Immigration reform could mean higher fees and fines for citizenship applicants

EDINBURG, Texas (AP) -- Hilda Vasquez squirreled away the money for her U.S. citizenship application by selling batches of homemade tamales at South Texas offices. Carmen Zalazar picked up extra babysitting jobs at night after caring for kids all day in Houston.

The women scrimped and saved for months to pay for the $680 application, but for other applicants in the future, it might not be enough.

As President Barack Obama renews his quest for immigration reform, some proposals would impose fines of $2,000 on top of application fees, making the financial hurdles much taller for people who are here illegally.

The struggle is familiar to millions of immigrants. A 2012 survey by the Pew Hispanic Center showed that only 46 percent of Hispanic immigrants eligible to become citizens had done so. The top two reasons were lack of English skills and lack of money to pay for the application.

Ryan: Distrust of Obama so deep that immigration legislation unlikely to pass this year

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Days after House Republicans unveiled a roadmap for an overhaul of the nation’s broken immigration system, one of its backers said legislation is unlikely to pass during this election year.

Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said distrust of President Barack Obama runs so deep in the Republican caucus that he’s skeptical the GOP-led House would pass any immigration measure. He said a plan that puts security first could only pass if lawmakers believe the administration would enforce it -- an unlikely prospect given Republicans’ deep opposition to Obama.

"This isn’t a trust-but-verify, this is a verify-then-trust approach," Ryan said.

Last week, House Republicans announced their broad concerns for any immigration overhaul but emphasized they would tackle the challenge bill-by-bill. Immigration legislation is a dicey political question for the GOP. The party’s conservative base opposes any measure that would create a pathway to citizenship for immigrants living here illegally, but many in the party worry that failing to act could drive many voters to Democratic candidates. In 2012, Obama won re-election with the backing of 71 percent of Hispanic voters and 73 percent of Asian voters. The issue is important to both blocs.

Republicans have preemptively been trying to blame the White House for immigration legislation’s failure, even before a House bill comes together. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said "there’s a lot of distrust of this administration in implanting the law." And Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., last week warned that distrust of Obama would trump the desire to find a solution for the estimated 11 million people living in the United States illegally.

Despite increases in security measures, school shootings continue in schools

WASHINGTON (AP) -- There’s been no real reduction in the number of U.S. school shootings despite increased security put in place after the rampage at Connecticut’s Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012.

In Pennsylvania and New Mexico, Colorado and Tennessee, and elsewhere, gunfire has echoed through school hallways, and killed students or their teachers in some cases. "Lockdown" is now part of the school vocabulary.

An Associated Press analysis finds that there have been at least 11 school shootings this academic year alone, in addition to other cases of gun violence, in school parking lots and elsewhere on campus, when classes were not in session.

Last August, for example, a gun discharged in a 5-year-old’s backpack while students were waiting for the opening bell in the cafeteria at Westside Elementary School in Memphis. No one was hurt.

Experts say the rate of school shootings is statistically unchanged since the mid- to late-1990s, yet still remains troubling.

Top Republicans say they support Christie, criticize ex-ally at center of bridge scandal

High-profile Republicans were adamant Sunday that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie should not resign from his post as chairman of the Republican Governors Association after a recent claim from a former ally that there is evidence Christie knew about an apparently politically motivated traffic jam earlier than he has said.

The support from former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Wisconsin U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan put Republicans on the offensive and the Democratic chairman of a state legislative committee investigating the September lane closures near the George Washington Bridge on the defensive the day Christie’s state hosts the Super Bowl.

Christie, a potential 2016 presidential contender, has been going about Super Bowl ceremonial duties and has not taken questions about the scandal in recent days. He didn’t respond Saturday when some spectators booed him at an appearance in New York City’s Times Square. He’s scheduled to watch Sunday’s game with his family from a luxury box at MetLife Stadium.

Giuliani, appearing on CBS’ "Face the Nation" took aim at the credibility of two figures central to the scandal: John Wisniewski, who’s leading the investigative probe, and David Wildstein, the former Christie loyalist who as an executive at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey last year ordered the lane closures, as someone with less than pure motives.

He said Wildstein "wants somebody else to pay his legal bills and he can’t get them paid unless the governor is responsible."

Oscar-winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman found dead in NYC apartment

NEW YORK (AP) -- Philip Seymour Hoffman, who won the Oscar for best actor in 2006 for his portrayal of writer Truman Capote and created a gallery of other vivid characters, many of them slovenly and somewhat dissipated, was found dead Sunday in his apartment with what officials said was a needle in his arm. He was 46.

Two law enforcement officials, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk about the evidence, said the actor apparently died of a drug overdose. Glassine envelopes containing what was believed to be heroin were found with him, they said.

Hoffman -- no matinee idol, with his lumpy build and limp blond hair -- made his career mostly as a character actor, and was one of the most prolific in the business, plying his craft with a rumpled naturalism that also made him one of the most admired performers of his generation.

The stage-trained actor was nominated for Academy Awards four times in all: for "Capote," ‘’The Master," ‘’Doubt" and "Charlie Wilson’s War." He also received three Tony nominations for his work on Broadway, which included an acclaimed turn as the weary and defeated Willy Loman in "Death of a Salesman."

A decade later, body of Palestinian teen suicide bomber among remains handed back

BETHLEHEM, West Bank (AP) -- When 18-year-old Ayat al-Akhras blew herself up outside a busy Jerusalem supermarket in 2002, killing two Israelis, her grieving parents were unable to bury her and say their final goodbyes because Israel refused to send her remains home.

More than a decade later, after appeals from human rights groups, Israel is handing over some 30 bodies of Palestinian assailants, including that of al-Akhras, enabling her family to arrange a funeral.

Israel has returned the remains of Palestinian attackers from time to time during the decades of conflict, sometimes as part of prisoner swaps, but the current round involves the most recent suicide bombers and gunmen and has revived painful memories for families and friends of some of the victims.

In the West Bank town of Bethlehem, the teenage bomber’s parents, Mohammed and Khadra al-Akhras, expect an easing of their grief.

"The pain will end," said Mohammed al-Akhras, 67. "At any time during the day, during the night, we can go and visit her," he added.

Radicals with a taste for violence are wild card in Ukraine’s protests

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) -- Wearing masks, helmets and protective gear on the arms and legs, radical activists are the wild card of the Ukraine protests now starting their third month, declaring they’re ready to resume violence if the stalemate persists.

When the protests started in late November, attracting crowds sometimes above 100,000 and visits from Western officials, the gatherings’ general determined peacefulness was an integral part of their claim to legitimacy. But in mid-January, the image of placid but principled people changed sharply, to frightening scenes of protesters heaving stones and firebombs at police.

The violence was sparked by the radicals within the larger protest movement, angered by President Viktor Yanukovych’s implementation of harsh anti-protest laws and increasingly impatient with the protesters’ failure to achieve any of their demands. In a vivid demonstration of frustration, they sprayed opposition leader Vitali Klitschko, the towering former heavyweight boxing champion, with a fire extinguisher when he pleaded for clashes to stop.

An uneasy truce settled in days later after three protesters died, but with no government concessions apparently in the works, the radicals say they’re preparing to fight again.

"We are ready for a national mobilization and complete blockade of the government quarter. The time for chatter has passed," the leader of the radical group Pravy Sektor (Right Sector), Dmitry Jarosh, told The Associated Press. The group nominally cooperates with protest leaders, but often sharply differs with their views.