Morning News, 7/15/11

1. Rep. Smith says Obama plotting
2. Dems accuse Rep. of hypocrisy
3. Second lottery to be held today
4. Gay couples in legal limbo
5. AL lawmaker defends law

U.S. Rep. Smith: Obama Plotting "Backdoor Amnesty"
By Julian Aguilar
The Texas Tribune, July 14, 2011

A senior member of Texas’ congressional delegation wants to strip the Obama administration of its immigration enforcement duties, alleging the president is attempting to create a “backdoor” amnesty for illegal immigrants.

U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio, this week introduced HR 2497, known as the Hinder the Administration’s Legalization Temptation (HALT) Act. The measure is a direct response to a directive issued to Immigration and Customs Enforcement offices throughout the country last month by agency director John Morton. In it Morton urged ICE prosecutors to use “prosecutorial discretion” in issuing “a notice of detainer” when deciding whom to detain or release.

The discretion includes taking into account several factors, including the person’s education, whether he or she has graduated from high school and has attended college, if the illegal immigrant is the child or spouse of a U.S. citizen, if a relative has served in the military or if the individual is a primary caretaker of someone who is ill. Current conditions in the person’s home country, the circumstances upon his or her arrival here and whether the person came here as a young child may also be taken in to account, according to the June 17 memo. Illegal immigrants' criminal history and whether they pose a risk to the country’s national security will also be considered, as will any history of prior removal. Crime victims and witnesses may also be given special consideration.

“Congress has defeated amnesty for illegal immigrants several times in recent years but this has not stopped President Obama from trying a backdoor amnesty,” Smith, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said in a statement. “Over the course of the last year, the Obama administration has ignored the will of Congress and the American people by using executive branch authority to allow illegal immigrants to remain in the U.S.”

Smith’s resolution would prohibit the government from canceling the removal of illegal immigrants, granting temporary protective status to any immigrant and granting parole or issuing deferred action (except in narrow circumstances).
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Democrats accuse Rep. Smith of hypocrisy
By Gary Martin
San Antonio Express News, July 15, 2011

House Democrats on Thursday denounced an immigration bill authored by Rep. Lamar Smith as “petty partisan politics” and accused the San Antonio Republican of being a hypocrite for introducing the measure to spur deportations.

Smith filed the “Hinder the Administration's Legalization Temptation” Act, or HALT, after the White House announced it would prioritize deportations to remove violent criminals and terrorists.

“The Obama administration has ignored the will of Congress and the American people by using executive branch authority to allow illegal immigrants to remain in the United States,” said Smith, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

But Democrats distributed a letter signed by Smith in 1999 asking the Clinton administration to use more prosecutorial discretion in immigration cases, taking hardship into account in cases involving deportations.

“This contradiction demonstrates yet another attempt by Rep. Smith to engage in a political game centered on blaming our broken immigration system on immigrants,” said Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin.

Smith said Democrats were being “dishonest,” and that portions of the letter distributed by Democratic lawmakers are taken out of context.

“This letter requested that the Immigration and Naturalization Service issue guidelines for removal proceedings in the most sympathetic cases involving legal — not illegal — immigrants,” Smith said.

Still, Doggett said Smith's bill is a distraction from efforts to improve our immigration system through reforms like the DREAM Act, which would provide legal status to immigrants brought into the country illegally but who have completed college or military service.
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Second ‘green card lottery’ to be held today after first results voided
By Tara Bahrampour
The Washington Post, July 15, 2011

The 29-year-old technology worker from Togo thought his dream had come true when he learned in May that he’d hit the lottery.

He quit his job in India, expecting soon to enjoy his jackpot: a new life in the United States.

But 12 days after his name popped up among the lucky winners of a State Department program widely known as the “green card lottery,” Sedem Kokou Agbobli saw his dream crushed. The State Department discovered a computer problem with the drawing and canceled the results.

Now, Agbobli and thousands of others who thought they were winners hope lightning will strike twice Friday, when federal officials in Washington announce the results of a new drawing for the program, which attracts millions of applicants worldwide and each year provides about 50,000 immigrants a legal route to permanent residency in the United States.

The would-be winners had filed a class-action requesting that a federal court reinstate their selection and block the new drawing. But on Thursday afternoon U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson denied the injunction and dismissed the case.

Jackson sided with the State Department in her finding that the May lottery did not select the applicants in a “strictly random order” as required by law. A mistake in the computer coding had caused most of the original winners to be selected from among those who applied in the first two days of the 30-day application period, denying the remaining applicants an equal shot.

The court decision dashed the hopes of 22,000 people around the world, many of whom had spent sleepless nights hoping the original results would be honored. To comply with requirements that the selection be random, they were returned to this year’s pool of 15 million applicants.

“It is a big blow for my plans,” said Agbobli, now unemployed and back in Togo. “I don’t know how I will survive.”

The mix-up over this year’s drawing for the program, the Diversity Visa Lottery, comes as some lawmakers question whether it should continue. Started in 1995 with the backing of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), the lottery is unknown to many Americans but has stood as a symbol of hope for millions seeking the opportunity to transform their lives. But it has been pulled into the larger debate over immigration, with critics saying it is rife with security risks and brings no benefits to the United States.

On Friday, the House Judiciary Committee will discuss a bill to do away with the lottery.

“If you’re a terrorist organization and you can get a few hundred people to apply to this from several countries ... odds are you’d get one or two of them picked,” Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), who introduced the bill, said in an interview.
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Related Topic: Diversity Visa Lottery


Gay couples in legal limbo with immigration
By David G. Savage
Los Angeles Times, July 14, 2011

Bradford Wells, a retired computer programmer in San Francisco, has chronic health problems that threaten his life and an immigration problem that threatens to split up his marriage and take away his caregiver.

He was married seven years ago in Massachusetts to Anthony Makk, a citizen of Australia. But in June, Makk's visa expired. The couple applied for a spousal green card, but they expect to be denied because the Defense of Marriage Act forbids federal authorities from recognizing a same-sex marriage.

Wells and Makk are among an estimated 24,000 same-sex couples in the United States in which one partner is not a citizen. Not all of them are married, but those who are find their legal commitment has no standing in the eyes of immigration agents.

"If [Makk] becomes illegal, then they can step in, and we don't know what would happen," Wells said. "Some mornings, I can't get out of bed. If he were not here, no one would be here to help."

As the nation remains entrenched in a debate over what to do about an estimated 11 million illegal residents, the Obama administration has released new guidelines to provide flexibility in individual cases without conflicting with other federal laws. Because the marriage act, passed in 1996, remains the law, the administration has stopped short of a blanket policy change on deportation cases involving married same-sex couples.

Instead, John Morton, director of Immigration and Custom Enforcement, sent a memo in June instructing his agents and lawyers to focus their deportation efforts on illegal immigrants who are criminals, gang members or security threats. He also urged them to "exercise discretion" in favor of illegal residents who have a "spouse, child or parent" who is a U.S. citizen or who is "primary caretaker" for someone who is ill, disabled or a child.

The directive did not mention legally married same-sex couples. So couples such as Makk and Wells must navigate a muddled and subjective process, one that gives immigration officers the power to allow illegal same-sex spouses to remain in the country — provided the agent does not cite marriage as the reason — or to proceed with deportations.

Gay rights advocates say the flexibility helps, but means married same-sex couples remain vulnerable to a range of outcomes.

Two weeks ago in New Jersey, Los Angeles attorney Lavi Soloway, who represents a number of married same-sex couples in deportation cases, scored a victory when the government agreed to stop the deportation of Henry Velandia, a Venezuelan man who is legally married to Josh Vandiver, a 30-year-old graduate student at Princeton University. Immigration officials said the deportation was not a priority. "That was a good sign, but it was only one case," Soloway said.

On Wednesday, a Southern California couple — Doug Gentry and Venezuelan native Alex Benshimol, who married last year in Connecticut — appeared before a San Francisco judge and asked the government to use its discretion to drop deportation proceedings against Benshimol. Judge Marilyn Teeter gave immigration officials 60 days to respond. Teeter postponed the next deportation hearing until September 2013 if the government does not drop the case.

Soloway, who is also their attorney, praised the judge's "compassion and understanding" and said he would "continue to advocate for termination of these proceedings and a moratorium on all deportations of spouses of lesbian and gay Americans."

The discretion directive came too late for Richard Dennis and Jair Izquierdo. Last December, Dennis, a New York banker, watched as his partner was put on a plane back to Peru. The two had a civil union in New Jersey and had applied for a green card, but that did not deter the government from deporting Izquierdo after his tourist visa expired.

"We just got a perfunctory 'denied' from them, with no explanation given.... The whole system seems very arbitrary," Dennis said.
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Alabama Speaker of the House defends immigration law
By Tommy Stevenson
Tuscaloosa News, July 15, 2011

Alabama Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard offered no apologies for what many are calling the harshest immigration bill in the nation passed earlier this year by the Legislature.

“It simply makes sure that people who are in Alabama and working in Alabama are here legally,” he said to a round of applause Thursday as he addressed a noon Chamber in Session luncheon sponsored by the West Alabama Chamber of Commerce.

“It’s about illegal immigrants, and I have said in the media what part of the word ‘illegal’ do people not understand?” he said. “That’s what it is about.”

Hubbard defended the bill, passed by the first Republican-controlled Legislature in 136 years, against charges that some of the bill’s provisions, such as making schools check the immigration status of students and criminalizing even the transportation of those who are known to be here illegally, go too far.

“We are not saying that they are bad people, we are not profiling, we are not being racist,” he said. “Unfortunately, we had to take this action because the federal government is not doing its job (in keeping illegal aliens out of the country).”

Hubbard did admit, however, that there will be tough legal challenges to the bill ahead. The Alabama chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and other organizations have already filed suit challenging the constitutionality of the law set to go into effect Sept. 1.

“Some of the parts of it may be stricken down and we may have to come back and revisit it,” Hubbard told about 200 people at the luncheon. “But we really shouldn’t be in the business of immigration, that’s the federal government’s job.”

Hubbard, an Auburn lawmaker who has been in the House since 1998 and served two terms as chairman of the Republican Party, is widely credited in coming up with the plan that took the majority in both the House and Senate away from the Democrats for the first time since Reconstruction.
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