Parents deported, what happens to US-born kids?

Parents deported, what happens to US-born kids? — Alexis Molina was just 10 years old when his mother was abruptly cut out of his life and his carefree childhood unraveled overnight.

Gone were the egg-and-sausage tortillas that greeted him when he came home from school, the walks in the park, the hugs at night when she tucked him into bed. Today the sweet-faced boy of 11 spends his time worrying about why his father cries so much, and why his mom can't come home.

"She went for her papers," he says. "And she never came back."
Janna Hakim, 18, shows a poster featuring a picture of her mother Faten on Thursday, Aug. 16, 2012 in New York. On Aug. 13, 2010, Faten was taken away from home by ICE officials and deported to Ramallah, Palestine. Janna has since engaged in public efforts to reunite the family. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

Alexis' father, Rony Molina, who runs a small landscaping company, was born in Guatemala but has lived here for 12 years and is an American citizen. Alexis and his 8-year-old brother, Steve, are Americans, too. So is their 19-year-old stepsister, Evelin. But their mother, Sandra, who lived here illegally, was deported to Guatemala a year and a half ago.

"How can my country not allow a mother to be with her children, especially when they are so young and they need her," Rony Molina asks, "and especially when they are Americans?"

It's a question thousands of other families are wrestling with as a record number of deportations means record numbers of American children being left without a parent. And it comes despite President Barack Obama's promise that his administration would focus on removing only criminals, not breaking up families even if a parent is here illegally.

Nearly 45,000 such parents were removed in the first six months of this year, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Behind the statistics are the stories: a crying baby taken from her mother's arms and handed to social workers as the mother is handcuffed and taken away, her parental rights terminated by a U.S. judge; teenage children watching as parents are dragged from the family home; immigrant parents disappearing into a maze-like detention system where they are routinely locked up hundreds of miles from their homes, separated from their families for months and denied contact with the welfare agencies deciding their children's' fate.

At least 5,100 U.S. citizen children in 22 states live in foster care, according to an estimate by the Applied Research Center, a New York-based advocacy organization, which first reported on such cases last year.

And an unknown number of those children are being put up for adoption against the wishes of their parents, who, once deported, are often helpless to fight when a U.S. judge decides that their children are better off here.

Immigration lawyers say that — despite the ICE policy changes — they see families destroyed every day.

"I had no idea what was happening," says Janna Hakim of the morning in 2010 when a loud knocking at her Brooklyn apartment door jolted her awake. It was the first Friday of Ramadan, and her Palestinian mother, Faten, was in the kitchen baking the pastries she sold to local stores.

Janna, then 16, and her siblings were all born here. None knew that their mother was in the U.S. illegally — or that a deportation order from years earlier meant she could be whisked away by ICE agents and her family's comfortable New York life could come crashing to a halt.

"It was horrible, horrible," Janna says, describing the shock of seeing her mother in an ill-fitting prison uniform behind a grimy glass panel in a detention center in Elizabeth, N.J. She was deported after three months. Her family fell apart.

Janna's 13-year-old brother began wetting his bed, she said, and her 15-year-old brother began hanging out with gangs and experimenting with drugs. Her father, who has a prosthetic leg and relied on his wife for help, grew despondent. And her mother, back in Ramallah living with her own mother after more than 20 years away, grew desperate, unable to sleep or function or think about anything except her family.

"I am not a criminal. I am the mother of American children and they need me, especially the younger ones," she cried over the phone. "How can a country break up families like this?"

Critics say the parents are to blame for entering the country illegally in the first place, knowing they were putting their families at risk.

"Yes, these are sad stories," says Bob Dane, spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which advocates tougher enforcement against illegal immigration. "But these parents have taken a reckless gamble with their children's future by sneaking into the country illegally, knowing they could be deported."

"Not to deport them," he continued, "gives them the ultimate bonus package, and creates an incentive for others to do the same thing."

Others, including Obama, say splitting up families is wrong.

"When nursing mothers are torn from their babies, when children come home from school to find their parents missing ... when all this is happening, the system just isn't working and we need to change it," Obama declared during his first run for president in 2008. A year ago, he told a Texas audience that deportation should target "violent offenders and people convicted of crimes; not families, not folks who are just looking to scrape together an income."

And, last year ICE announced a new policy of "prosecutorial discretion" that directs agents to consider how long someone has been in the country, their ties to communities and whether that person's spouse or children are U.S. citizens.

"That gave us a lot of hope," said David Leopold, general counsel for The American Immigration Lawyers Association. "Now we are all scratching our heads wondering where is the discretion when many of our lawyers continue to see people being deported with no criminal record, including parents of American children."

In the Molina case in Connecticut, after Rony Molina became a U.S. citizen in 2009, an immigration attorney urged Sandra to go to Guatemala, where her husband could then sponsor her to return legally.

It was bad advice. Though she has no criminal record her petition was denied. Desperate, she tried to re-enter with the aid of a "coyote" who demanded $5,000, but she was stopped at the border, detained in Arizona for two weeks, then deported in March 2011.

Immigrants who are deported and try to re-enter the country are considered felons and a top priority for immediate removal.

Back in Guatemala, she faced what many deportees experience — loneliness, suspicion and fear in a country that no longer felt familiar. She says her brother was held for ransom by kidnappers who presumed her American husband must be wealthy enough to pay. Eventually she fled to Mexico, where she says she feels so hopeless about her life that she has thought about ending it.

"I just want to be forgiven," she said, sobbing on the phone. "I feel I am about to go crazy, I miss my children so much. They are all I have. I cannot go on without them."

Back home in Stamford, her children are suffering too. The youngest cried constantly, the eldest became angry and withdrawn. Though their plight is documented in thick files that include testimony from psychologists and counselors about their need for their mother, appeals for humanitarian relief were denied.

"Quiet, slow-motion tragedies unfold every day ... as parents caught up in immigration enforcement are separated from their young children and disappear," Nina Rabin, an associate clinical professor of law at the University of Arizona, wrote last year in "Disappearing Parents: A Report on Immigration Enforcement and the Child Welfare System."

Rabin, an immigration lawyer, says one of the most unsettling experiences of her life was witnessing the "cruel and nightmarish destruction" of one Mexican family whom she represented in a fruitless attempt to keep a mother and her children together.

The mother, Amelia Reyes-Jimenez, carried her blind and paralyzed baby boy, Cesar, across the Mexican border in 1995 seeking better medical care, Rabin said. She settled in Phoenix — illegally — and had three more children, all American citizens. In 2008 she was arrested after her disabled teen son was found home alone.

"When they took my girls, I felt as if my heart fell out," she said during an immigration court hearing. She described how her 3-month-old daughter, Erica, was snatched from her arms as the other children, ages 7, 9 and 14, screamed, "Mommy, Mommy."

Locked in detention, clueless as to her rights or what was happening to her children, she pleaded guilty to child endangerment charges, and then spent two years fighting to stay with her children.

Twice her attorneys tried to convince an immigration judge that she qualified for a visa "on account of the harm that would be done to her three U.S. citizen children if she were to be deported," Rabin said. She lost and was deported back to Mexico in 2010.

Last year, her parental rights were terminated by an Arizona court after a judge ruled that she had failed to make progress towards reunification with her children — something Rabin said was impossible to do, locked away for months without access to legal counsel or notifications from the child welfare agency.

The children are in foster homes and will likely be placed for adoption. Reyes-Jimenez works for a factory making cell phones, crying constantly over the loss of her family.

Her case is before the Arizona State Court of Appeals, but Rabin says regardless of the outcome the family has been destroyed.

"Amelia's case is not a fluke," Rabin says. "Tragically, we hear of cases like this every day."

A key reason, she says, is the extreme disconnect between federal immigration and state child welfare policies that leads to "Kafkaesqe results" when parents and children are swallowed up by the system.

Many advocacy agencies now encourage immigrants to have a detailed plan in place in case they are deported, including granting power of attorney in advance to someone who can take custody of their children.

ICE, meanwhile, maintains it tries to work with such groups to ensure "family unity."

"ICE takes great care to evaluate cases that warrant humanitarian release," said spokeswoman Dani Bennett. "For parents who are ordered removed, it is their decision whether or not to relocate their children with them."

But immigration lawyers say that is not so easy. A recurring complaint is that clients "disappear," often sent to detention centers far from where they lived. They are routinely denied access to family court hearings, phones and attorneys. Many immigrant parents do not fully understand their rights, or that custody of their children might be slipping away.

Federal law requires states to pursue "termination of parental rights" if the parent has been absent for 15 out of 22 consecutive months, and some states allow proceedings to begin even sooner. In some cases, foreign consulates have intervened directly in a deportee's fight to retain parental rights.

In 2007, Encarnacion Bail Romero lost custody of her 6-month-old son, Carlos, after she was arrested during an ICE raid on a chicken plant in Missouri. While she was imprisoned, her baby was first cared for by relatives and later adopted, against her wishes, by a Missouri couple after a judge said the child was better off with them.

"Smuggling herself into a country illegally and committing crimes in this country is not a lifestyle that can provide any stability for a child," wrote circuit court Judge David Dally.

Last year the Missouri Supreme Court called the decision "a travesty of justice," saying "investigation and reporting requirements" weren't met before the mother's rights were terminated, and it sent the case back for retrial.

Although Bail Romero was ordered deported, the Guatemalan government arranged for her to get temporary legal status so that she could stay in the U.S. to fight in court for Carlos — now 5 and renamed Jamison by his adoptive parents. She hoped to bring the boy back to Guatemala to raise him with her two other children.

"I am the mother of Carlitos," she said, begging the court to return her child.

Her pleas were ignored. In July, a Greene County judge terminated her parental rights, saying she had effectively abandoned her son.

In the little mountain town of Sparta, N.C., the family of Felipe Montes is facing a similar fight. When immigration agents deported the 32-year-old laborer to Mexico two years ago, his three young sons — American citizens — were left in the care of their mentally ill, American-born mother. Within two weeks, social workers placed the boys in foster care.

Montes and his wife want the children to live with him in Mexico, saying they are better off with their father than with strangers in the U.S. He works at a walnut farm and shares a house with his uncle, aunt and three nieces.

But child welfare officials have asked a judge to strip Montes of his parental rights, arguing the children will have a better life here. Such a ruling could clear the way for their adoption.

"I don't drink, I don't smoke, I don't use drugs," Montes said earlier this year. "I have always taken care of my children, I have always loved them."

But parental love is only part of the equation. Even when children join their deported parents in order to keep the family together, it can be a struggle to adjust. In many cases they don't speak the language and fall behind at school. Often standards of living are much poorer than what they were accustomed to.

"They don't have the same access to health care or education," says Aryah Somers, a Washington-based immigration lawyer who is in Guatemala on a Fulbright scholarship studying the effects of U.S. immigration policies on children. "Their parents can't even afford to buy the food that they are accustomed to, so we see a lot of children who are U.S. citizens suffering from malnutrition and living in conditions that would not be acceptable back home."

Sixteen of these American children live in the small Guatemalan mountain town of San Jose Calderas, growing up in extreme poverty, with little schooling and scant medical care. Their parents were among the nearly 400 immigrants rounded up in an ICE raid on a meatpacking plant in Iowa in 2008. The kids are undernourished and barely literate in either Spanish or English, Somers says.

But they have something their Guatemalan cousins can only dream of — a U.S. passport, their ticket to a better life. As soon as they are old enough — 10 or 12 — some parents say they will put them on a plane back to the U.S. And then, Somers says, the country will have to deal with — and pay for — the social, medical and psychological repercussions of banishing them in the first place.

Somers, who has been in Guatemala for eight months, says she has encountered scores of deportees who were removed from their families, including many who have no criminal record and were deported after the new ICE discretionary policy was announced.

She described a mother from Los Angeles, a victim of domestic violence, who was deported earlier this year after police responded to a fight at her home. Desperate to return to her 3-year-old son, a citizen, the woman recently went to Mexico, where she plans to try to cross the border again, illegally.

Although Somers advised against that, she understands. "How can you blame her?" Somers asks. "Her frustration and devastation was just so complete."

There are some signs of change. Somers said she has heard about ICE agents boarding a deportation jet before it left the U.S. and freeing deportees who had lived in the country since they were children and gone to school here — a direct response to Obama's June executive order allowing such young people with no criminal record to temporarily stay and work.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said at the time that the policy change is part of a general shift by the administration to focus on deporting high-priority illegal immigrants.

In Chicago, Marilu Gonzalez, a coordinator at the Roman Catholic archdiocese's office of immigrant affairs, recently saw her first example of that shift. An immigrant mother, living here illegally, was arrested for driving under the influence and sent to a detention center. However, instead of being deported, she was released with an ankle monitoring bracelet and given a stay. And, instead of being placed in foster care, her children were permitted to stay with her sister, who is also here illegally.

"That would not have happened in the past," said Gonzalez, who sees hundreds of such cases. "She would have been deported."

In another rare move, Felipe Montes, the father who wants his children from North Carolina to join him in Mexico, has been granted permission to temporarily return to the U.S. to attend custody hearings, though he must wear an ankle monitoring bracelet.

Still, Gonzalez and others say the changes are too haphazard and random, open to interpretation by individual ICE agents. And many say it seems particularly cruel that deported parents who return illegally in order to be with their children should be a priority for removal.

In Congress, California Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard has proposed legislation that would make it more difficult for local agencies to terminate the parental rights of immigrants. She calls it "heartbreaking ... that in the U.S., immigration status in itself has become grounds to permanently separate families." It is, she said, "absolutely, unquestionably inhumane and unacceptable, particularly for a country that values family and fairness so highly."

Twenty-four-year-old Lucas Da Silva knows all too well the heartbreak of having a parent deported. He vividly describes the day in 2009 that his father, didn't return home from his job cleaning swimming pools in Orlando, Fla.

"Until then, we were just a normal American family," Da Silva said. "Now, I don't know if we ever can be a proper family again."

With his father back in Brazil, Lucas, struggled to become the head of the house, even as he felt powerless listening to his 14-year-old year sister cry every night, seeing his mother straining to make ends meet, and watching his parents' marriage deteriorate.

"Everyone seems to agree that the current system is broken," he says. "But people don't seem to understand that it breaks families too." ( The Associated Press )
Eds: Helen O'Neill is a national writer for The Associated Press, based in New York. She can be reached at features(at)

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Oklahoma teen missing in remote Oregon terrain

Oklahoma teen missing in remote Oregon terrain — An Oklahoma teenager who was inspired to live off the land by the movie "Into the Wild" is the target of a search effort in remote, rugged country in southeastern Oregon.

Dustin Self, 19, left his family home in the Oklahoma City suburb of Piedmont "to see if he could live in the wild," and to investigate some churches that practice a South American religion that uses a hallucinogenic tea as a sacrament, his parents said. One is in Ashland, and the other in Portland.

The Harney County Sheriff's Office and others searched for him on Tuesday on the northeast side of Steens Mountain after a rancher found his pickup truck had slid off a backcountry track and gotten stuck. Searchers on ATVs saw no tracks, but checked out remote cabins and worked their way up the mountain, with no sign of him before heavy snow and high winds curtailed their efforts, said Deputy Missy Ousley.
Associated Press/The Oregonian, Bob Ellis - This Aug. 4, 1999 file photo shows a rocky outcrop on Steens Mountain in southeastern Oregon. Dustin Self, 14, of Piedmont, Okla. was missing on the mountain, where a rancher found his abandoned pickup truck on Tuesday, April 18, 2013. The 30-mile long fault block of basalt is the highest point in the desert of southeastern Oregon at 9,773 feet. (AP Photo/The Oregonian, Bob Ellis)

Authorities hoped for a break in the weather so they could send up a plane to look for him.

"We did everything we could to try to talk him out of it," said his mother, Tammy Self. "He was leaving, no matter what."

The teen was well-prepared with gear he bought just before leaving, but had little experience of life in the wild beyond family camping trips, his parents said.

"He is not a survivalist," said his father, Victor Self, a manager at a box plant in Oklahoma City. "He is a very urban child."

His parents last heard from him March 15, when he called from the parking lot of a motel in northern Nevada where he was spending the night in the cab of his pickup. The next day, Dustin called his girlfriend in Austin, Texas, to say he was lost after his GPS had sent him onto a road along the east side of Steens Mountain in the high desert of southeastern Oregon.

Ousley said a storekeeper in Fields recalled him asking for directions to Lakeview, which would have taken him a different direction than where his truck was found.

A religious young man raised in a non-denominational Protestant church, Dustin had been searching for meaning in his life, his mother said. He read books like "Human Race: Get Off Your Knees," by David Icke, a former British sports reporter whose books about what he believes is really controlling life on earth are admired by conspiracy theorists. The last movie Dustin watched was "Into The Wild," about a young man who gives up his worldly goods to live in the Alaskan wilderness. A clean-cut bodybuilder in high school, he had lately grown his hair long and wore a bandanna around his head.

"I think he got a lot off the Internet," his mother said.

Tammy Self said her son is a vegetarian, with no desire to kill animals to eat.

"He thought he was going to eat berries," she said. "We tried to tell him, berries don't grow in wintertime."

His father called the Harney County Sheriff's Office on March 17, but a search along the route from Fields to Lakeview turned up nothing. He also filed a missing person report with his local police. Then on Monday, Dustin's truck was found. His backpack and camping gear were gone, but the keys, his computer, his GPS and some of his supply of protein bars and other food had been left behind.

"We're worried sick," said his father. "I just hope he's alive." ( Associated Press )

Blog : Truth In Life

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Nine Negative Effects Divorce Reportedly Has On Children

Nine Negative Effects Divorce Reportedly Has On Children — Divorce can be the first in a string of dominos that knock a kid down — and keep him there

Divorce is hardly an exception anymore. In fact, with the rate of marriage steadily dipping over the past decade, and the divorce rate holding steady, you are likely to know more previously married couples than those who are legally bound. Accompanying this trend are multiple studies analyzing the effects that divorce has on children. And the results aren't good, even if the stigma of divorce has faded. Here, 9 negative effects divorce reportedly has on children:

1. Smoking habits

In a study published in the March 2013 edition of Public Health, researchers at the University of Toronto found that both sons and daughters of divorced families are significantly more likely to begin smoking than peers whose parents are married. In an analysis of 19,000 Americans, men whose parents divorced before they turned 18 had 48 percent higher odds of smoking than men with intact families. Women had 39 percent higher odds of picking up the habit. Lead author Esme Fuller-Thomson called the link "very disturbing."

2. Ritalin use

Dr. Strohschein, a sociologist at the University of Alberta, wanted to know what was behind the increase in children prescriptions for Ritalin over the past two decades. And so, in 2007, she analyzed data from a survey that was conducted between 1994 and 2000. In it, 5,000 children who did not use Ritalin, and were living in two-parent households, were interviewed. Over the six years, 13.2 percent of those kids experienced divorce. Of those children, 6.6 percent used Ritalin. Of the children living in intact households, 3.3 percent used Ritalin. Strohschein suggests that stress from the divorce could have altered the children's mental health, and caused a dependence on Ritalin.

3. Poor math and social skills

A 2011 study by the University of Wisconsin-Madison found that children of divorced parents often fall behind their classmates in math and social skills, and are more likely to suffer anxiety, stress, and low self-esteem. The reason that math skills are affected is likely because learning math is cumulative. "If I do not understand that one plus one is two," lead researcher Hyun Sik Kim says, "then I cannot understand multiplication." Kim says it is unlikely that children of divorce will be able to catch up with their peers who live in more stable families.

4. Susceptibility to sickness

In 1990, Jane Mauldon of the University of California at Berkeley found that children of divorce run a 35 percent risk of developing health problems, compared with a 26 percent risk among all children. Mauldon suggests their susceptibility to illness is likely due to "very significant stress" as their lives change dramatically. Divorce can also reduce the availability of health insurance, and may lead to a loss of certain factors that contribute to good health, including constant adult supervision and a safe environment. The risk of health problems is higher than average during the first four years after a family separation, but, curiously, can actually increase in the years following.

5. An increased likelihood of dropping out of school

A 2010 study found that more than 78 percent of children in two-parent households graduated from high school by the age of 20. However, only 60 percent of those who went through a big family change — including divorce, death, or remarriage — graduated in the same amount of time. The younger a child is during the divorce, the more he or she may be affected. Also, the more change children are forced to go through, like a divorce followed by a remarriage, the more difficulty they may have finishing school.

6. A propensity for crime

In 2009, the law firm Mishcon de Reya polled 2,000 people who had experienced divorce as a child in the preceding 20 years. And the results did not paint a positive picture of their experiences. The subjects reported witnessing aggression (42 percent), were forced to comfort an upset parent (49 percent), and had to lie for one or the other (24 percent). The outcome was one in 10 turned to crime, and 8 percent considered suicide.

7. Higher risk of stroke

In 2010, researchers from the University of Toronto found a strong link between divorce and adult risk of stroke. However, the vast majority of adults whose parents divorced did not have strokes. "Let's make sure we don't have mass panic," said lead researcher Esme Fuller-Thompson. "We don't know divorce causes stroke, we just know this association exists." She says the relationship could be due to exposure to stress, which can change a child's physiology. She also noted that the time at which these children experienced divorce was in the 1950s, when it wasn't as socially accepted as it is today.

8. Greater chance of getting divorced

University of Utah research Nicholas H. Wolfinger in 2005 released a study showing that children of divorce are more likely to divorce as adults. Despite aspiring to stable relationships, children of divorce are more likely to marry as teens, as well as marry someone who also comes from a divorced family. Wolfinger's research suggests that couples in which one spouse has divorced parents may be up to twice as likely to divorce. If both partners experienced divorce as children they are three times more likely to divorce themselves. Wolfinger said one of the reasons is that children from unstable families are more likely to marry young.

9. An early death

And rounding out the dreary research is an eight-decade study and book called The Longevity Project by Howard Friedman and Leslie Martin. Starting in 1921, researchers tracked some 1,500 boys and girls throughout their lives. More than one-third of the participants experienced either parental divorce or the death of a parent before the age of 21. But it was only the children of divorced families who died on average almost five years earlier than children whose parents did not divorce. The deaths were from causes both natural and unnatural, but men were more likely to die of accidents or violence. Generally, divorce lowered the standard of living for the children, which made a particular difference in the life longevity of women. ( The Week )

Blog : Truth In Life

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Pope washes women's feet in break with church law

Pope washes women's feet in break with church law — In his most significant break with tradition yet, Pope Francis washed and kissed the feet of two young women at a juvenile detention center — a surprising departure from church rules that restrict the Holy Thursday ritual to men.

No pope has ever washed the feet of a woman before, and Francis' gesture sparked a debate among some conservatives and liturgical purists, who lamented he had set a "questionable example." Liberals welcomed the move as a sign of greater inclusiveness in the church.
Associated Press/L'Osservatore Romano, ho - In this photo provided by the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, Pope Francis washes the foot of an inmate at the juvenile detention center of Casal del Marmo, …more  Rome, Thursday, March 28, 2013. Francis washed the feet of a dozen inmates at a juvenile detention center in a Holy Thursday ritual that he celebrated for years as archbishop and is continuing now that he is pope. Two of the 12 were young women, an unusual choice given that the rite re-enacts Jesus' washing of the feet of his male disciples. The Mass was held in the Casal del Marmo facility in Rome, where 46 young men and women currently are detained. Many of them are Gypsies or North African migrants, and the Vatican said the 12 selected for the rite weren't necessarily Catholic. (AP Photo/L'Osservatore Romano, ho)  less 

Speaking to the young offenders, including Muslims and Orthodox Christians, Francis said that Jesus washed the feet of his disciples on the eve of his crucifixion in a gesture of love and service.

"This is a symbol, it is a sign. Washing your feet means I am at your service," Francis told the group, aged 14 to 21, at the Casal del Marmo detention facility in Rome.

"Help one another. This is what Jesus teaches us," the pope said. "This is what I do. And I do it with my heart. I do this with my heart because it is my duty. As a priest and bishop, I must be at your service."

In a video released by the Vatican, the 76-year-old Francis was shown kneeling on the stone floor as he poured water from a silver chalice over the feet of a dozen youths: black, white, male, female, even feet with tattoos. Then, after drying each one with a cotton towel, he bent over and kissed it.

Previous popes carried out the Holy Thursday rite in Rome's grand St. John Lateran basilica, choosing 12 priests to represent the 12 apostles whose feet Christ washed during the Last Supper before his crucifixion.

Before he became pope, as archbishop of Buenos Aires, the former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio celebrated the ritual foot-washing in jails, hospitals or hospices — part of his ministry to the poorest and most marginalized of society. He often involved women. Photographs show him washing the feet of a woman holding her newborn child in her arms.

That Francis would include women in his inaugural Holy Thursday Mass as pope was remarkable, however, given that current liturgical rules exclude women.

Canon lawyer Edward Peters, who is an adviser to the Holy See's top court, noted in a blog that the Congregation for Divine Worship sent a letter to bishops in 1988 making clear that "the washing of the feet of chosen men ... represents the service and charity of Christ, who came 'not to be served, but to serve.'"

While bishops have successfully petitioned Rome over the years for an exemption to allow women to participate, the rules on the issue are clear, Peters said.

"By disregarding his own law in this matter, Francis violates, of course, no divine directive," Peters wrote. "What he does do, I fear, is set a questionable example."

The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said he didn't want to wade into a canonical dispute over the matter. However, he noted that in a "grand solemn celebration" of the rite, only men are included because Christ washed the feet of his 12 apostles, all of whom were male.

"Here, the rite was for a small, unique community made up also of women," Lombardi wrote in an email. "Excluding the girls would have been inopportune in light of the simple aim of communicating a message of love to all, in a group that certainly didn't include experts on liturgical rules."

Others on the more liberal side of the debate welcomed the example Francis set.

"The pope's washing the feet of women is hugely significant because including women in this part of the Holy Thursday Mass has been frowned on — and even banned — in some dioceses," said the Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest and author of "The Jesuit Guide."

"It shows the all-embracing love of Christ, who ministered to all he met: man or woman, slave or free, Jew or Gentile."

For some, restricting the rite to men is in line with the church's restriction on ordaining women priests. Church teaching holds that only men should be ordained because Christ's apostles were male.

"This is about the ordination of women, not about their feet," wrote the Rev. John Zuhlsdorf, a traditionalist blogger. Liberals "only care about the washing of the feet of women, because ultimately they want women to do the washing."

Still, Francis has made clear he doesn't favor ordaining women. In his 2011 book, "On Heaven and Earth," then-Cardinal Bergoglio said there were solid theological reasons why the priesthood was reserved to men: "Because Jesus was a man."

On this Holy Thursday, however, Francis had a simple message for the young inmates, whom he greeted one-by-one after the Mass, giving each an Easter egg.

"Don't lose hope," Francis said. "Understand? With hope you can always go on."

One young man then asked why he had come to visit them.

Francis responded that it was to "help me to be humble, as a bishop should be."

The gesture, he said, came "from my heart. Things from the heart don't have an explanation." Associated Press )

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Hot or Not? US Heat Wave Mapped from Space

Hot or Not? US Heat Wave Mapped from Space - Suffering in the summer heat? You're not alone. In a new map made using data compiled by a NASA satellite, a heat wave can be seen spreading across the country, hitting the Great Plains particularly hard.

In the past week, 1,011 records have been broken around the country, including 251 new daily high temperature records on Tuesday (June 26), according to the Associated Press. The week before that, 77 record-high temperatures were tied or beaten. What's more, 26 states and Washington, D.C., are under some kind of heat advisory today (June 29).

The extreme heat, combined with a dry winter and spring, has helped spawn a number of wildfires raging across the West. Many states with the highest temperatures have had more blazes. Colorado experienced the brunt of the heat wave earlier this week and had eight large wildfires burning as of today. Wyoming and Utah — other states that have seen unusually hot weather — together had nine wildfires burning.

The map was made using surface temperatures nationwide from June 17-24, which were measured by NASA's Aqua satellite. These temperatures were then compared with the average over the same eight days from 2000-2011. Areas with warmer-than-average temperatures are shown in red, near-normal temperatures are white, and cooler conditions are blue.

So what's with the extreme heat? This heat wave, like all major weather events, has its direct cause in a complex set of atmospheric conditions that produce short-term weather. However, weather occurs within the broader context of the climate, and many scientists agree that global warming has made it more likely that heat waves of this magnitude will occur.

This year has been extreme in terms of heat and dryness, as was 2002 (a record-breaking year for fires in Colorado). So far, 2012's weather looks very similar to the weather of 1910. That year, spring was warm and dry, which fed into a hellish fire season. Among the blazes was the Great Fire of 1910, also known as "the Big Burn," which destroyed 3 million acres of forest in Washington, Idaho and Montana. ( )

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Oil spill culprit for heavy toll on coral

Report: Oil spill culprit for heavy toll on coral — After months of laboratory work, scientists say they can definitively finger oil from BP's blown-out well as the culprit for the slow death of a once brightly colored deep-sea coral community in the Gulf of Mexico that is now brown and dull.

In a study published Monday, scientists say meticulous chemical analysis of samples taken in late 2010 proves that oil from BP PLC's out-of-control Macondo well devastated corals living about 7 miles southwest of the well. The coral community is located over an area roughly the size of half a football field nearly a mile below the Gulf's surface.

This October 2010 photo provided by Penn State University shows the arms of a brittle starfish, red in color, clinging to coral damaged by the Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico. After months of laboratory work, scientists say they can definitively finger oil from BP’s blown-out well as the culprit for widespread damage and the slow death of a deep-sea coral community in the Gulf of Mexico. (AP Photo/NOAA and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute)
This October 2010 photo provided by Penn State University shows the arms of a brittle starfish, red in color, clinging to coral damaged by the Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico. After months of laboratory

The damaged corals were discovered in October 2010 by academic and government scientists, but it's taken until now for them to declare a definite link to the oil spill.

Most of the Gulf's bottom is muddy, but coral colonies that pop up every once in a while are vital oases for marine life in the chilly ocean depths. The injured and dying coral today has bare skeleton, loose tissue and is covered in heavy mucous and brown fluffy material, the paper said.

"It was like a graveyard of corals," said Erik Cordes, a biologist at Temple University who went down to the site in the Alvin research submarine.

So far, this has been the only deep-sea coral site found to be seriously damaged by the spill.

On April 20, 2010, the well blew out about 50 miles off the Louisiana coast, leading to the death of 11 workers aboard the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig and the nation's largest offshore spill. More than 200 million gallons of oil were released.

"They figured (the coral damage) was the result of the spill, now we can say definitely it was connected to the spill," said Helen White, a chemical oceanographer with Haverford College and the lead researcher.

She said pinpointing the BP well as the source of the contamination required sampling sediment on the sea floor and figuring out what was oil from natural seeps in the Gulf and what was from the Macondo well. Finally, the researchers matched the oil found on the corals with oil that came out of the BP well.

Also, the researchers concluded that the damage was caused by the spill because an underwater plume of oil was tracked passing by the site in June 2010. The paper also noted that a decade of deep-sea coral research in the Gulf had not found coral dying in this manner. The coral was documented for the first time when researchers went looking for oil damage in 2010.

The findings were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The scientists said that they have gone back to the dying corals by submarine since 2010, but that they are not ready to talk about what they've seen at the site.

However, Charles Fisher, a biologist with Penn State University who's led the coral expeditions, said recovery of the damaged site would be slow.

"Things happen very slowly in the deep sea; the temperatures are low, currents are low, those animals live hundreds of years and they die slowly," he said. "It will take a while to know the final outcome of this exposure."

BP did not immediately comment on the study.

The researchers said the troubled spot consists of 54 coral colonies. The researchers were able to fully photograph and assess 43 of those colonies, and of those, 86 percent were damaged. They said 10 coral colonies showed signs of severe stress on 90 percent of the coral.

White, the lead researcher, said that this coral site was the only one found southwest of the Macondo well so far, but that others may exist. The researchers also wrote in the paper that it was too early to rule out serious damage at other coral sites that may have seemed healthy during previous examinations after the April 2010 spill.

Jerald Ault, a fish and coral reef specialist at the University of Miami who was not part of the study, said the findings were cause for concern because deep-sea corals are important habitat. He said there are many links between animals that live at the surface, such as tarpon and menhaden, and life at the bottom of the Gulf. Ecosystem problems can play out over many years, he said.

"It's kind of a tangled web of impact," he said. ( Associated Press )

READ MORE - Oil spill culprit for heavy toll on coral

The mutant fruit flies that tell us about human disease

The mutant fruit flies that tell us about human disease - The common fruit fly and human beings may look nothing alike but appearances can be deceiving.

The two species not only share around 70% of the same disease-causing genes but they also have many of the same major organs.

This similarity, combined with the flies' brief life-spans and ability to reproduce quickly, make them invaluable for scientists studying genetics and diseases.

Sleeping fruit fly
The contribution of fruit flies to science has led to many medical breakthroughs.

But when you consider that small mammals like mice share even more genetic similarities with humans, why are fruit flies still so commonplace in research labs?

Genetically engineered Fruit flies can be genetically manipulated to show diseases that are found in humans - some have been given kidney stones, others diabetes and even others have been sent into space. Engineered flies also have the ability to breed for many generations.

Rosy tubules compared to normal wild type fruit flies
The Rosy fly mutants (top) are named after their red eyes

A fruit fly container that was flown to space
Fruit fly adults, larvae and their food (dyed blue) after their return from space

Recently, the global fruit fly community met up at the Genetics Society of America's 53rd annual Drosophila research conference to share their findings into how flies can help human beings.
One study was able to produce kidney stones in fruit flies, which the researchers presented through a time-

Most human kidney stones are formed of a compound called calcium oxalate. Although a fruit fly's kidney is much simpler than a human's, it performs a similar role. When flies are fed food high in oxalate, they get stones just like humans.

"This was the first time in history that people were able to see kidney stones form. We know from humans how painful they are so it is not something you can ethically test for in animals, but the flies do not appear affected by the stones," said Prof Julian Dow from the University of Glasgow who produced the time-lapse.

"We can now use these flies to screen for new drugs for humans that block the formation of stones."

One of the first fly mutants ever discovered - named Rosy after its eye colour - was found to closely reproduce the rare human kidney stone disease, xanthinuria.

Dr Michael F Romero, from the Mayo Clinic, collaborated with the research and found a way to slow down kidney stone formation by blocking the gene responsible for transporting oxalate. He believed that with further testing this could be used to treat humans.

"I would call this translational science. This is physiology. We can fast forward through time by using an organism which does the same functions as a human, but does it faster," he said.

Another study identified key genes that can tell when a fly is close to death. 

Prof John Tower from the University of Southern Carolina led the research, which aims to discover the human genes behind longevity.

He said that the genes and pathways that regulate the flies' lifespan appear closely parallel to those in humans.

"We expect that the underlying genetic reason why aging exists is the same between fruit flies and humans as the damage and deterioration of tissues that occurs is similar."

But he added that there were still many steps between finding a chemical that works in flies to developing a drug for humans.

The relative ease of the genetic tools that allow scientists to manipulate the flies is very important, said Oxford University's Dr Timothy Weil.

"We are able to control and manipulate their genes in an easy and creative way. By doing this we can discover what happens if we make a mutation in a gene that's relevant for the disease being researched."

Space flies Prof Carl Thummel from the University of Utah School of Medicine uses fruit flies to model human metabolic disorders.

Common fruit fly
  • Adults are 3mm long and survive on a diet of rotten fruit
  • Females can lay up to 100 eggs in one day
  • Flies develop from egg to adult in around 10 days
  • Fruit flies have roughly 15,000 genes while humans have around 20,000
  • Flies are very cheap; about 1,000 flies can be bought for the cost of one mouse

He said the flies can faithfully replicate the human system, and that exposing flies to a high sugar diet results in the symptoms of type 2 diabetes.

Similarly, putting fruit flies on a high fat diet results in increased body fat.

"We can use the fly to study the molecular basis of both normal and abnormal human metabolism. These studies allow us to achieve a level of detailed understanding that is not possible with human research," he said.

But he added that fruit flies and humans "clearly have different challenges to meet for their survival" so aspects of research would not always apply to humans.

Scientists at Nasa have even sent fruit flies into space.

Dr Sharmila Bhattacharya from Nasa's Ames research centre found flies that had been exposed to space flight showed a reduction in their innate immune functions, which are vital for defence against invading germs.

Past experiments on blood taken from astronauts has suggested that some of these same changes also occur in humans.

"The advantage from the flies is that we have a model system that can give evidence of similar changes in humans."

But anything that is learned from a simpler system such as a fly must then be validated in more complex systems.

Such carefully controlled studies were not possible with humans, said Dr Bhattacharya, but researchers are able to pinpoint some of the genes most affected by space travel and therefore help prepare astronauts for going on long planetary explorations in space.

A fruit fly breeds quickly and develops from egg to adult in less than two weeks. Females can lay up to 100 eggs in one day, making it possible to breed many generations cheaper and much faster than mammals such as mice - which can cost on average about £16 ($26).

And the fruit fly genome could be changed more than in other multicellular animals, such as mice, said Prof Thummel.

"This has allowed us to understand detailed mechanisms of biology at a level of resolution that is not possible with other animal models."

Dr Weil believes that research on fruit flies is "helping to build the foundation of understanding that will directly lead to the treatment of human diseases in the future.

"Regardless of the choice of model organism, the goal of the whole scientific community is to advance human health," he said. ( BBC News )

READ MORE - The mutant fruit flies that tell us about human disease