April 30, 2008

Federal agents sweep Athens businesses

April 30, 2008 09:47 am

Federal agents sweep Athens businesses

Homeland Security ICE team in town to hunt for fugitives with help of local police department

By Rich Flowers

Federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents searched at least two Athens businesses Tuesday as part of a nationwide effort to locate and remove fugitive aliens.

ICE Public Information Officer Carl Rusnok, from the regional office in Dallas, confirmed the searches were part of an ongoing operation, but would not give details about the size or area covered by the fugitive roundup. ICE operates under the umbrella of the Department of Homeland Security under the Auspices of Detention and Removal.

Shortly before noon, ICE agents, aided by local law enforcement officers, entered Donut Supreme at 707 W. Corsicana St. and Dallas Manufacturing at 300 Athens Brick Road. Witnesses said officers converged on the Donut shop in a large white van, a black SUV and a vehicle that appeared to be a police car. Agents entered the business and stayed inside for several minutes. Later, the owner and his family got into a personal vehicle and left the business. There did not appear to be any arrests made at the scene, witnesses said.

Rusnok would not comment on whether any arrests were made in Athens Tuesday.

“All I can say is we’re specifically targeting fugitive aliens. These are aliens who have received final orders of deportation from a federal immigration judge,” Rusnok said.

“The agents are seeking individuals in a specific geographic area,” Rusnok said. “This is what our Fugitive Operations Teams do.”

Athens Police Chief Buddy Hill said his department was notified of the presence of federal agents in town Tuesday morning. His officers were asked to assist at several locations.

ICE established the first Fugitive Operations Teams in 2003. By the end of 2007, there were 75 teams deployed in various locations around the United States. The agents in Athens are from the Dallas office, which was set up last year.

According to DHS figures, there are more than 450,000 absconders and the number is growing by more than 40,000 each year. The DHS goal is to eliminate the fugitive population within 10 years.

Immigrant arraigned for attacks

April 30, 2008
Immigrant arraigned for attacks
By Dan Packard
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An illegal immigrant accused of burglary and sexual assault in Wellington was arraigned Tuesday and remained in the Collingsworth County Jail on $550,000 bond.

"The people can rest a little better, be more at ease."
Joe Stewart, Collingsworth County Sheriff

Department of Public Safety Trooper Daniel Hawthorne said Collingsworth County Justice of the Peace JoRita Henard arraigned Jose Ayala Nunez, 42, of Honduras on two first-degree felony counts of burglary of a habitation with intent to commit a felony, one first-degree felony count of aggravated sexual assault and three state jail charges of possession of fraudulent government documents.
Collingsworth County Sheriff Joe Stewart said Nunez is an illegal immigrant from Honduras who had two fraudulent Social Security cards and a fraudulent green card in his possession.

"The green card is a card that lets him stay in the United States," Stewart said. "The Social Security numbers belong to other people. It's an identity-theft type thing."

Stewart said he didn't know where Nunez resided before he showed up in Wellington.

Lawmen from the sheriff's office, the Texas Rangers and other agencies arrested Nunez on Sunday at a residence in Wellington.

On March 17, the sheriff's office received a report on a sexual assault and received a second report April 10.

After a third report April 25, the sheriff's office involved the Texas Rangers and other law-enforcement agencies.

On Sunday evening, investigators followed leads that led to the arrest of Nunez.

Stewart said the arrest came quickly once investigators obtained certain information.

"The people can rest a little better, be more at ease," Stewart said.

As for the sheriff, "I'm tired," he said.

Hawthorne said investigators continue to build their case and continue to process evidence.

A first-degree felony carries a maximum sentence of five to 99 years or life in prison per offense and a fine not to exceed $10,000, according to the Texas Penal Code.

A state jail felony carries a maximum sentence of two years in jail and a $10,000 fine.


April 29, 2008

Gallegos reacts to decision on voter ID

April 28, 2008
Gallegos reacts to decision on voter ID
Sen. Mario Gallegos, D-Houston, had this reaction to today's Supreme Court ruling upholding voter ID laws:

"I'm saddened that the Supreme Court has chosen to legalize discrimination. But just because the court's decision indicates that it's legal, doesn't mean it's right. I have opposed voter ID legislation before, and I'll oppose it again. As long as my constituents are in danger of suffering the indignity of being disenfranchised by an unjust law, I will oppose that and all similar legislation."


Supreme Court upholds voter ID law

Supreme Court upholds voter ID law
Stevens: Law justified to protect integrity, reliability of electoral process
updated 8:50 a.m. PT, Mon., April. 28, 2008

WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court ruled Monday that states can require voters to produce photo identification without violating their constitutional rights, validating Republican-inspired voter ID laws.

In a splintered 6-3 ruling, the court upheld Indiana's strict photo ID requirement, which Democrats and civil rights groups said would deter poor, older and minority voters from casting ballots. Its backers said it was needed to prevent fraud.

It was the most important voting rights case since the Bush v. Gore dispute that sealed the 2000 election for George W. Bush. But the voter ID ruling lacked the conservative-liberal split that marked the 2000 case.

The law "is amply justified by the valid interest in protecting 'the integrity and reliability of the electoral process,'" Justice John Paul Stevens said in an opinion that was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Anthony Kennedy. Stevens was a dissenter in Bush v. Gore in 2000.

Justices Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas also agreed with the outcome, but wrote separately.

Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and David Souter dissented, just as they did in 2000.

'Extremely disappointed'
More than 20 states require some form of identification at the polls. Courts have upheld voter ID laws in Arizona, Georgia and Michigan, but struck down Missouri's. Monday's decision comes a week before Indiana's presidential primary.

The decision also could spur efforts to pass similar laws in other states.

Ken Falk, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana, said he hadn't reviewed the decision, but he was "extremely disappointed" by it. Falk has said voter ID laws inhibit voting, and a person's right to vote "is the most important right." The ACLU brought the case on behalf of Indiana voters.

The case concerned a state law, passed in 2005, that was backed by Republicans as a way to deter voter fraud. Democrats and civil rights groups opposed the law as unconstitutional and called it a thinly veiled effort to discourage elderly, poor and minority voters — those most likely to lack proper ID and who tend to vote for Democrats.

There is little history in Indiana of either in-person voter fraud — of the sort the law was designed to thwart — or voters being inconvenienced by the law's requirements. For the overwhelming majority of voters, an Indiana driver license serves as the identification.

Burden 'eminently reasonable'
"We cannot conclude that the statute imposes 'excessively burdensome requirements' on any class of voters," Stevens said.

Stevens' opinion suggests that the outcome could be different in a state where voters could provide evidence that their rights had been impaired.

But in dissent, Souter said Indiana's voter ID law "threatens to impose nontrivial burdens on the voting rights of tens of thousands of the state's citizens."

Scalia, favoring a broader ruling in defense of voter ID laws, said, "The universally applicable requirements of Indiana's voter-identification law are eminently reasonable. The burden of acquiring, possessing and showing a free photo identification is simply not severe, because it does not 'even represent a significant increase over the usual burdens of voting.'"

Stevens said the partisan divide in Indiana, as well as elsewhere, was noteworthy. But he said that preventing fraud and inspiring voter confidence were legitimate goals of the law, regardless of who backed or opposed it.

Indiana provides IDs free of charge to the poor and allows voters who lack photo ID to cast a provisional ballot and then show up within 10 days at their county courthouse to produce identification or otherwise attest to their identity.

Stevens said these provisions also help reduce the burden on people who lack driver licenses.


April 22, 2008

'Catch the Illegal Immigrant' roils Tech campus

April 22, 2008
'Catch the Illegal Immigrant' roils Tech campus
By Marlena Hartz
Morris News Service

LUBBOCK - "ILLEGAL IMMIGRANT" read the T-shirts' fronts. "CATCH ME IF YOU CAN" read the backs.

Students in the Texas Tech chapter of the Young Conservatives of Texas wore the T-shirts on campus one day as part of a game, "Catch the Illegal Immigrant."

Although the game goes against the university's mission to build a diverse and welcoming atmosphere, the students have a right to play it, Tech President Jon Whitmore wrote in a response letter Wednesday to two students who were deeply offended by the game.

"All members of our university community have a right to express themselves, even when you and I or others disagree with them," his letter reads.

The version of hide-and-seek in which one student wears the T-shirt and others try to catch him or her, usually for a prize, has been causing uproars on college campuses since at least 2006.

The Young Conservatives at Tech played the game for the first time on Tech's campus March 31, members said.

Two students informed the university's president of the event in a protest letter dated April 11 and endorsed by 15 faculty members and six student organizations.

The game promotes violence toward not only illegal immigrants, but all foreigners, their letter reads.

"All this game is doing is creating this tension between students. ... It makes Texas Tech look like it does not welcome diversity. It makes all of us look bad," said Tomas Resendiz, a Tech junior and one of the two Hispanic students who drafted the letter to Whitmore, in which they urged university administrators to clarify their stance on the game.

The Young Conservatives at Tech played the game during their "Deportation Celebration." The event and game were staged to protest state legislation that gives illegal immigrants tuition breaks and to raise awareness of the illegal immigration issue in general, said the chapter's chairman, Cullin Davis.

Most of the students who participated in the "Deportation Celebration" are white, photos of the event show.

University officials have designated certain areas on the Tech campus "free speech zones," where students are permitted to have such demonstrations.

Resendiz said he wishes the president's admonishment of the game would have been stronger.

"This offends the Hispanic community as a whole," said Resendiz.

April 10, 2008

AISD: Student injured herself

April 10, 2008 09:19 am

AISD: Student injured herself

Hayes: Teen faces charge for false report

By Angela Weatherford

In the end, the proof was on the tape.

Athens Independent School District Sup-erintendent Dr. Fred Hayes told reporters on Wednesday a 13-year-old eighth-grade Athens Middle School student who said she was attacked over a controversial class project is seen on a surveillance video inflicting scratches on herself.

The teen, Melanie Bowers, now finds herself in trouble. School officials say they are planning to file charges against her for making a false statement to police. That case will be filed with the Henderson County County Attorney’s Office, District Police Chief Paul Redic said.

Filing a false report to police is a Class B misdemeanor. However, the punishment for Bowers could be handled differently since she is a minor.

AISD officials say they are investigating if they can hand down a punishment at school, as well. Two other students who corroborated Bowers’ falsified story may also face punishment.

“We are diligent in our investigations, and what we want is for the truth to come out,” said Hayes, who admitted school officials had questions about the veracity of the story from the beginning. “We are glad the truth came out.

“We did question the extent of her allegation,” Hayes added, “because each time she told the story it seemed to get bigger and bigger.”

The jaw-dropping flip-flop came along with a copy of a statement obtained through an open records request by the Athens Review containing a handwritten voluntary statement signed by the 13-year-old girl’s parents:

“I see that my daughter was not assaulted and put the marks on her body,” Gary Bowers Jr. and his wife, Shera, wrote. “No gang violence was witnessed and she filed a false report.”

The parents were shown the video Wednesday. Attempts to reach the Bowers family — who were said to have offered apologies to Hayes by phone — were unsuccessful Wednesday afternoon.

Melanie Bowers told school officials earlier this week 21 Hispanic students attacked and threatened to rape and kill her after seeing a poster she brought to school for a history class project. Students were asked to create a poster with a statement of political activism.

Melanie Bowers’ poster read: “If you love our nation, stop illegal immigration.”

The conflicting evidence was found on tape by Redic around 11 a.m. Wednesday, Hayes said. On the tape, Melanie Bowers is seen leaving the cafeteria walking toward the AMS office at approximately 11:20 a.m. last Friday. While walking, she held up her political poster about chest high to a group of students passing by.

A male student then walked up behind Bowers and took the sign way from her. Bowers ran after the student, who ran into the gymnasium. Melanie Bowers then passed several teachers — not approaching any of them in a distraught manner, according to Hayes.

She then entered the school office with two other girls. They approached Assistant Principal Mark Castleberry and told him a boy had taken the poster. Hayes said Castleberry told the students to hurry to class and told them he would investigate the issue. The girls were seen leaving the office a few seconds later.

The tape then shows Melanie Bowers in the hallway scratching her face, arm and neck. However, the tape never shows the girl being assaulted.

Hayes said Bowers had a “slight rash on her arms and neck” when a district police officer photographed the injuries last Friday.

On Tuesday, three students involved in the incident were given in-school suspension. Hayes said one student was suspended for destroying the sign, and two others were suspended for inciting the first student.

“It’s what we would do to anybody who destroys a project or takes a book or something like that,” he said.

He added he met with “several Latino parents” about the incident before Wednesday’s press conference. He said those parents were “concerned,” but also “supportive and understanding.”

The suspended students were scheduled to be allowed back to class Thursday.

Bowers hasn’t been to school since Friday, April 4 — the day of the alleged assault. Hays said she was on campus Tuesday to take the Texas Assessment of Skills and Knowledge test in an alternate location.

Hayes said the district was assisted by the Athens Police Department in reviewing statements and surveillance video. Athens Police Chief Buddy Hill and City Administrator Pam Burton were on hand at Wednesday’s press conference.


April 8, 2008

The Merida Initiative

Fact Sheet
Bureau of Public Affairs
Washington, DC
April 8, 2008

The Merida Initiative

The Merida Initiative demonstrates the United States’ commitment to partner with governments in Mexico and Central America to confront criminal organizations whose actions plague the region and spill over into the United States.

The Initiative’s Scope

The Merida Initiative is a multi-year proposal to provide equipment and training to support law enforcement operations and technical assistance for long-term reform and oversight of security agencies. Last year, President George W. Bush requested an initial $500 million for Mexico and $50 million for Central America, which is included in the FY08 Supplemental request. The FY09 budget proposal includes $450 million for Mexico and $100 million for Central America.
U.S. Domestic Efforts

The Merida Initiative complements U.S. domestic efforts to reduce drug demand, stop the flow of arms and weapons, and confront gangs and criminal organizations. The initiative also complements broader efforts by the Governments of Mexico and of Central America to engage on every front in the battle against organized crime.

Why Now?

Daily developments on the ground in Mexico and Central America demonstrate the urgent need for action. The criminal organizations, under great pressure by law enforcement agencies, are behaving in increasingly violent ways. Our partners in the region are confronting transnational gangs and criminal organizations at great personal and financial costs. It is in the national security interest of the United States to support our partners’ fight against this scourge, prevent further violence from spilling over our border, and make our streets safe once again from drug and gang-related crime. They are doing their part – we must do ours.

If approved, the Merida Initiative will provide funding for:

Non-intrusive inspection equipment, ion scanners and canine units for Mexico and Central America to interdict trafficked drugs, arms, cash and persons.

Technologies to improve and secure communications systems that collect criminal information in Mexico.

Technical advice and training to strengthen the institutions of justice – vetting for the new police force, case management software to track investigations through the system, new offices of citizen complaints and professional responsibility, and witness protection programs to Mexico.

Helicopters and surveillance aircraft to support interdiction activities and rapid response of law enforcement agencies to Mexico.

Equipment, training and community action programs in Central American countries to implement anti-gang measures and expand the reach of these measures.

Regional Solutions
By working collaboratively with Mexico and Central America, we confront this regional threat with a regional solution, and undermine the ability of criminal organizations to adapt their behaviors and evade justice.


April 2, 2008

Texas lawmaker pushes for end to 'ghost voting': Fingerprint technology proposed for each House member's desk

Texas lawmaker pushes for end to 'ghost voting'

Fingerprint technology proposed for each House member's desk

10:16 PM CDT on Wednesday, April 2, 2008
By KAREN BROOKS / The Dallas Morning News

AUSTIN – Dallas Rep. Tony Goolsby is pushing for an end to so-called "ghost voting" by Texas House members, asking for their input on a proposal to install fingerprint technology into their desk voting machines.

Download: See the letter from state Rep. Tony Goolsby to House members

The change would end the practice of lawmakers voting each other in absentia, a long tradition roundly criticized by open-government advocates.

Mr. Goolsby, a Republican who heads the House Administration Committee that would oversee such a project, said in a letter to House members that the situation needs to be resolved "effectively and permanently." He plans to start holding hearings on implementing what he called a "very significant change" in House procedures.

"It would be necessary for members to attend to floor proceedings, in person, beginning with the initial roll call continuing through every record vote," Mr. Goolsby said in a letter he sent to all House members on Wednesday. "Members need to understand that the implementation of this change would end any voting other than by the individual member's own personal presence and physical action."

Installing the machines at all 150 desks, as well as a couple in each corner of the chamber and a few in the members' lounge, could cost roughly $400,000, but Mr. Goolsby said that the committee is still pricing the project.

He declined to comment further, saying he wanted to get more input from House members.

House members have been criticized for voting from each others' desks, which they've defended as a courtesy and matter of trust among members.

They also say that it allows them to not miss votes while they're outside the chamber meeting with lobbyists or constituent groups, who routinely call them off the House floor during session.

But the practice has also led to convenient excuses for changing votes on controversial issues, opening the House with less than a quorum, and embarrassing situations over the years – including an incident in which a House member was shown voting after he'd died.

House Speaker Tom Craddick wants the issue addressed, spokeswoman Alexis DeLee said, though he isn't endorsing a specific approach.

"We recognize it's a concern, and we're asking members to look for solutions," she said.

Open government advocates called it "a great idea."

"Every session there's some embarrassing story about legislators getting caught voting for their colleagues on the floor," said Tom "Smitty" Smith of Public Citizen. "And the citizens are often puzzled by the phenomenon of legislators reaching all over the desks and punching other peoples' voting machines."

Currently, members can simply lock their desk voting machines when they leave the desk, but it's voluntary.

Unlike Congress, where members are given 15 minutes' notice before each vote so they can return to the floor in time to record their votes, a vote on the House floor can come up at any time.

Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, who last session was shown voting in favor of a bill that he had railed against on the floor, said he would consider supporting Mr. Goolsby's proposal only if there were machines in other places, like the chamber corners and the members' lounge, in addition to the desks, to allow them to conduct business away from their desks.

"It has some merit," he said, "but it starts the conversation instead of finishing it."

Instances of 'ghost voting' in the Texas House •In 1991, Houston Rep. Larry Evans died unexpectedly early one morning but was shown voting at least three times on measures throughout the day.

•In July 2005, someone voted as Reps. Trey Martinez Fischer and Craig Eiland, both Democrats, during a crucial vote on a tax-swap bill. Turns out Mr. Eiland was in Boston and Mr. Martinez Fischer was in Spain.

•In 2007, Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, was recorded as voting in favor of a bill exempting the names of concealed-handgun licensees from open-records laws after he had railed against it on the House floor. Mr. Coleman was in his office during the vote.


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