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Judge Orders Release Of Immigrant Children, Mothers From Detention Centers

By Cindy Carcamo, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

A federal judge has ruled that families held in immigration detention facilities must be released after finding that their detention was in serious violation of an earlier court settlement.

U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee in California ruled that children and their mothers — many among the people fleeing from violence in Central America — no longer can be locked up. Gee found that federal officials had violated an 18-year-old court settlement regarding the detention of migrant children.

Gee blasted federal officials in his ruling, writing that children had been held in substandard conditions at two detention centers in Texas.

“It is astonishing that Defendants have enacted a policy requiring such expensive infrastructure without more evidence to show that it would be complaint with an Agreement that has been in effect for nearly 20 years,” Gee wrote.

The ruling is a major setback for Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, who opened family detention facilities after a significant increase in children and parents at the U.S.-Mexico border — most from Central America crossing the Southwest border — last summer.

It’s unclear whether Immigration and Customs Enforcement will appeal the ruling. The government is detaining 1,700 parents and children at three detention facilities, two in Texas and one in Pennsylvania.

The judge gave Homeland Security officials until August 3 to devise a plan to release mothers and children.

Photo: Otay Detention Center in California. BBC World Service via Flickr

After Uzi Death, Gun Ranges Debate Safest Way To Teach Kids To Shoot

By Cindy Carcamo, Los Angeles Times

TUCSON, Ariz. — The accidental death of an instructor at an Arizona shooting range, killed while teaching a 9-year-old girl to fire a fully automatic Uzi, has touched off a national debate on whether children should be given access to such weapons.

But among those who enjoy and teach the use of firearms, a different question has emerged: What’s the proper way to teach children about guns?

Whether a child should be shooting any sort of gun is a decision for each family to make, said Butch Jensen, an instructor for 10 years at Southeast Regional Park Shooting Range on the outskirts of Tucson. The key, he said, is training. A gun is a tool, and like any tool — be it a circular saw or a kitchen knife — requires proper instruction, he said.

“It was clear that she was a beginner, and you don’t start a beginner in that type of firearm,” said Jensen, who watched a widely circulated video of the fatal lesson. “If you want to learn how to run Indy cars, you don’t start at Indy.”

Charles Vacca, 39, of Lake Havasu City was shot Monday at the Bullets and Burgers outdoor range in White Hills, in northern Arizona, about 60 miles south of Las Vegas.

The video shows the 9-year-old girl, clad in pink shorts with a braid in her hair, lose control of the weapon shortly after Vacca, who stood to her left, showed her how to use it. The fatal shot is not shown. The names of the girl and her parents have not been released. The Arizona Division of Occupational Safety and Health, the state’s workplace safety agency, is investigating. The Mohave County Sheriff’s Office has said it will not file charges.

The range where Jensen works is one of three owned and operated by Pima County Natural Resources, Parks and Recreation Department. The range does not rent firearms and does not allow full automatic fire.

There is no age requirement for shooting at the range, and children seem to visit it most weekends. Children under 16 must be closely supervised by a legal guardian or parent, though those adults need not be certified instructors, Jensen said.

There were no children present Thursday morning at the outdoor, desertlike facility, where marksmen fire toward a large dirt berm. Blake Carrington took aim at a paper target with the black and blue silhouette of a person. Brass bullet casings bounced back behind him. Above him was a sign: “Safety is no accident.”

Carrington, who serves in the Air Force, has taught his 10-year-old daughter to shoot a .22 rifle.

“I personally would never give my child a fully automatic weapon,” he said. “I feel terrible for that little girl having to live with that.”

Carrington said he was torn about whether gun access laws should be stricter for children. “That’s the thing about guns,” he said. “They will do exactly what the human tells them to do. Poor decision making is what gets us.”

Federal law prohibits children under 18 from possessing a firearm. However, there is no federal law preventing children’s access to guns.

Arizona is one of 21 states with no law restricting gun access to children under 18, as long as there is adult supervision, said Lindsey Zwicker, staff attorney with the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

Currently, 28 states and the District of Columbia have laws governing children’s access to firearms. Connecticut passed a law that prohibits children under 16 from handling a machine gun at a shooting range. The law was passed after an 8-year-old Connecticut boy died at a Massachusetts gun expo in 2008 after losing control of the Uzi he was firing.

“When things like this happen, we do draw our attention to the law,” Zwicker said. “People are talking and looking to see where there are weaknesses in the law, and there is discussion on what can be done to prevent this in the future.”

Standing near Carrington at the range Thursday was Tom, a gun enthusiast who worries the fatal accident will provide fodder to gun control activists.

“Anti-gun people will exploit it into mass hysteria about kids and guns,” said Tom, a 66-year-old attorney who didn’t want to give his full name out of concern it could affect his line of work.

Tom, who practiced with an M1 Garand Rifle, said he shoots for sport and to exercise his Second Amendment rights. “I don’t think you should keep kids away from firearms,” he said. “This shouldn’t keep people from taking their kids to the range.”

Still, Tom said he could not fathom why adults allowed the 9-year-old girl to shoot an Uzi. “I don’t know what they were thinking,” he said. “My personal opinion is someone under 15 years of age playing with a submachine weapon is not a good idea.”

Photo: Rob Bixby via Flickr

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Nearly 300 Women, Children Deported From Immigration Detention Centers

By Cindy Carcamo, Los Angeles Times

TUCSON — Nearly 300 Central American women and children have been deported from family detention centers that opened in the wake of a recent influx of people illegally crossing the Southwest border.

As of Wednesday evening, 280 women and children had been deported from the Artesia Family Residential Center in Artesia, N.M. Another 14 had been removed from Karnes County Residential Center in Karnes City, Texas.

Most of them have been repatriated to Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras.

In late July, immigration officials stopped receiving and deporting women and children from the Artesia facility after a chicken pox quarantine. They resumed immigration removal flights to Central America on Aug. 7.

Since then, officials have deported 71 mothers and children from the Artesia center, said Leticia Zamarripa, a spokeswoman with Department of Homeland Security.

Immigration officials halted the intake and removals of detainees at the facility “out of an abundance of caution,” after a resident was diagnosed with chicken pox.

“U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement takes the health, safety, and welfare of those in our care seriously and is committed to ensuring that all ICE detainees receive timely and appropriate medical treatment,” Zamarripa said in a prepared statement.

Since the chicken pox case, healthcare personnel have been clearing residents who have immunity to chicken pox, such as those who have already had the disease, or have been fully immunized through vaccination, she said. The health staff is available around the clock for those detained at the facility.

“Once medically cleared, residents who have a final order of removal and a valid travel document may be repatriated,” Zamarripa said.

Aside from having to contend with a few cases of chicken pox, the facility and other similar centers have been plagued by other difficulties. For instance, the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general report has cited various other problems — inadequate amounts of food, inconsistent temperatures, and unsanitary conditions — at various immigration holding facilities for children.

Also, immigration officials have been accused of not allowing the mothers and children due process as the U.S. speeds up the processing of the thousands of single parents with children who have fled Central America and entered the United States.

Last week, an immigration attorney said his 11-year-old U.S. citizen client was detained at the facility for more than a month. The boy was released Aug. 12, soon after officials realized he was a citizen.

Currently, more than 1,000 women and children remain in the two family detention facilities — 536 in Artesia and 532 in Karnes.

In the last nine months, about 63,000 single parents with at least one child have been apprehended along the Southwest border, mainly in southern Texas. At the same time, about the same numbers of children traveling without a parent have been apprehended along the border.

Most of the migrants are from Central America — mainly Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. Although some have tried to enter the United States illegally, many have given themselves up to Border Patrol officers upon entering the United States. A combination of factors — including escalating gang violence, poverty, and rumors about potential immigration relief — has prompted more people to head north.

The exodus has overwhelmed Homeland Security officials, who have vowed to speed up immigration hearings but have also struggled to house immigrant families and unaccompanied children.

AFP Photo/Stan Honda

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Child’s Detention Despite Citizenship Reveals Immigration Case Woes

By Cindy Carcamo, Los Angeles Times

TUCSON, Ariz. — An 11-year-old boy — one of hundreds who have been shuttled to an immigration detention facility in the middle of the New Mexican desert — was released this week after it was discovered that he is a U.S. citizen, according to the child’s attorney.

The boy spent more than a month at the detention center in Artesia, N.M., before an immigration attorney who happened to be visiting the facility discovered his status last week. The child, whose father is a U.S. citizen, had migrated from Central America with his mother before both were detained.

“I don’t think they asked him the right questions,” said the boy’s attorney, Stephen Manning. “He should never have been there.”

Leticia Zamarripa, a spokeswoman with Department of Homeland Security, described the case as “a complex matter” but said she could not comment on individual immigration cases because of privacy issues.

She did say that if an immigration detainee claims U.S. citizenship, the person could be released from custody while Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials investigate. Ultimately, an immigration judge decides whether a person is eligible to remain in the United States.

The case highlights the difficulties and potential pitfalls federal officials have faced in speeding up the processing of the thousands of single parents with children who have fled Central America and entered the United States through its southern border, said Laura Lichter, an immigration attorney.

Lichter is part of a contingent of lawyers that has been given access to the Artesia facility to provide free legal counsel to the detainees.

“I think the fact that a U.S. citizen was detained and for this long before anyone actually realized that there was even the possibility that they had detained a U.S. citizen shows you just how little respect and attention is being given to people’s cases,” said Lichter, former president of American Immigration Lawyers Association. “What this shows you is that there really is no due process here and that the system is only working in a way to deport people from the country. It is not working to protect people’s claims.”

The boy’s case also reflects what happens when U.S. immigration law collides with the reality of modern, blended families, in which some members may be in the country legally while others are not.

Manning said that according to immigration law, because the boy’s father is a U.S. citizen, his child is too, even though the boy was born abroad.

Once federal authorities were alerted to the boy’s status, Manning said, they acted immediately to release him. His mother also was released, though it’s unclear whether she is eligible for legal relief, Manning said.

Manning was hesitant to release any identifying information on the child — such as the country he had originated from or where he was heading within the United States. He did say, however, that the boy and his mother were on their way to be reunited with family and that the father lives in the United States.

In the last nine months, nearly 63,000 single parents with at least one child have been apprehended along the Southwest border, mainly in southern Texas. At the same time, about the same number of unaccompanied children have been apprehended along the border.

AFP Photo/John Moore

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Johnson Says ‘No Free Pass’ For Children After Border Crossings

By Cindy Carcamo, Los Angeles Times

NOGALES, Ariz. — Moments after Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson took his first tour of a southern Arizona detention facility housing about 900 migrant children in makeshift cages Wednesday, he had a message for Central American parents who are on the brink of sending their children illegally and alone into the United States.

“This journey is a dangerous one, and at the end of it there is no free pass,” he said. “There are no permisos for children, for your children, who come to the United States. The journey from Central America into south Texas is over a thousand miles long. It is hot. It is treacherous and you are placing your child in the hands of a criminal smuggling organization. It is not safe.”

After walking through the facility with Gov. Jan Brewer (R-Ariz.), Johnson reiterated the warning in an attempt to dispel rumors that are contributing to the unprecedented wave of unaccompanied children who are illegally entering the United States through the Rio Grande Valley.

A surge of border crossers, about half of whom are unaccompanied children, has led to what many see as a humanitarian crisis. Faced with such increasing numbers, immigration officials transported some of them to Arizona for further processing, such as the children who are housed in Nogales.

Brewer on Wednesday renewed her criticism of the Obama administration’s handling of the situation.

“This crisis that America is facing with these children, unaccompanied children, is because we have not sent a strong message to these countries that our borders are closed,” she said. “And we need a federal government to step up and secure the borders.”

Although illegal immigration has decreased overall, there has been a jump in the number of children from Central America making the illegal trek without parents or other adult relatives.

Since October, nearly 52,000 unaccompanied children have been caught crossing the border, an increase of more than 90 percent from last year, according to federal officials, who said the number could reach 90,000 this year.

Meanwhile, there is also an influx of single parents from Central America with at least one child.

Although many of these family units and unaccompanied children have said they are escaping crushing poverty and escalating violence fueled by gangs, many have told the Los Angeles Times that they are also coming because of a rumor circulating in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador that there is a new opportunity for a permiso, or pass, that will allow them to stay indefinitely.

“When your child comes here, they are given a notice to appear in a deportation proceeding,” Johnson said in his message to parents.

Johnson again declined to say how many children are actually appearing in immigration court. He also said he couldn’t provide information on the number of single parents with at least one child who have been released and given notices to appear at an immigration office, or whether they were reporting as directed.

Unaccompanied children, though, are often reunited with family members already in the United States while they wait to make their case to stay before an immigration judge. A ruling could take months and even a year.

For now, officials are focusing on processing and housing these children. Plans are underway to house families with children at a federal law enforcement training facility in Artesia, N.M.

In Nogales, about 140 children daily are brought to the facility and about the same number are transferred to the care of the Department of Health and Human Services, which looks to place a child with a parent or family member in the United States, Brewer said. Some of the youths in the facility are pregnant, she said.

“I can tell you that as a mother it breaks your heart to know that they are in the situation that they are in,” Brewer said. “But more than that it breaks your heart that the parents themselves would put their children in harm’s way in the manner of which they have arrived here in.”

AFP Photo/Alex Wong

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Questions Abound On The Surge Of Central American Children Into U.S.

By Cindy Carcamo, Los Angeles Times

TUCSON, Ariz. — As a crush of unaccompanied Central American children illegally enters the United States, politicians and pundits on both sides of the aisle are increasingly weighing in on what should be done to stop the surge.

Shelters established for unaccompanied children are overflowing — news reports have featured photographs of facilities crammed with youngsters. Boys and girls can be seen sleeping on concrete floors, shoulder to shoulder.

Some critics of the Obama administration have asked why the children can’t be returned to their home countries quickly. Legal restrictions, however, make the process complicated. With so much noise and political posturing, misperceptions abound. It’s time to clear the air.

Question: Where are these unaccompanied children coming from?

Answer: It used to be that most of the children who entered the U.S. alone and illegally came from Mexico. That changed in fiscal year 2013 when more Central American children — nearly 21,000 from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras — entered the country illegally. A little more than 17,000 originated from Mexico.

Through May of this federal fiscal year, 34,611 were from Central America and 11,577 from Mexico. In fact, the number of unaccompanied Mexican children has decreased in the last few years.

Q: Why are they coming to the U.S.?

A: Although there has always been crushing poverty in Central America, violence in the region has escalated again in recent years after a period of relative political stability. For example, Honduras has the most murders per capita of any country.

Drug cartels and gangs are at the root of the increased violence. Some of these children are fleeing gang initiations, according to several reports.

But not all the children fleeing the region are arriving in the U.S. They are also looking for refuge in Mexico and other nations, such as Panama, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Belize, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency.

Meanwhile, false rumors are circulating throughout Central America that the U.S. is giving families and children traveling solo permisos — that is, documents to permanently reside in the U.S.

Q: Why can’t these children be deported right away?

A: Under U.S. immigration law, Mexican or Canadian children who enter illegally and alone can be returned immediately. However, children from elsewhere cannot be removed immediately and must first be taken into U.S. custody.

Q: If Central American children can’t be immediately deported, what happens to them?

A: According to immigration law, the Department of Homeland Security can only keep children who aren’t from Mexico or Canada in custody for a maximum of 72 hours.

The children are screened and then must be transferred to the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which places them in temporary shelters. The children then become wards of the federal government. Meanwhile, Office of Refugee Resettlement officials are required to “act in the best interest of the child,” which often means reuniting the child with a parent or relative living in the U.S. Others are placed in foster care.

An estimated 65 percent of the children are placed with a sponsor — usually a family member, according to the Vera Institute of Justice. The federal government has reported that the number may be higher — somewhere between 85 percent to 90 percent, according to Kids in Need of Defense, an advocacy organization that works to find pro bono representation for these children.

Q: Does that mean all these Central American children are allowed to stay indefinitely after they reunite with family?

A: No. From the time an unaccompanied child is taken into immigration custody, he or she is under removal proceedings. The child receives a notice to appear in immigration court, where he or she can ask to stay.

Some who receive these notices seem to be confusing them with the permisos they heard about before making the journey north, further perpetuating a rumor that is helping to drive the surge in immigration.

As with all who appear in immigration court, the children are not provided with government-funded attorneys during their removal hearings.

An immigration judge makes the final determination on whether the child will be deported or allowed to stay.

Q: Is there any sort of immigration relief for these children?

A: Although it’s true that these children are not eligible for President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, some may qualify for asylum or other forms of immigration relief. For example, victims of crime or trafficking might be allowed to stay in the United States.

A report released in March by the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees says that 58 percent of children arriving from Mexico and Central America are eligible for some sort of humanitarian protection under international conventions.

A similar study by the Vera Institute of Justice discovered that about 40 percent were eligible for some form of immigration relief — such as asylum or what’s known as special immigrant juvenile status.

It’s unclear however, how many unaccompanied children are actually given immigration relief in the courts because no statistics are available.

Q: Does that mean some actually have a chance to stay in the U.S. indefinitely?

A: Yes. Some may get the chance to stay and eventually even become lawful permanent residents.

Children with families who manage to find legal representation are more likely to win their cases. The most popular form of immigration relief is the special immigrant juvenile visa. This status is usually given to children who are found to have been abused, neglected or abandoned by one or both parents.

Bryan Johnson, an immigration attorney in New York, said that up to 80 percent of the unaccompanied children who come into his office are eligible for permanent residency in the U.S. — mostly with a special immigrant juvenile visa.

Q: What has been the federal response to the surge?

A: New shelters and processing facilities have been opened, and on Friday the Obama administration announced new measures to detain, process and ultimately deport the growing numbers of Central American children and families illegally entering the country.

Although the administration has executive authority to enforce immigration laws, its hands are essentially tied by current law when it comes to how to handle unaccompanied minors. Ultimately, it’s up to the immigration court system to determine whether unaccompanied Central American children can be removed from the country.

Photo: Tim Brown via Flickr

Albuquerque Police Release One Minute Of Video In Controversial Shooting

By Cindy Carcamo, Los Angeles Times

ALBUQUERQUE, NM — Residents expressed outrage Wednesday that police released less than one minute of video in an hours-long standoff that ended with an officer-involved fatal shooting — the most recent incident in a series of deadly police shootings that have prompted a federal investigation.

A crowd is anticipated to converge on a City Council meeting Thursday night. Many want to know why the footage made public does not show the entire chain of the events that police said led to the shooting.

Police said Armand Martin, 50, came out of his home Sunday afternoon “with a handgun in each hand,” firing shots.

Martin’s wife had called police to report that her husband was threatening her and her children with a gun. Police said Martin had fired shots on the second floor of his home and toward neighbors’ homes and officers. Police responded by firing tear gas in an attempt to move him and prevent further shooting, they said.

Moments later, Martin came out of the house, firing two handguns. One officer shot Martin as he came out firing. Police did not disclose how many times or in what direction Martin was firing.

Martin, an Air Force veteran, had a history of mental illness and had been treated at a Veterans Affairs facility for “significant mental health-related issues,” Deputy Chief Eric Garcia said. An officer trained in crisis intervention was at the scene, police said.

Saturday’s shooting occurred less than four weeks after the Justice Department slammed the Albuquerque Police Department in a scathing report for a rash of what it described as unjustified officer-involved shootings. Since 2010, officers have fatally shot 25 people — four of them since mid-March, including the killing of a homeless man that touched off protests.

The Martin shooting has further exacerbated tensions. On Monday, activists took over the City Council meeting and delivered a symbolic “arrest warrant” for Albuquerque Police Chief Gorden Eden, demanding that he step down.

The next day, residents became increasingly angry when police failed to release the entire video of the Martin shooting. Several officers activated their lapel cameras, but Garcia said officials were sorting through all of the video. It is not clear whether it will be released.

On Tuesday, police released a cell phone video taken by Martin’s son. The clip shows Martin holding a handgun and telling his family to get out of the house. He allegedly went out of control and his wife ended up calling police during a domestic dispute, police said.

A second video clip — taken from the helmet camera of a SWAT officer — shows police approaching Martin as they handcuff his bloodied and lifeless body on the driveway. Police said those actions were part of a national standard on police safety. A phone, bullet casings and two handguns can be seen near the body.

Officer Daniel Hughes, the 12-year veteran who shot Martin, was more than 50 yards away — beyond the resolution of any body-worn cameras that the department has, police said. This was Hughes’ first officer-involved shooting with the department, he said. Hughes is on administrative leave, in keeping with department policy.

Garcia also said some of the officers turned off their lapel cameras to conserve battery power during the long standoff. Others were more concerned with taking cover during the shooting rather than turning on their cameras, Garcia said.

“We did not position any officers directly in front of the house, they were all taking cover behind armored vehicles and distanced from the home during the first volley of shooting by Mr. Martin and the second, when he exited the home shooting with two handguns so you are not going to see any lapel video of the shooting,” police spokeswoman Tasia Martinez said in a written statement.

Lapel camera footage has been a point of contention for the Police Department. Some residents are still upset after officers said they were unable to recover lapel camera footage from an officer who fatally shot Mary Hawkes on April 21 — the first officer-involved deadly shooting after the federal report was issued.

Hawkes, 19, led police on a foot chase and pointed a handgun at the officer, Eden has said. The camera was sent to the manufacturer for forensic analysis, but its status remains unclear.

On Thursday, the council is expected to discuss whether the city should change the way the police chief is selected. One of the recommendations is for the position to become elected instead of being appointed by the mayor.

 

AFP Photo/Scott Olson

Albuquerque Police Again Draw Criticism After Fatal Shooting

By Cindy Carcamo, Los Angeles Times

Less than two weeks after federal officials rebuked the Albuquerque Police Department for a rash of unjustified officer-involved shootings, an officer fatally shot a 19-year-old woman suspected of stealing a vehicle before pointing a gun at police, authorities said.

Mary Hawkes became the first person to be killed by Albuquerque police since the U.S. Justice Department released a scathing report that called for a “systematic change” to address what it said was a long-ingrained culture of deadly force in the Police Department.

The woman was the foster daughter of a retired judge, Danny Hawkes, according to a friend of hers, local news media and the Associated Press. Authorities refused to confirm that late Tuesday but set a news conference for Wednesday morning. Danny Hawkes could not be reached for comment.

Police Chief Gorden Eden Jr. made a televised statement after Monday’s shooting, saying the officer fired after Hawkes led police on a foot chase.

“The suspect stopped, turned and pointed a handgun at close range,” Eden said.

Late Tuesday afternoon, police identified Jeremy Dear as the officer involved. Dear has been with the department since November 2007 and is now on administrative leave.

According to court documents, Mary Hawkes had a criminal record, including shoplifting.

But two of her friends, sisters Isabel and Luchrisa Price, said Hawkes had a good heart. Isabel Price identified her as a foster daughter of the retired judge.

“She cared about people,” Luchrisa Price said. “She would even get food and give it to the homeless. She was a wonderful person.”

Hawkes studied welding at a community college and made whatever money she could selling knives and scissors door-to-door, but eventually became homeless, Luchrisa Price said. Hawkes shoplifted food to give to other homeless people, she said.

The sisters described Hawkes as “a good person.”

Luchrisa Price said she and Hawkes dated for about a year and remained friends after their romance ended. Hawkes’ death hit her hard.

“I was pretty devastated,” she said. “I never thought anything like this would happen to her. I think it’s wrong.”

She wasn’t the only one. Hawkes’ shooting sparked a protest, a candlelight vigil and several Facebook posts in her honor.

On Tuesday, Christy Chavez expressed her anger in a post on the “Albuquerque PD in Crisis” Facebook page.

“I went to the crime scene where Mary was killed by APD yesterday. Her blood still fresh on the wall,” Chavez wrote. “This infuriates me to my core. We should not be living in fear of our civil servants! We also should not be discrediting Mary’s life because she was a ‘suspect, a thug, or a troubled teen.’ Something has got to change!”

Monday’s protest was only the latest in a series of demonstrations — one of which turned violent last month — targeting the Albuquerque Police Department. Since 2010, officers have shot 37 people, 23 of them fatally.

Hawkes is the third person in a little more than a month to be shot to death by Albuquerque police.

The federal recommendations came on the heels of a string of deadly officer-involved shootings, including the March 16 killing of a homeless and mentally ill man, James “Abba” Boyd, who was illegally camping in the Sandia Mountains. Boyd had been acting erratically, according to police, and got into an argument with officers before he was shot.

A video of that shooting surfaced last month, touching off protests and prompting calls for better police training, especially on how to deal with the mentally ill.

Friction between police and parts of the community, especially the poor and homeless, has been brewing for years, experts and community leaders have said.

Mayor Richard J. Berry declined to comment on the Hawkes shooting. However, he had called Boyd’s death a “game changer” and introduced a raft of proposed “sweeping changes” to be implemented by the police chief.

Also, federal officials have said they plan to meet with city leaders, community members and police union officials, among others, to discuss the recommendations and come up with a plan of action.

AFP Photo/Scott Olson

Feds Condemn Use Of Deadly Force By Albuquerque Police

By Cindy Carcamo, Los Angeles Times

Albuquerque police have used deadly force more often than necessary, resulting in a series of unjustified fatal shootings by officers, according to a damning report released Thursday by U.S. Justice Department officials.

Acting Assistant Attorney General Jocelyn Samuels said the Albuquerque Police Department needs a “systematic change” to address a long-ingrained culture of using deadly force.

“This is no longer an acceptable way to proceed,” Samuels said.

Speaking to a crowded room of reporters and community leaders in a televised news conference from Albuquerque, Samuels listed a number of recommended reforms, such as stronger oversight of the department and better police training.

The federal recommendations come on the heels of a string of fatal shootings by officers, including the death March 16 of a homeless and mentally ill man, James “Abba” Boyd, who was illegally camping in the Sandia Mountains. Boyd had been acting erratically and got into a confrontation with officers before he was shot.

A video of the shooting that surfaced last month touched off mass protests and unrest in this desert city of 550,000 residents. The video also has prompted calls for better police training, especially on how to deal with the mentally ill.

Since 2010, Albuquerque police have shot 37 people, 23 of them fatally. The shootings prompted the Justice Department to open its investigation.

Mayor Richard J. Berry had called Boyd’s death a “game changer” and urged the Justice Department to expedite its investigation. He also introduced a raft of proposed “sweeping changes” to be implemented by Albuquerque police Chief Gorden Eden Jr., who has been in his post for about a month.

However, Berry stopped short of saying there was a cultural problem in the agency.

Tension between police and parts of the community has been brewing for years, and Boyd’s death was not just an isolated incident, experts and community leaders have said. A Department of Justice letter to Berry seems to agree with that assessment:

“For too long, Albuquerque officers have faced little scrutiny from their superiors in carrying out this fundamental responsibility. Despite the efforts of many committed individuals, external oversight is broken and has allowed the department to remain unaccountable to the communities it serves. Based on our investigation, we find that the department engages in a pattern or practice of using excessive force during the course of arrests and other detentions in violation of the Fourth Amendment,” the letter states.

Samuels said federal officials planned to meet with city leaders, community members and police union officials, among others, to discuss the recommendations and come up with a plan of action.

“It’s unclear how long that process will take,” Samuels said. “It is one that we are committed to for as long as it takes.”

Photo: OregonDOT via Flickr.com

Arizona Governor Brewer Vetoes Anti-Gay Bill

By Cindy Carcamo, Los Angeles Times

TUCSON, Ariz. — In a victory hailed by gay rights advocates, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed a bill Wednesday that would have bolstered a business owner’s right to refuse service to gays and others on the basis of religion.

The veto, delivered the same day a federal judge struck down a law against same-sex marriage in Texas, came amid an intense national outcry by the gay community, its supporters, business owners and Arizona political leaders.

“Senate Bill 1062 does not address a specific and present concern related to religious liberty in Arizona,” Brewer said in televised remarks from Phoenix. “I have not heard of one example in Arizona where a business owner’s religious liberty has been violated.”

She said she worried that the bill had “the potential to create more problems than it purports to solve.” Cheers from the bill’s opponents, who had gathered outside the Capitol, could be heard as Brewer finished her statement.

Critics had described the bill as anti-gay, unconstitutional and divisive — and potentially harmful to Arizona’s economy and reputation.

Brewer also said the bill’s wording was “too broad.” She echoed concerns from constitutional scholars who had said the law could affect not just gays but others. Would the bill allow, they asked, a merchant to deny service to someone of another religion? Could a merchant cite their religious beliefs and decline to serve an unwed mother?

Proponents of SB 1062 say the bill was misrepresented. They argued that it was not discriminatory but intended to protect religious freedom.

The Center for Arizona Policy, a conservative group that helped craft the bill, called Wednesday “a sad day.”

“SB 1062 passed the Legislature for one reason only: to guarantee that all Arizonans would be free to live and work according to their faith,” Cathi Herrod, the group’s president, said in a statement. “Opponents were desperate to distort this bill rather than debate the merits. Essentially, they succeeded in getting a veto of a bill that does not even exist.”

The bill, approved by the Republican-controlled Legislature last week, was met with immediate and widespread criticism, prompting three Republicans who voted for the measure to reverse course and join a chorus of people calling for a veto.

The Arizona House Republican Caucus released a statement after the veto, saying it respected Brewer’s decision, “especially in light of the concerns brought up over the past week.”

Some foes of the legislation threatened to boycott Arizona if the bill became law, much as some groups boycotted the state after the passage of a tough anti-illegal immigration law in 2010.

That possibility worried executives of some companies and business organizations who also urged Brewer to veto it. Among the companies rising in opposition were Apple, American Airlines, Marriott and Delta Air Lines. The Arizona Super Bowl Host Committee also came out against the bill, saying it would “deal a significant blow” to the state’s economy. Arizona is scheduled to host the 2015 Super Bowl.

Hours before Brewer’s veto message, the Hispanic National Bar Association announced that it would move its 40th annual convention, scheduled for 2015 in Phoenix, to some other location because of SB 1062.

Republican leaders also urged a veto. Among them were former presidential candidate Mitt Romney and Arizona’s U.S. senators, John McCain and Jeff Flake.

Technically, the bill would have expanded the definition of the free exercise of religion, allowing a faithful person to adhere to his or her beliefs in practice. It would have also expanded the definition of “person” to include any business, association and corporation.

Arizona’s bill was similar to proposals in other states, including ones that failed in Kansas and Idaho.

The legislation came on the heels of two cases in which state courts elsewhere sided with gay couples in wedding-related lawsuits.

In New Mexico, the state Supreme Court allowed a gay couple to sue a photographer who refused to photograph their commitment ceremony. In Colorado, a state judge ruled against a baker who had refused to sell a wedding cake to a gay couple.

Even though SB 1062 was vetoed, similar bills may be coming down the pipeline affecting the gay community, said state Rep. Demion Clinco, a Democrat from Tucson.

Clinco, who is the only openly gay representative in the House, said the failed legislation is part of a series of “preemptive bills” in anticipation of same-sex marriage possibly being allowed in Arizona.

The House may vote as early as this week on a bill that would expand the definition of minister to include various officials who may preside at weddings, such as judges and justices of the peace.

HB 2481 would allow them to refuse to officiate at same-sex marriages on “sincerely held religious beliefs.”

“I think it’s just part of this climate of attacks on the LGBTQ community,” Clinco said. “Ultimately it creates opportunities for discrimination under the guise of religion.”

Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr

3 GOP Lawmakers Reverse Support Of Arizona Bill Criticized As Anti-Gay

By Cindy Carcamo, Los Angeles Times

TUCSON, Ariz. — Three Republicans who supported a bill bolstering the rights of business owners to refuse service to gays and others on the basis of religion reversed course Monday and asked the governor to veto the controversial measure.

Republican state Senators Adam Driggs, Steve Pierce and Bob Worsley delivered a letter to Governor Jan Brewer pleading for her to reject SB 1062. The measure is intended to bolster a business owner’s right to refuse service to gays and others if the owner believes doing so violates the practice and observance of his or her religion.

“While our sincere intent in voting for this bill was to create a shield for all citizens’ religious liberties, the bill has instead been mischaracterized by its opponents as a sword for religious intolerance. These allegations are causing our state immeasurable harm,” they wrote. “As Arizona leaders, we feel it is important to loudly proclaim that we strongly condemn discrimination in any form.”

Some foes of the legislation have threatened to boycott Arizona if the bill becomes law.

The three state lawmakers joined Arizona’s two U.S. senators, Republicans John McCain and Jeff Flake, in asking Brewer for a veto.

The governor has until Friday to sign or veto the bill, which the Legislature passed last week. She has said she hasn’t decided what she will do.

Gay rights activists, business groups, a coalition of faith-based leaders and politicians from various political persuasions also have blasted the bill.

Several online petitions against the bill are drawing support, including at least a dozen on Change.org. The most popular, created by Jacqueline Todd of Phoenix, has more than 60,000 signatures, according to a spokesman for Change.org.

Proponents of SB 1062 say the bill is being misrepresented as discriminatory when it is merely intended to protect religious freedom.

“The religious beliefs of all Arizonans must be respected, and this bill does nothing more than affirm that,” said Republican state Sen. Steve Yarbrough, who introduced the measure.

Technically, the bill expands the definition of the free exercise of religion, allowing a faithful person to adhere to his or her beliefs in practice. It also expands the definition of “person” to include any business, association and corporation, among others.

Arizona’s bill is similar to proposals in other states, including ones that failed in Kansas and Idaho. Another is under consideration in Utah.

The legislation comes as support for same-sex marriage is gaining momentum in the courts, and on the heels of two cases in which state courts sided with gay couples in wedding-related lawsuits.

In New Mexico, the state Supreme Court allowed a gay couple to sue a photographer who refused to photograph their commitment ceremony. And in Colorado, a state judge ruled against a baker who had refused to sell a wedding cake to a gay couple.

Photo: sigmaration via Flickr

Gay Rights Activists In Uproar Over Arizona ‘Religious Freedom’ Bill

TUCSON, Ariz. — Say a gay couple in Phoenix walks into a bakery to order their wedding cake. The baker refuses to take their order because of his deeply held religious beliefs. Under a measure that passed the Arizona Legislature this week, the baker would have greater protection to invoke religion to shield himself from a discrimination lawsuit.

The bill, approved by the Republican-controlled Senate on Wednesday and the GOP-led House on Thursday, would bolster a business owner’s right to refuse service to gays and others if the owner believes doing so violates the practice and observance of his or her religion.

The state Senate passed it on a straight party-line vote, 17 to 13. The House followed suit, 33 to 27, with two Republicans joining all the Democrats in opposition.

GOP Governor Jan Brewer’s office said she would not take a position until she’d had a chance to review the measure.

Proponents contend the bill is about protecting religious freedom, rights that “must be respected,” said Republican Sen. Steve Yarbrough, who introduced the measure.

Republican Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, a House sponsor, said there had been an “onslaught of attacks on religious freedoms.” The bill, he said, “is trying to protect those freedoms.”

But opponents, including Democratic lawmakers and gay activist groups, describe the bill as unconstitutional, discriminatory and divisive.

It would “permit discrimination under the guise of religious freedom,” said Sen. Ana Tovar, a Democratic leader.

Democrat Chad Campbell of Phoenix, the House minority leader, tweeted after the bill passed: “The world is upset with how Russia has treated gay rights. … I think it’s time for that same anger to be directed towards AZ.”

Arizona’s legislation is similar to proposals in other states, including ones that failed in Kansas and Idaho. Another is under consideration in Utah.

Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, is confident that courts would strike down the measure if it became law.

“The Arizona Senate bill is blatantly unconstitutional,” Minter said. “It violates the requirement of equal protection of the laws by openly singling out a particular group of people and saying it’s OK to discriminate against them.”

Tovar said such a law could elicit boycotts.

“With the express consent of Republicans in this Legislature, many Arizonans will find themselves members of a separate and unequal class under this law because of their sexual orientation,” Tovar said. “This bill may also open the door to discriminate based on race, familial status, religion, sex, national origin, age or disability.”

Yarbrough accused the opposition of distorting his bill.

“The religious beliefs of all Arizonans must be respected, and this bill does nothing more than affirm that,” Yarbrough said in a prepared statement. “Those that oppose this bill oppose our diverse society and do not have tolerance for their fellow neighbors with deeply held religious beliefs.”

Technically, the bill expands the definition of the free exercise of religion, allowing a faithful person to adhere to his or her beliefs in practice. It also expands the definition of “person” to include entities such as businesses, associations and corporations.

Yarbrough disputed claims that the bill would legitimize discrimination.

“The protections in law today against discrimination will still be in place and enforced if SB 1062 becomes law, and SB 1062 does nothing to change that,” he said.

His assertions failed to mollify the opposition, however.

“Once again Arizona’s Legislature is on the wrong side of history,” said Alessandra Soler, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona. Gays and lesbians “own homes, run businesses and pay taxes just like everyone else, but under the guise of religious freedom they are now being vilified by Arizona lawmakers.” The bill, she said in an email, allows “individuals and businesses to use religion to discriminate, sending a message that Arizona is intolerant and unwelcoming.”

The legislation comes as support for same-sex marriage is gaining momentum in the courts, and on the heels of two cases in which state courts sided with gay couples in wedding-related lawsuits.

New Mexico’s Supreme Court allowed a gay couple to sue a photographer who refused to photograph their commitment ceremony. And a Colorado judge ruled against a baker who refused to sell a gay couple a cake for their wedding reception.

Photo: Jan Brewer via Flickr