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Butterflies versus the wall

Go, butterflies!

The National Butterfly Center in South Texas sent a certified letter to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Wednesday stating its intent to sue over the construction of a border wall on its private property.

In July, Marianna Trevino-Wright, executive director of the center, discovered private contractors working for U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) using chainsaws on protected habitat and widening a roadway on the center’s property to make way for the wall.

The letter alleges this is a violation of the center’s private property rights. Though exceptions exist for government workers maintaining levees for flood control, the National Butterfly Center’s attorney says the “conduct is outside the scope” of those permissions. “The express purpose of this entry and destruction is to enable the construction of a border wall,” the letter reads.

“This is a much bigger issue than the National Butterfly Center,” Jeffrey Glassberg, president of the nonprofit, told the Observer in August. “There’s a procedure the government could follow with due process. But they’ve decided — like with so much else — to just ignore the law, trampling on private property rights. The complete disrespect for the legalities of this country is something that ought to concern every American regardless of how they feel about a border wall.”

You can see a copy of the letter at the link. We didn’t need this reason to oppose the wall, but we’ll take it.

The DPS two-step

First, there was this.

Despite a two-year budget of $2.4 billion, the Texas Department of Public Safety, with little notice, has reduced office hours at 11 of the state’s busiest driver’s license offices and plans to lay off more than 100 full-time employees to deal with a $21 million funding crunch.

The statewide police agency’s primary function is to patrol state highways and issue driver’s licenses, but in recent years has spent hundreds of millions on security operations along the 1,200-mile border with Mexico.

The effects of the reduced driver’s license office hours were apparent on Monday morning, where nearly 200 customers formed a long, snaking line outside the large DPS facility at 12220 South Gessner. On June 5, the DPS abruptly scaled back operating hours from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. to 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the large centers. The offices are still open after 5 p.m. on Tuesdays.

[…]

DPS spokesman Tom Vinger said Monday the department is not allowed to use funds set aside for border security to offset shortfalls in other areas of operation, like the driver’s license division. The cuts were necessary after DPS was instructed by state legislators to reduce 2018-2019 funding for the division by 4 percent.

DPS management of the driver license operation has not only angered customers, it is being criticized by elected officials.

State Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, said DPS did not notify lawmakers of the reductions in driver’s license operations until after the Legislature adjourned late last month.

“We’re stuck now with a severe reduction in service hours and employees at multiple centers around the state, including two here in Houston in my district, that we know are already overcrowded,” Whitmire said.

“It’s pretty alarming – we leave after sine die (adjournment), and leave (DPS) a budget of $800 million for border security, which involves essentially two border counties, and we leave $11 billion in the rainy day fund, and we have to tell people they’re going to have to stand in longer lines to get a driver license.”

But Sen. Whitmire, just think of all those speeding tickets being handed out in South Texas as a result of our sacrifice. Would that not make it all worthwhile? Perhaps someone realized how bad this all looked, and also considered the voter ID implications, as people who lacked drivers licenses had to get approved state election IDs from DPS offices. If the state of Texas was hoping that its slightly modified voter ID law would be enough to counter a motion to pitch the whole discriminatory thing, then maybe DPS needed to reconsider. And indeed, they did.

The Texas Department of Public Safety has reversed a controversial cutback in staffing hours at 11 of the state’s largest driver’s license offices including those in Houston, Dallas, and El Paso, according to a veteran Houston lawmaker who protested the reductions.

St. Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, said he spoke early Tuesday with the chief of staff for Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, and at the end of the conversation he was told the schedule reductions were reversed.

Whitmire added that he received an e-mail from Col. Steven McCraw, the DPS director, who confirmed the office hour reductions which were instituted June 5 would be restored.

[…]

“I talked to the Governor’s chief of staff, who totally agreed it was unacceptable. At the end of the conversation, it was reversed,” Whitmire said. “And then I heard from McCraw that it had been reversed, and he looked forward to visiting me with any further changes.”

Funny how these thing work. It all worked out in the end, but only because someone noticed. Had that not been the case, this could have gone on indefinitely. Always pay attention to the details.

Texas Lyceum poll on immigration

Our state has more nuanced views than you might think.

The pollsters found that 62 percent of Texans said immigration helps the United States more than it hurts the country. That’s an increase from 2016, when 54 percent of the respondents said they viewed immigration was more beneficial than harmful.

The pollsters defined “sanctuary” entities as those in which “local police or city government employees learn that someone is in the country illegally, they do not automatically turn that person over to federal immigration enforcement officers.”

Forty-five percent of the respondents supported sanctuary policies while 49 percent opposed them. That came as 93 percent of all respondents said local police should be able to inquire into a person’s immigration status when arrested for a crime.

The results suggest most Texans would likely support “sanctuary” legislation currently moving through the Texas House, which would limits inquiries into immigration status from local law enforcement to people who have already been arrested.

Proposed legislation that passed the Senate earlier this year permits local police ask about immigration status if a person is either arrested or detained by law enforcement for other reasons.

The Lyceum poll found deeper divisions among Texans when asked if inquiries by law enforcement into immigration status should be allowed for people who aren’t arrested. Only 44 percent agree that police should check a person’s status during a traffic stop, while 41 percent agreed that immigration status should be checked when a person is reporting a crime. Only 39 percent said that status should be checked when the police believe that a person is a witness to a crime or could provide information.

[…]

Half of the respondents were asked if the state should stay the current course with President Trump in the White House, while the other half was asked about state expenditures with Republicans in charge of the U.S. Congress. Under both conditions, most of the respondents with an opinion on the issue – 45 percent of those questioned about Trump and 41 percent questioned about Congress – agreed the state should keep spending largely on the border.

“This indicates that, overall, Texans are expressing a greater expectation that the President will deliver on border security and/or immigration enforcement than Republicans in Congress, but there is no outcry to decrease the amount of money Texas spends securing its borders,” poll supervisors wrote in their summary.

When asked about President Trump’s plan to build a wall on the southern border, only about a third, or 35 percent, favored a barrier separating Texas from Mexico. Sixty-one percent opposed the project. The numbers are almost identical to the poll’s results from 2016 when 35 percent favored building the wall and 59 percent opposed such a project. This year, however the percentage of respondents who identified as Hispanic that supported construction of the wall rose from 18 percent in 2016 to 25 percent.

The survey also found that nearly two-thirds of respondents, or 63 percent, strongly supported a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants after a long waiting period if the applicants paid taxes and a penalty, passed a criminal background check and learned English. Twenty-seven of the respondents somewhat supported that idea while 4% somewhat opposed and 5% strongly opposed.

Here are the Day One press release – it’s “Day One” because the Lyceum has a second round of polling numbers coming out today – and Executive Summary. I want to quibble with the pollsters’ interpretation of the border spending question, for which the wording was “With [Donald Trump in the White House] / [Republicans in control of Congress], should the Texas Legislature continue funding border security operations in Texas at the same levels as before, increase funding for border security operations, or decrease funding for border security operations?” For one thing, it would be perfectly rational for someone who thinks Trump and Congress will shower the state in border money to want the state to spend less, and by the same token someone who thinks that Trump and Congress won’t come through might want the Lege to keep their spending up just in case. I agree that the result shows a greater preference for a continued high level of state spending, I just don’t see a connection to the federal level. There wasn’t a similar question asked in the 2016 or 2015 Lyceum polls, so there’s no basis for a direct comparison.

The bottom line here is that there’s at best modest support for “sanctuary cities”, with majority opposition to police asking about people’s immigration status in situations other than making a criminal arrest, there’s majority opposition to the Trump wall, majority support for in-state tuition for DREAMers, majority opposition to widespread deportations, and near-unanimous support for giving immigrants a pathway to citizenship. It’s not all good news for the progressive side of the debate, but it’s a lot closer to that than to the maximalist anti-immigration position. It’s up to all of us who support better immigration policies to advocate for them, because there’s more support out there for them than you might think. Tomorrow I’ll post about the second part of the Lyceum poll, which among other things will have your first glance at Senate 2018 numbers. The Chron has more.

Border walls are bad for the environment

Not that anyone pushing for a border wall cares, but just so you know.

There’s been a lot of debate about how effective the Bush-era barrier has been at keeping out illegal crossers and drug smugglers. Some data indicates the barriers have encouraged people to cross in places where there isn’t one. But the handprints show that a determined person can still easily scale it.

What the border fence has kept out instead, according to environmentalists, scientists and local officials, is wildlife. And the people who have spent decades acquiring and restoring border habitat say that if President Donald Trump makes good on his promise to turn the border fence into a continuous, 40-foot concrete wall, the situation for wildlife along the border — one of the most biodiverse areas in North America — will only get worse.

Right now, a mix of vehicle barriers and pedestrian fencing covers only about one-third of the nearly 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border. Even with all those gaps, experts say the barriers have made it harder for animals to find food, water and mates. Many of them, like jaguars, gray wolves and ocelots, are already endangered.

Aaron Flesch, a biologist at the University of Arizona, said most border animals are already squeezed into small, fragmented patches of habitat.

“If you just go and you cut movements off,” he said, “you can potentially destabilize these entire networks of population.”

Still, the impacts of the border fence on wildlife aren’t totally understood. That’s in large part because Congress let the U.S. Department of Homeland Security ignore all the environmental laws that would’ve required the agency to fully study how the barrier would affect wildlife.

Flesch and other scientists say the federal government also has made almost no research money available to support independent studies. Most of the studies that have been done are limited in scope, but their findings are pretty clear: Impeding animal movements puts them on a faster path to extinction.

Environmentalists and conservation groups say the border fence also has compromised the federal government’s own efforts to protect those vulnerable species, pitting the U.S. Department of Homeland Security against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The latter agency bought large tracts of land along the border decades ago and turned them into national wildlife refuges.

It’s a long story, so click over to read it, and see also the border fence slideshow that accompanies it. But just reading those few paragraphs above, we all know there’s literally nothing here that would deter Dear Leader or any of the fervent wall zealots. What do they care about a bunch of stupid animals, or the scientists who say we’re hurting them? There are some fights you can win by being right and having the evidence on your side. This isn’t one of them.

The Observer talks to Rep. Beto O’Rourke

I wish this were longer, and I’d have definitely asked about how he plans to win a Senate election in 2018, if indeed he does run, but it’s worth reading nonetheless.

Re. Beto O’Rourke

You mentioned how incredibly expensive congressional elections have become. Do you see this as a real barrier to reform?

I remember my first official meeting at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee — I’d just been sworn in. Steve Israel, who was the chair and a member of Congress from Long Island, laid out for [newly elected members] how we should do our job. When you broke down his daily agenda as to how we should be spending our time, more than half of it was fundraising. It showed me just how screwed up the place was. Because the opening conversation wasn’t, “Hey, I know you came here to improve [health care] access for veterans or pursue a smarter foreign policy or fix health care” — it was all about how to stay in office. It was absolutely disgusting to me. It’s probably disgusting to Steve Israel. I don’t think anybody likes it.

But it’s the system into which people were elected. I think that’s the way most people look at it: to be reelected and to have any weight with the caucus they need to do these things, even if they find them distasteful. I spent about a half-session trying to figure out how to play that game, and then I gave up and stopped taking PAC checks. I decided I was going to sacrifice my ability to be a player in that large-dollar world and just focus on the issues I was excited to be there for.

I think with America’s disgust with politicians in general and congressional members in particular, and part of that connected to the obsession with money and with being re-elected, I think there’s a golden opportunity for the Democratic Party to set itself apart and renounce Big Money. It’s counterintuitive. It means you leave some big bucks on the table, but I think it could be inspirational and could become the brand that will set us apart.

What do you expect will happen in the first congressional session under the new Trump administration?

I’m very concerned by some of his nominees. Jeff Sessions is a perfect example of someone who in every way is opposed to the promise that immigration and communities like El Paso and Texas hold for the rest of the country.

One thing I’ve learned is that very rarely does the moral argument, which is the compelling one for me, persuade anybody. So I try to make the strongest economic argument that immigration is in America’s self-interest. Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals beneficiaries, for example, will earn $4 trillion in taxable income over their lifetimes, and I’ve looked at what it would cost to deport them and what it would do to our economy should we lose them.

Those are things hopefully I can get Republicans to pay attention to. No state would be hurt more than Texas should we take a draconian turn on immigration enforcement, and it’s hard to imagine a more draconian turn than what we saw during the Obama administration, which deported more people than any previous administration.

I agree with what he says about how expensive it is to run for Congress and how awful the endless fundraising cycle is, but it’s also very expensive to run statewide in Texas, and he had $211,923 on hand as of his December finance report. If he hopes to ride a small-dollar wave to finance a Senate campaign, he’ll need to get cracking on it. As for DACA, well, we knew what was coming. Read the rest, and if he really is serious about running against Ted Cruz next year, I look forward to hearing a lot more from him.

Dan Patrick and the wall tax

Hey, you know who’s going to pay for Dear Leader’s wall? You and me and everyone else in the country.

The Trump administration sparked widespread surprise Thursday by announcing it intended to implement a 20 percent tax on Mexican imports to pay for a coming border wall — followed by extreme confusion when it appeared to walk back the statement later that afternoon.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer made the initial announcement Thursday afternoon aboard Air Force One, as President Trump returned from a meeting with House Republicans in Philadelphia.

“Right now, our country’s policy is to tax exports and let imports flow freely in, which is ridiculous,” he told reporters. “By [imposing the tax], we can do $10 billion a year and easily pay for the wall just through that mechanism alone. That’s really going to provide the funding.”

Spicer further indicated that the administration has “been in close contact with both houses” of Congress.

“It clearly provides the funding, and does so in a way that the American taxpayer is wholly respected,” he added.

Later on Thursday, however, White House officials sought to characterize the tariff as one of several options to fund the wall, according to multiple news reports.

If passed by Congress, such a move is all but certain to have a dramatic affect on the U.S. economy and particularly in Texas, which imports far more from Mexico than from any other country, according to U.S. Census data.

Hmm, so that would be bad for the Texas economy. What does Dan Patrick think about that?

Many business and political leaders in trade-dependent Texas already have expressed reservations about the proposed import tax proposal itself, even without linking it to the wall.

Gov. Greg Abbott, who has championed increased trade with Texas’ southern neighbor since he became governor a year ago, had no immediate comment on Spicer’s suggestion.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, an outspoken supporter of the wall who served as Trump’s campaign chairman in Texas, told Fox News that he was “not too concerned” about any adverse impact of such a tax. He suggested the proposal could be “the first warning shot across the bow” fired by Trump, and that the tax could end up being something less.

It’s only a little tax. You won’t even notice it. Also, of course Greg Abbott had no comment. I don’t know why anyone bothers to ask any more.

Now here’s a statement I got from the Texas Association of Business about this idea:

The following statement may be attributed to Texas Association of Business President Chris Wallace.

“Texas’ number one trading partner by far is Mexico, and imposing a 20 percent tax on Mexican imports to fund a border wall would hurt the Texas economy. This proposal could mean a loss of jobs and a hit to state tax revenues. We look forward to working with our Texas congressional delegation and our TAB members to address this proposal and I would encourage our state leaders to make the economic ramifications of this proposal known.”

Dear Chris Wallace and TAB: Dan Patrick cares way more about his pet ideological obsessions than he does about your interests. What are you going to do about that? The Rivard Report and RG Ratcliffe have more.

(Patrick has since said in a Facebook comment about his TV appearance discussing the wall tax that he is not concerned about it because it won’t happen, and he doesn’t actually support it. Which isn’t what he said on TV, and doesn’t say that he would oppose it if it does become a thing that might happen. I think that’s pretty wishy-washy, but in the interests of accuracy, there you have it.)

Abbott goes authoritarian

I suppose this shouldn’t surprise me, but it is still shocking, even in the world we now inhabit.

Gov. Greg Abbott said Wednesday that he and state lawmakers will pursue legislation that would “remove from office any officeholder who promotes sanctuary cities,” raising a new consequence as Republicans crack down on local officials who do not fully cooperate with federal immigration officials.

Abbott is threatening to cut off state funding to Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez after she announced Friday she would reduce her department’s cooperation with federal immigration authorities when they request an inmate be flagged for possible deportation. If she continues with the policy, Abbott suggested a more serious punishment.

“We will remove her from office,” Abbott said in an interview on Fox News.

It was not immediately clear how legislation would remove Hernandez from office. She won her election last year. Sanctuary cities opponents view such officials’ immigration policies as a violation of their oaths of office.

The Fox News interview appears to be the first time Abbott has suggested officials like Hernandez could lose their jobs under sanctuary cities legislation. Abbott is expected to prioritize the legislation in his State of the State address on Tuesday.

[…]

Hernandez’s office did not have an immediate comment on Abbott’s remarks. The governor’s comments, however, quickly drew ire from other Democrats, with the state party saying in a statement that Abbott was “launching a new assault on the will of Texans.”

“I don’t know how the governor would suggest to do that,” state Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, said at a news conference that was called to push back on sanctuary cities legislation. “Unless the governor wants to be king and remove people from office unilaterally, then I think the people of Travis County will have an opportunity to speak on the sheriff, the governor and all other elected officials when they stand for re-election.”

U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, suggested another remedy. “How about removing those from office who make up the law to suit their own political needs!” he said in a statement.

See here for some background. It’s abundantly clear by now that Abbott and his cohort have no respect for the will of local voters and that the only authority they recognize is their own, so it’s a small step from stomping down on local control to overruling an election. I think back on some of the things that people said about President Obama when he lawfully exercised executive power and I wonder, was it fear or longing in their words? The latter seems much more likely. I suppose it’s possible Abbott was just preening for the Fox News cameras, but we have been advised to take authoritarians at their word, and Lord knows Dear Leader Trump has lived up to that. So yeah, I expect to see a bill come out of this. After that, we’ll see.

(All this was happening, by the way, as Harris County residents were being urged to call Sheriff Ed Gonzalez’s office to ask about when he plans to end 287(g) as promised during the campaign. Like it or not, people are going to have to pick a side on this.)

Speaking of Il Duce, a federal crackdown on “sanctuary cities” is coming as well. Again, one can only wonder at the thought of President Obama making similar threats to Texas cities – just how quickly could Abbott or Paxton file a lawsuit in a friendly court? We may soon see how the shoe fits on the other foot. A statement from the Travis County legislative delegation is here, a statement from the El Paso delegation is here, and the Current and the Observer have more.

The coming legislative border battle

Here we go again.

House Republicans on Wednesday said they aren’t backing away from recent efforts to secure the southern border despite an incoming president who made beefed-up immigration enforcement a hallmark of his campaign.

And as a final admonishment of President Obama, they said they intended to bill the federal government more than $2.8 billion for state spending on border security since January 2013. The amount includes a combination of expenses incurred by the Department of Public Safety ($1.4 billion), Texas Parks and Wildlife ($20.2 million), Texas Military Forces ($62.9 million), Texas Health and Human Services ($416.8 million), the Texas Education Agency ($181.1 million) and the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission ($671,000), according to House Republicans. Another $723.8 million has been spent by local and state governments related to incarceration, they said.

“We understand the principles of federalism, and while we surely don’t want the federal government meddling in our schools and deciding our environmental policies or setting our health care policies, we sure as heck want them doing their limited duties, which are: enforcing the border, standing up for a strong military and delivering the mail,” said state Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton.

Two years ago, Bonnen was the author of House Bill 11, an omnibus border security measure that increased by 250 the number of Texas Department of Public Safety officers on the border. The legislation was part of the record $800 million lawmakers appropriated for border security during that legislative session.

Lawmakers learned earlier this week they will have billions of dollars less in state revenue to work with this year as they craft the next biennial budget, even as the Department of Public Safety has said it would ask lawmakers for an additional $1 billion for border security. Bonnen said he hadn’t yet reviewed the request.

Although they said they had high hopes that President-elect Trump would fulfill his promise to secure the border and let Texas off the hook, House Republicans reiterated that lawmakers will need to wait and see what the incoming administration does and how soon it acts on border security before making a decision on future expenditures.

“We’ll have to see, [but] I think the Trump administration has made clear that they intend from day one, starting next Friday, to get to work on this issue,” Bonnen said, citing the day of Trump’s scheduled inauguration.

State Rep. Tan Parker, R-Flower Mound, the chairman of the House Republican Caucus, left the door open to Texas lawmakers approving more funding for state-based border security efforts if necessary.

“Republicans in the Texas House are absolutely committed to continuous border security — be it from the state of Texas and what we’ve been doing all these years or from our federal government,” he said.

Part of Trump’s proposed solution includes building a wall along parts of the southern border. When asked what he would tell a Texas landowner whose property could be seized by the federal government for that effort, Bonnen said: “My response would be whatever we need to do to make our border secure and controlled by the federal government.”

If you’re going to pass the buck, as it were, why not skip the middleman and send the invoice straight to Mexico? It’s what Trump (says he) would do, and it has about the same odds of getting paid. It’s a stunt, so make it as stunt-y as you can. As for the claims that Dear Leader Trump will spend more money on “border security”, thus enabling the state to spend less, who knows? It’s a bad idea in general to believe a word the guy says, but there is certainly enthusiasm in Congress to spend money on it, so I won’t be surprised if it happens. Note that whether or not it does happen, legislative Republicans plan to spend more on it as well, which highlights again the sham nature of their “invoice” for what they (quite happily) spent in the last session. As Rep. Cesar Blanco says in the story, they all have primaries to win. Look for even more speeding tickets to get written in the area.

The Observer highlights the resistance.

Legislators and advocates on Wednesday announced Texas Together — a new effort that aims to resist anti-immigrant proposals in the Texas Legislature, including those that would revoke funding from so-called sanctuary cities and repeal in-state tuition for undocumented students. The campaign is an initiative of the Reform Immigration for Texas Alliance, a coalition of immigrant advocates and activists from across the state.

“We are here to stand against the attempt to put anti-immigrant rhetoric into bills,” said state Senator Jose Rodriguez, D-El Paso, at a Capitol press conference Wednesday. “We oppose these politics that have become poisoned with misinformation about immigrants and border life.”

[…]

Captain Shelly Knight of the Dallas Sheriff’s Office said Wednesday that SB 4 would strain law enforcement budgets and damage trust between communities and officers.

“All of that [trust] we’ve built up will be gone,” Knight said. “So therefore they won’t come and report violent crimes, such as family violence.”

Stand and fight, y’all. The Republicans are going to pass whatever they’re going to pass. Don’t give them any help on this.

Fifth Circuit hears immigrant harboring lawsuit appeal

This time it’s the state that’s appealing a lower court ruling.

A federal appeals court in New Orleans heard oral arguments Wednesday about whether a key portion of Texas’ omnibus border security bill is legal.

Lawyers for the state of Texas argued that two landlords, and an immigrant services agency, who sued the state over House Bill 11 had no legal standing to do so. But the plaintiffs say they have every right to sue, and that federal law pre-empts what the state wants to do with the passage of House Bill 11.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans did not say when its three-judge panel might rule. The judges on the panel were E. Grady Jolly, Jerry E. Smith, and Edward C. Prado — all Republican appointees, court records show.

Under a provision of HB 11, which went into effect in September 2015, a person commits a crime if they “encourage or induce a person to enter or remain in this country in violation of federal law by concealing, harboring, or shielding that person from detection.”

In January 2016, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund filed a lawsuit in San Antonio against Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw and the Texas Public Safety Commission, which oversees the DPS. The lawsuit alleges the state violated the U.S. Constitution’s Supremacy Clause because immigration enforcement is a federal responsibility.

[…]

“I thought the argument went well today,” Nina Perales√, MALDEF’s vice president of litigation, said by email after presenting oral argument for the landlords. She said the judges listened carefully to both sides and asked thoughtful questions.

“Because the statute’s wording is very broad, and doesn’t contain exceptions for landlords and humanitarian workers, we argued to the court that landlords and humanitarian workers can be arrested under this law,” Perales said

See here and here for the background, and this Trib story for a pre-hearing overview. This is familiar ground we’re fighting over, and I expect this one will eventually make its way to SCOTUS. Unlike some other issues that have been fought and re-fought, this is one where the state may not care to push this beyond the current fight, in the belief that Donald Trump will build a glorious wall and make Mexico pay for it spend more federal money on border security. That assumes that they lose this fight, and that Trump is true to his word, both of which remain to be seen. In the meantime, we wait for the Fifth to do what it’s going to do.

Immigrant harboring law blocked

Good.

A federal judge has blocked part of the state’s omnibus border security bill that makes harboring undocumented immigrants a state crime.

Under a provision of House Bill 11, which went into effect in September, a person commits a crime if they “encourage or induce a person to enter or remain in this country in violation of federal law by concealing, harboring, or shielding that person from detection.”

[…]

In an order signed on Thursday, federal District Judge David Alan Ezra said the plaintiffs would likely succeed on the Supremacy Clause claim, and ruled that state and local officials had no authority to enforce the harboring provision until a final decision on the case is made.

“In this case, Plaintiffs risk subjection to criminal penalties under laws that might be pre-empted by federal law and the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution,” he wrote. “Thus, the Court finds that Plaintiffs are likely to suffer irreparable harm.”

[…]

Although MALDEF was victorious on one front, the judge rejected the group’s claim that the bill violates the plaintiffs right to due process and equal protection. Perales said the equal protection argument was made because the bill did not have a “rational purpose” and was arbitrary.

But in his order, Ezra said that although HB 11 might be pre-empted, the harboring provision fits in with the state’s intended goal of securing its borders.

“HB 11’s harboring provisions are rationally related to their stated purpose of ‘strengthen[ing] the state’s border security measures and help[ing to] stem the rising tide of human smuggling and human trafficking in Texas,’” he wrote.

See here for the background. The concern over this bill was that churches who work with immigrants, immigrants’ rights groups, and landlords who rent to immigrants may be criminalized by it. The plaintiffs in this case were in fact two landlords and the director of an immigrant services agency. The AG’s office didn’t say what they would do, but given their usual track record, it’s hard to imagine them not appealing the injunction. In either case, this will take awhile to resolve. Trail Blazers has more.

MALDEF sues over provision of border bill

Worth watching.

The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, or MALDEF, filed suit Sunday against Gov. Greg Abbott, Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw and the Texas Public Safety Commission, which oversees the DPS. The group alleges that the state has violated the U.S. Constitution’s Supremacy Clause because immigration enforcement is only a federal responsibility. The lawsuit, filed on behalf of two San Antonio landlords and the director of an immigrant services agency, also says the new provision violates the plaintiffs’ guarantee to due process.

The provision in question is part of House Bill 11, a sweeping border security measure that went into effect in September.

Under that provision, people commit a crime if they “encourage or induce a person to enter or remain in this country in violation of federal law by concealing, harboring, or shielding that person from detection.”

MALDEF said the law was “enacted on dubious advice” because lawmakers were warned that the harboring provision would not withstand a constitutional challenge.

“The U.S. Supreme Court, as well as federal courts in Arizona, Alabama, Georgia, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina have all struck down, as unconstitutional, state-enacted immigrant harboring laws like the one in HB 11,” Nina Perales, MALDEF’s vice president of litigation and the plaintiffs’ lead counsel, said in a statement. “Texas already has enough laws to protect us from human smuggling without targeting religious and nonprofit organizations that care for immigrants.”

[…]

Perales said recent testimony by McCraw at the state Capitol made filing the litigation more urgent.

“We do know from public statements that were made by Director McCaw that they are moving forward to implement the harboring law so now was the time to challenge it,” she said.

The lawsuit specifically cites McCraw’s testimony from last week where he told lawmakers about the agency’s preparations to further implement HB 11.

“Yes, we’ve educated [and] we’ve trained,” the filing quotes McCraw as telling the committee.

TrailBlazers has a copy of the lawsuit and some further detail.

Lawmakers said their goal was to target those engaged in the criminal business of smuggling. But codifying that intent proved difficult, as many raised concerns that pastors, immigration-rights groups and others could be roped in with felony charges.

“The bill that was filed … didn’t account for a lot situations that could put family members or people innocently going about their day in the sights of prosecution,” said Rep. Poncho Nevarez, D-Eagle Pass.

So Republicans and Democrats – along with a spate of attorneys – teamed up to allay those concerns.

They ended up focusing on those who “encourage or induce a person to enter or remain in this country in violation of federal law by concealing, harboring, or shielding that person from detection.” The person would have to have the intent of obtaining financial gain.

That work helped the bill receive significant Democratic support. But it didn’t erase all worries.

“We needed to rifle shot that thing a little bit more,” said Nevarez, who worked on the language and still voted for the bill. “We tried, and it may be that this lawsuit is a good way of showing us how we need to tailor the statute a little bit better.”

[…]

The MALDEF suit focuses on two landlords – one in Farmers Branch – who don’t ask their tenants to prove their immigration status before renting, along with an aid group that provides shelter and legal services to those who are in the country illegally.

Rep. Joe Moody, an El Paso Democrat who also worked on the bill , said a prosecutor would be “ill-advised” to pursue those cases. He added: “The goal was to be precise in targeting people that were part of smuggling networks, part of a criminal element.”

That’s certainly a reasonable goal, but it sounds like it may not have been met. We know that immigration issues will be on the front burner for the 2017 Legislature, though much of that is about pandering and fearmongering. If we can get past that, perhaps this issue can be addressed constructively, whether or not the court has ruled on it by then. I hope so, anyway. The Current has more.

Senate hearings on “border security”

Sen. Sylvia Garcia sent me the following to alert people of some Senate committee hearings of interest:

Joint Committee on Border Security is Thursday, January 21 at 1pm at Capitol Extension, E1.030.

This is a joint Senate & House Committee to review border security efforts and the spending of the $810M budgeted for it. Though I am not on the committee, I will sit in to see what they are up to and how they are spending all those dollars.

Senate Border Security Subcommittee is on Friday, January 22 at 10am at Capitol Extension, E1.012.

This is to take public testimony on “Sanctuary Cities”, aka “show me your papers” bills. Though I am not on the committee, I will sit in to see where this is going. Last hearing, no public testimony was taken and Sen. Perry who carried the bill last session sat in. I suspect he plans to file this bill again.

See here for more information on the hearings. If you have any questions, you can call Sen. Garcia’s office at 713-923-7575. Thanks.

Current trends in Texas immigration

More Asian, less Latino is the nickel summary.

Lloyd Potter

The number of Latin Americans moving to Texas from abroad and other states has dropped by almost a quarter as the amount of Asians coming here doubled, offsetting the decline and echoing national trends, according to a report released [recently] by the state demographer’s office.

Nearly 93,000 people with Latin-American origins settled in the Lone Star state in 2013, compared to more than 122,000 in 2005, the data shows. Their arrivals have decreased nearly every year. In contrast, more than 85,500 foreign-born Asians moved to Texas in 2013, the most ever, compared to just more than 41, 830 in 2005. The shift is historic, said state demographer Lloyd Potter.

“Our narrative in Texas on immigration is on migration from Mexico, both legal and illegal,” he said. “With Asian immigration and Latin American immigration, there is an income, educational and skill differential. That shift is certainly an interesting and significant one.”

Asians are more likely to come here on work visas and hold advanced degrees, for example, he said.

The findings are on pace with a national report released last month by the Pew Research Center, a think tank in Washington D.C., showing that Asians are expected to become the country’s largest immigrant group in the next 50 years, eclipsing Hispanics for the first time. They are projected to make up more than a third of the U.S. foreign-born population by 2065, though Latinos will remain the largest ethnic group.

In all, the state demographer’s report found Texas is more international than at any time since its statehood in 1845, with one out of six Texans born in a foreign country.

The full report is here – it’s from October, and I just hadn’t gotten around to publishing this post before now – and as the story notes this is in line with national trends. In fact, at this time there is net negative migration from Mexico – more people move there from here than move here from there. Not that this will do anything to dampen our “border security” fetish, because we’re just stupid that way. And for what it’s worth, Asian voters have trended heavily Democratic of late, though we’re a long way from that making any difference outside a handful of legislative districts. But if you want to know what Texas will look like in another 10 or 20 years, go read that report.

Nothing says “holiday season” like immigration raids

How festive.

Immigration agents are planning to round up Central American families that have been ordered deported by a judge in response to an unexpected surge in children and families crossing the border in South Texas, a former high-ranking immigration official said Thursday.

Alonzo Peña, the deputy director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in 2009 and 2010, said officials are concerned because the number of families crossing the border usually slows down this time of year, yet Border Patrol agents in the Rio Grande Valley have seen an increase in recent months.

The Border Patrol apprehended about 50,000 children and families in 2015 in the Rio Grande Valley, down from about 100,000 in 2014, but the number of apprehensions has spiked since September, according to Border Patrol statistics.

“The numbers for this time of year, normally they drop, and they’re continuing to surge and increase,” Peña said. “They’ve got to figure out ways to send a message that the gates are not open, the doors are not open and it’s not a free pass. And they’re concentrating on those that have final orders, who have exhausted their due process.”

ICE regularly conducts what it calls targeted enforcement operations, in which agents round up immigrants who fall under the agency’s priorities for deportation, including those who recently crossed the border, those convicted of crimes and those who have been ordered removed by an immigration judge. This would be the first such operation specifically targeting families.

News of the planned raids, first published by the Washington Post, which reported they would likely happen in January but hadn’t received final approval, drew criticism from activists. Hundreds of immigrants might be targeted, the newspaper reported.

“Such a roundup would be a nightmare for those families and for our claim to being a nation of refuge,” Frank Sharry, executive director of the immigration advocacy group America’s Voice, said in a written statement.

Here’s that WaPo story. Some of this may sound reasonable, but ICE’s track record is lousy, and the so-called “family detention centers” we use are horrible, for-profit jails being used to warehouse children. And not to be crass about it, but the politics of this are awful for Democratic Presidential candidates trying to draw clear distinctions between themselves and the deport-em-all GOP frontrunners. This is a bad idea, and we really need to rethink what we are doing here. ThinkProgress and TPM have more.

Carrizo cane and French wasps

I love stories like this.

They’ve burned it, bulldozed it, hacked it and poisoned it. Now they want to try wasps – imported from France, no less.

The target is carrizo cane, a bamboo-like reed that’s a fearsome enemy of officers patrolling the Texas-Mexico border. Dense stands have camouflaged stash houses, half-ton steers and a caged Bengal tiger someone tried to sneak into the country.

“I’ve heard agents talk about it like it was Sherwood Forest,” said Francis Reilly, an environmental consultant and adviser to the U.S. Border Patrol. “They’d hear screams or gunfire in the cane thickets, and not be able to find anybody when they went in.”

The federal government has spent millions trying to prune the stuff. Now Texas is coming to the rescue – or is at least trying to – with Governor Greg Abbott signing a law in May to create a $10 million carrizo-purge program at the State Soil and Water Conservation Board. It turns out there’s nothing in the budget to cover it, though officials are hunting for the funds. They would finance the efforts of John Goolsby, a U.S. Department of Agriculture entomologist who wants to unleash armies of French carrizo-eating wasps along the Rio Grande.

Texas, in other words, aims to fight an invasive foreign species by bringing in another foreign species.

What could possibly go wrong?

[…]

The war on the cane has been raging for years along the border. Back in 2008, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security intended to annihilate carrizo with imazapyr, but the plan to spray the herbicide from helicopters didn’t sit well with locals in Laredo, who sued. Protesters, including priests and first- graders, descended on City Hall. The spraying scheme died.

Since then, the feds have thrown the kitchen sink at the stalks. They engaged bulldozers to tear up roots, but that hurt the ecosystem. They set fields on fire, but that made the reed grow back with a vengeance. They sent in crews armed with machetes and tricked-out weed-whackers, but that was just ridiculously time-consuming.

Goolsby had meanwhile tracked down the tiny Arundo wasp – a bit bigger than a pinhead – in Montepellier in France.

As it happens, Arundo won’t lay eggs in anything but carrizo. Once the larvae hatch, they act as petite saws, slicing through a plant’s fibers, ultimately stunting its growth.

Goolsby has been testing this since 2009, and swears the Arundo wasp won’t eat anything but the cane. I guess we’ll find out. According to Wikipedia, Carrizo cane, aka Arundo donax was introduced into California around 1820, and has multiple uses, including for the reeds of musical instruments such as the saxophone. I always knew reeds were made of cane, but had never thought about it any further. Carrizo also sucks up a lot of water, so beating it back from the Rio Grande also serves a drought-fighting purpose. Who knew? Finally, I will note that the state of Texas had something like $18 billion in unallocated cash lying around at the end of the legislative session. If we wanted to find a measly $10 million to do this project, we could have done. That’s just how we roll around here.

Immigration bills fail

Another thing to celebrate from this session.

As the sun begins to set on the 84th Texas Legislature, promises to enact tough immigration legislation remain unfulfilled. State Sen. Donna Campbell says she’s not giving up just because the last gavel is about to drop.

Campbell, a New Braunfels Republican, tried unsuccessfully to pass Senate Bill 1819, which would have eliminated a 14-year-old policy that allows non-citizens, including some undocumented immigrants, to pay in-state tuition rates at public colleges and universities.

“Unfortunately, it takes a [three-fifths] vote to bring a bill to the floor, and I was unable to find those final two to three affirmative votes once the bill passed out of committee,” she said in an email Saturday. “I am disappointed that we were unable to get this bill passed under the current body, but I have two years to change a couple members’ minds and try again next session.”

Republican lawmakers could take a similar conciliatory tone on another contentious issue, Senate Bill 185, by state Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock. That bill sought to ban so-called “sanctuary cities” – the common term for local governments whose peace officers don’t enforce immigration laws.

The proposals seemed likely to pass, at minimum, the upper chamber in the early months of the session. The crush of unauthorized migration last summer in the Rio Grande Valley kept the issues at the forefront, and some GOP senators said during their campaigns that passing immigration legislation was a priority.

But two Republican senators, Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, and Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls, opposed the measures. Eltife said the issues were about local control; Estes said he feared both could have dire unintended consequences. Their opposition blocked both from going before the full chamber for a vote.

State Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, said a coalition opposing the bills formed early, and it held “regardless of a great deal of pressure that was put on some people.”

“We spent time talking to individual members and talking to people outside the Capitol who in turn talked to members, so that we could be sure we weren’t making any assumptions about where someone might be on these bills, simply because of their party,” said Watson, chairman of the Senate Democratic Caucus.

See here for some background. I don’t expect this issue to go away despite the huge amount allocate in the budget for “border security” or the reality that immigration patterns have changed greatly in recent years. This will be a “crisis” in need of “immediate action” for as long as it has potency as an election issue. Stace has more.

Budget passes House as most amendments get pulled

It was a long day in the House on Tuesday and Wednesday but not a terribly bloody one as many of the budget amendments and riders that had been queued up got withdrawn. A brief recap of the action:

Border “security”:

BagOfMoney

House Democrats tried — and mostly failed — to divert funds allotted for border security and the Texas Department of Public Safety to other departments during Tuesday’s marathon budget debate.

But the rancor over immigration enforcement that many expected didn’t materialize after lawmakers agreed to pull down amendments that, if debated, would have aired ideological differences over the contentious issue.

After predicting a “bloody day” on the House floor, state Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, pulled an amendment that would have reduced the appropriations for a public college or university by the same amount that it awarded in grants or financial aid to undocumented students.

Last month, Stickland expressed frustration over the lack of traction for a bill he filed to eliminate a 2001 provision that allows undocumented immigrants in-state tuition.

But on Tuesday, Stickland, with little attention or fanfare, withdrew the amendment after discussions with lawmakers.

“We did some negotiations,” he said.

An amendment by state Rep. Tony Tinderholt, R-Arlington, that would have defunded the state’s Border Faculty Loan Repayment Program, which was created to help keep doctoral students on the border to teach, was also withdrawn with little attention.

On the funding, Democrats made good on their promises to try and take money from border security operations, which was at about $565 million when the day began, to local entities or other state departments.

[…]

One border lawmaker had tentative success in transferring money from DPS to his district for local law enforcement grants. An amendment by state Rep. Alfonso “Poncho” Nevarez, D-Eagle Pass, would take $10 million from the agency for that effort. But it’s contingent upon another measure — Republican state Rep. Dennis Bonnen’s House Bill 11, an omnibus border security bill — making it to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk and getting signed.

Republicans had a bit more success in shifting money.

State Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Houston, was able to direct money into the state’s military forces for paid training for Texas’ 2,300 members of the reserve unit.

“Most of them reside in most of our districts, and we have zeroed out money for training,” he said.

But the success came after a lengthy back and forth between Huberty and members upset at where the funds would be taken from. Huberty offered one amendment that would have taken $2.2 million from the Texas Agriculture Department. That didn’t sit well with Democrat Tracy King, D-Batesville, the chairman of the House Agriculture and Livestock Committee. Huberty eventually pulled that amendment and instead took $2.2 million from the Texas Facilities Commission.

Huberty specified on Monday that the money is not intended to extend the Texas National Guard’s deployment on the Texas-Mexico border.

The Senate wants to spend even more money on the ridiculous border surge, so this fight is far from over. The fact that this is a complete boondoggle that makes the rest of the state less safe, it’s one of the few things that certain legislators actually want to spend money on.

The voucher fight was similarly deferred.

A potentially contentious vote on a measure that would have banned spending public money on school vouchers was avoided after its author withdrew the amendment.

Rep. Abel Herrero (D-Corpus Christi) said he pulled the amendment because it wasn’t necessary.

“Given the commitment of the House to supporting public education, I felt this amendment was duplicative,” Herrero said. It also would have forced some lawmakers to take a difficult vote, caught between turning their backs on their district’s public schools and potentially earning the ire of conservative interest groups.

A coalition of Democrats and rural Republican lawmakers has coalesced during the past two decades to defeat voucher legislation. Herrero said the anti-voucher coalition is still strong.

“The coalition is solid,” Herrero said, “Vouchers for all intents and purposes are dead in the House.”

The coalition may be strong, but Texas Republican Party Chairman Tom Mechler is working to weaken it. Mechler sent a letter to GOP legislators Tuesday pushing them to vote against Herrero’s amendment.

If you followed the budget action on Twitter, this was the first major amendment to get pulled, and it was a sign of things to come. Attention will shift to Public Education Chair Jimmie Don Aycock when that loser of a bill passes the Senate.

Finally, you knew there had to be a moment that would be worthy of the Daily Show and the kind of viral mockery that makes us all heave deep sighs. Sure enough:

Seven hours into Tuesday’s debate on the House’s $210 billion two-year budget, things got first heated and then uncomfortable as state Rep. Stuart Spitzer, R-Kaufman, successfully pushed an amendment to move $3 million from HIV and STD prevention programs to pay for abstinence education.

A line of opponents gathered behind the podium as Spitzer laid out his amendment and proceeded to grill, quiz and challenge the lawmaker on his motives.

“Is it not significant that Texas has the third-highest number of HIV cases in the country?” state Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, asked. “Does it bother you to know there are people walking around with HIV, undiagnosed?”

Turner and Spitzer also had an exchange over how Spitzer had arrived at his price tag. “If we gave you a billion dollars for abstinence, would that be enough?” Turner asked. “Or would you need two?”

[…]

Texas allows school districts to decide whether and how to approach sex education, as long as they teach more about abstinence than any other preventive method, like condoms and birth control. But a number of representatives questioned the effectiveness of this program.

State Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, pointed out that the state currently has one of the highest rates of teen pregnancy in the country, and the single-highest rate of repeat teen pregnancy.

“It may not be working well,” said Spitzer, in reference to the current abstinence education program. “But abstinence education is HIV prevention. They are essentially the same thing.”

State Rep. Harold Dutton Jr., D-Houston, took to the podium and asked Spitzer, “Were you taught abstinence education? Did it work?”

Spitzer replied that he was a virgin when he married at age 29. “I’ve only had sex with one woman in my life, and that’s my wife,” Spitzer said.

Dutton continued. “And since you brought it up, is that the first woman you asked?”

“I’m not sure that’s an appropriate question,” Spitzer responded.

The House was called to order, and Rep. Nicole Collier, D-Fort Worth, took the microphone. “Earlier you stated that you could not get STDs without having sex,” she said.

“It depends on what your definition of sex is,” said Spitzer. “I can go through of all of this if you want to.”

“If you still think you can’t get an STD without having sex, then maybe we need to educate you,” Collier added.

Spitzer’s amendment ultimately passed 97 to 47.

Spitzer is a medical doctor, because having one Donna Campbell in the Lege just wasn’t enough. He must have been absent the day they went over how intravenous drug use is a frequent means of transmission for HIV. This is another lesson the state of Indiana could teach us if we cared to pay attention. The Observer, Nonsequiteuse, RG Ratcliffe, Trail Blazers, and Newsdesk have more.

The Senate’s opening budget

Could be worse, I guess.

BagOfMoney

Senate Finance Chairwoman Jane Nelson presented a $205.1 billion two-year base budget Tuesday morning, vowing to provide property tax cuts that Texans “actually feel” while keeping the state’s economy humming along.

The Senate budget is $3 billion larger than the $202.4 billion House budget that Speaker Joe Straus released nearly two weeks ago. However, the Senate budget includes $4 billion allocated for tax cuts. Straus opted to leave tax cuts out of the House’s opening proposal to allow members to formulate their own ideas on how to cut taxes.

At a Tuesday news conference, Nelson said that the Senate budget plan includes $3 billion set aside for “meaningful” property tax relief that homeowners would notice, as well as $1 billion for business franchise tax cuts. She and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said the mechanisms by which they intend to cut property and margins taxes were still being worked out and could end up higher than the $4 billion currently proposed.

“We are taking in substantial revenue, and we have an obligation to return a large share of those dollars to the people who have worked hard and earned that in the first place,” Nelson said.

One could argue, as Rick Casey deftly does (via), that there’s a greater obligation to provide for the state’s many unmet needs. One could also argue that we just had an election to settle that argument, and we know which side won. Be that as it may, I guaran-damn-tee you that the people – and corporations – that will benefit the most from whatever tax cuts Patrick and Nelson have in mind will be those that need them the least. And yes, tax cuts we will get – for some value of “we”, anyway – oil prices be damned. I’m sure there will be plenty of “waste” to cut in the 2017 budget when we need to pay the piper. If we need a suggestion for where to look first on that score:

The Senate budget would add $815 million for border security, more than the previous seven years combined, according to Nelson’s office. The House budget allocates $396.8 million for border security, which House officials described as enough to maintain the increased presence of DPS officers that were sent to the border in June as part of a high-profile border surge.

I can’t even imagine what that will mean in practical terms. But I’m sure that whatever it is, it will be declared a success in two years’ time. PDiddie and Trail Blazers have more.

What’s the Lege going to do with the revenue?

Not as much as it should, of course, because the Lege never comes close to doing as much as it should. It’s a question of whether they’ll try to address some real problems, or just engage in an orgy of tax cutting.

BagOfMoney

Texans can expect tax relief, a laser focus on border security and more efforts to fight traffic congestion when a cash-flush Legislature convenes in January.

The budget priorities line up with campaign promises from Republican state leaders and lawmakers, who handily won their spots with a message of keeping state government lean while carefully weighing any additional spending for its benefits.

At least some outnumbered Democrats also appear to be on the tax-relief bandwagon, as the state welcomes the prospect of having $5 billion or more in greater-than-expected revenue when the current two-year budget period ends. Anticipated economic growth is expected to yield billions more, with the caveat that uncertain oil prices must temper expectations.

The tax-relief issue “crosses party lines,” said Senate Finance Committee Chair Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound. “Property taxes are really something that people would like to address.”

Besides property-tax relief – pushed by Sen. Dan Patrick, the incoming lieutenant governor – the potential for cutting the state’s business tax has been highlighted by Attorney General Greg Abbott, the governor-elect.

The devil, as always, is in the details of a state budget that totals $200 billion in the current two-year fiscal period, including state and federal funds that are largely spoken for before lawmakers convene. Education and health and human services alone take up nearly three-quarters of the total.

“I fully expect there to be some tax relief. The question is, what’s the nature of it?” said Rep. John Otto, a Dayton Republican who serves on the House Appropriations Committee.

[…]

What’s clear is that despite the billions of greater-than-predicted dollars awaiting lawmakers’ allocation, the list of programs that can use more money is far longer than the dollars can cover, especially in light of a spending cap on certain general revenue.

“It’s sort of easy when there’s not a lot of money. You just say we haven’t got the money,” said Rep. John Zerwas, a Richmond Republican who serves on the House Appropriations Committee. “Whereas now, I call it kind of a food fight. You’ve got a lot of food on the table, and people are going to start grabbing for it and trying to make sure they get their programs funded at a level that they want.”

Simply keeping current levels of services to a growing population would cost an additional $6 billion to $7 billion in state general revenue, said Eva De Luna Castro of the Center for Public Policy Priorities, which focuses on services important to middle- and lower-income Texans. That’s without addressing the lingering cuts from 2011.

“All we’re hearing about is tax cuts. Nobody is talking about, ‘What did we cut out of the budget in 2011?’ ” she said. “I don’t think it’s exaggerating to say that our future economy and prosperity are at stake. We need good roads but we also need good schools and universities.”

If you think that last bit is just the usual liberal happy talk, you should see what the Texas Association of Business’ wish list for the legislative session looks like. They expect to spend the next six to eight months fighting against the people they just supported for election on these issues, because that’s how they roll. “Border security” is a huge boondoggle for which all indicators are always that we should keep doing what we’ve been doing, which is to say to spend more and more and more on it. And no, the feds aren’t going to cover that check no matter how nicely Greg Abbott asks the President for it. As for property tax “relief”, the proposals put forth by Sen. Kirk Watson and others to increase the homestead exemption would be the most equitable way of doing this, which means it is also the least likely way of it happening. But I suppose anything is still possible before the session begins, just like the possibility than your favorite NFL team can go 16-0 while training camp is still going on. We’ll see what happens when the games start getting played for real.

Perry’s border surge

Stupid.

Gov. Rick Perry, leaping again into the national spotlight on illegal immigration, announced Monday he is sending up to 1,000 National Guard troops to the Texas-Mexico border, where an influx of young Central Americans has overwhelmed the federal government.

Democrats blasted the decision as a political stunt by a governor with presidential ambitions. But Perry, who has the power to call up Guard troops to deal with a broad variety of crises, said Texas had to act because the federal government has offered nothing but “lip service and empty promises” while the border is overrun with illegal activity.

“I will not stand idly by while our citizens are under assault and little children from Central America are detained in squalor,” Perry told a packed press conference at the Texas Capitol. “We are too good a country for that to occur.”

Monday’s announcement marked the second time this month that Perry, who is considering another run for the White House in 2016, has thrust himself into the center of national debate about the crisis along border. He met with President Obama in Dallas on July 9, in part, to press his demands that the feds send — and pay for — a National Guard deployment.

Absent a federal activation, Perry said he acted on his own, meaning that Texans will pick up the $12 million-a-month tab authorities say the deployment will cost. The governor and other Republican elected officials said they would ask the federal government to pay for the mobilization.

I know what my answer to that request would be. Look, we all know the reason for this. It’s one part Perry 2016, and one part a response to the fear and fear of the voters he’s trying to woo. I know what Perry hopes to accomplish by this, but I have no idea what the Guard is supposed to be doing. These are children, for Christ’s sake, not criminals. God help us all if something goes wrong. TPM, PDiddie, and Stace, who has reactions from numerous Democratic officials, have more.

The real reason we need border security

To protect us from these guys.

Several anti-government groups – many of which participated in the standoff at Cliven Bundy’s Nevada ranch – are recruiting armed volunteers to travel to the Texas-Mexico border as a citizen militia to participate in “Operation Secure Our Border,” which aims to stop the surge of immigrants into the country.

The groups, who identify themselves as “Patriots,” “Oathkeepers” and “Three Percenters,” are using social media, blogs and a 24-hour hot line to recruit and mobilize volunteers to travel to Laredo, carry firearms and attempt to assist law enforcement agencies on the border.

However, U.S. Customs and Border Protection said it does not “endorse or support any private group or organization from taking matters into their own hands as it could have disastrous personal and public safety consequences.”

What could possibly go wrong with an effort like that? I kid, but there’s really nothing funny about this. The potential for violence and tragedy is far too great. Stace has more.

On a related note, we know this is happening as President Obama comes to Texas to do what he usually does here (fundraising) while Rick Perry is doing what he usually does (make a fool out of himself), while in the meantime everyone acknowledges that immigration reform is dead for this year, and likely till at least 2017, because the Republican-controlled House will not take up the (highly imperfect but still better than nothing) bill that passed the Senate even though it almost surely would pass the House if it came to a vote. There’s no bigger obstacle to comprehensive immigration reform than Texas Republicans. If you need evidence of that, have a look through this massive collection of quotes from our GOP Congressional delegation on the matter. We all know about the crazies – Louie Gohmert, Steve Stockman, Ted Cruz, etc – but certainly on this issue it’s really all of them. Go read and see for yourself. If you want to do something constructive and helpful, Stace has you covered there, too.

Special session for border security?

What could possibly go wrong?

State Sen. Dan Patrick, the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor, joined some of his conservative colleagues on Tuesday in calling for “immediate action” to address the surge of undocumented immigrants crossing into Texas.

“The Texas Department of Public Safety has indicated that sustained operations along our southern border will require $1.3 million per week,” Patrick said in a statement. “I am calling on the governor, lieutenant governor and speaker of the House to immediately allocate $1.3 million a week in emergency spending for the rest of the year for added border security through Texas law enforcement.”

A call placed to the Legislative Budget Board about whether a special legislative session would be necessary to set aside such funding has not yet been returned. Patrick’s statement did not specifically say whether he supports calling a special session on border security, which some of his GOP colleagues have suggested.

[…]

Last week Attorney General Greg Abbott, the state’s Republican gubernatorial candidate, wrote U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and asked for $30 million for a state-based border security initiative. The U.S. Border Patrol, he said, was overwhelmed by the influx of undocumented immigrants, including about 160,000 who have crossed into Texas in the U.S. Border Patrol’s Rio Grande Valley sector since October, including about 33,500 unaccompanied minors.

“With the Border Patrol’s focus shifted to this crisis, we have grave concerns that dangerous cartel activity, including narcotics smuggling and human trafficking, will go unchecked because Border Patrol resources are stretched too thin,” he wrote.

[Rep. Jonathan] Stickland said he and others would consider tapping into the state’s Rainy Day Fund for the state-based border security initiative if the federal government did not provide relief. Details of the plan would probably be debated should a special session be called, he added.

“This is a crisis situation depending on who you are talking to,” he said. “I haven’t heard any price tag — I have just heard people say this is a top priority. Depending on what we’re talking about, there are a number of different ideas. We need to start having these discussions and start figuring out what’s on the table.”

In a statement last week, state Sen. José Rodríguez, D-El Paso, said more resources on the border won’t properly address the crisis on the border.

“What we are dealing with is an influx of children fleeing from Central American violence; imagine a situation so dire that you allow your children to travel a dangerous journey — thousands of miles — to a foreign land,” he said. “What is needed are not more “boots on the ground” or any other euphemisms for the militarization that both impacts border residents’ daily lives and is inadequate to deal with the specific issue at hand.”

I confess, I have not followed this particular issue closely. My longstanding opinion about border and immigration issues is that we have a supply and demand problem, in that vastly more people want to enter the US than we allow to enter by legal means, and just as having an excessively low speed limit on a stretch of otherwise open road leads to a lot of people speeding, having excessively stringent limits on legal immigration leads to a lot of people finding other ways in. If we had a system that was more realistic, more compassionate, and more flexible about the demand to immigrate, we’d have far, far fewer people trying to enter illegally. For that reason, I believe the people that insist we must “secure the border” as a precondition for doing anything else have it exactly backwards and are exacerbating the problem. Of course, I also believe that a lot of these “secure the border” people have no interest in solving the problem, but instead have an interest in exploiting it. That’s a whole ‘nother story, so let’s leave it at that.

Anyway, the immediate political issue appears to be resolved for now, so that will likely quiet the talk about a special session. If it does come up again, remember that Rick Perry – who has the sole discretion to call a special – will do what he thinks is best for Rick Perry. If he thinks it would be beneficial to his Presidential campaign (I still can’t say the words “Presidential campaign” in the context of Rick Perry with a straight face), then he’ll call it. If not, he won’t. He’ll take into account the wishes of his fellow Republicans, but his own needs come first. That’s pretty much all there is to it. Texpatriate, Stace, and Burka have more.

Abbott’s border surge plan

A whole lot of not much here.

Still not Greg Abbott

Attorney General Greg Abbott, the Republican candidate for governor, said Tuesday he wants to nearly double state spending to improve security along the U.S.-Mexico border, proposing a “continuous surge” with 1,000 new boots on the ground and millions of dollars worth of high-tech equipment.

The proposal, dubbed his “Securing Texans Plan” and unveiled Tuesday in Dallas, would also include tougher laws against sex crimes, gang activity and domestic violence.

At a cost of more than $300 million over two years, the proposal represents the largest government expansion he’s proposed as a candidate for governor. The border security package would entail the hiring of 500 new Department of Public Safety officers over four years — plus additional overtime and support staff — to help create what he called a “permanent border shield.”

“We must do more to protect our border going beyond sporadic surges,” Abbott said. “As governor I will almost double the spending for DPS border security. I’ll add more boots on the ground, more assets in the air and on the water, and deploy more technology and tools for added surveillance.”

Abbott would not specify any existing sources of funding to pay for the new programs. He said only that it would come from existing general revenue dollars.

“These are going to be budgetary priorities that must be paid first,” Abbott told reporters after his speech. He said seized dollars and asset forfeiture programs eventually would help pay for the border security portion, which exceeds $292 million over two years, but he wouldn’t say how to pay for it before that money kicked in.

Asked if there were any programs that would have to be cut to pay for the dramatic spending increase, Abbott said, “I couldn’t identify them.”

“It would be whatever legislators may come up with they want to have funded. That is left to the ideas that will be articulated by the 150 state reps and 31 senators,” he said.

Abbott said he would not rely on “any new form of revenue,” including taxes or fees, to pay for the proposals.

“To be perfectly clear right now and forever: absolutely no tax increases whatsoever for any of my programs,” he said. “The Abbott administration will not have any tax increases.”

The first thing you need to realize is that there’s absolutely nothing new here. Remember Operation Border Star? Or Rick Perry’s border cameras? Or how about the fact that President Clinton sent the Marines to patrol the border in the 90s, as a commenter at BurkaBlog pointed out. That ended after 17-year-old Ezequiel Hernandez, Jr was shot and killed. I wonder if anyone in the media will remember any of this and ask Greg Abbott about it.

Beyond the un-originality of the idea is the unlikelihood of it doing anything. The Texas-Mexico border is really long; adding 500 agents means one more agent every two miles or so. The refusal to say how he’d pay for this little scheme is typical Abbott hand-waving. Does anyone really think these 500 new agents could collect $300 million in asset forfeiture funds per biennium, more than what the entire border patrol collects now, without the entire operation turning into Tenaha? It’s a scandal waiting to happen.

There is a way forward here, and that is for Greg Abbott to call on his Republican colleagues in Congress to quit screwing around and support comprehensive immigration reform. You know, like the plan that the Senate passed but the House refuses to vote on, with the explicit blessing of Abbott’s former employee Ted Cruz. The Senate plan is hardly the end of the rainbow, but it’s a big step forward. If Abbott wants to push for a better plan than the Senate’s, one that fetishizes the shibboleth of border security less and seeks a realistic and compassionate way to let more of the many people who really want to come to the US but are being kept out by our broken and byzantine process, then more power to him. I expect to be appointed to the board of the Koch Brothers’ evil empire before that happens.

Abbott isn’t actually interested in solving the problem, though. He’s just throwing red meat to his base, despite having the primary in the bag. As much as the locals didn’t care for his “Third World country” rhetoric, I doubt he even noticed, or cared if he did. He knows who he’s talking to. It’s what he does.

One more thing:

Abbott also proposed introducing the so-called E-Verify system, used to determine whether a particular employee has legal status, in state government.

Even though he said the system was “99.5 percent” effective, Abbott said he would not apply that new enforcement program to the private sector, where the vast majority of undocumented immigrants work.

The big-business lobby, representing many companies that have for years relied on cheap immigrant labor, has long resisted increased worksite enforcement in Texas and elsewhere.

“I think that Texas should establish the leadership position by employing this first as a state body, show that it works, set the standard for what it should be, before the state goes about the process of imposing more mandates on private employers,” Abbott said.

I’m just curious here, but how many undocumented immigrants does Abbott think are currently working undetected in state government? If this is a problem, why wasn’t he calling for E-Verify to be implemented before now? Surely Rick Perry and the Legislature wouldn’t have opposed the idea. And suggesting that maybe private businesses might consider voluntarily adopting it if he sets a good example for them is just too precious for words. If the system is so damn effective – not an incontrovertible claim, of course – and if undocumented immigrants are such a huge problem, why wouldn’t you push to make it a requirement? Burka is right, we don’t have policy in this state, we just have ideology. And it’s just insane.

Outsourcing Texas border security

What could possibly go wrong?

Gen. John Abrams

A little-known private defense contractor from Virginia has quietly received about $20 million under a series of no-bid contracts with the State of Texas to develop its border security strategies, an effort that included shaping the state’s public message on the increasingly controversial nature and extent of violence spilling into Texas from Mexico.

According to an internal Department of Public Safety memo, the role of Abrams Learning and Information Systems Inc. expanded dramatically after Gov. Rick Perry, then in the midst of a campaign for governor, ordered an acceleration of border security operations that the state wasn’t equipped to handle on its own.

Over the next 4 1/2 years — ALIS, founded in 2004 by retired Army Gen. John Abrams — would become intimately involved in nearly every aspect of the Texas Department of Public Safety’s border security apparatus, according to documents obtained by the American-Statesman through the Texas Public Information Act. Its assignments ranged from refining the state’s Operation Border Star campaign and coordinating the role of National Guard troops along the border, to setting up the state’s joint intelligence support centers and creating a multimillion-dollar high-tech system to map border crime.

Despite the firm’s work on the state’s most important border operations, ALIS flew so far under the radar that outside of law enforcement, few state and local leaders knew of its activities. Several officials who have worked closely on border security issues said they had no knowledge of the firm until contacted by the Statesman.

State Sen. Jose Rodriguez, D-El Paso, said he plans to call for an investigation into the state’s relationship with ALIS, saying that the state had outsourced vital security operations to a firm with “less accountability and less transparency than I would expect from state agencies.”

Even a keen observer of the Department of Public Safety could easily have been unaware of the contractor. Despite more than half a dozen contracts totalling $19.2 million, according to the Texas comptroller’s office, a review of the minutes and agendas of the state’s Public Safety Commission meetings between 2006 and 2011 revealed no public discussion about the firm’s role and only passing references to the firm’s contracts.

Department policy did not require contracts such as those with ALIS to be presented to the commission until September 2009, according to DPS officials.

Nor does the website of the Legislative Budget Board, the only agency charged with gathering information on state contracts, reveal the extent of the ALIS role; it shows just two contracts worth $2.1 million.

[…]

In August 2010, the DPS enlisted Abrams to develop a public and media outreach strategy to “position Texas border security efforts in a positive light,” paying the firm to develop talking points, presentations, testimony and the “orientation” of senior government leaders. Abrams created a public relations campaign featuring 36 principal messages, including “The success of Texas border security and law enforcement efforts are critical to preserving you and your family’s safety and way of life” and “Border Security is a Federal Responsibility but a Texas problem” — the exact language contained in an earlier Perry speech and a common refrain during Perry’s presidential campaign.

A draft document obtained by the American-Statesman, titled “Border Security Public Outreach Themes and Messages,” includes talking points that would seem to boost the firm’s standing. In touting Operation Border Star, the state’s principal border security strategy, the document says that law enforcement agencies “join with private companies” to “reduce border-related crime.” The messages were meant to be used by the agency’s public information department and to guide agency interactions with the media.

DPS officials say they contracted with ALIS on media outreach because they wanted the public to know about Mexican cartels recruiting Texas students to carry drugs and other threats such as smuggling operations and public corruption.

Rodriguez said he thinks ALIS’s public information work represented a conflict of interest. “They are giving talking points to officials so they can make the case for more public money for border security, which they can then use to pay for more contracts,” Rodriguez said. “(ALIS) was doing this to make themselves more relevant.”

Abrams was one of those retired generals who spent the year 2002 on TV and in the newspapers as a “military analyst” beating the drum for an invasion of Iraq, so he knows a little something about this kind of sales job. You really need to read the whole thing, then when you’re done go read the Alternet story that came out a couple of days before the Statesman published theirs. Among other things, Alternet reporter Tom Barry points to a February report from the Texas state auditor that called into question the way some federal grant money for border security was spent:

The audit reviewed a representative selection of cases among the $265.9 million in federal grants and subgrants to DPS — in the areas of homeland security, border security, emergency management, and law enforcement interoperability.

Among the findings of negligence and incompetence were these startling instances:

  • A draw-down of $755,509 in federal funds to issue a duplicate payment to one subgrantee.
  • Five of the six procurements (83%) examined by the auditor in the cluster of federal grants for homeland and border security were not bid competitively as required.
  • DPS categorized four of the five procurements examined by the auditor as “emergency procurements,” and in three of those four DPS was unable to document why they were processed as “emergency” contracts.
  • DPS has no system to track, administer, monitor federal subgrants – as federal guidelines require, leading to routine occurrences of duplicate payments, dipping into one federal fund to pay for unrelated programs, and failure to submit required reports and audits.
  • Complete failure to track interest rates on unused federal funds and to remit those funds, as required by federal grant guidelines.
  • Access to law-enforcement databases by contract programmers who lacked proper authorization or clearance.

Grits flagged both of these, and summarizes as follows:

Sounds like the McCaffrey report and the recent Spring Break warning are all part of a broader public relations campaign. For that kind of money, there’s likely more misinformation coming, or else this was the most expensive PR advice Texas taxpayers ever paid for.

Just a reminder that no matter what the budget situation is, Rick Perry and the Republicans in the Lege will always find money for the things they think are important. Go read and find out how that money has been spent without you knowing about it. More here and here, and a statement from US Rep. Silvestre Reyes is beneath the fold.

(more…)

Sheriffs not sold on Arizona immigration bill

Texas’ sheriffs are not very enthusiastic about being charged with enforcing federal immigration laws.

Texas has 254 sheriffs, and while opinions vary about whether illegal immigration should be their problem, some Republicans are pushing measures that won’t give them a choice. More than a dozen bills targeting illegal immigration await the Legislature when it convenes Tuesday, when the GOP will enter with a historic conservative supermajority in the House.

One bill would require police to ask drivers without identification if they’re in the country legally. Another would cut off state funds to departments that don’t enforce immigrations laws.

“It’s split among my colleagues on whether we should be out here just stopping individuals without probable cause, and questioning them on their immigration status,” said Travis County Sheriff Greg Hamilton, who believes the proposals invite profiling.

[…]

Many Texas sheriffs along the border, long vocal about being understaffed and underfunded on the edge of Mexico’s violent drug war, oppose the measures as another drain on their deputies. They and sheriffs in Houston and San Antonio also worry about profiling.

Others don’t see it as an imposition, and maybe a necessity. In Fort Bend County, which includes Houston’s conservative suburbs, Sheriff Milton Wright said he would support laws requiring his deputies to enforce immigration laws if the federal government won’t.

“If they’re not going to do it, then we need to,” he said.

Arizona’s new law left Texas facing unavoidable questions. Texas has an estimated 1.6 million illegal immigrants, second only to California, and Republicans control every statewide office. Gov. Rick Perry has said he doesn’t support Texas adopting a law identical to Arizona’s, while at the same time praising that state’s initiative for taking the illegal immigration problem into its own hands.

I fully expect that Gov. Perry will sign whatever immigration-related legislation makes it to his desk, despite what some people think. I do not believe he will cross the base on this, and I think there’s plenty of room to make enough cosmetic changes to Arizona’s bill to allow him to claim that Texas’ version of it is different.

It would have been good to hear from more Sheriffs on this. With the exception of Fort Bend’s Wright – who, if he truly believes there are no constitutional issues with making people show their papers as a matter of routine, can certainly instruct his deputies to do so – everyone in the story was opposed to such legislation. How many Sheriffs agree with Wright, and how much of the state’s population do they represent? Based on this story, the opponents can claim Harris, Bexar, Travis, El Paso, and all the border counties; I will presume Dallas is in this group as well. That’s an awful lot of the state right there.

It’s not at all clear that the legislators who want to force the sheriffs to do their bidding care about what they think, however.

So important is the issue to state Rep. Debbie Riddle that she camped outside the clerk’s window to ensure her get-tough immigration bills would be first in line. State Sen. Dan Patrick filed a bill that would require police to ask anyone without an ID whether they’re in the country illegally, but the Houston-area talk radio host says his measure affords officer discretion. For instance, he said an officer could choose not to arrest a harmless minivan-driving mom who is revealed to be an illegal immigrant.

Patrick, who visited Arizona to see its new law in action, said the possibility of legal challenges is no barrier.

“Too many people want to duck and cover and bury their heads in the sand,” Patrick said. “This is an issue we have to stand tall on. Republicans have to stand together.”

[…]

During the previous two legislative sessions, Patrick said “too much chaos” in the House doomed immigration proposals. This time, Patrick said, Republicans have the numbers – and a willingness to work with law enforcement.

“You have to have their buy-in,” Patrick said. “I want them to be enthusiastic about it.”

Won’t stop him from proceeding if they’re not, though. I continue to be fascinated by Republicans like Patrick who scream bloody murder when the federal government imposes a requirement on the state of Texas but have no problems imposing their own requirements on local governments that don’t want them. I guess counties don’t have rights.

If Patrick et al don’t care what the sheriffs think, do you suppose they’ll care what businesses think?

The Texas ACLU and an El Paso county sheriff who supports the controversial Secure Communities program stood side by side at the State Capitol in Austin Thursday to denounce pre-filed, immigration-related legislation similar to Arizona’s SB 1070. A conservative businessman was added to the mix, indicating lawmakers intent on rounding up Texas’ undocumented population might have a harder time than initially presumed.

“Who would imagine that after 28 years of law enforcement the ACLU would be talking so nicely about me,” Sheriff Richard Wiles joked after being introduced as a common-sense sheriff by ACLU of Texas Executive Director Terri Burke for his opposition to proposed legislation patterned off Arizona’s.

[…]

Bill Hammond, the executive director of the Texas Association of Business, said Texas should realize the business “pipeline” in Arizona has run dry after it passed its law, and Texas could share the same fate if bills aimed at businesses who hire undocumented immigrant pass.

“Some of this legislation would require then to become forensic experts and we think that’s unfair. It’s an unfair burden on them when what they are trying to do is provide employment for Texans who want a job,” he said. “Mexican nationals invest literally millions and millions of dollars in Texas and we believe that one of the detrimental effects that people haven’t considered is the drying up of that investment. In my view, if this legislation were to become law, perhaps someone should file a bill to change the state’s motto [“Friendship”] as well,” he said.

Texas Politics and the Statesman also covered that rally. While I appreciate Hammond’s willingness to speak out on this issue, I will once again say that until they actually target someone for defeat over this, they should continue to expect it from the Republicans they otherwise support. When TAB-backed candidates take on Riddle and Berman in the 2012 GOP primaries, that would be putting their money where their mouth is. Until then, I don’t expect any current Republicans to take their words on this too seriously.

Don’t fall for it, Mr. President

I have two things to say about this.

Congressional Republicans are pronouncing President Obama’s proposal that the next Congress overhaul the country’s immigration laws as dead before arrival.

In his year-end news conference Wednesday, Obama said his biggest regret about the recent lame-duck session of Congress was the defeat of the DREAM Act, a measure that offered a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children.

“It is heartbreaking,” Obama said, as he talked about how such immigrants often realize they are without legal status only when they try to go to college or join the military. “That can’t be who we are. To have our kids, classmates of our children, who are suddenly under this shadow of fear through no fault of their own. They didn’t break the law – they were kids.”

Congressional Republicans said in interviews Thursday that their concerns about the measure remain strong, and both House and Senate GOP leaders said they would fight any attempt to legalize any of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country before the administration secured the nation’s southern border with Mexico.

“It is pointless to talk about any new immigration bills that grant amnesty until we secure the border, since such bills will only encourage more illegal immigration,” incoming House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Tex.) said in a statement.

1. This is a trap. There is no amount of “border security” that will appease the likes of Lamar Smith. If you try to give him what you think he wants, he’ll just move the goalposts. Going along with this will generate far more ill will among the President’s supporters than good will among his detractors. Don’t fall for it. Keep pushing for a sane and compassionate comprehensive immigration reform bill and the DREAM Act instead, which will put pressure on the Republicans and cause fractures in their coalition. It’s the right thing to do, and will be a political winner.

2. I’m saying it again because it just can’t be said enough: This is the team Aaron Pena chose to play for. Lamar Smith, Ted Poe, Louie Gohmert – they’re all his peeps now.

Will Texas make like Arizona?

If there’s been one small positive thing about the ridiculous Arizona anti-immigrant law, it’s been to remind the rest of the country that states besides Texas do crazy, inexplicable things as well. And I do believe that there’s a reason to be optimistic that in the end, people will learn that this was a terribly wrong thing to do. I’m also hopeful that while crazies like Rep. Debbie Riddle will propose legislation to do what Arizona has done, it won’t get anywhere. She’s done this before, without success, and I don’t see her getting any more traction on it next year.

I could be wrong about that, of course. The good news is that the political implications of Arizona’s actions may play in Bill White’s favor.

“In the best of all worlds, for White to win, there has to be a large Latino voter turnout,” said Jerry Polinard, a political scientist at the University of Texas Pan-American.

He said if the anti-immigration debate nationally is perceived as anti-Latino, it could spark a voter turnout that has not been there for Democrats in the past.

“This is almost like a gift to him,” Polinard said of White.

The anti-immigration voters already like Perry and do not need to be convinced to vote for him, Polinard said.

“What this does is make it harder for the governor to get back to the middle of the road,” he said.

True enough, but this isn’t really what Rick Perry wants to talk about. I doubt he’d have picked yesterday to tell us about that coyote he killed in February if he were eager to discuss Arizona. The list of what’s wrong with Rick Perry is several miles long, but for the most part he’s not been a demagogue on immigration; certainly, compared to some of his partymates, he’s downright reasonable. Sure, he’s tossed around the silly “sanctuary city” charge at Bill White, because he’s never not playing to the cheap seats, and he likes to talk big about frivolous money-wasters like border cameras, but I do believe that he’s unlikely to make a big deal out of this.

Jim Harrington, of the Texas Civil Rights Project, predicted “zero” chance of a similar effort here, saying Texas has “a different relationship with the Hispanic community.”

Such a push “would cause an enormous political transformation of the state a lot quicker than it’s happening at this point,” Harrington said. “It would galvanize the Hispanic community astronomically.”

Asked about the Arizona law, GOP Gov. Rick Perry and his Democratic challenger, Bill White, emphasized through spokespeople that immigration is a federal responsibility.

“You can take the political temperature by just looking at Rick Perry being quiet,” Harrington said.

I suspect Perry won’t change his approach much. He’ll keep bashing the federal government for its failures on fixing the immigration system while doing his usual macho posturing, but in keeping with his norms he won’t actually propose any solutions. White will likely stick to his “it’s a federal responsibility” line, which is true but carries the risk of annoying supporters who want to see him take a stronger stand against measures like Arizona’s. Sometimes, just not being the Republican isn’t enough.

Still, it’s important to remember that even if Rick Perry is kinda not too bad on immigration issues, many members of his party, like Riddle and Leo Berman, are nuts. And this is a serious schism in the GOP that isn’t going away any time soon.

The Texas Association of Business’ Bill Hammond said that while it is likely similar legislation will be filed in the Lone Star State, “I think and hope there’s little likelihood the Texas Legislature would pass anything so misguided as what they’ve done in Arizona. I think it is blatantly unconstitutional.”

Hey, Bill, here’s a suggestion. Instead of blowing smoke about health care, why not do something that you’re actually good at and find primary challengers for clowns like Riddle and Berman, who are the ones pushing this legislation that you say is hurtful and unconstitutional? I know, it’s too late for this year, and by 2012 it may not matter. Point is, this is something you could have taken action on if it really mattered to you.

UPDATE: The Trib has Perry’s statement, which is pretty much what I expected.

How much would you pay for those border cameras?

Remember all those border cameras Rick Perry wanted to install so ordinary citizens in the comfort of their living rooms could help catch people entering the country illegally? How have they worked out?

Perry has invested a total of $4 million of federal grant money that he controls in the Texas Border Watch Program. Twenty-nine cameras have been installed on the 1,200-mile Texas-Mexico border, or one camera for every 41 miles of border. Internet viewers have helped police make a total of 26 arrests — that’s about $153,800 per arrest. And some border law agencies are not even using the cameras for police work.

Perry first gave the Texas Border Sheriffs Coalition $2 million in 2008 to launch the border camera program. Progress reports from that year showed the program fell far short of nearly all its law enforcement goals, including arrests, cash forfeitures and immigration apprehensions. Only a fraction of the cameras Perry initially wanted had been installed, and the program had generated none of the self-sustaining advertising revenue called for in the camera contract.

In 2008, the cameras were expected to generate 1,200 arrests, $25,000 in cash forfeitures, 50,000 incident reports and 4,500 immigration referrals. Under the grant objectives, the coalition was supposed to install 200 cameras. Instead, that year 13 cameras generated three arrests, zero cash forfeitures, eight incident reports, and six immigration referrals.

And remember, Rick Perry thinks this program has been a success. Makes you wonder what he thinks a failure looks like. Stace has more.

Perry’s border shenanigans

It’s an election year, and that means it’s time once again for Rick Perry to pay attention to Texas’ border communities, by which I mean “grandstand about drug violence”. I recommend you read these BOR posts for a sense of what’s going on. It’s fascinating to see Perry call in the helicopters while simultaneously making ludicrously false claims about reductions in crime along the border, for which he claims credit. But that’s our Governor for you.

Bye bye, border fence funds

Good riddance.

A provision to build an additional 300 miles of pedestrian fence along the U.S.-Mexico border has been stripped out of a $42.8 billion spending bill for the Department of Homeland Security.

The provision by Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., was removed at the behest of House members from Texas, Arizona and California who called the fencing a waste of taxpayer money and an ineffective way to secure the border.

“We need to invest and secure our border and our land ports without being tied down to an amendment that is out of touch with border needs,” said Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, who spearheaded the effort to remove the provision DeMint tucked into a Senate spending bill earlier this year.

I’m not the biggest fan of Rep. Cuellar, but this is exactly the sort of thing I’d hoped he do once the Democrats got in the majority. Good on him, and on Rep. Ciro Rodriguez, for listening to their constituents.

Corruption on the border

Very interesting article from the AP about official corruption along the US-Mexico border.

An Associated Press investigation has found U.S. law officers who work the border are being charged with criminal corruption in numbers not seen before, as drug and immigrant smugglers use money and sometimes sex to buy protection, and internal investigators crack down.

Based on Freedom of Information Act requests, interviews with sentenced agents and a review of court records, the AP tallied corruption-related convictions against more than 80 enforcement officials at all levels — federal, state and local — since 2007, shortly after Mexican President Felipe Calderon declared war on the cartels that peddle up to $39 billion worth of drugs in the United States each year.

U.S. officials have long pointed to Mexico’s rampantly corrupt cops and broken judicial system, but Calderon told the AP this isn’t just a Mexican problem.

“To get drugs into the United States the one you need to corrupt is the American authority, the American customs, the American police — not the Mexican. And that’s a subject, by the way, which hasn’t been addressed with sincerity,” the Mexican president said. “I’m waging my battle against corruption among Mexican authorities and we’re risking everything to clean our house, but I think there also needs to be a good cleaning on the other side of the border.”

In fact, U.S. prosecutors have been taking notice. Drug traffickers look “for weaknesses in the armor,” said former prosecutor Yolanda de Leon in Cameron County, Texas.

It’s a little depressing to read the whole thing. I don’t know what can be done about this, and it’s not clear to me that the folks in charge of border security really know either, as the only solution they seem to have is “keep doing more of what we’ve been doing”, which includes spending more money on it. I do still think we could solve some of these problems by recognizing that as long as the demand to enter the US outstrips the supply of visas and work permits, many people will try to enter by whatever means they can, which in turn helps the smugglers and drug traffickers do their business. Unfortunately, as comprehensive immigration reform isn’t in the cards for this year, that isn’t going to happen. Better hope spending more to keep doing what we’ve been doing will help.

Virtual border fence: Still a failure

Our Governor in action.

Gov. Rick Perry’s border Web camera program has run out of money, and in its first full year of operation failed to meet nearly every law enforcement goal.

Last year, Perry gave the Texas Border Sheriffs Coalition a $2 million federal grant to install cameras along the U.S.-Mexico border and broadcast the footage live over the Internet. An internal report showed that a fraction of the 200 cameras Perry wanted on the border were installed, and that Internet border patrollers produced a handful of drug busts and a scattering of arrests.

[…]

Perry is seeking another $2 million to prop up the project that was supposed to become self-sustaining. After being shown a report that indicated the cameras fell far short of their goals, Perry’s staff produced a new, revised report that put the program in a more positive light.

The grant that financed the program has expired, and the sheriffs coalition says that without more funding, the cameras will go dark.

The first thing you need to know is that this was a federal grant that paid for those cameras. Darn that fascistic federal government and its dirty, dirty money! I mean, if we know one thing right now it’s that Republican governors just can’t handle temptation.

Original goals for the program were unrealistic, said sheriffs coalition executive director Don Reay. He said the cameras have been a success.

“We’re hoping there will be a new (grant) offered for next year,” he said.

In its first full year, the camera Web site drew more than 39 million hits and caught the attention of national and international media.
But interviews and reports the El Paso Times obtained indicate the nearly 125,000 “virtual Texas deputies” registered on the site led law enforcement to just eight drug busts and 11 arrests.

[…]

The sheriffs coalition was to install 200 cameras, but only 17 were up and running. That’s about one camera for every 70 miles of the 1,200-mile Texas-Mexico border.

The cameras were expected to generate 1,200 arrests. The sheriffs coalition reported 11.

Internet border watchers’ reports led to the referral of about 300 undocumented immigrants to U.S. Border Patrol officials. That was about 6 percent of the 4,500 referrals the program was expected to generate.

Reay explained the gap between the objectives and the results in this response on the report: “Original goals were not realistic. Problems encountered was an element of the press who did everything within their power to negate the problem (sic).”

Boy, if only being a naysayer granted the power to negate problems! I’d be, like, a superhero or something by now.

After questions about results in the year-end report and whether funding would be renewed for the cameras, Perry spokeswoman Katherine Cesinger produced a different report.

The newly produced report showed objectives radically reduced from the original goals.

Instead of 200 cameras, it said the sheriffs coalition was expected to install only 15, making it appear as if the group exceeded its goals by installing 17 cameras.

The target number of arrests was revised downward from 1,200 to 25, much closer to the 11 arrests the sheriffs coalition actually made.

The original objectives, Cesinger said, were supposed to have been revised after a six-month progress report earlier this year showed the program was far from meeting its targets. There was some sort of “glitch” in the reporting process, she said.

If at first you don’t succeed, lower your standards. That could be Rick Perry’s campaign slogan. I must note that they did tell us that they intended to define success down six months ago, so we can’t say we weren’t warned.

Despite the small number of arrests, the few cameras installed and the failure of the program to become self-sustaining, Cesinger said, Perry was convinced the program deterred crime and should be funded again.

“The bad guys know there are an extra pair eyes on the border,” she said.

[…]

University of Texas at El Paso anthropology Professor Josiah Heyman, a border expert, called the Texas Border Watch program “expensive and dumb.”

Seventeen cameras on the vast expanse of borderland between Mexico and Texas, he said, would do little to stop the illegal flow of drugs and people into the United States.

“The cameras out in open country are just completely a distraction from the elephant in the room,” Heyman said.

Most contraband that enters the country, he said, comes through the ports of entry. The backpacks and Hummers full of drugs that come through the brush country between the ports are small potatoes compared with the semi-trucks and train cars loaded down with drugs and people that often make it through the complex and overloaded land port security system.

“Two million dollars would be a drop in the bucket, but it would be an a lot more effective drop in the bucket if it was focused on ports of entry instead of wide-open spaces,” Heyman said.

The irony of all this, of course, is that Rick Perry is the first in line to call all kinds of government spending “wasteful”. It’s just that by some strange coincidence, the things that he considers wasteful are all programs he doesn’t like. Here we have convincing empirical evidence that this is a wasteful program, one that doesn’t come close to meeting the goals that were set for it, and by spending money on this program we’re not spending an equivalent amount on something else that actually would be effective. But it’s something that Rick Perry likes, for whatever the reason, and so he wants to keep shoveling money into it, convinced that it can work better if we just keep trying. You really couldn’t come up with a better illustration of the emptiness of “wasteful government spending” rhetoric if you tried.

The border camera boondoggle blues

Your tax dollars at work, courtesy of Governor Perry.

A virtual border surveillance program Gov. Rick Perry has committed millions of taxpayer dollars to fell far short of expectations during the first six months of operation.

Border sheriffs, who Perry gave $2 million to line the Texas-Mexico border with hundreds of Web cameras, installed only about a dozen and made just a handful of apprehensions as a result of tips from online viewers.

Reports obtained by the El Paso Times under the Texas Public Information Act show that the cameras produced a fraction of the objectives Perry outlined.

Perry’s office acknowledged the reported results were a far from the expectations but said the problem was with the yardstick used to measure the outcome and not with the camera program.

“The progress reports need to be adjusted to come in line with the strategy,” said Perry spokeswoman Katherine Cesinger.

How about aligning it to the cost of implementation? Crazy idea, I know.

In the first six months of the grant period, the coalition spent $625,000 to get the cameras running.

The Web site went public Nov. 19, and in the first month saw nearly 2 million hits.

All those hits didn’t translate into much law enforcement work, though, according to a six-month progress report required for the grant.

The report describes both the objectives for the program during the first year of the grant and how much progress was made in achieving those goals.

The coalition’s goal was to make 1,200 arrests as a result of tips from the online cameras in the first year of the project.

They made three arrests in the first six months, according to the progress report.

Of some 4,500 suspected immigration violations they expected to report to U.S. Border Patrol in the year, the first six months produced six.

The report also showed the group installed just 13 of 200 cameras it planned to install this year.

Boy, that makes it almost as effective as the high school steroid testing program. Which was declared a success by its boosters, by the way. Gotta love that alignment of progress and strategy.

As the story notes, Perry has had a long fascination with the idea of border cameras and an army of online border-camera-watchers. The fact that the first, smaller-scale version of this was about as effective hasn’t cooled his ardor for them.

Some lawmakers panned the program as ineffective, and in 2007 legislators denied Perry’s request to fund more cameras and resume the online offensive.

Last year, though, Perry secured $2 million in federal grant money to get the cameras online.

But when his office sought a vendor, none would do the job for that price.

So Perry turned to the border sheriffs, a group he had previously given tens of millions for border security operations.

The sheriffs contracted with a social-networking company called Blueservo to set up the cameras and the Web site.

Once enough users sign up, the company says it plans to sell advertising on the site to generate a profit and pay for the border camera effort.

Cesinger said Perry is committed to the camera program because it uses technology to help secure the border, a mission the federal government has failed to accomplish.

“It’s utilizing technology so you don’t have to pay for an extra set of eyes,” she said.

You know, I’m thinking that for two million bucks you could probably get more than one extra set of eyes, and that you’d get a lot more results from them as well. I know, I know, that’s crazy talk. But at least it’s not as crazy as the idea that you could pay for these cameras in perpetuity with advertising revenue from a border camera social networking scheme. Seriously, who thinks this stuff up? I hope this program meets the same fate as its predecessor.