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Slog For a Green Card Print E-mail
San Diego Reader

20131231(San Diego Reader December 31, 2013) My 50th Reader Cover

I’m listening to attorney Eleanor Adams who’s been practicing immigration law locally for 25 years. By phone, she’s outlining, breathlessly, our labyrinthine federal system of percentage quotas, monthly resets, and Congressional reform proposals for the two big categories of immigrants—family-sponsored (relatives) and employment-based (workers). Immigrants are foreign-born people the majority of whom are here to work. As of 2009, they comprise 12.5 percent of the population—38 million. A little less than half of those are naturalized; the rest reside here legally or illegally.

I dare not interrupt Adams: such a seminar is like a first-semester course at Thomas Jefferson School of Law.

Seventeen minutes into her monologue, I’m muzzy-brained, listening to her legalese: status, exemptions, chargeability tumble together like Cirque Soleil. Finally I find a space to enter: maybe, I say, we can take a step back and define legal and illegal. It’s the first moment of silence between us, which may be just that or a simmer, on her part, for my barging in.

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College? No Thanks. Print E-mail
San Diego Reader

20130814(San Diego Reader August 14, 2013)

Student Loan Basics

At TED talks, the most viewed video—now surpassing 14 million hits—is "Do Schools Kill Creativity?" by England's Sir Ken Robinson. Not long into the 18-minute lecture, Robinson answers his query: yes, schools do kill creativity. "I believe this passionately: that we don't grow into creativity, we grow out of it. Or rather, we get educated out if it." And, says the consultant, who helps European and American educators reform their entrenched systems (in 2003 he was knighted for "his service to the arts"), such a tendency "is profoundly mistaken" these days with "the whole world engulfed in a [digital] revolution." His advocacy has sparked debate over the purpose and applicability of education, ever the same bored kids and boring teachers.

You would think America's schools would cave under all the criticism they receive. What's distressful is that the critique is withering from both ends. Take job and career prep. Robinson tells his audience, "You were probably steered benignly away from things at school when you were a kid—things you liked—on the grounds that you would never get a job doing that: 'Don't do music, you're not going to be a musician.'" At least, not a money-making one. The reality is, however, there's hardly any way into the arts that doesn't involve waiting tables. What's more, not everyone is artistic. Kids need training, especially the talent-less. Where else will they get it but in school?

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What Am I? A History of San Diego in 20 Objects Print E-mail
San Diego Reader

20130130(San Diego Reader January 30, 2013)

1. Wyatt Earp Promissory Note

Most San Diegans who recognize the name know that the onetime deputy sheriff of Tombstone, Arizona, was also a notorious carpetbagger. Earp and his pal, Doc Holliday, killed — some say murdered — three cowboys during the gunfight at the O.K. Corral. Eventually, Earp, with various clans gunning for him, left Arizona and followed Horace Greeley’s advice: “Go West, young man.” His love of gambling brought him to San Diego in 1885. With the hand-rubbing promise of the railroad (which never came), he wagered his and others’ money during the real-estate boom. He controlled four saloons and gambling halls, two near Sixth and E Street, and one, the Oyster Bar, in the Louis Bank building on Fifth Avenue. (The district, once the Stingaree, is today’s beer-and-burger haven, the Gaslamp.) On a very good night, Earp raked in as much as $1000. Flush, he spent it on prizefighters and racehorses, games in which, citing Raymond Starr’s phrase, the greedy Earp “sought to divest other speculators of their profits.” But the law caught up with him. This note, in the research library of the San Diego History Museum, is for $1000, payable to W. P. Walters, and it is signed by Earp and John Morales, an accomplice, no doubt; it is dated 1894. By then, the lawman was an outlaw, having ventured as far as Alaska, though Walters’s suit forced him to return and pay up. Progress, indeed, since it was a court, not a corral, settlement.

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Year-Round Santa Print E-mail
San Diego Reader

20120627(San Diego Reader June 27, 2012)

Benito Cristobal is surveying the house he lost last year to a foreclosure defrauder, and he is emotional as he recalls the $30,000 worth of improvements he made to the home. The 51-year-old Mexican-American maintenance man, his son Efrem, a high school senior, silent by his side, steps slowly around what he once possessed, his gestures grand, his voice regretful. He says he got rid of the garden and laid concrete walkways. He covered the ground under the three lemon trees with redwood chips. He bought a new water heater, new windows, gutters. He built a patio with a roof, though he had to remove the roof and saw off the struts once the city discovered the unpermitted structure. He built a low cement-block wall, with a black wrought-iron fence atop, to surround the four 30-foot palms. For seven golden years, this three-bedroom, two-bath, two-car-garage abode was his and his family’s — at least on paper.

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Tased and Subdued, Throttled and Killed Print E-mail
San Diego Reader

20120222(San Diego Reader February 22, 2012)

It was March 2009 when the British-born siblings Gillian Ison and John Graham Watson met at Zermatt, a resort in the shadow of Switzerland’s Matterhorn. There, with family members, they indulged a passion for skiing: Watson, an alpine expert, loved running the fall line, the steepest and fastest route down the slope. A traveler, an adventurer, the 64-year-old relished high-performance sports as much as he did his career with pharmaceutical and biotech firms. Balancing business and play had made his life storybook-successful. The self-made Watson had just retired, a multimillionaire.

The odd thing his sister Gillian Ison recalled about the trip to Zermatt was her brother’s “friend.” The man, a financial planner named Kent Thomas Keigwin, showed up with his daughter Parisa, surprising John. It was true the two had met in San Diego. And, according to Keigwin, Watson had invited him skiing. No, he hadn’t, Watson told his sister. Keigwin had invited himself. “He was,” she remembered, “nothing like he made himself out to be.”

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Debt. Arson. Murder. Print E-mail
San Diego Reader

20111005(San Diego Reader October 5, 2011)

John Nesheiwat was parked in his car, a rosary on the seat beside him, about a mile from the North Woodson Drive rental home owned by James Kurtenbach, a 4000-square-foot luxury house in one of the few but posh golf-course communities next to Ramona. Minutes before, John had dropped off his younger brother Joe — an amiable 24-year-old, with short-cropped hair and an Arabic tattoo on his arm, who was about to do a big favor for Kurtenbach.

Forty-seven-year-old Kurtenbach was Joe’s employer at Stars Petroleum, a flagship gas station in town. Jim Kurtenbach and Joe thought of each other as father and son: Jim had given Joe a job at Stars eight years previously, lots of responsibility, and eventually the night manager’s post. He also supported Joe and John’s mother, Terry Sellers, and the rest of family, four brothers and a sister, with gifts and loans. You might say Joe owed him.

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Is He a Citizen? Print E-mail
San Diego Reader

is_he_a_citizen(San Diego Reader September 21, 2011)

On Sixth Avenue, across the street from the block-long Family Court building, stands a row of converted single-family Victorian homes, their yards parking lots, their windows barred. Today those residencies are family-mediation agencies and immigration law offices. In the lawyers’ waiting rooms, one finds a new class of clients: illegal immigrants, most from Mexico, who’ve been in San Diego for years and whose chances of gaining citizenship are getting as slim as winning the lottery. They’re seeking attorneys’ aid, frightened by the anti-immigration movement in American politics, and especially the d word: deportation.

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