December 28, 2008

Man in sham marriage to Houston exotic dancer faces deportation

Mohamad Kamal Elzahabi, 44, was convicted of a sham marriage to a Houston exotic dancer
Associated Press
Dec. 28, 2008, 1:14PM

EL PASO — A Lebanese man questioned in a terrorism investigation and being held by immigration authorities in Texas faces deportation.

Mohamad Kamal Elzahabi, 44, was being held at the El Paso federal detention center and could be deported, the El Paso Times reported Sunday.

The Department of Homeland Security initiated a case against Elzahabi and the Justice Department must now decide his immigration status, said Elaine Komis, spokeswoman for the Executive Office of Immigration Review in Falls Church, Va.

His hearing date, name of attorney and other information will not be released at this time because of a non-disclosure order, said Adelina Pruneda, a spokeswoman U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in San Antonio.

Elzahabi was convicted of possessing fraudulent immigration documents by a federal jury in August 2007 and turned over to ICE custody. According to federal prosecutors, Elzahabi entered into a sham marriage with a Houston exotic dancer and drug addict in 1984 to obtain legal permanent residency, also referred to as a green card. Officials say he promised Kathy Ann Glant, a waitress and dancer at the Pink Pussy Cat club, $5,000 to marry him.

Elzahabi came to the United States in May 1984 on a student visa, with plans to enroll in English as a second language classes at the University of Houston, officials said.

Federal investigators say Elzahabi has acknowledged attending a jihad training camp, being a sniper in Afghanistan and helping train a group seeking to overthrow the Lebanese government. However, Elzahabi has never faced charges of terrorism or committing violent acts.

He was arrested in May 2004 in Minnesota on a material witness warrant in a terrorism investigation. Before his arrest, he voluntarily underwent 17 days of questioning by FBI agents.

Body in trunk was illegal immigrant

By T.J. Aulds
The Daily News
Published December 28, 2008

TEXAS CITY — The man found stuffed in the trunk of a car that had been abandoned in the driveway of a Texas City home on Christmas Night was identified as an illegal immigrant from Honduras, police said Saturday.

Abisai Hernandez-Garcia, 31, was stabbed and beaten before being stuffed into the trunk of his green 1997 Mitsubishi Galant. The vehicle was abandoned in the driveway of a family’s home in the 100 block of 28th Street about 10 p.m. Thursday.

After calling police about the abandoned car, the homeowners said dispatchers suggested they call a towing company to have it removed, since the vehicle was on private property.

As they waited for the wrecker to arrive, the couple searched for records to identify the owner.

They opened the trunk to discover the man’s body inside.

The medical examiner would not be able to confirm until Monday Hernandez-Garcia’s cause of death. Police said he had been dead less than 24 hours when his body was discovered.

Texas City Police Capt. Brian Goetschius said Hernandez-Garcia had been deported at least once, possibly twice. He had also been arrested twice this year by Texas City police for driving without a license and in November was arrested on a charge of public intoxication.

Outside of those instances, police have very little information about the victim, Goetschius said. They were working with federal immigration officials to find out more about his background.

The police department also was going to contact the Honduran consulate to notify the victim’s family.

Hernandez-Garcia’s body was dumped just a few blocks from the Velami Apartment complex where he lived, Goetschius said. While the transfer of the title had never been completed, police obtained records that show the victim had purchased the Galant about a month before he was found dead.

Goetschius said the car had been reported abandoned at another location in Texas City on Dec. 21. The orange tow warning sticker was still on the car’s windshield.

Police did confirm Hernandez-Garcia had no connection to the owners of the home where his car was dumped.

“We’re bewildered why the vehicle was left there,” Goetschius said.

Hernandez-Garcia’s death is the second case in Texas City of an illegal immigrant’s body found under mysterious circumstances. On Dec. 11, the body of an illegal immigrant from El Salvador was found dead in a field on Amburn Road about three blocks from College of the Mainland.

Police were led to that gruesome discovery after an anonymous phone tip to 911.

Goetschius said the two deaths do not appear to be related.


How To Help

Texas City police asked that anyone with information call 409-643-5760 or Crime Stoppers at 409-948-8477.

December 23, 2008

Officials Arrest 5 Illegal Chinese Immigrants Flown to Wharton

Last Edited: Tuesday, 23 Dec 2008, 3:50 PM CST
Created: Tuesday, 23 Dec 2008, 3:50 PM CST

McAllen, Texas FOX 26 News

HOUSTON -- Five undocumented Chinese immigrants were captured after federal and local officials tracked a suspicious aircraft that departed from McAllen and landed in Wharton, according to a statement from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

The Air and Marine Operation Center, located in Riverside, Calif., tracked the suspicious plane on radar as it landed in Wharton and alerted the Houston Air and Marine Branch to look out for the aircraft as it neared Sugar Land, according to the statement.

Law enforcement officials then engaged in a high-speed chase after the undocumented passengers after they entered into a vehicle waiting for them at the airport, according to the statement.

The five undocumented immigrants were eventually arrested and placed into the custody of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, according to the statement. However, the vehicle's driver escaped into a wooded area.

ICE agents plan to investigate the crew's activities regarding the transport of illegal aliens, according to the statement.

"This successful joint DHS agency and law enforcement effort is a superb example of effective strategic partnerships and operational teamwork in action," David Lent, Director of Air Operations said in the prepared statement.

December 20, 2008

ICE arrests 84 illegal immigrants in Dallas area

Associated Press

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents arrested 84 illegal immigrants in the Dallas area this week.

The arrests came after a five-day operation in 18 different cities that ended Thursday, according to an agency news release. Sixty-four of the people arrested had final deportation orders and the remaining 20 were immigration violators that agents encountered during the operation, the release said.

Four of the people arrested had either outstanding warrants for their arrests or previous criminal convictions, the agency said.

We the People Jeers to Bud Kennedy

Jeers: To Bud Kennedy for continuing to advertise his ignorance of the facts. He continues to write about people and organizations that are "anti-immigration." They are anti-illegal immigration. Will someone please explain the difference to Kennedy?

— Wayne Pricer, Edgecliff Village

December 19, 2008

IFCO Systems enters into record $20.7 million settlement of claims related to employment of illegal aliens

IFCO Systems enters into record $20.7 million settlement of claims related to employment of illegal aliens

ALBANY, NY - After one of the largest worksite enforcement operations conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, IFCO headquartered in Houston, Texas has agreed to pay $20.7 million dollars in civil forfeitures and penalties over four years, for employing illegal alien workers at its plants. John P. Torres, Acting Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE); Andrew T. Baxter, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of New York; and Superintendent Harry J. Corbitt, New York State Police, made the announcement today.

IFCO Systems North America ("IFCO"). IFCO, headquartered in Houston, Texas, is the largest
pallet management services company in the United States. The settlement amount includes $2.6 million dollars in back pay and penalties relating to IFCO's overtime violations with respect to 1,700 of its pallet workers. IFCO is also paying $18.1 million in civil forfeitures that will be available to support future law enforcement activities. If IFCO fully complies with the terms of the settlement agreement, the United States Attorney for the Northern District of New York agrees not to pursue corporate criminal charges against IFCO for the conduct of its employees in hiring illegal alien workers at IFCO pallet plants prior to April 19, 2006. The government began its investigation of IFCO following a tip to ICE in February 2005, that illegal alien laborers at the Albany IFCO plant were observed ripping up their W-2 forms. On April 19, 2006, ICE agents, in concert with other federal and state authorities, conducted a work site enforcement action at over 40 IFCO pallet plants in 26 states, which resulted in the detention of 1,182 illegal aliens working at those plants. The United States Attorney's Office has prosecuted several IFCO managers and employees for criminal offenses associated with the employment of illegal alien workers at IFCO pallet plants. To date, nine IFCO managers and employees have entered pleas of guilty related to such criminal conduct. Four managers are currently pending trial on a felony indictment in U.S. District Court in the Northern District of New York1 and the investigation of IFCO employees is continuing. The IFCO settlement agreement concerns only the liability of the corporation and does not address any pending or possible future criminal charges against individual employees.

The government's investigation documented that several IFCO managers and employees harbored and transported illegal aliens, and encouraged and induced them to remain in the United States as pallet workers. An analysis of the payroll information IFCO submitted to the Internal Revenue Service ("IRS") and the Social Security Administration ("SSA"), and the hiring patterns and practices at IFCO, suggests that during the time period from 2003 through April 2006, as many as 6,000 illegal aliens worked at IFCO pallet plants.

IFCO received repeated notice from the SSA and others, dating back to at least the year 2000, of the irregularities in the social security numbers used for employment purposes by many of its pallet workers. IFCO, its managers and employees, failed to take significant measures to verify the social security numbers of these workers, and in 2004 and 2005, failed to make any effort to address the use of invalid social security numbers by numerous pallet employees. Investigative entities further concluded that, at 30 of IFCO's pallet plants, back wages were due, under the Fair Labor Standards Act, to piece-wage pallet workers - the vast majority of whom were illegal aliens. Under the settlement agreement, IFCO acknowledges and accepts responsibility for the unlawful conduct of its managers and employees, as described in the agreement. The company further agrees to cooperate fully and actively with the U.S. Attorney's Office and the government entities involved in the investigation, as it has done since the date of the work site enforcement action. The agreement further includes a precedent-setting, compliance and reporting program, designed to prevent the employment of illegal aliens at IFCO plants in the future. The company will take remedial actions in hiring, such as use of DHS's "E-Verify" screening program for all new hires, and will verify the social security numbers of all IFCO employees through SSA.

IFCO is also required to maintain an employee hotline to receive reports of any suspected violation of law at the company. The agreement runs through the year 2012, at which time, if the company has been in full compliance with all of the agreement's terms and conditions, the United States Attorney's Office will not seek to prosecute the company for any criminal charges related to the conduct of its employees prior to April 2006.

"Today's announcement that IFCO Systems North America will pay the largest settlement amount ever in a work site enforcement case and the fact that nine IFCO managers have admitted their guilt related to the employment of illegal aliens will send a powerful message that ICE will investigate and bring to justice companies which hire illegal workers," said John P. Torres, Acting Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security for ICE. "Companies who break the law by employing illegal aliens often exploit them and gain an unfair competitive advantage in the marketplace. By hiring illegal workers, these companies are unjustly able to undercut their law-a-biding competition."

Andrew T. Baxter, Acting United States Attorney stated, "This settlement accomplishes the government's objective of deterring employers who might seek to subvert the immigration laws of this country. The Agreement severely punishes IFCO for its serious immigration and employment violations; but it also allows the corporation to continue its operations, so that its lawful employees and innocent shareholders do not suffer the consequences of a business failure in this economy. It is our hope that the compliance and reporting requirements under the agreement will serve as a model for other businesses."

New York State Police Superintendent Harry J. Corbitt said, "The New York State Police commends all of the investigative agencies for their hard work in investigating IFCO Systems and prosecuting the individuals who engaged in illegal immigration and employment-related conduct. This agreement sends a strong message to corporations that exploitive and illegal business practices for the sole purpose of their own financial gain will not be tolerated." Acting U.S. Attorney Baxter expressed his appreciation to the New York State Police for their invaluable assistance in this nation-wide investigation.

The IFCO managers who previously entered guilty pleas, and the respective charges to which they pled guilty, are as follows:

Robert Belvin, of Stuart, FL (former General Manager, Albany IFCO plant): Conspiracy to Transport and Harbor Illegal Aliens and Conspiracy to Possess Identification Documents with the Intent to Use Unlawfully (felonies);
James Rice, of Houston, TX (former corporate New Market Development Manager): Conspiracy to Transport and Harbor Illegal Aliens (felony);
Steven Means, of Cincinnati, OH (former corporate New Market Development Manager): Conspiracy to Unlawfully Employ Illegal Aliens (misdemeanor);
Bryan Baily, of Nashville, TN (former corporate New Market Development Manager): Conspiracy to Unlawfully Employ Illegal Aliens (misdemeanor);
Abelino "Lino" Chicas, of Houston, TX (former Systems Manager): Aiding and Abetting the Transportation and Harboring of Illegal Aliens (felony);
Michael Ames, of Shrewsbury, MA (former General Manager, Westborough, MA IFCO plant): Unlawful Employment of Illegal Aliens (misdemeanor);
Craig Losurdo, of Arlington, TN (former Assistant General Manager, Albany IFCO plant): Unlawful Employment of Illegal Aliens (misdemeanor);
Dario Salzano, of Amsterdam, NY (former Assistant General Manager, Albany IFCO plant): Unlawful Employment of Illegal Aliens (misdemeanor);
Scott Dodge, of Elmira, NY (former Assistant General Manager, Albany IFCO plant): Conspiracy to Unlawfully Employ Illegal Aliens (misdemeanor).
The IFCO managers who are indicted on felony charges and pending trial are:

Charles Davidson, of San Antonio, TX (current Vice President - New Market Development; formerly, Director, New Market Development);
William Hoskins, of Cincinnati, OH (New Market Development Manager);
Thomas Soto Castillo, of Cincinnati, OH (Foreman, Cincinnati; operations manager for New Market Development);
Wendy Mudra, of Tampa, FL (Human Resources Manager).
The government's investigation of the involvement of certain IFCO's managers and employees in the hiring of illegal aliens and related conduct is continuing. The investigation is being conducted by ICE; the New York State Police, Special Investigation Unit; SSA, Office of Inspector General; IRS, Criminal Investigation; and the U.S.Department of Labor, Wage and Hour Division. The Guilderland Town Police Department and Schenectady Police Department also provided assistance during the investigation. The prosecution is being handled by Assistant United States Attorney, Tina E. Sciocchetti.

-- ICE --

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was established in March 2003 as the largest investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Security. ICE is comprised of five integrated divisions that form a 21st century law enforcement agency with broad responsibilities for a number of key homeland security priorities.

Last Modified: Friday, December 19, 2008

Williamson commissioners set to vote on immigrant detention operator

Critics have condemned holding families in former prison, but some officials lean toward renewing contract.
By David C. Doolittled


Williamson County commissioners are set to vote next week on renewing a contract with the company that operates a much-criticized immigrant detention center in Taylor.

Since 2006, the county has had a contract with Corrections Corp. of America and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to act as the intermediary between the two and disburse federal funds for the T. Don Hutto Residential Center, which holds immigrant families while they await decisions in their immigration cases.

That contract is set to expire Jan. 31, and commissioners will take up renewing the contract for another two-year term during Tuesday's meeting.

County Judge Dan A. Gattis and Commissioner Ron Morrison, whose precinct includes the detention facility, said they are leaning toward renewing the contract. Precinct 1 Commissioner Lisa Birkman and Precinct 3 Commissioner Valerie Covey said they are undecided. Several calls to Commissioner Cynthia Long were not returned.

"I'm leaning to renew because I did the last time," Morrison said. Commissioners voted to renew the contract in January 2007.

"I based it on touring the facility and looking at the situation. I like the idea that families stay together, are fed, clothed and in a comfortable place — as comfortable as an ex-prison can be. You can't hide the fact that it was once a jail cell."

Morrison said he has visited the former medium-security prison three times and plans to tour it again Monday.

The county's contract with Corrections Corp. and Immigration and Customs Enforcement allows for any party to terminate the contract within 120 days.

Gattis said that because of the 120-day period and because he expects some changes to immigration policy when Barack Obama becomes president, he'd rather renew the contract and wait to see what the new administration might do.

"Unless something jumps up and bites me, I will vote to renew," Gattis said. "I think we're going to need time to assess what the administration wants to do, and we'll support what they want."

Birkman, who voted for renewing the contract in 2007 "with reservations," said she understands the reasons for the facility. "But on the other hand, I would feel more comfortable if they were not in a prison setting," she said.

Covey said a tour of the 512-bed facility on Monday will help her make a decision.

Critics have protested the detention of children and have pushed for alternatives such as electronic monitoring and intensive supervision.

"There is the taint of using taxpayer dollars to pay a private company to do something that can be done more humanely and just as effectively at a much smaller cost," former Georgetown Mayor MaryEllen Kersch said. "The for-profit prison industry has benefited greatly from the demonization of immigrants."

Federal officials have said they have an obligation to ensure that those accused of being in the U.S. illegally show up for their court hearings.

Steve Owen, a spokesman for Corrections Corp., said if the contract is not renewed, families could be split apart waiting for hearings. He said the company has worked to make the facility safe and humane. Several calls to immigration officials were not returned.; 246-0040

We the People Border fence needed to protect Americans

In light of the protest of Shapleigh and others against further construction of the border fence, we once again see how our politicians disregard the well-being of the American people.

Shapleigh's group says that the fence restricts trade. Tell me, what kind of trade comes across in the areas where the fence is constructed. Drugs, that's what.

They say that the fence causes bad feelings in light of the events in the "murder capital of the world." I say that severing all ties with Mexico is a viable option.

They say "wall of hate." What a joke. The fence protects Americans against illegal aliens and drug traffickers.

For those of you who want to call my statements "racism," I say you don't know what racism is. I'm calling it like it is.

How many Canadian drug cartels do you hear about, and how many Scandinavian immigrants are members of violent street gangs?

"Mexican sovereignty" is a joke, and in Mexico the corruption runs from top to bottom -- politicians, army generals, etc. The Mexican "war on drugs" is only a war to eliminate the rivals of the politicians' favorite drug cartels.

The fence protects the American people.

Pete Porter / West El Paso

Police charge man with sexually assaulting child

A Mineral Wells man was arrested Monday on a warrant for aggravated sexual assault of a child.

According to Mineral Wells investigators, Manuel DeJesus Silva, 21, was taken into custody in the 100 block of N.E. 9th Avenue during a traffic stop.

The alleged assault occurred inside Mineral Wells city limits in either March or April though it wasn’t reported until December, officials said. The alleged incident involved a child less than 14 years of age. Silva was reportedly a friend of the victim’s family.

According to Palo Pinto County jail records, Silva remained in custody Wednesday on with his bond set at $250,000 for the aggravated sexual assault charge and an Immigration and Customs Enforcement hold.

December 18, 2008

Frisco: Police arrest suspect for 2006 sexual assault of elderly woman

By Ann Marie Shambaugh, Staff Writer
(Created: Thursday, December 18, 2008 4:18 PM CST)

Frisco police arrested a Honduran man this morning who is accused of sexually assaulting an elderly woman in her home here more than two years ago.

Manuel Guerra, 24, was arrested at a relative’s home in Dallas at 6:30 a.m. Thursday. Police said that they believe the suspect was living abroad after the alleged incident, and that he returned to the Dallas area recently.

Guerra is accused of sexually assaulting a 79-year-old woman in her home in the Old Donation area of Frisco on Aug. 15, 2006. Reports stated that the victim told police she had been sleeping in the early hours of the morning when she awoke to find a man standing next to her. She yelled at him to leave and he fled, only to return. Police found a broken window on the back door of the house.

Frisco Police Department spokesman Officer Greg Barnett said that the investigation included assistance from several agencies.

“We had some tips from Crime Stoppers as well as evidence that was recovered at the scene,” Barnett said.

The Immigration and Customs Enforcement/Detention and Removal Office and the U.S. Marshal’s Joint East Texas Fugitive Task Force also assisted in the investigation.

Police charged Guerra with aggravated sexual assault, and his bond is set at $150,000.

December 17, 2008

Oak Point City Council rescinds English-only resolution

06:29 AM CST on Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Oak Point City Council rescinded its English-only resolution with a 3-2 vote Monday night, about 18 months after adopting it.

The difference between the votes was a change in leadership in the small Denton County town.

In June 2007, council members Jim Almond, Leslie Maynard and Mark Rakestraw voted to adopt the measure.

On Monday night, council members Colleen Cameron, Judith Camp and Jim Wohletz voted to rescind it. Ms. Cameron defeated Ms. Maynard last spring in a runoff.

Mayor Duane Olson said he put the resolution on the agenda. He believed the city needed to get rid of the resolution after Lewisville considered a similar measure in October.

Lewisville Mayor Gene Carey had linked Oak Point with Farmers Branch, and Mr. Olson said he took exception to the characterization.

Farmers Branch officials have been battling in court to pass an ordinance that would ban illegal immigrants from renting apartments in that city.

Motorist credited for helping police arrest 'fake cop' suspect in Grapevine


Grapevine police are crediting a motorist for alerting them to a man who now faces a charge of trying to impersonate a cop.

The arrest was made around 9:30 p.m. Sunday after a 22-year-old man in a white pickup with flashing lights allegedly followed a car on Texas 360, police said.

The suspect, Adan Ramirez of Grapevine, was being held Wednesday in the Grapevine jail, charged with impersonating a public servant.

Police declined to release the driver's name, but they lauded him for immediately calling 911 when he suspected the flashing lights on the truck didn't belong to a real cop.

He also stayed on the line as he drove, which helped dispatchers send police to his location.

"He did everything exactly right," said Sgt. Kim Smith, police spokeswoman. "If we could write it in a textbook and give it to the public, this would be it."

The driver had been on the shoulder of Texas 360 checking a map and was trying to merge back into traffic when he noticed the flashing lights, Smith said.

The truck had special police-style flashing lights on the front and back of the pickup, similar to the ones used on unmarked police cars, Smith said.

The man called 911 and told the operator, "I ain't pulling over for an unmarked car," according to a recording of the call.

Also on the recording, the operator asks the man if he thought he was being pulled over by whoever was driving the truck.

"I don't know if he's trying to pull us over or what," the man said, "but he turned his lights on and he won't go around me or anything."

At some point the truck driver turned off the lights.

"He ain't got them on now," the man told the 911 operator, "but he had them on a while ago."

Dispatchers contacted police who saw the truck and the car, Smith said. Officers got behind the truck and directed the operator to tell the caller to exit at William D. Tate Avenue, Smith said.

That's where officers made a traffic stop on the truck and Ramirez was arrested, Smith said.

He also carried a fake identification that was actually a gift card from a restaurant that had been painted black and had the word "police" on it, Smith said.

Police shared information about Ramirez to other law enforcement agencies who had reports of fake cops in their cities, but none had responded back by Wednesday, Smith said.

Ramirez, she added, "admitted to installing system on the truck, but he didn't admit to any use of ID card or explain any intent or motive."

"But," she said, "whenever the witness felt the person in the truck was trying to get his attention or make contact -- that violates the law."

Impersonating a public servant, which is a third-degree felony, is punishable by two to 10 years in prison and a fine up to $10,000.

Smith noted, however, that a "hold" was placed on Ramirez by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement or "ICE." The hold indicates he is suspected of being in the U.S. illegally, which makes him ineligible for bond.

Man Accused of Impersonating Police Officer Had 'Gift Card' ID


Police in Grapevine, Texas have arrested a man accused of impersonating a police officer with an impressive truck but less than stellar fake I.D. card.

They were alerted by a concerned motorist who called 911 after spotting the man attempting to pull other drivers over.

When police got there, they stopped the white pickup truck and found it had an elaborate police lighting system, similar to what some departments use on undercover vehicles.

Police said officers also found a homemade police identification card that was not nearly as realistic as the lights on his truck. It was made with a gift card from a Chipotle restaurant, and the restaurant chain's logo was still visible on the top of the card with the word "police" written under it.

The driver of the truck, Adan Juarez Ramirez, 22, was arrested on a charge of impersonating a public official.

Smith said Ramirez admitted to mounting the lights on his truck but would not say why he did it or what he planned to do if he stopped someone.

He was jailed with an immigration hold. Police records indicate Ramirez is a Mexican citizen.

Police credited the alert driver who called 911 for making the arrest possible.

"It was incredible teamwork between the witness, our dispatcher and the officers to coordinate where they were going to go to apprehend this man," Sgt. Kim Smith said.

Editorial: ID provides useful immigration tool

There are reasons to be squeamish about the new "temporary visitor" licenses and ID cards that the Department of Public Safety now issues to legal immigrants. There are also strong justifications, and, on balance, they outweigh the drawbacks.

The vertical layout of the new card is designed to distinguish its holder as someone deserving of extra scrutiny, which doesn't sit well with many people. Immigrants might feel they're getting a mixed message. We tell them to assimilate, but we issue them a special ID that says: You're not one of us.

Yet this new format and the security measures behind it are necessary. There are 12 million or more illegal immigrants residing in America, and according to a 2006 Pew Hispanic Center study, nearly half of them arrived legally but overstayed their visas.

The new cards specifically address this problem, getting rid of the standard expiration periods that allowed immigrants to drive legally or present a valid ID even though they were in the country illegally. Instead, temporary visitors' licenses will expire when their visas expire. The vertical format – the same one used for minors – tells law enforcement personnel to be extra vigilant.

Critics say the vertical card unnecessarily stigmatizes immigrants. Besides, the expiration date is all that really matters. But when officers in most cities stop drivers and see that the license expiration date has lapsed, the driver will receive only a misdemeanor citation. No arrest occurs.

With horizontal licenses, officers have no way of quickly determining whether a "foreign-looking" driver should be detained or allowed to leave. Ethnic considerations come into play as the officer decides whether an immigration check is necessary. The horizontal ID invites racial profiling. The vertical ID dramatically reduces that problem.

Critics counter that state and local authorities are busy enough; immigration enforcement is the federal government's job. True, but it's obvious that this task is too big for the federal government to do by itself.

Sometimes state and local authorities must get involved because they are the ones who encounter illegal immigrants most often. More and more communities are demanding that local authorities assume a more aggressive role. We believe those cases should be rare.

The city of Irving is an example of federal-local cooperation through the Criminal Alien Program. And last month, Dallas County announced that prisoners' information will be checked against a federal immigration database during jail book-in procedures.

Local and state authorities must be careful about potential abuse of such new, expanded powers. The risk of racial profiling remains.

Vertical IDs help reduce that problem because they remove all racial considerations from the verification procedure. With the new ID format, vertical cards with expired dates are the only ones meriting additional scrutiny, whether the holder is Canadian, European, African, Latino, Arab or Asian.

People with horizontal cards – regardless of race or national origin – must receive the treatment afforded any U.S. citizen or permanent legal resident.

That's a change for the better.

Two charged after Valley Girls raid

Two charged after Valley Girls raid
Ana Ley

EDINBURG - Two people were charged after Hidalgo County sheriff's deputies busted a gambling operation near a flashy Donna strip club.

Ricardo Melendez Gomez, 47, and Blanca Hubert, 63, were charged with keeping a gambling place, promoting gambling and possessing a gambling device.

Gomez was being held at the Hidalgo County Jail on a $15,000 bond Wednesday. If he makes bond and is released, Border Patrol officials plan to deport the illegal immigrant back to Mexico.

Hubert was released Wednesday on a $9,000 bond.

A friend listed only as "Luis," whom Gomez called at booking, refused to comment Wednesday. A number for Hubert's emergency contact, listed as Veronica de la Cruz, was out of service.

The sheriff's office seized 11 slot machines and arrested Gomez and Hubert on suspicion of distributing cash winnings to customers who played the eight-liner gambling machines, which were located in a business office next to Valley Girls.

It is illegal in Texas to award cash to people who win at slot machines.

The small building housed a limousine business and beauty salon. Both buildings, owned by Harlingen-based Valley Entertainment Corp., are managed by Joey Holder.

Four customers were cited during the Tuesday raid for playing at the underground casino, a new tactic Sheriff Lupe Treviño hopes will discourage the operation's organizers from establishing another gambling ring.

"If we can impact the demand, we can have a detrimental impact on the supply," Treviño said Tuesday.

The raid was the culmination of a nearly two-week-long investigation led by Treviño and Hidalgo County District Attorney René Guerra. The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission also inspected the strip club for alcohol license violations on Tuesday.

In October, two popular McAllen bars were raided on suspicion of condoning illegal slot machine gambling. Police seized 21 eight-liner machines from Fast Eddie's Billiards, bar Simon Sez and a McAllen office.

Illegal immigrants arrested at Mission H-E-B Plus

Mission police discovered a group of illegal immigrants being transported at a local grocery store.


Investigators said the incident happened at the H-E-B Plus off Shary Road and U.S. Expressway 83.

Police busted two vehicles carrying six men, two women and a young girl.

Border Patrol agents took custody of the two alleged smugglers and the immigrants.

Authorities said they will review the group's immigration status and apply appropriate criminal charges.

December 13, 2008

Texas taxpayers spent $678 million on healthcare for illegal immigrants

Texas taxpayers spent $678 million on healthcare for illegal immigrants
By ANDREW CHAVEZSpecial to the Star-Telegram

Healthcare for illegal immigrants cost the Texas government and local hospital districts $678 million in a year, according to a new study that state lawmakers hope will show the federal government how much Texas is spending in uncompensated care for illegal immigrants.

The study, by the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, estimates that $597 million of the total was spent by 94 public hospitals during fiscal 2005-06.

The remainder, about $81 million, went to the state’s contribution to emergency Medicaid, which pays for emergency medical care for things such as childbirth, and to the Texas Family Violence Program, which funds shelters, 24-hour hot lines, counseling and other related services. That figure is from fiscal 2006-07.

The figures are intended to lend support to future state requests for more federal funding to offset the costs.

All figures were estimates because of the limited information available. However, a bill proposed for the upcoming state legislative session would require agencies to report the cost of services provided to illegal immigrants.

Legislative reaction

The report, generated by the House’s 2007 appropriations bill, was criticized by a Fort Worth legislator as "immigrant bashing."

Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth, said looking just at the cost of illegal immigrants doesn’t take into account the money they pump into the state.

"If you tell somebody to design a study and discover half the facts, you’ll get half the facts," Burnam said. "All you’ve done is look at one side of the ledger. People cost money no matter what their legal status is."

Burnam pointed to a 2006 report from the state comptroller’s office indicating that illegal immigrants produced $1.58 billion in state revenues and received $1.16 billion in state services.

But state Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said the new report puts a number on healthcare costs that the state cannot do anything about.

And an outspoken critic of illegal immigration, Rep. Leo Berman, R-Tyler, said he was glad that Congress is getting the report.

"I’d like to bill the United States government," he said, "and have them pay Texas for the cost of the benefits that they require us to provide to illegal aliens."

Local impact

Tarrant County’s JPS Health Network wasn’t compensated for $133 million in care for illegal immigrants, according to the study.

A JPS spokeswoman said administrators plan to evaluate the report, which was provided by a reporter late Friday afternoon.

"We are reviewing the information and will begin work next week on evaluating the numbers," said Jamie Brown, a JPS spokeswoman.

Immigrant care at JPS has been hotly debated in past years. The hospital provides emergency care because federal law requires it to. But in 2004, the district moved to bar illegal immigrants from receiving discounted or free care at the health network’s nonemergency clinics, an option available to qualified Tarrant County residents.

The board revisited the issue in 2007 but has not voted on it.

This report includes material from the Houston Chronicle and from the Star-Telegram archives.


Cost to area hospitals Parkland Memorial, Dallas…$135 million

John Peter Smith, Fort Worth…$133 million

Campbell Health System, Weatherford…$4 million

Wise Regional Health System, Decatur…$3 million

Other hard-hit Texas hospitals Ben Taub General, Houston…$203 million

R.E. Thomason General, El Paso…$38 million

University, San Antonio…$25 million

Source: Texas Health and Human Services Commission report

ANDREW CHAVEZ, 817-390-7957

December 12, 2008

Riot, hostage situation ends at West Texas prison

The Associated Press

PECOS, Texas -- An uprising at a privately run prison in West Texas ended Saturday morning after two hostages were released, authorities said.

Outside law enforcement officers returned control of the Reeves County Detention Center back to prison personnel about 6:30 a.m., said Patricia Dieschler, a state Department of Public Safety dispatcher.

Responding law enforcement officers were not injured, Dieschler said. Prison officials declined to comment Saturday.

Federal inmates at the prison took two prison employees hostage when the disturbance erupted Friday. Prison officials did not release the names of the two employees, who are recreation specialists at the prison. The hostages were released late Friday night.

The inmates, who include immigration detainees, were asking for better medical treatment, DPS Trooper John Barton told the Pecos Enterprise.

The riot started when the body of an inmate who died of natural causes was removed from the prison, Barton said.

Inmates burned an exercise room at the facility, but the exact cost of damage was not known, Barton said. The newspaper reported that firefighters had to extinguish bonfires inmates had set to keep warm overnight.

The GEO Group, based in Boca Raton, Fla., has run the jail since 2003. The prison holds more than 2,400 inmates.

December 10, 2008

Cops: Suspected Illegals Plotted Kidnap of Texas Corn Dog Scion

Candelario Romero, Adolfo Chavez, and Porras Placido

DOUBLE OAK, Texas — A man who had once been a neighbor is believed to be the mastermind behind the kidnapping of a woman whose family owns Fletcher's Corny Dogs, a staple of the State Fair of Texas.

Amber Fletcher, 21, was shaken but otherwise unhurt after being rescued following the abduction early Monday by three men from her Denton County home in the town of Double Oak, authorities said.

She was found after one of the men was stopped by officers while Fletcher's mother was meeting him to pay a $100,000 ransom, authorities said.

Adolfo Chavez, 39, had once lived next door to the Fletcher family and sold them a home, said Texas Ranger Tracy Murphree, who assisted Double Oak police in apprehending the suspects, The Dallas Morning News reported Tuesday in an online story.

Chavez, 39, of Dallas; Candelario Romero, 44, of Justin; and Porras Placido, 37, of Irving were being held Wednesday at the Denton County Jail charged with aggravated kidnapping for ransom or reward, a first-degree felony punishable by up to life in prison.

Bond was set at $200,000 for Chavez and at $250,000 each for Placido and Romero, according to jail records.

All three won't be released because they are suspected of being in the U.S. illegally and a hold was placed on them by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The ordeal began just before 9 a.m. Monday when Amber Fletcher, who had spent the night at her parents' house, returned to her home.

"She was going back home to get some clothes, and two suspects were waiting for her," Murphree said. Her hands were bound with duct tape, and she was blindfolded. She then called her mother, Glenda Fletcher, saying she needed $100,000 or the kidnappers would kill her, according to an affidavit.

Glenda Fletcher then called Double Oak police, who learned that Amber Fletcher lived next door to her parents and had been taken.

The kidnappers directed the family to bring them the money and officers agreed to let the mother do it, Murphree said.

He added that sheriff's narcotics officers had the "drop" under surveillance, and that's when they nabbed Chavez near an intersection and he told them where to find Amber Fletcher.

Officers found the woman and two other suspects in a pickup parked at a store several miles from the Fletcher homes.

She later told officials that the men had made a lot of threats but didn't harm her. After she was abducted, she was taken to Romero's home in Justin but spent most of the day with the two men as they drove around, officials said.

Officials believe the suspects, who never received any ransom money, acted alone.

The Fletcher family faced another ordeal Tuesday the funeral of their son. Neil "Dutch" Fletcher III, 50, died Saturday from a long illness, according to an obituary in The Dallas Morning News.

November 19, 2008

Perry demands immigration action by feds

Perry demands immigration action by feds
After a Chronicle investigation, governor urges steps to ensure criminals here illegally don't avoid deportation
By SUSAN CARROLL Copyright 2008 Houston Chronicle

Gov. Rick Perry and members of the state's congressional delegation called on the federal government Tuesday to take steps to help state and local officials ensure that illegal immigrants who commit crimes in Texas remain in custody until they are deported.

In a strongly worded letter to Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff, Perry said he was outraged to learn that many convicted illegal immigrants in Texas jails were released after they completed their jail sentences instead of being deported.

In a series of stories this week, the Houston Chronicle outlined gaps in the screening of inmates in local jails that allowed scores of violent criminals, including some ordered deported decades ago, to walk away from Harris County Jail despite the inmates' admission to Harris County jailers that they were in the country illegally.

"Texas has spent the last four years investing unprecedented amounts of state resources to secure our border with Mexico," Perry said in his letter to Chertoff. "To now learn that criminal aliens who have been jailed are being released back into our communities by federal authorities who have neglected to secure our border is infuriating and unconscionable."

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and U.S. Reps. John Culberson, R-Houston, Kevin Brady, R-The Woodlands, and Michael McCaul, R-Austin, called on Immigration and Customs Enforcement to improve screening in the nation's jails and better coordinate efforts to identify illegal immigrants convicted of crimes while they are incarcerated. Brady asked for a meeting of the Houston-area congressional delegation to help ICE determine what resources are needed to "close the terrible gaps in detaining and deporting" illegal immigrants convicted of crimes.

The Chronicle examined arrest and immigration records for 3,500 inmates who told jailers that they were in the country illegally during a span of eight months starting in June 2007, the earliest immigration records available. In 177 cases reviewed by the Chronicle, inmates who were released from jail after admitting to being in the country illegally later were charged with additional crimes. More than half of those charges were felonies, including aggravated sexual assault of a child and capital murder.

At least 178 cases in the review involved suspects who absconded, meaning they had bail revoked for missing court dates or allegedly committing more crimes. Some 330 inmates who told jailers they were in the U.S. illegally were later sentenced to a form of probation.

This spring, ICE officials announced a plan to identify and deport the most serious offenders in the nation's prisons and jails, estimating it would cost roughly $930 million.

Agency defends work
ICE officials said they have made improvements in recent months, including providing the Harris County Sheriff's Office and six other law enforcement agencies in the U.S. access to a database that allows jailers to automatically check defendants' immigration history.

The agency also trained nine Harris County jailers in August to help file paperwork to detain illegal immigrants through its 287 g program, which allows local law enforcement to help ICE screen inmates in the nation's 3,100 jails. ICE also removed a record 107,000 convicted criminals from the U.S. in the 2008 fiscal year, which ended in September, officials said.

"I think the numbers speak for themselves," said ICE spokeswoman Kelly Nantel. "The number of criminal aliens in prisons and jails has more than tripled in the last few years. ... Can we do more? Absolutely. Are we committed to doing more? You bet."

U.S. Rep. Ted Poe, R-Humble, said the system "is breaking down in several places." Poe said he sent a letter on Tuesday to Adrian Garcia, Harris County's sheriff-elect, requesting that he "ratchet up" participation in the 287 g program. He said when illegal immigrants post bond, ICE should file a detainer and pick them up for possible deportation.

"I don't think ICE is trying to solve the problem," he added. "But if they need more money, Congress should certainly be helping to bail out ICE instead of people like General Motors."

Garcia did not return phone calls this week.

Harris County's newly elected district attorney, Pat Lykos, said ICE needs to be in the Harris County courthouse "24-7" and improve screening of illegal immigrants so prosecutors have more reliable information when making bond recommendations and considering plea agreements.

Houston Mayor Bill White said on Tuesday that he plans to call Chertoff to urge for more personnel to deport illegal immigrants who commit violent crimes and have finished serving their sentences.

"Most citizens would far prefer us to spend more money trying to get the violent criminals out of the country than trying to figure out how many years the person who's doing their landscaping has been in the country," White said.

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett said the issue is a law enforcement problem, and added: "In a way it's kind of sad that it gets wrapped up in an immigration debate. The issue really is you've got criminals and you've got a way of getting rid of them. Do it. To me a system doesn't work if you have violent criminals who are just turned back out into society and they disappear. That's a flawed system. I don't think anybody would disagree with that."

Stewart Powell, Liz Austin Peterson, Clay Robison and Bradley Olson contributed reporting.

November 18, 2008

Special driver's license for noncitizens raises concerns

By Juan Castillo

To get to her job cleaning other people's houses, Maria depends on her car. Without it, the native of Monterrey, Nuevo León, says she would be hard-pressed to keep a job. Without the job, she would not be able to provide for her family or help pay her daughter's tuition at Austin Community College.

Maria has a Texas driver's license, which she got after coming here 16 years ago on a temporary visa. The visa expired long ago, meaning she is no longer in the country legally. Maria renewed her license anyway, because the Texas Department of Public Safety did not require that she prove her visa was still valid. (Maria — not her real name — and other unauthorized immigrants spoke to the American-Statesman on condition of anonymity.)

The DPS says it does not know how many noncitizens with expired visas renewed their licenses over the years, but it stopped the practice in May.

Now, under a regulation that took effect Oct. 1 in the name of national security, the state has tightened its license policy more by requiring foreign nationals to prove they are lawfully here before they can get an original, renewal or duplicate driver's license or ID card.

The DPS estimates that the rule could affect about 2 million Texas residents.

So what happens when Maria's license expires in 2013?

"I'll keep on driving with the license issued by God," she declared during a break from English classes she is taking at El Buen Samaritano Episcopal Mission in South Austin. "What are we supposed to do, stay at home with our arms crossed? We have to keep working and hustling if we want to get ahead."

About 20.5 million people have valid Texas driver's licenses or ID cards, according to the DPS; the new restrictions apply to about one in 10. Agency spokesman Tom Vinger emphasized that that does not mean all of their licenses are ineligible for renewal, only that the drivers will have to prove they are here legally.

For new applicants, the practical results of the policy will be less apparent. According to the National Immigration Law Center, Texas already had strict identity requirements that amounted to a de facto prohibition against illegal immigrants getting licenses. Those identity requirements are unchanged.

What is new is that noncitizens with legal permission to live in the country will now get special, vertical-shaped driver's licenses bearing temporary visitor designations. The licenses will be valid only until the person's legal status expires. Immigrants whose legal status is scheduled to expire less than six months from the time they apply cannot get a license or ID card at all.

The policy is drawing criticism from some state lawmakers as well as immigrant advocates who warn that it will drive illegal immigrants further underground and increase the number of unlicensed and uninsured drivers on the road. Critics also say that creating a different-looking license for noncitizens could lead to profiling and discrimination.

State Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon, D-San Antonio, called on the Texas Public Safety Commission, the DPS' governing body, which approved the rule, to rescind it until the Legislature meets in January.

"I think that DPS officials are creating immigration policy, which is not their responsibility. That is the sole responsibility and obligation of the Texas Legislature and not a state agency," McClendon said.

State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, joined a number of lawmakers promising to address the policy when the Legislature reconvenes.

Allan Polunsky, the chairman of the Public Safety Commission, said he respects legislators' concerns. But, he added, "in this particular case, I feel that the commission had the authority to pass the rule," which he said was motivated by concerns about national security, not illegal immigration.

Polunsky came under criticism last week after asking Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott for a ruling on the legality of setting up statewide driver's license checkpoints. In a letter, 15 lawmakers asked Abbott to ignore that request because the Legislature has not authorized a checkpoint program.

Insurance and security

In closing the loophole that allowed Maria to renew her driver's license, Texas joins a number of states that, since the 2001 terrorist attacks, have moved to restrict illegal immigrants' access to licenses, usually citing national security as the reason. Only five states — New Mexico, Washington, Utah, Maryland and Hawaii — do not require applicants to show evidence of lawful presence in the country.

Supporters of such requirements have long argued that issuing driver's licenses to illegal immigrants is an incentive for more illegal immigration.

"The fact is that they're already here," said Jaime Chahin, a professor of social work at Texas State University and a member of the board of directors of El Buen Samaritano, which serves working-poor Hispanic families. An estimated 1.5 million unauthorized immigrants live in Texas, and about 800,000 of them have jobs, according to a study by Waco-based economist Ray Perryman.

No one knows exactly how many illegal immigrants in Texas drive without a valid license or drive without liability insurance — which all drivers are required by law to have — but it's presumed that the vast majority do not carry insurance.

Of the hundreds of auto insurers in Texas, "there may be a small number of companies that would sell insurance to a driver who does not have a valid driver's license, but I am not familiar with any of those companies," said Jerry Johns, president of Southwestern Insurance Information Services, an insurance trade association representing companies in Texas and Oklahoma.

Johns said the association has strong concerns about the estimated 20 percent of Texas drivers who do not carry liability insurance — about 25 percent in Austin — but that it has not taken a position on whether undocumented immigrants should be able to get licenses.

Another undocumented immigrant, Javier, said he has auto insurance from a Texas carrier, though he does not have a Texas driver's license — only one from his home country of Mexico. A Mexican license is valid for up to a year after a person arrives in Texas, said Vinger, the DPS spokesman.

Javier, a 40-year-old who juggles three jobs, says buying insurance "makes sense to protect our investments in our vehicles, which we need to get to work."


Immigrant advocates say public safety would be better served if undocumented immigrants were allowed to get licenses because they would then be held responsible for their driving record and for getting insurance like everyone else.

"They've got to feed their families, and they're going to go and drive. That's all there is to it," said the Rev. Ed Gomez, pastor of El Buen Samaritano.

But survey results show that most Americans are apparently unswayed by the safety argument. Voters opposed allowing illegal immigrants to get driver's licenses by an almost 4-1 ratio in a 2007 Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll.

"They shouldn't be here in the first place, so we shouldn't be giving them ID documents," said Brent Munhofen of Austin, a spokesman for the Immigration Reform Coalition of Texas, which opposes benefits for illegal immigrants.

Vinger said foreign nationals who can't prove they are in the country legally are not reported to immigration authorities but simply denied a license.

An exception would be if the DPS discovered that an applicant had presented fraudulent immigration documents.

The special driver's licenses themselves have drawn criticism. Maria Luisa Bautista, who heads the Austin-based nonprofit group Inmigrantes Latinos en Acción, said she fears they will make legal immigrants "marked people," potentially vulnerable to discrimination.

The licenses could lead to more scrutiny by law enforcement officers conducting routine traffic stops or landlords reviewing rental applications, said Luis Figueroa, an attorney with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.; 445-3635

November 16, 2008

'Why'd they let him go?' In killing blamed on immigrant, woman's kin want answers

Tina Davila murdered by an illegal immigrant

Copyright 2008 Houston Chronicle

On a cloudy Monday afternoon in April, Tina Davila was buried according to her wishes: dressed in her favorite Dallas Cowboys jersey, with a photo of all five of her children tucked inside her coffin. In the picture, Kaylynn, the baby girl Davila died trying to protect, looks fussy, her chubby cheeks puckered into a pout.

Billy Brewer, Kaylynn's father, watched as Davila's coffin was lowered into a grave at San Jacinto Memorial Park Cemetery in Houston.

Brewer, a long-haul trucker, had a crush on Davila since he was a teenager. He loved her wide smile and how, he said, ''she wouldn't back down from nothing for nobody." Most especially on the day Davila, 39, tried to fight off the man who cornered her in a parking lot while Kaylynn was strapped into her car seat.

Witnesses told police Davila refused to hand over her car keys and screamed as she was stabbed in the chest: "My baby! My baby!"

In the days after her death April 16, Brewer couldn't bring himself to watch the surveillance camera video of the slaying. Not yet. He had a 4-month-old baby, just learning how to roll from her back to her belly, and a house full of memories.

On the TV news, Brewer learned that Timoteo Rios, the man charged with killing Davila, was an illegal immigrant with a criminal record. Rios had admitted to local law enforcement twice before the slaying that he was in the country illegally, but he wasn't deported, according to arrest and immigration records.

"I just want to know why," Brewer said. "If they were doing their jobs right, he wouldn't have been out there. Why'd they let him go?"

First arrest
Rios, now 24, was arrested for the first time in Harris County on May 29, 2007, a Tuesday afternoon. He attracted little attention. About 370 inmates pass through the intake division of Harris County Jail daily. Rios, who was living in a southwest Houston apartment complex, was charged with failure to identify to a police officer and marijuana possession, both misdemeanors.

He was fingerprinted, photographed and asked a series of questions. His answers were entered into the jail computer system. Birth date: Oct. 6, 1984. Height: 5 feet 11 inches. Weight: 162 pounds.

The jailer eventually asked: Are you a U.S. citizen? The records show that Rios said no, he was a Mexican citizen.

The jailer then asked: Are you an illegal immigrant?

Yes, Rios replied, according to jail records.

The jailer entered Rios' name into a database of inmates, set up in September 2006, who have admitted they are in the country illegally. The data entries are shared with Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials in Houston, who have unrestricted access to the county's four jails. Agents routinely question and place "holds" on inmates in Harris County Jail they suspect are eligible for deportation.

Rios' name was the 15th of 20 added that Monday to the database. ICE officials confirm that they did not file paperwork to detain him.

Rios pleaded guilty to both counts against him and was released from jail June 5, 2007.

Second arrest
Twenty-two days later, Rios was back in jail, charged with criminal mischief, a misdemeanor. Police said he argued with his 18-year-old ex-girlfriend, the mother of two of his daughters, and punched out her apartment window. Then he threw a beer bottle at his ex-girlfriend's mother.

Rios was booked at 4:35 p.m. Again, Rios told jailers he was in the country illegally and, for a second time, was added to the database. He filled out paperwork for the court, writing that he was from Michoacan, Mexico, and worked in construction.

He pleaded guilty, was sentenced to 20 days with 11 days credit and was released July 6.

Kenneth Landgrebe, ICE's head of detention and removal for Houston, said ICE agents didn't have a chance to get to Rios.

"He was released before we had an opportunity to handle the case," he said. "We're in Harris County (Jail) every day, but we can't be in all places at the same time. I believe he was in a different part of the jail that we were working in. He was not where we were.

"We have to prioritize," he said. "Should we have been over there identifying him and letting a child molester get out? Or a pedophile or a bank robber or someone convicted of a serious drug crime? In a perfect world, if we had all the staff we needed, we could hopefully identify every alien that is unlawfully present in the U.S."

Ruth Alsobrook, Davila's grandmother, still lives in the house where Davila was raised in Galena Park, a 1950s-era neighborhood near the Port of Houston. Davila's parents died before she was 12.

"I loved that girl," said Alsobrook, 93, sitting in an armchair. ''I raised her in the church. Every time the church doors were open, we were there."

Davila attended Galena Park High School and rebelled as a teenager. She married her high school sweetheart, Eric Matt, in the spring of 1988. They had three children: Patrick, 20, Patricia, 18, and Payton, 16. Davila and Matt divorced after eight years but stayed friends. Davila later remarried and had another daughter, but that marriage also ended after a long separation.

One night about two years ago, she and Brewer ran into each other at Del's, a diner on the city's east side. Brewer asked her out for a date, and she said yes.

He said he felt lucky every day since, until April 16.

It was Brewer's 35th birthday. He had to drive a load out to Oklahoma City. He kissed Davila and Kaylynn, who was 3 months and 28 days old. It was early morning when he left for work.

At 5:02 p.m., Davila pulled into the parking lot outside the Cricket cell phone store on Uvalde Road near Wallisville Road, about a five-minute drive from her house in Houston. The next few moments were captured on the video surveillance camera outside the store.

Davila parked her white Chrysler Aspen SUV and stepped out. She started walking toward the store, leaving Kaylynn buckled into her car seat. An older model Ford Taurus pulled in behind Davila's SUV. A man jumped out and ran to block the door. He and Davila struggled over her purse and car keys.

A witness in the parking lot told detectives Davila screamed for her baby. The man stabbed Davila and ran back to his car, tossing the keys away. She stumbled inside the store, clutching her chest.

That night, Brewer tried Davila's cell phone, but it went straight to voice mail. Finally, his mother called him.

"Billy, come home," she said. "Tina's had an accident."

"How bad?" he asked.

"Just come home," she said.

Unanswered questions
Davila was taken to East Houston Regional Medical Center. She was pronounced dead minutes after arriving. By the time Brewer reached his mother's house that night, Davila's death was already on the TV news.

Days after the slaying, Harris County detectives arrested 18-year-old Kennedy Escoto, the suspected getaway car driver. Investigators said Escoto implicated Rios in Davila's death. Detectives say Rios may have fled to Mexico.

Davila's older children had questions about what happened. They saw on the news that Rios had been arrested twice before the slaying — and was in the country illegally.

"The kids just couldn't understand why he could be illegal and commit crimes and still be here. And I couldn't explain it to them," Matt said.

After Davila was killed, Brewer exchanged his long-haul job for one that keeps him closer to home. He asked his cousin to care for Kaylynn, temporarily, he said, until she gets a little bit older.

He put down a $150 deposit on a grave near Davila's and is paying $50 a month.

The more he learns about the man accused of killing Davila, the more his anger grows.

"He should have been deported after the first arrest," he said. "It's that simple. There's got to be a better way."

Brewer has started putting together a scrapbook for Kaylynn. He's saving Davila's high school jacket, a bunch of magnets he picked out for her over the years on the road, and the program from her funeral service. On the cover, there's a picture of Davila, with a warm, wide smile.


Warning: Some may find this video distrubing and upsetting.

Store Security Video
The last few seconds of this video is the footage of Tina Davila's murder, and it is preceeded by a shoplifting theft.

A system's fatal flaws

Thousands of inmates admit they're in the U.S. illegally, but even those convicted of violent crimes are often r: Criminals avoid deportationeleased right back onto Houston's streets

Copyright 2008 Houston Chronicle
Nov. 16, 2008, 7:33AM

Mayra Beltran Chronicle

Inmates are interviewed by jailers in the booking office at the Harris County Jail, where officers maintain a database of inmates who tell jailers during booking that they are in the U.S. illegally.

This three-day Houston Chronicle investigation examines how scores of illegal immigrants cycle through local jails and fall through the cracks of immigration enforcement.

Federal immigration officials allowed scores of violent criminals — some ordered deported decades ago — to walk away from Harris County Jail despite the inmates' admission to local authorities that they were in the country illegally, a Houston Chronicle investigation found.

A review of thousands of criminal and immigration records shows that Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials didn't file the paperwork to detain roughly 75 percent of the more than 3,500 inmates who told jailers during the booking process that they were in the U.S. illegally.

Although most of the inmates released from custody were accused of minor crimes, hundreds of convicted felons — including child molesters, rapists and drug dealers — also managed to avoid deportation after serving time in Harris County's jails, according to the Chronicle review, which was based on documents filed over a period of eight months starting in June 2007, the earliest immigration records available.

Other key findings in the investigation include:

•In 177 cases reviewed by the Chronicle, inmates who were released from jail after admitting to being in the country illegally later were charged with additional crimes. More than half of those charges were felonies, including aggravated sexual assault of a child and capital murder.

•About 11 percent of the 3,500 inmates in the review had three or more prior convictions in Harris County. Many had repeatedly cycled through the system despite a history of violence and, in some cases, outstanding deportation orders.

The investigation found that the federal government's system to identify and deport illegal immigrants in Harris County Jail is overwhelmed and understaffed. Gaps in the system have allowed some convicted criminals to avoid detection by immigration officials despite being previously deported. The problems are national in scope, fueled by a shortage of money and manpower.

In reaction to the Chronicle's findings, U.S. Rep. Ted Poe, R-Humble, said ICE needs more resources to target immigrants convicted of crimes.

"There's no question about it," Poe said. "Criminals from foreign countries who get caught after committing a crime and prosecuted should go to the top of the list of people we deport."

ICE removed 107,000 convicted criminals from the U.S. in the 2008 fiscal year, which ended in September. But during the same time frame, ICE sent home more than two times as many illegal immigrants without criminal records, prompting criticism from some members of Congress.

Kenneth Landgrebe, ICE's field office director for detention and removal in Houston, said officials are doing the best they can with the resources they have. ICE trained nine Harris County jailers this summer through a federal program that empowers local law enforcement to act as immigration agents.

The Houston ICE office set a record by removing 8,226 illegal immigrants with criminal records from Southeast Texas last year, an increase of about 7.5 percent from fiscal 2007.

"No agency has enough law enforcement officers to do the job the way they'd like," Landgrebe said. "If you look at law enforcement in general — at Houston or New York City or Los Angeles police — do they apprehend every criminal that commits a crime? No. Do they arrest every person that speeds in a traffic zone? No.

"We have to prioritize what we handle," Landgrebe said.

Missed opportunities
ICE officials estimated that between 300,000 and 450,000 inmates incarcerated in the U.S. are eligible for deportation each year.

Though ICE has improved screening in federal and state prisons in recent years, the agency estimates it screens inmates in only about 10 percent of the nation's jails.

This spring, ICE officials announced a plan to identify and deport the most serious offenders in the nation's prisons and jails, estimating it would cost between $930 million and $1 billion and take about 3 1/2 years.

Congress is pressuring ICE to move faster.

"The present situation is unacceptable," said Rep. David Price, D-N.C., chairman of the House Homeland Security appropriations committee.

"The highest priority for ICE should be deporting people who have proven their ability and their willingness to do us harm. Immigration is a very, very contentious issue, but this seems to be one thing almost everyone agrees is a priority."

Yet, the Chronicle's review found hundreds of missed opportunities to deport convicted criminals, perpetuating a cycle of crime and violence.

•Armando De La Cruz, a Mexican national, told jailers on two occasions in 2007 that he was undocumented. Both times, he was convicted of assaulting his wife and released after serving his jail time. De La Cruz is now back in Harris County Jail, charged with raping a woman at knife point behind a southeast Houston apartment complex in July, and attempting to rape another woman less than a week later. His defense attorney, Ricardo Gonzalez, did not return phone calls.

•Pedro Alvarez, a convicted sex offender from El Salvador who was first deported in 1991, racked up eight convictions in Harris County over a span of two decades and was allowed to walk free from jail multiple times — as recently as the spring of 2007. Immigration officials finally charged him with re-entry after deportation in February. Sandra Zamora Zayas, the attorney who represented Alvarez in federal court in South Texas, did not return phone messages.
"It's just amazing how long it took them to catch up with him," the mother of a 5-year-old girl Alvarez sexually assaulted in 1988 said in an interview with the Chronicle, after learning about Alvarez's extended criminal history.

'Never lied about who I am'
Miguel Mejia Rodriguez, 36, is locked up on the fifth floor of the San Jacinto Jail downtown, accused of raping and sodomizing a second-grader.

It is the fourth time in 12 years that Rodriguez, an unemployed drifter from Zacatecas, Mexico, has landed in Harris County Jail. Over the years, Rodriguez has served time for drug possession, theft, trespassing and indecent exposure. He told jailers he was in the country illegally in December 2006, after a security guard caught him touching himself in an apartment complex parking lot, records show.

But ICE officials did not file paperwork to detain Rodriguez. He was released after serving his 25-day sentence.

"I never lied about who I am, or where I'm from. I'm 100 percent Mexican," Rodriguez said in a jail interview with the Chronicle in September, after he was accused of the rape and sodomy of a 7-year-old.

According to court records, the girl told a friend Rodriguez started abusing her after her mother died in 2005, while he was living with her family.

The girl was hospitalized and treated for syphilis, court records show. In an interview with Houston police detectives, Rodriguez admitted to contracting syphilis from a woman he met in a Houston cantina, but he denied raping the girl. He said she was a "troublemaker" who lied because he punished her when she misbehaved.

When he was arrested on the sexual assault charge in July 2007, Rodriguez again told jailers he was in the country illegally, records show. In June, nearly a year after his arrest, ICE officials filed paperwork to detain Rodriguez, who is scheduled for trial in December.

Deadly consequences
Katherine Anne Bridges, deaf and mute, was just 19 in the fall of 2004 when she told Harris County authorities that Jeremias Fuentes, her boyfriend, tried to grab their 6-month-old baby boy from her arms and kicked her in the face. He hid her emergency phone so she couldn't call for help. Fuentes was sentenced to 20 days in jail.

Nearly three years later, in August 2007, Fuentes was arrested again, suspected of interfering with case workers trying to interview Bridges about abuse allegations. Fuentes, 36, told jailers he was an illegal immigrant from El Salvador, records show. He was sentenced to 30 days in jail. He was released after ICE didn't file paperwork to detain him.

On the morning of Nov. 26, 2007, a medical examiner puzzled over the writing scrawled on Bridges' palm. It read in part: "Payback because ... help me."

The evening before, Bridges' body had been found facedown in the bedroom closet of her southwest Houston apartment complex. She had blood in her brown hair and a dozen stab wounds on her face, neck, chest and back. A knife rested on the baby crib.

Detectives questioned Fuentes, who admitted he stabbed Bridges, but he said it was self-defense. In December, immigration officials filed the paperwork to detain Fuentes, who declined a request for a jail interview. He is scheduled for trial in February.

Andy Kahan, director of the Houston Mayor Crime Victims Office, said he hoped Bridges' case could be a ''catalyst for change" and encourage local authorities to work more closely with ICE to ensure inmates with violent criminal histories are vetted before release.

"There were numerous opportunities to do the correct thing, and that's have him deported, and that didn't happen. And as a result, a woman paid dearly with her life," Kahan said.

Matthew Baker, an assistant field office director for ICE in Houston, said agents try to screen out as many violent criminals as possible to avoid preventable crimes. Many illegal immigrants are identified by ICE in the state's prison system, he added, even if they are not caught while in jail.

"No one can measure the cases where we picked up and removed someone and prevented that carjacking or that drunk driving accident that kills a family," Baker said. "There are hundreds of thousands of incidents that we prevent every year; those are not measured because they don't happen."

Facts vs. fears
While the Chronicle's review found cases involving hardened criminals who slipped through the deportation net, the investigation also revealed that 43 percent of suspects who were arrested and admitted being in the country illegally were charged with misdemeanors and had no prior criminal record in Harris County.

Immigrant advocates cautioned against stereotyping illegal immigrants based on high-profile cases. Most research has found that recent immigrants are far less likely than their U.S.-born counterparts to commit crimes and end up in prison.

In Texas, foreign nationals made up approximately 15 percent of the state's population in 2005, and about 7 percent of state prison offenders.

"Many people see it as a profound insult when someone who is here without permission commits a heinous crime," said Rebecca Bernhardt, director of policy development for the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas. "To be outraged at the individual who committed that crime is an appropriate response. But to be angry at everybody who is just here trying to work to support their family and comes from the same background as that defendant is a mistake."

Asking about status
The nation's system for identifying and deporting immigrants convicted of crimes is largely secretive. ICE officials refuse to disclose the names or basic immigration history of people detained and marked for deportation, citing privacy protections in federal law.

To better understand how ICE screens inmates, the Chronicle obtained a copy of a database, maintained by the Harris County Sheriff's Office, of inmates who tell jailers during booking that they are in the U.S. illegally.

The Sheriff's Office voluntarily started questioning inmates about their legal status and created the database in September 2006, after a previously deported felon killed Houston police officer Rodney Johnson. During the booking process, inmates are asked whether they are in the country illegally. If they answer 'yes,' their name and jail ID number is entered into a database that is shared with ICE agents in Houston.

The Chronicle compared the entries in the Sheriff's Office database with immigration ''holds" placed by ICE with the Sheriff's Office. An immigration hold is essentially a request by ICE agents that law enforcement notify them before releasing an inmate. ICE officials confirmed that jailers notify them before releasing immigrants who are marked for possible deportation.

The Houston Police Department, which runs the city's jails, notifies ICE only about suspects with immigration warrants and previously deported felons.

Of the more than 80,000 bookings into Harris County Jail during the review period, about 3,500 — less than 5 percent — admitted to being in the country illegally. ICE filed paperwork to detain roughly 900 of the 3,500. During the review period, the agency also filed paperwork to detain 2,500 suspects not included in the database, indicating that many immigrants who are eligible for deportation do not disclose that they are here illegally.

ICE, however, could not confirm whether the inmates marked for ''holds" actually were deported.

Landgrebe, the ICE official, also questioned the quality of the information in the Sheriff's Office database, because it was based only on inmate responses and was entered by some jailers without immigration training.

More removals
ICE officials would not answer specific questions about ICE staffing at the Harris County or city jails but said screening has improved in recent months. In October, the Sheriff's Office started testing a Homeland Security database that gives jailers access to millions of immigration records. The county's participation in the federal government's 287(g) program, which trains jailers to act as immigration agents, also is expected to help improve screening, ICE officials said.

Harris County Sheriff-elect Adrian Garcia, who defeated incumbent Tommy Thomas in the November general election, said he plans to evaluate the office's participation in the program after he takes office in January.

Thomas said he believes the program is necessary — at least until ICE has the resources to improve screening.

''In a perfect world, I'd like to see our borders secured to where we have someone we find to be here illegally, we turn them over to ICE and have them deported," Thomas said. ''But that's not something that's happening at this day and time."

Chronicle reporter Chase Davis contributed to this report.

November 15, 2008

500,000 immigrants defying deportation

'Fugitive aliens' like Obama's aunt escape notice as U.S. pursues criminals

By DENISE LAVOIE Associated Press
Nov. 14, 2008, 11:04PMShare Print Email Del.icio.usDiggTechnoratiYahoo! BuzzBOSTON — Zeituni Onyango came to the United States seeking asylum from her native Kenya but was turned down and ordered to leave the country in 2004.

Four years later, she is still here. And her nephew is about to become president of the United States.

Onyango's family connection to Barack Obama has thrown a spotlight on a phenomenon many Americans might find startling: An estimated half-million immigrants are living in the United States in defiance of deportation orders.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has stepped up efforts to catch fugitive aliens, as they are known, and now has about 100 "fugitive operations teams" around the country. In the past year, the teams have made 34,000 arrests, more than double the number two years ago. But there are still 560,000 such immigrants in the U.S.

Fugitive aliens include people who, like Obama's aunt, sought asylum in the United States but were rejected and ordered to leave the country. Others were caught entering or living in this country illegally, and failed to show at their deportation hearings.

Often, illegal immigrants who have been issued deportation notices are given a certain amount of time to get out of the country on their own. They are not forcibly put aboard a plane; these deportations essentially operate on the honor system.

Critics irked
Generally, if these immigrants stay out of trouble — if they don't get pulled over by police or swept up in a workplace raid, for example — they are in little danger of being thrown out of the country.

That galls many immigration reform advocates, who say the practice breeds disrespect for the law and emboldens immigrants to sneak in and stay.

"We are strong believers of enforcement of our immigration laws, and this is a priority area for getting the message across to this country, that if they've been convicted of committing crimes or if they have been ordered deported, that they will be apprehended if they try to hide and continue to stay in the country," said Jack Martin of the Federation for American Immigration Reform.

Government officials say that they do the best they can with the money and manpower available to them, and that they focus on the most serious cases, including those involving illegal immigrants who have committed crimes in this country.

"ICE has taken tremendous steps at closing these cases and apprehending fugitives," said spokesman Richard Rocha. "However, we prioritize our efforts on egregious violators and criminal aliens."

The Obama camp has said the candidate did not know about his aunt's status.

DPS scraps plans for driver's license checkpoints

AUSTIN -- Plans to create driver's license checkpoints on Texas highways have been scrapped in the face of strong lawmaker opposition and suspicions that the proposal targeted illegal immigrants.

Allan Polunsky, chairman of the Texas Department of Public Safety Commission, said Friday he would withdraw a request for an attorney general's opinion on whether the checkpoints would be legal.

DPS spokesman Tom Vinger said the opinion request was sought only for "informational purposes."

"There was never any connection to immigration issues," Vinger said. "DPS does not enforce immigration issues."

Fifteen state lawmakers asked Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott to ignore the opinion request made in September. Some suspected the purpose of the checkpoints was to crack down on illegal immigrants.

In August, the public safety commission issued new rules for driver's license applicants to prove they are here legally.

"A state agency is making immigration policy for the state of Texas, and that is not their job," Democratic state Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon told the San Antonio Express-News.

During a commission meeting Friday, Polunsky said it was not appropriate to proceed with the proposal at this time. Commission members agreed, but postponed voting on withdrawing the request because the issue wasn't on the agenda.

The state Court of Criminal Appeals ruled in 1994 that checkpoints would have to be approved by a "politically accountable governing body at the state level." The Legislature has not passed bills outlining procedures for checkpoints.

The Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund was among those who said the proposed driver's license checkpoints, coupled with the requirement for proving immigration status, could lead to profiling.

November 14, 2008

Officer's widow blames gun store in death

HOUSTON (KTRK) -- We're hearing from the widow of a slain Houston police officer who says a Pasadena gun store is to blame for her husband's murder.

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Rodney Johnson was murdered two years ago. His killer is in prison for life.

The lawsuit filed at the Harris County Civil Courthouse says even though Juan Quintero pulled the trigger, he's not the only one to blame for Officer Johnson's murder. It says a gun store should have prevented the convicted felon and illegal immigrant from getting his hands on the gun he used.

It's been six months since the Quintero went to prison for life. Still Joslyn Johnson's fight is not over.

"I would not like this to happen to any other family," she said. "I wouldn't want anyone else to have to endure their pain."
She has sued the city over its one officer per car practice, now she's suing the store that sold the gun that Quintero used to kill her husband.

Quintero fatally shot Officer Rodney Johnson during a traffic stop. The officer missed a hidden weapon on Quintero during a pat-down and Quintero managed to get to it while handcuffed, but Joslyn believes the killer never would have had the 9mm had Carter's Country, she says, followed the law.

"I would just like the gun companies to know this should not be tolerated," Johnson said. "They should be more responsible and they need to do a complete and thorough background check."

According to the lawsuit, Carter's Country was negligent because although Quintero did the shopping, the salesperson allowed his wife, Theresa, to fill out the federally mandated paperwork for the purchase of the gun as if she were the actual purchaser. They did this, it says, because Quintero's immigration status and criminal record made him ineligible to legally buy a gun. It's called a straw sale and it's illegal.

"There are federal regulations out there, other laws out there, to present this type of purchase," said Johnson's attorney Ben Dominguez.

In a videotaped confession, Dominguez says Quintero admitted to the details of the gun purchase.

Meanwhile, Carter's Country denies the allegations. In its answer to the lawsuit, attorneys for the company argue in part the shooting was out of its control. Juan Quintero and his employer, Robert Camp, now under indictment for illegally employing him, are responsible.

Beyond that its attorney told us, "we don't think it's ethical to discuss the facts of a pending case."

Joslyn Johnson doesn't want to stop talking. She's on a crusade of sorts for her husband.

"I just want people to be aware that this should not happen to anyone else if I can help it," she said.

There's no dollar amount listed in the lawsuit. Johnson's attorney says they'll let a jury decide on that. As for criminal investigation. A spokesperson said t hey could neither confirm or deny they're investigating.

(Copyright ©2008 KTRK-TV/DT. All Rights Reserved.)

November 13, 2008

Berman Will File 9 Bills About Illegal Immigration

Berman Will File 9 Bills About Illegal Immigration
Staff Writer

State Rep. Leo Berman, R-Tyler, will file nine bills in Austin aiming to reduce the burden of illegal immigration on taxpayers by reducing benefits and protections for illegal immigrants in the state.

Berman said legislators first addressed illegal immigration during the last legislative session, but around 24 bills were killed in committee before they could be voted on by the House. He hopes legislators will consider immigration legislation during the coming session.

The first bill Berman plans to file will challenge automatic citizenship under the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The bill says the state of Texas will not issue a birth certificate to children of illegal immigrants born in the state.

Berman said if the bill passes it will invite an immediate lawsuit into a federal court and possibly will require a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court.

"The 14th Amendment of the Constitution has no application to the children of illegal aliens or any other children of foreigners born in the United States," he said. "We are giving away 350,000 citizenships each year (nationally) erroneously and that's why we have to challenge it."

The second bill would put an 8 percent surcharge on money wired from Texas to Mexico, Central and South America, he said. There is about $6 billion each year sent from Texas to Mexico alone, Berman said.

The bill would require all recaptured funds, almost half-a-billion dollars, be earmarked for border security and hospitals that provide free health care.

Another bill to be filed by Berman would analyze the number of illegal alien children in the state's public school system.

"We are building new schools across the state which are costing hundreds of millions of dollars and we think that at least 20 percent are for the children of illegal aliens that pay little to no property taxes," he said.

Berman will file a bill that would make English the official language of Texas. That would mean that all state business, except for that which is mandated by the federal government, be done in English.

A bill requiring every level of government in the state to enforce all federal and state laws and constitutions under penalty of losing all state funding will also by filed by Berman.

This would require "sanctuary cities," such as Houston, Austin and Dallas, to enforce immigration laws or be held liable for nonaction.

Another bill to be filed is identical to a five-part bill passed in Oklahoma that resulted in thousands of illegal immigrants moving from Oklahoma to Texas, Berman said. He said there would be no public state benefits for illegal immigrants and authorizes law enforcement officers to take Section 287 G training with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security allowing them to deal directly with illegal immigrants.

"Right now a law enforcement officer can't do anything with (illegal aliens) unless they commit a crime," he said. "But if they take the 287 G training they can actually arrest them for being illegal in the United States."

The bill would also prohibit the transportation, concealment or housing of illegal aliens, Berman said. This would make it possible for stiffer penalties to be levied against landlords, employers or traffickers who house, employ and transport illegal immigrants within the state of Texas.

The bill would also require employers to verify citizenship of anyone they hire, he said. Berman said the means are available by the federal government to verify Social Security numbers to determine if the numbers are fraudulent or stolen.

Berman said the immigration bills he is filing may be blocked in the Senate or vetoed by the governor, but the need to address illegal immigration remains.

He said it is outrageous that he has middle income constituents that have fewer benefits than illegal immigrants.

"It is important for them to pass because we have 2 million illegal aliens in Texas that are costing my constituents, my Texas residents, $4 billion every year," he said. "We have never had a class of immigrants in the United States that require free education and free health care by U.S. citizens as the illegal aliens in our country require."

November 12, 2008

Still Smoldering

Metropolis: Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Still Smoldering
Local firefighters may have gotten burned by the pension fight they started.


In a presidential election year, especially one where the top of the ticket drew as much attention as this one, local races often fly under the radar. But in Tarrant County, you’d have had to be living under a rock in the past few months not to have noticed the campaign for the Texas Senate’s District 10.

That would be the one between challenger Wendy Davis and incumbent Kim Brimer, the one that filled local mailboxes with endless glossy campaign fliers, produced more TV ads in this area, it seemed, than the Obama and McCain organizations, and that threatens to live on via some strange legal possibilities.

And it all started, oddly enough, over pensions — not exactly the usual hot-button, sound-bite fodder of political campaigning. But in this case, the pensions involved, in part, were those of local firefighters. The bitter ruckus that followed went from city hall to the state capitol to various courtrooms, and it may not be over.

Davis, a Democrat and former Fort Worth City Council member, beat Republican Brimer, a 20-year veteran of the thenTexas House and Senate, by a slim margin last week. Despite that victory and several months of unsuccessful attempts to get Davis thrown off the ballot, there’s a chance that Brimer may try to have the tally overturned through some wrangling in Austin.

The dispute began last year when the city learned that it was behind by $411 million in fulfilling its obligations to the city employees’ pension fund. In seeking ways to reduce those mounting obligations, council members considered various remedies; one was to curtail the massive overtime hours some employees were racking up, especially the police and firefighters. Because city workers’ pensions are based on their total wages, reducing such overtime would help reduce the pension amounts the city would be on the hook for. Davis was one of the most vocal supporters of that idea.

The firefighters balked. They made an end run around council, and Brimer carried the ball: He got the Texas Legislature to amend state law to transfer most of the control of the pension fund from the city to the Texas Pension Review Board. Davis was livid. She and two other council members voted against endorsing Brimer’s bill — and in doing so, publicly opposed Mayor Mike Moncrief.

“It really upset me,” Davis told Fort Worth Weekly. “I saw it as our city being disrespected by one of the legislators who should have been looking out for our interests. What was done was, the taxpayers were going to have all the responsibility for that fund, but little control over it. I honestly didn’t think Republicans were against taxpayers not having their say in government.”

In May of last year, Davis was re-elected to the council. Three months later, she announced her candidacy for Brimer’s senate seat. Davis and other Democrats saw District 10 as being ripe for change for two reasons. First, a poll by their party’s Washington-based Lone Star Project found that 20 percent of District 10 voters gave Brimer an unfavorable rating and another 50 percent knew so little about him that they couldn’t even rate him.

The second factor was the change in the area’s demographics. District 10 covers the southern half of Tarrant County (with a few fingers extending into the northeast suburbs), and the Democratic leadership was interested in the increasing numbers of minority voters moving into cities like Arlington, Mansfield, and Crowley.

“While it had been a very strong Republican district in the past, we began seeing the population changes,” said Tarrant County Democratic Party Chairman Steve Maxwell. “We knew if we had the right candidate we could win this.”

But before Davis could win the election, she had to fight numerous lawsuits launched by Brimer. State law prohibits an official still serving in one public office from running for another state office. But Fort Worth’s rules said a council member wasn’t allowed to resign his or her seat until a successor was sworn in. Because of a runoff, her successor, Joel Burns, wasn’t sworn in until early January. In order to stave off any legal questions, Davis then resigned her council seat and re-filed for the senate race.

That started the fun. Three Fort Worth firefighters petitioned then-county Democratic chairman Art Brender to disqualify Davis from the election. Brender declared her eligible. The firefighters then took their case to the Texas Supreme Court, which sent it to a lower state court, which rejected the firefighters’ allegations. Brimer then took up the legal gauntlet and filed his own suit challenging Davis’ eligibility. He lost that case in state district court in July, appealed the ruling, and lost again in a Dallas appellate court in October.

The connector between Brimer and the firefighters may have been a big-time local campaign consulting firm, the Eppstein Group. Bryan Eppstein’s firm had been hired by the firefighters to help pass a charter amendment allowing them to do collective bargaining with the city. Eppstein has also handled Brimer’s campaigns in the past, and he was there again this year.

Eppstein may also have been a factor in Mayor Moncrief’s very public endorsement of Brimer. The mayor — who usually counsels his colleagues to stay out of partisan races — didn’t just allow his name to be used on campaign fliers; his face spent more time on TV screens than Brimer’s did, in Brimer’s broadcast ads.

Though the local Fort Worth council elections are nonpartisan, Moncrief had been a Democrat when he served as county judge and a state senator. Many wonder where his allegiance now lies.

Neither Brimer nor Moncrief returned calls or e-mails for this story. But others did comment on the endorsement. Brender termed Moncrief’s action “pretty disloyal, but it doesn’t surprise me, [given] how he has acted in the past.”

Davis said Moncrief had always advised council members not “to get involved in partisan political races, so it did surprise me. But we will work well together to meet the needs of Fort Worth residents.”

Current Democratic chairman Maxwell was less optimistic. “I have known the mayor for a very long time and consider him to be a friend,” he said. “But I was terribly disappointed in his decision to endorse Brimer the way he did. It was unimaginable to me that he would not endorse a person he worked with for all those years. [Moncrief] has made a statement he is not one of us anymore.”

The two candidates ran very different campaigns. Davis was out and about, while Brimer, a lot of the time, was nowhere to be found. The two did appear at candidate forums in Bedford and Arlington. But Brimer refused to appear on a long-scheduled “candidate conversation” on WFAA-TV, citing his dislike of their campaign coverage. He also failed to show at a League of Women Voters forum after indicating he would participate.

The Fort Worth Fire Fighters Association decided to schedule its forum on the same night as the WFAA event. Davis said she had already committed to the TV program but would do it any other night. The firefighters wouldn’t reschedule, so for that one, Brimer showed up alone.

Davis’ campaign accused Brimer of avoiding his opponent and the voters. “He basically didn’t show up for anything,” Maxwell said. “He acted like he was entitled to that job and didn’t have to tell voters why he was.”

Brimer aired some TV attack ads against Davis, but they did little to raise state issues. Davis was portrayed as a council member who voted against a senior citizen income tax freeze and supported foreign companies for building Texas toll roads. The most-played ad featured his grandchildren saying they loved their “paw-paw.” (That was also the tone of his campaign mailings, most of which featured various people saying Kim Brimer was their friend, their relative, their “paw-paw.”)

Davis, by comparison, went for the jugular. Her TV ads never even mentioned her name out loud, but focused on Brimer’s having defaulted on loans many years ago and using campaign contributions to buy a luxury condo in Austin. He was shown in grainy photos wearing sunglasses, with a stubby cigar hanging from his mouth. One Davis mailing accused him of having “spent his career getting rich at our expense.” Another said “Sen. Kim Brimer: Living the High Life.”

Davis defended her strategy. “We knew from the start we were running against a 20-year incumbent, and you have to let people know in specific terms why he needs to lose his job,” she said. “We needed to show voters that there were self-interest motivations going on in that seat and that he was harmful to the Tarrant County citizens in that district.”

At least the nasty race is over … right? More than likely, but Brimer has left the door open to a further challenge of Davis’ eligibility.

After Brimer lost the appeal on his eligibility challenge in October, his campaign sent out a press release stating that the question of eligibility could be “determined by action taken after the election.” The release said that a ruling by the Texas secretary of state could void the election, or action by the state attorney general, or a vote by the Texas State Senate not to seat an ineligible candidate.

Renea Hicks, an Austin attorney specializing in state political rules, said any of the methods theoretically could be used by Brimer, based on the state’s constitution and its election code. But he couldn’t recall any of those options having been used in more than 20 years.

“His case ... is very weak,” Hicks said. “It has been to court so many times, and Davis has won every one of them. Those rulings are going to be insurmountable, I would think.”

Hicks also pointed out that if the election results were to be voided, that would make it necessary to hold a special election for the seat — an election in which Davis could run. “It is far-fetched to think that Republicans in Austin would put so much on the line to save Brimer’s job,” Hicks said. “She would just beat him again and make them all look bad.”

Should the Texas State Legislature pass immigration enforcement laws in 2009?