Cronkite News

After six years, Obama administration gets good marks on tribal issues

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Cronkite News Service

WASHINGTON – On a campaign visit to the Crow Nation in Montana in 2008, then-Sen. Barack Obama promised to improve nation-to-nation relationships as president, vowing that Native Americans would “be on my mind every day that I’m in the White House.”

It may not have been every day, but after six years the administration is getting generally high marks from tribal experts who say the president has given tribal relations a high profile. It comes at a time when landmark legislation for Native Americans has passed.

Gains range from an overhaul of tribal courts to a multibillion-dollar settlement of a longstanding tribal suit against the government, but include lighter policy statements like the declaration of National Native American Heritage Month and presidential visits to reservations.

“I certainly feel the commitment from the administration has been one of the strongest we’ve seen among a number of different administrations,” said Eric Stegman, a former Senate Indian Affairs Committee counsel.

Not all the successes can be credited solely to the Obama administration – many had already been in the works for years before he took office, but his timing was right. Read More »

Arizona leads states for rate of deferred-deportation applications

  • Slug: BC-CNS-DACA Arizona,570
  • Sidebar: States with highest application rates
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Cronkite News Service

WASHINGTON – Arizona has the highest rate of deferred deportation applications in the nation, with two-thirds of the estimated 34,000 eligible immigrants in the state signing up, a new report says.

The Migration Policy Institute report cited a “mixed picture” for the two-year-old federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, noting that while many have applied there are still hundreds of thousands who have not come forward.

DACA, unveiled in summer 2012 by President Barack Obama, lets undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children stay for renewable two-year terms without fear of being deported, under certain conditions.

The institute report said that 643,000 people had applied as of March 31, out of an estimated 1.2 million people who are eligible, an application rate of 52 percent. Read More »

Cronkite News Service Digest for Tuesday, Aug. 12

Here is the Cronkite News Service lineup for Tuesday, Aug. 12. Please contact Steve Crane in the Washington, D.C., bureau at 202-684-2398 or if you have questions. Stories promised for today along with photos and links to multimedia elements will move on the CNS client site at

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Zapatista revolution moves slowly at home, but global appeal endures

  • Slug: BC-CNS-Quiet Revolution,2740
  • Eds: Part of the Cronkite Southwest Borderlands Initiative
  • Photos available (thumbnails, captions below)

Cronkite News Service

SAN CRISTOBAL DE LAS CASAS, Chiapas, Mexico – Their everyday presence is almost unnoticeable in this picturesque tourist destination they took over in an armed revolution 20 years ago.

But the Zapatista movement endures quietly, nonviolently and defiantly outside of the big city in five zones they call “caracoles” – snails – symbolic of a desire to move slowly in the face of technological change and globalization.

“We’re thinking of our future, of our kids,” said a member of Caracol Morelia’s nine-person Council of Good Governance that collectively makes decisions for the communities they serve. “They say we lack development, but we have our own way – walking forward.”

The concept of walking forward slowly, step by step, is one of the Zapatistas’ main tenets. Things take time. They’re willing to wait. Read More »

Grass-roots group pushes Congress on abandoned uranium mine cleanup

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  • Sidebar: Details of last cleanup effort
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Cronkite News Service

WASHINGTON – The people behind Clean Up the Mines understand that others have been trying for years to clean up abandoned uranium mines and have mostly met with limited success.

But they say that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t keep trying.

The grass-roots advocacy group of environmental, Native American and other organizations launched in April with the goal of getting Congress to mandate cleanup of the more than 10,000 abandoned mines in the country, at least 500 of which are on the Navajo Nation.

“This needs to be a federal standard,” said Klee Benally, a Navajo who is a member of Clean Up the Mines. “It needs to be the highest that we can possibly have to address these toxic abandoned uranium mines.” Read More »

Court revives death-row inmate’s complaint that prison read his mail

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Cronkite News Service

WASHINGTON – A federal appeals court Monday ordered a new hearing for an Arizona death-row inmate who said prison officials violated his constitutional right to counsel by reading a letter he sent to his attorney.

Arizona Department of Corrections policy allows officers to inspect inmate mail for contraband and for what the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals called “such suspicious features as maps of the prison yard, the times of the guards’ shift changes and the like.”

But death-row inmate Scott Nordstrom said a guard went beyond scanning his letter to his attorney, which was clearly marked “legal mail,” and read the letter. That forced him “to cease conveying critically sensitive information … to his attorney,” violating his Sixth Amendment right to counsel, he said.

A divided three-judge panel of the appeals court agreed. Even though prison is “a tough place” and officials have good reason to inspect prisoners’ mail, they said, “inspecting letters and reading them are two different things.” Read More »

Midwives mix tradition, science to curb maternal deaths in Chiapas

  • Slug: BC-CNS-Mexican Midwives,2150
  • Eds: Part of the Cronkite School’s Southwest Borderlands Initiative
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Cronkite News Service

BOCHIL, Chiapas, Mexico – “Una nina,” the old woman said with a smile. A girl.

Known simply as Dona Mercedes, the midwife had made this diagnosis after pressing wrinkled hands down hard on the swollen brown belly of the woman sprawled beneath her. The examination table was a deflated mattress topped with rumpled blankets and mismatched sheets; the examination room was strewn with clothes, toiletries, dirt and an odd string of Christmas lights.

Maria Lopez Mendoza, the pregnant woman on the bed, nodded in agreement. A health worker in San Cristobal de las Casas, Lopez had been checked by ultrasound just a few weeks earlier. She already planned to name her baby Marisol.

While Lopez has access to both modern and alternative prenatal care and reproductive services, many women in this state – where 70 percent of residents live in poverty – have little to none.

That has contributed to an alarmingly high maternal mortality rate. In Chiapas, 61 women die per 100,000 live births, according to the United Nations Millennium Summit Goals, 11 more deaths than the Mexican national average and three times the maternal mortality rate in the U.S.

Among Mexico’s 31 states, Chiapas’ maternal mortality rate in 2012 trailed only Guerrero, another state in the impoverished south. Read More »

Arizona looks for breathing room in EPA’s carbon-emission goals

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  • Sidebar: Breakout of how Arizona’s power is generated
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Cronkite News Service

WASHINGTON – Arizona will ask federal regulators next week to rethink their June proposal that calls for the state to cut carbon emissions from power plants in half over the next 15 years.

Officials with the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality have scheduled a conference call with their counterparts in the Environmental Protection Agency in which they hope to show that EPA did not take the state’s unique energy demands into account when coming up with the reduction goal.

“The good news for us is that the EPA has expressed a willingness to listen to our concerns,” said Eric Massey, director of the air quality division at ADEQ.

The EPA in June unveiled its Clean Power Plan, which set different carbon-emission reduction goals for states based on individual states’ abilities to shift away from coal and toward natural gas for power generation, among other changes. Read More »

From here to there: Few unaccompanied minors staying in Arizona

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  • Sidebar: States receiving most placements,
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Cronkite News Service

WASHINGTON – More than 5,000 unaccompanied immigrant children were sent to Arizona for processing by Customs and Border Protection this summer, but fewer than 200 of them ended up staying in the state.

That’s less than 1 percent of the 30,340 children who were processed and placed with sponsors – typically a family member – by the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement between Jan. 1 and July 7, according to the most recent numbers from that office.

Arizona ranked 26th among states for the number of children placed in the state, as the federal government has grappled with a surge in unaccompanied minors apprehended at the Southwest border. The state received 186 of those kids.

Texas led all states for placements this year, with 4,280 unaccompanied children, followed by New York, California and Florida. Read More »

For women in Chiapas, working toward a ‘life free of violence’

  • Slug: BC-CNS-Chiapas Women,1950
  • Eds: Part of the Cronkite School’s Southwest Borderlands Initiative
  • Sidebar: Zapatista’s women’s “revolutionary law”
  • Photos available (thumbnails, captions below)

Cronkite News Service

SAN CRISTOBAL DE LAS CASAS, Mexico – When a pending downpour forced Lesvia Entzin Gomez to return to her mother-in-law’s without the apples she had left to cut, her drunken, enraged husband pulled out a shotgun.

“I did not think he had a shell in the shotgun,” Entzin Gomez recalled. “I thought he was playing … then he pointed it at me and I heard it go off. He shot me in the face and my eyes.”

The July 15, 2013, attack left the 24-year-old mother of three blind and suffering from headaches and dizziness. Her husband, Jorge Navarro Hernandez, remains in jail, but she said she has been threatened by his relatives and is in constant fear for her life.

Her case is not unusual: 30 percent of women in Chiapas state age 15 and older were victims of domestic violence in 2011, according to Mexico’s most-recent National Survey on the Dynamics of Relationships in the Household.

And while that seems shockingly high, Chiapas actually has the lowest domestic violence rate among Mexico’s 31 states and federal district. The state of Mexico was highest at 56.9 percent. Nationally, 46.1 percent of Mexico’s 42.6 million women reported physical, emotional or psychological abuse in the 2011 survey. Read More »

Phoenix, Tucson among highest 25 metro areas for pedestrian death rate

  • Slug: BC-CNS-Pedestrian Deaths,560
  • Sidebar: Tucson, Phoenix details from report
  • Photos available (thumbnails, captions below)

Cronkite News Service

WASHINGTON – Phoenix and Tucson ranked among the top 25 metro areas in the nation for pedestrian death rates from 2008 to 2012, according to a study released Wednesday.

The Governing magazine study said the Tucson metro area reported 9.7 pedestrian deaths per 100,000 residents in that period, while metro Phoenix – which includes Mesa and Scottsdale – reported 8.7 deaths per 100,000 residents. The national average was 7.2 deaths per 100,000 people.

The Arizona cities fell well short of the No. 1 metro area, Daytona Beach, Florida, which had a pedestrian death rate of 18.3. But Tucson still ranked 18th and Phoenix ranked 24th overall.

The study of the nation’s 104 largest metro areas also found that pedestrian death rates were significantly higher in low-income areas in all but four of those metro areas.

That held true for Tucson and Phoenix, where the poorest areas had pedestrian-death rates three and four times higher, respectively, than the wealthiest neighborhoods. Read More »

Arizona posted nation’s lowest rate of improper unemployment payments

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  • Sidebar: Top-performing states
  • Photos available (thumbnails, captions below)

Cronkite News Service

WASHINGTON – Arizona had the lowest rate of improper unemployment insurance payments in the nation last year, a ranking that one official said reflects the benefits of new initiatives introduced in the last two years.

The U.S. Labor Department estimated that Arizona issued about $5.3 million worth of improper payments – the sum of benefit overpayments and underpayments, minus overpayments the state has recovered – between July 2012 and June 2013. That was just 1.5 percent of the total $368.1 million the state issued in unemployment benefits during that time, the lowest rating among 50 states and the District of Columbia.

It’s a big improvement from two years ago when Arizona had one of the highest improper payment rates in the nation, according to Mark Darmer, deputy director of programs for the state’s Department of Economic Security. The U.S. Labor Department had put Arizona’s rate at 20 percent then, he said, but new programs have brought the rate down. Read More »

Order on the court: Basketball binds government, people in Chiapas

  • Slug: BC-CNS-Chiapas Ballers,2350
  • Eds: Part of the Cronkite School’s Southwest Borderlands Initiative
  • Photos available (thumbnails, captions below)

Cronkite News Service

ZINACANTAN, Chiapas, Mexico _ As he descends the curving hillside road into this city of 30,000 in the highlands of Chiapas, Juan de la Cruz shifts his rickety Volkswagen Pointer into neutral and slows to a stop.

“What’s the first thing you see here?” de la Cruz asks with a grin.

It’s impossible to miss: You see basketball courts.

They’re a common sight in Chiapas. The courts that frame Zinacantan’s entrance are among thousands scattered throughout these highlands and the rest of the state. Mexico may consider soccer its national sport, but basketball reigns supreme in Chiapas.

“Wherever you go in Chiapas, you’ll find a basketball court,” de la Cruz says. “It seems like a new court is built every day.” Read More »

Rising back-to-school lists, costs give families a lesson in economics

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  • Sidebar: highlights of the federation report
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Cronkite News Service

WASHINGTON – Chandler mom Lindsay Barnes already knows what the National Retail Federation is reporting in a recent study – it costs a lot to send kids back to school.

The federation said this month that families will spend an average of $101.18 per student for school supplies alone, a 12 percent increase from last year. When clothes, shoes and electronics are included, the tab runs to $669.28 per family with kids in kindergarten through high school, its data showed.

Barnes said she is “beyond dreading” back-to-school shopping for her Kyrene School District second-grader. She is particularly concerned by the amount of classroom supplies she expects she will have to buy, after getting a list last summer requesting “a ridiculous amount of supplies.” Read More »

White House protest ends in arrests; Congress balks on border funds

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Cronkite News Service

WASHINGTON – A Phoenix minister was among a group of religious leaders and immigration advocates arrested Thursday at the White House, where hundreds turned out to demand a halt to deportations.

The Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Phoenix spent several hours in detention Thursday before being released, with plans to continue rallying against deportation this weekend.

“I came to the White House to bring a message to President (Barack) Obama to extend deferred action to all undocumented immigrants and to stop the deportations,” she said late Thursday.

At the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, meanwhile, the House canceled a vote Thursday on an emergency funding bill to address the crisis of children illegally crossing the Southwest border. That dimmed hopes for action, as Congress gets set to leave on its August recess. Read More »

State’s same-sex couples could get family leave, but impact uncertain

  • Slug: BC-CNS-Same Benefits,600
  • Sidebar: Details of the Labor Department proposal.
  • Photos available (thumbnails, captions below)

Cronkite News Service

WASHINGTON – Couples who were legally married in a state that recognizes same-sex unions might be given Family and Medical Leave Act benefits if they work in Arizona – even though the state does not recognize their marriage.

That proposal from the Department of Labor is expected to have little practical impact in Arizona, but advocates still welcomed it for the emotional and political statement it makes.

“As these rules get implemented, people will see the impact of discriminatory laws on their neighbors, their coworkers and colleagues,” said Robin Maril, senior legislative counsel at Human Rights Campaign. She believes the shift could “really open people’s eyes” to the discrimination same-sex couples have faced. Read More »

Experts: Don’t be fooled by funding gap in tight congressional races

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  • Sidebar: Fundraising, by candidate
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Cronkite News Service

WASHINGTON – Incumbents in three Arizona congressional districts that have been deemed among the most competitive in the country have raised substantially more than their challengers, more than 3-to-1 in some cases.

But political experts say it’s too early to count out the challengers. And too early to count campaign receipts, which are expected to roll in once hotly contested primaries are over.

“These are three very important races, they’re at the top of our priority list and we’ve made a big commitment to highlighting them and figuring out a path to victory in all three,” said Daniel Scarpinato, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee.

The three races he referred to were Arizona’s 1st, 2nd and 9th districts, currently held by Democratic Reps. Ann Kirkpatrick, Ron Barber and Kyrsten Sinema, respectively. Read More »

Advisory: Church Abuse

Eds: The story slugged BC-CNS-Church Abuse from the Wednesday, July 30, digest will not move this evening. We hope to move it tomorrow and apologize for any inconvenience. Please contact Steve Crane in the Washington, D.C., bureau at 202-684-2398 or if you have questions.

Opening lands to renewable energy could make state a “solar capital”

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  • Sidebar: How royalties would be used
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Cronkite News Service

WASHINGTON – Arizona could become the “solar capital of the world” if public lands can be made more readily available for renewable energy development, an Arizona official told a House subcommittee Tuesday.

Eric Fitzer was one of two Arizonans – along with La Paz County Board of Supervisors Chairman D.L. Wilson – testifying in support of a bill that calls for pilot programs to lease federal land for renewable energy development. Royalties from subsequent energy sales would be split between state, local and federal governments and conservation efforts.

Fitzer, senior energy programs manager for the Governor’s Office on Energy Policy, told a House Natural Resources subcommittee that Arizona has grown its renewable portfolio in the last few years, but access to federal land would help it make great strides toward developing solar energy. The federal government owns 42 percent of the state’s nearly 73 million acres, Fitzer said – land the state needs to reach its full renewable-energy potential. Read More »

Arizona official backs bill to streamline Western state land exchanges

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Cronkite News Service

WASHINGTON – Arizona State Land Commissioner Vanessa Hickman told a congressional committee Tuesday that a bill to streamline public-land exchanges in Western states could make for more sensible and environmentally sensitive development.

That, in turn, would mean more money from trust lands that could go to local schools, said supporters of the bill that would make it easier for states to swap land currently surrounded by federal land.

In Arizona, Hickman said, state trust land is landlocked by at least four monuments, including about 23,000 acres inside the Grand Canyon and Parashant National Monument boundaries.

“We cannot make revenue producing opportunities off of those lands because we have access issues,” she said, in addition to the fact that state and federal missions are not compatible. Read More »