June 30, 2008

Judge orders school, feds back to drawing board

June 30, 2008 - 5:11PM
By Christopher Sherman, Associated Press Writer

(AP) - A federal judge ordered a Texas university and the government Monday to continue meeting in search of alternatives to building a border fence across campus.

The defeat for the Department of Homeland Security, which is rushing to meet an end of the year deadline, is at least a short-term victory for the University of Texas at Brownsville.

U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen said the government had not complied with the order he signed in March requiring the two sides to jointly come up with a better plan than the one that puts more than a quarter of the school's acreage behind the U.S.-Mexico border fence.

He ordered them to report back by July 31.

The University of Texas at Brownsville and its sister two-year school, Southmost Texas College, asked Hanen to force DHS to work with them for an alternative to a fence that would leave 180 acres of their campus - the university golf course - in no man's land behind the fence.

Hanen's March order asked DHS to consider the university's "unique status as an institution of higher education" and work to minimize the impact "on the environment, culture, commerce and quality of life."

Homeland Security says it can't come up with a viable alternative. The university said the government called the search for alternatives a "waste of time."

Homeland Security informed the university June 6 that it was proceeding with the fence as planned.

Homeland Security is racing to finish 670 miles of fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border by the end of the year. Congress set the goal in an effort to get a handle on illegal immigration and drug smuggling.

The land the golf course is on belongs to the International Boundary and Water Commission, but the university holds a 99-year lease on it. The government contends it can build parts of the fence on the property without the university's consent.

The university said the fence could pose a security threat by funneling illegal immigrants into the heart of campus. It could also foil university expansion plans south of the existing levees.

It also fears the damage by the fence of the school's binational mission.

"To slice off and fence off the 'bi' part of binational violates the essence of this university," President Juliet V. Garcia said Friday.

In court documents, the government argued that Hanen cannot stop it from moving ahead with condemnation.

"(Department of Homeland Security) has now conclusively determined that this nation's security requires, at this time, in conjunction with technology and personnel, a physical barrier at UTB," the government wrote.

The document also indicated that the government plans to file a new condemnation lawsuit against the university for 2.1 acres of land on or after July 1.

Man accused of killing officer is an illegal immigrant

10:15 PM CDT on Monday, June 30, 2008

By Jeff McShan / 11 News

HOUSTON -- From his hospital bed, Houston police officer Joe Pyland spent much of Monday answering phone calls and welcoming visitors.

The outpouring of support is helping him cope with his injuries and dealing with the overwhelming loss of his friend Officer Gary Gryder.

Pyland and Gryder were working traffic control along a Katy Freeway feeder road on Sunday when a driver smashed through some road barricades and struck the officers. Gryder was killed and Pyland was seriously injured.

“I lost a friend, you lost a friend. We lost a great police officer,” Pyland said in an exclusive interview with 11 News. “I’m guessing another two or three inches and I am probably gone also.”

Investigators said it is unclear if the driver of the car, Hung Truong, even saw the barricades or the flashing lights on the police car before the collision. Police said preliminary toxicology reports show that no alcohol or drugs were found in his system.

Still, he has been charged with manslaughter. Harris County court records also revealed that Truong is an illegal immigrant.

“You know, a car coming 70 miles-per-hour, a couple of barricades are not going to do nothing. Plus my overhead lights on the vehicle were on,” said Pyland. “I was on the ground. I had been struck and Gary had been knocked a distance from the vehicle.

“Just from experience, I know that is not good.”

It wasn’t.

Families for both officers waited anxiously in the emergency room as doctors and nurses worked to save their lives. Pyland’s wife Mary was not far from Gryder’s family when they received the devastating news.

“When we were in the ER trauma room, my husband was in one room. There’s a nurses station and there was the other family saying goodbye,” she said. “I was telling my family it could have been reversed. And we feel so lucky.”

Just a day after the incident, Pyland was vowing to return to the streets. However, not before his broken leg and heavy heart heal first.

“A police officer is conditioned to go back to work. This isn’t the first tragic situation,” said Pyland. “You know you get back on the saddle and get back to it.”


Texan found dead in car trunk in Mexico

June 30, 2008, 7:13PM

© 2008 The Associated Press

MEXICO CITY — A Mexican police official says a Texas man has been found beaten to death in the trunk of a car in a Mexican border town.

Tamaulipas chief homicide investigator Fernando Miranda says 25-year-old Ramiro Torres Hernandez was found dead Friday on a back road in Reynosa.

Guerrero said Monday that Torres was a resident of Pharr, Texas, but it was unclear if he was a U.S. citizen. He was identified by a sister who lives in Mexico.

The U.S. Embassy had no information on the case.

The Tamaulipas investigator said a cousin told police he was with Torres at a store when two armed men forced him into a car Wednesday. Police were investigating why the cousin did not report the abduction.

Miranda said the motive was unknown but could involve drugs.

Surface of immigration tragedy only scratched thus far

June 28, 2008 - 4:12 p.m.
Many public servants quietly do their job well.

Victoria Fire Department Capt. Donna Odem-Dollins is just one example. Her touching story is featured in today’s Advocate.

While there’s nothing quiet about the single mother’s brash personality, her story was silent for too long.

Odem-Dollins was one of the first at the scene of this country’s worst human smuggling tragedy ever.

At 2:33 a.m. May 14, 2003, Odem-Dollins hurried along Fleming Prairie Road to a tractor-trailer stuffed with dead immigrants.

In her 20-plus years as a first responder, she’d never seen so much death and pain in one place at one time.

She saw a dead 5-year-old boy, his dead father and teenagers barely older than her own – 19 in all who were dead or dying.

Dozens of other responders also witnessed the horrors that fateful morning.

Victoria Fire Chief Vance Riley arrived at the scene not long after Odem-Dollins did. He’s lucky to have blocked his worst memories, he said.

But memories of the looks on the faces of responders – the shock, the muted fear, the sadness – force Riley to tears still five years later.

Reading and learning about the tragedy will never replicate the hurt these responders carry with them.

Of course, responding to tragedies is their job. They do it on a smaller scale each day.

Every responder agrees, though, this fateful morning was different.

At least 73 illegal immigrants left Harlingen at 10 p.m. May 13, 2003. They climbed into a sealed tractor-trailer with the dream of a better life.

Four hours later, many of the 19 who would die were dead. They succumbed to the suffocating heat, the lack of oxygen and the damage it wrought on their panicky bodies.

You’ve read those two paragraphs in one form or another dozens of times, no doubt.

But what is lost in the familiarity of an over-used passage are the stories buried between those oft-read lines.

Odem-Dollins didn’t just care for the immigrants she found with pulses. She didn’t just relive the story so that it could be told here five years later.

Her life embodies the spirit of a first responder. She’s on the front lines of caring and giving, even when she’s off the clock.

Her professional and personal story, which begins on Page A1, bears remarkable parallels.

Riley, meanwhile, felt a month’s worth of tragedies rolled into one horrific morning.

Reflection on the tragedy offered him a heightened respect for his country.

Men die every day defending the United States, he said, but others die every day just to come here.

If their stories weren’t worth telling, these responders wouldn’t tell them.

If their stories weren’t worth learning from, we wouldn’t seek their meaning.

There is a fine line between exploiting those oft-read lines and exploring them.

Odem-Dollins and Riley show we’ve only scratched a much deeper surface.

Chief meets with Latino pastors

Chief meets with Latino pastors

Minter seeks community involvement with policing

06:58 AM CDT on Monday, June 30, 2008
By Karina Ramírez / Staff Writer

Denton Police Chief Roy Minter last week reiterated his desire for more community involvement, starting what he hoped would be a dialogue with residents about concerns such as immigration and graffiti.

Roy Minter
“No matter what community we are in, in what city, there are three things that everyone is concerned with, and that is crime, quality of life and traffic,” Minter told a group of 20 Latino religious leaders and other residents.

In his second community involvement meeting with the United Com­mu­nity Action Network, Minter expressed his department’s commitment to addressing the concerns of the Latino community and ensuring they can work together.

“Building a partnership with members of our communities is important because it keeps you safe,” Minter said.

Rafael Natividad, pastor of Primera Iglesia Bautista, where the meeting was held, translated as Minter told the crowd they should not be afraid to contact police for any reason.

He asked the group to report racial profiling and family violence, to be aware of thieves and how they prey on the elderly, and to practice safety — especially when traveling with large amounts of money, as people who don’t rely on banks sometimes do.

Minter asked the religious leaders to invite him and members of the department to their churches.

Some of the pastors said a number of Latinos are afraid that police want only to arrest them. One attendee said children have seen people getting handcuffed in front of their church, thus associating police with something negative.

In addressing immigration, at­tendees said they worried Denton could become another Farmers Branch or Irving, where city police are enforcing federal laws.

“We are a full-service organization and it is our job to protect and serve all communities,” Min­ter said in response. “It is not our job to question if they are legal or illegal.”

Also during the meeting, police Detective Rachel Fleming talked about graffiti and how to combat it.

“In 2003, it appeared everywhere in Denton,” Fleming said. Graffiti is a quality-of-life issue, she said.

Fleming said the community notices graffiti before police do, so they should report it. She said young adults are usually behind graffiti, not juveniles.

“Statistics show that if you cover graffiti three times, they do not come back because you are covering their ego,” Fleming said.

José Paiz, of Mision Templo Bethel on Heather Lane, praised Minter for reaching out to the community.

“We need more people like you, not just in Denton, but in every city in the United States,” Paiz said. “I am willing to help.”

While Natividad was translating, he shared his stories of vandalism and graffiti. In five years, he said, his church has been vandalized three times.

“You have to take action — don’t wait for your neighbor to do it,” Natividad said.

Paiz said it was the first time he had participated in a meeting addressing issues important to Latinos in Denton. He said he had worked with religious associations in Dallas and other communities.

Minter asked the group to participate in the Citizen Police Academy, a free, 13-week program for residents. “It helps you as a citizen to see what we do every day,” he said.

Classes meet one evening per week, and the next academy could start in September.

“You go out and learn about what the police department does, and we’ll let you shoot a gun,” Minter said, making the crowd laugh. He explained that participants would take a small-firearms training class.

Minter also said the city needs Latino police officers. Denton has 155 officers and more than 106,000 residents, he said.

Of those officers, 10 are His­panic and seven are fluent in Spanish, he said.

The Denton Police Department has 14 black officers, including Minter, one Asian-American officer and two who are American Indians.

He invited the group to spread the word about the next civil service exam on July 26.

“We can use your assistance in recruiting officers of all communities,” Minter said. “We are a diverse community and our organization needs to be as such.”

The evening before the meeting, the group of pastors met to discuss issues affecting the Latino community, said Jorge Urbina, president of the Denton Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

“This is an extension of that. … We have to become engaged to respond to a need,” he said.

Minter said he wants Denton to embrace community-oriented policing, just like Dallas and Irving, where the program has become successful.

“Community-oriented policing does work, and it improves a community,” Minter said.

KARINA RAMÍREZ can be reached at 940-566-6878. Her e-mail address is kramirez@dentonrc.com .

Torch Cutter and Gas Tanks Found in Border Tunnel

El Paso
posted by Crystal Gutierrez KDBC 4 News

A smuggling attempt was foiled by Border Patrol, Sunday afternoon.

Border Patrol said an agent stumbled upon some heavy duty equipment sticking out of a tunnel on Border Highway.

The tunnel starts in Mexico and ends in the U.S., past the border fences and right under the noses of Border Patrol.

The agent found a torch cutter and tanks of gas inside the tunnel.

Shortly after the Border Patrol tunnel team was quickly called out, along with the fire department.

Border Patrol said the grate was not cut and not one person was found inside the tunnel, at least not yet.

Surprisingly, this type of find happens quite often.

Border patrol said this type of smuggling, whether it be human or drug smuggling, is quite dangerous.

Last year, Border Patrol made 119 water rescues from canals and drainage tunnels.

This year, they've already made 37 water rescues.

Since the grate was not cut there was no need for repairs. However, now that Border Patrol agents know that area is a hot spot, they'll be keeping an eye on the tunnel.

Border Patrol, State of Texas Partnering to Stop Human Trafficking and Contraband

Border Patrol, State of Texas Partnering to Stop Human Trafficking and Contraband

June 30, 2008

The Border Patrol and the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) have partnered together to begin cracking down on commercial truckers who knowingly smuggle illegal weapons, drugs or humans across the Texas-Mexico border.

Governor Rick Perry directed the DPS to work with Border Patrol, in an initiative dubbed “Texas Hold ‘Em,” to revoke the commercial driver licenses of those convicted of felony smuggling.

“The vast majority of Texas truckers are law-abiding citizens who work incredibly long hours to feed their families and keep our economy moving,” Perry said. “But there are those who are breaking the law to make a quick buck. And to those law breakers, we are sending the message: If you knowingly smuggle goods across the Texas border, you will lose your license and your livelihood.”

Chief of the Border Patrol, David V. Aguilar, praises the new initiative as an effective deterrent to active smuggling and to identify illegal activity.

“This program is a collaborative effort,” said Chief Aguilar. “It is a crucial enforcement component to help bring security to the Texas border.”

Texas border security operations have put mounting pressure on Mexican crime cartels and other crime organizations to find alternate ways of smuggling contraband into the state. This includes recruiting commercial drivers to transport contraband, including drugs and humans, across the border in return for bribes.

Due to these increased illegal recruitment efforts, the Border Patrol recognized the need to establish a process ensuring DPS receives the necessary court documents to suspend violators’ driver licenses upon a felony smuggling conviction. As part of Governor Perry’s ongoing efforts to secure our border through coordinated state-federal efforts, he has instructed DPS to work with Border Patrol to enforce this law.

In the first eight months of fiscal year 2008, Border Patrol agents in Texas intercepted 423 tractor trailers resulting in the detainment of more than 1,800 undocumented immigrants and more than 112,000 pounds of illegal drugs. In the Laredo area, 330 truck drivers have been caught smuggling drugs or humans into Texas in the last 18 months.

“DPS, in cooperation with the U.S. Border Patrol, is pleased to have established this process for reporting felony convictions for commercial drivers who have committed felonies by transporting drugs and/or undocumented aliens in a commercial vehicle,” said Chief of DPS Driver License Division Judy Brown. “Taking action to revoke the privilege of these drivers will further assist our efforts to increase safety on the public roadways and to increase the security of our nation’s border.”

Group questions lawmaker's role in kidnap rescue

Associated Press
June 30, 2008

WASHINGTON (AP) -- A government watchdog group on Friday called for an investigation into whether a Texas congressman used his influence to persuade U.S. law enforcement authorities to intervene to rescue a distant Mexican relative who was kidnapped for ransom in Mexico.

Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement both say there was no special treatment. Reyes said he has never even met the woman, Erika Possert, whom he described as the aunt of his sister-in-law's son's wife.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, however, questioned what role Reyes may have played in ICE's decision to get involved in the case.

"While Congressman Reyes undoubtedly was overwhelmed by concern for his relative, officials with more objectivity should have been considering the greater political and policy issues raised by ICE's intercession," said the group's executive director, Melanie Sloan.

Reyes is a six-term congressman and chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, which does not have jurisdictional oversight of ICE. He is also the former sector chief of the Border Patrol in McAllen and El Paso, Texas.

"I did not exert any influence on anything or anyone," Reyes said Friday in an interview with The Associated Press. "I know from my law enforcement experience that I have no business directing any investigation. Like a doctor operating on oneself, I am not going to interfere with someone who might be related. Everything that was done by my office was done properly and the way we've done on other cases."

Reyes said his sister-in-law called his Texas office to report the kidnapping, and one of his staffers called an ICE official in El Paso. Reyes said he wasn't informed until seven hours later.

Possert and another victim were released after an approximately $30,000 ransom was paid by one of Possert's relatives in Mexico. ICE had no role in the ransom negotiations, agency spokeswoman Kelly Nantel said. It is U.S. government policy to deny ransom or other demands from hostage-takers.

Nantel said the agency -- which has officers in Mexico and regularly works with local law enforcement -- did nothing out of the ordinary. ICE provided secure office space in the U.S. and Mexico to help Mexican authorities communicate with people who had information, including some U.S. citizens. The victim was brought to the United States after her release for security reasons at the request of Mexican law enforcement, Nantel said. Nantel said ICE gets hundreds of these tips each year and reviews all of them.

As a bloody drug cartel war continues throughout Mexico, kidnappings for ransom have become increasingly common. Still, most cases never reach the attention of U.S. officials let alone an influential congressman.

An estimated 90 percent of victims don't report kidnappings in Mexico, experts say. While some abductions are related to the drug war, most are for ransom. Victims' relatives usually try to resolve abductions on their own because they have little faith in police.

U.S. agents cannot operate freely in Mexico, but the U.S. Embassy and consulates have officials from the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration and ICE who are authorized to work with their Mexican counterparts, especially on investigations involving U.S. citizens. Any time a U.S. citizen is harmed, the consulate or embassy gets involved and talks to police.

This situation, however, did not involve a U.S. citizen.

Reyes' staff was kept informed as a courtesy, said an FBI official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because an investigation is continuing. The FBI provided whatever information it had on the kidnapping to ICE and advised Reyes at least once. The official said Reyes was mostly in contact with ICE.

In the last six months, 15 to 20 cases in Mexico involving extortion, kidnapping and attempted murder were reported to Reyes' office, his Texas spokesman, Peter Brock, told AP. All were referred to law enforcement. Four more were reported Thursday and one Friday, he said. Brock did not say how many of these involved U.S. citizens.

But Jaime Hervella, founder of the International Association of Relatives and Friends of Disappeared Persons, said Reyes has appeared unwilling in the past to do much to help families of 196 missing people his group works with.

"He ignored us," said Hervella, whose group represents 34 U.S. citizens. "The human rights issue is exactly the same."

Brock disputes Hervella's claim. He said Reyes has repeatedly met with individuals and groups of missing people. When appropriate, the information has been passed to law enforcement, he said.

James R. Jones, former ambassador to Mexico under President Clinton, said he didn't believe ICE acted inappropriately. Anyone could ask for U.S. assistance for their foreign relatives, he said, though he conceded most average citizens couldn't get through to anyone.

"Even a distant relative of an official or an important person that influences our society, if that person has a concern about and it could influence society, I would think it would be proper to intervene," Jones said.


Alicia Caldwell reported from El Paso, Texas. Also contributing to this report were Traci Carl in Mexico and Matt Apuzzo, Pamela Hess and Lara Jakes Jordan in Washington.

Operation FALCON 2008 Rounds Up Dangerous Fugitives in the Permian Basin

Operation FALCON 2008 Rounds Up Dangerous Fugitives in the Permian Basin
June 30, 2008

Midland, TX – Following a four-year tradition of success in its national efforts, the U.S. Marshals Service locally conducted another successful Operation FALCON (Federal and Local Cops Organized Nationally) from June 23-June 29. Led by the U.S. Marshal Service, Operation FALCON is a nationwide law enforcement effort.

Operation FALCON 2008–Permian Basin, combined the collective efforts of multiple law enforcement agencies focusing on capturing individuals wanted on Federal and State felony charges including narcotics violations, state parole and probation violations, and other crimes of violence. Over the course of the six-day operation, the combined resources of federal, state, and local law enforcement officers arrested 105 fugitives, and cleared 121 warrants in the Permian Basin.

“This operation, along with the ongoing efforts of the Lone Star Fugitive Task Force in the Western District of Texas, provides a clear indication of our commitment to ensuring the safety of our community” said LaFayette Collins, U.S. Marshal for the Western District of Texas. “The combined efforts of federal, state, and local law enforcement should send a strong message to those who are wanted, that there is no safe haven for them to hide.“

Operation FALCON – Permian Basin, consisted of officers with The U.S. Marshals from Midland, Pecos, and Alpine, Midland Police Department, Odessa Police Department, Midland County Sheriff’s Office, Ector County Sheriff’s Office, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Texas Department of Public Safety, and Midland Independent School District Police.

Since its inception in 2005, Operation FALCON has made over 36,500 arrests and cleared over 45,300 warrants. It continues to be the largest and most successful fugitive apprehension effort in U.S. Marshals history.

For more information about the U.S. Marshals Service, visit http://www.usmarshals.gov.

America’s Oldest Federal Law Enforcement Agency

June 30, 2008 Phill Maxwell, Supervisory Deputy U.S. Marshal
(432) 686-4100, ext.223
Billy Johnson, Supervisory Deputy U.S. Marshal
(432) 445-5495, ext. 44

UT branch returns to court to fight border fence

6/30/2008 2:33 PM
By: Associated Press

BROWNSVILLE -- A Texas school dedicated to nourishing U.S.-Mexico ties heads back to court today over a government plan to divide the campus with a fence.

The University of Texas at Brownsville and Southmost Texas College want a judge to force the Department of Homeland Security to work with them for an alternative to a fence.

A fence would leave 180 acres of their campus—the university golf course—in no man's land.

The judge issued an order in March that instructed both sides to look for alternatives to a security fence.

Homeland Security said it found no viable alternative. On June 6, Homeland Security informed the university that it was proceeding with the fence.

Homeland Security is racing to finish fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border by year's end.

Congress set the goal to try to curb illegal immigration and drug smuggling.

Copyright 2008 Associated Press, All rights reserved.
This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed

Joe Horn cleared by grand jury in Pasadena shootings

June 30, 2008, 5:51PM
Joe Horn cleared by grand jury in Pasadena shootings
Panel issues no-bill after two weeks of testimony

Copyright 2008 Houston Chronicle


Photo gallery
The shooting of two burglary suspects has sparked heated debate about property rights, gun control and other issues.

A Harris County grand jury decided today that Joe Horn should not be charged with a crime for shooting two burglary suspects he confronted outside his neighbor's home in Pasadena last fall.

The decision to clear Horn of wrongdoing came two weeks after the grand jury began considering evidence in the case, including Horn's testimony last week.

Horn, a 62-year-old retiree, became the focus of an intense public debate after the Nov. 14 shootings. Many supporters praised him as a hero for using deadly force to protect property, while others dismissed him as a killer who should have heeded a 911 operator's instructions to stay in his house and wait for police.

Horn called authorities after hearing breaking glass and seeing two men climb through a window into his next-door neighbor's home in the 7400 block of Timberline.

The 911 operator urged Horn to remain inside, but he went outside with his 12-gauge shotgun and came face-to-face with Diego Ortiz, 30, and Hernando Riascos Torres, 38.

According to a transcript of Horn's 911 call, which he made about 2 p.m., the operator repeatedly urged Horn to stay in his house, but Horn said he did not believe it would be right to let the burglars get away.

"Well, here it goes, buddy," Horn can be heard telling the operator. "You hear the shotgun clicking and I'm going."

The operator replies: "Don't go outside."

Then the tape records Horn warning someone: "Move and you're dead!" Two quick shots can be heard, followed by a pause and then a third shot.

Pasadena police Capt. A.H. "Bud" Corbett said a few weeks after the shooting that a plainclothes detective had parked in front of Horn's house in response to the 911 call. He said the detective saw the men between Horn's house and his neighbor's before they crossed into Horn's front yard.

It appeared that neither Horn nor the men knew a police officer was present, Corbett said.

"It was over within seconds. The detective never had time to say anything before the shots were fired," Corbett said. "At first, the officer was assessing the situation. Then he was worried Horn might mistake him for the 'wheel man' (getaway driver). He ducked at one point."

When Horn confronted the suspects in his yard, he raised his shotgun to his shoulder, Corbett said. However the men ignored his order to freeze.

Corbett said one man ran toward Horn, but had angled away from him toward the street when he was shot in the back just before reaching the curb.

"The detective confirmed that this suspect was actually closer to Horn after he initiated his run than at the time when first confronted," said Corbett. "Horn said he felt in jeopardy."

Ortiz and Torres died a short distance from Horn's house, both shot in the back.

As the grand jury began hearing evidence in the case this month, Horn's attorney, Tom Lambright, said recently that Horn regrets his decision to confront the men.

"Was it a mistake from a legal standpoint? No. But a mistake in his life? Yes," Lambright said. "Because it's affected him terribly. And if he had it to do over again, he would stay inside.

"I don't think anybody can really appreciate the magnitude that something like this has on a person's personality."

Lambright said Horn didn't expect to be involved in a shooting, but rather expected to see the two men running or driving away.

"He thought he was gathering evidence for the police department," Lambright said.

The shooting brought hundreds of protesters to the Village Grove East subdivision where Horn lives with his daughter and her family. One protest included supporters of Houston activist Quanell X and motorcyclists countering his remarks. The protest which brought hundreds to the neighborhood led to the Pasadena City Council to approve a city ordinance banning protests in front of a residential home.

Aside from the shooting itself, the national debate revolved around the fact that Ortiz and Torres were illegal immigrants from Colombia. Torres had been sent to prison for dealing cocaine and was deported in 1999.

Texas man cleared in shooting of possible burglars

By JUAN A. LOZANO – 4 hours ago

HOUSTON (AP) — A Texas man who shot and killed two men he suspected of burglarizing his neighbor's home cleared in the shootings Monday by a grand jury.

Joe Horn, 61, shot the two men in November after he saw them crawling out the windows of a neighbor's house in the Houston suburb of Pasadena.

Horn called 911 and told the dispatcher he had a shotgun and was going to kill the men. The dispatcher pleaded with him not to go outside, but Horn confronted the men with a 12-gauge shotgun and shot both in the back.

"The message we're trying to send today is the criminal justice system works," Harris County District Attorney Kenneth Magidson said.

Horn's attorney, Tom Lambright, has said his client believed the two men had broken into his neighbor's home and that he shot them only when they came into his yard and threatened him.

The suspected burglars, Hernando Riascos Torres, 38, and Diego Ortiz, 30, were unemployed illegal immigrants from Colombia. Torres was deported to Colombia in 1999 after a 1994 cocaine-related conviction.

The episode touched off protests from civil rights activists who said the shooting was racially motivated and that Horn took the law into his own hands. Horn's supporters defended his actions, saying he was protecting himself and being a good neighbor to a homeowner who was out of town.

"I understand the concerns of some in the community regarding Mr. Horn's conduct," Magidson said. "The use of deadly force is carefully limited in Texas law to certain circumstances ... In this case, however, the grand jury concluded that Mr. Horn's use of deadly force did not rise to a criminal offense."

Lambright did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment from The Associated Press.

Texas law allows people to use deadly force to protect themselves if it is reasonable to believe they are in mortal danger. In limited circumstances, people also can use deadly force to protect a neighbor's property; for example, if a homeowner asks a neighbor to watch over his property while he's out of town.

It's not clear whether the neighbor whose home was burglarized asked Horn to watch over his house.

Immigration raids often spare employers

June 30, 2008, 2:28AM
Immigration raids often spare employers
'Bosses' make up only 2% of recent arrests, a number blamed on high evidence threshold

Copyright 2008 Houston Chronicle Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents are staging dramatic raids across the country that routinely seize hundreds of undocumented workers at their jobs — and leave their employers free to work another day.

The appearance of separate justice that arose during federal authorities' surprise morning raid at Action Rags USA on Houston's east side fits a nationwide pattern.

Many of the 166 workers taken into custody on suspected immigration charges in Houston last week were paraded toward vans to be transported into detention. But immigration authorities spared company officials both immediate arrest and the embarrassing "perp walk" that exposed those arrested to news photographers.

"Once again the federal government has it backwards," said Rep. Ted Poe, R-Humble, a former state judge and prosecutor. "It is a waste of time if we don't go after the business owners who are knowingly hiring illegals.

"If we eliminate the illegal job opportunities, we can start to eliminate the problem."

Over the past eight months, federal immigration agents have arrested more than 2,900 suspected undocumented workers on administrative immigration charges and 775 more workers on criminal charges such as identity theft or Social Security fraud.

Only 75 ''bosses" — business owners, supervisors or human resources workers — have been arrested on charges such as harboring or knowingly hiring undocumented immigrants.

That accounts for barely 2 percent of the total of 3,750 workplace immigration arrests since last October.

In a statement, the immigration agency said that "the presence of illegal aliens at a business does not necessarily mean the employer is responsible," adding: "Developing sufficient evidence against employers requires complex, white-collar crime investigations that can take years to bear fruit."

Must prove they knew
Undocumented workers often face quick prosecution for so-called ''status crimes" such as being in the country illegally — charges that are easy to prove. Many of those arrested quickly plead guilty and serve sentences averaging as little as a month. But to convict employers, federal prosecutors must show that they knowingly hired undocumented immigrants, a threshold that demands more evidence.

"You have to show that the employer knowingly and willingly hired an illegal," said Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, a former Justice Department official. "A lot of these guys carry multiple Social Security cards" — making it difficult for employers to determine whether they are legally in the U.S.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, whose Cabinet department handles immigration enforcement, defended the two-tiered practice of arresting undocumented workers at worksites while taking time to assemble criminal cases against employers.

"When we find evidence of persistent, widespread hiring of illegals, we're going in to try to build a case against the employer if there's a case to be built," said Chertoff, a former federal appeals court judge.

Federal prosecutors often take years to put together cases against employers.

Immigration authorities raided IFCO, a Houston-based pallet company, more than two years ago. Seven managers and 1,187 undocumented workers were arrested, with many taken into custody at the company's plants in Texas and 25 other states. But it won't be until Oct. 16 that at least two managers, each free on $20,000 bond, will face sentencing after pleading guilty in the case.

Workers rather than managers also led the way into the courtroom after raids netted nearly 1,300 people at the Swift & Co. meat processing plant in Cactus and five other plants in five other states in 2006.

Eight undocumented workers pleaded guilty to felony charges within three months on such counts as illegally re-entering the United States after deportation and using someone else's Social Security number to obtain employment.

'A two-sided coin'
Members of the Houston-area congressional delegation expressed concern about aspects of last week's raid.

Rep. Gene Green, D-Houston, whose congressional district includes the rag-sorting plant, said ICE's deployment of as many as 200 agents and helicopters scared children at a nearby elementary school.

"It sounded like maybe (ICE) had more assets than they really needed to go in and pick up those 160 people there," Green said. "Most of those ladies who worked there, granted they were here illegally, but they weren't holding up liquor stores or hurting people. They just needed a way to support their families."

Rep. John Culberson, R-Houston, called worksite enforcement "a two-sided coin."

"As employers, Action Rags broke the law and without question should be prosecuted for their violations," Culberson said. "ICE is equally obligated to enforce the law and be respectful and humane while carrying out their duties."


Lynn Woolley: Winners and losers in the illegal workers debate

12:00 AM CDT on Monday, June 30, 2008
"The Lynn Woolley Show" is broadcast weeknights at 8 on KVCE 1160 AM in Dallas-Fort Worth. He can be reached through www.BeLogical.com.

There are so many crises affecting the besieged American farmer that it's hard to tell which is worse. The flooding in the Midwest? The possibility that the latest farm bill might get vetoed? New enforcement procedures that threaten to stem the never-ending flow of cheap labor?

Actually, it's that last one. The floods will abate eventually, and the chance of a pork-laden farm bill not passing is slim to none. But, by golly, the administration has started enforcing immigration laws! What is President Bush thinking?

Obviously, he's not considering what enforcement might lead to. J Carnes, president of Winter Garden Produce in Uvalde and head of the Texas Vegetable Association, says enforcement is downright dangerous. But we're doing it anyway, he says, and "damn the consequences."

Perhaps your brethren in the dairy business would fork over some cheese to go with that whine.

The consequences, according to Mr. Carnes, are the loss of domestic farms and the shifting of food production to other countries. You know, like we see in most other industries. If we don't wink and nod and keep a steady supply of illegal fruit and vegetable pickers, Mr. Carnes believes that military and school lunches will be stocked with fruit and milk from – where? Mexico? Isn't it kind of like that now?

So allow me to ask the question. If all our immigration laws suddenly were strictly enforced and the pool of cheap illegal labor vanished on the spot, would our food costs go up? Maybe so, but if we imported a lot more food from poor nations, it would likely still be cheap. That's market forces – something Mr. Carnes doesn't understand.

Those American growers who tough it out would have to pay higher wages to attract American workers or legal immigrants from a smaller supply. That would make food prices rise. That's market forces, too.

Illegal immigration is an under-the-table government subsidy that suppresses wages and redistributes wealth. That's not a free-market approach any more than the farm bill is. Most Americans would gladly pay higher prices for veggies than deal with the consequences Mr. Carnes never mentions.

Most would – but not all. Illegal immigration creates winners and losers, depending on what part of society is affected. Schools are winners because they get to educate all the kids from other countries and rake in the government subsidies that come with them. Society loses because the schools become multicultural centers of social change, graduating kids who can't read in any language.

But damn the consequences.

Hospitals are losers. They can't turn anyone away, so their emergency rooms become the "family doctor" to hordes of illegals. And so some ERs shut down. Some are subsidized by taxpayers. Taxpayers are losers.

But damn the consequences.

Winners include those who own and operate poultry and meat packing plants, hotels, construction companies, roofing companies and lawn-care companies – assuming they hire illegals on the sly. Losers include those who would take the jobs, if only they paid a fair wage.

Winners include liberals and the Democratic Party. The Party of Change is looking forward to millions more people from impoverished countries whom they can get on a path to citizenship and a parallel path to vote Democratic. Taxing, spending and more government programs – all winners. Losers include the Republican Party, conservatism and taxpayers.

Since most of our immigrants – legal and illegal – are from a single region, they see no need to assimilate. So the American melting pot is a loser. America is balkanizing into communities based on race and ethnicity.

But damn the consequences.

So what if we enforce our laws, and a head of lettuce goes from a buck to $5? It'd be worth it to put English back in the classroom, keep our emergency rooms open and restore some unity to the good old USA.

You choose your consequences, Mr. Carnes. I'll choose mine.

"The Lynn Woolley Show" is broadcast weeknights at 8 on KVCE 1160 AM in Dallas-Fort Worth. He can be reached through www.BeLogical.com.

READ J Carnes' op-ed, "Texas farms are suffering from a labor crisis." dallasnews.

223 arrested in sweep

By Daniel Borunda / El Paso Times
Article Launched: 06/30/2008 12:00:00 AM MDT

A U.S. Marshals deputy and another law enforcement officer take positions to secure an El Paso home during a warrant roundup last week named Operation Falcon 08. (Courtesy of U.S. Marshals Service )More than 200 fugitives, including a reputed member of a street gang linked to soldiers at Fort Bliss, were arrested last week in El Paso by a small army of law enforcement officers as part of one of the largest warrant sweeps in the city in years.

The massive number of arrests were part of Operation Falcon 08, a multi-agency effort lead by the U.S. Marshals Service intended to catch people wanted on warrants for violent crimes, sex offenses and other crimes.

"We measure success one fugitive at a time," LaFayette Collins, U.S. Marshal for the Western District of Texas, said in a statement. "Any time we remove a sexual predator, gang member, or other violent felon, that street, a neighborhood and a community became a little safer."

Operation Falcon, which stands for Federal And Local Cops Organized Nationally, is an effort that has taken place in different cities throughout the United States in recent years but had not in El Paso since 2006. The effort included the work of El Paso police, sheriff's deputies and several state and federal agencies.

The operation netted 223 arrests with 321 warrants cleared, including 69 people wanted for violent crimes, 14 for sex offenses and 70 in drug cases, officials said.

U.S. Marshals Service officials said arrests began throughout El Paso in the pre-dawn hours a week ago today and continued daily through Saturday. The arrests were conducted by 80 officers from various federal, state and local agencies organized into 10 teams.

"We participate in many initiatives and this is one of them," El Paso County Sheriff Jimmy Apodaca said. "We do this to make sure El Paso is a better and safer place to live by going after people wanted on warrants."

Among those arrested was Elbert Mullin, an alleged member of the Georgia Boys, connected to the Gangster Disciples, U.S. Marshals Service supervisory deputy Gerry Payan said.

The Gangster Disciples, which was created in south Chicago in the 1960s, is one of the largest street gangs in the nation.

The Georgia Boys have been linked to soldiers at Fort Bliss, according to a U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command report in 2006 about gang activity in the military.

In 2006, four soldiers believed to be associated with the Georgia Boys assaulted and robbed two soldiers in a parking lot on post, stated the report labeled as law enforcement sensitive. Two of the soldiers in the robbery were court-martialed and found guilty. The other two were found guilty of violating Army regulations.

The report assessed the gang threat at Fort Bliss as "low."

Mullin, 28, was allegedly in possession of a handgun when he was captured Friday on two prior counts of unlawful possession of a firearm and other charges, Payan said. It was unknown if Mullin has ties to the military.

The round up included a total of 12 suspected members of various gangs.

Assistant Chief Deputy Michael Troyanski of the Marshals Service in El Paso said such warrant operations are vital since fugitives pose one of the greatest risks to the law enforcement because they are more likely to assault an officer in an attempt to evade capture.

Daniel Borunda may be reached at dborunda@elpasotimes.com;546-6102.

Operation Falcon
Operation Falcon 08 in El Paso consisted of officers from:

U.S. Marshals Service, Border Patrol, Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General, the FBI, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and Explosives, U.S. Probation, Texas Department of Public Safety, Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, Texas Office of the Inspector General, El Paso County Sheriff's Office, El Paso Police Department and El Paso County Constable Precinct 5.

Recalls, rise in imported foods highlight strain on inspection system

12:00 AM CDT on Sunday, June 29, 2008

LAREDO – Day after day, Mexican trucks line up as far as the eye can see for entry to the U.S. at the World Trade Bridge, carrying everything from raw tomatoes, broccoli and fresh basil to frozen seafood. They also bring in salmonella, listeria, restricted pesticides and other food poisons.

Customs and Border Protection officers take less than a minute per truck to determine which products enter the U.S. and find their way into grocery stores and restaurants across North Texas.

Most trucks are waved through. The avalanche of imported goods – especially food from Mexico – is too much for the limited number of inspectors at the nation's 300 ports of entry to effectively screen, critics say. And the sheer volume makes it impossible for them to carry out their mission: protecting the U.S. food supply and American consumers.

Concerns about the nation's food inspection system are gaining urgency – especially as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration looks at Mexico as a likely source of salmonella-tainted tomatoes that have sickened more than 800 people in the last two months. The FDA last week sent inspectors to three Mexican states – Jalisco, Sinaloa and Coahuila – and Florida to check farms and packing plants.

The great majority of the food that crosses the southern U.S. border is safe, U.S. officials say. But a surge in imports in recent years means that the system of border inspections is badly strained and in urgent need of repair, the officials acknowledge.

Inspectors at the border are tasked with enforcing hundreds of regulations from more than 40 government agencies. And just a tiny percentage of agricultural products, seafood and manufactured goods is actually inspected, say the critics.

"We have this huge growth in imports, this huge growth in trade; at the same time we have severely cut back on our regulatory agencies and their ability to do their job, especially the food portion of the Food and Drug Administration," said Jean Halloran, director of food policy initiatives for Consumers Union, which publishes Consumer Reports magazine.

"If they are only checking 1 percent of the stuff and finding lots of problems, then ... there are a lot of problems that are never caught," she said.

What is getting stopped, critics say, is representative of what is getting through.

Overall, about 15 percent of the U.S. food supply and 60 percent of fresh fruits and vegetables consumed are imported, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service.

Mexico is the second-largest foreign source of agricultural products and seafood for the U.S. – moving to No. 1 during the winter months and filling about 60 percent of the supermarket produce aisle. And it's the worst offender when it comes to food shipments turned away at the border by U.S. inspectors, a review of food rejections shows.

Overwhelmed system

Here in Laredo, trucks sent to a dock for inspection are greeted by a hired crew that unloads samples of broccoli, tomatoes, and dried corn husks used for wrapping tamales. Customs and FDA inspectors move quickly, checking for poisons or pests that could damage U.S. agriculture.

On another dock, manufactured goods are hauled out of rigs by forklift and inspected for safety issues, such as lead in toys. Even tigers on their way to a U.S. circus tour are checked for potential health risks.

"Whatever is put in front of you, you are going to make sure it meets all of the regulations in order to be introduced into the country," said Mucia Dovalina, a veteran inspector and public affairs liaison for Customs and Border Protection.

The problem, officials and analysts say, is the result of sometimes substandard agricultural practices south of the border, and a U.S. food inspection system that has become so overwhelmed that President Bush endorsed a 50-step plan that would put more emphasis on inspections in the countries of origin.

The in-country system would put U.S. inspectors in foreign countries or use third parties to check products before they are shipped to the U.S. It also would give the FDA mandatory recall powers over food products. Currently, the agency negotiates "voluntary" recalls.

"For many years, we have relied on a strategy based on identifying unsafe products at the border," Mr. Bush said late last year. "The problem is that the growing volume of products coming into our country makes this approach increasingly unreliable."

Both consumer groups and an internal FDA study group said the proposed Bush plan to fix the current system "within available resources" is far too modest.

"We can state unequivocally that the system cannot be fixed 'within available resources,' " the agency's subcommittee on science and technology said in a report late last year. The subcommittee called the inspection rate "appallingly low."

More eyes on imports

In fairness to Mexico, U.S. food producers were the subject of far more expansive recalls last year than foreign producers, including recalls of California spinach that tested positive for E. coli and was blamed for three deaths, and of 22 million pounds of frozen beef hamburger patties, also because of a dangerous strain of that common bacteria.

"I must emphasize that by and large, the food traded is very safe," said Suzanne Heinen, the USDA's counselor for agricultural affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City. "We have very few problems, especially when you consider the volume of trade that crosses the border every day."

Still, food imports remain on Washington's radar – particularly in light of the latest salmonella outbreak.

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt announced plans recently to open a food safety monitoring office in Latin America, similar to three being planned for China. He did not say which country might house the office, but he did say that a March salmonella warning against Honduran cantaloupes, along with the tomato scare, showed the need to be on the ground in exporting regions.

"What it demonstrates is that when these incidents occur, we need a quick response," he said in late June as U.S. and Mexican inspectors combed farms and packing houses in Mexican tomato-growing states for signs of the source of the salmonella.

Another recent recall targeting Mexican agriculture is an example of what consumer groups say is wrong with the system.

In December, officials took a sample for testing from a 5,500-pound load of Mexican basil moving through the Otay Mesa border crossing in San Diego. The basil continued on to its destination and was sold to restaurants and other customers in California, Texas and Illinois the next day.

When the test results came back two weeks later, they suggested salmonella contamination, sparking a late recall.

Mexico has been the subject of other recent recalls as well:

• In February 2007, the FDA recalled 672 cartons of Mexican cantaloupes after a sample analysis found salmonella, which can cause fever, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and arterial infections.

• In September, the FDA recalled a hard, dry cheese from Mexico that it suspected was contaminated with salmonella.

• And in early December, the Texas Department of State Health Services announced the voluntary recall of several Mexican candies after tests showed high lead levels. Lead can harm mental and physical development in children and unborn babies. California had banned the candies in August.

Many of Mexico's problematic goods are especially dangerous for children and the elderly, who can't fight off illness as well as healthy adults.

Nonpasteurized cheese – which can carry listeria and even tuberculosis, Mexican officials say – is often brought into the U.S. by border-crossers who are allowed to bring in up to 22 pounds "for personal consumption."

Often, the cheese makes its way into flea markets and restaurants, mostly in the Latino community.

The toll in Texas from nonpasteurized cheese over the last five years: four miscarriages or stillbirths, one newborn death, and four deaths of adults who weren't pregnant.

All but two were Latino.

A top Mexican health official acknowledged that some Mexican food producers cut corners to boost their profits or have simply not adopted modern safety measures, although they've made great strides in recent years.

For example, chile peppers are often spread out to dry on the ground, where they can pick up lead or pesticides only approved for other crops.

"In Mexico, we have a lot of work to do," said María Esther Díaz Carrillo, a chemist and food technician at Mexico's Federal Commission to Prevent Sanitary Risks, part of the Health Ministry. "We also have producers who are very conscientious ... of the risks associated with their products and truly dedicated to public health. In some cases, it's ignorance."

Increasing vigilance

Still, Mexico is not China when it comes to the breadth of the U.S. recalls last year – including those of pet food that killed hundreds of animals, toothpaste tainted with diethylene glycol, a poisonous chemical used in antifreeze, and millions of Mattel toys with dangerous levels of lead in their paint.

"I don't think we've reached those extremes," said Ms. Díaz. "Our vigilance and ability to respond has been increasing."

For example, Mexican and U.S. health authorities jointly inspect slaughterhouses in Mexico certified to export meat to the U.S.

Two of eight slaughterhouses were suspended from exporting to the U.S. after an inspection in late 2006, according to an inspection report. In one case, the facility was not properly testing for E. coli.

Both are back in operation.

The panel that came up with Mr. Bush's import safety plan also detected a series of problems with the current inspection system. Those include government computer databases involved in import safety that can't communicate with each other, as well as a practice called "port shopping," in which a shipment rejected at one port of entry can get through another.

Mr. Leavitt, the health and human services secretary, said there is no estimate on what it would cost to upgrade computer systems, put more U.S. inspectors abroad and carry out the report's other recommendations.

But in recent testimony before a Senate committee, Mr. Leavitt said there is a sense of urgency in improving import safety as foreign foods and foreign goods become a staple of American life.

"U.S. imports are large and growing rapidly. American consumers like the variety and abundance of consumer goods and the competitive prices that result from global trade," he said. "The American people, however, have reasonable expectations that the products they buy for their families will be safe. We can and must do more to honor that trust."



COMING MONDAY: A look at one producer who works to ensure the safety of the products headed to places such as his hometown of Dallas.

June 29, 2008

Local construction, roofing businesses eyeing feds' immigration team cautiously

Saturday, June 28, 2008

By Mike Copeland

Tribune-Herald business editor

A fugitive enforcement team that will track down undocumented workers who miss court dates will call Waco home beginning in mid-August — and local employers are wondering if this seven-member squad will come knocking on their doors.

“I think anybody who uses immigrant labor from any country is going to be a little nervous with an enforcement office nearby,” said K. Paul Holt, president of the Waco office of Associated General Contractors.

Word of the fugitive squad is getting around, he said. And though contractors generally do a good job of complying with immigration rules, he said, there’s often uneasiness when someone involved in enforcement comes on the premises.

The Immigration and Customs Enforcement Office, or ICE, reportedly will station a new enforcement team in downtown Waco.

ICE was created in March 2003 to serve as the largest investigative branch of the Department of Homeland Security. It combines the law enforcement arms of the former Immigration and Naturalization Service and the former U.S. Customs Service.

Nina Pruneda, a spokeswoman for ICE in San Antonio, confirmed the agency is creating a Waco-based team that will pursue fugitives in several Central Texas counties. They’ll target undocumented workers who served time for crimes but didn’t show up for scheduled court appearances to be sent back to their home countries, Pruneda said.

“There happens to be a significant number of these fugitives in Waco and the surrounding areas,” she said.

This team will not target individuals simply in this country illegally, Pruneda said, but it may show up at businesses in pursuit of fugitives.

Holt said local members of the AGC should have no problems with the enforcement team if they’re obeying the law.

“Anybody who doesn’t try to ensure that employees have proper documentation is asking for trouble,” Holt said.

He added that local builders may want to recruit this squad to provide education on documentation it should require of job applicants.

Longtime local builder Jim Bland said people in this country illegally “are working around us every day.”

“We need to start picking them up and levying fines on those hiring them,” Bland said, adding: “Most are good people just trying to make a living. They just need to be here the correct way.”

Bill Johnson, owner of Johnson Roofing, employs about 200 people in his roofing business. Like most roofing companies, he said, a high percentage of his employees are Hispanic. He said he doesn’t know exactly what this new enforcement team will be doing but added he already takes steps to ensure his workers are here legally.

Johnson said he’s taking part in a program that will let him employ 20 workers from Mexico for 10 months beginning in September. He said it has become a challenge to find people who want to do roofing work.

Electronic verification

Several employers contacted by the Tribune-Herald said they use the E-Verify service to check on the status of job applicants. It is an Internet-based system operated by the Department of Homeland Security and the Social Security Administration.

Ray Atkinson, a spokesman for chicken processor Pilgrim’s Pride, said the company relies on the ICE Best Hiring Practices program to comply with laws on hiring foreign workers.

“These practices include participating in E-Verify, prompt attention to Social Security No-Match letters, and retention of outside experts in immigration compliance,” Atkinson said.

Sanderson Farms, a Mississippi-based company with a new chicken-processing plant in Waco, has been using E-Verify but is testing a new program called Choice Point at plants in Georgia and Mississippi and soon will have it in Waco, chief financial officer Mike Cockrell said.

Once an applicant provides his or her name and Social Security number, the Choice Point system poses questions the applicant should be able to answer, Cockrell said.

Ray Heck, who manages the Clayton Homes plant at 6800 Imperial Drive, said, “We always anticipate some sort of inspection from whatever agency might be involved along those (immigration) lines.”

For that reason, he said, “we do a pretty thorough background check on all our applicants, and we welcome anybody to come on by.”

The status of undocumented workers is an issue that generates mixed responses, but there’s no denying their economic impact.

Waco-based economist Ray Perryman prepared a report that says if the 8.1 million undocumented immigrants who cut lawns, roof houses and do other jobs disappeared overnight, the nation’s economy would lose nearly $1.8 trillion in annual spending.

Texas, the second-hardest-hit state after California, would lose 1.2 million undocumented workers and $220 billion in expenditures.



Houston Police Officer Killed in Early Morning Accident

Suspected Driver Under the Influence Taken into Custody
Last Edited: Sunday, 29 Jun 2008, 7:46 PM CDT
Created: Sunday, 29 Jun 2008, 8:30 AM CDT

Houston police officer Gary Gryder was killed June 29 when a vehicle accident was driven into him. FOX 26 News

HOUSTON -- A Houston police officer is killed after he is struck by a driver who police say was acting in a bizarre manner at the accident site.

Police report the suspect was laughing when they questioned him.

Based on the driver's odd behavior, police claim he may have been under the influence of some substance.

Three officers were working at a construction site to block traffic at the intersection of Interstate 10, Katy Freeway, and State Highway 6, when the suspect barreled his vehicle into two police officers.

The driver was traveling eastbound on the Katy Freeway frontage road at approximately 5 a.m. and failed to stop at several construction barrels before striking two of the three officers.

Officer Gary Gryder, a 25-year veteran with the Houston Police Department who worked on the southeast Patrol, was pronounced dead Sunday morning.

Fellow officer Joe Pyland, who works with the HPD traffic and mobility unit, is in critical but stable condition at Memorial Hermann Hospital.

A third officer, identified as Officer Milton Sallee of the HPD traffic and mobility unit, was able to jump out of the way when the driver plowed into the construction area.

The driver responsible for the accident has not been identified yet, but was taken into police custody and could face charges of intoxication manslaughter.

Immigration fugitive team to work from Waco

© 2008 The Associated Press

WACO, Texas — Immigration authorities plan to station a team of agents in Waco to pursue fugitives in Central Texas, officials said.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is creating the team to track down people wanted by immigration authorities and immigrants with criminal records, said Nina Pruneda, an ICE spokeswoman in San Antonio.

"There happens to be a significant number of these fugitives in Waco and the surrounding areas," Pruneda said.

ICE had 75 fugitive apprehension teams deployed around the country by the end of fiscal year 2007 and proposed adding six more in fiscal year 2008.

Agents on the fugitive operations teams focus on finding people who haven't appeared for immigration hearings, or who stayed in the country after being ordered to leave by an immigration judge. Teams also prioritize cases, looking for those who have criminal records or are considered a threat to national security, ICE officials said.


Information from: Waco Tribune-Herald, http://www.wacotrib.com

Documents, interviews show how sex ring was busted

June 29, 2008, 4:27PM

© 2008 The Associated Press

HOUSTON — A Houston bar owner controlled girls and women from Central America forced to take part in one of the nation's largest sex trafficking rings by threatening to kill their families, according to a newspaper report.

Recently obtained documents and interviews by the Houston Chronicle offer the first detailed account of how authorities in 2005 brought down the Houston-based sex trafficking ring.

The ring preyed on women and girls from Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Guatemala, illegally bringing them to Houston with false promises of legitimate work and then forcing them to work as prostitutes in cantinas to pay off smuggling fees and living expenses, according to court records and interviews with investigators.

The ring, run by Maximino "El Chimino" Mondragon, an immigrant from El Salvador, was based in at least three seemingly normal looking bars and restaurants in northwest Houston.

He worked closely with lead smuggler Walter Corea, a convicted felon and illegal immigrant who conspired to bring women to Houston from Central America

Mondragon had run businesses in Houston for at least a decade, according to records and interviews with police and a labor activist who helped rescue cantina workers.

To control the women, Mondragon kept "intelligence" on each one — the names of their mothers, brothers and children and locations of their homes and schools. Records show victims said he threatened to kill relatives or burn down family homes if they did not cooperate.

"They were scared to death of him. ... They thought he was the devil," said Sgt. Michael Barnett of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission's enforcement division in Houston.

Beatings, forced abortions and prostitution took place behind closed doors or in adjacent buildings, houses and apartments around the bars, court records show. Aborted fetuses were buried or thrown down a drainage hole into the city sewer system, women told police.

Several of the ring's cantinas had long been under suspicion by agents from the FBI and the TABC.

Separately, Immigration and Customs Enforcement was also investigating the smuggling ring run by Corea.

"Once we determined we were investigating the same targets, we proceeded working a joint investigation," said Tom Annello, an ICE unit chief and smuggling expert whose work was key to the case.

It took about a year to collect the evidence needed for mass arrests.

The operation was set for early 2006.

But then on Nov. 12, 2005, the lead ICE agent learned that Mondragon and his brother Oscar had obtained one-way tickets to San Salvador, a police report shows.

Authorities quickly obtained arrest and search warrants and that weekend raided three cantinas, two restaurants and two homes.

Task force members — including ICE, TABC, the FBI and the Harris County Sheriff's Office — had expected to find 50 or 60 women. Eventually, they rescued about 120 victims.

Corea was sentenced in May to 15 years. He pleaded guilty to two conspiracy counts: servitude/trafficking and alien smuggling.

Mondragon is set to be sentenced on Sept. 22. He has pleaded guilty to two conspiracy counts: servitude/trafficking and alien smuggling. Seven others have pleaded guilty in the case, including two of Mondragon's brothers.

Most of the women rescued in the Mondragon case apparently still live in Houston, though only a few dozen appear to have obtained special visas that were created for victims under new federal anti-trafficking laws.

Three interviewed by the Chronicle said they feel safer but still struggle to recover.

Gangs traffic some 500,000 foreigners a year across Mexico

Posted : Wed, 25 Jun 2008 17:39:01 GMT
Author : DPA

Mexico City - An estimated 500,000 illegal immigrants from South America, the Caribbean and Central America pay Mexican gangs to help them transit Mexico and cross into the United States every year, Mexico's National Human Rights Commission said Wednesday. This illegal trade brings "extraordinary earnings" since each person pays 4,000 to 15,000 dollars. In total, this would mean some 2 to 7.5 billion dollars a year, the commission said.

The commission, which also said Mexican officials deport an estimated 200,000 illegal immigrants every year, released the report just two weeks after a high profile illegal transit case made headlines.

An armed commando stopped Mexican authorities transporting 37 illegal migrants to an immigration center, and disappeared with many of them. Eighteen of the group later resurfaced in the US.

"The earnings in the illegal trade in people can only be compared to those of arms trafficking, human trafficking for the purposes of exploitation and drug trafficking," the commission said.

The institution asked the Mexican Congress to implement legal reforms so that the state can prosecute offenders of its own accord and so that offenders can be punished more harshly.

The commission said it is essential that witnesses be protected and that migrants who are victims of human traffickers get the same legal protection that those who have been victims of trafficking for subsequent exploitation.

Every year, an estimated 1.7 million illegal immigrants enter the United States, most of them across the Mexico border. In 2005, US officials arrested and deported 1.2 million illegal immigrants, 85 per cent of them from Mexico. An estimated half a million manage to elude detection every year.

Feds probe S.F.'s migrant-offender shield

Jaxon Van Derbeken, Chronicle Staff Writer

Sunday, June 29, 2008

San Francisco juvenile probation officials - citing the city's immigrant sanctuary status - are protecting Honduran youths caught dealing crack cocaine from possible federal deportation and have given some offenders a city-paid flight home with carte blanche to return.

The city's practices recently prompted a federal criminal investigation into whether San Francisco has been systematically circumventing U.S. immigration law, according to officials with knowledge of the matter.

City officials say they are trying to balance their obligations under federal and state law with local court orders and San Francisco's policies aimed at protecting the rights of the young immigrants, who they say are often victims of exploitation.

Federal authorities counter that drug kingpins are indeed exploiting the immigrants, but that the city's stance allows them to get away with "gaming the system."

San Francisco juvenile authorities have been grappling for several years with an influx of young Honduran immigrants dealing crack in the Mission District and Tenderloin.

Those who are arrested routinely say they are minors, but police suspect that many are actually adults, living communally in Oakland and other cities at the behest of drug traffickers who claim to be their relatives.

Nonetheless, city authorities have typically accepted the suspects' stories and handled the cases in Juvenile Court, where proceedings are often shielded from public scrutiny.

Unorthodox strategy
Barred by state law from sending drug offenders to the California Youth Authority and bound by a 1989 city law defining San Francisco as a sanctuary city for immigrants - meaning officials do not cooperate with federal immigration investigations - juvenile officials settled on an unorthodox strategy.

Rather than have the drug offenders deported, they have recommended that Juvenile Court judges and commissioners approve city-paid flights home to Honduras for the offenders with the aim of reuniting them with their families.

The practice, federal authorities say, does nothing to prevent offenders from coming back, while federal deportation legally bars them from ever returning. Federal officials also say U.S. law prohibits helping an illegal immigrant to cross the border, even if it is to return home.

Federal officials recently detained a San Francisco juvenile probation officer at the Houston airport, where he was accompanying two Honduran juvenile drug offenders about to board a flight to Tegucigalpa.

They questioned him for several hours before letting him go, and seized the youths and deported them.

"Our job is to uphold the nation's immigration laws," said Greg Palmore, spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). "Although San Francisco is a sanctuary city, it's a problem whenever someone attempts to evade the law. ... Our law does not allow us to turn a blind eye to any individual who has come into this country illegally."

Feds 'flabbergasted'
Joseph Russoniello, the U.S. attorney in charge of the San Francisco area, said he was "flabbergasted that the taxpayers' money was being spent for the purpose of ferrying detainees home. You have to have a perfect storm of dumb moves to have it happen."

William Siffermann, chief of San Francisco's Juvenile Probation Department, said federal agents have never specifically told his office not to send immigrants back to their home countries, but that he has stopped the practice until differences between the city and immigration authorities are resolved.

He said the city's stance is that it does not have to report illegal immigrant minors to the federal government, even if they are found in Juvenile Court to have committed a crime.

"We are not obligated to," he said. "We are abiding by the sanctuary city ordinance."

Siffermann added, "I don't believe we've done anything wrong." But he stressed that his office wants to make sure it is fulfilling its duties "in all arenas, with federal statutes, state statutes and the sanctuary city law."

Juveniles with beards
San Francisco police doubt that many of the young Hondurans they arrest on drug charges are even juveniles.

Police can report suspected adult illegal immigrants to federal authorities if they commit a crime, said Capt. Tim Hettrich, until recently the head of the narcotics unit.

So immigrant drug dealers "pass themselves off as juveniles, with a three-day growth of beard and everything else. It's frustrating," he said.

"Some of them have been arrested four or five times," Hettrich said. "That is one of the big problems with being a city of sanctuary."

He scoffed at San Francisco's strategy of returning the offenders to their home country. "They probably get the round trip and the next day, they will be right back here," Hettrich said.

Patricia Lee, head of the San Francisco public defender's juvenile branch, would not comment on pending cases. But, she said, "a lot of the young people have suffered a lot of abuse, abandonment and neglect in their native country and have been used as (drug-running) mules. There is lot of victimization and trafficking of these young people."

'Gaming the system'
Russoniello said the drug dealers are being sent here as part of an effort that takes advantage of San Francisco's leniency.

"What we're facing is a number of people gaming the system," he said. "Sooner or later the city will realize the advantage to cooperating (with federal authorities), whether it's the threat of criminal prosecution ... or some other method."

Russoniello would not confirm or deny the existence of a federal investigation, but juvenile probation officers connected to the case have been interviewed by federal agents about the flights.

City officials will not say how many juvenile drug offenders have been flown out of the country in recent years or how much the city has spent on the effort.

Federal immigration authorities stumbled on to the effort when they caught several illegal immigrants in December at the airport in Houston, along with a San Francisco juvenile probation officer.

The officer was on hand to make sure the immigrants boarded a plane to Tegucigalpa.

Federal authorities say they met with Siffermann and told him that any juvenile offender had to be handed over to immigration officials after completing his sentence.

The Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agency sent a letter to Siffermann on Dec. 17 stressing that it would soon "like to begin receiving referrals" about immigrant juveniles in custody in the city.

"The red flag was flown," Russoniello said.

City saw it differently
Siffermann, however, said federal authorities were not exactly clear about what the city could and could not do related to the flights or the status of immigrants held in juvenile cases.

"They did a little friendly stop-by," Siffermann said. "They said, 'This is something we would like you to cooperate on.' ... They said, 'Hey, look, this could be contrary to federal law, you might be in violation.' "

Meanwhile, the flights continued.

On May 15, two more illegal immigrants from Honduras were arrested in Houston, again accompanied by a San Francisco juvenile probation officer. Federal immigration authorities held the officer for more than three hours before releasing him.

Six days later, there was another meeting, Siffermann said. This time it was with a representative of Russoniello's office.

After that, Siffermann put the flights on hold.
"We will look for other (approaches) for them," he said.

Siffermann stressed that the city ships out juvenile offenders to their home countries only after all other rehabilitative efforts have failed, including probation, foster care and juvenile detention.

The strategy is appropriate, Siffermann said, because deporting young offenders would doom them from ever becoming productive residents of the United States.

"It might prevent them from obtaining citizenship," he said, denying them a chance to "take a different course."

In a statement released by the city attorney's office, which is advising the city on the issue, spokesman Matt Dorsey said, "We've been in ongoing contact with the U.S. attorney's office on this, and we've informed them of our intention to address these issues in court proceedings.

"We're looking at the legal issues carefully and methodically," Dorsey's statement said, "and we're in the process of advising our client, the Juvenile Probation Department."

He said his office was not aware of the practice of flying juveniles back to Honduras.

Stranded juveniles
A recent count showed 22 of the 125 minors in custody at juvenile hall were immigrants and had no legal guardians in the United States, Siffermann said. He said his office is trying to figure out what to do with them now that flights are no longer an option.

Russoniello said the city has no choice but to comply with U.S. law and turn the youths over to federal authorities. "The alternative, now that they are all on notice, is a period of prolonged darkness," he said.

Judge Donna Hitchens, who oversees the city's Juvenile Court, said the original idea for flying youths home came from juvenile probation officials, and that it is up to them, not judges, to work out their differences with the federal government.

"We are only the judicial branch," she said. "The issue is between the city and ICE."

E-mail Jaxon Van Derbeken at jvanderbeken@sfchronicle.com.

Robberies expected to double in San Juan

June 28, 2008 - 7:46PM
Sean Gaffney

SAN JUAN -- Youngsters suspected of pillaging local businesses for beer, money and cigarettes have this city on pace to log more than double the number of last year's robberies.

But while police this year expect to respond to nearly 10,000 more calls overall than they did in 2007, crimes other than robbery are expected to rise only slightly, according to preliminary statistics from the San Juan Police Department.

Although troubling for city officials, some said the increased demand for service was indicative of a wider theme: the pains of growth.

"We're changing. We're becoming a big, popular area," said Tony Garza, San Juan's police chief and acting city manager. "We're going to see a lot more of these crimes."

Since 2000, the city's population has grown from about 26,000 to about 35,000, and dozens of new businesses have opened, according to the 2000 U.S. census and data from the San Juan Economic Development Corp.

Assaults and vehicle burglaries will probably rise the most, with the exception of robbery, according to the statistics.

"We can't think like a small department anymore," said Rolando Garcia, a San Juan police investigator and department spokesman.

In 2007 the department made a concerted effort to curb burglaries, which were plaguing the city, Garza said. While the operations were successful, the latest statistics suggest the number of burglaries of homes and other buildings will probably be about the same this year.

Officials said the relatively stable level of crime is a testament to the work of an overburdened police department that has managed to keep it in check even though their ranks have not kept pace with the growth.

Across the Rio Grande Valley, police departments average about 1.7 sworn officers per 1,000 residents, Garza said. In San Juan, the ratio is 1.08 per thousand.

Garza wants to hire at least an additional 36 officers.

"We do what we can with our budget," he said. "I like to think that (our officers are) very dynamic. I can plug them in anywhere, because they have all the training."

The challenge of growing the ranks is compounded by the loss of officers to federal and state agencies, such as the U.S. Border Patrol, which recruit aggressively and offer better wages and benefits.

The Border Patrol and the Texas Department of Public Safety offer starting salaries as high as $45,000 per year. San Juan offers a starting salary close to $32,000 a year.

"We train these guys, and you hire them, and then when they're getting ready to get out on their own, they leave somewhere else," Garza said "We're looking to improve on that. We want to improve on the benefits to be able to give them a better incentive pay package."

But staffing is only part of the problem of keeping up with the city's growth.

If Garza is to grow the ranks, the department will need a new building to accommodate the additional officers.

At the current San Juan police station at 2301 N. Raul Longoria Road, investigators share tiny, cramped offices, and filing cabinets divide already small quarters. Within a year of its construction in 1995, officials said, the department had already outgrown the building.

But as the department responds to more calls, officials put their hope in a new city government led by 29-year-old Mayor Pedro Contreras.

Contreras is optimistic his administration will be able to hire additional officers and come up with funding for a new station. After years of financial problems, San Juan has been steadily improving its fiscal situation.

"I don't think we really have a choice," Contreras said about increasing police finances. "With more growth comes more responsibility, and public safety is one of our top priorities and will always be a top priority."

Officials fear new meth epidemic after record-setting bust

June 28, 2008 - 11:44PM
By Sean Gaffney, The Monitor

McALLEN - The record-setting seizure of more than 200 pounds of methamphetamine at a McAllen residence in early June stunned local law enforcement and stoked fears that usage could rise in the Rio Grande Valley.

Local drug rehab clinics seldom see meth-addicted patients, and Valley law enforcement agencies rarely encounter the drug. So when news surfaced about the here unheard of seizure of 211 pounds of the potent stimulant - trumping even the related discovery of 18 pounds of black-tar heroin - local officials were shocked.

"We have ... learned through our intelligence channels that this could be something we would be looking at," McAllen police Chief Victor Rodriguez said. "(This) is clearly an affirmation of the fact that methamphetamine may be a new drug of trade here, and the volume that we seized is an indicator that someone close to here has a rather large lab."

Clandestine labs

While meth use grew rapidly across the country in the 1990s, including in parts of Central and North Texas, the Valley was largely untouched by the epidemic.

The small, clandestine laboratories in trailers and secluded homes that spurred rampant production in other areas of the country were found in this region only rarely, if at all. In Austin, by contrast, police sometimes discovered more than three labs a week, said Hidalgo County Sheriff Lupe Treviño, a more than 20-year veteran of the Austin Police Department.

The drug's nationwide prevalence waned, however, especially after 2006 when federal officials enacted tougher sentencing laws for trafficking and introduced laws to restrict the purchase of over-the-counter cold medicines used to manufacture the drug.

A powerful synthetic stimulant that can be smoked, snorted, injected or ingested orally, meth is derived from decongestants such as Sudafed which contain the substance pseudoephedrine.

In 2005, Texas introduced its own measures restricting the purchase of products containing the drug's precursors. That prompted a nearly 73 percent decrease in lab seizures in Texas, according to statistics provided by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

It also drove production south, where Mexican drug cartels began producing enormous quantities to meet the ever-present demand, officials said. The Valley, a major corridor for drug trafficking, naturally became a highway for meth distribution.

"Through various chemical control programs we have been successful in reducing the amount of meth produced in the U.S.," said Will Glasby, a local official with the DEA. "That's leaving the Mexican drug cartel as the primary source for the majority of the meth in the U.S."

Largest cash seizure

In Mexico, drugs used to manufacture meth remain readily available despite government efforts to curb the importation of the precursors from suppliers in several Asian countries, including China, according to a recent report by the U.S. Department of Justice's National Drug Intelligence Center.

Along the Pacific coast, Mexican drug cartels fight to control ports and access to the transshipment routes, said Steve Robertson, special agent for the DEA in Washington, D.C.

Compared to the relatively small meth-producing operations in the United States, Mexican cartels produce the drug in so-called super labs that supply more than 80 percent of the meth in this country, he said.

"Mexican drug traffickers, being the entrepreneurs that they are, started producing super labs," Robertson said. "The meth-trade supply source in the U.S. changed dramatically."

In 2006, Mexican agents intercepted a ship from China carrying more than 19 tons of a precursor drug that was allegedly being imported by a Chinese-American businessman. He currently faces charges in the United States that he was part of an international conspiracy to supply huge quantities of precursors to drug cartels.

Zhenli Ye Gon, in whose Mexico City mansion authorities found nearly $207 million in what officials described as the largest cash seizure in world history, has denied the charges and said he was a victim of political corruption. He faces drug trafficking, organized crime and weapons charges in Mexico.

Seldom seen

Along the entire U.S. border with Mexico, officials seized about 4,267 pounds of meth in 2007, according to statistics provided by the DEA. Locally, Border Patrol officials have seized about 221 pounds this year. Police departments have found a negligible amount.

Despite the suspected trafficking, officials said they seldom find the drug locally for a litany of reasons. Unlike other drugs such as cocaine or marijuana, meth is shipped in smaller quantities. Only a small amount of the drug is needed to get high.

Furthermore, officials said, there's still better money in other drugs.

But what's alarming to officials about the recent McAllen bust are the signs suggesting local street-level distribution: masking agents used to disguise the drug during shipment, as well as small plastic bags and paraphernalia used to cut the drug.

Eloy Salinas is the public education coordinator at the Rio Grande Valley Council, a nonprofit agency that provides addiction services. He worries it's just a matter of time before the drug's popularity increases in this region.

This is, after all, a drug in which abuse contributes to increased transmission of infectious diseases, such as hepatitis and HIV/AIDS, and can infuse whole communities with new waves of crime, unemployment, child neglect or abuse, and other social ills, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

"The last thing we want," Salinas said, "is for us to become inundated with this type of drug."

June 28, 2008

3 citizens of Mexico plead guilty in court to illegal immigration


Saturday, June 28, 2008

Three Mexican citizens who have been illegally living in Northeast Texas pleaded guilty this week in federal court to immigration charges and other crimes, according to U.S. Attorney Rebecca A. Gregory.

Pasqual Tellez-Rosales, 38, who was living in Titus County, pleaded guilty June 19 to being an alien found unlawfully present in the United States after having been deported. He could be sentenced to up two years in prison.

Officials said Tellez had been deported from the United States on two occasions. Agents arrested Tellez-Rosales on Oct. 24 after he was arrested by Titus County sheriff's officials.

On Tuesday, Ofelio Carvajal-Ramirez, 27, who was living in Marshall, pleaded guilty to unlawful possession of an SKS Chinese-made 7.62-caliber assault rifle while being an alien unlawfully in the United States. He was arrested April 30 in Marshall and could be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison.

On Thursday, Alfonso Hernandez-Tapia, 45, who was living in Longview, pleaded guilty to being an alien found unlawfully present in the United States after having been deported.

Hernandez-Tapia was arrested in December in Gregg County on a state charge of tampering with a government document and was found to be illegally present in the United States after having been deported after a conviction for a felony assault in Dallas County and for terroristic threats and battery in Douglas County, Ga.

He could be sentenced up to 20 years in prison.

Illegal immigrants prepare for possible deportation after ICE raid

05:50 PM CDT on Saturday, June 28, 2008

By Rosa Flores / 11 News

HOUSTON -- Maria Perez swam across the Rio Grande River to Texas when she was 16 years old.

“A coyote helped me cross. I remember running through the woods. I was scared for snakes,” Perez told 11 News in Spanish.

“I kept telling myself, I just want to send money back to my parents and brothers and sisters,” she said.

Perez worked for many different employers once she made it to Houston.

She said she’s worked in restaurants, homes and for rag companies.

But her last employer made news headlines.

That’s because Perez’s employer, Action Rags USA, was the location of the biggest immigration raid in Houston history.

About 200 ICE agents swarmed the facility earlier this week, taking 166 employees into custody.

Twelve of those employees were pregnant women. Perez is one of those 12.

“Immigration asked who is pregnant, and they questioned us first,” Perez said.

She said the agents were very humane with all of the immigrants they questioned.

However, she can’t say the same thing about the working conditions at Action Rags USA.

“There were very few fans running inside. It was very hot inside,” she said.

On Saturday, a group of local activists demonstrated against ICE raids like the one at Action Rags.

They believe such raids just target the working class.

“Where you are willing to do the filthiest, hardest work for nothing, so your family can keep body and soul together,” protester Njeri Shakur said.

But for many families like Perez’s, their fate now lies in the hands of a federal judge.

Perez said that while she waits for her summons, she’s putting a deportation plan together.

It’s a notarized letter with details she hopes will help reunite her with her children in Mexico if she’s deported. Her children are U.S. citizens.

11 News could not find a spokesperson for Action Rags USA to comment Saturday.

But earlier in the week, the company’s lawyer said the facility is OSHA inspected, and they did not knowingly hire illegal immigrants.

McCain, Obama court Hispanic voters

June 28, 2008, 8:29PM

Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Presidential rivals John McCain and Barack Obama on Saturday vied for the support of Hispanics, beginning a four-month courtship of a pivotal voting constituency by vowing to revamp immigration policy.

"I come from a border state, my dear friends. I know these issues," McCain told Hispanic elected officials. The Republican senator from Arizona said overhauling the country's broken immigration system, not just securing its borders, "will be my top priority."

Appearing later before the same audience, Obama accused McCain of walking away from comprehensive immigration reform. The Democratic senator from Illinois said: "We must assert our values and reconcile our principles as a nation of immigrants and a nation of laws. That is a priority I will pursue from my very first day."

The two spoke separately to some 700 Hispanics attending the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials conference. It's the first of three such appearances each is scheduled to make to Hispanic organizations in less than a month, underscoring the importance of the nation's fastest-growing minority group.

Both McCain and Obama were warmly received at NALEO; the crowd gave each standing ovations and cheered loudly. When McCain spoke, the audience shouted down anti-war protesters who interrupted the Republican's speech four times. The audience chanted Obama's name when the Democrat entered later. As he took the stage, Obama said "Si, se puede!" — his "yes we can" campaign slogan in Spanish — and the crowd echoed him.

Earlier, McCain met separately and privately with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and Philippines President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, while Obama stopped by Walter Reed Army Medical Center to visit wounded war veterans. McCain also attended an evening fundraiser in Kentucky, where he criticized anew Obama's withdrawal from the public financing system and said, "Senator Obama's word cannot be trusted."

Hispanics, however, were the primary focus as each makes an aggressive play for this up-for-grabs group that's likely to carry important weight in battleground states of Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico and others with large numbers of Spanish-speaking voters.

A recent AP-Yahoo News poll showed that Obama lead McCain among Hispanics, 47 percent to 22 percent with 26 percent undecided.

Still, Obama, who is trying to become the first black president, doesn't have a lock on this volatile group. During the Democratic primary, Hispanics referred rival Hillary Rodham Clinton to Obama by nearly 2-to-1.

McCain, for his part, senses opportunity and is hoping to build on Republicans' recent inroads in this Democratic-trending group.

President Bush captured about 40 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2004, the most ever for a GOP presidential candidate. His Democratic rival John Kerry won 53 percent, down from the 62 percent former Vice President Al Gore got in 2000.

This year, immigration reform, a touchstone issue for Hispanics, is a wild card.

Both McCain and Obama support an eventual path to citizenship for millions of immigrants in the country illegally, and, thus, the issue isn't expected to be a major point of differentiation in the campaign. Still, Hispanics will be paying careful attention to what is said on the subject.

McCain co-sponsored broad bipartisan Senate legislation last year that would have overhauled the immigration system and improved border security; the legislation split the GOP and critics pushed for a border-enforcement only approach. After the measure failed, and in the heat of the Republican nomination race, McCain emphasized the need to secure the borders first before enacting other reforms, which he said were still needed.

The Republican drew sustained applause Saturday after answering the question of whether "comprehensive immigration reform" — and not just enforcement — would be a top priority in his first 100 days in office.

"It will be my top priority yesterday, today and tomorrow," McCain said. "We have to secure our borders ... but we also must proceed with a temporary worker program that is verifiable and truly temporary. We must also understand that 12 million people are here, and they are here illegally, and they are God's children." He promised to address the issue in "a humane and compassionate fashion."

Seeking to reassure skeptics, McCain added: "We will resolve the immigration issue in America and we will secure our borders."

Obama, for his part, used the appearance to poke at McCain.

"One place where Senator McCain used to offer change was on immigration. He was a champion of comprehensive reform, and I admired him for it. But when he was running for his party's nomination, he walked away from that commitment and he's said he wouldn't even support his own legislation if it came up for a vote," Obama said as the crowd interrupted him with applause. "We can't vacillate. We can't shift."

Like McCain, Obama also was asked how broad immigration reform will rank in importance at the outset of his presidency.

Said Obama: "It will be one of my priorities on my first day because this is an issue that we have demagogued. There's been a lot of politics around it, but we haven't been serious about solving the problem. And I want to solve the problem."

Responding to Obama's criticism, McCain's campaign said Obama "worked to kill" the Senate legislation by voting for amendments to it that Democratic sponsors opposed.


Associated Press writer Sara Kugler contributed to this report.

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