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WORLD NEWS BRIEFS, Feb.20: Anti-gun rally; shooting funerals; Russian "trolls" speak

Mary Claire Foley, center left, 16, embraces Ariana Skafidas, 16, students at Henry B. Plant High School at Curtis Hixon Park in downtown Tampa, Fla., Monday, Feb. 19, 2018, as they raise their lights during a vigil to honor victims of Wednesday's shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. (©Dirk Shadd/Tampa Bay Times via AP)
Mary Claire Foley, center left, 16, embraces Ariana Skafidas, 16, students at Henry B. Plant High School at Curtis Hixon Park in downtown Tampa, Fla., Monday, Feb. 19, 2018, as they raise their lights during a vigil to honor victims of Wednesday's shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. (©Dirk Shadd/Tampa Bay Times via AP) - Associated Press

Students head to Florida capital to press for gun law change

PARKLAND, Fla. (AP) - A hundred Stoneman Douglas High School students are busing 400 miles to Florida's capital Tuesday to urge lawmakers to act to prevent a repeat of the massacre that killed 17 students and faculty last week.

The students plan to hold a rally Wednesday in hopes that it will put pressure on the state's Republican-controlled Legislature to consider a sweeping package of gun-control laws, something some GOP lawmakers said Monday they would consider. Shortly after the shooting, several legislative leaders were taken on a tour of the school to see the damage firsthand and they appeared shaken afterward.

“I really think they are going to hear us out,” said Chris Grady, a 19-year-old senior who is going on the trip. He said he hopes the trip will lead to some “commonsense laws like rigorous background checks.”

The attack last Wednesday seemed to overcome the resistance of some in the state's leadership, which has rebuffed gun restrictions since Republicans took control of both the governor's office and the Legislature in 1999. However, there is still strong resistance by many in the party to any gun-control measures, leaving the fate of new restrictions unclear.

Students also have vowed to exert pressure on Congress as the aftermath of the rampage resonates beyond Florida and from coast to coast. Hundreds of chanting protesters converged Monday on a downtown Los Angeles park, demanding tougher background checks and other gun-safety measures after the shooting. Some signs held up by the California demonstrators read, “Your Children Are Counting On You.”  TO READ THIS COMPLETE STORY, PLEASE CLICK/TAP HERE

Funerals: Grieving teens, raw emotions after school shooting

PARKLAND, Fla. (AP) - Each funeral for the victims of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High massacre is different, yet the same: the mourning relatives, teens walking in clutches wearing black, politicians paying their respects, media cameras pointing at the entrance from across the parking lot.

And each service takes its toll on the young mourners, many of them attending more friends' funerals in a span of days than many middle-aged people have in their lifetimes. Services for 14 Stoneman Douglas students, the athletic director, a coach and a geography teacher began Friday, two days after the shooting, and will end in the next few days.

Erica Sparrow, a 17-year-old senior, said Monday that she went to her first funeral a couple of weeks ago, “now I have one every day.” She and her friend, Lauren Kuperman, also 17, began ticking off names - Meadow Pollack from Friday, Joaquin Oliver from Saturday and Alaina Petty's on Monday. Three more Tuesday, another Wednesday. It's both difficult and cathartic, the girls said.

“It kind of helps but at the same time it makes me sad,” Sparrow said.

Stoneman Douglas senior Lewis Mizen said Monday he had never attended a funeral for someone his own age before the weekend. He will attend another Tuesday. When an older family member dies, he said, it seems natural that their children and grandchildren speak about their loss, but seeing parents eulogize their child cuts deep emotionally.  TO READ THIS COMPLETE STORY, PLEASE CLICK/TAP HERE

Ex-workers at Russian 'troll factory' trust US indictment

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia (AP) - While Russian officials scoff at a U.S. indictment charging 13 Russians with meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, several people who worked at the same St. Petersburg “troll factory” say they think the criminal charges are well-founded.

Marat Mindiyarov, a former commenter at the innocuously named Internet Research Agency, says the organization's Facebook department hired people with excellent English skills to sway U.S. public opinion through an elaborate social media campaign.

His own experience at the agency makes him trust the U.S. indictment, Mindiyarov told The Associated Press. “I believe that that's how it was and that it was them,” he said.

The federal indictment issued Friday names a businessman linked to President Vladimir Putin and a dozen other Russians. It alleges that Yevgeny Prigozhin - a wealthy restaurateur dubbed “Putin's chef,” paid for the internet operation that created fictitious social media accounts and used them to spread tendentious messages.

The aim of the factory's work was either to influence voters or to undermine their faith in the U.S. political system, the 37-page indictment states.  TO READ THIS COMPLETE STORY, PLEASE CLICK/TAP HERE

Pennsylvania's new congressional map could boost Democrats

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - Pennsylvania's high court imposed a new congressional district map for the state's 2018 elections on Monday, potentially giving Democrats a boost in their quest to capture control of the U.S. House unless Republicans can stop it in federal court.

The map of Pennsylvania's 18 congressional districts is to be in effect for the May 15 primary and substantially overhauls a Republican-drawn congressional map widely viewed as among the nation's most gerrymandered. The map was approved in a 4-3 decision, with four Democratic justices backing it and one Democratic justice siding with two Republicans against it.

The divided court appears to have drawn its own map with the help of a Stanford University law professor, although some district designs are similar to proposals submitted to the court by Democrats.

Most significantly, the new map gives Democrats a better shot at winning a couple more seats, particularly in Philadelphia's heavily populated and moderate suburbs. There, Republicans have held seats in bizarrely contorted districts, including one labeled “Goofy Kicking Donald Duck.”

Democrats cheered the new map, which could dramatically change the predominantly Republican, all-male delegation elected on a 6-year-old map. The new map repackages districts that had been stretched nearly halfway across Pennsylvania and reunifies Democratic-heavy cities that had been split by Republican map drawers. TO READ THIS COMPLETE STORY, PLEASE CLICK/TAP HERE

Trump endorses Romney for Senate bid in Utah

WASHINGTON (AP) - President Donald Trump is endorsing Mitt Romney in Utah's Senate race, another sign that the two Republicans are burying the hatchet after a fraught relationship.

The GOP's presidential nominee in 2012, Romney announced last week he would seek the nomination to replace retiring Sen. Orrin Hatch. In a tweet Monday night, Trump wrote, “He will make a great Senator and worthy successor to ↕OrrinHatch, and has my full support and endorsement!” Romney quickly accepted the endorsement via Twitter.

Trump has not always been so positive about Romney the political candidate. In 2016 Trump said the former Massachusetts governor had “choked like a dog” during his failed 2012 bid against President Barack Obama.

For his part, Romney gave a scathing critique of then-candidate Trump during the GOP primary that year, calling him a “phoney” who was unfit for office. More recently, Romney criticized Trump's response to last year's deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, and last month called Trump's use of an obscenity to describe African countries as inconsistent with American history and values.

Members of both political parties have suggested that Romney, if elected to the Senate, would continue to call out Trump if he believed the president warranted criticism. However, Romney did not mention Trump or his scandal-plagued administration in his campaign announcement on Friday, focusing instead on how his adopted state of Utah could be a model for better government in Washington.

Trump offers support for limited effort on background checks

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) - From the confines of his golf club, President Donald Trump offered support for a limited strengthening of federal background checks on gun purchases Monday while staying largely mum in the last few days about the victims of the Florida school massacre and the escalating debate about controls on weapons.

One side of that debate was represented outside the White House as dozens of teens spread their bodies across the pavement to symbolize the dead and call for stronger gun controls, a precursor to a march in Washington planned next month by survivors of the Parkland school shooting and supporters of their cause.

At his Florida club just 40 miles from a community ravaged by the shooting that left 17 dead last week, Trump gave a nod toward a specific policy action, with the White House saying he had spoken Friday to Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, about a bipartisan bill designed to strengthen the FBI database of prohibited gun buyers.

Spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders qualified the support, stressing that talks continue and “revisions are being considered,” but said “the president is supportive of efforts to improve the federal background check system.”

The main action Trump has taken on guns in office has been to sign a resolution blocking an Obama-era rule designed to keep guns out of the hands of certain mentally disabled people. The president has voiced strong support for gun rights and the National Rifle Association.  TO READ THIS COMPLETE STORY, PLEASE CLICK/TAP HERE

Virtue, Moir win ice dance for 3rd career Olympic gold medal

GANGNEUNG, South Korea (AP) - Canadian stars Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir won the gold medal in ice dancing at the Pyeongchang Games on Tuesday, becoming the most decorated figure skaters in Olympic history with a dazzling, dramatic free skate set to the music of “Moulin Rouge.”

Virtue and Moir scored a personal-best 122.40 points for a record 206.07 total, pushing them past training partners and close friends Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron in a riveting competition.

The French couple broke their own record for a free skate with 123.35 points to their performance of “Moonlight Sonata.” Their total of 205.28 points, also briefly a record, meant that Virtue and Moir needed to top their own best performance by 3.28 points when they took the ice right after them.

They accomplished it with room to spare.

It's the second gold medal of the Pyeongchang Games for Virtue and Moir, who were instrumental in helping Canada win the team event. It was their third gold overall after winning their home Olympics in Vancouver in 2010, and their fifth overall after two silver medals at the Sochi Games.  TO READ THIS COMPLETE STORY, PLEASE CLICK/TAP HER

Injured Alpine ski racers miss years, not days, at a time

JEONGSEON, South Korea (AP) - Just the thought of being at the Olympics on Tuesday made Swiss ski racer Lara Gut smile broadly, and that had nothing to do with it being the last opportunity to train for the downhill, an event in which she earned a bronze at the 2014 Sochi Games.

No, the reason for Gut's excitement was much simpler, as she demonstrated with a two-word exclamation of “I'm here!” while kicking up her left leg. Turns out Tuesday is the one-year anniversary of the operation she had to repair tears to the anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus in that knee, a season-ending injury incurred during practice at the 2017 world championships.

“Everything that was natural, like walking - you have to get used to that again,” Gut said. “One day, you're like, 'Oh, it's natural. I can walk. I can run. I can ski.”'

Coming back was nothing new. Gut missed the 2010 Olympics and an entire World Cup season after dislocating her right hip, but later won an overall World Cup title. Like so many other Alpine skiers at the Pyeongchang Games, Gut has dealt more than once with the rigorous process of recovering from the sort of long-term absence pretty much inevitable in a pursuit that involves hurtling one's body down the steep and icy side of a mountain at 60 mph or more.

“Maybe we're crazy,” Gut said after Monday's training. “Or maybe we just love what we do.”

Trump revives push for limits on immigrants bringing family

NEW YORK (AP) - When the U.S. government approved Ricardo Magpantay, his wife and young children to immigrate to America from the Philippines, it was 1991. By the time a visa was available, it was 2005, and his children could not come with him because they were now adults.

More than a decade later, his children are still waiting.

Magpantay gets worried when he hears the White House is aiming to limit the relatives that immigrants-turned-citizens can sponsor, a profound change to a fundamental piece of the American immigration system.

“It is really frustrating and it is very dreadful for me, because after a long wait, if this will be passed, what will happen for them?” said Magpantay, a 68-year-old mechanical engineer in the Southern California city of Murrieta. “I won't be able to bring them forever.”

For the past 50-plus years, family reunification has been central to U.S. immigration law. Those who become naturalized citizens can bring spouses and minor children and petition for parents, adult children and siblings to get their own green cards and become Americans in their own right, with their own ability to sponsor.  TO READ THIS COMPLETE STORY, PLEASE CLICK/TAP HERE

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Congressional map raises Democrats' hopes, legal test ahead

By Marc Levy

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

HARRISBURG, Pa. - The map of congressional districts imposed by Pennsylvania's high court for the state's 2018 elections will set off a new legal battle, reconfigure perhaps dozens of campaigns and give Democrats a boost in their mission to wrest control of the U.S. House.

The map of Pennsylvania's 18 congressional districts is to be in effect for the May 15 primary and substantially overhauls a Republican-drawn congressional map widely viewed as among the nation's most gerrymandered.

The Democratic-majority state Supreme Court voted 4-3 on Monday to impose the new map it drew. New boundaries will usher in changes to Pennsylvania's predominantly Republican delegation already facing big changes in a year with six open seats, the most in decades.

Republicans vowed to immediately challenge it in federal court. Meanwhile, candidates finding themselves in a new political landscape are rethinking campaigns a week before they can start circulating petitions to run.

Most significantly, the new map gives Democrats a better shot at winning a couple more seats, particularly in Philadelphia's heavily populated and moderate suburbs. There, Republicans have held seats in bizarrely contorted districts, including one labeled “Goofy Kicking Donald Duck.”

Republican Rep. Ryan Costello, whose suburban Philadelphia district was narrowly won by Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016, is in even more dire straits now that his district adds the heavily Democratic city of Reading.

The map also removes the heart of one district from Philadelphia, where a crowd of candidates had assembled to replace the retiring Democratic Rep. Bob Brady, and moves it to suburban Montgomery County.

The new map does not apply to the March 13 special congressional election in southwestern Pennsylvania's 18th District to fill the remaining 10 months in the term of former Republican Rep. Tim Murphy, who resigned amid a scandal. But it renders the special election virtually meaningless: the court's map puts each candidate's homes in a district with a Pittsburgh-area incumbent.

The court ruled last month that Republicans who redrew district boundaries in 2011 unconstitutionally put partisan interests above neutral line-drawing criteria. It was the first time any state court threw out congressional boundaries in a partisan gerrymandering case, this one brought by registered Democratic voters and the League of Women Voters last June.

The new map repackages districts that had been stretched nearly halfway across Pennsylvania and reunifies Democratic-heavy cities that had been split by Republican map drawers six years ago.

Democrats cheered the new map.

“It remedies the outrageous gerrymander of 2011, and that's the important thing, that the gerrymander be over,” said David Landau, the Democratic Party chairman of Delaware County, which was ground zero for the “Goofy Kicking Donald Duck” district. “All that zigging and zagging is all gone, and it makes Delaware County a competitive seat now.”

Mark Harris, a Pittsburgh-based GOP campaign consultant, was one of many Republicans bashing the new product.

“It's a straight Democratic gerrymander by a Democratic Supreme Court to help Democrats,” Harris said.

Independent analysts said the map should improve Democratic prospects while still favouring Republicans as a whole. An analysis conducted through PlanScore.org concluded the court's redrawn map eliminates “much of the partisan skew” favouring Republicans on the old Republican-drawn map, although not all of it.

University of Florida political science doctoral student Brian Amos said Clinton beat Republican Donald Trump in eight of 18 districts in the 2016 presidential election on the court's map. That compared with six of 18 districts Clinton won in 2016 under the invalidated map.

Pennsylvania has provided a crucial pillar of support for Republican control of the U.S. House.

Republicans who controlled the Legislature and the governor's office after the 2010 census crafted the now-invalidated map to elect Republicans and succeeded in that aim: Republicans won 13 of 18 seats in three straight elections even though Pennsylvania's registered Democratic voters outnumber Republicans.

Republicans will argue in federal court that legislatures and governors, not courts, have the constitutional responsibility to draw congressional maps. But they appear to face an uphill battle since federal courts are normally reluctant to undo a state court decision, said Michael Morley, a constitutional law professor at Barry University in Florida.

“I think it will be a major obstacle and a major challenge to get around it,” Morley said.

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Trump revives push for limits on immigrants bringing family

By Deepti Hajela And Amy Taxin

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

NEW YORK - When the U.S. government approved Ricardo Magpantay, his wife and young children to immigrate to America from the Philippines, it was 1991. By the time a visa was available, it was 2005, and his children could not come with him because they were now adults.

More than a decade later, his children are still waiting.

Magpantay gets worried when he hears the White House is aiming to limit the relatives that immigrants-turned-citizens can sponsor, a profound change to a fundamental piece of the American immigration system.

“It is really frustrating and it is very dreadful for me, because after a long wait, if this will be passed, what will happen for them?” said Magpantay, a 68-year-old mechanical engineer in the Southern California city of Murrieta. “I won't be able to bring them forever.”

For the past 50-plus years, family reunification has been central to U.S. immigration law. Those who become naturalized citizens can bring spouses and minor children and petition for parents, adult children and siblings to get their own green cards and become Americans in their own right, with their own ability to sponsor.

Many on opposing sides of the immigration debate have long felt the family reunification system needs reform. Immigration advocates want a reassessment of the quotas on how many people can come from a given country in a given year, which has created decadeslong backlogs for citizens of some countries.

Self-described “restrictionists,” including President Donald Trump, want a narrower, nuclear definition of family, making spouses and minor children the only relatives a citizen could sponsor. That's a central plank of the sweeping immigration overhaul Trump has proposed, a move that activists say could cut legal immigration in the U.S. by half.

Congress rejected competing bills last week meant to resolve the status of hundreds of thousands of young people brought to the U.S. illegally, including one plan that mirrored Trump's overall immigration proposal. The lack of resolution on an issue that was pivotal to Trump's election leaves it as potential tinderbox for the midterm congressional elections this fall.

In his State of the Union speech last month, Trump referenced an attempted bombing by a Bangladeshi immigrant in New York in December as proof of the need to curtail what he and others term “chain migration” in favour of a more skills-based system.

“This vital reform is necessary not just for our economy, but for our security and for the future of America,” he said.

Trump is giving a spotlight to an idea that “was clearly out in the wilderness” in a policy sense, and something only its advocates were really talking about, said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, which has long pushed for limits on family sponsorships.

“He has forced issues to the forefront that need to be debated,” Krikorian said.

Advocates of family reunification call the rhetoric around merit and skills a smoke screen.

“They're being disingenuous - their goal is to reduce immigration overall,” said Anu Joshi, director of immigration policy at the New York Immigration Coalition. “This is just about cutting family, it's a family ban.”

Prior to 1965, U.S. immigration was tightly controlled, with parts of the world all but ineligible and caps that ended up favouring immigrants from northern Europe.

Families of Italians and other Europeans pushed to change the law, resulting in a system that opened visas to all countries equally, with preferences for family reunification and, to a lesser extent, those with advanced skills or education.

At the time, politicians didn't think the changes would make a great deal of difference and that European immigrants would be the main beneficiaries. Instead, Asians and Latin Americans started coming and then were able to bring their parents and siblings.

Dividing the available visas equally among countries also had an unanticipated impact. In countries where the demand was higher, like China, India and the Philippines, the line has grown so long that it can take years for someone to get a green card.

That's a reality immigrants and their advocates wish more Americans knew, in the face of Trump's State of the Union assertion that “a single immigrant can bring in virtually unlimited numbers of distant relatives.”

Jeff DeGuia, 28, recalled that it took his mother more than a decade to bring two sisters from the Philippines.

“There's definitely this idea you are not really complete without your huge family,” said DeGuia, whose grandfather came to the United States for an engineering job in the 1970s. His family settled in Chicago, though he and his brother now live in Southern California.

“Your cousins are like your brothers and sisters, and your uncles and aunts are like second dads and second moms,” he said.

Proposals to scale back the number of immigrants allowed into the country will end up dividing families and drive more people to enter the country illegally, making them vulnerable to exploitation, said Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights in Los Angeles.

Family immigration is also important, advocates said, because it signals immigrants' commitment to make America their home, not just take a job that lands them here. For years, relatives have helped newcomers integrate into society.

Royce Murray, policy director for the American Immigration Council in Washington, said immigrants bringing family to join them once they settle in the United States is the foundation of the country.

“The idea someone came before us and wanted to work hard and bring their family is actually a very unifying value, a very bipartisan value,” she said. “Wanting to reunify families should be common ground, and we're struggling against this hostile branding to make it something that it's not.”

Taxin reported from Santa Ana, California.

Deepti Hajela and Amy Taxin cover immigration issues for The Associated Press. Follow them on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/dhajela and https://twitter.com/ataxin. For more of their work, search for their names at https://apnews.com.

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