Posted: Jun 24, 2014 5:16 PM
Updated: Jun 24, 2014 5:17 PM
The Brownsville Herald. June 22, 2014.
Not at war
The recent surge in unauthorized border crossings many of them by unaccompanied children sparked calls for a new surge of law enforcers to the Mexican border.
Gov. Rick Perry, in a letter co-signed by Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and state House Speaker Joe Straus, on Wednesday authorized $35 million to fund an "operational surge" of state troopers to shore up border patrol efforts. U.S. House Speaker John Boehner on Friday asked the Obama administration to deploy National Guard troops to the border as well, to address the "national security and humanitarian crisis" the incursion has created.
As in previous deployments to the border, we strongly urge all parties involved to exercise caution and remember that most of the migrants law enforcement personnel encounter are coming for humanitarian reasons, not armed, hostile warriors who seek to harm us.
Certainly, any encroachment of our borders, even by children, must be addressed, and all efforts should be made to stop illegal crossings before they occur. But whether the crossers fall into the hands of trained Border Patrol officers, state troopers or military troops, they aren't likely to be violent.
We applaud the Obama administration for looking to open new shelters to relieve the overburdened immigration detention centers. Massive overcrowding had created inhumane conditions at those centers for both the immigrants and the staff who had to care for their needs.
That same spirit of humanity should exist in the detention and transfer process as well.
Unfortunately, the Texas Department of Public Safety did not inspired much confidence with its announcement Thursday that it would not give the public any information on how it plans to increase its presence on the border, or how it will use the $35 million in taxpayers' money. Many Rio Grande Valley residents remain justifiably outraged at the 2012 shooting by a DPS trooper in a helicopter, who killed two unarmed Guatemalan men riding in a pickup near La Joya.
Likewise, the increased militarization and aggression within the Border Patrol warrants concern. The U.S. Department of Customs and Border Protection last month announced policy and training revisions after a study criticized officers for a growing use of unwarranted lethal force, such as firing into moving vehicles and shooting at children who threw rocks at them.
We hope those revisions already are in use, and extend to any other agencies that are deployed to the border.
So many in this current wave of immigrants are children, and their flight from their homelands is a humanitarian issue. They come here hoping that conditions in the United States might be better than in their home countries. We should be able to address their incursion into our country without proving them wrong.
Corpus Christi Caller-Times. June 23, 2014.
Immigrants didn't deserve indignity in death or in life
The ceremonious laying to rest of the dead is a custom as old as upright bipedal locomotion. So, out of respect for humanity dating back to prehistoric hominids, let's not dignify what was discovered recently in a Brooks County ceremony with the terms "graves" or "burials."
Dirt had been pushed on top of unidentified human remains stuffed in body bags, plastic trash bags or no coverings at all. That's what anthropologists found on a mission of mercy to help identify the dead bodies dumped and covered over, as if the cemetery were a landfill.
State Sen Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa and state Rep. Terry Canales are right to demand a law enforcement investigation. They shouldn't even have to ask.
And certainly Funeraria del Angel Howard-Williams of Falfurrias, the funeral home paid by the county to bury dead, unidentified immigrants, has some questions to answer. So does its parent company, Service Corp. International of Houston. Howard-Williams is a small-town funeral home with limited resources, but SCI is huge and resourceful. Being overwhelmed and desperate seems a flimsy excuse.
What happened is an outrage. The only upside but a big one is the attention it could bring to our adversarial immigration system, which contributed to the deaths. Perhaps better circumstances for the living will emerge from the revulsion at what was done to the dead.
The unidentified victims died in the South Texas brush most likely of heat exhaustion, probably alone, probably left behind by unscrupulous guides. Those guides are part of a network that exploits people desperate enough to risk their lives to enter the United States illegally in hopes of finding work. U.S. immigration policy and enforcement helped create the market for human smugglers.
How the victims in the cemetery were treated in death was just a continuation of how life treated them. That doesn't excuse the disrespectful manner of disposal of their remains. The accountable need to be held accountable.
Meanwhile, the surreptitious journey north from the Mexico border continues. And now, increasingly, the immigrants are unaccompanied children seeking refuge from violence and poverty in their native countries south of Mexico.
The noun for that kind of person is "refugee" a status that puts a whole different spin on their presence here. They aren't just immigrants and certainly don't deserve the pejorative "illegals" or we heard this particularly ugly one recently on talk radio "trespassers."
That attitude toward immigrants has become public policy at the state level. Texas is answering the immigration enforcement challenge with a so-called security surge in the border region. Its desired effect is to discourage and reduce undocumented immigration. But the more likely outcome will be greater numbers of immigrants taking a potentially deadly path through the brush to avoid detection.
Shame on those who say it's the immigrants' just desserts for trying. We're a nation of immigrants, remember?
Also, shame on politicians who exploit the situation. On Monday, Attorney General Greg Abbott and Sen. Ted Cruz toured Lackland Air Force Base, where unaccompanied immigrant children were being detained. Abbott and Cruz used the occasion to blame President Barack Obama for lax enforcement.
Those two didn't propose what's needed a less hateful policy toward immigrants from the south.
Considering what a cemetery outrage did for the growth and prominence of the American G.I. Forum, perhaps some good can come from the discovery of the unceremonious burials in Brooks County.
Killeen Daily Herald. June 22, 2014.
Soldiers' sacrifice must be reflected in Iraq's future
For eight years, Fort Hood soldiers deployed to Iraq.
Our servicemen and women were involved in every phase of the war, from the initial invasion in 2003, to the capture of Saddam Hussein, to the much-heralded surge, to Operation New Dawn.
During the course of those eight years, more than 700,000 active-duty soldiers and 76,000 National Guard and Reserve elements deployed to the global war on terror, the vast majority to Iraq, III Corps statistics show.
Many of our soldiers returned wounded or didn't return at all. A total of 519 Fort Hood soldiers died in combat in Iraq and more than 5,400 were wounded. Fort Hood's heavy burden is reflected by the fact that 20 percent of all Iraq War casualties deployed from the Central Texas Army post.
Given these sobering statistics, it must be particularly troubling for Iraq veterans and their families to watch the unfolding sectarian violence that has shaken Iraq over the past several weeks and threatens to irreparably damage the country.
In the midst of the chaos, there is no shortage of finger-pointing on Capitol Hill, naturally. Some blame the Obama administration for withdrawing U.S. troops at the end of 2011, possibly before the Iraqi army forces were sufficiently trained. Others blame the Bush administration for ordering the invasion of Iraq in the first place and then executing a flawed strategy for stabilizing the nation. Still others place the blame on Iraq's Shiite prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, who has fanned sectarian tensions by denying Sunnis a greater role in the country's government.
Wherever the blame lies, the escalating violence has to be a bitter pill for those who risked their lives to help establish democratic rule in Iraq. The pain is likely even more palpable for the families and loved ones of those soldiers who never returned.
The celebration of Saddam's capture by 4th Infantry Division soldiers seems a lifetime ago at this moment, after jihadist fighters last week stormed through the cities of Mosul and Tikrit areas once liberated and controlled by U.S. forces.
Over the course of the eight-year operation in Iraq, Fort Hood soldiers not only invested their lives in toppling a dictator; they worked diligently to improve living conditions for Iraqis building schools, paving roads and improving electric and water infrastructure.
The country appeared to be well on its way to achieving stability.
According to the U.S. Defense Department, in December 2008 the overall level of violence in the country had dropped 80 percent since before the surge began in January 2007, and the country's murder rate had dropped to prewar levels.
When the last Fort Hood soldiers crossed the border into Kuwait in December 2011, many no doubt left with the hope that Iraq was an emerging democracy, that its people would prosper and see the United States as an ally.
Now that hope is all but gone, marred by bloodshed and violence that have destabilized a nation that as little as four years ago appeared to be at peace.
Of course, the question now is what to do about the situation.
Already, President Barack Obama has announced he will send 300 special forces soldiers to Iraq to serve as advisers for joint operations around Baghdad, as insurgents advance on the Iraqi capital.
The president has hinted at the possibility of airstrikes, but to this point has ruled out sending combat troops. Still, the current crisis holds the potential for renewed military involvement at some point and that carries major implications for the Fort Hood community.
Given the fact that Iraq's society has been fractured by sectarian divisions for centuries, it's unlikely that any military solution will prevail.
Forging a more inclusive government in Baghdad may be the only way to stem the tide of sectarian violence. Preserving Iraq's fledgling democracy will not only offer stability, but it will honor the sacrifice of our soldiers who fought and died for the cause of freedom.
And if that's not feasible, what did eight years in Iraq really accomplish?
Houston Chronicle. June 21, 2014.
Coming clean: Texans have a right to know if they're living next door to a dangerous chemical site
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott is currently refusing to release to the public information about facilities that house potentially dangerous chemicals, saying that those details are "confidential."
This, despite the fact that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has ruled that such information should be accessible to the public, unless protected as a state secret. Additionally, Texas has released such information at the request of any member of the public for the past 30 years.
Abbott often rails about the "overreach" of the federal government, claiming it continually usurps states' rights by imposing burdensome, sweeping regulations. He jokes that his job consists of going to work every day and suing President Barack Obama. He told conservative radio host Glenn Beck last February that he has sued the Obama administration 33 times over the past five years, most of those suits targeting the EPA. (The state sued the Bush and Clinton administrations just three times in all.)
This time, it appears that Abbott is the overreacher.
Late last year (just months after the horrendous chemical explosion at a fertilizer company in the small town of West, which killed 16 people and injured more than 160), he told the state agencies charged with gathering this information, called Tier II reports, that they were confidential because they contained specific details that could be used "in the construction or assembly" of a weapon. His office said those rulings were the result of several requests from state departments asserting that the Tier II reports should be confidential under Texas state law. Abbott's office then issued a ruling to that effect.
So far, the Houston Chronicle reports, the EPA has not responded to questions on whether Abbott's rulings on chemical site data conflict with federal law, and it is not clear whether federal authorities will step in to ensure the information is publicly accessible.
We urge them do so.
Texans have a right to know what dangers to our health and safety we are being exposed to especially now, when Texas, and particularly Houston, is riding high, with a vibrant and welcoming economy that is the envy of the nation.
If we are to continue to attract the best and the brightest, it is essential that we intelligently address quality-of-life issues on which we base our choices of where to live and raise our children such as clean air, clean water and a safe environment.
It shouldn't be that difficult. Typically, industries have responded constructively to reasonable federal mandates, resulting in smarter, cleaner and often cheaper energy, vehicles and countless other technological innovations, and in cleaner air, saving billions in health costs and lost productivity.
It would be refreshing, and would save us thousands of tax dollars spent on lawsuits, to see our state officials recognize that EPA regulations to protect and improve our environment are not unfair impositions on industry and need not always be challenged. We would all be the winners.
Fort Worth Star-Telegram. June 24, 2014.
TDCJ takes a small step to address the heat problems in state prisons
The extreme heat inside Texas prison units during the summer sometimes reaching as high as 115 degrees Fahrenheit has been an issue for years, with little reaction or show of concern coming from state officials and authorities within the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
Contrary to popular belief, the majority of state penitentiaries are not air-conditioned. Of the 109 prison units, housing more than 150,000 inmates, only 19 (medical and special needs facilities) have climate control for prisoners' living areas.
A report by the Human Rights Clinic at The University of Texas School of Law last month documented at least 14 heat-related deaths in the system since 2007.
As a result, several lawsuits have been filed against TDCJ, including one by correctional officers, alleging that conditions inside the mostly metal and concrete prisons violate the constitutional prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.
Just this month, a federal lawsuit was filed on behalf of four inmates who, among other things, allege that their metal bunks are so hot they sleep on the concrete floors, The Associated Press reported.
This year TDCJ is installing cooling systems in seven units (three transfer facilities and four state jails), but officials are quick to say it has nothing to do with lawsuits or the growing criticism about the heat problem.
The wire service said that the cooling devices are similar to those used on the sidelines of football games played in the heat. Each unit consists of "a large fan inside about 6-foot-by-6-foot box. Water from a hose behind the $1,800 device flows over coils that cool the air pushed by the fan."
That's not an ideal situation, but it likely offers some relief for prisoners who have access to the cooler air.
Regardless of why the prison system made that move, it was at least a step in the right direction in addressing a deplorable condition. But it is far from being enough.
It's estimated that it will cost $55 million to air-condition state prison facilities, an amount the Legislature is not likely to allocate anytime soon.
This ought to be a state priority. If lawmakers don't address it soon, Texas could spend a lot more on lawsuits than air conditioning.