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Immigrants Do Not Increase Crime, Research Shows

DENVER – As President Donald Trump continues to make good on promises to deport undocumented immigrants – with some seeking protection in sanctuary churches – a new study shows U.S. cities with large immigrant populations experience lower rates of crime.

Contrary to the president’s statements, four decades of evidence shows no link between immigration and increased crime, according to Robert Adelman, the study’s lead author at the State University of New York.

“For crimes like murder, robbery, burglary and larceny – as immigration increases, crime decreases on average in American metropolitan areas,” he points out. “We found no effect of immigration on aggravated assault.”

Researchers studied census and FBI crime data in 200 metropolitan areas from 1970 to 2010.

During his presidential campaign, Trump repeatedly maintained immigrants increased crime. Since taking office, he has signed executive orders restricting entry into the U.S., prioritizing deportation, authorizing construction of a wall on the Mexico border, and withholding federal funds from sanctuary cities.

Adelman says facts are critical in the current political environment, and points to research showing foreign-born individuals are less likely to commit crimes than native-born Americans.

In his view, the benefits brought by immigrant populations to U.S. cities outweigh any perceived risks.

“When we think about the benefits of immigration, you can think of economic revitalization, population growth, contributing to lower rates of vacant and abandoned buildings, cultural enrichment and – with our findings, in many cases – lower levels of crime,” Adelman stresses.

Adelman adds he hopes the research will help policymakers make decisions based on scientific evidence, not ideologies and claims that demonize particular segments of the U.S. population without facts to back them up.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service – CO

Trump Administration Directs Border Patrol, ICE to Expand Deportations

The Trump administration on Tuesday moved one step closer to implementing the president’s plans to aggressively rid the country of undocumented immigrants and expand local police-based enforcement of border security operations.

In a fact sheet outlining the efforts, the Department of Homeland Security said that though their top priority is finding and removing undocumented immigrants with criminal histories, millions more may also be subject to immediate removal.

“With extremely limited exceptions, DHS will not exempt classes or categories of removal aliens from potential enforcement. All of those in violation of the immigration laws may be subject to enforcement proceedings, up to and including removal from the United States,” the fact sheet explains. “The guidance makes clear, however, that ICE should prioritize several categories of removable aliens who have committed crimes, beginning with those convicted of a criminal offense.”

The memo did not include instructions to halt the 2012 executive action called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, which has allowed about 750,000 undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States as children to live and work in the country legally.

The guidelines also state that the Department of Homeland Security has authority to expedite the removal of undocumented immigrants who have been in the country illegally for at least two years, a departure from the Obama administration’s approach of concentrating mainly on newly arriving immigrants.

“To date, expedited removal has been exercised only for aliens encountered within 100 air miles of the border and 14 days of entry, and aliens who arrived in the United States by sea other than at a port of entry,” the agency states.

The action also seeks to expand a police-based immigration enforcement program known as 287(g), which allows local and state officers to perform immigration duties if they undergo the requisite training. The program fell out of favor under the Obama administration after Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced in 2012 that it wouldn’t renew contracts that were in place at the time.

“Empowering state and local law enforcement agencies to assist in the enforcement of federal immigration law is critical to an effective enforcement strategy, and CBP and ICE will work with interested and eligible jurisdictions,” the memo reads.

Expansion of the 287(g) program will be concentrated on the “border regions,” according to the memo. It’s still unclear what the sweeping measures mean for state-based immigration efforts in Texas. The Legislature is currently debating a bill to outlaw “sanctuary” jurisdictions in Texas, the term commonly assigned to local entities that don’t enforce immigration laws or hand over undocumented immigrants to federal authorities.

Since the November election, lawmakers have expressed hope that the Trump administration would make good on Trump’s promises to secure the border but have continued plans to focus on the issue in Austin while Washington was fine-tuning its efforts.

Immigrant rights groups immediately blasted the news Tuesday as a mass-deportation campaign that goes against stated promises to only concentrate on criminal aliens.

“Now they are openly admitting that they ‘will not exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement,’”  said Lynn Tramonte, the deputy director of America’s Voice Education Fund, an immigrant rights group, in an statement. “These memos amount to an instruction manual for the coast-to-coast, fast-track deportation of everyone in the United States without papers, no matter how long they’ve been here, how strong their family ties, and how much they contribute.”

The memo also calls for immediately hiring 5,000 additional Border Patrol agents, asks Homeland Security to identify all sources of federal aid to Mexico over the last five years and calls for the agency to identify and allocate all sources of available funding for the planning, design, construction, and maintenance of a border wall. Under the new guidelines, all undocumented people approved for deportation will be returned to the country from which they entered illegally instead of where they originally came from. That means Mexico will see an influx of immigrants from Central America and elsewhere who used the country as an entry point into the United States.

On Monday, ProPublica, citing former Mexican and American officials, reported on how that policy shift could create new security issues for the region “as authorities in each country push unwanted migrants back and forth.”

Author:  JULIÁN AGUILAR – The Texas Tribune

UT/TT Poll: A new President, Popular with Texas Republicans

Texas Republicans have rallied strongly around President Donald Trump in the first weeks of his administration. Texas Democrats had just as strong a reaction — in the other direction.

In his second month in office, President Donald Trump is getting overwhelmingly good grades on his job performance from the state’s Republicans, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.

Trump is popular enough to cast positive light on Russian President Vladimir Putin, a world figure who turns out to be markedly more unpopular with Texas Democrats than with Texas Republicans.

Overall, 46 percent of Texans approve of the job Trump been doing and 44 percent disapprove. But Republicans are crazy about him: 81 percent approve of Trump’s work so far, and only 10 percent disapprove. Moreover, 60 percent of Republicans said they “strongly” approve; another 21 percent approve “somewhat” of the president.

Emily Albracht | The Texas Tribune
Emily Albracht | The Texas Tribune

“He looks good,” said Jim Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin and co-director of the poll. “Republicans as a group were tentative in their embrace of Donald Trump during the election campaign. They are hugging him now. His favorability rating among Texas Republicans increased 21 points between October and February.”

Likewise, 81 percent of Texas Republicans have a favorable opinion of Trump, while 12 percent have an unfavorable impression of the president.

As you might expect, Texas Democrats fiercely disagree in what amounts to an almost equal but opposite reaction to the Republicans: 83 percent of Texas Democrats disapprove of the job Trump has done as president, 76 percent of them “strongly.” And 85 percent of Democrats said they have an unfavorable opinion of the new chief executive.

“If you’re a Republican, even if you don’t like the guy, well, there’s the Supreme Court and the repudiation of a bunch of smug ideologues [on the left]; this isn’t the worst thing in the world,” said Daron Shaw, co-director of the poll and a professor at UT-Austin. “The reaction of the left — the resistance — probably reinforces that.”

Independents were split almost evenly on both questions in the poll, with 39 percent approving and 36 disapproving of the job Trump is doing; 42 percent saying they have a favorable impression of the president, while 45 percent have an unfavorable one.

Overall, 45 percent of Texans have a favorable impression of Trump and 46 percent have an unfavorable one.

TT-RossChart-poll.004
Emily Albracht | The Texas Tribune

Putin seems to be benefiting from Trump’s attention and from the American president’s popularity.

“On the surface, the topline number looks like you would expect: Vladimir Putin is not a popular figure with Texans,” Henson said. “But the details testify to the powerful influence of presidential signaling on his partisans. The president of Russia’s negatives are 28 points higher among Democrats than they are among Republicans, full stop.”

Overall, Putin is clearly unpopular, but while only 10 percent of Texans have a favorable impression of the Russian president and 62 percent have an unfavorable view of him, the disdain is much stronger among Democrats than Republicans. While 79 percent of Democrats have unfavorable opinions of Putin, 51 percent of Republicans do — a 28-percentage-point difference of opinion. Few Texans have favorable opinions of Putin — 7 percent of Democrats and 14 percent of Republicans — but while 7 percent of Democrats had neutral view of the Russian, more than a quarter of Republicans said they had neither positive nor negative opinions of him.

“It’s not like they’re loving Putin,” Shaw said. “You’re basically getting 50 percent of Republicans saying, ‘No, the guy is a thug.’ Which means 50 percent are saying he’s not a thug.

“This speaks to the Trump halo effect,” he added. “Putin seems to prefer Trump, and I prefer Trump, therefore Putin can’t be all bad. But the notion that there’s an openness to cozy up to Russia, I don’t think so.”

Emily Albracht | The Texas Tribune
Emily Albracht | The Texas Tribune

Texans’ views of Vice President Mike Pence more or less mirror their opinions of Trump: 42 percent view him favorably, 40 percent unfavorably. Among Republicans, 79 percent have favorable views of Pence. Among Democrats, 74 percent have unfavorable views of him. Independents were more negative than positive about the Veep: 29 percent have favorable views, while 44 percent said their opinions were negative.

About half of the respondents said Donald Trump does not have the temperament to be president and do not think he is honest and trustworthy. That’s an improvement over what they said in the October 2016 UT/TT Poll, when only a third of Texans said he was honest, trustworthy and had the temperament to be the country’s top elected official.

“I don’t think that people’s impression of Donald Trump has changed all that much,” Henson said. “But these numbers are a testament to the role of the president as a figurehead and the power of partisanship.”

Emily Albracht | The Texas Tribune
Emily Albracht | The Texas Tribune

Again, the Republicans and Democrats among the respondents acted as political reciprocals: 68 percent of Republicans think Trump’s got the temperament for the job and 84 percent of Democrats think he does not. Among Republicans, 70 percent said Trump is honest and trustworthy; only 6 percent of Democrats agree.

The University of Texas/Texas Tribune internet survey of 1,200 registered voters was conducted from Feb. 3 to Feb. 10 and has an overall margin of error of +/- 2.83 percentage points. Numbers in charts might not add up to 100 percent because of rounding.

This is one of several stories on the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll. Also today: Texans on the economy and the direction of the country and state. Coming Tuesday: Texans’ views on immigration, cultural issues and health care.

Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here

REFERENCE MATERIAL

Author:  ROSS RAMSEY – The Texas Tribune

Critics: Arrest of Alleged Abuse Victim in El Paso Could Deter Immigrants from Reporting Crimes

Experts fear the undocumented community will be more reluctant to report crimes after immigration agents detained an alleged domestic abuse victim as she left an El Paso courthouse.

After an alleged domestic abuse victim’s arrest by immigration agents in El Paso gained national attention, advocates and attorneys said the case could set a dangerous precedent for immigrants who might decide against reporting crimes if faced with the possibility of deportation.

On Feb. 9, an undocumented, transgender woman was detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials shortly after receiving protection from an alleged abuser in an El Paso courthouse. The woman, initially referred to only by her initials but later identified in an ICE statement as 33-year-old Irvin Gonzalez, was taken to a detention center.

Experts nationwide said the case set a dangerous precedent and might deter undocumented immigrants from reporting crimes to authorities. However, ICE authorities revealed Thursday that the woman is a previously deported felon with six deportations and at least eight convictions for crimes including false imprisonment, domestic violence and assault.

During a press call Thursday, El Paso District Attorney Jaime Esparza confirmed that the woman had a criminal history but said his main concern in this case was not the victim’s status but the access federal law enforcement agents had to the courthouse. He said a domestic violence victim’s legal status should not matter when they’re reporting a crime or offering testimony.

“[Federal agents] came into the courthouse, and I think that sends a horrible message to victims of domestic violence on whether or not they’re actually going to have the ability to seek justice in our courthouse,” Esparza said. “We will work this out with federal authorities. They can do what they have to do, but not in the courthouse.”

El Paso County Attorney Jo Anne Bernal said Gonzalez had filed three police reports against her alleged attacker, who reportedly had kicked her, punched her and chased her with a knife. Gonzalez was being escorted out of the courthouse by an El Paso attorney when ICE agents stopped her and arrested her, Bernal said, adding that at least one ICE agent sat through Gonzalez’s court hearing before detaining her.

“In all our years, none of us can recall an incident where immigration authorities made their presence known inside a courtroom in this courthouse, and especially not in a courtroom that is reserved for victims of domestic violence,” Bernal said.

The El Paso Times had initially reported that ICE officers located the woman after receiving a tip, presumably from her alleged abuser. Bernal told reporters that she can’t verify that claim, but she said the only two people informed of Gonzalez’s court hearing were Gonzalez and her alleged abuser.

ICE Central Region communications director Carl Rusnok said in a statement that Gonzalez had been arrested after agents received a tip from another law enforcement agency “indicating that a previously deported felon had illegally re-entered the United States.”

If ICE did receive a tip from her alleged attacker, her arrest would violate certain provisions in the 1994 Violence Against Women Act that protects undocumented women when reporting perpetrators, said Denise Gilman, director of the University of Texas’ Immigration Clinic.

“Congress has said that victims of domestic violence and other violent crimes should be able to come forward and seek assistance and not fear that doing so will put them in danger,” Gilman said.

Gilman said she has seen instances in which individuals sought out assistance as a result of domestic violence and ended up tangled in immigration proceedings. These cases, she said, “absolutely have an impact” on the immigrant community, in terms of their willingness to report domestic violence or other crimes.

“I do expect this to have a very negative impact on women’s safety and on public safety,” she said. “If victims of crime aren’t willing to come forward, that really endangers the whole community.”

According to immigrant rights organization We Belong Together, immigrant women are three to six times more likely to experience domestic abuse than U.S.-born women. Lora Petty, a representative of Texas immigrant rights group American Gateways, said this is because abusers use deportation threats as fear tactics against their victims.

State lawmakers have already responded to the incident, including El Paso Sen. José Rodríguez, who in a statement said this case will prevent people from reporting crimes to law enforcement officers for fear of facing deportation.

The case also attracted the attention of national public figures, including Chelsea Clinton, who called the arrest “horrifying.”

Read more about recent ICE detentions here: 

  • Immigration officials arrested an El Paso woman who alleged she was a victim of domestic abuse. The tip that got her arrested may have come from her alleged abuser.
  • Undocumented immigrant Miguel Angel Torres was on his way to deliver Valentine’s Day chocolates to his daughter last week near Austin. Now, in what his family calls a case of mistaken identity, Torres is in an immigration lock-up near San Antonio.

Author:  MARIANA ALFARO – The Texas Tribune

National LGBTQ Organizations Denounce Arrest of Transgender Survivor of Domestic Violence by ICE El Paso

On Thursday, the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs and Transgender Law Center denounced the arrest by immigration authorities of an undocumented transgender woman who is a survivor of domestic violence, and call for her immediate release.

She was detained last week in an El Paso courthouse immediately after she was granted a protective order against her abusive partner.

NCAVP’s data shows that transgender women experience high rates of domestic violence and often experience discrimination and violence when attempting to access services. Additionally, transgender women in immigration detention often experience sexual violence, maltreatment, and other forms of violence.

Because of these realities, this arrest and detainment is an utterly deplorable and harmful response to her request for help.

This January, Transgender Law Center launched an emergency response project, the Trans Immigrant Defense Effort (TIDE), devoted to expanding legal support for transgender immigrants in the face of new attacks.

“Our government’s actions send the message to transgender people that we are disposable and do not deserve dignity or safety,” said Isa Noyola, Director of Programs at Transgender Law Center. “The community already has limited access to resources when we face violent attacks, particularly by intimate partners. At a time when we grieve murder after murder of transgender women of color, it is unconscionable that a transgender woman would be detained and punished for seeking safety for herself. The community, now more than ever, needs to organize to protect our most vulnerable, in particular transgender immigrant women who are surrounded by violence on a daily basis.”

“Arresting survivors when they are accessing domestic violence protections will only continue to discourage survivors from reaching out for support, especially if they are undocumented,” said Emily Waters, Senior Manager of National Research and Policy at the New York City Anti-Violence Project. “All survivors, including undocumented transgender survivors, deserve to be able access safe and affirming resources without the additional fear of reprisal by abusive partners and criminalization by state authorities.”

Violation of Protections for Undocumented Survivors

According to the County Attorney, Jo Anne Bernal, Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers received a tip that the woman who was detained would be in the courthouse that day. Bernal also stated that she was arrested while still in the courthouse.

Bernal suspects that the tip came from Gonzalez’s abusive partner. Both of these actions by ICE violate the confidentiality protections laid out in the Violence Against Women Act of 2005. VAWA provides explicit confidentiality protections for undocumented survivors, including preventing immigration officers from using information provided by abusive partners and preventing officers from making arrests in courthouses if the survivor is there in connection with a protection order case.

“The actions taken by ICE officials to detain a transgender immigrant while she was at the courthouse getting a restraining order against her abuser, based on a “tip” to ICE possibly from her abuser, are not only outrageous, they violate the law,” said Terra Russell Slavin, Esq., Deputy Director of Policy & Community Building at the Los Angeles LGBT Center.

“The Violence Against Women Act contains specific prohibitions on these type of immigration enforcement actions. The LGBT community, its advocates, and domestic violence activists throughout the country will work tirelessly to ensure that immigrant survivors of domestic violence are able to take legal actions to protect themselves from their abusers. We call on our representatives to immediately investigate the actions of ICE officials in this case and to do everything in their power to ensure this travesty doesn’t happen again.”

VAWA protections are vital for the safety of undocumented survivors of domestic violence. Many undocumented survivors face the threat of deportation when accessing protections that are available to all survivors of domestic violence and this threat is often leveraged by abusive partners.

Domestic Violence and LGBTQ Communities

 According to the most recently released report by NCAVP, of the 13 documented intimate partner violence related homicides of LGBTQ people in 2015, 46% were transgender women, all of whom were transgender women of color.

 From 2014 to 2015, there was an increase in the percentage of LGBTQ undocumented survivors reporting to NCAVP from 4% to 9%.

 Many LGBTQ survivors experience violence and discrimination when accessing intimate partner violence resources. Of those seeking shelter in 2015, 44% were denied with the most common reason being gender identity. Nearly one in three survivors who interacted by police were arrested.

To read NCAVP’s toolkit for the LGBTQ and HIV Affected Intimate Partner Violence, click HERE.

State Senator Rodríguez: ICE Action against Domestic Violence Victim ‘Shameful’

Austin – Senator José Rodríguez released the following statement in regards to the recent actions taken by ICE following a domestic violence case in El Paso.

This shameful episode shows what results from an anti-immigrant atmosphere created by irresponsible rhetoric from the president on down to state leaders, combined with an immigration enforcement system now focused on rounding up all undocumented people.  Under no circumstance should a person trying to escape an abuser have to fear that if she tries to get help, then the abuser can call ICE.  What an awful choice to make: stay with someone who hurts you or get a protective order and run the risk that ICE agents will grab you while you’re in court. 

This will certainly prevent people from reporting any crimes or abuse to law enforcement, the courts, or nonprofits, making all of us unsafe.  This is also inextricably linked to anti-sanctuary cities policies state leaders are pursuing. There will be many more victims like the woman at our courthouse if SB 4 or similar legislation becomes law.

The fact that this woman is transgender only further highlights the diversity of vulnerable people who will be swept up in these raids.  Transgender women of color are disproportionally more likely to die violent deaths. This further illustrates the ongoing attack on many different communities, and the need for us to unite in the face of laws that single out specific groups for discrimination.

In Texas we’ve already seen at least one deportation attributed to a case of mistaken identity.  In Seattle, we have at least one person who was living in this country with authorization through DACA nonetheless captured in an ICE raid.  How long before we have U.S. citizens wrongly detained under this deeply flawed enforcement effort?

If Texas Passes anti-“sanctuary” bill, El Paso County Could Face Lawsuits

If the Texas Legislature passes a bill to ban so-called “sanctuary cities” in Texas, El Paso County could face a legal quagmire.

That’s because the terms of a 2006 legal settlement expressly forbid the county’s sheriff deputies from doing what Senate Bill 4 demands: enforcing federal immigration laws.

The legislation state lawmakers are considering would punish local governments if their county sheriffs fail to honor “detainers” — requests from federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers to hand over immigrants in custody. SB 4 would also punish those government entities that enact policies preventing local law enforcement from asking people for their immigration status.

While some Texas sheriffs anticipate getting sued for refusing to honor detainers, that’s not El Paso County’s issue. (El Paso County Sheriff Richard Wiles said his department honors ICE detainers and doesn’t plan to stop.)

After a local resident sued the county several years ago, accusing sheriffs’ deputies of conducting immigration checks at roadside checkpoints, the parties reached an agreement: The sheriff’s office had to “memorialize in writing its policies that prohibits Sheriffs Department Deputies from enforcing civil immigration law.”

Jed Untereker, assistant El Paso county attorney, said he’s already “received notification that we are going to get sued if we comply with [SB 4].”

SB 4 doesn’t require sheriff’s deputies or local police to ask for a person’s immigration status. But it does prohibit department heads or elected officials from preventing them from doing so. Wiles said any of his roughly 250 deputies could decide they want to be de-facto immigration agents, taking them “out of the field doing that instead of the work we want them to do.”

“The public expects us to guide and limit the discretion that they have because of the power and authority that law enforcement has to take away people’s freedom,” he said.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has assured El Paso County that any local lawsuits over the settlement agreement won’t be successful. In a letter to lawmakers earlier this month, he wrote that the settlement didn’t qualify as an actual court order.

“Parties cannot agree between themselves to trump state law,” he wrote.

Untereker said he wasn’t swayed.

“We disagree with that opinion,” he said. “A signed settlement agreement is a signed settlement agreement. We can argue as to exactly how much weight it has, but we’re going to be in violation of that” if the county is forced to follow SB 4.

The bill, which was approved by the Senate, has made its way to the Texas House for consideration. It remains unclear how much House lawmakers like the current version. State Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, who has authored a companion version of the bill, said on Tuesday that he’s been in recent discussions with attorneys and law enforcement authorities to address some concerns with the legislation. He didn’t specify what those issues were.

Read more about “sanctuary cities” legislation: 

  • After Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton insisted in a letter last week that Texas’ anti-“sanctuary cities” bill would survive a legal challenge, immigration attorneys are trying to convince members of the Legislature that he’s wrong.
  • After hearing more than 16 hours of testimony, the Texas Senate State Affairs Committee voted 7-2 along party lines to advance a bill that would punish local government entities and college campuses that refuse to cooperate with federal immigration officials or enforce immigration laws.
REFERENCE MATERIAL

Author:  JULIÁN AGUILAR – The Texas Tribune

Texans in Congress raise Questions about Russia, Trump Administration

WASHINGTON — After months of a slow simmer, Washington roiled Tuesday over the circumstances surrounding President Donald Trump’s administration and Russian leaders.

For months, Democrats had seethed with allegations that first Trump’s campaign, then his transition team and now his administration had inappropriate ties with Russian leaders. Trump and his allies have pushed back, saying such allegations are unfounded.

But late Monday’s resignation of National Security Adviser Michael Flynn prompted even some congressional Republicans — including the most powerful Texan on Capitol Hill — to raise questions.

Flynn stepped down from a position he had held for fewer than four weeks after a series of reports said that he conferred with the Russian ambassador to the United States about Obama administration sanctions for Russia during the Trump transition period. He left his position when it became clear he had misled top Trump administration officials, including Vice President Mike Pence, on the matter, according to White House officials.

“We got to a point, not based on a legal issue but based on a trust issue, where the level of trust between the president and General Flynn had eroded to the point where he felt he had to make a change,” White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said. “The president was very concerned that General Flynn had misled the vice president and others.”

While Democrats have howled about alleged Russian interference into American political life, there were signs that, at the very least, Flynn’s actions rattled congressional Republicans — including U.S. Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn.

Cornyn said on Tuesday that the Senate should investigate Flynn, according to CNN. But he stopped short of calling on the retired lieutenant general to testify in hearings.

“I think it’s symbolic of somebody with a distinguished military career making a bad mistake,” Cornyn said.

It was not merely because of Cornyn’s rank as the Senate’s No. 2 Republican that his comments sent waves throughout the halls of the U.S. Capitol: He is a newly installed member of the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, the congressional clearing house of the Russian controversy.

Another member of the Texas delegation, U.S. Rep. Bill Flores, R-Bryan, tweetedovernight: “Glad Michael Flynn is gone from White House. We need more sanctions on Russia, not fewer!”

On Tuesday morning, Flores explained to National Public Radio he thought Flynn’s actions were “inappropriate.”

“We’ve got to give some deference to the administration because they’re in the early stages of setting up all of their teams and their staffs and so forth,” he said. “And so you can’t expect them to be able turn on a dime. … One of the challenges they have is that they’ve got the lowest number of Senate confirmations since George Washington, I believe. So we can’t expect them to do everything as well as they do, let’s say, two months from now.”

When asked whether this episode raised “more concern … about this administration’s connections to Russia,” Flores responded, “No, it hasn’t.”

But Republicans — from Texas and beyond — were largely quiet on the controversy. The unstated anxiety on Capitol Hill on any policy matter, let alone one as charged as this one, is that congressional Republicans fear Trump could politically vaporize careers with a single tweet.

Democratic anger with the administration is nothing new. Earlier this year, intelligence agencies briefed House members about the Russian hack of the Democratic party apparatus. Democrats emerged from the meeting, privately telegraphing rage and fear.

U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro of San Antonio, the lone Texas Democrat serving on either chamber’s intelligence committee, spent the start of his third term beating the drum on Russia. In reaction to the Flynn resignation, Castro released a Tuesday morning statement.

“Investigations must take place to determine how severely this administration has compromised our nation’s security,” he said. “Congress and the American people deserve to know the full extent of Russia’s ties with the White House and involvement in the 2016 election.”

In early January, Castro emerged from an intelligence committee briefing and made one of the sharpest comments on the Democratic hack: “There’s also concern about finding out, making a determination, whether any American or Americans cooperated with [Romanian hacker] Guccifer or the Russian intelligence agencies in this endeavor.”

U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, cheekily criticized Trump on Tuesday from his perch on the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee. Democrats spent the past several days dogging that committee’s chairman, U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady of The Woodlands, to use the power of that gavel to force Trump to release his tax returns.

“Especially with General Flynn’s resignation after his entanglement with the Russians, the American people have reason to question whether, on this Valentine’s Day, more than ‘From Russia with Love’ is at stake here,” Doggett said in a statement. “There is no issue this committee could consider that is more important than assuring the confidence of the American people in our democracy – that our system of checks and balances truly works.”

Read more:

  • U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela says he will back U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, should the San Antonio Democrat challenge U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz in 2018.
  • U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, the top House Republican on homeland security issues, strongly criticized the Trump administration for the chaotic rollout last month of a travel ban of mostly Muslim countries.

Author:  ABBY LIVINGSTON – The Texas Tribune

Immigrants Picked Up, but No Massive Raids, Authorities Say

U.S. and Mexican authorities are pushing back against reports of widespread raids that have sown panic in immigrant communities. But the “targeted operation” launched in recent days by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) appears to be the largest of its kind since President Donald Trump took office.

In an interview with The Texas Tribune on Saturday, Carlos Gonzalez Gutierrez, the consul general of Mexico in Austin, shot down social media reports suggesting that ICE had set up traffic checkpoints or was rounding up immigrants indiscriminately. ICE called the reports of massive round-ups “false, dangerous and irresponsible,” the New York Times reported.

In Austin, a liberal enclave with a brand new “sanctuary” policy at the local jail, Gonzalez Gutierrez said the raid was the most extensive he’d seen since he arrived in the Texas capital almost two years ago. He said some of those apprehended by ICE were not the original targets of the U.S. operation. All told there were 44 Mexican nationals apprehended in the Austin area on Thursday and Friday, he said. Typically the agency picks up a handful per day. It’s not clear how many immigrants from other countries may have been picked up in the operation.

Gonzales Gutierrez said ICE officials informed the consulate that they “are looking for specific persons that… have to be detained because they have failed to honor a deportation order or because they have a DWI-related warrant or because of domestic violence. It’s a wide range of issues.”

In some cases, he said some of the Mexican nationals who were with the targeted immigrants also got detained; he said that has happened in past operations.

“Whenever they find their target, for example in their vehicles, if in that same vehicle there [are] more people who are undocumented or who they presume are undocumented, then they detain everybody,” he said. “And so there [are] a few of our nationals that were caught up because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

While Gonzalez Gutierrez expressed concern about the specter of a large operation targeting immigrants, he said it’s important to let people know that is not what’s happening now.

“This is not the widespread massive raids that are sometimes described in social media,” he said. “We have found no evidence of those workplace raids, or school raids, [or] massive raids outside of hospitals that people were talking about in social media.”

Central Texas was prominently featured in several national news stories with unconfirmed reports of immigrant raids, vehicle checkpoints and random ID checks.

And in the last two days, immigrant lawyers and advocacy groups have sounded alarms in multiple cities over what they called unusual enforcement activity by ICE. In Los Angeles, for example, the American Civil Liberties Union tweeted: “URGENT: ICE conducted multiple raids of homes across the city.” Protests erupted soon after.

U.S. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said at a news conference in California Friday night that the reports were flat wrong, according to local media reports.

“They’re not rounding anyone up,” Kelly said. “The people that ICE apprehend are people who are illegal, and then some.”

According to an ICE statement released to the news media in California, at least 160 people were apprehended over five days in the region as part of a routine “enforcement surge” targeting undocumented immigrants wanted by the agency. Of those, 150 had criminal records and five had removal orders, according to the reports.

KABC-TV in Los Angeles reported that 95 percent of the people detained in Southern California by ICE were men. Included were an MS-13 gang member from El Salvador, a Brazilian national wanted for cocaine trafficking and an Australian convicted of lewd and lascivious acts with a child, the station said.

Texas Tribune reporter Cassandra Pollock contributed to this story.

Author:  JAY ROOT – The Texas Tribune

Reports of Immigration Raids Whip across Texas, but Details are Sparse

Immigrant communities in Texas and nationwide are swirling with reports of large-scale immigration enforcement by federal agents, but so far details are scant and ICE says its activities are routine.

Reports of immigration raids swept across Texas and the rest of the nation Friday, sparking protests and press conferences. But in Austin and elsewhere, it was difficult to find hard evidence of actual raids, and federal officials insisted their agents were simply conducting routine enforcement.

Immigrant lawyers and advocacy groups have sounded alarms in multiple cities over what they called unusual enforcement activity by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. In Los Angeles, the American Civil Liberties Union tweeted: “URGENT: ICE conducted multiple raids of homes across the city.” Protests erupted soon after.

The Washington Post reported sweeping immigration raids in at least six states, including Texas. Quoting immigration activists, the Post reported raids in Austin, Dallas and Pflugerville, and said there were also reports of an ICE checkpoint in Austin that targeted immigrants for random ID checks. But it provided few details about specific cases.

Details have also been scant in Austin, where a pair of arrests following traffic stops by ICE agents led to a downtown protest and a press conference denouncing ICE activities. The Mexican Consulate told the Austin American-Statesman that ICE detained 44 Mexican immigrants Thursday and Friday — compared to four or five a day typically — but it didn’t indicate the circumstances surrounding the detentions.

Following reports that an immigration officer suffered minor injuries after arresting an undocumented immigrant in North Austin, Austin City Council members Greg Casar and Delia Garza spoke to reporters outside the Little Walnut Creek public library, joined by representatives of the Worker’s Defense Project, Education Austin, and the Texas chapter of the AFL-CIO.

“This is something very different than what we’ve seen before,” Casar said. “[Donald] Trump and allies will do everything they can to divide Americans and demonize communities. It’s clear people like Trump try to get political gain by creating fear and hostility — these ICE actions magnify that fear.”

In a statement on Facebook Friday morning, Casar said his office had confirmed “a large amount of [ICE] actions in Austin in the last 24 hours.”

Casar said he’s received several calls from constituents expressing fear about the situation, but he couldn’t offer details on ICE actions beyond a Friday arrest in North Austin. Austin police told the Austin American-Statesman that an ICE agent made a traffic stop and was trying to arrest a person in the vehicle when the suspect’s family members tried to intervene.

“We don’t understand it,” Garza said, “but the ripple effect is… it’s invited fear in the community.”

The other reported arrest happened in East Austin, where a Honduran woman called an immigrant support group to report that ICE agents had pulled over and detained her husband on Thursday; a protest followed at a downtown federal building, the Statesman reported.

ICE spokeswoman Adelina Pruneda told the Tribune that the agency doesn’t conduct random sweeps and its enforcement actions are based on investigative leads. “By removing from the streets criminal aliens and other threats to the public, ICE helps improve public safety,” Pruneda said.

San Antonio Congressman Joaquin Castro said Friday that ICE had confirmed to him that the agency was conducting a “targeted operation” in parts of Texas. 

“I have been informed by ICE that the agency’s San Antonio field office has launched a targeted operation in South and Central Texas as part of Operation Cross Check,” Castro said in a written statement. “I am asking ICE to clarify whether these individuals are in fact dangerous, violent threats to our communities, and not people who are here peacefully raising families and contributing to our state. I will continue to monitor this situation.”

State Sen. Dawn Buckingham, R-Lakeway, said it was “outrageous” that two elected officials in Austin publicly backed undocumented immigrants over law enforcement.

“Not only does questioning law enforcement put our communities at risk,” Buckingham said in a written statement, “it paints a bull’s-eye on the backs of the brave men and women sworn to protect us under extremely challenging circumstances.”

Tensions in Texas immigrant communities have risen since Trump became president — after campaigning on promises to build a border wall and deport undocumented immigrants en masse — and the state Legislature began debating bills to ban so-called “sanctuary cities.” Earlier this week, the Texas Senate passed Senate Bill 4 that would penalize local governments that don’t cooperate with federal immigration officials to enforce immigration laws.

Separately, newly-elected Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez launched a policy last month to reduce the county’s cooperation with federal immigration officials, and Gov. Greg Abbott soon after carried out his threat to strip $1.5 million in criminal justice grants from Travis County.

Author:  CASSANDRA POLLOCK – The Texas Tribune

Texas Refugee Advocates Criticize Trump’s Immigration Order

DALLAS — As President Trump’s executive order plunged the U.S. immigration system into chaos over the weekend, refugee advocates in Texas were scrambling to make sense of the situation.

Hundreds of migrants were detained at international airports around the country, including at Dallas-Fort Worth International and Houston’s Bush Intercontinental, before an order from a federal judge prompted the release of most – but not all – of them.

Aaron Rippenkroeger, CEO of Refugee Services of Texas, a statewide nonprofit advocacy group, called President Trump’s new policy un-American.

“We don’t agree with this action, but even so, there’s just so many better ways it could’ve been done,” Rippenkroeger said. “But to do it so abruptly with people in transit – literally mid-air – is just horrifying. It’s really a travesty, both the action and also the way it was carried out.”

The president signed the order Friday afternoon. It bans Syrian refugees, temporarily blocks citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries and suspends all refugee admissions for four months.

Many refugees were in transit when the order was issued and were initially detained or turned back when their flights arrived in the U.S.

The events spurred protests at major airports over the weekend, including those in Texas. Rippenkroeger said the new policy is causing fear and confusion among refugees already settled here.

“We have refugees coming into our office,” said Rippenkrieger, “saying, ‘Am I going to be sent back to the war zone that I came from? What does this mean? Am I no longer allowed to stay here? Am I not going to be able to go through the citizenship process that you all explained to me?'”

Despite opposition from the political right, Texas has taken in the second-greatest number of refugees in the U.S. in recent years. Rippenkroeger said the vetting for migrants wishing to enter the U.S. already is the toughest anywhere.

“The most extreme in the world, already, from any country by far,” he said. “It’s more rigorous than any other country does and by far the most rigorous that the U.S. has ever had, and by far more than anyone else traveling to the U.S.”

Rippenkroeger said he is heartened that, despite the partisan rhetoric, thousands of everyday Texans have volunteered to help settle the state’s refugees and make them feel welcome.

Author: Mark Richardson – Texas News Service

Borderland Immigration Council: Trump’s Executive Orders ‘Devastating Assault’

Via a news release and a Thursday morning news conference, the Borderland Immigration Council expressed their concern and outrage over President Donald Trump’s executive orders dealing with border security, immigrants and his fabled border wall.

Below is the Borderland Immigration Council’s complete statement:

The Borderland Immigration Council, a coalition of immigration attorneys, non-profit organizations, advocates and community members, denounces President Trump’s executive orders; asks for immediate action from Congressional, county and city officials; and demands transparency from ICE in the implementation of these new policies.

President Trump’s executive orders, signed 25 January 2017, on building a border wall, targeting asylum seekers and immigrants, and threatening the safety of our communities, are a devastating assault on our Borderplex home of El Paso and Ciudad Juarez.

As advocates for immigrants and refugees, we vow to protect the fundamental rights of all people, including asylum seekers and our undocumented neighbors. The executive order announced today seeks to expedite the asylum process to a pace that threatens to undermine asylum seekers’ rights.

Expediting the process and increasing detention measures directly impact a person’s ability to have meaningful access to counsel and is in violation of due process. These fundamental principles of our democracy are now under attack. Additionally, this violates international conventions that protect the asylum seeker by fast tracking people back to countries that often fail to protect their lives.

In effect, the executive order issued today will result in the unnecessary deaths of asylum seekers who present themselves at our southern border asking for our help.

Mandatory detention criminalizes people seeking asylum and threatens family unity without regard to individualized circumstances.  There are ongoing reports of inadequate treatment and inhumane conditions in immigrant detention centers in our community; increasing the use of detention not only undermines our commitment to liberty, put places more people at risk.

Finally, building a wall and pouring money into a border that is already highly militarized is an insult to us as Americans, taxpayers, and global citizens.  Building a larger wall will not make America safer. It represents a scandalous misuse of resources under the guise of national security — when we know that border communities like El Paso, and those with large immigrant populations, are among the safest places to live.

We demand that our Congressional representatives, county and city elected officials and community leaders challenge the breadth and reach of these executive orders. We invite them to join us in publicly committing to fight this administration’s efforts to demonize and threaten the safety of immigrants within our communities and those seeking assistance on our borders. We ask that they ensure that the legal process is followed and that the Department of Homeland Security not abuse its discretion.

We urge ICE and CBP to be humane in all policy implementation and ask that the Department of Homeland Security clarify immediately how these policies will be implemented. We further demand that our local ICE office publicly announce how and when any new policies concerning the enforcement of immigration laws will be implemented locally and within the El Paso Area of Responsibility.

As advocates, representatives of the law, and global citizens committed to rights and justice, we denounce these executive orders as harmful to the very fabric of our communities and country.

The Borderland Immigration Council consists of immigration attorneys, local nonprofits, and members of the community who are concerned with Immigration Customs and Enforcement leadership’s pattern of denial of discretionary relief for immigrants and refugees in the El Paso area. BIC advocates for all migrants and families facing the unjust system of immigration.

In Addition to Border Wall, Trump’s Executive Action Targets Detention Space

The White House announced Wednesday that in addition to moving to build a barrier on the southern border, it will act to build more detention space for undocumented immigrants in the area.

As the Trump administration moves to expedite construction of a physical barrier on the southern border, it will also begin building more detention space for undocumented immigrants in the area and work to withhold federal dollars from entities that don’t enforce immigration laws, the White House announced Wednesday.

“Building this barrier is more than just a campaign promise, it’s a common-sense first step to really securing our porous border,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters during a briefing. “And yes, one way or another — as the president has said  before —  Mexico will pay for it.”

On Wednesday, President Donald Trump signed the executive order to create the border wall and add the detention space after the swearing-in ceremony for Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly.

In a speech to federal agents in Washington after signing the order, Trump said the measures would help restore peace and stability in the U.S. but would also benefit Mexico.

“This will also help Mexico by deterring illegal immigration from Central America and by disrupting violent cartel networks,” he said. “As I have said repeatedly to the country, we are going to get the bad ones out – the criminals and  the drug dealers and gang and gang members and cartel leaders.”

The executive order also calls for the hiring of another 5,000 Border Patrol officers and tripling the number of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers currently employed by the federal government, he said.

The text of the order also gives a glimpse into how Trump expects Mexico to pay for the wall. It orders agency directors to “identify and quantify” the amount of aid the country has given to Mexico over the previous five years. Analysts have stated that one way to force Mexico to pay is to cut off foreign aid.

The 1,288 miles along the U.S.-Mexico border with no fence are outlined in purple.THIS MAP WAS CREATED BY REVEAL FROM THE CENTER FOR INVESTIGATIVE REPORTING. SOURCES INCLUDE: REVEAL RESEARCH, U.S. CUSTOMS AND BORDER PROTECTION, OPENSTREETMAP, ALLISON MCCARTNEY
The 1,288 miles along the U.S.-Mexico border with no fence are outlined in purple.THIS MAP WAS CREATED BY REVEAL FROM THE CENTER FOR INVESTIGATIVE REPORTING. SOURCES INCLUDE: REVEAL RESEARCH, U.S. CUSTOMS AND BORDER PROTECTION, OPENSTREETMAP, ALLISON MCCARTNEY

The order seeks to boost local and state involvement in immigration enforcement by expanding the controversial 287(g) program, which allows local and state officers to enforce immigration laws if they undergo the requisite training.

“In furtherance of this policy, the Secretary shall immediately take appropriate action to engage with the Governors of the States, as well as local officials, for the purpose of preparing to enter into agreements under section 287(g)” the order says.

Reaction to the order was swift. The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund warned Wednesday that Trump’s move will cause irreversible damage.

“Aggressive interior enforcement is an abject failure, delivering tremendous upheaval and harm to families, schools, and workplaces,” MALDEF President and General Counsel Thomas A. Saenz said in a statement. “The economic disruption to critical industries, such as agriculture, from such efforts render these executive orders a direct and undiluted threat to United States national security.”

The White House is also reverting to using the controversial Secure Communities program, which had been replaced by former President Obama with the Priority Enforcement Program.

“We’re going to create more detention space for illegal immigrants along the southern border to make it easier and cheaper to detain them and return them to their country of origin,” Spicer said at the White House briefing. “We’re going to end the last administration’s dangerous catch-and-release policy, which has led to the deaths of many Americans.”

Through the Secure Communities program, administered by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, local law enforcement compares the fingerprints of those arrested to a federal database to determine if the individual is eligible for deportation under current federal immigration laws. Federal funds will be withheld from cities and states that don’t comply with federal law, Spicer said.

“After these criminals spend time in prison for the crimes they have committed, they’re going to get one-way tickets to their country of origin,” he said.

In order to force those governments to take back the deportees, Spicer said the administration would consider withholding visas and “use other tools” to ensure compliance.

Border lawmakers and officials quickly criticized the idea that a wall was needed and instead advocated for a more modern solution,

During a visit to the state Capitol on Wednesday, Laredo Mayor Pete Saenz said he was disappointed that Trump would make the decision without reaching out to border leaders.

“It’s sad day In Laredo, Texas. And frankly on the entire border. We would hope maybe the people that surround President Trump would think differently. Maybe they can influence him still,” he said. “We respect him as our president, but we respectfully disagree with this notion of a wall. There is room for compromise — we’re not totally against any type of fencing if it’s strategically placed.”

State Rep. César Blanco, D-El Paso, said Trump had no choice but to please his out-of-touch supporters.

“We’ve seen that the border wall is very expensive to maintain. It’s politics as usual,” he said. “I think Trump has to fulfill his campaign promise to build a wall, and I think Republicans across the country are lining up behind him. It’d be smart for him to invest in technology for our bridges.”

While few Texas Republicans had voiced full support for a wall during the campaign, they offered positive reviews Wednesday as word got out about Trump’s order.

“Governor Abbott is pleased with the immediate action President Trump has taken to fulfill his promise to secure the border,” Abbott spokeswoman Ciara Matthews said in a statement. “The Governor looks forward to working with the Trump Administration to keep Texans safe and protect our sovereignty.”

Abbott has previously said it would be difficult to build a wall along some parts of the border, including stretches of the Rio Grande River and Big Bend National Park.

“I’m open to anything that works,” Attorney General Ken Paxton told reporters in Austin, speaking before Trump issued the order. “If the wall is the best way to secure our border and make sure that our citizens are safe and secure, then I’m open to it.”

U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, who represents hundreds of miles along the Texas-Mexico border, was the lone Texas Republican on Wednesday to react negatively to Trump’s order. In a statement, he reiterated his longstanding view that a wall “is the most expensive and least effective way to secure the border.”

Before Spicer’s briefing, Trump told ABC News that he’d find a way to compel Mexico to pay for the barrier.

“We are going to be starting those negotiations relatively soon,” he said. “Absolutely, 100 percent [they will pay us back].”

When asked about Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto’s recent statement that his government will not pay for any part of the project, Trump said, “He has to say that.”

“I am just telling you there will be a payment. It will be in a form, perhaps a complicated form,” he continued.  “You have to understand what I am doing is good for the United States. It’s also going to be good for Mexico.”

Patrick Svitek contributed to this report.

Author:  JULIÁN AGUILAR – The Texas Tribune

Rep O’Rourke: America and “the Better Angels of our Nature”

I’m writing to you as I fly back from the inauguration:  Greetings from seat 14D.

I have to begin by telling you that despite my deep disappointment in the results of our Presidential election in November, today’s inauguration deepened my faith in this country and my gratitude to be an American.

Where else could so much power — over the world’s largest economy, it’s most fearsome military and the bureaucracy that makes it all run — be peacefully handed over by one leader to a rival who has vowed to undo the very work that his predecessor spent 8 years carrying out?

Personally seeing Barack Obama, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton on the same stage, solemnly fulfilling their constitutional obligations, is to witness our unique experiment in democracy and the power of our institutions.

As difficult a moment as this transfer is for so many, it is something to honor.

It’s my belief in our institutions that compelled me to attend today’s joint meeting of Congress which hosted the inauguration. And it is my belief in our democracy that will guide me as we look for ways to work with the new administration whenever it is to this country’s advantage.

And it’s that same faith that tells me that together we have the power to stop or reverse those policies that will harm the United States.

I congratulate Donald Trump as he assumes the Presidency, and I want him — for the sake of the country — to be successful. His newly confirmed Secretary of Defense, Gen. James Mattis, and his pick for the VA, David Shulkin, show promise and give me hope that our work on the Armed Services and Veterans Affairs committees will find willing partners.

But some of the themes in today’s inaugural address show us how important it is that we stick together to stop what could be a dangerous slide towards isolation and paranoia.

Despite the heroic sacrifice of the Greatest Generation — those brave men and women who survived the Great Depression, won World War II and secured for America a leading place in the world and the international commitments to ensure that we keep it — President Trump committed this country to, in his words, “only America first”.

His inaugural address deepened his obsession on erecting physical and economic barriers with the rest of the world and stoking anxiety and fear about the threats that face us. The world has been down that road before, and it doesn’t end well.

If we were looking for inspiration, we will have to look beyond this speech. “American carnage” is the phrase he used to describe our state of affairs, while also promising to “bring back our borders.”

Where will we bring back our borders from? If he’s talking about our border with Mexico, he does so at a time that El Paso is the safest city in America and the U.S.-Mexico border — by any measure — has never been more secure.

While there are those who have not benefited from this economy, and Trump is right to remind us of that, it was painful to hear a description of America that doesn’t match reality for many, especially the part of America where I was born, that I have the honor to serve and where Amy and I raise our children — we can, and must, find inspiration and comfort in those institutions that worked the way they were intended to today.

And we can find it in each other.

Watching the leadership from different parties and parts of the U.S. come together at the inauguration today, and afterwards squeezing onto a D.C. metro on my way to the airport, with people wearing “Make America Great Again” hats pressed up against protesters and D.C. citizens (who voted against Trump 96% to 4%); and even being on this airplane flying back with people who came to celebrate, protest or just witness the inauguration — that all gives me hope that we will not only survive the focus on fear and the divisions that this election laid bare, but that we will find a way to come together and do something inspired by hope and fearlessness.

It just depends on what Abraham Lincoln referred to in his first inaugural, “the better angels of our nature.”

Vela, Gonzalez become Fourth and Fifth Texans in Congress to Boycott Trump Inauguration

Both U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela of Brownsville and Vicente Gonzalez of McAllen announced Thursday they were boycotting President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration, taking the count of Texas congressmen who won’t attend to five.

They join U.S. Reps. Joaquin CastroLloyd Doggett of Austin and Al Green of Houston, in addition to dozens of House Democrats around the country.

Vela initially planned to attend Friday’s event, which he thought could serve as “a moment of healing and outreach” but racist remarks from inauguration attendees and a lack of diversity in the final cabinet selection made him reconsider.

“While visiting Washington, DC, 40 migrant students from my district were subjected to comments of ‘beaners,’ ‘burritos,’ and ‘wetbacks’ from Inauguration attendees,” Vela wrote in a statement released Thursday. “One student was even spit on.”

“Then, Donald Trump made his final cabinet selection ensuring that there would be no Hispanic representation in the cabinet for the first time in 36 years,” Vela added, referring Trump’s announcement Thursday morning of Sonny Perdue as his nominee for U.S. agriculture secretary.

Vela has long been outspoken on his concerns with Trump. In June, he drew national attention when he wrote an open letter to the real estate mogul that said “Mr. Trump, you’re a racist and you can take your border wall and shove it up your ass.”

Gonzalez also cited the lack of Latino representation in Trump’s cabinet with changing his mind. Earlier in the week, he had told the Tribune he planned to attend the inauguration, adding in a statement, “I have accepted the reality that Donald Trump will be the 45th President of the United States. The rhetoric needs to stop. And at this point I believe we have the duty to get back to work.”

On Thursday, Gonzalez struck a different tone.

“As one of more than 56 million Latinos in this country and as the representative for one of the most Hispanic districts in the country, I cannot condone the outright exclusion of our communities – or any community – from the executive branch or any level of government,” Gonzalez said in a statement.

Several Texas Democrats in Congress have said they plan to attend Friday’s inauguration, including U.S. Reps. Henry Cuellar of Laredo, Gene Green of Houston, Beto O’Rourke of El Paso, Marc Veasey of Fort Worth.

Abby Livingston contributed to this report.

Author – SANYA MANSOOR – The Texas Tribune

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