The New York Timesleads (at least online) with "a disturbing pattern" of problems in the federal government's system of immigration courts, particularly in cases regarding political asylum. The Washington Post goes with a news feature on the long-running effort to eradicate polio, a fight that has made some recent progress in the developing world. The Los Angeles Times leads with an analysis of California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's ongoing political woes. USA Today and the Wall Street Journal take Boxing Day off.
The immigration courts, which hear over 300,000 cases a year, have lately been coming in for "very sharp" criticism from federal judges, who are hearing an increasing number of asylum-related appeals, the NYT reports. Some of the nation's 215 immigration judges aren't up to snuff, the story strongly implies, and John Ashcroft-era moves to streamline the appellate process haven't helped matters. In one recent decision, a federal court in Philadelphia warned of "misconduct in immigration rulings that sent people back to countries where they had said they would face persecution."
In other immigration news, the LAT has an intriguingly nuanced feature from the depressed border towns of Arizona, where love is apparently in the air. According to the piece, it's an "open secret" that many border patrol agents carry on romances with female illegal immigrants. Predictably, some of the relationships have gotten messy, resulting in firings and deportations.
A recent public health campaign has succeeded in eliminating polio in several countries where it was once rife, including Egypt. Nationwide, India has recorded 52 cases of the disease this year, down from 75,000 a decade ago. "One former hotbed," Bombay, now seems to be entirely polio-free. But the disease has been tough to entirely wipe out, the WP story says, for reasons both epidemiological and political. Only one in 200 infections causes paralysis, which means that the virus "can be carried 'silently' into a polio-free population and spread before it is recognized." After several northern Nigerian states banned immunization programs in 2003, amid rumors that they were really part of a Western plot to sterilize Muslims, a new outbreak of the disease spread across formerly polio-free countries in Africa, and on into Saudi Arabia and Indonesia.
After losing on four referendums he pushed onto California's ballot this year, Schwarzenegger faces pressures from both the left and the right, the LAT says. Unions and Democrats in the state legislature are emboldened, while conservatives worry that the onetime GOP darling is cozying up to the enemy. No one's talking about amending Article 2 of the Constitution anymore.
The tsunami retrospectives continue. The WP marks the first anniversary of the natural disaster with a pair of dispatches, one from Sri Lanka and the other from the Indonesian province of Aceh. The LAT files its own piece on the lurching relief effort. None of the pieces say anything surprising; all are constructed with similar anecdotal leads and contain nearly interchangeable tales of death, disaster, and halting recovery. Here's the upshot: A lot of people still lack houses and everyone is afraid of the sea. Ironically, the mood is slightly more optimistic in harder-hit Aceh, where the tsunami helped pave the way for a peace agreement between the government and separatist rebels. Sri Lanka, on the other hand, is slipping back into civil war. If you're looking for narrative power, though, sign up for Times Select and read Barry Bearak's recent 18,000-word piece in the NYT's Sunday magazine.
In stateside disaster news, the NYT takes a look at the hurricane-recovery effort on the Gulf Coast and concludes that towns that have hired private companies to clean up debris are much further along than those that have chosen to rely on the bureaucracy-laden Army Corps of Engineers. The Army, for instance, requires "satellite-based measurements on the location of each house" before it will pick up a shovel.
Amid Christmastime talk of troop withdrawals, the WP has an interesting story on the efforts to stabilize the restive Iraqi city of Samarra. Twice, the United States military has tried to hand the city over to homegrown security forces, and both times violence has flared out of control. After a series of attacks on patrols over the summer, the military resorted to draconian tactics, such as having Army engineers build a giant earthen wall around the city to prevent insurgents from infiltrating. (No word on whether they took satellite-based measurements first.) The wall killed the local economy and Samarra's population dropped by a quarter, but "attacks have fallen sharply, and voter turnout was high for the Dec. 15 national elections." Now the Iraqis are getting a third chance to keep the peace.
But the LAT says the post-election era of good feeling is over. In a story headlined "Violence Flares Up Across Iraq," it details several attacks that killed at least 21 people, "ending a relatively placid stretch."
The WP reefers a profile of John Yoo, who is not exactly doing his part to uphold the image of Berkeley law professors. The author of the now-infamous memos justifying torture of alleged terrorists and eavesdropping on American citizens says that he's not concerned that one newspaper editorial board says his way of thinking "threatens the very idea of America." He tells the paper: "It would be inappropriate for a lawyer to say, 'The law means A, but I'm going to say B because to interpret it as A would violate American values.' " Perhaps he ought to check on that with the American Bar Association.