Archive for June, 2006


I’d heard about this event last week, but it managed to cause such a small blip on my radar that I intended to simply let it pass without a second thought.  Well, I’m bored.

Apparently last weekend here in Los Angeles, a small group of like-minded individuals gathered together in the convention hall at the Sheraton Hotel under the perceived auspices and their undying confidence in the straw-grasping that is 9/11 conspiracy theory.  I say apparently because I can’t even find a simple news story on the web concerning this small meeting of small minds.

They called it the “American Scholars Symposium.”  Ahem.  I wonder if they intentionally left out any verbiage relating to 9/11, and particularly conspiracy theories, in order to avoid the inevitable bad press that would generate as a result of their two-day symposium.  Most likely.

Anyway, here’s their website.

Their list of speakers is fairly dubious.  Most notable is the high school flunky, Dylan Avery.  Dylan crafted a passably produced, if obviously ridiculous, film called “Loose Change” that focused on the actual airline attacks during the morning of 9/11.  Dylan also performed double-duty as the narrator, and damn, he has an annoying voice.

Here’s a kid who failed to graduate with his high school class in 2001, and yet he’s managed to ignite the conspiratorially weak-minded with what many consider a brilliant essay on what officially happened on 9/11.  Personally, I can’t help but laugh at the absurdity of it–this situation, and his film.

On their front page, in large text near the middle they boldly state concerning the convention “Two Days of Truth Facing the Facts.”  Um… yeah.  Don’t facts equal truth?  Is not truth a summation of facts, or more accurately a conformity to facts?  How can truth face facts if the outcome has already been ordained?  I know I’m nitpicking, but if this banal slogan is representative of what they’re trying to accomplish, then perhaps the American Scholars Symposium needs to look towards professionals, such as an actual PR company, to promote their causes and events.

If anything, this convention, and those like it, prove the old adage that birds of a feather flock together, and so will pigs and swine.  These people don’t care about truth, or what they would consider dissenting viewpoints.  They think they’re right.  But the burden of proof is on them.  This is not an argument about determinism and free-will.  This isn’t akin to an atheist demanding evidence for the existence of God.  I am not required to prove anything.  9/11 Conspiracy theorists must be the ones to present compelling evidence in order to overturn what is regularly accepted through eyewitness accounts, scientific evidence, and common sense.  These people would rather raise absurd questions.  And raise them over and over and over.  That’s all they do.  They’re entire belief system is contingent upon a never ending stream of “what ifs.”

If we’re lucky though, perhaps this will be their only convention in LA.  Of course, there are a lot of quacks and morons out there willing to latch onto anything that can give them some sort of community, wrapping themselves in insipid conspiracie theories, while simultaneously trivializing those who lost their lives on September 11, 2001.

Currently listening:
By Cretin
Release date: By 18 April, 2006

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I don’t know whether lives have been placed in jeopordy as a result of a decision made by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Wall Street Journal to publish reports of a CIA/Treasury program that investigated financial records for possible terrorists and terrorist threats.  Bush and the Republican led Congress have only indicated that yes, lives probably have been placed at risk.

What does that mean to me?  Nothing.  Mainly because Bush and his crew have done little to instill within me any sense of their own culpability in just about every issue addressed by them for the past six years.

Taking this into account, with any lack of true fore-sight into what might happen as a result of that story being published by news outlets, I believe it was their duty as members of the free-press to reveal the story to the public.

In the wake of Bush’s tirade against the newspapers (and to be fair his own people for having leaked the story in the first place) congress is now drafting a strongly worded resolution lambasting the New York Times in particular for making the decision to publish the bank records piece.  Many members of congress are even suggesting that members of the press, namely the NY Times, should have their White House credentials revoked, prohibiting them from covering any news within the that building.

Might I say, what a bunch of fucking retards.  This has got to be the biggest do-nothing congress in the history of the country, failing even to push through the most inane bills, and they have the gall to draft a resolution damning the press–the very community they should be protecting since they’re the torchbearers of the first amendment’s most embraced, basic, and easily understood concept:  freedom of speech.

In keeping with this idea, here’s another thoughtful piece from one of SFGate’s resident OpEd writers, Cinnamon Stillwell concerning hate speech, political correctness, and free speech.

When Speech Becomes a Crime
Cinnamon Stillwell
Wednesday, June 28, 2006

  • Roman Catholic Robert Smith is fired from an appointment on the Washington Metro transit authority board by Maryland Governor Robert Ehrlich for the crime of saying that he doesn’t approve of homosexuality.
  • Journalist and author Oriana Fallaci cannot visit her native country of Italy for fear of being thrown in prison because of a lawsuit brought against her by the Italian Muslim Union for the crime of “defaming Islam.”
  • British neo-Nazi David Irving is sentenced to three years in prison in Austria for a 1989 speech in which he committed the crime of Holocaust denial.
  • College Republican Steve Hinkle is found guilty by California Polytechnic State University (San Luis Obispo) for “disruption” for the crime of putting up a flyer advertising a black conservative speaker.

What do the above examples have in common?  They are the logical outgrowth of a dangerous trend sweeping the Western world: the criminalization and censorship of speech.

Outright censorship and draconian speech codes have long been a staple of Third World authoritarian regimes. But Western democracies and in particular the United States (where the First Amendment is supposed to reign supreme) have always prided themselves on protecting free speech. Yet because of the creeping reach of political correctness, one can now be put in prison, lose a job, be kicked out of school or be otherwise censored simply for uttering an unpopular opinion.

It’s called hate speech. If there ever were a more Orwellian concept, it would be difficult to find. For much like the concept of  “thought crimes” in George Orwell’s novel “1984,” hate crimes and hate speech suppose intent on the part of the “perpetrator” that may or may not have any basis in reality. What is often mere criticism or disapproval is labeled “hatred” and thus made worthy of punishment. Such a perspective demands that one think only nice thoughts about others. But when it did it become law that we have to like everyone?

While bigotry is indeed unpleasant, it is not in and of itself a crime. Whether one acts on that bigotry or incites others to violence in accordance is another matter. The old adage, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me,” comes to mind.

Creating Revisionist Martyrs

Even highly objectionable speech such as Holocaust denial should not be criminalized. Such speech would be better fought on the battlefield of ideas than in the courtroom. The academic frauds and conspiracists pushing Holocaust denial should have their work thoroughly discredited and challenged, not censored.

Furthermore, throwing Holocaust deniers in prison merely creates martyrs, which is quite obvious upon perusing any one of the many Web sites that push such views. David Irving, for instance, was turned into a folk hero by his fellow neo-Nazis after being sentenced to three years in prison in Austria for Holocaust denial. While Irving has a long history of promoting Nazism, anti-Semitism, and, yes, Holocaust denial, whether such beliefs constitute criminal acts is questionable.

Author and Holocaust historian Deborah Lipstadt agrees. Lipstadt knows David Irving well, having gone head to head with him in a libel suit that dragged on for years. In the end, Irving lost the suit against Lipstadt for accusing him of Holocaust denial, yet she too is opposed to the sort of speech codes that sent him to prison. As Lipstadt told the BBC: “I am not happy when censorship wins, and I don’t believe in winning battles via censorship. … The way of fighting Holocaust deniers is with history and with truth.”

Far from protecting those on the receiving end, in this case Jews, such restrictions on speech may actually provide succor to worldwide anti-Semitism. It has certainly given anti-Semites within the Muslim world yet another “Jewish conspiracy” to focus on. Instead of accepting responsibility for the intolerance and backwardness demonstrated in the reaction to the manufactured Danish cartoon “controversy,” such Muslims instead point to the hypocrisy of Jews in Western countries who promote free speech in some cases while advocating the imprisonment of Holocaust deniers.

Protecting Islamists From Criticism

Meanwhile, the push to silence what’s been labeled “Islamophobia” is giving rise to further restrictions on speech. In the United States and Canada, groups such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations have instigated numerous lawsuits and brought pressure to bear on writers, radio talk-show hosts and anyone else guilty of criticizing Islam or Islamic culture in any way, shape or form.

Talk-show host Michael Graham was fired by Washington radio station WMAL for calling Islam a “terrorist organization” on his show, after CAIR instituted a letter-writing campaign and demanded an apology. CAIR has used a series of libel or defamation suits to go after those who dare bring to light some of the group’s own unsavory ties.

On an international level, the specter of speech codes governing “Islamophobia” has grown exponentially. The United Nations has become the repository for international laws banning the publication of anything deemed insulting to religion and, more specifically, Islam.

Born out of the flap over the Danish cartoons, a series of investigations by the United Nations at the urging of Muslim leaders has led to a slew of resolutions aimed at controlling speech. European and other Western newspapers that dare to publish images of Mohammed in the future or to simply criticize or question aspects of Islamic religion and culture could find themselves on the receiving end of U.N.-sanctioned censorship. Were the United States to adopt such international laws, as some have urged, Americans too could be bound by such restrictions.

Prison for ‘Homophobes’?

Gays are another group included in the growing ranks of the “protected classes,” as columnist John Leo has noted on several occasions. While one can be sued, fired or expelled from school in the United States for expressing disapproval of homosexuality or what’s come to be known as “homophobia,” in Canada one just might be thrown in prison.

In 2004, Canadian “genocide and hate crimes” legislation was amended to make it illegal under certain circumstances to “incite hatred” against gays, bisexuals or anyone else based on their sexual orientation. Although the law allows an exemption for religious expression, Christians in particular fear that they will incur the bulk of such offenses, with the citing of biblical passages forbidding homosexuality being the most common “crime.” Indeed, even before the amended law went into effect, job loss, fines, censures and visits by the police were part of the repressive political landscape. One need only turn to the European Union, where clergy find themselves the targets of speech code laws intended to protect gays.

But as in other cases meant to shield one group from offense, the freedom of all is compromised in the process. It’s no coincidence that Canada’s and Europe’s descent into speech-code mania began with restrictions on anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial.

Even leftists are not immune. University of British Columbia professor Sunera Thobani, a self-described Marxist feminist and multiculturalism activist, was hit with a hate crimes investigation several years ago for a lecture in which she harshly criticized Americans and American foreign policy.

The PC Left

Here in the United States, leftists often decry what they see as censorship emanating from the right, when in fact most of the true silencing of speech has come from within their own ranks. These days, liberal-dominated universities and colleges are one of the major promulgators of speech codes and draconian punishments for hate speech. Beginning in the 1980s, campus speech codes took on a life of their own, leading to countless trumped-up cases based on misunderstandings, perceived insensitivity or the ever-elusive crime of committing offense.

All too often, those on the receiving end are conservative or Christian students who are falsely accused of hate speech when they exercise their rights to free speech. It seems that putting forward a political or religious viewpoint on campus that is considered politically incorrect is now grounds for persecution and possible expulsion. Students have found themselves so beleaguered by what often appear to be politically motivated witch hunts that they have felt the need to turn to organizations such as the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education for legal assistance.

In what may be a good sign, the group has been highly successful in protecting students’ rights to free speech and religious freedom. At least one judge has barred the implementation of such draconian campus speech codes in the interest of protecting students’ First Amendment rights. In a 2003 lawsuit brought by a conservative student at Shippensburg University in Philadelphia and supported by FIRE, federal judge John E. Jones III ruled against enforcement of student code provisions that prohibited racist, sexist and homophobic speech. As he wrote at the time, the speech code may have been a well-intentioned means of achieving “a utopian community,” but it “prohibit[ed] a considerable amount of speech” in the process.

It is indeed the pursuit of a utopian society from which such speech codes emanate. For when George Orwell wrote “1984,” his dystopian vision of a future society governed by totalitarianism, it was the excesses of communism he had in mind. Orwell’s novel foreshadowed the current movement toward thought control. Except that today’s “thought crimes” are called hate speech and hate crimes.

Currently reading:
Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001
By Steve Coll
Release date: By 28 December, 2004

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While I’m not a fan of our Los Angeles mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa, I don’t really blame him for taking drastic measures in order to fix the city’s failure that is the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), despite the fact that his plan is based on New York mayor Michael Bloomberg’s flawed school takeover. At least Villaraigosa is trying to do something.

If one needs proof that LA public schools, and California education standards in general, require some major rehabilitation tactics, then one only needs look at student failure rate on the California State Exit Exam (CASEE.)

42,000 students failed the standardized test. Even the few students who had enough initiative to repeatedly take the test still could not pass either the math portion, or the English portion, or both.

Is the CASEE too difficult? Certainly not. You know why? Because it tests at an 8th grade level. I don’t want to get into the politics of the exam here, especially considering I already tread this ground back when the exit exam had been foolishly deemed unconstitutional by a moron of a judge (thankfully, that decision was then overturned and graduating seniors in California were required to pass the CASEE in order to receive a diploma.) But there’s something absolutely rotten with California schools if a student can make it through all four years of high school, maintain an A- grade average, and still fail the exit exam to the point of not graduating.

Morgan Saunders, 18, who maintained an A-minus average during her four years at Oakland’s Dewey High School… finished high school without a diploma. She passed the English section of the exit exam on her first try but failed the math portion four times, stumped by the geometry.

Awww… but she had an A- average. She’s obviously a good student, right? I say, no. Is it her fault? Probably not. Whose fault is it? I’m going to step out on a limb here [sarcasm] and say the reason Morgan couldn’t pass the CASEE, and ultimately couldn’t graduate, is because the California school system sucks so fucking hard. Her teachers let her coast through high school believing she was an exceptional student. When it came time to truly test that assessment Morgan was tossed to the wolves, confused and abandoned by those who were taxed with her success.

Now The Los Angeles Community College District and other community colleges around the state are opening their arms, ready to embrace to the failures of the California public school system. Failed the CASEE? Didn’t graduate? Who cares. Just hand over enough money and you too can get a first class… er, 2nd class… um… 3rd rate. Hmmm…. anyway… You too can get edumacated at any of a multitude of California community colleges.

Gee. That sounds like a swell idea–offering an education to those who couldn’t pass the state exit exam. But wouldn’t those students who just proved to the California public school system they couldn’t compete at an 8th grade level, simply be doing the same thing in a community college?

“Hrumph! Of course not! Our instructors are of a higher caliber at Shittown Community College. Those students who failed the CASEE will receive at least a 3rd rate education.”

But wouldn’t those teachers still have to lower their education tactics and standards in order to instruct students who can’t pass 8th grade level math and English? In essence, they would have to dumb down the course work in order to raise students to a level of minimum acceptability for college-level studies, cramming four years of high school into two years of community college, while still maintaining an obligation to guide those students towards a path that will lead to a four-year college, or god-forbid, an honest-to-god university.

Sounds like a daunting task, especially when there are students like this…

Idalia Albarran, an 18-year-old from Santa Ana, also is looking to her local community college for help.

Albarran, who immigrated to Orange County from the Mexican state of Guerrero in 2002, passed all of her courses over the last four years at Century High School and maintained a B average.

But when her school held its commencement this month, she received a certificate of completion but no diploma because she failed the English portion of the exit exam five times.

Albarran, who relies mainly on Spanish in conversation, said in Spanish that she was “really sad” about falling short on the exam. “I had done so much work and it didn’t pay off,” she said.

Yet Albarran, who hopes one day to become a dentist, said she was thrilled to learn that she could enter a program at Santa Ana College tailored to students who failed the exit exam.

Hmmm. She wants to be a dentist but she can’t pass an 8th grade English test. Riiiiight. Of course, this brings up another issue–becoming an American citizen is many parts assimilation. If you can’t take the time to learn the language, how can you hope to pass an exam designed test that fundamental concept? Simply, you can’t.

Exit Exam Not the End for High School Seniors

By Stuart Silverstein and Seema Mehta, Times Staff Writers
June 25, 2006

High school seniors who failed California’s new exit exam are being welcomed into two-year colleges for another shot at a diploma.
Community colleges have long offered a second chance to students with lofty ambitions but lousy high school grades. Now many two-year colleges are trying to attract a new group seeking a fresh start: seniors leaving high school this month without diplomas because they couldn’t pass California’s new exit exam.

The Los Angeles Community College District, the state’s largest, and others around California are welcoming many of the nearly 42,000 high school seniors tripped up by the exit exam.
By one estimate, 15,000 to 20,000 of those students will enroll in basic skills courses or other classes at the colleges.

Some state officials and education analysts question whether those efforts eventually could divert resources from other needed programs at two-year colleges and become a permanent crutch for failing high schools.

Concerns also have been raised that, in a few cases, community colleges are providing students a loophole letting them earn high school diplomas without passing the California High School Exit Examination. (Among educators, it’s known as the CAHSEE, pronounced “KAY-see.”)

For the most part, however, educators along with many students and their parents are embracing the initiatives aimed at the 9.6% of this past year’s high school seniors who have fallen short on the exit exam.

The supporters point out that one of the longtime missions for the colleges has been to serve students lacking high school diplomas and needing basic skills instruction.

“These students have always been coming to us,” said Marshall “Mark” Drummond, the state community colleges chancellor, noting that admitting students without high school diplomas is nothing new for California’s community colleges.

“We have to be sure that kids know that failing the CAHSEE is not the end of their future,” he said.

Students such as Morgan Saunders, 18, who maintained an A-minus average during her four years at Oakland’s Dewey High School, are taking that message to heart. She hopes to earn a university degree and launch a web design business.

But Saunders finished high school without a diploma. She passed the English section of the exit exam on her first try but failed the math portion four times, stumped by the geometry.

“I was very angry,” she said. Noting her high GPA, Saunders said, “For a test to say I didn’t make it, that’s wrong.”

Still, she said she was relieved to find out that she could enroll at Laney College, a two-year school in Oakland.

Saunders will participate in a partnership between Oakland public schools and community colleges. Students who enroll in an afternoon exit exam prep class can also take a morning course for college credit, free of charge. The students can continue in community college even if they don’t pass their next exit exam.

“We thought it might be practically and psychologically a really good way to help motivate kids who might be feeling kind of depressed or frustrated because they hadn’t graduated, and might just be inclined to drop out or hang their heads,” said Brian McKibben, an Oakland school district administrator.

Idalia Albarran, an 18-year-old from Santa Ana, also is looking to her local community college for help.

Albarran, who immigrated to Orange County from the Mexican state of Guerrero in 2002, passed all of her courses over the last four years at Century High School and maintained a B average.

But when her school held its commencement this month, she received a certificate of completion but no diploma because she failed the English portion of the exit exam five times.

Albarran, who relies mainly on Spanish in conversation, said in Spanish that she was “really sad” about falling short on the exam. “I had done so much work and it didn’t pay off,” she said.

Yet Albarran, who hopes one day to become a dentist, said she was thrilled to learn that she could enter a program at Santa Ana College tailored to students who failed the exit exam.

Without a second chance, she said, “I would have to work and I wouldn’t have a career.”

The Schwarzenegger administration has proposed, and legislators have supported, including $10 million in the new state budget for community college programs that serve students who fail the exit exam.

Separately, state Sen. Deborah Ortiz (D-Sacramento) has introduced legislation that would permit students who have not passed the exit exam to receive Cal Grant funds for college-related expenses.

Among the beneficiaries of the proposed spending would be students in Los Angeles’ community college district.

All nine of the system’s campuses will offer “Bridge to College,” a new summer program beginning in July, for an estimated 1,200 students overall, including an estimated 150 to 250 who failed the exit exam. (A flier for the program declares, “No CAHSEE? No Problem!” )

In addition, three of the district’s schools the City College, Trade Tech and Southwest campuses will have a related “Learn and Earn” program providing part-time campus jobs for students who failed the exam and want to continue their studies.

The Schwarzenegger administration, though generally supporting community colleges’ efforts for students who failed the exit exam, objects to one practice.

A few community colleges around the state have already offered adult high school programs and awarded diplomas to students who complete them. The Schwarzenegger administration is now pushing, so far unsuccessfully, to prevent those colleges from awarding diplomas to students who failed the exit exam.

H.D. Palmer, a spokesman for the Schwarzenegger administration, called that practice “a loophole that lets you get past or get through the requirements that the majority of other high school students in California have to meet.” The standards enforced by the exit exam, he said, are intended to help students and “prepare them for their next step in life.”

Yet officials at Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut, one of the two-year schools offering high school diplomas without requiring the exit exam, reject the loophole characterization.

Madelyn Arballo, the school’s director of basic skills, said its high school program imposes reading, writing and math requirements that match or exceed the exit exam standards. “We know that it’s just as rigorous and just as tough as getting a diploma” at a regular high school, she said.

Currently listening:
Jou Hou
By Discordance Axis
Release date: By 27 January, 2004

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Sorry, as assholish as this might sound to some, I do not want $500 million worth of health care benefits in California going children who are here illegally.  That may seem cold, but I'm trying to be as rational as possible in my stance against illegal immigration, and remaining consistent is a large part of that.  Enough unsanctioned funds are diverted to illegal aliens in this country, and especially in this state.  I don't think we should be working to provide sanctioned monetary rewards to people who are breaking the law.

Besides, there are millions of children in this country whose legal status is not in question, and who are also not insured.  I think it would be prudent to focus on them first.

They will settle for governor's plan

By Ed Mendel

SACRAMENTO Moving to ease a state budget deadlock, Democratic legislative leaders are dropping their push for a $300 million expansion of a health care program that would include illegal immigrant children.

Democrats are willing to settle for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's proposal to provide $23 million for children's health care programs operated by 18 counties, enough to serve an estimated 24,000 additional children.

But the Republican governor's proposal still faces opposition from legislators in his own party because his plan would provide government funds for programs that serve illegal immigrants.

Senate President Pro Tempore Don Perata, D-Oakland, told the Sacramento Press Club yesterday that Democrats took the big expansion off the table because we do not want the budget to get hung up on that particular point.

Instead, Perata said Democrats will push a major expansion of children's health care in a separate bill, which is likely to be vetoed by Schwarzenegger if it passes the Legislature.

Schwarzenegger said last week that although he thinks illegal immigrant children should have the right to schooling and health care, he opposes the Democratic plan because it costs too much and the state still has a deficit.

The Democratic plan would make more children eligible for the Healthy Families program that provides health care for children in families that earn too much to qualify for the Medi-Cal program for the poor, but not enough to buy health insurance.

More than 780,000 California children are enrolled in Healthy Families, but an estimated 225,000 are eligible although not enrolled. Schwarzenegger said he wants to increase enrollment before expanding eligibility.

The Democratic plan would remove the current Healthy Families prohibition against serving illegal immigrants and increase the eligibility income limit, now 250 percent of the federal poverty level.

The Healthy Families expansion proposed by Democrats would not actually begin until July 2007. The Democratic budget for the new fiscal year beginning on July 1 only had $1.8 million to begin planning the Healthy Families expansion, with the bulk of the spending phased in in subsequent years.

In addition, the Healthy Families expansion would have become inoperative if voters approve an initiative, expected to be on the November ballot, that would raise the tobacco tax to fund a number of health programs.

Perata said he would be pretty surprised if the initiative, which would accomplish most of the goals of the Democratic proposal to expand Healthy Families, is not approved by voters.

Schwarzenegger proposed $23 million for the 18 county children's health programs to cover applicants on waiting lists who can not be served because of a lack of funds. San Diego does not have such a program.

The county programs, funded by a variety of public and private sources, do not exclude the children of illegal immigrants. Republicans, who must provide a handful of votes to pass a budget, oppose giving the programs state money.

Illegal immigration is such a hot-button issue, said Assembly Republican leader George Plescia of La Jolla. I just don't think there are any Republican votes if that is in there.

Currently listening:
As the Palaces Burn
By Lamb of God
Release date: By 06 May, 2003

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//www.supanet.com/media/00/06/80/large_Photo6000886.jpg cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.

The operative word here is "ILLEGAL." Keep this in mind. Georgia and the rest of the country have no problem with legal immigration. It is illegal immigration we all have (at least we all should) an issue with.

I applaud Governor Perdue for signing the Georgia Security and Immigration Compliance Act back in April. The law, designed to combat illegal immigration, won't actually begin to go into effect until July 2007, but the spirit of that law is already beginning to sow seeds of fear within the illegal immigrant community.

Elba Gonzalez said she and her husband, who bought their Smyrna home four years ago with a fraudulent Social Security number, transferred it to a Tax ID number in January.

They had been worried.

"Maybe soon they would throw us out and immigration [officials] might come get us," said Gonzalez, who is from Mexico. "Just watching the news makes one so nervous."

Hi, idiot. You're here illegally, and you probably stole a social security number from a legal resident of the United States. You should be very nervous because you should be thrown out of the country.

Unfortunately, illegal immigration activists have been circulating propaganda that basically combines legal and illegal immigrants into the same pool (as they normally do), spurring many legal immigrants into a belief that they will not be welcome in Georgia. This is patently false.

If you are a legal immigrant, if you are a legal citizen of this country, you can move any damn place you please. Assuming you have the monetary means, you can buy a house in any town, county, or state you so choose to reside within. Do not let shady illegal immigration activists frighten you into believing otherwise. They are thugs. They are lying to you. They are trying to deprive you of what you have earned–legal citizenship.

Immigrants Look At Housing With Caution
Metro lenders, agents report drop in sales

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 06/04/06

Real estate agent Graciela Vizcarra (right) shows a house in Marietta to potential buyers Efrian Mandujano (from left), his wife, Marisol, and his mother, Amelia. Real estate agents says Latino buyers have cooled their search for homes in the Atlanta area.
Home buying among Latinos in metro Atlanta has slowed significantly in recent months amid jitters over immigration reform, say real estate agents and lenders who cater to the Spanish-speaking community.

The cooldown is an early sign that a new Georgia law intended to reduce illegal immigration, enacted less than two months ago, could be having an effect. Many prospective buyers also are apparently waiting for a resolution to the pitched battle in Congress over what to do with the nation's estimated 12 million illegal immigrants.

"There's no question that there's a panic in the Hispanic community," said Raymond Amengual, a lender with AHM Mortgage, which specializes in a Hispanic market that has its share of illegal immigrants. "The problem is not so much their immigration status as the new laws that make them think they might not be able to work."

Sen. Chip Rogers (R-Woodstock), the original sponsor of the legislation designed to combat illegal immigration in Georgia, said he had little sympathy for lenders and real estate agents who build their business on what he calls questionable transactions. The new law "has begun to reach its intended purpose if these people are not choosing Georgia as their permanent residence," he said.

Illegal immigrants buy homes with Social Security numbers that don't belong to them or with legal Individual Tax Identification Numbers commonly called Tax IDs. These numbers, issued by the Internal Revenue Service, allow people in the country illegally to pay their taxes. The IRS issued more than 1.2 million tax identification numbers in 2003, the most recent year for which figures are available. Advocates say illegal immigrants perceive paying taxes as a way to establish a financial record that might help them if Congress decides they should get a path to legalization.

Some lenders see Tax ID borrowers as good risks because of their steady pay records. Amengual says eight of every 10 of his clients use the Tax IDs. But he's feeling the slowdown now. Amengual, who averaged 10 loans a month last year, said that figure has dropped to three a month this spring.

Metro Atlanta real estate agents who cater to Tax ID buyers are seeing similar drops.

Graciela Vizcarra, a ReMax agent who shows houses in Cobb County, said she's gone from four closings a month to one or two. Felipe Bernal, an agent whose area includes Cobb, Gwinnett and Rockdale counties, said his usual eight or nine closings a month has dropped to two or three. And Victor Saldaña, a real estate broker in Norcross, has had three closings in the past two months, one-third of his usual total.

"People are holding back to see what's going to happen," said Saldaña, a Mexico native whose clients are primarily Spanish-speaking.

Bernal said some prospective buyers are legal immigrants but have family members who are not. "They say 'What about my wife?' " he said " 'What about my sons? They could kick them out.' "

Gov. Sonny Perdue signed the Georgia Security and Immigration Compliance Act into law in April. The act, whose provisions take effect in several phases beginning in July 2007, will make it harder for employers to deduct the wages they pay illegal immigrant from their state taxes. It also requires illegal immigrants jailed for a felony or driving under the influence to be reported to immigration officials.

At the federal level, Congress is bitterly divided over whether to grant legal status to most illegal immigrants, including up to an estimated 800,000 in Georgia.

The increased attention on illegal immigration has led some homeowners who used fraudulent Social Security numbers to either sell their houses or refinance them using a tax identification number. Elba Gonzalez said she and her husband, who bought their Smyrna home four years ago with a fraudulent Social Security number, transferred it to a Tax ID number in January.

They had been worried.

"Maybe soon they would throw us out and immigration [officials] might come get us," said Gonzalez, who is from Mexico. "Just watching the news makes one so nervous."

Eliezer Velez, of Atlanta's Latin American Association, says he has heard from a number of Hispanics in a similar spot.

"Fearful clients have begun to call us saying they want to sell their houses," Velez said. "They feel unprotected because of the new law, and they say Georgia is not a state where they feel secure."

How much the pause in home-buying among some Latinos will affect the national real estate market is difficult to tell. But housing industry professionals say much of the future growth in their industry hinges on minorities and immigrants, legal and illegal, because the Anglo population is not expanding as fast.

"I know a lot of lenders are looking to get involved in this market," said Steve O'Connor, a vice president with the Mortgage Bankers Association of America, an industry group. "The No. 1 priority among lenders is to help immigrants and minorities."

A 2004 study by the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals put the home-buying potential of illegal immigrants at about $44 billion. Founder Gary Acosta has since revised that figure to about $65 billion, nearly 12 percent of the overall first-time home buyer market of $560 billion.

"There's clear uncertainty with respect to how this immigration debate is going to play out," he said. "People are going to be a little more cautious in terms of their approach."

Dean Baker, co-director for the Center for Economic and Policy Research, a liberal-leaning think tank that researches social and economic issues, believes illegal immigrant home buyers are still too small a part of the market to affect overall sales.

But home ownership is easier than ever for them. Five lenders have Tax ID lending programs in metro Atlanta now, compared with one in 2000. And the requirements for such loans are loosening. In 2000, an Tax ID loan required a 15 percent down payment and interest rates were standard at 10 percent. Now, a buyer can put down 3 percent of the price and pay an interest rate of 7 percent higher than a conventional loan but more affordable than before.

The upgrades haven't been enough to overcome immigration concerns recently, however. For Saldaña, the real estate broker from Norcross, that has meant shifting strategies. He's focusing more on clients trying to sell their homes. And Saldaña recently ordered 5,000 glossy mailers, part of a more aggressive marketing campaign.

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