December 28, 2008

Man in sham marriage to Houston exotic dancer faces deportation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Body in trunk was illegal immigrant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


How To Help

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

December 23, 2008

Officials Arrest 5 Illegal Chinese Immigrants Flown to Wharton

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

McAllen, Texas FOX 26 News

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

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

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

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

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

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

December 20, 2008

ICE arrests 84 illegal immigrants in Dallas area

Associated Press

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

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

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

We the People Jeers to Bud Kennedy

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

— Wayne Pricer, Edgecliff Village

December 19, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-- ICE --

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

Last Modified: Friday, December 19, 2008

Williamson commissioners set to vote on immigrant detention operator

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We the People Border fence needed to protect Americans

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The fence protects the American people.

Pete Porter / West El Paso

Police charge man with sexually assaulting child

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

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

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

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

December 18, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

December 17, 2008

Oak Point City Council rescinds English-only resolution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At some point the truck driver turned off the lights.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Editorial: ID provides useful immigration tool

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That's a change for the better.

Two charged after Valley Girls raid

Two charged after Valley Girls raid
Ana Ley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Illegal immigrants arrested at Mission H-E-B Plus

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


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

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

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

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

December 13, 2008

Texas taxpayers spent $678 million on healthcare for illegal immigrants

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

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

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

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

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

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

Legislative reaction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Local impact

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

John Peter Smith, Fort Worth…$133 million

Campbell Health System, Weatherford…$4 million

Wise Regional Health System, Decatur…$3 million

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

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

University, San Antonio…$25 million

Source: Texas Health and Human Services Commission report

ANDREW CHAVEZ, 817-390-7957

December 12, 2008

Riot, hostage situation ends at West Texas prison

The Associated Press

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

December 10, 2008

Cops: Suspected Illegals Plotted Kidnap of Texas Corn Dog Scion

Candelario Romero, Adolfo Chavez, and Porras Placido

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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