Deported To Mexico, US Veterans Are Pressed Into Service By Drug Cartels

 

Deported To Mexico, US Veterans Are Pressed Into Service By Drug Cartels
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It had only been a few weeks, maybe a month, since Jose Camacho had been relieved of his prison shackles and stepped off a U.S. immigration bus into the dusty streets of Ciudad Juárez to set about building a new life south of the border. That’s when an old friend showed up. Not a friend, really — someone he knew. A guy he’d met on the inside. “Let’s get a beer,” he suggested. Camacho didn’t drink anymore, and he told the guy so. But the guy was persistent. Squinting over the guy’s shoulder, Camacho could see someone else in the car, a man he didn’t know, but he recognized the tattoos. This wasn’t an invitation.

Entra,” the stranger said. Get in. Then Camacho made yet another mistake in a life that had no shortage of them.

“I should’ve never got in the car,” Camacho tells me, recalling the story several years later between drags on an off-brand cigarette, a poor man’s substitute for the Marlboro Reds he can no longer afford.

It’s a hot afternoon in late April, and Camacho and I are at the home of Jose Francisco Lopez, a 73-year-old U.S. Army veteran, who is tending to a wok full of taco meat while a handful of men — mostly ex-military, plus a reservist from El Paso — swap stories about their time in uniform. Spools of concertina wire run along the wrought iron bars that flank the small, square courtyard. All of the houses in this part of Juárez are like this. Every street looks like a row of jail cells. But Camacho isn’t referring to the local architecture when he describes Juárez as being “like prison.” He’s talking about the gang culture, which is deeply rooted on both sides of the border. Here, there’s no escaping your past.

The friend was working for a drug cartel, and he was approaching Camacho with a proposition. Work with us. Camacho, a former Army cavalry scout, had a skill set that was very much in demand. “They knew I had been in the Army because of what I had to do in prison to survive,” he continues, explaining that he had also done a stint behind bars in California for home invasions. He gestures toward the rest of the guests. “Ask any of these guys. If you’ve been in prison over there and you live in Juárez, you’ll get approached.”

At 61, Camacho would be a top contender for the World’s Scariest Grandpa award. He resembles a Danny Trejo character, but with a longer rap sheet and more prison tattoos. Like many career criminals, his resume is inscribed in permanent ink on his body, in a constellation of words and symbols that people who’ve lived the sort of life Camacho has can readily interpret. There are a lot of those people in Juárez. At least one tattoo identifies him as having once been affiliated with a Mexican-American gang aligned with La Linea, the armed wing of the Juárez cartel. On his forearm, there’s an image of an American GI accompanied by the words Vietnam Veteran Recondo.

Camacho didn’t fight in Vietnam, but he did serve in the U.S. military between 1974 and 1980, first in the Army and then the Navy, and was honorably discharged from both. His DD214 lists his military occupational specialty in the Army as armor reconnaissance specialist (hence the tattoo). He never got a chance to put his combat skills to work in the jungles of Southeast Asia,  but he’s spent most of his life after the service applying those skills elsewhere. “Military experience is money in Mexico,” he says.

Camacho kept his mouth shut as the car left the city limits. “I had to agree right away,” he says, “because if you don’t, they’re going to beat you up or probably kill you. Period.”  Eventually, the men dropped him off at a compound in the middle of the desert. There, he says, he was paid to teach members of one well-known cartel the weapons skills and small-unit tactics he’d learned in the Army. He tells me he wasn’t the only U.S. military veteran who worked on the compound. (Although Task & Purpose was unable to confirm this claim, more than one source described it as an open secret.)

“Over there, we were wetbacks. Here, we’re gringos.”

Camacho eventually fled the compound and made his way “across the goddamn sierra” back to Juárez. Last year, he heard about a safe house for deported U.S. military veterans in Tijuana called The Bunker and contacted the group that runs it to see if they could help him secure his military benefits, and possibly get him back over the border, where he hopes to spend the remainder of his days in peace. They put him in touch with Lopez, whose house will soon double as the official Bunker in Juárez. Not long ago, the house was, more or less, an actual bunker. Lopez recalls waking up many nights to pitched gun battles being fought in the neighborhood. Sometimes he’d think he was back in Vietnam.

“I wanted to move to Tijuana, but then I heard the Gulf Cartel is there,” Camacho says. “They’d just kill me on the spot if they saw my tattoos.”

Camacho graciously accepts a plate of tacos from our host and then sets it aside, noting that he’s trying to eat healthy. He doesn’t strike me as the clean-living type, but staying physically fit, he explains, is important when you’re a debt collector in Juárez. That’s what Camacho does for work now — he’s a strongman for local businessmen in a city with a notoriously corrupt police force. It’s not a complete departure from his former life, but it’s certainly an upgrade. He lifts up his shirt to reveal a back brace and sighs. “My bones are getting dry,” he says. “There will come a time when I can no longer make money.” It’s hard to rough people up when you have dry bones. It’s also hard to run.

“I stay in one house for three or four months, and then I move. If I see something I don’t like, I boogie,” Camacho says, explaining that he’s biding his time, waiting for the people who still know him from his prison days to die off. “Eventually, they will. I just have to survive that long.”

That evening, Camacho and several other deported veterans gather around a table to discuss their predicament — the first of many such meetings that will happen here. The conversation eventually turns to President Donald Trump’s stance on immigration and his calls to seal up the border. Everyone agrees it’s the right thing to do.

“What if you invited me into your house, and I start fucking your wife, and spit in your food, and rob you?” one guys asks. “What are you going to tell me? You’re going to say, ‘Fuck you, homey. Get the fuck out of my house.’” But by virtue of their service, he adds, veterans merit a different sort of treatment. He compares the military to a street gang that works together to defend its turf from rivals. “Then I fuck up and you tell me I’m no longer welcome on this turf? Hold on, ese, I fought for this turf. My mom lives on this turf.”

I bring up The Wall. Will the migration stop if it gets built? The question is met with laughter. Camacho answers first: “Can they build it miles underground? Can they build it into the sea? Nothing can stop people from getting over. Nothing.” Behind us, Lopez and a few other deportees have begun arranging legal documents on a table for the men to fill out. There’s not a single person in this group who hasn’t broken the law. Some have committed crimes much worse than crossing the border illegally. But they’ve come to The Bunker to try a new approach, and, in many ways, it’s the path of most resistance. Nobody in their situation has ever been allowed to return to the United States.

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There are currently three ways for an immigrant veteran who’s been deported following a conviction for an aggravated felony to return to the United States legally.

One option is to appeal the case, but it has to be done quickly. “From a practical point of view, if someone has already been deported and is now in their home country, this is no longer an option,”says Sophia Gregg, an immigration attorney with the Legal Aid Justice Center in Virginia.

Another option is for the deported veteran to secure a pardon, either from the president or the governor of the state they were convicted in. This doesn’t guarantee re-entry into the United States, but it is a necessary step before one reapplies for legal resident status. Only three deported veterans have received such pardons. So far, none have returned to the States.

The other option, statistically more feasible, is to die; all veterans discharged under conditions other than dishonorable, even if they’ve been deported, are entitled to a military funeral and burial with full honors.

In that scenario, the VA will pay $300 toward the cost of returning the body to the United States. Federal law mandates that the ceremony must be performed by an honor guard detail consisting of no fewer than two active members of the armed forces. The casket remains draped in the American flag until “Taps” is played (by a bugler if one is available), and then the flag is meticulously folded into a triangle and presented to the deceased’s next of kin.

Under Trump, those are likely to remain the only options. After all, guys like Camacho are exactly the type of immigrants to whom the president was referring when he said, “We have some bad hombres and we’re going to get them out.” Why would he want them back? Still, Camacho and a growing cadre of deported veterans living Mexico believe they can find sympathy among even the staunchest conservatives in Washington. Because it was also Trump who vowed to “take care of our veterans like they’ve never been taken care of before.”

As a country, we go to great lengths to ensure that military veterans are cared for. We shower them with praise and free meals at Applebee’s. We pay for their college and give them access to free health care. When they get in trouble for minor crimes, we send them to special courts that take into account the hardships they endured in the service. We even spare them the death penalty when they’ve massacred innocent civilians. But for veterans who are non-U.S. citizens, the support stops the moment they’re convicted of an aggravated felony.

The biggest challenge for deported veterans wanting to return to the United States legally is persuading people — specifically, American policymakers — to view them as former U.S. service members who made mistakes (and paid for them), rather than run-of-the-mill undocumented criminals.

It doesn’t help that many have settled in the dangerous border towns of Mexico, where jobs are scarce and crime pays. They have done so not because they enjoy the scenery but because many have family just across the border, and their occasional trips south represent the veterans’ only remaining connection to the lives they once lived. To leave the border towns would mean to give up on the dream of return.

Ironically, however, their proximity to the border has placed them in the crosshairs — at risk not only of being killed in one of the most dangerous places on earth, but of being pressed into service by the cartels, forced into a criminal lifestyle they have long since left behind. Nearly all of the veterans I met in Juárez told me they’d been approached by the cartels. Left to build new lives among the drug traffickers and sicarios that Trump’s wall is meant to keep out, many must rely on skills they acquired in the military and behind bars to survive.

Lopez is the director of the recently established Juárez chapter of Deported Veterans Support House, a Tijuana-based nonprofit founded in 2013 by Hector Barajas, a former Army paratrooper, who was deported to Mexico in 2004 and is now the leading advocate for deported U.S. military veterans worldwide. The Department of Homeland Security, which is responsible for tracking deportations, has no idea how many veterans of the U.S. military have been deported. Some estimates put the number in the thousands. Barajas says his organization has helped 300 deported veterans scattered across 36 different countries.

Through grassroots activism and social media, Deported Veterans Support House has managed to bring together a small network of nonprofit groups, veterans organizations, and individual volunteers to help deported veterans secure military pensions and benefits, and perhaps one day return to the United States. To date, their efforts have yielded only one notable success story: In 2016, an Iraq War veteran named Daniel Torres was allowed to return to the United States five years after he was deported to Mexico from France. (After the Marine Corps had discharged Torres upon discovering that he had used a fake birth certificate to enlist, he’d tried to join the French Foreign Legion.) But his situation was unique: he had never been convicted of an aggravated felony.

Aggravated felony is a term of art used in U.S. immigration law to describe a broad category of criminal offenses, from violent crimes like murder and sexual assault, to drug possession and theft. A host of petty offenses — filing false tax returns, for example — can also be labeled an aggravated felony if immigration authorities deem the circumstances around it to be evidence of “bad moral character.”

“Sometimes it is simply a misdemeanor plus another petty charge,” Gregg explains. “For example, it can be a petty drug charge plus a petty trafficking charge. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you were moving cocaine in from Guatemala to sell it in Texas. It can be as simple as, you got caught taking a joint of marijuana from one county to another. That could be called ‘trafficking.’”

Meet The Men Of Deported Veterans Support House
Deported Veterans Support House is a nonprofit founded in 2013 by Hector Barajas, a former Army paratrooper, who was deported to Mexico in 2004 and is now the leading advocate for deported U.S. military veterans worldwide. The Department of Homeland Security, which is responsible for tracking deportations, has no idea how many veterans of the U.S. military have been deported. Some estimates put the number in the thousands. Barajas says his organization has helped 300 deported veterans scattered across 36 different countries. Task & Purpose’s Adam Linehan went to Juarez to hear their stories in person.

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The deported veterans who have banded together in Juárez include criminals of all stripes. But they rarely discuss their pasts. Their focus now is on the future — “getting back home” — and helping each other survive in the meantime. The mission binds them like soldiers at war. A brotherhood with few allies on either side of the border, they are men without a country.

“Over there, we were wetbacks,” one tells me. “Here, we’re gringos.”

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On March 16, 1966, a U.S. Army reconnaissance platoon was moving down a narrow jungle trail in Vietnam’s Long Khánh Province to reinforce a battalion of paratroopers engaged in a massive firefight, when it inadvertently walked into the rear of an attacking North Vietnamese Army formation. The pointman spotted the enemy first and motioned for a grenadier to come forward and initiate a hasty ambush. He didn’t have time to get off a single shot before a barrage of enemy grenades and machine-gun fire began pummeling the platoon from all directions. They were pinned down.

The platoon medic was a man named Spc. Alfred Rascon. Over the course of the engagement, which lasted between 10 and 20 minutes, he was wounded four separate times, beginning with a bullet that entered his hip, rode up his spine, and exited through his shoulder. But that’s not why there’s a school for Army combat medics named after him.

“You have this man who served his country, who went to the Middle East, and now he sleeps on a couch in a house that didn’t even have running water when he showed up.”

Rascon earned the Medal of Honor that day. His medal citation is one of the more exhaustive on record, owing to the fact that Rascon used his own body to shield his comrades from enemy grenades — not once, but a total of three times. One explosion Rascon absorbed was so close it blew his helmet off. But he never stopped fighting. In fact, he refused to be airlifted out of the jungle until he had treated everyone else in the platoon who’d been wounded. He barely survived.

Lengthy as it is, Rascon’s citation does not mention that he had immigrated to the United States from Mexico when he was a child. Nor does it mention that he didn’t become a naturalized citizen until after he returned home from Vietnam. And why would it? Those details aren’t relevant to the story. “The men I served with did not even know that I was not a citizen, nor did they care,” he later recalled in an interview. “They just called me ‘Doc.’”

Rascon’s actions in Vietnam won him a spot in America’s pantheon of war heroes, but they also place him among a long overlooked subclass of warriors that has been vital to the military since its inception. Like millions of immigrants before him, Rascon chose to enlist in the Army; however, many others were drafted during Vietnam, as they had been during all of the major wars before that (approximately 18% of GIs who served in World War I were foreign-born). Which is to say, countless immigrants — whether enlistees or conscripts — have bled and died fighting on behalf of the United States.

Even in the all-volunteer era, immigrants have continued to serve in high numbers. In fact, one of the first U.S. service members killed in action in the Iraq War was Marine Lance Cpl. Jose Gutierrez, an orphan from Guatemala who smuggled himself into the United States and was only naturalized after his death. He was one of approximately 3,000 non-citizens who participated in the invasion of Iraq, and one of 10 who were killed within the first month of the war. To some extent, those numbers were by design.

By 2002, with the war in Afghanistan underway and the march to Baghdad on the horizon, it became clear in Washington that special measures would be required to fill the ranks of an all-volunteer military tasked with a massive mission. On July 3 of that year, President W. Bush signed an executive order to provide expedited naturalization for “aliens and non-citizen nationals serving in an active-duty status.”

Previously, non-citizens serving in peacetime were required either to have lived legally in the United States for five years or to have served three years on active duty before they were eligible to apply for citizenship. Bush’s order cut the wait time for post-9/11 immigrant service members down to one day.

Bush was doing what presidents before him have done during virtually every major conflict since the Civil War: Entice immigrants into the military by dangling the promise of U.S. citizenship. Of course, not all immigrants enlist for citizenship. Many are drawn to service for the same reasons citizens are — money and other benefits, job stability, a sense of patriotism, the desire to fight for a cause greater than themselves. Still, the executive order appears to have had an impact. Between December 2000 and February 2003, the number of non-citizens on active duty jumped from 23,000 to 37,000, with thousands more in the reserves.

In the years that followed, a series of additional laws and programs, including one that made it possible for foreign-born recruits to take the Oath of United States Allegiance upon graduating basic training, were implemented. Between September 2001 and 2015, roughly 102,000 immigrant service members and veterans from all generations were sworn in as U.S. citizens.

Given the unprecedented access to citizenship through military service, why have so many veterans been deported? That question was the focus of a July 2016 report by the American Civil Liberties Union. Entitled “Discharged, Then Discarded,” it blamed the issue on “bureaucratic bungling” and “government indifference.”

“The federal government’s failure to help naturalize immigrants serving in the U.S. military has led to the deportation of untold numbers of veterans, all of whom were entitled to become citizens because of their service,” read a statement from the ACLU that accompanied the report.

“Deported veterans were in the United States legally and sustained physical wounds and emotional trauma in conflicts as far back as the war in Vietnam,” the statement continued. “Once they returned from service, however, they were subject to draconian immigration laws that reclassified many minor offenses as deportable crimes, and were effectively banished from the country.”

The “draconian immigration laws” the ACLU was referring to are the result of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, signed into law by President Bill Clinton, which among other things greatly expanded the definition of “aggravated felonies” to encompass a range of offenses, including some misdemeanors that previously would not have led to deportation.

Life as an immigrant in the United States only got more precarious from there. By 2013, Obama had deported more people than any other U.S. president in history, at a rate of about 400,000 a year, and so far under Trump, ICE arrests are up nearly 40 percent. Still, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement insists that it takes military service into account when determining whether or not an immigrant’s crimes should qualify as a deportable offense.

ICE “respects the service and sacrifice of those in military service,” agency spokesman Thomas Byrd said in a statement to Task & Purpose, adding that such cases are  “authorized by the senior leadership in a field office, following an evaluation by local counsel.”

He also noted that ICE views military service as “a positive factor that should be considered … when deciding whether or not prosecutorial discretion should be exercised.” Nonetheless, he said, “applicable law requires ICE to mandatorily detain and process for removal individuals who have been convicted of aggravated felonies.”

“They knew I had been in the Army because of what I had to do in prison to survive. … Ask any of these guys. If you’ve been in prison over there and you live in Juárez, you’ll get approached.”

The ACLU report sparked widespread media interest in deported veterans. Soon, American journalists were flocking to Tijuana. Veteran motorcycle clubs arrived from the States with food and supplies to stock The Bunker. Volunteers, including off-duty employees from the Department of Veterans Affairs, began caravanning in on the weekends to help the veterans file for pensions and other benefits remotely. The ACLU even agreed to provide free legal assistance to deported vets who it thought stood a fighting chance of securing appeals or government pardons.

Meanwhile, in March of this year, Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva of Arizona introduced a bill, The Veterans Visa and Protection Act of 2017, that would prevent noncitizen service members and veterans from being removed from the United States unless they were convicted of a violent crime. The bill would also require the Department of Homeland Security to establish a program to permit eligible deported veterans (ones who have not been convicted of violent crimes) to return to the United States.

“They made a mistake, and many citizen veterans have made those same mistakes upon their return,” Grijalva tells Task & Purpose. “Are we setting up a special status for a group of deportees that no other deportee has? Yes, because they do have that special status. Serving in the military is special.”

To date, the bill has been co-sponsored by 48 members of the House, all Democrats.

“The majority of these guys were deported because of crimes related to addiction,” says Alexander Heaton, director of the Veteran Action Coordination Committee, which is lobbying members of Congress to sign the bill. “So, really, this is a veterans health issue. Many got in trouble while self-medicating because of things that had happened to them in the service. But getting that through to Congress has been really difficult, because a lot of them just see it as another immigration issue.”

All of the congressmen Heaton approaches want to know why the deported veterans didn’t get their citizenship in the military. It’s a perfectly reasonable question, and one that Heaton is uniquely qualified to answer. Born in the United Kingdom, Heaton became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 2008 while serving the Marine Corps.

“I only found out that I could be naturalized through the military by my interpreter in Iraq,” he says.“It’s not something that is mentioned to you, because once you get to the fleet, everyone assumes you’re American. You have to initiate it yourself and you have to follow up on it yourself. You know how military paperwork is — if you want it done right once, you have to submit it three times.”

Efforts on both sides of the border to draw attention to deported veterans appear to be paying off, albeit slowly. Last month, Barajas and two other veterans living in Mexico received full pardons from California Gov. Jerry Brown, making it possible for them to re-apply for legal resident status.

Several days after he received word of his pardon, Barajas flew to Juárez for the official opening of a second Bunker — the one at Lopez’s house. Additional Bunkers are planned for Monterey and Jamaica. Barajas has every intention of returning to the States if he’s allowed to — he was raised in Los Angeles, and his daughter still lives there — and the decision could be made within the next several months. Still, he says, he won’t stop “fighting for his brothers” until all of them come home.

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Once a week, Ivan Ocon, a 39-year-old U.S. Army veteran, takes a bus ride into downtown Juárez to buy sheets of cured leather from the only shop in town that will sell them to him. He’s not sure why the others won’t. Maybe it’s his gringo accent, or the prison tattoos, or the baggy plaid shirts he likes to wear buttoned all the way up to the top.

Ocon grew up just north of the border, in Las Cruces, New Mexico. He has broad shoulders and a slight paunch, the sort of physique men develop when they lift a lot of weights in prison.

Ocon became a craftsman during his time behind bars: Nine consecutive years in federal penitentiaries in Colorado and Texas, followed by a 10-month stint in an immigration detention center on the outskirts of Houston. He specializes in handmade leather wallets and belts, which he adorns with intricate designs. Leatherwork is how Ocon made his commissary money in prison. He honed his skills as an illustrator by drawing pictures for his daughter, whom he hasn’t seen since she was 3 years old. She’s 15 now.

“The cartels are waiting for you. They know you’re desperate. They know you’ve spent time in prison. … if they pick you up, there’s three ways it can go. They’ll either kill you, recruit you, or kidnap you and hold you for ransom.”

These days, Ocon’s workshop is a converted storage closet in his grandmother’s house, a tiny, one-bedroom concrete dwelling behind a spike-tipped wrought-iron gate on a sun-bleached street in Juárez. Ocon moved in a year ago, after he was deported from the United States. The neighborhood is safe, he says — “There have only been a few killings.” At night, he sleeps on the couch.

But he doesn’t sleep much — not since he began receiving threatening Facebook messages. They came from an account he thought belonged to a woman interested in hooking up, but that later turned out to be a fake profile run by gang members. They had seen Ocon on the local news talking about the plight of deported veterans, and pegged him as a rich man. The messages demanded money — a lot more than Ocon could afford — and included photos of his family. He deleted his Facebook account and tried not to think about it.

“All I can do is try to be more careful,” Ocon says. “But at the end of the day, I’m a soldier, and I’m going to have to do what I have to do.”

How Mexican Cartels Target Deported Veterans
Living in Juárez, Mexico, places deported veterans in the crosshairs — at risk not only of being killed in one of the most dangerous places on earth, but of being pressed into service by the cartels, forced into a criminal lifestyle they have long since left behind. Nearly all of the veterans Task & Purpose met in Juárez said they’d been approached by the cartels. Left to build new lives among the drug traffickers and sicarios that Trump’s wall is meant to keep out, many must rely on skills they acquired in the military and behind bars to survive.

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Between 1997 and December 2003, Ocon was, in fact, a soldier. He served as a generator mechanic in the U.S. Army. His workshop is crowded with mementos of his time in uniform: A wooden box he bought in Japan filled with regimental coins, pictures from his deployment to Jordan in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, a plaque mounted with a pair of crossed tomahawks that was given to him at the end of his tour in Korea with the 2nd Infantry Division.

“For a job well done,” it reads. “We wish you well in pursuing your future. Hope you can make it without your soju. Good luck from the motorpool.”

Also on the wall is a framed photograph of Ocon’s cousin, who was killed in a drive-by shooting in Las Cruces in the early 90s. He was 15, a gangbanger. His killers belonged to a rival crew. Ocon turns somber telling the story. They were best friends, he explains — just a couple of Mexican kids growing up poor in a small American town.

Like many kids from crime-infested neighborhoods, Ocon didn’t need to join the Army to learn how to shoot a gun, and he didn’t need to go to war to see combat. But the military offered a noble departure from the streets. And there was another bonus, as the recruiter pointed out: Serving his adopted country could be a fast track to citizenship. Although it didn’t quite work out that way, Ocon knows he’s partly to blame.

“I started asking about citizenship after I got back from Korea,” he says. “I went to JAG and they were like, ‘We don’t know nothing about that.’ They couldn’t even tell me where I needed to go, or what I needed to do. So I just went back to doing my job, just being a soldier, not really thinking about it.”

In 2006, Ocon was involved in a kidnapping in El Paso. The details are hazy, but somehow the 16-year-old nephew of a certain drug dealer wound up on the other side of the border, and the kid’s family got a series of calls requesting money. One of those calls was traced to Ocon’s phone. While he denies playing a role in the abduction, a jury convicted Ocon of aiding and abetting in a kidnapping — “because I didn’t report my brother” — and sentenced him to 10 years in prison.

A decade later, in early 2016, Ocon stepped off a U.S. immigration bus in the Mexican city of Nuevo Laredo, with $80 to his name. His skin was paler than it had ever been. His muscles were soft. For the previous 10 months, he had been confined to a cell in an ICE detention center 23 hours a day. Sometimes weeks would go by before the guards would let him outside. It was worse than prison, he says. Much worse. He arrived in Mexico  with shoes but no shoelaces, which worried him because he knew that his first few minutes on the ground were crucial, and that he’d have to act fast.

Ocon isn’t the only deported veteran who told me that stepping off the immigration bus was one of the most terrifying moments of his life.

“The cartels are waiting for you,” one told me. “They know you’re desperate. They know you’ve spent time in prison. So you’ve got a small window of time to get out of town and get where you’re going. Because if they pick you up, there’s three ways it can go. They’ll either kill you, recruit you, or kidnap you and hold you for ransom.”

Ocon managed to squeeze on to the first bus bound for Juárez. Not all of the deportees were so lucky.

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On the morning before the official ribbon-cutting ceremony for the opening of The Bunker in Juárez, three rows of neatly stacked papers sit atop a plastic table in Lopez’s backyard. These are the first of many forms that will need to be filled out as the deported veterans begin the process of trying to secure medical benefits, pensions, and, ultimately, permission to return to the United States. For now, Lopez’s home is serving as the local headquarters for the operation. Lopez settled here in 2004 after serving nine years in a Texas prison for the crime of possessing “five hundred grams or more” of cocaine, according to court documents.

“We need to be together and be a group,” he says as he folds pamphlets that will be given to guests at tomorrow’s ceremony. His hands move slowly, as if underwater. “We need to fight for our rights. That’s the only way we’re going to get it done.”

Lopez’s family immigrated to Wichita Falls, a small town in north Texas, when he was a teenager, and he was drafted into the U.S. military in 1967 at the age of 23. According to his military records, Lopez served with the Army’s 15th Transportation Battalion for a year in Vietnam, from 1968 to 1969. He hardly spoke English. “I done everything,” he says. “Sometimes I did rescue missions in the helicopters. Sometimes I was a driver. Sometimes I went with the infantry. Whatever they tell me to do.” He thought his honorable discharge from the Army made him a U.S. citizen until he found out he was being deported back to Mexico. Because he didn’t have money to fight his case, ICE agents took Lopez straight from prison to Juárez, the nearest border town.

Lopez left behind five children in Texas, all U.S. citizens. Some of them he hasn’t seen in more than 20 years, and he doesn’t know how many grandchildren he has. “I want to get back so I can find my family,” he says. “I want to see them and hug them.” The walls of his house are decorated with pictures he’s painted, of birds, of desert landscapes, of the Virgin Mary. He’s talented enough to make a meager living as a painter, but art is also his therapy. There’s no VA facility in Mexico; no monthly disability checks in the mail. He tells me he’s still haunted by his experiences in Vietnam.

One of the two bedrooms in Lopez’s house has been converted into a shelter with bunk beds and cots for vets down on their luck. Before The Bunker in Tijuana was moved to a building donated by the city, Barajas ran a similar shelter out of his apartment. This is one of the more vital services the organization provides. Few deported veterans are able to find jobs when they arrive in Mexico. Some, like Marine Corps veteran Mike Evans, didn’t even speak Spanish when they stepped off the immigration bus.

Which helps explain why I confuse Evans for a volunteer from the States when he strolls into the Bunker. “What’s up, man,” he says, pulling me in for a bro hug. “Mike.”

Ocon introduces Evans as his neighbor. They first met several days ago on the street, by chance. Evans was stunned to discover that there were other U.S. military veterans living in Juárez. For the past eight years, he thought it was just him. “You guys have plans tonight?” he says. “I’m DJing at La Bodeguita. Come by. It’s gonna be sick.”

Sporting a shirt too small for his musclebound torso and a generous amount of hair gel, Evans, 39, looks, acts, and sounds like a cast member on the “Jersey Shore,” albeit with a slight Southern accent. There’s an explanation for this: He was adopted by an American university professor and spent his childhood in Columbia, South Carolina. Which makes him a citizen, right? Nope. Not in 1984. Instead, Evans, who had the rare privilege of choosing his own first name when he was 6 years old, was granted resident status through amnesty. “Later, when I applied for citizenship,” he says, “it fucked me.”

Evans served four years in the Marine Corps and was discharged honorably in 2000 without citizenship. “I just got so frustrated with the process, I stopped trying,” he says. In 2005, after a period “of fucking off and getting into trouble in El Paso,” he completed and filed all the naturalization paperwork and was approved. Two weeks before he was scheduled to take the Oath of United States Allegiance, Evans was named as an accomplice by a drug dealer who’d been arrested for selling ecstasy several years before. There was evidence. Evans was sent to prison for four years. In 2009, while in the midst of fighting his case, he was abruptly deported. His sister rushed to the immigration detention center and arrived just in time to give him an English-Spanish dictionary before he got on the bus.

At the height of the turf wars between the Sinaloa and Juárez drug cartels, Juárez was just as kinetic as anything American troops have faced in Iraq and Afghanistan. The battles waged daily in the city’s streets featured all of the familiar tools of carnage: sniper rifles, grenades, car bombs, machine-gun fire. Gunmen would slice through weddings and birthday parties just to send a message or mark turf. Many mornings revealed headless and mutilated bodies strung from bridges and light posts. Twenty-six hundred people were murdered in the city the year Evans arrived, barely enough money in his pockets for a tiny room downtown, which he furnished with an air mattress and two milk crates (one for a chair, the other for a table). In 2010, Juárez ranked as the murder capital of the world. That same year, El Paso, which sits just beyond a narrow sliver of the Rio Grande — walking distance, if you have an American passport or a visa — boasted the lowest crime rate of all major cities in the United States. Evans could see El Paso from his window.

The turf wars have subsided, but the cartels still exert varying degrees of control over nearly every facet of the city. Extortion is rampant. People are still wary of hanging out in groups. Most of the bars and clubs remain off-limits to “civilians” after dark. There’s still no shortage of violence — Mexico is currently second only to Syria on the list of world’s deadliest conflict zones — but the killings in Juárez have become more focused, less indiscriminate. One former cartel member, a U.S. Army veteran, tells me the war now is over what drugs are being sold. The Sinaloa cartel recently introduced crystal meth into the local market, triggering retaliation from the more “old school” factions that see the highly addictive drug as disruptive.

“Meth is not a good business model,” says the veteran, whom I’ll call John (he asked not to be named). “If you get someone hooked on coke, you’ll have a customer for life. But with meth, they’ll probably be dead in five years. So now they’re going after the meth heads, shooting up the places they hang out to send a message.”

“I had to agree right away, because if you don’t, they’re going to beat you up or probably kill you. Period.”

John had served with the 3rd Infantry Division in Ramadi with a colleague of mine, who put us in touch. We meet for dinner in Juárez one night. When I ask him if he’s ever seen other U.S. military veterans working for the cartels, he tells me the same thing Camacho did: He had, and that some of them — “White guys, black guys, Mexicans” — commuted in from the other side of the border. John, a U.S. citizen, used to be one of those guys. He lives in El Paso. “After I got out of the Army, I started coming to Juárez on the weekends to party, do coke,” he says. “And I just got sucked into that life. It was dark.” He recalls an internal feud that nearly resulted in his execution, late night convoys through the desert, and the brutal beating he was forced to undergo before being allowed to leave the cartel. I ask him how long it’s been since he quit. He pauses to do the math. “Six months,” he says. “November.”

Most of the deported veterans I meet in Juárez refuse to speak on the record about the cartels for fear of being labeled a “snitch,” but many have stories that go something like this: Someone they had met in prison or in an immigration detention center looked them up after they’d arrived in Juárez and asked if they’d like to put their military experience to work for a cartel. A few, like Camacho, weren’t given a choice. Interestingly, their specific military backgrounds — whether they had been, say, an infantryman or an admin clerk — were irrelevant. It was the fact that they had been trained by the U.S. military that made them appealing as potential recruits. That and the assumption that they were desperate.

“I was approached one time by a guy, since he knew that I’d been in the military, to purchase weapons for the mafia,” Juan Salazar, a 50-year-old former Army medic, tells me, volunteering that he had been deported in the 90s after getting busted with 50 pounds of marijuana in Texas. “I definitely denied, because once I had made a mistake and got deported, I realized that I had failed to protect the country from all enemies foreign and domestic. I still feel that is my duty even if I’m here. Because all of my friends and family are still over there. It’s still my duty to defend them.”

Cesar Orihuela, 33, echoes a similar sentiment in his truck as we drive through downtown Juárez en route to La Bodeguita for Evans’ DJ show. “Yeah, I’ve been approached,” he says, his eyes fixed on the road. There’s a giant tattoo of an American flag on his forearm. He continues: “But doing that is like turning your back on your country. Nobody put a gun to your head and told you to join the military. Then after you make a mistake and you get sent to Mexico, once you get here, doing something like that is like siding with the enemy. It’s just something you don’t do. Personally, I don’t like it here.”

Orihuela’s family moved to El Paso from Juárez when he was 8. He was an all-star pitcher in high school — with a 96 mph fastball — but he put aside his dreams of going pro to join the Air Force in 2002, “because of what happened on 9/11.” He deployed to Pakistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom early on in the war. Later, I come across a 2004 story about Orihuela published in Airman Magazine, which compares him to a “juggler in a circus,” juggling military service, college, and baseball. The article explains that Orihuela had made it to the last round of tryouts for the Chicago White Sox the year before. It also notes that he had just applied for U.S. citizenship.

Orihuela was deported three years ago. “I got an assault charge,” he says. “My brother had just been killed by a gang on this side of the border, and I had anger issues. The police over here wouldn’t help us. It destroyed my whole family. That’s when my sister got in trouble, too.” He tells me he was arrested for beating up a member of the gang outside a bar in El Paso; however, Task & Purpose found court documents listing the aggravated felony conviction that resulted in his deportation as a sexual assault. Orihuela served three years in prison, and was still fighting his case when they put him on an immigration bus and drove him to Juárez. In 2014, his appeal of the sexual assault conviction was denied by the U.S. Court of Appeals Fifth Circuit in Texas.

Now, Orihuela works as a barber. A few of the guys he served with in the Air Force occasionally visit from Texas for a haircut, but otherwise he’s on his own. The barbershop is located downtown, on gang turf. He says he hands over 30% of his wages in extortion payments, and that he has to cover up his American flag tattoo when he works — not because he’s afraid of being targeted as a tourist, but because stars are the symbol of a rival crew. “The older people in the neighborhood know it’s a U.S. flag, and assume I’m probably just visiting from Texas or whatever,” he says. “But the younger kids, man, that’s who you’ve got be worried about. They don’t think like that. They just react.”

Close your eyes and imagine a bar in Juárez. Now, imagine the opposite: this is La Bodeguita. Tucked into a shopping center on the edge of one of the city’s more affluent neighborhoods, the bar draws a decidedly hipster crowd. It’s packed when we arrive just before sundown. Evans is manning the turntables — tongue out, one hand on his headphones, the other tinkering with a techno version of Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You.” His eyes light up when we walk through the door, a group of U.S. military veterans. Just a few days ago he thought he was the only one. Barajas is sporting his old red beret from the 82nd Airborne. A Vietnam War service ribbon sits front and center on Lopez’s hat. Everyone, including Ocon, is wearing the Deported Veterans Support House t-shirt, which is emblazoned with a small American flag. It’s clear the other patrons don’t know what to make of this strange militia.

Evans selects his last song and jogs over to the bar. There are bro hugs all around. Beers and tequila shots are ordered. Everyone seems to dig the music. It’s a house mashup of Edwin Starr’s “War.” The chorus lands like a karate chop: War, huh, yeah / What is it good for / Absolutely nothing. I seem to be the only person who notices the irony. “I told you this place was sick,” Evans says, throwing an arm over my shoulder. It dawns on me that I’d never even bothered to ask him if he even wanted to return to the States, so I do now. “When I first got here, it felt like a life sentence. But this” — he nods towards the crowd — “this is my home. I had to fight really, really hard to be happy here. You just don’t let that kind of happiness go.”

+++

On the morning of April 22, the Bunker is a hive of activity. The ribbon-cutting ceremony is scheduled to begin at noon. Local reporters make their rounds, pulling the deported veterans aside one at a time for interviews. A pack of bikers in black leather jackets covered in military patches roll in from New Mexico. Three volunteers, all veterans and employees of a VA facility in Arizona, pull up with a carload of bottled water, hygiene kits, and sleeping bags, which they unload into the living room. Several women tend to a spread of chicken and rice. Ice-cold Fantas are distributed. Everyone is intensely focused on their tasks, as if worried that the months of preparation that went into this day could be completely undone by one wrong move.

By this point, I’ve come to realize that the members of this group are bound not just by their military service but also by a desire to prove to themselves, their families, and the country they served that they’ve learned from their mistakes. That’s the point of this whole operation. Until jobs and security are restored to Mexico, nothing, not even a giant wall, will keep droves of Mexicans from crossing the border illegally. That option has always been available to these men, too. But they’re done breaking the law. If and when they return to the States, it will be not as criminals, but as U.S. military veterans who embody the qualities, good and bad, implied by that distinction. Or at least that’s the hope. “I’ll wait eight years, nine years, 10 years,” Ocon tells me.

Ocon’s mother, nephew, and sister arrive from Las Cruces just before the ceremony begins. His daughter refused to come. It’s been 12 years since he’s seen her.

“They keep in contact a lot, but she has a really negative opinion of Mexico,” says Ocon’s sister, Claudia Ocon. “She’s afraid that she’d come down here and not make it out alive.”

Claudia, a behavioral health treatment coordinator for children in foster care, gets emotional talking about her brother’s situation. She talks about growing up poor, one of five siblings raised by a single mother, and describes Ocon’s decision to join the Army as an attempt to make a better life for himself. It’s clear that she looks up to her older brother. “It’s heartbreaking to see him living in these conditions,” she says, her eyes glassing over. “You have this man who served his country, who went to the Middle East, and now he sleeps on a couch in a house that didn’t even have running water when he showed up.”

A row of news cameras focus on Barajas, adorned in his signature red beret and old dress blues, as he addresses the small crowd that’s gathered in the courtyard. He points to a folded American flag that he brought from Tijuana for the ceremony. “Until the last man comes home, this flag will not leave this place,” he says, pausing to fight back tears. “Thank you for being here.” To his side, Ocon and Lopez stand rigid like soldiers in formation. A table behind them displays photos of the guys from their days in uniform. There’s also a shrine to all of the deported veterans who have died or gone missing “in exile.” Barajas’ wife says a prayer, in both Spanish and English. Then Barajas presents the folded flag to Lopez and Ocon and the men exchange slow salutes, just as they would if they were conducting a military funeral.

When I got out of the Army, I promised myself that I wouldn’t be one of those veterans who always talks about their military service like it was the best time of their life. Which meant that whatever I did next had to be an upgrade. The day I left Fort Campbell for good, I packed all of my old uniforms, medals, and souvenirs from overseas into a box and haven’t opened it since.

In the back of my mind, I’ve always known that being able to do that was a luxury. Not everyone can just do a few years in the military and then ride their honorable discharge to a more comfortable life. Not everyone comes home to a safe and loving community, as I did. Sometimes they go home to the opposite, or nothing. Old habits resume. Bad influences resurface. Brothers get arrested. Brothers die. Citizenship paperwork gets neglected. I finished my bachelor’s degree on the Post-9/11 GI Bill and it’s been more than a decade since I’ve been in handcuffs, but I’m no more of a veteran than those guys. All of us served the same nation, one that proudly supports the people who defend it with their lives. But as a society we also recognize that those people aren’t perfect. They fuck up. And when they do, they go to prison like everyone else. Unless they have a green card. In that case, we’ve decided prison isn’t enough. Why?

Orihuela takes his lunch break and the three of us walk to the edge of the Rio Grande. Barajas and several other deported veterans are there waiting for us. Each of us pays four pesos to get through the turnstiles and onto the bridge, which arcs high over the empty river. At the top, we pause for a minute to take photos at the line separating Mexico and the United States, and then proceed down toward Texas. The bridge terminates at a set of doors that only I c

Wal-Mart CEO to be questioned in U.S. lawsuit over Mexican bribery

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF REUTERS)

Wal-Mart CEO to be questioned in U.S. lawsuit over Mexican bribery

By Jonathan Stempel

A federal judge on Thursday ordered Wal-Mart Stores Inc (WMT.N) Chief Executive Douglas McMillon to submit to questioning in a lawsuit by shareholders hoping to learn what he knows about suspected bribery by the world’s largest retailer in Mexico.

U.S. District Judge Susan Hickey in Fayetteville, Arkansas, said McMillon’s “direct and personal involvement” in matters underlying a class-action lawsuit justified requiring him to sit for a deposition by the shareholders’ lawyers.

McMillon had been president of Wal-Mart International during a period when shareholders led by a Michigan pension fund said the retailer concealed suspected bribery by its Wal-Mart de Mexico unit to government officials, to speed up store openings.

The Bentonville, Arkansas-based retailer had argued that McMillon lacked the “unique or special knowledge” to justify burdening him with a deposition.

But the judge said McMillon, who became chief executive in February 2014, took part in several meetings, saw dozens of communications, and had certified many public statements by Wal-Mart about the alleged bribery.

“It appears to the court that McMillon has unique knowledge of relevant issues in this litigation that only he can explain,” Hickey wrote. A deposition could last four hours, she added.

Wal-Mart had no immediate comment.

Jason Forge, a lawyer for the lead plaintiff City of Pontiac General Employees’ Retirement System, said in an email: “We’re determined to try this case in court.”

Wal-Mart’s market value slid $17 billion over three days in April 2012 after the New York Times reported the alleged bribery and said it had been first discovered internally in 2005.

Shareholders accused Wal-Mart and Mike Duke, who preceded McMillon as chief executive, of downplaying the scheme even after learning about the Times’ investigation.

The class period runs from Dec. 8, 2011 to April 20, 2012.

Earlier this week, Bloomberg News said Wal-Mart may pay about $300 million to settle a U.S. government probe into suspected bribery in Mexico, India and China, citing people familiar with the matter.

A $300 million payment would represent about one week of profit for Wal-Mart.

The case is City of Pontiac General Employees’ Retirement System v. Wal-Mart Stores Inc et al, U.S. District Court, Western District of Arkansas, No. 12-05162.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Tom Brown)

How The World Sees Trump, 100 Days In—(And It Isn’t Pretty)

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

How the world sees Trump, 100 days in

Updated 4:53 PM ET, Sat April 29, 2017

(CNN) The world was dumbfounded by the election of Donald Trump, and his first 100 days in office have done little to alleviate a deep sense of uncertainty and unpredictability. Indeed, as one observer put it, the last few weeks alone have caused a severe case of global geostrategic whiplash.

The number of campaign promises that have morphed into presidential U-turns is staggering. Allies and adversaries alike are trying to figure out whether a Trump Doctrine is emerging, or whether, as former CIA Director Michael Hayden recently told me, a discernible doctrine does not exist in what resembles a family-run business of policy from the White House.
National security adviser H.R. McMaster “has hired a very bright woman to write the US National Security Strategy,” he said. “It’s a tough job. I did it twice for George H.W. Bush. But I was building on precedent and historic consensus. It’s really going to be interesting to see what an America First national security strategy looks like when you’ve got to write it down.”
Long-time American allies are comforted, though, knowing McMaster and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis make up an experienced national security team. NATO partners also welcomed Trump’s declaration that he no longer considers the transatlantic military alliance obsolete.
They, along with regional allies, supported Trump enforcing the previously declared US red line in Syria against the regime’s use of chemical weapons on its own people. After such an attack that the West attributed to the Syrian government earlier in the month, Trump launched retaliatory strikes.
But Asian allies, such as South Korea and Japan, are worried about US policy on North Korea. They welcome the tougher stance against Kim Jong Un’s ramped up nuclear missile program, but they were rattled by the USS Carl Vinson debacle, when for a time it was unclear if the aircraft carrier was steaming towards North Korea or not. It raised the question of whether the administration really has its deterrence policy in order, and South Korea was said to feel utter confusion, even betrayal, when the carrier was actually found to be steaming away from, not towards, the Korean Peninsula.
On Iran, signals are slightly harder to read. On the one hand, the State Department again certified Iran’s compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal. Yet a day later, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson strongly hinted the US could walk away from it, or try to link it to other issues it has with Iran. So far the deal remains in place and neither the EU nor the UN would agree to reimpose international sanctions on Tehran, which helped bring the country to the negotiating table.
On the Paris Climate Accord, Trump’s closest advisers seem to be having an almighty tussle about whether he should stay or stray from the historic deal. Big US companies like ExxonMobil are urging the US to abide by the deal and thereby have more say at the table.
Trump has also hosted Chinese President Xi Jinping at his Mar-a-Lago estate, and seems to have reversed many of his pledges to play hardball with Beijing. But on trade, just recently a Financial Times newspaper headline blared: “Trump Fires First Protectionist Warning over steel Industry,” saying this paves the way for a global showdown on steel and possible sweeping tariffs on steel imports.
In his first 100 days, President Barack Obama visited nine countries. President George W. Bush visited two. Trump has visited none. But next month he visits Brussels for a NATO summit, and Sicily, for a meeting of the G7. Whether he can convince America’s allies that they have a trust-worthy friend with a strategic worldview as their most powerful ally remains to be seen, abroad and at home.
“I think I know what the policy is,” Hayden told me. “I have more difficulty, Christiane, putting this policy into a broader global view. And I think that’s causing unease with you, with me, and with a whole bunch of other folks who are trying to see, ‘Where are the Americans going globally?'”

Afghanistan

Nick Paton Walsh
It was the mother of all statements, but he may have had nothing to do with it.
The MOAB (officially know as the GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast) wiped out an ISIS tunnel complex in the volatile eastern part of the country last week, killing around 90 militants.

Why did the US use the MOAB?

Why did the US use the MOAB?
It was the largest non-nuclear bomb used by the US in combat, but whether the new commander in chief personally approved its use is unclear.
The airstrike was immediately followed up by National Security Adviser Gen. H.R. McMaster visiting Kabul and assuring President Ashraf Ghani his country had a friend in the US and a strategic review was under way.
Yet outside of the huge bomb and its message of might, little has changed — as the new White House is inheriting the exhaustion of both resolve and policy options of the last.
A massive troop surge? Talks with the Taliban? A lighter footprint training Afghan security forces to secure the country? All have been tried, and all have failed to stop the insurgency controlling or contesting over half Afghanistan, and the heavy-handed rise of ISIS. Add to that the intense and escalating in-fighting in the Kabul political elite, and there is a very messy summer ahead, with few decent options.

China

David McKenzie
It’s arguably the world’s most important bilateral relationship.
But when President Donald Trump was inaugurated back in January, several Chinese policy experts told me there was a lot of nervousness about the incoming leader.

China's delicate balance with North Korea

China’s delicate balance with North Korea
After all, during the campaign Trump said he would name China a currency manipulator on Day One of his term and threatened a trade war.
As President-elect, he spoke to Taiwan’s president on the phone and openly questioned the ‘One China’ policy, a cornerstone of Washington-Beijing relations in which the US recognizes Taiwan as part of China. And Trump accused China of not doing enough to put pressure on North Korea.
100 days on? Well, it’s a 180-degree shift.
In his first phone call with President Xi Jinping, Trump reaffirmed the One China policy. He has praised Beijing for taking some positive steps on the North Korea issue and he recently said that China is not manipulating its currency.
Trump denies these positions represent a flip-flop; the businessman-turned-president is saying it’s all part of a deal.
“I actually told him (Xi Jinping), I said, ‘You’ll make a much better deal on trade if you get rid of this menace or do something about the menace of North Korea.’ Because that’s what it is, it’s a menace right now,” Trump said last week.
Trump said he has developed a strong relationship with Xi Jinping and that their scheduled 15-minute meetings at the Mar-a-Lago summit stretched into “hours.”
But Yan Xuetong, a foreign policy expert at Tsinghua University, told me that the Chinese are skeptical. He said that if North Korea goes ahead with its nuclear program, then China will take the blame.
“Trump will use China as scapegoat to tell (the) American public that it is not his problem,” said Yan.
In Yan’s eyes, at least, the Chinese suspect more Trump policy turns.

Egypt

Ian Lee
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi was the first foreign leader to congratulate President Donald Trump after he won the November 2016 presidential election. The two leaders had instantly hit it off when they met a few months earlier in New York.
Their views are more aligned than were those of President Barack Obama, which reacted coolly to the 2013 coup by Egypt’s military — led at the time by Sisi. When he became president soon afterward, he ushered in a new low between Washington and Cairo.

ISIS claims responsibility for church blasts

ISIS claims responsibility for church blasts
It was an open secret that Cairo wished for a Trump victory over Obama’s former secretary of state, Hilary Clinton. Trump was perceived by Cairo as a pragmatist who had little interest in human rights.
In his first days in office, Trump invited Sisi to visit him in Washington. The Egyptian president arrived with three main objectives: deepen military cooperation, strengthen the war against terror and revive Egypt’s economy. The invitation to the White House also gave the Egyptian president a legitimacy that the Obama administration had previously denied him.
Recently, in a gesture of good will and eagerness to cooperate, American Aya Hijazi was released from an Egyptian prison after Trump directly intervened to secure her release.
Expect relations to remain warm as long as Trump’s administration keeps the lid on any criticism of Sisi.

Germany

Nic Robertson
German Chancellor Angela Merkel took heat from Donald Trump even before he was sworn in as president.
He accused her of making a “catastrophic mistake” on migrants, only being as trustworthy as Vladimir Putin, and intentionally trying to take business from the US.

Pence reassures NATO allies in Munich speech

Pence reassures NATO allies in Munich speech
For Europeans, Trump’s attitude to Merkel is symptomatic of wider issues: his like of Brexit and his dislike of the EU’s single market and liberal trade values.
At the EU leaders summit in Malta this February, both French and German leaders said openly that Trump’s attitude was uniting Europe to stand on its own feet.
Since then, Trump has said the EU is “wonderful” and he is “totally in favor of it.” Yet he still supports Brexit and seems unaware of the instability and frustrations Europe feels because of it.
It’s not the only cross-Atlantic reversal he has had. Coming into office, he said NATO was “obsolete.” He told the alliance nations they need to pay their way, and has given them a deadline to promise they will.
In recent weeks Trump has changed his tune. NATO, he said, is “not obsolete” — but he still wants members’ money.
Merkel’s March visit to see Trump at the White House did little to quell European concerns over his attitude to Europe, and trade in particular.
That Merkel was ignored by Trump when asking for a handshake in the Oval Office, and embarrassed by him again at the news conference that followed with an awkward comment about being spied on, reveals this relationship has some way to go before it gets on an even keel.
Iran
Frederik Pleitgen
Iran’s leadership realized that Donald Trump was an unknown commodity, but many in the country’s senior leadership hoped they would be able to deal with the new man in the White House.
“We hope that he will have a pragmatic approach,” Iran’s Deputy Oil Minister, Amir Hossein Azamaninia, told me in an interview during the transition period shortly before Trump took office. He suggested that perhaps President Donald Trump would similar to the businessman Donald Trump — a shrewd dealmaker, whom the Islamic Republic with its oil wealth could possibly even strike deals with.

Iranians worried about US-Iran relationship

Iranians worried about US-Iran relationship
But Iran soon learned that the new administration was going to take a harder line towards Tehran than President Barack Obama had. When Iran tested ballistic missiles in late January — which the US believes could strike targets in Israel — then-National Security Adviser Michael Flynn came down hard and fast on Tehran, announcing there would be new sanctions. He also said the US was “putting Iran on notice,” without specifying what that meant.
This harsh reaction and subsequent statements by Secretary of Defense James Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and America’s UN Ambassador Nikki Haley have sowed further uncertainty in Tehran about America’s strategy on Iran. The tough talk and action have put a severe damper on any notion the Rouhani administration had that its fairly constructive relations with Washington during the Obama years would continue.
At the same time, the Trump team’s hard line seems to be having an effect on Iran’s behavior.
There have so far been fewer reports of incidents and close encounters between US and Iranian ships in the Persian Gulf’s narrow Strait of Hormuz than during the end of the Obama administration. And during Iran’s National Revolution Day in February, the leadership did not display ballistic missiles as it usually has.
This has led some experts to believe that Tehran — for all its harsh rhetoric — is making an effort to not further antagonize an American president and Cabinet whom the Iranians view as erratic and very hostile towards the Islamic Republic.
If this was the Trump administrations intent, it could be working.

Iraq

Ben Wedeman
“I would bomb the s**t out of them,” declared candidate Donald Trump, summarizing his strategy to defeat ISIS. “I would bomb those suckers … and I’d take the oil.” The crowds loved it.
A decisive victory over ISIS, plus a grand prize of a lot of cheap oil, sounds great, but the real world just doesn’t work that way and slowly, perhaps, the new administration has learned this in its first 100 days.

Trump's son-in-law visits Iraq

Trump’s son-in-law visits Iraq
For one thing, the battle to liberate the ISIS stronghold of Mosul, Iraq — now into its seventh month — has underscored just how hard it is to defeat the extremists. Since the push in the western part of the city began in February, both the US-led coalition and Iraqi forces have been bombarding ISIS as promised, using much heavier firepower than during the battle for west Mosul in the waning months of the Obama administration.
But the tactic has come at a high cost in terms of civilian casualties, brought home by what US officials concede was probably a US-led airstrike on March 17 that mistakenly killed almost 150 civilians. Hundreds of thousands of civilians are still in western Mosul, often exploited by ISIS as human shields.
But even with the heavy assault, the Trump administration is largely settling down and following the same slow, deliberate approach of the Obama administration.
The battle for Mosul has taken more than half a year and may take many more months. In neighboring Syria, there are nearly a thousand US boots on the ground, backing a mixed Kurdish-Arab force that aims at overrunning the city of Raqqa, the de facto capital of ISIS. When this will happen is anyone’s guess.
And then there’s that other topic Trump has toyed with: taking Iraq’s oil. That was decisively shot down by Defense Secretary James Mattis, who flew to Baghdad in February and told reporters, “We’re not in Iraq to seize anyone’s oil.”

Israel

Oren Liebermann
Donald Trump’s fiery pro-Israel rhetoric during the campaign had the right and far right in Israel salivating at the prospects of a Trump administration, while Palestinians worried about an American government adopting a more hostile stance.
Trump pledged to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem, “dismantle” the Iran deal, reduce funding to the United Nations and cut aid to the Palestinians. At the same time, Trump said he wanted to close “the ultimate deal” — a peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians.

Trump ties to Israeli settlements

Trump ties to Israeli settlements
Save for the last, Trump has moderated his stance and backed off his positions in his first 100 days in office. The Trump administration has said its still considering an embassy move, but has also called Israeli settlements in the West Bank unhelpful for peace and acknowledged that Iran is sticking by the terms of the nuclear deal. Some analysts in Israel have pointed out that Trump’s positions on the region are beginning to resemble Obama’s positions.
The Israeli right wing’s fervor over Trump has cooled somewhat, but it still expects him to be a friend in the White House. From Israel’s perspective, the big star of the Trump administration so far is US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, who has repeatedly criticized the United Nations for focusing disproportionately on Israel. And Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly praised Trump, refusing to suggest even the slightest hint of criticism, since he entered office.
Meanwhile, a recent visit by Trump’s special representative for international negotiations, Jason Greenblatt, left Palestinians cautiously optimistic that prospects weren’t as grim as initially feared and that Trump was serious about attempting to restart negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is scheduled to meet Trump in Washington shortly after Trump hits the 100-day mark. The meeting could be a litmus test of how the dynamic between Trump, Netanyahu and Abbas develops.

Mexico

Leyla Santiago
President Trump still has yet to meet face-to-face with Mexico’s president, Enrique Pena Nieto, after an awkward encounter during the 2016 campaign. According to Mexican government officials, no plans are in the works, signaling tensions remain between the two leaders.

Mixed messages as top U.S. diplomat visits Mexico

Mixed messages as top U.S. diplomat visits Mexico
Twitter exchanges, however, have cooled down since a public war of words in January between @EPN and @realDonaldTrump over payment for a wall along the US-Mexico border. Mexico still maintains it will not pay for Trump’s muro (wall).
Many Mexicans still fear Trump could cut off a portion of their income, if he imposes taxes on remittances as a form of payment for the wall.
The Mexican government says, though, that its No. 1 concern is human rights violations. It has invested $50 million to expand legal services at its consulates and embassies in the US in an effort to help Mexicans fearing deportation.
Major questions also loom over the fate of the North American Free Trade Agreement. Trump has called the 23-year-old deal that allows free trade between Mexico, Canada and the US a one-sided agreement.
If a good deal is not renegotiated, Mexico plans to walk away from the pact. The uncertainty in trade relations has led Mexico to strengthen ties with other countries and explore opportunities in Asian, European and South American markets instead of the US.
After Mexico featured repeatedly in the US elections, Trump himself is now playing a role in who will become Mexico’s next leader. Anti-Trump rhetoric has become a central part of Mexican campaigns heading toward the 2018 election. Leading candidates are hoping a stance against Trump will protect Mexico’s interests and win over voters.

North Korea

Will Ripley
When I ask ordinary North Koreans about the impact of President Donald Trump on their lives, they give strikingly similar answers. The response is usually something like this: “It doesn’t matter who the US president is. All that matters is that they discontinue America’s hostile policy against my country.”

North Koreans celebrate 'Army day'

North Koreans celebrate ‘Army day’
Of course, they are only repeating the same message given to them by their state-controlled media, the only media North Koreans have access to. Because US politics are not a primary focus of North Korean propaganda, the vast majority of citizens are blissfully unaware of Trump’s twitter account or the cloud of controversy that has swirled around the first 100 days of his administration.
But they are aware of a few key facts. They know that Trump ordered a missile strike on a Syrian regime air base, viewed by many as an indirect threat to Pyongyang. They also know that Trump dispatched the USS Carl Vinson carrier strike group to the waters off the Korean Peninsula, albeit by an indirect route.
The reason North Koreans know these things is simple: The actions of the Trump administration play right into their government’s long-standing narrative that they are under the imminent threat of attack by the ‘imperialist’ United States.
People have been told for their entire lives that America could drop a nuclear bomb at anytime. Citizens always voice their unanimous support of Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un. Of course, in an authoritarian country where political dissent is not tolerated, there are no opposing voices.
The North Korean government uses this ‘imminent threat’ to justify its substantial investment in weapons of mass destruction, even if this means citizens must sacrifice. And government officials in Pyongyang told me the policies of the Trump administration in its first 100 days only add to their sense of urgency to accelerate development of a viable intercontinental ballistic missile capable of delivering a nuclear warhead to the mainland US.
They say such a weapon is key to their survival as a nation, even as critics fear North Korea continuing down the nuclear road will only lead to further diplomatic isolation, economic hardship or worse.
There are signs that North Korea is monitoring and responding to the unpredictable rhetoric and actions of the Trump administration. After news broke that the USS Carl Vinson strike group was headed to the Korean Peninsula, I was hand-delivered a statement in Pyongyang saying, “The DPRK is ready to react to any mode of war desired by the US.”
We’ve never seen dynamics like this before. An untested US President who tweets in real time and isn’t afraid to launch missiles to prove a point. And a North Korean leader who has consolidated his power by purging opponents (including his own uncle) and has launched more missiles than his father and grandfather combined.
This could be a recipe for disaster. Or a recipe for lasting peace. Or perhaps a recipe for the continuation of a decades-long stalemate. If Trump’s first 100 days provide any clues, it’s going to be a wild ride regardless.

Russia

Matthew Chance
President Donald Trump entered the White House on a promise of improving the strained relationship between Washington and Moscow.
He was full of praise for his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, suggesting he might recognize annexed Crimea as Russian, cooperate over international terrorism and join forces in Syria.

Lavrov to US: Respect Syrian sovereignty

Lavrov to US: Respect Syrian sovereignty
It was all music to the Kremlin’s ears and talk was of a pivotal moment, of the Trump administration transforming the way in which the United States and Russia saw each other.
But 100 days on, none of that has come to pass.
“One could say the level of trust on a working level, especially on the military level, has not improved,” said Putin on April 12, “but rather has deteriorated.”
US officials have criticized Russia for fueling conflict in Ukraine, castigated the Kremlin for its treatment of sexual minorities, even bombed Russia’s Syrian ally while implying Moscow might have been complicit in dozens of agonizing deaths there caused by chemical weapons.
Part of the reason is undoubtedly the toxic political atmosphere in Washington, where lingering allegations of Russian interference in the US presidential election are being investigated by Congress.
But there is also a growing sense that the Trump administration, at 100 days old, has finally encountered a stark reality: Russia and the United States simply have different geopolitical priorities — whether in Syria, Ukraine or elsewhere — that won’t be easily reconciled.

Syria

Clarissa Ward
When President Donald Trump first assumed office, his strategy on Syria, like much of his foreign policy, was opaque. On the campaign trail he had said that his priority was to eliminate ISIS — indeed, he promised to put together a plan to do so in his first 30 days. He attempted to place a ban on any Syrian refugees entering the US, calling them a security threat. But on the subject of Syria’s leader, Bashar al-Assad, and the brutal civil war he has presided over that has claimed more than 400,000 lives, he was noticeably silent.

Syria, a war on children?

Syria, a war on children?
Trump’s strong admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin and interesting in getting the relationship with Russia back on track led many to assume that he would do little to interfere in Syria, where Moscow is closely allied with Damascus. This was reinforced by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s comment in March that it would be “up to the Syrian people” whether or not Assad would go, a demand long made by the Obama administration. Regime change, it seemed, was no longer desirable for the US.
Yet, within a few weeks, everything changed.
After seeing the aftermath of a chemical weapons attack in Idlib that killed dozens of children, Trump suddenly took action against the Assad regime. Two days later, dozens of American tomahawk missiles rained down on the regime’s Shayrat air base.
The Syrian people were stunned. Those who oppose Assad had dreamed of this moment for many years, but after President Barack Obama had chosen not to enforce his red line against Assad’s use of chemical weapons in 2013, their dream had died. Suddenly, Trump was hailed as something of a hero. Some took to calling him by a new nom de guerre, Abu Ivanka al Amriki.
The strikes on Shayrat changed very little on the ground in Syria. The regime was continuing its daily bombardment within hours.
Still, after six years of standing on the sidelines, the shift in US policy (if it is a sustained shift) has given some cause for optimism. There is hope that perhaps Assad will think twice before using chemical weapons against his own people, that the US may now have more leverage at the negotiating table.
Yet the question still remains: What is the US’s policy on Syria? 100 days into the Trump presidency, we still don’t really know.

Turkey

Ian Lee
Relations with the Obama administration warmed under Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan when that suited him and then soured accordingly. They have yet to be really tested under President Donald Trump.
Since taking office, Trump has taken a softer tone in dealing with Turkey. Ankara responded positively to the United States’ missile strike on a Syrian air base. Trump congratulated the Turkish president for the success of his referendum, giving him significantly expanded powers, despite the process being deeply flawed according to international monitors, an opinion echoed by the State Department.

Turkish demonstrators protest vote result

Turkish demonstrators protest vote result
By the time President Barack Obama left office, US-Turkish relations had cooled. The two leaders had differing opinions regarding Syria. Where Obama wanted to focus on defeating ISIS while Erdogan wanted to oust President Bashar al-Assad. The United States saw Syrian Kurdish militants, the YPG, as an ally against ISIS, while the Turks viewed them as terrorists. And Obama criticized Turkey’s crackdown on the political opposition, intellectuals, activists and journalists and wouldn’t extradite spiritual leader Fetullah Gulen, on whom the Turkish blames July’s coup attempt. Elements of Erdogan’s party even accused the United States of supporting the failed effort.
There is optimism in Turkey among the government and its supporters that a new page can be turned, especially when both leaders plan to meet in Washington in May.
But Trump is likely to face similar tensions as Obama did. One of the toughest will be the upcoming operation against ISIS in Raqqa, Syria. Turkey wants to take part but won’t fight along side the YPG. Trump will likely have to choose between a NATO ally and a proven fighting force.

The UK

Phil Black
President Donald Trump helped create what is so far the most iconic image of Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May — the American president holding May’s hand as they walked outside the White House in January.
May later said Trump was “being a gentleman.”

Scotland calls for independence referendum

Scotland calls for independence referendum
She provided the opportunity for his gallantry by swiftly moving to be the first world leader to visit the new president.
May has unashamedly pursued a close bond with Trump, believing “the special relationship” between the UK and US is especially important as Britain prepares for a future outside the European Union.
May has pushed for a quick post-Brexit trade deal while also trying to persuade Trump to align with Britain’s traditional positions on key foreign policy issues like NATO (crucial) and Russia (deserves suspicion).
The British Prime Minister also threw in a sweetener. She invited Trump to visit the UK with full state honors. That usually means time with the Queen, banquets, parades and gilded carriages.
Such invitations are rarely offered to new presidents and it’s proved to be hugely controversial in a country where many disagree with Trump’s policies, including his attempts to block immigration from select, majority-Muslim countries.
More than 1.8 million people signed a petition opposing a state visit “because it would cause embarrassment to Her Majesty the Queen.” Thousands protested on the streets and have promised to do so again when Trump arrives. That could create some awkward moments.
May’s efforts to stay close to Trump will likely be judged by whether she secures a free trade agreement with the United States. But they can’t even begin talking about that officially until after Brexit has taken place, so that’s at least two years away.

Sessions: We’ll fund the wall ‘one way or the other’

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

Sessions: We’ll fund the wall ‘one way or the other’

Story highlights

  • Sessions said they can get the money for the wall
  • Trump promised Mexico would pay for it

Washington (CNN) Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Sunday he does not expect the Mexican government to outright pay for President Donald Trump’s border wall, but there are a number of ways to extract the billions of dollars needed to build it.

Sessions made his comments in an appearance on ABC’s “This Week,” where he was attempting to square Trump’s promise that Mexico would pay for the border wall with Mexico’s firm position to the contrary.
“We’re going to get it paid for one way or the other,” Sessions said.
Trump took to Twitter on Sunday morning to say the wall would stop drugs and the gang MS-13. He also said that Mexico would pay for the wall “in some form.”
Trump promised during the campaign that within his first 100 days as president he would get Congress to pass legislation fully funding the wall and establishing mandatory minimum prison sentences for people illegally entering the US after already being deported. That promise, one of many in his “Contract with the American Voter,” said Mexico would reimburse the US for the cost of the wall.
Trump has also threatened to target remittances, or cash transfers from people within the US to people in Mexico.
Sessions referenced a Treasury Department watchdog report during the Obama administration that said excess payments of about $4 billion a year were going to people that shouldn’t get them, and he said reining in the problem could lead to savings over time that could pay for the wall.
“These are mostly Mexicans,” Sessions said. “And those kind of things add up. Four billion a year for 10 years is 40 billion.”
The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration issued a report in 2011 saying people who were not authorized to work in the US were paid $4.2 billion in refundable tax credits in one year.
The Justice Department did not respond Sunday to a question asking if the report is the one Sessions referenced. The Treasury inspector general also did not return a request for information on whether any actions were taken following the release of the report and if more up-to-date figures exist.
An internal estimate from Customs and Border Protection put the cost of the wall at $21.6 billion, while an estimate from Democrats on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee said the wall could cost as much as $66.9 billion.
Sessions implied other actions at the border and in trade could pay for the wall, although he said he did not expect the Mexican government itself to foot the bill.
“I don’t expect the Mexican government to appropriate money for it,” Sessions said. “But there are ways that we can deal with our trade situation to create the revenue to pay for it. No doubt about it.”
The Trump administration has requested a $1 billion “down payment” from Congress to begin construction of the wall. Administration officials in televised interviews on Sunday said funding for the wall is a priority in budget negotiations ahead of a potential government shutdown Friday, but stopped short of saying Trump would not accept a bill that didn’t include the funding

Military Veterans Having To Hide In The Country They Served

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF TASK AND PURPOSE)

Unwanted: An Army Veteran Hiding In The Country He Served
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A disabled Army veteran and illegal immigrant living in hiding in the United States shares his story.

David is sore most days. It’s his back and his hands, mostly, but to be honest, it’s all the joints. He’s deaf in one ear, blind in one eye, and walks with a cane. He’s 67 and has arthritis most everywhere you can have it. But there’s some pain that age doesn’t inflict. Terrible thoughts, the stuff of bad dreams. For him they’re memories, and all too real.

David, who served stateside in the Army during the Vietnam War, is clean these days. He kicked his heroin habit and stopped boozing years ago. He stays away from painkillers too, for a different reason: They don’t play nice with his dialysis treatment. He goes to a Department of Veteran Affairs hospital every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday — three hours each time — and he can’t sleep when the needle is in him. It’s thick as a nail and sends shooting pain through his arm when he changes position. There’s a television in the room, but the volume is usually turned way down, so David just sits there in a recliner and tries not to move too much. It leaves him exhausted, sore, and hungry, and he doesn’t like to drive after he gets treatment. He rarely drives anyway.

David dialysis

“I’m scared to,” he says.

He could get pulled over, and then the cop might run a background check. David lives in Los Angeles, his home for half a century. He didn’t used to be afraid to go out on the road. Though he entered the country legally with his family in 1967, David — who asked not be identified by his real name — is now considered an illegal immigrant.

These days, he spends most of his time inside, watching television, keeping up with the news and cooking. Occasionally he cleans, but he has trouble getting around, so he doesn’t do it often. It’s not fear of prison keeping David cooped up indoors. He’s been behind bars, several times actually. But the possibility of getting deported back to Mexico terrifies him.

If it happened again, it’d be the fourth and final time, he says. A lot of things would have to go wrong for that to occur, but the stakes are high, and very real.

If he’s caught, he’ll serve time — 10 years, the cops told him. In fact, illegal re-entry into the United States by someone previously deported for a crime is punishable by up to 20 years in prison. After that, he’d be deported, again.

“I’ll die if I go back.”

How would he survive in Mexico? His whole family is here in the states. He doesn’t work anymore, he can’t, but he gets a check from the VA — every first of the month — and that’s where he goes for his kidney failure treatment. He’s covered, 100%, but there are no VA hospitals in Mexico and David is uninsured and afraid that his health will worsen if he’s deported.

“I know I’m breaking the law,” he says, “but what else can I do? I’ve been here for 50 years already.”

David is one of hundreds of military veterans who have been deported from the country they served. In 2015, as many as 65,000 residents with green cards — which allow them to live and work in the states legally — were serving in the armed forces. And while the military can be a fast-track to citizenship, it’s not guaranteed. Service members still need to apply for it, and not all of them do. David never got around to it.

“I know I’m breaking the law,” he says, “but what else can I do? I’ve been here for 50 years already.”

Immigrants legally living in the United States who are convicted of what are called aggravated felonies — which can include anything from a bar fight or drug possession to forgery or any theft resulting in a sentence of more than two years — may lose their status as legal residents. After their incarceration, they are deported back to their country of origin. For many, it’s a place they haven’t seen since they were children. Once that happens, it’s highly unlikely they’ll ever become a U.S. citizen.

For repeat offenders like David, it’s virtually impossible.

No one knows how many immigrant veterans have been deported in total — not even the Department of Homeland Security, the agency charged with handling and tracking these deportations. Deported Veterans Support House, an advocacy group based in Mexico, says it has helped 300 veterans who have been deported to 36 different countries. Other advocacy groups estimate that the number of veterans deported may be in the thousands.

David’s family left their home in Mexicali, Mexico, for the United States when he was 12. The states offered opportunity. It’s the whole reason people come here. “More work, more money, more everything,” he explains. “Everybody that came from another country, we came for the same thing. To better ourselves.”

David’s family lived in Calexico, California, for a time, then moved to San Diego, and finally to Los Angeles where they settled and put down roots.

“My mom and dad, they’re buried right here in L.A,” he says.

It was a family of 12 kids, five boys, seven girls. They’re all either legal residents or U.S. citizens like his four kids — two boys, two girls — and his three grandkids. David is the only one who isn’t a legal resident or citizen.

“I started using drugs, and that’s what fucked me up,” he explains. “Nobody used drugs in my family but me. I’m embarrassed. I’m the only one with a criminal record. The only one without papers.”

He’s also the only one who volunteered to serve during the Vietnam War.

He enlisted in 1974 when he was 19. Early on in his military service, David was sexually assaulted by a fellow soldier.

David doesn’t like to talk about it. It brings him pain. He enlisted because he wanted to go to Vietnam, and instead this happened. “What kind of shit is that?” he asks. The guy who did it was older than him, and was kicked out of the Air Force before finding his way into the Army. That’s where he found David.

The trauma lingers.

“I was like a new fish in the tank. I was a kid … I was sexually abused. Ever since that shit happened to me I haven’t been the same. I know that.”

David doesn’t know if the man ever hurt anyone else.

“I don’t know what happened to him. I don’t know, and I don’t want to know.”

The incident stayed with David for more than 40 years. Post-traumatic stress disorder, that’s what the VA diagnosed him with, along with other ailments relating to his sore joints and kidney failure.

David served during the tail-end of the war as a welder stationed at Fort Lewis in Washington state, and started using heroin shortly after being assaulted. He sought solace in getting high, because it felt good, and because it was available.

“The drugs were everywhere.”

By the time he left the military in 1976, David was hooked. For a while the money he made as a welder supported the habit. There was a lot of work — different jobs in a lot of different places — but after a while it didn’t pay well enough to keep pace with his drug use. Eventually, that led to run-ins with the police.

One night in 1983, David was with a girl he knew, robbing houses. She’d break in and grab the stuff; David would drive. This time, although they got away as usual, someone got a look at his plates. That was enough.

“Heroin, it takes away your freedom, your family, your money, your job, everything.”

He was arrested for breaking and entering, which earned him two years in a prison in Tehachapi, California. His conviction meant he lost his status as a legal resident, so after he served his time, David was picked up by Immigration and Custom Enforcement agents and deported.

After he was dropped off in Tijuana, Mexico, David turned around and came back the same day — he went right through the entry point into the United States.

“I crossed the border like nothing. Like an American citizen. They let me go right in.”

But by 1986, he was back in the same spot. This time it was for breaking into a car. David insists that he was just an unwitting participant. “I was hanging with the wrong people,” he says. “Every time that something happens to me, it’s someone else. It’s just the way it is with me.”

The second time bought him another two years at Tehachapi, but he was out in one. ICE agents dropped him off in Nogales. And just like before, he turned around and came right back across the border.

In between his visits to prison, David was in and out of the county jail — sometimes just for a few days, other times for weeks, occasionally months. One time, he went in for 90 days, got out and started drinking, and wound up with another 90-day hitch.

At some point after his second deportation, David did a six-month stint in the L.A. county jail. Finally, he decided he’d had enough.

“It was just too much, man,” he says. “I couldn’t even enjoy drugs anymore. So I stopped.”

By this time his first marriage was over and his daughter was a teenager. David went to a church in his neighborhood and told them he wanted to get clean, so the priest sent him to a Christian home for 15 months.

David arrest

“I got out and I was clean. I was working, I had my car, and everything. I didn’t have papers, though.”

From the late 1980s until the early 2000s, things were better. David didn’t use, didn’t drink. He found stable work in his trade, welding, and eventually became the foreman at a company in southern California. He worked there for 16 years. He remarried and had three more kids with his second wife.

Then one night in 2003, ICE agents showed up at his home. He doesn’t know how they found out he was undocumented, or that he had a record. He doesn’t remember much of what happened — just that it was late, and that they knocked first.

“I said I didn’t do nothing. They said, ‘You’re illegal,’ and I said ‘Okay.’”

David served another two years, this time for illegal re-entry, and was sent to a federal penitentiary in Arizona before being deported to Nogales. And once again, he came back, though the border crossing was more difficult and more costly than it had been in the 1980s.

David says he met a group of guys in Mexico who charged him $2,000 before taking him to an opening in the border fence. From there, he made it back to Los Angeles, but things were different this time. His work disappeared. He and his second wife divorced. And later that year, the health problems began.

These days, David lives alone.

He has a lot of time to think about the mistakes he’s made and there’s a lot of regret, especially about his drug use.

“That was my life” he says. “I messed up. What I was doing is heavy. Heroin, it takes away your freedom, your family, your money, your job, everything … It’s nasty man. I learned to stay away.”

“This is my country,” David says. “I know it’s illegal being here. I feel bad, but I don’t have a choice.”

An illegal immigrant in a country he once served, he considers himself an American, even if he’s not a citizen, or even a legal resident.

“This is my country,” David says. “I know it’s illegal being here. I feel bad, but I don’t have a choice.”

David doesn’t like to talk to his kids and grandkids about what might happen to him if he’s discovered, he says. It’s hard to explain to them that though he’s spent 50 years of his life in the states, he’s not supposed to be here.

“They don’t understand it. They know. They talk about Trump — that he’s gonna send me to Mexico, and they go, ‘Why? What’s he gonna send you there for?’ They know, but they don’t understand.”

So he stays at home, and he waits, anxiously wondering if he’ll hear another knock at the door, like last time. He even changed his information on his driver’s license recently. He used his eldest daughter’s home address — she’s a U.S. citizen. At least that way, ICE might show up at her place first, and he might have a head’s up that they’re coming for him.

“I’m mostly just waiting for ICE to knock on my door.”

His family lives about 15 to 20 minutes away in a nearby city. He visits with them when he can. But usually, if he leaves the house, it’s to go to the VA — Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. It’s a short trip by car, and he’s very, very careful to stay within the speed limit.

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Canada Is Going to Legalize Marijuana in 2018

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF TIME)

Canada Is Going to Legalize Marijuana in 2018

Mar 27, 2017

(TORONTO) — Canadians should be able to smoke marijuana legally by July 1, 2018, a senior government official said Monday.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government will introduce legislation to legalize recreational marijuana the week of April 10th and it should become law by July next year, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to lack of authorization to discuss the upcoming legislation.

Trudeau has long promised to legalize recreational pot use and sales. Canada would be the largest developed country to end a nationwide prohibition of recreational marijuana. In the U.S, voters in California, Massachusetts, Maine and Nevada voted last year to approve the use of recreational marijuana, joining Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska. Uruguay in South America is the only nation to legalize recreational pot.

Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould declined to confirm the dates provided by the official, but said in a statement the government is committed to introducing legislation this spring that would “legalize, strictly regulate, and restrict access to cannabis.”

“This will be done in a careful way to keep it out of the hands of children and youth, and to stop criminals from profiting,” the statement said. “In order to meet our commitment to legalize, the legislation will need to pass through the parliamentary process in a timely fashion.”

The news was noticed online by Snoop Dogg , who tweeted “Oh Canada!”

The Canadian government is expected to follow the advice of a marijuana task force headed by former Liberal Health Minister Anne McLellan as well as the advice of former Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair, who is the parliamentary secretary to the justice minister. Blair has been visiting police departments across the country.

The task force recommended adults be allowed to carry up to 30 grams of pot for recreational purpose and grow up to four plants. It also recommended that higher-potency pot be taxed at a higher rate than weaker strains. It also said recreational marijuana should not be sold in the same location as alcohol or tobacco. Under the task force proposals, alcohol-free cannabis lounges would be allowed.

The panel’s report noted public health experts tend to favor a minimum age of 21 as the brain continues to develop to about 25, but said setting the minimum age too high would preserve the illicit market.

Canadian youth have higher rates of cannabis use than their peers worldwide.

While the government moves to legalize marijuana retail outlets selling pot for recreational use have already been set up. Trudeau has emphasized current laws should be respected. Police in Toronto, Vancouver and other cities raided stores earlier this month and made arrests.

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Federal Judge In Hawaii Rules That President Trump’s New Travel Ban Is Illegal, Freezing Implementation

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

(CNN) A federal judge in Hawaii blocked President Donald Trump’s new travel ban on Wednesday afternoon, hours before the ban was set to go into effect.

In a 43-page ruling, US District Court Judge Derrick Watson concluded in no uncertain terms that the new executive order failed to pass legal muster at this stage and the state had established “a strong likelihood of success” on their claims of religious discrimination.
Trump decried the ruling during a rally Wednesday night in Nashville, introducing his statement as “the bad, the sad news.”
“The order he blocked was a watered-down version of the first one,” Trump said, as the crowd booed the news.
“This is, in the opinion of many, an unprecedented judicial overreach,” he added, before pledging to take the issue to the Supreme Court if necessary.
The practical effect of the ruling — which applies nationwide — is that travelers from six Muslim-majority countries and refugees will be able to travel to the US.
Unlike the previous executive order, the new one removed Iraq from the list of banned countries, exempted those with green cards and visas and removed a provision that arguably prioritizes certain religious minorities.
The new ban was announced earlier this month and was set to take effect Thursday. It would have banned people from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen from entering the US for 90 days and all refugees for 120 days.
“The illogic of the Government’s contentions is palpable. The notion that one can demonstrate animus toward any group of people only by targeting all of them at once is fundamentally flawed,” Watson wrote.
“Equally flawed is the notion that the Executive Order cannot be found to have targeted Islam because it applies to all individuals in the six referenced countries,” Watson added. “It is undisputed, using the primary source upon which the Government itself relies, that these six countries have overwhelmingly Muslim populations that range from 90.7% to 99.8%.”
“It would therefore be no paradigmatic leap to conclude that targeting these countries likewise targets Islam,” Watson added. “Certainly, it would be inappropriate to conclude, as the Government does, that it does not.”
“When considered alongside the constitutional injuries and harms … and the questionable evidence supporting the Government’s national security motivations, the balance of equities and public interests justify granting the Plaintiffs’ (request to block the new order),” Watson wrote.
The Justice Department said it will defend the new travel ban.
“The Department of Justice strongly disagrees with the federal district court’s ruling, which is flawed both in reasoning and in scope. The President’s Executive Order falls squarely within his lawful authority in seeking to protect our Nation’s security, and the Department will continue to defend this Executive Order in the courts,” DOJ said in a statement Wednesday night.

Judge points to cable news comments

After Trump initially blasted a federal judge in Seattle on Twitter for blocking the original travel ban, and several other federal courts halted its implementation last month, the White House went back to the drawing board for over a month and rewrote the ban — hoping this one would survive legal scrutiny.
Yet certain statements made by Trump’s senior advisers have come back to bite the administration in court.
In the ruling, Watson brought up specific statements made by the President and Stephen Miller, one of his top policy advisers and a reported architect of the original order, in cable news interviews.
Trump made plain his opposition to Islam in an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper last year, asserting: “I think Islam hates us.”
Cooper asked then-candidate Trump in the interview to clarify if he meant Islam as a whole or just “radical Islam,” to which Trump replied, “It’s very hard to separate. Because you don’t know who’s who.”
The judge cited this interview as an example of the “religious animus” behind the executive order and quoted Trump telling Cooper: “We can’t allow people coming into this country who have this hatred of the United States.”
Likewise, the decision cited an interview Miller had on Fox News following the legal struggles of the first executive order last month, which the legal opponents of the ban have emphasized repeatedly.
In a February interview, Miller downplayed any major differences the new executive order would have from the first and said it would be “responsive to the judicial ruling” holding it up and have “mostly minor technical differences.”
“Fundamentally, you’re still going to have the same basic policy outcome for the country,” Miller added.
“These plainly worded statements, made in the months leading up to and contemporaneous with the signing of the Executive Order, and, in many cases, made by the Executive himself, betray the Executive Order’s stated secular purpose,” Watson wrote.
“Any reasonable, objective observer would conclude, as does the court for purposes of the instant Motion for TRO, that the stated secular purpose of the Executive Order is, at the very least, ‘secondary to a religious objective’ of temporarily suspending the entry of Muslims,” he added.

Changes not enough, judge says

While Watson signaled that this temporary freeze of the travel ban may not last forever, he nevertheless concluded that the changes made between the first and second versions of the travel ban weren’t enough.
“Here, it is not the case that the Administration’s past conduct must forever taint any effort by it to address the security concerns of the nation,” he wrote. “Based upon the current record available, however, the Court cannot find the actions taken during the interval between revoked Executive Order No. 13,769 and the new Executive Order to be ‘genuine changes in constitutionally significant conditions.'”
Immigration advocates applauded the ruling immediately.
“The Constitution has once again put the brakes on President Trump’s disgraceful and discriminatory ban. We are pleased but not surprised by this latest development and will continue working to ensure the Muslim ban never takes effect,” said ACLU attorney Omar Jadwat, who argued for the case for the challengers in Maryland federal court earlier on Wednesday.
The Justice Department has yet to indicate its next legal steps, but Trump administration has argued the ban is necessary to protect the nation’s security.
“We cannot compromise our nation’s security by allowing visitors entry when their own governments are unable or unwilling to provide the information we need to vet them responsibly, or when those governments actively support terrorism,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said March 6.
Federal judges in several states, including Maryland and Washington state, are also in the process of evaluating challenges to the new travel ban, but may defer ruling in light of the nationwide ruling in Hawaii.
This story is breaking and will be updated.

This Is How President Trump Is Going To Commit Treason Against The Working Class Who Voted For Him

 

First I would like to say to the readers of this article that I hope that I am wrong on this issue, but I don’t think that I am going to be wrong about President Trump and his agenda. As most of the people here in the States know, it was the white working class male voters who helped a whole lot in getting Mr. Trump elected last November. I just said working class though I almost said ‘middle-class’, the reason for saying working class instead is because as almost all of us know, the middle class has been sinking into the lower middle class arena for several decades now.  Our American financial society used to always be considered to be labeled into mainly three classes, you had the rich folks who tended to own the businesses where the middle class/working class earned their income while hoping to be able to have a decent life style. Then you had the working poor who were busting their behinds each day in menial jobs who were just trying to survive at all. These folks tend to be less educated and could only find minimum wage type jobs.

 

I was born in 1956 in a small  town in southwest Virginia to parents who never had the chance to go to college and were factory workers their whole lives. I learned early on that these factories only paid the minimum wage, what they had to by law. During the early 1960’s this wage was $1.25 per hour and this is what they both made. These factories only paid overtime because they were forced to by law but they did not have to give any benefits to their employees like insurance of any kind, or holiday pay, and they did not. Some politicians, mostly just Republicans, who argue that the people making the minimum wage are only teenagers and kids who are in school working part-time. People who live in the real world know that this argument is total BS. If these politicians lived in the real world they would also know that many millions of Americans work for companies that only pay between 10-50 cents per hour above whatever the minimum wage is at the time. Simply put almost all companies only pay their employees as much as they are forced to pay by law. The reason is simple and this reason is honest and true, the less you as an employer pay out in expenses the higher the profit amount that goes to the CEO’s and to the stockholders. This is just like in politics, the two parties want all of the credit on good bills and they are not willing to share in the glory. With companies the top end wants higher profits so that they can get bigger paychecks, the Stock Market then reinforces this theology of greed. Throughout human history it has been true that the people who are physically making the products receive the lowest income. Any pie is only finite, they are only just so large, their pieces are just capable of being so big, the trouble is when it comes to business everyone is wanting a bigger slice of that pie and the only way to achieve this is to take away from others who are in that pie pan with them.

 

For 14 years I lived in the Morristown Tennessee area so I am going to use Berkline as an example of greed and of not caring anything about the ‘working class’. When I moved there I went to change over my car plates and driver’s license as the law requires. I went there on a Monday morning shortly after they opened for business. When I came into the building there were two rather long lines of young Hispanic folks already there so I just fell into the back of a line. A lady that worked inside noticed me and she came out and got me and took me inside. When I asked her about the two lines of folks she told me that they were only there to get a state I.D. so that they could go to work, they weren’t there to do the same things I was there for. While doing the paperwork for me she told me her story about Berkline. She said she had worked there for 14 years and was only making about 25 cents above the  minimum wage. She said that one Monday morning as she was at her job station waiting for the ‘get to work’ buzzer to sound that her foreman came up to her with a very young Hispanic male who couldn’t even speak English and told her that this was her replacement that she was fired. You see, the company was busing in Mexican folks to take the local folks jobs. Think about it for a moment, you as a company fire your experienced workers who are barely making the minimum wage for people who have no experience, why would you do that? The answer is simple, the new hires were being paid less than the minimum wage and they knew that these folks would work hard and that they were afraid to complain about the work or the working conditions. Berkline was the largest employer in Morristown at that time and they basically fired almost all of the local workers. This situation lasted for a few years then the company decided it was cheaper to quit shipping workers up there from Mexico and just close the Morristown factory and move their operation to Mexico, so they did. The local economy lost hundreds of jobs at it really hurt the local economy. Now this type of issue is a big part of what Mr. Trump’s campaign rhetoric was about, punishing companies who do and or have done this type of thing. By the way, Berkline is the company that makes Lazy Boy furniture.

 

Now to the meat of this article. As we all know Mr. Trump is very pro business and I do not have any problem with this fact. Yet even though he says he will bring the “good” jobs back to America and he is/was talking about manufacturing jobs, as he has often said the “we” here in America don’t make anything any more. This sounds great and I hope he can do it. He also talks about lowering the business income tax down to about 15% and I do not have a problem with that either, as long as all the loopholes are eliminated so that they are actually paying that 15%.  Mr. Trump has a history of bashing Union workers and their Unions because they make too much money. He has recently bashed the Auto Industries and then he bashed the workers and their Union at the Carrier Air Conditioner factory in Indianapolis Indiana for the same thing. He very obviously believes that Union workers are lazy and overpaid. Mr. Trump has also spoken out several times about the minimum wage being to high as he has said ‘companies can’t afford it’. So here is what I believe Mr. Trumps ideology is about ‘bringing the good jobs’ back to this Country. His policies may help to bring jobs here to the States and they may well be industrial manufacturing type of jobs. But, here is my concern, let’s say a new steel mill opens back up in Bethlehem PA and they hire 500 workers to fill those open jobs, at $5.00 per hour with no benefits of any kind. Would this be a ‘good’ job for the employees? If he is able to get rid of the minimum wage and overtime laws (which he has also said he favors because of the expense to the company’s) Americans  will find themselves working ‘menial’ jobs like sales clerks and at burger joints like McDonald’s for two or three dollars per hour.

 

Before you say that this can’t happen, that Mr. Trump would never do something like this I want you to consider two pieces of facts. 1) Think about it , all of Mr. Trump’s businesses  products he has them made in third-world countries. The reason is very simple, higher profits for him personally. He has his products made in countries where there is no EPA laws to worry about, no minimum wage laws so the sweat shops can employ children and women at a dollar per day wages, no overtime pay laws, no benefits, no OSHA laws to protect the workers. He has spent his whole adult life preying on the poorest of the poor for his own personal benefit, do you really think he has all of a sudden changed, really? 2) When a company leaves the States and moves to (for example) Thailand or Malaysia or China they made the move to bring down their costs, if your company is on the Stock Market this is a great move for your stockholders. But who loses when this is done, folks it is the working class people here in the States. Now for the purpose of an illustration let us take cars as an example or shirts or shoes. The company closes their factory in let’s say Michigan and moved their production to Mexico for the purpose of cutting the company’s cost per unit. Have you ever seen the price of that product lowered for the consumer? The company’s aren’t going to move back to the States unless it is financially profitable for them to do so. I honestly believe that Mr. Trump’s intentions are to make himself and his billionaire buddies the recipients of a cash windfall at the expense of the people physically doing the work. You may get a new job because of Mr. Trump’s policies but if it is a $3.00 per hour job but the cost of living doesn’t drop with the wages there are going to be a lot more homeless and starving people right here in the States. Are you really naive enough to believe Mr. Trump gives a damn about you or your family? Like I said at the beginning of this article, I hope that I am wrong about these issues but I seriously doubt  that I am wrong on this.

Trump: New Rules Put Most Undocumented Immigrants At Risk Of Deportation!!!

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF TIME)

Sweeping New Trump Administration Rules Put Most Undocumented Immigrants at Risk of Deportation

11:32 AM Eastern

A sweeping set of memos released Tuesday make clear that the vast majority of undocumented immigrants in the United States are at risk of deportation.

Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly unveiled a set of memos directed at each of the department’s agencies which instruct agents to detain and deport every undocumented immigrant they come across, with few exceptions.

Immigrations and Customs Enforcement “will not exempt classes or categories of removal aliens from potential enforcement,” notes a DHS fact sheet. “All of those present in violation of the immigration laws may be subject to immigration arrest, detention, and, if found removable by final order, removal from the United States.”

The memos are essentially instruction manuals for the sweeping executive orders issued by President Trump in late January. The orders themselves call for the hiring of more immigration enforcement officials, empowering local officers to act as immigration enforcement and expediting the deportation of the millions of undocumented immigrants living in the U.S.

An early draft of the memos reported by the Associated Press called for the mobilization of up to 100,000 National Guard troops for immigration enforcement, though that was not included in these memos.

But the memos do make clear that the Department considers any and every undocumented immigrant that crosses paths with enforcement officials to be eligible for removal, a vast shift from Obama Administration policy, which prioritized the removal of criminals and threats to national security. Homeland Security will also expand the list of immigrants who are subject to speedy removal from the U.S. when caught crossing the border illegally. The memos also allow agents to send people who cross from Mexico and Canada back to either nation, regardless of their home country.

While the Trump Administration has made clear it will be tough on immigrants caught in the U.S., it has yet to take action against the class of migrants known as “dreamers” or those who were brought to the U.S. as children by their parents. The memos do not apply to children who received Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, under the Obama Administration.

U.S. Says Venezuela’s Vice President Is An International Drug Trafficker

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

(CNN)U.S. authorities on Monday said the vice president of Venezuela was an international drug trafficker and slapped severe sanctions on him.

The Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) said Tareck El Aissami has played a “significant role in international narcotics trafficking,” a news release said.
“OFAC’s action today is the culmination of a multi-year investigation under the Kingpin Act to target significant narcotics traffickers in Venezuela and demonstrates that power and influence do not protect those who engage in these illicit activities,” said John Smith, acting director of OFAC.
El Aissami, who was appointed vice president of Venezuela in January, is a former interior and justice minister and governor of the country’s Aragua state.
The Treasury Department said he “facilitated shipments of narcotics from Venezuela to include control over planes that leave from a Venezuelan air base, (and) narcotics shipments of over 1,000 kilograms from Venezuela on multiple occasions, including those with the final destinations of Mexico and the United States.”
In addition, the department said El Aissami is linked to coordinating drug shipments to Los Zetas, a violent Mexican drug cartel, and provided protection to a Colombian drug lord.
Monday’s action imposes sanctions on El Aissami that prohibit anyone in the United States from doing business with him, and freezing any assets the US.
A senior administration official said Monday’s sanctions are “not a reaction to El Aissami’s role as executive vice president of Venezuela. The designation is the result of a years-long investigation of narcotics trafficking by OFAC.”
The official went on to say, “This is a narcotics trafficking case … and any other kind of activity is not a basis for our action today.”
El Aissami is also a subject of a yearlong CNN and CNN en Espanol investigation published last week.
A confidential intelligence document obtained by CNN links El Aissami to 173 Venezuelan passports and ID‘s that it says were issued to individuals from the Middle East, including people connected to the terrorist group Hezbollah.
The official who ordered the issuing of the passports, the report said, is El Aissami, who “took charge of issuing, granting visas and nationalizing citizens from different countries, especially Syrians, Lebanese, Jordanians, Iranians and Iraqis.”
El Aissami has not responded to multiple requests for comment over several months. CNN reached out to the Venezuelan government Monday night but there was no immediate response.

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