Compassion Reporting on poverty fighting and criminal justice

Bringing in the big guns

Compassion | The White House might get more involved in the California homelessness crisis
by Charissa Koh
Posted 9/25/19, 04:22 pm

After a campaign fundraising visit to San Francisco last week, President Donald Trump accused the city of allowing human waste and needles to wash down storm drains. The problem—a side-effect of the city’s homelessness crisis—could constitute a violation of Environmental Protection Agency regulations, the president said.

“It’s a terrible situation that’s in Los Angeles and San Francisco,” Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One. “They’re in total violation. We’re going to be giving them a notice very soon.”

San Francisco Mayor London Breed, a Democrat, quickly issued a statement affirming her confidence in the city’s water filtration system and calling Trump’s claims ridiculous.

In the feud between the White House and California, both sides agree homelessness in the Golden State is out of control. San Francisco pays people to pick up the needles that litter streets—many of which came from a city program that gives drug users clean needles to prevent the spread of HIV. Last year, the city appointed a “poop patrol” to clean up human waste left in the city. In Los Angeles and San Francisco, residents regularly dodge trash, excrement, and vomit on sidewalks, and tent encampments form under bridges and beside roads.

The president and his administration blame the state’s liberal policies for the growing problem, while state officials blame Trump for cutting federal programs designed to help. Earlier this month, The Washington Post reported, citing anonymous officials, that the White House was planning to crack down on California homelessness. The plans included razing tent camps and transferring people to government-backed shelters. The report included a quote from White House spokesman Judd Deere: “The president has taken notice of the homelessness crisis, particularly in cities and states where the liberal policies are combining to dramatically increase poverty and public health risks.”

California has 12 percent of the country’s population but nearly half (47 percent) of the nation’s homeless people. The state’s environmentalism-driven zoning, fees, and regulations limit builders and drive up development costs. The Trump administration aims to lower housing costs by removing regulations like those, according to the newly released State of Homelessness in America report. California also regulates vehicle emissions at a higher standard than the federal government., and last week, the Trump administration revoked the state’s waiver to do so.

In response to the president’s condemnation, California politicians acknowledged the homelessness crisis but questioned Trump’s willingness to help. Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, wrote the president a letter requesting 500,000 housing vouchers.

“In California, state and local governments have ramped up action,” he wrote. “In contrast, your administration proposed significant cuts to public housing and programs.”

Two days later, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson rejected the request.

“Your letter seeks more federal dollars for California from hardworking American taxpayers but fails to admit that your state and local policies have played a major role in creating the current crisis,” he responded.

Carson told Fox News this week that fixing the homelessness problem should not be the responsibility of the federal government, but “the president is extremely concerned about this because of the epidemic that could occur. And so we’re looking at both short term and long term.”

Associated Press/Photo by Pablo Martinez Monsivais Associated Press/Photo by Pablo Martinez Monsivais Acting U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan (right) and El Salvadoran Foreign Minister Alexandra Hill Tinoco sign an asylum agreement.

U.S. signs asylum agreement with El Salvador

The United States signed a “cooperative asylum agreement” with El Salvador last week to stem the flow of migrants to the U.S. southern border. The agreement won’t take effect until both countries implement border security and asylum procedures that are needed.

El Salvadoran Foreign Minister Alexandra Hill Tinoco said the agreement could allow migrants to receive asylum as they pass through her country on their way to the United States or other foreign destinations. It does not apply to migrants from El Salvador.

Some migrant and refugee advocates condemned the agreement, saying gang-plagued El Salvador isn’t a safe country for the migrants. Canada is the only nation to have signed an official third-country agreement with the United States. Both nations agree they have robust enough asylum systems and sufficient public safety to require migrants moving through to remain there. —Rachel Lynn Aldrich

Associated Press/Photo by Elise Amendola Associated Press/Photo by Elise Amendola Mariela Sanchez (left) and her son Jonathan at a news conference in Boston in late August

Medical deferrals available to immigrants again

Immigrants to the United States again have the option to apply for deferred deportation for medical treatment and other hardships. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) said Thursday it will resume considering “deferred action” requests on a case-by-case basis.

The Trump administration on Aug. 7 announced it would stop granting such requests, and several groups filed lawsuits against the move. Earlier this month, USCIS reopened the cases of about 400 applicants who received denial letters telling them to leave the country within 33 days.

The deferred action allows foreign nationals to temporarily work and receive health benefits for up to two years while they or their family members receive treatment for serious medical conditions. Mariela Sanchez brought her 16-year-old son, Jonathan, from Honduras to Boston for cystic fibrosis treatment and received a medical deferral. “He would be dead” if the family remained in Honduras, Sanchez said. “I have panic attacks over this every day.” —R.L.A.

Charissa Koh

Charissa is a reporter for WORLD.

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