In New Mexico, an 8-year-old Guatemalan boy died on Christmas Eve while in the custody of U.S. Customs and Border Protection—becoming the second migrant child to die in U.S. detention in the past month. Felipe Gómez Alonzo was admitted to a hospital earlier on Christmas Eve, diagnosed with a common cold, given ibuprofen and antibiotics, and released. But the boy continued to become more ill throughout the day. After he began vomiting, the boy was sent back to the same hospital but fell unconscious along the way; he was pronounced dead just before midnight Christmas morning. The cause of death is not yet known. The boy was first detained along with his father on December 18. The Trump administration said it was investigating the latest death and that it had ordered medical checks of every child in its custody. This follows the death of a 7-year-old indigenous Guatemalan girl, Jakelin Caal Maquín, who died on December 8—also in New Mexico—two days after she and her father presented themselves at the border in a bid for asylum. While he’s talked endlessly about the border wall, President Trump has neither tweeted about nor spoken about the dead children. The deaths have drawn international condemnation and calls for a thorough, independent investigation. Felipe González Morales, U.N. special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, said, “States have an obligation to care for migrants who arrive at the border, they cannot treat them as animals in inhuman conditions. … Detention of children based on their migratory status is a violation of international law.”
The latest migrant child death comes as the federal government entered its fifth day of a partial shutdown over President Trump’s demands for more money for an expanded wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, with 88 percent of Department of Homeland Security workers among federal employees forced to work without pay. On Christmas Day, Trump said the shutdown will last until Democrats agree to $5 billion in new funding, despite his campaign pledge that he would make Mexico pay for the wall.
President Donald Trump: “I can’t tell you when the government’s going to be open. I can tell you it’s not going to be open until we have a wall, a fence, whatever they’d like to call it. I’ll call it whatever they want, but it’s all the same thing. It’s a barrier from people pouring into our company—into our country, from drugs. It’s a barrier from drugs.”
On Twitter, Trump posted a graphic of a border wall with the caption, “A design of our Steel Slat Barrier which is totally effective while at the same time beautiful!” Trump said he would be heading to Texas at the end of January for a groundbreaking.
Funding for about a quarter of all federal programs expired at midnight on Friday, including the departments of Justice, Agriculture and Homeland Security. Some 380,000 federal employees have been furloughed; another 420,000 are working without pay. Some within Trump’s own Republican Party have suggested the shutdown is an act of bravado. This is Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee speaking on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday.
Sen. Bob Corker: “This is a made-up fight so the president can look like he’s fighting. … So this is something that is unnecessary. It’s a spectacle, and, candidly, it’s juvenile. The whole thing is juvenile.”
The government shutdown came as the Supreme Court ruled Friday that the Trump administration cannot enforce a ban on asylum claims by immigrants who cross into the U.S. outside a port of entry. Newly seated Justice Brett Kavanaugh sided with the Trump administration, while Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg sided with the 5-4 majority in blocking the Trump administration’s asylum ban.
Justice Ginsburg’s vote came as she was hospitalized in a New York City cancer center, where surgeons on Friday removed two malignant growths in her left lung. Doctors have called the surgery a success and say there’s no sign that Ginsburg’s cancer has spread. Ginsburg is 85 years old; last month she cracked three ribs after a fall inside the Supreme Court. 2018 marked Ginsburg’s 25th year on the court, and she has not announced any plans to retire.
In more immigration news, authorities in El Paso, Texas, scrambled over the Christmas holiday to assist hundreds of migrant asylum seekers, who were dropped off suddenly by ICE officials outside a Greyhound bus terminal—without any plan to house them. Local shelters say they weren’t told in advance of ICE’s plans—as is customary—leaving them struggling to find accommodations for hundreds of migrants, including young children. On Sunday, Greyhound brought in buses where migrants could shelter overnight into the Christmas Eve holiday. Sergeant Robert Gomez of the El Paso Police Department said, “We weren’t going to put 200 people on the streets of El Paso on a cold night. We wouldn’t do that.”
On Wall Street, the stock market plunged more than 650 points on Monday, marking the worst December decline since the Great Depression of the 1930s. The latest selloff came after Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin spooked investors after revealing he’d spoken to the CEOs of the six largest U.S. banks in a bid to shore up confidence over the economy. This came as Trump renewed his attack on the Federal Reserve and openly criticized its chair, Jerome Powell, whom he appointed. On Christmas Eve, Trump tweeted, “The only problem our economy has is the Fed. They don’t have a feel for the Market, they don’t understand necessary Trade Wars or Strong Dollars or even Democrat Shutdowns over Borders.” We’ll have more on the Trump administration and growing economic turmoil after headlines with economist Richard Wolff.
In Syria, Israeli warplanes fired missiles near the capital Damascus early Wednesday, with Syrian state media saying a weapons depot was blown up in the attack. Earlier this week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu threatened to launch more assaults inside Syria, saying he was targeting Hezbollah and other forces backed by Iran.
This comes as the Trump administration is ending its support for a Kurdish-led militia fighting ISIS, as Turkish troops mass near a northern town held by the Kurds. Since 2014, the U.S. backed the YPG militia with weapons and logistics, but is withdrawing the support as Turkey prepares to invade Syrian territory it controls. Last week, President Trump ordered the withdrawal of all 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria. The pullout reportedly came after Trump spoke by phone on December 15 with Turkey’s authoritarian president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The White House later said Erdogan had invited Trump to a meeting in Turkey in 2019 and that Trump is “open to a potential meeting.”
Meanwhile, President Trump said he would fire Pentagon chief James Mattis two months ahead of schedule, after Mattis rebuked Trump’s foreign policy decisions in a resignation letter he made public last week. Trump reportedly did not read Mattis’s letter and only learned about his objections from Fox News. After growing increasingly angry with his defense chief, Trump said Mattis will leave on January 1; he had previously been expected to retire at the end of February. Patrick Shanahan will become acting secretary of defense. Shanahan is a former executive at the U.S. weapons maker Boeing.
Meanwhile, President Trump’s envoy to the coalition fighting ISIS has resigned over Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria. Brett McGurk was appointed in 2015 by President Obama and held the role until his resignation last week.
In Indonesia, the death toll from a devastating tsunami has risen to 430. On Saturday night, a massive wall of water suddenly emerged from the ocean and swept rapidly across coastal areas of western Java and southern Sumatra. Hundreds were swept out to sea as homes, hotels and businesses were destroyed. This is a spokesperson with Indonesia’s disaster management agency.
Sutopo Purwo Nugroho: “Up until today, we’ve recorded that 430 people have died, 1,495 people have been injured, 159 people are still missing, and 21,991 are evacuees. The losses and damage to buildings data is still being collected.”
The tsunami did not follow a major earthquake, and therefore did not trigger Indonesia’s early warning system; instead, it resulted from an eruption and underwater landslide at the Krakatoa volcano. Authorities have warned of more potential tsunamis and ordered coastal residents to evacuate for higher ground.
In Kabul, Afghanistan, at least 43 people were killed Monday after a team of gunmen stormed a government building and began moving floor to floor to target employees. The assault began after a suicide car bomber detonated outside the Public Works Ministry, ahead of a gun battle that lasted for hours. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, which was one of the deadliest assaults on Kabul this year.
And Indonesia’s Army has been accused of using the banned chemical weapon white phosphorus on villagers in West Papua during assaults earlier this month that left seven people dead and thousands displaced. A photo published in the Australian weekly The Saturday Paper shows a wounded man with what appears to be a severe leg injury from white phosphorus—an incendiary substance that burns through skin to the bone. The man was was among victims of helicopter attacks on pro-independence activists in the central highlands of West Papua. The crackdown came on December 1 after West Papuans raised their flag to mark the anniversary of Indonesia’s 1961 invasion.