10 things you need to know today: February 19, 2017
DHS memos propose stricter deportation guidelines, Trump touts economic agenda and nationalist themes at campaign-style rally in Florida, and more
DHS memos propose stricter deportation guidelines
Two memos proposing stricter deportation guidelines for asylum seekers and unaccompanied minors have been sent from Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly to the White House for approval, McClatchy reported Saturday afternoon. The documents are dated Feb. 17 and have yet to receive final go-ahead from the president. One memo would increase deportations by giving asylum officers greater discretion to deny asylum requests. At present, 88 percent of asylum seekers pass their initial interview with field officers; they then wait in the U.S. for a court hearing (sometimes a multi-year delay), at which point only 18 percent successfully gain asylum. Under the new guidelines, officers would be more likely to deny applicants at the interview stage if they believe the asylum seeker does not have a "significant possibility" of winning in court. The second memo concerns children who travel to the U.S. alone to meet parents already living here illegally. Those children would be more likely to face deportation, and their parents could face criminal charges if they paid a human trafficker to transport their child.
Trump touts economic agenda and nationalist themes at campaign-style rally in Florida
President Trump spoke at a large, campaign-style rally in Melbourne, Florida, on Saturday, giving a wide-ranging speech "to tell you about our plans for the future." He first addressed his economic agenda, highlighting ways in which he intends to create new jobs in America. From there, Trump turned to crime, drugs, immigration, and national security, closely linked topics in his perspective. "I've ordered the construction of a great border wall which will start very shortly," he said, "and I've taken decisive action to keep radical Islamic terrorists the hell out of our country." The speech closed with a sweeping call to a new national — and nationalist — unity in America. "Erasing national borders does not make people safer or more prosperous," Trump said. "It undermines democracy and trades away prosperity."
U.S.-supported Iraqi troops begin battle to take western Mosul
The Iraqi army's U.S.-supported battle to retake the western side of the city of Mosul from the Islamic State began in earnest Sunday. The Iraqi air force dropped leaflets warning civilians trapped in the area of the coming onslaught before beginning an air and ground offensive. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi described Sunday's operation as a "new dawn" for freedom in Mosul, urging the "heroic forces of Iraq" to "go forward with [his] blessing." The eastern side of the city, divided from the still-occupied western portion by the Tigris River, was liberated from ISIS control in January.
Russia calls for 'pragmatic' U.S. relations, 'post-West world order'
Speaking at the annual Munich Security Conference on Saturday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov outlined Moscow's vision for the future shape of international and Russo-American relations. "What kind of relations do we want with the U.S.? Pragmatic relations, mutual respect, understanding our special responsibility for global stability," he said. "You can call it a post-West world order when each country, based on its sovereignty within the rules of international law, will strive to find a balance between its own national interests and the national interests of partners." Lavrov's remarks came shortly after Vice President Mike Pence pledged the U.S. "will continue to hold Russia accountable."
Netanyahu rejected regional peace initiative last year
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu secretly met with Jordan's King Abdullah II and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi in 2016 to consider a regional peace initiative negotiated by then-Secretary of State John Kerry, Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported Sunday. The covert talks took place in Jordan last February, and terms of the agreement Netanyahu would ultimately reject included renewed peace talks between Israeli and Palestinian leadership as well as Arab nations' recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. History will "definitely judge the magnitude of the opportunity as well as the magnitude of the missed opportunity," tweeted Israeli opposition leader Isaac Herzog in response to the news on Sunday. Netanyahu confirmed Sunday that the meeting took place and said in a gathering of Likud ministers that it occurred at his initiation.
U.S. aircraft carrier begins 'routine' patrols in disputed South China Sea
The USS Carl Vinson, accompanied by the guided-missile destroyer USS Wayne E. Meyer, was deployed to the disputed waters of the South China Sea on Saturday to make what the U.S. Navy says are routine patrols. The Vinson carries a fleet of 60 aircraft and will be "demonstrating [the strike group's] capabilities while building upon existing strong relationships with our allies, partners and friends in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region," said Rear Admiral James Kilby. The ocean territory in question is claimed by China, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam. Beijing said in a statement it "firmly opposes any country's attempt to undermine China's sovereignty and security in the name of the freedom of navigation and overflight."
SpaceX-NASA joint rocket launch delayed
SpaceX on Saturday announced it would delay the planned launch of its Falcon 9 rocket at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. "Standing down to take a closer look at positioning of the second stage engine nozzle. 9:38am ET tomorrow is next earliest launch opportunity," the company tweeted. The rocket, under contract with NASA, is headed to the International Space Station to launch an unmanned aircraft filled with cargo and supplies. The launch was originally slated for Saturday at 10:01 a.m. ET, but now will switch to its backup time Sunday morning.
5 dead as heavy rains continue to batter California
Five people have died since Friday thanks to heavy rains in Southern California that produced widespread power outages, sinkholes, and flash floods. Storms are expected to continue through Monday and spread to the northern region of the state. For "almost all of Northern California we are going to be telling people to get ready for area flooding," said meteorologist Bill Rasch of the National Weather Service. "It just doesn't take much rain to cause many problems ... which is only going to exacerbate all the current situations going on." After years of drought, many California dams are now close to overflowing their capacity.
'Blind sheikh' convicted of 1993 WTC bombing dies in prison
Islamic extremist cleric Omar Abdel-Rahman, also known as the "blind sheikh," has died in a South Carolina prison, his family and law enforcement confirmed Saturday. He was 78 years old. Abdel-Rahman was convicted on 48 of 50 charges of conspiracy and sentenced to life in prison for his role in planning the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, which killed six people and injured more than 1,000. He was also involved in plotting "a war of urban terrorism against the United States," specifically a day of coordinated attacks on targets including the United Nations building as well as a bridge and several tunnels in New York City. Those plans never came to fruition. Abdel-Rahman's followers have been linked to deadly terror attacks around the world, incidents he inspired via radio and cassette tapes before his arrest.
Norma McCorvey, 'Roe' of Roe v. Wade, dies at 69
Norma McCorvey, the woman who successfully challenged U.S. abortion laws under the pseudonym "Jane Roe" in the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court case, died in Texas Saturday of heart failure, her daughter reported. She was 69 years old. After her high-profile legal battle, McCorvey converted to Catholicism and became a prominent opponent of the abortion rights she'd pursued as young woman. "I'll be serving the Lord and helping women save their babies. I will hold a pro-life position for the rest of my life," she said of her change of heart. "I think I've always been pro-life. I just didn't know it."