AP News in Brief 12-30-18

  • President Donald Trump gives the pen he used to sign the executive order to end family separations to Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen during an event in the Oval Office on June 20. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Trump blames Democrats for migrant child deaths at US border

YUMA, Ariz. — President Donald Trump deflected any blame from his administration for the deaths of two Guatemalan children this month in U.S. government custody as his Homeland Security chief visited Border Patrol medical officials amid promises of more thorough health screenings for migrant children.

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Instead, the president, whose administration has faced widespread criticism over the deaths, pointed the finger on Twitter at Democrats “and their pathetic immigration policies that allow people to make the long trek thinking they can enter our country illegally.” They were his first comments on the deaths.

He also tweeted that the children were “very sick before they were given over to Border Patrol.”

The two tweets were his first comments on the Dec. 8 death of 7-year-old Jakelin Caal and the death on Christmas Eve of 8-year-old Felipe Gomez Alonzo.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection has issued detailed statements about both children’s deaths.

An initial screening of Jakelin “revealed no evidence of health issues,” CBP said on Dec. 14. It wasn’t until several hours later that Jakelin’s father, Nery Caal, told agents that she was “sick and vomiting,” CBP said. Attorneys for the Caal family have also denied claims that Nery “hadn’t given her water in days,” as Trump wrote.

The president’s comments came Saturday afternoon, the same day Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen was in Yuma, Arizona, to meet with medical staff at the border. Nielsen said in a statement that “the system is clearly overwhelmed and we must work together to address this humanitarian crisis.” She called on Congress to “act with urgency.”

Short on solutions, long on blame in second shutdown weekend

WASHINGTON — Cooped up in the White House after canceling a vacation to his private Florida club, President Donald Trump fired Twitter barbs at Democrats on Saturday as talks to end a weeklong partial government shutdown remained at a stalemate.

As the disruption in federal services and public employees’ pay appeared set to continue into the new year, there were no signs of any substantive negotiation between the blame-trading parties. Trump held out for billions in federal funds for a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico, which Democrats have said they were intent on blocking.

Trump tweeted Saturday that he was “in the White House waiting for the Democrats to come on over and make a deal on Border Security.” But there has been little direct contact between the sides during the stalemate, and Trump did not ask Republicans, who hold a monopoly on power in Washington for another five days, to keep Congress in session.

As he called for Democrats to negotiate on the wall, Trump brushed off criticism that his administration bore any responsibility for the recent deaths of two migrant children in Border Patrol custody. Trump claimed the deaths were “strictly the fault of the Democrats and their pathetic immigration policies that allow people to make the long trek thinking they can enter our country illegally.” His comments on Twitter came as his Homeland Security secretary met with medical professionals and ordered policy changes meant to better protect children detained at the border.

Trump earlier had upped the brinkmanship by threatening anew to close the border with Mexico to press Congress to cave to his demand for money to pay for a wall. Democrats are vowing to pass legislation restoring the government as soon as they take control of the House on Thursday, but that won’t accomplish anything unless Trump and the Republican-controlled Senate go along with it.

From wire sources

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Mourners honor boy whose Yemeni mom fought US travel ban

LODI, Calif. — Mourners at a mosque in California said goodbye Saturday to a 2-year-old boy whose Yemeni mother successfully fought the Trump administration’s travel ban to hold the dying boy again in the United States.

Abdullah Hassan died Friday at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital in Oakland, where his father, Ali Hassan, brought him in the fall to get treatment for a genetic brain disorder, the Council on American-Islamic Relations said. He had been on life support when his mother, Shaima Swileh, arrived last week.

“We are heartbroken. We had to say goodbye to our baby, the light of our lives,” Hassan, a U.S. citizen, said in a statement released by the advocacy group.

Hassan and members of the Islamic community in central California prayed at a funeral for Abdullah and listened to remarks from Muhammad Younus, imam of the California Islamic Center in the farming town of Lodi.

The casket covered by a white and green cloth was carried in, and the men in attendance could touch it before it was taken to a nearby cemetery and buried. In Muslim tradition, a body must be buried within 72 hours of death.

2 million in Times Square for New Year’s? Experts say no way

NEW YORK — Ryan Seacrest and Anderson Cooper will be there. Snoop Dogg, too.

But 1 or 2 million people in New York’s Times Square for New Year’s Eve? As Snoop would say, you must be sippin’ on gin and juice.

Crowd-size experts scoff at those mammoth figures — floated annually by city officials and event organizers — saying it’s impossible to squeeze that many of even the skinniest revelers into such a relatively small space.

The real Times Square ball drop crowd likely has fewer than 100,000 people, crowd science professor G. Keith Still said.

“Generally, people are overestimating crowd sizes by 10- to 100-fold,” said Still, who teaches crowd science at Manchester Metropolitan University in England and trains police departments on techniques to calculate crowd sizes.

Elections, films help effort to ban gay conversion therapy

NEW YORK — Activists urging more states to ban gay conversion therapy for minors are expecting major gains in 2019, thanks to midterm election results and the buzz generated by two well-reviewed films.

Fourteen states and the District of Columbia have already enacted laws prohibiting licensed therapists from trying to change a minor’s sexual orientation. Leaders of a national campaign to ban the practice are hopeful that at least four more states — Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts and New York — will join the ranks in the upcoming legislative sessions.

“We’d be disappointed if we don’t get those this year — they’re overdue,” said Shannon Minter, legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights , one of the groups campaigning to impose bans in all 50 states.

The campaign has gained momentum in recent months thanks to the national release of two films dramatizing the experiences of youths who went through conversion therapy — “The Miseducation of Cameron Post” and the higher-profile “Boy Erased” starring Lucas Hedges, Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe.

Sam Brinton of the Trevor Project , another of groups leading the ban campaign, said thousands of people have signed up to assist the effort since “Boy Erased” was released on Nov. 2.

Egypt says its security forces killed 40 militants

CAIRO — Egypt said Saturday its security forces have killed 40 militants in raids on their hideouts in the Sinai Peninsula and the Greater Cairo area, just hours after a roadside bomb targeted a tourist bus in the capital, killing three Vietnamese tourists and their Egyptian guide.

In a Saturday statement, the Interior Ministry, which oversees the police, said 10 of the militants were killed when the security forces stormed their hideout in el-Arish, a coastal city in the turbulent north of Sinai, epicenter of a long-running insurgency by Islamists.

Another 14 were killed in the Cairo suburb of October 6 and 16 more in a housing project on a highway heading west from Cairo. The statement said the militants were preparing for attacks on government and tourism facilities, army and police personnel, as well as Christian churches.

The ministry also released a series of images purportedly depicting some of the militants killed in the raids, with assault rifles seen next to their bloodied bodies.

The statement did not say when the raids took place, suggesting that the timing of its release was designed at least in part to show that security forces were scoring successes against militants across the country and staunch potential criticism of their perceived failure to protect tourists.

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Florida sheriff makes changes after Parkland school shooting

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — The sheriff of a Florida county where a gunman killed 17 students and staff at a high school has outlined steps his agency has taken in response to the Feb. 14 massacre.

Broward Sheriff Scott Israel sent a letter Wednesday to the state commission investigating the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, according to a South Florida Sun Sentinel report.

Israel said all deputies completed an additional eight hours of active-shooter training, and all school deputies attended a week of similar training and received carbines to give them more firepower.

The sheriff’s office also created a Threat Assessment Unit, headed by a former New York Police Department inspector, and an internal committee that will address the commission’s ultimate findings and recommendations.

“Be assured, the reforms adopted to date are not the end of this process,” Israel wrote. “Rather, they are a midway point as we continue working towards addressing all of the findings related to our agency and implementing all of the Commission’s recommendations.”

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Oregon hotel fires 2 employees who ‘mistreated’ black man

PORTLAND, Ore. — An Oregon hotel said it fired two of its employees for “mistreatment” of a black guest who was talking on his phone in the lobby when he was asked to leave a week ago.

DoubleTree by Hilton hotel in Portland tweeted Saturday they have “terminated the employment of the two men involved.” They said the men’s actions “were inconsistent with our standards &values.” The hotel didn’t identify the employees.

Jermaine Massey accused the hotel of racially profiling him after a security guard called police to remove him from the lobby Dec. 22. He was staying at the hotel, and his attorneys say they want a public explanation and intend to pursue legal action, Oregon Public Broadcasting reported .

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On Friday, the hotel apologized to Massey on Twitter, saying the employees involved had been placed on leave and an investigation would be done. A day later, it said two workers were fired.

The security guard told Massey that if he could not provide a room number, he would be asked to leave. The Washington state resident left with an officer, according to a police report.