THE U.S.-MEXICO BORDER: Amid a possible government shutdown over border wall funding, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced that migrant asylum seekers will be sent back to Mexico and forced to wait there while U.S. courts process their claims. The policy, which is expected to face immediate legal challenges, would apply to migrants who arrive at or between official ports of entry but not to Mexicans applying for asylum nor unaccompanied minors. On Wednesday, a federal judge struck down a separate policy preventing migrants from making asylum claims based on domestic or gang violence.
In a statement, the Mexican government assured that asylum seekers “will have rights to equal treatment without discrimination” and will be allowed to apply for work permits. But human rights groups have expressed alarm over the lack of sufficient migrant infrastructure and safety guarantees in Mexico. Especially given the growing backlog of U.S. asylum claims, cases typically drag on for years after the initial screening phase. Earlier this week, the Trump administration promised to meet incoming Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s request for increased aid to Central America, though critics pointed out that the only new aid announced comes in the form of private sector loans.
HEADLINES FROM THE WESTERN HEMISPHERE
UNITED STATES: The House of Representatives passed an amended spending bill yesterday that includes $5 billion in border wall funding. Just hours earlier, President Donald Trump had insisted he would not support a bipartisan continuing resolution passed by the Senate Wednesday night, because it did not allocate money for the construction of a border wall. With many members having already returned to their constituencies for the holidays, the Senate is now preparing for a noon vote on the House’s measure. If some spending measure does not pass by midnight, the federal government will enter a partial shutdown.
MEXICO: Lawmakers from President López Obrador’s Morena party introduced significant changes yesterday to a controversial proposal to create a new National Guard. While the unit would still be trained militarily, as was originally proposed, jurisdiction would pass to civilian authorities after five years, according to Representative Mario Delgado. The Senate will also be given the power to dissolve the new guard. The drafting commission behind the proposal had to change locations yesterday, after protesters from the Security Without War collective occupied their meeting room.
CUBA: The Cuban Baseball Federation reached a historic agreement with U.S. Major League Baseball on Wednesday, allowing Cuban players to sign contracts in the United States without defecting from the island. The agreement mirrors similar ones between the United States and other top baseball countries, including Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. Baseball has long been the most popular sport in Cuba, but players like L.A. Dodger Yasiel Puig and former Miami Marlin José Fernández have had to make life-risking journeys to play in the United States. Cuban-American Republican Senator Marco Rubio tweeted that he has asked the State Department to issue a ruling against the measure.
I have asked state dept & White House to review the deal that allows Cuban regime to conduct state sponsored trafficking of baseball players.
Unlike Japan & Mexico the regime controls sports & the state department should issue a ruling to that effect. https://t.co/Ismcgr4P7o
— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) December 20, 2018
NICARAGUA: Citing misconduct, the Ortega administration expelled international human rights experts Wednesday, ahead of a scheduled press conference yesterday. The experts were expected to present the findings of their investigation into abuses by public security forces during anti-government protests earlier this year. In an interview with Confidencial yesterday, Antonia Urrejola, commissioner of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, rejected the Ortega administration’s justification for the expulsions and warned of an “increase in repression that cuts through every area of dissent.”
GUATEMALA: After Guatemalan authorities withdrew diplomatic immunity and work visas from 11 anti-corruption workers on Tuesday, eight international organizations signed a statement condemning what they considered an “outrageous” action by the government. The organizations, which include Oxfam, Lawyers Without Borders Canada, and Impunity Watch, called on Guatemala to “honor the agreements made before the United Nations.” Guatemala’s decision was also met by protests yesterday outside the Presidential House.
COLOMBIA: The ad hoc prosecutor appointed to investigate the Odebrecht corruption scandal was sworn in yesterday, in a private ceremony with President Iván Duque. Leonardo Espinosa is a longtime academic with no investigative prosecutorial experience and close political ties to Duque’s right-wing Democratic Center party, which has acted to block further investigation in Congress. Attorney General Néstor Humberto Martínez, who previously represented the Brazilian construction giant’s financial partner in a tainted infrastructure project, has recused himself from the three Odebrecht investigations assigned to Espinoso but continues to oversee various others, including into the mysterious death of a key witness who implicated Martínez in the bribery scheme.
BRAZIL: Authorities charged celebrity faith healer João Teixeira de Faria with sexual violation through fraud yesterday, the first in what are expected to be a series of similar charges against him. Over 200 people have come forward with rape and sexual assault accusations, including de Faria’s own daughter. Brazilian law allows just six months for victims of sex crimes to file formal complaints, so it is unclear when further charges will be brought. On Wednesday, it was revealed that de Faria had attempted to withdraw $9 million before surrendering himself to police on Sunday.
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