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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.

Charities, businesses offer Thanksgiving food and fellowship
 Lauren Dodd  / 

Volunteers are rolling up their sleeves to make sure everyone in Waco can have a Thanksgiving feast this week.

Local charities such as Meals on Wheels, Friends for Life, Salvation Army and Mission Waco are preparing to feed more than 1,000 people, many of them disadvantaged, disabled or elderly.

And the feasting was already off to a good start Monday evening, with the help of a downtown restaurant that offered an Asian twist on the traditional Thanksgiving dinner to anyone who stopped by.

Dozens of people waited outside Clay Pot, a Vietnamese restaurant at 416 Franklin Ave., for a free dinner Monday, complete with orange-glazed turkey, ham fried rice, green beans and sweet potatoes with cranberry sauce.

Restaurant owners Phong and Thanh Le said their charitable Thanksgiving event was inspired by their 14-year-old daughter.

“She has a heart of gold,” Thanh Le said.

Thanh Le said the event was a way to give back to a community that helped her family when they first emigrated from Vietnam to the United States in 1975.

“Now, 40 years later, we just wanted to give back and share the love,” Thanh said.

The couple hoped to serve at least 200 people with the help of 20 volunteers Monday in what they hope will become an annual tradition.

Meanwhile, local charities are gearing up for feasts large and small, some served in the privacy of their clients’ homes.

  • Mission Waco volunteers plan to feed and entertain 100 people at the Mission Waco Meyer Center, 1226 Washington Ave., which serves homeless and struggling people.

“It’s our gift to the community,” said Mission Waco founder Jimmy Dorrell.

  • The Salvation Army will serve Thanksgiving lunch at its community kitchen, 300 Webster Ave., from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
  • Meals on Wheels will serve 500 meals to area residents Thursday morning with the help of volunteers and donations from the Waco Scottish Rite.

“Being able to help provide meals to someone in my community, it could be a neighbor of mine, someone who isn’t able to see their family, or maybe their family passed away it helps me remember what we should be doing on holidays such as Thanksgiving,” said Laura Ziemer, Meals on Wheels director of client services. “I hope one day if I’m homebound that someone will do that for me."

  • Friends for Life has 200 volunteers preparing to deliver 450 meals to elderly and disabled residents through its Friends for Thanksgiving event.

One of those Friends for Life volunteers is Dixie Petty, 44, of Lorena, who has made it an annual tradition since 19 years ago. Then a young single mom, she learned about the opportunity through a news article.

Petty hasn’t missed a holiday with the nonprofit Friends for Life since.

“There are so many incredible older people who have no family, no children and nobody to come see them,” Petty said. “They want so bad to have just somebody to visit with especially on a special day.”

For 16 years, Petty said she made sure to save Viola Bush’s house as her last stop to allow for extra time with her favorite person. Bush loved it when Petty’s children would visit her on Thanksgiving, she said.

“She had nothing to give us, but her love, her stories, her time and her home,” Petty said. “She always called us her, ‘babies.’ ”

Two years ago, Petty said she was heartbroken to learn that Bush, 96, passed away weeks before Thanksgiving. Petty cherishes the group photo she took with Bush and her children their last Thanksgiving together, she said.

She urged others to give volunteering a try on Thanksgiving.

“The blessing you’re going to get in return is incomprehensible,” she said. “It’s a blessing for years to come.”

What's closed for the Thanksgiving holiday
 Cassie L Smith  / 

Here’s a list of local closures for the Thanksgiving holiday:

  • Offices will be closed Thursday and Friday at McLennan County and the cities of Waco, Hewitt, Robinson, Woodway, Bellmead and Lacy Lakeview.
  • The city of Waco will pick up Thursday trash routes on Wednesday, with Friday routes running as usual. In Hewitt, Robinson, Woodway, Bellmead and Lacy Lakeview, Thursday’s trash will be picked up on Friday and Friday’s trash will be picked up Saturday.
  • Waco’s Cobbs Convenience Center and Waco Regional Landfill will be closed Thursday and Friday, but the landfill will accept franchise haulers on Friday until 4:30 p.m.
  • The Waco-McLennan County Library System will close all four libraries at 6 p.m. Wednesday and remain closed on Thursday and Friday. The libraries will reopen Saturday during regularly scheduled hours. Hewitt’s library will be closed Thursday through Sunday.
  • Waco Transit will not run routes on Thanksgiving Day, but the transit terminal will remain open for Greyhound customers. Normal operations will resume on Friday. Transit Administration offices will be closed Thursday and Friday.
  • The Cameron Park Zoo, Texas Ranger Hall of Fame & Museum, and the Waco Mammoth National Monument will be closed Thursday. The attractions will all reopen on Friday.
  • H-E-B supermarkets will open from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursday, but the pharmacy and curbside and home delivery will be closed. The stores resume with normal hours on Black Friday, and curbside and home delivery will begin at 9 a.m. Friday.

Hewitt runoff set for Dec. 15, early voting starts next week
 Cassie L Smith  / 

The Hewitt City Council on Monday set Dec. 15 as the date of a runoff election between two candidates for the vacant at-large council seat, with early voting starting next week.

The candidates, Erica Bruce and Betty Orton, got the most votes in a lively eight-way race in the Nov. 6 election, but neither won a majority.

“Because of the number of people that ran it was probably a likelihood that we would have a runoff,” City Attorney Mike Dixon said. The Hewitt election was the only race in McLennan County that resulted in a runoff in this month’s election.

Early voting will run 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Nov. 28-30, with the same hours Dec. 3-7. For Dec. 10-11, the hours will be 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

The Hewitt Public Safety Facility, 100 Patriot Court, will serve as the sole voting location. Applications for ballot by mail are due Dec. 4. to the McLennan County Elections Office.

The winner will serve for the remainder of a term that expires May 4. The at-large seat has been vacant since July, when Councilman Kurt Krakowian resigned amid a time of political turmoil on the council. He had been appointed by the rest of the council only five months earlier to replace Alex Snider, who had to resign when he moved out of the city for work reasons.

During the November election, Bruce had the strongest support of the slate of candidates, with 1,408 votes, or 32.7 percent. Orton received 806, or 18.7 percent.

Staff photo — Jerry Larson 


Staff photo — Jerry Larson 


Bruce, 43, is a toxicologist and medical researcher at Baylor University. Orton, 81, retired in 1998 after working as Hewitt city secretary for 19 years.

More than 61.5 percent of registered Hewitt voters cast a ballot in November, an unusually high turnout for Hewitt, which typically has May elections. Hewitt had not even had a contested council election since a 2015, which drew only 168 voters — less than 2 percent of registered voters. A 2012 election was also canceled for lack of contested races.

In this year’s election, 6,021 Hewitt residents voted for a council candidate, while 1,715 undervoted, meaning that they did not vote for any of of the candidates.

Almost 53 percent of the Hewitt residents who cast a ballot were women, while 3 percent did not identify a gender, according to McLennan County election data.

Police investigating fatal wreck involving gravel truck
 Tommy Witherspoon  / 

A 22-year-old man was killed and four others were injured Monday afternoon in a two-vehicle accident on University Parks Drive involving a gravel truck and a pickup.

The identity of the person killed in the wreck was not immediately available, nor were the identities or conditions of those injured in the crash at South Third Street and University Parks Drive near Loop 340.

Waco police accident reconstruction detectives and crime scene technicians were investigating the incident, which occurred about 1:45 p.m. Monday. A gravel truck southbound on University Parks struck the passenger side of the pickup, which was traveling west on South Third Street, said Waco police Sgt. John Allovio.

The driver of the gravel truck, owned by KHC Trucking, complained of chest pains and was taken to a local hospital by ambulance, Allovio said. The other three occupants of the pickup truck also were taken to a hospital with unspecified injuries, he said.

The intersection was closed for three or four hours during the police investigation, Allovio said.