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Nation briefs for February 23

Government shutdown hurt 37K immigrant cases

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The federal government shutdown last year delayed more than 37,000 immigration hearings by months or years for immigrants already waiting in lengthy lines to plead for asylum or green cards.

While the country’s immigration courts are now running as usual, immigrants who hoped to have their cases resolved in October so they could travel abroad to see family or get a job instead had their lives put on hold.

Many had already waited years to get a hearing date in the notoriously backlogged courts, which determine whether immigrants should be deported or allowed to stay in the country.

Now, some hearings were pushed into later this year, and thousands more were shelved until 2015 or later, according to emails obtained by the Associated Press.

“This is a big task, and not one that will be accomplished quickly, especially given our current staffing shortage,” Chief Immigration Judge Brian O’Leary wrote in an Oct. 17 email to immigration judges and court administrators obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.

A day earlier, O’Leary wrote in a separate email to staff that the tally of deferred hearings had surpassed 37,000 and many immigrants probably wouldn’t get their cases heard until at least 2015.

The delays triggered by last year’s federal government shutdown further strained an immigration court system already beset with ballooning caseloads, yearslong waits and a shortage of judges.

The impact on immigrants has been uneven. Those with strong cases for staying in the U.S. are left in limbo for even longer, while those who face likely deportation have won more time in the United States.

About 70 percent of all immigration court hearings were put on hold, and all involved immigrants who were not kept in detention centers.

The rest — immigrants in detention facilities — proceeded with their hearings as scheduled.

About half of immigrants in detention have criminal records.

Nuke test scores fell flat during alleged cheating

WASHINGTON (AP) — Last summer, when dozens of nuclear missile officers allegedly cheated on exams, test scores were among the lowest of the year, according to Air Force records obtained by the Associated Press. That is the opposite of what might be expected if answers were being shared as widely as officials allege.

Were they inept cheaters?

Was there, in fact, no sharing of answers during that period?

Were test questions so difficult that even the cheating by some failed to produce higher-than-usual scores for the group as a whole?

The Air Force isn’t saying. It noted tests are not identical each month, and thus score “variances can be expected.”

The facts of the tainted testing are still under investigation by the Air Force Office of Special Investigations. It ranks as the worst such scandal in the history of the intercontinental ballistic missile force and is among a series of security lapses and slip-ups that have plagued the ICBM corps during the past year. The missteps prompted Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to launch two probes of the entire nuclear force to find root causes for leadership lapses and other problems — steps Hagel deemed necessary to restore public confidence.

The alleged cheating was uncovered in January during an Air Force investigation of illegal drug use. Two officers questioned in that probe happened to be members of the 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont., and at least one stands accused of having transmitted test answers to colleagues via text message.

The AP’s review of test data shows widely varying monthly results in 2013. Records of the 91st Missile Wing at Minot Air Force Base, N.D. — where no reports of cheating surfaced — show of 153 officers who took the test in June, 30 failed. Just six months earlier, in December 2012, 150 in that unit took the test and none failed. What’s more, all 150 of those officers got perfect scores — not a single incorrect answer.


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