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Democratic presidential candidates blast plan to deport Central American immigrant families

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The Obama administration on Thursday came under fire from Democratic presidential candidates and human rights groups for plans to intensify deportations of Central American migrants by rounding up undocumented families.

Amid a surge in the arrival of unaccompanied children and families from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, U.S. government sources confirmed preparations to detain and deport, starting next month, families that already have been ordered to leave.

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The Washington Post first reported on Wednesday that the Department of Homeland Security was considering launching the crackdown in January.

Government sources, who asked not to be identified, said on Thursday the campaign by DHS’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) marks an expansion from mostly targeting individuals to pursuing families with undocumented members.

A spokesman for Hillary Clinton, who is leading among Democratic candidates seeking the presidency in next November’s elections, said she “has real concerns about these reports,” adding it is “critical that everyone has a full and fair hearing and that our country provides refuge to those that need it.”

An ICE spokesperson, asked why the agency was targeting families, said it focuses on people who pose a threat to national security, public safety and border security, “whether alone or with family members.”

Senator Bernie Sanders, chief rival to Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination, said in a statement, “Our nation has always been a beacon of hope, a refuge for the oppressed … we need to take steps to protect children and families seeking refuge here, not cast them out.”

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Another of Clinton’s Democratic opponents, ex-Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, tweeted: “Holiday plans for raids to round up/deport Central American refugees fleeing death are wrong. We are a better nation than this.”

Many seek asylum in the United States by claiming their governments are unable to protect them from drug-related or domestic violence.

Support for the deportations came from Republican Senator Ron Johnson, who chairs the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee. “The primary solution to reducing this ongoing crisis is to eliminate the incentive that results from allowing 95.6 percent of these illegal immigrants to stay – by humanely and expeditiously returning them to their home countries.”

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DHS has put a priority on targeting for deportation previously convicted criminals who are undocumented. But it also wants to remove recently arrived Central Americans.

Hispanic-Americans are a growing force in U.S. politics and Democrats hope a strong turnout in November could help them, especially with Republicans campaigning on a vow to seal U.S. borders from illegal immigrants.

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Donald Trump, who leads the Republican presidential field, caused an uproar last June, accusing Mexico of sending rapists and other criminals into the United States and saying undocumented immigrants carried “tremendous infectious disease.”

Frank Sharry, executive director of the pro-immigration group America’s Voice, said the upcoming raids would “be a political nightmare for the Democrats.”

Michelle Brané, director of the Women’s Refugee Commission’s migrant rights program, said she had not received briefings from the administration. But she worried that some families facing deportation may not have had proper legal representation, especially if their cases sped through the courts.

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“It’s a pretty traumatic way to break in the new year,” she said.

(Additional reporting by Julia Edwards in Honolulu; Writing by Richard Cowan; Editing by Richard Chang and Steve Orlofsky)


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China says ‘phase one’ trade deal reached with US

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China announced on Friday a "phase one" trade deal with the United States that includes a progressive rollback of tariffs and the protection of intellectual property rights, but the two sides have yet to sign the agreement.

The announcement came a day after President Donald Trump tweeted that the world's two biggest economies were very close to a "BIG DEAL" in their protracted trade dispute.

Chinese vice commerce minister Wang Shouwen told reporters Washington agreed to a "phasing out" of tariffs on Chinese goods, without offering details.

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Ukraine sees ‘fair’ US support on first visit

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Ukraine's deputy prime minister voiced confidence Friday that the United States would be "fair" and maintain support, as Washington is engulfed by charges that President Donald Trump abused his power with Kiev.

Deputy Prime Minister Dmytro Kuleba's comments came as he visited the US capital, the first senior Ukrainian official to do so since President Volodymyr Zelensky took office in May, although Zelensky met Trump in New York in September on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.

Kuleba, who met senior US officials but not top leaders, said he saw "no fundamental differences" with the United States on supporting Ukraine against Russian-backed separatists in a conflict that has claimed thousands of lives since 2014.

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Pompeo warns Iran of ‘decisive response’ if harm in Iraq

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Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Friday warned Iran of a "decisive" response if US interests are harmed in Iraq, after a series of rocket attacks on bases.

"We must... use this opportunity to remind Iran's leaders that any attacks by them, or their proxies of any identity, that harm Americans, our allies or our interests will be answered with a decisive US response," Pompeo said in a statement.

"Iran must respect the sovereignty of its neighbors and immediately cease its provision of lethal aid and support to third parties in Iraq and throughout the region," he said.

The United States has expressed mounting concern about the flurry of attacks on Iraqi bases used by US troops, several of which it has blamed on Iranian-backed Shiite paramilitary groups.

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