Amid Family Separation Furor, US House Plans Immigration Votes

WASHINGTON, (VOANEWS).- As the House of Representatives prepares for expected votes on major reforms to U.S. immigration law this week, the Trump administration defends the separation of some undocumented immigrant children from their parents,

Once a rare practice, federal agents now routinely separate families seeking asylum or attempting to enter the United States illegally. Roughly 2,000 minors had been separated from their families over a six-week period ending in May, administration officials said last week.

Video released by the U.S. government shows what appears to be humane conditions at a shelter site for children. But furor over the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy for unauthorized border arrivals is growing.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein said Monday that seeking to deter parents by inflicting abuse on children is "unconscionable."

"Mr. President, people do not lose their human rights by virtue of crossing a border without a visa," Zeid said. "I deplore the adoption by many countries of policies intended to make themselves as inhospitable as possible by increasing the suffering of many already vulnerable people."

Defend policy

Trump continues to view America's immigration debate through the lens of public safety, often pointing to foreign-born members of a vicious Central American gang as he seeks stricter policies.

The president has also repeatedly blamed Democrats for the separations, falsely claiming they are responsible for the situation. Trump's administration put in place the policy to arrest all migrants who illegally cross the U.S. border, including those seeking asylum, and because children cannot be sent to the same detention facilities as their parents, they are separated.

"The Democrats should get together with their Republican counterparts and work something out on Border Security & Safety," Trump tweeted late Sunday. "Don't wait until after the election because you are going to lose!"

Trump's Republican party holds a majority in both houses of Congress.

He is scheduled to meet with House Republicans on Tuesday to discuss two competing Republican immigration reform bills.

Both bills would provide legal status to hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children, make sweeping changes to legal immigration, and boost U.S. border security. It is unclear if either will attract enough votes to pass.

"We said from the beginning we want the House to debate immigration reform in a serious, meaningful way. And it looks like that is happening for the first time in nearly a decade," Republican Congressman Carlos Curbelo said.

Trump's advisers, both past and present, also continue to defend the separation policy.

"Nobody likes'' breaking up families and "seeing babies ripped from their mothers' arms,'' said Kellyanne Conway, a counselor to the president. But she, too, placed the blame on the Democrats.

Trump's former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, also defended the policy saying, "We ran on a policy, very simply, stop mass illegal immigration and limit legal immigration, get our sovereignty back, and to help our workers, OK? And so he went to a zero-tolerance policy.''

Immigration experts and many legal scholars, however, said the administration is interpreting U.S. immigration law as no other administration has. Democrats have condemned both the policy and Trump's rationale for pursuing it.

"In the world, there is a recognition that people can seek asylum, except, apparently not in the United States," House minority leader Nancy Pelosi said.

Texas protest

Over the weekend, several protests were held across the country as lawmakers, religious leaders and American citizens decried the family separation policy.

Democratic Texas state Congressman Beto O'Rourke led hundreds of people on a march Sunday in Tornillo, Texas, where the government is holding some of the children. The purpose of the march, he said, was to "help this country to make the right decision, and part of that is knowing what's going on in the first place."

O'Rourke, who is seeking to unseat Republican U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, was joined by U.S. Congressman Joe Kennedy of Massachusetts, also a Democrat.

Evangelical leader Franklin Graham, a prominent supporter of President Donald Trump, also spoke out against the policy.

"It's disgraceful, and it's terrible to see families ripped apart and I don't support that one bit," he said on the Christian Broadcasting Network.

Miami (Florida) Archbishop Thomas Wenski said, “The policy is designed to frighten the parents by taking away their kids, traumatizing the kids. And they [federal agents] think that will serve as a deterrent for people exercising a basic human right, which is to ask for asylum.”

First lady Melania Trump released a statement that appeared to oppose her husband's policy.

"Mrs. Trump hates to see children separated from their families and hopes both sides of the aisle can finally come together to achieve successful immigration reform," her office Sunday said. "She believes we need to be a country that follows all laws, but also a country that governs with heart."

Former first lady Laura Bush wrote in a Washington Post op-ed that the policy is cruel and immoral."

"Our government should not be in the business of warehousing children in converted box stores or making plans to place them in tent cities in the desert outside of El Paso," she said. "These images are eerily reminiscent of the Japanese interment camps of World War 2, now considered to have been one of the most shameful episodes in U.S. history."

Also Sunday, officials say at least five people died after an SUV fleeing Border Patrol agents crashed in southern Texas.

Texas public safety officials said many people in the vehicle might have been living in the U.S. without legal permission. The driver and at least one other person, believed to be U.S. citizens, are in custody, the state officials said.

VOA's Michael Bowman contributed to this report.

Trump Confirms He Reimbursed Lawyer for Porn Star Payment

WASHINGTON, (KEN BREDEMEIR-VOANEWS).- U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday confirmed a $130,000 hush money payoff to adult film actress Stormy Daniels shortly before the 2016 election about allegations of a decade-old affair with him, but said no campaign funds were involved.

Trump said he reimbursed his personal attorney, New York lawyer Michael Cohen, in monthly increments after the lawyer had made the payment to the porn star to keep her quiet about what she has claimed was a one-night affair with Trump in 2006 at a Nevada hotel, a few months after Trump's wife had given birth to their son.

The president, in a string of Twitter comments, said the money paid to Cohen was "not from the campaign" and had "nothing to do with the campaign."

One of Trump's lawyers, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, first disclosed his reimbursements to Cohen Wednesday night in a wide-ranging interview with talk show host Sean Hannity on Fox News.

"I said, 'That's how he's repaying it, with a little profit and a little margin for paying taxes,'" said Giuliani.

He added that Trump "didn't know about the specifics of [the payment], as far as I know, but he did know about the general arrangement that Michael would take care of things like this. Like I take care of things like this for my clients. I don't burden them with every single thing that comes along."

On Thursday, in another interview on Fox, Giuliani said the payment to quiet Daniels came at a sensitive time in Trump's campaign, just before the November 8, 2016 election against his Democratic challenger, former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

"Imagine if that came out on October 15, 2016, in the middle of the, you know, last debate with Hillary Clinton," Giuliani told the "Fox & Friends" show. "Cohen didn't even ask. Cohen made it go away. He did his job."

Contradictory statements

Trump's confirmation of the reimbursement to Cohen directly contradicts earlier comments he has made about the payments.

A month ago, in an interview on Air Force One, Trump said "no,"when he was asked if he knew about the payment Cohen had made to Daniels and said he did not know why Cohen had made the payment.

"You'll have to ask Michael Cohen," Trump said. "Michael is my attorney. You'll have to ask Michael."

Trump press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders deflected a question Thursday about the "disconnect between what the president said aboard Air Force One" and Giuliani's disclosure of the payments to Cohen.

"I think it's fair to say that there's ongoing litigation and the president's attorneys who have the greatest amount of visibility into this have spoken about this, both at length last night, again this morning, the president's put out multiple tweets on this this morning," Sanders said. "I don't have anything else to add."

After Giuliani's disclosure of the payment, Daniels' lawyer, Michael Avenatti, said that Americans "should be outraged."

"We predicted months ago that it would be proven that the American people had been lied to as to the $130,000 payment and what Mr. Trump knew, when he knew it and what he did in connection with it," Avenatti wrote on Twitter.

Cohen has said he took out a personal loan to make the payment through a corporation he created.

Campaign funds

The issue of whether the funds ultimately came from Trump or through the campaign is perhaps a distinction of note under U.S. law. The $130,000 payment far exceeds the allowable size of personal campaign donations that Cohen could have made, although Trump could make sizable donations to his own campaign. Daniels-related expenses have not been reported as campaign donations.

With his Thursday statements, Trump is saying the money was paid as part of a private agreement irrespective of the campaign.

Subsequent to Cohen's first acknowledgement of the payment to Daniels, federal agents raided his New York office and home as part of a criminal investigation into his business affairs and searching for information about Trump's dealings with the lawyer.

Trump has assailed the raid, an offshoot of the year-long investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller of Trump campaign links to Russia and accusations that Trump obstructed justice by trying to thwart the probe.

Trump Sets Clock Ticking for TikTok

WHITE HOUSE, (STEVE HERMAN-VOANEWS).- U.S. President Donald Trump played 18 holes of golf Saturday after threatening to halt operations in the United States of a popular Chinese-owned video-sharing social media app.

The White House said it had “very serious national security concerns over TikTok. We continue to evaluate future policy.”

Late Friday, the president said he would likely use an executive order to prohibit the app.

“As far as TikTok is concerned, we’re banning them from the United States,” he told reporters Friday night as they traveled with him from Florida on Air Force One. He indicated he would take action as soon as the following day.

However, a casually dressed Trump was seen Saturday morning by VOA departing the West Wing for his private 325-hectare golf club located 40 kilometers northwest of the White House.

Trump had also told reporters on the flight back home that he did not support a deal that would allow a U.S. company to buy TikTok’s American operations.

Microsoft and other U.S. companies, in recent days, reportedly have been looking to purchase the U.S. operations of TikTok.

Microsoft put its discussions on hold following reporting of the president’s stance, The Wall Street Journal said.

Hugely popular

The app is extremely popular globally. It has been downloaded 2 billion times worldwide, including 165 million times in the United States.

The app features not only entertainment videos but also debates, and it takes positions on political issues, such as racial justice and the coming U.S. presidential election.

Officials in Washington are concerned that TikTok may pose a security threat, fearing the company might share users’ data with China’s government.

When asked by Fox News last month whether Americans should download the app onto their phones, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said, “Only if you want your private information in the hands of the Chinese Communist Party.”

TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, has said it does not share user data with the Chinese government and maintains that it stores U.S. user data only in the U.S. and Singapore. ByteDance has agreed to divest the U.S. operations of TikTok completely in a bid to save a deal with the White House, the Reuters news agency reported Saturday.

TikTok also recently chose former Disney executive Kevin Mayer as its chief executive in a move seen as an effort to distance itself from Beijing.

TikTok General Manager Venessa Pappas uploaded a video Saturday reassuring users that “we’re not going anywhere” and noting that the platform has 1,500 employees in the United States and has been planning on bringing an additional 10,000 jobs into the country over the next three years.

ACLU blasts ban

Trump’s proposed ban is opposed by the American Civil Liberties Union.

"Banning an app that millions of Americans use to communicate with each other is a danger to free expression and is technologically impractical,” said Jennifer Granick, the ACLU’s surveillance and cybersecurity counsel.

“With any internet platform, we should be concerned about the risk that sensitive private data will be funneled to abusive governments, including our own. But shutting one platform down, even if it were legally possible to do so, harms freedom of speech online and does nothing to resolve the broader problem of unjustified government surveillance,” Granick told VOA.

The U.S. government’s Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), an interagency group led by the Treasury Department, opened a national security review of TikTok last year.

CFIUS’s job is to oversee foreign investments and assess them for potential national security risks. It can force companies to cancel deals or institute other measures it deems necessary for national security.

China could retaliate.

"It could take the nuclear option, like banning Apple. Or, it may start to double down on initiatives like the STAR exchange [launched to make China technologically independent],” Abishur Prakash of the Center for Innovating the Future in Toronto, told VOA.

“The biggest mistake the West has made is playing its most powerful card too soon — banning Chinese companies from the richest markets in the world. This is a long-term fight and the TikTok saga is just the beginning,” predicted Prakash, a geopolitical futurist.

Pranksters' actvitity

Some on social media are accusing Trump of singling out TikTok because pranksters used the app to order hundreds of thousands of tickets to his June 20 rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, which attracted a smaller-than-expected crowd. TikTok is also where comedian Sarah Cooper posts her videos lip-synced to Trump sound bites, which have attracted millions of views.

Cooper uploaded a video Friday mouthing comments made by the president earlier in the day about TikTok.


Trump to Spare Chinese Telecom ZTE From Collapse

WASHINGTON, (VOANEWS).- The Trump administration told lawmakers Friday that it had reached a deal that would keep the Chinese telecom firm ZTE alive, possibly clearing the way for the United States to make progress in its high-stakes trade talks with China next month.

Under the agreement, ZTE would oust its management team, hire American compliance officers to be placed at the firm and pay a fine. The fine would come on top of the roughly $1 billion ZTE has paid for selling equipment to North Korea and Iran in violation of U.S. sanctions, according to news reports.

In return, the Commerce Department would lift a seven-year ban on ZTE’s purchase of components from U.S. companies. The Chinese company depends on these components to make its products, and the ban, imposed earlier this month, threatened to put ZTE out of business.

On Friday evening, President Donald Trump lashed out at Democratic lawmakers and confirmed the news of the deal on Twitter.

Last month, the U.S. Commerce Department ruled that the company had failed to live up to the terms of an agreement over ZTE’s evasion of sanctions.

News of the ZTE agreement came nearly a week after the U.S. and China suspended plans to impose tariffs on as much as $200 billion of each other’s goods, putting them on the brink of a trade war.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross is scheduled to travel to Beijing on June 2 for further discussions about China’s aggressive push to challenge U.S. technological dominance.