Pakistan organized its first ever provincial elections Saturday in a northwestern region along the mountainous border with Afghanistan that until a few years ago was condemned as the “epicenter” of international terrorism.
Pakistani officials said the elections in the seven districts of what were formerly known as the Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA) are central to steps the government has taken to supplement regional and global efforts to bring peace to Afghanistan and counter violent extremism.
Pakistani election officials said some 2.8 million registered voters were to choose from 285 candidates for 16 seats in the legislative assembly of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province.
The contestants, including two women, represented major mainstream political parties. The election was held under tight security and no incidents of violence were reported.
The historic vote came on a day when Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan left for the United States for his first meeting with President Donald Trump at the White House on Monday, where the two leaders will discuss counterterrorism measures among a range of other issues.
A landmark constitutional amendment pushed through the parliament last year paved the ground for the tribal territory to be merged in the adjoining KP province to bring it into the national mainstream.
Until last year, the lawless border regions of FATA were federally administered through a set of British colonial laws that were not applicable to the rest of Pakistan, and residents could vote only in the national assembly, lower house of the parliament.
FATA anti-terror campaign
Civilian and military leaders in Pakistan hailed Saturday’s democratic process as testimony that years-long security operations have rid most of the ex-FATA of militant groups, including al-Qaida and fighters loyal to the Taliban waging a deadly insurgency against U.S.-led intentional forces on the Afghan side of the porous border.
Islamabad has been for years accused by American and Afghan officials of harboring training camps and sanctuaries for the Taliban. Pakistani officials have consistently denied those charges.
The anti-terrorism Pakistan army offensives, backed by airpower, over the years had displaced several million residents of FATA, although officials say 95% of them have since been rehabilitated.
A government document shared with VOA claimed the operations killed more than 15,000 militants and captured another 5,000. The remnants have fled and taken refuge in “ungoverned” border regions of Afghanistan, it added.
It was not possible to ascertain the veracity of the data through independent sources because conflict zones in FATA had remained inaccessible for journalists and aid workers during military operations.
In recent months, however, the military has organized media trips to showcase infrastructure development, particularly in North Waziristan, which Pakistani officials say was the final battleground in their bid to clear FATA of terror.
The retaliatory terrorist attacks and suicide bombings in FATA districts and elsewhere in the country also killed thousands of Pakistanis, including about 8,000 military personnel, according to Pakistani officials.
The violence, which stemmed from Pakistan’s participation in the U.S. “war on terror,” also has inflicted direct and indirect losses to the national economy totaling more than $200 billion, according to government estimates.
Foreign critics also had been referring to FATA as the “most dangerous place”on the globe, and the U.S. repeatedly called for Pakistan to dismantle the terrorism infrastructure.
“This most dangerous spot on the map may well be the source of another 9/11 type of attack on the Western world or its surrogates in the region,” concluded the Center for Strategic and International Studies in a 2009 study on FATA..
Border security and reconstruction
The Pakistani army is currently building a robust fence and new posts along most of the 2,600-kilometer Afghan border to deter militant infiltration in either direction. The massive border management project is expected to be completed by the end of 2020.
“With fencing of Pak-Afghan border, cross border movement of terrorists, drugs and smugglers has reduced to almost 5% of what was happening before,” according to a Pakistani government document shared with VOA.
The ensuing reconstruction effort has established roads, bridges and telecommunication networks, schools, health facilities and markets.
The key infrastructure was previously almost non-existent in many FATA districts. Pakistani officials cited a lack a government authority in the region for decades, saying it long served as a “transit zone for Jihadi groups where they had established a de-facto government.”
The military lately, however, has faced allegations of abuses from a newly emerged group in FATA, known as Pakistan Tahafuz Movement or PTM. But both army and government officials deny the charges, alleging that some of the PTM leaders are being supported by Afghan and Indian spy agencies in their bid to undermine Pakistan’s counterterrorism gains.
Prime Minister Imran Khan’s nearly one-year-old government takes credit for arranging an ongoing peace dialogue between the U.S. and the Taliban aimed at ending the war in Afghanistan.
During recent trips to FATA districts, Khan has announced new projects and allocated substantial funds for the development of the regions, hoping they will become a commercial and transit trade hub between Pakistan and Afghanistan if peace eventually returns to the neighboring country.
Saudi-coalition spokesman Col. Turki al Maliki says that coalition fighter jets took out at least five Houthi air defense sites around the Yemeni capital, Sana’a, early Saturday. Amateur video showed a number of explosions rocking Sanaa, overnight.
Amateur video broadcast by Arab media showed a series of explosions around the Yemeni capital Sana’a, early Saturday, followed by loud percussive explosions.
Saudi-owned media, quoting coalition spokesman Turki al Maliki, indicated that at least five Houthi air defense sites were bombed by Saudi warplanes. Maliki claimed that a number of Houthi ballistic missiles were destroyed in the air attacks.
The Saudi-owned Asharqalawsat newspaper quoted Maliki as saying the “operation [overnight] targeted the Houthis air defense capabilities, as well as their ability to launch aggressive attacks.” Maliki went on to say the coalition raids “conformed with international human rights law.”
Hilal Khashan, who teaches political science at the American University of Beirut, tells VOA that he doesn’t think the Saudi air raids are going to have much effect on the ongoing war or the Houthis military capabilities:
“This is not the first time the Saudis announced launching attacks on missile sites in Yemen,” he said. “It happened in the past and it’s highly unlikely that such attacks are going to have any tangible effects on the Houthi war effort.”
Khashan stressed that most of the Houthis’ attacks on Saudi territory in recent weeks have been launched “using drones, rather than by firing ballistic missiles.”
The Houthis military spokesman, Gen. Yahya Saree, claimed Saturday that his group had launched a retaliatory drone attack Saturday, which “destroyed several radar [sites] and other military equipment at the King Khaled airbase in southern Saudi Arabia.” Saudi-owned al Arabiya TV countered that the drone was shot down near Abha and “hit no targets.”
The Saudi air attacks on Houthi missile sites come one day after unknown drones struck a Shi’ite militia camp that allegedly contained Iranian ballistic missiles in the north of Iraq. Some Iraqi analysts accused Saudi Arabia of the attack, but it was not immediately clear who was responsible. A number of Iranian Revolutionary Guard forces and Lebanese Hezbollah advisers allegedly were killed or wounded in the raid.
Two ossuaries found under the Pontifical Teutonic College in the Vatican were opened Saturday and forensic experts began to analyze the bones. The ossuaries were discovered by the Vatican last week after the opening of two tombs of princesses at the cemetery earlier this month revealed they were empty. The tombs had been opened as part of investigations into the disappearance of 15-year-old Emanuela Orlandi, the daughter of a Vatican employee, in 1983.
The mystery of the disappearance of Emanuela Orlandi, 36 years ago, continues to deepen at the Vatican, giving rise to more questions rather than answers. The latest mystery involves bones recovered on Saturday for analysis, located in two ossuaries found last week. Earlier this month the Vatican had opened two tombs and found the remains of the bodies that should have been there were not.
Church officials said the bodies of the two German princesses who were buried in those tombs may have been removed and never returned to their original resting place. The tombs were opened following a request from the Orlandi family.
Outside the Vatican walls, a group of supporters of the Orlandi family said they would continue to demand the truth about the disappearance of young Emanuela Orlandi, who disappeared in 1983 as she was on her way to a music class in Rome.
Emanuela’s brother, Pietro, still holds out some hope his sister may still be alive.
The family had requested the tombs be opened after receiving an anonymous letter earlier this year that stated Emanuela’s body might be hidden among the dead in the Teutonic Cemetery where a statue of an angel holding a book reads in Latin “Rest in Peace.”
Pietro Orlando will not give up until he is given answers.
After no bones were found, Pietro Orlandi said that “it could not end here because obviously I want to know why in the last year, people whose names I know, have directed us there”, to look for Emanuela’s remains.
In a statement on Saturday the Vatican said that “with this latest expert operation… the Vatican is again showing its openness towards the Orlandi family. This openness has been shown from the outset in agreeing to check the Holy Teutonic Campus even on the basis of a mere anonymous report.”
Over the years, the Vatican has often been accused by the Orlandi family of failing to do enough to help with investigations into the disappearance of Emanuela Orlandi.
The identity of the bones recovered on Saturday remains a mystery. The Vatican statement also said it is “not possible, for the moment, to predict how long it will take for the morphological analysis of the remains to be completed”. The Vatican added that further tests would be carried out July 27.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is to meet Saturday with Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno in the capital of Quito as he continues his Latin American trip that has so far been dominated by the growing threat of terrorism in the Western Hemisphere.
In Argentina Friday, Pompeo confirmed the U.S. imposed financial sanctions against a Hezbollah militant group leader suspected of directing a deadly bombing in 1994 of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires that killed 85 people.
“They were killed by members of a terrorist group, Hezbollah, and had help that day from Iran,” which provided “logistical support and funding through its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps,” Pompeo said at an event in Argentina marking the 25th anniversary of the attack.
Pompeo announced two actions against Salman Raouf Salman, who he said was the on-the-ground coordinator for the deadly bombing, and “remains a wanted man who continues to plot terrorism on behalf of Hezbollah.”
The State Department’s Rewards for Justice program is offering up to $7 million for information leading to his arrest. The U.S. Treasury Department named Salman a specially designated global terrorist, “which denies him access to the United States financial system.”
Pompeo, who was joined by several ministers from Latin American nations on Friday for talks on counterterrorism, said “solidarity” between countries is the “antidote” to the threat of terror.
Pompeo said his four-day Latin American trip was part of a “concerted effort to re-engage with our partners in the hemisphere” as terrorist groups “continue to seek a lasting presence in our hemisphere.”
Argentina’s Foreign Minister Jorge Fauri said, “Argentina will not cease in its struggle to ensure that the Iranian citizens” who carried out the 1994 bombing are “brought to justice in Argentina.”
Earlier, standing at a memorial at the site of the car bombing, Pompeo lit a candle with Jewish center President Ariel Eichbaum and said the worst terrorist attack in Argentina is a stark reminder of the danger to the Western Hemisphere from Hezbollah and other Middle East-based extremist groups.
“It was a moving reminder that our discussion today isn’t abstract; it’s not theoretical. The risk of terrorism is real for each and every one of us, and each and every one of our citizens,” Pompeo said.
On Monday, Argentina’s Security Ministry officially designated the Lebanon-based Hezbollah militant group, which is supported by Iran, as a terrorist organization. The move gives the U.S. another ally in a global coalition to contain Iran’s influence in the Middle East and beyond.
Pompeo’s three-day Latin American visit also takes him to Ecuador, Mexico City and San Salvador, where he will seek cooperation on security issues, reinforce U.S. commitment to human rights and democracy, and expand economic opportunities for citizens, State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said during a recent Washington press briefing.
Venezuela is also expected to be an important topic during Pompeo’s trip. On Friday, the U.S. State Department announced sanctions against four more officials in the government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.
The United States and more than 50 other countries support opposition leader Juan Guaido as the country’s leader. Guaido contends President Maduro’s re-election last year was invalid and wants early presidential elections. Maduro accuses the opposition of fomenting violence.
Migration will also be addressed when Pompeo meets with Latin American leaders. Some experts say the United States must address the root causes or “push factors” that are compelling people to flee their homes.
“You have to look at the lack of opportunity, the gang activity, the weak institutions in this region, in Central America if you are ever going to stop people from making what is a difficult and dangerous journey to the United States. These people don’t leave taking the decision lightly,” said Benjamin Gedan of the Wilson Center.
Joaquin Guzman, the convicted Mexican drug lord known as “El Chapo,” has been transferred to a “Supermax” prison in Colorado from which no one has ever escaped, the U.S. Bureau of Prisons said in a statement Friday.
Guzman was sentenced to life in prison plus 30 years on Wednesday in a federal court in Brooklyn after a jury convicted him of drug trafficking and engaging in multiple murder conspiracies as a top leader of the Sinaloa Cartel, one of Mexico’s largest, most violent drug trafficking organizations.
Before he was finally captured in 2016, Guzman twice escaped maximum-security prisons in Mexico.
“We can confirm that Joaquin Guzman is in the custody of the Federal Bureau of Prisons at United States Penitentiary (USP) Administrative Maximum (ADX) Florence, located in Florence, Colorado,” the U.S. Bureau of Prisons said in its statement.
The Bureau of Prisons declined to comment further.
Guzman was whisked away early Friday from a secret location in New York, on his way to the Supermax prison in Florence, his attorney, Jeffrey Lichtman, told the Denver Post.
The prison is about 115 miles (185 km) south of Denver and opened in 1994. It has about 375 inmates.
Guzman joins a long list of notorious criminals there. They include “Unabomber” Ted Kaczynski, Sept. 11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui, Terry Nichols from the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, “Shoe Bomber” Richard Reid, Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and Ramzi Yousef from the 1993 World Trade Center bombing in New York.
The Colorado Supermax prison is nicknamed “Alcatraz of the Rockies” after the San Francisco prison whose inmates included the gangsters Al Capone and George “Machine Gun” Kelly, as well as Robert Franklin Stroud, known as the Birdman of Alcatraz.
Like other prisoners, Guzman will likely be confined for around 23 hours a day to a solitary cell that has a narrow window about 42 inches (107 cm) high and angled upward so only the sky is visible.
He will be able to watch TV in his cell, and will have access to religious services and educational programs.
Special restrictions are used to ensure that inmates cannot exert influence or make threats beyond prison walls. Prisoners cannot move around without being escorted. Head counts are done at least six times a day.
The Wall Street Journal says Equifax will pay around $700 million to settle with the Federal Trade Commission over a 2017 data breach that exposed Social Security numbers and other private information of nearly 150 million people.
The Journal, citing unnamed sources familiar with the matter, said the settlement could be announced as soon as Monday. Equifax declined to comment.
The report says the deal would resolve investigations by the FTC, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and most state attorneys general. It would also resolve a nationwide consumer class-action lawsuit.
Spokesmen for the FTC and the CFPB didn’t immediately return messages seeking comment Friday night.
The breach was one of the largest affecting people’s private information. Atlanta-based Equifax did not notice the attack for more than six weeks. The compromised data included Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses, driver license numbers and credit card numbers.
The company said earlier this year that it had set aside around $700 million to cover anticipated settlements and fines.
The United States and Pakistan this month started cracking down against armed militant groups, in what analysts describe as establishing a groundwork ahead of the meeting between the U.S. President Donald Trump and Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan in Washington early next week.
Pakistani authorities in Punjab province Wednesday arrested the head of the Lashkar-e-Taiba group, Hafiz Saeed, who is alleged to have been the mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai attacks that killed 166 people, including six Americans.
Trump, in a tweet following the detention, praised the “great pressure” exerted over the past two years against the cleric.
Some experts say the move by the Pakistani government just days ahead of Khan’s maiden trip to Washington serves as a goodwill gesture to improve relations with the Trump administration, which has accused Pakistan of failing to rein in extremists operating on its soil.
Marvin Weinbaum, the director of the Afghanistan and Pakistan Program at the Washington-based Middle East Institute, told VOA that Pakistan is hoping its recent moves against armed Islamists could convince U.S. officials that it is playing an effective role in the fight against terrorism.
“Pakistan has campaigned for months to convince the international community that it does not harbor terrorists,” Weinbaum told VOA.
He said Pakistan authorities, in an effort to gain economic leverage from Washington, are stepping up their efforts against militants targeting India, while at the same time influencing the Taliban in Afghanistan to hold peace negotiations with the U.S.
“There is a recognition in Pakistan that despite the rhetoric used by the political leadership, it needs the U.S. on the economic front,” Weinbaum said.
Suspension of aid
Trump last year suspended $300 million in military aid to the Pakistani government, which he accused of giving safe havens to terrorists launching attacks in Afghanistan.
Pakistan has received more than $33 billion in U.S. assistance since 2002, including more than $14 billion in Coalition Support Funds (CSF), which is a U.S. Defense Department program for reimbursing allies that incur costs while supporting the U.S.-led counterinsurgency and counterterror operations in the region.
The United States, Afghanistan and India have accused Pakistan of being selective in its counterterror operations, targeting only those groups that pose a threat to its national security and ignoring others that plan and conduct attacks in India and Afghanistan.
Pakistan has rejected those accusations, noting that thousands of its civilians have died in militant attacks because of its anti-terror efforts with the U.S. The country also said it targets militants indiscriminately.
Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said Tuesday that his country’s efforts to facilitate peace talks between the U.S. and the Taliban have led to a “gradual warming” of U.S.-Pakistan relations.
He said Trump’s invitation to Khan underscored the “inherent importance of the relationship” for both countries.
The meeting between Trump and Khan, scheduled for Monday, will focus on counterterrorism, defense, energy and trade, according to a White House statement.
“It will focus on strengthening bilateral cooperation to bring peace, stability and economic prosperity to South Asia,” it said.
Zubair Iqbal, a Pakistan analyst with the Middle East Institute, said the expected meeting between the two leaders and recent actions against militants show both sides are willing to defuse months of tensions.
“The U.S. government seems to have changed its attitude toward Pakistan,” Iqbal said, adding that Pakistan could play a vital role in Afghanistan’s peace process.
Some analysts charge the improved relations between the two countries could also help Khan in his bid to prevent his country from being blacklisted by the global anti-terror watchdog Financial Action Task Force (FATF).
FATF in 2017 placed the country on its “gray list” for allegedly not taking adequate action against terror financing and money laundering in the country. The president of FATF last month told VOA that it was possible that Pakistan could be blacklisted during the global terror financing watchdog’s plenary session in October.
“It is in Pakistan’s interest that the FATF meeting in October does not put it on the blacklist,” said Imran Malik, a Punjab-based defense analyst and retired brigadier. The blacklist, he noted, could hurt Pakistan’s economy.
For its part, Washington has attempted to fix the strained relations with Islamabad by targeting anti-government separatist militants operating in Baluchistan province in southwestern Pakistan, Malik said.
The U.S. earlier this month designated the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) as a terrorist group, vowing to deny the organization access to resources for planning and carrying out attacks. The move was welcomed by Pakistan’s Foreign Office, and shortly afterward, Islamabad filed 23 terrorism and terror financing charges against Jamaat ud Dawa (JuD), Falah-i-Insaniyat and Lashkar-i-Tayyaba, all U.S.-designated terror groups.
These moves by Pakistan could also be seen as “quid pro quo for the U.S. designation of the Baluchistan Liberation Army as global terrorists,” Malik charged.
“The U.S. action has created the right environment ahead of the meeting between Prime Minister Imran Khan and President Donald Trump,” he added.
Weinbaum, of the Middle East Institute, said the improving relations with Islamabad also reflected Washington’s desire to end the 18-year-old Afghan war, and what it considers the role Pakistan could play.
“For the U.S., the priority will be to discuss Pakistan’s role after the U.S. withdraws from Afghanistan,” he added. “When the U.S. is ready to leave Afghanistan, it needs to be comfortable that it has Pakistan’s word that it will stabilize the country.”
Marylou Whitney, a successful thoroughbred breeder and owner whose family helped keep Saratoga Race Course open in the 1970s, has died. She was 93.
The New York Racing Association said she died Friday at her estate in Saratoga Springs after a long illness. No further details were provided.
Whitney became the first woman in 80 years to own and breed a Kentucky Oaks winner in 2003 with Bird Town, a filly trained by Hall of Famer Nick Zito. In 2004, Whitney and Zito teamed with Birdstone to win the Belmont Stakes, spoiling Smarty Jones’ Triple Crown bid. Birdstone won the Travers, Saratoga’s signature race, later that summer.
Her stable had over 190 winners starting in 2000 and into the current year.
Opens her own stable in 1992
Before opening her own stable in 1992, Whitney teamed with her husband, Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney, to race horses. They won the Travers in 1960 with Tompion and again in 1968 with Chompion. C.V. Whitney co-founded the National Museum of Racing and Pan American Airlines in 1958.
In the 1970s, the couple helped convince NYRA to keep Saratoga open at a time when wagering and attendance sagged. Their efforts and long-term vision paid off, with Saratoga’s summer meet attracting more than 1 million fans annually.
Whitney was nicknamed “Queen of Saratoga” for her philanthropic initiatives in Saratoga Springs.
The Whitneys founded the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, which opened in 1966 and continues to host world-class musical and dance performances.
C.V. Whitney died at age 93 in 1992.
Eclipse Award of Merit
In 1997, Whitney married John Hendrickson, who was 40 years her junior and an aide to Alaska’s then-governor, Wally Hickel. The couple continued her philanthropic endeavors, helping establish a program to help Saratoga stable workers.
“Marylou’s passion for racing was only matched by her love for the city of Saratoga Springs and her support for the backstretch community,” NYRA CEO and President Dave O’Rouke said. “Her generosity was unparalleled and the list of her contributions is endless. Saratoga would not be the destination it is today without the esteemed leadership, dedication and support of Marylou.”
Whitney received an Eclipse Award of Merit in 2010 for her contributions to racing and was elected to The Jockey Club in 2011.
“Whether it was her extraordinary philanthropic endeavors, her festive galas or her racing stable of stakes winners, Marylou devoted all of her energies to our sport and its traditions, most prominently, her beloved Saratoga,” the Breeders’ Cup said in a statement. “Marylou has left an indelible mark of distinction, class and style upon thoroughbred racing.”
Last year, she was in attendance as the Racing Hall of Fame inducted three generations of Whitneys as Pillars of the Turf, including C.V. Whitney, his father, Harry Payne Whitney, and his grandfather, Williams Collins Whitney, who purchased Saratoga in 1900 and also helped create Belmont Park.
“Mrs. Whitney was a beloved and irreplaceable icon whose extraordinary legacy will have a lasting effect on future generations,” the Racing Hall of Fame and Museum said in a statement.
Born Marie Louise Schroeder on Dec. 24, 1925, she grew up in Kansas City, Missouri.
After graduating from Southwest High School, she attended the University of Iowa for a time before working as an actress, appearing in movies and television shows and in radio.
Besides Hendrickson, she is survived by her five children, Louise, Frank, Henry, Heather and Cornelia.
The U.S. government on Friday expanded its policy requiring asylum seekers to wait outside the country to one of Mexico’s most dangerous cities, where thousands of people are already camped, some for several months.
The Department of Homeland Security said it would implement its Migrant Protection Protocols in Brownsville, Texas, across the border from Matamoros, Mexico. DHS said it expected the first asylum seekers to be sent back to Mexico starting Friday.
Under the “Remain in Mexico” policy, asylum seekers are briefly processed and given a date to return for an immigration court hearing before being sent back across the southern border. Since January, the policy has been implemented at several border cities including San Diego and El Paso, Texas. At least 18,000 migrants have been sent back to Mexico under the policy, according to Mexico’s National Migration Institute.
The U.S. is trying to curtail the large flow of Central American migrants passing through Mexico to seek asylum under American law. The busiest corridor for unauthorized border crossings is South Texas’ Rio Grande Valley, where Brownsville is located. Other cities in the Rio Grande Valley were not immediately included in the expansion.
DHS said it had coordinated with the Mexican government on the policy. The Mexican government did not immediately respond to requests for comment. But the Trump administration has pressured Mexico to crack down on migrants, threatening earlier this year to impose crippling tariffs until both sides agreed on new measures targeting migration.
Matamoros is at the eastern edge of the U.S.-Mexico border in Tamaulipas state, where organized crime gangs are dominant and the U.S. government warns citizens not to visit because of violence and kidnappings.
The city is also near where a Salvadoran father and his 23-month-old daughter were found drowned in the Rio Grande, in photos that were shared around the world.
Many people have slept for the last several months in a makeshift camp near one of the international bridges, including families with young children. Thousands more stay in hotels, shelters or boarding houses. Only a few migrants daily have been allowed to seek asylum under another Trump administration policy limiting asylum processing known as “metering.”
A list run by Mexican officials has more than 1,000 people on it, said Elisa Filippone, a U.S.-based volunteer who visits Matamoros several times a week to deliver food and donated clothes. But many others not on the list wait in shelters. There are frequent rumors that migrants are shaken down for bribes to join the list, Filippone said.
She described a desperate situation that could be made worse if people are forced to wait longer in Mexico for their asylum claims to be processed.
“I’m afraid that Matamoros is about to catch on fire,” she said.
Filippone said Friday that she saw the camp closest to one of the bridges being cleared away, though it was not immediately clear why or where the people detained would go.
DHS recently implemented the “Remain” policy for migrants in Nuevo Laredo, across from Laredo, Texas. About 1,800 asylum seekers and migrants are currently waiting in Nuevo Laredo, where some have reported being kidnapped and extorted by gangs.
“I don’t want to go out on the street. I’m afraid the same men … will do something to me or my boys,” said one woman, insisting on speaking anonymously out of fear for their safety.
People in Nuevo Laredo were told to return in September for U.S. court dates. At other points along the border, wait times have stretched to several months.
Unlike in criminal court, the U.S. government does not have to provide lawyers to people in the immigration court system. Attorneys in South Texas have long questioned where they could meet with potential clients in Tamaulipas.
Many migrants who get to the U.S. have exhausted all their resources by the time they arrive, said Lisa Brodyaga, an attorney who has represented asylum seekers for decades.
“It would be extremely difficult for them to find attorneys who would have the time and the ability and the willingness to expose themselves to what’s going in Matamoros,” she said. “I’m not sure how it’s going to work.”