Rep. Aaron Peña of Edinburg on Tuesday, December 14, announced in Austin that he has switched to the Republican Party, making him the first Hidalgo County state legislator who is part of the GOP. Peña, featured here at the Republican Party Headquarters in Austin on December 14, was elected on November 2 to his sixth two-year term as a Democrat. Peña said he will run for reelection in 2012 on the Republican Party ticket. Republican heavyweights attended the GOP press conference, including Gov. Rick Perry (featured left, back of Peña), who praised the 10-year South Texas lawmaker, along with Rep. Allan Ritter of Nederland (featured right, back of Peña), who also switched to the GOP. "They’ve always stood out as remarkably conservative compared to the other members of their former party," Perry said, himself a former Democrat. "I know a little something about trying to stop a political party slide away from those essential values, and then making the decision it’s time to move on. It becomes clear when you are no longer welcome and that any change in that political party is highly unlikely." Steve Munisteri, chairman of the Republican Party of Texas, struck a similar note, noting the tremendous victories statewide in last month’s legislative elections, particularly in the House of Representatives. "November 2nd was a historic day for the Republican Party of Texas as we not only increased the number of Republicans in the State House from 77 to 99, but also added approximately 300 new Republican officeholders statewide. I believe a revitalized and reorganized Republican Party ticket played a significant role in this accomplishment, along with having a strong top of the ticket led by Gov. Perry, Lt. Gov. (David) Dewhurst and Attorney General (Gregg)Abbott. It is our hope to build upon these gains in the future, in part by reaching out to independents and Democrats as well as renewing our committment to outreach to minority communities." Boyd Richie, chairman of the Texas Democratic Party, lashed out at Peña. Richie’s statement follows: “In defecting to the Republican Party, Aaron Peña is abandoning the voters of Hidalgo County. Just weeks after the men and women of his district elected him as a Democrat, Rep. Peña is turning his back on them and pledging his support to a Republican agenda that is harmful to his constituents. If Rep. Peña had any respect for his voters, he would resign and run as a Republican in a special election, but Peña won’t do that because he knows he would be defeated. Aaron Peña is joining a Republican Party that is hostile to the hardworking families of Hidalgo County. A Republican Party whose leaders are proposing larger class sizes, laying off thousands of teachers and cutting access to higher education promises to deliver a crushing blow to economic opportunity for families in Peña’s district. Aaron Peña is also joining a party whose legislators have filed legislation that would assault the rights of Hispanic citizens, including bills that mimic Arizona’s assault on the fundamental rights guaranteed to us as citizens of our democracy. The Texas Republican version of ‘Hispanic outreach’ amounts to reaching out to self-serving politicians like Aaron Peña while reaching into communities to take away economic and educational opportunity.”
Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, featured standing, earlier this fall at the Alfredo Gonzalez Texas State Veterans Home in McAllen told leaders for area veterans groups that he will support state efforts to develop a federal VA Hospital for the Rio Grande Valley. Patterson, who also serves as chairman of the Texas Veterans Land Board, currently has the authority to issue bonds for the construction of state veterans homes in Texas. Rep. Armando "Mando" Martínez, D-Weslaco, seated in this photograph, has pre-filed legislation that would give Gov. Rick Perry the authority to tap into the $190 million Texas Enterprise Fund to help build a federal VA Hospital in deep South Texas. "Helping develop a major VA Hospital in the Valley would have huge economic benefits to the region and to the state, and that is the objective of the Texas Enterprise Fund," said Martínez. "My legislation is consistent with the goals of the Texas Enterprise Fund, and it also allows the state’s leadership to help take care of our wounded war heroes and their families, who have sacrificed so much for our freedoms." See story later in this posting.
Hidalgo County Judge Ramón García, featured right, on Wednesday, December 1, announced plans for LZ: RGV, a major event – free to the public – set for April 9 at the McAllen Convention Center. (LZ is a common military abbreviation for a helicopter landing zone.) "Our Vietnam Veterans of South Texas have not had an official welcome home event to recognize the sacrifices made during Vietnam," García explained. "This event is intended to recognize all Vietnam Veterans in South Texas and remember the killed in action and missing in action heroes that fought on behalf of our country." An estimated 12,000 Valley residents served in Vietnam, according to event organizers. In addition to area veteran leaders who participated at the press conference, held in García’s law office in Edinburg, were Willacy County Judge
Aurelio "Keter" Guerra, featured standing, second from left, and Willacy County Judge-elect John González, featured standing, third from left. Other elected officials in attendance for the announcement but not shown in this photograph were McAllen Mayor Richard Cortéz and Willacy County Sheriff heriff Larry Spence, a Vietnam veteran. For more information on the planned event, and for area residents to submit stories and pictures about their experiences during the Vietnam War, please go online at http://www.lzrgv.com.
The Edinburg Chamber of Commerce has announced the 2010-2011 Board of Directors, including the selection of Johnny Rodríguez, featured seated, third from right, as Chairman of the Board for the next 12 months. The organization’s leadership recently made time for a portrait inside the Edinburg Depot, which houses the chamber’s administrative headquarters. Seated, from left: Elias Longoria (Vice Chair-Treasurer); Elva Jackson Garza (Vice Chair-Governmental Affairs); Edna Peña (Chair-elect); Johnny Rodríguez (Chairman); Cris Torres (Vice Chair-Fiesta Edinburg); and Mark Peña (Vice Chair-Marketing). Center row, from left: Maggie Kent; Cynthia Bocanegra (Immediate Past Chair); Naomi Perales (Vice Chair-Ambassadors); Dina Araguz; and Edinburg Municipal Court Judge Toribio “Terry” Palacios. Back row, from left: Robert McGurk; Dr. Robert S. Nelsen, president of the University of Texas-Pan American; and Gus Casas (Vice Chair-Tourism). Key chamber board members not in this photograph are Marissa Castañeda, Jacob De León, Darcy Kelly, and Flo Prater (Vice Chair – Leadership Edinburg).
GE Engine Services, based in McAllen, received the Employer of Excellence Award from Workforce Solutions/Lower Rio Grande Valley at the Texas Workforce Commission’s (TWC) 14th Annual Texas Workforce Conference held November 17-19 in Dallas. The award honors an employer that is actively involved with Texas Workforce Solutions and has made a positive impact on employers, workers and the community. Featured, including members of the governing board for Workforce Solutions/Lower Rio, are from left: John Gonzáles, Willacy County Judge-elect and lead chief elected official; Sonia Quintero, board member; TWC Chairman Tom Pauken; TWC Commissioner Representing Labor Ronny Congleton; Yvonne Garza, GE Engine Services; Sam F. Vale, board chair; Yvonne “Bonnie” González, Workforce Solutions/Lower Rio Grande Valley chief executive officer; Mike Willis, Workforce Solutions/Lower Rio Grande Valley vice president; and TWC Commissioner Representing the Public Andrés Alcantar. See story later in this posting.
281 Tattoo of Edinburg is hosting a “Toys for Tatts” toy drive through Wednesday, December 22. Everyone is encouraged to donate a toy valued at $25 to be dropped off at the Tattoo shop, located on 222 E. Monte Cristo, Suite 6. With every donation, donors can receive a free 4×4 tattoo of their choice. The toy donations will be given to the Rainbow Room of Edinburg. The Rainbow Room is a non-profit organization and an emergency resource center available to Children Protective Services caseworkers to help them meet the critical needs of abused and neglected children. Russo’s NY Pizzeria will also be donating pizzas to all of the children during the gift giveaway and celebration, set for December 22 at the Rainbow Room. “We are very excited about the ‘Toys for Tatts’ toy drive, we are the first tattoo shop in the Rio Grande Valley to host a celebration such as this. We feel it’s important to give back to our community and support those who are less fortunate,” said John De La Garza, artist in residence and part owner of 281 Tattoos. “We hope your contributions enable us to continue this endeavor every year.” Featured promoting the charitable drive are, from left: Iván “Shorty Ink Hustla” Aguilar; Imelda Rodríguez, Edinburg Chamber of Commerce Tourism Director; John “El John” De La Garza; Evana Vleck, Edinburg Chamber of Commerce Marketing Director; and Jimmy (El Payaso Colorin) Colorin. For more information on “Toys for Tatts”, please contact the tattoo shop by calling 956/381-6708.
Top Exemplary Migrant Students are honorees at the Texas Migrant Education Conference hosted by the Association of Migrant Educators of Texas (AMET) at the Convention Center in South Padre Island. These outstanding students each addressed conference participants, recalling their struggles and how their parents and school personnel encouraged them along the way to excel in school. These students are now enrolled at major universities in Texas and in the U.S. Featured, from left: Rubén Hernández, Jr., Donna High School; Sofia Samantha Velázquez, Johnny G. Economedes High School in Edinburg; Carlissa García, La Joya High School; Eliza DeDow, Mathis High School; Michelle Rangel, Sidney Lanier High School; and Anabel Rodríguez, Rio Grande City High School. See story later in this posting.
Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson, LLP: McAllen recovers more than $2 million in late property taxes and fees during latest fiscal year
By DAVID A. DÍAZ
The City of McAllen – during its most recent 12-month fiscal year, which ended September 30 – was able to recover more than $2 million in unpaid property taxes and related penalties and interest, according to the city’s delinquent tax collection firm, Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson, LLP.
In addition, Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson, LLP, a national law firm that has offices in Edinburg and Brownsville, is working on collecting another $2.4 million in unpaid city property taxes, which in the case for the McAllen city government, are used to pay for public safety in the City of Palms.
The latest figures also show that Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson, LLP was able to achieve a 43 percent collection rate – the best showing in recent city history – and better than that firm’s previous year’s successful effort for McAllen, which had reached 41 percent, according to attorney Lilia Ledesma.
Ledesma, a partner based out of the national law firm’s office in Edinburg, provided details on Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson, LLP’s achievements on behalf of McAllen during the Monday, November 8 regular meeting of the McAllen City Commission.
“We are pleased to present this report regarding the City of McAllen delinquent ad valorem tax collection program. The collection results, as noted herein, indicate our efforts continue to be successful for the city,” she informed the mayor and commissioners. “This fiscal year, collections for the City of McAllen are up from last year’s collections. Last year, as of September 30, 2009, collections for the city were at $1,870,894.81. This year for the same time period, collections for the city are at $2,028,287.76 – an increase of $157,392.95.”
The almost $158,000 improvement in increased collections of unpaid property taxes occurred during the city government’s Fiscal Year 2009-2010, which spans from October 1, 2009 through September 30, 2010.
Effectively communicating with taxpayers
Ledesma said the firm’s accomplishments were the result of many factors, including its comprehensive notification program, which contacts taxpayers who have not paid their city taxes, and helps those struggling property owners set up a payment plan, including informing them of tax breaks for which they qualify, such as homestead exemptions and property tax freezes.
"I think the most significant thing is that we did mailings," she observed. "In October and December (2009) and in January, February, March, April, August, and September (2010), a total of 18,624 pieces of mail were sent advising taxpayers of their delinquency."
For those late taxpayers who were unwilling or unable to pay their property taxes, the law firm expertly and ethically uses its other major resources at its command on behalf of their clients.
"You can see that your delinquent tax roll increased a couple hundred thousand dollars. What that tells us is that you had more people go delinquent. That is a number that we are also watching carefully," Ledesma noted. "But even with that increase, we were still able to work on the increase in collections."
Helping collect unpaid property taxes is a matter of fairness to the thousands of McAllen home and business owners who do pay to help maintain their city services at a top level. Also, the law firm’s detailed accounting of people who have not paid their property taxes helps McAllen residents in other ways, too.
"We like to stay in close communication with the (McAllen) tax office as we know you also want to do business with vendors who are not delinquent to the city, who are also in good standing with the city," Ledesma said.
Other key highlights
Other highlights of Ledesma’s report to the McAllen City Commission included:
• In release of judgments – which is when someone pays their overdue taxes and avoids possible foreclosure – the law firm collected $36,727.23 on behalf of the city government;
• In its bankruptcy services, Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson, LLP has 104 pending proofs of claim for $295,667.74. A proof of claim is a form filed with a court that establishes the McAllen city government’s claim against a delinquent taxpayer;
• Also during the latest 12-month fiscal year, Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson, LLP filed 256 lawsuits for a base amount of taxes totaling $604,677.12;
• Judgments were taken on 127 unpaid accounts, which generated more than $250,000 for McAllen; and
• As of September 30, 2010, Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson LLP had 1,047 cases pending on behalf of the City of McAllen, representing efforts to collect $2,470,294.50.
A history of outstanding performance
McAllen is one of numerous local governments in the Valley, including South Texas College and the City of Edinburg – and dozens more statewide and nationally – which contracts with Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson, LLP to collect on delinquent property taxes.
From its inception more than 30 years ago, Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson, LLP has been a major player in public-sector collections, serving more than 1,900 clients from offices in a dozen states, including Texas, said Lucy Canales, a local attorney who, as a general partner in the organization, leads the Valley offices in Edinburg and Brownsville.
In general, strategies employed by Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson, LLP feature:
• The Notification Program, which includes an extensive mailing system from which delinquent notices are sent through the year to residents who owe back taxes;
• Collections, which features a work plan that includes the constant monitoring of collection figures in order to adjust resources and enforce the collections of back taxes, and working closely with the McAllen City Commission and top administrative staff;
• Litigation, in which a decision is made to file suit. A property title search is conducted, with the taxable property is further identified and all interested parties, including all lien holders, are served with notice of the lawsuit;
• Tax Sales Program, which occurs when a delinquent taxpayer makes no final effort to pay the amount that is due. Under those circumstances, Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson, LLP inspects all properties targeted for foreclosure and post them for auction by the sheriff. As future judgments are taken, the firm posts additional properties for sale;
• Tax Resale Program, which is designed to market and sell properties that been been struck-off to the taxing entities. In general, properties that went to sheriff sale and were not sold are called struck-off property. The owner of the property is now the taxing unit(s). When the property is bid, or struck-off to the entity, the deed will be made out to the taxing entities. The deed will be filed with the county clerk’s office. Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson, LLP markets these properties through it own website, through newspaper advertising, and through a mailing list maintained by Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson, LLP. There is no charge to the city, to taxpayers, and to the buyers for these marketing expenses; and
• Bankruptcy: Proofs of Claim, in which Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson, LLP represents the City of McAllen in all bankruptcies involving delinquent taxpayers. This representation includes filing claims, monitoring the bankruptcy process, attending hearings, and engaging in active litigation in order to protect and maximize the City of McAllen’s tax interest.
Legislation pre-filed to allow governor to tap into Texas Enterprise Fund to help build and maintain Veterans Hospitals in Valley, Texas
By DAVID A. DÍAZ
Rep. Armando "Mando" Martínez, D-Weslaco, has pre-filed a bill that would allow Gov. Rick Perry to utilized the Texas Enterprise Fund to help pay for the construction, maintenance and operation of federal Veterans Affairs Hospitals in the Lone Star State.
House Bill 55 would still leave the federal government with 100 percent responsibility for building, maintaining an operating VA hospitals in Texas, the mid-Valley lawmaker explained, but added that his measure would allow Texas to help speed up the development of new VA Hospitals and help existing VA Hospital systems in the state to provide additional needed services.
In particular, Martínez is seeking to generate potentially millions of dollars in state funds to accelerate the expansion of existing VA outpatient facilities in the Rio Grande Valley – which is currently home to more than 100,000 U.S. military veterans – into a full-fledged VA Hospital.
"Helping develop a major VA Hospital in the Valley would have huge economic benefits to the region and to the state, and that is the objective of the Texas Enterprise Fund," said Martínez. "My legislation is consistent with the goals of the Texas Enterprise Fund, and it also allows the state’s leadership to help take care of our wounded war heroes and their families, who have sacrificed so much for our freedoms."
House Bill 55 will be carried in the Senate by Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen.
Rep.-elect Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Mission, said that he will add his name as a joint author of the Martínez proposal.
"In the legislative process, the more people who add their name to a bill, the better chances it has to become law because they are publicly declaring that they will vote for that measure," Muñoz explained. "Once we get 76 names attached to this measure, we will have the votes needed to get it passed by the House of Representatives."
There are 150 members of the Texas House of Representatives; in most cases, only 76 votes – a simple majority – are needed to secure final approval of legislation by the full House.
TEF has $190 million
The Texas Enterprise Fund, which had more than $190 million in cash as of August 31, is used by the governor as to provide cash incentives to help recruit major new employers to the state, and to help existing companies expand in Texas. The fund has been renewed by the Legislature since it was first created by state lawmakers, at Perry’s request, in 2003.
Martínez said his measure is also a direct response to Proposition 8, a state constitutional amendment overwhelmingly approved by Texas voters in November 2009.
"Proposition 8, for the first time, allows state government to use its financial resources to help build, maintain and operate VA Hospitals throughout Texas, including one for the Valley, which has the proven need for such a medical complex," he said. "The people of Texas have made it known throughout the world that when it comes to provided medical care to our veterans and their families, we will take care of our own."
Currently, the Department of Veterans Affairs has plans to open a three-story, 120,000-square-foot Ambulatory Surgery & Specialty Outpatient Center in Harlingen in January, which would complement a VA outpatient clinic in McAllen and Harlingen.
The nearest VA Hospital to the Valley is the Audie L. Murphy VA Hospital in San Antonio, which is more than 250 miles away from the four-county border region, which has more than one million residents.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs operates only nine in-patient veterans’ hospitals in Texas – in Amarillo, Big Spring, Bonham, Dallas, Houston, Kerville, San Antonio, Temple, and Waco – but none in the Rio Grande Valley, which, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, is one of the fastest growing regions in Texas, with more than one million residents (Hidalgo County, 726,200; Cameron County, 392,746; Starr County, 62,249; and Willacy County, 20,600)
In November 2008, Valley veterans and lawmakers successfully championed a far-reaching measure that stands to have huge socioeconomic benefits statewide, but it especially improves the prospects for the construction of a U.S. Veterans Affairs Hospital in deep South Texas.
By an overwhelming majority – more than 75 percent – Texas voters on Tuesday, November 3, approved passage of Proposition 8, a state constitutional amendment that authorizes the state government to contribute money, property, and other resources for the establishment, maintenance, and operation of veterans hospitals in Texas.
Proposition 8 was approved by a landslide margin of 785,775 to 264,250, according to unofficial totals from the Texas Secretary of State.
Locally, Hidalgo County residents favored Proposition 8 by more than 80 percent of the cast ballots, 6,477 to 1,542, according to the secretary of state’s unofficial results on Wednesday, November 4.
In Cameron County, the margin was about the same, with 5,452 favoring Proposition 8 to 1,339 opposing that measure, the secretary of state’s unofficial results also showed.
According to House Concurrent Resolution 86, approved in 2009 by the Texas Legislature, there are more than 100,000 veterans living in the four-county Rio Grande Valley.
Muñoz, who supported Proposition 8 in his successful campaign for state representative of House District 36, said that Valley veterans groups and local state lawmakers used "a brilliant strategy" to get Proposition 8 approved by the Legislature and then voters at the statewide level.
"The bill first passed by the House of Representatives specifically stated that the state government would be authorized to help build a VA Hospital in the Valley," Muñoz explained. "That measure was expanded in the Senate – with the approval of the House – to authorize Texas government to help build and expand VA Hospitals statewide, which virtually guaranteed strong support from voters throughout Texas."
The passage of Proposition 8 cleared any legal hurdles that could have been used to delay or block the use of state resources to help bring a VA Hospital to the Valley, said Rep. Ismael "Kino" Flores, D-Palmview.
Flores, an Army veteran who is retiring after 14 years representing House District 36, was the House lead author of the legislation, approved by the Texas Legislature last spring, that placed Proposition 8 on the statewide ballot.
"Now we have a crucial piece of the financing equation in place to bring to the table to negotiate with the federal government, which builds, maintains, and operates VA Hospitals statewide," said Flores.
"No surrender, no retreat"
Hinojosa, a U.S Marine combat squad leader in Vietnam, served as Senate sponsor of the House measure that placed Proposition 8 on the statewide ballot.
He praised the key roles of Valley veterans groups, who have kept alive the issue of the need for a Valley VA Hospital for years, despite repeated – and still ongoing claims – that South Texas simply could not justify the need for a VA Hospital.
"No surrender, no retreat – that saying just about best describes the courage, perseverance, and commitment of our Valley veterans, who never took ‘no’ for an answer," said Hinojosa, a U.S. Marine combat squad leader during the Vietnam War. "Sometime in the next few years, when the Valley VA Hospital is being designed, the architects would do themselves proud by including a prominent dedication marker in homage to the Valley veterans that reads, ‘We never leave a brother or a sister behind.’"
In addition to Flores, Martínez, and Hinojosa, the entire Valley legislative delegation put together a united front to push for placing Proposition 8 on the statewide ballot.
Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City, and Rep. David Leibowitz, D-San Antonio, also were House authors of the Proposition 8 measure.
Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, was the Senate co-sponsor of the Proposition 8 measure.
Lucio noted the need for a Valley VA Hospital.
"The VA finalized contracts with Valley Baptist Health System in Cameron County and with South Texas Health System in Hidalgo County to provide inpatient, surgical, emergency, and mental health services to veterans enrolled in the VA benefits program," Lucio said. "However, there is still a need for a full-fledged veterans hospital. The nearest hospital is in San Antonio, which is prohibitive for some patients."
Legislature documented need for Valley VA Hospital
House Concurrent Resolution 86, approved by the Texas Legislature and the governor last May, laid out some of the reasons the Valley deserves a VA Hospital.
HCR 86 was authored by Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, Rep. Charles "Doc" Anderson, R-Waco, Rep. Eddie Lucio, III, D-San Benito, and Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen and coauthored by Guillen, and sponsored by Lucio, Jr. and cosponsored by Hinojosa and Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo.
HCR 86 follows verbatim:
WHEREAS, The men and women who have served in this nation’s armed forces are entitled to ready access to the best possible medical care; and
WHEREAS, For the more than 100,000 veterans living in the Rio Grande Valley, the nearest U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs hospital is in San Antonio, as much as 300 miles and a five-hour trip away, and the lack of a VA hospital in the Valley has long imposed great hardships on veterans in that region and on their families; and
WHEREAS, Veterans requesting appointments at the facility in San Antonio typically wait months to be seen, even for serious conditions; for those who cannot drive themselves, or who cannot afford to drive, van transportation is provided by veterans service groups; the lengthy trip, however, adds to the patients’ physical distress; no ambulances are available to convey veterans to San Antonio, which makes the journey especially difficult for those who are bedridden; and
WHEREAS, Once veterans arrive in San Antonio, they often wait hours for an appointment that may take only 15 minutes, or they may find that their appointment has been canceled; they may also discover that they need to stay overnight, which adds to the time-consuming nature of their trip and to its expense; and
WHEREAS, For veterans who must go to San Antonio several times a month, the time lost to travel can make it difficult to hold a job; the demands of such a trip also place a great burden on family members who have to take time off from work, and possibly arrange for child care, to drive a veteran to San Antonio, and who may need to make such trips for many years; the cost of gas and meals, in addition to the expense of lodging, if that is required, substantially exceeds the prescribed travel allowance; and
WHEREAS, The current facilities for veterans health care in the Valley are manifestly inadequate; the VA presently operates several outpatient clinics in the region, but these do not offer the full range of services, including testing and therapy, available in San Antonio; moreover, the VA has failed to pay the bills of many veterans who have had to seek emergency care at a local hospital; in addition, although there are plans to contract with area hospitals to provide some inpatient veterans care, the medical personnel in those facilities are unlikely to have the necessary expertise in treating the injuries and psychological trauma sustained by combat veterans; and
WHEREAS, In recent years, local veterans organizations have formed the Veterans Alliance of the Rio Grande Valley to help raise awareness of this issue; and
WHEREAS, Veterans who live in the Valley, veterans from out of state who make their home in the Valley during the winter months, and U.S. veterans who reside in Mexico all sorely need and clearly deserve a fully staffed, full-service veterans hospital in far South Texas; now, therefore, be it
RESOLVED, That the 81st Legislature of the State of Texas hereby affirm its support for the establishment of a veterans hospital in the Rio Grande Valley; and, be it further
RESOLVED, That the Texas secretary of state forward official copies of this resolution to the president of the United States, to the secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, to the speaker of the house of representatives and the president of the senate of the United States Congress, and to all the members of the Texas delegation to the Congress with the request that this resolution be officially entered in the Congressional Record as a memorial to the Congress of the United States of America.
Senate panel hears testimony supporting construction of Veterans Hospital in Valley
Improvements have been made to the health care available to south Texas veterans in recent years, but much more needs to be done. That was the thrust of the testimony before the Senate Select Committee on Veterans Health during a meeting in Harlingen on Monday, November 29.
Chaired by Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, the committee traveled to the Rio Grande Valley, an area that local veterans say has been historically underserved.
Until recent years, it was not unusual for Valley veterans to have to drive five hours to San Antonio for even the simplest care under the VA system. Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, welcomed the committee, saying new facilities recently opened along the border have eliminated the need for that eight hour round trip for many veterans.
Lucio said that was why he and Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, last year joined to help pass Proposition 8, allowing the state to contribute to the establishment of veterans’ facilities in south Texas. He also pointed out that in addition to local residents, many of the 100,000 Winter Texans, visitors from out of state, are veterans and need assistance while in the Rio Grande Valley as well.
Paul Moore, Executive Secretary of the Texas Veterans’ Land Board, described the long-term nursing care that is currently available to veterans through the state nursing homes. There are currently seven homes with a new one being constructed which, Moore says, is at the cutting edge of veterans’ health care, giving them even more privacy by "eliminating the institutional feel…it looks like a neighborhood of homes."
When asked by Wentworth what more needs to be done, he said that given the state’s budget deficit, allowing greater flexibility in financing facilities would be useful and that they were working on new ways to fund new construction. Moore said the services are desperately needed as the veterans homes are more than 95 percent full with waiting lists – in an era when private nursing homes are only 65 percent full.
Terry Crocker, CEO of Tropical Texas Behavioral Health, gave the committee an overview of mental health facilities in the Rio Grande Valley. He said that despite expansion in recent years, they are not able to keep up with demand of a population that is both growing and among the poorest in Texas, with a waiting list of more than one thousand people.
Larry Pérez, Commander of the American GI Forum of Texas, appeared in support of a state/federal partnership that would bring a full Veterans Administration hospital to the Rio Grande Valley. He said that the biggest obstacle to getting full health care in the Valley is funding and that Texas, with the largest and fastest-growing population of veterans, is working to meet that need.
Even so, he told the committee, despite recent improvements the nearest hospital for veterans is still a five-hour drive to San Antonio. He called for the state to encourage local communities to offer incentives to encourage nursing homes for veterans to be built in their communities so that the growing population of Vietnam Veterans that need those services could be close to their families.
Salvador Salinas of the Cameron County Veterans Services Office also expressed gratitude for the additional veterans services that have been established in the Rio Grande Valley over the past few years and told the committee that more than 33,000 veterans, all local residents, currently use veterans services in their area. He said that number is set to increase dramatically as current veterans age and new veterans come back from the Middle East, making a full veterans hospital that much more important. He also asked for the committee’s support in expanding the McAllen veterans nursing home, as it is currently full with a waiting list.
Ray Molano, President of Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 56 of the Rio Grande Valley, told the committee that a Valley veterans hospital is needed because the long drive to San Antonio has caused additional health problems for veterans who make the long drive for outpatient surgery, that patients have actually died because of a lack of medical care on the five hour drive home.
Tony Cordoba, of the Purple Heart Chapter of the Veterans Alliance of the Rio Grande Valley, credited the VA with helping him with PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) and expressed thanks for the many veteran services that are now available in the Rio Grande Valley. However, he said "neither our nursing home, nor our veterans’ cemetery, would be as full if we had a veterans’ hospital down here" and that "many people think south Texas ends in San Antonio…there are 24 counties beyond that." He testified that the number of veterans who visit the Valley in the winter months is exploding, and that they must be considered in any allocation of services.
Master Gunnery Sgt. Minnie Whitzel, USMC Retired, and founder of RGV Vets and Wounded Vets Foundation, reminded the committee that there are more and more female veterans that need services and that at this time are even finding it hard to get space from the local VA officials in which to hold their meetings. She said that on one block in her home town of Donna, there are fifteen veterans and that it "takes an act of Congress" to get services in the Valley, as opposed to the main hospital in San Antonio where services are more freely available. Wentworth asked if there wasn’t "a little gender discrimination going on" and was assured that "no, no this wasn’t the case, that the local officials just don’t recognize the need". Public testimony followed.
Linda J. López testified on to her care under a VA contract for Multiple Sclerosis. She told the committee that long waiting periods in the emergency room at local hospitals demonstrate the need for a veterans hospital in the Valley. Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, replied that current soldiers are being diagnosed with MS and it could be caused by chemicals that our "fighting forces have been exposed to…there is a definite link". Other witnesses also testified about the need for a veterans hospital in deep south Texas.
In addition to Wentworth and Van de Putte, other members of The Texas Senate Select Committee on Veterans Health are Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury; Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth; and Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound. The committee recessed subject to the call of the chair.
Hidalgo County leaders review financing options for proposed $421 million toll road
By KARINA CARDOZA
Hidalgo County Commissioners’ Court and the Hidalgo County Regional Mobility Authority held a joint workshop on Monday, December 6, to discuss major long-term transportation projects planned for Hidalgo County, to examine the potential and available funding mechanisms to finance the cost of the projects, and to more clearly understand Hidalgo County’s obligation in committing to these projects.
The previous week, the RMA took action to sell almost $100 million in bonds on the financial market, contingent on approval by Hidalgo County Commissioners’ Court of a pledge agreement that would guarantee to the RMA the existing $10 vehicle registration fee charged to every Hidalgo County vehicle owner.
But with new members on both the RMA board and commissioners’ court, County Judge RamónGarcía wanted to ensure all members of the joint boards were brought up to speed and were well-informed on all aspects of the two projects under consideration – the International Bridge Trade Corridor (IBTC) and the Trade Corridor Connector (TCC).
At the workshop, the joint boards expressed consensus in support of moving forward with planning for the construction of 4-lane tollways as opposed to two lanes for both projects, at an additional cost of $41 million dollars to the $380 million estimated total project cost.
“Transportation needs are an indication of growth, and the county relies on this growth to move forward,” said García. “One of our priorities is to ensure that our county’s transportation needs are anticipated and that we have the foresight to properly plan to ensure we are ahead of the game in regard to meeting the growing needs of our county. We need to take the necessary steps today to ensure our infrastructure can handle our transportation needs over the next thirty years,” Garcia continued.
New RMA board member David Guerra agreed.
“We are all working toward the same goal. As members of the business community, we see the benefit of planning ahead in preparation, instead of playing catch-up at a greater cost in the future,” said Guerra.
The RMA proposes to sell bonds to fund the first phase of the projects, including design costs and acquisition of right-of-way. The RMA is asking the county to pledge the $10 vehicle registration fee that is currently the RMA’s primary funding source to back the issuance of bonds for the transportation projects, obligating the county to turn over the fees “absolute and unconditional … until such time as the bonds and the paying agent/registrar’s fees, if any, have been fully paid or provision for payment … have been made.”
The agreement also obligates the county to not cause a reduction, abatement or exemption in the vehicle fee. The authority, in turn, would be responsible for the construction and maintenance of the project and the issuance of the bonds.
“We want to build the roadway for the future,” said Hidalgo County RMA Chair Dennis Burleson. “As long as Hidalgo County is growing, the county has a vested interest in getting these projects started, as they will spur economic development in the county, which will mean more jobs and greater quality of life for residents.”
Other potential funding sources that the RMA is looking to pursue include State Infrastructure Bank (SIB) loans, Transportation Reinvestment Zone (TRZ) funding, and even perhaps taking a second lien on the vehicle registration fees.
Furthermore, the timeline of the project would be phased so that revenues collected with the completion of one tollway can help pay for the other.
At the workshop, the RMA was directed to establish a more concrete cost estimate for the four-lane projects for budgeting purposes and come back to Commissioners’ Court for approval.
A special meeting of Commissioners’ Court had been posted to take possible action on the approval of a pledge agreement that would guarantee to the RMA the existing $10 vehicle registration fee charged to every Hidalgo County vehicle owner to fund major long-term transportation projects in Hidalgo County. No action was taken on the pledge agreement.
For more information on the RMA and proposed projects, visit http://www.lrgvdc.org/RMA/.
Senator Lucio’s pre-filed legislation includes measures that focus on education, nutrition, and increasing rights of disabled students
By IAN RANDOLPH
Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, has pre-filed some of his major legislative initiatives for the upcoming regular session of the Texas Legislature, which feature measures that focus on education, children’s nutrition, consumer and worker’s rights, and protecting those with special needs.
"I have always emphasized education; I believe the smartest investment we can make is in our young Texans. The more educated and healthier we are, the more competitive we are as a workforce. It’s the right thing to do, and it’s the smart thing to do from a business, economic, and health perspective," said Lucio. "We’re our own economic engine, and if we want to move forward, we’ve got to be willing to pay the cost of gas,"
Two of Lucio’s bills, Senate Bill (SB) 88 and SB 89, expand school districts’ eligibility for free breakfast and summer lunch programs for low income children. The data show that providing breakfast at school not only improves students’ attendance, but also raises their performance, all the while lowering discipline problems in the classroom. "I can think of no better way to make a positive difference in a child’s life than ensuring that children have access to healthy meals, " Lucio added.
Lucio also pre-filed SB 87 to give general education teachers improved access to learning best practices for teaching children with disabilities.
"We ask teachers to perform the most important job in the state and yet we deny them the tools they need. SB 87 will ensure that teachers have somewhere to go when looking for extra training in effective, scientifically-based instructional techniques for teaching students with disabilities, especially autism," Lucio noted.
He also filed SB 169, which expands upon his previous legislation requiring insurance companies to provide medically necessary coverage of autism spectrum disorder treatment. The bill will ensure that all state employees will be added to the coverage that is currently required by law.
Lucio added, "I have successfully pushed for this coverage in Austin for over 7 years, because studies have shown that providing treatment for children with autism works. With treatment, many of these children can lead productive and successful lives. They can contribute to our state, have fulfilling careers, and be taxpaying citizens. They deserve this opportunity, and it is a disgrace that insurance companies would deny this vital coverage."
Lucio’s legislation, SB 90 and SB 91, addresses the state’s lack of funding for school facilities.
SB 90 requires a study of the need for classroom buildings in Texas. SB 91 changes the distribution mechanism for state assistance so more school districts can be reached by the same amount of funding. At the same time, this bill opens the door to local property tax relief when the state invests more money into school facilities.
"Simply put, we should not be permanently teaching children in temporary classrooms. SB 91 recognizes that the current system for facility funding is broken and property tax payers need relief," he said.
Lucio also filed a set of bills, SB 95, SB 96 and SB 97, aimed at insurance reform.
"Texans continue to pay some of the highest home owners insurance rates in the country while their coverage is shrinking," he explained. "My legislation aims to reverse that trend and make sure that consumers in Texas get a fair shake."
Additionally, SB 92 and SB 93 address vulnerable workers in Texas.
SB 92 requires the state to calculate a worker’s eligibility for unemployment using the person’s most recent work history.
"We haven’t updated our unemployment insurance system since the 1930’s, a time when the state needed months to determine a person’s benefits. With computers, this lag time is completely unnecessary, bordering on ridiculous. Modernizing our unemployment insurance system is a quick and intelligent way to bolster the Texas economy," the senator noted.
Senate Bill 93 will allow injured workers the opportunity to attain legal counsel only after exhausting all administrative recourse when challenging worker’s compensation claims.
Another measure by Lucio, SB 94, facilitates the sale of surplus renewable energy generated by individual homeowners.
"By increasing transparency in the market, SB 94 gives homeowners, with solar panels for example, more power to negotiate fair terms when selling surplus energy back to retail electric providers," he said.
Gov. Perry orders state agencies to come up with additional 2.5 percent budget cuts
Gov. Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Joe Straus on Tuesday, December 7, sent a letter directing each state agency to identify savings of 2.5 percent of their original general revenue and general-revenue-dedicated appropriations for the remainder of the 2011 fiscal year.
"Texas’ economy remains strong, and as we lead the nation in recovery from the economic downturn, we will continue to ensure that Texans’ tax dollars are spent prudently," Perry said. "Identifying these savings builds on our ongoing call to keep government spending in check so that we can balance our state budget without raising taxes and continue to attract businesses that create jobs for Texans."
These savings, along with those previously identified for the current fiscal year at the governor, lieutenant governor and speaker’s January request, will be realized through action the 82nd Texas Legislature takes in adopting a supplemental appropriations bill for fiscal year 2011.
While sales tax receipts have improved since the beginning of the year, reduced spending in the current fiscal year will help prepare for budget reductions that will be necessary to balance the budget for the 2012-2013 biennium.
"These additional budget cuts reflect the will of the people and our state’s leaders to keep state spending within the boundaries of available revenues," said Straus. "Spending restraint and accountability for taxpayer dollars will be critical to our efforts to balance the state budget with no tax increases, as I have committed to do."
To view a copy of the letter, please visit:
Congressman Hinojosa votes for the Dream Act, which could help young illegal immigrants stay in the only country they have ever known
By PATRICIA GUILLERMO
Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, on Wednesday, December 8, voted in support of the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors, or DREAM Act, which will allow children who were brought to the United States illegally to resolve their immigration status, thereby allowing these students to attend college and or join the U.S. Armed Services and allow those young people to derive the full benefit of their talents.
The measure must still be approved by the U.S. Senate, where passage is not certain.
“These are children who are the best and the brightest who will become our new generation of doctors, scientists and teachers,” said Hinojosa. “They know no other home but the United States of America. These children are caught in a legal and political situation that they knew nothing about, all the while living here, making life-long friends, and making good grades in school, while pledging allegiance to the United States of America every day.”
There are several important factors to the legislation that are required of and by any applicants.
This legislation will apply to children who were 15 years old or younger when first brought to the United States and who have lived here for more than five years. Applicants must be 29 years or younger on the date of the enactment of the DREAM Act. Every person who takes the path of the DREAM Act will not be granted permanent legal residence until after 10 years.
“In Texas District 15 we have more than 1,000 students who will benefit from the DREAM Act,” said Hinojosa. “They have poured their heart and souls into this country, contributing to it every step of the way. Many students from Deep South Texas have demonstrated, and even went on hunger strikes, to plead their case of wanting to become U.S. citizens. They have shown us already that they are leading good lives and now they want to show us what more than can do to contribute to our great country.”
Another requirement is that they must have graduated from high school or obtained a GED or have been admitted to an institution of higher education at the time of application. They must also have maintained a life of good moral character since entering the United States.
“As Subcommittee Chairman for Higher Education, Lifelong Learning and Competitiveness, I believe that our nation must encourage all students to succeed in school, particularly those students who are hard working and serving as role models to their peers,” said Hinojosa. “This legislation supports our nation’s high school and college completion goals and helps to reduce dropout rates.”
Congressman Cuellar selected as co-chair of Friends of Job Corps Congressional Caucus
By LESLEY LÓPEZ
Congressman Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo/McAllen, has been named the Democratic co-chair of the Friends of the Job Corps Congressional Caucus for the 112th Congress.
There is a Jobs Corp center in Cuellar’s district in Laredo, and before redistricting, the San Marcos Job Corps office was also in his 28th congressional district. Cuellar has employed Job Corps interns in his congressional offices.
For 45 years, Jobs Corps has been the nation’s premier dropout recovery program. Job Corps has helped more than two million disadvantaged youth complete their high school education and transition into employment or higher education.
The mission of the Friends of Job Corps Congressional Caucus is to heighten the awareness and appreciation for Job Corps among policy makers, Administration decision-makers and the broader public. In addition, the Friends of Job Corps Congressional Caucus will draw attention to the role Job Corps plays in the socioeconomic well-being of local communities and the nation.
"It is an honor to be chosen to lead the Friends of Job Corps Congressional Caucus, an organization I have supported for quite some time," said Cuellar. "Empowering our nation’s youth to achieve their educational goals has been a long-standing priority of mine and I look forward to the opportunities to further this aim in the co-chairman position."
The goals and objectives of the Caucus include:
- Education through congressional briefings on current and emerging Job Corps issues;
- Communication by initiating a productive dialogue about the quality of services Job Corps provides to thousands of at-risk youth each year;
- Coordination by facilitating communication between members, employers, youth service providers, Department of Labor representatives, and other private sector leaders who can strengthen Job Corps’ impact on America’s youth; and
- Enhancement of legislative efforts towards protecting and strengthening Job Corps.
Today, the Job Corps model implement at 122 centers across the nation remains out-of-school youths’ best chance for success. In a review of several comparable youth programs, Job Corps was found to have the greatest impact on participants’ educational achievement and earnings. In recent program years, more than 90 percent of Job Corps graduates have entered employment, higher education, or the military upon completion of the program.
Job Corps’ consistent success is principally attributable to its focus on results and accountability and its responsiveness to the changing needs of both the economy and its students. As the national navigates the shifting contours of the economy, Job Corps is poised to do its part to help ensure the shape of the country’s economic future is positive. The Job Corps community is already gearing up to make a greater impact in two of the fastest growing sectors of the economy that are demanding new workers: the health care sector and the green sector.
GE Engine Services of McAllen honored with Employer Excellence Award from Workforce Solutions/Lower Rio Grande Valley
By VÍCTOR M. DE LEÓN
GE Engine Services received the Employer of Excellence Award from Workforce Solutions/Lower Rio Grande Valley at the Texas Workforce Commission’s (TWC) 14th Annual Texas Workforce Conference held November 17-19 in Dallas.
The award honors an employer that is actively involved with Texas Workforce Solutions and has made a positive impact on employers, workers and the community.
Twice named among the region’s Best Places to Work, McAllen-based GE Engine Services is an advanced manufacturer employing nearly 550 engineers, machine and process operators, and other technical workers. The company maintains a strong relationship with Workforce Solutions/Lower Rio Grande Valley, and utilizes TWC’s WorkInTexas.com to fill its hiring needs.
In 2009 and 2010, the company partnered with South Texas College for a TWC Skills Development Fund job-training grant. Furthermore, GE Engine Services has participated in other training, including the South Texas Manufacturers Association apprenticeship program, Workforce Solutions/Lower Rio Grande Valley’s on-the-job training programs, internships for college students, and the Subsidized Summer Youth Employment Program.
The company also offers tuition reimbursement and provided more local jobs by opening a second plant in 2008, increasing its workforce from 375 to 534 in three years.
“Each year, Workforce Solutions/Lower Rio Grande Valley and our other workforce boards across the state engage an increasing number of our 12 million Texas workers with job-search assistance and other quality services that strengthen the Texas workforce,” said TWC Commissioner Representing Labor Ronny Congleton. “It is my privilege to work with such dedicated people who have made services to the workers of Texas a priority.”
Workforce Solutions/Lower Rio Grande Valley is one of 28 local workforce development boards located throughout the state. The local board serves Starr, Hidalgo and Willacy counties through a network of partners located in the tri-county area. The primary goal of Workforce Solutions/Lower Rio Grande Valley is to respond to the needs of employers, workers and job seekers, and provide the resources needed to succeed in an ever-changing world. All employers, workers and job seekers are eligible to take advantage of these services.
Journalism and First Amendment groups ask Tarleton State to stop stifling open records
Three journalism and First Amendment advocacy groups on Wednesday, December 8, have asked administrators at Tarleton State University in Texas to stop barring professors from assigning students projects to request public records from the school.
Tarleton State University, which is part of the Texas A&M System, is a public, coeducational, state university located in Stephenville, near the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. It is the largest non-land grant university primarily devoted to agriculture in the United States.
The Society of Professional Journalists, Investigative Reporters and Editors, and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press sent their correspondence to TSU President Dominic Dottavio and Provost Gary Peer, encouraging them to end discipline threats against communications studies instructor Dan Malone.
Leaders for those groups said they recently learned that Malone was told by school officials that he could be disciplined – and even fired – for assigning his students to file open records requests with the university.
The Texas Public Information Act is a state law that requires all governments in Texas (with the exception of federal agencies, which are covered under a similar federal law – the Freedom of Information Act) to provide public documents, ranging from e-mails to budgets to video and audio tapes of government meetings, when requested by any citizen. There is usually a very small fee attached to those requests, and there are penalties against government officials if they do not comply with such a lawful request.
Last April, Tarleton State University praised Malone, a Pulitzer-prize winner, for winning the Open Doors Award from the Society of Professional Journalists, Fort Worth Chapter.
The Open Doors Award celebrates the record of an individual or organization that defends the people’s right to open government and open records.
"The board wanted to honor Dan for his open-records/open-government work both as a top-notch journalist and as a journalism educator," said Gayle Reave, SPJ board member. "We think the work he has done with students at UNT (University of North Texas) and Tarleton, in teaching them not only how to use open records but why, has been great-getting them to take on stories that in the end make a real difference in the real world. And making sure they do real journalism in the process."
So far, the university has not issued any public statements regarding this controversy.
The letter from the journalism organizations was signed by:
- Hagit Limor, President, Society of Professional Journalists;
- Neil Ralston, Vice President for Campus Chapter Affairs, Society of Professional Journalists;
- Lucy Dalglish, Executive Director, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press; and
- Mark Horvit, Executive Director, Investigative Reporters and Editors.
The letter follows:
December 8, 2010
Dear President Dottavio and Provost Peer:
Leaders of the Society of Professional Journalists, Investigative Reporters and Editors, and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press were troubled to learn that Dan Malone, a Communications Studies instructor at Tarleton State University, was told by school officials that he could be disciplined – perhaps even fired – for assigning his students to file open records requests with the university.
We believe that such action, supposedly allowable under a policy through the Texas A&M System that governs Tarleton State, would violate Malone’s free-speech rights, his academic freedom and the 1973 Texas Public Information Act.
Like many journalism instructors across the country, Malone has encouraged his students to file open records requests as a practical lesson. This process led to stories about a campus-crime reporting problem in 2006. It also led to a story about the cancellation of the controversial play “Corpus Christi” this year.
Indeed, it is the duty of journalism educators to teach students how to access records under freedom of information laws. Without such training, students can’t fulfill the role our founding fathers intended for the Fourth Estate to serve as watchdogs on behalf of the citizenry.
The message sent to Malone is an unconscionable action that damages the university’s reputation and insults the citizens of Texas who expect Tarleton and other state schools to teach civic responsibility. Teachers who require their students to conduct research through open records requests are providing hands-on lessons about our system of government and the importance of open records.
It would behoove administrators in the Texas A&M System and at Tarleton State not to let this controversy fester any longer, and we urge you to take action that reveals the university supports the concept and practice of open government. We ask that you assure Malone and every other teacher that they will not be reprimanded or punished for requiring their students to file open records requests with any appropriate governmental entity, including Tarleton State.
We encourage you to contact us if you would like to further discuss this matter.
Brownsville woman sentenced to prison for bribery of Customs officer and alien smuggling
By ANGELA DODGE
A Brownsville woman was sentenced to prison 40 months in federal prison without parole for bribing a customs officer and alien smuggling, United States Attorney José Ángel Moreno announced on Thursday, December 9.
After a hearing that afternoon, United States District Court Judge Hilda Tagle handed down the 40 months sentence on each of the three counts of conviction – two for bribery and one for harboring illegal aliens – on Sandra Cecilia Guajardo, 49, of Brownsville. All sentences are to be served concurrently. Upon completion of the sentence the court ordered Guarjardo serve a three-year-term of supervised release. Immediately after handing down the sentence, Tagle remanded Guajardo into federal custody to begin serving her sentence.
Guajardo was indicted following an investigation by special agents of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Office of Professional Responsibility (ICE-OPR) after she paid a bribe to a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer to allow vehicles with undocumented aliens to pass through the officer’s lane on two separate occasions. On December 9, she pleaded guilty to two counts of bribery and one count of alien smuggling before United States Magistrate Judge Felix Recio.
Guajardo admitted to having met with a CBP officer to discuss alien smuggling on March 12, 2010. The CBP officer reported this to ICE-OPR agents who initiated an investigation into Guajardo. She further admitted to having met with the officer in April to come to the terms of the agreement and, on April 7, 2010, met with the CBP officer and paid him a $1,000 down payment to let a vehicle with undocumented aliens pass through his lane without inspection. On the morning of April 8, 2010, Guajardo crossed through the officer’s lane, followed by a vehicle with six undocumented aliens. The vehicle was stopped by Brownsville Police Department officers and found to contain four undocumented Mexican nationals and two undocumented El Salvadoran nationals. Guajardo was in a separate vehicle and not arrested at that time.
On April 15, 2010, Guajardo paid the officer the remaining money for the group from the April 8th smuggling event and discussed additional smuggling ventures and paid a $500 down payment for the next group of aliens. The next day, Guajardo coordinated with the drivers of two more vehicles filled with undocumented aliens which were to pass through the officer’s lane. Both vehicles were stopped by Brownsville Police Department officers and Guajardo was arrested later that same day.
The case was being investigated by ICE – OPR. Assistant United States Attorney Joseph T. Leonard prosecuted the case.
Edinburg woman among Texas migrant students honored at statewide conference
By TOMAS YAÑEZ
The Texas Migrant Interstate Program (TMIP), a special project of the Texas Education Agency Division of No Child Left Behind Program Coordination, recognized recently recognized 106 migrant students at the Annual Association of Migrant Educators of Texas conference held November 10, 11, and 12 at the Convention Center in South Padre Island.
The honorees included Sofia Samantha Velázquez, Johnny G. Economedes High School; Rubén Hernández, Jr., Donna High School; Carlissa García, La Joya High School; Eliza DeDow, Mathis High School; Michelle Rangel, Sidney Lanier High School; and Anabel Rodríguez, Rio Grande City High School.
Texas migrant students from throughout Texas that graduated in 2010 from high school with a grade point average of at least 90 were eligible for this honor. The highest GPA reported was 111.75 for Anabel Rodríguez from Rio Grande City High School. High school counselors and administrators submitted the nominations of their top migrant students to the Texas Migrant Interstate Program, housed in the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo ISD.
Each student’s picture and educational profile was included in the 2010 Exemplary Migrant Booklet that was disseminated to conference participants. Migrant parents, school administrators, counselors, and migrant education personnel from throughout Texas were in attendance at the three day conference.
The Top Exemplary Migrant Students were honorees at the conference and each addressed conference participants. They spoke of their struggles and how their parents and school personnel encouraged them along the way to excel in school. These students are now enrolled at universities such as Texas A&M University – Corpus Christi, The University of Texas at Austin, The University of Texas – Pan American, Central Michigan University, Trinity University, St. Edward’s University, and Harvard University.