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WSB Traffic Trooper Luncheon Our next traffic team event is when we host our regular Traffic Troopers to lunch! WSB “Traffic Troopers” as Herb Emory affectionately nicknamed them, are regular callers to the traffic center who report crashes, trip times, or just whatever they see along their regular routes around town. Call our traffic center 24/7/365 at 404-897-7358. You can ALSO get through to us using the “Triple Team Traffic Alerts” app, free in your phone’s app store! Be on the look out this summer for more information on how you can participate in our Tossing for Tots Disc Golf Tournament. It will take place in early fall, and all proceeds benefit Atlanta-area Toys for Tots. We’ll meet up in Henry County! HERB EMORY MEMORIAL TOYS FOR TOTS DRIVE The WSB Traffic Team THANKS YOU for your generosity this past Christmas season! Despite having to reschedule our event due to snow, our community raised $56,000 plus thousands of toys for metro Atlanta children!

The Gridlock Guy- Doug Turnbull

  • The July 1st initiation of the revamped distracted-driving law — the Hands-Free Georgia Act — is conjuring up questions, criticism, and anxiety. I’ve heard from many people who think that the beefed-up law is simply another source of revenue or that it doesn’t go far enough to stop distracted driving. Others are confused about if they’re allowed to stream audio on their phones (yes, as long as it’s only adjusted while the vehicle is legally parked; adjusting it on the dashboard screen is legal). And still others think the new rules ban phone calls and GPS (nope, they only ban people holding their phones while driving, unless they are making an emergency call). One fact should calm all of us down: this has been done already in 15 states. Fifteen. Over the past two weeks, we have covered what the law allows and bans and discussed some devices and advice for using a phone legally. The new law pretty much bans ever holding a phone while driving and makes other acts such as texting completely hands-free. It also completely bans watching or shooting videos behind the wheel. And the adjustments people must make are very similar to those people have made in other states. I cast a net on social media, asking my friends in states with similar laws what they did to adjust. One, who wished to remain unnamed, said the adjustment was simple: use a headset or Bluetooth earpiece. Having these or even earbuds on just one ear is perfectly legal under Georgia’s new law and makes using the phone without holding it much easier. This same friend was in New York when the laws changed and got caught holding his phone. But the officer gave him a warning, plus the threat of a $300 fine the next time it happened again, and he complied. He said that while using the headset was at first an inconvenience, he got used to it quickly and really had no issues once he got a car with a Bluetooth system. Kelli Kitchens moved from Georgia to Maryland, where the hands-free laws are more strict than Georgia’s now. It wasn’t a big deal to her. “I honestly can’t say it was much of an adjustment moving to Maryland. I admit to using my phone a couple of times while driving with no consequences,” Kitchens said in a Facebook message. “A co-worker of mine up there was holding and talking on the phone and stopped at a red light one time. She mentioned an officer pulled up next to her and motioned for her to put the phone down, but didn’t initiate a traffic stop or issue a citation for it.” These are two instances where officers could have ticketed and fined drivers, but chose not to. Enforcement has been a big question among many I have talked to about the law. The supposed “90-day grace period” is something that only the Georgia State Patrol has mentioned. But even GSP has said that they will nab people under the new law, if the circumstances are bad enough or extremely egregious. Each law enforcement agency can choose whether or not they have a grace period, though many likely will go easy at first. Other respondents to my question about laws in other states seemed very nonchalant about the laws’ existence. Technology is good enough now, even on older phones, to be able to obey the rules fairly easily. Tractor trailer drivers have had to comply with similar laws for several years. And even if the stricter law causes people to make major changes in their behavior, it is rightfully so. Traffic crashes and deaths have seen sharp increases in Georgia in the last few years and our insurance premiums are among the highest in the nation. Behavior needs to change. And texting behind the wheel, moving or not, has been illegal for eight years. But people do it now more than ever. Lawmakers needed to make the law against texting and driving, the most dangerous of the behind-the-wheel phone habits, easier to enforce. They now have banned people holding or resting their phones on themselves. Most states with similar laws have seen at least a 15% decrease in annual traffic deaths. If Georgia gets anywhere near that success rate, the changes are worth the culture shock.
  • The July 1st Hands-Free Georgia Act meets Georgians at the intersection of driving and phones. Any changes with either are not just about enforcement, they are culture-shock. As we covered here last week, the amended “Anti-Texting Law” now bans drivers from holding or resting phones while they use them anywhere on their bodies, period.  The law allows people to dial phone numbers and adjust GPS navigation, as long as the phone is in a holder, on the seat, or on the console (again, not on the person). The law allows zero device-touching for texting, adjusting streaming apps, social media, emails, or anything else.  Drivers can do those things completely hands-free or through a car entertainment system in the dashboard.  And the law completely bans watching or shooting videos from behind the wheel of a moving vehicle. This then bears this question: do drivers need to buy anything to use phones more legally behind the wheel? “We don’t want to get into the situation where we’re telling people they have to buy something,” Governor’s Office of Highway Safety Communications Manager Robert Hydrick told the AJC and WSB.  Hydrick said that the law is lenient enough to prevent people from having to buy tools or better vehicles to use their phones, but that does not mean people should simply just obey the new law. Drivers should strive higher to decrease their chances of getting hurt and hurting others.  “You can make phone calls, but what we want people to understand is to limit your phone calls,” he said. Hydrick said that a good rule of thumb is to just try to limit calls to the bare minimum of length, instead of 30-minute, soul-baring therapy sessions. (Okay, I added that last part). For people that compare phone-use to other acts, like talking to a passenger or eating, Hydrick said the difference is that phone calls and texts take much longer than taking a bite and are more mentally distracting. And he said that some studies show that any kind phone use increases chances of death by four times. That and the increasing crashes and insurance premiums recently in Georgia is why this law is getting more strict. To legally and more safely make calls, drivers can start with just putting an earbud in one ear. If drivers use the earbuds that come with their phones, they normally have mics on them that allow for easy hands-free control of calls and other phone functions. Driving with one earbud or a cheap Bluetooth earpiece (as cheap as $7-10) is legal and much more safe than holding a phone or using speakerphone. As for housing the phone, the law says it cannot be on your body at all when in use. While drivers can put the phone in a cup holder, on a console, or on a seat and then use the speaker, trying to reach over and make calls and input addresses into a GPS is very difficult. Having the phone at or near eye-level makes using it much easier and safer.  Walmart (no, they are not sponsoring this article) has phone holders that clip into AC vents for as cheap as five bucks. I personally use one that is similar to what police use, that extends off of a post attached to my console, but that may be over the top for most people. Many stores also carry phone holders that suction to windshields and, contrary to some rumors online, windshield mounts are not illegal in Georgia. If drivers have newer cars, they should learn how to use the in-car options. Most late models are Bluetooth-ready, as are most mobile devices. The newest cars interact nearly seamlessly with phones for calls, texts, streaming, and GPS. Android Auto is even more user-friendly than Apple CarPlay, but both mobile giants have gone to great lengths to innovate in this field. A little time spent in the driveway with a car owner’s manual and the phone could go a long way to improving the commute. Drivers should also explore what options in their phone settings can limit notifications and even calls. Apple’s “Do Not Disturb While Driving” feature under “General” and “Restrictions” in the “Settings” part of the phone allows drivers to choose to allow certain interactions when the phone thinks the vehicle is in motion. Android and Windows phones have a similar “Driving Mode” feature that users can manipulate in the “Settings” section of the app list on the device. Enabling these will help set up some useful guardrails as people adjust to the law. Hydrick said the law is more about changing a mindset. “What we hope to see happen when this law goes into effect is to see people get the phones out of their hands and spend more time driving and less time interacting with their phones.” GOHS has a very helpful site for those with questions on the law: http://www.headsupgeorgia.com/. This is part two in a four-part series on the Hands-Free Georgia Act. Next week, we look at how drivers and law enforcement adapted to similar laws in other states. Doug Turnbull, the PM drive airborne anchor for Triple Team Traffic on News 95-5 FM and AM-750 WSB, is the Gridlock Guy. He also writes a traffic blog and hosts a podcast with Smilin’ Mark McKay on wsbradio.com. Contact him at Doug.Turnbull@coxinc.com.
  • July 1st is a landmark day for transportation safety in Georgia. The highly ballyhooed, awaited and analyzed Hands-Free Georgia Act goes into effect and drivers everywhere are scrambling to figure out just what they can and cannot do. AJC’s David Wickert has a good, concise breakdown on the basics of the law. Very basically, drivers can no longer hold phones and drive. That is the biggest change.  Smilin’ Mark McKay and I recently hosted a two-hour show show on this very subject on News 95.5/AM750 WSB. Listeners packed the phone lines with questions about what they could and couldn’t do and on enforcement. Almost everyone was completely in favor of the law — in fact, plenty thought it does not go far enough. We spoke with state Rep. John Carson, R-Marietta, co-author of this seismic new bill that amended the 2010 anti-texting law. Carson said the initial bill allowed for only one swipe to answer a phone call, but the final product is slightly more lenient. “The biggest misconception is that Georgia drivers will not be able to use their phones,” Carson explained. “What the law says is that you physically cannot hold it or support it.” Drivers soon will be no longer allowed to cradle or hold a phone or other electronic wireless device behind the wheel, unless we are making an emergency call. Georgians cannot use more than one button to answer or use a mobile phone. And they cannot reach for one, if doing so requires undoing a seat belt or standing up. Drivers are allowed to use GPS, voice-to-text features, and can make and receive phone calls hands-free. Single-ear headphones and Bluetooth pieces are acceptable aids for this. If a driver doesn’t have a Bluetooth-capable car or device, using an earbud with a mic on it (like the ones that come with most phones) is a good workaround. The bill also still allows for use of in-car navigation, communication and entertainment systems. The no-brainer part of the bill is straightforward: Along with already-banned texting, drivers can no longer answer emails or other queries, watch videos or record from behind the wheel. Believe it or not, these actions are still legal, technically, until July 1st. But don’t do it! As long as someone is legally parked, they are allowed to do these things. But “legally parked” does not mean at a stoplight or in gridlocked traffic. Also, law enforcement, emergency and utility workers are still allowed to use their phones. One big benefit of the law change may be that enforcing the original anti-texting law will be more enforceable. Now officers can easily see if someone is holding their phone or not, no matter what they are actually doing. But the Georgia State Patrol knows this is a learning process for drivers. “While we intend to issue a great number of written warnings and have a lot of conversations on the benefits of going hands-free, each particular interaction is being left up to the discretion of the trooper,” GSP Capt. Mark Perry said. “If the trooper feels that a citation is warranted for a particular situation (crashes with injuries/fatalities etc.), then a citation will be issued. But by and large, the first few weeks and months will be focused on education about the new law.” Whether state law enforcement agencies go easy or not at first, we all have a duty to keep our hands off of our phones and carefully use them in the situations the law allows. Carson said that 13 of the 15 states that already have similar laws have seen at least a 16 percent decrease in traffic deaths. GDOT says that 1,549 people died on Georgia’s roads in 2017. If we all do our jobs and obey the Hands-Free Georgia Act, that number could decrease by almost 250 per year. Penalties for breaking the law aren’t steep. First-time offenders get one point on their license and a $50 fine. The second offense is two points and $100 and the third is three points and $150. Over the next three weeks leading up to the July 1st start date, we will explore tools to make using phones in the car more hands-free, how drivers in other states with similar laws behave, and what employers will have to do to make their fleet drivers legal. Be sure to check back for that. Doug Turnbull, the PM drive airborne anchor for Triple Team Traffic on News 95-5 FM and AM-750 WSB, is the Gridlock Guy. He also writes a traffic blog and hosts a podcast with Smilin’ Mark McKay on wsbradio.com. Contact him at Doug.Turnbull@coxinc.com
  • Campaign season: where ads drench the airwaves like May weather drenches shirts. Accusations and proclamations fly and snippets of headlines, bills, and quotes quickly frame and cram a candidate’s point into a 30- or 60-second avail. With local races, people (and admittedly this writer) barely know the candidates and the commercials become a main “CliffsNotes” of what the candidate and their opponents believe. Of course, falling hook, line, and sinker for facts in campaign ads is akin to believing the artisanal chef in Taco Bell commercials. This is certainly true with one such claim from Georgia gubernatorial candidate Clay Tippins about Republican primary front-runner Casey Cagle. This is verbatim from a heavy-rotation radio ad: “Casey spent $250,000 of your tax money on private planes to beat the traffic, because Casey’s statewide, billion-dollar-a-year tax increase to fix Atlanta traffic … didn’t fix a thing.” This line has more holes than a tin can in Brian Kemp’s yard. First, does commissioning a private plane for this really make sense? Doing so may be wasteful, but flying to different corners of the state saves far more time than the delays traffic causes. Have you ever heard the saying, “As the crow flies”? And did Cagle really fly over only Atlanta (whose traffic the ad singles out) just to avoid the bad traffic? That’s a very short distance for a plane flight. The ad connects two potential truths — Cagle’s private, taxpayer-funded flights and the bad Atlanta traffic — and makes a likely false axiom. Classic move. The next part of the commercial really sinks low and is dangerous to the notion of an informed populace. The ad claims that the $1 billion transportation funding bill that Cagle championed did nothing to help traffic. This is simply untrue. The 2015 Transportation Funding Act increased gas, electric vehicle, heavy vehicle and hotel taxes to fund mostly a backlog of road maintenance. At the time, GDOT Commissioner Russell McMurry said just that to the AJC. “We may be able to do other projects outside of maintenance … but not like rebuilding 285 or something huge like that.” Actually, I-285 is getting some love. The bill required GDOT to develop not just a plan for routine maintenance, but also a 10-year strategic plan to move Georgia forward. In the fall of 2016, McMurry exclusively shared highlights of this plan with WSB and the AJC. Parts of it include the Express Toll Lanes being added to I-85 up to Hamilton Mill Road and the Transform I-285/GA-400 project. There are longer term plans to build four additional toll lanes around some of I-285, redo the I-285/I-20 interchange in Fulton, add toll lanes to GA-400, widen I-16 and I-75 in central and south Georgia, build new lanes along I-85 up to the South Carolina line, and add more capacity to Spaghetti Junction in DeKalb. These are just the big projects. The plan is comprehensive and makes bolder moves than the voter-rejected 2012 TSPLOST plan. Traffic is getting worse in Atlanta, as the population grows. If the government doesn’t move forward with infrastructure and transit plans and if the private sector doesn’t change its behavior and policies, the jams grow worse, faster. Tippins’ correlating the worsening traffic to Cagle’s failed plan is typical political theater, but incredibly misleading. Infrastructure plans don’t eliminate current traffic; they build for the future growth. And we can’t forget the importance of routine maintenance and how cash-strapped GDOT has been in staying ahead on it. Decreasing fuel revenue has hampered GDOT’s budget, so the 2015 plan was a big shot in the arm. Without enough funding, road-paving, grass-cutting, pothole-filling, bridge-inspecting and the like do not happen on schedule. The roads are in bad enough shape — does defunding their maintenance even more help traffic? Most Georgians, especially Atlantans, agree that traffic is bad and that government should have at least some role in maintaining and building the roads. While there are many disagreements about how to do this, spreading false narratives about efficacy just keep Georgia standing still both literally and figuratively. Fixing our biggest traffic problems starts with making a move, not rebuffing all ideas.
  • If one commutes enough in Atlanta, they’re sure to get in a crash — I’ve been in my share. The feeling of confidence and safety behind the wheel completely vanishes when bumpers connect. Suddenly, involved parties are standing on the side of the road, eyeing damage, dialing phones, waiting, and running late. Happy Monday! Drivers in wrecks, however, can take some steps to improve the commute around them, shorten their wait times, make themselves safer, and ensure they satisfy their insurers. First, Georgia law 40-6-275 explicitly states that any drivers in a wreck on a public road must, “… remove said vehicles from the immediate confines of the roadway into a safe refuge on the shoulder, emergency lane, or median or to a place otherwise removed from the roadway…”. Big exceptions to this include injuries to the licensed driver of the car (though another licensed driver is permitted to safely move it) or if the vehicle is incapacitated. The “Steer and Clear” law is often ignored, but it’s vital. The WSB Traffic Team and I see many minor wrecks stay in travel lanes for far too long, causing big jams on interstates and side roads. Drivers that violate “Steer and Clear” can get a ticket. People do not need to wait for first responders’ arrival to try and move their cars. When calling the police about a wreck, be very explicit about the exact location and the types of vehicles involved. Almost every driver has a smartphone and a mapping app to find their location (might I suggest the WSB Triple Team Traffic Alerts App?). If you’re stuck in travel lanes or another dangerous spot, call the GDOT HERO Units at 511. If police and/or HEROs don’t respond quickly, keep calling. HERO trucks (or the new GDOT CHAMP vehicles in some outlying areas) heighten their response times when traffic is interrupted. And stay in the vehicle — do not get out to take pictures or make calls, until having moved safely out of the road. Also, turn on the hazard lights, to warn passing motorists of the problem. Law enforcement sometimes struggles in responding to non-injury fender-benders, especially those that are not blocking lanes. Crashes right on county or city lines can cause jurisdictional squabbles. Georgia State Patrol handles some agencies’ interstate wrecks, such as Atlanta, Cobb, and Gwinnett — but they often do not on weekends and nights. Add in personnel shortages, and response times can really disappoint sometimes. So know that calling the police is not always imperative in a wreck. State law 40-6-273 does say to call the police immediately when, “… in an accident resulting in injury to or death of any person or property damage to an apparent extent of $500.00 or more …”. If the wreck is more minor than that, law enforcement sources tell the AJC that drivers only must exchange license, insurance, and tag info. This is particularly true if drivers are not trying to claim any piece of the wreck on their insurance. If drivers want to claim a wreck on their insurance, AAA, which helps provide auto, life, and home insurance, has some advice. If those in the crash do not request the police at the scene, the parties should go together to the police department. “This helps the insurance company with its investigation and helps determine who is not at fault in the loss,” AAA spokesman Garrett Townsend told the AJC. Drivers can help their own cause by taking pictures at the crash scene. AAA’s policy is to request a police report for a wreck, but customers should submit their own on a claim, if they have one. Every driver should know what their insurance company requires, so they know how to handle crashes. Drivers knowing and following Georgia law will help traffic move better and keep them safer. Contacting 511 for wrecks on interstates and major highways clears lanes faster. Knowing the law and their respective insurance company’s rules will make the claim process easier. Put these things into practice and crash scenes become safer and less of a hassle than they normally are.

News

  • 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: 
  • On scorching summer days, taking a nice cold bottle of water for your drive seems like a natural fit. But it could lead to startling consequences, firefighters say. >> Read more trending news One Oklahoma fire department and a power company in Idaho recently demonstrated how a partly filled water bottle could magnify the sun’s rays and start a fire. David Richardson, of the Midwest Fire Department in Oklahoma, told KFOR the sunlight “uses the liquid and the clear material to develop a focused beam, and sure enough, it can actually cause a fire.” “The sunlight will come through (the bottle) when it’s filled with liquid and act as a magnifying glass as you would with regular optics,” said Richardson. A test at the fire department, outside a car, showed sunlight going through a water bottle raised the temperature of a piece of paper to 250 degrees, KFOR reported. Representatives from Idaho Power also showed the same potential problem in a Facebook post in July, with a video showing direct sunlight going through a water bottle leaving smoke and burn marks in car seats before the bottle was removed. While the risk of fire is relatively small, officials recommend keeping water bottles out of unattended vehicles, KFOR reported. Read more at KFOR.  
  • 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.