Districts prefer the beef less traveled

A movement to buy locally grown meat hits schools, and students are chowing the burgers. Is it worth the cost?

The growing movement that advocates buying and eating locally-produced food gains momentum in schools with the introduction of homegrown beef. Proponents contend switching from unknown industrial providers to local suppliers — not just of beef but vegetables, fruits, bread and milk — would be better for kids and build a system where people can know where their food comes from and control it. Boosting local capacity to produce food makes long-term sense, they say — despite prices up to twice as high — because rising oil prices worldwide may mean even higher food costs in the future.

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Immigrants’ final trip home

Edwin Lara’s circuitous final journey began in Denver’s Funeraria Latina, then went by air to his home country of El Salvador, and finally he was driven on a road past a volcanic lake — nearly a month after he died — to the village where he was born.

“He always wanted to go back,” his sister, Cecelia, said at a visitation. “It was his dream to save money and then be with his children in El Salvador.”

Journeys such as this are increasingly common as the families of immigrants in Colorado, and throughout the United States, arrange for deceased loved ones to be transported back home. It’s a reverse migration of sorts that requires a new body-shipping dimension in the multibillion-dollar business of caring for the dead.

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Helping homeland orphans

When 11-year-old Ana Dodson returned to her native Peru, she watched barefoot children scavenging through garbage for food. She stepped off a bus nearby. Orphans mobbed her. She gave them teddy bears — and saw herself in their faces.

A well-to-do Colorado family adopted Ana as an infant in 1992, and she moved from a mud-and-tin mountainside shantytown near Cusco to a radically different world: a two-story home in a foothills suburb west of Denver with private school, synagogue, horse-riding and sparkling shopping malls.

Today, four years after meeting those children in Cusco, Ana, now 16, is leading an effort to help them. She began a “Peruvian Hearts” campaign — part of an emerging trend in which U.S. teenagers launch aid projects. Going back to Peru also prompted Ana to track down her biological siblings and father — an unusual accomplishment in international adoptions. U.S. adults adopt about 20,000 children a year from low-income countries, a figure that has tripled since the early 1990s, records show. Children increasingly are visiting their birth countries to explore their roots. But adoption agency officials say few have found and forged relations with biological parents abroad.

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Soccer for the soul in Aurora

Familiar sport comforts growing community of African immigrants

Angolan immigrant Zacarias Paulo perched at the edge of the booth at Le Baobab restaurant, eyes fixed on a big-screen Hitachi as he watched Angola’s Black Antelopes pound Egypt’s Pharaohs in African Cup of Nations soccer.

The Africans come from nations across the continent and, though fewer in number than their counterparts from Mexico, are multiplying rapidly and sinking roots. Census data obtained last week indicated about 16,585 African immigrants reside in the area, which is double the number in 2000.

Their latest oasis opened off a once-blighted bit of East Colfax Avenue is the crimson-walled Le Baobab restaurant in Aurora, run by Congolese refugees Clarisse and Sylvin Mberry.

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Author talks of education building

Greg Mortenson “careful” with creation of schools along Pakistan-Afghanistan border

Mountain climber turned social entrepreneur who once raised government suspicions is now attracting positive attention from the U.S. military for his school-building drive in the Pakistan-Afghanistan borderlands. This creates a problem.

“I have to be very careful,” said Greg Mortenson, who appreciates the recognition but fears that if he becomes aligned with the U.S. government he’ll no longer be trusted by the people he helps.

Sales of Mortenson’s book “Three Cups of Tea” just topped 1 million, and Pentagon officials bought several thousand copies as reading for soldiers training to fight terrorism.

Pentagon strategists three times have invited Mortenson to speak with them about his softer approach. He has established 64 schools that give a balanced education to 25,000 girls and boys otherwise targeted by recruiters for anti-U.S. groups.

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Artists cut rocks and reveal soul

Zimbabwean stone carvers find respite in Denver from their homeland’s unrest.

Zimbabwean sculptor Brian Nyanhongo winces inside the Denver Botanic Gardens amid 57 towering stone creations weighing up to 3 tons.

For Denver, these massive sculptures carved by Zimbabwean masters became a popular diversion — eliciting emotional responses from Americans passing among plants.

But for Nyanhongo, 39, and other visiting Zimbabwean sculptors — who have been chipping away at imported raw rocks in tents around the gardens — the exhibit is a matter of survival.

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Citizenship Case Takes a New Twist

New filings in the citizenship battle of a blind Palestinian
computer whiz show that the FBI completed its background check a
year ago but that Homeland Security officials then failed to rule
as required under federal law.

The government also has admitted it failed to comply fully with a
federal judge’s order to turn over the FBI background check

U.S. District Judge Walker Miller on Thursday reordered the
government to provide full results of the FBI check on Colorado
resident Zuhair Mahd – to be sealed and delivered by the end of
next week.

Government lawyers say the FBI never reveals background-check
results whether they are positive or negative. Revealing results
“may interfere with ongoing law enforcement or national security
investigations or interests,” according to U.S. Attorney Troy
Eid’s latest filing.

Eid on Thursday said: “The government will comply with the court

Department of Homeland Security citizenship spokesman Chris Bentley
declined to comment on the delays.

The case has revealed irregularities in how the government carries
out security checks on citizenship applicants under a system
instituted after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Mahd is among tens of
thousands of applicants nationwide who have passed tests but have
been left in limbo.

After applying for citizenship in September 2004 and passing tests
three months later, Mahd waited and waited, told by citizenship
officials that the FBI hadn’t completed his background check. In
May 2006, he filed a lawsuit to force action and won this year when
Miller ordered the FBI to complete the check in 45 days.

Then, citizenship officials rejected Mahd’s application after he
refused to submit to an additional videotaped interview.

A computer expert who pioneered text-to-speech software, Mahd, 34,
is representing himself. He was born totally blind to Palestinian
refugees in Jordan and came to the United States as a teenager with
the help of U.S. officials. He has worked for IBM and on government
contracts, living in the country legally for 17 years.

Judge Miller has asked government lawyers why Mahd shouldn’t be
naturalized immediately.

U.S. Attorney Eid has argued Miller doesn’t have jurisdiction.
Federal judges once handled citizenship cases, but this duty was
transferred in the 1990s to the Department of Justice in an effort
to unburden courts.

U.S. immigration law says, however, that if applications of
immigrants who pass citizenship tests aren’t handled in 120 days,
the applicants can go to federal court and ask judges to decide.

Mahd said he’s bewildered to learn the FBI check has been done for
a year. He has appealed the denial.

“For all I know, they think I’m a heinous criminal or a
mischievous person. I’d like to clear this,” he said.

Iraqis to Call Denver Home

Over the next three weeks, the government plans to bring more than
1,400 refugees from Iraq to Denver and other U.S. cities – opening
doors that have been closed since the fall of Saddam Hussein.

By next year, the number of Iraqi refugees may swell to 12,000,
according to officials at the U.S. Departments of State and
Homeland Security.

Between 1992 and 2002, the U.S. accepted an average of 2,800 Iraqi
refugees a year. Since then, the annual average has dropped to

The accelerated flow is in response to pressure to ease a worsening
humanitarian crisis, State Department spokesman Kurtis Cooper

“We want to take care of the people who have helped us, especially
those who might feel under threat,” Cooper said.

United Nations officials last week estimated one in seven Iraqis
have left their homes.

More than 2 million have made it to neighboring countries – the
largest Middle East displacement since the 1948 creation of

The first refugees set to arrive in Denver are Nazar Al Taei, his
wife and their three children. They are scheduled to fly from
Jordan today.

Al Taei worked as a translator for the American military. His legs
were injured, leaving him with nerve problems, resettlement-agency
documents show. Fearing for their lives, the family fled to

Before the war in Iraq, Al Taei and his wife worked as
Russian-language teachers.

Others slated for resettlement in Denver include a woman with
breast cancer who hasn’t seen her husband since last year and
another who worked as an interpreter and secretary and is suffering
from serious depression and anxiety, the documents show.

An apartment off Colorado Boulevard has been furnished and stocked
for the Al Taei family. Local school officials await their
children, said Ferdi Mevlani, director of Ecumenical Refugee and
Immigration Services.

This Denver group is working on contract to guide about a dozen
Iraqi newcomers this month.

Meanwhile, tens of thousands more Iraqis clamor to get out,
according to U.N. and government officials.

“My family now, they are on the target,” said Omar Al Rahmani,
47, a Baghdad city councilman who translated for U.S. forces and
visited Denver twice on intergovernmental exchanges.

“My daughter’s school is 150 meters from my home. Even that is too
far,” Al Rahmani said in a telephone interview Friday.

“I don’t feel she’s safe, even though the school has four
guards,” Al Rahmani said. “I just want my family to be out in a
secure place. That’s all I want.”

For the U.S., accepting Iraqi refugees presents the major challenge
of screening out possible terrorists, said Paul Rosenzweig, deputy
assistant secretary in the Department of Homeland Security.

The Bush administration’s plan is to admit 10,000 to 12,000 Iraqis
a year, starting next year, Rosenzweig said.

“We’re doing enhanced background and biometric checks on people
coming out of Iraq to do the best we can to be sure those who are
admitted are deserving refugees, while at the same time screening
out those who might pose problems to us because of connections to
al- Qaeda in Iraq or other terrorist organizations,” he said.

By the end of this month, total Iraqi arrivals for 2007 should
reach 2,000, said Todd Pierce, spokesman for the State Department’s
migration bureau.

In the first seven months of 2007, some 190 Iraqi refugees were

United Nations High Commission for Refugees officials are
negotiating with the U.S. to accept as many of the 2 million Iraqi
refugees as possible, U.N. spokeswoman Wendy Young said.

The commission asked U.S. officials to admit 10,110 U.N.- screened
Iraqis this year – nearly three times the 3,586 Iraqis referred to
all other countries.

The fleeing Iraqis all managed to escape to neighboring countries
such as Jordan, where authorities last week closed their borders
because they are swamped with refugees.

“We rely on the United States as a key partner in refugee
resettlement,” Young said.

Inside Iraq, an estimated 2.2 million more uprooted Iraqis face
dwindling options for escape. U.N. officials say 50,000 a month are
fleeing their homes.

Some in Congress still oppose accepting any Iraqi refugees.

“I don’t trust the (government) to vet them correctly,” said U.S.
Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo.

Others, like U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-Colo., are pushing to help
more Iraqis out of a volatile situation.

“We’ve created it,” Perlmutter said. ” It’s a tragic situation.
And I don’t think we’ve come to grips with it.”

Perlmutter said he plans to introduce a bill that would admit up to
2,000 Iraqis who worked for U.S. diplomats and contractors in

“People who have assisted the United States should be welcome here
and be able to avoid persecution in Iraq, if that’s what they
choose,” he said.

Denver is seen as an ideal resettlement site because it has robust
agencies to help refugees from around the world, a healthy economy
and the capacity to treat torture victims, said Paul Stein,
coordinator of Colorado’s state refugee program and chairman of a
national advisory panel.

“By not making an effort to resettle more Iraqis, you’d definitely
feed into that notion of hypocrisy and double standards,” Stein

About 41,000 refugees were admitted to the U.S. last year among an
estimated 1.8 million legal and illegal immigrants.

Refugees, who are deemed unable to return safely to their home
countries, receive government assistance for 90 days.

Some Colorado leaders advocate resettling many more from Iraq.

“We’re directly affected by what’s happening in Iraq and the rest
of the world. … I’d like to see what tangible we can do to help
fulfill our moral obligations,” said state Rep. Joe Rice, who
served as a civil-affairs soldier in Iraq and hears regularly from
Iraqis wanting out.

But Rice said he’s also deeply conflicted. Many of those fleeing
Iraq “are the very people who are needed to try to stabilize
things, to build a new society there,” he said.

“If all the good people leave, who’s left to build a new

Feds Get Judicial Scolding

Judge exasperated at new delays in immigrant’s citizenship quest

Zuhair Mahd, a blind Palestinian computer programmer, has been in the U.S. legally for 17 years and passed his citizenship test in 2004.

A federal judge bristled with what he called “sheer disbelief” at
the government’s failure to follow his order in the case of a blind
Palestinian immigrant stalled in his quest for citizenship.

U.S. District Judge Walker Miller ordered federal authorities to
produce proof of an FBI background check of Colorado-based computer
expert Zuhair Mahd within 10 days.

Then, Miller said, he’ll decide whether he will rule on Mahd’s
long-delayed citizenship application – rather than leave it to the
Department of Homeland Security.

“This man’s been waiting since 2004,” Miller said. “This man has

The federal court action Friday in Denver gave a glimpse into what
have become widespread problems in the government’s
background-check program for all citizenship applicants to guard
against terrorism, started after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Last month, Miller ordered the government to prove why Mahd
“should not be immediately naturalized.” In March, he ordered the
FBI to complete Mahd’s background check within 45 days – after Mahd
filed a federal lawsuit.

U.S. Attorney Troy Eid notified Miller that the check was done,
with results forwarded to immigration officials, yet no
documentation had been given to the court.

On Friday before Judge Miller, Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth
Weishaupl argued that the judge has no jurisdiction to handle this

“I have the jurisdiction to determine whether my order has been
followed,” Miller said.

“What you are saying is: ‘You have to have a name check.’ But then
there’s nothing to show whether it’s been done. … I am not
satisfied,” he said.

Eid later issued a written statement: “We are confident that the
FBI completed the name check within the time frame mandated by the
court, and we look forward to proving this fact to the judge.”

Federal judges rarely rule on citizenship applications. In the
early 1990s, that responsibility was transferred to immigration
officials overseen by the Department of Justice so that courts
wouldn’t be bogged down.

But now immigration cases increasingly end up back in federal
court. Judges nationwide face multiplying cases filed by
citizenship applicants who have passed tests – but still aren’t
approved. The FBI is struggling to process hundreds of thousands of
background checks.

U.S. law says immigrants who pass citizenship tests must have their
cases handled in 120 days. Otherwise, applicants can go to court
and ask judges to decide.

Mahd, 33, who has legally been in the U.S. for 17 years, passed his
citizenship test in December 2004.

He was born blind to Palestinian refugees in Jordan, and came to
the United States as a teenager with the help of U.S. officials. A
computer programmer, he has worked for IBM and on government
contacts, pioneering Arabic text-to-speech software.

After Mahd won his case compelling the FBI and Homeland Security to
handle his application, immigration officials demanded that he
provide additional documents and submit to videotaped interviews.

Mahd at first refused, saying he feared a fishing expedition. He
asked agents to explain why the additional demands were legally

In June, he complied and presented four years of tax records,
travel documents, employment data back to 1998 and more. He still
refused to be interviewed. This month, his application was denied.

Mahd has appealed that denial within Homeland Security’s
immigration system.

On Friday, Judge Miller said he wanted to see certified background
check results, not merely a declaration that the FBI check has been

If the background check involves matters of national security,
Miller said, he will review the documents in his office.

Mahd, as a self-represented noncitizen, would not be able to attend
that meeting.

“I’m confident the judge would evaluate this properly,” he said

Assistant U.S. Attorney Weishaupl told Miller she needed to have
his request for background-check documentation in writing.

“You will note, of course, the irony of you wanting something in
writing,” Miller said, assuring her it would be done in the
tradition of open government.

“I have no hesitation to put my orders in writing for all to
see,” he said.

Food Labels’ Quiet Revolution

While implementation of a country-of-origin law languishes, some stores take the initiative.

Melynda Saldenais surveys grocery aisles composing labels that
reveal where food comes from and how it is grown.

Descriptions “like luscious and succulent” leave her cold,
Saldenais said this week in a central Denver store as she reviewed
her literary efforts. But she’d love to be able to write
“China-free” – if a new company initiative pans out.

“Our beef is imported from Australia,” reads the label she wrote
for frozen burgers, “where cattle roam freely on lush green
pastures. They graze the way nature intended on 250 species of
native grasses and herbs.”

Saldenais and her company, the Boulder-based national chain Wild
Oats Markets Inc., along with its future acquirer Whole Foods
Market and other upscale grocers, are responding to a nascent
revolution: Americans are demanding to know the origins of every
tomato, strawberry and steak.

Tainted food scares and increased U.S. reliance on imported food –
from Europe, Mexico, China – drive the growing demands for details
previously kept secret.

Congress ordered country-of-origin labeling in 2002. But the
government, under pressure from mainstream grocers and meatpackers,
has failed to implement the law.

The 2007 farm bill pending before U.S. senators would again order
the government to act.

Meanwhile, Wild Oats and Whole Foods are embracing what customers

They’re using auditors and inspectors to investigate sources of
ingredients in all of the products on their shelves and then
providing detailed labels.

“What we’re seeing in this country is increasing consumer concern
about where and how their food is produced. … The stores that are
labeling now, they see the right end of the law,” said Joe
Mendelson, legal director at the Center for Food Safety, an
advocacy group.

Imports accounted for 14 percent of American food consumption in
2005, compared with 7 percent in the mid-1980s.

Some of the new labeling is somewhat confusing. A Whole Foods
placard at the Cherry Creek store promotes “natural Moroccan
quality” salmon from “Sussex County, New Jersey” that is
“produced by a company committed to sustainable fishing
practices” to ensure “the health of the oceans.”

Whole Foods shoppers “appreciate more, rather than less
information/education,” spokeswoman Ashley Hawkins said.

Saldenais, 39, meets regularly with growers, ranchers and
executives to glean facts and check the accuracy of their claims.

But the origins of some meat, frozen fruit and other foods at Wild
Oats still aren’t labeled as precisely as the country-of-origin
labeling law would require, company officials concede.

The push to reveal origins is leading to closer scrutiny of an
increasingly global supply chain, said Dan Heiges, Wild Oats
director of standards.

Auditors recently exposed a potato-chip maker who had switched to a
cheaper Chinese source of granulated garlic without notifying Wild

Vegetable snacks containing ingredients from China recently were
yanked from shelves after inspectors found traces of salmonella.

Wild Oats now requires suppliers of its private-label products to
certify whether any ingredients come from China or other countries
associated with risks, spokeswoman Sonja Tuitele said. Suppliers
are told to find alternative ingredients in a new initiative aimed
at declaring food “China-free,” Tuitele said.

“We would love to be able to tell our customers that, or at least
identify products we sell that do not have any ingredients from
China,” she said.

“Whether this is possible or not remains to be seen because
ingredients from China are so pervasive in our food supply.”

For years, studies have shown Americans favor precise labeling on
food, for safety and to “buy local.” Last month, a Consumers
Union poll found 92 percent of Americans want country-of-origin
labeling. A Colorado State University study in 2002 found consumers
would even pay more for carefully-labeled food.

“I’m pregnant. It’s really important for me to know that food is
safe and clean,” Tannaz Walker, 31, said while reading a yogurt
label at a Wild Oats east of Boulder recently with her 1-year-old,
Andrew, perched atop her cart.

She picked up a “New York steak” made of “grass-fed” beef,
presumably from the United States. Or was it?

“Well, goodness, it’s a ‘New York steak.’ I hope it’s from the
U.S.,” she said, as her son began to stir in his seat.

Further investigation showed it came from Australia.

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