Blog Posts by Liz Goodwin, Yahoo News

  • Steve Case urges liberals to compromise on Senate immigration bill

    Sen. Patrick Leahy, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Steve Case at a Senate panel hearing on immigration, Feb. 13. (Allison Shelley/Getty Images)

    AOL Inc. co-founder Steve Case—one of the tech world's leading immigration reform cheerleaders—says liberals will have to compromise on the sweeping Senate bill if it has a shot of passing the Republican-led House.

    "We don’t want to win the battle in the Senate and then lose the war in the House," Case told Yahoo News.

    Case, who served on President Barack Obama's Council on Jobs and Competitiveness and leads the White House's Startup America Partnership initiative, said Democrats will need to compromise further on the bill in order for it to pass the Senate with 70 votes or more. "Seventy votes will really send a signal of bipartisanship," Case said. "I think that signal is important to the House because that, frankly, is where there’s going to be a heavier lift."

    The bill will legalize most of the country's 11 million unauthorized immigrants. It will also significantly overhaul the nation's legal immigration system, orienting it slightly away from family-based immigration to give more visas to highly skilled foreign workers and green cards to promising science and math graduates of U.S. colleges.

    Silicon Valley has poured millions into lobbying over the bill, winning it tech-friendly provisions such as raising the yearly cap on H-1B temporary high-skilled visas from 65,000 to as many as 180,000; providing visas for people who found start-up companies; and loosening restrictions on how extensively businesses must try to fill jobs with U.S. workers before they can recruit abroad.

    Some of these provisions have raised the ire of immigrant advocacy groups and organized labor, which tend to be suspicious of too much employment-based immigration, fearing that businesses will favor foreign workers and push down wages. But so far, the liberal-leaning groups, tech companies and business have managed to stay allies on reform.

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  • Rep. Steve King: ‘Illegal aliens’ invaded my office

    King complained about an immigration protest. (Twitter)

    Rep. Steve King, a Republican from Iowa and the House's leading immigration hawk, complained Thursday about young immigrants who had shown up to protest his bill that would defund President Barack Obama's deferred action program.

    King wrote on Twitter that "20 brazen self professed illegal aliens have invaded my DC office. Obama's lawless order gives them de facto immunity from U.S. law."

    The congressman sponsored a measure to defund Obama's 2012 executive action that gave young unauthorized immigrants relief from deportation and a work permit if they attend or graduate high school and have no criminal record. The amendment to quash the program passed the Republican-controlled House last week, but is all but certain never to make it out of the Senate.

    The Senate is currently debating a sweeping immigration reform bill that would legalize millions of immigrants, and the House's vote on deferred action was seen as a parting shot on the issue. King asked two of the main champions of the

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  • Rumors swirl around holdup in Supreme Court affirmative action decision

    The Supreme Court in October 2010 (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

    Eight months after attorneys for Abigail Fisher argued in front of the Supreme Court that the University of Texas' affirmative action admissions policy discriminates against white students, the justices still have not handed down their decision in the potentially paradigm-shifting case.

    The unusual delay has many court-watchers stumped, though as with everything Supreme Court-related, all explanations for the wait are, at best, educated guesswork.

    Lyle Denniston, who has covered the Supreme Court for more than 50 years and now works for the legal website SCOTUSblog, said he couldn't remember another case that had been argued in the fall yet still undecided by mid-June.

    "I have absolutely no idea what is holding it up," Denniston said.

    One reason why the delay is so surprising: During oral arguments in October, it seemed fairly clear that the four conservative justices would band together with swing vote Justice Anthony Kennedy in striking down the use of race as a factor in undergraduate admissions. Kennedy has voted against affirmative action policies in the past and showed no willingness during questioning to reconsider his past position.

    Additionally, the four liberal-leaning justices are short Elena Kagan, who had to recuse herself in this case due to her work on it while a part of the Obama administration. That seemed to clear the way for an easy 5-3 decision in favor of Fisher.

    "It's really surprising that it's taken this long for the court to issue an opinion," said Adam Winkler, a constitutional law professor at UCLA School of Law. "It's almost unheard of for the court to take the entire term to decide what really is a straightforward case."

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  • Biden, Bloomberg try again on guns 6 months after Newtown

    Vice President Joe Biden speaks to NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg at a press briefing for gun-control reform, March 21, 2013. (John Moore/Getty Images)

    Vice President Joe Biden is renewing his push for gun-control legislation with an event slated for Tuesday, marking the first time the White House has held an event on guns since its legislative push for background checks failed in the Senate in April.

    A Biden aide declined to give any details about the event, which was first reported by Politico.

    "The commitment of this president and the vice president to taking action to reduce gun violence is as strong today as it was at the beginning of the year and in the wake of Newtown," White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters on Wednesday.

    The failed bipartisan bill—crafted by Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Pat Toomey, R-Pa.—would have extended background checks to all commercial gun purchases, preventing people with criminal records from buying guns. President Barack Obama called its failure "shameful" and vowed to continue the fight for the legislation; though, since then the White House has remained largely silent on the issue. It's unlikely that the Republican-controlled House would ever support a similar measure.

    Meanwhile, the gun-control group backed by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is launching a 100-day bus tour of 25 states on Friday, exactly six months after the shootings that killed 20 children and six educators in Newtown, Conn.

    The bus tour, organized by Mayors Against Illegal Guns, kicks off in Newtown and will include family members of the victims from that town as well as from other mass shootings. The tour, called "No More Names: The National Drive to Reduce Gun Violence," will travel to states to thank senators who supported the failed background check bill, as well as to pressure senators who voted against it. For example, it will stop in Maine to thank Republican Sen. Susan Collins for backing the reform, the tour's organizers told reporters on Wednesday.

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  • Most Americans oppose use of race in admissions: Polls

    The U.S. Supreme Court, June 10, 2013. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

    As the Supreme Court prepares to release its decision on the University of Texas' affirmative-action policy this month, two recent polls show a majority of Americans are against colleges and universities using race as a factor in admissions.

    A recent ABC News poll finds 76 percent of Americans think colleges should not consider the race of applicants. The poll did not find major differences in race: 79 percent of white people oppose the use of race in admissions, while 71 percent of nonwhites oppose it (including 78 percent of blacks and 68 percent of Hispanics).

    Meanwhile, an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll from this month finds support for affirmative action at a historic low, with just 45 percent of Americans saying such programs are still needed to counter discrimination against minorities, compared with 61 percent who favored it in 1991.

    An equal number of those surveyed said affirmative action has gone too far and discriminates against white people. (The NBC poll differs from the

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  • Rubio introduces amendment to toughen English requirement for immigrants

    Sen. Marco Rubio and Sen. Chuck Schumer during a news conference on immigration reform in April. (Alex Wong/Getty)

    Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida announced Tuesday he will introduce an amendment to the immigration reform bill that would require all immigrants to prove they were proficient in English before they could receive permanent legal immigration status.

    Rubio's amendment would significantly change the sweeping bill and would make it harder for millions of immigrants to get on the path to citizenship. It would remove language from the bill that would have also allowed immigrants to gain green cards if they enrolled in a government-approved English course, a provision that Rubio called a "loophole."

    “This is one of the bill’s shortcomings that came to light, which we can now fix," Rubio said in a statement.

    A tea party favorite of Cuban descent, Rubio has been key in drawing conservative support to the bill, which he helped draft as part of the bipartisan Gang of Eight. But since then, Rubio has said the bill must be reworked on border security and other issues before he will vote for it.

    At least one anti-immigration reform group is running ads targeting senators for the provision, criticizing the bill for having "no requirement" that immigrants learn English before gaining legalization.

    The new requirement could mean a significantly longer wait time for citizenship for the country's estimated 11 million unauthorized immigrants. Experts estimate that about 55 percent of adult unauthorized immigrants would not be able to pass the English portion of the U.S. citizenship test if they took it today. It takes about 600 hours of instruction, on average, for someone to move from the bottom levels of English understanding to a conversational level. The bill currently sets aside $100 million in federal funds for English instruction and other programs to help newly legalized immigrants integrate.

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  • Jury selection begins in George Zimmerman trial

    George Zimmerman, accused in the Trayvon Martin shooting, in Seminole Circuit Court during his pretrial hearing in Sanford, Florida, on June 8, 2013. (Joe Burbank/Getty)

    Lawyers on both sides of the George Zimmerman trial Monday began what is expected to be a weekslong process of selecting a jury in the incendiary case in Sanford, Florida.

    As potential jurors filled out questionnaires, Judge Debra Nelson denied a request from Zimmerman's attorneys to delay the start of the trial for several weeks on grounds they needed more time to prepare.

    His attorneys declined to ask for a change of venue in the case, suggesting they are confident they can find impartial jurors in the area despite the wall-to-wall media coverage that 17-year-old Trayvon Martin's killing attracted last year.

    But his brother, Robert Zimmerman, didn't sound convinced. "We're obviously concerned about that," he told reporters Monday when asked if he believed George Zimmerman could get a fair trial.

    Zimmerman, out on $1 million bond and in hiding for much of the past year, is charged with second-degree murder for killing the unarmed teen in a confrontation in his gated community, where Zimmerman acted as a volunteer watchman.

    Prosecutors argue that Zimmerman racially profiled, followed and then shot Martin. Zimmerman's lawyers counter that their client was attacked by Martin and that he acted in self-defense.

    Defense lawyer Jose Baez, who represented Casey Anthony in her high-profile trial in Orlando in 2011, said jury selection in this trial will be especially complicated because of the case's racial overtones. (Zimmerman identifies himself as Hispanic; Martin was black.)

    Martin's family hinted at the potential complications in a statement released Monday morning.

    "Trayvon's life was taken unnecessarily and tragically, but we call upon the community to be peaceful. We have placed our faith in the justice system and ask that the community do the same," the family wrote.

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  • A rocky week for immigration reform

    Immigration reform advocates hold signs of young immigrant 'dreamers' during a protest in May. (John Moore/Getty)

    It's been a tough week for supporters of immigration reform.

    On Friday, a few Republican senators expressed their reservations about the sweeping overhaul of the nation's immigration laws on the first day it was brought to debate on the Senate floor. Just the day before, nearly the entire House Republican caucus voted to strip the temporary legal status the Obama administration has offered young unauthorized immigrants since last year, which sent a strong message that the legalization portion of immigration reform could face an uphill battle in the chamber.

    On a mostly party-line vote of 224-201, the House voted for an amendment Thursday introduced by immigration hawk Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, to reverse President Barack Obama's policy of not deporting young immigrants known as "dreamers" who were brought to the country as children, attend or have graduated high school, and have committed no crime. The amendment, which is now attached to a Department of Homeland Security spending bill, isn't likely to pass the Democratic-controlled Senate or make it past President Barack Obama's desk.

    But the vote cast doubts on reform proponents' gamble that Republicans, faced with a bruising 2012 election loss spurred on by a poor showing with Hispanic voters, will line up behind immigration reform to broaden their party's appeal despite some objections among the GOP base.

    Frank Sharry, the executive director of the pro-reform America's Voice advocacy group, said he believes the House wanted to send a signal to the Obama administration about its use of executive power, since the deportation relief never passed Congress.

    "They were taking a shot at Obama and executive authority," Sharry said on a conference call with reporters Friday. "I'm sure many of them thought, we're not against 'dreamers,' we're against Obama."

    Sharry added, "It's not helpful, but I don't think it's fatal."

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  • Federal judge accused of saying minorities predisposed to commit violent crime

    Judge Edith Jones on a visit to Iraq in 2010. (USCourts.gov)A federal appeals judge in Texas is accused of saying minorities are more apt than other groups to commit crime and that complaints of racial bias in death sentencing are a "red herring."

    Civil rights organizations filed a complaint against 5th Circuit Judge Edith Jones this week for remarks they say she made at a February speech to the Federalist Society at the University of Pennsylvania Law School about racial bias in death row sentencing.

    The groups say the comments are prejudiced and call into question Jones' ability to be an impartial and fair judge.

    Jones' law office in Houston said the judge declines to comment on the case.

    According to several people present who signed affidavits for the complaint, Jones said:

    “[S]adly some groups seem to commit more heinous crimes than others.” When asked to explain her remarks, she stated that there was “no arguing” that “Blacks and Hispanics” outnumber “Anglos” on death row and “sadly” it was a “statistical fact” that people “from these racial groups get involved in more violent crime.” By way of example, she asserted as a “fact” that “a lot of Hispanic people [are] involved in drug trafficking,” which itself “involved a lot of violent crime.”

    The judge said "certain racial groups" are "prone" to violence, according to the complaint. Jones, a Reagan appointee, also defended the use of the death penalty because “a killer is only likely to make peace with God and the victim’s family in that moment when the killer faces imminent execution, recognizing that he or she is about to face God’s judgment,” according to the complaint.

    No transcript or recording exists of the speech, according to the Federalist Society.

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  • Dems look to Supreme Court to fix immigration bill’s gay rights gap

    Same-sex marriage supporters rally in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on March 27, 2013. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

    Senate Democrats are still taking heat from gay rights groups that feel betrayed over their decision last month to quash an amendment to the immigration reform bill that would have allowed same-sex married couples the same immigration benefits as other married couples. Now, those gay rights supporters are demanding Democrats flout Republican concerns and introduce the amendment on the full Senate floor.

    A looming gay rights decision from the Supreme Court, however, could give liberals an out.

    "Their silence was reprehensible," said Lavi Soloway, an attorney and gay rights activist who helped draft the amendment that Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., ultimately withdrew under pressure from his Republican colleagues.

    The amendment would have expanded immigration benefits—including the right to apply for a green card for a spouse—to the approximately 35,000 people in the country in binational same-sex marriages.

    The move has generated some backlash, even as Democrats have explained the amendment would likely have killed the entire reform bill. Sen. Chuck Schumer, for one, wrote in answer to angry comments on his Facebook page that if the amendment had been added in committee "the bill would have failed."

    Democrats and reform supporters are hoping they can dodge the issue altogether if the Supreme Court strikes down the federal government's Defense of Marriage Act this month. DOMA, passed in 1996 under President Bill Clinton, prevents the federal government from recognizing same-sex unions. If DOMA is struck down, same-sex married couples who live in states that allow gay marriage will be treated the same as opposite-sex couples under immigration law, no matter what's in the reform bill. (There's some disagreement among legal experts, however, if same-sex couples who move to states that don't allow gay marriage will still qualify for the benefits.)

    A decision in the DOMA case is expected by the end of June. Senators are hoping to vote on the full immigration reform bill in early July.

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