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Friday, September 9, 2011

BBC reporter killed in Afghanistan

Afghan journalists place wreaths for Ahmad Omid Khpalwak during a memorial gathering in Kabul on August 4, 2011. Ahmad Omid Khpalwak was killed in July after an insurgent attack in Tarin KowtHe worked for the BBC and Pajhwok News AgencyA soldier thought the man was wearing a suicide vest

(CNN) -- A reporter was killed by a U.S. service member last July in southern Afghanistan in a case of mistaken identity, according to the results of an investigation by NATO's International Security Assistance Force.

Ahmad Omid Khpalwak -- a free-lancer for the BBC and Pajhwok News Agency in Afghanistan -- was killed during an insurgent attack in the Uruzgan province city of Tarin Kowt on July 28. He was 25 and joined the BBC in May 2008 as a stringer, the network said.

"Mr. Khpalwak was shot by an ISAF member who believed he was an insurgent that posed a threat and was about to detonate a suicide vest improvised explosive device," the NATO-led force said in a statement Thursday. ISAF identified the soldiers at the scene as Americans.

"The investigating officer found that the ISAF member involved in this incident complied with the laws of armed conflict and rules of engagement and acted reasonably under the circumstances."

Peter Horrocks, director BBC Global News, said the death is "a tragedy for his family and friends as well as his colleagues at the BBC."

It "further highlights the great dangers facing journalists who put their lives on the line to provide vital news from around the world," he said. "It is essential that journalists are given the best possible protection whilst reporting in dangerous situations so that the world can hear their stories."

Insurgents staged what ISAF said was a "complex attack" on a number of targets, including the provincial governor's compound and the Radio Television Afghanistan compound. The Committee to Protect Journalists said at least 22 people were killed and 37 people were injured.

Gen. John R. Allen, commander of ISAF, appointed an independent investigating officer to examine the circumstances of the death.

The report said two insurgents gained entry to the RTA compound when they used a car bomb to destroy a gate and a section of the wall.

From inside the building they traded fire with uniformed Afghan forces and shot at U.S. soldiers arriving at the scene. The firing from the insurgents eventually stopped amid escalating force by the Americans.

Afghan leadership told the forces that two suicide bombers were in the RTA building and that they "were not aware of any civilians present," ISAF said.

"Upon U.S. soldiers entering the RTA building, the two suicide bombers detonated their explosives, collapsing the front walls of the building and trapping members of the clearing team under heavy brick debris," ISAF said.

As some soldiers aided the injured, some continued clearing building remains and others "remained in overwatch to provide security."

During the clearing operation, a soldier "identified movement of a young adult male in the building through a large hole in a broken wall."

"The room the man was in was immediately adjacent to the room where one of the suicide bombers had detonated his suicide vest IED, and across the hall from the other suicide vest detonation, just minutes before," ISAF said.

The soldier heard a shot he thought was from the man's "exact location." ISAF said "it is probable that the shot he heard was actually fire by a soldier inside the building during the building clearing."

The soldier "assessed the individual he observed to be enemy and fired a single round which did not strike him. In the stress and urgency of the moment, it is highly probable that soldiers in the courtyard outside the building incorrectly perceived that shot as having been fired by the man in the building."

ISAF said several soldiers thought the man was shooting, and called out warnings.

"A soldier was directed to move up to the broken wall where the man was seen. As the soldier approached he observed a young adult male with a beard with something clinched in one of his fists and reaching for something on his person with his other hand."

The soldier assessed the actions as those of a suicide bomber who was working to detonate an IED that "posed a lethal threat."

The soldier shot and killed the man. They later discovered that the man was Khpalwak. No weapon was found on him.

"It appears that all the rounds perceived as coming from his location were instead fired by U.S. soldiers," ISAF said.

The BBC said the "confusion surrounding the circumstances" intensified "the tragedy felt by the journalist's family and colleagues."

"The BBC recognizes that ISAF has provided clarification that he was killed by a U.S. soldier, ending a period of uncertainty," the network said in a statement. "We will be studying the details of the findings and await receipt of the full report."

CNN's Joe Sterling contributed to this report


Court sides with Obama on health care law

President Obama signs the Affordable Health Care for America Act at the White House on March 23, 2010.The Richmond court is the second federal appeals court to uphold the billBut another appeals court ruled that parts of the bill were unconstitutionalThe bill is seen as the signature legislation of Obama's first two years in officeQuestions on health care most likely will end up before U.S. Supreme Court

Washington (CNN) -- A federal appeals court has tossed out Virginia's lawsuit against the sweeping health care reform effort championed by President Barack Obama, after the three-judge panel concluded Thursday the state lacks the jurisdictional authority to challenge the 2010 law.

The unanimous decision sets up a certain Supreme Court review in coming months.

"Virginia, the sole plaintiff here, lacks standing to bring this action," said the ruling from the 4th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. "Accordingly, we vacate the judgment of the district court and remand with instructions to dismiss the case for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction."

The Richmond-based court becomes the second such federal court to uphold the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, particularly the "individual mandate" provision requiring most Americans to purchase health insurance by 2014 or face a financial penalty. Another appeals court had ruled against the administration.

That "circuit split" ensures the nine justices will take the case, although there is no timetable or deadline for them to decide the matter. But the various appeals coming their way promise to become a major 2012 campaign issue.

The three judges from the 4th Circuit hearing the case -- Diana Gribbon Motz, Andre Davis, and James Wynn-- all were named to the bench by Democratic presidents. They were unanimous in their conclusion the state lawsuit should be blocked on jurisdictional grounds. A separate lawsuit by private Liberty University also was rejected on similar grounds. The school, which bills itself as the largest Christian evangelical college in the world, had claimed the law would allow taxpayer dollars to fund abortions, a claim the Obama administration rejects.

The court ruled on technical grounds, not the larger constitutional questions of whether Americans can be forced to buy health insurance, and whether states are obliged to fund increased Medicare coverage.

"If we were to adopt Virginia's standing theory, each state could become a roving constitutional watchdog of sorts; no issue, no matter how generalized or quintessentially political, would fall beyond a state's power to litigate in federal court. We cannot accept a theory of standing that so contravenes settled jurisdictional constraints," said the ruling.

The state's attorney general, Ken Cuccinelli, said he will appeal the decision, likely to the Supreme Court.

"Not only does the court's opinion reject the role of the states envisioned by the Constitution, it dismisses an act of the Virginia General Assembly -- the Health Care Freedom Act -- as a mere pretense or pretext," Cuccinelli said. "It is unfortunate that the court would be so dismissive of a piece of legislation that passed both houses of a divided legislature by overwhelming margins with broad, bipartisan support."

But the Justice Department applauded the court's reasoning.

"Throughout history, there have been similar challenges to other landmark legislation such as the Social Security Act, the Civil Rights Act, and the Voting Rights Act, and all of those challenges failed as well," said a statement from the department. "We will continue to vigorously defend the health care reform statute in any litigation challenging it, and we believe we will prevail."

More than two dozen other legal challenges to the law are floating in lower federal courts.

The health care reform act was passed by the Democratic Congress last year, with wide support from the president.

There are about 450 components to the health care law. Some will not go into effect for another two years, but some are already in force.

While the two other federal appeals courts had split on the constitutional question of the individual mandate, the 4th Circuit took a different path, deciding on standing grounds. It was clear from oral arguments in May the judges might rule this way.

Virginia officials had argued the Constitution's Commerce Clause does not give government the authority to force Americans to purchase a commercial product like health insurance that they may not want or need. The state equated such a requirement to a burdensome regulation of "inactivity." Virginia is one of the few states in the country with a specific law saying residents cannot be forced to buy insurance.

But Virginia's solicitor general, Duncan Getchell, struggled during argument to justify state intervention on behalf of its citizens -- an issue known as standing. The judges from the bench suggested similar past court cases limited state options to challenge federal laws.

The Justice Department countered the state's argument by saying that since every American will need medical care at some point in their lives, individuals do not "choose" to participate in the health care market. Federal officials cite 2008 figures of $43 billion in uncompensated costs from the millions of uninsured people who receive health services, costs that are shifted to insurance companies and passed on to consumers.

The matter of the standing of states and private groups to challenge the law was one of the questions left unanswered after a panel of the 11th Circuit in Atlanta ruled in August, in a lawsuit filed by Florida and 25 other states, that requiring individuals to purchase insurance was unconstitutional; and a panel of the 6th Circuit in Cincinnati found, in a case from Michigan, that the individual mandate is lawful.

Those rulings also left open the question of whether parts of the law already in effect can continue to be enforced. Those sections currently being administered include small business tax credits, federal grants and consumer protection measures. The federal government wants to know whether these provisions can continue while the issue is under appeal, particularly in the 28 states that have filed suit.

Other questions include: if one provision of the law is found unconstitutional, does the entire act become invalidated; should employers be forced to provide some level of health insurance to their workers; and can religious, moral and other objections to the law be considered?

Among other things, the health care law was designed to help millions of uninsured and underinsured Americans receive adequate and affordable health care through a series of government-imposed mandates and subsidies. The federal government stated in court briefs that 45 million Americans last year were without health insurance, roughly 15% of the country's population.

Critics have equated the measure to socialized medicine, fearing that a bloated government bureaucracy will result in higher taxes and diminished health care services.

Opponents derisively labeled the measure "Obamacare." Republican leaders, who captured the House of Representatives in the midterm elections, have vowed to overturn or severely trim the law.

Thursday's cases are Commonwealth of Virginia v. Sebelius (11-1057) and Liberty University v. Geithner (10-2347).



Obama unveils $447 billion jobs plan for U.S.

Washington (CNN) -- Facing low approval ratings and constant Republican criticism as his re-election campaign starts up, President Barack Obama challenged Congress on Thursday night to put the good of the nation over political benefit and pass a huge jobs plan he proposed.

In a speech to a joint session of Congress, Obama told the legislators to "stop the political circus and actually do something to help the economy" by quickly approving the $447 billion package of measures so he can sign it into law.

"The people of this country work hard to meet their responsibilities. The question tonight is whether we'll meet ours," Obama said to applause. "The question is whether, in the face of an ongoing national crisis, we can stop the political circus and actually do something to help the economy. The question is whether we can restore some of the fairness and security that has defined this nation since our beginning."

Obama also told legislators that they should quickly pass his plan, called the American Jobs Act.

"There should be nothing controversial about this piece of legislation," the president said. "Everything in here is the kind of proposal that's been supported by both Democrats and Republicans -- including many who sit here tonight. And everything in this bill will be paid for. Everything."

Obama said he will ask Congress to increase the $1.5 trillion target in deficit reduction being pursued by a special joint congressional committee to cover the cost of the American Jobs Act. He said he will propose his own deficit-reduction plan on September 19 that would reform entitlement programs such as Medicare while changing the tax system to end loopholes, lower the corporate tax rate and increase taxes for the wealthy.

In essence, Obama resurrected his push for a so-called "grand bargain" -- a comprehensive deficit reduction package that includes all the drivers of government spending and deficits, including those traditionally favored and protected by both parties.

Republican reaction ranged from an expressed interest in trying to work out compromise to outright rejection and criticism of what was labeled a repeat of failed policies from the past.

House Speaker John Boehner, who backed out of talks with Obama on a major deficit reduction-deal deal earlier this year, said the proposals the president outlined "merit consideration," and added that he hoped for serious consideration by the White House of Republican ideas.

"It's my hope that we can work together to end the uncertainty facing families and small businesses, and create a better environment for long-term economic growth and private-sector job creation," said Boehner, R-Ohio.

Conservative Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Arizona, was much more critical.

"President Obama, perhaps not knowing what else to do, is simply calling for more of the same, as if giving us more of the failed policies of the last two-and-a-half years will somehow yield different results," Kyl said in a statement. "I believe President Obama's new 'stimulus' will further delay economic recovery and continue to inflict harm on so many Americans."

The Senate's top Democrat, meanwhile, said Obama's proposal will present a "litmus test" for Republicans.

"I hope they (Republicans) will show the American people that they are more interested in creating jobs than defeating President Obama," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said in a statement. "Experts from the ratings agencies to Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke have said that political gridlock is the main obstacle standing in the way of our economic growth. It is time to put jobs and the economy ahead of partisan politics."\

That point resonated with veteran Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who joked on CNN that the president's poll numbers were very bad, but "have you seen Congress' numbers?"

"We seek approval, too," McCain said.

According to Obama, the purpose of the proposed jobs legislation is "to put more people back to work and more money in the pockets of those who are working."

"It will create more jobs for construction workers, more jobs for teachers, more jobs for veterans, and more jobs for the long-term unemployed," Obama said. "It will provide a tax break for companies who hire new workers, and it will cut payroll taxes in half for every working American and every small business. It will provide a jolt to an economy that has stalled, and give companies confidence that if they invest and hire, there will be customers for their products and services. You should pass this jobs plan right away."

He also told Republicans he would take his case directly to the American people, and called on "every American who agrees to lift your voice and tell the people who are gathered here tonight that you want action now."

"Tell Washington that doing nothing is not an option," Obama said.

White House spokesman Jay Carney told CNN that Obama will send Congress jobs plan legislation next week.

Obama's plan comes as unemployment remains lodged at 9.1% with no new jobs reported in August, raising fears of a possible return to recession. With 14 months to go until the presidential election, he wants the plan -- as well as the speech to Congress to present it -- to clearly illustrate to the American public the ideological differences between his policies and those of the Republican right.

The mood in the House chamber was jovial before the speech, with Vice President Joe Biden playfully hugging Speaker John Boehner when he arrived at the dais. Democratic legislators repeatedly applauded during the address.

House Republican and White House sources told CNN that Obama called Boehner and McConnell on Thursday afternoon to preview the speech. Even so, a legislative struggle is certain. Republicans call for corporate tax cuts and deregulation as steps to spur job growth, opposing what they label new stimulus spending.

The Democratic leader in the Republican-controlled House -- Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California -- asked the ranking Democrats on committees that will consider the legislation proposed by Obama to urge their Republican chairmen to "schedule immediate hearings and legislative action" on the measures.

Boehner, meanwhile, invited 12 business leaders -- dubbed "job creators" in his statement -- who have been affected by regulations enacted by the administration to attend the speech.

These are "people with real world experience on how the regulations coming out of this administration are impeding their ability to grow their business and create jobs," Boehner's statement said.

At least five Republicans -- two senators and three House members -- didn't plan to attend the speech, which Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said was more of a political event than a policy statement.

"By all accounts, the president's so-called jobs plan is to try those very same policies again and then accuse anyone who doesn't support them this time around of being political and overly partisan, of not doing what's needed in this moment of crisis," McConnell, R-Kentucky, said Thursday morning. "This isn't a jobs plan. It is a re-election plan."

Anticipating such criticism, Obama said he was proposing needed and logical measures that traditionally receive broad support.

"This isn't political grandstanding. This isn't class warfare. This is simple math," he said. "These are real choices that we have to make. And I'm pretty sure I know what most Americans would choose. It's not even close. And it's time for us to do what's right for our future."

Obama said his plan would increase the current payroll tax cut to put additional money in the pockets of Americans at a cost of $175 billion. The current cut, which has cost $112 billion so far, allows employees to pay 4.2% instead of 6.2% on their first $106,800 of wages into Social Security.

Obama's proposal included extended unemployment benefits, which were lengthened to the current 99-week maximum in 2009. Top Democrats argue that such money will immediately be pumped back into the economy in the form of new consumer spending.

In addition, the plan proposes $60 billion for infrastructure development such as repairing roads and bridges, including establishment of an infrastructure bank to help finance such projects.

Other provisions in the president's proposal include money to refurbish schools and provide state aid for teachers and first responders, and tax incentives for small businesses to hire the long-term unemployed and military veterans.

Looking abroad, the president also renewed his push for congressional approval of stalled free trade deals with South Korea, Colombia and Panama. The measures, despite the congressional roadblock, have relatively broad bipartisan support.

The president took aim at tea party conservatives who call for deep spending cuts to shrink government instead of the comprehensive approach he advocates.

"In fact, this larger notion that the only thing we can do to restore prosperity is just dismantle government, refund everyone's money, let everyone write their own rules, and tell everyone they're on their own -- that's not who we are," Obama said.

He repeatedly urged the legislators to "pass this jobs bill," using a rhetorical flourish that regularly prompted cheers and applause form Democrats.

"No single individual built America on their own," Obama said. "We built it together. We have been, and always will be, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all; a nation with responsibilities to ourselves and with responsibilities to one another. Members of Congress, it is time for us to meet our responsibilities."

CNN's Alan Silverleib, Charles Riley, Jessica Yellin, Brianna Keilar, Tom Cohen and Mariano Castillo contributed to this report.


Friday, September 2, 2011

EU bans imports of Syrian oil over crackdown (AP)

By ELIZABETH A. KENNEDY, Associated Press Elizabeth A. Kennedy, Associated Press – 5 mins ago

BEIRUT – The European Union banned oil imports from Syria on Friday in a move that will cost the embattled regime millions of dollars each day as it uses deadly force to try to crush a 5-month-old uprising. The same day, activists said, at least six people were killed in the crackdown.

The deaths came as President Bashar Assad's security forces fired on thousands of anti-government protesters and surrounded mosques in southern and eastern cities to prevent worshippers from streaming into the streets to join the rallies, activists said. The U.N. estimates some 2,200 people have been killed since March as protesters face a barrage of shells and sniper fire.

The regime is in no imminent danger of collapse, but the protesters are determined, leading to concerns violence could escalate.

On Friday, Syrian protesters marched under the slogan "Death Rather Than Humiliation."

The EU oil ban follows other international sanctions and blistering worldwide condemnation. The EU ban covers the purchase, import and transport of oil and other petroleum products from Syria. The EU also has banned European banks from opening credit lines for such sales, and prohibited insurance companies from insuring the cargos.

In addition to the oil ban, four more Syrian individuals and three entities were added to a list of those facing an EU asset freeze and travel ban.

Over the past few months, the EU has imposed travel bans and asset freezes against 35 Syrian government officials and military and police commanders, including Assad himself.

Syria exports some 150,000 barrels of oil per day, generating $7 million to $8 million daily, according to David Schenker, director of the Program on Arab Politics at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

The vast majority of that oil goes to the European Union.

Without that revenue, Syria will likely burn through foreign reserves far more quickly. It had $17 billion in reserves at the start of the uprising. Still, some analysts believe Syria is getting financial assistance from Iran, which would cushion the EU blow.

Syria gets about 28 percent of its revenue from the oil trade and sells fuel to France, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands. The EU has in the past been reluctant to ban Syrian oil and gas imports for fear of the impact on the Syrian public and small businesses.

The EU oil embargo will bring the 27-nation bloc in line with the latest U.S. moves to isolate Assad's regime, including a ban on the import of petroleum or related products.

In Poland, foreign ministry spokesman Marcin Bosacki told The Associated Press that the embargo is taking effect on Saturday. He said that EU foreign ministers meeting in the Baltic Sea resort of Sopot, in Poland, were to discuss the situation in Syria later Friday.

Some EU nations have been lobbying for other sectors to be added to the sanctions regime, including telecommunications and banking.

Recent weeks have seen a subtle change in tone among some activists, who are calling on Syrians to take up arms and inviting foreign military action like the intervention that helped topple the government of Libya.

"The possibility of conflict in Syria entering a new phase is becoming more likely following almost six months of largely peaceful protests ... and growing external pressure," according to a briefing by Maplecroft, a British-based risk analysis company.

Syrian troops fanned out Friday in cities including Daraa in the south and the eastern city of Deir el-Zour, according to the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Syria has banned foreign journalists and restricted local coverage, making it difficult to independently confirm events on the ground.


AP Writer Slobodan Lekic in Brussels contributed to this report.

Yahoo! News

Two women journalists killed in Mexico City (Reuters)

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mexican authorities are investigating the murder of two women journalists whose bodies were found in a park in the south of Mexico City on Thursday.

Dozens of journalists have been killed in drug-related violence in Mexico in the past five years. However, the attorney general's office in the capital said the motive for the killing of the two friends was unclear.

"This is still being investigated," a spokesman said, adding that initial findings suggested the victims had been strangled. Both women were 48, the spokesman added.

One of the women, Ana Yarce, was the founder of investigative magazine Contralinea, it said in a statement. The other, Rocio Gonzalez, had worked previously for broadcaster Televisa, the magazine added.

Daily newspaper Reforma said Gonzalez had apparently just withdrawn a large sum of money and the two women may have been victims of a violent robbery.

(Reporting by Dave Graham; Editing by Todd Eastham)

Yahoo! News

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Dad's past crimes trigger deportation

Ana Maria Cruz is a single mother of four after her fiance was deportedChally Dang was a legal permanent U.S. resident, who emigrated from Southeast AsiaHe was deported this year for a crime he committed and served time for 14 years ago Cruz says he turned his life around and hasn't committed a crime since

Philadelphia (CNN) -- Last September, Ana Maria Cruz waited in her minivan outside an immigration office, clutching her fiance's keys, wallet and cell phone.

Cruz, then eight months pregnant and with two of the couple's other children in tow, began to worry when Chally Dang took longer than usual to emerge from what should have been a routine check-in with immigration officials.

"I sat there for about an hour because I didn't know what to do," Cruz said. "Then he collect-called me to say they weren't letting him go."

For the next nine months, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials held Dang and three other Cambodian-Americans -- all legal permanent residents who had come to the United States as child refugees.

In June, they sent Dang to Cambodia. Each of the men detained last September had committed a crime that carried a retroactive removal order. That allows them to be deported at any time, regardless of when the crime was committed.

Dang, now 29, was arrested when he was 15, after he fired an illegal handgun into the air. Although no one was injured, Dang was charged in 1997 with aggravated assault, criminal conspiracy and possessing criminal instruments.

He was sentenced to 5? years in prison. Despite having served his prison time, under 1996 immigration laws, he could be deported back to Cambodia -- a country he had never seen -- without a hearing in front of an immigration judge.

Attorneys: U.S. deportation policy shifting

Dang's situation is not uncommon, and it is becoming part of the growing debate over immigration reform in the United States.

In a move that could shake up the U.S. immigration system, the Department of Homeland Security said the government would review about 300,000 deportation cases pending in federal immigration courts.

Lower-priority cases -- those not involving people considered violent or otherwise dangerous -- would be suspended under the new criteria.

Federal authorities are still hashing out details of how the cases will be reviewed, a senior Department of Homeland Security official said last week.

Immigration reform: Why now?

For Cruz and Dang, the announcement comes too late for them to tell their story.

Ana Marie Cruz's fiance, a legal resident and father of her children, was deported for a crime he committed 14 years ago.

Cruz maintains that her fiance -- now a world away in Cambodia -- had turned his life around after serving his time in prison and deserved to stay in the United States.

"They should give Americans, refugees and permanent residents who have reformed (themselves) chances to prove that they are of good character, regardless of any mistakes that they have made in their past," she said. "Just because someone made one mistake, especially in their youth, doesn't label them a criminal for life. People change, and people learn."

One of five children, Dang was born in Kamput refugee camp in Thailand, after his parents escaped the "killing fields" in the Southeast Asian nation of Cambodia, where at least 1.7 million people died under the 1970s Khmer Rouge regime.

Shortly after Dang was born, his father separated from his mother while awaiting sponsorship. His family entered the United States in 1983 and settled in crime-ridden North Philadelphia, where his mother remarried and gave birth to her youngest son.

The cash-strapped family moved from apartment to apartment, and a strained home life left him finding solace among other refugee kids in the neighborhood.

"Truancy became regular, and schoolwork was out of the question," Dang wrote in a letter on December 4, 2010, while he was being detained in York County Prison. "That's when the downhill became even steeper."

Opinion: Immigration plan offers 'false hope'

He was expelled multiple times from school for his disruptive behavior and eventually joined an Asian gang.

Dang hit rock bottom in 1997 when a rival gang spotted him and a friend in North Philadelphia. According to Dang, the rivals threw bottles and rocks at the car he was in, and his friend handed him a gun.

"I recklessly fired a few rounds in their proximity," he wrote.

Dang spent his high school years behind bars, where he obtained his GED. When he was paroled in 2003, Dang, then 21, was taken into ICE custody and given a final order of deportation.

But Cambodia was not accepting deportees from the U.S., so he was allowed to stay here under ICE supervision. After six months, he was granted supervised release.

"Regret is one of many effusive links composing a chain that binds me to my past," he wrote. "The actions of my past still haunt me."

Coming as an immigrant is a privilege, and we expect that you stay out of trouble.
--Ira Mehlman, Federation for American Immigration Reform

Vowing never to repeat the mistakes of his past, Dang started a family, earned a living working for a vending company, committed no crimes after his release and regularly checked in with immigration officials.

"It's hard for me because we built a life together, and I feel like it was ripped apart," Cruz said. "It's a life-changing thing."

Cruz, 28, gave birth to the couple's daughter, Farrah, a month after Dang was detained.

Agency officials say immigrants who commit these crimes must be removed even if, like Dang, they have a green card.

Dang's freedom lasted seven years.

Mia-lia Kiernan, who helped launch a Philadelphia grass-roots organization dedicated to keeping immigrant families living together, is at odds with the DHS immigration announcement.

Kiernan and family members of the detained and deported started the One Love Movement to help them fight for individualized reviews of their deportation orders -- including that of Dang.

The very government that gave Dang shelter targeted him and other refugees with criminal histories, Kiernan said.

"People really need to think about the title 'criminal alien' and who gets left behind," she said. "We're creating a generation of young people forced to grow up without parents."

By law, deportation is mandatory for anyone not a U.S. citizen who commits an "aggravated felony," a broad category of crimes ranging from shoplifting to murder that carry sentences of at least one year of imprisonment, said Sin Yen Ling, a senior staff attorney at the Asian Law Caucus in San Francisco.

"Because of their immigration status, they're penalized," said Ling, an immigration attorney who handles nearly 50 aggravated felony cases a year.

"There's no bail, no bond, it's mandatory deportation. Even if you were to get a sympathetic judge, their hands are tied. By law, it takes away the ability to review individual cases."

Federal immigration officials are simply prioritizing their resources on criminal aliens who present the greatest risk to the security of our communities, according to ICE spokeswoman Nicole Navas.

In 2010, ICE announced record-breaking illegal immigration enforcement numbers under the Obama administration, including unprecedented numbers of "convicted criminal alien removals."

Half of the individuals removed from the United States -- more than 195,000 people -- were convicted criminals, a 70% increase, according to ICE.

Feds increase immigration enforcement

"Everybody in their right mind would think that criminal aliens should be removed," said Ira Mehlman, spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform.

"No, it's not harsh. Coming as an immigrant is a privilege, and we expect that you stay out of trouble."

Philadelphia immigration attorney Caitlin Barry says the broad definition of "aggravated felony" and the retroactive application of the law have created a constant stream of criminal deportation cases.

Although Dang was released under ICE supervision, a removal order remained in effect. He was allowed to re-enter the community and make a life for himself because at the time, Cambodia was not issuing visas to deportees from the United States, Barry said.

"Unfortunately, as soon as those visas to Cambodia became available, Chally was rounded up with the other guys and sent to Cambodia," Barry said. "Chally's case is the perfect illustration of how severe these laws have gotten."

Because of Dang's deportation, Cruz has found herself a single mother of four, struggling to make ends meet while working as a receptionist at a Philadelphia law firm.

I don't believe that refugees should be subject to deportation, period. That's not their home anymore.
--Mia-lia Kiernan, One Love Movement

She has sold household items and the family vehicle to pay the bills. She has also applied for welfare and other government assistance to feed her children.

"What I've experienced, I wouldn't want any other family to have to go through," said Cruz, a permanent resident who came to the United States as an infant from the Philippines. "I want that law to be taken and thrown in the garbage because it does nothing, it doesn't make anything better."

The deportations are a disservice to those who have come out of the system and changed their lives, said Kiernan, the One Love Movement co-founder.

"I don't believe that refugees should be subject to deportation, period. That's not their home anymore. They came here, this is their home," Kiernan said.

"Everyday families are being broken apart, and every day, there are children suffering without a parent."

While Cruz tidied up her home after hosting a One Love meeting on a recent Saturday, she paused and looked at her children coloring quietly in their sparse living room.

"They made me a single mother," Cruz said. "It touches everyone involved."


Progress made against Texas wildfire -- but new blazes erupt

A helicopter helps fight a fire around Possum Kingdom Lake in Palo Pinto County, Texas, on Thursday.NEW: A high school and several homes in Noble, Oklahoma, are evacuatedIn Texas, the 101 Ranch Fire is 50% containedSome evacuations have been lifted, an official saysFirefighters still battling hot spots in Oklahoma CityAre you there? Share your photos and video, but stay safe.

Brad, Texas (CNN) -- Firefighters have made some progress in battling a spreading wildfire in northern Texas, but dry conditions contributed to a rash of new fires as well, officials said Thursday.

The 101 Ranch Fire in Palo Pinto County had scorched 6,200 acres as of Thursday, according to the Texas Forest Service. The blaze is burning on Possum Kingdom Lake, near the town of Brad, about 100 miles west of Dallas.

However, "we feel much better about this fire today" as the blaze is now 50% contained, said John Nichols, spokesman for the forest service. Some evacuations were lifted, he said.

The flames have destroyed 40 homes and nine RVs, the Forest Service said Thursday. Firefighters were receiving support from aerial tankers and helicopters.

Authorities are working on a re-entry strategy for residents, said Palo Pinto County Sheriff Ira Mercer, and they are trying to get the lake open for the Labor Day holiday.

On Wednesday, evacuations were ordered in several communities on the north side of the lake after the fire charged over a ridge and approached a dam on the lake, CNN affiliate WFAA reported. The Forest Service pulled out of its command observation post, telling journalists and onlookers to get out of the way of the flames.

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Tom Hardeston was among the residents watching helplessly. "My house is right through here, though it may be gone," he told WFAA.

Nearby ranchers battled to save their herds from the encroaching fire.

"I'm just moving them from pasture to pasture," Cindi McCoy told WFAA, referring to her livestock. "As one pasture burns, I'm moving them back to that one and bring(ing) them back around."

The Forest Service responded on Wednesday to 17 new fires burning a total of 4,146 acres. The largest of those is the Hornets Tank Fire, which had burned 3,000 acres and was 40% contained Thursday. It was burning in Briscoe County near Palo Duro Canyon, the nation's second-largest canyon behind the Grand Canyon.

In addition, the Legacy Fire had burned 3,400 acres in Howard County and was 10% contained Thursday, the Forest Service said. The blaze threatens numerous structures, but did not show much growth on Wednesday.

The weather forecast continued to predict mostly dry weather for the area, with high temperatures from the mid-90s into the 100s, the Forest Service said.

Texas is experiencing the worst fire season in state history. Since fire season began last November, a record 3.5 million acres have burned. Hot and dry weather combined with a historic drought have made conditions ripe for rapid fire growth.

In the past seven days, the Forest Service has responded to 224 fires burning a combined 31,541 acres.

Meanwhile, in neighboring Oklahoma, firefighters were battling hot spots Thursday from a wildfire in northeast Oklahoma City, Fire Chief Keith Bryant said. National Guard helicopters were assisting, Bryant said.

The blaze was one of two large brush fires that had covered more than 16 square miles on the city's north and south sides Wednesday, forcing some evacuations and closure of Interstate 40 and the Turner Turnpike. Both roads were later reopened, CNN affiliate KOCO said.

Thursday is "day three of very poor fire conditions for us," said David Barnes, Oklahoma County Emergency Manager. Firefighters, including some from around the state, are "kind of ragged," he said.

Barnes did not have an estimate on how many homes were lost on the city's north side. On Tuesday, a dozen were lost in that blaze.

Fighting the south side fire "went very well for us," he said. Three or four barns were lost, he said, along with one mobile home and one abandoned home.

In the nearby town of Noble, a high school and several houses were evacuated Thursday because of a spreading wildfire, authorities said.

Buses were called to the 880-student Noble High School when the fire moved close to the campus, said Grenda Lee, administrative assistant to the school superintendent.

Several agencies were fighting the Noble wildfire, police department communications officer John Lesher said.

The record-setting heat and drought plaguing Texas and Oklahoma -- as well as a heat wave experienced by other states -- result from abnormally strong high pressure over the Atlantic and Pacific.

The high pressure keeps the jet stream, typically a source of cooler air and precipitation, to the north, while winds funnel hot, tropical air into the south-central United States, according to NASA, which released satellite data Wednesday showing the phenomenon during July.

But the conditions persist, said CNN meteorologist Sean Morris. "The ridge of high pressure aloft refuses to release its grip. There are some subtle signs that it may weaken into next week and allow a tropical system to move into" southeastern Texas, he said. "This would have the potential to bring some very significant and beneficial rains to that area. But it looks like Oklahoma is going to remain high and dry."

CNN's Dave Alsup contributed to this report.