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U.S. Reps. Hurd, Castro Rally for Bipartisanship on the Border

During a “bipartisan, bilingual, binational” rally, U.S. Reps. Will Hurd and Joaquin Castro spoke out against President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall.

In sweltering heat, U.S. Rep. Will Hurd and the mayors of the border towns of Del Rio and Ciudad Acuña held hands — presumably sweaty ones — with residents from both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border on Saturday. It was a gesture they hoped would represent the unity and interdependency between their cities.

About 150 people joined Hurd and the mayors in a “bilingual, binational, bipartisan” rally at the International Bridge, which connects both towns, in an event during which the Helotes Republican reaffirmed his position against President Donald Trump’s border wall.

Hurd said his time as a CIA officer taught him that “building a wall from sea to shining sea” is not going to secure communities. Rather, he said, working together “against your common threat” will make Mexico and the U.S. safer.

US Congressman William Hurd speaks during the Border Unity Rally on March 25, 2017 |  Marjorie Kamys Cotera
US Congressman William Hurd speaks during the Border Unity Rally on March 25, 2017 | Marjorie Kamys Cotera

“As the member of Congress who has the most border … this is a message I take to Washington,” he said. “I’ve been trying to bring my colleagues down to the border as well. A lot of folks who talk about the border have never seen the border.”

The border rally was billed as a “demonstration of unity” between both countries. Mayors Hector Arocha from Ciudad Acuña and Robert Garza from Del Río encouraged crowds on both sides of the border to remain supportive and understanding of each other.

An hour into the rally, most of the attendees walked part of the bridge and held hands, forming a human chain as mariachis played in the background.

While the human chain formed, crowd members joked about how this is the kind of barrier they want on the U.S.-Mexico border, instead of Trump’s proposed wall. After a few pictures, residents from both sides of the border shared paletas and drinks with the Rio Grande River and some U.S. Border Patrol pickup trucks in the background.

During his speech, Hurd said, in Spanish, that a lot of people who talk about the border don’t recognize or don’t realize that Ciudad Acuña and Del Río aren’t just two cities, but “a community.” He thanked U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, for being at the rally. Citing his famous road trip to Washington, D.C., with El Paso Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke earlier this month, Hurd said bipartisanship isn’t a “dirty word.”

“People are expecting us to focus on what unites us, not what divides us,” said Hurd, who returned to Texas this weekend after U.S. House

US Congressman Joaquin Castro speaks during the Border Unity Rally on March 25, 2017
US Congressman Joaquin Castro speaks during the Border Unity Rally on March 25, 2017

Speaker Paul Ryan pulled the American Health Care Act — the supposed GOP replacement from Obamacare — from consideration on Friday when there weren’t enough votes to pass it. “We can disagree without being disagreeable.”

Castro also emphasized the important relationship between Ciudad Acuña and Del Río. Trump’s criticisms of Mexican immigrants, he said, only hurt the relationship between both countries.

“This is a place that makes a big difference to our country and we have to make sure that people understand that the prosperity of our nations depends on the success of each other,” he said.

Garza, the Del Rio mayor, said the International Bridge brings $7 million annually in revenue for his city, mostly due to the trade partnership between Ciudad Acuña.

“It is my hope and desire that all of our efforts be focused on building bridges and not walls,” Garza said.

Read more

  • As the Trump Administration moves ahead with its plans for a barrier just north of the Rio Grande, Texans are weighing in on how the president should approach the project. And the ideas range from the comical to the practical.
  • U.S. Reps. Will Hurd and Beto O’Rourke — a Republican and a Democrat from Texas, respectively — arrived at the U.S. Capitol after a two-day trek from San Antonio that drew thousands of fans.

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Author:  MARIANA ALFARO – The Texas Tribune

Reps McSally, Hurd Send Letter Seeking Specific Details on Proposed Border Wall

On Tuesday, U.S. Representatives Martha McSally (AZ-02) and Will Hurd (TX-23), Chair and Vice Chair of the Committee on Homeland Security’s Border and Maritime Security Subcommittee, sent an oversight letter asking for specific details of the Administration’s request for $999 million to plan, design, and construct the first installment of a border wall between the United States and Mexico.

Addressed to Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly, and Director of the Office of Management and Budget Mick Mulvaney, the letter lays out a series of detailed questions to DHS in order to provide the lawmakers with further clarity regarding the President’s recent supplemental appropriations request, which was sent to Congress on March 16, 2017.

“As Representatives of the communities that make up our southern border, we recognize the need for robust border security and infrastructure to ensure public safety and increase cross border commerce,” the lawmakers write. “We also have an obligation to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars and as such have a number of questions.”

“While we have both publicly stated in the past that we believe physical barriers to be one of many tools required to gain operational control of the border,” continued the lawmakers, “we also believe that an expenditure this large, and submitted with limited details, deserves additional scrutiny to ensure funds are being used effectively in pursuit of our shared goal of securing the southwest border.”

The two lawmakers, whose districts collectively represent 880 miles— nearly half— of the U.S-Mexico border, seek specific details of the location of the proposed wall, definitions of adequate natural barriers,  and a breakdown of the investments in supplemental technology, infrastructure, and alleviating personnel backlogs.

Video: Rep. O’Rourke “We do not Need a Wall on our Southern Border”

Congressman Beto O’Rourke took to the floor of the House Tuesday night to challenge the notion that the nation needs a wall and that the border is dangerous.

Citing immigration numbers showing more Mexican Nationals returning to Mexico rather than coming to the, US and lauding the efforts of Border Patrol agents, O’Rourke passionately defended the border and El Paso.

Video is courtesy Congressman O’Rourke’s Facebook Page


Hope Border Institute on Trump’s Wall: Dangerously Ineffective. Fiscally Irresponsible. Morally Unacceptable.

Nearly one year ago, Pope Francis visited the US-Mexico border. The images of his approach to the Rio Grande were unforgettable, where he prayed in silence for the thousands of migrants who have died in the desert seeking freedom, safety and refuge in America.

Contrast these images with Donald J. Trump’s executive orders today directing federal funds towards the construction of a wall on the United States’ southern border, expanding immigrant detention, and resurrecting the dangerous Secure Communities program.

Make no mistake: militarizing our border communities, criminalizing and jailing migrants, and co-opting local law enforcement is un-American, senseless and inhumane policy.

What will the wall not do? The wall will not stop the thousands of refugees fleeing to our border to escape hunger, violence and political instability in Mexico and Central America. The wall will not stop the flow of drugs to American consumers, most of which pass through regular ports of entry. The wall will not address the poverty wages of maquila workers who produce goods for export to the United States.

The wall will not fix the political instability in Mexico and Northern Triangle countries abetted by US support for coups, corrupt governments and broken policies. The wall will not stop the river of US firearms that flows daily into Mexico contributing to the murders of tens of thousands in a never ending drug war fueled by American addiction.

The wall will add nothing to our national security; not a single terrorist has been apprehended crossing our southern border. The wall will not reduce crime; border communities are already the safest in the country.

What will the wall do? The wall will divert tens of billions of dollars in critical investment away from under-resourced border communities and add to our national deficit. The wall will push more vulnerable refugees to their deaths in the brutal deserts of the southwest. The wall will contradict the reputation of America as a beacon of freedom in the world.

The wall will contribute to the militarization of our border, where record numbers of federal border agents have broad authority to engage in constitutionally questionable acts of search and seizure that would not be tolerated in Boston, Houston, Kansas City or San Francisco. The wall will stand as a permanent monument to the narcissism of a man who announced his ambitions for the White House by demonizing Mexicans, border communities and migrants.

With his executive orders today, Donald J. Trump signaled his intention to follow through on dangerous promises that many hoped were simply overheated campaign rhetoric. None of these policies will fix a broken immigration system; they are a devastating affront to human dignity.

Today we recommit ourselves to solidarity with our migrant sisters and brothers, to defending the values and gifts of our border, and to opposing the militarization and wall-building that is tearing our families, communities and nation apart.

On his return to Rome from the border, Pope Francis’ words could not have been clearer: “A person who thinks only about building walls and not building bridges is not Christian. This is not the Gospel.”

We couldn’t agree more. And now the work begins afresh.

Author: Dylan Corbett – Director, Hope Border Institute

Lawmakers Draw Battle Lines on Border Security, Sanctuary Cities

On the same day that Texas House Republicans doubled down on border security efforts and announced plans to send an invoice to the federal government, Senate Democrats said they were committed to fighting bills to eliminate sanctuary cities.

House Republicans on Wednesday said they aren’t backing away from recent efforts to secure the southern border despite an incoming president who made beefed-up immigration enforcement a hallmark of his campaign.

And as a final admonishment of President Obama, they said they intended to bill the federal government more than $2.8 billion for state spending on border security since January 2013. The amount includes a combination of expenses incurred by the Department of Public Safety ($1.4 billion), Texas Parks and Wildlife ($20.2 million), Texas Military Forces ($62.9 million), Texas Health and Human Services ($416.8 million), the Texas Education Agency ($181.1 million) and the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission ($671,000), according to House Republicans. Another $723.8 million has been spent by local and state governments related to incarceration, they said.

“We understand the principles of federalism, and while we surely don’t want the federal government meddling in our schools and deciding our environmental policies or setting our health care policies, we sure as heck want them doing their limited duties, which are: enforcing the border, standing up for a strong military and delivering the mail,” said state Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton.

Two years ago, Bonnen was the author of House Bill 11, an omnibus border security measure that increased by 250 the number of Texas Department of Public Safety officers on the border. The legislation was part of the record $800 million lawmakers appropriated for border security during that legislative session.

Lawmakers learned earlier this week they will have billions of dollars less in state revenue to work with this year as they craft the next biennial budget, even as the Department of Public Safety has said it would ask lawmakers for an additional $1 billion for border security. Bonnen said he hadn’t yet reviewed the request.

Although they said they had high hopes that President-elect Trump would fulfill his promise to secure the border and let Texas off the hook, House Republicans reiterated that lawmakers will need to wait and see what the incoming administration does and how soon it acts on border security before making a decision on future expenditures.

“We’ll have to see, [but] I think the Trump administration has made clear that they intend from day one, starting next Friday, to get to work on this issue,” Bonnen said, citing the day of Trump’s scheduled inauguration.

State Rep. Tan Parker, R-Flower Mound, the chairman of the House Republican Caucus, left the door open to Texas lawmakers approving more funding for state-based border security efforts if necessary.

“Republicans in the Texas House are absolutely committed to continuous border security — be it from the state of Texas and what we’ve been doing all these years or from our federal government,” he said.

Part of Trump’s proposed solution includes building a wall along parts of the southern border. When asked what he would tell a Texas landowner whose property could be seized by the federal government for that effort, Bonnen said: “My response would be whatever we need to do to make our border secure and controlled by the federal government.”

State Rep. César Blanco, D-El Paso, a staunch opponent of the state’s recent border security surge, said Wednesday’s news conference by House Republicans was nothing more than a last “political dig at President Obama.” He added that the Department of Public Safety hasn’t demonstrated that its recent efforts have been effective.

“You hear a lot about spending dollars into one agency, in DPS, and we’ve seen no accountability,” Blanco said. “I think it’s just politics as usual, and I think Republicans probably need one last border security bill so they can go back to their districts and [successfully] run for office.”

House Republicans gathered to emphasize their continued focus on border security on the same day that Senate Democrats on the east side of the Capitol maintained they would fight against proposed state-based immigration legislation until the last gavel of the session drops in late May.

State Sens. José Rodríguez, D-El Paso, and Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, joined with members of the faith-based and immigrant rights communities to denounce a bill from state Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, which would eliminate sanctuary cities — the common term for local governments that do not enforce federal immigration laws — and withhold state funds from local entities that adopt sanctuary policies. Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick have both pledged to eliminate sanctuary cities in Texas this session.

“We will fight this to the finish — no more and no less. We are not going to be silent in the face of these attacks on our communities,” Rodríguez said. He and others said such bills would lead to discrimination and allow local law enforcement officers to question someone’s immigration status.

Perry’s bill includes language that prohibits local law enforcement from stopping a vehicle or searching a business or dwelling unless the officer is assisting a federal officer or working under an agreement with the federal government that allows the practice.

But Rodríguez said he has concerns that the law could still be interpreted so broadly as to allow more widespread questioning by local police.

Author:  JULIÁN AGUILAR – The Texas Tribune

Trump’s Rhetoric and State’s Border Surge Colored Immigration Debate in 2016

The president-elect’s tough border talk propelled him to victory, the U.S. Supreme Court dashed President Obama’s deferred action hopes and the Texas border surge drew questions.

Between a presidential candidate making a border wall the centerpiece of his winning campaign and debates over whether local or state officials were doing enough on the complicated issue, illegal immigration was at the forefront of the political landscape in 2016.

Here’s a look at the year’s biggest stories related to immigration and the border, all of which could reverberate during next year’s legislative session in Austin and the upcoming transition of power in Washington, D.C.

1. Border talk helps propel Trump to White House

In 2015, Donald Trump, then a new candidate for president, quickly sparked outrage among border residents and many Democrats after he said Mexico was sending “criminals” and “rapists” to the United States and promised to build a “big, beautiful” wall on the southern border. He also vowed to eliminate NAFTA, a 20-year-old trade deal that has made some Texas cities among the busiest trade hubs in the country.

In 2016, with little change in his rhetoric, Trump survived the Republican primaries and withstood a grueling general election to be elected the next president of the United States.

The real estate mogul’s surprise victory immediately sparked fear in some border communities, as residents wondered whether Trump would make good on his promise to deport millions of undocumented immigrants. Although he scaled back his tough deportation talk concerning DREAMers — immigrants brought to the country illegally by their parents or guardians — in December, uncertainty still lingers.

Trump’s recent decision to tap Gen. John F. Kelly, a retired four-star Marine general and outspoken border security hawk, as his pick to lead the Department of Homeland Security prompted several analysts to conclude Trump’s administration plans to take a hard-line approach to immigration policies.

2. Sanctuary cities debate

The issue of “sanctuary cities” — a term that broadly refers to a local government that doesn’t enforce federal immigration policies — was once again at the forefront of state politics in 2016 after Gov. Greg Abbott continued a fight he started the previous year with Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez. Abbott accused Valdez, a Democrat, of creating a sanctuary city in Dallas after she said in an interview she’d limit cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement when the agency makes requests that deportable immigrants be handed over for possible removal.

Valdez later said her words were taken out of context and that her jail never declined to turn over a person to federal authorities. (A 2016 Texas Tribune analysis revealed most Texas jails cooperate well with ICE). Still, Abbott threatened to cut off state funding to any county sheriff’s department that didn’t cooperate with immigration officials.

The issue was also a major talking point for several GOP candidates who won their primaries and general elections this year. Afterward, several lawmakers filed bills for the upcoming legislative session to ban sanctuary cities. Both Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick have described the legislation as a priority next year.

3. Influx of Central American asylum seekers continues

A recent influx of women and children from Central America crossing the Rio Grande into Texas and seeking asylum slowed some in 2015, only to regain strength this year.

Agents in the Rio Grande Valley sector of the U.S. Border Patrol came across about 52,000 families and about 36,700 unaccompanied minors during the 2016 fiscal year. That’s compared to 27,400 and 23,864, respectively, the year before. The federal government’s 2016 fiscal year began in October 2015 and ran through September 2016.

Overall, the total number of apprehensions on the country’s southwest border increased by more than 77,500 to 408,870 in 2016, compared to 331,333 in the prior year.

Though the Rio Grande Valley was the epicenter of the exodus, the figures show that each sector in Texas saw at least a double-digit percentage increase in 2016. In the Del Rio sector, apprehensions of unaccompanied minors increased by 18 percent and family units by 66 percent. In Big Bend, the increases were 13 and 30 percent, respectively.

The Laredo sector saw a 20 percent increase in apprehensions of minors and family units, while the El Paso sector, which includes New Mexico, saw an increase in minor apprehensions of 134 percent — from 1,662 in 2015 to 3,885 in 2016.

The overwhelming majority of the undocumented immigrants — most of whom say they are fleeing violence and poverty in the Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador — turned themselves into law enforcement on the border and were then processed by immigration agents.

4. The Texas border surge

When lawmakers approved a record $800 million for border security efforts in 2015, border Democrats balked at what they said was a waste of money. The majority of the people crossing illegally, they argued, were women and children fleeing violence and poverty and not people intent on harming Texans.

In 2016, those cries grew louder when lawmakers accused the state’s Department of Public Safety, which received the lion’s share of the money, of failing to provide data that showed the effort was working. Instead lawmakers from both sides of the aisle said that although DPS was able to make security improvements in Starr and Hidalgo counties, smugglers simply adjusted their routes and entered Texas through adjacent counties.

But Texas DPS Director Col. Steve McCraw said that wasn’t an anomaly and instead assured budget writers that the outcome was what the agency expected. A quick fix was never a possibility, he said, and securing the entire border would take more time.

The agency also told lawmakers that it would seek about $300 million in additional monies to keep the surge going. But with the price of oil and the decline in the natural gas industry, budget writers expressed doubts in October about whether DPS will get everything it asks for during next year’s legislative session.

5. U.S. Supreme Court ends Obama’s deferred action bid

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court finally put an end to an executive order issued by President Obama in 2014 that sought to let as many as 5 million undocumented immigrants in the country live and work without the fear of deportation.

Obama issued his deferred action order in November 2014, but Gov. Greg Abbott, then the state’s attorney general, quickly filed suit to stop the program. Twenty-five states would eventually sign on to the lawsuit. The program was scheduled to take effect in February 2015 but was halted that month by a U.S. district judge in Brownsville, who ruled that it violated the Administrative Procedure Act, which governs how federal regulations are made and how much input the public has.

The White House asked the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals to let the program proceed but was denied twice.

In July, the White House asked the Supreme Court if it would reconsider the case when it had a full bench. It is still one short since the February death of Justice Antonin Scalia. But in October the court announced it would not take up the case again, leaving in place the lower court ruling that blocked the program.

Author: JULIÁN AGUILAR – The Texas Tribune