Friday, March 28, 2014

Fil-Ams shocked by Sen. Yee’s arrest

Senator Leland Yee during a recent meeting with members of the Filipino-American media in Eagle Rock, a district of Los Angeles, north of downtown.  Considered as a friend by many in the community, Sen. Yee was arrested by FBI agents on Wednesday and court documents showed that he’s facing gunrunning charges where the weapons were allegedly coming from Muslim rebels in the Philippines. 
As a candidate seeking the California Secretary of State seat, Senator Leland Yee made headways and was probably on his way to becoming the first Asian to occupy that seat come November. That is until Wednesday came in the way, when agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation arrested him and many others in connection with alleged firearms trafficking and other corruption charges as if it was a novel written for a blockbuster movie.

“Unbelievable” and “This is sad” were the reactions of many Filipino-Americans who know Sen. Yee. He is a friend to many in the community, an affable, very likeable person, who seemed sincere enough in his visions not just for the Fil-Ams but for all Californians. That is why even if the Philippines has been trying to fend of China’s bullying  tactics – Sen. Yee came to the U.S. when he was just 3-years-old from China and very much American – Fil-Ams regard him as their very best chance of getting Fil-Am issues moved in Sacramento.

Just like many of the Fil-Ams who Sen. Yee have met, chatted with, had their pictures taken with, this author still could not fathom that the honorable senator – and I mean that until today – whom I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing so many times even at the Weekend Balita offices where he once visited, was described as a totally different person in the FBI complaint.

Who would’ve thought that the senator – a known anti-gun advocate – would be charged as a gunrunner? As someone who would discuss matters with “unknown characters” (who turned out to be undercover agents) wanting to buy firearms so he could raise campaign money?!

But he’s been in politics since the late 80s. He seemed to know how to raise funds legally, even if he was reported to be $70,000 in the hole because of his previous loss to the mayoral race in San Francisco, the district he represents as a California senator along with most of San Mateo County. Either that or I’m too naive.

On TV, while journalists were interviewing an FBI agent about the ongoing arrests and who they were, the agent rattled some names – there were 26 arrests including the senator – and said “but the big fish is Leland Yee, a California senator.” Seriously, have you met the senator? was my initial reaction.

As I try to look at  this objectively, it was as if the senator was leading a double life! You see, Fil-Am publishers have endorsed him. Fellow scribes have written rosy comments about him and the way they appreciated the fact that Sen. Yee has been championing so many Filipino issues, including the fight for equity of Filipino war veterans. Many here in Los Angeles have invited him to grace their events and even asked him to give a small talk, which has become routine for him, especially since he’s running for a higher office. Heck, he even administered the oath of newly-installed officers of a press photographers club just over the weekend!

In a press release, the Department of Justice said: “Yee and (an associate) Keith Jackson allegedly raised money and campaign funds for Yee’s Secretary of State campaign by soliciting donations from FBI undercover agents, in exchange for multiple official acts, and that Yee and Jackson were involved in a conspiracy to traffic firearms.” As if this wasn’t enough to hurt the Fil-Ams, the weapons allegedly will come from “Yee’s contacts” who are “Muslim rebels,” who are, can you believe this, based in the Philippines? Sen. Yee has told stories of his travels to the Philippines, even to Mindanao. But he has “contacts?!”

In addition, the DOJ also said that “Yee and Jackson allegedly agreed that Yee would make a telephone call to a manager with the California Department of Public Health in support of a contract under consideration with the second undercover agent’s purported client, and would provide an official letter of support for the client, in exchange for a $10,000 campaign donation. Yee allegedly made the call on Oct. 18, 2012, and provided the letter on or about Jan. 13, 2013. On Nov. 19, 2012, Jackson accepted the $10,000 cash donation.” Please note that there was a second undercover agent that Yee talked to, apparently.

There were more “cash donations” made to Sen. Yee, on the senator’s “proddings,” according to the complaint, and more allegations against Yee, who was hauled in handcuffs and who seemed dazed and confused from all that had just taken place before posting a $500,000 bond last Wednesday.

A prominent supporter, Fil-Am Attorney Alma Reyes, was perhaps the most shocked. Reyes has been the most visible person with Sen. Yee in many Fil-Am events in the Southland as of late. But as any legal counsel would say, Reyes’ comment was, “Like everybody else who faces allegations, which is what an indictment is, the honorable senator is entitled to a presumption of innocence.”

Reyes added, however, that “We all know that (Sen. Yee) has powerful adversaries because of his popularity. As one of his supporters and as an attorney, I don’t have any indicia of doubt that he will be proven innocent.”

As mentioned, Sen. Yee was a favorite to win in November who, even if ethnically he belongs to the minority, but was up against a fractured Latino community. As of this writing, the Senate suspended Yee, along with two other senators facing criminal charges, which has practically ended his political career. By the way, Yee has quit the race on Thursday.

On the other hand, if the allegations are true, I dare say that I was fooled like never before, and the FBI must be commended for catching a huge whale.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Lawyer sued by his own newspaper staff

Atty. Joel Bander (in photo) is still under a three-year probation in the first State Bar case when he stipulated on another round of disciplinary action with the State Bar after more complaints were filed against him by several homeowners. Now, he will also have to deal with his own newspaper staff who claimed were not paid by him. 
Atty. Joel Bander is accused of not paying two editors and a reporter

Controversial lawyer Joel Bander, who just last month was going to be tried by the State Bar, faces another legal tussle after his own newspaper staff at on Tuesday filed a small claims complaint against him at the Los Angeles Superior Court.

In the cases filed last April 30, managing editor Rene Villaroman, editor Alfonso Aquino and reporter Dionesio Grava claimed that Bander owed them $6,000 each for a total of $18,000, which they said was equivalent to six months of unpaid compensation.

In their complaint, each of the three gave similar reasons: “Unpaid services as (their position) of defendant’s newspaper Pinoywatchdog.” All of them also claimed to have worked for Pinowatchdog for a year at a rate of $1,000 a month, which was already low compared to the average salary of editors in Los Angeles which is around $60,000 annually. However, unlike most newspapers in Los Angeles, Pinoywatchdog is a fortnightly tabloid that comes out every other week.

The complaint came amid what many considered internal conflicts in the newspaper outfit when Aquino was headlined as having resigned as executive editor in one of their recent issues. Aside from being its executive editor, Aquino served as president of the newspaper under the Tanod Bayan Inc., a Nevada corporation which listed “Joel R Bander” as the registered agent and the lone corporate officer and director.

Aquino was replaced as president by Bernie Cortes-Kimmerle, who is also the newspaper’s entertainment editor. After taking over Aquino’s post, she  wrote in a front page  message that as “PWD President…we seek the truth as we are independent.” She also wrote that “Fellow ‘Pinoys’ that have no guilt or shame or anything to hide love PWD.” 

After that, however, a new newspaper came out with Aquino as president and executive director written in the staff box, while Villaroman and Grava were named as managing editor and associate editor respectively. Even Larry Pelayo’s name was in the same staff box as editorial ombudsman. Pelayo is also Pinoywatchdog’s ombudsman.

In its maiden issue, The Filipino Advocate editorial lambasted Bander calling the attorney as behaving like a “spoiled brat and a privileged publisher, sometimes demanding perks from prospective advertisers and would-be supporters, and eventually eroding their respect for the core missions of” The same editorial also said that the “financier-owner…started behaving like he owned not only that publication but also the views that its writers and editors espoused.”

In addition, the editorial made it appear that Bander may have had some unsettled financial obligations with the staff when the newspaper wrote that “Never mind that our columnists were not accorded pay for their efforts. But when Mr. Bander reneged on the agreement to compensate the writers and editors for their labor, we put our collective feet down. Enough was enough.” The editorial, however, didn’t mention who wrote the piece, but it was believed to have been written by Aquino.

In an email to Weekend Balita, Aquino said that “when Bander offered me the job of president and as executive editor, I made my position clear and they were as follows:
1. I write as I please and I won’t take dictation or correction from him, except issues that are defamatory against the subject concerned;
2. That I have no role as far as financing the undertaking was concerned, including the salaries of staff members and payment of contributed articles;
3. That I received no emolument of any kind in the meantime until the paper is financially viable; and
4. That I do no marketing.”

Aquino reiterated that his resignation was caused by policy differences with Bander, “who seemed to have gotten swollen in the head after savoring the sweet smell of the perceived success of the paper to the extent that he considered such as his personal achievement.”

Also according to Aquino, he is the registered owner of the newspaper’s name, “I am  the registered owner of Pinoywatchdog with the Secretary of State, California, and still the registered owner of the dba (doing business as) of”

He said that “if I don’t get paid I will sue him for infringement against my property right, as I am the legal and rightful owner of the paper as my last resort to get this man out of circulation in the Filipino community.

Thru Facebook, Villaroman – who was the co-founder of Pinoywatchdog – had only these to say: “Thanks for giving me the courtesy of airing my side on this story. But I would rather not make any comment or address your inquiries for personal reasons at this time.” Grava also said that “at this time I am not issuing any statement nor answer questions from the media in that regard. Thanks”

For his part, Bander said that he has yet to see any of the lawsuits. Despite that, however, he said, “I love Al, Rene and Mr. Grava! The lawsuit is silly though. That is my comment for now."

Bander is currently facing a State Bar complaint involving a loan litigation program his firm launched back in 2008. The complaint by the State Bar is currently on “Hearing Stipulation” stage, which means that Bander may have settled the case and agreed on another round of disciplinary action after serving a three-month suspension last year. In the first State Bar complaint which was filed on behalf of several homeowners who signed up in the failed “Save Your Home, Sue the Banks” mortgage litigation scheme, Bander allegedly failed to perform the legal services that he was supposed to do for his clients. 

According to State Bar, that first case against Bander cost them more than $20,000 in court fees, including investigation and hearing expenses, all of which may have to be paid by Bander. More fees are expected to be incurred by the ongoing second State Bar complaint that would've forced Bander to face 35 witnesses, including his former lawyers at the now bankrupt Bander Law Firm, in the already scuttled five-day trial.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Bander avoids trial as attorney, State Bar settle

Atty. Joel Bander, shown here from a Facebook Page that bears his name, was supposed to face trial on Monday, April 8, at the State Bar, but a settlement has been reached between him and the State Bar.
If our sources are correct, it looks like Atty. Joel Bander will not be tried after all because a settlement has been reached between him and the State Bar. The criminal lawyer was facing charges after allegedly violating California State Bar rules relating to the loan litigation program his law firm initiated but failed after signing up over 800 clients in 2008 and 2009.

Although the court calendar on Friday still posted Bander’s trial that’s supposed to begin on Monday, April 8, the two parties – Atty. Joel Bander and State Bar Deputy Trial Counsel Ross E. Viselman – have apparently reached an agreement after Tuesday’s voluntary settlement conference (VSC) with a judge. A call to the State Bar late Friday confirmed that the five-day trial was taken off calendar.

Earlier,  Clerk of Court Johnny Smith, who is assigned to VSC Judge Richard Platel, told Weekend Balita that although the two had met, he was not aware of any settlement though there were no further meetings that were scheduled after Tuesday’s conference. Smith added that if an agreement has indeed been reached, it will not be made public until the terms have been submitted and accepted by the judge.

Bander’s latest State Bar case that was filed last December 20 involved 20 cases based on complaints by 10 homeowners. Prior to Tuesday’s VSC, a pre-trial was held last March 28 at the courtroom of Judge Richard A. Honn – who is supposed to hear the case – where Bander tried to exclude this reporter from covering the conference, which was marked “Public Matter.”

Weekend Balita was supposed to cover Bander’s five-day trial after Judge Honn approved our request to be present in the courtroom. It was Judge Honn who earlier instructed both Bander and the State Bar to settle the case, calling it “costly.” We tried to reach the State Bar on Friday and left messages with Viselman, who has yet to return our calls as of this writing.

Bander served a three month suspension last year after multiple cases were filed against him by the State Bar in 2011. He was also placed on a three-year probation after pleading no contest to the charges.

Meanwhile, a review of Bander’s disciplinary record showed that it was also Judge Platel who was assigned to the first case of Bander. The same record indicated that Bander also tried to “Modify Terms of (his) Probation” and that he also filed a motion to extend the provisions regarding restitution, both of which were denied by Judge Platel last January 24. Court records showed that the first complaint against Bander racked up more than $20,000 in fees that Bander will have to pay.

Apart from the suspension, Bander must pass a professional responsibility test. The State Bar also stated that Bander’s “misconduct evidences multiple acts of wrongdoing or demonstrates a pattern of misconduct as there were 20 client matters involved.”

When the settlement was reached in the first complaint and approved by Judge Platel, it took another six months before Bander served his actual suspension that took effect last June and ended in September.

In the second State Bar complaint, Bander is also facing 20 cases. Just like most of the complainants in the first one, the new cases were all about homeowners who signed up for the so-called “Save Your Home, Sue the Banks” loan litigation program, where Bander promised to sue their lenders and force the latter to reduce their mortgage payments or modify their loans.

A few attorneys who have dealt with Bander in the past and who thought that Bander’s three-month suspension was a “slap on the wrist” were not surprised to learn that the same attorney, who is described as a “public figure” on three different Facebook pages, was again charged by the State Bar.

According to San Francisco-based State Bar defense lawyer Jerome Fishkin, “some attorneys, because of the severity of the offense or the little likelihood of success, will choose to resign rather than face State Bar prosecution. Others will lose a contested case and will be disbarred,” as posted in his website”

As to give a semblance of how attorneys as defendants are treated in a State Bar, Fishkin described that “The State Bar is an adversary system” and that the “people do not become State Bar investigators and prosecutors (like Viselman) because they want to help attorneys. The prosecutorial mentality in general is to find fault and fix blame.” Fishkin also warned that “in recent years, State Bar prosecutors (have) become seemingly petty and mean-spirited.”

Although Fishskin recommends that lawyers get a State Bar defense counsel, Bander has so far represented himself. Bander, who did not have any disciplinary record prior to last year’s suspension, seemed determined to face trial unlike the last time where he agreed on the suspension that is permanently displayed under his name in the roster of attorneys.

Our sources, who are supposed to appear at the trial, indicated that although the  terms of the settlement in the second case are “still unknown…it likely will result in a lengthy suspension.” However, the same sources have yet to know the details of the settlement and if Bander will only serve a suspension without disbarment.

Viselman had told the court that he is supposed to call 35 witnesses against Bander, including former clients and lawyers of the Bander Law Firm.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Atty. Joel Bander faces the court as 'the accused'

Identified as a “public figure” on a Facebook page that bears his name and his photo which also posted that he is a “California Criminal Defense and Immigration Lawyer”, Atty. Joel Bander (in photo) will face trial after being sued once again by the California State Bar. Bander served a 3-month suspension last year in a separate case, but of similar nature relating to a botched loan litigation program.

(Editor’s note: Atty. Joel bander is the publisher and senior columnist of, a new tabloid whose editors published numerous articles maligning the author, his co-employees, his publisher and the publisher’s family. Weekend Balita is the only Filipino-American newspaper that exposed how Bander’s loan litigation program obtained over 800 victims who were subsequently listed in the Bander Law Firm bankruptcy as creditors.)

In June 2012, the California State Bar suspended Attorney Joel Bander, though only for a brief time. He served a three-month suspension that ended in September after pleading “no contest” to charges involving 20 cases, mostly relating to the failed loan litigation program he had heavily promoted. Three months later, after being reinstated to “active status”, Bander found himself again facing another case filed by the State Bar against him. Although, this time, unlike last time, Bander has elected to go to trial.

(Update: A settlement is being worked out after Thursday’s pre-trial conference, after two tries between Bander and the State Bar failed. Judge Richard A. Honn has encouraged both parties to come into an agreement as a trial is “costly.” The State Bar prosecutor alone said he will call 35 witnesses against Bander, including complainants and former lawyers who worked for Bander.)

The new set of complaints include 20 counts all relating to the botched “Save Your Home, Sue the Banks” program. These counts were filed on December 20, 2012, almost exactly one year after Bander’s plea of no contest was submitted to the Judge in the first State Bar case that Bander had faced. Previously, Bander agreed not to dispute the earlier charges from the first State Bar case, having pleaded “no contest” – therefore he was culpable of all charges, according to the State Bar. This time, the stakes seem higher. Bander could be facing long years if not permanent disbarment, if found guilty. Bander is representing himself, in what could be the most serious and challenging case of his career.

Bander has denied any “culpability” in this latest round of State Bar complaints. Bander is currently facing a variety of allegations that include but are not limited to attorney’s fees paid by clients and claims from homeowners who hired Bander Law Firm (BLF) with the hope of saving their home or reduce their mortgage at the height of the home crisis in 2009 and 2010. The homeowners claimed to have paid the BLF thousands of dollars, but they allegedly didn’t get the legal service they were promised. Also, these individuals claimed to have been misrepresented and ultimately they had to deal with the legal consequences after Bander allegedly took actions without their knowledge.

One such case was that of homeowner Eduardo Lorenzo. The State Bar alleged that although Bander filed a case against Countrywide Home Loans, Bander didn’t inform Lorenzo that his lender countered with a demurrer (an objection to Lorenzo’s allegations). The State Bar also alleged that Bander dismissed the case (without prejudice, meaning he could re-file a new case) but that this was without the approval and knowledge of Lorenzo, who paid $2,000 to the BLF firm in advanced fees.

“On or about January 28, 2010, the court dismissed the Lorenzo Action. At no time, did (Bander) inform Lorenzo that a request for dismissal had been filed in the Lorenzo Action, or that the Lorenzo Action was dismissed,” in violations of the State Bar’s Business and Professions Code, according to the State Bar. (A few days later, on February 12, 2010, the BLF filed for bankruptcy.)

Although Bander did sue Lorenzo’s bank, he didn’t do the same on behalf of property owner Francis Spoonemore who paid Bander $8,000, the State Bar said. Spoonemore hired the firm in January 2009 and was “assured” that Bander was “planning to file a lawsuit on his behalf.”  Spoonemore also alleged that he was assured that the BLF had a “solid ground” against his lender. After ten months had passed, however, Spoonemore claimed that Bander then told him that “mortgage litigation was no longer a viable option.”

In the case of Spoonemore, the State Bar alleged that, “At no time during Respondent’s representation of Spoonemore did (Bander) file a lawsuit…or otherwise provide legal services. By failing to file a lawsuit on behalf of Spoonemore or otherwise provide legal services of value, (Bander) intentionally or recklessly failed to perform services with competence.”

The State Bar said that by not refunding the $8,000 to Spoonemore and by failing to refund “unearned fees,” Bander violated the State Bar’s “Rules of Professional Conduct.”

In his response, Bander said that the Lorenzo demurrer “was not a significant development.” He also stated that dismissing Lorenzo’s case was a “procedural matter.” However, Bander did not answer Lorenzo’s accusation that he (Bander) was never given authorization nor was he given consent at any time to dismiss his case against Countrywide.

In other charges, Bander also blamed the lack of forensics that were supposed to have been done by another lawyer – Atty. Rupert Domingo – prior to him investigating and prosecuting the lawsuit against the lenders. Bander blamed Domingo as the culprit in the other cases and he ended up suing Domingo as a result. Bander also disputed the State Bar’s allegations that he (Bander) didn’t provide legal services to his clients.

A pre-trial conference was held last Thursday at the courtroom of Judge Richard A. Honn. Daily formal hearings in the case of Joel Bander will begin on April 8. A battery of State Bar lawyers led by Chief Trial Counsel Jayne Kim will try Bander. But it is Deputy Trial Counsel Ross E. Viselman, a product of Harvard Law School, who was assigned to the case. According to a website called, Viselman has “extensive experience representing clients in criminal defense and litigation matters.”

Meanwhile, Weekend Balita learned that at least one former lawyer at the BLF received a subpoena to appear as a witness for the State Bar. Prominent lawyers who had worked at the firm included Atty. Tim Umbreit and Filipino-American lawyers Norberto Reyes III and Mary Lynn Tanawan Sanga.

Bander and his firm had about 800 clients who signed up for the loan litigation program, the majority of whom were Filipinos. Full-page advertisements by Bander appeared in a competing Filipino-American newspaper back in 2008 and 2009, where he also served as counsel. Each homeowner who retained the firm was believed to have paid at least $8,000. In the earlier State Bar complaint, at least one property owner – Justin Kim – said he paid Bander $25,000 for legal services he didn’t get.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Immigration reform: Amnesty or necessity?

If these marching Filipino-Americans in downtown New York are to be heard, all undocumented immigrants should be legalized. (Balita file photo)

If most pro-immigration advocates get their way, all 11 million undocumented immigrants will become legal in the U.S…and maybe more. But while potential immigration reform is becoming more likely as the year progresses, speculations arise as to how each issue within the current but broken down immigration system will be addressed.

Take border security for example. Since more boots have been put on the ground at the border, there have been less and less people who are being caught crossing the desert, or so the government claims. To the conservatives, this is great news. Although they want a more secure, if not a totally impenetrable wall at the border, they also point to the fact that the economy is so bad that people down south may find no incentive in coming here.

This brings to mind the four senators in the “Gang of 8” from the Republican Party, namely Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), whose main concern is how to secure the border first, before they deal with the millions of undocumented immigrants. 

At present, drones, cameras, the deployment of more Border Patrol and National Guard personnel and what’s left of the Minutemen seem to be reducing the number of illegal crossings. The other four are Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.)

In Thursday’s New American Media National Telebriefing on “Behind the Business-Labor Agreement on Immigration Reform: What Ethnic Media Need to Know,” America’s Voice Executive Director Frank Sharry said that the U.S. should not spend a dime more in fortifying the border. Sharry said there are already 21,000 Border Patrol agents deployed in the area and “we don’t need to waste more (funds) on agents as there’s already been a tremendous effort in securing the border.”

Sharry made it known that he backs ongoing efforts in preventing people from coming up north. “Sustained effort, sure, I favor that,” Sharry said, “but we shouldn’t be wasting more taxpayers’ money.” He said what’s more important is how to address the issue on why people come to the U.S. illegally and the magnet that attracts them to cross the border.

Speaking of magnets, work and Benjamin Franklin are what drive people to risk their lives in scaling the wall, crossing the Rio Grande, trudging the desert or navigating a crudely-built tunnel. For those who braved any of those routes – as difficult as it may have been, they were successful – and as result are becoming more optimistic. Some may even be thinking back on how they made it through the ordeal, ultimately, viewing their acquisition of legal US citizenship as the fruit of their hardships.

To many, this is just. To the conservatives, an “amnesty” means rewarding those who “violated” the law. The latter just need to cite that the 1986 amnesty that President Ronald Reagan implemented, who by the way was a conservative Republican, which resulted in more people crossing the border illegally. It would appear as if the federal government had forgotten that despite its perceived strength, the border is indeed a permeable entity.

Be that as it may, it seems more likely that when a bill is introduced, the GOP in the Gang of 8 will most likely agree in making the undocumented illegals legal because of last year’s elections, where the Latino vote decisively voted for their opponent Barack Obama. As a “compromise,” they will potentially make the undocumented pay taxes, learn English and go back to the metaphorical end the line. But that’s easier said than done.

In the same briefing on Thursday, this author posed the following questions: What have the advocates heard as to how much an individual will have to pay in taxes? And if they do, what will happen to the businesses that hired them (illegally) since these companies will surely be criticized as the “culprit” and the reason as to why the millions of undocumented individuals are able to stay here, find work and survive?

The Immigration Policy and Advocacy Center for American Progress Vice President Angela Kelley, who is based in Washington D.C., said there has been no word on the amount of taxes these individuals will pay as far as ongoing House Judiciary Committee hearings are concerned, but she admitted that businesses might get exposed.

Kelley said whatever bill they decide upon, it should have some sort of protection on the part of the businesses and that there should be no risks involved when the undocumented individuals submit their papers throughout the application process. “(The bill) has to function, so that it will become achievable. If it can’t be done, then you’re not solving the problem, ” she said.

A section in the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 provides that companies will be held liable for hiring undocumented immigrants and that businesses or persons hiring undocumented immigrants may pay a fine that may cost them as much as $10,000 “for each such alien.” They are also criminally liable. An article by the New York Times in May 2011 stated that the raids conducted by the Department of Homeland Security on businesses netted fines totaling about $43 million in 2010, which the paper said was a record. The same article said 119 employers were convicted. This is separate from the numerous raids on several factories all over the U.S., where companies said they tried to verify the legality of their workers but didn’t have the capability to know which papers are true and correct.

As to the question of who will benefit from the immigration reform, Kelley hopes that those who have been staying in the U.S. illegally for at least a year should be accommodated, which may increase the 11 million count. She recalled, however, that those who benefited from the 1986 amnesty program were people who stayed here continuously for at least four and half years. The law allowed nearly three million undocumented immigrants to gain permanent residency. 

Economic Impact

While many don’t like the idea of another round of amnesty, the Obama administration has been deporting record numbers of undocumented immigrants. Despite that however, a separate study by the Center for American Progress said deporting all 11 million “would drain $2.5 trillion from the U.S. economy over 10 years." The same study said mass deportation could cost U.S. taxpayers $285 billion over five years.

Pro-immigrant advocates have argued that the economic benefit of making the undocumented legal far outweighs the alternative, not to mention that deporting these immigrants can often have consequences for their children, who were born and raised in the United States. In the agricultural sector alone, landowners have said that no American workers would want to work at the farms despite the high unemployment rate in the U.S. that stood at 7.7 percent as of Thursday.

According to Washington D.C.-based Urban Institute, the total immigrant income in 1989, or three years after the 1986 amnesty program, reached $285 billion (citing 1990 census figures), which the think tank said “represented about eight percent of all reported income.”

Another study by White House Council of Economic Advisers during President George Bush (43) also stated that immigrants increase gross domestic product “by roughly $37 billion each year because immigrants increase the size of the total labor force, complement the native-born workforce in terms of skills and education, and stimulate capital investment by adding workers to the labor pool.”

Just recently, Raul Hinojosa-Ojeda, director of the North American Integration and Development Center at the University of California, Los Angeles, said, “A comprehensive immigration plan that includes a path to legalization could add $1.5 trillion to the economy over the next 10 years and increase tax revenues by $4.5 billion or more in three years,” in an article posted on – a huge amount indeed at a time when the U.S. needs more revenues to reduce its deficit.

For whatever it’s worth, it seems that both sides of the aisle will benefit from an immigration reform. Though the “one-time” 1986 amnesty may have failed to prevent the entry of more people illegally, it doesn’t change the fact that they are huge contributors to the U.S. economy because they came here to work. 

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Is San Onofre nuclear plant irreplaceable?

Anyone who has gone to San Diego from Los Angeles and passed by the 5 Freeway must have seen the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station – or SONGS for short – located near the shore with two daunting half-domed, egg-shell like concrete structures dominating the otherwise serene scenery. Be that as it may, the plant has been one of the major sources of electric power for the city of Los Angeles and nearby cities some 65 miles away.

However, the San Onofre nuclear plant has been out of commission for a year now due to what is being said as “premature wear” on newly-installed tubes in the steam generators.  Critics blamed poor design as the main cause.

Built in the 60s, SONGS have had its share of problems ever since Bechtel inadvertently installed a 420-ton nuclear reactor vessel “backwards,” according to Wikipedia, in 1977. Also, multiple citations were issued against the plant for a variety of safety issues.

Though mostly owned and operated by Southern California Edison, restarting SONGS will depend on a decision by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission if the latter allows the company to restart the facility, which may be known in a few weeks, if not months.

According to Edison, SONGS generates  2,200 megawatts of power in two reactors, and provides 20 percent of the power to most of Southern California. Southern California Edison services some 14 million people with power generated from various locations and sources, namely natural gas, hydro, geothermal, wind and solar farm facilities and, until it shut down last year, nuclear energy from SONGS.

In a video just released by SoCal Edison, the company presented an illustration on the importance of SONGS and why it would be costly to replace it, while building other facilities of other sources may take years, if not decades.

The video, called San Onofre and Grid Reliability, and which was also posted on YouTube, showed comparisons on why reviving SONGS is more practical. The video showed it will take 4,400 new towering windmills to replace the 2,200 megawatt of power that SONGS generates. Edison added it will also require 64,000 acres of new solar farms to do the same, which the company “mockingly” illustrated would stretch some 100 miles from Los Angeles all the way to Palm Springs – in a straight line – if all 64,000 acres of solar farms are built. Meanwhile, gas-powered facilities emit hazardous plumes up in the air, the video also showed.

In addition, neither solar nor wind farms can provide continuous and reliable power – 24 hours, seven days a week – unlike SONGS because weather and other natural elements may affect their power-generating capacity compared to a plant that produces nuclear energy.

Most important is that building new power plants means erecting new power grids, transmission lines, and other equipment to capture that energy and distribute them to households. SoCal Edison said such project may take 10 years to plan, apply for permits and to construct the new facilities, not to mention allocating billions of dollars which we all know California can ill-afford in these current economic times. And despite what environmentalists claim, SoCal Edison said the San Onofre plan provides “clean, safe, affordable and reliable” energy to millions of Californians.

According to a statement released to media, SoCal Edison is “doing everything they can to meet projected demand” as we head into the summer in the next few months. “Last summer, SCE customers did an amazing job in saving energy, and SCE also made some transmission improvements that helped keep the lights on for everyone,” the statement said. “SCE hopes that they can reach even more customers this year to improve the collective impact of individual conservation measures.” Therefore, resuscitating SONGS seems paramount so we can all enjoy an unfettered source of power anytime we need them, as the video from SoCal Edision seems to portray.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Asian-Americans to U.S. Congress: Reduce backlogs

AAJC chief says current visa numbers separate families for decades

By Rhony Laigo

Asian-Americans are tired of waiting to be reunited with their families. Arguably one of the better contributors to the American economy owing to their high educational level and creativity, Asian-Americans would like Congress to address the long backlogs in the family-based petitions so they can be reunited with their loved ones quicker and without waiting for decades.

In Thursday’s  national telebriefing hosted by New American Media, one of the three speakers, President and Executive Director of Asian American Justice Center Mee Moua, said the ongoing debate on immigration reform is of utmost importance for Asians because 90 percent of Asian-Americans come to the United States through family-based petitions. She said 60 percent of Asian Americans living in the U.S. are immigrants and that “nearly half of the 4.3 million people in worldwide family backlog are those who are now sitting and waiting in Asia to be reunited with their families here in the United States.”

In addition, Moua said that for every 11 undocumented immigrant in the U.S., one is an Asian-American, who most likely came to the U.S. legally but because of backlogs may have overstayed their visas and are now living here without legal status.

Moua also revealed that for every 10 American DREAMers – those who were brought here when they were young through no fault of their own – one is an Asian-American. They are so-called DREAMers, who are hoping that the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act become a reality. “Today, we have an Asian or a Pacific Islander family member who too is living under the shadow. Many of our young people are much  part of the Dreamer movement,” Moua said. “This is why we feel very  strongly (about the immigration reform) to help procure a clear and meaningful path to citizenship for DREAMers.”

Moua also underscored what she intimated were undesirable working conditions that some Asians have suffered at the hands of their employers. According to Moua, many are being denied of their workers’ rights and are being exploited by “unscrupulous employers who pay their workers substandard wages,” especially in places where the immigrant is employed under the H1-B worker visa program – the first step for them to become permanent residents but only if sponsored by their employers if no relatives are qualified to do so.

“This is not just a Latino issue,” Moua said, “Asians are one of the most diverse populations and we have to monitor and protect (the immigration system) from further erosion and so, we’re asking our leaders to address these inhumane backlogs in the procurement of immigrant visas.” Moua said that as “a matter of public policy, a sensible and a comprehensive immigration reform will benefit our community and will solve the “tremendous hardship” that many immigrant families are going through.

She also said that the current “enforcement only” method that the Department of Homeland Security is employing is separating many families while instilling scare in the community. Such method “makes the community less safe” because she said some are being stopped and interrogated if not harassed because “they are perceived to be foreign-sounding people,” not to mention that some are not proficient in the English language. 

According to Moua,  who was born in Laos and immigrated in 1978, her family had suffered from the same experience when her father tried to petition her grandfather and a brother but who both died before setting foot on U.S. soil. She said her father then was not qualified to file the petitions because of his financial status. “My parents couldn’t find a job even when they were already citizens. And when he was in a position to qualify, he couldn’t do it anymore because (they) have passed away.”

She said, “Many of us in our communities are separated by decades and decades (of long waits). This is a window of opportunity for (the lawmakers) to exert leadership so that our families will feel secure, safe and be reunited…and to take advantage of the American Dream to live in the U.S. and contribute to the economic vitality of this country.” 

Apart from Moua, those who spoke in the telebriefing included Angela Kelley, vice president for Immigration Policy and Advocacy, Center for American Progress, and Frank Sharry, founder and executive director, America’s Voice. It was moderated by NAM’s Irma Herrera.

For his part, Sharry said he believes the time has come for both parties to pass an immigration reform, citing last presidential elections as a gauge. He said that if the GOP wants to regain being competitive, the Republicans need to get the votes of the fastest growing groups who are Latinos and Asians. “Unless they get it right they will have a difficult time winning the Senate and retaking the White House.”

“The good news is, that is the central conversation that we’re having. It is about the 11 million. It is not about much about enforcement…unlike what was discussed in the last election debate,” Kelley contributed. But she said that the requirements and the waiting time, since the undocumented may have to go in the back of the line “have to be achievable. She added the proposal to treat the undocumented as “DREAMers” – who will only get work permits but must find a way to become citizens thru marriage or thru and employer – is “untennable.”

Kelley added that another important fact is that while many states now allow for same sex marriage, gay couples are barred from petitioning their spouses because the current policy of the DHS is that marriage is between a man and a woman.