Marcelo Ballve

Black Legislators on Front Line Against AZ-Style Immigration Bills

As immigrant advocates battle hard-line immigration bills in state capitols across the country, they’re receiving crucial support from caucuses of black legislators.

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Will the DREAM Act Be Watered Down to Get Republican Support?

As it inches forward in Congress, the DREAM Act has grown more restrictive. 

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DREAM Act Advances Further Than Any Other Immigration Policy Of This Administration

After a summer focused on fighting off Arizona’s hard-line law SB 1070, immigrant advocates are seeking to regain momentum with an all-out push on the Dream Act.

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ICE Numbers Belie Obama Promise on Immigration Enforcement

The Obama administration had long promised to shift the focus of immigration enforcement from workers to employers. 

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Immigrant advocates say immigration enforcement worse under Obama

Prominent immigrant advocates launched their most sharply worded public critique yet of the Obama administration’s immigration policy.

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Immigration Reform Advocates Losing Patience with Obama

 Subhash Kateel thinks impatience with President Obama's immigration agenda has begun to boil over. An immigrant advocate in Florida, Kateel says there is a potent mix of frustration and disappointment percolating through immigrant communities nationwide. 

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Organizers Fire up Grassroots for Immigration Reform Fight Ahead

Organizers described them as immigration reform "house parties."

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Census Boycott Splits Latinos

Earlier this year, a prominent Latino religious leader proposed a boycott of the 2010 Census as a way for undocumented immigrants to bring their voices to bear on the immigration debate.

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Latino Church Leaders Divided on Census Boycott

Latino evangelical leaders, who wield tremendous clout in immigrant communities, are sharply divided on the 2010 Census.

The rift developed earlier this month after one influential group of pastors said it would call for a census boycott among undocumented immigrants as a bargaining chip in their demands for comprehensive immigration reform.

"The boycott idea's spreading like fire," said Rev. Miguel Ángel Rivera, president of the Washington, D.C.-based National Coalition of Latino Clergy and Christian Leaders, or CONLAMIC for its Spanish acronym. "It's the only thing that will make politicians sit up and listen."

News of the boycott has certainly reached CONLAMIC Vice-chair Rev. Kittim Silva, who heads the Iglesia Pentecostal de Jesucristo in Queens, the New York City borough renowned for its ethnic diversity. Though he acknowledges initial misgivings about the boycott, which he knew would be controversial, he says he'll back it.

"As a pastor I communicate the position CONLAMIC's taken on the issues. I have to wear that hat," said Rev. Silva, sitting in his office desk at the brick-walled church he's led since 1983.

Other pastors not affiliated with CONLAMIC disagree with the boycott. "It's unfair to collapse the census into immigration reform," said Rev. Gabriel Salguero, senior pastor of the Lamb's Church in Manhattan and director of the Latino Leadership Program at Princeton Theological Seminary. "There's a large number of Latino evangelicals who understand the positive impact" of the census.

Though President Barack Obama's team has pledged to advance immigration reform in 2009, and senior New York U.S. Senator Charles Schumer has launched hearings on how to make it happen, CONLAMIC worries immigration reform might ultimately be pushed to the back burner by the crowded presidential agenda.

For decades the mantra of Latino civil rights activists with respect to the census has been "stand up and be counted," regardless of one's immigration status.

But the pastors supporting the boycott say undocumented immigrants, perhaps the most disenfranchised and vulnerable class of U.S. residents, will be heard with more clarity this time if they opt out of the count.

If the boycott catches on, it'll have a major impact. It's estimated by the Pew Research Center that one in every six Latinos belongs to an evangelical church. So, assuming the proportion's roughly the same for undocumented Latino immigrants, who number 10 million, then that's 1.6 million people who may hear of CONLAMIC's boycott, which is being widely discussed in evangelical circles and Latino media.

The U.S. Constitution mandates that the census count everyone living in the country every 10 years, whether they're U.S.-born, or they immigrated here legally or illegally. The results serve to distribute Congressional seats to the 50 states, slice the pie of government services, and divvy up the big prize: $300 billion in federal funds to states, counties and municipalities. The Census Bureau reassures undocumented immigrants that their personal information, including immigration status, is protected by federal law.

Rev. Rivera believes it's fundamentally unfair for undocumented immigrants to help their communities gain political and economic clout through the census, only to then be treated as second-class citizens, denied government services and be subjected to ceaseless raids and law enforcement harassment.

"If they're good enough to be counted, then they should be legalized," he said. "It's immoral and dishonest to use them in order to slake our communities' thirst for funds."

But other Latino evangelical leaders say a boycott, however well-intentioned, would do more harm than good.

The Rev. Luis Cortés Jr., identified by Time Magazine as one of the country's 25 most influential evangelicals, says he respects Rivera, who's "earned his stripes" fighting hardline immigration laws in far-flung state and locales. But he argues a census boycott would disempower local Latino communities.

"I think the best idea is to participate, and find another way to fight the good fight on immigration," said Cortés, who heads the faith-based group Esperanza USA.

He says he hopes the boycott will be called off, and says he plans to ask CONLAMIC leader Rev. Rivera for a meeting in order to negotiate a solution to their differences on the census, a deal that might satisfy both their priorities. Cortés plans to issue a statement in favor of the census at the National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C., in mid-June.

Over the last several years, CONLAMIC, which claims some 16,000 member churches (with an average parish membership of 60) in more than 30 states, has grown increasingly aggressive in its immigration-related activism.

Undocumented immigrants account for 17 percent of the pastors and 38 percent of the evangelical faithful represented by the coalition, according to CONLAMIC.

The group helped sue Riverside, N.J., for its legal clampdown on undocumented immigrants and helped organize pro-immigrant marches in hotspots like Oklahoma, where voters passed a hardline law against illegal immigration in 2007.

One of Rev. Rivera's concerns about the census is that state and local officials often point to census results showing the presence of undocumented immigrants and then exploit the issue politically, rallying support for get-tough laws like those passed in Oklahoma, Riverside, N.J., and countless other jurisdictions.

Rev. Kittim Silva, the pastor in Queens, finds himself in a particularly awkward spot in terms of preaching against the census. He's allowed the federal government to use his church as a training site for Census 2000 survey-takers, who then fanned out into the ethnically diverse surrounding neighborhoods to count Caribbean, South Asian and Latino immigrants. He says he'll offer the church as a training site again ahead of the 2010 count.

He's also a fan of tracing his family tree in Puerto Rico on genealogical Web sites that rely on old census data and provide online facsimiles of original census forms. He wants to emphasize that he's generally supportive of the census, considers it a valuable tool when used right, and emphasizes that CONLAMIC will counsel legal residents and citizens in its churches to collaborate with the census in any way they can.

But he says he'll support the boycott with regards to undocumented immigrants in the hopes that it will advance the cause of an immigration law that will offer them legal status and a path to citizenship. He likened the boycott to a stone thrown in the direction of the powers that be, so that they'll be jolted into action.

One of Rev. Silva's churchgoers, a 54-year-old undocumented immigrant who has been in the country eight years, told a visitor to the church that he'd be reluctant to cooperate with census personnel if they asked about his immigration status: "I don't think I'd be comfortable doing that."

If he wanted, Rev. Silva might use his considerable influence to change the minds of all his apprehensive undocumented faithful. But if the boycott remains on the table, he'll instead counsel them to go uncounted.

As DC Looks to Reform the Backlash Against Immigrants Continues in the States

Despite the Obama administration's promise to act on immigration reform this year, a backlash against immigrants continues to rage countrywide. One result is a growing patchwork of hardline state and local policies aimed at curbing illegal immigration.

Even immigrant advocates focused now on mobilizing for reform acknowledge their battle will ultimately need to go beyond a Washington D.C.-legislated fix. The backlash against immigrants has sprung up in neighborhoods and far-flung localities, and also needs to be combated at the grassroots.

"This isn't going to be over when comprehensive immigration reform is passed," said Tony Stephens, communications associate with the New York-based nonprofit The Opportunity Agenda, during an online meeting last week with immigration reform advocates.

In Mississippi, over 20 hardline immigration-related bills were introduced in this year's legislative session, according to the Mississippi Immigrant Rights Alliance (MIRA). Utah's hardline immigration law goes into effect July 1. In New Jersey, a directive that orders police to question individuals arrested for a serious crime about their immigration status has been abused, and routine traffic stops become immigration busts, according to a report released this month by the Seton Hall University School of Law.

In Alamance County North Carolina, Sheriff Terry Johnson's participation in a federal program that deputizes local law enforcement to detain undocumented immigrants has fanned a divisive debate on immigration and Mexican culture, casting a pall on all Hispanic immigrants, whether they entered the country illegally or not.

An Elon University study found that Sheriff Johnson was grossly underreporting the number of Latinos his department was pulling over, though he denied racial profiling. And earlier this month, University of North Carolina law professor Deborah M. Weissman testified on Capitol Hill about the same sheriff's "brazenly racist claims about Mexicans."

According to Weissman, Johnson had been quoted saying, "[T]heir values are a lot different -- their morals -- than what we have here. In Mexico, there's nothing wrong with having sex with a 12-, 13-year-old girl ... They do a lot of drinking down in Mexico." Sheriff Johnson participates in a federal program named 287(g) for a section of the 1996 immigration law creating it. Made most notorious by Maricopa County Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, it's meant to partner police and sheriffs with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency and bolster the country's ability to target transnational crimes and deport undocumented immigrants with rap sheets. Instead, critics say, it has become a favorite tool for rounding up Latinos and intimidating immigrant communities.

The federal program is also at issue in one of the get-tough immigration measures that's still pending in the Mississippi legislature (23 bills considered "anti-immigrant or anti-worker" by immigrant rights advocates did not win approval). Gary Chism, a Republican state representative, tacked on a provision to an appropriations bill that would require Mississippi's Department of Public Safety to participate in 287(g) ICE training.

Chism also added an amendment requiring Mississippi's Department of Corrections to participate in a separate ICE program that connects prisons with federal agents to track inmates who are immigration violators and funnel them to deportation proceedings.

Chism said he's optimistic that at least the corrections measure will make it into law, but the 287(g) proposal may stall since it's costly. He said the federal government isn't doing enough to control illegal immigration.

"We need to protect Mississippi and Mississippian jobs" from illegal immigrants, he told New America Media.

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has launched a review of 287(g) and the program may be in for some changes, but department spokesman Matt Chandler acknowledges it remains popular with state and local law enforcement agencies.

"Participants realized drops in crime and removal of repeat offenders," he said in a phone interview.

He would not say what an overhauled 287(g) program might look like, but gave no indication it would be scrapped altogether, as some immigrant rights groups have demanded.

MIRA Executive Director Bill Chandler sees Chism's 287(g) and prisons proposals as part of a concerted effort by xenophobic politicians to hound Latinos, not just illegal immigrants, out of the state.

A broad, hardline immigration law passed last year includes a plank making it a felony for an undocumented worker to accept work in Mississippi, authorizing penalties of up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine. U.S. residents may also sue businesses if they are fired and replaced by an unauthorized worker.

Though officially called the "Mississippi Employment Protection Act" Chandler calls the law the "ethnic cleansing act" and has lobbied furiously for its repeal – so far without success.

In Utah, a similarly broad law will go into effect July 1. Though stopping short of criminalizing the labor of undocumented immigrants, the law requires, among other things, that state and local agencies verify the immigration status of anyone applying for certain services, including health care. The law stipulates penalties for undocumented immigrants accessing services they're no longer authorized to receive.

Though the law excludes emergency care, vaccinations and care for communicable diseases, there's still confusion over exactly what services might be off-limits. Community clinics worry fearful immigrants, whatever their immigration status, might forgo health care altogether, potentially creating public health risks.

The law also allows all Utah law enforcement agencies to deputize their agents to enforce immigration law. Already, however, some say they'll opt out of that plank of the law. Park City's Police Chief Wade Carpenter, for example, said he wouldn't participate because it's an idea driven by the politics of immigration rather than an effort to find real solutions.

"I don't think it accomplishes what we need to accomplish," Carpenter was quoted as saying. "It's the tail wagging the dog."

The Financial Crisis Just Might Lead to Legal Pot

NEW YORK -- In 1977, President Jimmy Carter asked Congress to decriminalize marijuana possession (it never did). The next year, the Ladies Home Journal described a summer jazz festival on the White House's South Lawn where "a haze of marijuana smoke hung heavy under the low-bending branches of a magnolia tree."

The late 1970's may have been the high-water mark for permissiveness regarding marijuana. But advocates of decriminalized pot believe a confluence of factors, especially the country's economic malaise, are leading to another countrywide reappraisal of the drug.

"There is momentum of the sort I haven't seen since I've been involved in this," says Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the New York-based Drug Policy Alliance, which supports easing marijuana laws.

He says incidents like then-candidate Barack Obama's early admission of pot use or the flap over Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps's bong-smoking may lead to initial public hand-wringing, but in the end they tend to legitimize pot use. So does the growing recognition of medical marijuana.

But, he adds, "the economic crisis is the single most important factor" in this new shift in perceptions.

That's because the ailing economy is triggering a scramble for new government savings or sources of revenue. Nadelmann compares today's marijuana laws to alcohol prohibition, approved during prosperous times in 1920 only to become unpopular during the Great Depression. Prohibition was finally repealed in 1933, in part due to the cost of reining in illegal booze and the need to recoup lost tax revenue in tough economic times.

As he signed a law easing prohibition, President Franklin Roosevelt reportedly quipped, "I think this would be a good time for a beer."

Is our recession-plagued present a good time for a joint? Legalizing, taxing and regulating marijuana, would pull the rug out from under pot dealers in urban America, and create a crisis for them, but it would likely prove a boon for state budgets. In an oft-cited 2006 report on U.S. marijuana production, expert Jon Gettman used "conservative price estimates" to peg the value of the annual crop at $36 billion--more valuable than corn and wheat combined.

Three national polls this year showed a surprising number of Americans think marijuana should be legal. Zogby, CBS News and Rasmussen all recorded support for legalization hovering at around 40 percent. Nadelmann of the DPA believes support would have been higher if the question was whether or not marijuana should be taxed and regulated.

California Assemblyman Tom Ammiano has proposed a bill to tax and regulate legal marijuana, which he says would generate $1 billion in revenue for the Golden State's anemic budget. Ammiano, who represents areas of San Francisco, says his proposal, unveiled last month, is "simply common sense," considering the unprecedented economic emergency. The measure would also save California an estimated $150 million in enforcement costs.

Rising support for decriminalization has also come from drug war-ravaged Latin America. Former presidents of Colombia, Mexico and Brazil headed the 17-person Latin American Commission on Drugs, which included intellectuals and statesmen. It issued a report last month calling the drug war failed. It called, among other changes, for the personal use of marijuana to be decriminalized.

Currently, marijuana is already decriminalized in some form in 13 U.S. states, including California and New York, according to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). Typically in these states, marijuana possession in small amounts is reduced to a minor offense punishable by a low fine. Alaska has a particularly liberal law, allowing possession of up to an ounce of pot at home without penalty.

Some eight additional state legislatures are currently considering decriminalization, or the expansion of already existing allowances, according to NORML.

No other state has gone as far as the sweeping "tax and regulate" plan Ammiano proposed for California, but all this talk of legalizing pot has Eric Voth, M.D., deeply worried. Voth, chairman of the Institute on Global Drug Policy, believes advocates of legal marijuana are exploiting the country's economic insecurities to advance their agenda, despite evident risks.

Pointing to alcohol and tobacco, which are taxed, he argues the resulting revenue hardly compensates for the social and public health damage wreaked by both substances, including spillover use among youth. In the 1970s, when marijuana use was at its peak, some 11 percent of high school seniors used marijuana daily, whereas today only between two and three percent do so. If marijuana were legal, more kids would smoke it and face health, addiction and learning problems, says Voth, who advised the White House under Republican and Democratic administrations. "I'm not a prohibitionist, I'm a physician and I've seen those problems face-to-face in the trenches."

But, as Voth himself admits, the lobby to decriminalize marijuana is increasingly organized, with a strong presence in state capitols and Washington, D.C. When Ammiano announced his California plan, he enlisted the DPA and the Marijuana Policy Project to back him up. "High Times," the popular pot enthusiasts' magazine, has spearheaded its own "420 campaign" for marijuana legalization. Libertarian organizations, like the Cato Institute, tend to be skeptical of pot prohibition, too.

But there are legal questions over states' efforts to decriminalize. Lenient state laws (not to mention Ammiano's legalization plan) clash with separate federal laws on marijuana, which are strict, calling for up to a year imprisonment and a $1,000 fine for possession of any amount, even if it's a first offense.

Last year, U.S. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), sponsored legislation to decriminalize marijuana federally, earning a handful of co-sponsors, but the bill quickly stalled in committee.

Ammiano says his plan isn't radical, since pot would simply be taxed just as tobacco and alcohol are now. But for his opponents that comparison sets off alarm bells.

Both industries have a bad record of facing up to the adverse health effects of their products and its availability to underage users. A legally sanctioned marijuana industry, opponents say, would open the door to another powerful, cynical, corporate dispenser of legal drugs.

Fed Program Turns Local Cops into Enforcers of Immigration Policy

NEW YORK -- In 2007, the mayor of Morristown, New Jersey tried to enroll local police officers in a federal program that delegates immigration enforcement duties to local and state police.

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Religious Leaders Help Shape Immigration Debate

"When it comes to immigration, the law is an ass." These forceful words were spoken not by an immigration lawyer or activist, but by a lanky, bearded Methodist pastor on Long Island. The Rev. Thomas Goodhue directs the influential 800-member Long Island Council of Churches, and last month he joined a coalition of religious leaders calling for immigration reform.

"Current immigration policy violates everything our religious traditions teach us about compassion for the sojourner among us," said Goodhue, flanked by Protestant, Muslim and Jewish leaders.

The urgency of their call was magnified by the location: a synagogue in Patchogue, a seaside town where only a few months before a gang of local high schoolers killed Marcelo Lucero, an Ecuadorean immigrant.

Police labeled the Nov. 8 murder of Lucero a hate crime, and it galvanized immigrant advocates on Long Island.

Lately, as the temperature rises in local and state immigration battles, with a backlash against immigrants often serving as a backdrop, clergy have emerged as influential voices.

Around the country, particularly in places where immigration has only recently emerged as a major issue, clergy have argued publicly for solution-oriented policies. They've also warned against the scapegoating of undocumented immigrants.

In Nashville, Catholic and Jewish leaders joined in a coalition called "Nashville for All of Us," which defeated a ballot measure to designate English the city's official language. Proponents said it would help immigrants assimilate and save the city money, but Bishop David Choby was among those arguing that the measure was mean-spirited and impractical, since it would marginalize the foreign-born from civic life.

Of course, religious leaders aren't always able to push their immigration views on their faithful. Sometimes there seems to be a disconnect between clergy's attitudes and the more conservative views of their congregants.

Last year, when Utah's legislature was considering a bill to put the vise on illegal immigrants in the state, flags were raised by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as the Mormon Church is officially called.

Though the church took no official stance, one prominent leader, Elder Marlin K. Jensen, urged Utah residents to be compassionate and put a human face on the issue.

"Meet an undocumented person," he said, according to an article last year in the Deseret News. "Come to know their family."

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints also reportedly asked lawmakers for provisions that would shield them from liability when providing charity to undocumented immigrants.

Despite these caveats, polls showed the bill enjoyed broad popularity in Utah, where Mormons are a majority.

In the end, the crackdown passed easily. Among other hardline tactics, it deputizes local law enforcement to enforce federal immigration policy, and limits undocumented immigrants' access to state and local services. It goes into effect July 1.

Polls also show that evangelicals tend to favor stricter immigration policies than most Americans.

Still, evangelical leaders formed a coalition called Christians for Comprehensive Immigration Reform, which includes evangelicals. The coalition has advocated for federal solutions that combine strong border security with a route to "earned" legalization for the country's 12 million undocumented immigrants.

One evangelical group has been particularly active at the state and local level. The National Coalition for Latino Clergy and Christian Leaders, or CONLAMIC for its acronym in Spanish, has tapped into its network of pastors in some 30 states to organize protest vigils in immigration hotspots like Georgia, Oklahoma, Virginia and Rhode Island.

The Rev. Miguel Rivera, CONLAMIC president, has said the backlash and discrimination against immigrants won't stop until Washington, D.C., acts decisively to fix the immigration system.

It isn't always simple for local church leaders to take a position on an issue as sensitive and controversial as immigration. It took the Long Island Council of Churches a full six months to hammer out a common position on immigration, said Goodhue.

He acknowledged that there were "mixed feelings" in the churches. "It was very difficult, very complex."

The Long Island suburbs, particularly exurban Suffolk County, have for more than a decade struggled to integrate immigrants, mostly Hispanics, into community life.

Last year, Long Island Wins, a local immigrant advocacy campaign, conducted focus groups with a cross-section of Long Islanders to better understand how their views on immigration were shaped.

Among the findings: religious leaders were looked to as trusted sources of information on the issues, and could have a profound influence on residents' views.

"That's why it's so important for the clergy to step forward and take a lead on this issue," said Maryann Slutsky, Long Island Wins campaign director, "because they can have a very positive impact."

The focus group’s findings gave new impetus to the organization's efforts to reach out to religious leaders. The press conference in the Patchogue synagogue, partly organized by Long Island Wins, was one significant step in that direction.

Immigrant Rights Activists March on ICE on Day After Inauguration

Even as the masses celebrating President Obama's inauguration dispersed, a new crowd gathered Wednesday for a day-after march to place immigrant rights atop the president's agenda.

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Immigration Reform Under Obama Likely To Be Piecemeal

Grassroots immigrant advocates, emboldened by Latinos' decisive vote in the presidential elections, already are pushing Barack Obama's team to act quickly on immigration reform. They also want the new administration to halt workplace immigration raids, something Obama seemed to all but promise in a key campaign appearance on Spanish-language television.In Washington, D.C., however, longtime participants in the immigration debate say changes to the system may be piecemeal. A real overhaul, they say, is unlikely, at least until 2010. And even tweaks to specific areas such as enforcement will be made in a low-profile manner.That's because the new administration won't want to be seen prioritizing immigration with other issues so clearly taking precedence. The economic downturn and rising unemployment in particular seems to put a chill on the immigration issue. "Immigration reform as we have understood it in recent years is not going to be a first-order issue in the new administration," says Doris Meissner, senior fellow at the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute and former chief of the Immigration and Naturalization Service under President Bill Clinton.But just because an immigration overhaul won't be immediately viable doesn't mean partial fixes won't be advanced to "address the brokenness of the immigration system," Meissner says.Some areas of the system that seem to cry out for attention include a backlog of visa and citizenship applications, the overwhelmed immigration courts, and an inadequate prison system for immigrant detainees (which activists consider an inhumane gulag, and where avoidable deaths have occurred).So far, though, the most expectation for quick change has centered on the policy of massive work-site raids advanced by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in recent years. In these highly publicized raids, scores or even hundreds of immigrants are detained at a time, as when nearly 400 workers were arrested at a meatpacker in Postville, Iowa in May, or when an August raid swept up some 600 workers at an electronics plant in Laurel, Miss.Immigrant advocates have criticized these large-scale ICE raids for tearing apart families, creating humanitarian crises, and violating due process. Top Democrats, such as House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi, have spoken out against the work-site raids since the election, and during the campaign, so did Obama.Appearing on Univision Spanish-language TV network in September, he was asked whether he supported a moratorium on the raids. Though he stopped short of making any promises, he called the raids a "publicity stunt" and added, "They are a tactic to push people away from focusing on the failures of the immigration system as a whole."Since the election, an alliance of immigrant rights organizations nationwide calling itself the Fair Immigration Reform Movement has stepped up demands for Obama's administration to halt the raids."I think there's pressure building, and they'll need to figure out a way to respond to it," says Tamar Jacoby, a Republican who heads pro-immigration reform group ImmigrationWorks USA. Tamar Jacoby However, she thinks a public repudiation of ICE's raids would risk alienating Joe the Plumber-type voters in Middle America. Any changes to enforcement, if they do come, will be made quietly.Others agree. "I doubt there's going to be a press conference in which the administration says we're going to stop the raids," says Frank Sharry, executive director of America's Voice, an immigrant advocacy group. Instead, he says, an Obama-led ICE agency might say it's zeroing in on exploitative employers and targeting undocumented immigrants with serious rap sheets.As for comprehensive immigration reform, Sharry believes Latinos' huge Election Day turnout makes all the difference. "I've revised my optimism meter," he says.Latinos' ballots, which were key to Obama's victory in states like Colorado and Florida and favored him by a margin of two-to-one nationally, create a huge political opening for reform, Sharry says. Poll show Latinos tend to support immigration reform plans that would put 12 million illegal immigrants living in the United States on a path toward legalization. (They also tend to decry the raids.)Although Obama's choice of Illinois Rep. Rahm Emanuel as chief-of-staff has been considered a poison pill for immigration reform since Emanuel has been a stalwart opponent, that's not necessarily the case. "Emanuel is a strategic political guy, he's not against it on principle," says Jacoby, of ImmigrationWorks USA.The key to any successful reform package is to make it politically attractive. If Obama's administration makes headway on the economy in its first year, if enough pro-reform votes are lined up in Congress, and if activists continue to put the heat on, then Sharry believes immigration reform can happen during Obama's second year.Jacoby is not so sure. "It's going to be an uphill battle," she says. But she agrees with Sharry on one point: pro-reform groups must remain on the warpath. "We have to be building our strength so that whether it's on the agenda in the first 200 days or first two years, we're ready when the battle comes." Immigrant advocacy groups plan to do just that, beginning with Obama's first day in office. They plan a demonstration in Washington D.C. Jan. 21 so that their demands are heard early.

Secular Voices Sound on Papal Succession

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina--Mexican pilgrims, in Rome to pay their respects to Pope John Paul II, greeted Mexican Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera with chants of "Mexico! Mexico!", "Norberto for pope!" and "Yes, it can be done!" Rivera, considered a candidate for the papacy, later seemed hard-pressed to reclaim an atmosphere of sanctity for the papal succession.

"This is not a soccer game," Rivera told the Mexico City daily El Universal. "This does not get decided according to popularity or the media -- it's God who decides."

But Latin Americans, especially politicians eager to regain for the region a measure of priority on the global agenda, clearly would not mind if God decided in their favor. Nominally secular politicians have breached the strict decorum usually observed and have been openly promoting a Latin American papacy in the region's media.

Latin America currently has precious little else with which to gain the rest of the world's attention. Since Sept. 11, 2001, other world leaders, absorbed with terrorism and the great geopolitical questions of the Middle East and East Asia, have largely ignored the region.

With the papal succession, Latin America is again a protagonist. At the Vatican, Latin America's hundreds of millions of Catholics and its 20 papal electors mean it has considerable weight in shaping the future of one of the world's largest denominations and arguably the most influential single institution in world history.

In the Rio de Janeiro's O Globo daily newspaper, former diplomat Rubens Barbosa wrote in an April 6 op-ed that both the U.S. elections and the papal succession are the world's only truly "global elections, because of their importance and repercussion on the course of worldwide events." Barbosa added that many believe the democratic choice is for a pope from the developing world, because it accounts for 65 percent of the world's Catholics.

Brazil's leftist government has been positioning itself as a leader of a developing world bloc at forums like the World Trade Organization and the United Nations, where it is lobbying aggressively for a permanent U.N. Security Council seat. Brazil also happens to be the world's leading Catholic nation, with some 130 million believers. Viewed through a purely political lens, the papal succession presents an unprecedented opportunity for Brazilian sensibilities (particularly the preoccupation with economic inequality) to command worldwide attention.

It is no surprise, then, that Brazil's president, Luiz Inacio "Lula" da Silva, instead of tiptoeing, bluntly said he would like to see a Latin American pope, and preferably a Brazilian one. Lula said a pope from the region "would be closer to us, he would understand our problems better."

This was interpreted as an endorsement of São Paulo Archbishop Cláudio Hummes, once nicknamed the "Worker's Bishop" for his support of striking workers (among them President Lula, a former union leader) during the 1970 dictatorship. Many consider Hummes the Latin American with the greatest chances of succeeding John Paul II.

Lula's declarations ended in a flap. Rio de Janeiro's Archbishop, Cardinal Eusébio Oscar Scheid, responded that Lula's stance "was chaotic, not catholic" and that the president should not have sought to influence a decision "illuminated by the Holy Spirit." Scheid -- one of the papal electors -- also accused President Lula of trying to rack up political dividends by attending the pope's funeral with a delegation that included two ex-presidents, legislators and Brazilian Muslim and protestant leaders.

Lula's outspokenness and generosity with travel arrangements might seem unlikely considering that his decidedly secular Worker's Party diverges from the Vatican line on issues including abortion, condoms and homosexuality. Yet the election to the papacy of Cardinal Hummes, who has said "confronting poverty" is among the Church's most pressing issues, would dovetail with Lula's efforts to push his social justice agenda, including his "Zero Hunger" program, globally.

Other regional politicians also seemed unable to dodge the question of a Latin American papacy without casting a verbal ballot in favor, however obliquely. On CNN en Español, Colombian Vice President Francisco Santos could not hold back an enraptured smile when anchorwoman Patricia Janiot asked him in Rome about the possibility of a Colombian being chosen pope. "Obviously for a country like ours that would be something incredible," he said.

Santos's words are loaded with connotations obvious to Latin Americans. Santos means that for a poor, violence-ridden and (despite U.S. military aid) neglected country like Colombia, a Colombian pope would bring a host of spiritual and secular dividends. Undoubtedly a Colombian papacy (Medellín-born Colombian Cardinal Darío Castrillón Hoyos is considered a candidate) would boost Colombia's peace process, in which bishops have brokered negotiations with armed groups.

Bolivian President Carlos Mesa also said he believed the next pope could be Latin American. Puerto Rican governor Aníbal Acevedo Vilá was quoted in San Juan daily Primera Hora saying a Latin American pope would be mean "extraordinary recognition for our people ... a signal of the importance that Latin America, the Hispanic world, will have in the future of the Church, in the future of many developments in the modern world."

Paving the Amazon

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – Brazil is scrambling to appear in control of the eco-conflict raging in the Amazon rainforest. After the assassination of 73-year-old environmentalist Dorothy Stang (an American and a nun), Brazil's president has sought to make up, in weeks, for years of inertia on the Amazon issue.

But an overview of some of the leading newspaper commentators and environmental reporters in Brazil and Latin America reveals that green activists have little confidence that President Luiz Inacio "Lula" da Silva will be able to save even patches of rainforest without renewed dedication and serious reform.

Most worrisome to environmentalists is the fact that the interests of agribusiness seem to be trumping any hope of a sustainable future in the Amazon.

President Lula is doing too little too late to cover up for his ineffectiveness on the environment, writes Elio Gaspari, an influential columnist for Rio daily newspaper O Globo. Sister Dorothy, he writes "got six bullets from the same reality that killed Chico Mendes," the internationally-known rainforest crusader and rubber-tapper assassinated by ranchers in 1988, who became the first martyr for the Amazon cause.

After the Feb. 12 assassination, Lula announced he would protect some 8 million hectares of rainforest from logging and signed a decree creating conservation areas covering over half that expanse, with more on the drawing board. He also deployed 2,000 troops to the area and created a new specialized forestry service to rein in illegal loggers.

Those are nice gestures, writes Lucio Flavio Pinto, an environmental journalist from the Amazon. But plans like those announced by Lula often come to nothing once they face the realities of the jungle. "Once the meetings in urban and civilized settings are over ... it is incompetent and corrupt officials in the outback that are entrusted to implement the plans," Pinto writes in the Feb. 28 edition of his newsletter, Jornal Pessoal.

The challenges are multiplied in the most conflict-ridden areas of the Amazon, like the Terra do Meio (Portuguese for "Middle Lands") the Texas-sized region in the southern Amazon's Para state, where Stang was killed. The noose is tightening around the region bordered by the Amazon, Tapajos and Xingu rivers. Loggers, land speculators and ranchers are increasingly making incursions into what is still mostly-pristine jungle and indigenous lands.

In fact, the government is moving ahead with plans to pave BR-163, a highway that bisects the southern Amazon through Terra do Meio. BR-163 is still only a dirt track for most its length (and impassable in the rainy season). Brazilian media have already dubbed it the "Soybean Highway" because agribusiness is the main force pushing for it to be paved. The idea is to get soybeans (the current darling of Brazil's export economy) quickly and cheaply loaded onto barges, down the Amazon to the Atlantic, through the Panama Canal, and on to hungry markets like China's.

But for environmentalists, the plan to pave BR-163 symbolizes everything that is wrong with Lula's Amazon policy.

The Amazon's history shows the destruction of the rainforest is inextricably linked to road building. The military government's construction of the Trans-Amazon in the 1960s and 1970s, meant to extend their authority to the jungle frontier, led to a chaotic mass migration of poor workers and resulted in the mind-numbing deforestation statistics of today.

It's no coincidence that Stang, who helped run a sustainable agriculture collective and denounced the violent tactics of land speculators and loggers, was killed near Anapu, which is on the Trans-Amazon. The highway radiates violence and predatory exploitation – satellite maps show how scars of deforestation emanate out into the greenness of the forest.

The environmental movement is also disappointed that Lula, for the first time, has allowed the planting of genetically-modified soybeans in Brazil, another surprising concession to big agribusiness.

People like María Tereza Jorge Pádua, a well-known rainforest activist and founder of green organization Funatura, writes in online eco-journal O Eco that she felt especially betrayed that environmental minister Marina Silva, who fought alongside Chico Mendes in the 1980s, and who should know better, offered only "unconvincing" opposition to the "destructive" BR-163 plan.

BR-163's paving will fill the pockets of speculators who already are snapping up land along BR-163's margins in Terra do Meio. The land rush has begun, and "grileiros," a word coined in Brazilian Portuguese for those who usurp land by fraudulent or violent means, already are the law of the land.

That's why in a Feb. 25 letter to Brazil's attorney general, Greenpeace and 17 other organizations pleaded for more aggressive crime-fighting. "Terra do Meio's population ... lives in terror of a web of grileiros and ranchers."

In a community meeting convened by NGO Instituto Socioambiental to discuss BR-163's paving, an indigenous man, Aka Panará, spoke of personal fears that may prove prophetic. "We are all very worried about the road's paving," he said. "Will it eat up all our earth and leave us hungry?"

Remembering Che

My grandfather, before he died, told me his own repertoire of stories about the Che Guevara he knew, when Che was even younger than the twenty-something traveler portrayed in the new film "The Motorcycle Diaries."

Many of my grandfather's stories had to do with Che's eccentric parents. Even people with sketchy knowledge of Che's biography know he came from Argentina's upper classes. That bit of biography accounts for one of the clichés that have begun to cling to Che's popular image. When young people the world over plaster Che's posters on university walls or wear his face on their T-Shirts, they are often paying homage to a revolutionary who purged the baggage of his privileged upbringing to become a "pure revolutionary."

But as New Yorker staff writer Jon Lee Anderson's biography has documented, this notion, however convenient to the manufacture of the Che myth, doesn't exactly fit. According to my grandfather's stories, it may be that the revolutionary in Che owes as much to his parents as it does to forging fires of history or experience.

My grandfather, the law professor Ángel B. Chávarri, was a contemporary of Che's and their families became acquainted in the 1930s and 1940s in Alta Gracia, a small resort town in Argentina's central sierras. My great-grandfather had tuberculosis and was prescribed the healthy air there. The Guevara family lived there to assuage Che's asthma. My grandfather remembered Che as a "rambunctious rapscallion," a grade-schooler who, despite his asthma, was notorious for his mischief.

Che's parents – who eloped and married against the wishes of their families, with Che's mother already pregnant – were eccentrics, almost misfits, and had a much more hardscrabble life than your typical Buenos Aires aristocrats.

Che's mother for one, despite her poverty, used a long cigarette holder, slicked her hair back so that it stuck to her skull, wore un-ladylike trouser suits and drove the family's dilapidated convertible herself through the town's streets. For the time and place, her behavior was thoroughly unconventional.

Che's father, who had a temper, was a cerebral dreamer who tried and failed at various business schemes, including yacht-building. His hobbies included graphology, the science of studying handwriting to determine an individual's character.

Che's father applied his temper in an episode that is still part of oral tradition around Alta Gracia. During World War II, a group of Argentina's many Nazi sympathizers gathered regularly at a hotel to hear broadcasts from Europe. Che's father was an ardent aliadófilo, as partisans of the allies were known, and with friends carried out a raid on the hotel. They scaled to the hotel's roof to disable the radio antenna and then, for good measure, they slashed the tires of the cars parked outside.

Despite his bravura, Che's father, like many dabblers, never found real success, and the Guevaras weren't wealthy, whatever their pedigree. In Alta Gracia, the man who delivered wood fuel for heating and cooking refused to unload orders at the Guevara's place unless they paid him in cash.

Che happened to be born in Rosario, upriver from Buenos Aires, because his parents stopped there hurrying back to civilization from a yerba mate (a native plant taken as tea in South America) plantation they tried unsuccessfully to run in Argentina's still wild northern frontier. In his pursuit of the frontier lifestyle, Che's father – Ernesto Guevara Lynch – was following in the footsteps of his own adventurous grandparents, who lived in Gold Rush-era California.

Coincidentally, Che spent his first days of life in the same Parisian-style apartment building where my mother was later born in downtown Rosario. A few years ago, a handful of Cuban military officials were there on a pilgrimage and rewarded my uncle - who still lived in the building - with a box of Cuban cigars after he let them in and showed them his own apartment.

"The Motorcycle Diaries" will not be the last rendering of Che designed to appeal to romantic ideas of revolution; "Che," a film still in the works and rumored to be starring Benicio del Toro, will likely pick up where director Walter Salles leaves off. "The Motorcycle Diaries" was conceived by Brazilian director Walter Salles as a kind of portrait of the revolutionary as a young man. His effort to popularize a new, humanized version of Che is positive.

"The Motorcycle Diaries" shows that the "real" Che wasn't just the steely-eyed leftist icon in beret and olive uniform. Closely examined, Che's background reveals an even deeper lesson for activists who wield his image: sometimes models for rebellion are closer at hand than one may imagine. Che's parents, down-on-their-luck aristocrats who refused to bow to convention, in their own subtler ways, were revolutionaries of a kind.

Politics of Risk

Scholars call it the "risk society." Advanced by German sociologist Ulrich Beck and others, the theory implies that for millions of ordinary people, the best choice is simply the safest choice. The ideal that always seems to elude our risk society – especially after Sept. 11, 2001 – is that of total safety. We yearn for a kind of utopia in which cocoons of absolute security will envelop our fragile bodies, our precious families and enterprises.

Nowhere is the effect of this contemporary mindset more apparent than in the 2004 presidential election. In a risk society – especially one scarred by the trauma of a recent major terrorist attack – the act of voting for a president becomes an exercise in risk assessment. In a fear-driven climate shaped by a barrage of terror warnings and the obsessive media coverage of every possible threat to our security, most voters are looking to choose not the best leader, but the least risky one.

It was already clear in the Democratic primaries that the election would be about the ideal of safety rather than ideals themselves. The nebulous factor called "electability" carried Kerry to the nomination over the more vocal Howard Dean, who was framed by the media as riskier for opposing the Patriot Act and the Iraq War. By choosing Kerry – who supported both – Democratic voters signaled that the election would be essentially a referendum on security issues.

Over the past months, George W. Bush and Kerry have continually vowed to make the nation "safer," each claiming to be the better warrior. The Republican and Democratic conventions were designed to push the same message. Kerry, while calling for a "more sensitive" approach, is careful never to question the basic assumptions that underlie the war on terrorism or the Iraq War. During the primaries, Kerry spoke about "replacing" the Patriot Act because of the dangers it posed to our civil liberties; these days, he speaks merely of "improving" the legislation.

The only real difference between Kerry and Bush is that the senator wants to democratize risk; his message is that more multilateral collaboration and grassroots participation in managing risk will keep us safe. He calls for more diplomacy abroad to ensure multinational cooperation against terror, and neighborhood patrols to guard against an attack at home.

President Bush, of course, specializes in the politics of risk. His administration likes to tout itself as a conclave of hard-nosed risk managers. Recently, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld spoke to an audience in Chicago about the array of new threats faced by the United States, including "improvised explosive devices" such as suicide bombs, package bombs and truck bombs, and the challenge of "balancing risks" to meet these emerging threats. The subtext: Do you really want to change leaders when terrorists are coming soon to a city near you?

This isn't to say that this preoccupation with risk is entirely new. The Slovene philosopher Slavoj Zizek points to the Hollywood films of the '70s and '80s, which reflected the fear of nuclear war – the hero racing against time to stop nukes from raining down apocalypse on Moscow and Washington D.C. In the post-9/11 era, John Poindexter's much-discussed and ultimately abandoned plan for a Total Information Awareness program at the Pentagon can best be understood as a new version of this fantasy – not as a sinister Orwellian plot but a naïve attempt to create data sets that will "crack the code" of "terrorist chatter" and miraculously thwart attack after attack.

The reality, however, is that there are no databases, computer software, surveillance technologies or weaponry that can definitively end the threat of a terrorist attack. The notion of any "endgame" for terrorism is illusory. President Bush came near to conceding that with his "you can"t win it" statement about the terror war that he later retracted. Politics aside, threat levels from catastrophic attacks – nuclear or terrorist – will always fluctuate, even as they did in the days when phrases like "Def-Con 4" or "Orange Alerts" were not part of our national consciousness.

More importantly, effective risk assessment entails prioritization – what threats are greater or more pressing than others – which in turn requires reliable information about the risks we face. In a democracy, it is ideally the role of the media to present the risks faced by their audiences in a sensible hierarchy. U.S. residents instead are treated to wall-to-wall coverage of terror alerts and political stage-shows designed to capitalize on the 9/11 attacks. Our political campaigns and media outlets have become little more than messaging machines that lazily reach for the most spectacular risks (like terrorism) in order to attract the largest possible audience, across class, ethnic and geographic lines.

The result is that people remain ignorant of more pressing risks to their well-being, such as declining household incomes, unemployment, lack of health insurance and the pervasiveness of HIV infection.

But in the end it is our civic duty to do an end-run around the mainstream media to inform ourselves of the real dangers we confront both in our everyday lives and as a nation. It is up to the voters to decide what they should be most afraid of.

DNA Fingerprinting Trend Threatens Genetic Privacy

Genetics and crime fighting are becoming as intertwined as the DNA double helix. But that quickly evolving collaboration has taken a dangerous new twist.

Three states – Virginia, Louisiana and Texas – already require the collection of DNA samples from arrestees as part of the booking process, even before suspects go on trial. Critics see a worrying erosion of due process and what they call "DNA privacy" – the right of citizens to keep genetic information private.

Nationwide, "DNA data-banking" policies vary, but over 30 states already require DNA collection from felons. California requires DNA sampling only from those convicted for violent felonies and some sex crimes.

But some want to go further, and take DNA samples from arrestees. Prop. 69, the "DNA Fingerprint" initiative, will be on November's ballot and already enjoys broad bipartisan support. If voters pass it, California – a bellwether state for criminal justice trends – will have among the country's most sweeping DNA sampling policies.

Proposition 69 already has momentum. On July 7, Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger announced his support. Attorney General Bill Lockyer, a Democrat, also backs it.

If approved, DNA collection would go into effect immediately for suspects arrested for murder or rape. They would have their DNA sampled by mouth swabs as part of the booking process. Beginning in 2009, samples would be taken from individuals arrested for a felony crime in California.

Critics say this is a blatant violation of the principle that one is innocent until proven guilty. Although arrestees who are not convicted can later have their DNA removed from databases, this would involve a bureaucratic process.

The Bush administration is keen on expanding the FBI's DNA database, known as CODIS, which pools together state databases. Under current law, only the DNA profiles of convicts can be placed in the federal database. Last year, U.S Justice Department officials spoke with members of Congress wanting them to lift that restriction so that the DNA of some arrestees, including juveniles, can also be made available through the database.

Advocates of "DNA Fingerprinting" claim that even if innocent people are sometimes forced to give DNA, the practice is no more risky than the traditional ink or digitally scanned fingerprint that people nowadays submit to routinely. They also say that only a portion of the DNA sample submitted is actually uploaded to the database.

Opponents reply that law enforcement still holds the entire sample. Unlike a fingerprint, that puts the most intimate information that an individual possesses at the government's disposal.

"Fingerprints...are useful only as a form of identification," Barry Steinhardt of the American Civil Liberties Union told the National Commission on the Future of DNA Evidence. "The DNA samples that are being held by state and local governments can provide insights into the most personal family relationships and the most intimate workings of the human body."

Police DNA databases have expanded rapidly. In 2003 alone, over a dozen states changed their laws to expand the scope of their DNA collection. When first proposed, most plans called for the compulsory sampling of convicted sex offenders. Today, three states take DNA from arrestees and similar plans are showing up on ballots and rattling around in state capitals nationwide.

Since a bigger database increases the possibility of a match with genetic material from a crime scene, law enforcement hunger for DNA continues to grow – even going beyond arrestees.

One major fear is law enforcement will begin using genetic evidence to create a 21st century version of racial profiling. Already, police in Charlottesville, Va., had to face accusations that they were casting a "DNA dragnet," aggressively collecting saliva samples from African Americans in a serial rape case.

Bruce Harrington, the California proposition's sponsor, has deeply personal reasons for seeking a large DNA database. A serial rapist and murderer killed his sister and brother-in-law in 1980 in a case that remains unsolved.

But as the entire nation witnessed during the trial of O.J. Simpson, strong DNA evidence is no sure-fire legal tool. Genetic evidence does not "prove" innocence or guilt. Supposedly infallible DNA evidence is subject to human error through mishandling, contamination and misinterpretation. A skillful lawyer can shatter a case built on a DNA "match."

The Council for Responsible Genetics, a Cambridge, Mass.-based nonprofit, issued a proposed "Genetic Bill of Rights" in 2000. Article 7 says all people should be able to prevent the taking or storing of bodily samples for genetic information without their voluntary informed consent.

In proposals like Proposition 69, U.S. society is setting precedents for how highly this right will be valued, or if it will be respected at all. The problem is not the use of DNA in courtrooms, in legal actions to exonerate the innocent or as a part of police work. Those uses already are common, often with the consent of those submitting DNA. The issue is who will be forced to give up their genetic information. If arrestees have the right to remain silent, shouldn't they also have the right to keep their DNA to themselves?

Immigration Nation?

The immigrant media, and Latino media in particular, were quick to pick apart the new White House proposal that would grant temporary legal status to millions of undocumented workers in the United States.

The day after the plan was made public, the front pages and editorial sections of key Latino, Chinese, Korean and Filipino newspapers were filled with news of the proposal, which if passed would be the most significant revision to immigration policy since the amnesty of 1986.

As the battle over the plan escalates, the fast-growing ethnic media will lead in framing the debate for their audiences in immigrant communities. White House officials and lawmakers haggling over the details as the plan enters the U.S. Congress would be wise to take note.

The headline of an editorial published in the Ft. Worth, Texas Spanish-language daily El Diario La Estrella read, "Bush's Dangerous Immigration Gift." In the commentary, Rafael Férnandez de Castro warns that the immigration proposal poses a double danger to Mexico.

The proposal is accompanied by a tightening of the "fortification," through technology and policing, of the U.S.-Mexico border to placate right-wing opponents, de Castro writes. The risk is that the portions of the proposal aimed at hardening the border will be approved easily, even as the guest worker program founders due to conservatives' opposition.

Although many of their readers and viewers would stand to gain from the reforms, opinions in immigrant media were not unanimously in favor of the new plan. If the guarded reaction from some media is any indication, President Bush may have more trouble attracting immigrant voters with his proposed reforms than many expect. Or, it may be that the real debate will only come as the plan's details are hashed out in Congress.

In the New York-based Filipino Reporter weekly, a headline read, "Bush Plan Offers New Hope for Illegal Immigrants."

A measured response came in the Los Angeles Spanish-language paper La Opinión, with a daily circulation of 126,000. Its lead editorial began, "The principles laid out yesterday by President Bush are interesting as a start for reopening the immigration debate, but they leave much to be desired."

María Elena Salinas, the co-anchor of the national newscast for Univision, the country's top-rated Spanish-language television network, portrayed the Bush proposal mainly as an opportunity for foreign workers who are able to match themselves up with jobs in the United States.

This facet of the proposal, which would create a digital database of jobs that must be offered to U.S. citizens before they can be offered to guest workers, has also drawn early scrutiny from ethnic media.

Advocacy groups like the League of United Latin American Citizens were cited in several ethnic media reports expressing worry that the plan would value only the needs of corporations and employers, not families. "We are in favor of an immigration reform, but we have to make sure that it comes with a family reunification component and not just work permits at the convenience of a few people," Ana Yáñez, political affairs spokeswoman for LULAC in Austin, Texas, told El Diario La Estrella.

The headline in the popular Korean-language news Web site read, "180,000 Illegal Korean Immigrants in the U.S. May Receive Legal Status." Observers say the number of undocumented Koreans in the United States could be as high as 500,000. But the article said a strenuous "screening process" that accompanies the plan would likely make it difficult for legalized workers to gain permanent residency cards, or green cards, and get on track for U.S. citizenship.

The Bush plan would offer a renewable three-year temporary legal status to the estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants nationwide, and offer a chance at this guest worker status to immigrants internationally. Participating immigrants would be enrolled in Social Security and be able to immediately apply for a green card, but waiting periods for green cards can stretch for longer than 10 years.

A relatively low number of green cards are granted each year, about 140,000, which are issued for employment purposes, and a tiny proportion of those are given to non-skilled workers. The Bush plan led the Chinese-language Sing Tao Daily -- but the story immediately asked if the quota of green cards would be increased under the plan to accommodate the new influx of temporary workers likely to apply for permanent residency.

As might be expected, the consensus in immigrant media was that the proposal is politically motivated, with Latino voters in particular being the intended target of what is being called an election year gambit. Political analyst Carlos Ramos, writing a commentary in La Opinión, says, "It's certain that the immigration initiative is a master stroke on the political chessboard of this electoral year."

Marcelo Ballve is an editor for Pacific News Service.

The Myth of Fingerprints

Romulo S. Raval's hands served him well for 71 years. As a 12-year-old in the Philippines during World War II, he worked as a messenger, delivering secret notes crumpled in his fists to guerrillas fighting the invading Japanese army in the mountains. Once, he even guarded war prisoners, gripping the barrel of a Springfield rifle with trembling fingers.

Decades later, Raval became the proud patriarch of a large immigrant family in the United States, supporting his wife and eight children. He worked at a fish cannery in Alaska, sorting mail in Oakland and selling imported children's clothing for a time.

Most recently, until last December, Raval pushed a wheelchair through concourses at San Francisco's international airport, taking infirm or elderly passengers to their gates. That was when Raval's worn hands -- more accurately, his fingertips -- turned into a liability.

After the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, the federal government ordered most employees of the nation's airports to undergo a security check. The unprecedented checks presented a massive logistical challenge. At San Francisco alone, more than 12,000 persons were fingerprinted for screening by the FBI.

For Raval and another wheelchair agent, 75-year-old Jesus Salvador, the fingerprinting cost them their livelihoods.

No one suspects the three workers of being al Qaeda operatives or potential terrorists. Salvador is a U.S. citizen, while Raval was a legal U.S. resident at the time. Unlike security screeners who are now required to be federally trained employees and U.S. citizens -- a policy that led to the well-publicized dismissals of non-citizen screeners -- wheelchair agents like Raval need only working permits and clean records.

Raval and Salvador's fingerprints, read by state-of-the-art digital machines, came back "unclassifiable." The FBI said lifetimes of manual labor or old age often erode the whorls of ridges that make up fingerprints.

"Absolutely, it could be a result of age," said Steve Fischer, spokesman at the FBI's Criminal Justice Information Services. "In fact, it happens quite frequently."

The men were not fired right away, but the "unclassifiable" fingerprints triggered a mandatory 10-year background check, in which they had to account for whereabouts and employment. Ravel had gone back to the Philippines to work as a customs official in the 1980s, returning to the United States in 1997. Both workers scrambled to obtain documentation from the Philippines' famously disorganized bureaucracy before the Dec. 22 deadline.

Raval was fired Dec. 23. On his termination notice, his supervisor scrawled: "Did not Pass Security Requirement." Raval charges he was unjustly fired, saying that on Dec. 22 he provided records from the U.S. consulate in the Philippines and a letter from his hometown lawyer to prove that during a six-month employment gap in 1997 he was arranging for a U.S. visa to join his family.

"Am I a terrorist? I have met all the requirements," Raval said.

Salvador complied Jan. 9, after he already was fired, according to Daz Lamparas, a representative in the Service Employees International Union, where Raval was a shop steward.

"It's not a question of national security," Lamparas said. "Management is using this new policy of a background check to fire people they don't like," because of old age or union membership.

Both men are seeking arbitration for reinstatement with full back pay, Lamparas said. Sara Jackson, spokeswoman in Atlanta for the men's former employer, Argenbright Securities, said the company's lawyer had spoken to the union representative to reach a deal.

Lamparas said the Argenbright lawyers are discussing a monetary settlement, but have said the men can't be placed back in their jobs because Argenbright no longer functions at the airport.

Mike McCarron, San Francisco airport spokesman, said that what happened to Raval and Salvador was unusual. Out of the roughly 12,000 persons fingerprinted, a total of 65 workers had unclassifiable fingerprints. McCarron could not say how many lost jobs. But he said at least 20 were "cleared" and presumably already were working.

Raval now spends his mornings in the tidy home he shares with his son's family in Daly City, a town bordering San Francisco. On a recent morning, he has just said the rosary, and its multi-colored strands are in a zip-loc bag on the coffee table in front of him, next to a vial of holy water.

When he hears faded fingerprints may have cost him his job, he sighs and looks at his smooth, shiny-pink fingertips. "Is it my fault that my fingerprint could not be read?" he asked. Raval is especially frustrated because he only planned on working until February, when he could have retired with full Social Security and Medicare benefits. "I should be enjoying life already," he said.

Raval is still fighting for his job, and is now a U.S. citizen, having been sworn in March 17. He is proud that his eight children are citizens, and all except one who is infirm are working professionals, including dentists, nurses and businesspeople. One of his 18 grandchildren, 22-year-old Jennifer Raval, helps him on his case. If he fails to win his job back, Raval said, he may be forced for the first time to accept financial help from his children.

"Whether I win or lose," he said, "I will be OK. What worries me are all the immigrants this is happening to who don't have high school diplomas and don't know the meaning of the word discrimination."

PNS Associate Editor Marcelo Ballve ( is a former Associated Press reporter in Brazil and the Caribbean.