Corpus Christi Caller-Times, July 3, 2014.
Get on, not off comprehensive immigration reform
To hear Republican U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold of Corpus Christi tell it, Congress is willing help solve the immigration crisis if only President Barack Obama would "get off the belief that we have to do comprehensive immigration reform." This resistance to comprehensive reform, rampant throughout Congress, puzzles us because all the signs point to comprehensive reform as being urgent.
Consider that 52,000 undocumented immigrant children are known to have crossed the southern border unaccompanied so far this year as of mid-June, fleeing violence and poverty in their homelands. The trend is expected to continue.
So is the record-setting trend of deaths in the inhospitable South Texas brush, where immigrants risk heat exhaustion as they seek to evade the Border Patrol.
And let's not overlook the ones who succeeded. There are an estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants in the country, 1.7 million of whom are what's known as DREAMers - young people brought here as children, who would be eligible to stay under legislation known as the DREAM Act if only it were to pass. The DREAM Act would be one humanitarian step in the direction of comprehensive immigration reform. It offers legal residency to people who can't be blamed for having come here illegally, in exchange for attaining higher education or serving in the military.
So, back to Farenthold and his wilted olive branch: He says his colleagues are amenable to several piecemeal measures such as hiring more immigration judges so we can hurry up and send these children back to places like Honduras, which has the world's highest homicide rate. That's actually part of Obama's plan, which we'll get to in greater detail in a moment.
Republicans blame Obama as the cause of the immigration crisis because he decided administratively a while back, after a failed attempt at immigration reform, to foot-drag on sending DREAMers back to where they don't remember having come from.
Later, immigrant smugglers spun a myth that children who make it here won't be sent back - even bloodthirsty criminals need marketing. Obama's critics blame the market response on his DREAMer policy - as if the lying criminal exploiters of human cargo would need Obama to perpetuate their lie, and as if the increasing violence and poverty of the immigrants' homelands weren't motive enough to chance the dangerous trip to our safe, prosperous country.
Well, this is not a marketing pitch: No other president has deported more immigrants. "Obama is a bad president for immigrants," an immigrant told Mary Lee Grant, writing for the Caller-Times.
The deporter-in-chief asked Congress in a letter last week for help in moving forward with the following:
"An aggressive deterrence strategy focused on the removal and repatriation of recent border crossers;
"A sustained border security surge through enhanced domestic enforcement, including interdiction and prosecution of criminal networks;
"A significant increase in immigration judges, reassigning them to adjudicate cases of recent border crossers, and establishing corresponding facilities to expedite the processing of cases involving those who crossed the border in recent weeks;
"A stepped up effort to work with our Central American partners to repatriate and reintegrate migrants returned to their countries, address the root causes of migration, and communicate the realities of these dangerous journeys."
That should cover just about every gripe of those who accuse him of lax enforcement.
Once they've gotten the deterrence part done, perhaps Obama can set aside his legacy-building and his critics can set aside their career-building long enough to address comprehensive reform. We keep hearing about the prevailing wisdom that an election year is not a safe time to address comprehensive immigration reform. Meanwhile, failure to address it becomes increasingly unsafe.
Houston Chronicle. July 3, 2014.
Our soul: We are still a nation of immigrants
In our national body politic, we look to the Constitution as our brain, but the Declaration of Independence is our soul. Among those ephemeral ideals that define who we are, Thomas Jefferson proclaimed it self-evident that all men are created equal, endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, such as life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
This proclamation does not end at the border. For centuries, we have shouted these truths from the rooftops, striving to be a beacon unto the world. So we should not be surprised when people in dire straits follow that beacon to our doorstep.
Whether pilgrims seeking escape from religious persecution or refugees from civil wars halfway around the globe, our American soul has always instructed us to welcome these newcomers. In fact, King George III's obstruction of immigration laws and refusal to encourage immigration to the colonies was one of Jefferson's stated indictments against the crown.
This is a problem that feels all too familiar, with our broken immigration system resulting in chaos along the border while Congress refuses to act.
It may be easy to blame the Central American refugees for believing mistruths about legal permits for children, but desperate people often cling to dreams. After all, not so long ago a generation of immigrants came to our nation on the promise that the streets were paved with gold. Now we see streets filled with protesters trying to block buses full of women and children looking for the American Dream.
There's nothing new in that, either. For as long as we've welcomed immigrants, skeptics and nativists have warned about newcomers bringing disease, stealing jobs and sullying our nation with foreign values. Even Benjamin Franklin worried that German immigrants would be unable to assimilate, and would "Germanize us instead of our Anglifying them."
So while some may look at the children on our borders and call them an illegal invasion, it is hard not to see in their hopeful eyes a reflection of those ancestors who once sailed the ocean in search of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
The Eagle of Bryan-College Station. July 6, 2014.
Immigration solution is in Washington, not Murrieta
"I've spoken of the Shining City all my political life. . In my mind it was a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, windswept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That's how I saw it, and see it still." - President Ronald Reagan in his farewell address
It was a sad spectacle last week when many residents of Murrieta, California, angrily blocked three busloads of refugees from Central America from their community. Many of those protesting loudly appeared not to be far removed from immigration to this nation themselves.
It isn't hard to be sympathetic with the residents of that southern California city, which experienced a 233.7 percent population growth between 2000 and 2010. They worried that the mothers and children in the buses being transferred from Texas to a Department of Homeland Security center in Murrietta would be processed and released onto the streets of the town. The influx of so many undocumented immigrants would tax the city's strained resources.
Still, though, what a terrible way to treat people who came to this country fleeing poverty and drug violence in their home nations. Haven't they been traumatized enough?
Using the words of Jesus, President Reagan spoke often of "the Shining City on the Hill," a beacon to the world of the best in humankind, a land of opportunity and hopes and dreams - indeed, the American Dream. We can't say to the world that we are the best there is and add, but don't come here.
To be sure, this country has rules and regulations involving immigration and they must be upheld. People who come here must do so legally.
But the solution is to stop those coming here illegally before they reach our borders. That is the job of the federal government, and in that it has failed miserably. The president has refused to enforce the laws. The Congress refuses to deal at all with the influx of people coming here illegally. The members lack the political courage to do what they all know they must do.
At the same time, Congress has failed to appropriate sufficient resources to maintain our border security.
People of the many communities along the 1,954-mile border with Mexico shouldn't be expected to do the job of the federal government. And it is unseemly and dangerous to act as those residents of Murrieta did last week.
It is terrible the mothers and children of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras fear living in their own countries so much that they are willing to make the long and dangerous trek across Mexico to come to America. This country must work to ensure they can live safely in their homeland and we must help Mexico protect its southern border from emigrants seeking safety in the United States.
Once they are here, though, we must treat those mothers and children humanely and with the dignity and respect they deserve simply for being.
We must decide what we are going to do with the estimated 60,000 mothers and children who will pour across our borders from Central America this year. We can't keep them locked up - morally or economically - and it is hard to see how we can send them back to the horrors they fear at home. Whatever the answer is, Congress and the president must work together to find it - and find it quickly.
At the same time, they must enforce the laws already in existence to secure our border from those who come here without going through proper channels.
One thing we must not do is become a country that isn't that Shining City, that isn't the beacon of hope and welcome to the world.
When we make America inhospitable for immigrants, we make it inhospitable for each other.
The Dallas Morning News. July 4, 2014.
Abbott steps in it on chemicals issue
Boy, did Attorney General Greg Abbott step in it.
The occasion was Abbott's explanation for how Texans could find out about volatile chemicals in their neighborhoods, in the wake of a ruling by his office restricting access to records on chemical inventories.
"Drive around," was the AG's advice. "You can ask every facility whether or not they have chemicals or not."
That simple? To test Abbott's "just ask" advice, a WFAA-TV news crew visited two Dallas plants to inquire about the chemicals on hand. The response from one place was the corporate runaround. The response from the other sounded like "get lost."
If a TV reporter can't extract information from a nearby business owner, where does that leave everyday residents? The answer: potentially vulnerable.
Abbott also cited a portion of the Texas Health and Safety Code that requires chemical facilities to produce information in writing, upon request. But how effective that provision is for everyday citizens is unclear.
That's a sorry come-about, as this state tries to learn from last year's deadly fertilizer disaster in West and keep data available to Texans who deserve to know about danger around the corner.
For decades, information about chemical stockpiles was available under the federal Community Right to Know Act, passed after a toxic cloud from a pesticide plant killed thousands in Bhopal, India. Then came 9/11 and passage of a 2003 state law that tightened up potential release of information on substances that could end up in a bomb.
Abbott's recent ruling, in an open-records case, relied on the state's anti-terrorism statute. It told the Department of State Health Services that it may withhold information collected on dangerous chemical inventories. The fact that Abbott has taken thousands of dollars from political donors related to Koch Industries, a multinational corporation with extensive chemical interests, creates particularly noxious "optics" for the Republican attorney general in his campaign for governor.
A day after Abbott's "just ask" remark, he conceded in an interview with The Associated Press that it's "challenging" for people to find out about chemical stockpiles. To say the least.
What he didn't say - and Texans should know - is that the State Fire Marshal's Office in the Texas Department of Insurance maintains an online search tool where people can inquire, by ZIP code, about stockpiles of ammonium nitrate, the chemical that ignited and killed 15 in West. The tool gives out limited information, but it's a start.
Now in light of the AG's ruling, state lawmakers need to find an acceptable balance between competing interests: the public's right to know vs. keeping dangerous chemicals from dangerous people.
The chairman of the House Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee, Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, unveiled a bill last week to stiffen regulation of ammonium nitrate. The pushback from GOP lawmakers indicated it could have a rough way to go.
This newspaper has been consistently clear what regulation of dangerous chemicals should look like: The law should demand that inventories be secure, responsibly insured and not in the midst of neighborhoods. And their presence should not be a mystery to people.
Austin American-Statesman. July 7, 2014.
Sound reasons are needed for Powers' dismissal
There's no question that University of Texas President Bill Powers will soon be leaving his post. The question is: When will that time actually be?
Last week, UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa gave the president of the Austin flagship campus what essentially amounted to an ultimatum: Resign by the end of the week, effective by the end of October, or risk the consequences when the Board of Regents meets this week. Powers did not present a letter of resignation at the end of the week. Instead, Powers asked for a "graceful rather than abrupt departure" next spring, which he said would be better, according to a letter he wrote to Cigarroa.
Powers' request is a good compromise.
"This has been very difficult for me," Cigarroa told us. "Especially since I've advocated for Bill Powers."
Yet Cigarroa, citing a fractured relationship with Powers, believes it is time for change.
This is the second time, the American-Statesman has reported, in about a year that Cigarroa asked Powers to step down, and the second time the chancellor has received push-back. As the Statesman reported in April, notes from closed-door regents' meetings obtained by the newspaper show that Cigarroa asked Powers last summer to step down, but Powers refused. Later in December, Cigarroa said publicly that he wanted Powers to remain on the job, citing improved levels of respect and communication with system officials and regents.
But this time around, Cigarroa's request comes at a time of turmoil for the campus.
Last month Cigarroa said that he would order an investigation of admission practices at the campus by an outside party, a move that reversed a previous decision by the chancellor. This new examination follows a previous nine-month investigation that found no wrongdoing by the UT administration. But Cigarroa said a complaint warranted a close exploration of how the university handles recommendations from legislators and others on behalf of applicants.
Meanwhile, Regent Wallace L. Hall Jr. is the subject of a criminal investigation by Travis County prosecutors as well as a legislative investigation that could lead to his impeachment. Hall, who has made no secret of his desire to oust Powers, is under scrutiny for his unprecedented examination of UT-Austin records, as well as for his handling of confidential student information he obtained in the process.
It's unclear exactly why Cigarroa is pressing Powers now, although it is clear that the two have had a testy relationship for years.
For almost four years, Powers has been the subject of intense criticism from a faction on the board that clearly wants to see him removed. But there are plenty who want Powers to remain as head of UT, including members of the Legislature, faculty and alumni groups.
It's easy to see why he has a large group of supporters.
Powers has been an effective leader and an able fundraiser for the institution. He's attracted top scholars to teach and has been an able advocate for UT in overlapping alumni and political circles. However, his very public struggle with members of the Board of Regents - all appointed by Gov. Rick Perry - seems to be never-ending.
Last year, when the very same predicament was at stake, we suggested a vote to allow the regents and the university administration to move on with the tasks ahead - including the founding of a UT-Austin medical school - would be more than welcome. Absent any substantial reason why Powers should be terminated, that vote should be to retain him. Unless Cigarroa can provide insight, we believe this to still be true.
Cigarroa could not elaborate on what Powers has done to once again break trust and communication, but he did say that his request for Powers' resignation was not due to political pressure. Cigarroa said that he had received no calls from Perry or other regents.
"I have a very important role as chancellor," Cigarroa said. "This discourse has to come to a stop."
We agree. The discourse has to end.
Cigarroa and regents have the right to dismiss a president, but they also have a responsibility to offer sound reasons for doing so. At this time, no one has provided reason to warrant Powers' dismissal.
This week's regents meeting should provide the opportunity to lay out a substantive case for dismissing the president if one exists.
Once again, we remind the chancellor and regents that the uncertainty over Powers' future will have an effect on the university's national reputation, which in turn could have a negative impact on faculty and student recruiting and retention. Allowing Powers to better prepare to close or hand off projects - including the end of a fundraising campaign, a new campus shared services project and the staffing of the medical school - is a good compromise.
Focus should be on moving forward and easing undeniable upcoming change, not creating further distraction.
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