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U.S. sends first migrants to Mexico in reboot of Trump-era policy

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The United States has returned the first two migrants to Mexico since restarting a Trump-era program to remove asylum seekers from U.S. soil, officials said Wednesday, as the Biden administration grapples with pressure to curb immigration.

The United States and Mexico last week agreed to relaunch the controversial scheme known as Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) that obliges asylum seekers to wait in Mexico for U.S. immigration hearings, in keeping with a federal court order.

Mexico made the restart conditional on Washington meeting certain criteria, including offering vaccines to asylum seekers and exempting vulnerable people from expulsion.

The first two migrants returned under the revamped scheme entered Mexico at a border crossing in Ciudad Juarez opposite El Paso, Texas, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Mexico.

One of the two men, who identified himself as Enrique Manzanares from Nicaragua, said he felt a little sad, but gave thanks to God that he was still alive.

“In the end, nothing was lost,” Manzanares told Reuters. “Some of us make it, others don’t.”

A Mexican official confirmed the restart, saying it would be limited on Wednesday to just the two migrants.

The IOM said the two people were given COVID-19 tests once they entered Mexico, and that IOM representatives took them to a shelter in Ciudad Juarez that had been approved by U.S. and Mexican authorities.

The United Nations-backed organization also called for MPP to be ended as soon as possible, describing it in a statement as “inhumane and contrary to international law.”

A spokesperson for U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP)said the Department of Homeland Security began the court-mandated re-implementation of MPP at one location.

“For operational security reasons, DHS is not sharing details such as location of initial returns or number of individuals enrolled,” the CBP spokesperson said.

Once fully operational, MPP returns to Mexico will take place at seven ports of entry in San Diego, Calexico, Nogales, El Paso, Eagle Pass, Laredo and Brownsville, the CBP said.

President Joe Biden, a Democrat, has struggled to reverse many hardline immigration policies put in place by his Republican predecessor, Donald Trump, and is facing a record number of migrant arrests at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Biden ended MPP soon after his inauguration in January as he sought to pursue what he called a more humane approach to immigration. But a federal judge ruled Biden’s move did not follow proper procedure, and in August ordered MPP reinstated.

Misael Hernandez, a migration expert at Mexican think tank COLEF, said Mexico faced a challenge coping with the new flow of expulsions, with many shelters in the north already struggling to handle increasing numbers of migrant arrivals from the south.

“This is a setback in immigration policy between Mexico and the United States,” he said. “And an example of Trump’s power in Congress and U.S. courts to go against Biden’s promises.”

(Reporting by Jose Luis Gonzalez, Daina Beth Solomon and Lizbeth Diaz; Additional reporting by Ted Hesson and Dave Graham; Editing by William Maclean and Cynthia Osterman)

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U.S. charges man with human smuggling after 4 freeze to death near Canada border

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U.S. authorities on Thursday charged a man with human smuggling of Indian nationals from Canada, the day after four people including a baby were found frozen to death in a remote part of Canada close to the Minnesota border.

The U.S. attorney’s office in Minnesota said 47-year-old Steve Shand had been arrested just south of the border on Wednesday while driving two undocumented Indian citizens.

U.S. border patrol agents soon came across five more Indians traveling on foot, one of whom was carrying a backpack belonging to a family of four who had become separated from the group as they all tried to cross the border.

They alerted Canadian police who found the victims – a man, a woman, a teenage boy and a baby – about 40 feet (12 meters) from the frontier with Minnesota. First indications are that they died from exposure to the cold.

“These victims faced not only the cold weather, but also endless fields, large snowdrifts and complete darkness,” Royal Canadian Mounted Police Assistant Commissioner Jane MacLatchy told a televised news conference in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Wind chill had driven down the temperature to minus 35 C (minus 31 F), she said.

The U.S. attorney’s office said in a statement that the four victims had tentatively been identified as the missing Indian family.

The five Indian nationals explained they had walked across the border expecting to be picked up by someone and estimated they had been walking around for over 11 hours.

Shand has been charged with one count of human smuggling. He is next due in court on Jan 24.

(Reporting by Ismail Shakil in Bengaluru and David Ljunggren in Ottawa; Editing by Leslie Adler and David Gregorio)

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Canada agency says Russian-backed actors targeting infrastructure

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Network operators of critical Canadian infrastructure should boost their defenses against Russian state-sponsored threats, Canada’s signals intelligence agency said on Thursday.

The warning from the Communications Security Establishment (CSE) is the latest in a series of bulletins from Canada’s two main spy agencies accusing Russian actors of trying to hack into sensitive computer systems.

“(CSE) encourages the Canadian cyber-security community —especially critical infrastructure network defenders — to bolster their awareness of and protection against Russian state-sponsored cyber threats,” it said in a statement.

Russian actors and others are targeting critical infrastructure network operators as well as their operational and information technology, it added.

Operators should be prepared to isolate components and services that “would be considered attractive to a hostile threat actor to disrupt” and boost vigilance, CSE said.

Canada has had poor relations with Russia since the annexation of Crimea in 2014.

Ottawa fears armed conflict could break out in Ukraine and is working with allies to make clear to Russia that any further aggression towards Kiev is unacceptable, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Wednesday.

 

(Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

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Canada adds jobs for fifth month in December -ADP

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Canada added 19,200 jobs in December, the fifth straight month of gains, led by hiring in the professional and business services and leisure and hospitality sectors, a report from payroll services provider ADP showed on Thursday.

The November data was revised to show 102,100 jobs were created rather than an increase of 231,800. The report, which is derived from ADP’s payrolls data, measures the change in total nonfarm payroll employment each month on a seasonally-adjusted basis.

 

(Reporting by Fergal Smith; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

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