Border apprehensions continue to fall under Trump

Apprehensions at the southern border continue to fall dramatically, according to new numbers from Customs and Border Protection — a drop that experts attribute to President Donald Trump’s aggressive immigration enforcement policies.

There were roughly 12,000 total apprehensions at the southwest border in March, according to numbers obtained by CNN that are expected to be released this week. That represents a 35% drop from February and a 63% drop from March 2016.

In 17 years of CBP data, apprehensions had never dropped from February to March, typically rising slightly.

Former Acting Customs and Border Patrol Commissioner David Aguilar said Tuesday at a hearing in front of the Senate’s Homeland Security Committee that through the end of March, immigration officials have seen a 67% drop in illegal crossings from Mexico as compared to the same period last year.

Aguilar attributed the drop to Trump’s hardline position on immigration — a focal point of his campaign and the first few weeks of his presidency.

“This has happened before when — as it relates especially to immigration — when the US stands strong and takes certain actions,” Aguilar said. “This administration said we’re going to address illegal immigration. ICE has started working in the interior unlike other times. So that message resonates.”

CNN was told by current CBP officials on Tuesday that southwest border migration numbers are still being finalized and will be posted at a later date.

Attempts to enter the US illegally can vary based on a variety of factors, often referred to as push and pull. Violent, dangerous or desperate conditions in Central America, where a majority of migrants originate, can push individuals to make the journey north through Mexico. Homeland Security Secretary Kelly has talked about the importance of working with Central American countries to cut back on violence as another element in combating illegal immigration.

Trump’s strict position on immigration is seen as affecting the so-called “pull factors” that attract would-be immigrants. The idea is that word of mouth and media coverage of Trump’s low-tolerance policy for undocumented immigrants can be a deterrent to individuals considering making the journey.

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Electronics ban at foreign airports could expand

The ban on electronic devices on board some direct flights to the United States could expand to include more airports and devices, the Department of Homeland Security said Tuesday.

The existing ban — which governs certain devices from 10 specific African and Middle Eastern airports in eight countries — requires passengers on those flights to place electronic devices larger than cellphones in their checked luggage.

“Could we see an expansion? Possibly, we have not ruled out that there could be an expansion in the future,” DHS spokesman David Lapan told reporters. He added that any expansion to the ban — which took effect two weeks ago — is not imminent.

The Department of Homeland Security is also targeting and isolating certain aircraft for additional screening upon landing in the United States, according to a source with knowledge of the screening procedures.

US authorities have said the electronics ban is focused on the eight countries in part because of intelligence indicating a greater threat there. Intelligence and law enforcement assessments done in recent months also indicate that, though the broader vulnerabilities exist, the US has more confidence in detection machines and security screeners at airports in the US and Europe. Advanced technology and training helps mitigate the risk.

Lapan said it was too soon to tell if any of the airports currently on the list would be removed and that the policy would be reviewed based on emerging threats. He added, though, that “nothing is foolproof.”

“It is always our goal to prevent somebody from seeking to get an explosive device on an airplane and so we put things into place to try to mitigate that to the greatest extent possible,” he said. “But, short of having people stop flying completely — that’s the only way you can guarantee that no one will ever get blown up in an airplane.”

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1 shot during protest against dictatorship attempts in Venezuela

A day after two lawmakers were hospitalized with head wounds they suffered during a protest in Venezuela, at least one person was shot and several more were injured on Tuesday. 

Bernardo Sanchez told local reporters that he was shot when dozens of government supporters in motorcycles started to shoot in the air. Ramon Muchacho, a Caracas-area mayor, said a 19-year-woman had her leg crushed when a National Guardsman in a motorcycle ran her over. 

Riot police officers in Caracas were using water cannons, pepper spray and tear gas. Protesters were making barricades and attacking the riot police with rocks and bottles. 

National Assembly head Julio Borges was among the opponents of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro who were attacked with pepper spray. Borges wants the Supreme Court magistrates who decided to take away power from the opposition-controlled congress last week to be removed.

Although the court retracted the ruling, protesters said previous court judgments were still limiting the powers of the National Assembly and they fear there are more to come. Unable to make it to the National Assembly on Tuesday, the congressional session was rescheduled for Wednesday. 

While Maduro’s opposition fears a dictatorship will worsen the economic crisis, members of the socialist party claim there is a U.S.-led plot that threatens sovereignty. Some socialists view Maduro’s opposition lawmakers and their supporters as traitors and enemies of the state. 


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Gay men go missing in Chechnya, reports say

Gay men are disappearing in Chechnya, according to a human rights activist and a leading opposition newspaper in Russia. Some are being detained; the fate of others is unknown, human rights groups say.

The newspaper, Novaya Gazeta, reported at the weekend that the men were detained “in connection with their non-traditional sexual orientation, or suspicion of such,” citing Russian federal law enforcement officials.

Novaya Gazeta reported that more than 100 gay men had been detained in the last two weeks and said it had the names of three who had been murdered.

CNN has not been able to independently confirm the newspaper’s reporting. But Ekaterina Sokirianskaia, Russia project director of the International Crisis Group, told CNN that in the last 10 days she had received information from multiple sources in Chechnya about the detention of gay men, including a hairdresser as well as cultural and religious figures.

Sokirianskaia, a Moscow-based expert on the Caucasus region that includes the Russian republic of Chechnya, said the volume of information made it “almost impossible to believe this is not happening, but it is also very difficult to verify because Chechen society is extremely homophobic.”

She said it was unclear what had triggered the apparent anti-gay campaign.

‘An April Fool’s joke’

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told CNN on Monday that the reports were “a question for law enforcement — it’s not on the Kremlin’s agenda.”

“We don’t know how much of it is true,” Peskov added. “I’m not an expert in the field of non-traditional sexual orientation.”

He said the Interior Ministry would investigate the report.

The response from Chechnya — an almost entirely Muslim republic, which includes part of Russia’s border with Georgia — was very different. The press secretary of the republic’s Interior Ministry, Magomed Deniev, told Russian media that the report “is probably an April Fool’s joke.”

A spokesman for the Chechen government, Alvi Karimov, told the Russian news agency Interfax that the story in Novaya Gazeta was “an absolute lie.”

But Karimov’s fuller explanation underlined the deeply conservative and intolerant views of the republic’s leadership.

“You can’t detain and harass someone who doesn’t exist in the republic,” he said.

“If there were such people in the Chechen republic, law enforcement wouldn’t have a problem with them because their relatives would send them to a place of no return.”

Karimov appears to have been talking about so-called “honor killings” or the murders of people who offended social conventions by their own families.

‘Climate of fear’

Sokirianskaia at the International Crisis Group said honor killings still happened in Chechnya, and gay men would get no protection from their families, who would see them as a source of shame.

But she said some gay men had left Chechnya and were now beginning to tell their stories to gay rights groups.

She said there was no gay ‘community’ as such in Chechnya. Small groups would connect by phone but ran the risk of discovery because of the monitoring of calls by the Chechen security services.

Gay individuals lived, Sokirianskaia said, in a climate of fear, paranoid about being discovered.

Even human rights officials in Chechnya are unsympathetic on LGBT issues. Heda Saratova, head of the Human Rights Council in Chechnya, dismissed the article in Novaya Gazeta as “spitting into our face, our traditions, our customs.”

Saratova told CNN by phone that “even if people with non-traditional sexual orientation are present in our society, no one would ever know about this. They [gay rights groups] say that they want to hold gay parades here, this is just absurd.”

Ramzan Kadyrov, leader of Chechnya since 2004, has stifled any form of dissent, subduing the separatist movement that fought the Russian army for nearly two decades.

In 2009, Kadyrov said in a newspaper interview that “Prostitution, drugs and gays are the poison of our time. How can Russia support gay clubs?”

“There is a whole system aimed at weakening the country, the will, honor, and spirit,” Kadyrov said of what he considered vices.

He has also spoken favorably of polygamy.

Kadyrov posts social media videos of himself working out and offered to raise a volunteer force to send to Syria to fight on behalf of the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

LGBT groups across Russia say they are frequently discriminated against, and several of their rallies have been attacked and broken up.

In 2013, Putin signed a law that barred public discussion of gay rights and relationships anywhere that children might hear it. The law has been condemned by Russian and international rights groups.

Human Rights Watch described the anti-gay propaganda law as “a profoundly discriminatory and dangerous bill that is bound to worsen homophobia in Russia.”

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