Borderlands

Marjorie Kamys Cotera/Texas Tribune

The influx of children from Central America arriving at the Texas-Mexico border has many people asking how they can help.

One way people can help is by becoming foster parents – but acting as a foster parent for the federal government is different than being a foster parent for the state.

Veronica Zaragovia/KUT

Can the National Guard troops being deployed to the border arrest and detain people? Only if Gov. Rick Perry says they can. But experts do have some concerns about giving law enforcement powers to a reserve military force.

From a legal standpoint, the National Guard has no authority to enforce federal immigration law, because the troops will be operating under the governor’s authority. In this case, Gov. Perry has called them up, and not President Barack Obama.

Since October, a staggering 57,000 unaccompanied migrant children have been apprehended at the southwestern U.S. border. Sometimes, they've been welcomed into the country by activists; other times they've been turned away by protesters.

Report Alleges Abuse of Immigrants at Private Texas Prisons

Jun 10, 2014
KUT

Undocumented immigrants live in deplorable conditions at private prisons in Texas, according to a report out today by the American Civil Liberties Union. 

The report is based on years of interviews the ACLU and ACLU of Texas have conducted with immigrants detained at so-called Criminal Alien Requirement prisons. Inmates said conditions include overflowing bathrooms and infestations of vermin.

Rebecca Robertson, Legal & Policy director of the ACLU of Texas, says these companies are in business to make money – and federal Bureau of Prisons contracts are lucrative.

There's a network of freight trains that runs the length of Mexico, from its southernmost border with Guatemala north to the United States. In addition to grain, corn or scrap metal, these trains are carrying an increasing number of undocumented immigrants whose aim is to cross into the U.S.

And despite the many deadly challenges it poses, more and more children — both with adults and alone — have been making the risky journey. That prompted President Obama this week to warn of "an urgent humanitarian situation."

Columbus, N.M., is all about the border. It's an official border crossing. Its history centers on a cross-border raid. In more recent years, it was a transit point for illegal weapons heading south into Mexico.

It's also the destination for children heading north to a U.S. school.

All the different strands of Columbus came together when we spent the day with the new mayor of the village. Phillip Skinner, former real estate developer and maquiladora owner-turned politician and school bus driver, was inaugurated early this month, on the morning we rolled into town.

We had just finished our time in Juarez, Mexico, when we had dinner with some distant relations on the U.S. side of the border. "You," one of my relatives said, "are the first Juarez survivors we've seen in some time."

The Sinaloa Cartel, headquartered on Mexico's northern Pacific Coast, is constantly exploring new ways to launder its gargantuan profits. The State Department reports that Mexican trafficking organizations earn between $19 and $29 billion every year from selling marijuana, cocaine, heroin and methamphetamines on the streets of American cities.

The international drug trade goes in two directions: Narcotics go north and money goes south. All the drug profits made on the streets of U.S. cities like Chicago and Atlanta and Dallas are funneled down to ports of entry on the U.S.-Mexico border where they're smuggled back into Mexico. In 2012, one federal agency alone, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, seized $411 million in cash hidden in vehicles, mostly heading south.

U.S. Border Patrol announced on Friday that it is changing its policy on using deadly force against moving vehicles and people who throw rocks.

The agency's chief, Michael J. Fisher, sent a memorandum to employees in which he said the policy is designed to help agents avoid dangerous situations.

This is an about-face for the agency.

As they walk through the front door, visitors to the Hudspeth County Sheriff's Office in Sierra Blanca, Texas, get punched by the overpowering odor of marijuana.

The gate leading to the river crossing into northern Mexico near the village of Boquillas, Mexico.

A border crossing opened yesterday for the first time since 9/11 – reconnecting Big Bend National Park with Boquillas, Mexico. The opening reunited families and friends and restarted the tourism-driven commerce that once flowed across the border.

Before the border was closed, 300 people lived in Boquillas. Now, just 90 live there.

Tamir Kalifa, Texas Tribune

After the arrest in 2010 of Edgar Valdez Villarreal, who the authorities said was the head of a violent Mexican drug cartel, customers at Video Mexico in Austin told Eduardo Betancourt, the owner, something he should have known: The man’s life was already the subject of a low-budget movie.

Betancourt’s video-store customers are part of a legion of aficionados of Mexican narco cinema, hastily made films that are inspired by the cartels. The films usually skip theaters, going directly to home video.

Alfredo Estrella / AFP/Getty Images

The Texas Department of Public Safety calls Mexican cartels the most significant organized crime threat in the state. In its 2013 report, the agency said six cartels are operating in Texas by moving drugs, people, cash and weapons across the border.

"It is a top DPS priority to severely obstruct the range and power of Mexican drug organizations to affect the public safety of Texas citizens," said DPS Director Steven McCraw at the Texas Emergency Management Conference in San Antonio this week.

The Center for Investigative Reporting has a report today that shatters some preconceived notions: A review of records from the Border Patrol, shows that three out of four people the patrol found carrying drugs were United States citizens.

CIR reports this finding goes against the many press releases issued by the agency highlighting Mexican drug smugglers.

The organization reports:

If Congress isn’t able to avoid the automatic $2.4 trillion budget cuts of sequestration, then border protection and legitimate border traffic could suffer.

"Certainly, without question. If on March 1 -- if sequestration does happen -- the Border Patrol will have reduced capability," said Border Patrol Chief Michael Fisher testifying at a congressional hearing on border security on Tuesday.

Ivan Pierre Aguirre for Texas Tribune

NUEVO LAREDO, Mexico – The tank that has stood at the entrance to this Mexican border city since 2008 was not here on Christmas Eve. Neither was the machine gun turret that pointed down this gritty town’s main street.

But the masked soldiers remained. Residents say it is a sign that little law enforcement appears to exist except for the military officers who patrol the streets.

That could change, however, under policies announced recently by Enrique Peña Nieto, Mexico’s newly inaugurated president.

Julian Aguilar, Texas Tribune

The beginning of a new political era in Mexico has given rise to a new wave of activism in Texas aiming to keep attention on human rights awareness across the border.

A group of activists from Texas and Mexico will descend on the Mexican consulate’s office in Austin on Thursday to denounce the detainment of several dozen protesters who clashed with police in Mexico City during the inauguration of Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto on Dec. 1.

Peña Nieto’s presidency marks the return to power for the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, which ruled Mexico for more than 70 years before losing to the more conservative National Action Party in 2000.

image courtesy Texas Tribune

Mexico’s commitment to security and its strong symbiotic economic ties with the United States will probably be key talking points when the country's next leader visits the White House on Tuesday, according to a former U.S. ambassador to Mexico.

President-elect Enrique Peña Nieto will meet with President Obama and congressional leaders to discuss the countries’ futures amid a sluggish economy and concerns over transnational violence. Peña Nieto, who won Mexico’s presidential election in July, will take the oath of office Saturday. His victory brings a return to power for the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, which was in charge for more than 70 years last century. The conservative National Action Party, or PAN, had been in power the last 12 years.

Antonio Garza, who served as the U.S. ambassador to Mexico from 2002 to 2009 and is now counsel in the Mexico City office of White & Case, said Peña Nieto should stress Mexico’s place in the world as an emerging market.

Mark Wilson / Getty Images

NPR's Carrie Johnson tells us more about the Justice Department report on the "Fast and Furious" gun-trafficking operation:

Justice Department watchdogs say a flawed gun-trafficking operation in which federal agents lost track of nearly 2,000 AK-47s and other weapons resulted from a series of "misguided strategies, tactics, errors in judgment and management failures."

The long-awaited report by Inspector General Michael Horowitz recommended that the conduct of 14 officials in Washington and Arizona be reviewed for possible disciplinary action. Horowitz placed most of the blame with leadership at the Phoenix field office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the U.S. Attorney's Office in Arizona, which hatched the operation known as "Fast and Furious."

Austin Youth River Watch

Stakeholders Consider Colorado River's Future

A public meeting today will focus on the future of the Colorado River in Travis and Bastrop Counties.

Data released by Austin Youth River Watch earlier this month suggests that the health of the river’s ecosystem might be in jeopardy. The group discovered low levels of oxygen in the water and that could be bad for fish and other wildlife.

Tax Cap Added for Historic Homes; Exemption Increased for Elderly, Disabled

Travis County Commissioners voted to add a cap on historical tax exemptions. The new policy matches the City of Austin’s cap of $2,500 a year.

Historic home owners argued that a higher exemption is necessary for them to maintain the facades of their homes. County Judge Sam Biscoe says the county will continue to look at the impact of the historical tax exemptions.

Commissioners also voted to increase the tax exemption for Travis County homeowners who are 65 and older and for those with disabilities. The amount of value that had been taken off a home for taxing purposes had been $65,000 a year. They raised it to $70,000 annually.

Texas State Library and Archives, flickr.com/tslac

Unemployment Benefits Changing for Some Texans

The Texas Workforce Commission announced on Tuesday that certain groups of unemployed Texans won’t be eligible for unemployment benefits after 60 weeks starting in July.

Previously, claimants could receive benefits for up to 73 weeks. Those already receiving benefits based on the older criteria will continue to be eligible. The commission estimates that about 22,453 individuals may be affected going forward.

The changes come due to Texas’ improving unemployment rate, resulting in revisions to the length of Emergency Unemployment Compensation offered to job searchers.

Photo courtesy flickr.com/kmart

New Border Patrol Strategy Focuses on Intelligence

The U.S. Border Patrol unveiled a new plan for tightening America’s borders yesterday.

The 2012-2016 Border Patrol Strategic Plan includes tactics and technologies developed over the past few years like unmanned aircraft systems – aka, drones – but also more focus on preventing risk.

The past few years have been a period of unprecedented growth in resources for the Border Patrol. Right now, there are more law enforcement officers on the border – more than 21,000 – than at any time in Border Patrol history.

Photo by Daniel Reese/KUT News

D.C. Court  Reviews Redistricting Case

A three-judge panel in Washington will hear arguments today to determine whether to give “preclearance” to election maps originally drawn by the Texas Legislature last year. Texas must get federal approval before altering voting districts, according to the Voting Rights Act. New maps are drawn every decade to reflect the population growth in Texas.

The federal trial in DC comes little more than a week after the Supreme Court heard arguments about which maps Texas should use for the upcoming primary elections. There are two sets of maps at play:  The maps drawn by the Legislature and a set of alternate maps drawn by District Court judges in San Antonio. The Texas primary elections have already been delayed from March 6th to April 3rd. And the April date is by no means set in stone. It’s been suggested that the election date could be pushed back as far as June, because of the legal wrangling.

Border Patrol to Toughen Policy

The AP reports the U.S. Border Patrol is moving to halt a revolving-door policy of sending migrants back to Mexico without any punishment.

The “Consequence Delivery System,” a key part of the Border Patrol’s new national strategy, divides border crossers into seven categories, ranging from first-time offenders to people with criminal records. Punishments vary by region, and children and the medically ill will still be released at the nearest border crossing.

Photo courtesy of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

2nd Drone to Patrol Texas-Mexico Border

U.S. Customs and Border Protection will soon have second drone to patrol the Texas-Mexico border. The Associated Press reports the Predator drone is scheduled to arrive in Corpus Christi next week. Officials had announced in July that the state would be getting another drone. Here are more details from the AP:

Photo by Jessica Mahoney for KUT News.

A report released today by two retired generals highlights what they see as federal negligence toward drug cartel violence on American soil. The report was jointly commissioned by the Texas Department of Agriculture and the Texas Department of Public Safety. retired Army Major General Robert Scales, one of the co-authors, calls federal resources "anemic."

Photo by Keary O. http://www.flickr.com/photos/barjack/

Two major gun rights groups filed lawsuits against the United States yesterday to stop a new federal firearms reporting requirement. The new rules affect 8,500 retailers in the four border states.

The lawsuits were not unexpected against the controversial rules. The Obama Administration announced the rulings two weeks ago.

Photo by KUT News.

Border Patrol Helping Heat Distressed Immigrants

Border Patrol agents in South Texas have stepped up efforts to search for and rescue suspected illegal immigrants who may be under heat stress.  The Associated Press reports the Rio Grande Valley Border Patrol Sector has launched "Operation Heat Wave." 

Last in a three-part series.

For many migrants trying to reach the U.S. from Mexico, the border region is a terrifying, lawless place, and their fear is often justified. Things are so bad in Matamoros, a border city just across the Rio Grande from Brownsville, Texas, that last month the city's police were stripped of their weapons, ordered off the streets and replaced by soldiers.

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