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New migrant facilities crop up to ease crowding, again

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For the third time in seven years, U.S. officials are scrambling to handle a dramatic spike in children crossing the U.S.-Mexico border alone, leading to a massive expansion in emergency facilities to house them as more kids arrive than are being released to close relatives in the United States.

So many children are coming that there’s little room in long-term care facilities, where capacity shrank significantly during the coronavirus pandemic. As a result, minors are packed into Border Patrol facilities not meant to hold them longer than three days or they’re staying for weeks in the mass housing sites that often lack the services they need. Lawyers say some have not seen social workers who can reunite them with family in the U.S.

“As it currently stands with a lot of these emergency intake sites, children are going in and there’s no way out,” said Leecia Welch, senior director of legal advocacy and child welfare at the National Center for Youth Law. “They’re complete dead ends.”

The Trump administration had predicted the strain on capacity, documents show. Projections from a former top official in the U.S. Health and Human Services Department, which cares for migrant children until they’re reunited with family, said the agency would run out beds by mid-January or early February. On Feb. 22, the Biden administration reopened a tent facility used during previous increases as smaller shelters ran out of beds.

The Border Patrol encountered 18,663 unaccompanied children in March, the highest monthly total on record, well above previous highs of 11,475 in May 2019 and 10,620 in June 2014.

In response to a 2019 uptick in crossings, the Trump administration had increased the number of beds in small and medium-size shelters that are better prepared to handle family reunifications — to 13,000 by early 2020.

But pandemic restrictions brought down actual capacity to 7,800 beds by November, said Mark Greenberg, who was acting assistant secretary for the Administration of Children and Families at U.S. Health and Human Services during Obama’s second term and part of Biden’s transition team. A February government tally had it at 7,100 beds.

“Throughout 2020, they didn’t rebuild capacity,” Greenberg said of the Trump administration. “For much of last year, the number of children in custody was very low, and they had 8,000 available beds, and the government was expelling children at the border. It was in that context that they didn’t rebuild the loss of supply.”

During the last months of Trump’s term, unaccompanied minors were allowed to stay after a federal judge ruled in November that the government couldn’t use the pandemic as a reason to expel them. In January, an appeals court said the government could resume the practice, but Biden decided against it.

The numbers quickly rose under Biden, who ended other Trump policies, including one that made asylum-seekers wait in Mexico for court hearings in the U.S.

Jonathan H. Hayes, who directed Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement from February 2019 to March 2020, said the Biden administration needed to listen to estimates on capacity needs before undoing Trump’s policies.

Projections of arrivals threatened to strain the system and should have prompted officials to hit pause, considering the time it takes to get licensed shelters up and running, Hayes said.

It took longer than usual after protests in 2018 and 2019 turned the public against Health and Human Services, Hayes said, referring to demonstrations outside facilities that housed migrant children separated from their parents under Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy.

Opening shelters for unaccompanied minors normally took four to six months as the government acquired state licenses and local permits. But in 2019, it was taking anywhere from nine to 12 months because of community pushback.

“We had Democrats, state and local officials who didn’t want to cooperate because in their minds they had bought into this idea that kids were in cages in HHS,” Hayes said.

Recent federal court filings show the problems that Health and Human Services faces as the number of children rises.

The challenge “will likely increase in severity in the coming weeks and months,” Cindy Huang, director of HHS’ Office of Refugee Resettlement, wrote last week. She said the agency is prioritizing moving children out of border authorities’ custody, relying on the growing network of large emergency venues run by private contractors.

Setting up the sites has cut in half the number of unaccompanied minors in U.S. Customs and Border Protection custody to 2,500, down from 5,000 in late March. But the transfers are severely straining Health and Human Services resources.

The first week of April, 5,000 children were transferred to HHS sites or shelters, but only about 2,000 were released to relatives, according to government figures. This was after already reducing the average length of stay in HHS custody from 51 days in October to 35 in March and instituting measures to speed up releases, such as flying children to their families.

HHS spokesman Mark Weber said the Biden administration has taken “aggressive actions” to expedite transfers out of Border Patrol facilities and shorten stays at the large emergency sites.

“They’re just not able to keep pace with the need,” said Wendy Young, president of Kids in Need of Defense, which provides legal services to immigrant children. “We are not thrilled by the fact they’re using these mega ad hoc emergency facilities, but I will say better to have kids there than a Border Patrol situation, or in Mexico.”

Eleven emergency sites have opened since mid-March. At two recently visited by attorneys, children said they had not met with case managers tasked with reuniting them with family.

Attorneys have long pressed for expanding HHS’ capacity to vet sponsors and prepare children to be released promptly — not continually add more bed space to keep them detained, said Peter Schey, president and executive director of the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law.

“Had they done that, this entire crisis could have easily been avoided,” he said. “The solution was to pour a lot more money into case managers.”

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Gomez Licon reported from Miami, and Taxin from Orange County, California.

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The Trump Organization bullish on Indian real estate: Donald Trump Jr

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New Delhi: The Trump Organization is bullish on the Indian real estate, which is its biggest residential market outside the North America, its Executive Vice-President Donald Trump Jr. said on Saturday.

New York-based The Trump Organization, which is a venture of former US President Donald Trump, entered into Indian real estate market through a partnership with Mumbai-based Tribeca Developers.

The US firm and Tribeca have tied up with local developers, including the Lodha group, to build luxury projects under ‘Trump’ brand. So far, four luxury projects have been announced, of which one in Pune is already complete.

“I have been bullish on the (Indian) market for a long time,” Donald Trump Jr said when asked about his future projects in India.

He was appearing as a guest in a talk show with Kalpesh Mehta, the founder of Tribeca Developers, being organised by Alchemist.

Trump Jr did not disclose about the company’s future projects in India.

The Trump Organization and its India partner are developing luxury residential properties of global quality and standards, he said.

Amid the global pandemic COVID-19, Trump Jr said there has been a “dynamic shift” in real estate globally, especially in office market because of work from home and remotely.

He said one has to see how it plays out post pandemic.

When asked about the current market scenario, Mehta said the Indian real estate sector was reviving after the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic but the recovery process has taken a hit because of this second wave.

Maharashtra property markets had a strong recovery compared to the other markets, he said.

Mehta said the real estate market will see a sharp growth once the pandemic gets over.

In India, The Trump Organization has already completed a luxury project in Pune partnering with Panchshil Realty.

It tied up with Lodha group in 2014 for housing project in Mumbai which is currently under construction.

In November 2017, Trump Tower was launched in Kolkata comprising 140 ultra-luxury apartments and being developed by Unimark Group, RDB Group and Tribeca Developers.

The fourth housing project at Gurugram, Haryana, launched in 2018, is being developed by realty firm M3M.

Besides Trump Towers, Tribeca is independently developing few projects in partnership with other builders.

This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text.

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A second chance for Hillsborough’s youthful offenders, plus more good news from around the state

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This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.

The highs and lows from Tampa Bay and beyond, including a bipartisan victory for juvenile offenders, a curious bill signing and some sound advice on raising taxes.

The right kind of justice reform. Good to see Hillsborough County’s bipartisan support for expanding its civil citations program for juveniles. Giving young first-time offenders a way to avoid an arrest — and all the life-changing implications that follow — is another step along the road to a more efficient and just system. Hillsborough is following the lead of other counties, including Pinellas, that have had more robust citation programs for longer — and have benefited from the results. The citations will be mandatory for all misdemeanors except in a few extraordinary circumstances. “Our kids, our deputies, our police officers and our community have made this program a success, so we are able to take these next steps,” said Sheriff Chad Chronister, a Republican. Juveniles sometimes engage in youthful transgressions. This smart new policy acknowledges that reality.

Capitol opening. The state Capitol was closed to the public for the two-month legislative session that ended last week. Gov. Ron DeSantis and other prominent state leaders insisted on opening many other aspects of society, but curiously left the Capitol off limits to Joe and Jane Taxpayer. On the bright side, Senate President Wilton Simpson announced Monday that the Capitol will be open in time for the special session on gambling scheduled for May 17-23. Government is best done in the sunshine — and in view of the public.

A long wait for representation. U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings died April 6. His successor in the heavily Democratic seat in Broward and Palm Beach counties won’t take over until January, when Gov. DeSantis scheduled the special election. Nine months is too long for about 800,000 residents to go without representation in one branch of Congress. It only took five months to replace Pinellas Republican Rep. Bill Young when he died in October 2013. Could the discrepancy be any more obvious?

Speaking of obvious … The optics of DeSantis’ recent signing of a voting bill say a lot about the motivations behind the controversial changes. DeSantis chose to do it in front of a fan club of former President Donald Trump in West Palm Beach. He also barred reporters, except for a TV crew from DeSantis-friendly Fox News. Opponents of the changes, which include altering voting by mail rules and limiting ballot drop boxes, have said the moves are an attempt to suppress Democratic turnout. DeSantis’ cherry-picked setting for the bill signing did little to assuage those concerns.

Taxing decisions. Pinellas County is exploring how to raise more money for transportation, from maintaining sidewalks to increasing public transit options. The solutions include raising the county’s gas tax from 7 cents to up to 12 cents and asking voters to agree to a new sales tax to fund transportation infrastructure. A hat tip to Republican Commissioner Karen Seel for stating what should be obvious: “We’re trying to evaluate if it’s the appropriate time to do a transit surtax, and you don’t want to do both at the same time.” Good advice.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman and CEO Paul Tash. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.

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Gaetz, Greene take mantle of Trump’s populism at rally

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THE VILLAGES, Fla. – U.S. Reps. Matt Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene, two of the Republican Party’s most controversial figures, kicked off their “America First Rally” roadshow Friday with a Trump-centric revival of sorts for the MAGA faithful at a Florida retirement community.

The gathering appeared to be an attempt to position the two conservatives as successors to the former president’s populism.

“Tell me, who is your president?”” Greene shouted after walking out onto a ballroom stage in front of hundreds of supporters wearing “Trump” T-shirts and “Make America Great Again” red ballcaps.

“Trump!” the mask-less crowd of retirees wearing MAGA red yelled back.

Joking that he was a “marked man in Congress … but a Florida man,” Gaetz called former President Donald Trump “the undisputed leader of the Republican Party.”

“Today, we send a strong message to the weak establishment in both parties: America First isn’t going away. We are going on tour,” Gaetz said. “It’s no longer the red team against the blue team. It’s the establishment against the rest of us.”

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Gaetz held up himself and Greene as challengers to the establishment and successors to Trump’s populism.

“They lie about us because we tell the truth about them,” Gaetz said of the establishment.

The indoor rally took place with just a week until Gaetz associate Joel Greenberg faces a deadline to enter a plea deal that could lead to damaging information against the Florida congressman. Gaetz alluded to the investigation by referencing what he said were distorted descriptions of himself as someone who has wild parties with beautiful women.

Both Republican members of the House of Representatives have come under fire in recent months, though for different reasons.

What began as an inquiry into sex trafficking allegations and whether Gaetz paid women and an underage girl in exchange for sex has grown into a larger review of public corruption. Federal investigators are looking at whether Gaetz and his associates tried to secure government jobs for some of the women. They are also scrutinizing Gaetz’s connections to the medical marijuana sector.

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Greenberg, a former local tax collector, has been accused of trafficking a minor for sex and faces a May 15 deadline to strike a plea deal with prosecutors. If he does, Greenberg may be pressed to cooperate with federal investigators and deliver damaging information against Gaetz.

Greene, a congresswoman from Georgia, was stripped of her congressional assignments last February for incendiary social media posts expressing racist views, pushing absurd conspiracy theories and endorsing threats of violence against elected officials

The controversies made no difference to the 300 supporters, mostly retirees, who packed into a hotel ballroom to listen them. A long line trailed outside the hotel with people who couldn’t get in once the ballroom reached capacity. The Villages, which was the fastest growing U.S. metro area last year, has been a Republican bastion for decades and is often a must-stop destination for Republican presidential candidates.

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Inside the ballroom, the supporters danced and clapped to Laura Branigan’s “Gloria” and other 1980s hits and waved their arms, loudly chanting the lyrics of Queen’s “We Are the Champions,” before the politicians took the stage.

At least a half dozen muscled security guards in identical olive shirts stood around the room.

John Peil was in the crowd. He described the rally as a great way to cap off a day of golfing.

Of Greene, Peil said, she was “a great woman” who wasn’t afraid to take on Democratic lawmakers in Congress. There was a double standard between when Democrats run into controversies and when Republicans do, he said.

“They’re using a double standard on the two of them too,” Peil said, referring to the two House members. “It’s always the conservatives that get the dirt, and it’s always the liberals that speed away free.”

Zach Hussein and Josh Labasbas held up a black banner that said “Antifacist Action” in front of the hotel where the rally was held until a police officer politely asked them to leave at the request of the property owner. A passerby told them, “Go back to Cuba.”

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This version corrects the spelling of Marjorie Taylor Greene’s first name.

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Follow Mike Schneider on Twitter at https://twitter.com/MikeSchneiderAP

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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