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Homeland Security

So were we targeted by Russian hackers or not?

Depends who you ask, I guess.

A top state official is pushing back against the federal government’s claim that Texas was among states whose election systems were targeted by Russian hackers ahead of the 2016 presidential election.

“At no point were any election-related systems, software, or information compromised by malicious cyber actors,” Texas Secretary of State Rolando Pablos wrote in a letter to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security on Thursday.

Last week, the Department of Homeland Security said the election infrastructure of 21 states, including Texas, was targeted by Russian hackers. Being targeted does not mean that votes were changed but that a system was scanned.

Shortly after the announcement, officials in California and Wisconsin said they’d received contradictory information from the department that suggested they’d been incorrectly included on that list.

Pablos, in his letter, made a similar claim and asked the department to “correct its erroneous notification” that the state agency’s website had been the target of malicious hackers. Pablos argued that federal officials had based their assessment on “incorrect information” and that an investigation by his office with the state’s Department of Information Resources had found no such targeting.

“In order to restore public confidence in the integrity of our elections systems, it is imperative for DHS to further clarify the information provided,” the letter says. “Our office understands that you have provided similar clarification to election officials in Wisconsin and California. We respectfully request you provide the same clarification to the State of Texas.”

A Department of Homeland Security spokesman told Reuters Thursday that “additional information and clarity” had been provided to several states, and that the department stood by its assessment “that Internet-connected networks in 21 states were the target of Russian government cyber actors seeking vulnerabilities and access to U.S. election infrastructure.”

See here for the background. I’d need to see the specifics before I can make a judgment here. Saying the SOS systems weren’t “compromised” isn’t a contradiction of what was said by Homeland Security, which merely said the SOS website had been “scanned and probed”. That’s basically background noise on the Internet, though depending on the source of the probe it can be of interest. It would be nice for everyone to get their story straight so we know for sure who is claiming what.

Texas was a hacking target in 2016

We’re just finding out about this now?

Hackers targeted Texas and 20 other states prior to the 2016 presidential election, the United States Department of Homeland Security has formally informed the states.

But the hackers who tried to mess with Texas didn’t get far, officials with the Texas Secretary of State’s office said Monday.

The federal agents said instead of targeting the state’s voter registration database during the 2016 elections, hackers searched for a vulnerability on the Secretary of State’s public-facing website, according to Sam Taylor, an agency spokesman.

“If anyone was trying to get into the elections system, they were apparently targeting the wrong website,” Taylor said.

The website, http://www.sos.state.tx.us, is devoid of voter information, he said, and hackers never find a way to crack into it.

[…]

According to testimony before the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee, the Department of Homeland Security began finding incidents of scanning and probing of state and local election systems in August 2016. A declassified report from national intelligence officials released in January stated that “Russian intelligence obtained and maintained access to elements of multiple U.S. state or local electoral boards.”

“There is no complacency in Texas when it comes to protecting the security of our elections system,” Secretary Rolando Pablos said. “We take our responsibility to guard against any and all threats to the integrity of elections extremely seriously and will continue to do so moving forward.”

Here’s what bothers me about this. It’s not that our Secretary of State websites may have been attacked – that’s a matter of when, not if – and it’s not even that they might not have known about it until the feds informed them of it – it may have been a new vulnerability being exploited. What bothers me is the assertion that because there was nothing of value on the server that was hacked, there was nothing to worry about. Low-value servers, ones that are public facing and have no proprietary or confidential information on them, are often targets for hackers. The reason for this is that once you have access to such a machine, you have the opportunity to look for vulnerabilities inside the network, to do things like try to crack passwords on higher-privilege accounts so that you can gain access to more valuable resources. A spokesperson like Sam Taylor may not understand this, but I sure hope someone at the SOS office does.

Also, too: It’s not possible to stop every attack – any IT professional worth their salt will tell you this – but what is possible and very necessary is to detect as quickly as you can abnormal system activity so you can tell when you’ve been breached and take steps to stop it. As I said, the SOS may not have known about these particular attacks at the time. Some of this is cutting edge stuff, and the majority of us only find out about them in retrospect. But now that they do know, I sure hope they’re reviewing all their logs and their various monitoring tools to see what they might have missed and how they can detect this sort of attack going forward. I also hope they’re sharing this information with every elections administrator to ensure they are aware of this and can perform the same reviews. That is something I’d expect a spokesperson to address.

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.

Deportation nation

Appalling.

The Trump administration on Tuesday moved one step closer to implementing the president’s plans to aggressively rid the country of undocumented immigrants and expand local police-based enforcement of border security operations.

In a fact sheet outlining the efforts, the Department of Homeland Security said that though their top priority is finding and removing undocumented immigrants with criminal histories, millions more may also be subject to immediate removal.

“With extremely limited exceptions, DHS will not exempt classes or categories of removal aliens from potential enforcement. All of those in violation of the immigration laws may be subject to enforcement proceedings, up to and including removal from the United States,” the fact sheet explains. “The guidance makes clear, however, that ICE should prioritize several categories of removable aliens who have committed crimes, beginning with those convicted of a criminal offense.”

The memo did not include instructions to halt the 2012 executive action called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, which has allowed about 750,000 undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States as children to live and work in the country legally.

The guidelines also state that the Department of Homeland Security has authority to expedite the removal of undocumented immigrants who have been in the country illegally for at least two years, a departure from the Obama administration’s approach of concentrating mainly on newly arriving immigrants.

“To date, expedited removal has been exercised only for aliens encountered within 100 air miles of the border and 14 days of entry, and aliens who arrived in the United States by sea other than at a port of entry,” the agency states.

The action also seeks to expand a police-based immigration enforcement program known as 287(g), which allows local and state officers to perform immigration duties if they undergo the requisite training. The program fell out of favor under the Obama administration after Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced in 2012 that it wouldn’t renew contracts that were in place at the time.

“Empowering state and local law enforcement agencies to assist in the enforcement of federal immigration law is critical to an effective enforcement strategy, and CBP and ICE will work with interested and eligible jurisdictions,” the memo reads.

This is going to be a humanitarian catastrophe. It’s going to be devastating for a lot of industries – agriculture, construction, hospitality – all of which will be a drag on Texas’ economy. It will do further damage to our already dented international reputation. And it won’t do a damn thing to make us safer. I wonder what Jeff Sessions will do when churches start offering sanctuary to people who are being targeted. Oh, and it will be a big unfunded mandate on cities and counties, in the same way that the “sanctuary cities” bill in the State Senate will be, if local cops are being required to enforce immigration law. This is going to be very, very ugly. Political Animal, Daily Kos, the Current, and ThinkProgress 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.

What about LGBT asylum seekers?

Good question.

Sulma Franco

As millions waited this week for a landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage, dozens of LGBT immigrants sat in American detention centers after fleeing what they say is persecution in their homelands because of their sexual orientation.

Now, a coalition of attorneys, lawmakers and immigrant rights groups are calling on the federal government to release some of the asylum-seekers, arguing they remain at risk for violence while they are locked up. The groups also want the government to collect better data that would shed more light on how many people are fleeing because they are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

Opponents of releasing asylum-seekers from detention centers say such immigrants would be unlikely to show up for hearings.

The issue hit close to home for many LGBT Texans when earlier this month, Sulma Franco, a lesbian from Guatemala, sought sanctuary in a Central Austin church after being denied asylum.

Immigration Equality, a New York-based group that advocates and provides legal services for LGBT and HIV-positive immigrants across the country, recorded more than 500 cases involving LGBT asylum-seekers from 2010 to 2014. But that number is only a fraction of the bigger picture, said Sharita Gruberg, a policy analyst with the Center for American Progress.

Though immigration agents question asylum-seekers about their concerns, the federal government does not track the number of people seeking asylum specifically because they are LGBT.

“We’ve been advocating for the government to collect data on this,” she said. “We don’t get a good picture of who’s seeking protection.”

LGBT asylum-seekers who are released from detention are likely to show up for their hearings because their cases have merit, said Vanessa Allyn, a managing attorney at Human Rights First, an advocacy group whose Houston office has secured two asylum claims for LGBT people in the past year and has five more pending.

“The real question is: Why are we detaining these individuals in the first instance? If they can articulate a credible claim of fear on recognized grounds for protection, then they are going to show up for their hearings,” she said. “There is no reason for them to disappear into the ether of the United States. They are definitely going to come and they are going to articulate their claim and they are probably going to be granted relief.”

Ms. Allyn’s claim is based on a 1994 ruling by AG Janet Reno in which a gay Cuban man was granted asylum due to his sexual orientation, known as the Toboso-Alonso case. Cuba’s a class by itself in immigration law, but the argument for asylum is strong on its own. We granted asylum on grounds of religious persecution to plenty of immigrants in the 70s and 80s, often to folks from countries whose (Communist) governments we didn’t like. Lord knows, there are plenty of countries in which being LGBT can put your life in danger. We’ve spent the past few days celebrating the victory won at the Supreme Court, but this deserves the same attention, too. It’s why Jennicet Gutiérrez spoke out at the White House during the annual LGBT Pride reception.

Whatever you think of Ms. Gutiérrez’s actions, they had an effect.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement will implement new guidelines designed to better protect transgender people in immigration detention facilities, the agency announced Monday.

The announcement comes after 35 congressional Democrats wrote to U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson earlier this month asking ICE to change it’s policies toward those detainees. The lawmakers also asked ICE to collect better data on how many people flee their homelands for fear of persecution because they are gay, lesbian transgender or bisexual.

“We want to make sure our employees have the tools and resources available to learn more about how to interact with transgender individuals and ensure effective standards exist to house and care for them throughout the custody cycle,” Thomas Homan, executive assistant director for ICE’s Office of Enforcement and Removal Operations, said in a statement.

According to the memorandum, ICE will now collect data on how many immigrants in its custody are transgender, and provide training and guidance to ICE officers to keep those detainees safe. ICE will also name of a special coordinator to manage such issues for each of its 24 field offices.

It’s a small step forward and it is one of the things that immigration activists asked for, but it’s not that much and it’s not going to get anyone out of detention. Activists were critical of this and will continue to push for asylum. I think the President needs to listen to them.

Obama immigration executive order halted

For now.

JustSayNo

A federal judge late Monday halted President Barack Obama’s landmark immigration order on the eve of its implementation, denying millions of people illegally in America access to work permits and dealing a victory to Gov. Greg Abbott in his lawsuit against the program.

The decision from Judge Andrew Hanen, based in Brownsville, did not declare the executive action unconstitutional but said it should not take effect until the legal questions have been settled.

“Once these services are provided,” Hanen wrote in a 123-page ruling, “there will be no effective way of putting the toothpaste back in the tube should the plaintiffs ultimately prevail.”

Immigration activists had been bracing for an unfavorable ruling from Hanen, an appointee of President George W. Bush to the Southern District of Texas. He previously has expressed skepticism at the federal government’s ability to enforce the law at the border.

The federal government is expected to appeal the decision to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.

[…]

Hanen’s ruling arrived two days before U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services was set to start accepting applications for the program.

You can see a copy of the order here, and of the full ruling here. The Trib adds some gloating from Greg Abbott as well as this bit of caution:

Before the ruling was announced, David Leopold, a past president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said he expected the Obama administration to make an emergency appeal to the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals if Hanen did not rule in its favor. The federal government would also probably ask Hanen to stay his own order while the higher courts decide the case, Leopold added.

He had said that such a decision from Hanen wasn’t necessarily the death knell for the executive action.

“He’s not the last word,” Leopold said. “That is going to come from a much higher court whether it’s the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals or the U.S. Supreme Court.”

Leopold said he expected that the litigation would slow enrollment, even if a higher court makes the ultimate decision. He added that scrutiny of the program might reduce the number of participants.

“I think [the plaintiffs] know they can’t win this case. I think what they’re trying to do is very cynically, throw pizza at the wall and see what sticks,” he said.

Leopold has been loudly criticizing this lawsuit lately. I hope he turns out to be right, but the first points on the board go to the plaintiffs. We’ll see what the Fifth Circuit does with it. Ed Kilgore, Plum Line, Vox, Think Progress, Kevin Drum, TPM, Wonkblog, Daily Kos, TNR, Daily Beast, the Trib, PDiddie, Unfair Park, Hair Balls, BOR, and Campos have more.

First hearing in Abbott’s immigration lawsuit

No clue what will happen with this.

JustSayNo

Saying South Texas is where the “rubber meets the road” on immigration issues, a federal judge used a folksy reference Thursday to note his court is the right place to decide whether to block President Obama’s recent order protecting millions of immigrants from deportation.

“Talking to anyone in Brownsville about immigration is like talking to Noah about the flood,” quipped U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen in the first of what could be many hearings before a lawsuit is settled over Obama’s action.

Hanan, an appointee of former President George W. Bush, questioned both sides but gave no indication how he would rule. He gave the government until Jan. 30 to respond to the lawsuit.

But he cautioned against turning his courtroom into a venue to air grievances, something best done “over beer and nachos, but not in this courtroom.”

[…]

Abbott has said that Texas shouldered the financial brunt of Obama’s 2012 executive action on deferred action for children, which opponents say spurred a surge of immigration through the Rio Grande Valley, and cost the state tens of millions of dollars to send additional state troopers to police the border, along with added education and health care costs.

When Hanen pointed out that states are already responsible for covering those expenses under existing law, [deputy solicitor general Andrew] Oldham said the costs included more bureaucracy.

But Hanen questioned whether Obama had in fact taken executive action, noting that it was Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson who issued the six-page directive on the deferred action program. “It makes this even more lawless,” Oldham said in response.

See here, here, and here for the background. Judge Hanen had been publicly critical of Homeland Security’s policy of reuniting immigrant children with their parents, which he classified as DHS choosing not to enforce US immigration law. Judge Hanen’s words and the decision by Abbott and others to file the suit in his court have led some folks to fret that the fix is in. Judge Hanen addressed that perception himself during the hearing.

The judge acknowledged that he had criticized U.S. immigration policy in two prior rulings but pointed out that he ruled in favor of the federal government in both those cases.

We’ll see how it goes. I presume there will be another hearing after the feds file their response on the 30th, but beyond that the schedule is anyone’s guess. An earlier lawsuit against the federal government over this was briskly thrown out of court on grounds that the plaintiffs lacked standing. That would be a fine result for this lawsuit, too.

More on revamping Secure Communities

Stace responds to me.

The involvement of local law enforcement has always been a sticking point for me. I’ve never been a fan of the federalization of local cops for the purpose of rounding non-criminal working brown people; I don’t care if the cops are led by a Democratic mayor or sheriff. Prerna’s post has more on the deportation aspects of the executive action.

Ultimately, there has been little oversight of SCOMM and 287(g) to the point where there are some Sheriffs who have used it as a political tool, rather than for its actual purpose–to detain and deport major criminals. Furthermore, many local and state governments have refused or stopped cooperation with ICE because of the program’s flaws. And most of these flaws are because of local law enforcement involvement and lack of oversight.

It has been said that a “comprehensive” solution will not come until 2016. That doesn’t necessarily mean anything good, considering we are dealing with a Republican-led Congress. So, for now, we’ll just have to be vigilant of the effects of President Obama’s executive action and the new deportation programs and targets, as Kuff also suggested. As if keeping an eye on the Texas Lege’s quest to stop in-state tuition and proclaim the existence of “sanctuary cities” wasn’t enough.

So there you have it, and I appreciate the feedback. We need to keep up the pressure and win some more elections the next time out.

Revamping Secure Communities

Long overdue.

A federal jail screening program known as Secure Communities epitomized for critics the worst failings of the nation’s immigration system, causing the deportations of tens of thousands of immigrants who had committed no crimes or only minor infractions.

The program matches fingerprints of any jail inmate charged with a crime against a federal immigration database. Since it was piloted in Harris County in 2008, more than 381,000 immigrants have been deported through the program nationally. The Houston region removed the fourth-most in the nation or more than 24,400 people.

Now after years of controversy, the program will be drastically overhauled as part of President Barack Obama’s recent executive action on immigration. It could potentially significantly reduce which immigrants can be detained by federal authorities after being booked into jail.

In its new form, dubbed the “Priority Enforcement Program,” local agencies will still send all fingerprints to the Department of Homeland Security. But according to a memo from DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson last month outlining changes to the program, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials should now seek to deport only immigrants who have been convicted of felonies, several misdemeanors or gang-related crimes, or those posing serious threats to national security.

ICE will also no longer ask local agencies to detain immigrants until they can take them into custody but will request to be notified of their release date. Until now, ICE could ask local authorities to hold any immigrant accused of any crime – even if it’s a minor traffic ticket or the charge is dropped – for up to 48 hours if their prints matched the immigration database. But in certain jurisdictions across the country, federal judges have found that violates the Fourth Amendment.

[…]

Facing widespread criticism, ICE has slowly shifted its focus to so-called higher-priority offenders. In a memo sent by then-ICE director John Morton in 2010, he instructed the agency to target immigrants convicted of violent or gang-related crimes. Anyone with an outstanding criminal warrant or previous deportation order was also considered a priority. That reduced the number of ICE detainers placed on Harris County jail inmates from 1,000 to 300 a month, according to the sheriff’s office.

Now Johnson’s memo would limit that focus further, requiring immigrants to be convicted of serious crimes or sentenced to at least three months in jail. He also directed ICE to prioritize only immigrants with previous deportation orders stemming from January 2014 and onwards. Under existing policy, immigrants with low-level crimes could be considered deportation priorities simply by having been ordered removed from the United States before.

“That was one of the big complaints about Secure Communities, that it was rounding up all these people on low-level crimes but simply having an old deportation order made you a priority,” said Lena Graber, an attorney for the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, a San Francisco nonprofit focused on immigrant rights. “If that’s being de-emphasized that will help a lot of people.”

In Harris County, for instance, about 180 immigrants were deported through Secure Communities in the first nine months of this year, according to information provided by ICE to the sheriff’s office. Of those, more than 90 percent had previous deportation orders. But about 40 percent were charged with crimes typically considered misdemeanors and not serious enough for deportation, such as larceny, forgery or possession of marijuana. All of their deportation orders were older than 2014 so under the new policy ICE would likely not have taken them into custody.

I’d like to see what folks like Stace have to say about this before I commit to a position, but “cautiously optimistic” seems reasonable for now. Not deporting non-criminals, keeping families intact, putting common sense ahead of the interests of the for-profit detention center builders – if that’s what this change leads to, it’s all good. It’s not going to happen without oversight and vigilance, however. This looks like a good first step, but it’s far from the only one.

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.

SJL for DHS?

That sound you heard Monday was a bunch of heads exploding.

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee

Conservative bloggers went wild Monday when they got wind of the Congressional Black Caucus’ suggestion that President Obama pick Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Houston for the post of Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.

Rich Cooper, avid blogger for Security Debrief, responded to the news of the Jackson Lee recommendation in a post by saying, “Apparently, it is not a joke. For reasons that baffle any sense of reality, it is a serious gesture on the part of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) to encourage President Obama to nominate Rep. Jackson Lee as a replacement for outgoing-DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano.”

A letter dated July 25 and signed by CBC Chairwoman Rep. Marcia Fudge, an Ohio Democrat, urges President Barack Obama to consider Jackson Lee for the position formerly held by Janet Napolitano, the first woman to hold the position. Napolitano resigned earlier this month to become president of the University of California.

“Representative Jackson Lee would serve as an effective DHS Secretary because she understands the importance of increasing border security and maintaining homeland security,” the nomination letter reads.

Since entering Congress in 1995, Jackson Lee has served on several committees, including Foreign Affairs, Judiciary and Homeland Security, in which she was the Chairwoman of the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Transportation Security and Infrastructure Protection.

“As Chairwoman, Representative Jackson Lee supported increased airplane cargo inspections and increased security for railroads, issues of great importance to the security of this nation and its citizens,” the letter continues.

Jackson Lee currently holds the post of Ranking Member of the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security, a position that the CBC says she “stands as a strong and honest ‘voice of reason.’”

I couldn’t care less what a bunch of conservative bloggers think about this. Rep. Jackson Lee is clearly qualified based on her service and experience in the House. Whether she’s the right person for the job or not is another matter and a decision for President Obama. I kind of think she’s not the person he has in mind because he does generally tend to prefer people who keep a lower profile. The drama that a bunch of yahoos would cause if she were nominated should have no bearing on that, though in the real world I’m sure it would be a consideration. I don’t expect this to go anywhere, but you never know. And if Rep. Jackson Lee were to be elevated, then I agree with Texpatriate that the special election to replace her will be quite the spectacle. A reason to root for her to be tapped if you like that sort of thing.

Good move, Mr. President

About time.

President Barack Obama’s administration announced Friday that it would stop deporting younger illegal immigrants and would begin granting them work permits.

The policy will apply to immigrants younger than 30 who arrived in the U.S. before the age of 16, have been in the country at least five years, have no criminal history and graduated from high school, earned a GED or served in the military. The decision could affect as many as 800,000 immigrants.

“Our nation’s immigration laws must be enforced in a firm and sensible manner,” Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said in a statement. “But they are not designed to be blindly enforced without consideration given to the individual circumstances of each case. Nor are they designed to remove productive young people to countries where they may not have lived or even speak the language. Discretion, which is used in so many other areas, is especially justified here.”

This is a great move politically and the right thing to do substantively, as the President repeatedly noted in his remarks. The use of this discretion is long overdue. We’ve been threatening the future of people we should be welcoming with open arms for no good reason. Remember, the DREAM Act got 55 votes in the Senate in 2010; in a world that made sense, it would already be the law and this debate would be moot. And let me say again, this is not a moment too soon.

DHS said it will continued to “focus its enforcement resources on the removal of individuals who pose a national security or public safety risk, including immigrants convicted of crimes, violent criminals, felons, and repeat immigration law offenders.”

There’s a lot of room for improvement on that score. Let’s see some more discretion, please. BOR, Campos, and Stace have more.

Calculate your storm risk

That hurricane risk calculator is now ready for your input.

Using the Storm Risk Calculator produced by the city of Houston and Rice University, users can enter an address and learn the risks for rainfall, power outage, storm surge and rain damage.

For example, Houston Mayor Annise Parker’s house in Midtown has a low risk of power outage and wind damage, and no risk of storm surge or rainfall with a Category 2 hurricane.

Users can adjust the strength of the hypothetical storm from a Category 1-5 to see how the risks increase and decrease depending on the size of the hurricane.

The goal is to keep Houstonians from leaving unnecessarily and creating the kind of mass reaction that followed Hurricane Rita in 2005, when tens of thousands evacuated for no real reason, causing highway congestion and panic, said Dennis Storemski, director of the Mayor’s Office of Public Safety and Homeland Security.

Robert Stein, a political science professor at Rice, said the best way to get people to do something is to give them the information they need to make an educated decision.

Fair enough. The risk calculator can be found at risk.rtsnets.com. You can see the result of my calculation in the graphic above. I agree with the rainfall risk – our street has never flooded, though some nearby ones did during TS Allison – but I’m skeptical of the power outage risk. Our house was only without power for a day after Ike, but some folks a block away were down for more than a week. There’s a lot of trees in our neighborhood, and with trees come the risk of power lines being taken down. Regardless, now I know what the experts think, and you can too. See the Mayor’s press release for more.

Body scanners

Ready or not, they’re coming to Hobby Airport.

Full-body scanners for airline passengers, the devices that have stirred controversy over personal privacy, are being deployed at Houston’s Hobby Airport this summer, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Friday.

[…]

The images generated by the advanced imaging technology devices have prompted TSA to try to reassure passengers that their privacy will be protected.

A privacy filter blurs the X-ray-style images. Images are permanently and immediately deleted after being viewed by a TSA screener.

The TSA officer viewing the images is stationed in a remote location at the airport so that the screener does not to come into personal contact with the passengers who are being screened, Napolitano’s office said.

IAH, from which I do most of my flying, has not yet been designated to get one of these yet. I’m not terribly concerned about privacy with these things. If the images shown in the Chron story are at all representative, there’s nothing there to get worked up about. I’m more concerned about whether or not they actually work as advertised, and how expensive they’re going to be. It sure would be nice to have more information about their effectiveness before we dive in like this.

Locke’s crimefighting plan

In the past week or so I’ve had several Mayoral candidate issue papers hit my inbox. As there was one from each campaign, I thought I’d try to do a little analysis of each of them. We’ll start today with Gene Locke‘s Seven Point Plan to Keep Houston Safe, which you can see here. Locke’s issues page is a bit light in comparison to his opponents, and this was the first such release I’ve received from his campaign, so it was with no small amount of interest that I took a look. As with Annise Parker’s plan, I’d say the priorities Locke highlights are good ones, ones for which there’s a fairly broad consensus. Not to put too fine a point on it, but six of the seven items Locke highlights can be found in Parker’s plan as well, and almost as many can be found in Peter Brown’s plan as well. That’s what I call a consensus.

(Interestingly, one thing Brown doesn’t mention that Locke and Parker both do is a promise to put more cops on the street. Of course, neither Parker nor Locke say how they plan to pay for those extra cops, so perhaps it’s just as well. And as noted before, while both Locke and Parker support the idea of closing the city’s jail and folding it into the county’s system, Brown opposes the idea. So it’s not all Consensusville here.)

Locke’s page here has fewer details than those of the other candidates, so there’s only so much for an armchair quarterback such as myself to quibble with. One place I really wish he had gone into greater detail is the matter of the city’s jail, for which Locke claims credit as the originator of the idea to close it. The city’s jail has been in the news quite a bit lately, especially with that story from Monday about a possible TIRZ deal with the county to pay for a replacement facility. What does Gene Locke, or Annise Parker or Peter Brown, think about this? Whoever wins in November will inherit this deal that the city makes, so it would be really nice to know where they stand. I figure I’ll get statements from one or more of their campaigns now that I’ve posted this, but frankly this should have been in the story. At this point, getting comments from the three of them on anything newsworthy that Mayor White and/or City Council is doing ought to be standard operating procedure.

The one point of Locke’s plan that’s unique to him is this:

HOMELAND SECURITY With the growing importance of Houston to the economy of the nation and the world, Gene knows we need to take special care to protect institutions like the Port of Houston. Gene will lead the way in developing a regional plan to prevent, protect, respond to, and recover from an act of terrorism or any other type of catastrophic event. Safeguarding our engines of economic development will make Houstonians safer in their homes and communities.

The City of Houston currently has an Office of Public Safety and Homeland Security, while Harris County has an Office of Homeland Security & Emergency Management. The former is more focused on crime, while the latter is more about hurricanes, at least going by their web pages. I’d like to know more about what Locke thinks about these current setups, and how his plan enhances or adds to them. I’d also like to know how he sees the role of the federal government in all this, since this clearly falls under the rubric of the DHS. I think this is a good issue to highlight, I just need to hear more.

That’s all I’ve got for this one. I’ve got Parker’s education plan and Brown’s energy plan in the works as well.

Two immigration stories

Governor Perry writes a letter to the Department of Homeland Security.

Perry asked Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano this week to take a series of steps to improve information-sharing between federal, state and local law enforcement. The Homeland Security-related issues “seriously affect public safety in Texas,” Perry wrote earlier this week in a letter to Napolitano.

A spokeswoman for Napolitano, Sara Kuban, said Napolitano would respond directly to Perry and declined to comment on the specific issues raised in the letter.

The governor’s requests include:

  • Giving all Texas jails access to a database that automatically checks suspects’ immigration history. So far, 19 of the 252 jails in the state with electronic fingerprint booking participate in the program, including the Harris County Sheriff’s Office and Houston Police Department.

    Those 19 jails have checked 37,000 people through the database since last fall, and have identified 8,844 with fingerprints on file with immigration officials, according to Perry’s letter.

    Perry specifically cited the case of Wilfido Alfaro, an illegal immigrant from El Salvador who avoided deportation after multiple arrests in Texas and last month shot and critically wounded a Houston Police officer.

  • Requiring ICE officials to notify the state when they deport a foreign national with a Texas driver’s license, which would close a gap that has allowed illegal immigrants to keep valid state identification. For example, according to local investigators, Alfaro had a Texas driver’s license, even though an immigration judge ordered him to leave the country in 2001.
  • Keeping illegal immigrants convicted of crimes in federal custody until their deportation. Perry cited a recent case involving two Cubans convicted of robbery in Florida and dropped by immigration officials at a bus stop in Willacy, Texas, after being released from custody.

Based on a 2001 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, immigration officials have about six months to deport or release immigrants after their immigration case is decided. To hold someone longer, the federal government must show that a foreign government will issue the detainee travel documents in the “reasonably foreseeable future” or certify that the person meets stringent criteria to be classified as a danger to society or national interest.

In cases involving immigrants from countries like Cuba, which lacks a repatriation treaty with the U.S., the detainees routinely are released from immigration custody within six months because they cannot be deported.

Other than number three, which raises some Constitutional issues and really needs to be resolved by the US growing up and re-engaging with Cuba, these strike me as perfectly reasonable requests. There’s a big difference between verifying the immigration status of someone who’s already been arrested for something, and verifying the immigration status of someone who’s been pulled over or stopped on the street by the cops for whatever arbitrary reason. Maybe there’s something here I’m not seeing, but offhand I don’t have any objections to the first two items.

The earlier story about DA Pat Lykos’ “no plea bargains unless you confess your immigration status to us” proposal is a different kettle of fish. Mark Bennett gets into some of the problems with this idea, which he also sums up in a simple question, but it’s John Nova Lomax with a truly impressive deconstruction of the Lykos Plan. I can’t really add anything to what he wrote, so go check it out for yourself.