Review Category : National News

UN: Thousands of Children Risk Perilous Journey to US Border

John Moore/Getty Images(NEW YORK) — Nearly 26,000 unaccompanied children arrived at the U.S. southwestern border in the first half of this year, in a continuing influx of migrants attempting to escape poverty and violence in their home countries.

The total amounts to more than 140 unaccompanied children arriving at the U.S. border every day.

UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Rights and Emergency Relief Organization, released a report on Tuesday highlighting the often desperate circumstances that drive so many children and families to risk the perilous journey north.

Most of the children come from three countries — El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras — that are wracked with widespread poverty, rampant gang violence and some of the highest crime rates in the world.

Honduras, for example, registered one of the highest murder rates in the world — more than 90 per 100,000 inhabitants — in a United Nations study published in 2014. This compares to a current murder rate of just 4.5 percent in the U.S., according to the most recent national crime statistics published by the FBI.

Missing in these figures, UNICEF says, are the estimated hundreds of children who die every year in the harsh environment along the U.S.-Mexico border, and many more who disappear and may have fallen prey to kidnapping, trafficking or murder.

“It is heart-rending to think of these children – most of them teenagers, but some even younger – making the grueling and extremely dangerous journey in search of safety and a better life,” said UNICEF’s Deputy Executive Director Justin Forsyth. “This flow of young refugees and migrants highlights the critical importance of tackling the violence and socio-economic conditions in their countries of origin.”

Statistics from the Unites States Border Patrol show that while the overall number of people detained at the southwestern border has dropped in recent years, the number of unaccompanied children has roughly doubled.

In 2012, just over 24,000 unaccompanied children were detained. This number soared to more than 68,000 in 2014, before dropping last year. This year could see that number pick up again, as the data show that child detentions are on pace to top 50,000 by the end of the government’s fiscal year.

The children who do make it to the U.S. border face a future that is anything but certain, UNICEF says. After they are picked up by Border Patrol agents, many are transferred to government-operated shelters or foster care homes, where they stay just over one month, on average.

Most go into deportation proceedings without access to court-appointed lawyers and face long odds. A study tracking deportation cases beginning in 2015 showed that by June 2016, 40 percent of unrepresented children has been ordered deported, compared to just 3 percent for those who had the help of an attorney, UNICEF said.

For those allowed to stay, a backlog in immigration courts can mean years of waiting, during which time the children have no legal status in the United States, making many ineligible for healthcare and other public services.

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Wildfires Tear Through Thousands of Acres in Washington State

Clayton Sandell/ABC News(SPOKANE, Wash.) — Firefighting crews in Washington State are battling numerous fast-moving wildfires, including two in the Spokane area that forced evacuations from more than 200 homes.

Spokane-area crews joined forces to fight two fires, dubbed the Yale Road Fire and Wellesley Fire, which have scorched 3,500 and about 250 acres respectively, according to the Washington Department of Natural Resources.

The blazes quickly spread late Sunday after gusty winds followed days of record heat in the Pacific Northwest.

The Yale Road Fire, which started when a tree fell onto power line, prompted evacuations of about 150 homes and burned about one dozen structures near Spangle, a town about 18 miles south of Spokane officials said.

While firefighters believed the Wellesley Fire was under control Monday, winds are expected to pick up with the Yale Road Fire this afternoon, officials said.

Meanwhile, another blaze, dubbed the Hart Fire, which started in Lincoln County just west of Spokane, has covered over 6,000 acres and is expected to grow today due to weather and terrain, officials said.

The Hart Fire blaze, fueled by timber and grass, has destroyed six homes and forced evacuations from 60 homes.

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FBI Investigating Possible ISIS-Inspired Knife Attack in Virginia

Western Virginia Regional Jail (ROANOKE, Va.) — The FBI has launched a federal terrorism investigation into a weekend stabbing in Roanoke, Va., looking at whether the attacker may have been trying to behead his victim in an alleged ISIS-inspired assault, sources tell ABC News.

Federal authorities have been aware of the alleged attacker, 20-year-old Wasil Farooqui, of the Roanoke area, for some time, sources familiar with the case told ABC News. In the past year, he traveled to Turkey and may have tried to sneak into Syria, where ISIS is recruiting and inspiring sympathizers from across the world, sources said.

Farooqui was arrested Saturday by Roanoke County Police on charges of assault with malicious wounding, and he’s being held without bond at the Western Virginia Regional Jail, according to the sources and a jail database.

During the Saturday stabbing, Farooqui allegedly injured a man and woman at an apartment complex in Roanoke, yelling “Allah Akbar” as he attacked them with a knife, sources told ABC News.

Authorities believe he may have been trying to behead the male victim, who was likely picked at random, ABC News was told.

Farooqui and his two alleged victims were hospitalized after the attack. Their conditions were not clear.

“The FBI is working with the Police Department following the incident that occurred on Saturday evening,” the head of the FBI’s Richmond field office, Special Agent In Charge Adam Lee, said in a statement. “While I cannot discuss details of the investigation at this time, I do want to reassure the community that we are working to determine the nature of the incident.”

It was not clear if Farooqui had a lawyer.

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President Obama to Survey Flooding in Louisiana After 16-Day Vacation

The White House(BATON ROUGE, La.) — For days, critics hammered President Obama for continuing his vacation in Martha’s Vineyard as flooding wreaked havoc on Louisiana, claiming the lives of at least 13 people and displacing tens of thousands of residents. But now that the president has returned to work in Washington, he’ll make a day trip to Baton Rouge on Tuesday to get a first-hand presidential look at the devastation.

During Monday’s daily briefing, press secretary Josh Earnest flatly rejected criticism of Obama, insisting the president “was focused on the response” there even while he racked up 10 rounds of golf during his 16-day respite from the White House. Earnest said the federal response to flooding in Louisiana has been “much more effective and much more impactful” than the initial FEMA response to Hurricane Katrina.

“But the survivors of the flooding in Louisiana are not well-served by a political discussion, they’re well served by a competent, effective, strong, coordinated government response, and the federal government has certainly done our part in the first eight to 10 days after this disaster, but there’s a long road ahead,” he said.

Obama declared a major disaster for Louisiana on Aug. 14, making federal resources available to help with home repairs, temporary housing, low-cost recovery loans for uninsured property losses and other programs to assist individuals and business owners recover. The White House also disclosed Obama received a series of briefings on the flooding throughout his vacation.

Some conservatives have cited what appeared to be a muted level of attention to the ongoing situation in Louisiana compared to the overwhelming criticism President George W. Bush received for waiting three days to visit the Gulf Coast in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina to survey the damage.

Before meeting volunteers at the Greenwell Springs Baptist Church, north of Baton Rouge, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump said, “The president says he doesn’t want to go, he is trying to get out of a golf game.”

Asked if Obama only agreed to travel to Baton Rouge Tuesday after Trump and his running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, surveyed the damage, Earnest insisted “of course not.”

Earnest ticked off several expectations for the president’s trip, though he conceded details of the visit are “still coming together.” The White House, Earnest said, is organizing the visit “in way that doesn’t have an impact on the significant response and recovery efforts that are underway there in Louisiana.”

“I would anticipate the president will have an opportunity to see some of the damage firsthand. I would anticipate that the president will have the opportunity to speak to officials in Louisiana who have been managing the response effort, including the governor and lieutenant governor,” Earnest said. “I would expect the president will have an opportunity to meet with and offer some comfort to citizens whose lives have been thrown into chaos, as a result of this event. I’m confident the president will take advantage of the opportunity to thank some of those who were responsible for saving lives at the height of this event.”

Earnest also said that while he’s not aware of discussions for an additional emergency supplemental to help Louisianans recover from the flood, once President Obama has the opportunity to visit first hand with officials tomorrow, it will “become clearer what the price tag is and the support that Louisiana may need.”

“The administration is committed to standing with the people of Louisiana,” he said.

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Transgender Students Not Protected by Anti-Discrimination Law, Judge Rules

iStock/Thinkstock(FORT WORTH, Texas) — When lawmakers passed a major anti-discrimination law more than 40 years ago that banned unfair treatment in public schools on the basis of sex, did Congress mean to protect students who identify with a gender that differs from their sex at birth?

The answer is no, according to U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor, who granted a nationwide injunction on Sunday that hollows out Obama administration guidance to public schools to let transgender students use bathrooms and locker rooms consistent with their gender identity.

O’Connor’s decision, issued on the eve of the first day of school in Texas, slapped down the administration’s attempt to use a decades-old anti-discrimination law as the legal basis for extending protections to transgender students.

The lawsuit was brought by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Republican, joined by a dozen other states and two school districts in July, and argued the Obama administration’s novel reading of “sex” to mean “gender identity” is not what Congress intended in 1972 when it passed Title IX, which prohibits discrimination among federal funds recipients.

“It cannot be disputed that the plain meaning of the term sex” in that law “meant the biological and anatomical differences between male and female students as determined at their birth,” wrote O’Connor, of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas in Fort Worth.

The legal challenge stemmed from joint guidance issued in May by the Departments of Justice and Education. In the agencies’ view, Title IX’s anti-discrimination protections should kick in once school administrators learn a student will identify as a different gender. The school would then be required to treat the student consistent with that gender, or risk losing federal funding.

But O’Connor ruled the administration had exceeded its authority, and also failed follow the proper procedure before issuing the guidance, including allowing a period of time for the public to weigh in.

The Department of Justice expressed disappointment over the ruling and said it is reviewing its options.

Civil rights organizations that had submitted a joint friend-of-the-court brief called the ruling a “misguided decision” that leaves transgender students vulnerable to harassment, stigma and abuse. The groups, Lambda Legal, American Civil Liberties Union, National Center for Lesbian Rights, Transgender Law Center and GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders, vowed to continue their fight.

“We will continue to file lawsuits representing transgender students and litigate them to the fullest extent of the law — regardless of what happens with this particular federal guidance,” the groups said in a joint statement.

Transgender students’ ability to use the bathroom of their choice has become a flashpoint in the broader legal and cultural debate over LGBTQ issues, and Sunday’s nationwide injunction marks latest in a series of recent legal setbacks for transgender rights.

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Virginia Governor Restores Voting Rights of Felons

iStock/Thinkstock(RICHMOND, Va.) — Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe on Monday restored voting rights to 13,000 felons, circumventing a court ruling and defying objections to his earlier attempts from Republican legislators.

“We’re not going to waste any time about arguing about the old Virginia way,” McAuliffe, a Democrat, said while making the announcement at the Civil Rights Memorial on Capitol Square in Richmond.

“Let me put this in plain English: We will proceed,” he said.

The move comes after Republicans and the Supreme Court of Virginia stopped his earlier wide-ranging clemency effort. His original executive order was issued in April and it would have restored voting rights to about 200,000 felons who had served their sentences.

Republicans were upset that the order included both violent and nonviolent offenders — en masse instead of case by case — and accused the governor of trying to add voters to the registration rolls before November’s presidential election in a bid to help Hillary Clinton, his longtime friend and political ally.

Virginia GOP leaders took McAuliffe to court and defeated his plan. The court ordered the state to put the felons’ names back on its list of banned voters.

“The Virginia Constitution is clear,” he said. “I have the authority to restore civil rights without limitation.”

McAuliffe on Monday said he was restoring the rights of 13,000 felons after reviewing each of their cases individually and will continue to seek ways to provide the same rights to more felons, calling it “an issue of basic justice.”

“I personally believe in the power of second chances,” McAuliffe said.

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NY Senator Calls for ‘Swift’ Review of JFK Airport Scare

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — A federal lawmaker is questioning the security preparedness of New York City’s largest travel hub.

In the wake of a chaotic scene that erupted at John. F. Kennedy International Airport last week after false reports of shots fired, Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., says he wants a “swift” review of the facility’s vulnerabilities.

Witnesses of the confusion-filled episode say they saw security personnel and travelers running on the tarmac.

Schumer said the probe should look at security training and inter-agency coordination. He also expressed concern about the information authorities were sharing with the public during the incident.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has already said it will conduct a “thorough review” of what took place on Aug. 14.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo last week called the incident “unfortunate” and said he wants a “full review of what happened.”

Two police sources told ABC News the cause may have been a 911 caller mistaking a loud celebration of Usain Bolt’s Olympic victory for something more nefarious.

Authorities say reports of shots fired shortly after 9:30 p.m. prompted an immediate shut down of a terminal.

A second terminal was also shut down and searched.

The ordeal lasted about three hours. Police found no evidence of gun shots, and no one was injured.

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Ex-FEMA Chief Criticizes Obama for Golfing During Louisiana Flood

Bill Pugliano/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — Former Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Director Michael Brown, who ran the federal response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, said President Obama should have put down his golf clubs last week during the height of the floods ravaging part of Louisiana.

“The problem is the optics,” Brown said during an interview Monday on the Fox Business Network.

Brown — who received then-President George W. Bush’s infamous praise, “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job,” as thousands of survivors went without food and shelter 11 years ago — said Obama was justified in not descending immediately on Baton Rouge, which would have diverted critical resources from flood recovery.

But the president should have adjusted his vacation schedule to demonstrate he was aware of the serious natural disaster that was unfolding, Brown said.

“It doesn’t mean jump on Air Force One and go to every disaster. It means that you need to speak to the American people. … You sometimes need to get off the golf course when bad things are happening so you don’t have the two [TV] windows of somebody golfing while people are being rescued from rooftops,” Brown said.

The flooding has killed at least 13 people and more than 100,000 people have registered for federal assistance in southeastern Louisiana as of Monday morning, according to the Louisiana governor’s office.

The flash flooding first struck the Baton Rouge area on Aug. 12. The president arrived on Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts the week prior, and returned to Washington, D.C., on Sunday.

Obama is scheduled to visit the area Tuesday, after the White House pointed out last week that Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson traveled there to meet with local officials.

“While in Martha’s Vineyard, the President has received updates on the situation in Louisiana, including from the DHS Secretary and the FEMA Administrator, who took separate trips there,” the White House said in a statement Friday. “The President today directed his team to coordinate with Louisiana officials to determine an appropriate time for him to visit, and together they have determined that the President will visit Baton Rouge, Louisiana on Tuesday, August 23rd.”

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Deadly Louisiana Flooding Claimed at Least 13 Lives, Damaged 60,000 Homes

File photo. iStock/Thinkstock(BATON ROUGE, La.) — Ten days after deadly flash flooding tore through southeastern Louisiana, tens of thousands of devastated residents are working to recover.

As of Monday morning, 60,700 homes were reported to be damaged or destroyed throughout the state and 102,000 people have registered for federal assistance, said Mike Steele, spokesman for the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness.

The flash flooding first struck the Baton Rouge area Aug. 12, forcing unsuspecting residents out of their homes.

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards has called the flood that killed at least 13 “unprecedented” and “historic.” The situation was declared an emergency and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) called in to provide resources and funding to help with recovery efforts.

For some displaced residents, it brought back painful memories of evacuating during Hurricane Katrina 11 years ago.

As the area now works to recover, even more rain is covering the area. The National Weather Service said 2 to 3 inches of rain fell Sunday.

President Obama is expected to travel to Louisiana on Tuesday.

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Bloody Weekend as Chicago Sees Four Killed, Dozens Wounded in Shootings

iStock/Thinkstock(CHICAGO) — Four people were killed and dozens wounded in a bloody weekend in the city of Chicago, including a 7-year-old girl who was shot in the forearm as she gathered at a vigil for another shooting victim, ABC Chicago station WLS-TV reported.

During an intense 14-hour stretch of violence that ran from Saturday into Sunday, one person was shot in the city every 33 minutes, according to the Chicago Tribune.

The weekend toll ran to at least 35 wounded, in addition to the four fatalities, police told WLS-TV.

The wounded 7-year-old girl is the 27th child younger than 13 shot in Chicago so far this year, according to WLS-TV.

Highlighting how the growing problem of gun violence has affected the city’s communities, the 7-year-old was shot along with a 36-year-old woman at a vigil Saturday night for a 14-year-old boy killed earlier in the day. The 36-year-old woman was wounded in the hand, WLS reported.

The woman and the child were driven to the hospital by another woman attending the vigil, Ashake Banks, the mother of Heaven Sutton, a 7-year-old girl who was fatally shot in the same neighborhood in 2012, WLS-TV reported.

Chicago has seen more than 2,000 shooting incidents so far this year, a 48 percent increase over the same period last year and a 73 percent spike over the same period two years ago.

Killings in Chicago have shot up more than 300 percent compared to this time last year, according to Chicago Police statistics.

The summer months generally bring an uptick in gun violence, according to police.

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