Debate over driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants reignited by DMV study
by Julie Watson
SAN DIEGO - Immigrant advocates are welcoming a California study that found unlicensed drivers are the most hazardous motorists on the road, saying it supports their longstanding argument that denying driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants has put everyone at risk.
Drivers without a valid license are nearly three times more likely to cause a deadly crash, according to the Department of Motor Vehicles report.
The study reviewed drivers with revoked or suspended licenses along with unlicensed drivers who were found to have the worst driving record.
Advocates say immigrant drivers could benefit from training and testing required to get a license. Opponents, however, say a driver's license would jeopardize national security by giving illegal immigrants an official ID from the government.
The study came as the debate over driver's licenses for illegal immigrants has been heating up. Illinois is expected to join New Mexico and Washington by becoming the third state in the U.S. to grant driver's licenses to illegal immigrants
California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill last year offering driver's licenses to young immigrants who qualify for two-year federal work permits.
Immigrant advocates say the California DMV findings show the issue should not get lost in the political discussion regarding immigration.
Licensed drivers provide a guarantee they have learned the rules of the roads in California and have been tested on them, said Pedro Rios, director of the San Diego office of the American Friends Service Committee.
"It makes sense that it would translate to fewer accidents leading to fatalities and ultimately I think that's what everyone would want," Rios said. "It certainly would increase the number of drivers who would be insured and increase the ability for people to file claims when that's necessary.
"It's ultimately a public safety issue," he added.
The actual number of unlicensed drivers in California is unknown because they do not come to the attention of the DMV until they are involved in a crash or convicted of a traffic violation, according to the study, which was officially announced by the DMV on Dec. 20.
While little is known about them, the study says it is likely the percentage of illegal immigrants in this group increased after California passed a 1994 law requiring applicants to show a valid Social Security number and documents proving they are in the country legally.
The Los Angeles Times on Wednesday was the first to report that immigrant groups pushing to change the 1994 law believe the study supports their efforts.
It's the DMV's first significant analysis of unlicensed drivers in 15 years. The study used crash data over a 23-year period and looked at two-vehicle fatal crashes in which only one driver was at fault.
Supporters of the 1994 law said it is contradictory to reward illegal immigrants with a government document such as a driver's license.
California Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, R-Twin Peaks, said "it is not surprising that people driving on our roads with no operational familiarity of our roads and sign system would be the most hazardous drivers."
But Donnelly added a California driver's license "is not simply a statement about someone's driving ability, but a gateway ID that allows people to board planes, sign up for taxpayer funded aid, and register to vote."
"Handing out this secure form of ID to people who have no legal right to be in our country presents a statewide and national security threat, the likes of which we went to great lengths to prevent after September 11th," he said in an email to The Associated Press. "We cannot hand it out like a teenager's driving permit; it stands for much, much more."
The DMV recommended vehicle impoundment and other measures to address the issue but did not discuss the debate over giving driver's licenses to illegal immigrants.
The study's author Sukhvir Brar said the DMV decided to look at accidents related to drivers without a valid license because it had not done so since 1997 and felt it was time to provide updated results. Brar said the composition of that driver population, and their risks, can change over time, so it is important to periodically assess risks.
President Obama unveils gun plan, concedes tough fight ahead
by Julie Pace
WASHINGTON - Conceding "this will be difficult," President Barack Obama urged a reluctant Congress on Wednesday to require background checks for all gun sales and ban both military-style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines in an emotion-laden plea to curb gun violence in America.
The president's sweeping, $500 million plan, coming one month after the school massacre in Connecticut, marks the most comprehensive effort to tighten gun laws in nearly two decades. But his proposals, most of which are opposed by the National Rifle Association, face a doubtful future in a divided Congress where Republicans control the House.
Seeking to circumvent at least some opposition, Obama signed 23 executive actions on Wednesday, including orders to make more federal data available for background checks and end a freeze on government research on gun violence. But he acknowledged that the steps he took on his own would have less impact than the broad measures requiring approval from Capitol Hill.
"To make a real and lasting difference, Congress, too, must act," Obama said, speaking at a White House ceremony with school children and their parents. "And Congress must act soon."
The president's announcements capped a swift and wide-ranging effort, led by Vice President Joe Biden, to respond to the deaths of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. But Obama's gun control proposals set him up for a tough political fight with Congress as he starts his second term, when he'll need Republican support to meet three looming fiscal deadlines and pass comprehensive immigration reform.
"I will put everything I've got into this, and so will Joe," the president said. "But I tell you, the only way we can change is if the American people demand it."
Key congressional leaders were tepid in their response to the White House proposals.
Republican House Speaker John Boehner's office signaled no urgency to act, with spokesman Michael Steel saying only that "House committees of jurisdiction will review these recommendations. And if the Senate passes a bill, we will also take a look at that."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he was committed to ensuring that the Senate will consider gun violence legislation "early this year." But he did not endorse any of Obama's specific proposals.
The president vowed to use "whatever weight this office holds" to fight for his recommendations. He's likely to travel around the country in the coming weeks to rally public support and could engage his still-active presidential campaign operation in the effort. But he'll have to overcome a well-financed counter-effort by the NRA.
"This will be difficult," Obama acknowledged. "There will be pundits and politicians and special interest lobbyists publicly warning of a tyrannical, all-out assault on liberty - not because that's true, but because they want to gin up fear or higher ratings or revenue for themselves."
The president, speaking in front of an audience that included families of some of those killed in Newtown, said 900 Americans had lost their lives to gun violence in the four weeks since the school shootings.
"We can't put this off any longer," Obama declared. "Every day we wait, the number will keep growing."
Many Democrats say an assault weapons ban faces the toughest road in Congress. Obama wants lawmakers to reinstate the expired 1994 ban on the high-grade weapons, and strengthen the measure to prevent manufacturers from circumventing the prohibition by making cosmetic changes to banned guns.
The president is also likely to face opposition to his call for Congress to limit ammunition magazines to 10 rounds.
But Democrats are hopeful they can build consensus around the president's call for universal background checks. The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence says 40 percent of gun sales are conducted with no criminal background checks, such as in some instances at gun shows or by private sellers over the Internet or through classified ads.
The NRA is opposed to all three measures. In a statement Wednesday, the gun lobby said, "Only honest, law-abiding gun owners will be affected" by Obama's efforts and the nation's children "will remain vulnerable to the inevitability of more tragedy."
And on the eve of Obama's announcement, the NRA released an online video accusing him of being an "elitist hypocrite" for sending his daughters to school with armed Secret Service agents while opposing having guards with guns at all U.S. schools.
White House spokesman Jay Carney called the video "repugnant and cowardly."
The president's proposals did include a $150 million request to Congress that would allow schools to hire 1,000 new police officers, counselors and psychologists. The White House plan also includes legislative and executive action to increase mental health services, including boosting funding for training aimed at getting young people into treatment more quickly.
A lopsided 84 percent of Americans back broader background checks, according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll. Nearly six in 10 Americans want stricter gun laws, the same poll showed, with majorities favoring a nationwide ban on military-style weapons and limits on gun violence depicted in video games, movies and TV shows.
The NRA and pro-gun lawmakers have long suggested that violent images in video games and entertainment are more to blame for mass shootings than the availability of guns. But Obama's proposals do little to address that concern, other than calling on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to research links between violent images and gun attacks.
Government scientists have been prohibited from researching the causes and prevention of gun violence since 1996, when a budget amendment was passed that barred researchers from spending taxpayer money on such studies.
The administration is calling on Congress to provide $10 million for expanded research.
Obama also wants lawmakers to ban armor-piercing ammunition, except for use by the military and law enforcement. And he's asking them to create stiffer penalties for gun trafficking, to provide $14 million to help train police officers and others to respond to shootings, and to approve his nominee to run the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
One of the president's executive actions on Wednesday was to nominate B. Todd Jones to head the ATF, which has been without a permanent director since 2006. Jones has served as the bureau's acting director since 2011.
Other steps Obama took through his presidential powers include:
• Ordering tougher penalties for people who lie on background checks.
• Requiring federal law enforcement to trace guns recovered in criminal investigations.
• Ordering a review of safety standards for gun locks and gun safes.
Islamist militants seize dozens of hostages, including 7 Americans, in Algeria
by Aomar Ouali and Paul Schemm
ALGIERS, Algeria - In what could be the first spillover from France's intervention in Mali, Islamist militants attacked and occupied a natural gas complex in southern Algeria on Wednesday. Two people were killed and dozens of others, including several Americans, were reportedly taken hostage.
A militant group claimed responsibility for the rare attack on one of oil-rich Algeria's energy facilities, saying it came in revenge for the North African nation's support for France's military operation against al-Qaida-linked rebels in neighboring Mali. The militants said they were holding 41 foreigners from the energy complex, including seven Americans.
The group - called Katibat Moulathamine or the Masked Brigade - phoned a Mauritanian news outlet to say one of its affiliates had carried out the operation at the Ain Amenas gas field, located 800 miles (1,300 kilometers) south of Algiers, the Algerian capital.
BP, together with the Norwegian company Statoil and the Algerian state oil company Sonatrach, operates the gas field. A Japanese company, JGC Corp, provides services for the facility as well.
In Rome, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta declared that the U.S. "will take all necessary and proper steps" to deal with the attack in Algeria. He would not detail what such steps might be but condemned the action as "terrorist attack" and likened it to al-Qaida activities in Pakistan, Afghanistan and in the United States on Sept. 11, 2001.
Algeria's top security official, Interior Minister Daho Ould Kabila, said that "security forces have surrounded the area and cornered the terrorists, who are in one wing of the complex's living quarters."
He said one Briton and one Algerian were killed in the attack, while a Norwegian and two other Britons were among the six wounded.
"We reject all negotiations with the group, which is holding some 20 hostages from several nationalities," Kabila said on national television, raising the spector of a possible armed assault to try to free the hostages.
It was not immediately possible to rectify the discrepancies in the number of reported hostages. Their identities were also unclear, but Ireland announced that they included a 36-year-old married Irish man and Japan, Britain and the U.S. said their citizens were involved as well. A Norwegian woman said her husband called her saying that he had been taken hostage.
Hundreds of Algerians work at the plant and were also taken hostage in the Islamist attack, but the Algerian state news agency reported they were gradually released unharmed Wednesday in small groups.
The Algerian minister said the militants appeared to be hoping to negotiate their departure from the area, something he rejected. He also dismissed theories that the militants came from across the border in Libya, which is just 60 miles (100 kilometers) away, or from Mali, more than 600 miles (1,000 kilometers) away.
Kabila said the roughly 20 well armed gunmen were from Algeria itself, operating under orders from Moktar Belmoktar, al-Qaida's strongman in the Sahara.
In Washington, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland confirmed that "U.S. citizens were among the hostages."
The caller to the Nouakchott Information Agency, which often carries announcements from extremist groups, said the kidnapping was carried out by "Those Who Signed in Blood," a group created to attack the countries participating in the offensive against Islamist groups in Mali.
The Masked Brigade was formed by Belmoktar, a one-eyed Algerian who recently declared he was leaving the terror network's Algerian branch, Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, to create his own group. He said at the time he would still maintain ties with the central organization based in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The name of his group could be a reference to the nomadic Tuareg inhabitants of the Sahara, known for masking their faces with blue veils.
A close associate of Belmoktar blamed the West for France's recent air and ground intervention against Islamist fighters in Mali.
"It's the United Nations that gave the green light to this intervention and all Western countries are now going to pay a price. We are now globalizing our conflict," said Oumar Ould Hamaha told The Associated Press by telephone Wednesday night from an undisclosed location.
French President Francois Hollande launched the surprise operation in Mali, a former French colony in West Africa, on Friday, hoping to stop the al-Qaida-linked and other Islamist extremists whom he believes pose a danger to the world.
Further kidnappings could well be on the horizon, warned Sajjan Gohel, the international security director for the Asia-Pacific Foundation.
"The chances are that this may not be a one-off event, that there could be other attempts in Africa - especially north and western Africa - to directly target foreign interests," he said. "It's unclear as to what fate these individuals may meet, whether these terrorists are going to want a ransom or whether they'll utilize this for propaganda purposes."
Wednesday's attack in Algeria began with an ambush on a bus carrying employees from the massive gas plant to the nearby airport but the attackers were driven off, according to the Algerian government, which said three vehicles of heavily armed men were involved.
"After their failed attempt, the terrorist group headed to the complex's living quarters and took a number of workers with foreign nationalities hostage," the government said in a statement.
Attacks on oil-rich Algeria's hydrocarbon facilities are very rare, despite decades of fighting an Islamist insurgency, mostly in northern Algeria.
In the last several years, however, al-Qaida's influence in the poorly patrolled desert of southern Algeria and northern Mali and Niger has grown and the group operates smuggling and kidnapping networks throughout the area. Militant groups that seized control of a vast section of northern Mali last year already hold seven French hostages as well as four Algerian diplomats.
Prime Minister David Cameron's office said "several British nationals" were involved, while Japanese news agencies, citing unnamed government officials, said there are three Japanese hostages.
Late Wednesday, Statoil said five employees -four Norwegians and a Canadian - were safe at an Algerian military camp and two of them had suffered minor injuries. It said 12 employees were unaccounted for.
The Norwegian newspaper Bergens Tidende said a 55-year-old Norwegian working on the site called his wife to say he had been abducted.
Algeria had long warned against any military intervention against the rebels in northern Mali, fearing the violence could spill over its own long and porous border. Though its position softened slightly after Hollande visited Algiers in December, Algerian authorities remain skeptical about the operation and worried about its consequences on the region.
Algeria, Africa's biggest country, has been an ally of the U.S. and France in fighting terrorism for years. But its relationship with France has been fraught with lingering resentment over colonialism and the bloody war for independence that left Algeria a free country 50 years ago.
Algeria's strong security forces have struggled for years against Islamist extremists, and have in recent years managed to nearly snuff out violence by al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb around its home base in northern Algeria. In the meantime, AQIM moved its focus southward.
AQIM has made tens of millions of dollars off kidnapping in the region, abducting Algerian businessmen or politicans, and sometimes foreigners, for ransom.
Ohio school votes to arm science teacher with gun
ORRVILLE, Ohio (AP) — A northeast Ohio school district plans to allow a science teacher to carry a firearm during class — a move the superintendent says was prompted by last month's mass shooting at a Connecticut elementary school.
WEWS-TV in Cleveland reports (http://bit.ly/USlpXa) that the science teacher at Orrville City Schools is also an officer with the nearby Lawrence Township Police Department.
Orrville City Schools Superintendent Jon Ritchie says there was little opposition to the move from the district, which is about an hour southwest of Cleveland.
Ritchie says the district approached the teacher about the idea. He says it saves the schools from hiring security personnel.
Orrville resident Nicole Walker tells the station that having someone inside her children's school following the Newtown, Conn., shooting puts her mind even more at ease.
Ohio begins educators' school shooting training
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The state is kicking off the first of five regional sessions to train Ohio educators to respond to school shooting situations.
The attorney general and the Ohio Department of Education are partnering on the free training for teachers and administrators. Police officers also were invited.
More than 200 people registered for the first sessions, scheduled Thursday in Columbus where Attorney General Mike DeWine will be on hand.
The state says planning for the training began after the school shooting in Chardon that left three students dead last February. It says the December massacre at a Connecticut elementary school created a surge in interest and accelerated scheduling of the sessions.
More training events are planned in Cincinnati, Chauncey, Toledo and Valley View over the next few weeks.
Community policing teams with task force for arrests
MANSFIELD — The Richland County Community Policing Partnership joined forces Tuesday with the Richland County division of the Northern Ohio Violent Fugitive Task Force to track down probation and parole violators who had warrants for their arrest.
Nineteen officers from Richland County Adult Probation, Ohio Adult Parole Authority, Mansfield Municipal Court Probation and the task force went to several locations attempting to locate and arrest these violators and bring them back before the court.
Seven people were arrested during this operation. The operation concluded with a final arrest after a brief foot pursuit and Taser deployment.
“I feel for our first joint operation such as this, it was a great success. We are able to pool our resources to bring these offenders back into custody, thus making the communities safer because these offenders, while on the run, are often out committing new crimes to get by,” said J.J. Bittinger of Richland County Court Services.
Beginning in December, the Richland County Court Services strengthened its relationship with the task force by placing an officer on the task force on a full-time basis.
“The partnership between the NOVFTF and Richland County Court Services is one of the longest within the Richland County Division and the addition of the full-time officer only strengthens our ability to effectively share the necessary information and resources to bring Richland County fugitives to justice,” Deputy U.S. Marshal Ross Wilber said.
“With the current economic strain on area law enforcement and criminal justice, we are excited that this new enhanced partnership between Richland County Adult Probation and the U.S. Marshals Task Force will strengthen our mutual goal of community safety and crime prevention,” Chief Probation Officer Dave Leitenberger said.
Atlantic City, Pleasantville group says a lot of work needed to stop the violence
by LYNDA COHEN
Stop the Violence of Atlantic County has done a lot of work but still has a lot to do, leaders agreed as they met Wednesday to look back at what's been accomplished, and at plans for the coming year.
The group, which consists of leaders and activists from Atlantic City and Pleasantville, presented its year-end report at Richard Stockton College's Carnegie Center in Atlantic City.
“In my entire career, I've never seen a body of people come together for a particular cause like Stop the Violence,” Atlantic City Deputy Police Chief Henry White told the group. “We can't lock our way up out of the problem. This group here is so vital and so important. I just feel confident that we will make a difference.”
Plans include continuing the Stop the Silence cookouts Atlantic City hosted this past summer and community walks, youth collaborations involving Atlantic City's and Pleasantville's school systems, and a gun buyback program set for the spring sponsored by the Atlantic County Prosecutor's Office.
“There is no more pressing problem facing us as a community than gun violence,” acting Atlantic County Prosecutor Jim McClain said. “The question is, what to do? The answer to that question is, everything.”
From more effective policing and prosecution to giving youth daily alternatives to drugs and violence, people must step up, he said.
Six of every 100,000 U.S. residents die in violence, said Dr. Jon Regis, president and CEO of Reliance Medical Group. The closest wealthy nation to that is Finland, at two per 100,000.
Violence is now a public health issue, he said, as it lowers the life expectancy of Americans.
“I'm not going to mince words,” he said. “What we're really talking about is black male violence in the cities of Atlantic City and Pleasantville.”
A Community Safety Survey of 590 residents from Atlantic City and Pleasantville found 225, or 38 percent, said they feel unsafe, while only 27 percent answered that they feel either “safe” or “very safe.”
Of 406 people who offered suggestions as to what could be done to improve the communities' safety, 250 mentioned a larger police presence, according to the survey presented by John Emge, executive director of the United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey in Atlantic County. Of those, 41 specified foot patrols or community policing.
Fixing existing cameras or adding more was mentioned 22 times.
Regis, who lives in Atlantic City, said students see the separation of Atlantic City, with the Tourism District carved out from the more troubled areas.
“You don't think they see that paradox?” he asked to calls of agreement from the audience.
Instead, they see ways to make money for them are not jobs in the city but illegal endeavors such as dealing drugs. But he said other communities don't allow that.
“We as a community, we have a role to play in this,” Regis said. “We have a responsibility in our own community to police ourselves. It's not going to ever go away until the community itself decides, ‘no more.'”
Assistant Attorney General Wanda Moore said the state has a commitment to be a partner in reducing the violence in the area.
“We know there are no easy solutions,” she said. “By working together and building partnerships, we can make a difference.”
One of the things Moore has been working closely with local leaders on is a Municipal Planning Board, which joins political, religious and law-enforcement leaders to look at crime in communities from various angles. The board works with a university sponsor to track the problems and find solutions. In this case, the group will work with Alex Marino and Israel Posner of Richard Stockton College as its sponsor.
The board, based on a state model, has been in the works for more than a year, and will hold its first official meeting Thursday in Pleasantville.