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Staff photo — Ernesto Garcia  

Baylor’s Christian Morgan (left) blocks the punt of Oklahoma State’s Zach Sinor in a Nov. 3 BU win over the Cowboys.

US judge stalls enforcement of Trump asylum restrictions

HOUSTON — A judge has ordered the U.S. government not to enforce a ban on asylum for people who cross the southern border illegally, another court setback for the Trump administration’s efforts to impose new immigration restrictions without congressional approval.

U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar agreed Monday with legal groups that immediately sued after President Donald Trump issued a Nov. 9 proclamation saying anyone who crossed the southern border between official ports of entry would be ineligible for asylum. The administration argued that caravans of migrants approaching the southern border made the new restrictions immediately necessary.

“Whatever the scope of the President’s authority, he may not rewrite the immigration laws to impose a condition that Congress has expressly forbidden,” said Tigar, a nominee of former President Barack Obama.

Trump stopped family separations at the border earlier this year after a global outcry, but it was a federal judge who ruled the administration had to reunify the families. Another judge rejected the administration’s request to try to detain migrant families in long-term facilities.

Monday’s ruling remains in effect for one month, barring an appeal. In limiting asylum, Trump used the same powers he used to impose a travel ban — the third try was ultimately upheld by the Supreme Court.

A joint statement by Homeland Security and the Justice Department said the Supreme Court had already shown the president had the legal right to restrict asylum.

“Our asylum system is broken, and it is being abused by tens of thousands of meritless claims every year,” the departments said. “We look forward to continuing to defend the Executive Branch’s legitimate and well-reasoned exercise of its authority to address the crisis at our southern border.”

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, speaking at a San Diego news conference, called the ruling “dangerous” and expressed confidence it would be overturned on appeal.

Trump on Tuesday criticized the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which would likely receive any appeal of Tigar’s order and has already ruled against the administration in several immigration cases. Trump called the circuit a “disgrace” and its judges “very unfair.”

Whether asylum seekers would try now to enter between official ports of entry was unclear. One immigrant waiting at the official border crossing vowed to stay in line regardless of the ruling.

“I’ve always taken the correct path, and I’m not going to do something illegal now,” said Byron Torrez, 28, of Nicaragua.

Torrez said he fled Nicaragua after someone threw acid at him during a government protest. He said he did not travel with any of the caravans.

“I think it is good that the court did this because a lot of people cross illegally, not to break the law, but because they believe you have to get to the U.S. first before requesting asylum,” he said.

The regulations were put in place in part to stop what the government says are loopholes that allow thousands of people to avoid deportation. DHS estimates around 70,000 people a year claim asylum after crossing illegally. But illegal crossings overall are well below historical highs of previous decades.

Tigar’s ruling notes that federal law says someone may seek asylum if they have arrived in the United States, “whether or not at a designated port of arrival.”

“Individuals are entitled to asylum if they cross between ports of entry,” said Baher Azmy, a lawyer for the Center for Constitutional Rights, which sued the government alongside the American Civil Liberties Union. “It couldn’t be clearer.”

Around 3,000 people from the first of the caravans have arrived in Tijuana, Mexico, across the border from San Diego, California. U.S. Customs and Border Protection said Monday it closed off northbound traffic for several hours at the San Ysidro crossing to install movable, wire-topped barriers after reports that some migrants were planning to rush through the lanes — but none did.

As of Monday, DHS said it had referred 107 people to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services — people who had sought asylum between official crossings since Trump’s order went into effect. Officials didn’t say whether those people’s cases were still progressing through other, more difficult avenues left to them after the proclamation.

Administration officials said the asylum law changes were meant to funnel migrants through official border crossings for speedy rulings instead of having them try to evade such crossings on the nearly 2,000-mile border.

But many border crossings such as San Ysidro already have extensive wait times. People are often forced to wait in shelters or outdoor camps on the Mexican side, sometimes for weeks.

ACLU lawyer Lee Gelernt said that some people seeking asylum cross between official ports because “they’re in real danger,” either in their countries of origin or in Mexico.“We don’t condone people entering between ports of entry, but Congress has made the decision that if they do, they still need to be allowed to apply for asylum,” he said.

The U.S. military has deployed 5,800 active-duty troops to the U.S.-Mexico border. Another 2,100 National Guard troops have also been deployed since April as part of a separate mission.

They are not allowed to detain illegal crossers.

Wilbert Austin Sr. Park dedication honors late District 1 councilman
 Phillip Ericksen  / 

East Waco honored the life and legacy of one of its most devoted advocates Tuesday with the dedication of Wilbert Austin Sr. Park, the revamped and renamed East Waco Park.

Austin, who died last year at the age of 76 after a battle with stomach cancer, represented District 1 on the Waco City Council from 2006 to 2017, gaining a reputation as a servant to the community by mowing yards in East Waco and pushing for development opportunities.

“It is an amazing day, because our father, he did so much for this community,” Austin’s daughter, Betty Austin, said. “He did a lot. This is well deserved. His legacy continues to live on. The people came out, and that meant a lot because they loved him as well we did. Job well done, Daddy.”

One of Austin’s well-known accomplishments was his participation in a lawsuit filed in the mid-1970s demanding Waco use single-member districts, which had the effect of protecting minority representation on the city council.

Staff photo — Jerry Larson 

Sarah Chatman, one Wilbert Austin Sr.'s three daughters, sits on a bench bearing her father's name.

District 1 Councilwoman Andrea Barefield said everything Austin did, he did out of love.

“We can never forget his dedication to justice and seeing that the people of this community and this city had a voice, especially that of this district, and that of the love that he had for the people that he did in his works every day,” Barefield said.

More than 100 people attended the ceremony Tuesday at the 1.6-acre park, which has recently received its own dose of love. About $340,000 in improvements, largely funded by federal Community Development Block Grants, include resurfaced basketball courts, new trails encouraging physical activity, a water fountain, an irrigation system, lighting and a perimeter fence.

The park was built next to the former R.L. Smith Elementary School in the 1960s. The park hosted recess for students and a variety of sporting events throughout the years. Austin often lamented the state of the park, which sometimes played host to drug activity and gambling operations.

Staff photo — Jerry Larson  

Le’rmarcus Jones (from left), Teidrias Warren and Travyon Benson use the new basketball courts at Wilbert Austin Sr. Park in East Waco.

Noah Jackson Jr., a longtime ally, served in the District 1 seat after Austin’s death and championed the push to rename East Waco Park after his friend.

“You have to be a good man first before you can be a good council member, a good anything,” Jackson said. “Wilbert Austin was a good man.”

Jackson also said Austin deserves credit for the nascent revitalization of East Waco. A host of restaurants are slated to open on Elm Avenue within the next year, and three hotels will soon hug the Brazos River from Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, Bridge Street and Taylor Street.

Staff photo — Jerry Larson 

Updates to Wilbert Austin Sr. Park include a new Born Learning Trail.

The hotel developers, who will receive almost $6.5 million in development incentives from the city, have said the project will create 85 full-time jobs and 20 part-time jobs. Many residents and business owners in East Waco have said they welcome development but are concerned about longtime residents being pushed out by higher property values.

“He spent a lot of man hours working with this city, working with this community, working with us here in East Waco and across the river,” Jackson said. “He’s up there somewhere looking at us, just having a good time, if I know my partner right. He’s having a good time today.”

Top city officials and all six members of the city council attended the ceremony Tuesday.

“It was truly a pleasure to work with him,” Mayor Kyle Deaver said of Austin. “He was an inspiration. He brought wisdom, guidance and cared so deeply about this neighborhood, this community and this park.”

Joanna Gaines tells how to make a house a home in new book

NEW YORK — Joanna Gaines, known for her cozy-yet-cool designs including open-concept floor plans, farmhouse sinks and sliding barn doors, admits having to scale back on the vision of her own home in Waco to allow her children to add personality to their own spaces.

“In the past it was hard,” she said recently in an interview, having to shift her thinking to, “This is their space. This is what makes them come alive, I need to encourage that.”

Gaines says this principle especially applies to her two oldest children, son Drake, 13, and daughter Ella, 11.

“In the main spaces I get to do my thing and incorporate some things that they love but for their rooms, especially this year, there’s stuff they’re wanting in their room that I wouldn’t put in there originally, but now it’s fun to watch their room evolve into their personality and give them the freedom to do it.”

She remembers that she, too, had her own flair growing up.

“I was into cats. I had cat posters everywhere and my mom let me do it,” she said.

She and her husband, Chip, are planning on a return to TV. The couple confirms they are in discussions with Discovery about creating a lifestyle-focused network.

In the meantime, Gaines writes about how she makes a house a home in her new book, “Homebody” (Harper Design), sharing examples from her own farmhouse in Waco and homes she’s worked on.

She recently talked about design in an interview with the AP.

Invision — Brian Ach 

In this Nov. 6, 2018 photo, Joanna Gaines poses for a portrait at The Greenwich Hotel in New York to promote her book “Homebody: A Guide to Creating Spaces You Never Want to Leave.”

AP: When you see an empty room, what’s the first thing you think about when it comes to decorating?

Gaines: I think, ‘OK, how are people going to be walking in and out? What’s the pass-through?’ I want the traffic. I kind of just try to figure out the footprint and then I start thinking about, ‘Where do you put the sofa? Where do you fit the chair or a coffee table?’ Then from there I start adding the bookshelves, stuff on the wall. But I think for me the seating is important because that’s where everyone is congregating. That’s the most important thing.

AP: You also find interesting pieces that either show a person’s personality or a family heirloom. What if someone doesn’t have any of that but wants to add some interesting pieces to their home that aren’t so cookie cutter?

Gaines: I think people need to know that it takes time. You can find things at flea markets, antique stores or even online. It becomes like a treasure hunt.

AP: You seem to like neutrals and black and white. What are your thoughts on color in design?

Gaines: I love the contrast of black and white and I think it’s timeless and no matter what style or genre, black and white can fit into that. I love to implement color with rugs and pillows and art. But if I’m working with clients who love color, I’m all about a colored sofa or piece of furniture. For me, I love a neutral palette, I think it’s calming. But I like keeping it simple and layering colors in later so then when I’m tired of it, I can shift that out simply with a pillow.

AP: When you do have a client who has a different style than you do, is that a fun exercise?

Gaines: It’s so fun. To me, it’s a way of getting things out through other people. For me, we’re staying at the farmhouse, so it’s a fun way to try out other styles.

AP: What about decorating for the holidays? Do you like themes? What do you like?

Gaines: Thinking about the farmhouse, I love just layering in the textures and so it’s really simple. Obviously the tree, the garland and the stockings, but simple, subtle colors. That’s when there’s red, the pillows, the throw blankets, the tree skirt. The holidays can be really busy and home is a place where we can unwind and rest. If there’s too much clutter, I think it’s hard for all of us to feel at ease. I try to keep it minimal but bring in the reds and greens.

AP: That brings up the question of clutter. You want decorative accents but when is it too much?

Gaines: A lot of this is gut instinct. What I feel is enough may not be enough for others. I think when you’re looking at your space and you feel like, ‘OK, I think I’ve got it,’ you can stop.

AP Exclusive: Gov't questions unfair student loan practices

NEW YORK — One of the nation’s largest student loan servicing companies may have driven tens of thousands of borrowers struggling with their debts into higher-cost repayment plans.

That’s the finding of a Department of Education audit of practices at Navient Corp., the nation’s third-largest student loan servicing company.

The conclusions of the 2017 audit, which until now have been kept from the public and were obtained by the AP, appear to support federal and state lawsuits that accuse Navient of boosting its profits by steering some borrowers into the high-cost plans without discussing options that would have been less costly in the long run.

The education department has not shared the audit’s findings with the plaintiffs in the lawsuits. In fact, even while knowing of its conclusions, the department repeatedly argued that state and other federal authorities do not have jurisdiction over Navient’s business practices.

“The existence of this audit makes the Department of Education’s position all the more disturbing,” said Aaron Ament, president of the National Student Legal Defense Network, who worked for the Department of Education under President Barack Obama.

The AP received a copy of the audit and other documents from the office of Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, who has been a vocal critic of Navient and has publicly supported the lawsuits against the company as well as questioning the policies of the Department of Education, currently run by President Trump’s Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos. Warren is considered a potential presidential candidate in 2020.

Navient disputed the audit’s conclusions in its response to the Department of Education and has denied the allegations in the lawsuits. One point the company makes in its defense is that its contract with the education department doesn’t require its customer service representatives to mention all options available to the borrower.

“This (audit), when viewed as a whole, as well as dozens of other audits and reviews, show that Navient overwhelmingly performs in accordance with program rules while consistently helping borrowers choose the right options for their circumstances,” said Paul Hartwick, a company spokesman.

However, the five states suing Navient — Illinois, Pennsylvania, Washington, California and Mississippi — say the behavior breaks their laws regarding consumer protection. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau says in its own lawsuit the practices are unfair, deceptive and abusive and break federal consumer protection laws.

Of the five states that filed lawsuits against Navient, Washington, Illinois and Pennsylvania said they were aware that an audit existed, but did not receive copies from the Department of Education. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau declined to comment on whether it had a copy of the report.

The Department of Education said withholding the report was intentional, repeating the argument it has made in court and in public that only it has jurisdiction over student loan servicing issues, through its Federal Student Aid division, or FSA, which oversees student loans.

“FSA performed the review as part of its own contract oversight, not for the benefit of other agencies,” said Liz Hill, a Department of Education spokeswoman.

Forbearance plans

When student borrowers run into difficulties making payments, they can be offered forbearance, which allows them to delay payments for a set period of time. But under a forbearance plan, in most instances, the loan continues to accumulate interest and becomes a more expensive option in the long run.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau alleges in its lawsuit against Navient that between 2010 and 2015 Navient’s behavior added nearly $4 billion in interest to student borrowers’ loans through the overuse of forbearance. It is a figure that Navient disputes.

A 2017 study by the Government Accountability Office estimates that a typical borrower of a $30,000 student loan who places their loan into forbearance for three years — the maximum allowed for economic-hardship forbearance — would pay an additional $6,742 in interest on that loan.

“This finding is both tragic and infuriating, and the findings appear to validate the allegations that Navient boosted its profits by unfairly steering student borrowers into forbearance when that was often the worst financial option for them,” Warren said in a letter to Navient last week.

Options not mentioned

As part of their inquiry, DOE auditors listened in on about 2,400 randomly selected calls to borrowers from 2014 to 2017 out of a batch of 219,000. On nearly one out of 10 of the calls examined, the Navient representative did not mention other options, including one type of plan that estimates the size of a monthly payment the borrower can afford based on their income. Auditors wrote that many customer service representatives failed to ask questions to determine if such a plan, known as an income-driven repayment plan, might be more beneficial to the borrower.

There is no public record of how many struggling borrowers serviced by Navient may have been impacted by these practices. In its most recent annual report, Navient says it services 6 million student loan borrowers, of which 12.7 percent are more than 30 days past due. That would be roughly 762,000 customers who are struggling in some fashion to pay their student loans.

If one out of every 10 of those customers were pushed into forbearance instead of an income-driven repayment plan, as the department’s audit found, that would be 76,200 of Navient’s borrowers.

The DOE report contains recommendations for how Navient could fix its practices but makes no mention of firm requirements or sanctions.

The education department’s Federal Student Aid division decided to do a review of Navient’s forbearance practices after the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau filed its lawsuit against the company in January 2017, department spokeswoman Hill said, to see if there were any compliance issues.

She said DOE officials came to the conclusion that Navient was not improperly steering borrowers. “Nothing in the report indicates forbearances were applied inappropriately — the observations noted focused on suggested improvements regarding how to best counsel” a small minority of borrowers, she said.

In response to questions over the 2017 audit, Navient pointed to the fact that nine out of every 10 borrowers on the calls were offered all their options and that this audit is just one piece of a broader story. The company noted that the number of its borrowers who are enrolled in income-driven repayment plans is in line with or above the track records of other student loan servicing companies. In addition, it said the company is paid less by the Department of Education for putting students in forbearance.

Sallie Mae spinoff

Navient, which split off from Sallie Mae, is a publicly traded company. Shares of Navient fell sharply after the AP published its report, closing down $1.26, or 10.5 percent, to $10.74.

In calls and presentations with investors, Navient has said a company priority is to lower its operational costs.

As a student loan servicing company, Navient has one primary operating cost: its employees, including the hundreds of customer-service agents who man Navient’s telephones every day. The fewer customer-service agents Navient employs, the more money Navient puts in its pocket. Doing calls to determine whether a borrower should be in an income-driven repayment plan takes longer, student loan industry experts say.

In fact, that is exactly what Navient said in its response to the Department of Education’s audit.

“We (are not) aware of any requirement that borrowers receive all of their repayment options ... on each and every call,” the company said, adding that if the Department of Education chose to require all servicers to discuss income-driven repayment plans with all borrowers, the Department of Education needs to redo its contract with Navient.

Seth Frotman, who was the highest-ranking government official in charge of student loans until he quit in August in protest over how the Trump-controlled Department of Education and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau were handling the issue of student loans, said Navient’s response was outrageous.

“In short, Navient, when confronted with evidence of its bad practices, is telling the government, ‘Pay us more money or take a hike.’ And it looks like the Department of Education took a hike,” Frotman said.

Americans, Canadians are warned: Don't eat romaine lettuce

NEW YORK — Health officials in the U.S. and Canada told people on Tuesday to stop eating romaine lettuce because of a new E. coli outbreak.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said it is working with officials in Canada on the outbreak, which has sickened 32 people in 11 states and 18 people in the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec.

The strain identified is different than the one linked to romaine earlier this year bu appears similar to last year’s outbreak linked to leafy greens.

FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said the agency doesn’t have enough information to ask suppliers for a recall, but he suggested that supermarkets and restaurants should withdraw romaine until the source of the contamination can be identified. People are also being advised to throw out any romaine they have at home.

The contaminated lettuce is likely still on the market, Gottlieb told The Associated Press in a phone interview.

He said FDA wanted to issue a warning before people gathered for Thanksgiving meals, where the potential for exposure could increase.

“We did feel some pressure to draw conclusions as quickly as we could,” he said.

In Canada, officials issued similar warnings to the two provinces where people were sickened. They said there was no evidence to suggest people in other parts of the country had been affected.

Most romaine sold this time of year is grown in California, Gottlieb said. The romaine lettuce linked to the E. coli outbreak earlier this year was from Yuma, Arizona. Tainted irrigation water appeared to be the source of that outbreak, which sickened about 200 people and killed five.

The FDA’s blanket warning in the current outbreak is broader and more direct than the ones issued in the earlier outbreak, said Robert Whitaker, chief science officer for the Produce Marketing Association. In the earlier outbreak, warnings about romaine from Yuma might have been confusing, he said.

Whitaker said the industry group told members they should cooperate with the FDA and stop supplying romaine lettuce, especially since people have been told to stop buying and eating it.

No deaths have been reported in the current outbreak, but 13 people in the U.S. and six in Canada have been hospitalized. The last reported U.S. illness was on Oct. 31, while and the most recent illness in Canada was early this month.

Tracing the source of contaminated lettuce can be difficult because it’s often repackaged by middlemen, said Sarah Sorscher, deputy director of regulatory affairs at the Center for Science in the Public Interest. That can mean the entire industry becomes implicated in outbreaks, even if not all products are contaminated.

“One of the problems with produce is that it can be very hard to trace back,” she said. She said washing contaminated lettuce won’t ensure that harmful germs are killed.

Infections from E. coli can cause symptoms including severe stomach cramps, diarrhea and vomiting. Most people recover within a week, but some illnesses can last longer and be more severe.

Health officials have also been reminding people to properly handle and cook their Thanksgiving birds amid a widespread salmonella outbreak linked to raw turkey. Last week, Hormel recalled some packages of Jennie-O ground turkey that regulators were able to tie to an illness.

But unlike with romaine lettuce, regulators are not warning people to avoid turkey. Salmonella is not prohibited in raw meat and poultry, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which overseas raw meat, said cooking should kill any salmonella.


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