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Latest from Bill Caiaccio

    Independent voters in Georgia who want to take part in the state's biggest races will have to pick a party for the May 22 primary.
  • Gas prices are on the rise across metro Atlanta, and could shoot up even more this week due to the conflict in Syria. Even though Syria is not an oil-producing country, AAA spokesman Garrett Townsend tells WSB, “Anytime there are issues in that Middle East region you're going to start seeing some type of effect at the pump.' He adds, 'Motorists should expect a 15-cent increase at the pump in the short term.'  Gas prices in Georgia already average about $2.63 per gallon and $2.67 in metro Atlanta. Townsend says, 'That's the highest since July of 2015.'  Prices at the pump have increased 6-cents in the past week, and are 35-cents more expensive than last year at this time.  Georgia now has the most expensive gas since last September, when prices were recovering from Hurricane Irma.  The highest prices in the state are in metro Atlanta, Brunswick and Savannah. The lowest prices are in Augusta and in Walker and Dade County, in northwest Georgia, where prices average $2.54. The predicted increase this week could be even more depending on how the crude oil market responds to the crisis in Syria. Crude prices jumped more than $5 last week, which was the largest weekly increase in over eight months.
  • Two people are heading to prison after stealing firearms from firefighters across metro Atlanta. WSB Radio reported on hundreds of break-ins that occurred from January to June of 2017. Cobb District Attorney Vic Reynolds has announced two Lawrenceville residents have been sent to state prison after admitting to the vehicle break-ins and thefts. Ayana Dayshina Forest, 22, and Elisha Howard Ross, 26, each entered guilty pleas to two counts of racketeering and 46 counts of entering auto for the crimes that occurred from January to June of 2017.  Cobb Police Det. R. McElwain and Smyrna Police Det. J. Lanzing worked with law enforcement agencies across 17 counties to connect the dots between the entering autos and track down the perpetrators.  The thieves worked at night, mostly targeting personal vehicles belonging to firefighters that were parked at fire stations. The evidence showed that Forest was the driver and would drop Ross off near a fire station, circling back to pick him up a few minutes later.  Ross usually used a tool to quickly break the window of a vehicle in order to search through glove compartments and other areas inside the vehicles. The two communicated by cell phone during the crimes.  The thieves hit 52 fire stations, one ambulance service, and the Smyrna headquarters of Glock Inc., as well as automobiles parked at 11 residences near a fire station in Acworth. The thieves broke into more than 200 vehicles throughout the metro Atlanta area over the course of six months. A total of 59 firearms were stolen out of the vehicles, and most of those were then sold on the street. Two of the stolen firearms were found in the suspects’ possession, and another firearm was recovered at the scene of a shooting in DeKalb County. The thieves also took cash, headphones, laptops, and other valuables from the vehicles. Reynolds says 'I’m very proud of the work done in this case by Detectives from Cobb PD and Smyrna PD. When these firefighters are out working to keep our community safe, the last thing they need to worry about is a thief breaking into their vehicles.' Ross entered a negotiated plea to all charges on January 23, and Cobb Superior Court Judge Kimberly Childs sentenced him on that day to 20 years, with 10 years to serve in prison and the balance on probation, and ordered him to pay $8,920 in restitution.  Forest entered her negotiated plea this week to all of the charges. J udge Childs sentenced her to 15 years, with seven years to serve in custody and the rest on probation. She was also ordered to pay $8,920 in restitution. The following fire stations were hit: Alpharetta Fire Stations 81 and 86 Bartow County Fire Station 13 Cartersville Fire Station 2 Clayton County Fire Stations 14, 8, 9 Cobb County Fire Stations 30, 6, 23, 28,  Coweta County Fire Stations 16, 12, 5, 8 Dawson County Fire Station 1 Douglas County Fire Station 7 Forsyth County Fire Stations 10, 3, 4, 7, 1 Gwinnett County Fire Stations 9, 21, 5, 31, 23, 15, 3 Griffin Fire Stations 2, 1 Henry County Fire Stations 12, 3, 9, 11, 6 Newnan Fire Stations 2, 1 Paulding County Fire Stations 9, 10 Peachtree City Fire Station 82 Rockdale County Fire Stations 6, 7 Roswell Fire Stations 6, 2 Smyrna Fire Stations 1, 5, 3, 4,  Social Circle Fire Department Spalding County Fire Station 1 Walton County Fire Station 2
  • The public should be careful of what they touch. As the opioid drug epidemic grows, Marietta police are warning of a possible hidden danger that could be lurking in public places such as restrooms, hotel rooms, even rental cars. Officer Chuck McPhilamy tells WSB, 'What happens to the average hotel worker that's at any hotel in the city cleaning a room that happened across some residue?'   Anyone who comes in contact with drug residue could be at risk.  McPhilamy says drugs laced with Fentanyl can be absorbed simply by touching it. He says 'That changes the game,' and 'changes our concern level.'  McPhilamy says, 'It can be inhaled through your nose or your mouth, it can be absorbed through your skin or your eyes.' A concern is the average person may have no idea what the drugs look like.  McPhilamy says, 'Fentanyl itself can come in so many different forms it's not like I can tell you just look for one substance.' There have been no reports of this happening in Georgia.  McPhilamy says he doesn't want to cause a panic, but he wants people to be aware. Even if a person is not a drug addict, they may come across people who use or sell these potentially dangerous drugs.  He says, 'I think we're talking about two different cultures intersecting.' If anyone sees something that looks suspicious, police say call 9-1-1, and if one should start feeling ill, get medical attention immediately.    
  • After going 0-for-four in special U.S. House elections, Democrats are left licking their wounds.   The latest in a string of stinging defeats was Republican Karen Handel's win over Jon Ossoff in Georgia's 6th district runoff.   WSB Political analyst Bill Crane says, 'The Republicans taking all four of the seats that were created by appointments to the Trump administration gives them some gloating points.'   Despite spending about $30 million on the 6th district election, Democrats still couldn't take the seat away from Republicans. Crane says, 'For all of those resources, it did not substantially move the needle.'   Ossoff got 48% of the vote in April's special election, and had about the same number in the runoff.   Several factors may have cost Ossoff the race, including the fact he does not live in the 6th district. Crane says, 'In a close election any number of things can be the paper cut that wounds.'   The loss in the 6th district race could be a bad sign for Democrats ahead of the 2018 midterm elections, but Crane says Republicans still must deliver on their promises.   As for the chances we'll see a Handel-Ossoff rematch next year, Crane says don't bet on it. He says Handel will be tough to beat 'unless the Republican Congress can't deliver on any of its agenda.
  • Welcome to the unofficial start of summer. Most metro Atlanta schools are letting out this week, and families are making plans for the long weekend.   Georgia is bracing for a busy Memorial Day weekend on the roads and in the water. AAA is predicting more than 34-million Americans will be traveling.   The Georgia State Patrol, Department of Natural Resources and Governor's Office of Highway Safety will be out in force over the holiday weekend, and they will be ready to write tickets or arrest anyone breaking safety laws. They will especially be looking for people who are too impaired to operate a vehicle or a boat.   Georgia Department of Public Safety Commissioner Mark McDonough says, 'The Memorial Day weekend is always a heavily traveled holiday weekend, and historically one of the deadliest on our roadways.'  In 2016, the Georgia Department of Transportation says 12 people died in accidents Memorial Day weekend.  More than half of those people killed in traffic crashes in Georgia last year were not wearing a seat belt.   Many boats will also be on the water for the first time this year this weekend.   The Georgia Department of Natural Resources made 182 boating under the influence arrests in Georgia a year ago, and alcohol was cited as a factor in boating incidents that killed 19 people. Overall, the number of drowning's rose from 39 in 2015 to 44 in 2016.   Col. Eddie Henderson, director of DNR's Law Enforcement Division says, 'All summer, Game Wardens across the state will be enforcing boating laws on Georgia's waterways, just as troopers will be enforcing driving laws on the highways.'   The Summer '17 Safety Tour begins with a stop at Lake Lanier Islands. It will also make stops on Lake Hartwell, Lake Blackshear and West Point Lake.
  • With Georgia's Tom Price leaving Congress to become the nation's Health and Human Services Secretary, it leaves an opening in the state's 6th Congressional District. The non-partisan special election to replace Dr. Price will most likely be held in late spring. Some experts are predicting a crowded field in the race to represent the district stretching from north Dekalb and Fulton counties to east Cobb.  If one candidate doesn't receive more than 50% of the vote, there will be a runoff. State Senator Judson Hill has already announced his candidacy, but WSB Political Analyst Bill Crane is expecting many more to join him. Crane says the seat could stay in the family.  'One of the question marks that still remains out there is Congressman Price's wife (Betty Price), who's a State Representative representing Roswell.' If she decides to run, former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handle could be a frontrunner.  Crane says, 'In addition to having held statewide office, she's run for governor and statewide office twice.' Despite the district’s heavy Republican lean, Crane says a surprising number of Democrats have already indicated they're going to run.  Still, Crane says, 'I can't really see it going Democratic, unless the Republican Party has so many candidates they sort of eat each other alive.' And then there's the so-called Trump-effect.  'It'll be interesting to see how many running Republicans for that seat run away from or towards Donald Trump.
  • The University of Georgia releases a statement on President Donald Trump's immigration order that limits nationals from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen from entering the United States. UGA President Jere Morehead, Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Pamela Whitten and Associate Provost for International Education Noel Fallows have written a letter to all students, faculty and staff on how the policy may impact international travel and visa holders. It says 'As you know, the safety and well-being of the UGA community is our top priority, and it is important that we remain in close communication as new information and direction from the State Department becomes available in the coming days.' All international students, staff and faculty who might be traveling overseas in the near future are advised to consult with the UGA Office of International Education. Morehead says it appears no University of Georgia students or faculty were detained over the weekend because of the executive order.   UGA will continue to assess the impact on its students, staff and faculty, and will provide updated information and assistance.
  • After weeks of going up, gas prices are finally beginning to fall across metro Atlanta. According to GasBuddy's weekly survey, average retail prices in Atlanta are down 3.5 cents per gallon in the past week to $2.22.  During the same time, the national average is down 3.2 cents to $2.30 per gallon. Despite the decline in the past week, prices are still almost 45-cents higher than the same time last year and are about 2-cents more expensive than a month ago.  One year ago, the average price in metro Atlanta was $1.77 per gallon. As for what impact President Donald Trump's administration will have on prices at the pump, GasBuddy's Gregg Laskoski says 'It's too soon to speculate.' One of the first announcements made by the new administration was its 'America's First Energy Plan,' which states producing more energy is in America's national security interest. Trump has said he's committed to achieving energy independence from OPEC countries and any nations hostile to our interests.  At the same time, the president says we will work with our Persian Gulf allies to develop a positive energy relationship as part of our antiterrorism strategy. Laskoski says 'Last week ended with President Trump's inauguration and we saw the benchmark WTI crude close up more than $1 per barrel from the previous day, coincidence?' He says 'Refineries are unloading winter-blend gasoline at fire sale prices.
  • After weeks of going up, gas prices are finally beginning to fall across metro Atlanta. According to GasBuddy's weekly survey, average retail prices in Atlanta are down 3.5 cents per gallon in the past week to $2.22.  During the same time, the national average is down 3.2 cents to $2.30 per gallon. Despite the decline in the past week, prices are still almost 45-cents higher than the same time last year and are about 2-cents more expensive than a month ago.  One year ago, the average price in metro Atlanta was $1.77 per gallon. As for what impact President Donald Trump's administration will have on prices at the pump, GasBuddy's Gregg Laskoski says 'It's too soon to speculate.' One of the first announcements made by the new administration was its 'America's First Energy Plan,' which states producing more energy is in America's national security interest. Trump has said he's committed to achieving energy independence from OPEC countries and any nations hostile to our interests.  At the same time, the president says we will work with our Persian Gulf allies to develop a positive energy relationship as part of our antiterrorism strategy. Laskoski says 'Last week ended with President Trump's inauguration and we saw the benchmark WTI crude close up more than $1 per barrel from the previous day, coincidence?' He says 'Refineries are unloading winter-blend gasoline at fire sale prices.
  • Bill  Caiaccio

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    Bill Caiaccio has been working for WSB since 2014. 

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  • Two brothers accused of at least seven robberies across metro Atlanta in May are no ordinary criminals: they’re identical twins. Marquavious and Juntavious Burton, 20, were arrested in early June. According to Fulton County jail records, the twins have been arrested multiple times since 2015 on charges such as aggravated assault and theft by receiving stolen property. The latest charges include seven counts of armed robbery and a charge of participating in criminal street gang activity. Police believe they may be responsible for even more recent robberies. The Burton twins have also been accused of shooting at some of the robbery victims, Channel 2 Action News reported.  In other news:
  • Two Cobb County siblings were killed after their 17-year-old sister allegedly lost control of the family’s SUV on a South Carolina interstate, police said Monday.  Jessica Wolwark was driving a Chevrolet northbound on I-85 in Anderson County when she ran off the highway and the SUV overturned Saturday morning, according to police.  Wolwark and her mother, Natalia Anggraeni, were both wearing seat belts and were seriously injured in the crash. Two other family members died from their injuries after being ejected, police said.  Kirana “Kiki” Wolwark, 15, and 12-year-old Nate Wolwark were both killed, a family friend posted on a Go Fund Me page. The family was traveling from their Kennesaw home to Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C., where the girls were to attend a religious retreat, according to Chrissy Concepcion, who set up the fundraising page for the family. The family does not have medical insurance, she said. The South Carolina medical examiner was unable to confirm the identities of those killed, but family friends confirmed the names and ages of the Wolwark siblings.  “Kiki was a joy to be around, and spread her love for animals to everyone she knew,” Concepcion posted. “Nate was the perfect boy; always helpful, caring, and accepting of everyone around him.” The driver and her mother were both taken by helicopter to a Greenville hospital, where both remained Monday. Anggraeni has a broken neck and several broken ribs, Concepcion said. Jessica Wolwark has torn ligaments in her arm, but is expected to be released from the hospital this week.  The South Carolina Highway Patrol is investigating the crash.  In other news: 
  • President Donald Trump tried on Tuesday evening to push Republicans in the House to pass an immigration reform bill later this week, basically telling GOP lawmakers he would support whatever they could pass, as Republicans struggled to find the votes to do that, and pressed the White House to back off a new policy that separates some illegal immigrant kids from their parents after being picked up at the border. “The system’s been broken for many years,” the President told reporters at the Capitol before the unusual Tuesday evening gathering. “The immigration system, it’s been a really bad, bad. system, probably the worst anywhere in the world. And we’re gonna try and see if we can fix it.” Earlier in the day, the President had told a gathering of business leaders that he would not back off his calls for major changes in U.S. immigration laws. “When people come up, they have to know they’re never going to get in, or else it’s never going to stop,” Mr. Trump said of the flow of illegal immigration across the southern border with Mexico. President Trump: 'I'm asking Congress to do is to give us a third option, which we have been requesting since last year, the legal authority to detain and promptly remove families together as a unit. We have to be able to do this. This is the only solution to the border crisis.' pic.twitter.com/UllzH6rL4y — CSPAN (@cspan) June 19, 2018 But complicating matters for the President was the recent move to force the separation of children and parents, if the parents were being charged for illegally entering the United States, as that continued to draw stern opposition from GOP lawmakers of all stripes. “All of us are horrified at the images that we are seeing,” said Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX). “We ought to stop separating families,” said Rep. Kevin Yoder (R-KS). “The Administration disagrees,” as GOP lawmakers said the conflict wasn’t really discussed during the Tuesday night meeting with Mr. Trump. “We can have strong border security without separating families,” said Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH). 13 GOP Senators signed a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, asking the Trump Administration to “halt current policies leading to the forced separation of minor children from their parents,” but that missive fell on deaf ears at the White House, as GOP lawmakers scrambled for kind of legislative answer. If every Senator is willing to support it by unanimous consent, the Senate could pass a bill, before the end of the week, that would allow families charged with illegal entry to be kept together while awaiting an expedited hearing. I truly hope that is what we do. — Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) June 19, 2018 House GOP leaders on Tuesday night posted two different immigration bills for possible House votes – one was a more conservative plan backed by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), which was unlikely to get close to a majority; a second was a more moderate bill that lacked the support of conservatives. It left many unsure what would happen if votes occurred this week on the House floor. “I’m still working through whether I can vote for the compromise bill,” said Rep. Warren Davidson (R-OH), as more conservative lawmakers withheld their support from the only all-GOP plan that has a chance for approval. Meanwhile, even as Mr. Trump tried to push Republicans to stick together on immigration, he managed to cause some internal GOP pain, as lawmakers said the President – during the closed door meeting with House lawmakers – took a verbal shot at Rep. Mark Sanford (R-SC), who lost his primary a week ago to a candidate backed by the President. “Is Mark Sanford here? I just want to congratulate him on running a great race,” the President reportedly said, drawing quiet groans and hisses from some GOP members. One Republican, Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) said later on Twitter, that the jab was uncalled for. “This was a classless cheap shot,” Amash wrote.
  • U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson accused the Trump administration of a 'cover-up' after officials denied him entry Tuesday to a detention center for migrant children in South Florida where he had hoped to survey living conditions. Nelson and U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, both Florida Democrats, went to the contractor-run Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children following reports it was receiving detained children who had arrived in the country illegally. Wasserman Schultz said the facility was being used for an estimated 1,000 children, aged 13 to 17 — most of whom arrived as unaccompanied minors and about 10 percent of whom are children separated from their families at the border. She said two other South Florida facilities were being used for younger children. 'It is an affront as the senior senator of this state that an agency head would tell me that I do not have entrance into a federally funded facility where the lives and health of children are at stake,' Nelson said. President Donald Trump's immigration policies have drawn intense scrutiny following reports of the forced separation of migrant children from their parents. Democrats and some Republicans are urging an end to the practice at the U.S.-Mexico border. Thousands of children split from their families at that border are being held in government-run facilities. Wasserman Schultz said her staff had spoken Tuesday with the Florida-based company, Comprehensive Health Services, contracted to run the facility. She said her staff was told the lawmakers would be 'welcomed warmly and allowed into the facility.' But Nelson said Deputy Secretary of Health and Human Services Eric Hargan told him it would take two weeks for them to gain access. 'I think what they're doing is a cover-up for the president,' Nelson said. Trump doesn't like the negative response he's received, even from fellow Republicans, Nelson said. 'Are they abusing these kids? Are they sleeping on the floor? Are they in cages, like we've seen in some videos?' Wasserman Schultz asked after being barred from the building. The Florida facility is overseen by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Department spokesman Kenneth Wolfe said in an email Monday that it had reopened as 'a temporary unaccompanied alien children program facility.' He did not provide further details. Gov. Rick Scott's office, however, released documents Tuesday that showed that federal authorities in February notified state officials and members of Congress that the Homestead facility would be reopened. Federal authorities didn't give an exact date, but said the Homestead location would reopen after damage from Hurricane Irma was repaired. The release from HHS also stated that the facility would only be used for 'unaccompanied alien children' detained by immigration officials. Later Tuesday, Scott called on Trump's administration to stop separating the families. The Republican governor sent his request in a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar. Scott's letter also requested that federal authorities notify state officials when they bring into Florida migrant children who have been separated from their families. Scott also wants to know what services are being provided to the children and whether they have had any health screenings. He said the information is needed to make sure that the children are being protected. An Associated Press reporter was denied access to Azar while he visited a Miami hospital Tuesday to talk with patients about drug costs. Spokesman Gavin Smith barred the AP reporter from asking Azar about the immigration facility because an interview with the secretary had not been pre-arranged. Several dozen children could be seen Tuesday playing soccer outside the building behind a chain link fence, mostly talking and shouting to each other in Spanish. Security officials would not let reporters near the facility or provide details on conditions inside. Mark Greenberg, a former head of the HHS Administration for Children and Families, said agency policy says requests to visit facilities for migrant children be submitted two weeks in advance. However, Greenberg said in the current state of heightened concern it behooves HHS to act rapidly on requests from lawmakers. Greenberg said much of the reason for lead time is logistical: the facilities are operated by federal contractors and government officials should be present for a congressional inspection. 'The current urgency of concerns about what is happening to children who have been separated from their parents makes it important to provide access as quickly as possible,' he said. Greenberg is currently a senior fellow at the Migration Policy Institute, a Washington think tank focused on immigration. ___ Reporter Gary Fineout contributed to this story from Tallahassee. See AP's complete coverage of the debate over the Trump administration's policy of family separation at the border: https://apnews.com/tag/Immigration
  • Top Republicans responded Tuesday to the Trump administration’s hard-line immigration policy of separating families at the U.S.-Mexico border, a “zero tolerance” policy implemented six weeks ago. Many Republicans responded publicly to the harsh criticism over the policy, saying they support keeping migrant children and parents together. >> Read more trending news Update 10:00 p.m. EDT June 19: The growing backlash against the Trump administration’s immigration policy is expanding as tech workers take a stand in Silicon Valley. Microsoft workers are demanding the tech giant end its relationship with Immigration and Customs Enforcement in the wake of the forced separation of families at the U.S. southern border. Some 100 Microsoft employees signed an open letter that calls for the company to sever its ties with ICE, according to The New York Times. “We believe that Microsoft must take an ethical stand, and put children and families above profits,” employees said in the letter. The letter was addressed to Microsoft chief executive, Satya Nadella. Microsoft has a contract with ICE worth more than $19 million “for processing data and artificial intelligence,” the Times reported.  Axios reported the letter demanded three things: Cancel its contract with ICE, create a public policy stating that 'neither Microsoft nor its contractors will work with clients who violate international human rights law,” and commit to 'transparency and review regarding contracts between Microsoft and government agencies, in the US and beyond.' Update 8:30 p.m. EDT June 19: Protests unfolded in several U.S. cities Tuesday against the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy, which has resulted in the separation of at least 2,000 children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border over the past six weeks. In New York, opponents of the policy marched from Union Square to Lower Manhattan, demanding an end to the separation policy. In San Francisco, protesters marched to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement building, demanding that the agency stop separating children from their parents at the border. Protesters also gathered in Philadelphia’s Rittenhouse Square to protest the administration’s immigration policy during an appearance by Vice President Mike Pence at a GOP fundraiser. Update 6:30 p.m. EDT June 19: As President Donald Trump meets with Congressional Republicans this hour over immigration, it’s unclear whether lawmakers can agree on immigration legislation and whether the meeting will address the controversial policy of separating undocumented families at the U.S. border. Trump is reportedly urging House Republicans to pass “the compromise bill and the Goodlatte bill,” according to The Hill, which is citing GOP sources. Senior Trump administration officials are doubling down on the administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy, calling out opponents of the plan, according to a new statement, the Huff Post reported on Twitter. “The administration’s zero tolerance policy is a response to a humanitarian crisis brought about by loopholes in federal immigration law that encourage human trafficking and smuggling. As a result of these loopholes, the only two options for the U.S. government are to either release into the country illegally all illegal Central American migrants who show up at our border with a minor, or to prosecute them for illegal entry. There is no policy of family separation,” the statement said. “The Trump administration has repeatedly asked Congress to give us the authority to detain families together and promptly return families together. Members of Congress who are pushing to give immunity for child smuggling will only increase the crisis ten-fold.” The statement urges Congress to close the loopholes so the government can return “illegal alien families in a fair, expeditious and humane fashion.” Update 4:42 p.m. EDT June 19: An undocumented child with Down syndrome was separated from her parents while illegally trying to cross the U.S.-Mexico border, according to The Wall Street Journal. The 10-year-old girl was separated from her parents, even though her father is a legal U.S. resident, and sent to an immigration facility in McAllen, Texas, the Journal reported, while her mother was sent to a facility in Brownsville. The separation occurred while the mother was trying to get the girl and her brother across the border.    The newspaper learned of the situation after an interview with Mexico’s Foreign Prime Minister Luis Videgaray. During a speech at a small business event Tuesday, Trump blamed Mexico for contributing to the crisis at the U.S. southern border, saying the Mexican government could help end the stream of people traveling to the U.S. if it wanted to.  Update 3:09 p.m. EDT June 19: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, said Tuesday that Republicans support creating a plan to keep migrant children and parents together amid criticism of a Trump administration policy that separates families suspected of coming into the country illegally at the border. “I … and all of the other senators of the Republican conference support a plan that keeps families together,” McConnell told reporters Tuesday. Sen. Orin Hatch, R-Utah, has passed a letter around to colleagues calling on U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to stop separating families, The Hill reported. “I’m asking for a pause,” Hatch said. “I think we ought to pause and look at this very carefully.” Update 2:07 p.m. EDT June 19: A pair of Florida Democrats was barred Tuesday from going inside a Miami-area facility housing immigrant children as the national debate raged around the Trump administration’s policy of separating migrant children from parents at the border. U.S. Rep. Debbie Wassermn Schultz and U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson attempted to enter the Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children Tuesday, but Wasserman Schultz said they were told that they needed to put in a request to visit the facility two weeks ahead of time. The lawmakers said that they were told by the company that runs the facility that they would be able to visit Tuesday, but they were stopped by the a representative of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “This is not a good day for our country, where a U.S. senator and a U.S. congressman have been turned away from a federal facility because the Trump administration does not want us to check on the welfare and the care of the children inside -- children who have been taken from their moms and dads,” Nelson said. Update 1:30 p.m. EDT June 19: President Donald Trump once again blamed laws passed by Democrats for his administration’s policy of separating migrant children from parents suspected of coming into the country illegally while speaking Tuesday at a meeting of the National Federation of Independent Business. Trump said the policy is necessary because loopholes in the immigration laws mean families “cannot  be detained together or removed together, only released.” “These are crippling loopholes that cause family separations,” Trump said. “Child smugglers exploit the loopholes and they gain illegal entry into the United States, putting countless children in danger.” There is no law that mandates the separation of children and parents at the border. “We've got to stop the separation of the families, but politically correct or not we have a country that needs safety, that needs security, that has to be protected,” Trump said. “We don’t want people pouring into our country, we want them to come in through the process, through the legal system and we want ultimately a merit-based system where people come in based on merit.” Update 11:40 a.m. EDT June 19: More than 20 state attorneys general are calling for an end to the Trump administration’s immigration policy, which has led to children being separated from their parents at the border and has sparked national outrage. The 21 Democratic state attorneys general, from states including Massachusetts, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Washington, sent a letter Tuesday to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. “Put simply, the deliberate separation of children and their parents who seek lawful asylum in America is wrong,” the attorneys general said in the letter. “This practice is contrary to American values and must be stopped. We demand that you immediately reverse these harmful policies in the best interests of the children and families affected.” The group is led by New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas, who on Tuesday called the immigration policy “inhumane” and “draconian.” “The Justice Department is ignoring its legal and moral obligations for the sake of a political agenda at the expense of children and the efforts of state law enforcement officials,” Balderas said. “The latest move to unnecessarily separate families is cruel and another example of this administration putting politics ahead of people.” Update 10:15 a.m. EDT June 19: President Donald Trump insisted on Twitter that “Democrats are the problem” in the immigration debate as criticism of his administration’s policy of separating children from parents at the border continues. Trump wrote Tuesday morning that Democrats “don’t care about crime and want illegal immigrants, no matter how bad they may be, to pour into and infest our Country, like MS-13.” The president has blamed Democrats for the recent surge in family separations, saying that laws need to be changed in order to change the separation policy. >> Recording of crying immigrant children separated from parents at border sparks outrage “Now is the best opportunity ever for Congress to change the ridiculous and obsolete laws on immigration,” Trump said Tuesday in a tweet with the hashtag #CHANGETHELAWS.   There are no laws mandating the separation of children and parents at the border. The president also wrote Tuesday morning that “if you don’t have Borders, you don’t have a Country,” and reiterated a claim that crime has risen in Germany since the country started accepting migrants, despite government numbers that show crime at its lowest rate since 1992. Update 9:44 a.m. EDT June 19: The executive director of the United Nations Children's Fund called stories of children being separated from their parents as a result of the Trump administration’s immigration policy “heartbreaking,” saying in a statement Monday that “such practices are in no one’s best interests, least of all the children who suffer their effects.” “Detention and family separation are traumatic experiences that can leave children more vulnerable to exploitation and abuse and can create toxic stress which, as multiple studies have shown, can impact children’s long-term development,” said Henrietta Fore, an American who has headed UNICEF since earlier this year. She noted that the U.S. government has long supported UNICEF’s efforts to help uprooted children in Syria, South Sudan, Somalia and Haiti. >> Clergy group brings church charges of child abuse, immorality against Jeff Sessions over zero-tolerance policy “Children -- no matter where they come from or what their migration status -- are children first and foremost,” she said. “I hope that the best interests of refugee and migrant children will be paramount in the application of U.S. asylum procedures and laws.” Update 8:40 a.m. EDT June 19: Sen. John McCain called the Trump administration’s family separation policy “an affront to the decency of the American people” in a tweet Monday night. The Arizona Republican said the policy is “contrary to principles and values upon which our nation was founded.” “The administration has the power to rescind this policy,” he wrote. “It should do so now.” >> Is the immigration separation policy new, where did it come from, where are the detention centers? McCain is among a growing number of Republican lawmakers voicing concern over the administration's 'zero tolerance' approach to illegal border crossings. Under the policy, all unlawful crossings are referred for prosecution. With adults detained and facing prosecution, any minors accompanying them are taken away. Nearly 2,000 children were separated from their families over a six-week period in April and May. Update 7:15 p.m. EDT June 18: The nonprofit news organization ProPublica released an eight minute audio recording of wailing children, who were separated from their parents last week. >> All 5 living first ladies speak out on separation of immigrant children, parents at border A U.S. border patrol agent can be heard laughing in the background as the 10 children from Central America are separated from their families. Update 6:00 p.m. EDT June 18: Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, during a briefing Monday afternoon, said there’s nothing new about the current policy of separating undocumented children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border. >> Trump's 'zero tolerance' immigration policy: 4 things to know 'This entire crisis is not new, Nielsen said, pointing to 'loopholes' in federal immigration laws from the past, but that could change this week with the introduction of several immigration measures in the U.S. House and Senate, including one from Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. Cruz is expected to introduce the “Protect Kids and Parents Act,” according to news reports. The measure would double the number of federal immigration judges from 375 to 750. It would authorize new temporary shelters to better accommodate families.  The bill would mandate that immigrant families remain together, unless there’s criminal conduct or a threat to the children, and it would require that asylum cases are heard within 14 days of application.   Update 5:35 p.m. EDT June 18:  The head of the Department of Homeland Security, Kirstjen Nielsen, addressed the growing backlash over the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance immigration policy at the southern U.S. border, which is separating undocumented children from their parents. Nielsen defended the policy and urged  Congress to fix the system and close the loopholes. >> Before Trump policy, immigrant families arrested at the border were detained together Update 5:30 p.m. EDT June 18: Two more first ladies have weighed in on the widening controversy over the Trump administration’s policy of separating children from their parents at the southern U.S. border. Michelle Obama retweeted comments Laura Bush made that Trump’s “zero-tolerance policy is cruel. It is immoral. And it breaks my heart.” >> Trump border policy: How to help immigrant children separated from families Former first lady Rosalynn Carter also released a statement Monday, according to The New York Times. 'The practice and policy today of removing children from their parents' care at our border with Mexico is disgraceful and a shame to our country,' Carter said. Update 4:30 p.m. EDT June 18: The Department of Health and Human Services has released photos of the “tent city” in the Texas border outpost of Tornillo, just outside of El Paso, where the U.S. government is sending children separated from their parents at the border. There are already dozens of children at the facility, according to news reports. Update 3:10 p.m. EDT June 18: Sen. Kamala Harris, D-California, called Monday for the resignation of Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen amid the ongoing debate over the Trump administration’s immigration policy. The demand came one day after Nielsen said in a tweet that, “We do not have a policy of separating families at the border. Period.” Nielsen echoed President Donald Trump’s claims that a law is behind the recent spike in separations of migrant children and their parents at the border. “We will not apologize for enforcing the laws passed by Congress,” Nielsen said. “We are a nation of laws. We are asking Congress to change the laws.” However, as Harris and numerous fact checkers have noted, there is no law that mandates the separation of children and parents at the border. Harris said in a statement Monday that Nielsen’s “misleading statements ... are disqualifying.” “We must speak the truth,” Harris said. “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.” Update 2:30 p.m. June 18: Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Monday that President Donald Trump is telling an “outright lie” when he claims that Democrats are behind the recent surge in separations of children from their parents on the border. “This is not happening because of the 'Democrats' law,' as the White House has claimed,” Clinton said. “Separating families is not mandated by law at all.” Clinton, who ran as a Democrat against Trump during the 2016 presidential election, also appeared to chastise U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who cited a Bible verse last week while justifying the Trump administration’s immigration policy. “Those who selectively use the Bible to justify this cruelty are ignoring a central tenant of Christianity,” Clinton said. “Jesus said, ‘Suffer the little children unto me.’ He did not say, ‘Let the children suffer.’” Update 2 p.m. EDT June 18: Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush urged President Donald Trump to end the policy that’s allowed authorities to separate migrant children from their parents on the border, writing Monday on Twitter that 'children shouldn't be used as a negotiating tool.” “(Trump) should end this heartless policy and Congress should get an immigration deal done that provides for asylum reform, border security and a path to citizenship for Dreamers,” he wrote. The president has repeatedly called for Democrats to negotiate with Republicans to address illegal immigration after falsely claiming that the party is behind laws that mandate the separation of child from parent at the border. No such law exists.  Jeb Bush, brother of former President George W. Bush and son of former President George H.W. Bush, ran against Trump in 2016 for the Republican presidential nomination. In an op-ed published Sunday by the Washington Post, former first lady Laura Bush called the Trump administration policy “cruel.” 'I live in a border state,' Bush wrote. 'I appreciate the need to enforce and protect our international boundaries, but this zero-tolerance policy is cruel. It is immoral. And it breaks my heart.' First lady Melania Trump has also criticized the policy, telling CNN in a statement through her spokeswoman that “She believes we need to be a country that follows all laws, but also a country that governs with heart.” Update 12:46 p.m. EDT June 18: President Donald Trump again accused Democrats of obstructing efforts to deal with illegal immigration and the separation of children and parents at the border, telling reporters Monday that “we’re stuck with these horrible laws” because Democrats refuse to sit down with Republicans. There are no laws mandating the separation of children and parents at the border. “We have the worst immigration laws in the entire world,” Trump said. “Nobody has such sad, such bad – and in many cases, such horrible and tough – you see about child separation. You see what’s going on there.” “The United States will not be a migrant camp and it will not be a refugee holding facility,” Trump said. Update 12 p.m. EDT June 18: U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Monday said authorities don’t want to separate children from their families but that officials have a duty to prosecute people who illegally cross the border. “When we ignore our laws at the border we obviously encourage hundreds of thousands of people a year to likewise ignore our laws and illegally enter our country, creating an enormous burden on our law enforcement, our schools, our hospitals and (our) social programs,” Sessions said Monday during the National Sheriffs’ Association Annual Conference in New Orleans. He framed the issue as a debate over “whether we want to be a country of laws or whether we want to be a country without borders.” “President Trump has said this cannot continue,” Sessions said. “We do not want to separate parents from their children. If we build the wall, if we pass legislation to end the lawlessness, we won’t face these terrible choices. We will have a system where those who need to apply for asylum can do so and those who want to come to this country will apply legally.” Sessions’ arguments echoed those of President Donald Trump, who has blamed Democrats for passing laws that he said led to the separations. There are no laws mandating the separation of children and parents at the border. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said earlier Monday that officials will not apologize for enforcing immigration laws. 'We have to do our job,' she said. Original report: President Donald Trump defended his administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy on Monday, writing in a series of tweets that children are being used “by the worst criminals on earth” to get into America as critics slammed the policy for separating children from their parents. “Children are being used by some of the worst criminals on earth as a means to enter our country,” Trump wrote. “Has anyone been looking at the Crime taking place south of the border. It is historic, with some countries the most dangerous places in the world. Not going to happen in the U.S.” The president pointed to a rise in crime in Germany as an example of the chaos caused by illegal immigration, writing in a tweet that it was a “big mistake made all over Europe in allowing millions of people in who have so strongly and violently changed their culture.” However, Germany’s internal ministry reported last month that criminal offenses in the country were at their lowest since 1992, according to Reuters. This spring, the Trump administration ordered prosecutors to charge every person illegally crossing the border. Children traveling with the adults have been separated and placed in detention centers, prompting protests nationwide. The president has blamed Democrats for not fixing the law that allows for the separations. “Tell them to start thinking about the people devastated by Crime coming from illegal immigration,” the president wrote. “Change the laws!” Despite his claim that Democrats are at fault for the situation, The Associated Press reported that the Trump administration “put the policy in place and could easily end it.” The Associated Press contributed to this report.
  • Earthlings in the Northern Hemisphere: Are you hot enough yet? Well, Thursday we're welcoming the longest day of the year. Right, summer solstice! So besides it being opposite of the winter solstice, how do we explain this annual event? To understand the summer solstice, you've got to understand the Earth's tilt. It might not feel like it, but the Earth is skewed at a 23.5-degree angle. It's also spinning while spinning — but that's for another day. 'The overhead sun is over the Tropic of Cancer. It receives the largest amount of solar radiation. … On this day, the length of daytime in the Northern Hemisphere is the longest of the year,' according to an explanation in a video from the Kurdistan Planetarium. As the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration points out, the name itself speaks to the length of day: 'The word solstice comes from Latin solstitium or sol (the sun) + -stit-, -stes (standing).' Basically, it'll feel like the sun is standing still. Since most places up north can expect somewhere around 16 hours of daylight on the summer solstice, it’s a good time to soak up some rays. But the annual event also coincides with many formal traditions. In Scandinavia, for example, many people celebrate Midsummer, a historically pagan celebration in which people feast and dance around a maypole. They also drink and sing — at the same time. 'We recommend two beers per nube. This will improve both your singing and your Swedish,' a participant said. In some Christian traditions, people celebrate the nativity of St. John the Baptist through feasts and bonfires. If you’re confused on what to do for summer solstice, just enjoy a meal or take a picture of the sun. You'll have plenty of time for both.