Sunday, April 29, 2018

The Wild Horse Desert

Eddie Canales runs the South Texas Human Rights Center in Falfurrias, Texas. His office is about 75 miles north of McAllen, just up the street from the Brooks County Court House and a few minutes drive from the enormous checkpoint that the border patrol operates along highway 281. 

For those who are unaware, much like in eastern European countries before the fall of the Berlin Wall, the United States has operated internal checkpoints for decades. The checkpoints in south Texas are located about eighty miles north of Brownsville and McAllen. Everyone traveling along the two highways that lead out of the region is subjected to the same scrutiny as if they were entering into the country for the first time. It is an unnerving experience for the uninitiated—in the middle of America, an armed federal agent pulls the traveller over and insists that she prove her innocence, that she has a right to be here. 

Immigrants for whom obtaining permission to be here is nigh upon impossible must therefore escape detection at least twice—once upon crossing the Rio Grande, and, once more, going north. Many of them take their chances and try crossing around the checkpoints by heading out into the desert that surrounds the checkpoints. The journey is dangerous; many people—hundreds, it is estimated— have died out in the scrubland that blankets Eddie’s home county.

The checkpoints are the reason Eddie created his Human Rights’ Center. He has a rough job. He maintains dozens of water stations spread out across this area formerly known as the Wild Horse desert, and he has advocated for years to the federal government on behalf of these folks, arguing for a more humane immigration policy, for shutting down the checkpoints, for having the border patrol do more to save the lives of those lost in the desert.

During a visit with him back in February, he talked about the recent discovery of the bodies of a group of migrants. “It had gotten really cold, and we found these individuals who apparently didn’t know how to huddle up together (to share their warmth). They all died. Then, not long afterwards, we found this other group that knew how to huddle up. They survived.”

Life lessons can be found anywhere, of course, but for those paying attention, the Wild Horse Desert offers them up in spades. 

As a measure of the desperation of the migrant: not only is the traverse around the check point complicated by heat (or cold), a lack of water (you simply cannot carry the amount of water that you need to survive), the thorns, the rattlesnakes, the scorpions, but the migrant is walking sand—sand that is loose, deep, and  seemingly designed by some demon to wear a person out. These details are well known by those thinking about making the trip. They know of the risk, they know that people disappear and die while making the journey, and yet they feel that they must take this chance. Something dire indeed is driving people to make this trek.

As a measure of the courage, the generosity and the strength of many who have joined Eddie’s work: exhuming and identifying bodies so that families can have at least the peace of knowing the finality of their loved ones, an exhausting task that pits good-hearted people against hard-headed bureaucracies ranging from our own federal government (which refuses to facilitate the identification of victims between Eddie and the families) to a county coroner who, seemingly maliciously, sits on DNA testing results for months at a time. 

As a measure of just how casually cruel people can be: the water stations are regularly vandalized (this is not specific to south Texas. This video clip shows border patrol agents doing this in Arizona, a particularly chilling rationale for that behavior).

As a measure of the loss of our sensibility as human beings: that we have spent billions of dollars on “securing the border” when the vast, overwhelming majority of the people crossing into the USA are families (moms and dads and their children) who surrender to the first border patrol agent they encounter, and who are seeking asylum. Those who do try to avoid apprehension by the border patrol, and who end up wandering in the desert have names and mothers and children and best friends. Some of the ones that I have known (who made it across the desert alive) played  shortstop for their local baseball team, others taught Sunday school, and yet others were hired out to serenade mothers on Mothers’ Day. 

Eddie knows many of those who did not make it through the desert. He would not have recognized them in real life, as he only saw their remains. But mixed in those remains could be a small purse with some photos in them, giving a hint of the family that awaits news of them, somewhere south of the US. He might find a  prayer card helping the unlucky individual invoke the help of St. Toribio, or a small notebook with phone numbers. Whether or not there is much physical evidence left of the individual, he does know that this was someone who was a son or a father or a best friend.

The Rio Grande Valley Border Patrol Sector Chief Manuel Padilla has a long-standing relationship with Eddie, and Eddie seems somewhat encouraged by the conversation. But the political change in Washington and the continued dehumanization of the immigrant makes any sort of meaningful change a very long-term project.

In the meantime, Eddie and his volunteers will continue to stumble upon someone who, perhaps, did not have someone else to huddle up with, or who just needed some water, and, lacking that, died, alone, and unnecessarily, north of the American border. 

(To help with the mission of the South Texas Human Rights’ Center, go to their website by clicking here).

Sunday, April 15, 2018


Saints of God, come to his/her aid!
Come to meet him/her angels of the Lord!
Receive his/her soul; and present him/her to God the Most High.
May Christ, who called you, take you to himself; may angels bring you into the arms of Abraham. Receive his/her soul: and present him/her to God the Most High.

Eternal rest grant unto him/her, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him/her;
present him/her to God the Most High.

Let us pray: Into your hands, Father of mercies, we commend our brother/sister, in the sure and certain hope that, together with all who have died in Christ, he/she will rise with him on the last day. We give you thanks for the blessings which you have bestowed upon N.N. in this life: they are signs to us of your goodness and of our fellowship with the saints in Christ. Merciful Lord, turn toward us and listen to our prayers: open the gates of paradise to your servant and help us who remain to comfort one another with assurances of faith, until we all meet in Christ and are with you and with our brother/sister for ever.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Sr Norma at the Vatican

Pimentel represents U.S. at Vatican event
from the Brownsville Herald, September 28, 2017

McALLEN — Sister Norma Pimentel, who spearheaded local immigrant relief efforts, represented the United States during a ceremony Wednesday at the Vatican,wherePopeFrancis encouraged followers to listen to the stories of migrants and refugees from across the globe in order to break down barriers of fear and suspicion.

Pimentel, director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, has garnered international recognition for her work with Central American immigrants who flooded South Texas, beginning in 2014.

Her relief efforts at the Humanitarian Respite Center at Sacred Heart — where tens of thousands of immigrants sought refuge after federal authorities released them into the community — previously caught the attention of the Pope. He addressed her personally during a virtual papal audience hosted by ABC News in 2015.

Most recently, however, the Vatican reached out and invited her and Brenda Nettles Riojas, communications director for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brownsville, to attend the launch of a two year campaign called “Share the Journey.”

The initiative, spearheaded by the Vatican’s Caritas charity, aims to build bridges of understanding and hospitality toward the displaced.

“It’s definitely an amazing honor to be recognized and be picked among many people doing such wonderful work,” Pimentel said about the invitation Wednesday.

She spoke to The Monitor from Rome via phone just hours after she participated in the ceremony, which drew a crowd of about 60,000 people.

The local nun was the only woman invited to participate in a four-person panel and a news conference held after the launch, Nettles Riojas said.

“The reason why the Valley made a big impact, for the most part, is because the Valley is a place of immigrants and they understand,” Pimentel said about the Vatican’s views on the region. “We support each other because we feel it’s something we must do.”

Nettles Riojas said some of the attendees could not believe how welcoming the region had been when faced with a humanitarian crisis a couple of years ago.

“I think it speaks to the work that Sister Norma oversees and the work of all the people of the Rio Grande Valley,” the communications director said.

Pope Francis meets a group of migrants Wednesday during his weekly general audience at the Vatican.


Friday, September 22, 2017

Immigration citations

John Burnett:

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The Future of Access to Health Care

Location: (COG) LRGVDC Ken Jones Conference Room, 301 W Railroad-Bldg  B
Weslaco, TX
Date: Friday, July 28, 2017
Time: noon

Anne Dunkelberg, associate Director for the Center for Public Policy Priorities in Austin, Texas, will address “Access to Health Care: Federal and State Updates and the Challenges Ahead.”

At a critical moment in the nation’s consideration of the future of health care, the Rio Grande Valley Equal Voice Network is pleased to host a conversation with Anne Dunkelberg, a national leader in the discourse around access to health care.

Anne Dunkelberg is one of the state's leading experts in policy and budget issues relating to health care access. In 2007, she was named Consumer Advocate of the Year by Families USA in Washington, D.C. Before coming to the Center, she served as Program Director for Acute Care in the Texas Medicaid Director's Office and spent six years with the Texas Research League, where she authored numerous reports on Texas health and human services issues and tracked state health and human services budget issues. She earned dual degrees from The University of Texas at Austin—a Bachelor of Arts (Plan II), magna cum laude, in 1979 and a Master of Public Affairs from the LBJ School of Public Affairs in 1988.

More information and for interviews:
Michael Seifert at (956) 459-6827
Ann Williams Cass at (956) 533-6637

Sunday, July 9, 2017

SB4: Show Me Your Papers

SB4: Show Me Your Papers Bill

On May 7th, Texas’ Governor signed SB 4 into law. SB 4 effectively creates federal immigration agents out of city, county and college police. Police departments that refuse to cooperate will be criminally prosecuted.

1.     SB4 is currently scheduled to go into effect on September 1, 2017.
2.     SB4 does NOT apply to k-12 school campus police or security at clinics.
3.     There is misinformation already about the law in the community.
4.     Although Hidalgo County police agencies signed off on an editorial letter claiming that “nothing will change” because of the law, in fact, many of these same officers expressed grave concerns over the effects of the bill on their relationship with mixed-immigration status communities, and thus, their ability to protect and defend the community.

The RGV community is under a triple assault even before this becomes law: an exponential increase in border patrol, ICE, and state trooper presence, a national campaign that has focused fears upon the southern border, and a renewed, recent and extraordinary increase in violence in Tamaulipas. Our children are being raised in a community in which a family member being treated as “suspicious” is becoming normalized.

Reports of children being frightened by the political environment is widespread.

The RGV as a region does not enjoy the same legal resources for our community as in other parts of the nation.

To community organizations it appears that many of our institutions (schools, churches, businesses) and even our elected officials are not informed about SB4 and are unclear about a resident’s (documented or not) basic civil and legal rights.

1. The bill makes Texas less safe by forcing local police to act as federal immigration agents. SB4 will therefore harm public safety, as we rely on all members of our community — regardless of race, religion or national origin — to report crimes. We cannot drive crime victims and witnesses into the shadows without undermining local public safety.  Our communities need to trust the police; our police need the community to trust them.

2. SB 4 includes a “Show us your papers” provision that will lead to racial profiling
This new law promotes racial profiling based on appearance, background, language and accent that will affect U.S. citizens and immigrants alike — in a state where 38.8% of the population is of Hispanic origin, according to the U.S. Census.

3. SB4 takes authority away from local law enforcement.
 Texas communities each have unique public safety and law enforcement needs that should not be undermined by state, unfunded mandates as authored in Senate Bill 4.

4. SB 4 forces cities, counties, campus police to carry out the responsibilities of the federal government. SB4 forces cities, counties and even university campus police to act as immigration agents o a daily basis. Importantly, our federal laws mandates that the federal government is responsible for enforcing immigration laws.

On May 7th, Texas’ Governor, Greg Abbott, signed SB 4 into law. SB 4 is the most discriminatory  piece of anti-immigrant legislation in the United States. SB 4 is currently scheduled to go into effect in September 2017. The bill makes Texas less safe by encouraging racial profiling and forcing local police to act as federal immigration agents.
SB 4 is a grave threat to immigrant families and multi-cultural communities across Texas.

South Texas Civil Rights’ Project and MALDEF have filed  lawsuits against that state on the following grounds:
1.     SB4 discriminates against Latinos, Mexicans, Mexican-Americans, Hispanics, and people of color in general, and immigrants of all backgrounds.
2.     SB4 does not give adequate notice about how it is to be implemented.
3.     SB4 is likely to result in unlawful arrests when no probable cause exists.
4.     Civil immigration laws are the competence of federal immigration authorities, not local law enforcement agencies.
5.     SB4 seeks to punish elected officials and law enforcement leaders for making certain public statements regarding their policies.
6.     SB 4 violates the Texas Constitution because it tells local law enforcement agencies, including university police, how to run their departments and forces them to enforce federal civil immigration laws. 

Thursday, July 6, 2017

DPS "tiene la obligación de colaborar con ICE"

DPS Director Steve McCraw emite órdenes sobre la aplicacion de la ley de inmigración

Las tropas del DPS "tienen la obligación" de colaborar con ICE, Border Patrol
Por Debbie Nathan, viernes, 7 de julio de 2017

Justo después del almuerzo un día a los finales de mayo, recibí una llamada telefónica de un número bloqueado. Normalmente, esto significa un bot de mujer joven que promueve un crucero gratis del Caribe. Casi no lo recogí.

Al contestar, la voz del otro lado estaba un poco nervioso. "¿Eres el, um, el reportero o algo así?" -preguntó él que llamaba. -¿Has hecho un artículo sobre DPS y la Patrulla Fronteriza? La persona dijo que estaba con el Departamento de Seguridad Pública, pero no proporcionaró un nombre.

Como sucedió, en ese momento había pasado días enviando correos electrónicos al departamento de los medios de comunicacion de DPS (Departamento de Seguridad Pública). Mis correos electrónicos contienen mi número de teléfono no listado en la firma, y ​​nadie podría haberlo sabido - o que estaba enviando los correos electrónicos - a menos que estuvieran con DPS. Había yo estado informando sobre la larga práctica de la agencia de detener a los latinos en el sur de Texas por infracciones menores de tráfico, y que luego preguntarles sobre su estado migratorio y después  entregar a muchos a la Patrulla Fronteriza ("Snuffed Out", 2 de junio). Particularmente, estaba preguntando por qué, en noviembre de 2016, algunos condados fronterizos habían visto un pico repentino en tales casos. El condado de Hidalgo, incluyendo la ciudad de McAllen, pasó de una sola  remisión en octubre a 35 en noviembre. Justo al oeste, en el condado de Starr, las referencias saltaron de uno a 25. DPS había suministrado este sorprendente dato a principios de este año al estado senador José Rodríguez, D-El Paso.

Desde hace varios años en el Valle del Río Grande, los traspasos a ICE iniciados por las tropas han representado un método primordial para que los tejanos sean identificados como indocumentados, luego detenidos y con frecuencia deportados. De Brownsville a Laredo, los coches de la escuadra de DPS zumban alrededor de infracciones de tráfico menores como las abejas que circundan las flores. Los soldados solicitan una licencia de conducir; Si un automovilista o los pasajeros no tienen uno - en un área donde el 90-98% de la población es latina, y hasta un 15% son indocumentados - la máquina de deportación entra en acción.

Estaba informando sobre esa máquina de deportación como un precursor de lo que bien podría suceder si el proyecto de ley 4 del Senado entra en vigor el 1 de septiembre. La intención de SB 4 es acabar con la inmigración ilegal. A nivel nacional, es la primera ley de su tipo desde que tomó poder  Donald Trump. Establece duras penas para los jefes de policía, sheriffs y posiblemente e incluso a agentes de la policía de primera línea que no cooperan con las autoridades federales de inmigración, y permite a la policía preguntar sobre el estatus migratorio cuando detengan a alguien.

Al igual que el SB 4, la presencia del DPS en la frontera está profundamente politizada, e incluye un mandato que ha desviado a cientos de tropas durante los últimos años desde el interior de Texas hacia las carreteras a lo largo del Valle del Río Grande. El propósito declarado es combatir a los cárteles ya los terroristas, pero hay pocas pruebas de que esta aplicación haya hecho algo más que atrapar a los que conducen con luces traseras de sus carros rotas. En noviembre pasado, al parecer, los conductores tenían más que preocuparse que nunca. ¿Fue ese salto conectado a la elección de Trump?

El departamento de los medios de comunicación de DPS pasó días sin responder a mis preguntas,  notificándome regularmente que necesitaban más tiempo para investigar las razones del pico de los arestos. Y  entonces el denunciante llamó, alegando que sabía por qué había ocurrido el pico.

La persona que me llamó me dijo que el 4 de noviembre, el director del DPS, Steve McCraw, envió un correo electrónico a toda la institución para instruir que si los soldados sospechaban que alguien era indocumentado, debían llamar a la Patrulla Fronteriza o al ICE. Antes de que el correo electrónico, el tipster dijo, los soldados tenían discreción sobre si llamar a las autoridades federales. La nueva orden, dijo la persona que llamó, con su falta de una opción para la discreción, constituyó "una ruptura de la historia del DPS".

Inmediatamente envié un correo electrónico a Tom Vinger, jefe de relaciones con los medios de DPS y al individuo que me había estado evitando responder sobre el pico de noviembre. Le pregunté acerca de una directiva relacionada con la inmigración de su jefe, fechada el 4 de noviembre. Vinger tardó dos días en responder. En lugar de verificar el correo electrónico, dijo que había dejado de investigar sobre el "pico".

Otros dos días pasaron cuando, justo antes de la medianoche de un sábado, Vinger envió un correo electrónico para reconocer que, de hecho, el Director de DPS McCraw había enviado un correo electrónico sobre la aplicación de la ley de inmigración. El contenido del correo describía "nada nuevo", escribió. "DPS no hace cumplir las leyes de inmigración .... Sin embargo, cuando nuestros oficiales estatales de la ley ponen en contacto con alguien (durante un encuentro legal) que es reconocido o sospechoso de estar en el país ilegalmente, esa persona es inmediatamente remitida a la federación apropiada autoridades."

He entrevistado a muchos inmigrantes en el Valle del Río Grande que fueron detenidos antes de noviembre por las tropas por infracciones de tránsito, y aunque ellos eran indocumentados, el official, después de enterarse de sus años viviendo en Texas, de sus trabajos estables y de niños nacidos en Estados Unidos , les dejaría ir con sólo una multa o una advertencia. Hasta ese pico de noviembre, muchos de los oficiales usaban discreción. En su respuesta a mí, Vinger no reconoció lo que el denunciante había alegado: que las tropas estaban siendo ordenados a hacer las entregas. Le pedí a Vinger una copia del memorándum de McCraw, pero él no lo aceptó, así que presenté una solicitud de registros abiertos. Dos semanas más tarde, recibí el correo electrónico.

El correo electrónico alienta a los soldados a sospechar a todo el mundo. "No es posible", dice McCraw, "mirar a alguien y determinar si son fugitivos extranjeros criminales, operarios de cárteles, extranjeros de intereses especiales, miembros de pandillas transnacionales o contrabandistas / traficantes Cuando exista una causa probable de que alguien cruzara ilegalmente la frontera ... tenemos la obligación de referir esos incidentes a la Patrulla Fronteriza de los Estados Unidos, o ... Inmigración y Aduanas. "

Tenemos una obligación.

A las 2:30 de la tarde del 4 de noviembre del año pasado -el día en que se dio a conocer la directiva DPS- una tropa cerca de la pequeña ciudad fronteriza de Roma detuvo a un hombre de apellido hispano en FM 650. El hombre ni siquiera estaba conduciendo . ¿Su violación? En un remanso de campo remoto con poco mas que árboles, ganado, y caliche, caminaba en un lugar sin una banqueta.

La semana pasada, una falange de abogados descendió a la corte de justicia federal en San Antonio. La mayoría estaban representando ciudades y condados de Texas, incluyendo Austin y el condado de Travis. Todos están demandando que el SB 4 sea declarado inconstitucional. El abogado de la ACLU, Lee Gelernt, dijo al juez Orlando García que los federales han ordenado que ninguna agencia local pueda impedir que otras agencias compartan información con la Patrulla Fronteriza y el ICE. Pero por la misma razón, los federales no pueden hacer obligatorio tal compartimiento. Es opcional.

José Garza, en nombre del Condado de El Paso, explicó a la Crónica por qué DPS y McCraw están siendo demandados, aunque ninguno directamente creó SB 4 o firmó el proyecto de ley. "Los recursos del DPS para la aplicación de la ley anterior a la aplicación de la legislación federal se están trasladando a la aplicación federalizada de la inmigración, que está perjudicando a las comunidades fronterizas y es un precursor de lo que ocurrirá bajo la SB 4", dijo Garza. La agencia y su director fueron agregados a la demanda "como telón de fondo, un marco", para mostrar al tribunal los efectos destructivos de la aplicación del estilo SB 4 que ya existe.

Hoy en día, muchas municipalidades de Texas prohíben que la policía local le pida a la gente por su estatus migratorio. Lo hacen principalmente para asegurarse de que las víctimas de delitos y los testigos se sientan cómodos con la policía. Pero si el SB 4 entra en vigor, los policías y los diputados del sheriff podrán preguntar con impunidad, luego contactar a la Patrulla Fronteriza y al ICE - y compartir no sólo la información de los inmigrantes, sino también los propios inmigrantes.
En San Antonio, un abogado de la Procuraduría General del Estado que estaba argumentando a favor de la SB 4 minimizó las repercusiones cuando el juez García planteó una hipótesis: ¿Qué pasaría si un policía reuniera información acerca de que alguien era indocumentado, pero decidió no pasar esa información a la frontera ¿Patrulla o ICE? ¿Qué pasaría entonces?

"Nada", dijo el abogado del estado.

Para los soldados del DPS, gracias al correo electrónico de McCraw el 4 de noviembre, "nada" ya no es una opción. SB 4 puede no estar todavía en efecto, pero los soldados tienen ya una "obligación" de entregar a los inmigrantes tejanos.

Debbie Nathan freelanced esta pieza y es también un reportero de investigación con ACLU de Texas.