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A Clinton-Castro Ticket Gets Put To An Early Test In Iowa

By Kate Linthicum, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

OTTUMWA, Iowa — Julian Castro, a rising star in the Democratic Party, was stumping for Hillary Clinton in southeastern Iowa on Sunday when a union leader extended a hand and a question in Spanish.

“I heard Clinton might pick you for vice president,” said Jose Pulido, who represents workers at a hog slaughterhouse that has helped draw thousands of Latinos to this small city straddling the icy Des Moines River.

Castro flashed a toothy smile. “Quien sabes,” he answered, shaking his head. Who knows?

As the secretary of Housing and Urban Development and former mayor of San Antonio, Castro’s ethnic roots, up-from-the-bootstraps story and quick ascent in politics have earned him comparisons to President Barack Obama. He is frequently mentioned as a possible vice presidential pick for Clinton, should she prevail as her party’s nominee.

In something of a test of Castro’s campaigning abilities, he barnstormed Iowa in the final days leading up to the state’s Feb. 1 caucus. He visited several small cities with growing Latino populations and warned voters about the dire consequences of a Clinton loss and the possible return of the White House to Republican control.

“We absolutely can’t afford to hand over the presidency to the Republican Party,” Castro told a crowd in Fairfield, his second stop of the day. “Can you imagine what would happen if you have Speaker (Paul) Ryan, Senate Majority Leader (Mitch) McConnell and President Trump?”

“We’ve seen what they’ve done when they’ve had that kind of power,” he added, hinting at the kind of attack-dog sensibility that presidential candidates often rely on in a running mate.

In recent months, several leading Latino leaders, including former Housing Secretary Henry Cisneros, have called on Clinton to add Castro to her hypothetical ticket. The national Hispanic Chamber of Commerce issued a formal endorsement of Castro for vice president Saturday, even though it hasn’t yet endorsed a candidate for president.

Pollsters and pundits agree that any presidential ticket could benefit from a qualified Latino to help win votes from the nation’s fastest-growing demographic. And at 41, Castro would provide a generational contrast to 68-year-old Clinton.

Here in Iowa, a rapidly expanding Latino electorate mirrors the United States as a whole, where a record 27.3 million Latinos will be eligible to vote this year. The state’s Latino population grew 110 percent between 2000 and 2014, and Latinos constitute 10 percent or more of eligible voters in 11 of the 99 counties here.

The rise of Latinos in U.S. society is also reflected in Castro’s story, which he repeated often in Iowa.

Castro and his identical twin brother, Joaquin, were raised in San Antonio by their Chicana activist mother and Mexican immigrant grandmother. They graduated together from Stanford University and Harvard Law School before launching parallel political careers.

Joaquin was elected to the Texas Legislature and is now a Democratic member of Congress representing part of San Antonio.

Julian, who was born one minute earlier and jokes that he is older — and wiser — than his brother, was elected at age 26 to the San Antonio City Council, becoming its youngest-ever member. He went on to win three terms as mayor, where a key initiative was the passage of a sales tax increase to help pay for an expansion of prekindergarten, part of a wave of similar proposals among Democrats around the country in recent years.

In 2014, Obama offered Castro a position in his Cabinet. Castro’s short tenure as Housing secretary will end when Obama leaves office in a year.

Castro says he decided to endorse Clinton in part because she “has the deepest ties and the longest track record of working for the Latino community,” citing her work registering Latino voters in south Texas in the 1970s.

Clinton has said she would “look hard” at Castro for any position in her campaign or administration. Other names floated as possible Clinton vice presidential picks include Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker. Both campaigned in Iowa for Clinton over the weekend as well.

For his part, Castro has become practiced at ducking questions about the vice presidency, saying he is focused on winning her the nomination.

And a lot of work lies ahead. While Clinton won a coveted endorsement from the Des Moines Register on Saturday, polls show Sen. Bernie Sanders slightly ahead in what is shaping up as a closely fought battle in this state.

©2016 Los Angeles Times. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton waves with U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro at her side during a “Latinos for Hillary” rally in San Antonio, Texas October 15, 2015. Castro endorsed Clinton’s campaign for president.   REUTERS/Darren Abate

 

Latino Vote Is Bigger And Better Educated Than Ever Before, A New Report Finds

By Kate Linthicum, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

The Latino electorate is bigger and better educated than ever before, according to a new report by Pew Research Center.

It’s also young. Adults age 18-35 make up nearly half of the record 27.3 million Latinos eligible to vote in this year’s presidential election, the report found.

But although the number of Latinos eligible to vote is surging — 40 percent higher than it was just eight years ago — and education levels are rising, the percentage likely to actually cast ballots in November continues to lag behind other major racial and ethnic groups, the report found.

That’s partly because young people don’t vote as consistently as older people do, but also because Latino eligible voters are heavily concentrated in states — including California, Texas and New York — that are not prime election battlegrounds.

The report analyzing the Latino electorate sheds new light on an increasingly important voting bloc that both Republicans and Democrats hope to capture as the overall pool of eligible voters becomes less white.

In 1986, 82 percent of Americans eligible to vote were white. The percentage has declined steadily and hit 70 percent by 2014. Over the same period, the share of eligible voters who are Latino has risen from 5 percent to 11.4 percent, the report noted.

The share of blacks among eligible voters increased from 11 percent to 12.1 percent during that time. The Asian share increased from 1.4 percent in 1990 to 4.2 percent in 2014.

The explosive growth of the Latino electorate is largely driven by young people born in the U.S. Between 2012 and November of this year, about 3.2 million U.S.-citizen Latinos will have turned 18 and become eligible to vote, according to the report’s projections.

Millennials — adults born in 1981 or later — will account for 44 percent of the Latino electorate by November, according to the report. By comparison, millennials will make up only 27 percent of the white electorate, the report found.

The number of Latino potential voters is also being driven by immigrants who are in the U.S. legally and decide to become U.S. citizens. Between 2012 and 2016, some 1.2 million will have done so, according to the report.

Although most new voters are not immigrants, a majority of Latino voters have a direct connection to the immigrant experience, the report noted. That’s an important fact in an election cycle that has been dominated by debates over what do with the estimated 11 million immigrants who entered the U.S. without authorization.

By November, 56 percent of the Latino electorate will be made up of immigrants or the U.S.-born children of immigrants, here with authorization or without. That’s up from 51 percent in 2000, according to the report.

As native-born young people make up a greater share of the Latino population, those eligible to vote in November will have higher levels of education than in any recent presidential election year, the report found. Compared to 2000, eligible Latinos will be nearly twice as likely to have at least some college education.

Rising education levels typically would lead to greater turnout, but other factors of youth and geography have held turnout down, the report found.

Fifty-two percent of the nation’s voting-eligible Latinos live in California, Texas or New York, states that don’t have early primary elections and have not been up for grabs in presidential elections for many years.

“Many Hispanics live in states that haven’t necessarily been battlegrounds,” said Mark Lopez, the director of Hispanic research at Pew. “That means these Hispanics, whether they’re older or younger, just aren’t going to be targeted by voter outreach efforts in the ways they would if they lived in more competitive places.”

Latinos make up fewer than 5 percent of eligible voters in just about every state with close elections.

The exceptions are Florida, Nevada and Colorado, the report found. In each of those states, Latinos make up more than 14 percent of eligible voters. That’s why presidential campaigns on both sides of the political spectrum have been targeting their Latino outreach efforts there.

©2016 Los Angeles Times. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Rosalia Garcia de Flores, center, listens during a press conference for a new campaign to register Latino voters in mixed-status families at the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles Pacoima Office on Jul 1, 2015 in Pacoima, Calif. The number of Latinos eligible to vote in this year’s presidential election is 40% higher than it was just eight years ago, according to a research by Pew Research Center. (Katie Falkenberg/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

 

The ‘Dreamers’: They Anger The GOP And Power Democratic Campaigns

By Kate Linthicum, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

LOS ANGELES — When he’s not at school, 18-year-old Pedro Duran often can be found dialing voters from the threadbare Las Vegas campaign headquarters of presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.

Or he might be handing out Sanders buttons at a nearby Latino grocery store, or promoting Sanders to members of his extended family.

An Ecuadorian who was brought to the U.S. illegally as a child, Duran isn’t eligible to vote in Nevada’s Democratic caucuses next month. But that hasn’t stopped him from doing everything he can to support his favored candidate.

“I’m kind of fighting the fact that I’m excluded,” said Duran, who believes Sanders will do the most to protect immigrants like him from deportation. “I have to be a part of this.”

Immigrants lacking legal status are increasingly involved in this year’s presidential race, working as volunteers, campaign advisers and, in some cases, as paid staffers for Sanders and his Democratic rivals, Hillary Clinton and Martin O’Malley.

While illegal immigration has stirred anger on the Republican side, with GOP front-runner Donald Trump calling for mass deportations, Democrats are leaning the other way, with all three candidates pledging to do more than President Barack Obama has done to curb deportations.

Sanders and Clinton have assigned key Latino outreach efforts to young “Dreamer” activists who were brought to the country illegally as children. Clinton’s campaign has organized teams of mothers in the country illegally to operate phone banks on her behalf.

O’Malley has touted endorsements from immigrants in the country illegally in important primary states such as Iowa. He has met frequently with such immigrants on the campaign trail and recently held a defiant rally outside a jail operated by Sheriff Joe Arpaio, an immigration hard-liner in Arizona.

Political analysts say Democrats have embraced immigrants and their cause because they are seen as a key to the Latino vote, a growing and increasingly crucial demographic in presidential elections.

The immigrant rights movement, with young Dreamers leading the charge, has won several victories in recent years, even as Republicans in Congress and the courts have blocked legalization efforts.

“What other social movement within the Latino community has been as smart and influential?” asked Marisa Abrajano, a political scientist at the University of California, San Diego. “They’re tapping into this pre-existing movement. It’s very smart and strategic.”

O’Malley’s team consulted with day laborers, farm workers and other immigrants in the country illegally while drafting his immigration plan.

It calls for an end to a program that stations immigration agents in local jails, and for immigrants fleeing gang violence in Central America to be granted a designation known as Temporary Protected Status and allowed to stay.

“At every stage of the process, undocumented voices have literally written our platform,” said O’Malley adviser Gabriela Domenzain.

Clinton’s immigration stance was similarly shaped by a May roundtable discussion at a Las Vegas high school in which she hosted several young immigrants in the country without authorization.

Shortly after, Clinton put her Latino program in the hands of Lorella Praeli, a leading Dreamer activist who at one time lacked legal status but who recently obtained citizenship through marriage.

Cheska Perez, 18, said she started knocking on doors for Clinton last summer after several Republican candidates for president vowed to end Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which protects more than 600,000 immigrants brought to the U.S. as children from deportation.

Obama created the program in 2012 after considerable pressure from immigrant activists, who used sit-ins and street protests to persuade the president to act on his own when a proposed overhaul of immigration law died in Congress.

An immigrant from the Philippines who has deferred action status, Perez spends most afternoons canvassing for Clinton in the largely Latino neighborhoods of East Las Vegas.

“I may not have a vote, but I have a voice,” she said.

For immigrants, having a say in presidential politics is seen as critically important.

“I don’t have the luxury of doing nothing,” said Astrid Silva, a Mexican-born activist who introduced Sanders at a recent Las Vegas immigration forum, although she has not yet endorsed a candidate.

“My dad has a deportation order against him,” she said. “If I don’t do something, my family will be separated.”

Some immigrant activists say they are watching the presidential process warily, pointing out that Obama also pledged to pass immigration reform, but later was stymied by congressional opposition.

“Every four years, we get these candidates with their pretty immigration plans that are going to make my life easier, and every four years, we get disappointed,” said Kenia Calderon, an activist in Iowa.

After asking questions of all three Democrats at campaign forums, Calderon decided to endorse O’Malley, who she said has the best record on immigration issues, as well as the best proposals.

Others say that after years of watching politicians decide their fate, they have come to recognize that politics is the only way to bring change.

“We’ve been Americanized,” said Gaby Pacheco, an immigrant who grew up in Miami and is now director of the Bridge Project, which seeks to bring Republicans and Democrats together to pass immigration policy.

“We learned American history,” Pacheco said. “We know that the only way we can make change happen is by being diligent and vigilant in this process, and not just sitting at home.”

©2016 Los Angeles Times. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Pedro Duran, a volunteer for Bernie Sanders. Kate Linthicum via Twitter

Fleeing Syria: A Family Is Lucky To Be In California, But Life Is Far From Easy

By Kate Linthicum, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

LOS ANGELES — Just after sundown, a woman peeks into Room 209.

Fouad Wawieh and his family appraise her warily. The woman, a resident of this one-star motel on Pomona’s rough north side, gestures sloppily for a cigarette. Fouad, who has been chain-smoking Egyptian cigarettes while chopping cucumbers for a salad, walks over and offers her one. His wife, who is preparing beef, rolls her eyes.

Safaa doesn’t like this woman, who looks strung out on drugs. She doesn’t like this kitchenette either, with gas burners so weak it takes hours to prepare a traditional Syrian stew.

This is the family’s third week living in two cramped rooms at the American Inn & Suites, and their third week in America. Refugees from Syria who fled a comfortable life in the suburbs of Damascus, they’re trying to make sense of this strange first chapter of their new life.

Compared with many other Syrians, Fouad and Safaa are lucky. They lost all their possessions and dozens of friends and family members in Syria’s bloody civil war, but they managed to escape unharmed to Egypt with their six children.

They did not join the hundreds of thousands of their displaced countrymen walking through Macedonia, Serbia and Hungary, dodging land mines, tear gas and water cannons on their way to uncertain asylum in Europe. They did not fall from a capsized fishing boat and drown in the Mediterranean Sea.

Instead, fortune struck: In Cairo, the Wawieh clan was selected at random by the United Nations to be resettled in the United States, which accepts tens of thousands of refugees from around the world each year. They ended up in Pomona because a friend of a friend was living there.

But lucky isn’t the same as easy.

After bloody terror attacks in Paris, anti-refugee sentiment has spread across the U.S., with members of Congress calling for drastic new controls on the admittance of Syrian refugees. More than half of the nation’s governors have said they will refuse to allow Syrian refugees to settle in their states, citing concerns over security.

Knowing that makes Fouad weary. But he and his family have more immediate concerns, like trying to coax their tongues around an ungainly new language and searching for jobs and a permanent home. Safaa, a wry woman whose light hazel eyes contrast strikingly with her black hijab, refuses to let the hotel staff clean the rooms, preferring to make the beds and scrub the floors herself.

When they arrived in the U.S., a nonprofit contracted by the government paid their first month’s rent at the motel and issued them checks amounting to a little more than $1,000 for each family member.

The agency will help them for 90 days, then they’re on their own.

Before coming to America, Fouad and his family were vetted for 18 months by officials at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo. Along with the security screenings, medical tests and interviews, they were required to take a cultural orientation class.

In one exercise, they were asked to write their names on a piece of paper using their right hand. Then they were asked to try again, this time holding the pen with their left.

That’s how life is going to be in the U.S., the teacher explained. It won’t be under your control.

One day soon after arriving, Fouad catches a ride from the motel to a modest brown stucco house with a “for rent” sign out front. A gregarious man with thinning black hair, Fouad hops out of the car and swaggers confidently to meet the owner.

The man looks up and shakes his head.

“I had three applications, and you know what, I already accepted one,” he says.

Fouad nods. Rejected again. He doesn’t blame the landlord for not wanting a tenant with no job and no credit.

On the ride back to the American Inn, Fouad shakes off the disappointment by cracking jokes. It’s the same thing he does when he and his wife go grocery shopping and struggle to locate even a bag of sugar.

“It’s the only strategy I have,” he says. “You have to realize you’re just a newborn here, and try to learn the fundamentals.”

Life was so much better back in Syria, before President Bashar Assad’s violent suppression of anti-government protests plunged the country into civil war.

Fouad was a successful sheep rancher in Douma, a wealthy suburb north of Damascus, and lived in an apartment building owned by his parents, who occupied the bottom floor. He never left without stopping to give his mother a kiss.

They had a country house too, with a rose garden and a pool where he taught his children how to swim. It was all destroyed by Assad’s rockets.

These days, Fouad sits with his family beside the dingy motel pool, scrolling through photos of home on his smartphone as palm trees rustle in the hot Santa Ana winds. He hits record and films his sons cannonballing into the water.

Then he sends the video to relatives living in Turkey, Belgium, Saudi Arabia and other distant points of the growing Syrian diaspora.

He despised the police state. Growing up under the strict rule of Assad’s father, Hafez, Fouad was warned from a young age that “even the walls have ears.”

But he preferred playing cards to talking politics. So when the Arab Spring came to Douma, he kept his head down and focused on his business.

His oldest son was different. Thin, with his father’s strong nose and pouty lips, Omar was 15 and eager to test limits.

When demonstrators filled the streets, calling for Assad’s ouster, Omar joined them. Security forces sometimes beat him black and blue. When other protesters began disappearing, his mother took to locking him inside their home after Friday prayers, when most of the rallies were held.

Safaa had just given birth to Massa, her sixth child.

“I don’t want troubles,” she said.

By then the city was under siege. Barrel bombs screamed from the sky, converting entire residential blocks into smoking piles of rubble. After the explosions, shell-shocked survivors would wander through the dust, calling out to God as they stepped over bodies.

One day a warhead hit the Wawieh house. Miraculously, everybody survived. But it was a sign that they had to leave.

Fouad made the fateful decision in 2013. They were living in a small house with two other families, sleeping in shifts because there wasn’t enough space on the floor. He worried that his eldest daughters were on the verge of nervous breakdowns.

He handed over most of his money to a smuggler. They left the remains of Syria one morning before the sun rose.

In Cairo, where they settled with the help of an Egyptian nonprofit, Omar went to work with his father and younger brother and soon found himself in the throes of another teenage fixation: love.

She also was a Syrian refugee, with powder-white skin and radiant dark eyes. As is custom, they spent time together in the company of friends, walking Cairo’s crowded streets and shopping malls. She was so devastated when he left for the U.S. that she refused to see him off.

He dreams of bringing her to the U.S. But for the time being, their relationship unfolds only on WhatsApp.

“My Love.” That’s how her name is saved in his phone.

Omar doesn’t know much English beyond that phrase, which makes finding work hard. His younger brother and sisters, enrolled at public schools in nearby Claremont, are picking up the language quickly — learning important words like “iPad,” “Halloween” and “pizza.”

The afternoon call to prayer rings out and the worshippers bow en masse, touching their foreheads to the plush green carpet.

The imam at the Islamic Center of Claremont is talking about Islamophobia: bigotry directed against Muslims. “We are not inferior,” Mohamad Nasser tells the hundreds gathered here for Friday prayers, the women separated from the men by thick gold curtains. “We are the best thing that happened to America.”

After the Paris attacks, some of Fouad’s friends in Europe have been heckled in the street. But he doesn’t worry much about racism or religious intolerance in the U.S. “If they didn’t want us, they wouldn’t have brought us,” he says.

The mosque and its parishioners from far-flung countries including Afghanistan, Sudan and Malaysia are a source of comfort for the Wawieh family. A Filipino family donates a used Trail Blazer. A Pakistani man offers Omar an internship at his computer repair shop.

Mahmoud Tarifi, who grew up in Lebanon, takes turns with his wife ferrying Fouad to appointments and the children to school.

One day he gets a tip that a Palestinian-American building contractor is looking for workers. So he drives Fouad and Mustafa Kanjon, another Syrian refugee looking for a job, out to a new condo project the man is building in Fontana.

The contractor, Shareef Awad, takes an immediate liking to Kanjon, who worked as a carpenter in Syria and in Jordan, where he fled with his family when the war broke out.

Awad explains that he too arrived in the U.S. penniless and offers Kanjon an entry-level job as a laborer. He vows to help him move up at the company and eventually get his own contractor’s license and his own big pickup truck.

Fouad tells Kanjon he’s lucky. “I’d take any job,” he says, gesturing to the street. “I’d lay asphalt.”

Fouad tries to stay positive for his wife and children’s sake, but all this uncertainty tests his pride and patience. In Syria, he could buy his children whatever they desired: clothes, computers, karate lessons. Now they’re surviving only by the kindness of strangers.

One night, he winds up in the emergency room with a crippling headache. The pain could be because of stress, he acknowledges, but he says the reading glasses he bought at the Dollar Store are more likely to blame.

The family marks its first month in the U.S. without finding a permanent home. After some pleading, the resettlement agency agrees to pay for them to stay another month at the American Inn. They are starting to resemble the other long-term residents at the $65-a-night motel, the ones with posters hung on their walls and trinkets displayed on their windowsills.

And then, one day, some good news arrives. It’s an invitation from Mountain View Elementary School, where 9-year-old Maram and 12-year-old Omran are enrolled. Can the family attend an upcoming assembly?

Fouad and his wife take their seats in the school’s crowded lunchroom along with Omar, Fara and Massa. There is excitement in the air as the principal reads the names of several youngsters being honored with “courage awards,” given to those who have demonstrated bravery.

Maram’s name is called. So is Omran’s. The Wawieh family erupts in whistles.

A couple of weeks later, Fouad signs his name to a rental contract and accepts keys to a freshly painted three-bedroom apartment in Pomona a few blocks from the motel. He celebrates with a cigarette — he smokes Marlboros now.

He and his family roam room to room inspecting their new home, trying out lights and bathroom faucets and the garbage disposal.

Outside, a truck packed with donated furniture waits to be unloaded.

The first thing his wife carries in is a small pot of bright yellow mums.

©2015 Los Angeles Times. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: After receiving an award for courage in her third grade class, Maram Wawieh, 9, looks up at Mountain View Elementary school principal Natalie Taylor, left, during a school assembly on Oct. 26, 2015 in Claremont, Calif. Her brother, Omran, 12, (not pictured) also received the award for his 6th grade class. (Katie Falkenberg/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

 

Never Eligible To Vote, Young Immigrant Plays Key Role In Clinton Campaign

By Kate Linthicum, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

NEW YORK – Lorella Praeli has one of the most important jobs on Hillary Rodham Clinton’s presidential campaign – even though she’s never voted in an election.

As Latino outreach director, Praeli spends her days at Clinton’s headquarters in Brooklyn poring over polling data, winning endorsements from Latino leaders and fine-tuning the campaign’s messages to reach the nation’s fastest-growing bloc of voters.

A Peruvian immigrant who lived in the U.S. without legal status until three years ago, when she obtained a green card through marriage, Praeli hopes to obtain citizenship in time to vote in the election that she is helping shape.

That the campaign hired her speaks to the growing influence of the immigrant youth movement she helped lead as well as the distinct demographics of Latino voters.

The median age of Latinos in the U.S. is 27 – just like Praeli – and most Latino voters are either foreign born or the children of immigrants. To win over Latinos for Clinton in key states such as Florida, Colorado and Nevada, Praeli will have to connect with people much like herself.

But doing that is a monumental task. Twice as many Latinos will be eligible to vote next year as in 2000, but Latinos tend to turn out at lower rates than other groups, in part because many young Latinos aren’t engaged in politics.

“We have to give people a reason to vote,” Praeli says.

For Praeli, who came to the U.S. as a child to seek medical treatment, and whose mother still lives without legal status, the race is personal. She took the job in June shortly after Clinton pledged to do more than President Barack Obama to shield immigrants from deportation.

Praeli, who previously worked at United We Dream, one of the nation’s largest immigrant youth groups, played a crucial role in helping to convince Obama to expand his deportation protection program to include the parents of citizens and legal permanent residents. On the day he announced the expansion at a celebratory rally at a Las Vegas high school auditorium, Praeli stood in the front row, crying and clutching her mother, Chela.

A maid in New Milford, Conn., Chela would have qualified for the program. With it, she likely could have traveled to Peru for the first time in nearly 20 years to see her ill father. But that’s all on hold after the administration’s effort to limit deportations was blocked in court by Republican opponents who argue it exceeds Obama’s power.

“To all of a sudden have that pulled out from under you overnight, it makes you angry,” Praeli said in a recent interview, her fists clenched. The experience, she said, convinced her to leave advocacy to help elect a Democrat, a sentiment that has grown stronger in recent months, as Republican front-runner Donald Trump has called for dramatic measures to reduce illegal immigration.

“It’s not enough to sit on the sidelines,” she said.

Not all her former colleagues agree with that approach. Some activists complain Democrats have sought to co-opt the immigrant rights movement, and many have come to distrust promises from politicians. Obama, angling for Latino votes in 2008, pledged to pass immigration reform in his first year, but lost his chance by waiting to make a serious push until his second term. By then, Republicans controlled Congress and blocked efforts to rewrite immigration laws.

At a going away party for Praeli in Washington this summer, some colleagues ribbed her for joining forces with a politician.

“Good luck,” said the group’s managing director, Cristina Jimenez. “We’ll see you on the battlefield.”

Praeli has been a fighter since her childhood in Ica, Peru. She was 2 years old when a drunken driver hit another car and then slammed into her on the street, pinning her small body against a wall. Shortly after, doctors amputated her right leg just above the knee.

As she was learning to walk with a prosthetic leg, she often fell. Her father, who was involved in local politics, forbade anyone from helping her up, insisting she learn how to do it on her own. On hard days, he would sing to her in Spanish: “If you get up, you’ll fall. If you fall, you’ll get up again.”

That message – that there will be bumps in the road, but you will survive them – helped when the family moved without legal authorization to small-town Connecticut when Praeli was 10. An aunt lived there, and Praeli would have access to better medical treatment.

Her mother, trained as a psychologist in Peru, found work cleaning houses and looking after other people’s children. Her father returned to Peru a few years later, unable to get the hang of American life. (He and Praeli video chat frequently; last year, she called him from aboard Air Force One.)

In New Milford, where Praeli and her younger sister were the only Latinos at their elementary school, bullies took notice of Praeli’s prosthetic leg and glossy black hair and taunted her with slurs like “peg leg” and “border hopper.”

She stood up to them – printing out copies of their online jeers and delivering them to school police – and took revenge by excelling in the classroom. She attended Quinnipiac University on a full scholarship. But even as she embarked on academic studies of how municipal policies affect immigrants in the country illegally, she kept her own status a secret.

That changed in 2010, as hopes dimmed for a bill that would have created a path to citizenship for some young immigrants who came to the U.S. as children, known as Dreamers. Praeli contacted a leader of the Dreamer movement and a few weeks later was on her way to a meeting in Kentucky with hundreds of other young people in the country illegally.

That 16-hour van ride was life-changing, she said. Everybody seemed happy, and no one was scared. “It’s because they were building a movement,” she said.

The activists, borrowing from the gay rights struggle, talked about the importance of “coming out” – publicly disclosing their lack of legal status. “We wanted to create a moral dilemma in the country so when people say ‘undocumented,’ they know who they’re talking about,” Praeli said.

A few weeks after the Kentucky meeting, she had her own coming out moment at a news conference in New Haven, Conn. “For years I learned to be quiet and to live in the shadows and hide,” she told reporters. “I can no longer just sit and wait for something to happen.”

Praeli co-founded a nonprofit group, Connecticut Students for a Dream, and helped win passage of legislation that grants in-state tuition to university students in the country illegally. After she graduated, she married her U.S.-citizen boyfriend, Tim Eakins, and moved to Washington to push for an immigration overhaul.

Now Praeli is trying to bring to the Clinton campaign the savvy messaging and grass-roots organizing that made the Dreamers among the most successful civil rights activists of recent times.

Photo: Lorella Praeli and her mom Chela Praeli via Twitter

Immigrant Advocates Ask CNN To Help Tone Down Republicans’ Rhetoric

By Kate Linthicum, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

LOS ANGELES — A coalition of immigrant-rights groups has asked on the moderators of this week’s Republican presidential debate to help tone down the heated rhetoric on illegal immigration that has dominated the party’s primary race.

In an open letter to CNN, which is hosting the debate, 62 pro-immigrant organizations from around the country voice concern about “the increasing hatred and vitriol being directed towards both people of color and the immigrant community by certain presidential candidates.”

“The upcoming presidential debate will be a test as to how much leeway can be given to the language of hate,” the letter says. It calls on moderators “to help bring back a civil debate.”

Republican front-runner Donald Trump soared in the polls this summer after making illegal immigration a focus of his campaign. Trump has drawn attention to several immigrants in the country illegally who are accused of committing crimes and has proposed building a border wall and ending automatic citizenship for children born to immigrants without legal status. He has called Mexican immigrants criminals and rapists.

The letter cites a recent attack on a Latino man in Boston in which the suspect may have cited Trump as an inspiration. That and other recent episodes are evidence that “these harmful words will turn into violence against our communities,” the letter says.

When the crowded field of Republican candidates arrives in Simi Valley for the debate Wednesday, they will be met with protesters from both sides of the immigration issue.

Around four dozen organizations that support immigrants plan to rally outside of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, where the debate is being held, according to Jorge-Mario Cabrera of the Coalition For Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles.

A second rally, organized by tea party and anti-immigration groups, will be centered on revoking birthright citizenship, according to organizer Ted Hilton. He said he and others have been working for years to end the practice, which most believe is a right protected by the 14th Amendment of the Constitution, with little results.

Photo: CNN, “The World Leader in News” is hosting the Republican debate Wednesday. Ayush via Flickr

Jeb Bush Stands By His ‘Anchor Babies’ Comment

By Kate Linthicum, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

Jeb Bush is standing by his use of the term “anchor babies” to describe children born in the U.S. to immigrants in the country illegally, the latest turn in the debate over immigration that’s at the forefront on the campaign trail this summer.

During a radio interview earlier this week, Bush used the phrase, drawing ire by many who view it as derogatory. While campaigning in New Hampshire on Thursday, the Republican presidential hopeful was asked whether he regretted saying it.

“I don’t,” Bush said. “Do you have a better term? You give me a better term and I’ll use it.”
Immigrant advocates and leading Democrats quickly seized on Bush’s comments, with Hillary Rodham Clinton tweeting several possible alternatives to the controversial phrase Thursday:

Clinton’s said on Twitter: “How about ‘babies,’ ‘children,’ or ‘American citizens.'”

“The term ‘anchor baby’ is so vile we don’t even have an equivalent for it in Spanish,” Rep. Linda Sanchez, D-Calif., said in a conference call with journalists hosted by Democratic Party leaders Thursday.

During the original radio interview, Bush called for “better enforcement so that you don’t have these, you know, ‘anchor babies,’ as they’re described, coming into the country.” It’s a phrase that has been used by other Republican presidential candidates in recent days, including front-runner Donald Trump, to talk about birthright citizenship for children born in the U.S. to immigrants in the country without legal status.

Earlier this week, Trump issued a lengthy immigration policy proposal that would end birthright citizenship, which he says encourages immigrants to enter the country unlawfully to have children.

Bush has defended birthright citizenship, saying it is a constitutional right that should be protected, although he has called for stricter penalties for those who abuse it.

The uproar over Bush’s comments underscore the tricky line he must walk as Trump and other GOP candidates tack to the right on issues such as immigration. Bush, who has raised more money the other GOP candidates and was seen as the likely front-runner for the nomination before Trump’s unlikely rise in the polls, has sought to portray himself as more moderate than candidates like Trump while also trying to appeal to his party’s staunchly conservative base.

Democrats have seized on that dilemma and have sought to draw parallels between Bush and Trump. Democratic National Committee Chair and Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz said Thursday that Bush’s comment makes him “no better than Trump or the rest of the Republicans running for president.”

At the campaign stop on Thursday, Bush appeared annoyed by multiple questions about his use of the term.

“I said it’s commonly referred to as that,” Bush said of the phrase. “I didn’t use it as my own language. What we ought to do is_do you want to get to the policy for a second? I think that people born in the country ought to be American citizens. OK? Now we got that over with.”

(c)2015 Los Angeles Times. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Former Florida Governor and Republican candidate for president Jeb Bush greets supporters at a VFW town hall event in Merrimack, New Hampshire, August 19, 2015. REUTERS/Dominick Reuter

Group Says California Immigration Policies Contributed To Drought

By Kate Linthicum, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

LOS ANGELES — In a television commercial that has aired across the state, a young boy asks: “If Californians are having fewer children, why isn’t there enough water?”

The ad is part of a wider media campaign blaming California’s historic drought on the state’s large number of immigrants. The group that paid for it, Californians for Population Stabilization, has long called for stricter enforcement of immigration laws, arguing that the state’s natural resources cannot sustain high levels of population growth.

The group has used the recent spotlight on California’s dwindling water reserves to try to gain support for its many favored causes, which include ending the right to citizenship for every child born on U.S. soil and opposing state efforts to give immigrants in the country illegally access to Medicaid.

This month, CAPS asked its 128,000 Facebook followers to “‘Like’ if you agree California’s drought could have been prevented with responsible immigration policies and limited population growth.”

Last month New Jersey Star-Ledger columnist Paul Mulshine said analysts were overlooking the root causes of the drought — that while immigrants to California “may be nice people … they’re competing for water resources.”

In an article in the National Review, Stanford academic Victor Davis Hanson argued that while California’s current dry spell is not novel: “What is new is that the state has never had 40 million residents during a drought — well over 10 million more than during the last dry spell in the early 1990s.”

Hanson and others point to the recent pattern of population growth in California, where census data show that 1 in 4 residents was born outside the country.

As domestic immigration into California has slowed in recent decades, with more American-born citizens leaving the state than moving in, foreign immigration has continued, albeit at slower rates than in previous decades.

The state continues to add about 3 million to 4 million people each decade, census data show. A large percentage of them are immigrants or their children.

“Essentially all of California’s rapid population growth has been due to people from other countries and the children of immigrants,” said Ben Zuckerman, an astrophysics professor at UCLA who sits on the board of CAPS. “The larger the population of California, the more difficult it will be to deal with the effects of the drought.”

Some drought experts have taken issue with such claims, pointing out that the majority of the state’s water supports agriculture.

Blaming the drought on immigrants “doesn’t fit the facts,” said William Patzert, a climatologist from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The drought is caused by meager snowpack and poor planning, he said, “not because the immigrants are drinking too much water or taking too many showers.”

Others point out that many immigrants likely use less water than the average California resident because they tend to live in multi-family dwellings, not higher-consuming single-family homes.

“It’s unlikely that the ‘burden’ of immigrants is very significant,” said Stephanie Pincetl, professor in residence at the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability at UCLA.

She said Californians would be better served by tearing up their lawns than expelling immigrants who contribute to the economy. “Do we want to have economic decline?” Pincetl said. “Do we not want to have agriculture? Do we want to not have housekeepers?”

Groups such as CAPS say recent conservation efforts, including Gov. Jerry Brown’s mandate of a 25 percent reduction in urban water usage, are short-sighted and hypocritical, especially given recent immigrant-friendly measures backed by Brown and the Democratic-controlled Legislature.

“You can’t have that proclamation at the same time you’re inviting everybody from everywhere to come here,” said Jo Wideman, executive director of CAPS.

Her group fought efforts to create special California driver’s licenses for immigrants in the country illegally as well as state legislation that limits when local law enforcement can collaborate with federal immigration authorities.

It also opposes increases in the levels of legal immigration, waging media campaigns against federal attempts to raise the number of available work visas.

Photo: Too many immigrant children are to blame for the drought, says one California group. San Jose Library via Flickr

7,000 Immigrant Children Ordered Deported Without Going To Court

By Kate Linthicum, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

More than 7,000 immigrant children have been ordered deported without appearing in court since large numbers of minors from Central America began illegally crossing the U.S. border in 2013, federal statistics show.

The high number of deportation orders has raised alarm among immigrant advocates, who say many of those children were never notified of their hearing date because of problems with the immigration court system.

In interviews and court documents, attorneys said notices sometimes arrived late, at the wrong address or not at all. In some cases, children were ordered to appear in a court near where they were initially detained, rather than where they were living, attorneys said.

“What was a border crisis has now become a due process crisis,” said Wendy Young, president of Kids in Need of Defense, an advocacy group.

In February, dozens of advocacy groups asked the government to temporarily stop issuing removal orders when a child fails to appear in court, and to reopen cases in which deportations were ordered.

Unprecedented numbers of immigrant children started showing up at the southern U.S. border in the fall of 2013. Many traveled without an adult and said they were fleeing rising gang violence in Honduras and El Salvador.

The government filed deportation cases against 62,363 minors between October 2013 and January of this year, according to federal data compiled by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University.

At least 7,706 of them were ordered removed after they failed to show up in court.

It is not known how many of those children were aware of their hearings and chose not to appear. It is also not known how many have actually been sent home.

According to the most recent data available from Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency that carries out deportations, 1,901 unaccompanied immigrant children were deported from the United States in fiscal year 2014, but some of those cases may have predated the recent surge.

Reports of notification errors come as the Obama administration has sped up deportation hearings for arriving youth — in part to dissuade others back home from making the journey north.

Last summer, Obama instructed courts to realign their dockets so underage immigrants would appear before a judge within 21 days of ICE officials filing a deportation case against them. Previously they would wait months or more than a year for their initial hearing.

Immigrant advocates say the crush of fast-tracked cases may have overwhelmed the courts.

Kathryn Mattingly, a spokeswoman for the Executive Office for Immigration Review, which administers the courts, said immigrants who don’t appear are ordered removed “when the immigration judge is satisfied that notice of the time and place of the proceeding was provided to the respondent at the address the respondent provided.”

Mattingly said she could not comment on alleged notification errors because her agency is fighting a class-action lawsuit demanding that the government provide attorneys to immigrant children. The case includes several plaintiffs who say they did not receive proper notice to appear in court.

A federal judge in Washington state was to hear arguments Friday on the government’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit, which was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups.

In an indication that the government is aware of some problems, immigration officials recently reopened the case of one of the plaintiffs, a 17-year-old from El Salvador who was ordered deported in September for failing to appear at his hearing.

In court documents, government attorneys said officials had “uncovered some discrepancies” that called into question whether he had received notification of his court date.

Immigrant advocates say they have heard of hundreds of similar problems, some of which were detailed in last month’s letter demanding that judges stop ordering deportations when children fail to show up.

The letter cites a Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service attorney who said that at one point last year, only one of her 13 clients had received a notice to appear before their first hearings.

Another advocate said a child was ordered to appear in court in New Orleans while still in government custody in Virginia.

The head of the union that represents immigration judges said she had seen notification problems in her own San Francisco courtroom. In one case, a notice was sent to a rural address where the child lived, instead of the P.O. box where the child’s family received mail, said Dana Leigh Marks, president of the National Association of Immigration Judges.

“Our system is far from foolproof,” Marks said. “It’s a difficult situation to try to know what percentage of those cases are innocent errors and lack of understanding, and which percentage of people who do not appear are consciously trying to avoid the process.”

Marks said she often gives immigrants a second chance to appear before ordering them deported. But she said other judges do not, perhaps because of their interpretation of a 1996 law that stiffened the consequences for immigrants who fail to show up.

Advocates for stricter enforcement of immigration laws said they were also concerned by reports that the government has failed to notify children of their court dates.

“They’re supposed to know where these kids are going when they release them,” said Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform. He said he also suspects some people may receive notices but choose not to go to court because they believe they can live in the country undetected.

“They know that nobody is coming out looking for them,” Mehlman said. “The reason we had this surge is that people understood that these laws weren’t being enforced.”

Margaret Taylor, a law professor at Wake Forest University, said immigrants who have been ordered deported may eventually file motions to reopen their cases. To do so, an immigrant must prove that he or she did not receive a notice to appear or couldn’t show up for the hearing.

Those future cases will create new strains on what Taylor called an underfunded, overburdened and “antiquated” court system. She noted that immigrants are required to file address changes through the mail, instead of online, which may open the door to errors.

Court errors are one reason why immigrants should be provided with attorneys, advocates say.

Statistics show that immigrants who have lawyers are more likely to show up in court and win their cases. The government does not provide legal counsel to those facing deportation.

More than 94 percent of the unaccompanied minors ordered removed without appearing in court during the last six months of last year did not have an attorney, according to immigration court statistics.

One of them is a 15-year-old girl living in Los Angeles.

The girl, who is a plaintiff in the lawsuit that was to be heard Friday, said in court documents she fled El Salvador after gang members pressured her to become “romantically involved.” She said they killed a female classmate who refused similar advances.

The girl was detained at the Texas border in May and released the following month to her grandmother, Blanca Zelaya.

Zelaya said she contacted the court repeatedly to find out the girl’s hearing date, but was told that she had to wait for a notification to arrive in the mail. It never did.

She later found out the hearing had already been held — and her granddaughter ordered deported.

“I feel frustrated and helpless,” said Zelaya, who said she was afraid of what might happen if the girl was sent back. “I prefer not to think about it.”

Photo: Volunteers receive an orientation at the Sacred Heart Catholic Church in McAllen, Texas, where undocumented women and children gathered in July 2014. More than 7,000 immigrant children have been ordered deported without appearing in court since large numbers of minors from Central America began illegally crossing the U.S. border in 2013, federal statistics show. (Michael Robinson Chavez/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

Obama Ends Secure Communities Program, Saying U.S. Should Deport ‘Felons, Not Families’

By Kate Linthicum, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

LOS ANGELES — For the immigrant advocates who for years have been calling on President Barack Obama to curtail deportations, the Secure Communities program symbolized what was wrong with the nation’s immigration enforcement strategy.

Designed to identify potentially deportable immigrants who had committed crimes, the program provided immigration agents with fingerprint records collected at local jails. In many cases, agents would ask local law enforcement officials to hold inmates believed to be in the country illegally beyond the length of their jail terms so that they could be transferred to federal custody.

Activists complained that the program eroded immigrants’ trust in police and resulted in the deportations of people who had committed no crime or only minor infractions. At the same time, hundreds of local and state governments, including in California, enacted policies to limit law enforcement from cooperating with the program.

On Thursday those challenges appeared to pay off when Obama announced he is ending Secure Communities as part of his larger immigration strategy.

Saying federal agents should focus on deporting “felons, not families,” Obama announced a new initiative, the Priority Enforcement Program, which officials say will target only those who have been convicted of certain serious crimes or who pose a danger to national security.

Under the new program, federal agents will continue to examine local fingerprint records and, in some cases, continue asking jail officials to hold certain inmates beyond the length of their sentences. Unlike before, Immigration and Customs Enforcement will now have to specify that the inmate has a removal order against them or is likely deportable.

Those who favor stricter immigration laws said the changes have dangerous implications and accused Obama of caving to pressure from activists.

“This is not a good sign for public safety or national security,” said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, who added that Secure Communities is one of the ways that deportable immigrants are identified.

In the fiscal year 2013, 82 percent of all individuals deported from the interior of the U.S. had been convicted of a crime, according to federal statistics. Many of them probably were identified through the program.

“When that stops, what immigration enforcement is there?” Krikorian said.

Immigration advocates said they are glad the program is ending but that it’s too soon to tell what the new policy will mean.

“I think there’s finally recognition that the Secure Communities experiment was a failure, and that the program became a Frankenstein,” said Chris Newman, an attorney for the National Day Laborer Organizing Network who said he wanted to see how the policy is implemented before making an assessment.

His group and others have challenged the program in court. In a case filed in Los Angeles, lawyers argued in favor of a woman who ended up in deportation proceedings after she called the police during a violent dispute with her husband. In another, a federal court found an Oregon county liable for damages after it held an inmate beyond her release date so she could be transferred in ICE custody.

After the Oregon decision earlier this year, hundreds of municipalities around the country, including the counties of Los Angeles, San Diego, Riverside and San Bernardino, elected to stopped complying with so-called ICE detainers. That followed the passage of a California law, the Trust Act, which barred counties from cooperating with ICE in most cases, except when the inmates in question had been convicted of serious crimes, including rape or murder.

In a memo explaining the new changes sent Thursday by Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to the directors of ICE and two other federal agencies, Johnson said the program had been weakened by critics.

“The reality is the program has attracted a great deal of criticism, is widely misunderstood, and is embroiled in litigation,” Johnson wrote. “Its very name has become a symbol for general hostility toward the enforcement of our immigration laws.”

Photo: Friends, from left, Miriam Lopez, Faby Jacome, Dulce Saavedra and Hairo Cortes console each other as they are brought to tears while watching President Obama’s speech on executive action on immigration during a rally outside the Los Angeles Metropolitan Detention Center on Thursday, Nov. 20, 2014, in Los Angeles. (Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

Criticism Arises After Children Are Rushed To See Immigration Judges

By Kate Linthicum, Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES — Unaccompanied immigrant children apprehended at the border are being placed first in line to go before U.S. immigration judges under a new federal policy, prompting criticism from attorneys who say some immigrants have been given less than 48 hours to appear in court in states far from where they live.

Faced with a surge of immigrants arriving illegally from Central America, immigration courts have begun realigning overloaded dockets to ensure unaccompanied minors get their first hearing before a judge within 21 days after Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials file a deportation case against them.

Previously, immigrants waited months or more than a year for their initial hearing with a judge, where they get their first chance to review the charges against them and make the case for why they deserve to stay in the United States.

The shortened timeline, enacted Friday by the Executive Office for Immigration Review, also applies to adults with children who are apprehended at the border.

Officials say the changes will speed up the resolution in many cases while sending a strong message to those in Central America that the United States is serious about enforcing its immigration laws.

Many believe the influx of tens of thousands of immigrant children and families into the United States in recent months has been partly fueled by rumors that children, once they cross the border, will be allowed to stay.

But immigrant advocates say the shortened time frame does not give recently arrived immigrants a fair chance to find a lawyer and build a successful case.

“It is not enough time to prepare a whole case,” said Los Angeles attorney Vera Weisz, who said pro bono law firms have been deluged with requests for representation. “In the name of expediency, you’re denying people due process.”

On Monday, the Southern California Chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association sent a letter to an assistant chief immigration judge who helps implement policy, asking for an immediate review of the procedures being used to notify immigrants of their cases.

It cited several cases in which immigrants received notice over the weekend with instructions to appear in immigration court this week.

In one such case, two unaccompanied children from Central America who were released to a sponsor in Virginia received letters Saturday informing them that they had to appear in court in Los Angeles on Monday, according to their attorney, Simon Sandoval-Moshenberg.

In a courtroom in Los Angeles on Monday afternoon, where Judge Ashley Tabaddor was supposed to hear the cases of those children and 37 other immigrant minors, not a single child appeared. Tabaddor told the court interpreter who showed up to translate the hearings that she would not be needed.

In each case on the docket, the children had apparently been resettled outside of the Los Angeles area in places such as Louisiana, Georgia and New York. Tabaddor had the power to issue deportation orders because the children didn’t show up for their hearings. Instead, one by one, she issued change-of-venue orders, giving the children a chance to appear at a later hearing before a judge closer to their location.

Kathryn Mattingly, a spokeswoman with the Executive Office for Immigrant Review, which operates the nation’s immigration courts, said she did not know why the immigrants had been asked to appear in courts far from the places they had settled.

But she speculated that ICE, the agency that initiates deportation proceedings, may have issued notices to appear based on where the immigrants were initially detained, as opposed to where they were currently living.

Virginia Kice, a spokeswoman for ICE, said her agency instituted new procedures to do the opposite. She said beginning last month, ICE’s attorneys began waiting until after a child had been placed with a sponsor to file their immigration case in a local court.

AFP Photo/John Moore

Kenya’s President Denies Al-Shabab Is Behind Attacks, Blames Politics

By Kate Linthicum, Los Angeles Times

NAIROBI, Kenya — Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta said Tuesday that two nights of deadly attacks on Kenya’s coast were not the work of Somali militants, who have claimed responsibility for the violence. Instead Kenyatta blamed local leaders, whom he accused of seeking to “divide” the country.

“This was not an al-Shabab terrorist attack,” Kenyatta said in a televised address a day after armed militants struck the coast for the second night in a row, killing at least 15 people in the village of Poromoko.

The president did not go into detail or name suspects, but he blamed local leaders for what he called “well-planned, orchestrated and politically motivated violence.”

The statement came despite al-Shabab’s claim of responsibility for the attacks, which began Sunday night when militants lay siege to the town of Mpeketoni, killing 48 people.

On Monday the group released a statement saying its fighters burned a police station, bank, hotels, and other buildings in revenge for the killings of several clerics in the Kenya city of Mombasa and the presence of Kenyan troops in Somalia. The group declared Kenya a “war zone” and warned tourists to stay home.

On Tuesday, a spokesman for the group took responsibility for the attack in Poromoko and vowed that the violence would continue.

Witnesses to both incidents said the attackers appeared to be targeting victims based on religion.

Omar Awadh Salim, 48, said he was at home with his family Monday night when six men dressed in masks and militarylike attire showed up at his door with guns and knives. He said they ordered him to recite the Shahada, the Muslim profession of faith. When he did so, the attackers left his home and proceeded to the next house, Salim said.

But the area where the violence took place, near the resort town of Lamu, also has a history of ethnic tensions, locals say. The towns that were attacked are populated primarily by Kikuyus, the same ethnic group to which Kenyatta belongs.

Kenya has seen ethnic violence before. After 2007’s disputed presidential election results, riots between Kikuyus and members of the Luo tribe left more than 1,200 people dead. Kenyatta is one of several Kenyan leaders who has been charged with inciting the violence by the International Criminal Court. His trial is set to begin later this year.

In recent weeks, he has clashed publicly with opposition leader Raila Odinga, a Luo, whose loss in the 2007 election helped incite the violence.

Special correspondent Joseph Akwiri in Mombasa contributed to this report.

Photo via WikiCommons
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ACLU Sues Over Delays For Immigrants Seeking U.S. Protection

By Kate Linthicum, Los Angeles Times

Thousands of immigrants seeking protection in the United States have spent months in detention waiting for the government to determine whether they may have legitimate cases, even though regulations say they should receive a determination within 10 days, according to a class action lawsuit filed Thursday by the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups.

The lawsuit accuses the government of violating the law and says tens of millions of taxpayer dollars have been needlessly spent on detention.

Claire Nicholson, a spokeswoman for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, said she could not comment on pending litigation.

The case, which was filed in the U.S. District Court in San Francisco, pertains to a subset of immigrants who illegally re-entered the United States after previously being deported and who now face deportation again.

Repeat immigration offenders are ineligible for hearings before an immigration judge because of the outcome of their prior cases.

But those who claim they have a fear of persecution or torture if they return to their home countries are guaranteed a hearing with an asylum officer. Government regulations say that within 10 days claimants must receive what is known as a “reasonable fear determination,” which dictates whether they can proceed with a hearing on their application for protection.

The lawsuit filed Thursday alleges the government violated this law in thousands of cases, with individuals waiting in detention for a determination for many months and occasionally more than a year.

One of them is Marco Antonio Alfaro Garcia, a native of El Salvador who was deported at the border while trying to cross into the United States in 2005. He tried again two years later and has lived in the Los Angeles area ever since. He has three American-born children with his partner, who is a U.S. citizen.

In January, Garcia was arrested and charged with driving under the influence. According to the court filings, he was turned over to immigration authorities, who informed him that his 2005 deportation order had been reinstated and he would be returned to El Salvador.

Garcia told the officials that he feared returning because he had been beaten multiple times by police and fears retaliation from a criminal group for providing information to prosecutors.

It took nearly a month for Garcia to get an interview with an asylum officer, according to his lawyers, and he is still waiting for a reasonable fear determination to determine whether he can move forward with his claim. He is entering his fourth month at a federal detention facility in Adelanto, Calif.

His partner, Yeni Gomez, 34, gave birth to their third son while Garcia was in detention. She said she had been selling pupusas on the sidewalk to pay rent.

“It’s really hard to be the mom and the dad at the same time,” she said. “We just want to know an answer as soon as possible. We don’t want to wait.”

The lawsuit, which filed by the ACLU Foundation of Southern California, ACLU of Northern California, the National Immigrant Justice Center and the law firm Reed Smith LLP, said government data show the average wait time for a reasonable fear determination is about 111 days.

It claims the division of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services “has foregone any attempt to comply” with the regulations and has instead adopted much longer timelines.

The Obama administration has put a priority on expelling repeat immigration offenders. In 2012, they made up roughly 35 percent of all people deported, according to Department of Homeland Security statistics.

Photo by J Valas images/Flickr

Hebron Still A Divided City 20 Years After Mosque Massacre

By Kate Linthicum, Los Angeles Times

HEBRON, West Bank — Nidal lives just steps from the mosque where his life changed forever.

It was there, during early morning prayers in 1994, that an Israeli physician named Baruch Goldstein walked in and opened fire, killing 29 Palestinians and wounding 125. Nidal, then 25 and engaged to be married, was shot twice in one arm and once in the back.

The massacre at the Ibrahim mosque at the Tomb of the Patriarchs, a holy site for Muslims, Jews and Christians in the West Bank city of Hebron, occurred 20 years ago this week. Like Nidal, who is unable to work because of his injuries, the city has never been the same.

With 170,000 residents, Hebron is the largest city in the West Bank, and perhaps its most sharply divided.

After the killings set off deadly riots, Israeli authorities moved to separate Hebron’s Palestinian residents from the several hundred Jewish settlers living in the heart of the Old City. Shuhada Street, once a vital commercial corridor, was closed to Palestinians, and dozens of military barricades and checkpoints were established.

Even the biblical burial ground — said to be the final resting place of Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebecca, Jacob and Leah — was partitioned with separate prayer spaces for Muslims and Jews.

Israeli officials say the measures are necessary to protect both sides from persistent inter-communal violence in the city, just 20 miles from the heart of Jerusalem. Palestinians complain that the restrictions have targeted only them and have made the Old City virtually uninhabitable for non-Jews.

A report released last year by the United Nations found that thousands of Palestinians have been displaced from the old quarter in recent years, and those who remain are forced to make long detours through multiple Israeli military checkpoints to access basic services, such as schools and hospitals.

In recent weeks, Palestinian activists have used the anniversary to demand a loosening of restrictions.

“We were victims, and now we’re being banished,” said Issa Amro, who heads a group called Youth Against Settlements that on Feb. 21 led a march calling for Shuhada Street to be reopened to Palestinians.

The initially peaceful protest ended violently, with several dozen young Palestinians burning tires and hurling stones at soldiers, who fired back with tear gas and rubber bullets. Thirteen Palestinians were injured, according to Israeli authorities.

Nidal does not care for protests, but he wishes things would return to the way they were. Before the massacre, he could walk 100 feet from his home to the entrance of the mosque without having to pass through a checkpoint, and he could have guests over without Israeli permission.

“The cameras are on us all the time,” Nidal said. He asked to be identified by only his first name because he fears retribution from soldiers for inviting a journalist into his home without authorization.

Nidal had planned to skip prayers that morning 20 years ago. He was working at a construction site at the time and had told his mother that he needed a few extra hours of sleep. But when the dawn call to prayer rang out, he was inspired. He lurched out of bed, put on a suit and went to pray.

It was the holy month of Ramadan, and the mosque was crowded. Nidal was standing in the back of the hall, about to kneel, when the bullets struck him. He was one of the first people shot by Goldstein, a Brooklyn-born physician and member of the ultra-right Kach movement living in a settlement outside Hebron. Goldstein had often talked about his desire to clear Palestinians from land held by the Jewish people during biblical times.

Goldstein was beaten to death in the mosque by Palestinian worshipers; Nidal was taken to a hospital in Ramallah, where he underwent surgery that saved his life. He is now married, with two sons and two daughters, but has limited mobility in one arm and still suffers breathing problems.

The massacre set off a wave of violence that left more than a dozen Palestinians and Israelis dead. A six-month curfew was imposed on Palestinians in the Old City, and Shuhada Street, home to Hebron’s main vegetable markets and bus station, was closed, along with hundreds of Palestinian-owned shops.

A 1997 agreement between Israeli and Palestinian leaders gave Israel official control of Hebron’s old quarter. Palestinian security forces patrol the other 80 percent of the city.

As part of the agreement, Shuhada Street was briefly reopened in 2000, but it was closed again after the outbreak of the second intifada, when Hebron, a stronghold for the Islamic militant group Hamas, became known as a haven for suicide bombers. One of them blew himself up on Shuhada Street in 2002, killing an Israeli man and his pregnant wife.

David Wilder, an Israeli who moved into a settlement in Hebron 15 years ago, said the ongoing security measures are a direct result of Palestinian violence.

“They declared war on us,” he said. “This is the price they’re paying for that.”

Wilder said that in order to understand today’s dynamic, it is important to look back to the 1929 Arab expulsion of Jews from Hebron, in which at least 67 Jews were killed.

Nearly four decades later, after Israel took control of the city during the 1967 Middle East War, Jews returned to Hebron and forged the first settlement.

“We didn’t conquer and occupy a city,” Wilder said. “We came back home.”

Despite the presence of Israeli soldiers on nearly every block in the Old City, violence remains an almost everyday occurrence. The U.N. found that in 2012 and 2013, about 700 Palestinians were injured by Israeli forces or settlers, and 44 Israelis were injured by Palestinians.

Nidal says he harbors no hostility.

“The person who shot me is dead,” he said. “Why should I carry this anger inside me?”

But he said it is difficult to pass through security points without thinking about the shooting at the mosque.

“It’s a constant reminder,” he said.

Photo: Radikale Venstre via Flickr

Israelis Wary Over Interim Nuclear Deal Between Major Powers And Iran

By Kate Linthicum, Los Angeles Times

JERUSALEM — At a cafe in Jerusalem, Giora Shamis greeted the announcement that Iran has begun rolling back its nuclear program with a shake of his head.

“I feel deep anxiety,” said Shamis, who runs a hawkish news analysis website. “I don’t believe a word they say. Iran’s influence is on the march and Israel’s strategic position is shrinking. I ask myself now, ‘Who is calling the shots in the Middle East?'”

While much of the world watched with cautious optimism as an interim deal designed to limit Iran’s enrichment of uranium went into effect Monday, the tone in Israel was one of resigned skepticism.

Politicians took to the airwaves to highlight the deal’s flaws and a newspaper released a poll that found 1 in 5 Israelis doesn’t believe President Barack Obama will prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear arms.

Speaking at the parliament, or Knesset, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu criticized the agreement reached in November between Iran and six world powers for not exacting enough concessions. The deal, he said, keeps Iran’s nuclear train “on the tracks” by allowing low-grade enrichment to continue. A final accord, which under the November agreement is to be negotiated over the next six months, must go much further, he warned.

Netanyahu’s comments were more subdued than in November, when he condemned the nuclear deal as “a historic mistake” and threatened to attack Iran’s nuclear sites.

In recent months, as the international community has made it clear that it wants a diplomatic solution in Iran, the chances of Israel launching a unilateral strike any time soon have faded, analysts say. For now, Israel’s approach is “wait and see,” said Meir Javedanfar, an expert on Iranian-Israeli relations at the Interdisciplinary Center in the city of Herzliya.

According to news reports, Netanyahu has ordered Israeli intelligence officials to look for evidence that Iran is breaking the terms of the agreement, which, among other things, calls on Iran to suspend enrichment of uranium to 20 percent purity, a few steps short of weapons-grade. Israel probably would use that intelligence to try to influence the final accord, even though it isn’t a part of the coalition brokering the deal, experts say.

Israel has found itself on the sidelines of other major political developments in its neighborhood in recent years. It has mostly steered clear of the strife in Egypt and has sat out the Syrian civil war.

Although some in the country have embraced the remaking of the region’s political landscape as a positive development for Israel because it pits some of Israel’s longtime foes against each another, many regard the changes wearily.

“I think Israel preferred to work vis-a-vis the known tyrants than with this thing that is called the ‘Arab Spring,'” said Ronen Bergman, a journalist who writes about Israeli security. “We are witnessing a process that has just started. We don’t know where it ends.”

Iran, on the other hand, is a known menace. For years its leaders have waged a proxy war against Israel, financing militant groups including Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Israel, which is believed to have an arsenal of nuclear warheads, has long maintained that a nuclear-equipped Iran would pose an existential threat. Iran has said it wants only civil nuclear capability, which requires uranium enriched to lower levels of purity. Israel wants it to stop enriching uranium altogether.

Netanyahu has made keeping Iran from obtaining nuclear capabilities a key focus, bringing up what he calls the Iranian threat in public comments nearly every day.

Some in Israel have accused him and other Israeli leaders of overemphasizing the Iran issue in order to distract from other political matters.

“I think that there is a bit of exaggeration,” said Nathan Cherniakvok, a 25-year-old architecture student. “It’s easier to talk about Iran than it is about Palestine.”

A poll released last year before Israel’s national elections found that respondents were far more worried about the economy than they were Iran. The poll, commissioned by the Times of Israel, found that 12 percent of those surveyed thought that Iran was the biggest issue facing the incoming government, compared with 43 percent who said it was the economy.

A new poll released this week shows that split has become more pronounced, with only 6 percent of those surveyed saying that Iran is the most important issue facing the government compared with 50 percent citing the economy.

Emily Landau, director of the Arms Control and Regional Security Project at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, said the Iranian threat cannot be underestimated. She pointed to a statement from Iran’s top nuclear negotiator that the country’s reduced capabilities under the agreement could be quickly reversed.

“You have take those words seriously because this is a true indication of how Iran is viewing this,” she said.

Ultimately, Landau said, it’s up not up to Israel but to the powers negotiating with Iran — the U.S., Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany _ to push back on such issues.

“It’s not Israel’s role or responsibility to deal with Iran’s nuclear program,” she said, noting the irony.

“Israel finds itself in the position where it will suffer the most from the consequences of the failure of the international community to deal successfully with Iran through negotiations,” she said. “And those states that are negotiating are the ones that are going to suffer the least.”

AFP Photo/Atta Kenare