President Obama is expected to express his support today for a sweeping blueprint for immigration reform backed by a bipartisan group of senators. The Senate plan includes a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented people in the United States, but also demands tougher border enforcement and a system for tracking those who overstay visas. Some have condemned the plan’s exclusion of LGBT couples from the right to sponsor a foreign-born partner so they can obtain residency. Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York and Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain announced the Senate proposal on Monday.
Sen. Chuck Schumer: “We still have a long way to go, but this bipartisan blueprint is a major breakthrough. It’s our hope that these principles can be turned into legislation by March and have a markup by Chairman [Patrick] Leahy’s committee with the goal of passage out of the Senate by late spring or summer.”
Sen. John McCain: “We have been too content for too long to allow individuals to mow our lawn, serve our food, clean our homes, and even watch our children, while not affording them any of the benefits that make our country so great. I think everyone agrees that it’s not beneficial for our country to have these people here hidden in the shadows.”
President Obama will outline his ideas for immigration reform today in a speech in Las Vegas. While Obama is said to differ from the senators on several issues, administration officials said today’s speech will focus instead on rallying public support for reform.
On Monday, immigrants and their advocates in New York City described the devastating impact of current U.S. immigration policies and announced a nationwide mobilization in support of immigration reform. Speaking at Judson Memorial Church, David Chung of the MinKwon Center for Community Action talked about his family.
David Chung: “Though we are one family, my brother is the only U.S. citizen. My parents and I are undocumented. Each day, we live with the fear knowing that one of us could be taken away at any time. Luckily, I have been granted deferred action and the authorization to work legally in the U.S. However, this is only a temporary reprieve of only two years. Our only hope to stay together as a family without fear and worry is for President Obama and Congress to act and pass comprehensive immigration reform in 2013.”
President Obama continues to publicly lobby Congress for passage of his bid to reform the nation’s gun laws. On Monday, Obama and Vice President Joe Biden hosted the police chiefs of three communities that have seen mass shootings in the past year: Oak Creek, Wisconsin; Aurora, Colorado; and, most recently, Newtown, Connecticut.
President Obama: “The only way that we’re going to be able to do everything that needs to be done is with the cooperation of Congress. And that means passing serious laws that restrict the access and availability of assault weapons and magazine clips that aren’t necessary for hunters and sportsmen and those responsible gun owners who are out there. If law enforcement officials who are dealing with this stuff every single day can come to some basic consensus in terms of steps that we need to take, Congress is going to be paying attention to them, and we’ll be able to make progress.”
The Senate Judiciary Committee is set to begin its first hearing on Obama’s proposals on Wednesday.
The U.S. military is reportedly preparing a new base in northwest Africa from which to fly its fleet of drones. According to The New York Times, the initial plan is to use the drone base for surveillance flights targeting Islamist militants, but that could turn into missile strikes later on. If approved, the base would likely be built in Niger. Niger borders Mali, where the United States is currently aiding a French-led military operation in the country’s north.
On Monday, French and Malian troops retook control of the key Malian historical site of Timbuktu from Islamist fighters. The fleeing militants set several buildings on fire, including a library holding priceless historical manuscripts. Tuareg fighters in northern Mali, meanwhile, say they have taken control of the city of Kidal and seven other towns from the Islamist rebels.
Egypt’s army chief is warning ongoing political turmoil amid mass protests against President Mohamed Morsi could cause the Egyptian state to collapse. General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi issued the warning Tuesday after residents in towns along the Suez Canal openly defied a curfew imposed by Morsi, flocking to the streets as military troops watched on. At least two men died in clashes in Port Said, adding to dozens killed in recent days. Protests erupted around the second anniversary of the Egyptian revolution that ousted Hosni Mubarak. But in Port Said, the unrest was fueled by death sentences handed down Saturday for 21 city residents accused of playing a role in a deadly soccer riot last year.
The United Nations is warning it could be forced to scale back food aid in Syria due to a lack of international funding. On Monday, John Ging, the director of the U.N.’s humanitarian operations, said relief workers have already cut the nutritional count in food rations by half in the past two months. Speaking shortly after a trip to Syria, Ging warned the country is seeing widespread devastation.
John Ging: “It’s really shocking, the scale of the devastation and, again, the cost and the amount of time that it will take to recover already, not to speak about, of course, the fact that this is going on in an unrelenting — unrelenting way. The state of living conditions for people now in Syria, across the board, are just quite appalling. And what strikes you most is when you go to the hospitals and you see how sick people are having to, you know, cope in medical facilities that are just so seriously under-resourced.”
An internal document has revealed the Obama administration is shuttering the office of the special envoy in charge of closing Guantánamo. Special Envoy Daniel Fried is being reassigned and will not be replaced, according to a report in The New York Times. President Obama vowed four years ago to close Guantánamo, but the latest move indicates he is continuing to table that promise.
A government report has found the Treasury Department approved huge paydays for executives at bailed-out corporations, despite rules limiting their compensation while on the taxpayer dole. The special inspector general for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP, says the Treasury granted all 18 requests it received last year to hike pay for executives at American International Group, General Motors, and Ally Financial. Fourteen of those requests were for at least $100,000, while the largest was for $1 million. The three firms collectively received some $250 billion in government bailouts. Christy Romero, the special inspector general for TARP, said: “We … expect Treasury to look out for taxpayers who funded the bailout of these companies by holding the line on excessive pay.”
A large section of the Mississippi River has been closed off after the crash of a barge set off a major oil spill. The barge was carrying 80,000 gallons of crude when it crashed into a railroad bridge in the Mississippi town of Vicksburg. The spill has forced the delays of some 300 barges trying to pass through the Mississippi, a vital waterway for U.S. goods.
In Brazil, four people have been detained for questioning in connection with the massive fire that killed 231 people at a nightclub in Santa Maria. The blaze was set off by the pyrotechnics of a band performing on stage. The death toll was likely higher because the club only had one exit. The venue’s owners and two members of the band are in custody. Thousands of mourners gathered at a vigil for the fire victims Monday night.
José Luiz Fagundes: “I believe that it’s not just me, but everyone in this world who has a heart has been affected (by the fire), anyone who has family, who has a friend. We are all moved, and not just us. I have nothing else to say.”
In other news from Brazil, a leader of the country’s landless peasant movement has been killed in a targeted shooting. Cícero Guedes was shot dead in Rio de Janeiro state while bicycling to his home. He was killed not far from a sugar plant that he had helped occupy along with other landless workers this past November. Guedes’ murder is the latest in a spate of killings of Brazilian land rights activists in recent years. In a statement, the group Christian Aid said: “Cícero Guedes is one more peasant leader murdered in recent years only because he was defending the distribution of land and resources in one of the most unequal countries in the world.”
Computer hackers with the cyber-activist group Anonymous say they have infiltrated the Justice Department’s website in retaliation for the prosecution of Aaron Swartz, the late Internet freedom advocate who took his own life earlier this month. Swartz was weeks before a trial date for downloading millions of articles provided by the nonprofit research service JSTOR. He was facing 35 years in prison, a penalty supporters called excessively harsh. On Saturday, Anonymous said it had breached the Justice Department’s firewall and planned to release government data in response to its treatment of Swartz.