Civil rights groups opposing President-elect Bush’s choice for attorney general, John Ashcroft, are demanding that Democratic senators vote against the nomination. The groups will join with organized labor to confront Democrats at public events to win commitments of a “no” vote. Ashcroft has drawn opposition for his anti-abortion views and for leading a successful drive to defeat the nomination of a black Missouri Supreme Court judge, Ronnie White, to the federal bench. Reverend Jesse Jackson said yesterday the campaign also will target New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman, Bush’s nominee to head the Environmental Protection Agency. Whitman has drawn the ire of blacks because of racial profiling by the New Jersey state police, and because the Governor personally frisked a black youth for a photo op.
President-elect Bush is readying an education package that would aggressively test students and cut federal funds for schools that fail to measure up. Aides say that despite significant opposition in Congress, he will not abandon a school voucher plan. As he puts the finishing touches on his cabinet this week, Bush also is weighing how to present his education proposals to Congress. He said that lawmakers are certain to see his proposals just after he takes office on January 20.
After scores of complaints and lawsuits concerning the physical and mental abuse of immigrants detained in county jails and other detention centers, the Immigration and Naturalization Service has issued national standards for the treatment of its detainees. The new standards, covering everything from visiting policies to grievance procedures, will be phased in this month at all detention centers administered by the immigration service. They will be phased in over the next two years at state and local jails that house immigration service detainees. But critics say the agency has fallen far short of that goal, especially in county jails in states like Louisiana, Texas, New Jersey and Florida, where detainees and their lawyers say prisoners are beaten, solitary confinement is imposed for trivial offenses, and water and food are often inadequate. Advocates for immigrants say conditions may not improve, even after the standards are in place, because they don’t have the weight of law and could prove impossible to enforce.
Just two months ago, Salvadorans, Guatemalans and other refugees from Central America were ecstatic. President Clinton had threatened to veto a final budget deal unless more than a million immigrants, including them, were allowed a chance at becoming legal residents. But in the wake of elections that favored Republicans, and facing fierce GOP opposition to broader proposals, Clinton has dropped his threat and agreed to an immigration package last month that helps just over half as many people. In the end, about 400,000 immigrants from Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, plus 50,000 or so from Haiti and Liberia, find themselves with little reasonable chance at becoming legal U.S. residents, let alone citizens. Many, including tens of thousands in the Washington area, are likely to face new threats of deportation after more than a decade of living in the United States.
Palestinian President Yasser Arafat left the Gaza Strip last night for surprise talks with President Clinton on the U.S. peace proposal that’s drawn strong Palestinian reservations. In the proposal, the Palestinians will get a state in 95 percent of the West Bank and all of Gaza and partial control over a contested holy site in East Jerusalem. In exchange, the Palestinians would drop their demand for right of return for Palestinian refugees who were driven out of Israel when it was founded in 1948. Arafat agreed last night to meet with Clinton in order to hear clarifications on the proposal.
Meanwhile, new violence flared in the Gaza Strip today as Israeli soldiers killed a Palestinian farmer and wounded seven in two separate shootings, and two Israeli soldiers were injured by roadside bombs. Israeli troops have tightened their blockade of Palestinian towns and closed three main roadways in Gaza, effectively cutting the Strip in half.
In other Middle East news, Saudi Arabia has signed a $2 billion arms deal with the United States, according to a U.S. diplomat. The deal includes a three-year contract worth $1.6 billion to maintain the Kingdom’s F-16 jet fighters and will employ 1,000 people, including 10 representing the American government. The deal also involves a project to modernize the Saudi National Guard. Saudi Arabia is the United States’ main ally in the Gulf region and is host to about 5,000 U.S. troops.