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Dismay rises as border agent hiring bogs down

Brad Doherty 

(U. S. Customs and Border Protection Officer, Robert Zuniga, a member of the color guard stood at attention during the presentation of the colors, Wednesday Sept. 17,2014. A National Hispanic Heritage Month celebration was held at the Veterans Memorial Bridge in Brownsville. 

A massive security breach and failure rates on polygraph tests are slowing down the hiring of 2,000 new Customs and Border Protection agents, sowing frustration among lawmakers and business owners who were expecting quicker results.

Most of the new hires — the largest single batch in the agency’s history — are slated for jobs helping legal trade and commerce pass smoothly through the nation’s airports and ports of entry, where the costs of delay are measured in millions of dollars.

A security breach last summer, when hackers broke into the computers of a company performing background checks for the Department of Homeland Security, was the first wrench in the works.

“I asked them at that time if there was going to be a delay,” said U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, who was briefed on the breach last summer. “They basically said, ‘We’ll hire some, but we are not going to be able to move as fast as possible.’”

Homeland security officials had to find other contractors to replace United States Investigations Services when its contract was canceled.

A congressional staffer not authorized to speak on the record said that DHS recently awarded another contract, and now has three vendors for background checks.

But the number of applicants failing polygraph tests during the vetting process, the staffer said, is also slowing hiring.

Cuellar said he’s heard from the National Treasury Employees Union, which represents customs officers, that polygraph tests are slowing things down, but said the wait is worth it. Calls to the union were not returned.

“I’ve told them we have to do the polygraphs. We have to make sure the backgrounds are good on these people,” he said. “We’ve got to make sure that we don’t cut any corners and pay for it at a later time.”

The delays are adding to growing frustration among merchants who want their goods to travel quickly, and local officials who often have to take up the slack.

In March lawmakers announced that some of the additional agents will be assigned to the Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston airports, and ports of entry in Laredo, El Paso, Hidalgo, Pharr, Fabens, Brownsville, Eagle Pass and Progreso. Cuellar’s Laredo district is home to the busiest inland port in the country.

Last year, DHS signed off on a pilot project allowing local governments and private funders to pay for additional CBP staffing at the country’s busiest ports themselves. The public-private partnership, which seems to be working, was seen as a local, but temporary, solution.

“The consequences of the delay is that communities like El Paso will continue to foot the bill,” said U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso.

More than $100 million in economic output is lost for… more.



EDITORIAL: Mexico’s Peña Nieto must confront lawlessness


For decades, Mexico has been characterized as mired in corruption, and the stain of lawlessness has indeed run deep. But recent events have underscored anew how Mexico — despite genuine signs of economic and political progress — remains a state lacking the rule of law. A new low point is the disappearance of dozens of students from a teachers college, and much will depend on whether the government responds effectively.

Conflict among drug cartels dominated the six-year term of President Felipe Calderón, who threw the military into the battle at great cost but did not uproot the cartels. His successor, Enrique Peña Nieto, came to office in December 2012 with a different emphasis, seeking to kick-start a series of bold economic reforms. Peña Nieto rightly won admiration for his determination to open Mexico’s energy sector to competition, to tackle the troubled education system and to limit monopolization in telecommunications and other sectors. His first two years in power have been promising.

But the scourge of violence has risen again in a way that cannot be ignored and that imperils the reform agenda. Late one September night, in the town of Iguala in the poor, rural state of Guerrero, buses carrying the students were attacked by police. One student and six other people were killed. Forty-three students were captured and turned over to an organized-crime gang, Guerreros Unidos. They are feared dead. According to the Mexican authorities, the mayor of the town ordered the violent onslaught. The mayor, now detained, reportedly ordered the attack out of fear the students were going to interrupt a speech by his wife.

Protests have erupted across the country. Peña Nieto’s government did not respond with alacrity. The president was silent for days, and then his attorney general, exhausted, carelessly dismissed repetitive questions about the case at a news conference, saying he was “tired” or “fed up.” Those words have now become the signature slogan of the demonstrators; people are fed up with business as usual. Peña Nieto went ahead with plans to travel to Asia while the country was in an uproar, which did not help matters.

Peña Nieto cannot ……read more.

This editorial appeared in the Washington Post.

Greg Abbott plans to sue Barack Obama over immigration order

Photo: Jay Janner

Gov.-elect Greg Abbott said Monday that President Barack Obama violated the U.S. Constitution with a directive that could shield 5 million immigrants from deportation and that he expects to file a lawsuit in coming weeks, amplifying Texas as a vanguard in the growing chorus of conservative states opposing Obama’s use of executive power.

Abbott, still acting as the state’s attorney general, has not yet filed a legal challenge but said “odds are in favor that a lawsuit will be filed.” He said his office is still researching its case against the Obama administration. The announcement of a Texas lawsuit, aimed at forcing a Supreme Court decision on Obama’s reliance on executive power to circumvent Republican blockades in Congress, is expected in the next two weeks, Abbott said.

“I think it’s extremely important to emphasize that I am addressing this as a legal issue, not a political issue,” Abbott said. “The president has crossed the line from politics to endangering the constitutional structure.”

It doesn’t matter where you come down on the immigration issue,” he said. “Most everyone agrees that the immigration system in America is broken. Similarly, most everyone agrees that executive fiat is not the right way to fix it. The president must follow the laws just like everyone else.”

Abbott characterized the looming challenge as one that will define the scope and limitations of presidential powers after Obama, invoking…..more here.

J. David McSwane

American-Statesman Staff

Combating the problem of underage smugglers

Photo by Delcia Lopez

Junior Benjamin Rodriguez, 17, appears before Judge Israel Ramon on Monday, May 19, 2014, at the 430th state District Court in Edinburg. 

EDINBURG — Junior Benjamin Rodriguez began working for the drug cartels at the age of 13. In April 2012, he was offered $300 to smuggle a van full of immigrants from one stash house to another in Palmview. It was not his first time doing it, but this time it was different.

“I told them [human smugglers] it was gonna be hard because it was 17 of them and it was a little van,” Rodriguez said in a video shown at a recent high school program to counter cartel recruiting. “I still did it even though I had a bad feeling something was going to go wrong.”

Today, the 17 year old sits in a state penitentiary serving 20 years for manslaughter after nine of the immigrants he was trying to smuggle were killed after a high speed police chase ended in a deadly rollover wreck.

During the video interview, he talks about dropping out of school in 7th grade so he could earn easy money. But he warns those watching that although the temptation to work for the cartels is great, so are the consequences.

“Only now do I realize that it was not worth it,” Rodriguez said.

To help fight this reality, the U.S. Border Patrol re-launched Operation Detour last week in an attempt to divert high school students from joining cartels in the Rio Grande Valley.

Operation Detour was first launched in 2009 when Rio Grande Border Patrol Sector Deputy Chief Raul Ortiz realized there was no existing program aimed at stemming the cartels’ efforts to lure underage drug and human smugglers in the border region.

“They are trying to use you as pawns and we don’t want that to happen,” Ortiz said in front of around 100 seniors during last week’s presentation at Johnny G. Economedes High School in Edinburg.

Ortiz recalled when his 17-year-old daughter introduced him to a boy she was dating. Months later, a photo of that boy ended up on his desk after he was caught smuggling some 500 pounds of marijuana.

“That young man came from a good family,” Ortiz said. “This could happen to anyone, it could happen to my 15-year-old son or they can entice my daughter into doing something like that.”

Operation Detour reached more than 100,000 high school students across the Valley in 2009 and had a great impact on the community, according to Border Patrol spokesman Oscar Saldana.

“This program is specifically tailored for teens from this region, and it has been tremendously successful,” Saldana said, “the numbers don’t lie.”

In 2010, there were 230 juveniles, both U.S. citizens and immigrants who crossed the border illegally, caught by Border Patrol or other local law enforcement agencies for smuggling mainly drugs or people. In 2013, there were 80 juvenile smuggling arrests, a reduction of 166 percent. So far this year there have been 88 similar cases, according to Saldana.

Cartels can offer youth up to $5,000 for delivering one load, Border Patrol officials say.

“They are going to tell you, if you get caught …..more of the story here.



Feds Seek Fewer Holds on Undocumented Immigrants


Photo by: Bob Daemmrich

Border Patrol officers outside a bus in Presidio.

Federal requests to hold undocumented immigrants in Texas jails longer so they can possibly be deported have dropped by the thousands, according to report released Wednesday.


Data crunchers at the University of Syracuse found that the number of detainers — federal requests that a state or local jail delay releasing someone for 48 hours so deportation might be pursued — has dropped since 2012. Texas continued to lead the nation in the number of detainers issued in fiscal year 2013 and through March of 2014, the analysis found.


The report comes the same week as a New York Times report that President Obama could issue an executive order as early as next week lifting the threat of deportation for millions in the country illegally, and allowing some to obtain work permits.


The number of times Immigration and Customs Enforcement asked for detainers in Texas fell from an average of 4,400 times a month in fiscal year 2012 to 3,160 by March 2014, according to the analysis by researchers at the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, a drop of about 28 percent


Nationwide about 40 percent fewer requests were made from fiscal year 2012 to March 2014.



While unable to pinpoint the drop’s exact cause, analysts said in part it is the result of a growing number of state and local jails that have stopped honoring the requests.


“Compliance with detainer requests was long considered mandatory. However, the agency recently acknowledged that compliance with ICE detainers is actually optional since detainers are simply requests and ‘they are not mandatory as a matter of law,’” the report states.


Several law enforcement agencies will release an undocumented criminal if the alleged crime is considered minor and the person poses no threat to the community.


Another possibility, the authors said, is that detainers simply aren’t needed as often because people are returned quickly after being caught entering the country illegally. There is no simple cause-and-effect explanation, the report said.


“Whether the drop in ICE detainers was a cause or consequence of stepped-up border removals, these two alternative pipelines together kept ICE detention beds filled in compliance with congressional mandates and fed the flow of ICE deportations,” they write.


According to the New York Times report, the Obama administration later this month might grant as many as 5 million undocumented immigrants some sort of deportation relief along with possible work permits.


The Pew Research Center’s Hispanic Trends Project estimated in September that about 11.3 million undocumented immigrants live in the country, including about 1.8 million in Texas.


Citing sources in the White House, the publication added that the plan would allow undocumented-immigrant parents of U.S. citizens or legal residents to work in the country legally without fear of deportation.



But proponents of comprehensive immigration reform said they’ll believe it when they see it.


“We need less leaks and more action from within the White House,” Pablo Alvarado, the executive director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, said in a statement. “They are rumors. For well over a decade, immigrants have been harmed by trial balloons, false promises, and a poisonous political environment in Washington D.C. that reduces migrant lives to pawns in partisan games.”


Republicans have also warned the president of a backlash if he moves alone on immigration.


“I hope he delays it permanently, but at least I hope the president would give us an adequate time to be able to work together to try to begin to build a bipartisan consensus on repairing our broken immigration system,” U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, the incoming majority whip, said on the floor of the U.S. Senate on Thursday.


U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, warned current … more here.


Konni Burton hires Art Martinez de Vara, a pro-Texas Solution supporter

The SA Express-News has reported that newly-elected state senator Konni Burton from Ft. Worth is hiring Von Ormy mayor Art Martinez de Vara. Could this be another newly-elected official flipping to the “dark side”? Burton is a long time grass roots conservative activist including a strong supporter of immigration enforcement. On the other hand, while Martinez de Vara is a proven fiscal conservative as mayor of his little community in Bexar County, he was a chief supporter (if not one of the architects) of the Texas Solution which grass roots conservative fought in the Texas state GOP convention. Will Burton support a “guest worker” program before the border is secured and immigration law is fully enforced, now?

Also interesting is that Martinez de Vara was referred to Burton by her campaign consultant, Luke Macias from San Antonio. Macias told the Dallas Morning News that “it was urgent that conservatives hold themselves and colleagues to account” in the upcoming state legislative session, including in the house speakers’ race. Remember, immigration was the number one concern among conservative voters in the November election.

Let’s see what happens… Listen and learn to

Read Dominoes keep falling at City Hall, Capitol here! 

By George Rodriquez


Border Patrol: Obama Amnesty Talk Fuels Illegal Immigration



President Barack Obama’s insistence that he will sign an executive order that will allow as many as 6 million illegal immigrants to stay in the country will only create a new surge of illegal migrants across the U.S. border, says the National Border Patrol.

“We definitely see increases in illegal aliens coming across the border when there is national talk of an amnesty,” Shawn Moran of the National Border Patrol Council told Newsradio 1200 WOAI.

He said that Mexican and Latin American smuggling cartels seize on messages from the administration to recruit people who may be desperate to escape poverty and violent crime in their own countries.

“Under President Bush there was talk of immigration reform, and they would say, ‘we’re coming here for the amnesty,’” Moran said, adding that changes in the administration’s immigration policy will create a new surge.

Moran used as an example the recent influx of minors from Central America.
“That was largely fueled by the idea that we were not enforcing our immigration laws, and if you got to this country, you could stay here,” he said, according to WOAI.

President Barack Obama told congressional leaders at a meeting on Friday that he intended to take executive action on immigration even though he had been warned against the move by the GOP in the aftermath of their electoral victories.

Before the announcement, House Speaker John Boehner said the president would “poison the well” if he changes immigration policy without waiting for Congress to act, and incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said executive action on immigration would be like “waving a red flag in front of a bull.”

On Sunday, Obama defended his decision to act and said he was not trying to circumvent Congress, but that he had waited long enough for it to take action. 

“The minute they pass a bill that addresses the problems with immigration reform, I will sign it and it supersedes whatever actions I take,” Obama said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

“And I’m encouraging them to……Read more here

By Melanie Batley

Human smuggler sentenced to 78 months in fatal crash


A Houston woman was sentenced Wednesday in the death of an immigrant after she crashed a vehicle while trying to smuggle a group of people into the country illegally.

U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzalez Ramos sentenced Karen Yamilec Aguilar-Melgor, 22, to six and a half years in federal prison after she pleaded guilty to human smuggling charges.

U.S. Border Patrol agents observed people being loaded into a red Ford pickup truck about 3:30 a.m. Feb. 25 on a road near Falfurrias, according to a news release.

In an attempt to stop the truck….more here.

Police chase leaves six injured

Photo by Gabe Hernandez

PHARR — Six people were injured after a police chase ended in a major crash Thursday afternoon on the U.S. Highway 281 and Expressway 83 interchange.

Department of Public Safety troopers along with Mission police were pursuing a suspicious vehicle that eventually crashed at about 1:30 p.m., authorities said.

The chase started near the Anzalduas International Bridge when a group of people entered the vehicle which then sped off when Mission police approached it, police spokesman Lt. Jody Tittle said.

The driver, who was…..more.


Homeland Security: 6 undocumented immigrants removed from San Antonio man’s fuel tank

Photo By U.S. Department of Homeland Security 
Border Patrol agents removed six undocumented immigrants from the fuel tank of a pickup truck Friday at an immigration checkpoint near Eagle Pass. Eagle Pass South Station agents encountered a 2007 Dodge flatbed pickup truck at an immigration checkpoint located on Farm Road 2644 early Friday morning, according to a Tuesday news release.

Border Patrol agents removed six undocumented immigrants from the fuel tank of a pickup truck Friday at an immigration checkpoint near Eagle Pass.

Eagle Pass South Station agents encountered a 2007 Dodge flatbed pickup truck at an immigration checkpoint located on Farm Road 2644 early Friday morning, according to a Tuesday news release.

After a Border Patrol canine alerted agents to the vehicle’s cargo area, agents transported the truck to the Eagle Pass Port of Entry to inspect it with a non-intrusive imaging system.

The scan revealed six men — from ages 19 to 50 — hidden in the truck’s diesel auxiliary tank, three of which were from Mexico, two from El Salvador and one from Guatemala.

After contacting emergency medical services, Custom and Border Protection officers removed the auxiliary tank from the bed of the truck using a forklift.

Once removed, the… more.