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Nicole Lafond

Nicole Lafond is a news writer for TPM based in New York City. She is also currently earning a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University and previously worked as an education reporter at The News-Gazette in Champaign, Ill. Follow her on Twitter @Nicole_Lafond.

Articles by Nichole

More than 600 clergy and members of Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ church denomination have filed a formal complaint against him, claiming that he’s committed a slew of offenses against the United Methodist Church’s “Book of Discipline” with his “zero tolerance” immigration policy.

Sessions and the Trump administration are under heavy criticism for their enforcement of a recently enacted policy that mandates anyone caught entering the U.S. illegally be arrested and criminally charged for the misdemeanor offense. The enforcement of the “zero tolerance” policy has resulted in thousands of children being separated from their parents and placed in inhumane holding facilities while their parents are detained and tasked with meandering the court system.

Among the offenses the church has charged against Sessions in the complaint: child abuse, immorality, racial discrimination and false use of scripture, which is related to his use of a Bible verse to justify the policy last week. Sessions was widely criticized for those comments, both within the Methodist church and the broader Protestant community as a “misuse” of scripture to advocate for “obedience to secular law.”

“Which is in stark contrast to (Methodist) commitments to supporting freedom of conscience and resistance to unjust laws,” the complaint said.

As a professed member of the Methodist church, clergy and church members charge that Sessions should be held accountable for his actions, especially given his “unique combination of tremendous social/political power, his leading role as a Sunday school teacher and former delegate to General Conference, and the severe and ongoing impact of several of his public, professional actions,” the 600 Methodists wrote in the complaint.

The complaint is not legal a document — it’s considered a church law charge — and is rarely enforced beyond a meeting between clergy and the accused member, but could result in church expulsion, a historian told United Methodist News. The charging documents were sent to Sessions’ home pastor and district superintendent in Mobile, Alabama, as well as the district leadership and bishop associated with the church he regularly attends in Virginia.

Read the full complaint below:

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Fox News host Laura Ingraham on Monday described the facilities that are holding immigrant children who have been separated from their parents as “essentially summer camps.”

“Since more illegal immigrants are rushing the border, more kids are being separated from their parents and being housed in what are essentially summer camps, or as the San Diego Union Tribune described them today — as looking like basically boarding schools,” she said during her show “The Ingraham Angle.”

Later in the show, Ingraham walked back her comments a bit, saying she would stick with the San Diego newspaper’s characterization of the facilities as “boarding schools” and then advocated for making it easier for Americans to adopt children from Central America.

 “Apparently there are a lot of people very upset because we referred to some of the detention facilities tonight as essentially like summer camps.  The “San Diego Union Tribune” today described the facilities as essentially like what you would expect at a boarding school,” she said. “So I will stick to there are some of them like boarding schools. And I suggest that a lot of the folks who are worried about that spend more time in Central America. I have. And we should make adoption easier for American couples who want to adopt these kids who are true candidates for adoption because our policies don’t allow that. So let’s put our hearts out there for the kids in the right way. Take care of them the right way. Open your hearts and your homes to them.”

Ingraham’s comments come in the wake of reports of the conditions at detention centers that are holding children who have been separated from their families as their parents are prosecuted for illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. While reporters have not been allowed to publish photos or videos of the facilities, journalists have described the children as being “incarcerated,” being held in cages and, in some cases, forced to sleep on the floor. ProPublica published an audio recording of dozens of children screaming and crying over the separation, while a border patrol agent jokes that the kids sounds like an “orchestra.”

Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recently enacted “zero tolerance” policy has given agents the authority to arrest and criminally charge any adult caught crossing the border illegally. Their children are then taken away and held in these facilities, where, as MSNBC’s Jacob Soboroff  described it, they’re allowed to go outside for two hours a day and are forced to turn the lights off at 9 p.m.

One official at the facility told Soboroff that he should smile at the kids because they “feel like animals in a cage being look at.”

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While advisers to President Donald Trump are whispering in his ear that his immigration policies at the U.S.-Mexico border are similar to what former President Barack Obama enforced, Trump is telling aides that he thinks he’s being mistreated by the media, according to The New York Times.

In an effort to get Trump to stick to his base’s interests and fulfill his campaign promises on immigration, aides have reportedly told Trump that the “news media is cherry-picking images of children that can be used to portray Mr. Trump’s policy in the harshest of lights,” in the Times’ words.

That’s what’s emboldened Trump’s hostile series of tweets and bellicose rhetoric on Monday — that Democrats are to blame for poor immigration policy and the U.S. can’t become a “migrant camp” under Trump’s watch.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ “zero tolerance” immigration policy at the border has come under bipartisan scrutiny as thousands of adult border crossers are arrested, criminally charged and separated from their children.

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A group of 70 former U.S. Attorneys sent Attorney General Jeff Sessions a letter on Tuesday morning requesting that Sessions end his “dangerous, expensive”  “zero tolerance” policy, which they claim is “inconsistent with the values of the institution in which we served.”

The bipartisan group of former U.S. Attorneys, led by Preet Bharara from the Southern District of New York, argued the policy deviates from previous norms enacted by Republican and Democratic administrations and ignores the past precedent of maintaining a balance between “effective enforcement and deterrence with humanity and compassion,” the letter said.

“This balanced approach is especially critical when we are faced with persons seeking entry who may be eligible under established U.S. laws for the protection of asylum, as they flee persecution, horrific violence, or danger in their home countries,” they said.

According to the former prosecutors, the policy — which mandates the arrest of anyone caught entering the U.S. illegally — is a waste of dire resources as well, given the punishment for the misdemeanor offense of illegal border crossing is at most a year in prison.

They also argued that the law doesn’t mandate family separation. Under Sessions’ policy, anyone caught crossing the border is arrested and criminally charged. If they have children, the kids are separated from their parents while the adults meander their way through the immigration court system. The inhumane separation of families has received significant media attention in recent days as Trump administration officials double-down on their defense that the policy should work to deter illegal immigration.

“Collectively, as former United States Attorneys, we have prosecuted tens of thousands of cases involving far more serious crimes than misdemeanor illegal entry offenses. And even in those far more serious cases, decisions involving the separation of children from their parents were made with extraordinary caution, and only after an evaluation of the specific circumstances of a particular case,” the letter said. “Today, by contrast, your Zero Tolerance policy has produced a tragic and unsustainable result, without taking into account each family’s specific circumstances. Under your policy, families and children are greeted with unexpected cruelty at the doorstep of the United States, instead of with relief or asylum in the greatest country in the world. Until now, no Republican or Democratic administration, nor any prior Attorney General, has endangered children in order to deter illegal entry.”

Read the full letter here. 

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Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) called on Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen to resign on Monday, citing her track record of enforcing President Donald Trump’s “anti-immigration agenda” and leading the “failed response” to the devastation in Puerto Rico.

Harris also cited a lack of transparency within the department and Nielsen’s routine failure “to provide complete answers to questions from me and my colleagues” on the Homeland Security Committee.

Nielsen has come under increased scrutiny in recent days for her response to media reports on the conditions at immigration processing centers along the U.S.-Mexico border. Under Attorney General Jeff Sessions, border security agents have been given authority to arrest and criminally charge anyone who crosses the border illegally, resulting in thousands of children being separated from their parents.

On Sunday, Nielsen tweeted that the U.S. does not have a family separation policy, only to walk it back Monday by claiming the U.S. “will not apologize” for ripping families apart in order to enforce laws. She followed President Donald Trump’s rhetoric, calling on Congress to “change the laws” of immigration and “close the loopholes.”

Read Harris’ full statement below:

“The government should be in the business of keeping families together, not tearing them apart. And the government should have a commitment to transparency and accountability. Under Secretary Nielsen’s tenure, the Department of Homeland Security has a track record of neither. As a result, she must resign.

“During her time as the manager of the government’s third largest agency, the Department has implemented a policy that has separated thousands of children from their families, issued a directive to make it easier to detain pregnant women, tried to use DACA recipients as leverage to achieve the President’s anti-immigrant agenda, failed to address some of the agency’s most pressing management challenges and overseen the continued failed response to tragedy in Puerto Rico.

“As a member of the Homeland Security Committee of the United States Senate for the last 18 months, which has oversight of the Department of Homeland Security, I have asked Secretary Nielsen and other DHS officials to clarify each of these policies, because the American people deserve to know the truth. I have, since March of 2017, repeatedly asked for complete data on the number of children separated and what training and protocol exists for carrying out such separations. In response, the leadership of this department has routinely failed to provide complete answers to questions from me and my colleagues.

“The Department’s lack of transparency under Secretary Nielsen’s leadership combined with her record of misleading statements including yesterday’s denial that the Administration even had a policy of separating children at the border, are disqualifying. We must speak the truth. There is no law that says the Administration has to rip children from their families. This Administration can and must reverse course now and it can and must find new leadership for the Department of Homeland Security.”

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President Donald Trump doubled down on his early morning tweetstorm during a speech before the National Space Council on Monday afternoon, when he vowed that the U.S. “will not be a migrant camp.”

“The United States will not be a migrant camp and it will not be a refugee holding facility,” he said. “It won’t be. You look at what’s happening in Europe, you look at what’s happening in other places, we can’t allow that to happen to the United States. Not on my watch.”

Trump also continued to blame the Democrats for being “obstructionists” and suggested that all the immigration “problems that we’re having” are Democrats’ “fault.”

Early Monday morning, Trump unleashed on Twitter, making similar comments about Democrats, despite the fact that it is his administration that recently enacted a “zero tolerance” policy at the border that has emboldened border security to arrest, criminally charge and take the children from any migrant adult who illegally comes into the U.S.

Both Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen have been fiercely defensive of their actions; Nielsen said the U.S. would “not apologize” for taking children from illegal border crossers, and Sessions even admitted that the policy was meant as a deterrent.

While Trump, and notably first lady Melania Trump, have said they don’t want to separate children from their parents, Trump has cited “what’s happening in Europe” as rationale for the tough policies. He demanded on Monday that Democrats need to come to the table and “LAWS NEED TO CHANGE.”

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Conservative commentator Ann Coulter seized on a increasingly routine far-right talking point on Sunday evening by claiming that the migrant children who are being separated from their parents and housed in cages in immigration processing facilities are “child actors.”

During an appearance on Fox News’ “The Next Revolution,” Coulter claimed she read in The New Yorker that immigrant children were being fed “scripts” to make their plight seem more dire and she warned Trump against believing it.

“I would also say one other thing, these child actors weeping and crying on all the other networks 24/7 right now: do not fall for it, Mr. President,” she said, as host Steve Holton attempted to cut her off. “I get very nervous about the president getting his news from TV. …  They’re given scripts to read by liberals, according to the New Yorker. Don’t fall for the actor children.”

It is unclear what New Yorker article Coulter was referencing, but The New York Times reported in May that administration officials have claimed that migrant children are being coached on “what to say to make fraudulent claims for asylum,” an argument that advocates have fought, according to the Times.

The casting of traumatized children who are interviewed on cable news as “actors” has become a familiar stance for those in the far-right. David Hogg, one of the student survivors of the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in February, was labeled a “crisis actor” after the shooting and is still facing backlash and harassment for his gun control advocacy efforts.

The conspiracy about Hogg and other survivors being actors paid by left-leaning groups started in the far-right fringes, but eventually worked its way mainstream, when Fox News host Laura Ingraham doubled down on the attacks on Hogg by mocking him for not getting into college.

H/t: Breitbart

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After a weekend of public uproar over the conditions at immigration processing centers along the U.S.-Mexico border, President Donald Trump started the week with an explosive series of tweets that culminated with his seemingly ordering Congress to “CHANGE THE LAWS!”

Trump started his tweetstorm by blaming Democrats for issues within the immigration system  — which has sparked widespread outrage in recent days over a recent uptick in the number of immigrant families being separated at the border — and questioning why Democrats won’t “give us the votes to fix the world’s worst immigration laws?”

He then asked why there hasn’t been more “outcry” over the brutal violence of the MS-13 gang, which the Trump administration has used to substantiate its claims of widespread violence committed by undocumented immigrants. He later blamed Democrats again for being “weak and ineffective with Boarder (sic) Security and Crime.”

The President then made a series of unsubstantiated claims about the migration of refugees into Germany, claiming that crime in the country has increased and the influx of immigrants has “so strongly and violently changed their culture!”

He went on to suggest that children were being used as pawns by “the worst criminals on earth” to enter the U.S. illegally and then claimed he wanted to protect the U.S. from the crime happening in countries south of the U.S. border.

Uproar over the treatment of children and families who are caught illegally crossing the border increased over the weekend, as journalists tweeted out photos of children sleeping on the floor and people being held in dog kennel-like cages at an immigration processing center in Texas.

That likely prompted Trump’s Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen to tweet that the Trump administration did not have a policy on separating families at the border, despite Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recently enacted “zero tolerance” policy of arresting and bringing criminal charges against anyone caught illegally entering the U.S.

First lady Melania Trump also spoke out over the weekend as well, saying she “hates” to see families separated and called on “both sides” to find a solution.

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President Donald Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani clashed with his boss over the weekend on the interpretation of the results of a Justice Department inspector general report released last week.

“Well I don’t think it exonerates him,” Giuliani told ABC News. “In some respects, it dramatically supports his position … that the people who conducted the Hillary probe who were extreme partisan for Hillary and against Trump.”

In his remarks to reporters on Friday, Trump claimed that the IG report on the FBI’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation not only “totally exonerates” him, it also “totally discredits” special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the Trump campaign and Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Over the weekend, he tweeted that Comey and “his minions” in the FBI started the “disgraceful Witch Hunt,” his favored monicker for the Russia probe.

The IG report found that while former FBI Director James Comey may have not followed FBI norms in the way he handled the Clinton probe, he was not politically motivated.

But Trump has seized on the report as fodder for his decision to fire Comey last May. Part of Mueller’s investigation in looking into Trump’s handling of the Comey firing and whether he meant to obstruct justice in doing so.

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The head of the Department of Homeland Security on Sunday evening claimed that President Donald Trump’s administration doesn’t have a policy of separating families at the border and blamed the media for “misreporting” on the uptick in children being taken away from their parents.

In a series of tweets, Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen claimed border patrol agents are operating under the rules enacted by previous administrations — that children will taken from their parents who are seeking asylum if the child is in danger, has no immediate family or if a parent has been arrested.

“We do not have a policy of separating families at the border. Period,” she tweeted.

The U.S. has seen a significant increase in the number of family separations at the border ever since Attorney General Jeff Sessions in May enacted his new “zero tolerance” policy that requires the automatic arrest of any person caught illegally entering the U.S.

Nielsen’s comments even come in contradiction with Trump’s own commentary on the crisis, which has primarily consisted of blaming Democrats.

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