Category Archives: Harris County

The Undocumented Worker: Hated Until Needed

Some will point to Republican hatred toward immigrants since 2006, and others will point to Bill Clinton’s immigration act which created 287(g) and increased enforcement without fixing the system, but all of this time later, and after $150 billion in Harvey damage, now, there’s a freak-out over the target that hovers over the undocumented laborer who would be tasked with rebuilding Houston if everyone just looked away, especially Trump and his ilk.

All of this time later, various attempts at “comprehensive immigration reform” have failed because Republicans and some Democrats just had to show some artificial toughness to keep the bigoted happy. We’ll let in some people, but we’re going to triple the Mexican hunting police force (border patrol), federalize local cops, start a guest worker exploitation program, and build a fence. I’m all for give and take in a negotiation, but most CIR attempts, even Kennedy-McCain, bordered on ridiculous.

Nowhere along the way has there been much discussion of fixing a broken immigration system–fixing the “line” that everyone tells the undocumented to get to the end of. Nowhere along the way has there been much discussion about correcting US policy in Latin America that supports murderous right-wing regimes and US corporate interests, while attacking progressive leaders who want to provide basic necessities to the poor and indigenous–long ignored by the right-wing and wealthy. Yet, the blame only falls on the undocumented.

Now, you add a despot whose supporters hate Mexicans (and others) just for existing and, instead of looking at the human rights aspect of this, people think, “Who’s going to rebuild us?”

While I appreciate Lisa Falkenberg’s article about the undocumented rebuilding Houston, I’m still irked by the assumption by others that the only reason we need them (at this time) is for cheap, uninsured labor without worker protections. Especially when builders and contractors are the ones crying the loudest as they stand to make the most during the rebuild with this source of cheap labor.

It goes back to why we need more than just a DREAM Act. We need the parents of DREAMers and other workers who make up this exploited labor force, too. They must be protected. They must be paid what they’re worth. They must be insured and have worker protections from bosses who will exploit them during these times. Because, suddenly, it seems they’re not “taking someone else’s job;” they are filling open jobs, if we let them.

As Falkenberg stated:

But honesty takes only mere seconds. Enough with the hypocrisy. We need these workers. Right now, they’re digging Houston out of the worst flood in American history. The least we can do is offer them a path out of the shadows.

 

 

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Houston Food Bank Food and Resource Fairs – Various Locations

Beginning September 5, 2017, Houston Food Bank and South Texas Dental will be hosting Food and Resource Fairs across the Houston area to assist those affected by Harvey.

Click on image to enlarge:

Sheriff Gonzalez Ends Use of Private Jails

Now, this is the kind of news I like to hear coming out of Sheriff Gonzalez’s office.

For years, Harris County has spent millions transporting and warehousing inmates in private jails and prisons because of overcrowding. Sure, the article states that this was done mostly for budget savings and to curb overcrowding, but these private jails are badly run with little oversight. Still, it’s good to see the Sheriff take action on the matter.

“I simply think we incarcerate way too many folks; and there is a cost associated with that. Whether it be the cost of daily housing or sometimes outsourcing inmates. So I think that we need to change those practices… And that’s why I’m a big advocate for reform, and really addressing our mass incarceration complex that we have in this country,” Gonzalez said.

He says there are also other benefits to bringing inmates back in-house.

“We have more control of what we’re doing. You know, the medical records, things like that,” Gonzalez said.

Another benefit? Loved ones can visit inmates, without having to travel to other municipalities or cities.

There are still some major systemic problems that need to be dealt with, but, I guess culture change takes a lot of time to achieve buy-in and implementation. At least that’s what I keep getting told by the local experts.

One thing’s for sure, we really need to do something about that bail system; however, for that, we’ll also need some good candidates to defeat the incumbent county judge and Precinct 2 commissioner.

Harris County Attorney Files Brief Against SB4

As was reported last week, the Republicans on the Harris County Commissioner’s Court may have chickened out of joining the SB4 lawsuit, in what may have been a pre-emptive move to avoid getting on Greg Abbott’s “list,” but it didn’t stop County Attorney Vince Ryan from submitting a brief to the federal court asking for a stop to any implementation of the racial profiling, anti-immigrant law.

Ryan makes the case that SB4 affects children his office represents.

The Harris County Attorney’s office, objects to the law for the following reasons:

The office represents the state Department of Family Protective Services in child protection cases, advocating for children’s best interests and the preservation of families — irreconcilable with the thrust of SB4, which is to “to cooperate in efforts which will lead tothe deportation of parents or kinship caregivers, the separation of families, and further trauma to children,” according to the brief.

Federal mandates require that assistance and benefits should be available to children and families “irrespective of their immigration status,” according to the brief. State law also directs that “the provision of the services necessary to give effect to children’s best interests are not conditioned on their, or their parents’, immigration status,” according to the brief.

Ryan states: “Any county attorney who declines to engage with assisting in the enforcement of immigration laws or discourages colleagues from doing so in order to advocate for the best interest of the child and promote family unification — as child welfare laws mandate — would not be “providing enforcement assistance” and would be “adopt[ing], enforce[ing], or endors[ing] a policy” or engaging in a “pattern or practice” that “materially limits the enforcement of immigration laws.””

Children of parents or family members who have been deported will be placed in an overburdened and potentially harmful foster care system.

Immigrant communities will fear cooperation and will not report abuse or neglect or provide information to authorities seeking to protect children.

SB4 will leave a huge swath of the community affected in one way or another. Whether one sees it as a legalized racial profiling law that targets anyone of color to be asked their immigration status, or a license for local cops to shirk their crime-fighting duties in favor doing some immigrant hunting, or in the case of the County Attorney, a law that will affect children caught up in their own brand of hell, it’s just a bad law.

“S.B. 4 will do irreparable damage to this State’s child welfare process, place county attorneys charged with representing DFPS in an irreconcilable conflict, and do further trauma to children who have been placed in the State’s care. Further, there is no legitimate state purpose in treating children who have an unauthorized immigrant parent or other potential care giver differently in child welfare cases,” states Ryan’s brief, which was filed this month in federal court.

In other news, the City of Laredo has joined the SB4 lawsuit. In fact, their City Council voted unanimously to join it. Now, that’s what I call a “welcoming city.”

 

 

 

 

Houston Area Senators Urge Harris County on SB4 Lawsuit; To Be Considered on July 11

From the inbox:

(Houston, Texas) The Harris County Commissioners Court is set to consider joining the lawsuit against Senate Bill 4 at their meeting tomorrow, July 11th at 10am. Senators John Whitmire, Sylvia R. Garcia and Borris Miles issued a joint letter urging commissioners to vote in favor of joining with counties and municipalities across Texas in suing the State of Texas over the controversial legislation.

The 85th Legislature passed Senate Bill 4 (SB 4), the “show-me-your-papers” law, scheduled to take effect on September 1, 2017. We were extremely disappointed to see the state’s leadership endorse legislation that strips local control from Harris County, incentivizes racial profiling, and makes our communities less safe.

SB 4 contains numerous provisions that simply cannot be allowed to take effect. SB 4 would prevent local law enforcement leaders from setting their own policies to work with the communities under their jurisdiction. It would further allow individual law enforcement officers to decide on their own whether and how to question individuals about their immigration status, creating a troubling path to unchecked racial profiling. This will have a chilling effect on crime reporting in vulnerable neighborhoods, and make our community less safe.”

Senator Garcia will personally attend the meeting to testify in support of litigation. The agenda item has been brought up by County Commissioner of Precinct 1, Rodney Ellis. The full letter can be read here.

Houston-area State Reps have also sent a letter urging the County to join the SB4 lawsuit. A federal court hearing was already held in late June; however, there was no immediate ruling. So, let’s stay tuned.

 

Local TX House Delegation Asks Harris Co to Join SB4 Lawsuit

A group of Houston Texas House members has penned a letter to the Harris County Commissioner’s Court requesting they join the lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of SB4–the “Show Me Your Papers” racial profiling law signed by Greg Abbott.

Texas House members include:  Alma Allen, Carol Alvarado, Garnet Coleman, Harold Dutton, Jessica Farrar, Ana Hernandez, Jarvis Johnson, Mary Ann Perez, Ron Reynolds, Shawn Thierry, Senfronia Thompson, Hubert Vo, Armando Walle, and Gene Wu.

Pointing to various constitutional flaws in the law, the group also made a case for the lawsuit citing the law’s threat to public safety:

With the fifth largest foreign born population in the country, Harris County is especially at risk. All people in the community must feel safe and free to report crime and call law enforcement when necessary, without the fear of the same law enforcement asking for their papers. The provisions of SB4 will diminish trust and chill the reporting of crime, making our county less safe.

The letter further states the constitutional liability the county could face for unlawfully detaining individuals without warrant or probably cause.

Already, Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, Austin, and the tiny town of El Cenizo, along with Bexar, El Paso, and Maverick counties have joined the lawsuit. Efforts have increased to add more parties to the lawsuit, including Brownsville, Pasadena, and other Texas communities.

For the latest on the lawsuit, head over to MALDEF’s twitter feed for the latest arguments being made by the good guys and the bad guys at the federal court hearing in San Antonio.

Thanks to the office of State Representative Armando Walle for keeping us informed and for their work on these efforts. [copy of letter below]

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Commissioner Ellis Seeks County Authorization to Join SB4 Lawsuit

This past week, Houston finally joined Austin, San Antonio, Dallas and various organizations in suing the state of Texas over its racial profiling law (SB4). In his weekly e-mail to constituents,  Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis stated he had sent a letter prior to the City’s action to County Attorney Vince Ryan requesting him to seek authorization from the Harris County Commissioner’s Court to join the SB4 lawsuit.

As the nation’s third-largest county with the fifth-largest foreign-born population, Harris County is at particular risk under SB4. Immigrants are a vital part of our community and strengthen the social fabric of Harris County. This new legislation threatens to tear families apart. Immigrants cannot and should not be driven back into the shadows or live in fear because of this unconstitutional law.

Already, local governments have filed suit against SB4, and a preliminary hearing is scheduled for Monday in San Antonio. Just this past week, the Houston City Council voted to join San Antonio, Austin, Dallas, Bexar County and other local governments in a consolidated lawsuit challenging the law.

As Commissioner, I will continue to stand with immigrant families and defend the right of local government and law enforcement to set their own priorities. In a June 9 letter, I asked Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan to seek authorization from Harris County Commissioners Court to join the lawsuit against SB4. I believe it is vitally important for Harris County to fight this unjust law and look forward to working with County Attorney Ryan on this important issue that we both care about. 

SB4 is a reflection of the anti-immigrant sentiment permeating our society and stands in the way of comprehensive immigration reform. It upholds a flawed and outmoded form of immigration control that tears families apart, increases racial profiling, and violates due process. We need immigration solutions that attend to the complex issues surrounding reform with compassion, efficiency, and effectiveness in mind. And wherever there is discrimination, we must be prepared to speak out and take action.

Some may think there is a slim to none chance of a Republican-heavy court doing the right thing, but we have a County Judge who has taken more moderate stances on immigration issues, and the commissioner of Precinct 2, who is up for re-election in 2018, serves a Latino-heavy precinct. Who knows? Maybe they can be convinced to do the right thing. At the very least, they should provide an audience for discussion of this issue since it affects a majority of county residents.

Muchos thank yous to Commissioner Rodney Ellis for taking a strong stance on the lawsuit.

Sheriff Gonzalez Ends 287(g)

trumpfamilycrossing950As the Trump regime continues its onslaught against Mexicans and other Latinos, immigrant and citizen, with a steroid-laden immigrant hunting plan, the Harris County Sheriff’s Office under Sheriff Ed Gonzalez has ended its 287(g) agreement with ICE, citing a burden on resources and the need to place resources out in the field.

The withdrawal of the sheriff’s deputies will still allow ICE officials to come to the jail and screen jail inmates to determine their immigration status and the county will hold them for deportation if requested, Gonzalez said.

The sheriff said serious overcrowding in the county jail complex, where staff shortages have hiked overtime costs to $1 million every two weeks, has forced him to deploy his ICE-trained deputies elsewhere. He said his decision was not political “but an issue of resources,” explaining the deputies may also be assigned to help improve clearance rates of major crimes or ad to the patrol division.

“After thoughtful consideration, I’ve decided to opt out of the voluntary 287(g) program,” said Gonzalez, who sent ICE officials notification of his decision Tuesday. “We’ll still be cooperating with local, state and federal authorities as we always have, we just won’t have our manpower resources inside the jail doing that.”

The thing about local jails is that they’ve usually had the ability to report immigration detainers  that pop up on the national database so that ICE can pick up folks at their own discretion and with their own use of resources (other than local jailers). 287(g), which was always a voluntary program, used local resources to exclusively work on increasing deportation numbers in quicker fashion, including low-grade offenders who were not targets for deportation.

Of course, this was evident during the Obama era which broke deportation records, and counties like Harris and Arizona’s Maricopa were among the leaders in helping increase deportation numbers, while Congress did nothing to fix a broken immigration system. It wasted resources and was purely a political tool for whomever was in office at any level. Let’s face it, it became part of Obama’s push for “comprehensive immigration reform” as a possible dealmaker to offer Republicans. It didn’t work, obviously. Because it was in place, it also caused stress for good elected officials who wanted to rid their agencies of the flawed program, but had to deal with threats from right-wing elected officials.

For Sheriff Gonzalez, who also recently provided a statement against Senate Bill 4, the so-called anti-sanctuary city bill currently in the Texas House, he will have to deal with the ire of right-wingers like Greg Abbott, Dan Patrick, and some of the members of the Harris County Commissioner’s Court. Gonzalez, though, has the right idea. His decision is all about resources and public safety, while the Republican and Trump plans are all about fear and hate. And that should be the narrative of this debate.

This decision has been a long time in coming. This blogger had quite a few debates with the previous Democratic Sheriff Adrian Garcia about 287(g). And his Republican replacement was pretty much useless on the issue. Unfortunately, the Trump regime is hell-bent on hunting Mexicans and others. And even a lack of 287(g) will still leave an open door for Trump and his immigrant hunters at local jails. Add SB4, if Texas House Speaker Straus allows it to move forward, and local law enforcement could still be a part of the terror.

What people must understand is that we are in a whole different era. The same “bipartisan” rules no longer apply. Given Trump’s attitude, not even civil discussion. The right-wing, anti-immigrant members of Congress and state elected officials we dealt with in the past now have a leader to do everything they’ve ever wanted. And Republicans (and Democrats) who simply sit back and say nothing are just as bad, or worse, than those we’re dealing with today. Hate is hate. It cannot be defended.

The political implications are enormous, though. And 2018 is right around the corner. Republicans are useless, but Democrats still could rebuild into something with a spine, especially on immigration, detention, and deportation issues. It’s the one issue that they’ve felt useful for campaigns, as if they were actually going to attract bigoted votes in gubernatorial elections (2014). Instead, it demoralizes voters–base voters. Even voters like me, lifelong Dems, who have felt a need to skip around candidates during the last decade because they’ll say something stupid on immigration, or on child refugees from Central America, feel disconnected with the Democrats. Something’s gotta give.

For now, though, things seem ominous, even with a victory like ridding Harris County of 287(g) (Kudos to United We Dream-Houston). Trump’s new immigrant hunting plan expands the targets to include many more undocumented immigrants than the Obama era. Whether Trump sends out deportation forces or not, the fear is unsettling and certainly destabilizes communities and local economies. The Republican intent has never been about public safety, but about hate.

It’s time for ALL to fight back, and for the fight not to be left only to the immigrants under attack. Stand for all!

 

 

 

A State Rep Working On Real Issues

With today’s news that Dan Patrick is more interested in potties and sending back billions in federal education dollars to DC, it’s time to remind folks that there are folks representing us in Austin that are actually serving their constituents.

Last weekend, I attended State Rep. Gene Wu’s (HD137) town hall. Having lived in the district for a few years, I had yet to attend one, but since this one would have much to do with moving toward a set of legislative priorities, I thought I’d better go.

Upon arrival, I found a pretty diverse crowd that looked just like Houston. “De todo un poco,” or, a little of everything. And Wu didn’t make the meeting all about him, though I wouldn’t blame him since he’s up for re-election. In fact, he showcased some local experts on issues, such as education, health care, and public safety.

H.D. Chambers, chief at Alief ISD, presented on the realities about public education in the area, and especially on the lawsuit filed by numerous Texas school districts regarding education finance. (The lawsuit was decided today by the Texas Supreme Court and, let’s just say, the kids, the people, and the schools lost). The lawsuit was mainly about having the courts decide how enough resources would be provided to meet expectations that we place on our schools. The Court decided that the state met minimum constitutional standards of funding.

Anyway, he reminded us that there are 5 million students in K-12, but that there are 3.5 million children age 0-3, who by 4 should be getting into Pre-K. Of course, Pre-K support from the state is non-existent. This poses a major threat to the future of Texas, which includes a startling statistic:  If a child cannot read by 3rd grade, there is a 35% chance that the child will dropout of school.

Freddy Warner from the Memorial Hermann system spoke regarding health care from a major system standpoint. He stated that health care and education are among the top funding priorities in the Texas legislature and that in the coming session, they may be crowding each other out. Considering Texas was just bailed out by the Obama administration regarding Medicaid, one would think that Medicaid expansion would be a priority. Warner stated that there is zero chance it would be addressed as health care doesn’t seem to be a priority for most in Austin. He did mention that Memorial Hermann does provide $1.4 billion in charity care.

A startling statistic he provided is that we shouldn’t be surprised if there is a budget shortfall in 2017. While the State Comptroller based a budget on $65 per barrel oil, we’re currently at $40 ($46 today) per barrel. It just doesn’t look good for our next budget.

Now, take Dan Patrick’s potty boycott of $10 billion of our federal money that we’ve paid into the system into consideration. Now, open a bottle of booze and start worrying.

Next up was Januari Leo of Legacy Health, which is a federally qualified health center. The majority of people seen by them are uninsured who cannot afford the emergency room or private clinics. They weren’t helped when Harris Health changed their qualification threshold, thus cutting 19,000 patients from their services.

With uncompensated care growing, and Obama bailing out Texas Medicaid, if a politician for state or local office (Republicans) promised you a cut in property taxes, it is not going to happen. Texas needs to pay its bills. How that is accomplished when we take losses in oil revenue, dismal tax collections and other budgetary nightmares into consideration, well, go ahead and open a second bottle of booze.

The public safety presentations by Assistant County Attorney Vinson and Lt. Conn from HPD centered on some of the things their agencies are working on. The County Attorney’s office is mostly working on ridding the district of nuisance businesses–massage parlors and after-hours clubs. They attract crime, drugs, etc. HPD’s Midwest division helps businesses develop surveys of the areas they serve as to type of crimes and how to protect themselves. They have programs to work at Lee HS with at-risk youth.

Overall, a very interesting meeting that has prepared me for the 2017 session. While State Rep. Wu will definitely have a list of priorities based on open communications with constituents, he’ll have to deal with some of the odd-ball and bigoted priorities being presented by Dan Patrick and his potty buddies.

Ultimately, elections matter. We have a run-off coming up and early voting begins on May 16. You best start practicing for November.

Thanks to Rep. Wu’s staff for putting on an informative meeting and for that open door.

 

Ed Gonzalez Calls on HCSO to Reinstate Inspectors, Diversify Staff

cafeed2Ed Gonzalez, Democratic candidate for Harris County Sheriff, challenged current Sheriff Hickman to reinstate jail inspectors and diversify the staff if any criminal justice reform plan is to succeed.

Here’s the press release from Gonzalez:

Ed Gonzalez, the leading Democratic candidate for Sheriff, called on Sheriff Ron Hickman today to join the county’s push for criminal justice reform by reinstating jail inspectors and replacing his command staff with a more diverse leadership team

Gonzalez applauded yesterday’s action by county commissioners to accept a $2 million grant from the MacArthur Foundation and spend millions more on reforms that include expanding pre-trial diversion programs, implementing a new bail system and improving relationships with minority communities.

“Commissioners are moving in the right direction with their new reform plan, but it won’t be enough until real reform comes to the Sheriff’s office,” said Gonzalez.

“Sheriff Hickman must immediately reinstate the jail inspectors and the investigative unit he dismantled and replace his command staff with a leadership team that is more reflective of the communities served by the sheriff’s office,” said Gonzalez.

Hickman’s first act after being appointed sheriff was to replace the existing diverse command staff with all white men. After intense pressure, Hickman later made some additional appointments, but the command staff is nowhere near reflective of the communities that make up Harris County. Gonzalez expressed concern that, until the sheriff truly diversified his command staff, the county’s new racial and ethnic diversity coordinator would continue to face barriers in rebuilding the trust of minority communities in the criminal justice system.

“If the county’s law enforcement leader fails to recognize the need for real diversity,” said Gonzalez, “what chance will the county’s new criminal justice diversity coordinator have to succeed?”

Gonzalez also expressed serious concerns about the ability of the county’s new jail coordinator to speed up the release of inmates awaiting bail, a key element of the new reform plan, given existing management problems at the jail.

Earlier this month, a suspect awaiting bail on a charge of stealing a guitar was beaten to death by inmates in his holding cell – continuing a pattern of violence, abuse and neglect at the jail that was exposed in a 2015 Houston Chronicle investigation. Hickman’s response was to reduce oversight at the jail, including dismantling the investigative unit that had uncovered some of the worst cases of abuse and neglect.

“For the county’s new reform plan to succeed, we must incease oversight, transparency and accountability at the county jail,” said Gonzalez. “That’s why I’m calling on Sheriff Hickman to live up to the values of this new plan by diversifying his command staff and reinstating the jail inspectors he cut earlier this year.”

Ed Gonzalez is a leading candidate in the May 24 Democratic Party primary runoff election for Harris County Sheriff. He is a veteran Houston Police officer who rose to the rank of Sergeant, led murder investigations and served on the elite hostage negotiating team. He served two terms on the City Council, chairing the Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee and becoming mayor pro-tem. On the Houston City Council, Gonzalez led efforts at criminal justice reform – including creating the Houston Center for Sobriety, which keeps people who need help out of the criminal justice system and allows police officers to spend more time on patrol, catching criminals.