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Trump Agrees Not to Terminate NAFTA

WASHINGTON — After a trial balloon went over poorly with Congress, President Donald Trump told foreign leaders Wednesday night that he wouldn’t end the North American Free Trade Agreement just yet.

Late Wednesday night, the White House released a statement backing off of the notion after the president spoke with the leaders of Canada and Mexico.

“President Trump agreed not to terminate NAFTA at this time and the leaders agreed to proceed swiftly, according to their required internal procedures, to enable the renegotiation of the NAFTA deal to the benefit of all three countries,” the statement said.

Texans in Congress had reacted with concern on Wednesday after reports surfaced that Trump was considering taking the first steps of possibly unwinding the agreement. Trump administration officials were reportedly considering issuing an executive order to signal the United States’ intent to withdraw from the trade agreement with Canada and Mexico, according to several news organizations.

U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville, represents a district that shares the border with Mexico and was the most overtly unhappy member of the Texas delegation.

“He can do the same thing with his NAFTA order that he can do with his wall,” Vela said, alluding to a previous missive to Trump encouraging the future president to “take your border wall and shove it up your ass.”

“Killing NAFTA is going to kill the Texas economy,” he added. “It would be devastating.”

The highest-ranking Texas Republican in Congress, U.S. Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, encouraged caution.

“I think we’d better be careful about unintended consequences,” said Cornyn, according to Politico.

Interviews with Capitol Hill staffers Wednesday afternoon showed Democrats are increasingly frustrated with how issues like NAFTA spring forward from the administration, even as Congress is attempting to address how to fund the government, resurrect a health care overhaul and rewrite the tax code.

Texas Republicans, who tend to support free trade, were similarly uncomfortable, but it it could prove unlikely that the rank-and-file House member who believes in free trade would oppose one of Trump’s signature campaign policies. Back in August, a number of Texas GOP members defended the trade agreement in statements to the Texas Tribune.

As reports surfaced about the possible executive order, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz‘s office pointed to comments the Texas Republican has previously made saying there is “no doubt that Texas benefits enormously from international trade,” including with Canada and Mexico. Cruz has expressed support for renegotiating NAFTA under Trump — he has said doing so is long overdue — but not abandoning it altogether.

Patrick Svitek contributed to this report.

Read related Tribune coverage:

Author:  ABBY LIVINGSTON – The Texas Tribune

State Senator Jose Rodríguez’s Issues Statement on SB 4

Austin – Senator José Rodríguez, Chairman of the Senate Democratic Caucus, released the following statement regarding SB 4, which coerces local police to carry out federal immigration law:

SB 4 is an attack on Hispanics and the immigrant community. In a sad irony, a bill purportedly about public safety and the rule of law makes us less safe and erodes confidence in the justice system by disregarding constitutional due process protections and separation of powers.

Some facts about SB 4:

It was made clear when the bill passed the Senate, and again made clear in debate today in the House, that there are significant legal issues with SB 4.

  • El Paso County is under a settlement entered in federal court in 2006 that prohibits the county from enforcing civil immigration law. The settlement resulted from traffic checkpoints set up by the El Paso Sheriff’s Department in which it was alleged deputies conducted unlawful searches, seizures and detentions. Should SB 4 become law in its current form, it’s virtually certain to result in a costly lawsuit for El Paso County, which must choose between a federal settlement agreement and compliance with this new state law.
  • Texas cannot eliminate Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure:

o   An ICE request to county jails to detain a person must be based on probable cause that the person is violating immigration law.

o   But these detainers are not issued by an independent judge who reviews them for probable cause. They are issued by immigration officers.

o   Federal courts in other jurisdictions have already held that a county’s compliance with voluntary immigration detainers violate the Fourth and Fifth Amendments.

  • SB4 coerces local governments:

o   Creates a separate criminal offense under state law for failure to comply with the bill, making local officials personally liable for performance of each and every law officer working in their jurisdiction.

o   Subjects local entities to Attorney General lawsuits originating from public complaints that may have no merit, eroding community relations and creating unnecessary expense.

o   Singles out the enforcement authority of University Campus police to target students that may be DREAMers or DACA recipients.

Border Wall Plans Spur Effort to help Texas Landowners with Eminent Domain

As the Trump administration sets its sights on building a barrier on the country’s southern border, a group of Texas attorneys aims to help border residents ensure they are properly compensated for whatever land the government seizes.

A group of Texas attorneys launched a campaign Wednesday to help ensure that property owners on the state’s southern border are properly compensated should the Trump administration seize their lands for a border wall.

The Texas Civil Rights Project says it will focus its efforts on lower-income residents who don’t have the skills or knowledge needed to fight through the complicated eminent domain process that’s looming as the U.S. Department of Homeland Security moves ahead with plans for the wall’s construction.

“Under the rules governing federal condemnation actions, a landowner who disagrees with the amount offered by the government has the right to request a jury trial,” Efrén Olivares, the Civil Rights Project’s racial and economic justice director, said in a prepared statement. “Our team at the Texas Civil Rights Project is ready to represent landowners, as well as train and deploy legal volunteers to ensure that all landowners have the representation and respect they deserve.”

In his Jan. 25 executive order on border security and immigration, President Donald Trump ordered the Department of Homeland Security to begin planning a physical barrier on the country’s border with Mexico.

Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly has since conceded that a coast-to-coast barrier isn’t likely to happen and that efforts would instead focus on a combination of technology and a physical wall. But a draft Homeland Security Department memo leaked last week stated that the Texas’ Rio Grande Valley area would probably be home to nearly three dozen miles of new construction once the building phase begins.

Facing off with the federal government won’t be a new challenge for the area. In 2006, the federal Secure Fence Act mandated that the government build about 700 miles of a steel barrier on the border. In response, hundreds of lawsuits were filed as Rio Grande Valley property owners sought proper compensation for pieces of land that varied in size from less than once acre to several hundred, according to documents provided by the Texas Civil Rights Project. Several dozen of those suits remain pending. The plaintiffs include private landowners, estate managers and local irrigation districts.

Read related Tribune coverage: 

  • The Trump administration may not be able to move mountains — literally — in its quest to build a coast-to-coast wall along the nation’s southern border. But that doesn’t mean the White House won’t review some longstanding treaties that have stymied past administrations.
  • At the U.S.-Mexico border, scientists say existing fencing is hurting endangered wildlife and warn that a continuous wall could devastate many species.

Author:  JULIÁN AGUILAR – The Texas Tribune

Rep Hurd Issues Statement on Military Strikes in Syria

In response to Thursday night’s strikes against an air base in Syria, U.S Representative Will Hurd issued the following statement:

“Bashar al-Assad showed a disregard for human life and longstanding norms against chemical weapons with his barbaric attack this week. Last night’s strikes were a limited, proportional, and retaliatory response directly to these actions.

I support the President for taking strong, decisive action, and I commend our troops for their professionalism in carrying out these strikes. The United States sent a signal to the world that the we will no longer stand idly by as Assad carries out atrocities against the Syrian people.

I continue to believe that a peaceful, prosperous Syria can only exist with a stable government in place which does not include Bashar al-Assad.

We must continue to work with our allies, partners, and the international community to achieve this goal.”

Cornyn: Brutality in Syria Can’t Be Ignored

Friday, on the Senate floor, U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) reacted to Thursday night’s airstrikes in Syria. Excerpts of Sen. Cornyn’s remarks are below and video of his remarks can be found here.

“I’d like to start briefly by mentioning the horrific chemical attack on innocent civilians in Syria earlier this week. It was nothing short of evil, and I stand shoulder to shoulder with the Administration in condemning this brutality. Again we see Bashar al-Assad crossing a line, a line drawn and then ignored by the Obama Administration. The United States and the world community simply can’t stand idly while Syria continues crimes against humanity.”

“That’s why last night the Administration responded quickly and proportionately, and I commend the President and his national security team for acting decisively and sending a clear message to Assad and our allies.”

“I stand ready to work with the President and his Administration on a unified strategy to defeat Assad’s barbarism and to work toward greater stability in Syria and throughout the region.”   

Backers See ‘Medicare for All’ as Cure for U.S. Health Care

HOUSTON – With Republicans trying to resuscitate their plan to replace the Affordable Care Act, the debate in Texas and elsewhere over how to fix the health-care system is heating up again.

While partisan divides remain deep, Glenn Pearson, former president of Physicians for a National Health Program, said the failure of the American Health Care Act presents a unique opportunity for President Trump to make good on campaign promises for more coverage and better benefits by moving beyond for-profit models.

“America is the only wealthy country in the world that has a free market, for-profit system,” Pearson said. “It treats health care as a commodity, like buying a TV. In every other country, health care is a human right.”

Pearson said the Medicare for All Act, introduced by Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., would provide coverage to all Americans by expanding Medicare, the single-payer program already in place for people age 65 and older. Critics have said the move would be too costly, but research has shown most U.S. households would pay less than the current system of insurance premiums, deductibles and co-pays.

Pearson, while not a fan of the ill-fated “Trumpcare” proposal, noted that the Affordable Care Act still leaves many without coverage and channels billions of taxpayer dollars to private insurance companies. He said a majority of Americans, including Republicans, support a system where money currently going to administrative overhead and private profits is spent on patient care instead.

“There would be no deductibles, no co-insurance; there would be very small co-pays,” he said, “and so nobody would ever go bankrupt because they became ill.”

Even though more people have insurance since the rollout of the ACA, Pearson said, nearly 2 million Americans go bankrupt each year because of health-care expenses. A National Day of Action calling for universal health care is set for April 8, the first day of the congressional recess.

The Conyers bill’s text is online at congress.gov, and an analysis is at pnhp.org.

Senator Cornyn Issues Statement on Administration Repealing Obama EPA Regulations

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) released the following statement after President Trump signed an executive order repealing the job-killing U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations put in place by the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan:

“For eight years the Obama Administration’s draconian regulatory regime hindered job growth and hit Texans at the pump and on their utility bills.

Rolling back the Obama Administration’s unnecessary, job-killing, and oppressive EPA regulations is another promise kept by this President.” 

“I’m glad President Trump continues to prioritize job creation over catering to environmental activists, and I look forward to working with him to harness our state’s energy potential for the benefit of the entire nation.”

Study: Undocumented Immigrants Pay More in Taxes Than Wealthy

DENVER – The richest one percent of U.S. taxpayers pay less in taxes, just five percent of their income, than undocumented immigrants who pay eight percent. That’s according to a new report from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy.

Meg Wiehe, the director of programs for the group, says the findings show widespread claims that immigrants are a drain on taxpayers are simply not true.

“Like you and like me and like everyone else, they pay sales and excise taxes when they purchase goods and services, they pay property taxes directly on their homes or indirectly as renters, and many undocumented immigrants are also paying income taxes,” she explained.

Colorado currently relies on sales, excise and property taxes for nearly 70 percent of its revenues each year. The study found undocumented immigrants currently add $140 million to Colorado’s tax coffers annually, and if they were given a pathway to legal status, they would contribute an additional $33 million.

Nationally, undocumented immigrants contribute nearly $12 billion in taxes.

In his recent joint address to Congress, President Trump claimed immigrants cost American taxpayers billions of dollars a year. Wiehe notes even though immigrants pay taxes that support safety-net programs, they are not eligible for benefits that other low- and moderate-income families depend on.

“Undocumented immigrants are actually generally excluded from most public benefits,” she said. “Many are paying into Social Security but will not receive the benefits from Social Security. They’re not eligible for Medicaid, they’re not eligible for food stamps.”

A 2013 Social Security Administration report found undocumented workers paid $13 billion in Social Security taxes.

Researchers at City University of New York estimate mass deportation of immigrants would lead to a loss of nearly $5 trillion in U.S. economic output over the next decade.

Author: Eric Galatas – Public News Service

Trump Budget Cuts Would hit Texas Education Service Programs Hard

President Trump’s proposed budget would cut about $14 million from Texas programs designed to provide tutoring, mentorship and counseling for low-income students.

Mary Ellen Isaacs looks at the Trump Administration’s proposed budget and sees no federally-funded tutors for the 2,000 Austin students who pass through the Literacy First program for extra reading help each year.

Isaacs, the director of the program, placed about 106 AmeriCorps volunteers to tutor in low-income Austin schools this year, and received about $12,900 per full-time volunteer. Next year, she might not see any of that money.

The Trump Administration Thursday released its proposed federal budget, which would eliminate funding for the Corporation for National and Community Service, a federal agency that deploys volunteers across the country to staff service programs in underserved communities.

Among the major programs the Corporation for National and Community Service runs is AmeriCorps, which funds more than 80,000 volunteers nationwide every year.

The funding cuts might not slash those programs entirely in Texas, but advocates say it will make it more difficult to provide their tutoring, mentorship and other education services for Texas students.

“There are options,” Isaacs said. But without the money to support volunteers, “all of the programs would need to rethink and tweak how the program is delivered. We’d be hard pressed to serve the same number of kids, at least immediately.”

Texas received $14 million in federal AmeriCorps grants in 2016-17, which funds 2,414 AmeriCorps volunteers to work with 28 schools and non-profits at 500 sites. The organizations are required to raise their own share of money to support the program; in 2016-17 they raised about $31 million in local match funding.

Most of the money goes to education programs, said Elizabeth Darling, CEO of OneStar Foundation, which administers AmeriCorps in Texas.

“Overall, I feel that it would definitely reduce many of those programs,” she said. “It shouldn’t eliminate them because we’re never the sole funder.”

For Communities in Schools in Central Texas, that means less capacity to provide mentorship, community resources, and counseling services year round in six school districts.

The federal money gives students help “to get them across the finish line. Schools don’t have resources to work one-on-one, or small group,” said Suki Steinhauser, CEO of the organization.

Trump’s preliminary budget eliminates funding for 19 other agencies, and cuts funding from many departments, including the Environmental Protection Agency, State Department, Agriculture Department and Education Department.

“Consistent with the President’s approach to move the nation toward fiscal responsibility, the budget eliminates and reduces hundreds of programs and focuses funding to redefine the proper role of the federal government,” reads a document of budgetary priorities the White House said in a written statement released Thursday.

Author:  ALIYYA SWABY – The Texas Tribune

NM’s Udall Defends, Celebrates Free Press in U.S. Senate

WASHINGTON, D.C. — New Mexico Sen. Tom Udall took President Donald Trump to task on the U.S. Senate floor Wednesday over his treatment of reporters and news organizations.

Udall shared some of the history of journalism with fellow senators, and spoke about why a free press is crucial to a functioning democracy. His statement came during Sunshine Week, an annual observance of America’s open government and free press.

Stewart Mizell III is an executive with USA Today and president of the American Society of News Editors, the group that founded Sunshine Week.

“It’s a week-long celebration of a true right that Americans have to get access to meetings, to records, to data – at every level of government,” Mizell said of the event.

He said his group is happy that Sen. Udall decided to add his voice to, “thousands of Americans who believe that open government is their right.”

In his presentation, Sen. Udall warned that a government that shrouds itself in secrecy can become an oligarchy.

Mizell explained that the purpose of Sunshine Week is to recognize the role and importance of the news media in getting information to the public about the workings of government. This year’s theme is, “It’s Your Right to Know.”

“It’s a critical element of the constitutional right to petition the government for redress of grievances,” Mizell said. “You don’t have an opportunity to know what to petition unless you understand what government is doing, and exercise your right as a citizen to find out.”

He said the point of Sunshine Week is also to reinforce the need for a well-informed population, and that’s what prompted the American Society of News Editors to establish Sunshine Week in 2005.

Author: Brett McPherson, Public News Service – NM

Cornyn Op-Ed: Don’t End NAFTA. Fix It.

When looking for a model economy, Washington would be wise to look no further than Texas. The “great American jobs machine,” as we’re affectionately known, has been the economic engine that pulled our country out of the recent recession, singlehandedly adding more than one million jobs to the American economy. In fact, if Texas were its own country, we would be the 10th largest economy in the world.

Now, with pro-growth Republicans in control of Congress and the White House, leaders are beginning to consider proposals to lift our economy out of a sluggish recovery. But as we work together to jumpstart our factories and farms across the country, let’s keep in mind what my state has gotten right.

Trade has been a cornerstone of the Texas economy, with no partner more important than Mexico.

As our largest export market, Mexico has an extraordinary economic relationship with Texas. Trade with our southern neighbor supports hundreds of thousands of jobs in my state and provides more goods at a better price for Texas families. More than a third of all Texas merchandise is exported to Mexico – meaning our farmers, ranchers and small businesses have found no shortage of customers south of the border too.

This explosion in trade for our state has catapulted Texas to the top of exporting states in the country for more than a decade now. Thanks to trade pacts like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), goods and services flow more freely among the three North American countries, growing jobs across Texas and stretching paychecks further. This isn’t just true for Texas. A majority of exports coming from Michigan and Ohio, for example, are bound for our NAFTA partners too.

Trade in Texas – specifically along our Southern border with Mexico – doesn’t just work in theory. It’s the reality on the ground too. Last week I led a congressional delegation to the border to see this economy in action. We visited the Pharr International Bridge in the Rio Grande Valley – a bridge that facilitates about $30 billion in trade a year. We also visited Laredo, a port that handles about a third of all international trade in Texas, with 14,000 trucks passing through daily. In other words, the Texas border serves as a major gateway for agriculture and manufactured goods trade. It moves more freight along its 1,200-plus miles of southern border than any other border state. And this trade in turn fuels economic growth and vitality across the region and the entire country.

But like anything that’s dated, there’s room for NAFTA to be improved. It’s now more than 20 years old. Texas and the United States as a whole would benefit from a revised agreement that makes trade freer and fairer. By fixing NAFTA, we can address modern-day challenges and preserve and protect America’s unrivaled stability and prosperity into the next century.

Consider the nation’s energy landscape. It has changed dramatically since the trade deal was hammered out in the 1990s. With the recent lifting of the U.S. crude oil export ban and Mexico’s energy reforms, a renegotiated deal should account for regulatory cooperation and capacity-building provisions that promote investment and the free flow of American energy, particularly a streamlined approval process for LNG exports. There’s room to bring the services trade into the 21st century, strengthen intellectual property rights and eliminate non-science barriers to trade, too.

As the administration and Congress look to improve existing trade deals, such as NAFTA, we would also be wise to focus on strengthening the Southern border. The president has made no secret of rightly prioritizing our country’s safety. Securing the border is an essential part of that equation.

But as we do, we must be quick to engage community leaders and business-owners along the border. Yes, they want security and protection. But they also know that key to the success of Texas and the nation has been the cultivation of an environment that can manage the demands of high-volume trade. That means keeping legitimate trade and travel flowing, while simultaneously screening criminal elements and contraband to keep them out. In other words, the border ecosystem demands a careful balance.

It’s our job to consider how to gain complete control of the border, while equipping our Customs and Border Patrol agents with the resources they need to keep our economy up and running. That way, everyone can benefit from access to markets on the other side.

Texas – where taxes are low, regulations are sensible and trade is encouraged – has proven time and again that we’re a blueprint for growing the national economy. In my state, border security, trade and the economy are intimately connected. So as Congress considers whether to revisit agreements like NAFTA and how to best secure the border, we must take great care to advocate for smart policies that drive growth here at home and enhance our partnerships abroad.

Senator John Cornyn, a Republican from Texas, is a member of the Senate Finance, Intelligence, and Judiciary Committees.  This column originally appeared in Politico Magazine and is reposted with permission.

Recent Raids Drive Immigrant Families to Passport Scramble

Fearing deportation, immigrant families are crowding passport lines across the state as undocumented parents seek U.S. passports for their American children.

Carlos Bernal and his wife woke up their children, gathered their documents and drove to the Travis County passport office before dawn Monday. They were first in line at 5 a.m., three hours before the office opened.

“We’re here to get our kids passports, in case they kick us out,” Bernal said in his native Spanish.

His children, ages 14, 13 and 6, are U.S. citizens. He and his wife are not. Because of recent Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids, he said, they have to be ready to pack up and leave the country for Mexico.

A recent flurry of ICE apprehensions around the country has sent undocumented immigrants from various countries running to passport offices and their native countries’ consulates for documentation they pray they won’t need.

At the Salvadoran consulate in Dallas, Consul General Jose Mario Mejía Barrera said his office has seen a 25 percent increase in passport applications and child registries in the past month. Mejía Barrera’s consulate serves around 150,000 Salvadorans who live in North Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas.

“There’s uncertainty and worry among the community. People are realizing they have to file the right paperwork,” Mejía Barrera said. “Children who are born here, with Salvadoran moms or dads, are being registered so they have dual citizenship. Couples are registering their marriages so that they’re valid in El Salvador.”

At the Mexican consulate in Austin, Consul General Carlos Gonzalez Gutiérrez said his office has seen an uptick in the number of applications for passports and birth certificates since the November presidential election. Last month’s ICE activity in Austin scared immigrants more, he said, because non-criminal immigrants were detained — a change from Obama-era policies.

On Friday, Gonzalez Gutiérrez’s consulate will hold its first-ever custody session to help undocumented Mexicans understand how guardianship works in case they have to leave their children with a documented family member or friend. Gonzalez Gutiérrez said immigrants also ask the consulate about property rights, wondering if the U.S. government can confiscate their homes.

“Their questions show the state of anxiety that the community is in,” said Gonzalez Gutiérrez, whose office oversees nearly 450,000 people of Mexican origin in Central Texas. “Up until a few months ago, these questions were unimaginable.”

Two weeks ago, ICE arrested dozens of undocumented immigrants across the nation in what they said was a routine action. But the immigrant community was already on edge because of rising anti-immigrant rhetoric during the presidential campaign, and the ICE actions sent many undocumented families into a panic.

Families wait in line outside Travis County's passport office. Undocumented parents fearing deportation visited the office to get passports for their American children.  | Photo by Marjorie Kamys Cotera
Families wait in line outside Travis County’s passport office. Undocumented parents fearing deportation visited the office to get passports for their American children. | Photo by Marjorie Kamys Cotera

Behind the Bernals at the Austin passport office, the majority of the line was made up of immigrant families clutching their children’s birth certificates; they waited several hours before being allowed inside the passport center.

For some families, this was the first of two passport lines they had to navigate to ensure their children are correctly documented.

Romina, a Mexican woman who has lived in Austin for 10 years, said she was going to get Mexican passports for her U.S.-born children after they secured their American passports. This is part of her emergency plan, she said, in case she or her husband are deported. Because she’s an undocumented immigrant, she asked to be identified only by her first name.

“Yes, there are some bad immigrants,” she said, “but there are so many more good immigrants who pay taxes. I pay taxes.”

Nancy Howell, manager of Travis County’s passport program, said her office normally serves slightly more than 100 applicants a day. In the past couple of weeks, however, they’ve been serving more than 200, with most lining up outside early in the morning. Most days, she said, her office has to tell some families to come back the next day when the office closes.

On average, she said, it takes between 15 and 30 minutes to serve each family. The office has five to six staffers, but only two are fluent Spanish speakers. Howell said it is the customer’s responsibility to bring a translator.

“We could probably do more if we had more clerks,” she said.

Outside, Anallely Aviles observed her kids, 6 and 4, running around, weary from waiting. Young children are as scared as the adults about the increased deportations, she said.

“They know already because they hear it from us or they hear it in school,” she said in Spanish. “If ICE comes to the door, they know they don’t have to open it and should go hide in the room and try to make no noise.”

Read more

  • A week after immigration agents launched surprise raids in Austin and surrounding areas, hundreds marched downtown in protest, saying fear has engulfed the Central Texas immigrant community.
  • Undocumented immigrant Miguel Angel Torres was on his way to deliver Valentine’s Day chocolates to his daughter last week near Austin. In what his family calls a case of mistaken identity, Torres was detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.

Author:  MARIANA ALFARO – The Texas Tribune

O’Rourke on Cruz challenge in 2018: “I really want to do this”

U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso, is sailing toward a 2018 Senate campaign, an uphill battle that would pit the little-known congressman against one of the state’s most prominent Republicans in the unpredictable era of President Donald Trump.

“I really want to do this,” O’Rourke said in an interview Saturday in which he also promised to run a positive campaign against U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas — no matter how much animus the incumbent inspires among Texas Democrats.

“Being against Ted Cruz is not a strategy,” O’Rourke said. “It might motivate some folks and might make the election of a Democrat for the first time in 30 years more likely, but it in itself is not a strategy, and so I’m really putting my time and my efforts and my thinking into what makes Texas a better place and what makes the lives of the people who live in this state better, and so I’m just going to stay focused on that.”

O’Rourke has said for weeks that he is likely to take on Cruz but has not set a timeline for an official announcement. He said Saturday he wants to make sure he is mindful of his current constituents and that “I’m thoughtful in how I make this decision and keep El Paso, my family, foremost in mind.”

“I don’t want to run unless we’re going to win, and I’m confident we can,” O’Rourke said. “I just want to make sure the way we do this, we set ourselves up for victory.”

O’Rourke’s case for the Senate seat is two-pronged. He said he believes it is more important than ever for the Senate to serve as a check on the president, and he also believes he brings a unique perspective to the immigration debate as a Democrat from El Paso — “the Ellis Island of the western hemisphere.”

O’Rourke may have Democratic company in his campaign to unseat Cruz. U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro of San Antonio is also weighing a bid and plans to announce his decision in early April, a timeline that O’Rourke said has no bearing on his own.

“I have the greatest respect for him, consider him a good friend and have told him I think he’d make an outstanding candidate and a terrific senator for the state of Texas, but his decision-making process is outside of my control, so I can only focus on what I can do,” O’Rourke said.

If it came to it, O’Rourke said he would be open to a contested primary against Castro, again noting that is beyond his control.

If O’Rourke runs for Senate, fundraising would likely be one of his biggest challenges. While he was the underdog in his 2012 Senate campaign, Cruz has since built a national fundraising network, partly through his 2016 presidential bid.

O’Rourke has already made clear he plans not to accept PAC money in a potential Senate campaign. Asked Saturday if that would apply to money from national Democratic groups who may want to help him out, O’Rourke held firm that he “won’t take money from political action committees — and that’s across the spectrum.”

“I think folks just need to know that, clean and simple,” O’Rourke said. “When you start picking and choosing then, you know, it becomes a slippery slope and you just start doing what everyone else is doing, what everyone is so sick of and what has made Washington so dysfunctional and corporate.”

O’Rourke was visiting Austin on Saturday to speak at a rally at the Texas Capitol against some of Trump’s early actions as president, including his proposed border wall. Castro was also scheduled to address the rally. O’Rourke told the crowd that it is a “time for us take back our communities, our state, the United States Senate and the United States of America.”

Castro also spoke at the rally, invoking Cruz twice as he denounced Trump’s policies. “I hope today that Donald Trump and Ted Cruz can hear us from Washington, D.C,” Castro said shortly after taking the stage to loud cheers.

Working the crowd afterward, Castro encountered some supporters who encouraged him to run for Senate — including a man who said he had never donated the maximum amount to a campaign before but said he would do so for Castro.

Speaking with the Tribune after the rally, Castro said he is looking to announce his 2018 decision “by the end of April” and took a pass on responding to recent jabs from Cruz. The incumbent had suggested in a radio interview that Castro would be “retired from public service” if he got into the 2018 race.

“Everything that’s going on now is bigger than Ted Cruz,” Castro said, “and it’s bigger than me, honestly.”

Author:  PATRICK SVITEK – The Texas Tribune

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

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