Legal immigrants who are immediate relatives of American citizens will have an easier path to permanent residency under a new Obama administration rule that could affect as many as 1 million of the estimated 11 million people unlawfully in the United States. The rule issued Wednesday by the Department of Homeland Security aims to reduce the time illegal immigrants are separated from their U.S. families while seeking legal status, officials said. Beginning March 4, illegal immigrants who can demonstrate that time apart from an American spouse, child or parent would create “extreme hardship” can apply for a visa without leaving the United States. Once approved, applicants would be required to leave briefly in order to return to their native country and pick up their visa. The change, first proposed in April, is the latest move by the administration to use executive powers to revise immigration procedures without Congress passing a law. In August, the Obama administration began a program to halt the deportation of young people brought to the U.S. unlawfully as children.
A federal judge has ruled that President Barack Obama’s administration doesn’t have to publicly disclose its legal justification for the drone attacks and other methods it has used to kill terrorism suspects overseas. Two New York Times reporters and the American Civil Liberties Union filed a 2011 request under the Freedom of Information Act that sought any documents in which Department of Justice lawyers had discussed the highly classified “targeted-killing” program. The requests followed a drone strike in Yemen that killed an al Qaeda leader, Anwar Al-Awlaki, who had been born in the U.S. That attack prompted complaints from some law scholars and human rights activists that, away from the battlefield, it was illegal for the U.S. to kill American citizens without a trial. Those demands for documents were turned down, on the grounds that releasing any details about the program, or even acknowledging that documents on the subject existed, could harm national security. In a decision signed Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon chided the Obama administration for refusing to provide the documents but said she had no authority to order them disclosed.
The FBI performed nearly 2.8 million background checks on people wanting to buy guns in December, a record month that capped a record year. The numbers from the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System on Wednesday did not show how many firearms buyers actually took home from federally licensed gun stores. Some purchasers may have bought more than one weapon. Data is made publicly available, but the FBI but does not generally try to explain increases in the number of checks. However, recent figures have shown more checks are performed after gun-related tragedies such as the December 14 school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, that killed 20 children and 6 adults. Data also showed the FBI generally is asked to run more checks in November and December, the holiday shopping months. The FBI performed more than 2.78 million checks in the final month of the year. That followed a record November. For 2012, the agency ran more than 19.5 million background checks, another record that represented a year-over-year increase of more than three million.
Microsoft is making a last-ditch effort to convince government regulators that they need to crack down on Google to preserve competition on the Internet and in smartphone markets. The latest refrain came Wednesday in a blog post by Dave Heiner, Microsoft’s deputy general counsel. His attack amounted to a last-ditch appeal to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission and the European Commission as they wrap up wide-ranging investigations into Google’s business practices. Resolutions to those probes are expected early this year, perhaps within the next week at the FTC. Microsoft fears Google, perhaps its biggest nemesis, will emerge from the antitrust probes without being required to make significant changes. For the past two years, Microsoft has been among the companies marshaling a campaign aimed at persuading regulators to force Google to changes its ways. Among other things, regulators have been looking into allegations that Google has been highlighting its own services in its influential search results while burying links to competing sites.
Iowa officials plan to proceed with a controversial driver’s license identification program that’s been rejected by 25 states and has been the subject of concerns about individual privacy and difficulties with compliance. USA Today reports the REAL ID program, adopted by Congress in part to prevent foreign terrorists from boarding commercial airliners, will begin in Iowa on Jan. 15. New applicants for an Iowa driver’s license or a state identification card are already being asked to submit documentation required for a REAL ID and will automatically be issued a REAL ID. To renew a driver’s license or state ID card, applicants must submit additional documentation as necessary to obtain a REAL ID or continue to use a standard-issued license or ID card. The REAL ID licenses and state ID cards will look nearly identical to ones issued now. The only difference will be a star verification mark appearing in the upper-right corner of the card. The star indicates to federal officials that the person’s identity has been verified according to the latest federal standards for physical security, verification of identity and legal presence in the United States. In the future, a REAL ID license or state ID card might be needed to board a plane, enter a federal government building or enter a nuclear power plant, state officials said.