president in my government class. I ended up becoming the Secretary of Homeland Security which honestly I would rather be … [president is] not all it’s cracked up to be.”

Like Brett, at this moment in the life of our Nation, there’s nothing I’d rather be than Secretary of Homeland Security. It is and always will be the highlight of my professional life. In the time left to me in office, I pledge all my energy to continue to protect the homeland and leave the Department of Homeland Security a better place than I found it.

Thank you very much.

Texas Sheriff, Immigration Truths

Texas Sheriffs, Jails on Immigration Front Line

TexasTribune: With a $6 billion budget and more than 20,000 employees, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement stands poised to seize and deport immigrants — undocumented or not — who commit serious crimes in the United States.

Provided someone else catches them.

The behemoth agency at the center of the nation’s immigration enforcement efforts has no proactive way — watch lists, data mining or the like — to systematically search for dangerous undocumented immigrants, including those who have returned to the United States after being deported for committing crimes.

Instead, if an immigrant criminal is caught and thrown out of the country, the process most likely begins when a local police officer or sheriff’s deputy pulls them over for a traffic stop or arrests them as part of a criminal investigation.

The success of federal deportation policy in Texas and nationwide depends for the most part on a heads up from county sheriffs. They run the jails where people are taken when arrested and where the culling of criminal immigrants begins.

Being at the bottom of the enforcement pyramid places tremendous pressure on them — political, legal and otherwise — sheriffs say, and with federal policy increasingly targeting serious, repeat criminal offenders, their role in the process has grown.

“When some of these sheriffs talk about bringing in an undocumented, it may be one a month,” said Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez. “With us, it’s several a day.”

The legal tool federal authorities use to take custody of immigrants they want is the detainer. Around in some form or fashion since the 1950s, detainers are notices sent to jails asking them to hold on to an immigrant once local authorities are done with them so federal agents can come by and get them.

In its latest incarnation, the detainer is reserved for the most serious convicted immigrant criminals. This new, narrower restriction, imposed in November 2014, has caused the number of detainers to drop. As of October 2015, the latest monthly figure available, 7,117 detainers were issued. That’s down from an all-time monthly high of 27,755 in August 2011, according to voluminous Freedom of Information Act requests made by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University.

Texas is central to the federal agency’s deportation efforts. Nationwide, only eight jails received more than 1,000 detainer requests in the last year, according to clearinghouse data. Four were in Texas — Harris, Travis, Dallas and Hidalgo counties.

A report last year on the federal agency’s enforcement operations shows it plucked 139,368 people from the nation’s jails and prisons during the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2015. That accounted for about 59 percent of the total number of people ICE removed from the country that year for a variety of reasons.

Many came from Texas, screened out of state prisons or found among the approximately 71,000 people who are booked into local Texas jails each month, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety. On average, 3,724 undocumented immigrants were detained in Texas jails each month in 2015, according to a Texas Tribune analysis of immigration detainer reports from the Texas Commission on Jail Standards.

Between December 2012 and October 2015, undocumented immigrants who sat in Texas county jails cost taxpayers a total of $210.6 million, according to reports filed with the Texas Commission on Jail Standards that were released to The Texas Tribune.

In 2015, the federal government provided about $12 million to Texas to care for incarcerated undocumented immigrants. Most of that – more than $8 million – went to the Texas prison system, not jails.

Yet for all the statistics, no federal, state or local agency can claim it has a handle on the number of criminal aliens in the country, how many crimes they are responsible for and what share the system catches.

Local options

In Harris, the state’s most populous county, 135,000 inmates each year come through the jailhouse doors. It and the city of Carrollton are the only two Texas jurisdictions that contract with the federal government to have immigration agents stationed at its jail helping pinpoint criminal immigrants. Nine federal officers and nine Harris County deputies schooled in federal procedures comb booking documents and interview inmates suspected of being in the country illegally.

A guard inside the Webb County Jail in Laredo, TX, on Nov. 5, 2015.

A guard inside the Webb County Jail in Laredo, TX, on Nov. 5, 2015.

By contrast, in Brewster County, the state’s geographically largest — as in, bigger than some states — things work a bit differently. About 9,200 people live in the West Texas county, and its jail in Alpine has no official policy for handling undocumented immigrants.

How does it strive to alert federal authorities when a criminal immigrant is arrested? “We’ve got a sign on the wall,” jail administrator Lora Nussbaum told the Tribune, referring to a torn ICE flier taped on a jail wall that lists the agency’s phone number.

County jails may be the front line of efforts to keep undocumented immigrants who commit serious crimes from slipping through the cracks, but the state of Texas has no uniform method of going about that task, or measuring the scope of the problem.

To gain a better picture of crimes committed by undocumented immigrants and how counties handle them, the Tribune asked for booking data and immigration procedure policies from 26 Texas counties, including the state’s 10 most populous.

Almost none would provide it. Some, like Montgomery and Presidio counties, insisted that providing booking information, including an inmate’s date of birth, violated the inmate’s right to privacy. Harris County claimed that releasing a list of noncitizens was essentially creating new information — something the Texas Public Information Act does not require a governmental body to do.

Some counties argued that that federal law specifically prohibits releasing information about immigrants.

Attorney General Ken Paxton‘s office upheld most of the counties’ arguments, saying state open records laws don’t compel release of the information.

The Dallas County Sheriff’s Office went a step further and insisted that booking records are court records and, as such, are not subject to the state’s open records law. The attorney general’s office agreed, blocking their release.

Five counties responded to the Tribune’s request for booking data: Brewster, Nueces, Fort Bend, Travis and Tarrant. Of those, only Travis responded with enough detailed information to analyze.

“We don’t want to be in a position where somebody loses their life because of something we didn’t do that was legal for us to do.”— Maj. Wes Priddy, chief administrator for Travis County jails

The numbers show that Travis County booked about 20,000 inmates with federal immigration detainers between 2008 and 2015, facing charges that were roughly evenly divided between felonies and misdemeanors. More than 7,000 of those inmates faced drunk driving charges, the most common charge by far. That was followed by family violence-related assault charges, which about 1,900 inmates faced. An estimated 2,400 of the total inmates were repeat offenders.

Maj. Wes Priddy, chief administrator for Travis County jails, said local law enforcement’s primary concern was public safety, not investigating immigration status. But he said that part of keeping dangerous people off the streets involved close cooperation with federal authorities.

“We don’t want to be in a position where somebody loses their life because of something we didn’t do that was legal for us to do,” Priddy said.

After arresting someone, the Department of Public Safety, county sheriffs, and even the Texas Department of Criminal Justice — the nation’s largest prison system — all have to rely on the federal government to inform them who is in the United States illegally.

“What our obligation is, is to provide ICE with the population information,” said Tarrant County Sheriff Dee Anderson. “They go through it. They determine who they’re going to put a hold on and who they’re not, and our people don’t really have a way to further investigate are they truly here legally or not.”

That typically happens during the booking process, when a suspect’s fingerprints are sent to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, a procedure used for every new inmate. If the fingerprints match a profile in the federal database of non-U.S. citizens with previous criminal histories, ICE can decide to ask for a detainer. Texas jail officers do ask arrestees to name their country of birth as a part of the booking process, but an arrested immigrant’s answer is written down without being verified.

The same holds true for inmates in Texas prison. As of Nov. 30, 2015, three-fourths of the 9,135 inmates in the Texas prison system with ICE detainers were in the United States illegally. The remainder include those serving time for crimes who had legal immigration status.

“Ultimately, ICE will make the determination whether that person is in country illegally,” said Texas prisons spokesman Jason Clark. In 2010, the agency began asking for ICE help verifying those among the system’s 148,000 inmates who were illegally in the country.

But the federal tracking system of verifying what law enforcement refers to as “criminal aliens” is less than precise. It relies on someone’s fingerprints being in the system because they have been arrested before. If an undocumented immigrant has never encountered law enforcement, the federal tracking system might not notice their first arrest.

Jumbled numbers

There is no definitive data showing that undocumented immigrants commit crimes at a higher rate than the citizen population, and a few indications that in Texas they do not.

The Pew Research Center estimates undocumented immigrants comprise about seven percent of the Texas population. On average, 3,724 undocumented immigrants were detained in Texas jails each month in 2015, according to a Texas Tribune analysis of immigration detainer reports from the Texas Commission on Jail Standards.

Of the 148,000 inmates held in 100 Texas prison units, about 9,135 inmates have federal detainers asking that they be handed to federal officials when their sentences are complete. Not all were in the country illegally when arrested. Those that were illegal account for about 6 percent of the prison population.

Nationwide, almost 60 percent of immigrants who are deported had some previous criminal charges, according to 2015 numbers from ICE.

A group of undocumented Mexican nationals who were convicted of crimes in the U.S. enter Mexico at the US-Mexico border crossing at Brownsville/Matamoros after being deported from the United States on Nov 4, 2015.

A group of undocumented Mexican nationals who were convicted of crimes in the U.S. enter Mexico at the US-Mexico border crossing at Brownsville/Matamoros after being deported from the United States on Nov 4, 2015.

The Pew Center, relying on 2012 U.S. Census numbers, estimated that Texas has 1.7 million undocumented immigrants, ranking second in the nation. What portion of that 1.7 million is responsible for crimes is a tougher calculus.

Estimates from the Texas Department of Public Safety, which gets the information from jails, are considered inaccurate because there’s no uniform requirement to verify citizenship during the jail booking process.

In 2014, then-Gov. Rick Perry was criticized for relying on DPS’ first attempts to calculate the impact of crimes committed by immigrants. That year, Perry repeated the department’s claim that “criminal aliens” had committed more than 642,000 crimes in Texas since 2008. It was later revealed that “criminal aliens” referred to all foreign-born immigrants in Texas, not just those in the state illegally, and the “crimes” counted included charges, not convictions, some dating back decades.

One year later, DPS tried to clarify the numbers, but even director Steve McCraw, appearing before the Texas House Committee on State Affairs in December, tried to lower expectations about the “criminal alien statistic” his agency featured on its website.

“It’s an undercount,” McCraw testified on Dec 10. “We acknowledge it woefully undercounts the amount, but it does accurately count the ones who are in fact here and the ones who have committed crimes.”

The DPS statistics continue to confuse both the public and lawmakers.

ICE officials consider a foreign national — here legally or otherwise — a “criminal alien” if they’ve been convicted of a crime. DPS broadens the definition to include foreign nationals who have only been arrested.

“Criminal alien is a foreign national with a criminal record,” explained DPS Assistant Director Skylor Hearn, who oversees the agency’s law enforcement support division, which includes the state’s crime records. “There was probable cause to arrest them for something, and it would apply to the rest of us as well, generally speaking. If you’ve been arrested, you have a criminal record; you are not a criminal, but you have a criminal record.”

By DPS’s count, 177,060 foreign-born individuals were charged with crimes from 2011 through Jan. 31. That’s a much larger number than those foreign nationals actually convicted during the same time frame in Texas: 84,182 non-U.S. citizens. Of those, 58,128 were determined to be in the United States unlawfully.

State Rep. Cesar Blanco, D-El Paso, says the DPS numbers on “criminal aliens” are artificially pumped up by counting the number of criminal charges filed against undocumented immigrants instead of actual convictions. Charges are routinely dismissed for lack of evidence or other reasons, he noted.

But by hyping the number of charges, the agency bolsters the argument for more border security money. Last year, the Texas Legislature approved an additional $800 million for border security.

“When crime rates were higher in this state, did the legislature move this much money?” Blanco asked.

Adding to the mathematical murkiness, immigration status can be fluid. A foreign-born Texas jail inmate could be legally in the country at the time of one arrest but have an expired visa by the next arrest and be undocumented the second time around, further bedeviling Texas’ attempts at measuring unauthorized immigrants’ impact on the state’s criminal justice system.

Attempts by DPS to connect criminal aliens to their crimes also fall short.

The agency’s data, obtained by the Tribune, shows that 177,060 non-U.S. citizens arrested from 2011 through Jan. 31 were charged with 252,083 offenses during that time. This is less than what DPS reports on its own website because the agency counts crimes committed over a U.S. citizen’s lifetime, outside the five-year span.

DPS officials insist that its criminal alien counts, based on federal immigration data, are not an attempt to construe that foreign-born criminals are a greater threat than U.S. citizens.

“The department has not made that statement and does not have information to support that statement,” DPS spokeswoman Summer Blackwell said in a statement. “The Department of Public Safety believes any individual who has committed a violent crime or is party to criminal activities — no matter their citizenship status or country of origin — is considered a potential threat to public safety and the security of Texas.”

Just say no

Even when federal immigration authorities decide they want to take immigrants from the state criminal justice system into custody, there can be obstacles.

Federal records obtained by the Tribune show that in more than 18,000 cases over the past two years, local jails across the country failed to hand over deportable immigrants to federal authorities. Jurisdictions in many states, including Pennsylvania, California and Colorado, have become reluctant to honor the detainers after facing a series of lawsuits from inmates challenging the constitutional legitimacy of the extended detention.

Further information about the outcomes in cases where local officials declined to detain someone — whether those inmates, many with previous criminal histories, had been released to the public — proved difficult to come by, even in Texas, where there were only 146 such cases.

Of the 11 state jails contacted by the Tribune, only one could provide definitive answers about what had happened with declined detainers in its jurisdiction.

In Collin County north of Dallas, where agency records show two declined detainers, one for an inmate with a criminal history, a spokesman for the sheriff’s office said it “would literally be too manpower-intensive and potentially impossible to locate the reasons they were released.”

The Texas county with the most declined detainers — Travis, which had 72 instances, including 33 on inmates with a prior criminal history — referred all questions about the records to the federal government.

“I do not know how ICE came up with those numbers and we do not keep stats for ICE,” Travis County Sheriff’s office spokesman Roger Wade said in an email. “You will have to ask ICE how they arrived at those numbers and what their definition is of declining detainers.”

The federal agency itself could not verify further details about the cases. An ICE official, who lacked authorization to comment and thus spoke on condition of anonymity, said a small number of the cases could be a result of administrative errors at the federal or local level.

But beyond that, the official said it would be “resource-prohibitive” to determine what exactly happened in the individual circumstances.

Step away from the direct cost to jails to house undocumented immigrants — and the troubling lack of standardized record keeping — and there’s the added pressure of keeping up with the federal government’s ever-shifting parameters of who in local jails is eligible for deportation.

On Nov. 20, 2014, ICE’s parent, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, discontinued a policy known as Secure Communities in favor of a new plan called the Priority Enforcement Program. Secure Communities — which targeted anyone in the United States illegally — had faced fierce pushback from local officials across the country who feared legal liability under the program.

With the new program, the federal agency decided to focus its deportation efforts on undocumented immigrants who committed the most serious crimes.

In congressional testimony and internal documents detailing the new policy’s implementation, ICE officials have stressed the importance of local cooperation. A 2015 memo from the federal immigration agency describes “expansive efforts to encourage state and local law enforcement partners” to collaborate with the agency.

The program was developed to “bring back on board those state and local jurisdictions that had concerns with, or legal obstacles to, assisting us,” said ICE Director Sarah Saldaña in July testimony before a congressional committee.

But the federal agency has opposed requiring local authorities to honor immigration detainers. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson told members of the House Judiciary Committee in July that it would a “huge setback” to mandate compliance with immigration policy.

“I do not believe that mandating through federal legislation the conduct of sheriffs and police chiefs is the way to go,” he said. “I think it will be hugely controversial. I think it will have problems with the Constitution. I want to see us work cooperatively with state and local law enforcement, and I believe they are poised to do that.”

The voluntary guidelines from federal authorities can leave local officials in a politically precarious position — often, no matter what decision they make will land them in hot water.

Jurisdictions in Democratically controlled urban areas face intense pressure from activists critical of federal immigration policy to cease any cooperation with ICE.

“Our ideal situation would be for there to be no ICE collaboration whatsoever,” said Carolina Canizales, the San Antonio-based deportation defense director of United We Dream, a national immigrant rights organization, which regularly stages protests at jails in the state, in an October interview. “I think they shouldn’t condemn thousands of undocumented immigrants for one crime that has been committed.”

At the same time, state lawmakers are on the watch for any sign that county sheriffs are failing to hold unauthorized immigrants singled out by ICE for deportation until federal ICE officers can pick them up and return them to their home country.

Take the case of Dallas County Sheriff Valdez, who throughout her time in office has most often found herself in the crosshairs of immigrant rights activists. She currently faces a lawsuit alleging her jail has held immigrants for unconstitutionally long periods of time even after they received bond.

But recently, she has become better known for the harsh public denunciation she received from Gov. Greg Abbott, who wrote her a letter saying that what he viewed as lacking enforcement of federal immigration policy posed a “serious danger to Texans.”

Abbott’s letter came after Valdez told reporters in October she would review federal detainers placed on inmates in her jail on a case-by-case basis and would not hold immigrants arrested for minor crimes for up to 48 hours for ICE officers.

Her comments seemed to mirror ICE’s changed focus on the most serious immigrant criminals — but before she had a chance to clarify, Abbott blasted her stance and threatened to cut off grants to any sheriff’s office choosing to not abide by federal immigration detainers.

Valdez said late last year that her statement was taken out of context.

“What I said was, when there’s a disagreement (over whether a jail inmate was undocumented or not) we look at it case-by-case,” Valdez told the Tribune in December. “But in this whole time we haven’t had a disagreement … The feds and I are great. ICE and I are fine.”

Cuban Migrants Flood the SW Border

2015: At Least 44,000 Cubans Entered US Through Texas and Southern Border This Year, Number on the Rise – Report

The number of Cubans attempting to come to the Unites States via Texas has increased this year, thanks in large part to the thaw in political tensions between the U.S. and Cuba.


After President Obama and Cuban leader Raul Castro announced their plans to normalize relations between the two nations, many Cubans feared that the special migrant status they have enjoyed for over 50 years would come to an end. The current “wet foot, dry foot policy” allows anyone who has fled Cuba and entered the U.S. the ability to pursue residency and work in the country.

The Los Angles Times reports that at least 44,000 Cubans have reached the southern U.S. border during the fiscal year which ended in September. This figure is more than twice as many of the 17,466 Cubans who came through the southern border the year before. Full article here.

Tension Simmers as Cubans Breeze Across U.S. Border

LAREDO, Tex. — They are crossing the border here by the hundreds each day, approved to enter the United States in a matter of hours. Part of a fast-rising influx of Cubans, they walk out to a Laredo street and are greeted by volunteers from Cubanos en Libertad, or Cubans in Freedom, who help them arrange travel to their American destination — often Miami — and start applying for work permits and federal benefits like food stamps and Medicaid, available by law to Cubans immediately after their arrival.

The friendly reception given the Cubans, an artifact of hostile relations with the Castro government, is a stark contrast with the treatment of Central American families fleeing violence in their countries. And it is creating tensions in this predominantly Mexican-American city, where residents saw how Central American migrants, who came in an influx in 2014, were detained by the Border Patrol and ordered to appear in immigration courts.

“The people here are starting to feel resentment,” said Representative Henry Cuellar, Democrat of Texas, whose congressional district includes the city. “They are asking, is it fair that the Cubans get to stay and the Central Americans are being deported?”

The disparity will be in sharp relief next week when Pope Francis comes to the border at El Paso to offer prayers for the many migrants who have faced danger or arrest trying to cross the United States border.

Town officials have warned Cubans not to loiter in the streets. Local bus companies complain that Cubans are chartering special vans to travel. Some residents here have also begun to speak up.

A group of veterans from Afghanistan and Iraq held two protests by the border bridge in recent weeks, saying the federal government was spending money on Cubans when it was not meeting the needs of people here.

“We make everyone from Central America wait in line, while the Cubans walk in even though they are not refugees,” said Gabriel Lopez, a Mexican-American Navy veteran who is president of the group of veterans. “We are saying, don’t open the borders to Cubans and give them instant benefits while we have American veterans living on the streets.”

In coming weeks the number of Cubans is expected to spike, as more than 5,000 who have been stalled in Costa Rica since late last year will leave there on regular plane flights agreed to by governments in Central America and Mexico. Already about 12,100 Cubans entered through Laredo and other Texas border stations in the last three months of 2015, according to official figures. Border officials say as many as 48,000 Cubans could cross here this year, more than all those who came in the last two years combined.

Under the Cuban Adjustment Act, a law Congress passed in 1966 in the early years of enmity with Fidel Castro, any Cuban who sets foot on American soil is given permission to enter, known as parole. Cubans are also eligible for federal welfare benefits including financial assistance for nine months under separate policies from the 1980s. After a year, they can apply for permanent residency, a gateway to citizenship.

The recent exodus from Cuba began in mid-2014, even before President Obama in December of that year announced a restoration of diplomatic relations with the government, now led by Mr. Castro’s brother Raúl. In a major change, President Raúl Castro allowed Cubans to leave the country without exit visas. Many Cubans have said that rumors that the special entry to the United States would be canceled had caused them to pack up and go.

“The rumors are unfounded,” Alan Bersin, assistant secretary of Homeland Security, said in an interview, seeking to dispel the fears. “The Cuban Adjustment Act is still in effect and is part of the overall immigration policy and there is no intent presently to change that.”

Mr. Cuellar has called for the act to be repealed, but he acknowledges there is little prospect that Congress will act this year.

The recent influx is nothing like the chaotic rush of Cubans fleeing the Communist government that overwhelmed South Florida with the Mariel boatlift in 1980, and the rafter crisis in 1994. The federal border authorities, who have been watching the number of Cubans growing steadily, added officers and opened extra rooms in the border station, doubling their capacity to process them. Most Cubans move through in less than an hour, officials said.

Frank Longoria, assistant director of field operations for United States Customs and Border Protection, said that despite their numbers, the Cubans’ entry has not affected the huge flows of people and freight trucks each day through Laredo, the country’s largest land port of entry.

At the border, Cubans are fingerprinted and pass through routine criminal and terrorism background checks. There is no special vetting for Cubans, and there are no medical examinations or vaccination requirements.

“Right now I feel like the freest Cuban in the whole world,” said Rodny Nápoles, 39, a coach of the Cuban national women’s water polo team who crossed into Laredo this week.

This week, the first direct flights from northern Costa Rica to the Mexican city just across the border brought more than 300 Cubans, including at least 41 pregnant women and their families.

One of them, Yadelys Rodríguez Martín, 28, who was 19 weeks pregnant, sat down to rest and enjoy a moment of relief on the front steps of Cubanos en Libertad, right after emerging from the border station. After traveling through Ecuador and being stuck for three months in Costa Rica because of a political dispute in the region, she said she was stunned by how quickly she had been admitted into the United States.

“We are not used to things happening so fast,” Ms. Rodríguez said.  More here.

Facts: Mexico to U.S. Immigration

Unaccompanied Alien Children Charged in Execution-Style Murder, Media Calls Them “Baby-Faced Boys”

It appears that the recent execution-style murder of a Massachusetts man was committed by two Central American teens that came to the U.S. as Unaccompanied Alien Children (UAC) under President Obama’s open border free-for-all. Tens of thousands of illegal immigrant minors—mostly from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras—have entered the country through the Mexican border since the influx began in the summer of 2014 and the administration has relocated them nationwide.

News reports indicate that the 17-year-olds charged in the gruesome Massachusetts killing entered the U.S. recently as UAC’s and both have ties to MS-13, according to authorities cited by various outlets. They lived in Everett and one of the teens, Cristian Nunez-Flores, moved to Massachusetts from his native El Salvador a year and a half ago which is when the influx of Central American minors began. His parents remain in El Salvador, according to a local news article. The other gangbanger’s name is Jose Vasquez Ardon and he too is a recent arrival from Central America. Prosecutors say the teens, described in a local news article as “baby-faced boys,”shot a 19-year-old in the head. Both are being held without bail for obvious reasons. A must read summary here.

*** Meanwhile***

5 facts about Mexico and immigration to the U.S.

PewResearch: Pope Francis is expected to make immigration a major theme of his visit to Mexico. By traveling northward across Mexico, he intends to symbolically retrace the journey of Mexican and Central American migrants traveling to the United States. After the pope leaves Mexico City, his route will begin in the southern state of Chiapas, which shares a long border with Guatemala, and end in Ciudad Juárez, located across the U.S.-Mexico border from El Paso, Texas, a longtime entry point to the U.S.

U.S. immigration from Latin America has shifted over the past two decades. From 1965 to 2015, more than 16 million Mexicans migrated to the U.S. in one of the largest mass migrations in modern history. But over the past decade, Mexican migration to the U.S. has slowed dramatically. Today, Mexico increasingly serves as a land bridge for Central American immigrants traveling to the U.S.

Here are five facts about Mexico and trends in immigration to the U.S.

1Mexico increases deportations of Central AmericansMexico is stopping more unauthorized Central American immigrants at its southern border. The Mexican government said in 2014 that it would increase enforcement at its southern border in response to an increased flow of Central Americans traveling through Mexico to reach the U.S. In 2015, the government there carried out about 150,000 deportations of unauthorized immigrants from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, a 44% jump over the previous year. These three Central American countries alone accounted for nearly all (97%) of Mexico’s deportations in 2015.

2Despite increased enforcement by Mexico, many unauthorized Central Americans are still reaching the U.S. via Mexico. At the U.S.-Mexico border, the number of families and unaccompanied children apprehended by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials is again rising, though it’s too early to tell how 2016 will compare with prior years. From Oct. 1, 2015, to Jan. 31, 2016, 24,616 families and 20,455 unaccompanied children – the vast majority of them from Central America – were apprehended at the southwestern U.S. border, double the total from the same time period the year before. Apprehensions of unaccompanied children rose to record levels in fiscal 2014, then decreased by 42% in fiscal 2015.

3More Cubans are also traveling through Mexico to reach the U.S. The number of Cubans migrating through Mexico to reach the U.S. spiked dramatically last year after President Barack Obama said the U.S. would renew ties with the island nation. In fiscal 2015, 43,159 Cubans entered the U.S. via ports of entry, a 78% increase over the previous year. Two-thirds of these Cubans arrived through the U.S. Border Patrol’s Laredo Sector in Texas. (Cubans who pass an inspection can enter the U.S. legally under the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966.)

4Fewer Mexicans are migrating to the U.S. today than in the past. In fact, more Mexicans left than came to the U.S since the end of the Great Recession. Between 2009 and 2014, 870,000 Mexican nationals left Mexico to come to the U.S., down from the 2.9 million who left Mexico for the U.S. between 1995 and 2000. Of those moving back to Mexico, many cite family as the reason for their return. About 1 million Mexican immigrants and their U.S.-born children moved from the U.S. to Mexico between 2009 and 2014, and 61% said they had done so to reunite with family or to start a family, according to the 2014 Mexican National Survey of Demographic Dynamics.

5More Mexicans now say life is about the same in the U.S. and Mexico. In 2015, 33% of Mexican adults said life in the U.S. is neither better nor worse than life in Mexico, up from 23% who said this in 2007. Still, about half of Mexican adults believe life is better in the U.S. and 35% of Mexicans said they would move to the U.S. if they had the opportunity and means to do so, similar shares as in 2009.