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Trump pleads on TV for wall money; Dems say he 'stokes fear'

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump urged congressional Democrats to fund his long-promised border wall in a somber televised address that was heavy with dark immigration rhetoric but offered little in the way of concessions or new ideas to break the standoff that has left large swaths of the government shuttered for 19 days.

Speaking to the nation from the Oval Office for the first time, Trump argued Tuesday night that the wall was needed to resolve a security and humanitarian "crisis," blaming illegal immigration for what he said was a scourge of drugs and violence in the U.S. and asking: "How much more American blood must we shed before Congress does its job?"

Democrats in response accused Trump appealing to "fear, not facts" and manufacturing a border crisis for political gain.

FACT CHECK: Trump and the disputed border crisis

WASHINGTON — In his prime-time speech to the nation, President Donald Trump declared a border crisis that's in sharp dispute, wrongly accused Democrats of refusing to pay for border security and ignored the reality of how drugs come into the country as he pitched his wall as a solution to varied ills.

Using the formal trappings of the White House, Trump hoped to gain the upper hand in the standoff over his demand for $5.7 billion to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. He plans a visit to the border Thursday as he continues to pitch what was a signature promise of his 2016 presidential campaign.

He addressed the nation as the shutdown stretched through its third week, with hundreds of thousands of federal workers going without pay and some congressional Republicans growing increasingly jittery about the spreading impact of the impasse. Trump will visit the Capitol on Wednesday to meet with Senate Republicans, and has invited Democratic and Republican congressional leaders to return to the White House to meet with him later that day.

He claimed the standoff could be resolved in "45 minutes" if Democrats would just negotiate, but previous meetings have led to no agreement.

For now, Trump sees this as winning politics. TV networks had been reticent about providing him airtime to make what some feared would be a purely political speech. And that concern was heightened by the decision Tuesday by Trump's re-election campaign to send out fundraising emails and text messages to supporters trying to raise money off the speech. Their goal: a half-million dollars in a day.

"I just addressed the nation on Border Security. Now need you to stand with me," read one message sent out after his remarks.

In their own televised remarks, Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer accused Trump of misrepresenting the situation on the border as they urged him to reopen closed government departments and turn loose paychecks for hundreds of thousands of workers.

Negotiations on wall funding could proceed in the meantime, they said.

Schumer said Trump "just used the backdrop of the Oval Office to manufacture a crisis, stoke fear and divert attention from the turmoil in his administration."

In his dire address, Trump ticked off a string of statistics and claims to make his case that there is a crisis at the border, but a number of his statements were misleading, such as saying the new trade deal with Mexico would pay for the wall, or suggesting through gruesome examples that immigrants are more likely to commit crime.

Trump, who has long railed against illegal immigration at the border, has recently seized on humanitarian concerns to argue there is a broader crisis that can only be solved with a wall. But critics say the security risks are overblown and the administration is at least partly to blame for the humanitarian situation.

Trump used emotional language, referring to Americans who were killed by people in the country illegally, saying: "I've met with dozens of families whose loved ones were stolen by illegal immigration. I've held the hands of the weeping mothers and embraced the grief-stricken fathers. So sad. So terrible."

The president often highlights such incidents, though studies over several years have found immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than people born in the United States.

Trump has been discussing the idea of declaring a national emergency to allow him to move forward with the wall without getting congressional approval for the billions he's requested. But he did not mention that Tuesday night.

The partial government shutdown reached its 18th day on Tuesday, making the closure the second-longest in history, and continued on Wednesday. Hundreds of thousands of federal workers are going without pay, and government disruptions are hitting home with everyday Americans.

Trump was nearly halfway through his 9-minute address before he ever mentioned the border wall, describing it as a request from law enforcement rather than his own longstanding political pledge. He also suggested that his proposal to build the wall from steel, rather than concrete, was a concession to Democrats, although they don't see it that way.

Trump sought to put the blame on Democrats for the standoff, saying they "will not fund border security." In fact, House Democrats passed legislation the day they took control of the House that offered $1.3 billion for border security. And Senate Democrats have approved similar funding year after year.

Seeking to keep up pressure on Trump and the Republicans, Pelosi said the House would begin passing individual bills this week to reopen some federal agencies, starting with the Treasury Department to ensure Americans receive their tax refunds. The administration says it will act on its own to ensure the refunds.

Ahead of the speech, the White House sought to shore up GOP support on Capitol Hill, where a growing number of Republicans have been expressing unease with the extended shutdown. But GOP lawmakers were still raising concerns Tuesday, talking about disruptions in payments to farmers and troubles for home buyers trying to get government-backed mortgage loans. Vice President Mike Pence met privately with House Republicans, urging them to "stand strong" and insisting the White House wants to negotiate, according to people familiar with the conversation.

He also told the group that Trump won't retreat. "That pickup ain't got reverse in it," he said.

Trump oversells wall as a solution to drugs

WASHINGTON — In his prime-time speech to the nation, President Donald Trump wrongly accused Democrats of refusing to pay for border security and ignored the reality of how illicit drugs come into the country as he pitched his wall as a solution to trafficking.

A look at his Oval Office remarks Tuesday night:

TRUMP: “Our southern border is a pipeline for vast quantities of illegal drugs, including meth, heroin, cocaine and fentanyl. Every week, 300 of our citizens are killed by heroin alone, 90 percent of which floods across from our southern border.”

THE FACTS: A wall can’t do much about that when drug trafficking is concentrated at land ports of entry, not remote stretches of the border.

The Drug Enforcement Administration says “only a small percentage” of heroin seized by U.S. authorities comes across on territory between ports of entry. The same is true of drugs generally.

In a November report, the agency said the most common trafficking technique by transnational criminal organizations is to hide drugs in passenger vehicles or tractor-trailers as they drive into the U.S. though entry ports, where they are stopped and subject to inspection. They also employ buses, cargo trains and tunnels, the report says, citing other smuggling methods that also would not be choked off by a border wall.

Trump recently denied that traffickers use entry ports at the southern border, contradicting the evidence and assertions of his drug enforcement personnel.

Trump stretched credulity even more by comparing the wall money he wants from Congress to the cost of the entire drug problem in the U.S.: “The border wall would very quickly pay for itself. The cost of illegal drugs exceeds $500 billion a year, vastly more than the $5.7 billion we have requested from Congress.”

TRUMP: “Democrats will not fund border security.”

THE FACTS: That’s not true. They just won’t fund it the way he wants. They have refused his demand for $5.7 billion to build part of a steel wall across the U.S.-Mexico border

Democrats passed legislation the day they took control of the House that offered $1.3 billion for border security, including physical barriers and technology along the U.S. southern border.

Senate Democrats have approved similar funding year after year.

Democrats also have supported broader fence-building as part of deals that also had a path to legal status for millions of immigrants living in the country illegally.

In 2013, Senate Democrats voted for a failed immigration bill that provided roughly $46 billion for a number of border security measures — including new fencing — but that legislation would have created a pathway to citizenship for some of the estimated 11 million immigrants living in the U.S. illegally.

The 2013 Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act had money to double the number of miles of fencing, to 700 miles, as well as for more border patrol agents. It also had a mandatory employment verification system to ensure all U.S. employees are authorized to work in the country. In exchange, however, the bill allowed immigrants living in the country illegally to apply for a provisional legal status if they paid a $500 fine and had no felony convictions.

Many Democrats also voted for the Secure Fence Act of 2006, which resulted in the construction of about 650 miles of border barrier. But that legislation didn’t authorize the kind of wall Trump has long been advocating since he launched his campaign.

TRUMP: “The wall will also be paid for indirectly by the great new trade deal we have made with Mexico.”

THE FACTS: Mexico is not paying for the wall despite what Trump promised during the 2016 campaign, and nothing in the trade agreement would cover or refund the construction cost.

Trump is assuming a wide variety of economic benefits will come from the agreement, but they can’t be quantified or counted on. For example, he has said the deal will dissuade some U.S. companies from moving operations to Mexico and he credits that possibility as a payment by Mexico for his wall.

The deal updates the North American Free Trade Agreement, in the main preserving NAFTA’s liberalized environment of low or no tariffs among the U.S., Mexico and Canada, while making certain improvements for each country. Trump stated inaccurately that it’s “brand new. It’s totally different.”

Moreover, it’s not in effect. The deal has yet to be ratified in any member country and its chances of winning legislative approval are not assured.

Asylum seekers find it's catch and can't release fast enough

SAN DIEGO — President Donald Trump says he has ended “catch-and-release” for asylum seekers, but in cities on the U.S. border with Mexico it is catch and can’t release fast enough.

Since late October, the U.S. has been releasing asylum-seeking families so quickly they don’t even have time to make travel arrangements, which it blames on lack of detention space. Families are often given court dates without even having to pass initial screenings by asylum officers. They end up in shelters run by charities, or are dropped off at bus stations in border cities.

For one Salvadoran family that dizzying series of events began when their 7-year-old daughter, Yariza Flores, landed on barbed wire after being hoisted over a border fence during their illegal crossing last month. She was rushed to a San Diego hospital to stop profuse bleeding.

Just four days later, U.S. authorities dropped her off at a San Diego shelter with her parents and 3-year-old brother. They had no money, the clothes on their backs and an order given to them during their stint in U.S. custody to appear in immigration court in Houston, where they planned to live with Yariza’s grandmother and two aunts. They didn’t even have time to arrange for relatives to buy bus tickets before they were released.

“I feel happy because we’re finally here, we’re finally going to see my family,” the girl’s mother, Tania Escobar, said in the shelter dining hall after a meal of shredded chicken, rice and beans. Her daughter sat nearby, all smiles, wearing a silver crown that a Border Patrol agent gave her and holding a stuffed animal from a doctor who treated the severe cuts on her lower back.

From California to Arizona to Texas, volunteers are scrambling to help families until they can arrange transportation to relatives across the U.S. The San Diego Rapid Response Network , an advocacy coalition that runs the shelter that housed Yariza and her family, has served more than 4,000 people since opening in a church in late October, moving five times since then because it ran out of space.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement often coordinates with these shelters. On the December night that Yariza arrived, ICE brought 125 people in buses that came every half-hour. One night during Christmas week, the facility received 180 people, forcing it to use a church for the overflow.

The situation belies Trump’s assertion, in a November tweet, that “Catch and Release is an obsolete term. It is now Catch and Detain.”

The Trump administration announced Dec. 20 that it would make asylum seekers who enter the U.S. on its southern border wait in Mexico while their claims wind through clogged immigration courts, which can take years. But that “catch and return” policy has yet to take effect while the two countries work on mechanics; a legal challenge appears likely.

So, for now, many asylum-seeking families are being released in the U.S. before even they are ready. ICE dropped off hundreds of people daily at a bus station in El Paso, Texas, over the holidays. In Tucson, Arizona, charities have rented motel rooms when shelters are full.

ICE began shortening custody stays on Oct. 23 in response to the growing numbers of families crossing from Mexico. Officials say ICE previously ensured that families had travel plans first but that it’s not legally required to do so.

“After decades of inaction by Congress, the government remains severely constrained in its ability to detain and promptly remove families with no legal basis to remain in the U.S.,” said ICE spokeswoman Sarah Rodriguez. “As a result, family units continue to cross the border at high volumes and are likely to continue to do so, as they face no consequence for their actions.”

At the San Diego shelter, asylum-seeking families, largely from Guatemala and Honduras, are asked about their health at the front door. A mobile clinic in the parking lot tends to people with sore throats, dehydration, vomiting, fevers and other ailments.

Once inside, a large room manned by volunteers resembles a busy travel agency. Families lined up at rows of tables tell shelter workers their plans and get help calling family to pay for travel. A whiteboard in the corner marks progress buying tickets to New York, Nashville, Austin, Texas, and other cities across the U.S. Volunteers shuttle as many as they can to a bus station or airport to make room for the next night’s arrivals.

Shelter organizers say it costs $350,000 a month to operate the facility, which provides food, showers, cots, clothing and sometimes travel expenses. The state of California has donated $500,000 for administrative costs, and the city of San Diego may turn a former juvenile detention camp into a shelter.

“We can’t do everything ourselves, but I know we’re capable of doing more,” California Gov. Gavin Newsom said after visiting the shelter in November as governor-elect, calling it “a humanitarian crisis.”

Strough running for re-election

QUEENSBURY — The election is 11 months away, but town Supervisor John Strough is ready to run for a fourth term.

He is eager to run, pointing to many things accomplished in the last year with the town’s first Democratic majority.

He is also eager to face the Republicans who made his life miserable with an investigation last year into his 2017 petitions for the Conservative Party line.

All five seats on Town Board will be on the ballot, an unusual circumstance due to a special election. All five board members’ terms expire on Dec. 31 of this year.

Although Strough has already decided to run for re-election, there’s plenty of time for the rest of the board to declare their plans. It is so early that the state political calendar for 2019 hasn’t even been published yet. Candidates will begin collecting petition signatures in June, with independent petitions starting in July.

In explaining why he is seeking re-election, Strough pointed to his accomplishments and also to a lack of other qualified supervisor candidates.

Before he ran, he was a town councilman. He also attended Planning Board and Zoning Board meetings and served on committees.

“You can’t just go to this seat,” he said.

He also wondered if the Republican investigation had scared off potential candidates for office.

“After what the Republicans tried to do to me to win this office, what do you think it does to people who might run for election?” he said.

Republicans interviewed every person who signed his Conservative Party petitions. They wanted to know if his notary — his wife — had been present when they signed, as required by law. They discovered she had not gotten out of the car on some occasions, and filed a complaint that led to both Stroughs getting arrested early last year. In the end, the Stroughs took a plea deal in which Chris Strough pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct, a violation, and agreed to give up her notary license, while John Strough’s charges were dropped.

Strough said the investigation was a political attack, and criticized The Post-Star for covering his arrest and court appearance.

“People say they were out to get me, and the paper went along with it,” he said.

The publicity and the possibility of GOP attacks have discouraged potential Democratic candidates, he said.

During actual Town Board meetings, there has been little indication that the board is made up of three registered Democrats and two registered Republicans, one of whom was endorsed by the Democrats in 2017.

Board member Tony Metivier joked about that at Monday’s meeting as he looked back over the past year.

“We work very well together, even the Democrats,” he said, laughing. “It’s been a great year. Got a lot done.”

Metivier is a Republican, but was also endorsed by the Democrats for the last local election.

He and other board members said the public doesn’t realize how much work goes on at three-hour workshop meetings each month, in which board members hear presentations and work out the details of proposed legislation.

“I don’t think people understand how much work goes on — we’re not just ‘yes’ing everything,” Metivier said.

Board member and Democrat Catherine Atherden, the rawest member of the board with no political experience when she ran for office a year ago, said she too was pleased by the accomplishments of the last year.

“And I’ve enjoyed working with all of you, believe it or not,” she said.

At meetings, she has been the rare voice of dissent, disagreeing with Strough at times. Strough, for his part, has said she asks him “one thousand questions.”

But he agreed she does her homework. Atherden thanked town staff for that.

“I’m very impressed with the town staff. They’ve all been helpful with a newbie,” she said.

Board member George Ferone, often viewed as the only “true” Republican on the board, said he was also satisfied by his first full year in office. He was appointed just before the 2017 election.

“We did get a lot accomplished in 2018,” he said. “Having worked for a Fortune 500 company, this (running a town) is as complex — and more so because you have Municipal Law.”

One of the biggest accomplishments of the year was passing the long-discussed law for inspecting septic systems on waterfront properties. The law forces owners to get their septic systems tested when they sell their property, with the goal of improving water quality by locating and repairing or replacing leaky systems.


Queensbury, Glens Falls, South Glens Falls join forces to gather information about raggertail

Three municipalities are banding together to demand more information about the proposal to burn plastic at Lehigh Northeast Cement Co.

Queensbury, Glens Falls and South Glens Falls are asking DEC for an informational hearing on raggertail, a plastic-paper mix that could be burned as fuel at Lehigh.

They have already gotten a favorable response. DEC said late Tuesday that agency officials are encouraging Lehigh to hold a public information meeting. They expect an answer within days.

Many in the area are alarmed at the idea of burning plastic, and South Glens Falls Village Board members have raised questions that so far are unanswered.

On Monday, Queensbury Supervisor John Strough had questions of his own. He wants to know whether burning raggertail is cleaner than burning natural gas.

“My concern is that natural gas is a cleaner fuel source that’s less polluting. Do I know it’s better than raggertail? No,” he said.

That could be explained at an informational hearing.

Strough and Glens Falls Mayor Dan Hall are in a tricky position over the issue: The cement company spans the city-town border and is located partly in both municipalities.

“I want to be business-friendly,” Strough said, noting that the company employs more than 100 people in good-paying jobs.

Hall noted in a phone interview Tuesday that many other businesses also depend on the cement company, and he does not want to jeopardize all of those jobs, either.

But, Strough said, that doesn’t mean he should accept pollution.

“I don’t want to do anything until I do due diligence to make sure people’s health isn’t compromised,” he said. “What concerns me is this (county) has been identified as a cancer hot spot in New York state.”

Hall said the important thing was to contrast raggertail to coal, which the cement company occasionally burns now.

“That’s what Lehigh has to get across: They’ll be burning less coal,” Hall said.

It’s not fair to compare raggertail to natural gas, he added.

“Nothing is better than natural gas,” he said.

But how much worse is raggertail? And is it better for the environment to use discarded plastic as fuel than to extract more natural gas from the ground?

“Those are good questions,” Hall said. “I really want to continue to do my research. We’re trying to educate ourselves. We’re not scientists.”

DEC said raggertail is not cleaner to burn than natural gas.

Lehigh spokesman John Brodt said the comparison should be with coal, however, not natural gas.

“Lehigh is not proposing to burn raggertail alone, nor are we able to do so. The alternative fuel will be used, in a small percentage, in combination with coal or natural gas. This small percentage of raggertail will replace that same percentage of the fossil fuels,” Brodt said. “What’s important to remember is that Lehigh is required to keep its air emissions below the same strict limits regardless of what fuels are being used.”

A test burn showed that burning coal with a small amount of raggertail produced emissions “well below” the air emissions limit, he added.

“Burning raggertail with natural gas is expected to do the same,” he said.

DEC is taking comments through Jan. 10 on whether to permit Lehigh to burn raggertail as fuel.