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NEW YORK (AP) — A Venezuelan tourist who said she was wrongfully accused of shoplifting at Macy's flagship store was acquitted Monday in a case that came to light amid concerns that shoppers were being racially profiled at prominent New York stores, her lawyer said.
 
A judge cleared Maria Paez, who said she was just carrying items around the store when she put them in a Macy's bag during a Sept. 12 trip. She soon found herself handcuffed, held in a store detention cell for hours, and pressed to sign a confession and pay $500, while her 12-year-old son waited in the store uninformed of where she was, according to her attorney, Daniel Hochheiser.
 
Court records weren't immediately available Monday evening, and Manhattan district attorney's office representatives had no immediate information on the case. Paez faced misdemeanor charges that carried the potential for up to three months in jail.
 
Paez, whose family owns real estate and a pet-food company in Venezuela, maintains that Macy's security guards targeted her because she spoke Spanish and had words with an impolite fitting-room attendant.
 
"She stuck up for herself, and they didn't appreciate that a foreigner was actually going to talk back to them, and they were going to teach her a lesson," Hochheiser said.
 
A Macy's spokeswoman had no immediate comment.
 
Paez and her attorneys drew attention to her case at a news conference in November, when a series of complaints by black shoppers had spotlighted long-simmering questions about security practices and profiling at Macy's and other major retailers in the city. One shopper, Robert Brown, an actor on the HBO drama "Treme," said he was held for almost an hour and grilled about a $1,300 watch he had bought his mother for her college graduation. He was eventually released without charges.
 
He and at least eight other customers have filed lawsuits saying the store made famous by "Miracle on 34th Street" wrongly targets minorities and holds customers for hours. Macy's has said it doesn't tolerate discrimination.
 
The allegations — which came years after Macy's paid a $600,000 fine and promised to change practices to settle similar claims raised by the state attorney general— sparked an outcry among civil rights advocates. In December, Macy's and several other major retailers agreed to create and publicize a customer bill of rights that explicitly prohibits profiling and unreasonable searches.
 
"I think we're making excellent progress," Ed Goldberg, a senior Macy's executive, said then.
 
But Hochheiser suggests there hasn't been enough progress.
 
"One of the hopes is that there are more Maria Paezes out there who will actually fight these cases and, perhaps, eventually, Macy's will change," he said.
 
Laws in at least 27 states give stores the right to hold and fine shoplifting suspects and allow stores to try to recoup some losses, even if a person isn't convicted.
 
During the more than six hours Paez spent in a store holding cell and a police precinct, she wasn't allowed to call her son, her attorney said. He said the boy didn't learn what had happened until store employees ultimately found him in a shoe department at closing time and took him to a security office.
Published in National News
   SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- A man who illegally came to the United States two decades ago said he hopes a court ruling granting him a law license will open doors to millions of other immigrants in the same situation.
   The California Supreme Court granted a license Thursday to Sergio Garcia, 36, in a unanimous decision.
   Garcia, who attended law school and passed the state bar exam while working in a grocery store and on farms, can begin practicing law immediately.
   Garcia said he hoped the decision would serve as a "beacon of hope" to others in the same situation. He plans to be a personal injury attorney in his hometown of Chico.
   It's the latest in a string of legal and legislative victories for people who are in the country without permission. Other successes include the creation of a path to citizenship for many young people and the granting of driver's licenses in some states.
   "This is a bright new day in California history and bodes well for the future," the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles said in a statement.
   The court sided with state officials in the case, which pitted them against the White House over a 1996 federal law that bars people who are in the U.S. illegally from receiving professional licenses from government agencies or with the use of public money, unless state lawmakers vote otherwise.
   Bill Hing, a law professor at the University of San Francisco, said the court made clear the only reason it granted Garcia's request is that California recently approved a law that specifically authorizes the state to give law licenses to immigrants who are here illegally.
   The new law, inspired by Garcia's situation, took effect Wednesday.
   It was unclear how many people would qualify to practice law under the ruling and whether it would influence other states. Legislatures and governors in more conservative states such as Alabama and Arizona are likely to be less receptive to the idea.
   He "can hang up a shingle and be his own company," said Hing, who represented the state bar association in the case. "Once he does that, a client can retain him as a lawyer."
   But some questions remained unresolved, such as whether Garcia can appear in federal court or in other states. Federal law makes it illegal for law firms to hire him.
   Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, who wrote the opinion, said the new state law removed any barrier to Garcia's quest for a license. And no other federal statute "purports to preclude a state from granting a license to practice law to an undocumented immigrant," Cantil-Sakauye wrote.
   Garcia, 36, arrived in the U.S. as a teenager to pick almonds with his father, who was a permanent legal resident. His father filed a petition in 1994 seeking an immigration visa for his son. It was accepted in 1995, but because of the backlog of visa applications from people from Mexico, Garcia has never received a visa number.
   He applied for citizenship in 1994 and is still working toward that goal.
   The U.S. Department of Justice argued that Garcia was barred from receiving his law license because the court's entire budget comes from the public treasury, a violation of the federal mandate that no public money be used to grant licenses to people who are in the country without permission.
   Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Tenney, who argued the case, did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
   The Obama administration's position in the case came as a surprise to some, since the White House has shielded from deportation people who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children, provided they also graduated from high school, kept a clean criminal record and met other conditions.
   At a hearing in September, a majority of the state Supreme Court justices appeared reluctant to grant Garcia the license under current state and federal law, saying they were prohibited from doing so unless the Legislature acted.
   Garcia worked in the fields and at a grocery store before attending community college. He then became a paralegal, went to law school and passed the bar exam on his first try. His effort to get licensed was supported by state bar officials and California's attorney general, who argued that citizenship is not a requirement to receive a California law license.
   Two other similar cases are pending in Florida and New York, and the Obama administration has made it clear it will oppose bar entry to immigrants unless each state passes its own laws allowing the practice, Hing said.
   California Attorney General Kamala Harris supported Garcia's petition and applauded the ruling.
   Nick Pacilio, a spokesman for Harris, said California's success "has hinged on the hard work and self-sufficiency of immigrants like Sergio."
    Thursday's decision is the latest example of changes in immigration policy happening at the state level while an effort to achieve a broad federal overhaul stalls in the House.
   California and nine other states last year agreed to grant drivers licenses to people in the country illegally, bringing the total to 13 states, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Nevada and Maryland began taking applications this week.
   Four states - Colorado, Minnesota, Oregon and New Jersey - last year offered in-state college tuition to residents who are here illegally, joining California and 10 others.
Published in National News

CHICAGO (AP) - Illinois is beginning to let immigrants apply for a driver's license if they're living in the U.S. illegally.

The Chicago Sun-Times reports appointments begin Tuesday for people to take license tests at two locations - one in Chicago and one in Springfield.

Four locations will offer the license exams by the end of the month. And about three dozen will offer the exams in January.

So far, more than 5,500 people have scheduled appointments.

The licenses are valid for three years and may be used only for driving. They can't be used as identification for activities like boarding a plane, voting or buying a firearm.

Supporters say the law will save Illinois motorists money and make roads safer. But critics say there's a potential for identity fraud.

Published in Local News

SAN DIEGO (AP) — Ranchers, deputies and lawmakers from states along the U.S.-Mexico border have long pleaded for federal help, saying their areas were overrun by people entering the country illegally and armed smugglers.

But today there is growing opposition along the nearly 2,000-mile boundary to more agents and fences.

The Border Mayors Association says hours-long waits at crossings have cost the region billions by deterring Mexican shoppers and delaying U.S. shipments.

Border mayors favor expanding "trusted traveler" programs that give passes to pre-vetted crossers, digital fingerprinting and other technology to make ports of entry more secure.

Congress hasn't addressed those ideas.

A far-reaching immigration bill passed by the Democratic-led Senate in June calls for an additional 20,000 Border Patrol agents and 700 miles of fencing.

The Republican-controlled House favors tackling immigration with single-issue bills, starting with border security.

Published in National News

   WHEATON, Ill. (AP) - U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin is continuing his drum beat for immigration reform, saying he hopes the House of Representatives will take action this year on legislation passed by the Senate.

   The Illinois Democrat said in a round-table discussion in Wheaton on Monday he hopes to show House Republicans there is "a diverse level of support" for fixing the nation's "broken" immigration system.

   The round-table, which took place in the district of Republican Congressman Peter Roskam, included business, health, religious and community leaders.

   Durbin is one of the sponsors of legislation approved by the Senate that would provide a path to citizenship for immigrants who came to the country unlawfully. The bill also would expand access to visas for workers and graduates with advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering and math.

 
Published in Local News

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. Senate has passed a historic immigration bill. The vote on the bipartisan measure -- crafted by a group of lawmakers known as the Gang of Eight, was 68-32. It now goes to the House.

The legislation offers the hope of American citizenship to millions, while promising a military-style surge to secure the border.

The vote was far more than the majority needed to send the measure to the House. Prospects there are not nearly as good and many conservatives are opposed.

Vice President Joe Biden presided, and senators cast their votes from their desks, both steps reserved for momentous votes. The bill, a priority for President Barack Obama, would amount to the most sweeping changes in decades to the nation's immigration laws.

Published in National News

ST. LOUIS (AP) - St. Louis lags behind many other metropolitan areas in attracting immigrants. A new effort is underway to change that.

The St. Louis Mosaic Project was formally launched Thursday. The ambitious goal is to make the St. Louis region the fastest-growing metropolitan area in the U.S. for immigration growth by 2020.

St. Louis is the nation's 19th largest metropolitan area but immigrants make up just 4.5 percent of the region's population, which ranks 43rd.

The St. Louis Mosaic Project hopes to draw more immigrants through several outreach efforts, including a website that will offer 10 links for people of different nationalities

 

Published in Local News

WASHINGTON (AP) — Sen. Marco Rubio says a proposed immigration bill expected to be introduced this week won't offer amnesty to those who entered the U.S. illegally.

The Florida Republican, who appeared on five news shows Sunday, says "there will be consequences for having violated the laws."

Rubio's proposal would require people to pass a "rigorous background check" and pay fines and application fees to receive a permit that would allow them to "work, travel and pay taxes." After 10 years they would be able to apply for legal immigration status and an eventual path to citizenship.

Under the proposal, the applicants would not be eligible for any federal benefits such as health care.

Published in National News

WASHINGTON (AP) — Two of the lawmakers negotiating an immigration overhaul in Congress say a final deal is at hand but caution that the bipartisan group working on a proposal hasn't finished its work.

<br><br>

Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York and Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona said on Sunday that organized labor and the business leaders have reached an agreement on immigration. But they both told NBC's "Meet the Press" that the so-called Gang of Eight senators hasn't yet signed-off on final legislative language.

<br><br>

Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, is also part of the bipartisan group working on an immigration deal. After reports emerged on Saturday that the AFL-CIO and the Chamber of Commerce agreed on a deal, Rubio issued a statement calling a compromise "premature."

Published in National News
WASHINGTON (AP) - President Barack Obama's chief of staff says the White House hasn't proposed "anything to Capitol Hill yet" on immigration even as a leading Republican criticizes a reported draft proposal regarding illegal immigrants.

That draft, according to USA Today, would create a visa for the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States and allow them to become legal permanent residents within eight years.

Obama aide Denis McDonough tells ABC's "This Week" that the White House is working with a bipartisan group of senators.

GOP Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida says if such a measure was proposed, it would be "dead on arrival" in Congress.

McDonough says "let's make sure that it doesn't have to be proposed" because the White House and Congress are able to work out a deal.
Published in National News

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