Trump threatens Turkey with sanctions over detained American pastor

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…As Trump administration says 1,800 US child migrants reunited***

President Donald Trump says the U.S. will hit Turkey with “large sanctions” over a American pastor detained on terror and espionage charges, and he called for the pastor’s immediate release.

Tweeting from aboard Air Force One, Trump said: “The United States will impose large sanctions on Turkey for their long time detainment of Pastor Andrew Brunson, a great Christian, family man and wonderful human being.” Trump said Brunson “is suffering greatly. This innocent man of faith should be released immediately!”

Just hours earlier, Vice President Mike Pence said that if Turkey does not take immediate action to free Brunson, “the United States of America will impose significant sanctions on Turkey.” Pence spoke at the close of a three-day conference in Washington on religious freedom.

Brunson, 50, an evangelical Christian pastor originally from North Carolina, was let out of jail Wednesday, after 1 1/2 years, to serve house arrest because of “health problems,” according to Turkey’s official Anadolu news agency.

“Brunson is an innocent man, there is no credible evidence against him,” Pence said.

Trump has repeatedly demanded Brunson’s release and said on Twitter last week that the pastor’s detention was “a total disgrace.”

If convicted, Brunson faces up to 15 years in prison for “committing crimes on behalf of terror groups without being a member,” references to outlawed Kurdish militants and the network of a U.S-based Muslim cleric blamed for a failed coup attempt. He could receive another 20 years if he is found guilty of espionage.

Brunson strongly denies the charges.

The case has strained ties between NATO allies Turkey and the United States.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has previously linked Brunson’s return to the U.S. to the extradition of cleric Fethullah Gulen, the cleric Turkey’s government holds responsible for the failed July 2016 military coup.

Gulen, who denies orchestrating the coup attempt, lives in Pennsylvania. Turkish requests for his arrest and extradition have not been granted.

At the end of a recent hearing, the court inside a prison complex in western Turkey rejected Brunson’s lawyer’s request that he be freed pending the outcome of the trial. The case was adjourned until Oct. 12.

In the meantime, the Trump administration says it has reunited more than 1,800 migrant children with family members by a court-ordered deadline.

This includes 1,442 children back with their parents in US immigration custody and 378 others released in “appropriate circumstances”, says a court filing.

But more than 700 children are not “eligible” to be reunited, including 431 with parents no longer in the US.

Officials separated more than 2,500 children from undocumented adults.

The government instituted the policy in a “zero tolerance” crackdown on illegal immigration at the border with Mexico earlier this year.

But it was suspended by President Donald Trump last month after a fierce backlash.

Inside the chaotic effort to reunite separated families

Why the US separated children from their parents

What do we know about the children?

The majority of the children were reunified with their parents in US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody, and 378 others were released in “appropriate circumstances”.

This covers those reunited with parents who were already out of government custody, those sent to another relative or family friend, and those who are now over the age of 18.

Of the 711 deemed ineligible, 120 children’s parents had “waived reunification”, the government said on Thursday evening.

Dozens more remain separated because of “adult red flag”, referring to situations in which the child might be at risk.

Why have the families been reunited?

A court order imposed a deadline on the Trump administration to release all children aged between five and 17.

San Diego federal judge Dana Sabraw ruled last month that all the detained minors separated under the policy should be brought back to their families by 26 July.

“By the court deadline this evening we are on track to reunite all eligible parents within ICE custody,” said Chris Meekins of the Department of Health and Human Services on Thursday.

But the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which has sued the government over the policy, said US officials had only met “a self-defined deadline”.

ACLU lawyer Lee Gelernt told reporters: “The government shouldn’t be proud of the work they’re doing in separation. This is a disaster that they created.”

What about the ineligible children?

The court filing says hundreds of children are ineligible to be reunited because their parents have left the country.

The ACLU said it would try to trace the missing parents, but a former acting director of ICE, the agency that rounds up undocumented migrants, said he fears many families will never be reunited.

“There is a very high likelihood that those parents are not going to see their children again,” John Sandweg told CBS News.

How did we get here?

The Trump administration earlier this month reunited more than 100 migrant children under five years old with their parents, though it missed a court-ordered deadline to do so.

It said 57 of these youngsters were back with their families, though 46 others were deemed ineligible because of safety concerns, parental deportations, or other issues.

US President Donald Trump halted the family separations in late June after pictures of locked-up children and audio of them crying in distress triggered uproar.

But the reunions process has proved chaotic, with some children transported to see their parents only to end up back in their shelters after discovering their loved ones were not at the location.

The families were held after entering the US illegally, while others claimed asylum at border crossings, citing violence in their home countries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

The children were being sent to various care facilities across the country while the adults were held in detention centres or prisons.

NBC with additional report from BBC