Democrats slam decision to end immigrant medical relief

Democratic lawmakers criticized federal immigration officials Wednesday for refusing to explain their decision to stop considering requests from immigrants seeking to defer deportation for medical treatment and other hardships.

Officials with two agencies — U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement — declined to answer many questions posed during a contentious House hearing, citing a recent legal challenge from civil rights groups. The officials also said their agencies are working on a plan for how to address such requests going forward, but declined to elaborate, citing the internal discussions.

“This is the perfect Trump administration public policy,” said Maryland Rep. Jamie Raskin, who chairs the House Oversight Committee’s subcommittee on civil rights, which held the hearing. “We don’t know where it comes from, we don’t know why we have it, we don’t know who came up with it and we don’t know what it is.”

Forced labor helped ministry grow

SAN DIEGO — A Southern California ministry whose leaders are charged with using deadbolt locks to detain homeless residents and making them turn over panhandling money was no fly-by-night operation. Imperial Valley Ministries was known in the remote desert region for decades of work helping drug addicts turn their lives around.

The ministry operated a ranch for men, a group home for women and a small headquarters office on one of the busiest streets in El Centro, a city of 45,000 people in a region of scorching summers, high unemployment and bountiful winter harvests that supply supermarkets across the United States. Residents were seen at intersections in burgundy T-shirts with the ministry’s name emblazoned in white letters, asking idled motorists for money in exchange for a flier about the ministry’s work and a choice of peanuts or candy.

It became so successful that it established a network of about 30 affiliate churches across the country in cities as far-flung as Charlotte, North Carolina, and Las Vegas.

A list of 29 house rules cited in an indictment unsealed Tuesday describes how the ministry kept a tight hold on residents in a cult-like atmosphere. They were prohibited from discussing “things of the world” and reading anything but the Bible, forced to surrender all identification and personal belongings, avoid family contact for the first 30 days and relinquish all earnings.

National Toy Hall of Fame finalists announced

ROCHESTER, N.Y. — The smartphone is being considered for induction into the National Toy Hall of Fame this year in recognition of its impact on how people play and interact.

The other finalists announced Wednesday are: Care Bears, the coloring book, Fisher-Price Corn Popper, Jenga, Magic the Gathering, Masters of the Universe, Matchbox cars, My Little Pony, Nerf Blaster, Risk and the top.

The smartphone earned a place among the 12 finalists because of its status as a platform for countless mobile games and playful interactions, including sending GIFs and altering photos, hall of fame officials said.

The winners will be inducted Nov. 7. Last year’s honorees were the Magic 8 Ball, pinball and Uno.

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