Second thoughts of a ‘hanging judge’

Insights from an experienced Republican judge, justice doesn’t need to be partisan or political…

Second thoughts of a ‘hanging judge’

A death sentence in California rarely leads to an execution. Let’s stop the charade.

By Donald A. McCartin

March 25, 2011

In 1978, the first time Jerry Brown was governor of California, he appointed me to a judgeship in the Superior Court of Orange County. It was a gutsy move on his part, a liberal Democrat naming a right-wing Republican to the bench. I served there until 1993, after which I sat on assignment on death cases throughout California.

During that time, I presided over 10 murder cases in which I sentenced the convicted men to die. As a result, I became known as “the hanging judge of Orange County,” an appellation that, I will confess, I accepted with some pride.

The 10 were deemed guilty of horrifying crimes by their peers, and in the jurors’ view as well as mine they deserved to die at the hands of the state. However, as of today, not one of them has been executed (though one died in prison of natural causes).

I am deeply angered by the fact that our system of laws has become so complex and convoluted that it makes mockery of decisions I once believed promised resolution for the family members of victims.

That said, I have followed the development of legal thinking and understand why our nation’s Supreme Court, in holding that “death is different,” has required that special care be taken to safeguard the rights of those sentenced to death. Such wisdom protects our society from returning to the barbarism of the past. And though I find it discomfiting and to a significant degree embarrassing that appellate courts have found fault with some of my statements, acts or decisions, I can live with the fact that their findings arise out of an attempt to ensure that the process has been scrupulously fair before such a sentence is carried out.

I can live with it and, apparently, so can the men I condemned. The first one, Rodney James Alcala, whom I sentenced to die more than 30 years ago for kidnapping and killing 12-year-old Robin Samsoe, was, just last year, again sentenced to death for killing Samsoe and four other young women who, it has subsequently been determined, were his victims around the same time.

I need not go into the permutations of Alcala’s legal journey. Behind bars since 1979, he has not harmed, nor can he harm, any other young women. But harm has been done, and that’s what infuriates me. Robin Samsoe’s mother has been revictimized time and time again as the state of California spent millions upon millions of dollars in unsuccessful attempts to finally resolve the case against her daughter’s murderer.

Had I known then what I know now, I would have given Alcala and the others the alternative sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. Had I done that, Robin’s mother, Marianne, would have been spared the pain of 30 appeals and writs and retrial. She could have dealt then and there with the fact that her daughter’s killer would be shut away, never again to see a day of freedom, and gone on to put her life together. And the people of California would have not have had to pay many millions of tax dollars in this meaningless and ultimately fruitless pursuit of death.

It makes me angry to have been made a player in a system so inefficient, so ineffective, so expensive and so emotionally costly.

I watch today as Gov. Brown wrestles with the massive debt that is suffocating our state and hear him say he doesn’t want to “play games.” But I cringe when I learn that not playing games amounts to cuts to kindergarten, cuts to universities, cuts to people with special needs — and I hear no mention of the simple cut that would save hundreds of millions of dollars, countless man-hours, unimaginable court time and years of emotional torture for victim’s family members waiting for that magical sense of “closure” they’ve been falsely promised with death sentences that will never be carried out.

There is actually, I’ve come to realize, no such thing as “closure” when a loved one is taken. What family members must find is reconciliation with the reality of their loss, and that can begin the minute the perpetrator is sent to a prison he will never leave. But to ask them to endure the years of being dragged through the courts in pursuit of the ultimate punishment is a cruel lie.

It’s time to stop playing the killing game. Let’s use the hundreds of millions of dollars we’ll save to protect some of those essential services now threatened with death. Let’s stop asking people like me to lie to those victim’s family members.

The governor doesn’t have the power to end the death penalty by himself, but he can point the way. He could have a huge financial impact on California by following the lead of Illinois and commuting the sentences of the more than 700 men and women on California’s death row to life without parole.

Donald A. McCartin is a retired Superior Court judge.

I Was Undocumented on “Sesame Street”

I Was Undocumented on “Sesame Street”

Published March 14, 2011 | Fox News Latino

In 1993, when I was 14, I became a regular on “Sesame Street.” The show usually liked to have a teenager on, so that was me. My character had my same name, Carlo, and eventually I got a job at Mr. Hooper’s store. I had to make a birdseed milkshake for Big Bird, that was my tryout. I ended up appearing on “Sesame Street” for five years. But the whole time, I had a secret: I was an undocumented immigrant. The papers I’d used to get hired were fake.

My family had come from Ecuador when I was seven and my older brother Angelo was nine. We came on a tourist visa, and the moment my parents had gotten it, we knew we were not coming back. They sold all our furniture before we left.

My mother had a sister living legally in the United States, and my parents planned to have her sponsor us for residency. Soon after landing in New York, my parents saw a lawyer. But we were told the process would take four or five years.

Coming to the States was traumatic. In Ecuador, we had lived in a house. Here, we were in a small apartment. We didn’t know any English. But you know, at that age, things change quickly. In six months we were speaking English and running around like normal kids. Most of the time, we blended in. But we knew weren’t supposed to be here, and we lived with a lot of fear.

I started acting when I was 11, almost as a fluke. One day, we went to visit our cousins, and they were on their way to try-outs for a community theater production of “Oliver!” It was through a program put on by the city, to get disadvantaged kids off the street. When we got there, the producers were like, “You should try out, too.” So my brother and I did. Then we all went to lunch. When we got home, we had a phone message that we’d both been cast. I was Oliver.

My parents were horrified. I mean, we were illegal. Plus, the theater was about 45 minutes from our house and we only had one car, and my parents worked long hours. But the producers insisted. They came up with a plan where one of them would come to pick us up in the afternoon for rehearsal, and then my parents would go at night and bring us home.

After the play was over, one of the producers told my parents that she thought I could act professionally, and that if we wanted to, she would send me out on casting calls. Again, this was a big moral dilemma for them. But I think they didn’t want to keep this experience from me. There was already so much we couldn’t do. And in the end I think they decided that we had come to this country in search of opportunities, and this was an opportunity.

So I did a couple of plays, and in the beginning, “Sesame Street” was just another audition. It was a role in the 25th anniversary special that was shot in Central Park. Then, I was offered a regular role. I wasn’t about to turn that down. We had counterfeit green cards, but we never showed the actual card. We turned in photocopies, crossed our fingers, and hoped it worked. And this time it did.

I loved being on “Sesame Street.” It was like a big family. But at the same time, it ratcheted up the fear of being found out. At the time, my brother and I were desperately trying to be normal teenagers. We did the normal things: We hung out, we jammed with our friends. None of them knew we weren’t here legally, not even the closest ones. But more and more they were pressuring us and asking questions: Why do you stick so close to your parents? Why can’t you come on this trip to Canada with us? Why can’t you get your license?

(In fact, we tried to get licenses. My father heard of a guy that was selling Puerto Rican birth certificates, and we bought two. My brother’s worked, and he was able to drive. Mine didn’t, and the people at the DMV took it away and told me if I wanted it back, I’d have to go pick it up at the state’s central office. I didn’t, of course.)

With “Sesame Street,” my fear increased. If I got caught, not only would I be found out and deported, but I was on TV, so it would be a public humiliation. It made things very stressful. One year, I was supposed to be part of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. For that, you get hired by Macy’s, so again I had to give a social security number and show paperwork. I was scared and wanted my father to change a number on the Xerox. And he didn’t, because he didn’t know how to. I was so angry, we got into a physical altercation. I’ll never forget the look on my father’s face. After everything they had done for us, still one of his children turned on him.

And of course, when I handed the paperwork in, Macy’s barely looked at it. Why would they? Who would believe this kid on Sesame Street would have any kind of a problem?

In the end, it took us 12 years to get our residency. We all had to have our fingerprints taken three times, because the laws about how you had to do it kept changing. On the day that we had our final interview with what was then the INS, my brother, father and I wore suits, and my mother wore a dress. You go in, and they call you into one of these little cubicles. It was April 28, I remember, because it was two days before my brother’s 21st birthday.

Normally, at that point, they’d look over your paperwork and give you a stamp in your passport, and that’s good until you get your green card in the mail. But that day, the official there told us that our fingerprints still hadn’t been processed by the FBI. It was going to take a few more weeks. But because you can only be sponsored by a parent until you’re 21, he said, my brother would no longer be eligible. He had waited 12 years. It was a heartbreaking moment for my family.

That night, my parents wrote our local congressman. We’d met him years before, at one of the performances of “Oliver!,” and my parents had kept in touch. And he helped us. My brother got his residency along with the rest of the family. This was all before 9/11, you know. It would never happen that way now.

Carlo Alban is an actor and playwright. His autobiographical one-man show, “Intringulis,” is playing at New Orleans’s Southern Rep theater through March 23.


A motivational story that cuts across demographics, cultures, political parties, genders with global implications.


A lady in a faded gingham dress and her husband, dressed in a old suit, stepped off the train in Boston and walked timidly without an appointment into the Harvard University President’s outer office. The secretary could tell in a moment that such backwoods, country hicks had no business at Harvard & probably didn’t even deserve to be in Cambridge .

‘We’d like to see the president,’ the man said softly. ‘He’ll be busy all day,’ the secretary snapped. ‘We’ll wait,’ the lady replied. For hours the secretary ignored them, hoping that the couple would finally become discouraged and go away. They didn’t, and the secretary grew frustrated and finally decided to disturb the president, even though it was a chore she always regretted.

‘Maybe if you see them for a few minutes, they’ll leave,’ she said to him! He sighed in exasperation and nodded. Someone of his importance obviously didn’t have the time to spend with them, and he detested gingham dresses and homespun suits cluttering up his outer office. The president, stern faced and with dignity, strutted toward the couple.

The lady told him, ‘We had a son who attended Harvard for one year. He loved Harvard. He was happy here. But about a year ago, he was accidentally killed. My husband and I would like to erect a memorial to him, somewhere on campus.’

The president wasn’t touched. He was shocked. ‘Madam,’ he said, gruffly, ‘we can’t put up a statue for every person who attended Harvard and died. If we did, this place would look like a cemetery.’ ‘Oh, no,’ the lady explained quickly. ‘We don’t want to erect a statue. We thought we would like to give a building to Harvard.’

The president rolled his eyes. He glanced at the gingham dress and homespun suit, then exclaimed, ‘A building! Do you have any earthly idea how much a building costs? We have over seven and a half million dollars in the physical buildings here at Harvard.’

For a moment the lady was silent. The president was pleased. Maybe he could get rid of them now. The lady turned to her husband and said quietly, ‘Is that all it cost to start a university? Why don’t we just start our own? Her husband nodded. The president’s face wilted in confusion and bewilderment.

Mr. and Mrs. Leland Stanford got up and walked away, traveling to Palo Alto, California where they established the university that bears their name, Stanford University, a memorial to a son that Harvard no longer cared about.

You can easily judge the character of others by how they treat those who they think can do nothing for them.—- A TRUE STORY by Malcolm Forbes.

People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel!

U.S., in Shift, Sees Marriage Act as Violation of Gay Rights

Interesting how this will eventually affect US citizens’ rights to petition for their same-sex married partner to come to the United States. Same-sex marriage is legal in Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, and Sweden.

U.S., in Shift, Sees Marriage Act as Violation of Gay Rights
Published: February 23, 2011

WASHINGTON — President Obama, in a major legal policy shift, has directed the Justice Department to stop defending the Defense of Marriage Act — the 1996 law that bars federal recognition of same-sex marriages — against lawsuits challenging it as unconstitutional.

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. sent a letter to Congress on Wednesday saying that the Justice Department will now take the position in court that the act should be struck down as a violation of same-sex couples’ rights to equal protection under the law.

“The president and I have concluded that classifications based on sexual orientation warrant heightened scrutiny and that, as applied to same-sex couples legally married under state law,” a crucial provision of the act is unconstitutional, Mr. Holder wrote.

The move is sure to be welcomed by gay-rights advocates, who had often criticized Mr. Obama for moving too slowly in his first two years in office to address issues that concern them. Coming after the administration successfully pushed late last year for repeal of the military’s ban on gay men and lesbians serving openly, the change of policy on the marriage law could intensify the long-running political and ideological clash over same-sex marriage as the 2012 presidential campaign approaches.

The government’s new position could have far-reaching implications for the rights of gays and lesbians that extend beyond the Defense of Marriage Act, legal scholars said. Gay rights advocates hailed it as a breakthrough.

“It’s a monumentally important decision,” said Tobias B. Wolff, a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania who advised the Obama campaign on gay rights issues.

“The Justice Department and the president have taken the position on behalf of the United States government that discrimination against gay and lesbian people in all cases is presumptively unconstitutional,” he said. “It’s the first time the United States government has ever embraced that position, and if the courts agree, it will help to eradicate all of the various forms of discrimination that gay and lesbian people suffer around the country.”

The president has long said he opposes the Defense of Marriage Act, even as his administration has until now worked to uphold the act’s constitutionality. He has also favored civil unions over gay marriage, much to the consternation of the gay rights advocates who generally support him, but has also said on several recent occasions that his views on gay marriage are “evolving.”

Wednesday’s announcement seemed, to many, to bring him one step closer to reversing his position on gay marriage.

But with gay rights advocates agitating for such a reversal, Mr. Obama has steadfastly resisted talking about a timetable for one. Mr. Wolff said the announcement on Wednesday should give Mr. Obama “a bit more space in his relationship with the LGBT community to come to a decision about that issue in his own time.”

Inside the White House, the discussion about how the Justice Department should handle the Defense of Marriage Act case reached the highest levels. Bob Bauer, Mr. Obama’s White House counsel and a one-time lawyer for the Human Rights Campaign, a leading gay advocacy organization, was deeply involved, as was Valerie Jarrett, the president’s senior adviser, who is his liaison to gay rights groups and is viewed as strongly supportive of their causes.

While Mr. Obama has long argued that the Defense of Marriage Act is bad policy and has urged Congress to repeal it, his administration has also sent Justice Department lawyers into court to defend the statute’s constitutionality.

The new position will require the administration to file new briefs in such litigation, including a major case now pending before the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, in Boston.

Congress may decide to appoint its own lawyers to defend the law, or outside groups may try to intervene in the cases in order to mount legal arguments in the law’s defense. Mr. Holder said that the administration would continue to enforce the act unless and until Congress repeals it, or a court delivers a “definitive verdict against the law’s constitutionality.”

“Our attorneys will also notify the courts of our interest in providing Congress a full and fair opportunity to participate in the litigation in those cases,” he wrote. “We will remain parties to the case and continue to represent the interests of the United States throughout the litigation.”

The decision to change position grew out of an internal administration policy argument, first reported by The New York Times in January, over how to respond to two lawsuits filed late last year in New York.

Citing an executive-branch duty to defend acts of Congress when plausible arguments exist that they are constitutional, the Obama administration had previously argued that legal challenges to the Defense of Marriage Act should be dismissed.

But those lawsuits were filed in circuits that had precedents saying that when gay people say a law infringes on their rights, judges should use a test called “rational basis” to evaluate that claim. Under that standard, the law is presumed to be constitutional, and challengers must prove that there is no conceivable rational government basis for enacting it, a hard standard for challengers to meet.

But the new lawsuits were filed in districts covered by the appeals court in New York. That court has no precedent establishing which legal test judges should use when evaluating claims that a federal law violates gay people’s rights.

That vacuum meant that the administration’s legal team had to perform its own analysis of whether gay people were entitled to the protection of a test known as “heightened scrutiny.” Under that test, it is much easier to challenge laws that unequally affect a group, because the test presumes that such laws are unconstitutional, and they may be upheld only if the lawmakers’ purpose in enacting them served a compelling governmental interest.

In his letter, Mr. Holder said the administration legal team had decided that gay people merited the protection of the “heightened scrutiny” test, and that under that standard, the Defense of Marriage Act was impossible to keep defending as constitutional.


Boxeth & Associates are experienced and skilled in representing clients accused of crimes in criminal court and advising of the immigration consequences. Boxeth & Associates make it convenient to you with hiring one office for both your criminal case and immigration case. You can be assured with all of the information in house, there is not the concern of multiple legal offices representing different interests and needs and attempting to communicate with each other. Boxeth & Associates have your best interests in mind. Boxeth & Associates work hard to protect them!

Debate Intensifies Over Deportations

Debate Intensifies Over Deportations


HOUSTON — The Obama administration is vastly expanding a federal effort begun under President George W. Bush to identify and deport illegal immigrants held in local jails. But here in the city where the effort got a trial start eight months ago, people on each side of the immigration debate have found fault with it.

Under the effort, known as Secure Communities, local officials check every set of fingerprints taken at jails against those of people who have had a brush with federal immigration authorities; in the past, they could check only for a criminal history in the F.B.I. database. If a person turns out to be an illegal immigrant, the case is turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement for possible deportation proceedings in addition to the criminal charges.

The Obama administration considers the trial program successful enough to pledge $195 million over the next year to expand the effort with an eye toward establishing it nationwide by late 2012, when it is projected to cost about $1 billion a year. It is now under way in 70 counties across the country, including those containing the cities of San Diego, Phoenix, Dallas, Miami and Durham, N.C.

“Before we had no idea who was deportable,” said Sheriff’s Deputy Gwen Carroll of Harris County, where Houston is located.

But the trial program’s experience here has raised difficult questions about its goals, critics say, and serves as a stern reminder of the political and practical challenges facing the larger rollout.

Federal officials say that while they are pleased with their new ability to identify illegal immigrants, they do not have enough agents to deport all of those identified. Over all, only a third of those identified in the first seven months of the program as foreign nationals — which includes people with visas and temporary residence cards as well as illegal immigrants — have been deported.

“We do have a limited amount of resources,” said David J. Venturella, the director of the federal program. “It’s our priority to focus on the more serious offenders.”

Proponents of stricter enforcement of immigration laws complain that by concentrating on people who pass through the jails, the government is letting too many other illegal immigrants off the hook. On the other side, advocacy groups for immigrants complain that the program has created a climate of fear and paranoia among Hispanics, hampering the police.

Representative Lamar Smith, a Texas Republican who favors stricter immigration enforcement, has said the focus on criminal offenders “will create a de facto amnesty” for the millions of illegal immigrants who do not have criminal records.

“We can prevent many of these crimes by deporting illegal immigrants before they have committed them, instead of waiting until after the fact,” he said, echoing the views of many hard-liners.

But Maria Jimenez, a longtime advocate for immigrants in Houston, said the Secure Communities program, along with a second federal program that allows certain local law enforcement officials to act as federal immigration agents, has done just what Mr. Smith and other conservatives want. “In casting the net so broadly,” she said, “it will be a de facto immigration enforcement program by local police.”

While federal officials say the purpose of the effort is to identify serious and violent criminals, immigrant advocates complain that the great majority of people deported so far under the trial program here were arrested for misdemeanor and nonviolent crimes.

In the first six months of the trial program in Harris County, the automatic fingerprint checks led to the deportation of 94 people accused of the highest level of felonies and 1,624 people accused of misdemeanors and various property crimes, federal officials said. In all, there were 5,300 matches with the immigration database.

“People are getting deported for even minor offenses like not having an ID or a driver’s license,” said Cesar Espinosa of America for All, a group that helps immigrants in Houston.

But what constitutes a minor offense is a matter of debate.

Sheriff Adrian Garcia of Harris County says he regards most of the people tagged for deportation as criminals, including those arrested for drunken driving and drug possession. Fewer than one in 10 have been charged with traffic offenses and other “Class C” misdemeanors under state law, Sheriff Garcia noted.

“We are taking people off the streets of Houston, off the streets of Harris County, who have indicated they are not interested in following the rules around here,” he said.

Support for deporting immigrants with criminal records grew in Houston after a city police officer, Rodney Johnson, was killed in 2006 by a felon who had been deported but returned. Last March, that sentiment reached a peak when a second officer, Rick Salter, was critically injured by an illegal immigrant with a criminal record.

On a recent morning, one young man who was arrested on charges of failing to provide information to the police slouched on a bench in the Harris County jail, while on the other side of a grate, Sheriff’s Deputy Sammie Rinehart scanned his immigration record.

A year ago, Deputy Rinehart said, it would have been nearly impossible to find out if he was in the country illegally because he had given officers a phony name. But after his fingerprints were taken using a computerized scanner and run through the government’s immigration database, they told a different story. He was really Carlos Bringas Nimrod, 22, of Mexico.

“I find about 10 to 12 names he’s used,” Deputy Rinehart said. “He’s got immigration charges — illegal entry. Most of his crimes have always been illegal entry.”

Mr. Bringas Nimrod was one of about 10 illegal immigrants the local police had locked up on misdemeanor charges that afternoon. One was Celio Velásquez, a 23-year-old construction worker from Honduras, who was accused of drunken driving and running over a volunteer firefighter with a car, making it necessary to amputate his legs.

Another was Jaime López, a 48-year-old Mexican citizen with a bloody bandage over one eye. He had been arrested on aggravated assault charges for the second time.

Jay K. Aiyer, a Houston immigration lawyer, said few people here disagree that dangerous criminals should be deported. But Mr. Aiyer said he had handled several cases in the last eight months in which illegal immigrants faced deportation proceedings after the state had dropped criminal charges.

But John T. Morton, the assistant secretary of homeland security in charge of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, does not see the roundup of relatively harmless immigrants as a flaw.

“We are interested in identifying and removing all offenders if we can,” Mr. Morton said in an interview. “But we have limited resources, and in a world of limited resources we are focusing on violent serious offenders first.”

Few Options for Veterans Who Await Deportation

Few Options for Veterans Who Await Deportation

Some say their military service merits special consideration.

By Steve Liewer

Staff Writer

2:00 a.m. July 12, 2009

As a 7-year-old, Fernando Cervantes emigrated legally from Mexico to Texas with his mother in 1961.

At 18, in the waning days of the Vietnam War, he enlisted in the Army. Cervantes donned the khaki uniform, raised his right hand and swore to defend the Constitution.

“I thought it was my patriotic duty,” he said.

Thirty-two years after his honorable discharge, Cervantes is wearing the bright-orange shirt of a detainee at the El Centro Service Processing Center, where he has been held since the end of a three-year prison term last year for possession of methamphetamine for sale.

Barring an act of Congress, he will be deported to Mexico, a country he hasn’t visited since 1970. “I have no one in Mexico. Everything in my life is here,” said Cervantes, 55, of Victorville. “It’s very scary.”

About 32,000 foreign-born detainees await deportation at roughly 350 facilities nationwide – including the one in El Centro and another in Otay Mesa – operated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement or its contractors. An estimated 45 percent are legal residents who committed crimes ranging from murder to drug possession and were turned over to ICE after their prison terms.

No one has a reliable count of how many of them served in the U.S. armed forces. Rob Baker, field director of ICE’s San Diego office, ventured an estimate of half a percent, or fewer than 200 nationwide. Jan Ruhman of Rancho Bernardo, a Vietnam War vet who works with several anti-war groups, believes the figure is about 3,000.

Whatever the total, the deportation of veterans raises questions about the government’s responsibility to foreign-born noncitizens who have worn the uniform and, in some cases, shed blood in America’s defense.

Detained veterans believe they merit special consideration because of their military service. Some have sought out lawyers to press their case and have written letters to legislators, both to no avail.

“There’s people like me who will step up and defend this country,” said Rohan Coombs, 45, a Jamaica-born former Marine and Persian Gulf War veteran from Tustin who was stationed at Camp Pendleton for part of his six-year tenure.

He served time for drug crimes and is now at the El Centro facility.

“I’m not saying I’m a saint, but I think I deserve the right to stay here,” Coombs said.

Heather Boxeth, a San Diego attorney who handles criminal defense and immigration cases, is representing Coombs and another detained veteran for free.

“I’m not from a military family, and I’m not an Army brat,” she said. “But I thought there was something wrong with this.”

Plenty of people, though, said living in the United States is a privilege that foreigners forfeit with criminal behavior – even if they’re veterans.

“If they’ve not gotten citizenship, I have no qualms about deporting them,” said retired Marine Lt. Col. Tom Richards of Rancho Bernardo, a decorated Vietnam War veteran who heads the state’s Legion of Valor. “The moral of the story is, you shouldn’t become a convicted felon.”

Rep. Duncan D. Hunter, R-Lakeside, is an Iraq war veteran who has helped foreign-born Marines under his command become U.S. citizens. He said veterans who have committed crimes deserve due process, but no more.

“If the law says you get deported, then that’s what happens,” Hunter said.

Until 1996, the law subjected foreigners to deportation only for the most serious crimes and gave immigration judges wide latitude to consider special circumstances.

That year, as part of a broad revision of immigration laws, Congress expanded the list of aggravated felonies for which foreign-born residents can be deported and greatly limited judicial discretion.

The revised list includes murder, kidnapping, rape and other violent crimes as well as forgery, theft and possession of drugs with the intent to sell.

“It sounds really good: Let’s deport people who commit crimes. But usually, it’s not significant crimes,” said Army Reserve Lt. Col. Margaret Stock, an attorney in Alaska who volunteers with the American Immigration Lawyers Association’s Military Assistance Program.

Most of the veterans facing deportation were convicted of drug possession, Stock and other lawyers said.

Coombs said he started smoking marijuana frequently after his wife, Pamela, died in 2001 from diabetes-related complications.

“It started out as something that helped me go to sleep,” said Coombs, former manager of a Frazee Paint store. “To support my habit, I started getting a little extra (to sell).” He has been arrested three times and imprisoned once for marijuana violations.

Cervantes, a journeyman carpenter, started using methamphetamine in the early 1980s while working two jobs to support his wife and two children.

Three times he has served jail terms of less than a year for producing, holding or selling drugs. A fourth conviction in 2006, for sale and possession of less than 1 gram of meth, landed him in state prison and, eventually, in El Centro.

“For all these years, I thought I was an American citizen” because of the military service, Cervantes said. “To say that I was surprised would be an understatement.”

As far back as the American Revolution, the military has relied on foreign-born troops to fill its ranks. Green-card holders always have been subject to the military draft.

The Pentagon has offered foreign-born residents a fast track to citizenship in times of war. But Coombs and Cervantes said they didn’t think that option was important because recruiters had told them they would automatically become citizens once they enlisted.

Their deportation cases drew outside attention after Coombs’ fiancee wrote an e-mail that found its way to Ruhman, the veterans advocate. He met with Coombs and, over time, learned that at least 10 veterans were among the 500 detainees at the El Centro facility.

“I support ’em because I’m a (expletive) Marine, and Marines don’t leave anyone behind,” Ruhman said. He contacted Boxeth, and the two have reached out to veterans advocates and human-rights lawyers around the country. They’re trying to assess how many other veterans are awaiting deportation.

So far, they haven’t had much luck. They must be invited by a detainee before being allowed onto the grounds of a detention facility.

Boxeth said the legal system offers little hope of stopping the deportations because judges have lost most of that authority.

ICE does give field-office directors the right to review veterans’ cases. Baker, whose region includes San Diego and Imperial counties, said he sees about 10 cases a year involving veterans. He said he has never stopped proceedings on a case solely because of someone’s military record.

“I admire their service to our country,” said Baker, who spent 23 years in the Air Force. “But I don’t think that service qualifies them for an amnesty.”

Boxeth said her strategy is to prolong her cases while lobbying legislators to change the law. She met this month with Rep. Bob Filner, D-San Diego, chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.

Filner could not be reached for comment. Boxeth said he has agreed to sponsor a “private bill” granting relief specifically to Cervantes, though congressional analysts said few of such measures pass.

Boxeth said Filner also is considering broader legislation that would give foreign-born service members and veterans – including those already deported – the same rights as noncitizen U.S. nationals, such as people born in certain U.S. territories and possessions.

The change would shield them from being deported or allow them to return to the United States if they have left.

“These are still people who fought in our wars,” Boxeth said. “I don’t think enough of the American public knows what’s going on.”

Link to video

Steve Liewer: (619) 542-4572

In the Union-Tribune on Page A1

Reid Declares Immigration a Priority for Senate

By Ben Pershing
Washington Post Staff Writer

Saturday, June 6, 2009

With President Obama on a historic foreign trip, a Supreme Court nomination pending and massive health-care and climate change bills percolating in Congress, Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) managed to draw headlines on a completely separate front Thursday: immigration.

At a news conference with Hispanic leaders to tout Sonia Sotomayor’s Supreme Court candidacy, Reid said a comprehensive immigration bill is “going to happen this session, but I want it this year, if at all possible.” Reid called it one of his three top priorities this year, along with health care and energy.

His comments drew renewed attention to the immigration issue, which has been largely dormant on Capitol Hill since a comprehensive reform measure failed in the Senate in 2007. Despite the hopes of Reid and other advocates, however, with Congress and the White House preoccupied with a packed legislative calendar, immigration reform looks unlikely to pass this year.

House Democratic leaders have already said they want the Senate to move on immigration first, and the Senate can take weeks to process a major bill. Both chambers have to grapple with a full complement of issues this year, including the usual slate of appropriations bills as well as the health-care and energy measures, both of which will be controversial.

Brent Wilkes, the national executive director of the League of United Latin American Citizens, was standing with Reid on Thursday and said he understands why Democrats are not committing to a firm timetable. “They’re cautious about the immigration bill, because things have a tendency to slip in Washington,” he said.

Last summer, candidate Barack Obama pledged on a LULAC questionnaire, “I will put comprehensive immigration reform back on the nation’s agenda during my first year in office.” The White House is hosting a meeting of key lawmakers and advocacy groups to discuss immigration June 17, but the administration has given no hint of an intensified push on the issue. Administration aides have said repeatedly that Obama wants to “start the debate this year,” but the president has not asked for a bill to sign in 2009.

Obama himself said in April, “We want to move this process,” before adding that he does not “have control of the legislative calendar.”

Reid does, and his spokesman, Jim Manley, said yesterday he thinks an immigration bill could pass the Senate this year, though he acknowledged the agenda is packed. “It’s an ambitious schedule, but it’s doable with a little bit of cooperation” from Republicans, he said.

But there is little evidence that such cooperation is forthcoming or that any consensus is forming around a compromise bill, so Republicans do not think moving a measure this year is realistic.

“The real estate is rapidly shrinking,” said Don Stewart, spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). “Although we can always do more on border security, there are still a number of unresolved issues before the Congress that are going to take us well into the latter part of the year.”

Despite those obstacles, Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) has said he plans to draft and introduce a new immigration measure later this year. Wilkes said that would get the ball rolling, and that 2010 is a more likely target for final action on the issue.

“I think spring is realistic,” he said.

Immigration Benefits On The Hill

Immigration Benefits On The Hill

President Obama has scheduled an immigration summit at the White House on June 8th, less than two weeks away. This bipartisan summit will apparently feature key Congressional leaders, and is being promoted by the White House as “an opportunity to launch a policy conversation that we hope will be able to start a debate that will take place in Congress later in the year”. In the meanwhile, The Hill reports that “The Senate’s new math has put an overall immigration package within reach: At least 57 senators from both parties are likely to support a comprehensive approach, with another 7 on the fence.” With such reporting, one would think that immigration benefits are close to being in the bag. However, there is ample reason to be skeptical, here’s why.

The immigration issue is largely political, like almost all issues on the Hill. Unless there is compelling political reason to move one way or another, rarely does Congress act. In the Senate, Majority Leader Reid was the loudest voice a few months ago promoting early and aggressive action on immigration reform. He was then performing poorly in polls for his upcoming election battle in Nevada in 2010, and needed the immigrant vote badly. While he continues to perform poorly in the polls, a credible Republican challenger has failed to materialize – his insistence on tackling immigration early has muted accordingly. In the House, while a major immigration benefits bill likely waits in the wings for an opportune moment, the Democratic leadership has thus far not moved the legislative calendar on CIR. The White House has, for its part, made clear that immigration has to wait for its turn behind health care reform, climate change, education and tax policy. Whether any oxygen would remain in the legislative air for the balance of this year for immigration is an open question. Observing the executive branch actions so far, Mr. Emmanuel’s deft political fingerprints are plain to see – plenty of hot air, very little real ameliorative action. ICE and CBP continue ham-handed enforcement, and “the Culture of No” is just as firmly ensconced at USCIS, DOS and DOL as it was under the Bush administration. We suspect that as Mr. Obama’s sky-high approval ratings slowly return to earth, his staff’s interest in immigration will rise in tandem. In a nutshell, immigration reform on the Hill is far from a done deal.

So, what’s the bottom line? Our view is colored by institutional and procedural matters on the Hill (not by any secret sources, nor by any private exchanges with specific persons on the Hill). We believe that immigration benefits have a fair chance of getting enacted based on the fact that Democrats enjoy near-record majorities at this time, when the Republicans have, thru their reflexive opposition, temporarily made major immigration benefits a partisan issue. If large scale benefits are not enacted now, we cannot imagine many more likely moments in the coming years. Since most immigrants cant vote (except for those who are already naturalized), our politicians do not pay much of a political price to postpone action on all kinds of pretexts. However, permitting the status quo of millions of undocumented Americans is no way to run a railroad, or a country. We urge Congress to get moving, and soon.

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3 California Counties Will Check Immigration Status as Inmates Enter Jail

The effort is part of a national program to run the inmates’ fingerprints through federal databases. Illegal immigrants may then be deported after being convicted and serving their sentences.

By Anna Gorman – LA Times
6:01 PM PDT, May 13, 2009

Los Angeles, Ventura and San Diego will become the first counties in California to begin checking the immigration status of all inmates booked into jail as part of a national effort to identify and deport more illegal immigrants with criminal records.

Law enforcement officials in the three counties will begin running inmates’ fingerprints through federal databases this month to see if they have had any contact with the immigration system. Immigration officials will place holds on those believed to be in the country illegally. Once the inmates have finished serving their sentences, they will be transferred to immigration custody for possible deportation.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement earlier launched the program — dubbed Secure Communities — in 48 counties in seven states and plans to expand it to all jails and prisons by the end of 2012. Congress has allocated $350 million for the program in fiscal years 2008 and 2009. President Obama asked Congress last week for a 30% increase in federal funds for next year.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said during recent testimony before Congress that Secure Communities “gives our state and local partners a powerful tool to identify criminal aliens in their custody.”

David Venturella, executive director of Secure Communities for the federal immigration agency, said the program is much more accurate than the previous system because all inmates — not just those who say they are foreign-born — are screened for immigration status. Convicted felons who have multiple aliases or have lied about being born in the U.S. are being identified under the new program, he said.

“We are finding those individuals, and they are not getting out,” he said.

Law enforcement officers already had access to the immigration databases, but the computer screening will now automatically take place as part of the booking process.

Not everybody identified, convicted and transferred to federal custody will be deported right away, however. Venturella said the federal government will prioritize illegal immigrants who pose a threat to public safety, including those convicted of murder, rape, robbery or kidnapping.

And despite the improvements, Venturella said the system could still miss illegal immigrants who have never had any contact with the immigration system. He said that’s where the actual screeners come in. “Human resources can be focused on the ones who we don’t have any records on,” he said.

For example, Secure Communities probably wouldn’t have led to the identification of illegal immigrant Pedro Espinoza, suspected of killing high school football player Jamiel Shaw II after being released from Los Angeles County Jail. Espinoza had not had contact with the immigration system in the past, officials said.

Earlier this week, Shaw’s family sued the Sheriff’s Department for negligence and wrongful death. Espinoza said during booking that he was born in the U.S., according to sheriff’s officials.

The department began working with federal immigration agents in 2006 to screen inmates, but officials said the new program will help keep people from slipping through the cracks.

“There is another layer of screening going on,” said Sheriff’s Lt. Kevin Kuykendall. “It’s another tool to increase our effectiveness and make sure we get to everyone we need to get to.”

More than 40 police agencies throughout Los Angeles County will participate in the new program, enabling law enforcement to screen every inmate booked at any local facility, immigration officials said.

In some cases, immigration agents may arrest an inmate who has been released — on bail or after an acquittal, for example — if the person is an illegal immigrant and has a prior criminal record.

County Supervisor Mike Antonovich, who lobbied the federal government to bring the program to Los Angeles, said its implementation will make the county safer and save money.

“County taxpayers are spending hundreds of millions of dollars housing and supporting criminal aliens who have broken the law to be here,” he said. “They need to be deported.”

But Ahilan Arulanantham, staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, said there need to be safeguards so inmates aren’t incorrectly placed on immigration holds based on a database that could contain errors.

“There has got to be some kind of human training and understanding and procedures in place so that there is someone who knows enough immigration law to interpret this data correctly,” he said.