June 21, 2012

By ALICIA A. CALDWELL and JIM KUHNHENN |

Associated Press

 

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama suddenly eased enforcement of the nation’s immigration laws Friday, an extraordinary step offering a chance for hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants to stay in the country and work. Embraced by Hispanics, his action touched off an election-year confrontation with many Republicans.

Mitt Romney, Obama’s GOP election foe, criticized the step but did not say he would try to overturn it if elected.

Obama said the change would become effective immediately to “lift the shadow of deportation from these young people.”

“Let’s be clear: This is not amnesty, this is not immunity, this is not a path to citizenship, this is not a permanent fix,” Obama said from the White House Rose Garden. “This is the right thing to do.”

The administration said the change will affect as many as 800,000 immigrants who have lived in fear of deportation. It bypasses Congress and partially achieves the goals of the “DREAM Act,” legislation that would have provided a pathway to citizenship for young illegal immigrants who went to college or served in the military.

Under the administration plan, illegal immigrants will be able to avoid deportation if they can prove they were brought to the United States before they turned 16 and are younger than 30, have been in the country for at least five continuous years, have no criminal history, graduated from a U.S. high school or earned a GED or served in the military. They also can apply for a work permit that will be good for two years with no limits on how many times it can be renewed.

The move comes in an election year in which the Hispanic vote could be critical in swing states like Colorado, Nevada and Florida. While Obama enjoys support from a majority of Hispanic voters over Republican challenger Romney, Latino enthusiasm for the president has been tempered by the slow economic recovery, his inability to win congressional support for a broad overhaul of immigration laws and by his administration’s aggressive deportation policy.

Some Republicans in Congress — and the governor of Arizona, whose state has been at the center of enforcement controversy — strongly criticized the Obama action. But the response from Romney was more muted.

Romney said Obama’s decision will make finding a long-term solution to the nation's immigration issues more difficult. But he also said the plight of illegal immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children is “an important matter to be considered.”

During the Republican presidential primaries, Romney said he would veto the DREAM Act with its pathway to citizenship.

Obama’s new policy tracks a proposal being drafted by Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, a potential vice presidential running mate for Romney, as an alternative to the DREAM Act, formally the Development, Relief and Education of Alien Minors Act.

Rubio said, “Today’s announcement will be welcome news for many of these kids desperate for an answer.” But, like Romney, he said it was “a short-term answer to a long-term problem,” and he added, “By once again ignoring the Constitution and going around Congress, this short-term policy will make it harder to find a balanced and responsible long-term one.”

The change in enforcement policy, to be carried out by the Department of Homeland Security, comes one week before Obama plans to address the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials’ annual conference in Orlando, Fla. Romney is to speak to the group on Thursday.

Making his case on humanitarian grounds, Obama said, “These are young people who study in our schools, they play in our neighborhoods, they’re friends with our kids, they pledge allegiance to our flag. They are Americans in their heart, in their minds, in every single way but one: on paper.”

The political appeal for many of America’s Hispanics was clear. The president and CEO of the National Council of La Raza, Janet Murguia, said, “When it comes to the Hispanic community, this action is a political plus” for Obama. “It’s always good to be able to point to your track record and move the needle toward a promise that you made.”

In Los Angeles, immigrant students and their supporters rallied at a downtown street to celebrate the announcement, briefly blocking a freeway entrance ramp.

The change drew a swift repudiation from Republican lawmakers, who accused Obama of circumventing Congress in an effort to boost his political standing and of favoring illegal immigrants over unemployed U.S. citizens.

“President Obama and his administration once again have put partisan politics and illegal immigrants ahead of the rule of law and the American people,” Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas, GOP chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said in a statement.

And Rep. Steve King of Iowa, a longtime hardliner on immigration issues, said he planned to file suit to halt the policy.

Still, neither House Speaker John Boehner nor Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell addressed the issue, underscoring the difficulty for Republican leaders as they walk a fine line of trying to appeal to the nation's fastest-growing minority group while not alienating their conservative base.

In Arizona, Gov. Jan Brewer said the change represented a “pre-emptive strike” before an upcoming Supreme Court ruling that could uphold parts of the state’s tough immigration enforcement law. She also said the new policy would muddy the waters for Arizona’s enforcement efforts.

Many Republicans, including Romney, say they want tighter border security measures before they will consider changes in immigration law. Romney opposes offering legal status to illegal immigrants who attend college but has said he would do so for those who serve in the armed forces.

Praise for the new policy was also swift. Members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus applauded the move as long overdue. Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Senate Democrat, called the decision “an historic humanitarian moment” and compared it to the decision two decades ago to give political asylum to Cuban refugees fleeing the communist island. “This is at least a reflection of that moment in history.”

In New York, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said, “Ending deportations of innocent young people who have the potential to drive tomorrow’s economy is long overdue, as are many commonsense reforms needed to center our immigration policy around our economic needs.”

Midway through his remarks, Obama was interrupted by a reporter from a conservative online publication, Neil Munro of the Daily Caller, who shouted, “Why do you favor foreigners over American workers?” Clearly irritated, Obama said that he was explaining the policy, not looking for an argument, and that the change was the “right thing to do for the American people.”

Obama in the past has resisted pressure to use his executive authority to relax deportations in such a broad manner. The administration had been reviewing deportations on a case-by-case basis, and officials said they concluded that by using the same authority they could help a larger swath of immigrants while at the same time helping unclog immigration courts.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said the decision “is well within the framework of our existing laws.”

The Obama administration's deportation policies have come under fire, and Latino leaders have raised the subject in private meetings with the president. In 2011, Immigration and Customs Enforcement deported a record 396,906 people and is expected to deport about 400,000 this year.

A December poll by the Pew Hispanic Center showed that 59 percent of Latinos disapproved of the president's handling of deportations.

The administration announcement comes ahead of an expected Supreme Court decision on Arizona’s tough 2010 immigration law that, among other things, requires police to ask for immigration papers from anyone they stop or arrest and suspect is in the country illegally.

The Obama administration has challenged the law.

Parent Category: ROOT
Category: News

June 21, 2012

By PETE YOST | Associated Press

 

WASHINGTON (AP) — Setting up a potential constitutional confrontation, a Republican-controlled House panel voted Wednesday to cite Attorney General Eric Holder for contempt of Congress, just hours after President Barack Obama invoked executive privilege — for the first time — to withhold documents demanded by the committee.

The party-line vote was 23-17 following hours of caustic debate. The controversy goes next to the full House, where Republican Speaker John Boehner said there would be a vote next week unless there was some resolution in the meantime.

Committee Chairman Darrell Issa of California said that “more than eight months after a subpoena” for the documents — which concern how the Justice Department learned there were problems with an Arizona probe of gun-running into Mexico — Obama’s “untimely assertion” of executive privilege was no reason to delay the contempt vote.

No, it was just political, said Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the committee’s ranking Democrat. He called the vote “an extreme, virtually unprecedented action based on election-year politics rather than fact.”

The last Cabinet member to be cited by a congressional committee for contempt was Attorney General Janet Reno in President Bill Clinton’s administration. That was never brought to a follow-up vote in the full House.

Technically, if the full House approves the Holder contempt citation, there could be a federal criminal case against him, but history strongly suggests the matter won’t get that far.

Whether Congress could force the Justice Department to turn over the documents is a basic question. In the Watergate case, the Supreme Court ordered President Richard Nixon to turn over taped conversations to a criminal prosecutor. But in the Nixon case, the justices also found a constitutional basis for claims of executive privilege, leaving the door open for presidents to cite it in future clashes with Congress.

In the administration’s claim of executive privilege, Deputy Attorney General James Cole said in a letter to Issa, “We regret that we have arrived at this point, after the many steps we have taken to address the committee’s concerns and to accommodate the committee's legitimate oversight interests.”

As the day went on, comments rapidly grew more heated. A Boehner spokesman suggested administration officials had lied earlier or were now “bending the law.” Cummings said Issa “had no interest” in resolving the issue and was trying to pick a fight.

The White House reacted sharply to the committee action. “Instead of creating jobs or strengthening the middle class, congressional Republicans are spending their time on a politically motivated, taxpayer-funded election-year fishing expedition,” Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer said.

Boehner raised another question after the president invoked the privilege.

His press secretary, Brendan Buck, said: “The White House decision to invoke executive privilege implies that White House officials were either involved in the ‘Fast and Furious’ operation or the cover-up that followed. The administration has always insisted that wasn’t the case. Were they lying, or are they now bending the law to hide the truth?”

Democrat Cummings said Issa could have settled the matter with Holder reasonably but has instead resorted to “partisan and inflammatory personal attacks.”

Holder and Issa failed to reach agreement Tuesday in a 20-minute meeting at the Capitol.

During the committee’s year-and-a-half-long investigation, the department has turned over 7,600 documents about the conduct of the Fast and Furious operation. However, because Justice initially told the committee falsely the operation did not use a risky investigative technique known as gun-walking, the panel has turned its attention from the details of the operation and is now seeking documents that would show how the department headquarters responded to the committee's investigation.

In Fast and Furious, agents of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in Arizona abandoned the agency’s usual practice of intercepting all weapons they believed to be illicitly purchased. Instead, the goal of gun-walking was to track such weapons to high-level arms traffickers, who had long eluded prosecution, and to dismantle their networks.

Gun-walking has long been barred by Justice Department policy, but federal agents in Arizona experimented with it in at least two investigations during the George W. Bush administration before Fast and Furious. These experiments came as the department was under widespread criticism that the old policy of arresting every suspected low-level “straw purchaser” was still allowing tens of thousands of guns to reach Mexico. A straw purchaser is an illicit buyer of guns for others.

The agents in Arizona lost track of several hundred weapons in Operation Fast and Furious. Two of the guns that “walked” in the operation were found at the scene of the slaying of U.S. border agent Brian Terry.

Historically, at some point Congress and the president negotiate agreements to settle these disputes, because both sides want to avoid a court battle that could narrow either the reach of executive privilege or Congress’ subpoena power.

Ordinarily, deliberative documents like those Issa is seeking are off-limits to Congress. In Operation Fast and Furious, the Justice Department’s initial incorrect denials are seen as providing justification for the additional demands.

Issa and the House Republican leadership have asked whether the department's initial denial in a Feb. 4, 2011, letter to Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, was part of a broader effort to obstruct a congressional investigation.

The material “pretty clearly demonstrates that there was no intention to mislead, to deceive,” Holder told reporters.

On Wednesday, the slain border agent's parents, Josephine and Kent Terry, said the president’s assertion of executive privilege and Holder’s refusal to fully disclose documents associated with Operation Fast and Furious “compound this tragedy.”

“We are now faced with an administration that seems more concerned with protecting themselves rather than revealing the truth behind Operation Fast and Furious,” Terry’s parents said in a statement.

Parent Category: ROOT
Category: News

June 14, 2012

RANCHO CUCAMONGA, Calif. (AP) — A former police detective who blamed the antidepressant Zoloft for his behavior was found guilty Wednesday of kidnapping and raping a waitress at gunpoint in a brutal attack.

A San Bernardino County jury will now have to determine whether Anthony Nicholas Orban was sane at the time of the attack.

Orban’s attorney argued during trial that his client suffered a psychotic break because he was taking Zoloft and was effectively unconscious when he kidnapped the woman in the Ontario Mills mall parking lot in San Bernardino County.

Prosecutors say the off-duty officer used his service weapon to force the woman to drive to a self-storage lot, where he sexually assaulted her and shoved a gun in her mouth on April 3, 2010. The woman escaped when Orban was distracted by an incoming cellphone call, prosecutors said.

Deputy District Attorney Debbie Ploghaus declined to comment on the verdict, noting the sanity phase of the trial begins Tuesday.

Orban, a 32-year-old who served in the Marines in Iraq, had pleaded not guilty and not guilty by reason of insanity to eight counts, including kidnap and rape. Defense attorney James Blatt said the crux of the case is not the elements of the crime but whether his client was aware of what he was doing.

Blatt said his client had been taking Zoloft for six months, but had gone off the medication and recently restarted it. Orban does not recall the incident, Blatt said.

“This is something that appears to be totally out of character for him,” Blatt said.

If Orban is found to have been sane, he could face a life sentence, Blatt said. If he is found to have been insane, he would be sent to a mental institution for treatment.

The woman, who was 25 at the time of the attack, testified that Orban sexually assaulted her, punched her, choked her, stuck a gun in her mouth and took cellphone photos of her. She told jurors that the attacker did not appear disoriented or unconscious, the San Bernardino Sun reported.

But she also testified that at the end of the attack, he looked at her and asked: “Who are you? How did I get here? Whose car is this?”

A friend of Orban’s, Jeff Jelinek, testified against him. Prosecutors said the former prison guard and Orban had been drinking at the mall and Jelinek was standing next to Orban during the kidnapping and picked him up after the attack.

In a plea deal with prosecutors, Jelinek pleaded no contest last year to being an accessory, false imprisonment and assault.

Parent Category: ROOT
Category: News

Parent Category: ROOT
Category: News

June 14, 2012

By DON THOMPSON | Associated Press

 

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Everything is bigger in Texas, the saying goes, and that is now also true of its prison system.

California used to have the nation’s largest state prison system, topping 173,000 inmates at its peak in 2006. But since a law took effect last year that shifts responsibility for less serious criminals to county jails, the state has reduced its prison population and is no longer the largest in the nation.

California now has fewer than 136,000 state inmates, eclipsed by about 154,000 in Texas. Florida previously was third, according to 2010 figures from the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics, and currently has about 100,000 inmates.

The reduction in California was ordered by federal judges in a decision backed last year by the U.S. Supreme Court. The courts ruled crowded prisons were causing poor care of sick and mentally ill inmates.

The news comes as the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation on Wednesday announced a new round of layoffs because fewer guards and other employees are needed as the inmate population shrinks.

“I believe we’re No. 2,” said Jeffrey Callison, the department’s press secretary.

The population dropped by nearly 25,000 inmates from about 160,000 inmates when the law took effect last fall. The courts ordered the state to reduce the population by about 33,000 inmates in the state's 33 adult prisons by June 2013, though corrections officials now argue they can provide acceptable inmate care without meeting that deadline.

The 33,000 inmate reduction is larger than the entire 2010 prison population in 37 other states.

Parent Category: ROOT
Category: News