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How Many Parents Are Holding Their Foreign Nannies Hostage?

Parents in a Houston suburb were arrested Monday on suspicion of withholding a Nigerian nanny's pay for two years while she cared for their five children. The Christian Science Monitor calls the case "a snapshot of a nationwide problem that ensnares many live-in domestic workers whose isolation and immigration status make them vulnerable to abuse." The couple from Katy, Tx., are charged with forced labor, withholding documents, visa fraud, and conspiracy to harbor an illegal immigrant. The nanny says Chudy and Sandra Nsobundu physically and verbally abused her, seized her passport, and had not paid her for two years. She was initially promised $100 per month. The nanny escaped the home last October with help from an anti-trafficking group.

The Polaris Project, which runs the National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline and BeFree Textline, recorded nearly 6,000 calls last year, a 10 percent increase from 2014. The majority were for sex trafficking victims. Live-in domestic servants are vulnerable to abuse because their work takes place out of sight, which also makes it difficult to estimate how many are in the United States. The Fair Labor Standards Act does not apply to live-in staff, making it hard for them to insist on protections like minimum wage and time off. Many are immigrants whose work visas cover them only while they work for one specific employer, making them nervous that losing their job or reporting abuse will lead to deportation, advocates say. In many instances, employers seize workers' passports, making it yet more challenging to leave. 

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Ex-Federal Judge Asks Obama To Free Inmate In Marijuana Case

A former Utah federal judge in Utah has asked President Obama to “swiftly” give clemency to Weldon Angelos, a man he sentenced to 55 years in prison in connection with selling marijuana, the Washington Post reports. Calling the sentence “one of the most troubling that I ever faced in my five years on the federal bench,” Paul Cassell, a professor at the University of Utah’s law school, said the mandatory minimum sentence he was required to impose on Angelos was one of the chief reasons he chose to step down as a judge.

“I write you as the judge who sentenced Weldon Angelos to a 55-year mandatory minimum prison term for non-violent drug offenses,” Cassell wrote to Obama. “It appears to me that Mr. Angelos meets all of the criteria for a commuted sentence.” Cassell was appointed to the bench in 2002 by former President George W. Bush. The president has commuted the sentences of 184 inmates, more than the past five presidents combined. Sentencing reform advocates say that potentially thousands of inmates who meet the Obama administration’s criteria for clemency, including Angelos, are still behind bars. When asked about Angelos, White House spokeswoman Brandi Hoffine said the administration does not comment on pending cases.

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Minnesota Begins To Release Sex Offenders, Under Court Pressure

A twice-convicted rapist with a history of assaults against women is about to be released from Minnesota's secure sex offender treatment program to a halfway house in St. Paul. Oliver Dority, 50, who sexually assaulted a woman in 1994 after hiding in the back seat of her car at a gas station, is the latest in a growing number of violent offenders who have been approved by judges for conditional release since the Minnesota Sex Offender Program (MSOP) came under intense federal court pressure for failing to move people toward release, reports the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

In just over a year, six offenders have been conditionally discharged, an unprecedented pace for a program with a history of confining rapists and other violent offenders indefinitely, sometimes for decades. The releases reflect a loosening of Minnesota’s notoriously rigid and labyrinthine process for determining which clients are appropriate for release, with state officials and judges showing more willingness to discharge people with violent histories and some risk factors for reoffending. The releases are arousing far less political controversy than in years past, reflecting a possible easing of attitudes toward offenders, say experts. The MSOP holds about 720 rapists, child molesters and other offenders, who have already completed their prison terms, at two secure treatment centers.

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"Criminal Aliens" At The Center Of Red-Hot Political Debate

The crimes committed by men who were thrown out of the U.S. multiple times by federal immigration authorities but returned illegally and committed new offenses put them at the center of a red-hot political debate about illegal immigration and controversial immigrant catch-and-release policies that pit deportation-fixated conservatives against liberal immigrant advocates, the Texas Tribune reports. How to deal with, or talk about, foreigners who commit crimes in the U.S. (the government’s term for them is the politically incorrect “criminal aliens”) has laid bare a bitter divide in the electorate and has prompted heated calls for vastly different solutions. Undocumented immigrants make up a smaller share of those imprisoned in Texas than of the general population. However, a veil of government secrecy and inconsistent record-keeping make it difficult to determine accurately how many criminal immigrants are in the U.S. or how many crimes they have committed.

Fear, outrage and political jockeying have largely filled the information void.  “This is an issue that tears this country apart, and we’re refusing to work on it because we're so busy pointing fingers at each other,”said Sarah Saldaña, director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Donald Trump wants to build a gigantic border wall to keep criminal immigrants out. Liberal activists in San Antonio, Austin and Dallas are pressuring local law enforcement to build a different kind of wall — procedural barricades to block local officials from cooperating and coordinating with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to remove people. Their concern: In the rush to deport unwanted criminals from the ranks of the undocumented, a lot of otherwise hard-working and law-abiding foreign nationals are caught up in the dragnet.

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Texas Towns Avoid Challenge, Ease Restrictions On Sex Offender Housing

A legal challenge has led more than 20 Texas towns to ease restrictions on where sex offenders can live, the Associated Press reports. While other states such as Oklahoma continue to push offenders away from some neighborhoods, about 45 Texas towns received letters in November from the group Texas Voices for Reason and Justice demanding they repeal residency restrictions. The nonprofit, which is critical of sex offender laws it considers ineffective, also has sued 14 towns and has a powerful ally, the state attorney general's office. "We advocate an individual assessment on a case-by-case basis to determine if someone is a threat to the community," said Richard Gladden, an attorney for the group. "The myth that people who commit sex offenses just generally are unable to control their sexual conduct is just that, a myth."

At issue is how Texas' small towns are differentiated from larger ones. Communities with fewer than 5,000 people are "general law" towns, which can't adopt an ordinance that the legislature hasn't permitted. Dozens of these smaller communities have restricted where sex offenders can live — usually with the purpose of keeping them away from schools and other places children gather — but only later learned they've run afoul of state rules. Other states have been looking to increase restrictions on housing for sex offenders. Last year, Montana made it a felony for high-risk offenders to live or work in some areas, and Oklahoma added playgrounds and parks maintained by a homeowners association to the list of places prohibiting offenders, says the National Conference of State Legislatures.

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GA Law Criticized That Lets Police Make Statements To Grand Juries

After a naked, mentally ill black veteran was shot dead by a white police officer last March near Atlanta, the officer was allowed a privilege ordinary citizens don't get: He sat in on the grand jury session considering the shooting and addressed the grand jurors without facing cross-examination, the Associated Press reports. Grand jury proceedings are traditionally secret, with the person accused of wrongdoing often unaware the grand jury is hearing the case. Georgia law requires that a law enforcement officer be allowed to sit in on the entire proceeding and make a statement at the end that prosecutors can't question.

Robert Olsen was a DeKalb County police officer when he killed Anthony Hill on March 9 while responding to a call about a naked man behaving erratically outside an apartment complex. When his case went before a grand jury last month, Olsen spoke to the panel for 20 minutes. Even though District Attorney Robert James won an indictment against Olsen, he thinks the law on police and grand juries has to change. "It's profoundly unfair," he said. Georgia is the only state that allows an officer's unchallenged statement at the end of a grand jury session, said Chuck Spahos of the Prosecuting Attorneys' Council of Georgia. In some other states, a prosecutor can call the officer as a witness, but the officer is subject to questions and can't listen to other testimony. The law has drawn criticism as police use-of-force cases face increasing scrutiny nationwide. 

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TCR at a Glance

What 'Ferguson Effect'?

new & notable February 5, 2016

Despite speculation that police anger over anti-cop protests following the 2014 killing of an unarmed young black man by a white police o...