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Oscar spotlight shines attention on diversity issue in Hollywood

It was a year ago that Lupita Nyong’o, shortly before winning the Academy Award for best supporting actress, gave a speech about what she called “dark beauty.”

Nyong’o, who so dazzled Hollywood and the Oscar-viewing public through awards season, spoke tenderly of receiving a letter from a girl who had been about to lighten her skin before Nyong’o’s success, she said, “saved me.” The letter struck Nyong’o because she recognized herself in that girl: “I remember a time when I too felt unbeautiful. I put on the TV and only saw pale skin.”

“And so I hope that my presence on your screens and in the magazines may lead you, young girl, on a similar journey,” concluded Nyong’o, accepting an award at the Black Women in Hollywood luncheon.

The Mexican-born, Kenyan-raised actress was a central part last year to an Academy Awards flush with faces uncommon to the Oscar podium. There was Ellen DeGeneres, a proud lesbian, hosting. There was the first Latino, Alfonso Cuaron, winning best director. There was the black filmmaker Steve McQueen hopping for joy after his 12 Years a Slave won best picture.

What a difference a year makes.

This year’s Oscars repeat a stubborn pattern that has plagued the Academy Awards throughout its history: Whenever change seems to come, a frustrating hangover follows. “Every 10 years, we have the same conversation,” Spike Lee, a regular witness to the sporadic progress, has said. A year after Chris Rock hosted the 2005 awards show, which featured nods for Morgan Freeman, Don Cheadle, Jamie Foxx and Sophie Okonedo, the ‘06 nominees followed with only Terrence Howard.

Seldom have such fits and starts been starker than this Oscars, coming a year after a richly diverse Oscar crop. In Sunday’s Academy Awards, all 20 acting nominees are white, a result that prompted some to declare that they would boycott this year’s ceremony. The lack of nominations for Selma director Ava DuVernay and star David Oyelowo were a particular flashpoint, viewed by many as unjust oversights not only because they merited honoring, but because their absences furthered an ignoble Oscar history.

“I was surprised but then I wasn’t,” said Darnell Hunt, a UCLA professor and director of the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies, who co-authored a 2014 diversity report on the film and TV industries. “What we saw in terms of the nominations this year was business as usual. What we got was more or less an accurate reflection of the way the industry is structured and the way the academy is populated.”

An Associated Press survey of the academy’s voting history since the first Academy Awards in 1929 shows gradual progress but not nearly at a rate to match the ever-increasing diversity of the American public. In those 87 years, nine black actors have won Oscars, four Latinos and three Asians, a record that doesn’t even speak to other categories like best director, where only one woman (Kathryn Bigelow) has won.

The number of non-whites to be nominated for best actor or best actress has nearly doubled in just the last two decades, but the 9.4 percent of non-white acting nominees over the academy’s history is about four times less than the percentage of the non-white population.

Not all of this can be laid at the film academy’s feet, but some of it can. The 6,000-plus membership of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences was found to be 94 percent white and 77 percent male in a 2012 Los Angeles Times investigation. Since becoming president of the academy, Cheryl Boone Isaacs has worked to diversify the academy’s ranks, though change comes slowly considering membership is for life.

“In the last two years, we’ve made greater strides than we ever have in the past toward becoming a more diverse and inclusive organization through admitting new members and more inclusive classes of members,” Isaacs told the AP shortly after nominations were announced. “And, personally, I would love to see and look forward to see a greater cultural diversity among all our nominees in all of our categories.”

But the academy is a reflection of the film industry; it can only reward the films that get made. What this year’s all-white acting nominees did was lay bare the enormous, hulking iceberg of the movie business’ diversity problems.

The UCLA diversity report released last year after eight years of research put numbers to an often amorphous issue. It was arguably the most comprehensive such study, and it found the underrepresentation of minorities and women throughout film and TV, from board rooms to talent agencies.

“White males have dominated things for so long that it’s been hard to image an alternative that would produce or be open to producing the types of projects that are likely to enlist more people of color or women. So it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, this vicious cycle that produces the same type of stuff over and over again.,” says Hunt. “It’s hard to blame any single institution. It’s not all the networks. It’s not all the studios. It’s not all the talent agencies. But together, the way they all do business, combines to create this stalemate where we just don’t get past where we are right now.”

What’s particularly galling for many of those working to change Hollywood is that minorities are among its most passionate customers. According to the Motion Picture Association of America, Hispanics made up 25 percent of moviegoers in 2013, considerably more than their 17 percent share of the population.

“They acknowledge the demographic. They understand our participation rate. They continue to market these projects to the community, but never with the community’s identity or building a base of A-lister talent,” says Felix Sanchez, president of the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts.

Sanchez has seen “busts of diversity” come and go, like the attention that came and went with Ricky Martin’s 1999 Grammy performance. But even though the film industry sits in a town rich in Hispanics, 150 miles from the Mexico border, whites are often cast in top Latino roles. Ben Affleck played Tony Mendez in Argo and, more recently, the casting of Catherine Zeta-Jones as a Colombian drug dealer drew criticism.

“Who’s in charge of that image making?” says Sanchez. “So much of it is left in the hands of people who don’t have any kind of commitment to authenticity to the community at large.”

Combating such an entrenched, systematic problem isn’t easy; prejudice is nowhere and everywhere at the same time.

“There’s no front door to knock on. There’s nothing but side doors,” says Sanchez. “At some point, either there’s change or there’s a revolt amongst the viewers of simply not participating with entertainment that’s not reflective or inclusive of Latino images in a contemporary way.”

Hunt hopes that by studying diversity objectively, the data will reveal “the bottlenecks” that are stifling advancement. That includes findings that show more diverse projects make more money at the box office and earn better TV ratings. He knows the one thing Hollywood will respond to: the bottom line.

But frustration is mounting. Another year’s worth of research, to be released later this month by UCLA, Hunt says shows no significant change.

Stacy L. Smith, founder and director of USC Annenberg’s Media, Diversity and Social Change Initiative, calls the lack of progress in the industry “egregious.” The school analyzed the 500 top-grossing films at the U.S. box office in recent years, finding that in 2013, African-Americans represented 10.8 percent of all speaking characters, Hispanics 4.2 percent and Asians 5 percent. Between 2007 and 2012, the 565 directors of the top 500 films included only 33 black filmmakers, and just two of them black women. In the top-100 grossing films each year from 2002 through 2012, only 4.4 percent had women directors.

“Hollywood does not think diversity is commercial,” Smith said. “The numbers speak loudly and clearly about who is valued and who isn’t.”

With studies finding so little progress, Smith proposes the industry adopt a modified version of the NFL’s Rooney Rule, which stipulates that teams must interview minorities for vacant coaching jobs, to give greater transparency to the hiring process. She also urges A-list stars to add a rider in their contracts asking for diversity in casts when sensible to the story.

Not everyone agrees. Lionel Chetwynd, an Oscar-nominated writer and an academy member, argued against Al Sharpton’s post-nominations call for a task force. (Said Sharpton: “The movie industry is like the Rocky Mountains, the higher you get, the whiter it gets.”)

“Enforced ‘diversity’ will undermine the very mission of AMPAS,” Chetwynd wrote in an Op-Ed. “As new filmmakers and craftspeople achieve new levels of excellence, the face of the academy will change as it should, to the meter of its time, the pace of its art.”

The one thing that is definitely improving is the volume level. The uproar over the Oscar nominations only added to a swelling cacophony in the last year.

Saturday Night Live was shamed into diversifying its cast. The Ridley Scott Moses epic Exodus: Gods and Kings was slammed for casting white leads as Egyptians. The leaked Sony emails embarrassed executives for jokes about President Obama’s presumed taste in movie. Chris Rock, as good a commentator on race relations as we have, penned a thoughtful essay on what he called “a white industry.”

“How many black men have you met working in Hollywood? They don’t really hire black men,” wrote Rock. “But forget whether Hollywood is black enough. A better question is: Is Hollywood Mexican enough? You’re in L.A, you’ve got to try not to hire Mexicans.”

Why does all this matter? It isn’t just an issue of equal opportunity, though it is that. It’s because when people aren’t reflected in culture, when they don’t see themselves on screens, behind cameras or on the Oscar stage, they feel invisible and voiceless. Hollywood would do well to remember that young girl who wrote to Nyong’o, and hope to inspire a flood of such letters.

House votes to undo Obama immigration policies

The Republican-controlled House of Representatives voted on Jan. 14 to overturn President Barack Obama’s key immigration policies, approving legislation that would eliminate new deportation protections for millions and expose hundreds of thousands of younger immigrants to expulsion.

The 236-191 vote came on a broad bill that would provide nearly $40 billion to finance the Homeland Security Department through the rest of the budget year.

Democrats accused Republicans of playing politics with national security at a time of heightened threats, and Obama has threatened to veto the legislation. Prospects of it passing the Senate look tough, too.

But House Republicans, in a determined assault on one of Obama’s top domestic priorities, accused him of reckless unconstitutional actions on immigration that must be stopped.

“This executive overreach is an affront to the rule of law and to the Constitution itself,” said House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio. “The people made clear that they wanted more accountability from this president, and by our votes here today we will heed their will and we will keep our oath to protect and defend the Constitution.”

But U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., accused Republicans of “viciousness” for trying to make it easier to deport immigrants brought to the U.S. as children. Rep. David Price, D-N.C., called the GOP effort “a political vendetta,” adding, “It’s a reprehensible, reckless tactic which will compromise, has already compromised, the full and effective functioning of our Homeland Security Department” at a time of heightened security risks.

The immigration measures were amendments on the Homeland Security bill.

One of them, approved 237-190, would undo executive actions that Obama announced in November to provide temporary deportation relief to some 4 million immigrants illegally in the country. A second amendment would delete Obama’s 2012 policy that’s granted work permits and stays of deportation to more than 600,000 immigrants who arrived in the U.S. illegally as children. That measure passed more narrowly, 218-209, as more than two dozen comparatively moderate Republicans joined Democrats in opposition.

The changes Obama announced in November especially enraged the GOP because they came not long after Republicans swept the midterm elections, taking control of the Senate and increasing their majority in the House. Republicans pledged then to revisit the issue once Congress was fully under their control.

But even with Republicans in control of the Senate, the bill faces difficulty there, especially because House GOP leaders decided to satisfy demands from conservative members by including a vote to undo the 2012 policy that deals with younger immigrants known as “Dreamers.”

Republicans are six votes shy of the 60-vote majority needed to advance most legislation in the Senate, and even some Republicans in that chamber have expressed unease with the House GOP approach, especially given the importance of funding the Homeland Security Department in light of the Paris terrorist attacks.

Some House Republicans acknowledged that the Senate was likely to reject their approach, perhaps forcing them in the end to pass a Homeland Security funding bill stripped of controversial provisions on immigration.

“They’re not going to pass this bill,” said Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa.

Homeland Security money expires at the end of February so House leaders have left themselves several weeks to come up with an ultimate solution.

Immigrant advocates warned Republicans that Wednesday’s votes risked alienating Latino voters who will be crucial to the 2016 presidential election.

U.S. Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva, who co-chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said, “The Republicans continue to include senseless bed mandates and harmful family detention funding in their funding bills; it’s time they get a reality check on the security needs of this country.

“For nearly two years, this country waited for Congressional Republicans to join their Senate colleagues in addressing our broken immigration system. As if their refusal to act wasn’t bad enough, their current tactics make clear that they’d rather enflame our immigration problems than ever see them solved. But undermining the public’s security is a length to which no politician should be willing to go for the sake of a political victory. It’s an abdication of their duties as elected leaders, and a violation of the oath of office they took just days ago.”

Before the votes, Voces de la Frontera, a Wisconsin-based immigrant rights group, urged supporters to call their congressional representatives and tell them, in part, “These amendments are cruel and xenophobic. We need our Congress to work together to pass comprehensive immigration reform, not criminalize and separate working class families.”

From Wisconsin, Democratic U.S. Reps. Mark Pocan and Gwen Moore voted against the amendments. The Republican members from the state voted to undo the administration’s immigration reforms.

Federal judge declares Obama immigration actions unconstitutional

A federal judge in Pittsburgh is declaring that President Barack Obama’s recent executive actions on immigration are unconstitutional.

U.S. District Judge Arthur Schwab says Obama’s order in November designed to spare from deportation millions living in the United States without permission amounts to “unilateral legislative action” in violation of the Constitution.

Schwab issued his opinion on Dec. 16 in a criminal case involving an immigrant from Honduras.

The administration has said the new policy does not apply to criminal cases. The Justice Department called Schwab’s analysis “flatly wrong” and said he had no basis for his opinion because no one in the case had challenged the constitutionality of the president’s actions.

Schwab’s opinion puts forth some of the same arguments made by Texas and 23 other states in their challenge to Obama’s actions on immigration. Schwab was appointed by President George W. Bush.

Case Western Reserve University law professor Jonathan Adler says he’s skeptical that Schwab’s opinion will stand.

Omar Jadwat, an expert in immigration law at the American Civil Liberties Union, said the opinion would have no effect on the administration’s immigration policy. “It’s really just the judge taking the opportunity to state his personal views,” Jadwat said.

Voces de la Frontera Action gets out the vote for Mary Burke

Mary Burke, the Democratic candidate for governor in Wisconsin, has won an endorsement from Voces de la Frontera Action, the 501(c) 4 advocacy arm of Voces de la Frontera.

The organization, in its statement, said it strongly supports Mary Burke for governor because she is the candidate committed to working for all of Wisconsin’s working families.

The organization’s endorsement read, “Mary Burke supports immigrant civil rights, a minimum wage increase, increased funding for our public schools, colleges and universities and effective job creation policies. We urge all voters and particularly all Latino voters to vote for Mary Burke because of her position on these important issues. Her opponent has slashed education funding at all levels, failed to create the jobs he promised, undermined the living standards of Wisconsin’s working families while dividing the state and diverting critical resources to his political supporters.”

The group, which released its endorsement as President Barack Obama was expected to arrive to Milwaukee to support Burke, has been canvassing in support of Burke in 15 wards in the southside of Milwaukee. Its volunteers have knocked on more than 20,000 doors.

Voces encouraged voters to get out and vote for Burke in the general election and to also volunteer in the final week of the campaign.

In its announcement on Oct. 28, Voces de la Frontera Action also repeated its call to the president “to use his executive authority to protect immigrant families from deportation. Law abiding workers, who have lived in this country for decades, have U.S. citizen children, and have no criminal record, are being detained and deported. We urge President Obama to expand his successful Deferred Action program to protect these families. President Obama promised he would take executive action to protect immigrant families before the end of the summer if Republicans continued to block immigration reform. President Obama should expand his successful deferred action program, which brought hundreds of thousands of immigrant youth out of the shadows. Their parents have earned the right to work and participate in society without fear of deportation.”

Review: ‘Book of Life’ celebrates death

It’s not surprising that a companion art book to the new animated film directed by Jorge R. Gutierrez and produced by Guillermo del Toro has already been released. Steeped in Mexican folk art and inspired by that country’s holiday the Day of the Dead, “The Book of Life” is a visually stunning effort that makes up for its formulaic storyline with an enchanting atmosphere that sweeps you into its fantastical world, or in this case, three worlds.

Bookended by amusing contemporary segments in which a sassy museum tour guide (Christina Applegate) hosts a group of skeptical school kids, the story concerns the romantic triangle among the free-spirited Maria (Zoe Saldana) and her two suitors: Manolo (Diego Luna), the scion of a long line of bullfighters, who really wants to be a singer/guitarist; and the vainglorious Joaquin (Channing Tatum), a military hero who struts around with a huge display of medals on his chest.

The plot is set in motion by squabbling married gods La Muerta (Kate del Castillo) and Xibabla (del Toro regular Ron Perlman), who make a wager as to which of the two men Maria will choose. La Muerta, the ruler of the Land of the Remembered, places her bet on Manolo, while Xibabla, who oversees the dark Land of the Forgotten, puts his faith in Joaquin and thinks nothing of exerting his influence to determine the outcome.

To that end, he tricks Manolo into thinking that Maria has ventured into the Land of the Remembered, so the love-struck suitor sets off after her. While initially joyful to be introduced to the magical world containing all of his ancestors, Manolo is soon chagrined to discover that Maria is not there and sets off to find La Muerta to help him in his quest, stopping first at the Cave of Souls to consult with the Candle Maker (Ice Cube) who’s in charge of The Book of Life. Meanwhile, the Land of the Living is beset by the villainous monster Chakal (Dan Navarro) and his gang of bandits, with the inevitable battle affecting the destinies of all concerned. Acerbically commenting on the proceedings from the sidelines is the whiskered, elderly Grandma, hilariously voiced by Grey Griffin.

While the screenplay by Gutierrez and Douglas Langdale may prove a little too convoluted for younger viewers, they will surely be swept up by the magical visuals depicting the three worlds and their — literally, not figuratively — wooden inhabitants (Tatum’s Joaquin is, again, literally square-jawed). Its frames packed with vibrantly colorful, detailed imagery inspired by Latin American folklore and art, the computer-animated film looks particularly impressive in 3D.

Although thankfully devoid of the sort of winking, pop culture-inflected humor prevalent in so many current animated films, “The Book of Life” provides much amusement with its inspired musical choices. Besides the original score and songs by two-time Oscar winner Gustavo Santaolalla (“Brokeback Mountain,” “Babel”) and veteran songwriter Paul Williams, there are fun, mariachi-flavored versions of such pop hits as Mumford and Sons’ “I Will Wait,” Radiohead’s “Creep” and Rod Stewart’s “Do You Think I’m Sexy?” among others. Luna and Saldana provide their own singing, with impressive results.

Adding further regional flavor is the supporting voice cast, which includes fun contributions by Placido Domingo, Hector Elizondo, Cheech Marin, Gabriel Iglesias and Danny Trejo.

“The Book of Life,” a 20th Century Fox release, is rated PG by the Motion Picture Association of America for “mild action, rude humor, some thematic elements and brief scary images.” Running time: 95 minutes.

Catholic group cuts funding to Portland nonprofit that supports marriage equality

A Catholic organization has decided to cut off long-standing funding to a Portland, Oregon, immigrant rights group that works with day laborers over its affiliation with an organization that supports same-sex marriage.

Voz Workers’ Rights Education lost a $75,000 grant in June from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, which is the national anti-poverty, social justice program of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Catholic Campaign director Ralph McCloud said the group asked Voz to cut ties with the National Council of La Raza, a large Latino civil rights organization that endorses marriage equality, to be considered for the grant. Voz has been an affiliate of NCLR since 2009, primarily as a grantee.

After Voz refused to cut its ties, the organization “self-disqualified” itself from the funding process, McCloud said.

In June, the bishops approved more than $14 million in grants to 205 organizations. The bishops had supported Voz since 1994, via 10 grants, McCloud said.

“It’s certainly difficult and painful, because Voz has done some tremendous work,” McCloud said. “But it became obvious that they were assisting in something that was contrary to the teachings of our traditions. And we have to honor our donors’ intent that this money be spent on issues that are not contrary to the teachings of the Catholic Church.”

Voz is not the first nonprofit to lose church funding because of ties to organizations that endorse same-sex marriage.

A coalition of conservative Catholic groups led by the American Life League has criticized what it sees as lax administration by the Catholic Campaign and has been working since 2009 to call attention to CCHD grantees with activities, positions or affiliations with other nonprofits that contradict Church teachings on abortion, contraception and gay rights.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops conducted a review of the grant program and adopted several changes in 2010 that were designed to clarify the eligibility rules and strengthen the application review process. As a result of the review, nine nonprofits that were part of coalitions led by groups that supported reproductive rights or same-sex marriage no longer qualified for the funds, McCloud said. Others chose not to apply, or re-apply.

Community organizations serving immigrants and the poor in Colorado, Illinois, California and several other states have either had to decide whether to forgo their grants or sever their relationships with larger groups whose views the church considers problematic.

The lost grant represents a large bulk of Voz’s annual budget of $310,000, said Voz director Romeo Sosa. But he said the decision to withdraw from the grant competition allowed Voz to maintain its values.

“Marriage equality is not the focus of our work; we focus on immigrant rights. But we work with everyone, we don’t discriminate,” Sosa said. “There may be gays and lesbians among our staff or workers, and we can’t turn our backs on them.”

Local labor, immigrant rights, and groups that support gay rights have vowed to fundraise for Voz to fill the financial hole left by the grant’s loss.

Analysis: GOP paralyzed by immigration reform

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s startling primary loss last week to a tea party-backed opponent illustrates how the GOP finds itself paralyzed by immigration reform. The policy most party leaders agree is best for the Republican Party’s future is risky for most House Republicans seeking re-election in the fall.

Almost all represent districts that are home to few minorities and they are in greater danger of losing to a primary challenger than to a Democrat in the general election. That leaves little incentive for the GOP-controlled House to even touch an immigration overhaul that would to grant citizenship to many of the 11 million people living in the country illegally.

Economics professor David Brat hammered Cantor, R-Va., for purportedly backing “amnesty” for people in the U.S. illegally during his primary challenge. He called his unexpected victory a wake-up call that “immigration reform is DOA.” Others, however, said it was Cantor’s reluctance to act on immigration reform that hurt him at the polls.

After Cantor’s defeat, Republicans are left in a quandary before the 2016 election — what to do about an issue that’s often a winner in primaries but could cripple the party in a White House race before a more diverse electorate.

“Pain can be a good teaching tool sometimes,” said Mario H. Lopez, a Republican and executive director of the Hispanic Leadership Fund. “It may take another White House beat-down before some folks understand what kind of cliff they’re walking over.”

Many people involved in the immigration debate have similar predictions about what will happen next: The House takes no action on an immigration overhaul, President Barack Obama makes good on his promise to ease deportations by executive action later this summer, and that inflames the GOP even more, dooming any bill in 2015.

When the next presidential race gets underway, a broad field of the GOP’s presidential candidates will be competing for the support of primary voters who are far more opposed to an immigration overhaul than most Americans.

To some Republicans, that brings back memories of 2012, when Republican Mitt Romney adopted tough-on-illegal-immigration rhetoric to win the Republican presidential primaries. On Election Day, Hispanic and Asian voters overwhelmingly backed Obama.

The lone policy recommendation of GOP’s post-mortem on Romney’s loss was to pass immigration reform. While 14 Republican senators voted for an immigration overhaul that chamber passed last year, the measure was declared dead on arrival in the House. Republican lawmakers, many of whom were focused on the midterms, sought to avoid angering their base.

Immigration skeptics argue that’s the right way for the party to appeal to the working class.

“There aren’t enough rich people and there aren’t enough businesspeople to elect people to office,” said Roy Beck, president of Numbers USA, which advocates for less immigration and believes those in favor of an overhaul are catering to financial elites who want to import cheaper workers into the U.S. “They have to have wage-earners.”

Immigrant rights groups complained that Cantor was part of the reason the overhaul died in the House, but as majority leader he opened the door to narrower measures that would grant citizenship to people brought to the U.S. illegally as children. That was enough to fuel his primary challenger.

It wasn’t immigration alone that doomed Cantor. The Virginia congressman sowed resentment by spending too much time focused on national issues as majority leader and not enough tending to his district. Others note that South Carolina GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham, a chief architect of the Senate’s immigration overhaul, easily won his primary against a batch of tea party challengers.

And yet, the message appears clear to Republicans in Congress. Last week, House Speaker John Boehner said a bill probably wouldn’t be possible this year.

“Perception is reality in politics, and the perception among Republican members of Congress is going to be that (Cantor) lost because he took a somewhat squishy stance on immigration,” said Republican pollster Glen Bolger, who expects similar caution among 2016 hopefuls.

“You’ll see the volume turned way down on that,” Bolger said. “You’re going to see a lot more caution and a lot less risk-taking.”

Among the 2016 prospects taking care with the issue is Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, who has received a tepid reaction from some Republican activists for a proposal that would let some people living in the U.S. illegally receive citizenship. He told reporters this week the immigration debate has become too charged.

“We’re trapped in this rhetoric and we have to get beyond that,” Paul said.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio changed course on immigration in the wake of a backlash from GOP activists that followed his work as one of the eight co-authors of the Senate overhaul. He now argues the country shouldn’t consider creating a citizenship pathway until it secures its southern border.

“That was true before last night,” Rubio said the day after Cantor lost. “That’s especially true now.”

Matt Schlapp, a Republican consultant who worked for President George W. Bush, said the varying politics of immigration doom the prospects for any near-term action. After this year’s midterms, Democrats are sure to spend the next two years beating up on Republicans for the lack of movement, which in turn will lead the GOP to dig in deeper.

“If we have divided government, the politics have to work for both parties,” Schlapp said. “Until we get these things worked out, this just isn’t going to happen.”

Wisconsin protesters respond to Obama decision to delay review of deportations

A rally took place on May 29 in Milwaukee to protest President Barack Obama’s decision to ask his Homeland Security chief to hold off on completing a review of U.S. deportation policies until the end of the summer.

The White House said the request was a move aimed at salvaging any hopes for Congress to act on immigration this year, but immigration rights activists said more deportations will lead to more raids, stings and arrests and the continued separation of families.

Milwaukee-based Voces de la Frontera reported that on May 26, Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrested and detained approximately 21 undocumented people from their homes and workplaces across Milwaukee.

A demonstration took place on May 29 outside the ICE office on Knapp Street and Broadway in downtown Milwaukee to protest the arrests and the delay in reform from the Obama administration. 

“No family should have to endure this kind of harassment,” said Silvia Juarez, whose cousin Epigmenio Martinez-Ruiz was taken this week to the Dodge County detention center. Epigmenio has no criminal record and a daughter, 8-year-old Tatiana, who is a U.S. citizen. He came to the United States before 2001, and has been working the past decade as a foundry worker in Milwaukee.

”Every day our office sees families like those affected by Tuesday’s raids who are reeling from these attacks,” said Christine Neumann-Ortiz, executive director of Voces de la Frontera, in a statement.

Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Milwaukee, and other members of the Congress wrote Johnson, asking him to address the problem of ICE targeting suspected undocumented immigrants at courthouses. People arriving to the court house for hearings and appearances for traffic citations or other matters are being detained for questioning and investigations that in some cases lead to deportation.

“My colleagues and I sent a strong message that people accessing our courthouses should be safe from profiling, fear, and intimidation,” Moore said. “By targeting courthouses, ICE is exacerbating the culture of fear in our immigrant communities and undermining public safety. Like schools, hospitals, and places of worship, courthouses should be protected from immigration profiling tactics. I am proud that my colleagues stood with me to promote open access to our court system.”

Obama in March directed the government to examine whether deportation practices can be made more humane, seeking to pacify frustrated immigration advocates. But that step emboldened House Republicans to argue they can’t trust Obama to enforce the law, and that bypassing lawmakers through executive action would deliver a death knell to the broader immigration overhaul that Obama and Democrats are seeking.

Now Obama is seeking to preserve what the White House sees as a narrow window in June and July in which Congress could conceivably act before Washington’s focus becomes consumed by the November midterm elections. “The president really wants to maximize the opportunity to get a permanent solution enacted, which requires Congress,” said Cecilia Munoz, the director of the White House’s Domestic Policy Council.

“We’ve got maybe a window of two, three months to get the ball rolling in the House of Representatives,” Obama said earlier this month.

That window, White House officials said, has opened now that primary elections have wrapped up in many states where Republican incumbents are being challenged by tea party candidates who oppose an immigration overhaul. But a make-or-break deadline comes when lawmakers leave Washington for a monthlong August recess to focus on campaigning.

In Denver this week, Vice President Joe Biden made similar remarks about Republican opposition to immigration reform and reluctance to deal with legislation during campaigns.

“They’ve got their chance now,” Biden said. “Most of the primaries are over.”

But immigration advocates and Democrats have urged Obama to take immediate executive action in the face of congressional procrastination. 

Obama informed Johnson of his decision to delay the review during a White House meeting last week in which Johnson updated the president on the review’s progress, a senior White House official said. Homeland Security will continue working on the review but won’t release the results until the window for congressional action has closed, said the official, who wasn’t authorized to comment by name and demanded anonymity.

Obama’s announcement came the same day a coalition of groups backing an immigration overhaul asked Obama to hold off in order to “give the House leadership all of the space they may need.” Among the groups urging Obama to delay were the National Immigration Forum, the Service Employees International Union and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

On the congressional front, the Senate last year passed a comprehensive bill with bipartisan support that Obama says meets his criteria for what an immigration fix must include. Republicans have refused to take up that bill, saying they preferred their own piecemeal approach. But House GOP leadership has made no move to bring legislation to a vote. And last week, GOP leaders last week blocked any votes on immigration legislation – including one offered as an amendment by a Republican – in yet another ominous sign for immigration’s prospects.

Johnson has offered few details about what potential policy changes he’s considering or what the timeline for acting might be. But Obama has previously taken modest executive steps to ease deportation. Two years ago, he offered protection from deportation and extended work permits to some immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children. Johnson has said he’s reviewing a possible expansion of that program, but he and Obama have both cautioned that the government is constrained in what it can do without Congress.

Carlos Santana wants to save the world with music

Try to speak with Carlos Santana about his new album and he’ll want to talk about another topic: changing the world.

The veteran musician says he is planning a concert aimed at encouraging and motivating the development of young black and Latino men in the wake of Trayvon Martin’s death and Donald Sterling’s racist comments. He wants to hold the event next year in Florida and is working with Harry Belafonte.

“I’m not show biz and entertainment, I’m an activist,” he said. “I’m a person who with passion believes that we can change the world, we can transform hate and fear forever with the right songs and the right timing.”

Santana’s latest album, “Corazon,” debuted at No. 9 on the Billboard 200 albums chart last week. It features Juanes, Gloria Estefan and Miguel, and Santana said it wasn’t hard finding “Cinderella or Cinderfella” to guest on the songs, which he calls “glass slippers.”

“We said, ‘Hey man, this is going to be great at the Latin Grammys. We got to make an impact there,’” he recalled. “And I go, ‘Latin Grammys, why stop there? Why don’t we go to the World Cup?’ Well guess what, we’re closing the World Cup with brother Wyclef (Jean)!”

In an interview with The Associated Press, Santana, 66, had advice for Jay Z, and talked about his tour with Rod Stewart.

AP: How does it feel to release another album?

Santana: I feel really, really honored to gain people’s trust. People opened their hearts and their wallets. … It allows me to do more things with my brother Harry Belafonte and (activist) Dolores Huerta. … And so we want to have a concert and bring Jamie Foxx and different kinds of artists, musicians of all colors and utilize this attention and this energy. … Obviously (with) what happened with Donald Sterling and what’s happening with people throwing bananas at soccer stadiums, you know, we have a lot to heal.

AP: Who else do you want to invite to the concert?

Santana: I’d like to bring (NBA Hall of Famer) Dr. J (Julius Erving) and (former NBA player and mayor of Sacramento) Kevin Johnson to San Quentin and talk to the brothers, black and brown, broadcast it in all the prisons and call the event ‘You Cannot Break My Spirit.’

AP: How did your tour with Rod Stewart come about?

Santana: I can say it the way Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock would say it, ‘Both of us love to play spiritual music to touch all hearts.’ That’s one thing. The rascal in me … says, ‘We both love black music. We like to play black music for white people.’

AP: There are a number of collaborative tours this summer, from Kiss and Def Leppard to Beyonce and Jay Z. Who would you like to see hit the road together?

Santana: I’d like to see Metallica and Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock to broaden the wings. Metallica did a thing with a symphony, so they’re capable, of course, of playing without volume or with volume. I just like to expand popularity with genius. … I invite brothers like Jay Z who have the money to start bringing the African brothers back to the United States. Since 9/11, if your name is Idrissa Diop or if you have a Muslim name, they won’t let you in. But they let the Irish people in and they let the Canadian people in and people from Australia. Man, how come you don’t let the African people come in? … If I had the money and the means that Jay Z has, I would bring African musicians. … I’m going to invite them. We’re going to create something like this in Las Vegas where we can co-headline, because these brothers need to be taken to schools in America so the brothers (here) can learn how to play the drums again. That’s the thing I have in common with Africa — I understand the drum … it’s in my DNA.

Immigration advocates focus ire on Majority Leader Cantor

Immigration advocates angry that legislation to reform the system has stalled in Congress are increasingly focusing their ire at one person: Eric Cantor, the House majority leader.

More so than House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, Cantor is seen as responsible for the House’s election-year failure to act on immigration 11 months after the Senate passed a wide-ranging bill with billions for border security and a path to citizenship for the 11.5 million immigrants in the country illegally. The issue is a top priority for President Barack Obama.

“Eric Cantor is the No. 1 guy standing between the American people and immigration reform,” Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, a pro-immigrant group, said on a conference call Wednesday organized by Democratic activists and immigrant advocates to criticize Cantor.

The Virginia Republican, widely seen as having ambitions of being speaker one day, faces a tea party primary challenge June 10 and has hardened his stance on immigration.

Cantor and the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, fellow Virginian Bob Goodlatte, announced last summer that they were developing legislation offering citizenship to immigrants brought illegally to this country as kids. The bill never appeared.

And according to Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., Cantor committed last year to helping him bring legislation to a vote granting citizenship to immigrants brought here illegally as kids who serve in the military. No agreement was reached, and Cantor’s office announced Friday that Denham’s measure would not even be allowed to come to the floor this year as part of the annual defense bill, which the House is considering this week.

Denham said the announcement took him by surprise after talking with Cantor earlier in the day, and he had no explanation.

Cantor’s spokesman, Doug Heye, said that Cantor continues to support Denham’s bill, the ENLIST Act, as well as legislation allowing citizenship to kids brought illegally, and conversations are ongoing. Heye said Cantor never committed to bringing the ENLIST Act to a vote, just to working on it.

Political considerations play no role, Heye said.

“On the issue of kids, he thinks that’s a great place to start and wants to continue to work on that. He supports the principle behind the ENLIST Act,” Heye said. “These are things that he believes because they’re the right things for him to do. It’s not a political calculation. Eric Cantor’s position on immigration remains consistent.”

But Cantor is facing pressure on immigration from his primary opponent, Dave Brat, an economics professor at Randolph-Macon College. Brat is a long-shot to unseat Cantor, who cruised to a seventh term with 58 percent of the vote in 2012. But his candidacy has attracted attention from prominent Republicans such as columnist Ann Coulter, who described Cantor as “amnesty-addled.”

Earlier this month at a convention in Cantor’s district, Virginia conservatives booed the majority leader and ousted one of his allies as chairman of a local Republican committee, elevating a tea party favorite instead.

Brat has seized on the dispute around Denham’s bill, accusing Cantor in an opinion piece published in a local online community forum of supporting the legislation “until he saw my primary challenge and principled conservatives’ stand on amnesty.”

Even before his primary drew near, Cantor was seen as the member of House Republican leadership most opposed to acting on immigration legislation.

Boehner is viewed as an ally by immigration advocates, based partly on his ties to the business community, which supports overhauling immigration laws. Boehner also has said repeatedly in public and in private that he wants to deal with the immigration issue.

Cantor, on the other hand, is seen as reluctant. According to Heye, Cantor hasn’t weighed in on the question of whether Republicans must support immigration reform in order to ensure the GOP’s viability as a political party – a position that’s become an article of faith with establishment Republicans such as Boehner.

And Cantor has ties to tea party lawmakers whose support might be helpful if he does one day seek the speakership. These conservatives largely oppose immigration legislation.

Boehner earlier this month refused to commit to serving another full term as speaker, but Heye denied Cantor was eyeing the speakership in making decisions. “He’s running for re-election as majority leader and we’ve not said anything more than that,” said Heye.