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Private US Lunar Lander Will Stop Working Tuesday 

Voice of America’s immigration news - February 26, 2024 - 13:22
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — A private U.S. lunar lander is expected to stop working Tuesday, its mission cut short after landing sideways near the south pole of the moon. Intuitive Machines, the Houston company that built and flew the spacecraft, said Monday it will continue to collect data until sunlight no longer shines on the solar panels. Based on the position of Earth and the moon, officials expect that to happen Tuesday morning. That's two to three days short of the week or so that NASA and other customers had been counting on. The lander, named Odysseus, is the first U.S. spacecraft to land on the moon in more than 50 years, carrying experiments for NASA, the main sponsor. But it came in too fast last Thursday and the foot of one of its six legs caught on the surface, causing it to tumble over, according to company officials. Based on photos from NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter flying overhead, Odysseus landed within 1.5 kilometers of its intended target near the Malapert A crater, just 300 kilometers from the moon's south pole. The LRO photos from 90 kilometers up are the only ones showing the lander on the surface, but as little more than a spot in the grainy images. A camera-ejecting experiment by Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, to capture images of the lander as they both descended, was called off shortly before touchdown because of a last-minute navigation issue. According to NASA, the lander ended up in a small, degraded crater with a 12-degree slope. That's the closest a spacecraft has ever come to the south pole, an area of interest because of suspected frozen water in the permanently shadowed craters there. NASA, which plans to land astronauts in this region in the next few years, paid Intuitive Machines $118 million to deliver six experiments to the surface. Other customers also had items on board. Instead of landing upright, the 4.3-meter Odysseus came down on its side, hampering communication with Earth. Some antennas were covered up by the toppled lander, and the ones still exposed ended up near the ground, resulting in spotty communications. The solar panels also ended up much closer to the surface than anticipated, less than ideal in the hilly terrain. Even under the best of circumstances, Odysseus only had a week to operate on the surface before the long lunar night set in. Since the 1960s, only the U.S., Russia, China, India and Japan have successfully pulled off moon landings, and only the U.S. with crews. Japan's lander ended up on the wrong side, too, just last month. Despite its slanted landing, Intuitive Machines became the first private business to join the elite group. Another U.S. company, Astrobotic Technology, gave it a try last month, but didn't make it to the moon because of a fuel leak. Intuitive Machines almost failed, too. Ground teams did not turn on the switch for the lander's navigating lasers before the Feb. 15 liftoff from Florida. The oversight was not discovered until Odysseus was circling the moon, forcing flight controllers to rely on a NASA laser-navigating device that was on board merely as an experiment. As it turned out, NASA's test lasers guided Odysseus to a close to bull's-eye landing, resulting in the first moon landing by a U.S. spacecraft since the Apollo program. Twelve Apollo astronauts walked on the moon from 1969 through 1972. While NASA went on to put an occasional satellite around the moon, the U.S. did not launch another moon-landing mission until last month. Astrobotic's failed flight was the first under NASA's program to promote commercial deliveries to the moon. Both Intuitive Machines and Astrobotic hold NASA contracts for more moon landings.

US Couple from Hijacked Catamaran Likely Died After Being Thrown Overboard

Voice of America’s immigration news - February 26, 2024 - 13:04
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — An older U.S. couple whose catamaran was hijacked last week in the Caribbean by three escaped prisoners were likely thrown into the ocean and died, police in Grenada said Monday. The announcement is a blow to those who were independently helping search for Ralph Hendry and Kathy Brandel and had hoped they were still alive. Don McKenzie, police commissioner of the Royal Grenada Police Force, said at a news conference that the three prisoners escaped on Feb. 18 from the South Saint George Police Station. They hijacked the catamaran “Simplicity” on Feb. 19 and headed to St. Vincent and the Grenadines, where they were arrested last Wednesday, he said. “Information suggests that while traveling between Grenada and St. Vincent, they disposed of the occupants,” McKenzie said. When pressed for details, he said, “We have nothing conclusive to say that the individuals are dead. We still hold out hope that in spite (of) what might be a low probability, that they would turn up alive somewhere.” He noted that he was “quite limited” with what he could share with the public regarding the case because the investigation is ongoing, and because Grenadian authorities still don’t have much information. “The information I possess is limited and can be considered second-hand as I have had very limited discussions regarding the details of the investigation with my Vincentian counterpart,” McKenzie said. St. Vincent police could not be immediately reached for comment. The nonprofit Salty Dawg Sailing Association said Hendry and Brandel were “veteran cruisers” and longtime members of the association, calling them “warm-hearted and capable.” It said the couple had sailed the yacht in last year’s Caribbean Rally from Hampton, Virginia, to Antigua, and were spending the winter cruising in the eastern Caribbean. A son of Hendry and a son of Brandel did not immediately return messages for comment. A GoFundMe page created to raise money for the couple's family noted that Brandel had recently become a first-time grandmother, and that the sailing community was “shattered” by what happened. “Kathy and Ralph, experienced adventurers, spent their retirement sailing aboard Simplicity, spending summers in New England and embracing the warmth of Caribbean winters,” the page stated. McKenzie, Grenada's police commissioner, said a five-person team was sent to St. Vincent to help with the investigation. After his brief announcement Monday, McKenzie and other police officials took questions from local media, including one reporter who asked, “Who is really to be blamed for this massive failure to keep these prisoners under the control of the (Royal Grenada Police Force) which has now resulted in this tragedy?” McKenzie said police have launched an investigation into the escape and are looking into whether it was “a system failure” or a case of a “slip up.” “All aspects of that investigation are on the table,” he said, adding that the police holding station where the three men were being held has “sufficient safety to prevent an incident like that (from) occurring.”  When the reporter asked why the three men who were arrested remained in a holding cell instead of prison, Vannie Curwen, assistant police commissioner, said the men first had to see a magistrate who would decide whether to grant bail or order them remanded. The escaped prisoners, ages 19, 25 and 30, were charged a couple of months ago with one count of robbery with violence. The eldest inmate also was charged with one count of rape, three counts of attempted rape and two counts of indecent assault and causing harm, police in Grenada said. 

Bulgaria Issues EU Entry Ban on 2 Russians Suspected of Espionage

Voice of America’s immigration news - February 26, 2024 - 13:03
Sofia, Bulgaria — Bulgarian authorities Monday imposed an entry ban on two Russian citizens suspected of espionage for Moscow’s foreign intelligence service. Bulgaria's agency for national security identified the two as Vladimir Nikolayevich Gorochkin, 39, and Tatiana Anatolievna Gorochkina, 37, and barred them from entering European Union member states for a period of five years. The agency said in a statement that the couple had lived undetected in Bulgaria until recently under the aliases Denis Rashkov and Diana Rashkova. The statement indicated they were no longer in Bulgaria but did not elaborate on when they had left the country or indicate where they currently were believed to be. According to the agency, the Russians were part of an operation orchestrated by the Moscow’s Foreign Intelligence Service aimed at infiltrating foreign countries using false identities. Their mission in the EU member country was reportedly to obtain authentic Bulgarian identity documents and credible biographical data confirming their authenticity, which they could then use to carry out intelligence activities outside Bulgaria. Last September, five Bulgarians living in the U.K. were charged with spying for Russia. The three men and two women were accused of “conspiring to collect information intended to be directly or indirectly useful to an enemy,” namely Russia, between August 2020 and February 2023. In 2022, Bulgaria expelled 70 Russian diplomatic staff in a move that severely strained diplomatic ties between the two countries, which were close allies during communist times. It was the greatest ever number of Russian diplomats expelled by Bulgaria, a member of the European Union and NATO. Bulgaria has strongly backed the West’s sanctions against Moscow since Russia launched its war on Ukraine.

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Voice of America’s immigration news - February 26, 2024 - 13:00
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Voice of America’s immigration news - February 26, 2024 - 12:00
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Pacific Island Nations Lobby Lawmakers to Provide Vital Aid

Voice of America’s immigration news - February 26, 2024 - 11:51
Leaders from Micronesia, the Marshall Islands and Palau have been heavily lobbying Congress to restore funding to a vital agreement known as the Compacts of Free Association. The 7-billion-dollar 20-year deal guarantees U.S. exclusive access to these three key Pacific allies – and the right to turn others away – in exchange for critical economic aid. VOA’s Jessica Stone reports.

US Supreme Court Weighs Florida, Texas Laws Regulating Social Media Companies 

Voice of America’s immigration news - February 26, 2024 - 11:24
Washington — The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday explored free speech rights in the digital age in a pair of cases testing the legality of Republican-backed laws in Florida and Texas that restrict the ability of social media platforms to curb content that these companies deem objectionable.  Arguments before the justices were ongoing.  At issue is whether these 2021 state laws regulating content-moderation practices by large social media platforms violate the free speech protections for the companies under the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment. Lower courts split on the issue, blocking key provisions of Florida's law while upholding the Texas measure.  Conservative Chief Justice John Roberts asked a lawyer for Florida about First Amendment concerns about "the state regulating what we have called the modern public square."  The laws were challenged by tech industry trade groups NetChoice and the Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA), whose members include Facebook parent Meta Platforms, Alphabet's Google, which owns YouTube, as well as TikTok and Snapchat owner Snap.  Neither law has gone into effect due to the litigation.  The justices must decide whether the First Amendment protects the editorial discretion of the social media platforms and prohibits governments from forcing companies to publish content against their will. The companies have said that without such discretion - including the ability to block or remove content or users, prioritize certain posts over others, or include additional context - their websites would be overrun with spam, bullying, extremism and hate speech.  Another issue for the justices is whether the state laws unlawfully burden the free speech rights of social media companies by requiring them to provide users with individualized explanations for certain content-moderation decisions, including the removal of posts from their platforms.  President Joe Biden’s administration, which opposes the Florida and Texas laws, has argued that the content-moderation restrictions violate the First Amendment by forcing platforms to present and promote content they view as objectionable.  Officials from Florida and Texas have countered that the content-moderation actions by these companies fall outside the protection of the First Amendment because such conduct - which they deem "censorship" - is not itself speech.  Conservative critics of "Big Tech" companies have cited as an example of what they called censorship the decision by the platform previously called Twitter to suspend then-President Donald Trump shortly after the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol by his supporters, with the company citing "the risk of further incitement of violence." Trump's account has since been reinstated under Elon Musk, who now owns the company that was renamed X.  In signing the law in 2021, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said, "Many in our state have experienced censorship and other tyrannical behavior firsthand in Cuba and Venezuela. If Big Tech censors enforce rules inconsistently, to discriminate in favor of the dominant Silicon Valley ideology, they will now be held accountable."  Florida's law requires large platforms to "host some speech that they might otherwise prefer not to host" by prohibiting the censorship or banning of a political candidate or "journalistic enterprise."  Texas Governor Greg Abbott, in signing the law in 2021, said, "There is a dangerous movement by some social media companies to silence conservative ideas and values. This is wrong and we will not allow it in Texas."  The Texas law forbids social media companies with at least 50 million monthly active users from acting to "censor" users based on "viewpoint," and allows either users or the Texas attorney general to sue to enforce it.  Florida is seeking to revive its law after the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled largely against it. The industry groups are appealing a decision by the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upholding the Texas law, which the Supreme Court blocked at an earlier stage of the case, with liberal Justice Elena Kagan and three of the court's more conservative justices in dissent.

Reminder: Adjustment to Premium Processing Fees Takes Effect Today

As previously announced, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ new inflation-adjusted premium processing fees take effect today, increasing the filing fee for Form I-907, Request for Premium Processing. USCIS published a final rule announcing the change on Dec. 28, 2023.

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Voice of America’s immigration news - February 26, 2024 - 11:00
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Trump Appeals $454 Million Judgment in New York Civil Fraud Case

Voice of America’s immigration news - February 26, 2024 - 10:44
New York — Donald Trump has appealed his $454 million New York civil fraud judgment, challenging a judge's finding that Trump lied about his wealth as he grew the real estate empire that launched him to stardom and the presidency. The former president's lawyers filed a notice of appeal Monday asking the state's mid-level appeals court to overturn Judge Arthur Engoron's Feb. 16 verdict in Attorney General Letitia James' lawsuit. Trump's lawyers wrote in court papers that they're asking the appeals court to decide whether Engoron "committed errors of law and/or fact" and whether he abused his discretion and/or his jurisdiction. Engoron found that Trump, his company and top executives, including his sons Eric and Donald Trump Jr., schemed for years to deceive banks and insurers by inflating his wealth on financial statements used to secure loans and make deals. Among other penalties, the judge put strict limitations on the ability of Trump's company, the Trump Organization, to do business. The appeal ensures that the legal fight over Trump's business practices will persist into the thick of the presidential primary season, and likely beyond, as he tries to clinch the Republican presidential nomination in his quest to retake the White House. If upheld, Engoron's ruling will force Trump to give up a sizable chunk of his fortune. Engoron ordered Trump to pay $355 million in penalties, but with interest the total has grown to nearly $454 million. That total will increase by nearly $112,000 per day until he pays.

Gaza Conflict Looms Large at UN Human Rights Council

Voice of America’s immigration news - February 26, 2024 - 10:37
Geneva — Amid deteriorating conditions in Gaza, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has renewed his call for a humanitarian cease-fire in the Palestinian enclave. He is also calling for the unconditional release of all hostages abducted by Hamas militants during their attack on southern Israel on October 7. “Nothing can justify Hamas’s deliberate killing, injuring, torturing, and kidnapping of civilians, the use of sexual violence—or the indiscriminate launching of rockets towards Israel and nothing justifies the collective punishment of the Palestinian people,” he said Monday in Geneva as the U.N. Human Rights Council opened for a six-week session. Given the crisis facing Gaza, Guterres said he had invoked Article 99 for the first time in his mandate “to put the greatest possible pressure on the council to do everything in its power to end the bloodshed in Gaza and prevent escalation.”   Israel took military action against Hamas after the terror attack on Israel killed 1,200 people, according to Israeli tallies, and led to the capture of about 240 hostages. While dozens of hostages were released during a weeklong cease-fire in November, Israel says it believes 30 hostages subsequently have either died or been killed in the enclave. The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza says Israel’s military operation has left more than 29,780 people dead and some 70,000 people injured. Article 99 of the U.N. Charter allows the secretary-general to bring to the attention of the Security Council any matter which, in his opinion, may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security. This article has been invoked only six times since the U.N. was created in 1945. Guterres noted his use of the article was not enough to shake up the Security Council, which remains “deadlocked and unable to act on the most significant peace and security issues of our time.” “The council’s lack of unity on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and on Israel’s military operations in Gaza following the horrific terror attacks by Hamas on 7 October, has severely — perhaps fatally — undermined its authority,” said the U.N. chief. “The council needs serious reform to its composition and working methods,” he said, noting that international humanitarian law was still under attack and humanitarian aid for millions of Palestinians in Gaza was insufficient. “Rafah is the core of the humanitarian aid operation, and UNRWA (the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestinians) is the backbone of that effort," Guterres said. “An all-out Israeli offensive on the city would not only be terrifying for more than a million Palestinian civilians sheltering there; it would put the final nail in the coffin of our aid programs,” he said. Rafah is an area between the Gaza Strip and Egypt and a focus of concern for the safety of Palestinian civilians. More than 10 countries, including the United States, suspended funding to the Palestinian relief agency after Israel last month accused UNRWA of having links with Hamas. Dennis Francis, president of the U.N. General Assembly, echoed the secretary-general’s call for a humanitarian cease-fire and increased aid for Gaza. However, he said millions of people in other parts of the world also were in a state of crisis and in need of international aid. He said they must not be forgotten. “The war in Ukraine — now in its third year — has only grown more entrenched, with no foreseeable signs of cessation in the short term. Haiti has descended into lawlessness, while persistent violence across Yemen, Sudan, Myanmar and elsewhere has exacerbated the human rights situation with deepening concern,” said Francis. “In the Sahel, the impact of strife and environmental stressors has led to a resurgence of famine, jeopardizing the right to food and proper nutrition for millions,” he said. According to Volker Türk, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, this council session is occurring “at a time of seismic global shock. Conflicts are battering the lives of millions of civilians and carving even deeper fault lines across and between nations.” Türk said he was disturbed by attempts “to undermine the legitimacy and work of the United Nations and other institutions. They include disinformation that targets U.N. humanitarian organizations, U.N. peacekeepers and my office.” “The U.N. has become a lightning rod for manipulative propaganda and a scapegoat for policy failures. This is profoundly destructive of the common good, and it callously betrays the many people whose lives rely on it,” he said. Over the coming six weeks, the council will examine and shine a light on alleged violations occurring in all regions of the world. It will conduct interactive dialogues on the human rights situations in places such as the occupied Palestinian territories, East Jerusalem, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Myanmar, Nicaragua, South Sudan, and Sudan. The council also will consider thematic issues such as torture, disappearances, freedom of religion or belief, and the situation of children in armed conflict. In his speech to the council, U.N. chief Guterres warned that the world was facing a human rights crisis. “Around the world, violence is increasing, and conflict-related human rights violations are spreading…We cannot, we must not become numb to appalling and repeated violations of international humanitarian and human rights law,” he said. To support states in meeting their obligations under international law, Guterres said that he and U.N. rights chief Türk were launching a systems-wide United Nations Agenda for Protection. “Under this agenda, the United Nations, across the full spectrum of our work, will act as one to prevent human rights violations, and to identify and respond to them when they take place,” said the U.N. secretary-general.

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Voice of America’s immigration news - February 26, 2024 - 10:00
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Voice of America’s immigration news - February 26, 2024 - 09:00
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Palestinian PM Submits Government's Resignation

Voice of America’s immigration news - February 26, 2024 - 08:54
JERUSALEM — The Palestinian prime minister announced the resignation of his government on Monday, paving the way for a shake-up in the Palestinian Authority, which the U.S. hopes will eventually take on a role in postwar Gaza.  Many obstacles remain to making a revamped Palestinian Authority a reality. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whose forces were driven from Gaza by Hamas in 2007, has made clear that he would like the PA to govern the enclave after the war. But it is deeply unpopular among Palestinians, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has roundly rejected the idea of putting the authority in charge of the territory.  Abbas must still decide whether he accepts the resignations of Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh's government. But the move signals a willingness by the Western-backed Palestinian leadership to accept a shake-up that might usher in reforms sought by the United States, as international negotiations ramp up to bring about a cease-fire. The authority, created under interim Israeli-Palestinian peace deals in the early 1990s, administers parts of the West Bank but is beset by corruption.  "The next stage and its challenges require new governmental and political arrangements that take into account the new reality in the Gaza Strip," Shtayyeh said at a Cabinet meeting.  Netanyahu has vowed to destroy the military and governing capabilities of Hamas — which has ruled Gaza since 2007 and staged the Oct. 7 attack on Israel that set off the current war. He has called for Israel to maintain open-ended security control in the territory after the conflict, with Palestinian officials in charge of civilian affairs.  The Palestinians have rejected such a limited role and seek an independent state in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza — areas captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war.  Abbas is expected to choose Mohammad Mustafa, chairman of the Palestine Investment Fund, as the next prime minister. Mustafa is a U.S.-educated economist who has held senior positions in the World Bank and served in senior posts in the Palestinian Authority. Palestinian officials say he has a good, longstanding working relationship with American officials. 

Uganda Authorities Say 30 Ugandans Stuck in Myanmar Scam Compounds

Voice of America’s immigration news - February 26, 2024 - 08:14
The Ugandan government says about 30 Ugandans are stuck in Myanmar, being forced to work as online scammers. Officials say they were lured there by traffickers with the promise of a job and are now being held by gangs who run the scamming operations. Halima Athumani and Mukasa Francis have more from Kampala where they spoke with other Ugandans who managed to make it back home.

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Voice of America’s immigration news - February 26, 2024 - 08:00
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