Street gangs helping spread Zika…

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CUSCATANCINGO, El Salvador — For health workers battling Zika across much of Central America, the immediate menace is not the mosquitoes that transmit the virus. It’s the gangsters who control the streets, and sometimes threaten their lives.

Armed and well-organized street gangs known as maras exert near-total control over entire neighborhoods, using sentries to track everyone who comes and goes. In some cases, they deny access to health crews they suspect of working with police or a rival gang.

In 2014, an emergency medical technician accompanying a fumigation team in greater San Salvador was shot dead by mara members after they lifted his shirt and, according to local media reports, found he had a tattoo from a rival gang. Similar incidents have played out in neighboring Honduras and in Guatemala, where fumigators are chased by thugs, assaulted or charged a small tax for access.

“The state is absent” in such areas, said Carlos Carcach, a criminologist with the Superior School of Economics and Business in El Salvador. “The state is being replaced by the gang.”

More than 7,000 suspected cases of Zika have been identified in El Salvador, where government officials have advised women to put off pregnancies for two years due to severe birth defects tentatively linked to the virus. The country has also launched a campaign against the Aedes aegypti mosquito, relying on aggressive fumigation and the removal of standing water and refuse where its larvae can breed.

But El Salvador, a country of just 6 million people, recorded more than 700 murders in January and had a homicide rate of 103 per 100,000 inhabitants last year, believed to be the highest of any country not in open war.


Aedes aegypti mosquito larvae in a health ministry lab in San Salvador on Feb. 7.Photo: Getty Images

That’s the environment in which government health workers struggle to contain Zika.

To get into Cuscatancingo, on San Salvador’s outskirts, a reporter met a local resident outside town and traveled there in his car, which would not raise the gangs’ suspicions.

Approaching the Villa Mariona government health clinic, the driver rolled down the vehicle’s windows so a group of young Mara Salvatrucha gangsters in low-hanging jeans, gelled hair and plaid shirts could see who was inside. One asked what was going on, and whether the reporter had cameras. When a police foot patrol came up the street, a teen shouted “Policia!” into his radio and the youths ran.

Several years ago, the clinic was forced to shut down for several months because staff members were being extorted, according to Nelson Mejia, Villa Mariona’s sanitation coordinator. He and the then-director met with gang members to explain why it was important that they work there. Gang members asked that their people get prompt treatment at the facility, then agreed to allow operations to resume under a wary truce. But there have been more incidents.

Gang members beat up and took away a man working on a local water project for the health ministry. Once, when a clinic employee was going door to door for a health project, a gang member called to warn that he should leave immediately because he was suspected of being a cop. Another worker on a fumigation mission left after being intimidated by gangsters.

“When this clinic reopened, it reopened with fear,” Mejia said.

Whenever a suspected case of Zika is identified, the Villa Mariona clinic tries to send teams into the area to look for others with fever and to destroy mosquito breeding areas. Mejia said workers from another clinic in Cuscatancingo have been denied entry at times.

Eduardo Espinoza, vice minister of health, said such incidents are sporadic. “We haven’t had any significant trouble except in some areas, specifically in the metropolitan area,” Espinoza said.

“When this clinic reopened, it reopened with fear.”

 – Nelson Mejia, Villa Mariona’s sanitation coordinator

In Guatemala, fumigators planned to go into one Guatemala City neighborhood last week but locals warned it was too dangerous, said Sergio Mendez, fumigation coordinator for the health ministry.

“We don’t ask for help from the police or the army to enter an area, because later they go and carry out raids,” Mendez said. “And we have to go back. The people think we reported them.”

Gangs can also hamper the fight against Zika and other public health efforts in less direct ways.

Fear of the maras leads many residents to refuse to answer the door or let health workers inside. Of the nine suspected Zika cases in the area served by the Villa Mariona clinic, only five have been identified because people refuse to share relatives’ phone numbers or addresses. It’s common for people to suddenly and secretly relocate to escape gang threats, making it difficult to do proper follow-up and contain the epidemic.

Mejia said fear also contributes to the root causes of the epidemic.

For example, when a water pipe breaks in a gang-controlled neighborhood, the government responds slowly because sending a repair crew is dangerous, he said. That leads to unreliable service in the area, prompting locals to stockpile water in barrels perfect for mosquito breeding.

Resident Cesiah Estel Vargas said the three huge metal drums of water on her clean-swept patio are for when the water stops flowing. Two were covered, but one was open and filled to the brim. She said that one is used to flush the toilet and usually gets refilled daily, so she doesn’t worry about mosquitoes.

Across the way, Raul Rivera swatted at mosquitoes swarming inside his tidy living room. In a smaller room just off it sat a large concrete water tank, where even more of the bugs flitted about.

Rivera got Zika two months ago and missed work for a week. Last year, his mother and son came down with chikungunya, which is transmitted by the same mosquito. He said he knows the water in his house is the problem, but it had been months since health workers distributed the larvicide for the water tanks.

He seems resigned to disease.

“It’s nothing new,” he said.

Former Mexican President says ‘no way’ they’ll pay for a ‘stupid wall.’ Trump replies as only Trump can

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Nice.

Donald Trump’s promise to build a massive, $8 Billion wall along the southern border of the United States – and force Mexico to pay for it – has been a staple of his stump speeches since before he even announced his candidacy.  It’s drawn both applause and ridicule, as well as the standard left-wing charges of racism, from day one.  Now, we know what at least one former President of Mexico thinks about it.

Felipe Calderon thinks it’s “stupid” and says his country will “never pay” for such a thing.

As CNBC reports: 

Donald Trump may want to build a wall across the U.S. southern border to keep Mexican migrants out but don’t expect Mexico to pay for it, former President Felipe Calderon told CNBC, calling the billionaire a “not very well-informed man.”

The GOP presidential hopeful insisted in October that if elected, he would build a wall along the Mexican border and get Mexico to pay for it. But Calderon, Mexico’s president from 2006 to 2012, told CNBC on Saturday that there was no way that Mexico would pay for it.

“Mexican people, we are not going to pay any single cent for such a stupid wall! And it’s going to be completely useless,” Calderon said.

Apparently, Calderon’s words have reached the Donald’s ears.  He offered his response earlier today on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” It was, in usual Trump fashion, short, blunt, and to the point.

“Now the wall just got taller.”

…And that’s why people love Trump.

 

Illegals benefited from $750M in ObamaCare subsidies…

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Illegal immigrants and individuals with unclear legal status wrongly benefited from up to $750 million in ObamaCare subsidies and the government is struggling to recoup the money, according to a new Senate report obtained by Fox News.

The report, produced by Republicans on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, examined Affordable Care Act tax credits meant to defray the cost of insurance premiums. It found that as of June 2015, “the Administration awarded approximately $750 million in tax credits on behalf of individuals who were later determined to be ineligible because they failed to verify their citizenship, status as a national, or legal presence.”

The review found the credits went to more than 500,000 people – who are illegal immigrants or whose legal status was unclear due to insufficient records.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services confirmed to FoxNews.com on Monday that 471,000 customers with 2015 coverage failed to produce proper documentation on their citizenship or immigration status on time – but stressed that this does not necessarily mean they’re ineligible.

“Lack of verification does not mean an individual is ineligible for financial assistance, but only that a Marketplace did not receive sufficient information to verify eligibility in the time period outlined in the law,” CMS spokesman Aaron Albright said.

The Senate report also accused the administration of lacking a solid plan to get that money back – and predicted that in the end, the IRS will be “unable to fully recoup the funds.”

“The information provided to the Committee by the IRS and HHS reveals a troubling lack of coordination between the two agencies … and demonstrates that the IRS and HHS neglected to consider how they would recover these wasteful payments,” the report says.

Under the law, the feds can dole out these payments on a temporary basis if a recipient’s legal status is unclear, but are supposed to cut off funding and coverage if the recipient does not later come up with the paperwork. Up to a half-million “ineligible” people, according to the report, applied in this way — with their credits paid in advance to the insurers. The IRS, though, is supposed to get overpayments back from the individuals themselves.

The Senate report, based on a review launched by committee Chairman Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., derisively describes this approach as “pay and chase.”

In other words, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services pays credits and subsidies to the insurance companies on behalf of the applicants – and the feds then “chase” after any overpayments to ineligible people once they are discovered.

“This ‘pay and chase’ model has potentially cost taxpayers approximately $750 million,” the report says. The 500,000 individuals in question have been removed from coverage, according to the findings, as the government seeks to get the money back.

The Senate report says the IRS and HHS initially failed to coordinate on a plan for recouping funds, and claimed that a subsequent plan from the IRS to recoup the money is still “ineffective and insufficient.”

In a July letter to Johnson, IRS Commissioner John Koskinen assured that the agency is “committed to identifying and efficiently addressing” improper payments. He reiterated that anyone “not lawfully present” who enrolls for ObamaCare coverage “must repay” the advance premium credit payments, and would be breaking the law if they don’t.

Fox News’ Chad Pergram and FoxNews.com’s Judson Berger contributed to this report.

U.S. schools ‘flooded with foreign students’…

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BY EMMA BROWN

As U.S. presidential candidates fight over the best way to address the influx of Central Americans across the Southwest border — with debate about building walls and deporting immigrants — the nation’s public schools have opened their doors, taking responsibility for helping tens of thousands of children find their footing here.

It’s not an easy task.

Many of the new arrivals don’t speak much English and are behind academically. They often come with scars, having fled desperate poverty or violence or both. Many endured difficult journeys, sometimes leaving their families behind or rejoining parents in the United States after years of separation. And U.S. schools, already strapped for resources, are trying to provide special services, including ­English-language instruction and mental-health care.

The schools have to, because it’s the law: Children who are living in this country have a right to a public education, regardless of their immigration status. But for many educators it’s also more than a legal obligation, it’s the moral thing to do.

“The United States is founded on human rights,” said Sandra Jimenez, the principal of High Point High School in Prince George’s County, Md., a Washington suburb where the immigrant population has grown rapidly. “The only reason these people are here is because they are desperate. These people are coming to survive.”

There were more than 630,000 immigrant students nationwide in the 2013-2014 school year, according to the latest federal education data available, which defines immigrants as children born outside the country and enrolled in U.S. schools for less than three years. That figure has grown since immigration across the southern border surged two years ago: Between Oct. 1, 2013 and Dec. 31, 2015, federal officials released more than 95,000 unaccompanied minors into U.S. communities, virtually all of them entitled to enroll in public school.

High Point, like many other schools flooded with foreign students, has had to adjust. A school with an enrollment of 2,400, it has registered 282 new immigrants so far this school year. Last year, it took on 396 new immigrants; the year before that, 307. Some of them immigrated legally, and others did not.

Many arrived from December to March — a time of natural transition, because the Central American school year ends in December, Jimenez said.

“This is normal for us,” Jimenez said. “We plan for the influx from the beginning of the year.”

Newcomers are enrolled in classes with other newcomers, and Jimenez changed staffing so that some teachers had room in their schedules to add classes as more children arrived. She hired bilingual staff members in key positions, including administrators, secretaries and security guards. There are evening workshops on family reunification. When students need housing or health care, counselors work to connect them with community groups that can help.

She can speak at length about language acquisition, the pedagogy of teaching English as a second language and the importance of children learning grade-appropriate vocabulary in math, science and social studies — such as “commutative property,” which new arrivals were practicing in a math class on a recent weekday morning.

But Jimenez said that the most powerful thing that the school has done is to show its new immigrant students that they have support and that they are safe. “We have built an oasis. School is the place where people have your back,” she said. “If you don’t feel safe, you can’t learn.”

Advocates agree that schools play a key role in shaping the path that students take after they arrive. Many students are not only poor, struggling with English and navigating without a lot of support at home, they say, but also often are under pressure from gangs seeking new recruits.

“They have all these other factors and pressures going on. It’s critical for schools to provide a holistic, comprehensive support system,” said Zorayda ­Moreira-Smith of CASA of Maryland, an advocacy group. She said Prince George’s County, and High Point in particular, have gone to unusual lengths to let students know they are welcome, including by issuing public statements opposing immigration raids in recent weeks.

“I am deeply troubled by the fear and uncertainty that exists in so many of our school communities as a result of the actions of the Department of Homeland Security,” Superintendent Kevin Maxwell said in a statement in January, when officials said that the raids had caused a drop in attendance. “To our PGCPS students and families: We stand with you.”

Not everyone believes that the nation’s tax dollars should be used to educate immigrants who arrive in the country illegally, and others argue that forcing school districts to take on the challenge isn’t fair when resources already are stretched too thin.

“Congress should not allow the Obama administration to incentivize illegal immigration and human smuggling by rewarding those who participate,” Jessica M. Vaughan, of the Center for Immigration Studies, told a House Judiciary subcommittee Thursday, arguing that youths and other immigrants should be detained near the border. In an email to The Washington Post, she bemoaned the effects: “The cost of meeting the educational needs for the kids who are arriving illegally as part of the surge is the main way that the administration’s policy is burdensome to state and local governments.”

Services for immigrant students have caused tension in Prince George’s County. In 2014, school system officials announced that they planned to create two high schools for ­English-language learners; the NAACP objected, arguing that other students also have academic needs that deserve attention.

Daniel Domenech, executive director of AASA, the school superintendents’ association, said that in many cases of immigrant influxes, class sizes rise and school districts are faced with providing additional services without more funding.

“It’s a problem,” he said. “Having said that, I have to tell you that just about in all cases, districts will bend over backward to accommodate and provide for these students whatever services they need.”

About 8,000 international students enrolled in Prince George’s County schools last school year, and half of them were new to the United States, coming not just from Central America but also from nations as varied as Cameroon, Ethi­o­pia, the Philippines and Jamaica. They all registered through an intake center meant to evaluate their English skills and place them in a suitable school.

On a recent morning at the center, 12-year-old Yenifer Garcia Salguero and her mother, ­stepfather and two younger half-brothers crowded into a small room where she received her assignment to a county middle school.

Yenifer had just arrived from Guatemala and hadn’t seen her mother for a decade. How was she feeling about school, about being in the United States? “Nerviosa,” she said. Nervous.

High Point began confronting those nerves two years ago by hosting “talking circles” with its new immigrant students — a chance for them to share where they are from, what they are afraid of and what they want to achieve.

Suzanne Tchouomtseu Tochie, 19, a senior who arrived from Cameroon in 2014, said that the circles helped her feel connected at a disorienting time.

“People tell their story. They talk about what they’re going through,” she said. “You get to know the real person.”

Social worker Beth Hood and counselor Jessica Jackson held a talking circle one recent morning, inviting a dozen students to scoot their desks into a circle inside a High Point science classroom.

The students were new immigrants from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, and most had been at the school for a few months. One girl said it was her second day. They listened quietly as one after the other answered the teacher’s questions: What did you imagine about the United States before you arrived? How do you feel now that you are here?

One thought he would be living at the beach, he said in Spanish, and here he was in suburban Maryland. But then the conversation deepened, with some saying they were worried about their immigration cases. Others said they had come to the United States to earn money and hadn’t expected to go to school until immigration officials told them it was required.

Many said they had expected that they would finally be able to spend time with their parents after years apart but that they hardly saw their parents, who were always working. The girl on her second day at High Point said she had been crying because she missed her mom, who was still in El Salvador.

“You have our respect,” Hood told the students in Spanish. “You are not alone in your experiences. This stage of getting used to everything is not forever.”

Hood had invited a 20-year-old junior, Wilson Santos, to offer hope and advice. He had worked on a farm in Guatemala in grinding poverty until three years ago, when he saw no other option than to come to the United States. He walked across the desert, he said, and was stopped by immigration officials while trying to cross the U.S. border.

He never expected to go to school, he said, and yet school became his anchor. He now is a legal resident, he said, and is working a construction job on weekends. He expects to graduate from High Point next year and hopes to own a business someday.

“I feel more than anything proud of myself,” he told his fellow students, speaking in Spanish.

Many students drop out before they get a diploma, and High Point’s on-time graduation rate — though it has climbed in recent years— is 64 percent, far lower than the national average of 82 percent.

Hood, the social worker, said that the figure masks the important progress that students are making in school — including those who drop out. She said they are learning English, learning how to access services and advocate for themselves, and learning how to survive.

Almost half of newly-issued California driver’s licenses went to illegal immigrants

Four out of ten California drivers’ licenses issued in 2015 went to immigrants who were in the US illegally, under a new and controversial state law. The time, effort and expense required by the program have got some citizens grumbling.

Assembly Bill 60, which was adopted in 2013 and came into effect last January, granted the right to acquire a driver’s license in California to people living in the state illegally. Out of the 1.4 million total licenses in 2015, an estimated 605,000 had been issued to undocumented immigrants under the AB-60 program, according to the California Department of Motor Vehicles.

In the first six months of 2015, of the 759,000 original driver licenses issued in the state, more than half – 397,000 – were AB-60 licenses, the DMV said in July.

“We believe that this new law increases safety on California roads by putting licensed drivers behind the steering wheel,” California DMV spokesman Artemio Armenta said.

A total of 830,000 undocumented immigrants applied for licenses, putting the acceptance rate at around 73 percent.

The program is expected to cost the state $141 million over a period of three years, according to the Orange County Register.

Governor Jerry Brown signed the bill into law in 2013, as part of a trio of immigration reform measures that included the removal of the word “alien” from California’s labor code as a term describing illegal immigrants. Among other things, the new laws will also allow noncitizen high school students to serve as poll workers in elections.

Until the 1990s, states did not explicitly restrict driver’s licenses to legal residents. The push for the bill came from state leaders and law enforcement officials arguing that roads would be safer with more licensed drivers.

“DMV committed to successfully implementing this new law to increase safety on California’s roads by putting licensed drivers behind the steering wheel,” said DMV Director Jean Shiomoto in a statement. “One year after AB 60 implementation there are 605,000 more drivers on the road who have passed all testing requirements and demonstrated their knowledge of California’s rules of the road.”

However, licenses granted to illegal immigrants have the words “federal limits apply” printed on them, which means that police officers in other states aren’t required to accept them as a valid form of identification.

READ MORE:  Illegal immigrant allowed to practice law in New York faces death threats

There are an estimated 2.4 million undocumented immigrants in California, meaning that the initiative has been enormously successful if measured by the proportion of illegals that now have licenses. In fact, the DMV had to hire around 1,000 temporary employees and opened four new processing centers to handle the surge in applications. It also extended hours of operation to included Saturday. Despite this increased capacity, many applicants in 2015 were unhappy with increased wait times at the DMV.

“I have mixed feelings,” 76-year-old Kent Moore told the Orange County Register. “These folks have jobs. And they support families. If they go through the credential process, they shouldn’t be denied.

“But I paid my dues. I’ve been a model citizen. I don’t feel I should have to wait in line for hours, behind newly arrived people who are here illegally.”

The DMV has since returned to its regular hours, and only 200 temporary employees will remain on staff by 2017.

Besides California, nine other states and the District of Columbia allow illegal immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses.

 

BORDER BATTLE: ‘Spike in people from terrorist nations crossing’…

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ATLANTA —

http://www.wsbtv.com/videos/news/leaked-documents-reveal-issues-at-us-southern/vDjnCr/

A Channel 2 Action News investigation discovered a leaked secret document showing a spike in people from terrorist nations illegally crossing our country’s Southern border.

Investigative Reporter Aaron Diamant traveled to Texas, where public safety leaders are scrambling to close the gaps.

“Any of this infrastructure can be exploited by anyone,” a former Border Patrol sector chief said.

The dramatic pictures from our days-long trip have everyone from Border Patrol agents to lawmakers sounding the alarm, Monday at 5 on Channel 2 Action News.