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World Briefs I

Naturalization Overhaul Planned

Los Angeles Times

Clinton administration officials plan to unveil a blueprint for overhauling the nation's naturalization process Monday, noting that at least 369 people naturalized during an aggressive 1996 citizenship drive had criminal convictions that should have made them ineligible.

The new system, developed after a yearlong study by outside experts, would help reduce fraud, cut wait times and boost customer service, according to administration officials familiar with the plan. The total price tag for the new system remains unclear, but most of the cost would be covered by citizenship application fees, which are scheduled to jump from $95 to more than $200 later this year.

According to the Coopers' blueprint, prospective citizens would begin with an "eligibility work sheet" to determine basic qualifications. Under the old system, applicants sometimes went through the entire process even though they did not meet such simple requirements as the five-year residency rule.

They would take an English and civics test early in the process rather than at the end, and the results would be entered electronically into INS computers. Only after passing the test would prospective citizens get an application, have their fingerprints examined by the FBI, and be scheduled for an interview.

Throughout the process, applicants could check their status through the Internet or a telephone touch-tone voice-mail system. At every stage, they would be required to give two fingerprints; a digital photograph would also be used at the interview to prevent fraud.

Applicants would receive an appointment for the final interview in the mail and would be able to choose between getting naturalized right after the interview or waiting for a group ceremony, as is the current practice.

Clinton Urges Social Security Reform in Speech at Georgetown

The Washington Post

In a speech to a large audience of students at Georgetown University here, President Clinton said that looming budget surpluses - projected to total $1 trillion over the coming decade - will provide a unique opportunity to preserve Social Security for baby boomers and young people, who are skeptical the system will be there when they retire.

"This fiscal crisis in Social Security affects every generation," Clinton said. "We now know that the Social Security trust fund's fine for another few decades. But if it gets in trouble and we don't deal with it, then it not only affects the generation of the baby boomers (but) raises the question of whether they will have enough to live on by unfairly burdening their children."

Clinton told the students that his call for walling off future surpluses from spending and tax cuts until Congress and the administration can agree to a long-term solution to financing Social Security "should be the driving principle of this year's work" in Congress. "Do not have a tax cut," he said. "Do not have a spending program that deals with that surplus."

An administration task force is reviewing scores of proposals for fixing Social Security, but the White House is not inclined to float its own proposal until the regional hearings are over. Although experts say the Social Security trust fund won't run out of money until 2030, when baby boomer retirees overwhelm the system, Clinton said he would press for congressional action on long-term legislation.

Flamingos Wade as Peru Weeps

The Washington Post
ICA, Peru

Peruvian fishermen were the ones who coined the term El Nio - the boy-child - because it often begins to manifest itself around Christmas. For the most superstitious here, El Nio appears to be seeking revenge on the nation that first spoke its name.

Scientists have flocked here to observe the effects. Rains have turned the country's largest desert into an instant Eden where flamingos wade in pools of water. Prairie grass and brilliant wildflowers are blooming where once there was nothing more than dunes and scrub. The higher-than-average water temperatures - about 10 degrees above normal near the coast - have driven away some kinds of fish that used to provide food for sea lions and seagulls, whose corpses litter the beaches.

Parts of the Nazca Lines, immense and ancient figures scrawled in the desert near here, have been scribbled out by the hand of El Nino. In some towns, societies of people are living on roofs above inundated streets. Reports of mudslides and flash floods have gripped the nation.

Experts say this year's El Nio is worse than the vicious one in 1983, when hundreds died and Peru's economy plummeted 13 percent. With an estimated three months more to go, El Nino 1998 already has killed 112 people here; 80 more are missing, and hundreds of thousands of homes have been destroyed or flooded.