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Thai police say they won’t deport Saudi woman seeking asylum

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BANGKOK (AP) — The head of Thailand’s immigration police said Monday that a young Saudi woman who was stopped in Bangkok as she was trying to travel to Australia for asylum to escape alleged abuse by her family will not be sent anywhere against her wishes.

Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun remained barricaded in an airport hotel room while sending out desperate pleas for help over social media. The 18-year-old began posting on Twitter late Saturday after her passport was taken away when she arrived in the Thai capital on a flight from Kuwait. She has been appealing for aid from the United Nations refugee agency and anyone else who can help.

The refugee agency announced Monday evening that Thai authorities had allowed its officials to meet with Alqunun, but declined to give any details of their meeting, citing confidentiality.

Earlier in the day, Thailand’s immigration police chief, Maj. Gen. Surachate Hakparn, said Alqunun’s father would arrive Monday night, and that officials would see if the young woman was willing to depart with him.

“As of now, she does not wish to go back and we will not force her. She won’t be sent anywhere tonight,” Surachate said at a news conference at the airport where Alqunun is stuck.

“She fled hardship. Thailand is a land of smiles,” he said. “We will not send anyone to die. We will not do that. We will adhere to human rights under the rule of law.”

On Twitter, Alqunun wrote of being in “real danger” if forced to return to her family in Saudi Arabia, and has claimed in media interviews that she could be killed. She told the BBC that she had renounced Islam and is fearful of her father’s retaliation.

Alqunun’s planned forced departure Monday morning was averted as she stayed in her hotel room, with furniture piled up against the door, photos she posted online showed.

Her plight mirrors that of other Saudi women who in recent years have turned to social media to amplify their calls for help while trying to flee abusive families. Alqunun’s Twitter account has attracted tens of thousands of followers in less than 48 hours and her story has grabbed the attention of foreign governments and the U.N. refugee agency.

Her pleas for asylum have also brought international attention to the obstacles women face in Saudi Arabia under male guardianship laws, which require that women, regardless of their age, have the consent of a male relative — usually a father or husband — to travel, obtain a passport or marry.

It also shows the limits of reforms being pushed by Saudi Arabia’s powerful Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman as he struggles to repair damage to his reputation after the grisly killing three months ago of Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents in Istanbul.

Alqunun told Human Rights Watch that she was fleeing beatings and death threats from her male relatives who forced her to remain in her room for six months for cutting her hair.

A Thai court declined to issue an injunction against her being sent back to her parents in Kuwait, from where she began her journey. A family trip to Kuwait apparently allowed her to evade Saudi Arabia’s restrictions on travel.

Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch, told The Associated Press that Thailand should give Alqunun back her passport and let her continue her journey to Australia.

“She has a valid Australian visa,” he said. “The key thing is she should not be sent back to Saudi Arabia, she should not be sent back into harm’s way.”

Immigration police chief Surachate contradicted parts of Alqunun’s story, including her claim that she had an Australian visa. However, he did not show her passport.

Some opposition figures in Australia urged that country’s government to support Alqunun’s efforts.

“I implore the government to do everything they can to help bring this young woman to Australia to give her the opportunity for freedom,” said Australian Sen. Sarah Hanson Young.

For runaway Saudi women, fleeing can be a matter of life and death, and they are almost always doing so to escape male relatives.

In 2017, Dina Ali Lasloom triggered a firestorm online when she was stopped en route to Australia, where she had planned to seek asylum. She was forced to return to Saudi Arabia and was not publicly heard from again, according to activists tracking her whereabouts.

Chief of Immigration Police Maj. Gen. Surachate Hakparn talks to media about the status Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun during a press conference at the Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok Monday, Jan. 7, 2019. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

Chief of Immigration Police Maj. Gen. Surachate Hakparn talks to media about the status Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun during a press conference at the Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok Monday, Jan. 7, 2019. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

Despite efforts by the Saudi government to curtail the scope of male guardianship laws, women who attempt to flee their families in Saudi Arabia have few good options inside the kingdom. They are often either pressured to reconcile with their families, are sent to shelters where their movement is restricted or face arrest for disobeying their legal guardian.

Alqunun has said she was tricked into giving up her passport upon arrival in Bangkok by a man she has variously identified as a Kuwait Airways employee or a Saudi Embassy official. She said Saudi and Thai officials then told her she would be returned to Kuwait on Monday, where her father and brother are awaiting her.

While the Saudi Embassy in Thailand denies Saudi authorities are involved in attempts to stop Alqunun from traveling to Australia, the kingdom has in the past forcibly returned citizens home.

Saudi Arabia’s charge d’affaires in Bangkok, Abdullah al-Shuaibi, was quoted in Saudi media as saying that Alqunun was stopped by Thai authorities because she did not appear to have a return ticket, a hotel reservation or itinerary to show she was a tourist. He said the Saudi Embassy has no authority to stop anyone at the airport and that such a decision would rest with Thai officials.

“She was stopped by airport authorities because she violated Thai laws,” he was quoted as saying in Sabq, a state-aligned Saudi news website. “The embassy is only monitoring the situation.”

___

Batrawy reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Associated Press journalists Tassanee Vejpongsa and Kaweewit Kaewjinda in Bangkok and Sam McNeil in Sydney contributed to this report.

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Immigration

Vice President reacts to Atlanta Mayor Bottoms’ move to turn away ICE detainees

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Vice President reacts to Atlanta Mayor Bottoms move to turn away ICE detainees

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms made headlines this week when she announced an executive order forbidding her city’s jails from accepting ICE detainees. It was a move that drew harsh criticism from both sides. The right obviously wanted her to work with immigration enforcement to ease the already-strained detention system for border patrol and ICE. The left told her this would only redirect ICE agents to use for-profit private jails.

But Bottoms was resolute despite the criticism.

“I, like many others, have been horrified watching the impact of President Trump’s zero tolerance immigration policy on children and families,” Bottoms said in a statement. “My personal angst has been compounded by the City of Atlanta’s long-standing agreement with the U.S. Marshal’s Office to house ICE detainees in our City jail.”

Vice President Mike Pence brought up the issue in a speech he delivered to ICE employees in Atlanta.

Now, I know you’ve got a hard job. And unfortunately, with the debate in the public square today, sometimes it gets harder. I heard on my way down here that the mayor of Atlanta recently announced that the city government wouldn’t cooperate with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement when it comes to the detention of criminal illegal aliens in this city.

And I — it is amazing to think — the mayor actually said that she would, in her words, “not be complicit in an immigration policy that intentionally inflicts misery.” Well, I would say to the mayor that criminal illegal immigrants, gang members on our streets, are what inflict misery.

The flow of illegal drugs, like cocaine and meth and fentanyl, inflict misery and wreck our families and communities. Human trafficking inflicts misery. The Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the men and women who enforce our laws do not inflict misery. They bring safety and security to the people of Atlanta, and they deserve the respect of every elected official in this country.

My Take

It’s one thing to object to measures put forth by the federal government. This can be a good thing as the tenets of limited-government federalism teach us. DC is far too powerful right now and cities need to be willing to stand up just as individuals and states do.

But this move by Bottoms is nothing more than political fodder. She’s trying to build a name for herself as someone who stood up to the President’s immigration policy, but is putting her own city and citizens at risk as a result. When ICE has no place to detain criminal illegal immigrants, they often have no recourse but to release them. This may seem insane, but that’s the state of our immigration system thanks to people like Bottoms.

Keep in mind, they aren’t bringing “family units” or separating children from their families, which is the premise behind Bottoms’ protest. The people ICE brings to Atlanta jails are criminals. These are people who have, in many cases, done harm to people who live in Atlanta. For Bottoms to get political while putting her own citizens at risk is ridiculous.

Such is the state of a divided America where Democrats are willing to harm American citizens if it means scoring political points against President Trump. Mayor Bottoms should not be celebrated. She should be condemned for bowing to political expediency.

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Foreign Affairs

Mike Pompeo responds to Venezuela, Biden’s world tour, Hezbollah, and Israel

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Mike Pompeo responds to Venezuela Bidens world tour Hezbollah and Israel

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo appeared on Fox News last night to talk to Shannon Bream about the tumultuous state of affairs around the world and how the United States is handling them.

First, he discussed Venezuela and recent developments where Nicolas Maduro’s regime has essentially framed members of Juan Guaido’s team in an effort to jail and stop the opposition to his presidency there. The Secretary of State said they would hold Maduro’s regime accountable for their actions, but would not elaborate on how U.S. intervention in the poverty-torn nation would manifest.

He jabbed at potential Democratic 2020 candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden, who is being allegedly courted by world leaders to run for the White House in hopes he could bring back proper relations. As Pompeo noted, our relations with world leaders is in a current state of positive action despite the President’s harsh stance with many of them.

As for Hezbollah, Pompeo said the U.S. would press Lebanon for the sake of its people to facilitate change from the anti-Israel, anti-American Hezbollah rule that has basically made the nation a pawn for Iran.

As for the Israel front. where Pompeo was speaking from, he said calls by people like Beto O’Rourke and others to undermine the conservative base shared by the United States and Israel would not help the situation. Only through the President’s peace plan can the Middle East move forward, according to Pompeo.

My Take

Until the Venezuelan government asks directly for help, there should be no action by the United States other than aid for the people. This is an internal affair. Just because the leadership is challenged doesn’t make it our problem. If there was ever a time when the United Nations should flex its puny muscles, that time is now and the place is Venezuela.

Any foreign leaders calling on Biden to replace Trump are doing so because they do not want the United States to continue to maintain and improve upon its position of strength on the world stage. They prefer the good ol’ days under President Obama when the United States was a pawn for many other nations.

Hezbollah must go. That’s not to say we need to be involved with that, but Lebanon will never be free and prosperous as long as they’re the proxy for Iran.

Lastly, the Secretary of State seemed to be echoing a notion that the President would push for a 2-state solution. If that’s the case, it’s a huge mistake. Otherwise, Pompeo is correct in asserting the backwards notions of the Democrats lashing out against President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu.

We’re in a time when foreign affairs are starting to take center stage. Yes, we have problems of our own, but to ignore the growing threats abroad would be a mistake. It’s good the administration is handling these issues.

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Immigration

Illegal alien Juan Manuel Flores Del Toro identified as murderer of Kittitas County sheriff’s deputy Ryan Thompson

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Illegal alien Juan Manuel Flores Del Toro identified as murderer of Kittitas County sheriffs deputy

A reported “road rage incident” turned deadly for a sheriff’s deputy and the man they were trying to stop on Tuesday when the perpetrated opened fire after being pulled over. It has now been confirmed by ICE that the perpetrator was an illegal immigrant.

Juan Manuel Flores Del Toro, 29, died at the hospital after being wounded in another shootout with police. He killed Kittitas County sheriff’s deputy Ryan Thompson and wounded another police officer in the subsequent shootout.

“Juan Manuel Flores Del Toro, a citizen of Mexico, was unlawfully present in the United States. He entered the U.S. on April 11, 2014, through a Laredo, Texas, Land Port of Entry on a Temporary Agricultural Worker (H-2A) visa. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has no record of Flores Del Toro leaving the U.S., nor extending his visa after it expired.”

My Take

Conservatives are so focused on the border crisis that we often forget the other elephant in the room – visa overstays. Del Toro was recorded as entering the country on a H-2A visa, but he didn’t leave when he was supposed to as designated by his status.

We often point to the border wall as the solution, but this criminal didn’t sneak into the country illegally. He remained illegally, and it’s a problem that requires an entire overhaul of our immigration system. If we can’t keep track of and remove those in the country illegally, then our immigration system is worthless.

Regardless of the circumstances that allowed him to stay in the country, the bottom line is he wasn’t supposed to be here and a law enforcement officer is dead because the system is broken.

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