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Nebraska deputies will continue to help ICE. Immigration advocates say that's a mistake​

DAKOTA CITY, Neb. — Activists urged a county sheriff Wednesday to drop an agreement to enforce federal immigration laws, saying the agreement stopped immigrants from reporting crimes, made them feel unwelcome and was a waste of local funds.

But Dakota County Sheriff Chris Kleinberg rejected the claims, saying that helping Immigration and Customs Enforcement was a deterrent against lawbreakers in the country illegally coming to his county, and had led to some deportations.

“It’s a tool for me to keep bad people off the streets,” Kleinberg said. “That’s my job. To keep my county safe.”

Two years ago, the sheriff signed a what’s called a 287(g) agreement with ICE to deputize jailers in Dakota County to enforce federal immigration laws.

The Dakota County Sheriff’s Office is the only law enforcement agency in Nebraska or Iowa to have signed the voluntary and politically controversial agreement. Nationally, 89 law enforcement agencies, mostly in the South, have active 287(g) contracts.

When asked why his office was the only one participating in this region, Kleinberg said it was because other sheriffs and police chiefs “don’t want to be dealing with lawsuits from liberal groups that want us to ignore the laws.”

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State ACLU Director Danielle Conrad said the sheriff is right about the likelihood of litigation and said “the unnecessary legal risk” of the “suspect” program is one reason other agencies have dropped out.

On Wednesday, the sheriff and ICE officials conducted a public hearing on the yearly renewal of the 287(g) agreement with Dakota County. Fourteen people attended, and all but one of a half-dozen speakers voiced opposition to continuing the contract.

Jose Miranda — a U.S. Navy veteran, a native of El Salvador and the pastor at St. Paul Methodist Church in South Sioux City — said immigrants have told him they fear that if they report crimes against them, they’ll end up being reported to ICE.

“They’re still God’s people,” Miranda said. “They need to be protected.”

Rose Godinez of the ACLU of Nebraska said deputizing local officers to do ICE’s job takes them away from their primary duty to protect local safety and can lead to racial bias.

Kleinberg said the only time people are asked if they are citizens of another country is when they are booked into jail. However, Godinez said the ACLU fielded a complaint earlier this year about a motorist whose vehicle had broken down being questioned by a sheriff’s deputy about citizenship.

Kleinberg, when asked about the complaint, said the ACLU was unable to provide details about the alleged stop so he could check it out.

“I guarantee you, the 287(g) program isn’t preventing people from reporting crimes to me,” said the sheriff, who called the criticism “all BS talking points.”

Kleinberg and ICE officials said the 287(g) program works this way:

The federal government pays expenses to train local officers to enforce immigration laws. Dakota County opted for a “jail model” and has two jailers trained as “designated immigration officers,” or DIOs.

When a person is booked into the local jail, he or she is asked two questions required by the 1963 Vienna Convention to ensure that those arrested in a foreign country can contact their consulates for assistance: where were you born, and in what country are you a citizen?

If those questions lead to suspicion that someone is in the country illegally, the DIOs fill out paperwork, which is then forwarded to a local ICE supervisor for review.

That ICE supervisor, Tauria Rich, said Dakota County did not opt for another model, in which front-line officers or deputies are trained to enforce immigration laws. Thus, Kleinberg said, his deputies do not ask people reporting crimes about their nationality.

During the past year, Kleinberg said that his jailers referred 77 “encounters” to ICE, with those involved charged with crimes including careless driving, driving under the influence of alcohol, domestic assault and possession of marijuana.

ICE can then issue a detainer to keep those referred in jail until they can face immigration court proceedings.

Dakota County is paid to transport the detainees to other jails, and is paid for up to a week to house them before they are sent to other jails. The county’s only expense during training of DIOs is their salary while in training.

ICE officials did not know how many of the 77 people were ultimately deported, but a year earlier, six people were removed from the country after 25 referrals to ICE.

The ACLU said that its public records requests of the local 287(g) program uncovered instances in which U.S. citizens were screened for their citizenship, leading to concerns that they were selected on the basis of their skin color or accent.

But Kleinberg said the amount of time his jailers have spent doing ICE duties has aided law enforcement in the county.

“It’s gotten these people, as far as I know, out of here,” he said. “Seventy-seven people who will not reoffend in our county.”

Kleinberg was criticized by one speaker at Wednesday’s meeting for a comment he made in an email, discovered via a public records request by the ACLU. In a March 19 email to an ICE official, Kleinberg stated that the South Sioux City school district gets one of the largest amounts of state funding in Nebraska for having more kids “NOT light skinned.”

“What a scam! It breaks my heart thinking about these kids being used as poker chips,” he wrote.

Kleinberg, at the meeting and afterward, said he grew up in an era when taking “welfare” was discouraged and that it was “not good” when a local school has a majority of students who don’t speak English.

At the meeting, he also pledged to hold a public information meeting with a local advocacy group to better explain what the 287(g) program does and doesn’t do. There’s a lot of misinformation, Kleinberg said.

The chairman of the Dakota County Board, Martin Hohenstein of rural Dakota City, said board members voted unanimously to support Kleinberg in joining the 287(g) program.

He said that his county, where about 70% of school kids are minorities, is a welcoming place, despite critics of the ICE agreement.

“If you’re not involved with law enforcement, it has no bearing on you at all,” Hohenstein said.

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After historic period above flood stage, the Missouri River is finally dropping

In the small southeastern Nebraska town of Peru, local officials will be getting a camera-equipped drone out this week.

After nearly nine months above flood stage — a record — the Missouri River this week finally dropped below flood stage east of town.

That is allowing water to drain out of the flood plain and allowing people in Peru and elsewhere along this stretch of the river to examine flood damage in low-lying areas.

Four gauges along this stretch of the Missouri measure river levels — at Plattsmouth, Nebraska City, Brownville and Rulo.

The Brownville and Rulo gauges showed that the river was above flood stage for 272 days this year, according to Dave Pearson, a hydrologist for the National Weather Service. That is more than 100 days longer than the river was above flood stage at those sites during 2011’s historic flooding, his figures show.

Low-lying areas along the river near the Plattsmouth and Nebraska City gauges also were flooded longer this year than they have been dry, according to the weather service.

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Renee Critser, emergency manager for Nemaha County, where Peru is situated, said that with floodwaters receding, officials will be checking for washed out roads and bridges and damage to other infrastructure.

More importantly, though, they want to learn the severity of the three breaches in the levee and whether the river cut a new channel across the flood plain.

Southeastern Nebraska, southwestern Iowa and northwestern Missouri have been dealing with flooding since mid-March. It’s only now, in December with winter setting in, that communities and landowners along the river will be able to fully assess damage. Camera-equipped drones, like the one being used this week in Nemaha County, have become critical to giving officials a look at flood-damaged land that is inaccessible by boat or vehicle.

The water’s drop also will expedite repairs on levee breaches where funding is available.

For the damage assessment to occur in Fremont County, Iowa, farmers and others face hard, messy work. Months of high water mean the floodgates on flood plain drainage tubes are silted shut, said Mike Crecelius, emergency management director in Fremont County.

The mucky silt will need to be scraped away before the gates can be opened to allow water to return to the river.

In southeastern Nebraska and adjacent areas in Iowa and Missouri, the Missouri rose above flood stage on March 13, Pearson said. (Farther north, at Blair, Nebraska, it went above flood stage on March 14, he said.) The river didn’t drop below flood stage until Nov. 24 at Plattsmouth, Sunday at Nebraska City, about midnight Monday at Brownville and Tuesday morning at Rulo, according to the weather service.

Prolonged flooding along the river this year has occurred for two reasons.

First, the so-called bomb cyclone in March sent a torrent of water downstream, smashing levees and inundating fields and communities.

Second, the U.S. is in the midst of its wettest year on record. The bomb cyclone was followed by months of sometimes record or near-record rains in the upper reaches of the Missouri River.

The upper river drains the area above Sioux City, which includes the Dakotas, Montana and parts of Nebraska, Minnesota and Iowa.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which manages the dams, has kept releases high throughout the summer so that it could evacuate the extraordinary amount of water flowing into the northern reservoirs.

On Nov. 23, the corps began to significantly cut back on releases from the upstream dams, which has allowed the river to drop.

Critser, in Nemaha County, said her area has a long and difficult recovery ahead. She and Crecelius said folks already worry about flooding in the spring, given that levees remain weakened or broken and the region is waterlogged.

“Once it starts to thaw in March, there won’t be anything to stop the water from coming back in,” Critser said of the fractured Nemaha County levee.

Photos: Major flooding hit Nebraska and Iowa towns in March 2019

Steve King says House Republicans weren't aggressive enough on impeachment, could have used his help

WASHINGTON — Rep. Steve King of Iowa says House Judiciary Committee Republicans could have used him during this impeachment debate.

After the panel’s first impeachment hearing, for example, King suggested that its GOP members failed to use every procedural lever and argument available to defend President Donald Trump.

“They had all kinds of opportunities to be far more aggressive and make their points,” King told The World-Herald.

A member of the Judiciary Committee himself for many years, King recalled times when he said he used such aggressive approaches to confound the chairman, Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y.

But King hasn’t been able to champion Trump from the dais in these historic proceedings — because House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., stripped him of committee assignments earlier this year.

King’s transgression was a quote in the New York Times in which he seemed to defend white supremacy. King has vehemently insisted that he was misquoted by the paper and that he was attempting to defend “Western civilization” rather than white supremacy, an ideology he says he abhors.

Despite King’s protestations, McCarthy has not relented and allowed King back on to committees.

Randy Feenstra

The situation has helped fuel several Republican primary challenges to King this election cycle, including one from State Sen. Randy Feenstra.

Feenstra has cited King’s loss of committee assignments as a reason voters should ditch the incumbent congressman.

“When President Trump needs him most, Congressman King is unable to help due to his bizarre behavior and his removal from key committees,” Feenstra said in a recent campaign press release. “As the Judiciary Committee continues the sham impeachment process, Iowans are once again left without a seat at the table.”

Dennis Goldford, a political science professor at Drake University, said King lost his committee assignments because Capitol Hill Republicans were embarrassed by his rhetoric.

“He’s a very genial and charming man who says highly inflammatory things,” Goldford said.

King still maintains a significant reservoir of die-hard support in northwest Iowa’s 4th District, Goldford said, but his current status could test that support.

Some constituents who favor conservative Republican policies might start to question whether it’s time to swap King for someone who could more effectively advocate those positions.

“We don’t know how big that particular group is,” Goldford said.

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For his part, King suggested that Feenstra is paying him a compliment by implying that he was an effective member of the committee before his removal and that Feenstra should urge McCarthy to reverse his decision.

“Everybody in the district knows, and even Randy Feenstra’s supporters know, the New York Times misquoted me,” King said. “Nobody in the district should be mad at me for what Kevin McCarthy and the New York Times did. That’s not on me.”

King said a Congressional Research Service report found that he’s only the fourth House member in more than a century to be removed from his committees.

He said the three others were hit with such action only after facing federal felony charges. Two of those cases resulted in convictions and one is still pending.

“What does that say about the McCarthy decision?” King said. “You can be misquoted by the press and we are going to sanction you the same way we sanction a federal felon?”

King suggested that the ongoing impeachment discussion could help pressure McCarthy to reverse course.

“We make progress every time Kevin McCarthy calls out for due process for the president and he forgets that he’s the one that denied due process to me,” King said. “I’m glad he’s defending the president, and I want him to continue to do that. But each time he says that, he makes my argument for me.”

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New Zealand orders more than 1,290 square feet of human skin for badly burned volcano victims

New Zealand has ordered about 1,290 square feet of human skin from the United States to help treat patients severely burned in Monday’s volcanic eruption on White Island, as emergency workers scramble to find at least nine people still missing amid concerns the volcano could erupt again.

There were at least 47 tourists on the island, which is also known by its Maori name, Whakaari, at the time of Monday’s eruption, including nine from the United States. Others were from New Zealand, China, Britain, Germany and Malaysia. At least six people were killed and many others injured.

Speaking to reporters in Auckland on Wednesday, Peter Watson, chief medical officer of the Counties Manukau District Health Board, said that 29 people, many with severe burns, are being treated in New Zealand’s hospitals. At least 22 are so badly burned they still need airway support, he said.

“The nature of the burns suffered is complicated by the gases and chemicals in the eruption,” Watson said. “This has necessitated more rapid treatment of these burns than is the case for thermal-only burns.”

Skin is the largest organ on the human body. Adults typically have around 20 square feet of skin, and some of the victims in New Zealand have burns on as much as 90 percent of their bodies.

Survivors are between the ages of 13 and 72. One Australian citizen would be transferred to Australia, Watson said, adding that other Australians would likely be transferred home in the coming days if they are approved for travel.

Surgeons have been working night and day to treat patients in what John Kenealy, clinical director of surgery and perioperative services at Middlemore Hospital in Auckland, told reporters was a record number of severe burn victims for New Zealand.

“This number of burns at one time is certainly unprecedented in New Zealand, and it’s unprecedented in most countries in the world,” Kenealy said. “These are, fortunately, rare events.”

Kenealy said he expects surgeons to spend around 500 hours total treating victims in the coming weeks and months.

Mark Law, a commercial helicopter pilot who assisted in the rescue of some survivors, told the Guardian this week that survivors were in terrible condition when he helped transfer them off the island.

“A lot of the people could not talk. It was pretty quiet. The only real words were things like, ‘help,’ ” he said. “They were covered in ash and dust. We were picking them up, and skin was coming off in our hands.”

Meanwhile, concerns the volcano is still active have hindered rescue teams’ ability to search for those who are still missing.

“I’ve spoken to many of those involved in the operation, and they are very, very eager to get back there; they want to bring people’s loved ones home,” New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told Reuters on Wednesday.

Graham Leonard, a senior volcanologist at one of New Zealand’s leading research institutes, GNS Science, told reporters in Wellington on Wednesday that there was a high risk the volcano would have erupted on Tuesday, Reuters reported.

“Today there is an even higher risk of an eruption,” he said. “And the parameters are worsening at the moment.”