Monday, August 29, 2011

Federal judge blocks Ala. illegal immigration law

A federal judge temporarily blocked enforcement of Alabama's new law cracking down on illegal immigration, ruling Monday that she needed more time to decide whether the law opposed by the Obama administration, church leaders and immigrant-rights groups is constitutional.
 Here is the full story from AP:
Federal judge blocks Ala. illegal immigration law
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — A federal judge temporarily blocked enforcement of Alabama's new law cracking down on illegal immigration, ruling Monday that she needed more time to decide whether the law opposed by the Obama administration, church leaders and immigrant-rights groups is constitutional.
The brief order by U.S. District Judge Sharon L. Blackburn means the law — which opponents and supporters alike have called the toughest in the nation — won't take effect as scheduled on Thursday. The ruling was cheered both by Republican leaders who were pleased the judge didn't gut the law and by opponents who compare it to old Jim Crow-era statutes against racial integration.
Blackburn didn't address whether the law is constitutional, and she could still let all or parts of the law take effect later. Instead, she said she needed more time to consider lawsuits filed by the Justice Department, private groups and individuals that claim the state is overstepping its bounds.
The judge said she will issue a longer ruling by Sept. 28, and her temporary order will remain in effect until the day after. She heard arguments from the Justice Department and others during a daylong hearing last week.
Similar laws have been passed in Arizona, Utah, Indiana and Georgia. Federal judges already have blocked all or parts of the laws in those states.
Among other things, the law would require schools to verify the citizenship status of students, but it wouldn't prevent illegal immigrants from attending public schools.
The law also would make it a crime to knowingly assist an illegal immigrant by providing them a ride, a job, a place to live or most anything else — a section that church leaders fear would hamper public assistance ministries. It also would allow police to jail suspected illegal immigrants during traffic stops.
Finding a way to curtail public spending that benefits illegal immigrants has been a pet project of Alabama conservatives for years. Census figures released earlier this year show the state's Hispanic population more than doubled over a decade to 185,602 last year, and supporters of the law contend many of them are in the country illegally.
Isabel Rubio, executive director of the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama, which is among the groups that sued over the law, hopes Blackburn will block it entirely but was happy with the temporary reprieve.
"We are pleased that Judge Blackburn is taking more time to study the case," she said.
Republican Gov. Robert Bentley said he would continue to defend the law, and GOP leaders in the House and Senate praised Blackburn — a Republican appointee — for taking time to fully consider the law.
"We must remember that today's ruling is simply the first round in what promises to be a long judicial fight over Alabama's right to protect its borders," said House Majority Leader Micky Hammon of Decatur. "To put it in sports terms, it is the first half-inning of the first game of a seven-game World Series."
While the Obama administration contends the state law conflicts with federal immigration law, state Sen. Scott Beason, R-Gardendale, contends the federal government isn't doing its job enforcing immigration laws. Beason said that he spent years researching immigration law to help write the 70-plus page law, and that it's unrealistic to expect a judge to go through it all in a few days.
"You just can't do that," he said.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Colombian officials to visit Charlotte

By Naty Rive
Colombian officials will visit Charlotte next week as part of the South American country's efforts to boost tourism and change the perception of Colombia and promote the city of Medellin.

Safety concerns are dropping and tourism is on the rise in Colombia. Visitors are being lured to the country by its pleasant year-round weather, picturesque coastal towns, and big-city museums that feature the work of locally bred artists like Fernando Botero.

Medellin is the country's second largest city. About 2 million people live in the city tucked in the northern Andes of South America. Once home to the most dangerous Colombian cartels, Medellin has undergone quite the evolution. It's now one of the country's safest and most modern big cities.

Representatives from Medellin's urban renaissance program, Sos Pais, will give a two-hour free public demonstration starting at 5:30 p.m., Tues., Aug. 23, at the Mint Museum. A second presentation will be given at 6 p.m., Wed. Aug. 24 in Sykes Auditorium at Queens University.

By zeafra
“In addition to discussing the culture of Medellin, we are excited to share with the people of Charlotte how our city has transformed and is now a destination spot for education, financial and urban renewal projects,” says Maria Teresa Betancur, Program Coordinator, Sos Paisa.

 For more information on Sos Paisa, visit

U.S. eases stance on deporting immigrants

As administration amends deportation policy, critics call it back-door amnesty for those here illegally.


By Franco Ordoñez
Posted: Friday, Aug. 19, 2011

Protesters say thousands
deported each year. GETTY

The Obama administration announced Thursday it plans to focus its deportation efforts on more dangerous illegal immigrants, a move that gives undocumented Charlotte students like Elver Barrios hope.

As part of the policy change, the Department of Homeland Security intends to review the cases of approximately 300,000 illegal immigrants facing deportation orders.

Those without criminal records who are found to be a low priority because they are students, were brought here as children, or have long family ties to the country could be released and granted a work permit.

If Barrios were ever to be arrested, he believes this policy change could allow him to stay in the country he's lived in since he was 14.

"This could be my chance to stay here," said Barrios, 20, who graduated from West Mecklenburg High School and is originally from Guatemala. "Every day I go out, even when I go buy the groceries, I risk getting arrested."

The policy change comes at a time when President Barack Obama has come under fire from some of his greatest allies.

Latino advocates have grown increasingly frustrated with the president. Obama has promised to reform the nation's immigration laws, yet advocates say his administration has continued to allow thousands to be deported annually after being arrested for minor offenses.

The Department of Homeland Security must focus its resources on removing those who have been convicted of major crimes and are threats to national security or public safety, said Secretary Janet Napolitano.

"Doing otherwise hinders our public safety mission - clogging immigration court dockets and diverting DHS enforcement resources away from the individuals who pose a threat to public safety," she wrote in a letter to a group of senators supporting new immigration legislation.

Critics charged the Obama administration with implementing a back-door amnesty policy.

Under the guise of setting priorities for immigration enforcement, the White House is overhauling the nation's immigration policy without congressional approval, said Dan Stein, president of FAIR, which advocates for greater immigration enforcement.

Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, said having a backlog and prioritizing deportations is nothing new.

"This policy goes a step further granting illegal immigrants a fast track to gaining a work permit where they will now unfairly compete with more than nine percent of Americans who are still looking for jobs," he said in a statement.

In June, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced it was encouraging agents to use "prosecutorial discretion" for undocumented immigrants who are seeking college degrees.

The authorities are now instructed to give "particular care and consideration" to individuals "present in the United States since childhood" and whether that person has a criminal record.

Erick Velazquillo

Erick Velazquillo, a 22-year-old Central Piedmont Community College student, was brought to the country illegally when he was 2 years old. He was placed into deportation proceedings last fall after he was arrested for driving without a valid driver's license.

Last month, just weeks before he was expecting to be deported, immigration officials dropped their deportation case.

But they didn't alter his status. With this policy change, Velazquillo is hopeful he can rest a little easier - and be able to get a work permit.

"It gives me a status that I've never had before," he said. "It will give me a work permit. It will help me to contribute more to the country than just being here. It would make things so much easier."

Lacey Williams, the youth civic engagement organizer at the Latin American Coalition, questioned how the policy will be implemented.

"At first blush it's great news, it certainly has great potential," she said. "What we're anxiously awaiting is how this announcement will trickle down. How will it affect people in deportation proceedings now? What will happen to them tomorrow, next week?"

Others said the administration is trying to dress up a problem rather than fix it.

Velazquillo and other undocumented students still will be living in the country illegally, said Domenic Powell, a spokesman for the Raleigh-based NC Dream Team, a group of students who advocate for undocumented youth.

"It's not a solution," he said. "There seems to be a benefit to it, but it's fleeting. They can work, but for how long? They need to find a permanent solution."

The Associated Press contributed.

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Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Matthews doctor heads to Haiti to open medical clinic.

Will Conner is returning to Haiti.

The Matthews doctors is traveling with 10 students and doctors to northern Haiti with more than 3,000 lbs of medicine and medical supplies. They left this morning aboard a Hendrick Motorsports Plane. They will be traveling to Camp Louise, a small community near Cap-Haitien on the northern coast, where they will be opening a medical clinic.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Diversity training on court's agenda Tuesday


Diversity training on court's agenda Tuesday
By Franco Ordoñez
Posted: Wednesday, Aug. 03, 2011

Mecklenburg County court officials, including Chief District Judge Lisa Bell and members of the District Attorney's office, took part in diversity training Tuesday led by the Mexican Consulate of Raleigh.

Consul General Carlos Flores Vizcarra spoke to some 50 judges, lawyers, interpreters and clerks about issues affecting the local Mexican community.

He highlighted the rapid growth of the Latino population in the Carolinas. North Carolina had the second-fastest growing Latino population between 1990 and 2008, according to the Selig Center for Economic Growth at the University of Georgia. South Carolina had the eighth-fastest growth rate.

Flores Vizcarra lobbied for greater acceptance of the "matricula consular" - IDs that are issued to Mexicans living in the U.S. by the Mexican consulate. He also sought to clarify confusion over Latino names and surnames.

"My plea is that we go about understanding the presence of Mexicans in a more civilized manner," Vizcarra said. "Not to buy into the prejudices and stereotypes some people have. I can tell you most Mexican immigrants are hard-working people."

The group also sampled authentic Mexican dishes such as tamales and tacos provided by a local restaurant, Fonda las Cazuelas.

Language issues are only one challenge for the courts, Bell said. There are cultural differences. And Latinos, including illegal immigrants, are often more vulnerable to crimes, she said. The courts also must face the impacts on children when parents are deported.

"The population we're dealing with now is not the same as it was 20 years ago, or 10 years ago, or even two years ago," she said. "So as a court system we need to learn how to adjust to meet the needs of a changing population."

The event was part of a series of discussions organized by the Trial Court Administrator's office via a $3,000 grant from Charlotte-based Justice Initiatives.

Titled Strengthening Community Relationships, the goal is to build social capital by bridging gaps between diverse communities and the court system.

Said Trial Court Administrator Todd Nuccio: "We're trying to build public trust and confidence."
Franco Ordoñez: 704-358-6180. Follow him on Twitter @FrancoOrdonez.

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Saturday, July 30, 2011

CPCC student's deportation dropped


CPCC student's deportation dropped: ICE officials end efforts to send undocumented CPCC student Erick Velazquillo back to Mexico, for now.

By Franco Ordoñez
Posted: Saturday, Jul. 30, 2011

Erick Velazquillo, a 22-year-old Central Piedmont Community College student living in the country illegally, was working on translating all his school transcripts. He thought he was going to be deported back to Mexico.

Now immigration officials have dropped deportation efforts, his attorney confirmed Friday.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agreed to administratively close his case, but it's not terminated. It could be reopened at any time.

"He's safe for right now," said attorney Janeen Hicks Pierre. "We're definitely out of the line of fire. ... No one is going to come to his house and arrest him. But where we go from here, we're not sure."

Hicks Pierre thanked ICE for offering to close the case, but noted Velazquillo's status is unchanged. He still has no documents and is unable to work legally.

The South Mecklenburg High School graduate moved to the United States with his parents when he was 2. He's never been back, he says.

Last October, Velazquillo was arrested for driving with an expired license and taken to Mecklenburg County jail. He was identified as an illegal immigrant and placed into deportation proceedings.

For help, he turned to a statewide group of young activists, many in the country illegally themselves. The Raleigh-based N.C. Dream Team launched a national campaign on his behalf. More than 1,000 calls and emails were made to federal officials on his behalf. Nearly 3,000 people signed a petition calling for his case to be deferred.

"We're happy. It's a victory," said 24-year-old member Domenic Powell, who grew up in Charlotte and graduated from Hopewell High. "It means more undocumented youth need to come out and fight their deportation. If you fight it, you can win."

The Obama administration has deported almost 800,000 people in the last two years.

ICE officials did not immediately respond to questions about Velazquillo's case. But this month, ICE Director John Morton announced the agency was encouraging agents to use "prosecutorial discretion" for illegal immigrants who are seeking college degrees.

Authorities are now instructed to give "particular care and consideration" to individuals "present in the United States since childhood."

The N.C. Dream Team cited the so-called Morton memo at rallies and had supporters call the director as well as their elected officials.

"Erick took his situation into his own hands," said member Viridiana Martinez, 25, of Sanford. "He took this public. There is power in that. All of a sudden it's something you can't ignore."

Hicks Pierre said she would continue to work with immigration officials to see if Velazquillo's status could be changed so that he could work and study without concern of reprisals.

Velazquillo and his family said they still fear he could be arrested and deported at anytime.

"It's not enough," said his sister, Angelica. "He still can't work. He was arrested and put in jail. We're going to pretend nothing happened? It doesn't seem realistic. It shows the problem with the policy. This is not good enough. This is not a solution."

Franco Ordoñez: 704-358-6180. Follow him on Twitter @FrancoOrdonez.

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Thursday, July 14, 2011

Asian-American photographer hosts first photo exhibit.

Asian-American photographer Andy Chen will host his first Charlotte photo exhibit tonight at the Evergreen Studio in Uptown.

Chen will display 27 of his photos taken over three summer between 1985 and 1988. Chen, who co-owns a commercial photo studio, said the photos taken of lifeguards on the New Jersey shore represent “beauty and nostalgia.” “These pictures are from an eternal time,” he says. “A time when we were all young and we were going to live forever.” The one-night free exhibition, called Avalon, will be held from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Brevard Court studio.

For more information on Chen visit his website at More info on Evergreen can be found at or by calling 704-807-7819.