Wealthy farmers 'exploit' recipients of Colombia's land restitution program
Publisher: Colombia Reports
Author: ZACH EDLING
Story date: 11/12/2012
Language: English

Farmland given to displaced farmers in northwest Colombia as part of the government's Victim and Land Restitution Act, is actually under the control of three wealthy businessmen, local media reported Monday.

According to local media, Colombia's anti-corruption unit visited the municipality of Ayapel in the Cordoba department to check on land, which once belonged to William and Gerado Moncada, brothers who worked for Pablo Escobar, and now handed back to rural farmers who had been displaced due to armed conflict.

Upon investigation they found that the farmers were no longer there and the land was instead in the hands of three wealthy local businessmen.

"They had been persuaded to sell [the land to] the three people who exercise economic power in the area," read the anti-corruption unit's report.

Investigators reportedly collected testimonies of local peasants who claimed that the disputed land was delivered to the local businessmen [whose names were not released in order to not compromise the ongoing investigation] by Rafid Janna Marquez, who was gunned down just days after the sale. Authorities are investigating whether a connection exists between the land sale and Mr. Marquez's death.

The three businessmen, according to INCODER, a Colombian insititute for rural development, have surrounded the 1,181 acres with electric fences. INCODER asked prosecutors to go after "those responsible."

President Juan Manuel Santos' administration targeted the Cordoba department as a pilot location for land restitution, but since its signing in 2011, the Victim and Land Restitution Law has experienced mixed results. In September, a US think tank claimed the project was not working.

"Despite the shining promises of the Victims' Law, we found...there is very little interest at the local government level," Lisa Haugaard, the executive director of The Latin American Working Group, toldColombia Reports in September. "Some officials are interested, but they receive no support and no resources so that they can begin to resolve the issues...what is most difficult is that some of the people and forces behind the displacement are still there in power, ready to prevent the restitution of lands."

The law requires that committees, including victims of forced displacement themselves, draw up action plans for reparation [i.e. land]. According to Haugaard however, these committees have been infiltrated by "bad actors" who seek to "open up land sales which had been frozen."

INCODER has investigated alleged crimes like the one purportedly committed in Cordoba on a number of occassions, yet there have been reports of corruption within INCODER itself. In October, an investigation was launched to uncover and prosecute INCODER officials who have become known as the "land cartel" – bureaucrats who use the resources given to them by the national government and then sell the land intended for poor farmers to the highest bidder.

"These lands belong to the farmers of Colombia...not to [the] rich and opulent who don't need it," saidColombia's Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Juan Camilo Restrepo.
 

Georgia to start enforcing key part of its immigration law
Publisher: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Author: By Jeremy Redmon
Story date: 11/12/2012
Language: English

Georgia state and local police may start enforcing one of the most controversial parts of the state's immigration law for the first time now that a federal judge has lifted an injunction he placed against it.

The statute — nicknamed by critics as "the show-me-your-papers law" — gives police the option to investigate the immigration status of certain suspects. It also empowers police to detain people determined to be in the country illegally and take them to jail.

Partly modeled after a similar measure in Arizona, Georgia's law is aimed at protecting taxpayer resources by pushing illegal immigrants out of the state. Georgia has the ninth-largest population among states. But it ranked sixth last year for the estimated number of illegal immigrants living within its borders, at 440,000, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

U.S. District Judge Thomas Thrash placed Georgia's law on hold before it could go into effect last year after civil and immigrant rights activists sued to block it. Critics say the statute is unconstitutional and that it could interfere with the nation's foreign diplomacy. They also say it could lead to racial profiling even though the statute explicitly prohibits that.

The state appealed to the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, which reversed Thrash's ruling in August. On Tuesday, Thrash signed an order complying with the appeals court's decision. Thrash's order, attorneys in the case said, lifted the preliminary injunction he issued against the law last year.

Thrash's order could represent the end of the long-running legal battle over this law. But the activists who sued to block it say they won't hesitate to file suit again if they find evidence police are violating people's civil rights through prolonged traffic stops.

"Any type of violations of individuals' rights — including prolonged detention — is something we will be looking for, documenting and will bring back to court," said Karen Tumlin, a managing attorney for the National Immigration Law Center, which is part of a coalition of civil and immigrant rights groups that sued to block the statute.

The courts have also shown concern about the possibility of civil rights violations. For example, in sustaining Arizona's similar law in June, the U.S. Supreme Court said detaining people "solely to verify their immigration status would raise constitutional concerns."

State officials said during the court battle over the law that police already have the authority to check the immigration status of people they have detained in connection with other crimes. State Rep. Matt Ramsey, who sponsored the law, underscored that it is discretionary and predicted police agencies across the state will enforce it differently, based on their manpower.

"It will be on a jurisdiction-by-jurisdiction basis," he said in an interview last week.

The same has been true in Alabama, where a similar law has been in effect since last year. Some police agencies there are enforcing the law, while others are not. For example, the police chief in Clanton — a small town between Montgomery and Birmingham — said he stopped enforcing the law partly because it sometimes takes hours for federal authorities to respond to his officers' queries about the immigration status of suspects.

Atlanta-area police agencies had put off training and other planning to enforce the law because it had been tied up in federal court.

Like Ramsey, Lt. Col. Ron Hunton, the field operations commander for the Cherokee County Sheriff's Office, pointed out Tuesday the law is discretionary for police. Cherokee deputies typically contact federal immigration authorities when they are attempting to verify suspects' legal status, he said. When deputies confirm suspects are in the country illegally, Hunton said, they contact the local U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement office. ICE officials could then ask the county to notify them before the suspects are released from jail so they may have the chance to detain and deport them.

"We have limited space in our detention facility and certainly do not have the resources to deal solely with immigration issues," Hunton said in an email.

A Gwinnett County police spokesman said his agency doesn't see the need to change its policies or procedures since it already participates in a federal program — called 287(g) – that gives some county authorities immigration enforcement powers.

Thrash's order comes as state officials are considering whether to appeal an 11th Circuit Court decision against another part of Georgia's immigration law. That provision would punish people who knowingly transport or harbor illegal immigrants while committing other crimes. The appeals court ruled the measure is pre-empted by federal law, which already prohibits such activities.

Meanwhile, President Barack Obama is pledging to attempt a comprehensive immigration overhaul after his inauguration. Among his goals: creating a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants.

Ramsey predicted such a change would not affect Georgia's statute because it was written with the understanding that "federal immigration law is evolving."

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Georgia's immigration law

A federal judge lifted an injunction against a key part of Georgia's immigration law Tuesday, allowing state and local police to begin enforcing it for the first time. Among other things, the law:

Gives police the option to investigate the immigration status of suspects they have probable cause to believe have committed state or federal crimes and who cannot provide identification — such as a passport or state-issued driver's license — or other information that could help police identify them.
Authorizes police to attempt to determine the immigration status of suspects through "any reasonable means available" or by contacting federal authorities and using federal identification databases and electronic fingerprint readers.
Empowers police to detain people determined to be in the country illegally, contact federal immigration authorities about them and take them to federal or state detention centers.
Prohibits police from considering race, color or national origin in enforcing the statute except as permitted by the Georgia or U.S. constitutions.
Bars authorities from investigating the immigration status of people who contact state or local police or prosecutors to report crimes or seek help as crime victims.
Provides legal immunity from damages and liability to police, prosecutors and other government officials who act "in good faith" to carry out provisions of the law.


Unmatched coverage

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has closely followed Georgia's sweeping immigration law in the state Legislature, federal courts and our communities. Today we report how a federal judge has lifted an injunction against a key part of the law, allowing state and local police to begin enforcing it for the first time.

Tomorrow: Read how Atlanta-area police plan to train for and enforce this controversial part of Georgia's immigration law.

By the numbers

9.8 million: Georgia's population

440,000: Illegal immigrants believed to be living in Georgia

325,000: Illegal immigrants who held jobs in Georgia in 2010

8.7 percent: Georgia's unemployment rate for October

10,206: Immigrants in Georgia who applied to the government for a two-year reprieve from deportation — or "deferred action" — between Aug. 15 and Nov. 15.

Sources: U.S. Census Bureau, Pew Hispanic Center, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, U.S. Department of Homeland Security
 

Local jails may limit immigration holds to convicts
Publisher: The Sacramento Bee
Author: By Ryan Gabrielson
Story date: 11/12/2012
Language: English

In the next year, many of California's local jails might limit federal immigration "holds" to detainees with felony convictions, greatly reducing the number of people deported from the state solely for entering the country without permission.

Gov. Jerry Brown met with leaders from the California State Sheriffs' Association last week to discuss ways to give city police and county sheriff's departments discretion on immigration enforcement.

Alameda County Sheriff Gregory Ahern said he recommended legislation to amend state Penal Code 834b. The code mandates that law enforcement cooperate with federal agents "regarding any person who is arrested if he or she is suspected of being present in the United States in violation of federal immigration laws."

Brown informed the sheriffs association that his office is working on draft legislation to that effect, Ahern said.

At issue is how local law enforcement should participate in Secure Communities, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement program operating in most of the state.

The program checks detainees' residency status using fingerprint data collected from county jails.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement can then place a hold on those found to be in the country illegally. Federal officials have cast the effort as critical to finding and deporting unauthorized immigrants who are dangerous criminals.

However, Secure Communities frequently has snared detainees with no criminal histories.

A review of the program by state Attorney General Kamala Harris' office found that 28 percent of people deported from local jails had no conviction on their records. Last week, Harris spurred debate and action by releasing a legal opinion that local jails are not required to participate in Secure Communities.

"Under the principles of federalism, neither Congress nor the federal executive branch can require state officials to carry out federal programs at their own expense," the attorney general's opinion said. "If such detainers were mandatory, forced compliance would constitute the type of commandeering of state resources forbidden by the Tenth Amendment."

The opinion reversed direction that Brown gave to police agencies two years ago while he was the attorney general.

Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca announced that his agency would no longer honor immigration holds on low-level offenders shortly after Harris issued her guidance. Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck took the same step in October.

For the past year, Santa Clara County has refused to incarcerate detainees beyond the standard hold time, which is based only on their current criminal charges, not immigration status.

"This decision by the attorney general confirms the (county's) policy," said Jeff Smith, Santa Clara County's chief executive. "It's consistent with the constitutional rights."

Brown vetoed legislation this fall – AB 1081, commonly referred to as the Trust Act – intended to make participation in Secure Communities optional. The governor argued that the measure would have directed local jails to disregard immigration holds even when detainees had past convictions for serious crimes like child abuse or drug trafficking.

Ahern, a vice president on the sheriffs association board, said most of the state's elected law enforcement officials are not looking to cut ties with federal immigration authorities. Rather, they seek small tweaks in the relationship.

Local police want to focus their resources on dangerous criminals, Ahern said, not all unauthorized immigrants.

Often, opponents of local immigration enforcement highlight cases in which a college student, brought to the country illegally as a child, is arrested for a minor offense but faces deportation.

Ahern said sheriffs should be able to decline immigration holds in such cases.

"The great majority of us disagree with those types of actions," Ahern said.
 

What’s with the GOP’s absurd fear of all things U.N.?
Publisher: the Washington Post, USA
Author: By Katrina vanden Heuvel,
Story date: 11/12/2012
Language: English

At least they had the decency to wait 24 hours.

Last Tuesday, following the international day honoring the disabled, 38 Senate Republicans voted down the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities. With former Senate majority leader and disabled WWII veteran Bob Dole silently beseeching them from his wheelchair, Dole's fellow Republicans railed against "cumbersome regulations" that could threaten American "sovereignty."

No matter that Democratic Sen. John Kerry patiently and eloquently explained that the treaty would in no way impact U.S. law but merely encourage other countries to adopt our own standards and make life easier for disabled Americans abroad. Or that the treaty — signed by 154 countries and ratified by 126 — was modeled on the landmark Americans With Disabilities Act, a bill championed by Dole and signed into law by President George H.W. Bush. Or that the treaty itself was drawn up by that notorious U.N.-hugger George W. Bush. Or even that eight Republican senators voted to ratify it, including increasingly rabid Obama foreign policy critic John McCain, who listed two dozen supportive veterans organizations before noting that the treaty was about "American leadership in the world."

But none of that counted, because, according to Rick Santorum and his band of U.N..-bashers, ratification would mean wheeling ourselves, ever so slowly, down the road to serfdom at the feet of "international bureaucrats." It would outsource American power to Geneva, decimate home schooling and shake the very foundations of society. To say nothing of the forced abortions that, Santorum & Co. suggest, would inevitably result.

What is it about the United Nations that sends the GOP into such a tizzy? That diplomats are encouraged to speak French? The United Nation's intentions are the best, yet Republicans always assume the worst. They weep for the improbable horrors that could be but shed very few tears for the hardships in the here and now, such those suffered by the 1 billion disabled people worldwide who struggle with patchwork laws and official neglect. As comedian Jon Stewart noted, "Republicans hate the United Nations more than they like helping people in wheelchairs."

The Republicans' unreconstructed paranoia about an organization dedicated to global cooperation isn't new (remember Ron Paul warning of those black helicopters?). No, now it's just been mainstreamed in the GOP's circulatory system, another example of the party's increasingly delusional, and ossified, worldview.

The 2012 Republican Party platform, for instance, declares that the GOP "shall reject agreements whose long-range impact on the American family is ominous or unclear." Treaties singled out include the U.N. Convention on Women's Rights (clearly a dangerously lesbian document); the Convention on the Rights of the Child (a ploy to snatch American children away from their parents); the U.N. Arms Trade Treaty (no doubt a prelude to "full-scale gun confiscation"); basically anything from the U.N. Conference on Environment and Development (tree-hugging); and the Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities (dastardly intentions detailed above).

Then there was last July's Law of the Sea Treaty, which would have helped the United States expand our energy resources and secure our ships' freedom of navigation. For those reasons, business leaders and environmentalists, former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, and even military leaders and former Republican secretaries of state were all on board. But the U.N. bogeyman reared its blue-helmeted head, and the treaty went down to a watery grave.

Taking the crazy cake, though, is the right-wing hysteria over an obscure, nonbinding U.N. resolution known as Agenda 21 ,which suggests that communities adopt sustainable, smart-growth development plans. To Ted Cruz, the tea party's newly elected Senate darling, Agenda 21 is the "grand scheme" of George Soros to seize American property and abolish "golf courses, grazing pastures, and paved roads." This is, as one New Hampshire state senator noted, "real tinfoil hat material," and the same could be said for much of the current Republican orthodoxy. In today's GOP, the fevered fringe has gone mainstream.

Now tea party leader Jim DeMint — who claimed the disability treaty would "sign away our sovereignty" and is best remembered for standing by Todd "legitimate rape" Akin and threatening to block every bill his office hadn't personally approved — is leaving the Senate helm the Heritage Foundation, a conservative "think tank" whose thinking has tanked of late. DeMint promises "strong leadership in the battle of ideas," but as this obsession with make-believe U.N. evils sadly illustrates, the Republican "battle of ideas" is but a minor skirmish in their War on Reality.

Those tiny holes in the GOP's airtight bubble — pierced for a few uncertain days by President Obama's commanding reelection win — have since been plugged with torn up treaties and fantastical "fiscal cliff" proposals. The conservative kaleidoscope continues to reveal a world where down is up, the solution to more mass shootings is more guns, and wheelchair ramps for the disabled lead to the end of home schooling.

It's mean, it's mental — and, frankly, it's a menace.
 

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