Calif. City Allows Probes

Into Immigration Status

LOS ANGELES -- A Southern California city became the first in the United States Wednesday to approve a plan allowing police to investigate the immigration status of criminal suspects.

After a bitter debate lasting to the early morning, city leaders in Costa Mesa, a suburban community of more than 100,000 people in Orange County, voted 3 to 2 to join a federal program that trains local police to identify and detain criminal illegal immigrants.

No other U.S. cities have committed to joining the initiative amid an increasingly heated nationwide debate over illegal immigration, although Florida and Alabama allow state police to check the status of arrestees in some cases.

Hispanic activists have argued that police officers have no right to investigate immigration status and said the plan would lead to racial profiling and civil rights violations.

But the fact that hundreds of thousands of people cross the Mexican border each year is fast becoming a major political and security issue.

* DENVER -- Brutally cold air spread across the Rockies and Midwest, closing schools, crippling cars and sending volunteers into the streets looking for homeless people to rescue. In West Yellowstone, Mont., the temperature dropped to 45 below zero, shattering the old record for Dec. 7 of 39 below, set in 1927.

* PHOENIX -- A convicted murderer who graduated from law school after getting out of prison was denied admission to the bar by the Arizona Supreme Court because of a lack of "good moral character." James Hamm, who served 17 years for his part in a drug-related robbery that left two men dead, had asked the court to let him practice law even though the state bar association had recommended against his application, citing the seriousness of the crime and his failure to own up to his past.

* CHICAGO -- Chicago, aiming to follow the lead of other major U.S. cities, passed an ordinance to ban smoking in most buildings and public spaces except bars, where smokers can puff away until mid-2008.

* NEW YORK -- The head of a group that helps distribute Holocaust reparations said thousands of Austrian Jewish victims of the Nazis may receive some money within weeks after a judge dismissed litigation blocking the payouts. Gideon Taylor, executive vice president of the Jewish Claims Conference, said initial payouts for up to 19,000 victims or their heirs could begin early next year.

* NORWALK, Ohio -- Michael and Sharen Gravelle, who are accused of keeping 11 adopted special-needs children in cages, spanked them with a board if they got out and forced at least one to live in a bathroom for urinating in his enclosure, Huron County sheriff's Lt. Randy Sommers said in a custody hearing.

-- From News Services