Sunday, November 18, 2012

McCain, Hatch, Rubio offer optimism on immigration on return for lame duck

The Hill
November 13, 2012
by Cameron Joseph

Three key Senate Republican players on immigration returned to a lame-duck session of Congress on Tuesday offering optimism that a deal on immigration could be made next year.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said he believes it’s “very likely” the Senate will come up with a comprehensive immigration bill that could include enforcement and a way of dealing with illegal immigrants in the country.

A pathway to residency or citizenship for those illegal immigrants was the major stumbling block to immigration reform efforts in the last decade.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said “everything ought to be on the table” in the immigration talks, while McCain said there’s a “sense of urgency” in the GOP to deal with the issue.

Sen. Marco Rubio said he was “hopeful” lawmakers would be able to work on something, but added his position remains that Congress should take action on strengthening border security first.

“As I've said, in my opinion, the first steps in all of this is to win the confidence of the American people by modernizing the legal immigration issue and by improving enforcements of the existing law,” he said. “And then, obviously, we're going to have to deal with 11 million people who are here in undocumented status.

“I think it'll be a lot easier to figure that out if we do those other steps first. But like I said, there are going to be a lot of opinions on this.”

Republican soul searching on immigration has stepped up after President Obama’s victory in last week’s presidential election. Obama soundly defeated Republican nominee Mitt Romney among Hispanic voters.

In the wake of the election, conservative talk-show host Sean Hannity and pundit Charles Krauthhammer have both urged Republicans to work on an immigration plan that would include a pathway to residence for those in the country illegally.

“There's a sense of urgency in the Republican Party for obvious reasons, and I'm sure that everybody's ready to deal. But the specifics? Too early,” McCain said Tuesday when asked about a comprehensive bill that included a pathway to citizenship.

“There are a lot of very important legal considerations that have to be made, but I've always been empathetic towards resolving this problem one way or the other,” said Hatch.

McCain had abandoned his support for a comprehensive bill during a 2010 primary challenge from former Rep. J.D. Hayworth (R-Ariz.).

But on Tuesday, he sounded more like the McCain who championed a comprehensive immigration reform plan backed by President George W. Bush.

“Oh, I think it's very likely that we get it resolved, but there are going to be some tough negotiations," he said.

Rubio, a Hispanic who is trusted and beloved by the GOP base, could be the most important player to watch in the negotiations.

He seemed more hesitant to embrace the concept of a big package than McCain or Hatch but didn’t close the door on a single, comprehensive bill. In the past, that’s usually meant a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants in the U.S., stricter border enforcement, a temporary worker program for industries such as agriculture and a crackdown on those who hire undocumented immigrants.

“People are interested in it. It's going to take some time,” he said. “It's an important issue for the country economically, it behooves us to have a 21st century immigration policy.”

Rubio said he “didn’t have anything to announce today” on how involved he’ll be with the issue, but said he was “hopeful we’ll be able to work on something.”

The Florida senator had begun to work on a Republican version of the “DREAM Act” last year before President Obama ordered temporary visas be given to some undocumented immigrants brought here as children.

Hatch, an original sponsor of the DREAM Act, voted against it in 2010, largely because of concerns about a 2012 Tea Party primary challenge.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Sonoran pronghorn threatened by water issues, coalition says

Arizona Daily Star / Conkite News Service
November 16, 2012
by Andrew Bovin

WASHINGTON - A new report lists the endangered Sonoran pronghorn as one of the species most threatened by water problems across the nation.

The pronghorn was one of 17 species identified Wednesday by the Endangered Species Coalition as threatened by water-quality issues or a lack of water in 10 different watersheds.

For pronghorns, which live in the Sonoran Desert between Southwest Arizona and northern Mexico, problems include a lack of rainfall, water-quality problems from industrial and agricultural runoff and habitat damage from Border Patrol activities, among other factors, the report said.

Leda Huta, the coalition's executive director, said the timing and duration of rainfall in the desert is vital for the pronghorn's survival for several reasons.

"It's not just water, but also what they're eating," Huta said. "Without water, they're not going to have food."

Another problem is off-road activity by Border Patrol agents. That damages vegetation that the herds graze on, said Tierra Curry, a conservation biologist at the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the groups that make up the coalition.

"It changes the nature of the area," Curry said of border activities, pointing out that the border fence divides pronghorn herds between the U.S. and Mexico.

"The fence is certainly a problem because it separates the population in Mexico and the population in the U.S.," Curry said.

But the Border Patrol challenged that claim, saying it works to protect the environment while doing its job of protecting the border.

"The preservation of our valuable natural and cultural resources is of great importance to Customs and Border Protection, and we are fully engaged in efforts that consider the environment as we work to secure our nation's borders," the agency said in a written statement Wednesday.

The statement said the agency's work in the Barry M. Goldwater Range in Arizona, where it "has funded mitigation and recovery efforts for the endangered Sonoran pronghorn, is an example of our commitment" to the environment.

The report, "Water Woes: How dams, diversions, dirty water and drought put America's wildlife at risk," is the latest by the coalition, which releases a report every year listing areas that are at greatest danger from a different environmental threat.

Environmental groups nominate species that are reviewed by scientists, who put together a final list. Huta said the coalition chose species that "aren't a lost cause," where human changes could alter the situation.

"They wanted species where we can highlight what can be done," Huta said.

She said people can help by cutting water use and reducing their carbon footprint, which she said contributes to global warming, which can lead to drought.

Pronghorns were listed as an endangered species in 1967. Officials estimate that there are only about 500 in the wild, about 100 of which are on the U.S. side of the border.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Homeland Security officials confirm that Presidio Border Wall is dead

Big Bend Gazette
June 3, 2011
[missed this story when it was initially published]
by John Waters

The proposed border wall/fence for Presidio County along the international boundary with Mexico has been scrapped, according to Department of Homeland Security officials.

Earlier last month during a speech in El Paso, President Obama declared the proposed fencing/wall as mandated by the Secure Fence Act of 2006 “basically finished.”

In response to a query from the Gazette, Bill Brooks, Public Information Officer for U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Marfa Sector said, “We have no fence under construction in Marfa Sector. The Presidio proposed fence will not be constructed.” Brooks added that a lack of funding doomed completion of the project.

In 2008 as mandated by the Secure Fence Act, the Department of Homeland Security announced six miles of concrete wall would be placed atop levees near the international bridge between Ojinaga and Presidio.

When cost estimates of $20 million per mile were received, the project was placed on hold. Precisely when the project was terminated is unclear, although Brooks confirmed no public announcement of the project’s termination was made.

Cynta de Narvaez of Terlingua exclaimed, “Yippee!” when told of the wall’s demise. “We used every method in any civilian’s arsenal—from hall meetings, to honking at placards, to letter writing, to using the media—to try to inform the agencies responsible for our security that the wall was irrational in every way, and they completely ignored us. If there is going to be mutual respect, then we must keep the relationship clean. They should be accountable to us for their misinformed policies; they should acknowledge their bad choices—and then we can all move on.”

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Momentum builds for U.S. immigration reform plan

November 11, 2012
by Will Dunham

Two U.S. senators launched a fresh move to put together a bipartisan immigration reform plan on Sunday, restarting talks on a proposal that includes a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants already in the country.
Since President Barack Obama was re-elected last week with overwhelming support from Hispanic voters, many Republicans have expressed a new willingness to work with Democrats to pass immigration reform after years of legislative inaction.

Appearing on NBC's "Meet the Press," Democratic Senator Charles Schumer said he and Republican Senator Lindsey Graham have agreed to resume talks on immigration reform that broke off two years ago.

"And I think we have a darned good chance using this blueprint to get something done this year. The Republican Party has learned that being ... anti-immigrant doesn't work for them politically. And they know it," Schumer said.

Obama in 2010 called the proposal backed by Graham and Schumer a "promising framework," but it made no headway.

There are an estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States, most of them Hispanics.

Speaking on the CBS program "Face the Nation," Graham said the tone and rhetoric used by members of his party on immigration "built a wall between the Republican Party and the Hispanic community."

He noted that Republican presidential candidates have been steadily losing the support of Hispanic voters since 2004.

"This is an odd formula for a party to adopt: the fastest-growing demographic in the country, and we're losing votes every election cycle. And it has to stop. It's one thing to shoot yourself in the foot. Just don't reload the gun. ... I intend to tear this wall down and pass an immigration reform bill that's an American solution to an American problem," Graham said.


The Graham and Schumer plan has four components: requiring high-tech, fraud-proof Social Security cards to ensure that illegal workers cannot get jobs; strengthening border security and enforcement of immigration laws; creating a process for admitting temporary workers; and implementing a path to legal status for immigrants already in the country.

Schumer said the plan embraces "a path to citizenship that's fair, which says you have to learn English, you have to go to the back of the line, you've got to have a job, and you can't commit crimes."

Graham added, "Sixty-five percent of the people in the exit poll of this election supported a pathway to citizenship."

Many Republican leaders have taken a hard position against illegal immigrants. Obama's unsuccessful Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, during the campaign advocated "self-deportation" of illegal immigrants. Republicans in Arizona and other states have passed tough laws cracking down on illegal immigrants.

Since the election, some influential conservative voices, including television commentator Sean Hannity, have announced support for immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants with no criminal record.

"We have nobody to blame but ourselves when it comes to losing Hispanics, and we can get them back with some effort on our part," Graham said.

House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner, the top Republican in Congress, said on Friday the U.S. immigration system is broken. He has expressed confidence Republicans could find common ground with Obama.

The Obama administration announced in June it would relax U.S. deportation rules so that many young illegal immigrants who came to the United States as children can stay and work. The change would allow illegal immigrants who, among other criteria, are younger than 30 years old and have not been convicted of a felony to apply for work permits.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Violent crime falls in U.S. cities along Mexico border

Salt Lake Tribune / USA Today
November 4, 2012

Violent crime continued to fall in the largest U.S. cities along the Southwest border last year even as neighboring Mexican crime groups clashed for control of the illegal drug and human smuggling trades.
Ten of the 13 largest cities in Texas, Arizona and California closest to the Mexico border recorded reductions in overall violent crime, according to the latest FBI’s Uniform Crime Report. Eleven of the 13 also saw reductions in property crime, including burglary and car theft.
While the largest of the border cities -- San Diego and El Paso -- also reported declines, murders in each city jumped in 2011. Yet city officials cautioned that the rise in homicides could not be attributed to a spillover in violence from Mexico.
El Paso recorded 16 murders in 2011, up from just five in 2010, the fewest since 1964. This year, the number is up to 23 killings. But police Sgt. Chris Mears says the larger numbers are within range of the average for the past 20 years.
"None of these homicides are in any way spillover violence from Mexico," Mears says, adding that a number of the homicides have involved child abuse resulting in death.
San Diego County Sheriff Cmdr. David Myers says the rise in murder there â(euro) " from 29 in 2010 to 38 in 2011 â(euro) " was largely attributed to a "flurry" of domestic-related disputes. None of the deaths were linked to Mexican violence, though Myers says the cartels remain active in the region.
El Paso’s proximity to one of the most violent cities in Mexico and world, Ciudad Juarez, prompted widespread fear last year that Mexican violence -- which claimed 3,400 lives in Juarez alone in 2010 -- was washing into U.S. border cities.
But a 2011 USA TODAY analysis of crime data reported by 1,600 law enforcement agencies in four border states found that violent crime rates on the U.S. side of the southwestern border have been falling for years.
The analysis concluded that U.S. cities near the border are statistically safer, on average, than others in their states. The new FBI numbers follow that same pattern.
Police Chief David Bejarano of Chula Vista, Calif., says the entire Southern California region is seeing a similar trend.
Overall crime is down in his city of 250,000, which sits 7 miles north of Tijuana. But murders increased from two in 2010 to six last year.
Still, Bejarano, a former police chief in San Diego, says none of the 2011 murders in the region was tied to drug cartels. Instead, he says, the area has simply seen a rise in domestic violence and "traditional gang feuds over turf."
While the Tijuana area was once one of the bloodiest regions in the cartel battles across the border, he says those battles have weakened in recent years.
Tucson was among the few cities where overall violent crime was up. Police Sgt. Maria Hawke says the increase was so slight -- the total number of violent crimes increased from 3,331 in 2010 to 3,440 last year -- that it was "not noticeable."
The 51 murders recorded last year was equal to 2010, although sexual assaults jumped from 158 to 204. Hawke says stricter requirements for reporting of such crimes may have contributed to the increase.