Morning News, 12/16/09

By Bryan Griffith, December 16, 2009

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1. Pelosi to shield freshmen
2. Obama promises fulfilled
3. Army sees more Asians
4. DOJ charges PA cops
5. Groups push for students

Speaker Pelosi to shield vulnerable members from controversial votes
By Jared Allen
The Hill (Washington, DC), December 16, 2009

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has privately told her politically vulnerable Democratic members that they will not vote on controversial bills in 2010 unless the Senate acts first.

After a year of bruising legislative victories that some political analysts believe have done more to jeopardize her majority than to entrench it, Pelosi is shifting gears for the 2010 election.

The Speaker recently assured her freshman lawmakers and other vulnerable members of her caucus that a vote on immigration reform is not looming despite a renewed push from the White House and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. The House will not move on the issue until the upper chamber passes a bill, Pelosi told the members.

But according to Democrats who have spoken to Pelosi, the Speaker has expanded that promise beyond immigration, informing Democratic lawmakers that the Senate will have to move first on a host of controversial issues before she brings them to the House floor.

“The Speaker has told members in meetings that we’ve done our jobs,” a Democratic leadership aide said. “And that next year the Senate’s going to have to prove what it can accomplish before we go sticking our necks out any further.”

Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), the president of the freshman class, said that Pelosi came to last Wednesday’s freshman breakfast to deliver that message, and that it was met with wide spread approval.

“I think freshmen, particularly, are not enamored of the idea of being asked to walk the plank on a controversial item if the Senate is not going to take any action,” Connolly said.

Pelosi’s promise could dim the prospects for other White House priorities as well, including the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) — known as “card check” — and the repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” prohibition on gays serving openly in the military.
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Editor's Note: If you enjoyed this article, please visit our HR 4321 overview page.


Baca-backed bill would legalize millions of immigrants
By Stephen Wall
The Contra Costa Times (Walnut Creek, CA), December 15, 2009

Congressional Democrats on Tuesday launched a renewed effort to pass comprehensive immigration reform legislation.

Rep. Joe Baca, D-San Bernardino, is a co-sponsor of the bill that provides a path to citizenship for the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in the country.

The bill by Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Illinois, would also repeal the 287(g) program that allows local law enforcement agencies to perform some immigration functions.

Baca said the bill is a collaborative effort to "finally fix" America's broken immigration system that has caused "both a humanitarian and economic crisis for our nation."
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Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Washington D.C.-based Center for Immigration Studies, called the bill "political theater" designed to appease Latino activist groups that voted for President Barack Obama on the promise he would enact comprehensive immigration reform.

Because the bill lacks a large guestworker program, he said it is likely to be opposed by big business and defeated in Congress.

"Even though it's a pretty radical bill, it's basically dead on arrival," Krikorian said.
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Editor's Note: If you enjoyed this article, please visit our HR 4321 overview page.


Asian Americans drive Army recruiting boom in L.A.
Asians have traditionally joined the military at the lowest rate among all races, but -- lured by job security, college aid and, for some, citizenship -- they are signing up in larger numbers. Their enlistments rose 80% in L.A. County.
By Teresa Watanabe
The Los Angeles Times, December 16, 2009

On a chilly Saturday morning this month, the future soldiers of the U.S. Army huffed and puffed through push-ups, sit-ups and stretches in Whittier Narrows Regional Park in South El Monte.

There was the gangly white kid with the blond buzz cut and the buffed-out Latino dude, head draped in a black bandanna.

And then there was Jennifer Ren, small, slight and bespectacled, an immigrant from China who gamely kept up with the guys and sees the Army as a ticket to U.S. citizenship and a job in accounting and finance.

Down the training line was Christopher Ly, the son of Chinese immigrants from Vietnam who figures that the Army will help pay for a hoped-for Stanford University education and an eventual career as an Army lawyer.

Gery Denniswara, a Diamond Bar high school senior and Jakarta native, sees the Army as a way to pursue his childhood dream of becoming a doctor.

Ren, Ly and Denniswara helped drive the biggest Army recruitment boon for Los Angeles in two decades -- led by an 80% increase in Asian enlistments in the last year. Asians have traditionally joined the military at the lowest rate among all races.

But lured by job security, enhanced tuition aid and, for some immigrants, the chance for U.S. citizenship, Asians this year made up 22% of all active-duty recruits, nearly twice their proportion in the Los Angeles County population.

Latino enlistments increased by 37%, while African Americans rose by about 14% and whites, 15%.

Overall, the Los Angeles Recruiting Battalion signed up 2,300 new recruits, a 34% increase over last fiscal year.

The Southern California Recruiting Battalion, which handles Orange, San Diego, San Bernardino and Riverside counties, also reported the biggest recruiting year in two decades -- including a 33% increase in Asian recruits.

"For Asian Americans, the greatest appeal is the college benefits," said Ly, who joined the Army over his parents' objections to avoid heavy college debt during a down economy. "Especially with the price increases for the UC system, it's definitely not a good time to take out student loans and go into debt."

Lt. Col. Somport Jongwatana, Los Angeles battalion commander, said another major lure was a new program this year that offers citizenship to select candidates with healthcare specialties and language expertise.

The program was particularly popular among Los Angeles Koreans; 266 applicants vied for 48 slots and helped close that language category faster than any other except Hindi, Army officials said.

One successful Korean applicant was Dayae Yang, a Seoul native and UC Irvine student who plans to pursue a medical career through the Army.

Yang said her mother was the one who pushed her to enlist after reading about the citizenship and educational benefits in a Korean-language newspaper.

Both mother and daughter are on student visas here and barred from working. Yang said they became increasingly worried about their financial condition as the Korean won began losing value against the dollar in the last year, reducing the amount of money sent by her brother in Seoul.

Yang, 20, said some Koreans back home have called those like herself who enlist in the Army traitors to their motherland and sneered at them as "kimchi GIs."

But she said she could not pass up the opportunity to get citizenship, tuition assistance, health insurance and the chance to make a difference.

"I want to do something that's beneficial to people," said Yang, who will ship out to basic training in January and then take individualized courses to become an Army pharmacy specialist. "This kind of thing will help me become a better person."

Jongwatana said a stepped-up campaign to publicize Army benefits through more aggressive outreach to media and community leaders helped reap the recruiting bonanza.

The campaign, developed by public relations firm Weber Shandwick, was first launched in Dallas in 2007 and brought to Los Angeles and other major cities last year.
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Bail Hearing for Pa. Police Accused of Cover-Up
The Associated Press, December 16, 2009

Shenandoah, PA (AP) -- After taking part in a fight that left a Mexican immigrant mortally wounded on the street, teenagers Brandon Piekarsky and Derrick Donchak fled. They didn't get very far before running into two police officers responding to a 911 call about the assault.

These were no ordinary officers. Patrolman Jason Hayes dated Piekarsky's mother, and Lt. William Moyer's son played with Piekarsky on the high school football team. Their commanding officer, Chief Matthew Nestor, was a friend of Piekarsky's mother and even vacationed with her.

Rather than place the popular white football players under arrest, the officers let them go -- beginning a cover-up in their racially tense coal town, federal prosecutors allege.

The Department of Justice said Tuesday that Hayes, Moyer and Nestor have been indicted on obstruction charges for trying to ''impede, obstruct and influence the investigation'' into the July 2008 beating death of Luis Ramirez by tampering with evidence and witnesses or lying to the FBI.

The former athletes, who were acquitted of the most serious state charges against them in May, are charged with a federal hate crime for attacking Ramirez in a park as they headed home from a party, the Department of Justice said.

The police chief and his second in command, Jamie Gennarini, were charged with extortion and civil rights violations in a separate case. The two are accused of extorting cash payoffs from illegal gambling operations and demanding a $2,000 payment from a local businessman in 2007 to release him from their custody.

The arrests left the borough with only three active-duty police officers. Borough officials have asked the state police to help out ''until we work through this dilemma,'' said Borough Manager Joseph Palubinsky, who declined to comment on the indictment.

The officers pleaded not guilty before a federal magistrate in Wilkes-Barre and were being held until a bail hearing Wednesday. Donchak and Piekarsky have an initial court appearance scheduled for Dec. 22. Piekarsky's lawyer didn't return a call, and there was no lawyer listed for Donchak on the indictment.

State prosecutors who tried to win murder or ethnic intimidation convictions against the athletes had alleged that they yelled racial epithets at Ramirez and that one gripped a piece of metal to give his punches more power.

The federal indictment brought praise from those who had long argued that the case was blatantly a hate crime and were outraged when the teenagers won acquittals on the most serious charges.
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Groups try to delay deportations of illegal students
By Emily Bazar
USA Today, December 16, 2009

Rigoberto Padilla, 21, came to the USA from Mexico when he was 6.

He went to school in Chicago, joined the honor society and dreamed of becoming a lawyer — all while living here illegally.

Padilla's status wasn't a problem until he applied for college and couldn't qualify for financial aid without a Social Security number, he says.

In January, the University of Illinois-Chicago junior was charged with drunken driving. He pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor, paid a fine and got court supervision, but that brought him to the attention of immigration officials and triggered deportation proceedings. "It was one mistake in my life," he says.

Padilla's impending deportation, originally set for today, catapulted him into a campaign to stop the deportation of college students and recent graduates. Lawmakers, students, members of the clergy and other activists hope to buy the students time and use their stories to push for laws that would allow them, and perhaps millions of other illegal immigrants, to earn legal status, says Joshua Hoyt of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agreed last week to delay Padilla's deportation for a year, making him one of at least seven young illegal immigrants who have had their deportations delayed since June, according to DreamActivist, one of the groups spearheading the campaign. Family ties and community standing are among the factors ICE considers when asked to delay a deportation, says ICE spokesman Richard Rocha.

"I want to graduate college and give back to this country," Padilla says.

His supporters flooded the Department of Homeland Security with thousands of faxes and designed a Facebook page telling 2,800 members how to help. The Chicago City Council passed a resolution in his behalf, and Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., introduced a bill specifically for him that would allow him to stay. "Why would we deprive ourselves of outstanding students and future leaders?" she asks. "They had no part in the decision to come here."

Efforts toward overhaul

There are 12 million illegal immigrants in the USA. Activists call for an overhaul of immigration law that would offer them a way to earn legal status. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., introduced a bill Tuesday that would give illegal immigrants who pay fines, pass background checks and meet other requirements a path toward legal residency.

College students who are illegal immigrants fall under a separate proposal called the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act — the DREAM Act. Requirements would include arrival in the USA at 15 or younger, a five-year residency or more, and at least two years of college or military service. Versions of the act have been introduced since 2001 without success.

Each year, 65,000 illegal immigrants who have been here at least five years graduate from high school, says Jeffrey Passel of the non-partisan Pew Hispanic Center.

Deportation delays are rare, Rocha says; 400 were granted last year.

Ira Mehlman, spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which advocates less immigration, calls the DREAM Act amnesty, or "rewarding people who have broken the law with immigration benefits."

People in the country illegally "should be held responsible for the consequences to their children," he says.

Flexibility in the law is important, says Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies, which also calls for reduced immigration. "But delaying everybody's deportation because you hope the DREAM Act is going to happen does not make sense."
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