September 30, 2008

House District 96 race focuses on education, immigration, state road plan


A first-time candidate for state office is challenging three-term incumbent Bill Zedler for House District 96 in a race with statewide implications and education as a key issue.

Challenger Chris Turner will meet Zedler at 6:30 tonight at the Arlington League of Women Voters forum in the Arlington school district administration building on West Pioneer Parkway in Arlington.

The district includes south Arlington, Crowley, Kennedale and parts of Fort Worth, Mansfield, Forest Hill and Burleson. Libertarian Todd Litteken is also running.

A victory for Zedler would boost Republicans who are struggling to hold onto power as state demographics shift to a minority-majority state, said Harvey Kronberg, editor of the Quorum Report, an online newsletter about Texas politics.

The increasingly younger and more ethnically diverse district could help Turner, he said.

Zedler is considered "one of the two or three most vulnerable incumbents out there because of the changes in the district," Kronberg said.


Turner, a former campaign manager and district director for U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Waco, has focused much of his campaign on education. He believes changes to the state funding formula made during 2006 have been an "abysmal failure for local school districts and districts across the state."

Zedler, who has been endorsed by, among others, anti-abortion groups and the Texas Municipal Police Association, is proud of his work. He believes it’s important for lawmakers to continue to drive down local property taxes and favors requiring schools to rely on state funding. He also wants to limit government growth.

Illegal immigration is also a big issue with him. He wants to get rid of what he calls "sanctuary cities" by encouraging local law enforcement to more aggressively enforce immigration laws. He cited Houston as an example.

Turner agrees that getting control of the state’s borders is important. He said, however, that state legislators shouldn’t mandate decisions about immigration enforcement.

Transportation and healthcare are also likely to get the candidates’ attention. Turner has mailed out fliers criticizing Zedler’s 2003 vote to support the Trans-Texas Corridor. Zedler said he initially supported the bill but has since been a leader in efforts to stop the Texas Department of Transportation from moving forward with the project.

Litteken, an information technology specialist who lives in Arlington, said he, too, questions the project.

"I’m against using any tax dollars for things that do not directly benefit people, the individual, and even then it is something that should be reined in," he said. "I’m so tired of paying high taxes for just about everything."


Turner is one of seven Texas House candidates to be endorsed by the bipartisan Texas Parent PAC, based in Austin. That organization, formed after the 2005 legislative session, backed state Rep. Diane Patrick, R-Arlington, in her 2006 upset victory over longtime District 94 Rep. Kent Grusendorf.

Carolyn Boyle, chairwoman of Texas Parent, said Zedler’s stand on the state education funding formula is wrong.

She believes Turner will do better.

"He is so smart and articulate and grounded and mature, and he really gets these issues and he really cares," Boyle said.

Ron Wright, district director for U.S. Rep. Joe Barton, R-Arlington, and former Arlington mayor pro tem, said Zedler’s "consistently conservative" voting record will help him win.

"I think the district is still a Republican district and Bill still represents the values of the majority of people in that district, low taxes and limited government," Wright said.


Zedler reported more than $157,000 in contributions on hand for the Jan. 1 through June 30 reporting period. Turner had more than $173,000.

Zedler’s big supporters during the first half of the year included San Antonio executive James Leininger, who gave $10,000 to the campaign in June, and the PAC Texans for Rick Perry, which gave $10,000 as well. Leininger is a proponent of school vouchers.

Turner reported a $15,000 contribution from Bernard Rapoport of Waco and $7,500 from Texans for Insurance Reform. Rapoport, founder of American Income Life Insurance Co., supports Democratic candidates at the state and federal level.

This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.


House District 96
Bill Zedler

Party: Republican

Age: 65

Residence: Arlington

Education: Bachelor’s and Master’s in Business Administration, Sam Houston State University

Experience: Retired from sales career in healthcare industry; first elected to the House of Representatives in 2003; vice chairman of the public education committee; serves on business and industry and House administration committees; served as precinct chairman, election judge and poll watcher

Military: Served in the Army in Vietnam

Family: Wife Ellen, three adult children and five grandchildren

Web site:

September 29, 2008

Study: U.S. Hispanics say they're frequently stopped and asked status

By DIANNE SOLÍS / The Dallas Morning News

Nearly one in 10 Hispanics in the United States report that police or other authorities have stopped them in the last year and asked them about their immigration status, the Pew Hispanic Center said in a report released today.

Also Online
Link: Pew Hispanic Center
The finding comes amid the biggest crackdown in decades illegal immigration — one that’s been highly visible in Texas, the No. 2 destination for such migrants. Municipal police in several suburbs of Dallas, including Irving and Carrollton, have stepped up cooperation with federal immigration authorities.

Nationally, deportations or removals of Mexicans, Salvadorans and Guatemalans from the interior of the United States have doubled since 2005, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Renato de los Santos, a Latino leader in Dallas, called the survey’s finding alarming and suggested that racial, ethnic or language profiling should be stopped unless it involves a terrorism suspect.

“It is the only way we as U.S. citizens should tolerate that,” said Mr. de los Santos, a North Texas district director for the League of United Latin American Citizens.

In Washington, the report’s co-author Mark Lopez characterized the finding as surprising but declined to speculate on causes as survey follow-up questions weren’t asked.

The report by the nonpartisan research center surveyed about 2,000 Hispanic adults and had a margin of error of plus or minus 2.8 percentage points. Hispanics constitute about 15.4 percent of the U.S. population, or 46 million people. Roughly 30 million are over 18 years of age. About half of the adult population is foreign-born.

A spokesman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement declined to comment.

In Irving, where Latinos and the regional Mexican consul complained loudly last year about police procedures, police spokesman David Tull emphasized that Irving police officers don’t carry out deportations. But in booking at the jail, citizenship is established, Officer Tull said. If officers believe ICE should be called to do further inquiry, the agency is called, he said.

September 25, 2008

Cleanup spurs labor need

Undocumented workers will be linchpin in efforts
By JENALIA MORENO and SUSAN CARROLL Copyright 2008 Houston Chronicle
Sept. 25, 2008, 7:12AM

Video: Ike's aftermath See Houston's recovery from the devastating hurricane.

Thoughts on the slower rate of immigration All across southeast Texas, roofs need repair, debris must be discarded and towns hope to rebuild.

Hurricane Ike's destruction is sparking one of the largest rebuilding efforts the state has seen in decades, but at the same time is highlighting a thorny facet of the region's labor force: A lot of the recovery work will be done by illegal immigrants.

Homeowners have already turned to day laborers — many of whom are undocumented — to help clear brush, tent roofs and repair other storm damage. Contractors have hired them to rebuild or restore businesses and the city's infrastructure.

And the major work of rebuilding small towns along the Gulf Coast or big homes in Galveston will likely be aided by undocumented workers.

But this tug and pull of the labor force highlights an uneasy dilemma: The region needs the muscle of undocumented immigrants, but simultaneously is a cog in a broader crackdown of illegal immigrants at worksites.

"There's just no mechanism in place right now to provide those important laborers work authorization," said Leigh Ganchan, a Houston immigration attorney with Haynes and Boone. "It's a shame that employers can't tap into a whole segment of society that's willing and capable to provide those services. Our nation is more vulnerable than it would like to admit, I think. Vulnerable, meaning we need people to help us rebuild our infrastructure after major disasters like this."

Carlos González, Mexico's consul general in Houston, expects the area's existing immigrant population will do the rebuilding work, a key difference with what happened post-Katrina. New Orleans experienced an influx of Hispanic immigrants because it did not have as large of an immigrant population as Houston.

"You will find the immigrant community — as they always have — will play a very big role," said Laura Murillo, president of the Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

However, Americans devastated by the storm should have the option of doing the rebuilding, said Ira Mehlman, spokesman for a Washington, D.C.-group that seeks to stop illegal immigration.

"Those people should have first crack at the reconstruction jobs," said Mehlman with the Federation for American Immigration Reform. "I'm sure there are an awful lot of people who can use the jobs and use the paychecks to get themselves back on their feet."

The looming demand for immigrant labor for rebuilding efforts illustrates how dependent Texas industry and commerce are on undocumented workers.

According to a 2006 study by the Greater Houston Partnership, construction is the largest employer of undocumented workers in the city, employing nearly 36,000 people.

"The storm hasn't done anything but point out again how badly these workers are needed and how much they contribute," said Angela Blanchard, president and chief executive officer of Neighborhood Centers Inc.

Chase Duhon, with an Austin-based company that contracted to remove brush and debris across Houston, said he's having trouble finding legal local workers to help with hurricane cleanup. He posted an ad online to find more workers.

"We don't hire anyone who's illegal," said Duhon, a Houston native. "We want to keep it local. We want to use people here in Texas, but there's so much work, there are people coming from Michigan and Massachusetts."

Paralyzed by politics, immigration reform has yet to be approved by Congress despite years of hot debate. Supporters of reforms — such as a guest worker program — say storms like Ike prove how hard it is for employers to fill certain jobs.

"We need the labor. These people want to work," said Norman Adams, co-founder of Texans for Sensible Immigration Reform and president of Adams Insurance Service. "I don't think anybody has enough workers here."

Adams said the contractor repairing his water-damaged office building in the Heights area after the storm hired immigrant workers.

Honduran immigrant Esteban Valle, 49, said construction work has picked up since Ike hit.

"I think there's more work," said Valle, a legal permanent resident who previously lived in Dallas. "But it's easier for me because I have papers."

At one of the city's most popular day labor sites, the competition was stiff, with those skilled in trades like roof repair and hanging plaster wallboard often getting picked first.

"It's difficult because we don't have papers, and there are so many people," said 22-year-old Emanuel Hernandez, an undocumented immigrant from southern Mexico, gesturing to three dozen men gathered at the corner of Shepherd Drive and 11th.

Staff writer Jim Pinkerton contributed to this report.

September 23, 2008

We the People - Shapleigh gripe

This is in response to Eliot Shapleigh's call for a change in "real leadership" to ameliorate the underfunding of basic mental- health programs such as MHMR.

I agree with his principle that Texas should find a way to increase funding to serve more constituents in these programs.

I do not agree, however, in bloating the El Paso county hospital's coffers, whether by state funding or county taxes, to provide assistance to every undocumented immigrant who wants to reside in El Paso.

I want to remind voters that Mr. Shapleigh proposed instituting a state income tax back in the 1990s.

I'm assuming his calls for a change in "real leadership" is a reference to a Democratic-controlled state Legislature and governorship.

I am an Independent. I supported Mr. Shapleigh long before he endorsed a state income tax. I have never supported him since; I simply don't trust him.

Voters beware: Once you have a state income tax, you will never be able to get rid of it.

Michael P. Skindell / East El Paso

Republican seeks sheriff post to fight corruption

By Adriana M. Chávez / El Paso Times
Article Launched: 09/22/2008 12:00:00 AM MDT

EL PASO -- George Rodriguez Stoltz, the Republican candidate for El Paso County sheriff, will be the first to admit he's the underdog.
Stoltz will face Democratic candidate Richard Wiles, a retired police chief, in the general election Nov. 4.

Stoltz, 42, has spent the last 18 months in Iraq as a contracted police adviser, and returned to El Paso on Sept. 14. Stoltz said that since then, he has hit the ground running to make strides in his campaign, which carries the motto "international experience for an international community."

"I have to," Stoltz said. "It's been an uphill battle to get things started with my campaign. It's hard to campaign when you're thousands of miles away."

Stoltz said he decided to run for sheriff because he tired of seeing "crime and corruption going out of control."

While he was in Iraq, Stoltz said, he would keep up with his hometown by visiting the Web sites of media outlets such as the El Paso Times and reading stories on the FBI's public corruption investigation and the area's crime trends.

"I went from (hearing) Americans saying Iraq was corrupt to seeing graffiti (in El Paso) going out of control and community leaders under investigation," Stoltz said. "I believe in my heart that El Paso deserves better, especially our outlying areas."

Although Stoltz may still be unfamiliar to many county residents, Wiles said he knows Stoltz very well. Stoltz was an El Paso police officer for 18 years before he resigned to work as a civilian
contractor in Iraq. Wiles said he was unable to grant Stoltz a leave of absence because it isn't commonly approved in the department.

Before becoming an officer, Stoltz was a U.S Marine who graduated from Ysleta High School in 1984. Stoltz said his family has roots in the Lower Valley, where he still lives with his wife, Nancy, and three children -- Nicole, 20; George Anthony, 17; and George Eric, 15. His two sons attend Socorro High School, where Stoltz is a member of the football team's booster club.

George Stoltz said he shares views similar to late Sheriff Leo Samaniego's on enforcing immigration laws. Last year, Samaniego was criticized for allowing deputies to check on the immigration status of drivers during traffic checkpoints.

Wiles said he doesn't believe local law enforcement should enforce federal immigration laws, and added that immigration laws should be enforced by officers specifically trained in immigration law.

Stoltz said he is against consolidating aspects of the Sheriff's Office and the Police Department and implementing DIMS, or District Attorney's Information Management System, which allows crime suspects to be jailed before appearing in front of a magistrate judge. Wiles said he supports both those issues.

Sammy Carrejo, who is involved with Stoltz's campaign as a publicist, said he decided to support Stoltz because of his position on DIMS and other issues Wiles has supported.

Stoltz "is doing this for the safety of El Paso. He's not worried about making his next career move like his opponent is," Carrejo said. "Wiles is not the type of person we need."

Wiles said he questions Stoltz's campaign motto, and is concerned that Stoltz is comparing Iraq to El Paso.

"I don't think Iraq can compare to El Paso. It's best to have actual experience here on an international border," Wiles said.

Eastsider Ann Marie Giron said she supports Wiles' campaign because she believes he's the most qualified based on his past experience as police chief.

"All citizens (have) benefited from his ability to manage not only a police department, but theÊadditional responsibilities therein, which affected our lives daily, such as budgetary constraints andÊthe development of aÊmore trusting relationship between citizens and the Police Department," Giron said. "These are the criteria that are relevant, not party-affiliation, gender, raceÊor ethnicity."

Adriana M. Chávez may be reached at;546-6117.

Wiles file

Name: Richard Wiles

Age: 46.

Experience: Retired El Paso police chief. Worked for 27 years for the city of El Paso, initially as a firefighter and then in various jobs in the Police Department. Retired in December.

Education: Master's in criminal justice from Sul Ross State, where he was named outstanding criminal justice graduate student. Bachelor's in criminal justice from the UTEP. Graduate of Andress High School.

Web site:

Stoltz file

Name: George Rodriguez Stoltz

Age: 42.

Experience: Eighteen years experience as an El Paso police officer. Last assignment was with department's Gang Task Force. Resigned from the department to serve 18 months in Iraq as a contracted international police adviser. Former U.S. Marine.

Education: Attended Sul Ross State, where he was a cornerback on the school's football team, from 1985 to 1987. Studied criminal justice at El Paso Community College and American Military University, an online university.

Web site:

Judge to fast-track Farmers Branch case on renting to illegal immigrants

DALLAS — A federal judge agreed Monday to fast-track the legal challenges to a Farmers Branch ordinance that bans illegal immigrants from renting homes.

U.S. District Judge Jane Boyle agreed to push the case through the courts. The last time opponents challenged the housing rule it took nearly two years to reach a conclusion. That case ended last month when a federal judge ruled that the ordinance was unconstitutional.

But by then the suburb had drawn up a similar ordinance, which led to two other lawsuits by opponents seeking to stop it. Those lawsuits were consolidated into one case.

Boyle approved an Oct. 29 deadline for motions in the case. She didn’t set a trial date, but both sides have agreed to Dec. 8 or sooner. This month, the judge issued a temporary restraining order stopping the latest law from being enforced. She agreed Monday to continue halting the ordinance from taking effect while legal challenges continue.

The latest ordinance would require house and apartment tenants to seek a rental license. City officials want to check the names of license applicants who aren’t U.S. citizens against a federal database. The city would penalize landlords who rent to tenants lacking licenses.

September 21, 2008

Migrant students visit capital

Summer leadership program provides encouragement for future goals

September 21, 2008 - 10:12 p.m.

Sixteen-year-old Dulce Perez vows to overcome all obstacles to improve her life.

Dulce, a junior at Calhoun High School, comes from a family of eight kids – two girls and six boys. As the oldest, she and her brother help watch the younger siblings, often helping them with their homework. Dulce’s mom has survived on being a migrant worker, traveling to the jobs.

The family has lived in Port Lavaca the past three years, and Dulce’s mom hopes to find a job at an area plant. Before coming to this city, they lived in Seadrift and the Valley.

Her mom wants Dulce to be independent.

“She doesn’t want us to suffer like she did,” Dulce said.

While her mother always encouraged her to get good grades so she could get grants and scholarships for college, a summer training program really inspired her to focus.

Dulce and three other students who live in migrant families – Xavier Puentes from El Campo ISD, Elizabeth Luna from Boling ISD and Luz Stephanie Jaime from Palacios ISD – traveled to Washington, D.C., July 20 to 26 for a leadership program hosted by the Bert Corona Leadership Institute, which serves youth living in migrant families and farm communities.

The students went with the Texas Migrant Interstate Program in Region III Education Service Center, which helps 216 students in 11 counties, migrant recruiter Mary Lou Canales of Victoria said.

It marked the first time Region III migrant students went to such a program, Canales said. Students in migrant families, both Mexican and Vietnamese, have always moved from one town to another in search of work.

With the higher gas prices, the families seem to be staying in one place longer and at least wait till the end of semesters before moving, Canales said.

“I’ve been telling my friends,” Dulce said about the trip. “They never thought a Mexican or Hispanic girl would go all the way to Washington, D.C.”

Her favorite part was meeting U.S. Representative Ruben Hinojosa, who represents District 15, which includes DeWitt, Goliad and Refugio counties.

The teenagers asked the congressman what he would do to help after school programs, improving aid for higher education and outsourcing jobs to other countries. Dulce had the job of thanking him for his time, which she stepped up to do even though she was nervous.

She was so surprised Hinojosa handed them his business card and told them to write.

The students did the same for aides with Senators Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn.

“Oh, it was so wonderful,” Dulce said, adding she loved visiting the White House and Capitol. “I was the only visually impaired person there and I still got to see everything.”

The trip definitely boosted Dulce’s self-esteem, Canales said. Dulce is blind in one eye and needs glasses for the other. Canales always tells her students that everyone has a disability of one kind or another, but not to let it hold them back.

Other limitations for these migrant students include getting school supplies. The students needed help getting tennis shoes, clothes and suitcases for the trip.

Even so, the trip inspired them to become more active in the community and to keep learning. Dulce, born in Mexico, is working on getting citizenship.

“Your vote is where your voice is,” Canales told the students. “Don’t let what you’ve learned – don’t put it on a shelf as a souvenir. Inspire someone else.”

That’s what Dulce hopes to do as a teacher someday. A blind teacher taught her life skills in the Valley and was an encouraging example. He moved and acted like he wasn’t even blind, she said.

“If we work hard, we can achieve what we want,” Dulce said.

September 20, 2008

Border no boundary for some students


By JEREMY ROEBUCK / Associated Press

Adrianna Gomez wakes her 14-year-old son before dawn every morning, lays out his coat and tie and drives him across an international boundary just to go to school.

With a full day of classes at Pharr's Oratory Academy followed by soccer and tennis afterward, he often won't return to his spacious Reynosa, Mexico, home until nearly 12 hours later.

Angelita Martinez Morales also hoped her children could attend Rio Grande Valley schools. U.S. Border Patrol agents arrested her Aug. 10 as she guided them across the river near Pharr.

She later told a federal magistrate judge she had to get her children — all U.S. citizens — back into the country before the start of the school year.

The two women may be divided by economic status, but ultimately both want the same thing for their children: the best educational opportunities they can provide.

Like hundreds of other families just south of the U.S.-Mexico border, they adjust their schedules, idle in bridge traffic every morning and sometimes break the law — all to send their children to U.S. schools.

"It's a sacrifice," said Gomez, 36, in Spanish. "But the river is inconsequential. It's just a problem of geography."

Some more affluent families like Gomez's attend legally by paying tuition to private schools or even buying homes to establish residency in public school districts. Her son, Ernesto, has his student visas in order and has been preparing to enter U.S. schools since his first English classes in kindergarten.

Plenty of others, though, ignore the rules. They provide fake addresses to enroll at public schools or — like Martinez — enter the country illegally in hopes of staying the whole school year.

While cities in the interior United States have only begun to seriously address this increasing immigrant population at their schools, this daily migration has been a way of life in the Valley for decades.

"In so many families, the community is not divided by a border like the land," said Elaine Hampton, a University of Texas-El Paso professor who has studied educational systems on both sides of the border. "It makes it hard to peg exactly where you live. What constitutes a permanent address?"


Nobody knows exactly how many Mexican residents attend schools in the Valley, but some districts estimate they make up as much as 10 percent of their total enrollment.

A 1982 federal court ruling bars public schools from inquiring into the legal residency of students, but those enrolling must prove they live within the district — usually by providing a utility bill.

Some parents are so eager to have their children attend school here they will send them to live with an aunt or grandparent during the week and pick them up to spend their weekends in Mexico.

Others, however, "borrow" the addresses of relatives and friends to enroll their students even though the Mexican family never actually lived there.

"If they come and register with an address that's in the district, we can't deny them," McAllen schools spokesman Mark May said.

But the signs of illegal enrollment are everywhere.

Minivans with Mexican plates stack the pick-up and drop-off lines at schools in Hidalgo, La Joya and Brownsville. Each day, students in school uniforms groggily amble away from the Roma-Miguel Alemán international bridge.

In the predawn fog, teenagers loaded down with book bags avoid eye contact with passersby because of past problems they have had with their district residency.


The proliferation of maquiladoras in many Mexican border towns in the past decade has brought dozens of families to cities like Reynosa and Matamoros looking for work, but the region's public school system has not kept up with the growth. Students in Mexican schools attend half-days in cinderblock buildings and go to class in shifts because of school overcrowding.

Parents must pay for uniforms, bus fare and supplies, and in some cases are expected to supplement the school's operating budget.

And a lack of secondary schools prompts many students to drop out after the elementary level. Only 66 percent of 15-year-olds south of the border attend classes on a daily basis, according to a 2003 Mexican government survey.


While some students know they are breaking the law, small districts like Roma don't always look at the students as a problem.

They are often more eager to learn and their parents are more involved because of the effort their families have undertaken to secure their education, district spokesman Ricardo Perez said.

"It's not like they're dumping their kids over here," he said. "They're actively seeking out a better education."

And the higher the school's enrollment, the more state and federal money the district receives.

But larger, more affluent districts like the McAllen school system can't afford to allow students who live outside the district to attend its campuses, said John Wilde, director of student support services for the district.

In addition to straining school resources, students with limited English speaking abilities routinely score lower on standardized tests.

"It's a significant issue," he said. "Imagine if you're paying taxes on a half-million-dollar home because you want your child to go to Garcia Elementary, and then we have to transfer you to another school because Garcia's too crowded. "It's not fair that there may be people that don't live in the district taking your child's spot."

Wilde's office investigates dozens of cases each year of students suspected of lying on their enrollment papers. Using returned mail, reports from other parents and red flags from campus administrators, his employees drop by the listed addresses in the early morning hours to see who really lives where they say they do.

Lying on a public document is a Class B misdemeanor punishable by up to 180 days in jail and a fine of up to $2,000, but the district rarely seeks prosecution against the parents. Expulsion is a more likely response.

A week into the school year, Wilde had already received 30 to 40 red-flag reports that the district will investigate.


Angelita Martinez, the mother arrested for bringing her children across the river, never even got that far. A federal judge sentenced her to 10 days of confinement in a federal detention center. The fate of her children — all of whom she said were U.S. citizens — remains unknown.

Adrianna Gomez, meanwhile, hopes to send her younger children to Oratory's school in Pharr once they reach seventh grade.

She says she has already seen the payoff for her family's sacrifices in her teenage son, Ernesto. A confident 14-year-old who can speak eloquently in Spanish and English, he hopes to go to Yale University and become a lawyer after graduation.

"You can see a big difference between my friends here and over there," he said. "The opportunities over here are just greater."

September 19, 2008

Farmers Branch and rule opponents offer agreement

By ANABELLE GARAY / Associated Press

Opponents of a Dallas suburb's latest attempt to oust illegal immigrants and the city of Farmers Branch have agreed to extend an order halting enforcement of a controversial rental housing rule.

Attorneys for Farmers Branch and lawyers representing a group of apartment operators and a former council member suing the city sent a letter Friday to the federal judge in the case. In it, they propose to fast-track the case and agree to extend by 30 days a temporary restraining order halting the city from requiring home and apartment tenants to seek a rental license.

City officials had wanted to check the names of rental license applicants who aren't U.S. citizens against a federal database. Farmers Branch planned to revoke the rental license of those who couldn't prove they lived legally in the country and penalize landlords who rented to tenants who didn't have a current license.

But U.S. District Judge Jane J. Boyle stopped the rule from being enforced last week by granting a temporary restraining order. The judge also scheduled a hearing to consider requests for the preliminary injunction for Monday.

"It does signal a recognition on their part that it was unlikely ... that there would be a different result come Monday," Bill Brewer, who represents opponents of the ordinance, said of the agreement.

Both parties ask for a trial to begin Dec. 8 or soon after if one is necessary, according to the letter sent by Bickel & Brewer Storefront, the law firm that represents the opponents. The letter was signed by an attorney representing Farmers Branch.

Call to attorneys for the city were not immediately returned Friday evening.

If the judge agrees to the proposed schedule, Farmers Branch would consent to turn the restraining order into a preliminary injunction — which would continue stopping city officials from trying to implement the rule.

Farmers Branch has battled advocacy groups for nearly two years over measures attempting to keep illegal immigrants from living in the city of about 28,000.

"It's turned out to be years. We want these issues resolved," Brewer said. "We think these types of ordinances are unconstitutional."

The original ordinance approved in Farmers Branch was met by lawsuits and protests before it was repealed and replaced by a redrafted one. The second attempt was challenged in court as well, with a federal judge eventually ruling it unconstitutional. That ruling triggered a 15-day countdown to enforcement of the latest ordinance, which is now hung up in court as well.

Latino advocates and a civil liberties group also are suing Farmers Branch over the rule. The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the American Civil Liberties Union Immigrants' Rights Project sent a separate letter proposing a different schedule that would bring the case to trial in March if necessary.

Even before the temporary injunction was issued, Farmers Branch did not have permission from the federal government to access the database it proposed using. The city applied earlier this month to use the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements, but U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services had not yet responded. An attorney for the city has said the temporary restraining order issued last week will keep USCIS from considering Farmers Branch's application.

Lawmakers hear about border law concerns

By Brandi Grissom / Austin Bureau

AUSTIN -- Border sheriffs described their homes as war zones where officers are under nearly constant attack from drug cartels and potential terrorists, while police chiefs told lawmakers their border cities are safe places and crime is falling.

"Everything is not negative," Laredo Police Chief Carlos Maldonado said. "The picture is not black; the picture is not bleak."

Their accounts of life on the U.S.-Mexico border differed, but their message to legislators was the same: Local police agencies need more money for patrols and they don't want the responsibility of enforcing federal immigration law.

Border officials talked with the Texas Senate International Relations and Trade Committee about stemming illegal immigration and drug and human trafficking. The committee is preparing a report on border security and immigration before the legislative session begins in January.

Zapata County Sheriff Sigifredo Gonzalez said violence from Mexico has spilled over the border.

"It's coming to a neighborhood near you whether you want to believe it or not," he said.

Gonzalez and Webb County Sheriff Rick Flores described executions and kidnappings and said cartel "thugs" threaten deputies.

Asked whether terrorists were crossing the border, Gonzales said, "We don't know how many we've caught."

In a phone interview, El Paso County Sheriff's Office spokesman Deputy Jesse Tovar said that raging violence in Juárez has not spilled north, but that if it did, the department was ready to respond.

El Paso Mayor John Cook also told the committee that the Juárez violence was not seeping into the city. And police chiefs from Laredo, McAllen and Del Rio said their cities were not under siege.

"The sky is not falling," McAllen Police Chief Victor Rodriguez said.

Cook and other officials, including Texas Department of Public Safety Director Col. Stan Clark, urged lawmakers to allow immigration enforcement to remain a federal responsibility.

Last year, some legislators proposed requiring agencies to enforce federal immigration laws to get access to state funding.

"The federal government needs to do their job," Cook said.

Brandi Grissom may be reached at; 512-479-6606.

More funds sought for fence on border

The border fence, a structure made of bricks, mortar and pandering, is only half-built, despite appropriations of $2.7 billion since 2006.

And now the Bush administration is asking for another $400 million to complete the fence along the U.S.-Mexico border, and even that figure may not get the job done by the end of 2008, according to government investigators.

What is even worse, the $400 million, which requires Congressional approval, had been set aside for other projects, including border surveillance, which are far worthier than the fence, which is a prime example of politics trumping common sense.

“If we run out of money, unfortunately the construction will have to stop,” Jayson Ahern, the deputy commissioner of Customs and Border Protection.

The budgetary problems illustrate what a fiasco this has been from the start, a project that would do nothing to alleviate the problem that has sparked so much invective and vitriol among those who use unauthorized workers as scapegoats.

Unauthorized immigrants, their desperation matched only by their ingenuity, will continue to find a way into this country, fence or no fence.

And while it does nothing to alleviate the problem it was intended to solve, it will have the unfortunate consequence of creating ill will between sister cities, such as Laredo and Nuevo Laredo, that have traditionally relied on each other for commerce.

“Most folks who speak about this issue are from places that have a lot less to lose than the state of Texas,” state Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, told the Brownsville Herald.

“Let's be clear about something: The state of Texas, out of any state in the nation, has the most at stake in this debate,” he added.

Both presidential candidates have been too timid to touch the issue of comprehensive immigration reform during the campaign, but once the new administration is sworn in, it should tackle an issue that will only get worse until it is addressed courageously and intelligently.

September 18, 2008

Immigration laws could be expanded to include family members of service members.

Touchy debate pits "support for the troops" against "amnesty" claims.

By Michael Board
Thursday, September 18, 2008

Congressman Lamar Smith, who represents San Antonio, has failed in his bid to stop a House Resolution that would give citizenship to the illegal immigrant families of American soldiers, serving in a war zone.

"I understand that, in a time of war, the American people feel an enormous debt of gratitude to the U-S military service members and their families," he said in the House Judiciary Committee. "However that gratitude is no reason to offer immigration benefits to nearly every person related to someone who has served in the armed forces."

Smith (R-TX) feels H.R. 6020 goes too far, offering citizenship to even remote family members.

The bill was introduced as an amendment to the Immigration and Nationality Act, by Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren (D-CA).

"We can't have soldiers and sailors, deployed to the gulf, living in fear that while they're are gone, their husbands... their wives.. their children will be deported."

The resolution passed the House Judiciary Subcommittee, late yesterday, 16-12. It now goes to the full House.

Thousands in Drugs Found in Car Bumpers

Drug Seizure

No one arrested

PROGRESO - Customs officers seized $27,000 worth of drugs at the Progreso International Bridge.

A drug dog alerted officers to the marijuana. It was hidden in a car's front and rear bumpers.

A 38-year-old Los Fresnos man was driving the car. He was accompanied by a woman. The two weren't arrested.

But the driver is scheduled to appear before a U.S. immigration judge. We're told he'll also have to pay a fine.

Police Blotter - Mineral Wells

Thursday Blotter

Information in this column is gathered from the Palo Pinto County Sheriff’s Office incident reports and any related public documents. Not every incident leads to a charge under the law. If charges should be filed, innocence or guilt is determined by a court of law.


Carlos Gonzales, 31, of Dolores, N.M., was arrested Tuesday on an Immigration and Customs Enforcement hold.

Gerardo Pererez, 25, of Mexico, was arrested Tuesday on an ICE hold.

Judith Sanchez, 22, of Mexico, was arrested Tuesday on an ICE hold.

September 17, 2008

Alton lays down firm rules for bustling flea market

Sara Perkins

In 1996, Norma Ochoa's father opened a flea market on 4 Mile Line because he wanted to help undocumented immigrants who couldn't find jobs.

The market grew in the manner of many local pulgas, attracting people who wanted to make a little money and sell their goods without the regulations and costs imposed on more formal businesses. For as little as $5 a day, nearly anyone can have a stall at Ochoa's Flea Market, which Norma now runs.

Shoppers came, looking for bargains or hard-to-find goods.

Unlike most of the Rio Grande Valley's flea markets, however, Ochoa's is within the borders of a city. And the Alton city government is tightening its enforcement of a variety of laws and regulations that, in this informal marketplace, have held little sway.

"We want to make it more attractive, more people-friendly, and try to (make) a quality area for our residents," said Ricardo Garza, a member of the City Council and president of Alton's economic development corporation.

Garza and city staff insist Ochoa is 100 percent on board with a new ordinance that would further tighten sanitation, building and licensure requirements.

"Our vision is not to run the flea market out," said planning director David DeLeon. Indeed, they hope to make the market a major attraction that will draw business into town. "Any given Sunday, they've got in excess of 200 vendors out there. That is significant for a town like ours."

Ochoa is less enthusiastic about her discussions with the city - "It's whether we want to or not" - and about the new regulations, which would allow the underdeveloped city to reap a windfall in sales taxes and fees, but at her expense.

The new ordinance must pass one more reading before it is approved. Among its new requirements:

>> The market must purchase a $500 yearly operating permit and pay the city $10 per vendor monthly.

>> Ochoa must collect names, addresses, phone numbers and identification numbers from every vendor.

>> Vendors must purchase their own permits from the city, at $20 per year, after proving they have registered with the state comptroller's office and, if selling prepared food, the Hidalgo County Health Department.

>> Vendors cannot sell knockoff, black-market or pirated goods. (Police have raided the market several times and arrested those selling pirated material.)

>> Unpainted or broken tables and shelves cannot be used in stalls.

>> No extension cords or garden hoses - vending stalls must have their own electrical and plumbing systems.

Conditions violating some or all of these standards are common even in upscale flea markets, and Ochoa's is no exception. Flea markets operate more like group garage sales than brick-and-mortar stores.

DeLeon estimated between 10 and 20 percent of the vendors at Ochoa's have permits from the state.

Ochoa said her attempts to cooperate with the city have led to enormous headaches - and costs. Connecting a single potato vendor's regular stall to the city's sewer system, for example, ended up costing the vendor about $4,000 and required other vendors to move around so crews could punch through the asphalt.

She said she cannot stomach that hassle with more food vendors, which may mean that those who regularly sell food from trucks and trailers will be unwelcome once the ordinance is passed and strictly enforced.

Meanwhile, code enforcement and police officers from the city regularly inspect the market, sometimes three or four times a day, she said.

"Sometimes I just want to give up," Ochoa said Wednesday. She has threatened to buy land in unincorporated county areas, where Alton officials would not have authority to inspect her vendors.

Her father started the market when the plot by Conway Avenue was still in county territory; he voluntarily allowed the flea market to be annexed soon after, Ochoa said, but he exacted a promise that city leaders wouldn't bother him too much.

Now, she said, "I'm losing customers ... because they're getting so strict on it."

Sara Perkins covers Mission, western Hidalgo County, Starr County and general assignments for The Monitor. You can reach her at (956) 683-4472.

For the poor, hard times get harder

Chase Davis and Leslie Casimir - Houston Chronicle

HOUSTON — They pulled together Tuesday and used kitchen knives and brute strength to rip out sopping carpet and the padding beneath it.

Their belongings, a pile of wet clothing and children's toys, mingled in a stinky mound outside their apartment.

The Suarez family members weren't in Galveston or anywhere near the Gulf Coast. They live in North Houston, home to many gritty neighborhoods that know suffering.

Now, days after Hurricane Ike tore off roofs and overturned lives, tough times have gotten tougher.

The Suarezes, like many families, are taking matters into their own hands.

“If there is no more water, we'll be OK,” Maria Suarez, 40, said reassuringly as she took a break from the work.

In her complex alone, the roofs of 15 apartments caved in, destroying those units and the ones below.

Across Houston, unauthorized immigrants like the Suarezes, who already live on the fringes of society, are afraid to ask for help for fear of being arrested.

At the same time, citizens who've lived here all their lives are desperate for help and can't figure out who to call or grow weary waiting on busy help lines.

Mayor Bill White said the City Council today will consider establishing a roof-repair program for people who lack insurance and whose homes were severely damaged.

He issued something akin to an ultimatum to landlords: fix the roof or stop collecting rent.

“The first issue we're going to deal with is people who have holes in their roof from the hurricane,” he said. “If you have a hole in your roof, you're not up to code.”

The city has been in touch with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which has a program to place temporary covering over holes in rooftops.

For some, the help can't come soon enough.

Warehouse worker Mario Calderon said he and his family, including three children, moved to his now destroyed East End apartment from Katy earlier this year.

The inside of his place was wet and musty in the late morning warmth. Debris carpeted his apartment after crashing through the now-skeletal ceiling.

Calderon and his wife want to apply for financial aid, but they've been greeted by constant busy signals and long waits on hold.

“They tell us to apply on the Internet, but how are we supposed to get on the Internet?” he asked. “They tell us to call, and we call and call, and they say it's too busy.”

“I understand that a lot of people had debris fly around and some people lost a roof,” he added, “but I lost everything. If there's somebody that needs help, we need help ASAP.”

In an open courtyard in front of his apartment sat a molding pile of his family's ruined possessions: mattresses and blankets, the splintered black hull of a DVD player, shoes and clothes from his three young children mixed with chunks of drywall and pink insulation.

“I tell (my children) the bogeyman came and tore everything down,” Calderon said. “What else can I say?”

The Third World arrived in the Fifth Ward, where Hurricane Ike toppled trees, shattered windows and caved in roofs of old row houses and bungalows.

At Wipprecht and Farmer streets, retiree Anopawuia Spinks sawed branches from downed trees for firewood.

“I'm using tree branches to cook up some sausages,” said Spinks, 60. “I don't think they are spoiled.”

On block after block, rooftops were patched with plastic sheets.

Tiffany Jackson, 24, who's unemployed and married to a man who's disabled, was mopping bleach water on the hardwood floor, the sky beaming down into her 2-year-old son's bedroom.

“I lost everything in my son's room,” Jackson said.

Soaked mattresses and a sofa were piled outside to dry. So was a television, but as it dried out in the daylight sun, someone stole it.

Houston Chronicle Staff Writers Matt Stiles and Bradley Olson contributed to this report.

Appeals court upholds Arizona immigration law

By JACQUES BILLEAUD Associated Press Writer
Article Launched: 09/17/2008 01:46:24 PM MDT

PHOENIX—A federal appeals court on Wednesday upheld an Arizona law that penalizes businesses that knowingly hire illegal immigrants and requires them to verify the employment status of their workers.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision rejected a challenge by business and civil-rights groups that contend the law infringes on federal immigration powers.

The law, intended to lessen the economic incentive for immigrants to sneak into the country, imposes civil penalties on employers by suspending or revoking their business licenses when they are found to have knowingly hired illegal immigrants.

While it upheld the law, a three-judge panel of the court left the door open for other challenges, saying no one has been accused of violating the law since it took effect nine months ago.

Republican state Rep. Russell Pearce of Mesa, the author of the law, said the ruling is a big win for the movement to get state and local governments to crack down on illegal immigration.

"Locals are just as responsible for the crisis in America in this invasion (of illegal immigrants) as the federal government," Pearce said.

The civil-rights groups that challenged the law are considering whether to appeal the ruling to the 9th Circuit or the U.S. Supreme Court.

Jonathan Weissglass, an attorney for the groups, said the law and the ruling could create problems for employers who have operations in more than one state because states could have different sets of hiring rules.

"What the 9th Circuit has allowed is everyone can enact its own laws regarding immigrant employment, which would create chaos," Weissglass said.

It's unclear whether the business groups that challenged the law will seek an appeal. Two lawyers representing the groups were unavailable for comment Wednesday because they were out of the country.

Lawyers for the state argued that while a similar federal hiring law prevents states from imposing civil or criminal penalties against businesses for illegal hirings, the federal law lets states take licensing actions against violators. The appellate court agreed with that argument.

A lower-court judge upheld the law in February.

Mom pleads guilty to smuggling cocaine, daughters to be tried next month

September 17, 2008 - 12:55PM

Diana Eva Maldonado
The Brownsville Herald
A Mexican national living in Brownsville pleaded guilty to conspiring to possess with intent to distribute nearly 20 pounds of cocaine.

Maria Venegas Vda. De Trevino, 60, and her three daughters were arrested June 18 when she attempted to smuggle $1 million worth of cocaine through the B&M International Bridge.

United States Attorney Don DeGabrielle says Trevino-Venegas, a resident immigrant from Mexico, admitted to hiding the drugs on her body.

During a secondary inspection agents say the woman and her daughters tried to run back across the bridge into Mexico, but were arrested before they reached the mid-point.

Aside from the nearly 20 pounds of cocaine Trevino-Venegas had strapped to her body, agents say they discovered another 17 pounds of narcotics in the 2006 Mercedes ML350 being driven by one of the sisters.

Laura Trevino, 31, Adriana Trevino, 23, and Evelia Trevino, 27, are all accusedof conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine. Evelia and Adriana Trevino are also charged with possessing with intent to distribute cocaine.

The three sisters will go on trial next month. Their mother is in the custody of the U.S. Marshals and will be sentenced Jan. 12, 2009. She faces a mandatory minimum of 10 years to life in prison as well as a $4 million fine.

Previous Articles

Federal judge rules no bail for mother, 3 daughters

Mother and three daughters arrested for smuggling cocaine

Mother and daughters caught smuggling drugs into U.S.

Violent crimes surge after illegals invade Texas

Aliens flee strict immigration policies for friendlier Lone Star State

Posted: September 17, 2008
9:03 pm Eastern

By Chelsea Schilling
© 2008 WorldNetDaily

While illegal aliens flee strict immigration enforcement policies in several states and settle in Texas, the state's budget is suffering and violent crime, soaring.

News reports indicate a flood of illegal aliens is coming from states such as Arizona and Oklahoma – where immigration crackdowns have made life more difficult for them. In the meantime, Texas' violent crime rates have taken a turn for the worse.

WND researched FBI crime statistics from years 2006 to 2007 for 29 of Texas' largest cities with populations of more than 100,000. The Preliminary Annual Uniform Crime Report reveals two of the state's well-known sanctuary cities with "don't-ask-don't-tell" policies, Houston and Austin, have surging violent crime rates. Houston experienced an additional 314 violent crimes in 2007 compared with 2006 figures. Austin had 213 more violent crimes reported to law enforcement than the previous year.

According to the stats, overall, the 29 most populous Texas cities had 1,083 more violent crimes committed in 2007 than in 2006. While arrest records usually do not indicate suspect citizenship status, the crime trend matches a migration wave of illegal aliens coming from locations such as Arizona and Oklahoma – states with strict immigration enforcement policies and declining violent crime rates.

Getting tough on illegals

Since 2006, Oklahoma has passed laws cutting off benefits such as welfare and college financial aid to illegal aliens. Thousands of Hispanics fled the Tulsa, Okla., area in the shadow of a 2007 state law that limits benefits and mandates deportation for illegal aliens, according to a report from KTUL television in Tulsa.

The news report said in East Tulsa, where a community of Hispanics had grown over recent years, there was a sudden drop in population.

Deputies from the Tulsa County sheriff's office went through training to handle apprehension and deportation procedures, and prepare them to perform multiple duties of both deputy sheriffs and Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.

Tulsa County Sheriff Stanley Glanz told KTUL in 2007 that the impact of the illegal alien population was evident everywhere in the state, especially in jails.

"We see the effects of gangs, we see the effects of illegal immigrants, we see the effects of drugs, we see the effects of methamphetamines," he said.

According to the FBI preliminary crime report, Tulsa experienced 264 fewer violent crimes in 2007 than in 2006.

Oklahoma law eliminates most taxpayer subsidies for illegal immigrants, allows state and local law enforcement officers to verify the residency status of those arrested and makes it a felony to shelter or transport illegal aliens.

Likewise, Arizona passed strict laws in 2007 requiring employers to verify the immigration status of employees – including one that suspends business licenses of people who hire illegal aliens. The crackdown prompted an exodus from that state.

"I would say we are losing at least 100 people a day," Elias Bermudez, founder of Immigrants Without Borders and host of a daily talk-radio program aimed at undocumented immigrants, told Arizona Republic.

The news report said it's impossible to count exactly how many illegal aliens have fled because of the law, but interviews with immigrant advocates, community workers and real-estate agents confirm the number is significant.

"Some are moving to other states, where they think they will have an easier time getting jobs," the report said. "Others are returning to Mexico, selling their effects and putting their houses on the market."

According to FBI figures, overall, Arizona's largest cities with populations of more than 100,000 experienced 765 fewer incidents of violent crime in 2007 than in the previous year.

Impact of illegal immigration on Texas

The Center for Immigration Studies estimates more than 1.7 million illegal aliens live in Texas. The state has a reputation for welcoming illegals, and it has not passed a law targeting employers who hire them.

Ortiz, a Mexican illegal alien, told the Associated Press he recently left Phoenix to find employment in Houston.

"Here, they let you work," he said. "Over there, they won't. There is a lot of racism, but here there isn't – it's better."

Between 8 percent and 9 percent of the Texas workforce is composed of illegal aliens – many who perform agriculture, restaurant and construction jobs. Critics say cracking down on employers who hire illegals could seriously hurt the state economy.

However, according to the Federation for American Immigration Reform, or FAIR, 44 percent of Texas' illegals use welfare programs including food stamps and Medicaid, while 70 percent are uninsured. It estimates the combined costs of education ($4 billion), medical care ($520 million) and incarceration ($150 million) of illegal aliens in Texas to be $4.7 billion each year.

While the uncompensated cost of incarcerating illegal aliens in Texas' state and county prisons amounts to about $150 million a year, it does not include local jail detention costs or related law enforcement and judicial expenditures or the monetary costs of crimes that led to their incarceration.

The Texas migration is not likely to subside soon, experts say. FAIR estimates, "Without any change in immigration policy or enforcement, i.e., with the current trend in large-scale legal and illegal immigration, the state's population is likely to increase from today's about 23 million residents to around 41 to 43 million persons in 2050."

Preliminary Annual Uniform Crime Report

We the People - Church stance is way off base

When did political activism and civil disobedience become part of the curriculum for children preparing for their First Communion?

The El Paso Catholic Diocese is urging catechism teachers to become activists for illegal immigration, to speak out against the proposed border fence, and is calling upon teachers attending its orientation retreat to teach people to go over or under the bridge.

The Catholic Church has become increasingly outspoken in its political stances, and often the viewpoints expressed by members of the clergy and diocesan representatives no longer reflect the opinions of many Catholics.

The Masses For Peace and Justice are thinly disguised anti-military demonstrations, and the call to this kind of activism encourages citizens to ignore the law.

When the line is blurred between personal opinion and public advocacy, the church risks the continued alienation of its parishioners. It is time for us to let them know we are proud to be part of the greatest, most generous country in the world. We support legal immigration and strongly oppose the use of the bully pulpit to promote their views.

When a church teaches its members to disregard the law, it is part of the problem, not part of the solution.

Martha Boone / Upper Valley

September 16, 2008

Side Step - Reynosa 'alligator' could be a crocodile

An "alligator" found by Reynosa officials could actually be a crocodile.

Officials from the Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville said the Monday evening story that aired on Action 4 News and KGBT4.COM caught their attention.

Zoo officials have not examined the animal but said photos and video clearly show the animal has physical features of a crocodile.

A herpetologist from the zoo said the animal could be a Morelet's crocodile, a species native to Tamaulipas south of San Fernando.

He said the animal could be an escaped pet or may have been captured in the wild and brought to Reynosa somehow.

Mexican authorities recently posted signs on their side of the Rio Grande to warn swimmers and immigrants about alligators seen in the Rio Grande.

Mexican national sentenced for robbing bank

EL PASO, Texas -- A Mexican national was sentenced to 64 months in federal prison Tuesday after pleading guilty to robbing a credit union and illegally re-entering the United States after deportation, U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton announced.

On March 17, 23-year-old Ramon Aguirre-Gueta allegedly approached a bank teller at the Greater El Paso Credit Union and handed the teller a note indicating he was armed and demanded money. The bank teller handed him money, officials said.

Aguirre-Gueta fled to Mexico, and on April 12, he voluntarily surrendered to Customs and Border Protection officers at the Paso Del Norte port of entry, officials said.

Immigration records show that Aguirre-Gueta had been deported in March 2006 after a federal conviction for illegal re-entry.

Aguirre-Gueta pleaded guilty to the bank robbery and illegal re-entry charges on July 15.

In addition to the prison sentence, U.S. District Judge Frank Montalvo also ordered the defendant to pay $843 in restitution to the Greater El Paso Credit Union, officials said.

The case was investigated by the FBI together with the El Paso Police Department and U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Assistant U.S. Attorney William F. Lewis, Jr., prosecuted this case on behalf of the government.
Dallas County jury finds Hector Medina guilty of killing his two children

12:00 AM CDT on Tuesday, September 16, 2008
By TIARA M. ELLIS / The Dallas Morning News

It took about six minutes Monday for a Dallas County jury to decide that Hector Medina was guilty of capital murder for killing his two children.

That same jury began hearing evidence less than 30 minutes later for the punishment phase of the trial to determine whether Mr. Medina, 29, should be sentenced to death or life in prison with no opportunity for parole.

Mr. Medina's guilt was not disputed during his four-day trial. Attorney Donna Winfield told the jury the first day of the trial last week that her client was responsible for the shooting deaths of Javier, 3, and Diana, 8 months, in March 2007.

But Ms. Winfield asked the jury to consider that Mr. Medina's girlfriend, who is the mother of the children, had been having an affair with one of their housemates. Elia Martinez-Bermudez left Mr. Medina less than a week before the shooting.

Ms. Martinez-Bermudez testified during the trial through a Spanish interpreter that Mr. Medina told her he would kill her, their children and himself if she ever left him.

"Ladies and gentleman, he carried out most of that plan," prosecutor Josh Healy told the jury during closing arguments Monday. "He ended the lives of two individuals, who together did not equal 4 years old.

"Hector Medina took this gun and this ammunition ... and goes to his 3-year-old child," Mr. Healy told the jury, pointing the gun at the floor.

"Bam. In the head. Bam. In the neck.

"He doesn't stop there," Mr. Healy said, turning to Diana's wooden crib in the center of the courtroom. "He then turns to the 8-month-old and puts two shots into the baby, killing her instantly."

Afterward, Mr. Medina told one of the four roommates living in the house to call Ms. Martinez-Bermudez and tell her she could pick up the kids, according to testimony.

Then he went outside the Irving house and shot himself in the neck and head. He was hospitalized for about a week and still has one of the bullets lodged in the back of his neck, Ms. Winfield has said in court.

Ms. Martinez-Bermudez was the first witness to testify for the prosecution when the sentencing hearing began Monday afternoon.

She told the jury that Mr. Medina physically restrained her and forced her to have anal sex. He also hit her, threw clothes and appliances and tore a bedroom door off its hinges during one incident the week before the shooting, she said.

Ms. Martinez-Bermudez is an illegal immigrant. She received a special visa exception through the Violence Against Women Act, which helps illegal immigrant women who are victims of abuse come forward – and remain in the United States.

Ms. Winfield questioned why Ms. Martinez-Bermudez had never told police that Mr. Medina raped or abused her before she filed for a protective order two days before the shooting on March 4, 2007.

Under cross examination, Ms. Martinez-Bermudez denied making up the abuse reports to be able to live here legally. She said she just wanted to get her children away from Mr. Medina.

"I don't know how to explain it," Ms. Martinez-Bermudez said, her voice breaking. "He took the most precious things in my life."

The punishment phase is scheduled to continue this morning.

Migrant education effort lands contract

San Marcos — The Center for Migrant Education at Texas State University-San Marcos has landed a five-year, $3.1 million contract from the U.S. Department of Education to run the Migrant Education Coordination Support Center.

This is the second time the Center for Migrant Education has won this contract. The previous award was for $2.8 million and was awarded from 2003 until now.

The Center for Migrant Education, a component of Texas State’s College of Applied Arts, won the contract in a highly competitive bidding process, beating out several other universities and institutions. The contract will allow the Center for Migrant Education to continue assisting the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Migrant Education in the support and improvement of interstate and intrastate coordination of activities, programs and agencies concerned with the education, health and welfare of migrant children.

The Center will continue to work closely with education officials from all 50 states, Washington, D.C., and Mexico. In addition to coordinating and facilitating migrant education programs, the Center will also work to strengthen cooperation with the Binational Migrant Education Program, which includes teacher exchange initiatives with Mexico. This continues and expands the work already under way with various states in Mexico, as well as with Mexico’s Ministry of Public Education and Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This contract also provides direct services to migrant students and their families.

We the People -

Lack of urban civility

Re: Sept. 6 article "Hit-and-runs leave families wondering why."

Eleven people have been killed in 151 hit-and-runs in Austin that caused injury or death through July 28. Grieving families ponder the "unthinkable" and "unimaginable" violence while police comment that drivers "made a very bad decision" and "just panic" amidst problems of insurance, immigration or intoxication.

A more accurate explanation of this significant "quality of life issue" is the carbarian culture of civic narcissism and road rage, which is an index of the lack of urban civility in Austin, where the self-centered and self-absorbed come to fall in love with themselves (and their metal monsters) in a childish, selfish city of self-indulgence and egotistical lack of concern for others.

Gene Burd


Hit-and-runs leave families wondering why

September 15, 2008

Protest to be held against potential Nac MTC prison

By: Nicole Newby

A group of local citizens, including some SFA students, will stage its first protest against building a federal prison in Nacogdoches at 5 p.m. Tuesday downtown in front of city hall.

In response to the decision to build the prison in Nacogdoches, Dr. Paul Risk, a retired SFA agriculture professor, created the group Citizens Opposed to Prison Site. "COPS is a place where people can have a unified voice to speak out against it," said Whitson. "We are trying to preserve the oldest town in Texas," Currid said.

Nacogdoches is known for being the oldest town in Texas and the home of SFA, but a new entity may soon become another signature characteristic of the East Texas town.

The Nacogdoches Economic Development Corporation and the city and county commissioners unanimously backed a proposal for a private federal prison that would house illegal immigrants to be built inside Loop 224 on Northwest Stallings Drive. The prison would be owned by the Management and Training Corporation, which aims to provide the necessary skills for convicted criminals to become productive members of society.

The facility would provide some benefits for the community, such as 300 jobs and $11 million in annual salaries. In addition to the opportunities for employment specifically with the prison, construction jobs would also be created for the projected 14-month building time as well as opportunities for SFA internships. The city is also confident that the prison would bring in more tax income.

However, some are worried that the addition of a prison could negatively affect tourism in Nacogdoches, one of the town's primary industries. Other concerns include light pollution, property values, town safety and SFA enrollment.

"SFA is the pumping organ of this town. Do we really want to shift the attention to a prison?" said Ashley Whitson, Fairfield graduate student.

"The city voted and gave two days for other citizens to vote, but kept it quiet because they knew people would object," said Ashlee Currid, The Woodlands junior. "Even the people who sold the land didn't know who they were selling it to. They heard from a local that it was for a private prison."

Since the prison would be privately owned, it would not have to abide by the Freedom of Information Act, which allows citizens to know who is in the facility and why.

MTC's prisons have been known to be overcrowded and to not offer legal aid or medical care, according to various Internet reports. Also, instances of unsanitary conditions have been reported.

MTC is linked with prisons in Iraq and Canada, as well. "They are constantly breaking human rights laws," Whitson said.

There have been federal charges filed against the company for smuggling illegal immigrants using a company van to bring to the prisons. "The fact that a prison is a business-that is the problem," Currid said. "They give these people false hope who want to come to America for jobs and opportunities, and instead they put them in these prisons so they can make money off them."

COPS meets in Liberty Hall on Main Street They also encourage people opposed to the prison to write emails to city commissioners and to the local daily newspaper.

For more information about COPS, visit
© Copyright 2008 Pine Log

Man sentenced to eight years in prison for conspiracy to smuggle drugs

EL PASO, Texas -- A man convicted of a drug/bribery conspiracy charge was sentenced to 97 months in federal prison on Monday, U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton said.

On June 13, 37-year-old Saulo Reyes pleaded guilty to conspiracy to import 100 kilograms or more of marijuana. By pleading guilty, Reyes admitted that he paid $4,250 on January 15, plus another $15,000 on January 16, to an undercover Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent, who he believed was a port inspector, to allow a vehicle loaded with over 400 kilograms of marijuana through the Paso del Norte port of entry without inspection.

In addition to the prison sentence, U.S. District Judge Philip R. Martinez ordered that Reyes pay a $50,000 fine and be placed under a 20-year supervised release after his prison term. Martinez also approved the forfeiture of $19,250 and a 2005 Volkswagen Touareg that were derived from Reyes' criminal actions.

Reyes' co-defendant, 27-year-old Karina Tarango of El Paso, is serving a 30-month prison sentence after pleading guilty to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute 100 kilograms of more of marijuana. Authorities arrested Tarango at a stash house in Horizon City used in the smuggling scheme.

This case was investigated by agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Victim of domestic violence gets special visa after children killed

One of my co-workers told me about a federal policy that makes it possible for illegal immigrant women to receive special visas to encourage them to go to authorities when they are abused, particularly in cases of domestic violence.

Elia Martinez-Bermudez benefited from this policy. She is the ex-girlfriend of Hector Medina, who is on trial for killing their two children at their Irving home when she left him in 2007. She has also told police that Mr. Medina raped and assaulted her.

The Hector Medina capital murder trial resumes today in the 282nd state district court. He faces the death penalty.

Ms. Martinez-Bermudez testified that she came to Texas from Mexico illegally in 2000. After her children were killed, she received a special visa under the Violence Against Women Act, which helps illegal immigrant women who are victims of abuse come forward. Lalon Peale, one of Mr. Medina's defense attorneys, told state District Judge Andy Chatham outside the jury's presence that Ms. Martinez-Bermudez was about to be deported before this came about.

Mr. Medina, who is a citizen of El Salvador, had been here illegally. But he was able to buy the couple's Irving house after he received temporary protective status because of the wars in El Salvador.

2 more groups sue Farmers Branch over rental ban

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Two more groups have filed suit against the city of Farmers Branch, on the heels of Friday’s ruling by a federal judge that the city will have to hold off on implementing its ban on renting apartments to illegal immigrants.

The Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund and the American Civil Liberties Union teamed up in a federal lawsuit filed against the city on Friday.

The same day, U.S. District Judge Jane Boyle issued a temporary restraining order that prevents Farmers Branch from implementing the ban. That stemmed from a lawsuit against the city filed by apartment owners and tenants in Farmers Branch.

These groups also had lawsuits against the city for an earlier version of the rental ban. That case ended with a defeat for Farmers Branch last month when a federal judge ruled the ban was unconstitutional.

September 14, 2008

Big Spring Prisoner Riot and Fire Still Under Investigation

by Roma Vivas
NewsWest 9

BIG SPRING- Questions still remain unanswered after a prisoner fire and riot on Friday night. Facility officials are being very cautious of what information is being disclosed.

Big Spring authorities rushed to the scene of a riot and fire from the Flightline Correctional Center near the Big Spring airport. The facility takes prisoners from the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Services, but since it is a privately owned facility the plan for police was to secure a perimeter.

"The only reason we are here, our only purpose is if spills outside of the fenced facility," Sergeant Tony Everett, with the Big Spring Police Department, said.

In total, about 15 police officers stayed outside managing traffic while Big Spring firefighters went inside.

"My understating is that may be one or two buildings were on fire," Everett said.

Several ambulances left the scene towards Scenic Mountain Medical Center where family members were advised not to disclose any information. But the mother of one of the injured employee was thankful to hear her son was doing better.

"I feel a whole lot better, I feel relieved that he is O.K. Like I said earlier, I just left it in the hands of God and he is the one who pulled me through," Inez Heins, Mother of a facility Employee, said.

NewsWest 9 also received a couple of calls from relatives who say that seven facility staff were injured and were treated for minor injuries. According to officials from the correctional center the riot never posed danger to the public.

River draws a muddy line on Texas' unfenced border

By DAN KEANE / Associated Press

The Rio Grande takes a wide southern detour when it hits West Texas, as if unwilling to draw too straight a line between the U.S. and Mexico. Locals along this remote stretch of shallow river share the feeling.

People living on both sides of the Big Bend, as the curve is known, are glad to be mostly skipped over by plans for 700 miles of new fence along the U.S.-Mexico border — even if their unspoiled desert boundary risks drawing more illegal traffic as the rest of the line is sealed off.

"The river doesn't divide us here," said local historian Enrique Madrid, raising his voice over the joyful screams of kids, from both sides of Rio Grande, whacking at a pinata during a recent birthday party in the tiny river hamlet of Redford.

"We've crossed it long before the United States existed," he continued. "And we'll be crossing it a long time after the United States disappears."

New walls are doubling up existing barriers in California, closing wide desert valleys in Arizona and New Mexico and fencing off more populated areas of the South Texas riverbank. The new construction will leave some 630 miles along the Big Bend as the longest unfenced piece of southern U.S. frontier.

Here the Rio Grande cuts an elegantly simple border, splitting the two countries into cane-choked banks or towering limestone cliffs. The wet line in the sand means nothing to the desert's circling buzzards and migrating black bears, but it complicates life for the two-nation families and isolated local economies that need both halves of this desert to survive.

Redford, a knot of adobe homes and alfalfa fields some 300 miles downriver from El Paso, made headlines in 1997 when U.S. Marines on a secret anti-drug mission mistakenly gunned down a local high school student, Esequiel Hernandez, Jr., as he herded goats along the Texas bank.

His death prompted the cancellation of U.S. military anti-drug operations amid heated debate over whether soldiers trained to kill foreign enemies can sort friend from foe along America's often uncertain edges.

The alliances are tangled even within Hernandez's own family: A brother has pleaded guilty to smuggling immigrants, while a nephew is applying to the Border Patrol.

Such is life along this skinny stretch of the river, where native peoples built the first settlement on the site of present-day Redford around 1200 A.D.

Local residents crossed freely with the Border Patrol's tacit permission until 2001. Following the 9/11 attacks, agents declared the crossing closed and blockaded its bank with a few small boulders.

The rocks do not stop Amado Bustamante, 79, who lives across from Redford in the Mexican village of El Mulato, from wading across once a month to buy a box of lard.

"It's cheaper" on the Texas side, he said with a smile. "And they haven't caught us yet."

With only 373 agents to cover 510 miles of river, the Border Patrol's Marfa Sector tends to play its defense well behind the line, focusing on highway checkpoints between the border and Interstate 10, a hundred miles or more to the north. Agents also patrol back roads through mountain ranges stretching as much as 5,000 feet above both sides of the river. They visit traditional crossings like Redford as time permits.

"Nature has kindly fenced a lot of this area for us," says Chief Patrol Agent John Smietana. "We're not able to cover, or even get to, the river in a lot of places on a regular basis. So it is possible to cross the river very easily in some of those places. The hard part is then getting from the river up to one of the roads to get away."

Anecdotal evidence suggests more migrants and smugglers may be willing to try.

Trend-spotting is difficult in the Big Bend since its relatively small enforcement numbers can be tipped by one big bust. But marijuana seizures are up 16 percent this year while the Border Patrol has rescued 11 stranded migrants — more saved than any year on record, though still a trickle compared to the hundreds rescued each year farther west in Arizona.

Other indicators are harder to miss. Ojinaga, a small Mexican border city across from Presidio, just upriver from Redford, has seen an unheard-of 10 drug-related killings so far this year — the last two in a midday hail of bullets on a main street.

The violence has kept to the Mexican side, even as the smuggling crosses over. In March, Border Patrol investigators broke up a local migrant smuggling operation that employed Francisco Hernandez, brother of the late Esequiel, and his wife, Paula.

Hernandez admitted bringing at least 29 migrants through the Redford crossing over the last three years, allegedly receiving $400 per person from the ringleader, Jose Franco of Odessa. Franco then paid a local cowboy to drive them on ranch roads around a Border Patrol checkpoint, according to court documents.

The cowboy was released without charge after helping investigators set up the sting that brought the group down. In August, Franco received a reduced 21-month sentence after testifying against the Hernandez couple, whose small Redford home faces likely government seizure. Both pleaded guilty to transporting illegal aliens, and face sentencing this month. Court documents allege Paula gave dry clothes to migrants after they crossed the river.

The cowboy — who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution from others involved — said word had spread quickly of an easy crossing on the Big Bend's back roads, where migrants did not need to risk a long desert hike or crowd dangerously into sealed tractor-trailers.

"Word of mouth would get around that not only was it safe, but they were treated well," the cowboy said. Migrants generally rode north on the floor of a Chevy Suburban with a sheet over their heads, he said. "They weren't wrapped up in carpets. They were fed. They were able to go to the bathroom."

Smuggling wages are tempting in Presidio County, one of the poorest in the country, where a third of the 8,000 residents live in poverty.

A year after Esequiel's death, the Hernandez family won a $1.9 million wrongful death settlement from the government. But the money was set aside to care for his aging parents, and Francisco never saw much of it, according to his older brother Margarito Hernandez, Sr., a police officer in Presidio.

Francisco "doesn't have a steady job, and he's got five kids," said Margarito. "Those are factors people will take advantage of, if they know you're in need."

The Border Patrol now plans to double its Marfa Sector agents and install vehicle barriers at 30 illegal Big Bend crossings, including Redford's. Six miles of proposed fence flanking Presidio have been postponed after construction bids came in over budget.

But these barriers will not stop locals from splashing through a boundary their forebears have crossed for centuries.

Margarito Hernandez Jr., son of the Presidio policeman, remembers pedaling bikes with his cousins into the Rio Grande "just to see who could actually get to the other side."

Chatting at the birthday party, Margarito, 19, said he has applied to the Border Patrol and dreams of being posted to his family's often unpatrolled hometown as an agent who understands just how muddy a line the river can be.

He nodded his cowboy hat towards a low rise over the river where a white cross marks the spot Esequiel was killed.

"I don't see why an agent couldn't be up there on that hill."

September 13, 2008

McCain, Obama avoid talk of immigration reform

By Ramon Bracamontes / El Paso Times
Article Launched: 09/13/2008 04:19:04 PM MDT

EL PASO - As the presidential race heads toward Nov. 4, both candidates continue to avoid talking about immigration and immigration reform - a politically-charged national issue that has real life implications in El Paso and other border cities.

Whether the strategy of avoiding this topic helps Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., is unknown, but the issue is one which will have to be dealt with by whoever wins the general election in November, experts said.

"it is an issue they are both trying to avoid," said Eli M. Kantor, a California immigration lawyer. "Both candidates are pretty much pro-immigration reform however it is not a popular issue to talk about right now."

The reason immigration reform isn't popular on the campaign trail is because people on both sides of the debate have very strong opinions, experts said. Those who live along the border and who have current family members who might be here illegally want families to be reunited and for all immigrants to be treated humanely.

But, those who live in others parts of the country want the border secure, they want immigration eliminated and they put homeland security issues first, said Kantor, who is the media liaison for the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

"It is easier right now to just talk about securing the borders," Kantor said. "The candidates have to appeal to all the voters, so they don't want to alienate anyone on either side of the issue."

During President

Bush's Administration several attempts at passing an immigration reform bill died. Bush's immigration reform bill increased security along the border, while at the same time fining businesses that hired undocumented workers, which upset some people.
The bill was disliked by others because it had a guest-worker program and it gave some those in the U.S. illegally the ability to become naturalized citizens.

"Most of us come here to work and get better, not to do any harm," said Rigo Orozco, who was outside the Border Farm Workers Center in South El Paso this week. "If there was a way for me to work and stay here, I would do it."

It is estimated that anywhere from 12 to 20 million people are working in the United States illegally.

An economic study issued earlier this year by Americans for Immigration Reform stated that the U.S economy could lose nearly $1.8 trillion a year if undocumented workers left the country. Texas, which has an undocumented immigrant population of about 1.4 million, could lose more than $220 million if all undocumented workers were ousted.

"The system has been broken for a while now and only a political band-aid has been put on it," said University of Texas at El Paso political science professor Charles Boehmer. "The new president will have to tackle the issue. No one is happy with the status quo."

Texas Sen. Eliot Shapleigh, D-El Paso, who has been working for years to improve the trade corridor between Mexico and the U.S. because it directly affects El Paso and its people, said the problem must be addressed soon.

"What we need, what the country needs is a comprehensive framework," Shapleigh said. "The right talks about walls. The left talks about fair trade. But all these issues are linked. Security is linked to trade; trade is linked to labor; labor is the key to prosperity. And all these issues need to be on the table if we are to succeed."

But, Shapleigh, too, sees that both candidates are trying to avoid the issue while on the campaign trail.

"Both parties need a dose of courage," he said. "Obama knows that a comprehensive framework is the key - but will not deal realistically with free trade. McCain lost his courage when he veered right to win his primary. If these guys want to lead, now is the time for leadership."

Prior to being the Republican party nominee, McCain teamed with Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., to sponsor a comprehensive immigration bill. The bill allowed employers to hire foreigners under a temporary visa program if they can prove they are unable to hire American workers for the same job and it allowed workers to stay in the United States.

While the immigration reform package did not pass, it shows that McCain has a clear concept of what he wants to do with the issue, said Michael Moore, chairman of the El Paso Republican Party.

"Sen. McCain knows where the border is and he has been here several times," Moore said. "He has the experience in Congress to solve the issue and he knows what the problem is and how to fix it."

Ramon Bracamontes may be reached at; 546-6142.

Irving ISD enrollment has grown despite worries of a decrease

By KATHERINE LEAL UNMUTH / The Dallas Morning News

Irving school enrollment appears to be growing slightly instead of taking a hit as officials had feared.

Last year, the school district suddenly began losing hundreds of students at the end of September, after the deportation of illegal immigrants arrested by local police frightened residents.

Several substandard apartment complexes were also shut down by the city, prompting families to move.

Though the city's Criminal Alien Program and crackdown on code enforcement continue, school enrollment appears to be strong.

Officials counted 33,183 students on Friday, the 14th day of class. That's 35 more students than on the same day last year. District officials had predicted a peak enrollment of 32,764 this year, and a loss of about 425 students.

"I think those worries proved to be unfounded," school board president Jerry Christian said. "If kids left, somebody came in to take their place."

The school district always compares its peak enrollment, the point of highest enrollment, which usually happens within the first six weeks of school. The current enrollment is almost equal to last year's high.

The district's peak last year, which occurred on Sept. 25, was 33,189 students. Shortly after, enrollment quickly dropped. At the time, Superintendent Jack Singley expressed concerns that parents were pulling their children out of schools because of fears about immigration enforcement.

"People just picked up and left the district because they had concerns about what was going on at the city level," said Whit Johnstone, the district's director of planning, evaluation and research.

Officials cautioned that it's still early in the year and enrollment trends are still shifting. But so far the district is gaining a lot of older students. There are about 433 more middle- and high-school students than predicted, while there are 15 fewer elementary students.

Irving officials continue to focus on substandard complexes where many of the district's students live. The week before school started, they shut down the Vista Del Lago apartments.

But school officials worked to make sure homeless students could continue to attend nearby John Haley Elementary.

They also believe that some families affected by apartment closures are moving to different school attendance areas within the district.

Suit to fight border fence is dismissed

By Daniel Borunda / El Paso Times

EL PASO -- A federal judge on Thursday dismissed a lawsuit filed by El Paso County, the city of El Paso, environmental groups and others against the controversial border fence, County Attorney José Rodríguez's office said Friday.

The lawsuit argued that Homeland Secretary Michael Chertoff did not have the authority to waive 30 environmental and other laws to construct the fence, described as the "border wall" by its opponents.

U.S. District Judge Frank Montalvo ruled that the waivers to expedite the construction of the fence were constitutional "because 'Congress constitutionally delegated its authority in the Waiver Legislation.' "

Rodríguez said in a statement that plaintiffs have 90 days to file an appeal to the Supreme Court, and that an appeal by the firm Mayer Brown LLP of Washington, D.C., was already being prepared Friday.

El Paso Mayor John Cook said he and other mayors of Texas border cities are not necessarily opposed to fences.

"But we are opposed to them putting them in without local input," Cook said.

The border fence in El Paso, which stands 15 feet tall, has been the target of marches and protests, including a small demonstration Friday evening where a section of fence is being installed near Yarbrough Drive.

Proponents of the fence said that it would help secure the border by stopping drug-loaded vehicles from driving across, and that, if the fence didn't stop undocumented immigrants, it would at least slow them long enough to give Border Patrol agents time to catch them.

Fence opponents call it a costly eyesore that sends an unfriendly message while damaging the environment.

"The wall is an environmental disaster," said Bill Addington, who's on the executive committee of the Rio Grande Sierra Club Chapter and whose family owns land in Hudspeth County near the border.

"It is immoral -- an immoral crime for anyone to put up a barrier or wall between animals that need it (the Rio Grande) for drinking water," Addington said. "You are also fragmenting habitat. All these animals that have traditionally gone back and forth cannot pass."

Wednesday, Homeland security officials told Congress that the 670-mile fence might not be finished this year and that it was $400 million over budget because of increased fuel and steel costs and limited available labor.

About 340 miles of fence has been built. Congress so far has approved $2.6 billion for constructing the fence.

Daniel Borunda may be reached at; 546-6102.

Two men accused of abducting five illegal immigrants

By BILL MURPHY Copyright 2008 Houston Chronicle

Two men were arrested Friday after they bound and adbducted five illegal immigrants from Honduras outside Cleveland, the Liberty County Sheriff's Department said.

The Liberty County District Attorney's office will likely bring abduction — or kidnapping-related charges — against the two men, also illegal immigrants from Honduras, said sheriff's department spokesman Hugh Bishop.

Sheriff's department detectives and the district attorney's office haven't had time to investigate the matter completely because of Hurricane Ike.

A sheriff's department detective was patrolling Friday afternoon when he approached a home in the Five Oaks subdivsion outside Cleveland because he had seen suspicious activity, Bishop said.

"When he got up close, he saw the five Honduran men bound and taped," Bishop said. "Apparently, the two men were trying to extort money from the five others or their families."

The five victims were being held in the county jail until U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement picks up the men.

September 12, 2008

Brownsville Man Arrested with 300 Pounds of Marijuana

Hundreds of pounds of marijuana are seized Friday afternoon along with thousands of dollars in cash.

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31 year-old Benjamin Vasquez was taken into custody by Cameron county Sheriff's after he got busted with more than 300 pounds of marijuana and $27,000 dollars in cash at his home on 455 Esperanza street in Brownsville.

The Cameron county district attorney's special operations group, along with other law enforcement agencies investigated Vasquez and another man for a month before Friday's bust. When agents went into the home they found bulks marijuana in black bags, cash and a press machine in one of the bedrooms.

Investigators were surprised to find that type of press machine which is used to compress the drug into smaller blocks for distribution. Officials say Vasquez and the other man distributed the pot outside the state and would also sell ounces on the streets in the Valley.

Vasquez is charged with a first degree felony, possession of marijuana and possible money laundering, but more charges may be added since he was conducting this illegal activity right across from a school.

The other man was taken by the Border Patrol because he was an undocumented immigrant. He is not facing any other charges, since Vasquez accepted full responsibility.

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