Liverpool, Sep 24 (AP/UNB) — Britain's main opposition Labour Party confirmed Sunday it will hold a major debate on Brexit at its party conference this week, buoying Labour members hoping to stop the country from leaving the European Union.
With the U.K. and the European Union at an impasse in divorce talks, many Labour members think the left-of-center party has the power — and a duty — to force a new referendum that could reverse Britain's decision to leave the 28-nation bloc.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has long opposed that idea, but he and other party leaders are under pressure to change their minds. As delegates gathered in Liverpool, one message was emblazoned on hundreds of T-shirts and tote bags: "Love Corbyn, Hate Brexit."
Ever since Britain voted in 2016 to leave the EU, Labour has said it will respect the result, although it wants a closer relationship with the bloc than the one Prime Minister Theresa May's Conservative government is seeking.
Now, with divorce negotiations stuck and Britain due to leave in March, many Labour members think the party must change its course.
"Labour have to come to a decision. The time has gone for sitting on the fence," said Mike Buckley of Labour for a People's Vote, a group campaigning for a new Brexit referendum.
To drive home the message, several thousand People's Vote supporters marched through Liverpool on Sunday, waving blue-and-yellow EU flags alongside Union Jacks and holding signs reading "Exit from Brexit" and a few ruder slogans.
More than 100 local Labour associations submitted motions to the conference urging a public plebiscite, with a choice between leaving on terms agreed upon by the government or staying in the EU.
Party chiefs said Sunday that members and affiliated unions had selected Brexit as one of the priority issues delegates will consider, with a debate scheduled for Tuesday. But what exactly they will vote on has yet to be decided, and will be crucial.
Margaret Mills, a delegate from Orpington in southern England, said her local party had passed a motion calling on Labour to "stop Brexit by any means — well, short of physical violence."
"I think the time for vagueness is over," she said.
Corbyn — a veteran socialist who views the EU with suspicion — has long been against holding a second public vote on Brexit, although his opposition appears to be softening.
He said Sunday that he would prefer a general election rather than a referendum, but added: "Let's see what comes out of conference."
"Obviously I'm bound by the democracy of our party," Corbyn told the BBC.
Still, Labour faces a major political dilemma over Brexit. Most of the party's half a million members voted in 2016 to remain in the EU, but many of its 257 lawmakers represent areas that supported Brexit.
"For Labour to adopt a second referendum policy would spell political disaster in all those Labour seats that voted leave," said Brendan Chilton of the pro-Brexit group Labour Leave.
Since the 2016 referendum, Labour has stuck to a policy of "constructive ambiguity" in a bid to appeal to both "leave" and "remain" voters. The party opposes May's "Tory Brexit" plan but not Brexit itself. It calls for Britain to leave the EU but remain in the bloc's customs union with "full access" to the EU's huge single market.
Len McCluskey, leader of the Unite trade union, a powerful Labour ally, said British voters had decided to leave the EU and "for us now to enter some kind of campaign that opens up that issue again I think would be wrong."
Yet Pro-EU Labour members, including many lawmakers, say the party's ambiguous stance is becoming increasingly untenable as the risk of an economically damaging "hard Brexit" grows.
The Conservative government's blueprint for future trade ties with the bloc was rejected last week by EU leaders at a summit in Salzburg, Austria. That left May's leadership under siege and Britain at growing risk of crashing out of the EU on March 29 with no deal in place.
Andrew Adonis, a Labour member of the House of Lords who supports holding a second referendum, said Labour can't sit on the sidelines while the country staggers toward political and financial chaos.
"This is as big a crisis as I can remember in my lifetime," Adonis said. "And no one has a clue at the moment what is going to happen.
"That's why I think we now need to take a stand — we the Labour Party and we the country."
Brexit is one of several challenges facing Corbyn, who heads a divided party. He has strong support among grassroots members, many of whom have joined since he was elected leader in 2015. But many Labour lawmakers think his old-fashioned socialism is a turnoff for the wider electorate.
Labour has also been roiled by allegations that Corbyn, a long-time critic of Israel's treatment of the Palestinians, has allowed anti-Semitism to fester inside the party. He has denied it and condemned anti-Semitism, but the furor has angered many Jewish party members and their supporters.
Labour backed the "remain" side during the 2016 referendum but Corbyn's support was lukewarm.
"Jeremy Corbyn is a Brexiteer and always has been," said Chilton of Labour Leave. "More and more people now support us leaving the European Union and getting on with it. ... they don't want to re-fight the referendum."
Moscow, Sept 23 (AP/UNB) — The Russian Defense Ministry is again accusing Israel of causing the downing of a Russian military plane over Syria.
Syrian government forces mistook the Russian Il-20 reconnaissance plane for an Israeli jet and shot it down Monday, killing all 15 people aboard. While the Russian military initially blamed the plane's loss on Israel, President Vladimir Putin later defused tensions, calling the downing "a chain of tragic, fatal circumstances."
The Russian Defense Ministry on Sunday said an Israeli fighter jet flying over Syria's coastal province of Latakia shortly before the downing deliberately used the Russian plane as a shield. Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov says the Israeli pilot's actions showed "either lack of professionalism or criminal negligence."
Berlin, Sept 23 (AP/UNB) — The leaders of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's governing coalition were trying Sunday to resolve a standoff over the future of the country's domestic intelligence chief and stabilize their six-month-old alliance.
The center-left Social Democrats want Hans-Georg Maassen removed for appearing to downplay recent violence against migrants, but conservative Interior Minister Horst Seehofer has stood by him.
Last week, coalition leaders agreed to replace Maassen as head of Germany's BfV spy agency but give him a new job as a deputy interior minister — a promotion with a hefty pay rise. The move infuriated many members of the center-left Social Democrats.
Seehofer leads the Bavaria-only Christian Social Union, the government's third coalition partner.
On Friday, Social Democrat leader Andrea Nahles asked Merkel and Seehofer to renegotiate the deal. Merkel said she wanted a solution over the weekend, though she hasn't said what her own opinion is of Maassen.
Merkel's coalition took office in March after the Social Democrats decided reluctantly to join up.
It has already been through one crisis that threatened its survival, when Merkel and Seehofer — a conservative ally, but a longtime critic of her initially welcoming approach to refugees in 2015 — faced off in June over whether to turn back some migrants at the German-Austrian border.
Responding to violent right-wing protests following the killing of a German man, allegedly by migrants, in the eastern city of Chemnitz, Maassen said his agency had no reliable evidence that foreigners were being "hunted" down in the streets — a term Merkel had used.
A video posted by a left-wing group showed protesters chasing down and attacking a foreigner but Maassen questioned its authenticity.
Seehofer, Maassen's boss, told Sunday's Bild am Sonntag newspaper that coalition leaders will have to spend a lot of time in phone calls over the weekend but will only meet when it's clear how a solution could work.
Seehofer said Maassen is a "highly competent" employee who hasn't violated any rules and that he won't outright dismiss him. He accused the Social Democrats of running a "campaign" against Maassen.
The issue is clouding the government's future at a time when the three parties face major challenges in upcoming state elections, in Seehofer's home state of Bavaria on Oct. 14 and in neighboring Hesse on Oct. 28. The infighting appears to be weighing down their support.
Miami, Sep 23 (AP/UNB) — Armando Tabora desperately wants to get his teenage daughter out of the government detention facility where she has been for more than three months. He has been stymied at every turn.
The Florida landscaping worker took the bold step of going to a government office to submit fingerprints and other documents required for immigrants to get their children out of government custody — and now that information is being shared with deportation agents. He was then told that the woman he rents a room from would also need to submit fingerprints, something she refused to do. He then sought out friends who are here legally to help him out, to no avail.
"I don't know what to do," said Tabora, an immigrant from Honduras who has lived more than a decade in the shadows without being detected. "My daughter is desperate, crying. She wants to get out of there."
The drama of parents being separated from their children at the border dominated the headlines this year, but thousands of immigrant families are experiencing a similar frustration: the increasing hurdles they must surmount to take custody of sons, daughters and relatives who crossed the border on their own.
The Trump administration has imposed more stringent rules and vetting for family members to get these children back as part of an across-the-board hardening of immigration policy.
As a result, family members are struggling to comply with the new requirement, keeping children in detention longer and helping the number of migrant kids in government custody soar to the highest levels ever. Federal officials insist the policies are about ensuring the safety of children.
More than 12,000 children are now in government shelters, compared with 2,400 in May 2017. The average length that children spend in detention has increased from 40 days in fiscal year 2016 to 59 in fiscal year 2018, according to federal data.
The requirements include the submission of fingerprints by all adults in the household where a migrant child will live. These sponsors — the term the U.S. uses for adults who take custody of immigrant children — are also subject to more background checks, proofs of income and home visits, lawyers say.
And this information will now be shared with Immigration and Customs Enforcement — something that did not occur in the past. ICE said this week that the agency has arrested 41 sponsors since the agencies started sharing information in June.
Lawyers and advocates say that change has had a chilling effect because many family members live in the country illegally and have been deterred from claiming relatives for fear they will be deported.
"They are saying: 'We are going after the people trying to take care of them (children),'" said Jen Podkul, director of policy at Kids in Need of Defense.
The government has long required families to go through some vetting to serve as sponsors. The issue has become more prevalent in the last five years when tens of thousands of unaccompanied children from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras started coming across the border.
Since October 2014, the federal government has placed more than 150,000 unaccompanied minors with parents or other adult sponsors who are expected to care for the children and help them attend school while they seek legal status in immigration court.
Under Trump, the rules have been toughened in what the administration says are necessary steps to keep children from ending up in the homes of people with criminal records and other issues that could endanger kids.
"If somebody is unwilling to claim their child from custody because they're concerned about their own immigration status, I think that de facto calls into question whether they're an adequate sponsor and whether we should be releasing the child to that person," Steven Wagner, acting assistant secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services' Administration for Children and Families, said when the policy was announced in May.
The issue of sharing information with ICE arises because children and adult immigrants are handled by separate federal government agencies. Children are in the custody of the Health and Human Services Department's Office of Refugee Resettlement, while adults are handled by ICE.
Until the new fingerprinting policy took effect, the government rarely shared such information with immigration officials unless a fingerprint match showed that a potential sponsor had a particularly alarming record, said Holly Cooper, co-director of the Immigration Law Clinic at the University of California, Davis.
The tougher rules have put many immigrants in the position of doing something that once seemed unthinkable: turning over their fingerprints and other information knowing that it'll be shared with ICE.
Marvin Puerto did just that to get custody of his 9-year-old son, Nahun. Puerto crossed the border in 2014 and has been trying to live in Missouri in the shadows since then. He and his wife, Eilyn Carbajal, waited two months to get custody of the boy.
"I did not want to do the fingerprints, but I had no choice", said the 29-year-old construction worker. "Now they have all my information. I feel they are going to accuse me of smuggling family members."
Workers at The Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama say that after the Office of Refugee Resettlement started sharing information with ICE in June, two to four sponsors a week did not show up for appointments and a few who did visit refused to get fingerprinted.
After the New York Civil Liberties Union sued in February on behalf of a detained Salvadoran teen and his mother, the government was required to release case files on 45 children held under similar circumstances. In about half a dozen of those cases, reluctance to provide fingerprints was a factor in holding up children's release, forcing some sponsors to scramble for another place to live and others to drop out of the application process, the NYCLU said.
If unaccompanied minors are not placed with sponsors they can end up in a federal foster care program. Some could be deported to the same dangers from which they fled.
Many of the parents and other relatives trying to secure their children's release are poor and, to cover expenses, often share homes with others who are unrelated or in the country illegally. Many of those roommates have been reluctant to submit their fingerprints.
For Adan, a 27-year-old Guatemalan living in south Florida, leaving his 17-year-old sister in detention was out of the question. He followed the process and was given custody of her. Now, he wants to leave his apartment.
"I feel I need to move to have a sense of security", said the landscaper about ICE knowing where he lives. He did not provide a last name because of his immigration status.
Moscow, Sep 20 (AP/UNB) — Russian President Vladimir Putin has accepted Israel's offer to share detailed information on the Israeli airstrike in Syria that triggered fire by Syrian forces which downed a Russian reconnaissance plane, the Kremlin said Wednesday.
Syrian forces mistook the Russian Il-20 for Israeli aircraft, killing all 15 people aboard Monday night. Russia's Defense Ministry blamed the plane's loss on Israel, but Putin sought to defuse tensions, pointing at "a chain of tragic accidental circumstances."
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Putin on Tuesday to express sorrow over the death of the plane's crew and blamed Syria. Syrian President Bashar Assad sent Putin a telegram Wednesday offering his condolences and putting the blame on Israeli "aggression," the official SANA news agency said.
Israel's air force chief is scheduled to arrive in Moscow on Thursday to provide details. Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Wednesday that Russian experts will carefully study the data that the air force chief will deliver.
The Israeli military said its fighter jets were targeting a Syrian military facility involved in providing weapons for Iran's proxy Hezbollah militia and insisted it warned Russia of the coming raid in accordance with de-confliction agreements. It said the Syrian army fired the missiles that hit the Russian plane when the Israeli jets had already returned to Israeli airspace.
The Russian Defense Ministry said the Israeli warning came less than a minute before the strike, leaving the Russian aircraft in the line of fire. It accused the Israeli military of deliberately using the Russian plane as a cover to dodge Syrian defenses and threatened to retaliate.
While Putin took a cautious stance on the incident, he warned that Russia will respond by "taking additional steps to protect our servicemen and assets in Syria."
Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov said Wednesday that those will include deploying automated protection systems at Russia's air and naval bases in Syria.
Business daily Kommersant reported that Russia also may respond to the downing of its plane by becoming more reluctant to engage Iran and its proxy Hezbollah militia, to help assuage Israeli worries.
Moscow has played a delicate diplomatic game of maintaining friendly ties with both Israel and Iran. In July, Moscow struck a deal with Tehran to keep its fighters 85 kilometers (53 miles) from the Golan Heights to accommodate Israeli security concerns.