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Playoff Snubs Ate At Dodgers’ Paco Rodriguez, So Now He Eats Better

By Kevin Baxter, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

PHOENIX — Paco Rodriguez would like to apologize to his grandmother. But it’s really Don Mattingly’s fault.

Last fall Mattingly, the Dodgers manager, kept the left-handed reliever off a playoff roster for the second time in as many seasons. And for Rodriguez that was a sign that changes had to be made.

Gone was his grandmother’s homemade Cuban food, which Rodriguez had eaten for 23 years. In its place was an organic diet recommended by Brandon McDaniel, the Dodgers’ strength and conditioning coach. And given the results this spring, grandma may have had a hard time getting back into the game.

“Physically I got a lot stronger,” said Rodriguez, who has struck out five in three Cactus League innings. “Sometimes my knees didn’t bounce back. Since I started my diet, I haven’t had those down days where my knees feel bad.

“As long as I feel good and I can get everything out of my body, that’s the best thing. So I’m going to stick to it.”

Yet none of that happens if Mattingly had simply given Rodriguez what he thought he had earned: a place on the roster for last year’s division series with the St. Louis Cardinals.

“I was very upset,” said Rodriguez, who was also left off the Dodgers’ 2013 National League Championship Series roster. “That really took a toll on me this offseason. And I thought a lot about it. That motivated me and gave me the extra drive to get healthy and get back to where I once was.”

Where Rodriguez was once was at the back end of the Dodgers bullpen.

Two months after signing with the team out of the University of Florida, he became the first member of the 2012 draft class to reach the big leagues. A season later he pitched in 76 games, most in the majors by a left-hander.

But he struggled down the stretch and was even worse in the division series against Atlanta, so Rodriguez was left off the team for the next series. The problems carried over into 2014, with Rodriguez being sent down to the minors in early May. He made just three more big league appearances before rosters expanded in September.

“The one thing we saw at the end of 2013, he lost a little sharpness on some of his pitches,” Mattingly said.

For a guy who had been rushed to the majors, pitching fewer than 20 innings in the minors, it was humbling.

“Last year was that learning experience,” Rodriguez said. “Being up and down and understanding how hard it is sometimes to get up on a regular basis and play every day and not having that motivation when there’s not 40,000 people in the stands.

“It’s easy to do that when you have so many fans. Sometimes you don’t get that in the minor leagues.”

So when Rodriguez got back to the majors he was determined to prove he should stay, giving up just a walk and a hit in his first five appearances. But in his sixth game he gave up a game-tying home run, then watched the playoffs on television.

“I took it personal,” he said. “Working so hard to get back to that point, I really wanted to make the team and just be a part of it with them. That’s something that you take into the off-season and you really try to get back to being the person that you can be.”

So Rodriguez changed the way he slept as well as what he ate and drank, dropping fried foods and sugary sodas. On the mound, he’s tried to get back to pitching with the quick tempo he used two years ago.

Whether that’s enough is a decision that again rests with Mattingly. The Dodgers aren’t convinced they need more than one left-hander in the bullpen — and that one spot almost certainly will go to J.P. Howell.

Which leaves Rodriguez needing to prove that he, too, belongs.

“Paco just has to be himself,” Mattingly said. “Paco’s in the running like everyone else. We really do talk about taking the best seven [relievers]. So there could be three lefties.

“We haven’t gotten that far. We’re kind of looking at everybody.”

In the meantime, Rodriguez is going to stay away from grandma’s kitchen and use the playoff snub for fuel instead.

“I did some really good things when I came up my first year and I feel like I can do that again,” he said. “I think that I can get back to that person that I was. And I want to be able to help the team…like I did in 2013.”

Photo: Keith Allison via Flickr

Warm Welcome, Real Help Await Deported Migrants At El Comedor

By Kevin Baxter, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

NOGALES, Mexico — The migrants begin gathering just after daybreak.

Women with young children in tow, men in wool caps and faded hoodies. Others still wearing the bright orange uniforms they were issued in prison.

Few speak. Most look down at their feet.

Hours earlier they had been on the other side of the border, where they had been living illegally in the United States. But now, after being deported to Mexico, they’re lining up outside El Comedor — the dining room — in search of food, clothing, and help.

They also get something else that takes many by surprise — respect.

“Amigo!” Armando Santos shouts enthusiastically, greeting each migrant with a firm handshake or a warm hug. “Bienvenidos!”

Santos looks like a bouncer at a trendy nightclub as he sizes up the line. But his job is to let people in, not keep them out. Still, the warm welcome startles many migrants and some stare, not quite sure what to make of him. Others smile back.

But eventually they all make their way into the one-room concrete block building, the last structure before the border checkpoint for entering the U.S., marked by a whitewashed wall out front and brightly colored religious banners inside.

The migrants have endured processing by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, after which they are bused to the border and released to walk across the line from Nogales, Arizona, to Nogales, Sonora.

Another soulless and bureaucratic process follows. They are poked and prodded by representatives of various Mexican government agencies who check the deportees’ documents, conduct detailed interviews, and arrange bus trips home.

“For the migrants here on the border, their human dignity is not respected in a lot of ways,” says the Reverend Sean Carroll, the Jesuit priest who runs El Comedor and a nearby shelter. “So really in this work we want to lift up and hold and protect the dignity of the human person. Especially where it’s most vulnerable.

“And I’d say it’s extremely vulnerable with migrants who have been deported.”

Most arrive short on sleep and feeling deflated, uncertain where to turn next.

“Body posture communicates everything,” Carroll says of the people standing in line. “They don’t look you in the eye. They turn away. Which speaks to the family separation they’re experiencing, the time they’ve spent in detention.

“So when they come in, they’re welcomed.”

El Comedor is sponsored by the Kino Border Initiative, a binational humanitarian effort by religious organizations, including Jesuit Refugee Service/USA, Missionary Sisters of the Eucharist and the Diocese of Tucson. El Comedor served 38,667 meals to migrants last year.

On this winter morning, the migrants fill benches set on both sides of wooden picnic tables.

“There’s no soup line,” Carroll says as volunteers rush out with plastic plates laden with rice and beans, eggs and tortillas. A nun picks up a microphone. “We are happy to serve you,” she says.

Some walls display posters with empowering messages: “I have the right to live a life free of violence” and “All people have the same rights.” On one wall is a mural, a border-inspired version of “The Last Supper,” but with migrants as the apostles flanking Jesus, who sports a backward baseball cap.

After the meal, men and women line up outside closet-size rooms stocked with clothing, and staffers parcel out pants, shirts, and underwear. The Rev. Miguel Yaksic, a Chilean priest with the Jesuit Migrant Service, has become expert at quickly estimating sizes. He holds up a jacket to one man’s chest and decides it’s a fit. The migrants mumble their thanks.

“For us it’s based on the Gospels,” Yaksic says of the work. “But also it’s political. Not in the sense that we are Democrats or Republicans. But in the sense that we need to create better conditions for real human life.”

Church volunteers also hand out small plastic bags filled with personal hygiene items. In another corner of the room a woman from the International Committee of the Red Cross gives vaccinations. Other migrants gather around David Hill, a volunteer from No More Deaths, a faith-based aid and advocacy group from Arizona.

Mexican banks often reject U.S. checks, Hill says, so he has migrants sign the checks over to him. He hustles back to Arizona, cashes the checks, then returns to El Comedor to distribute the money. This morning he helps one man who had been deported after serving time for a drug charge; his check, for work done in prison, was issued by the Arizona Department of Corrections.

Then, less than an hour after shuffling in, the breakfast crowd begins to leave.

“When they leave, frequently they look different,” Carroll says. “They stand a little straighter. They look me in the eye.”

And on this winter morning, that’s exactly what happens as the migrants file back out into the late-morning chill.

Photo: Kevin Baxter via The Los Angeles Times/TNS

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer Dealt Legal Blow Over Medicaid Expansion Plan

By Kevin Baxter, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

TUCSON, Ariz. — Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer was dealt a significant legal defeat Wednesday when the Arizona Supreme Court ruled that a lawsuit challenging her controversial Medicaid expansion plan could move forward.

The Republican governor, who leaves office in January, wants to insure about 300,000 poor Arizonans through a key part of President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act. But 36 lawmakers from Brewer’s own party sued the governor, questioning the legality of a hospital assessment that would fund the plan.

The court’s ruling now allows that lawsuit to go forward by returning it to a trial court, which will decide whether the hospital assessment is a tax requiring a two-thirds majority approval by the Legislature. Brewer was only narrowly able to get a majority of lawmakers to support her plan when it passed the Legislature during a June 2013 special session.

The assessment — expected to raise $256 million in 2015 — is a key part of Brewer’s plan because without it the state won’t receive the federal matching funds it needs to pay its share of the Medicaid expansion. The Medicaid expansion would include people earning between 100 percent and 138 percent of the federal poverty level as well as childless adults.

Hospitals were strongly in favor of the assessment because the expansion would reduce the cost of treating uninsured patients.

This is the second legal challenge Brewer’s plan has faced. A Maricopa County Superior Court judge dismissed the lawmakers’ first attempt. But an appeals court ruled that the lawsuit should go forward and the state Supreme Court agreed. The case will now proceed to trial.

The Supreme Court heard the case in November. At the time Brewer, who attended the hearing, said defeat of her plan “could be fatal. It could be a catastrophe.”

“Let’s be perfectly clear: Preventing Medicaid restoration would threaten our safety-net hospitals and decimate our state budget, including funding for our (Department of Child Safety) and education and public safety,” Brewer told The Associated Press. “There’s a lot at stake here.”

Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr

Arizona ‘Dreamers’ To Line Up For Driver’s Licenses; Brewer Vows Fight

By Kevin Baxter, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

PHOENIX — Thousands of young immigrants protected from deportation under a federal program will begin lining up for Arizona driver’s licenses Monday after a federal judge removed the final barrier preventing them from applying for the documents.

A preliminary injunction issued Thursday by U.S. District Judge David Campbell bars the state from enforcing Gov. Jan Brewer’s directive to deny driver’s licenses to more than 20,000 immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally.

However, Brewer still isn’t ready to take no for an answer. On Friday she greeted Campbell’s injunction with a statement of her own in which she promised to carry the fight back to the Supreme Court.

“It is important to remember that courts have yet to consider the full merits of the case, and I believe that Arizona will ultimately prevail,” Brewer said. “Consequently, I have instructed my legal team to move forward in pursuing a full review of this matter before the United States Supreme Court as soon as possible.”

The so-called Dreamers, who have been shielded from deportation since 2012 under the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, are authorized to stay and work in the country legally. But in Arizona and Nebraska they have been denied driver’s licenses.

Campbell effectively ended the ban in Arizona when he ordered the state to ignore the governor’s directive against driver’s license applications for DACA immigrants.

That ruling came a day after the U.S. Supreme Court voted 6-3 to turn down an emergency appeal from Brewer, who sought to block an order from an appellate court that also found the state had no grounds to deny license applications to the Dreamers.

Brewer has said that rules governing who is eligible for driver’s licenses is a state issue and not one that should be decided by the federal government.

“It is outrageous that Arizona is being forced to ignore long-standing state law and comply with a flawed federal court mandate that requires the state, at least temporarily, to issue driver’s licenses to individuals whose presence is in violation of federal law, as established by the United States Congress,” she said.

But the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals didn’t buy that argument, nor another in which Brewer’s lawyers claimed the governor was trying to reduce the risk that licenses could be used to improperly gain access to public benefits.

Instead, the court said there was no legitimate state interest in treating the Dreamers differently from other noncitizens, such as green-card holders, who can drive legally. The court said Brewer’s actions were intended to express hostility toward the immigrants and toward U.S. government policy protecting them.

Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr

Number Of States Challenging Obama On Immigration Grows To 24

By Kevin Baxter, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

President Barack Obama’s executive action to halt deportation for as many as 5 million undocumented immigrants continues to inflame passions – and action — on both sides of the issue, with Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott announcing Wednesday that seven more states have signed on to court action challenging the policy while a broad coalition of law enforcement and faith leaders voiced their support of the president.

“The president’s proposed executive decree violates the U.S. Constitution and federal law, circumvents the will of the American people and is an affront to the families and individuals who follow our laws to legally immigrate to the United States,” Abbott said after amending his original court complaint to increase the number of states that have signed on to 24.

In addition to Arizona and Florida, Arkansas, Michigan, North Dakota, Ohio and Oklahoma have also joined the coalition objecting to the president’s actions.

But others, including Chief James R. Lopez of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and Richard Biehl, the police chief of Dayton, Ohio, say the executive order is a welcome measure in lieu of comprehensive congressional action on the issue.

“This action taken by the president is an important first step,” offered Lopez, who said nearly 10 percent of Los Angeles County residents may be undocumented.

“In the immigrant communities that we serve dialogue is important. We cannot do our job without the assistance of everyone in the community, including those who heretofore have had a great fear of reporting crime for fear of being identified as undocumented,” he said as part of a conference call on the issue.

The action “has increased the dialogue. And we are very hopeful that it will continue to increase the dialogue between the immigrant communities and law enforcement to help us do our job,” he said.

Jim Wallis, an evangelical Christian writer, political activist and founder of the Washington-based Sojourners community, said he saw the president’s actions in religious terms.

“The reaction to the executive order by President Obama outside Washington is very different than inside,” he said. “Maybe the word that describes the reaction inside is anger. But the joy on the outside is what I feel across the country.

“The relief to families. The relief to congregants, people in our churches. It’s very simple. We’re going to support those decisions that bring relief to our people. And this executive order brings relief to our people.”

Wallis called the inability of Congress to pass bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform a “moral failure” and challenged the incoming Republican-led leadership to seek legislative relief.

Wallis then went on to quote Scripture.

“What does it mean to welcome a stranger?” he said, referring to Matthew 25. “And what Jesus says there is how we treat the stranger is how we treat Christ himself. So legislators now, in the new Congress, have to understand whether they pass immigration reform or not is how they will treat the stranger.

“And for us that means how they treat Christ himself.”

AFP Photo/Mark Wilson