Thursday, October 4, 2012

Romney Dials Back Acceptance of Obama Immigration Program

With hours to go before the presidential candidates meet in Denver for their first debate, Mitt Romney has scaled back his acceptance of a program by President Obama to grant reprieves from deportation to hundreds of thousands of young illegal immigrants.

On Monday, after months of pressure to clarify whether he would end the program if elected, Mr. Romney said in an interview with The Denver Post that he would not cancel two-year deportation deferrals already granted by the Obama administration.

“I’m not going to take something they’ve purchased,” Mr. Romney said.

But on Wednesday morning, campaign aides clarified that Mr. Romney intended to halt the program after he took office and would not issue any new deferrals.

“We’re not going to continue Obama’s program,” an aide said by e-mail. “We’re going to replace it and would only honor visas already issued.”

Mr. Romney has said that instead of Mr. Obama’s temporary measure, he would seek a long-term solution for young undocumented immigrants. He has said he would support legislation to give permanent resident green cards to illegal immigrants who serve in the military.

“He will seek from day one to work as quickly as he can for a permanent solution that will supersede what Barack Obama did,” said Alberto Martinez, an adviser to the Romney campaign on immigration. “He will replace certainty and permanence for something that is uncertain and not permanent.”

Mr. Martinez confirmed that Mr. Romney, as president, would not issue any new deportation deferrals. But he said Mr. Romney would not deport undocumented students who would have been eligible for a deferral.

Mr. Romney has not offered details of a broader plan to give legal status to those immigrants. An estimated 1.2 million immigrants are immediately eligible for reprieves under Mr. Obama’s program.

Undocumented youth leaders said they were dismayed by Mr. Romney’s turnaround. “Dreamers across the nation are disappointed to learn that if elected to the presidency, Governor Mitt Romney would dismantle the Dreamer deferred action policy,” Lorella Praeli, a leader of the United We Dream Network, said Wednesday. She was referring to a group of young undocumented immigrants who call themselves Dreamers, after a bill called the Dream Act.

Mr. Romney’s revision could have a major impact on the deferral program, which began to receive applications on Aug. 15. Since there is no filing deadline, many illegal immigrants have said they were holding back from applying until after the Nov. 6 elections, fearing that Mr. Romney would stop the program.

Still, more than 100,000 immigrants have applied for deferrals and work permits that come with them. After the first month officials confirmed 29 approvals, and they said the pace of decisions could slow as the volume increases.

Immigration policy analysts were perplexed that Mr. Romney referred to the deferrals as visas, noting that the program does not grant visas. Mr. Obama created the program by executive action after the Dream Act stalled in Congress.


U-turn: British government to consider asylum plea of Afghan interpreter blown up on British front line patrol

British bureaucrats are one of the world's lowest life-forms

The Home Office made an extraordinary U-turn tonight and withdrew a letter telling an Afghan interpreter blown up by the Taliban while on patrol with British troops his asylum application was rejected.

The rare about-turn came hours after publicity highlighting the farcical handling of the case of Mohammad Rafi Hottak by the controversial UK Border Agency, whose refusal of the claim was met with disbelief and anger by the military and MPs.

Last night the Agency said it would look again at the case after it appeared that the most basic checks had not been made by officers investigating the 26 year-old's claim despite it having been lodged 14 months ago.

A delighted Mr Hottak hailed the decision as a 'victory for common sense', adding that: ' The reasons given for rejection were unbelievable and showed thorough checks had just not been made in my case.

'I now have renewed hope but I am still cautious given what has happened… this latest decision to cancel the letter shows at least that people are still working to help me find justice. I still can't believe the letter I was sent.'

In that astonishing letter of rejection, which raised new questions about the handling of asylum cases, Mr Hottak was told one of the reasons he would not be allowed to build a new life in Britain was because Home Office investigators did not have evidence of how he was injured.

Incredibly, the father of three was also told he had provided no evidence he was an Afghan, he had the same fingerprints as another asylum claimant and there was no evidence his life was under threat if he had remained in his homeland.

In fact, all the details could have been simply obtained from Ministry of Defence records, including those of how Mr Hottak was blown up by an improvised explosives device – a blast that killed a British officer – and that his life was saved by surgeons in hospital at Camp Bastion.

A devastated Mr Hottak, whose asylum case has already been raised in Parliament, claimed: 'It is as if the Home Office has been blind to my case and what happened to me and fellow interpreters in Afghanistan. I have army officers who I worked with supporting my case but this appears to mean nothing.

'I am depressed and I will appeal, I always saw Britain as a just country that I was proud to serve, that provided shelter for those whose lives were at risk but this has shaken that belief. All I want is a better future for myself and my kids.'

The rejection shocked both MPs and those in the military who worked beside Mr Hottak in the most dangerous parts of Helmand province.

Julian Brazier MP, a member of the Defence select Committee, said he would raise the matter with both Immigration and Armed Forces ministers while Sir Menzies Campbell, the former Liberal Democrat leader, called for Home Secretary Theresa May to investigate.

One soldier has written to the Home Office speaking at his 'disappointment' as the handling of a 'hero's' case, saying Britain was turning its back on him and branding him a liar.

Faced with personal death threats and those to his family, Mr Hottak had paid £8,000 to people smugglers more than a year ago, to reach Britain, walking into a Central London police station to make his plea for asylum.

Fluent in three languages, including English, Mr Hottak worked for the US military as an interpreter in 2004 before switching to the British two years later following in the footsteps of his elder brother.

It was on the morning of November 14, 2007 that while on foot patrol with a joint British Afghan force near the centre of Sangin, Helmand province, an IED was triggered.

Mr Hottak's boss Captain John McDermid, 43, of 2nd Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment was killed, Mr Hottak badly wounded.

He still recalls the huge flash, the noise and the searing pain as he was thrown several metres into the air before ending up bleeding profusely as Army medics rushed to the aid of the injured.

The interpreter suffered horrific shrapnel wounds to the head, neck, arms and chest that required 170 stitches. He also temporarily lost the use of his hand and was deaf in one ear for more than a year.

Thanks to the work of doctors, Mr Hottak returned to work after three months but was unfit for front line duties and was given a job at Camp Souter, the main British recruitment base in Kabul, the Afghan capital.

His role involved interviewing prospective interpreters as well as liasing with the families of colleagues killed or injured, sometimes returning the remains of the dead to their families.

It was then that he began to receive death threats both by letter and telephone – threats he told British officers about. Some threatened him, some his family. He moved house and changed telephones but the threats continued.

One Taliban letter referred to Mr Hottak and his brother by name. It warned: 'They are doing a very important job for the aggressive infidels, so we want you to catch them and deal with them through Islamic Sharia,' said the note, hand-written in Pashtu, the main language in southern Afghanistan.

'If you can't catch these two, catch their father so they will come to rescue him.'

At one point a British officer wrote him a note to take to a senior police officer in Kabul to ask him for help. But Mr Hottak said: 'The first thing the police officer said was, “You work for the Nato forces so they should look after you, not us. There are hundreds of people like you and I cannot provide bodyguards for all of them'."

Underlining the threats was the fact that the Taliban had been responsible for the kidnap and murders of translators as well as the intimidation of their families who were warned that unless their relatives left the British, they would become targets.

More than 40 Afghan translators are said to have resigned from working with the British because of the threats.

Mr Hottak, who has not seen his youngest child, is now living in a hostel in Leicester, where he is unable to work and receives £36 a week to live on.

He is doing a course at a local college and says : 'Other translators have been granted asylum but they are refusing me on the weakest possible reasons. I have Army officers who vouch for who I am, what happened to me and the fact that I served loyally and well with British troops yet this seems to count for very little.'

He added : 'I am desperate and depressed, I risked my life to help British soldiers, my family and Afghanistan and it seems to count for nothing.

'I read reports of killers and criminals who have been granted asylum – it seems that they are desirable but people like me who have never done anything wrong and whose life will be in danger in my own home because I worked with British troops are not. It is a strange situation.'

Keith Vaz, chairman of the Commons Home Affairs Committee and Mr Hottak's MP, has called the young man's treatment a disgrace.

Mr Hottak said that one reason for his asylum rejection was that investigators could not confirm that his surname was Afghan – something that could have been done simply through Google.

Another was that military identification cards supporting the application contained different spellings of his name – Afghan names are spelt in a variety of ways when written in English.

Last night a UKBA spokesperson said: ‘The increased level of publicity around this case has led to new and significant information, which was not provided during the application process, coming to light today.

'As a result of this additional information, we have informed Mr Hottak this evening that we have withdrawn our decision and will fully review his application.’


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