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The peso’s plunge is a problem for Texas’ border cities — and Trump could make it worse

Rep. Cuellar Says Border Patrol Advising Trump On Options For A Wall

Congressman Henry Cuellar, a Laredo Democrat, says the U.S. Border Patrol is making recommendations to incoming President Trump for the kind of wall that might be built between Texas and Mexico.

Cuellar personally opposes a physical barrier saying it could damage the international commerce that daily flows across the U.S.- Mexico border at Laredo, the largest inland port in the United States.

Cuellar told Texas Public Radio he recently met with several border patrol chiefs who told him they believe better surveillance technology and access roads along the Rio Grande River would improve border security better than bricks and mortar.

Here’s an excerpt of Rep. Cuellar’s conversation with TPR’s Shelley Kofler.

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PRESS RELEASE — NEW INFO: Ways & Means and Energy & Commerce Break through Unprecedented Obstruction, Obtain Documents Confirming Administration Broke the Law to Fund Obamacare

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The House Ways and Means Committee, chaired by Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX), and the House Energy and Commerce Committee, chaired by Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI), today released new information in an addendum to a joint report, “Joint Congressional Investigative Report into the Source of Funding for the ACA’s Cost Sharing Reduction Program,” released in July 2016.

The initial report chronicled the Committees’ investigation into the Obama Administration’s decision-making processes on the source of funding for the cost sharing reduction (CSR) program, a key Obamacare program. Despite unprecedented obstruction of the investigation and a refusal by the Administration to comply with Congressional subpoenas, the report revealed the Administration knowingly violated the Constitution to fund the CSR program without a Congressional appropriation.

Since the release of the initial report, the two Committees have continued our investigation to obtain information withheld by the Administration. After six more months of aggressive oversight, the Treasury Department, Health and Human Services Department (HHS), and Office and Management and Budget (OMB) complied with the subpoenas and released documents confirming the initial findings, as well as shedding more light on the Administration’s decision-making process. The Committees have learned:

  1. High-ranking officials at Treasury, HHS, and OMB discussed and deliberated using money appropriated for tax credits to fund the CSR program.
  2. Numerous federal employees raised concerns about using the tax credit account to make the CSR payments, but top Administration officials decided to use the unappropriated funds anyway.
  3. Administration officials based their decision to fund the CSR program on a flawed legal analysis.

Upon the release of these new findings, Chairmen Brady and Upton said:

“These new findings are deeply troubling and further demonstrate just how far over the line this Administration has gone to prop up its broken health care law. Because of our Committees’ persistence, we have learned much more about the Administration’s decision to ignore the clear text of the ACA, disregard the separation of powers, and obstruct a Congressional investigation to further its own political agenda.” 

Lawsuit proceeds against Gov. Greg Abbott over mock nativity display

A lawsuit is moving forward against Gov. Greg Abbott over his order to remove a satirical nativity scene from the Texas Capitol last year.

A federal judge ruled Tuesday that the Freedom From Religion Foundation, the Wisconsin-based group behind the exhibit, raised valid questions about free speech rights when it sued Abbott earlier this year. Abbott had asked the state Preservation Board to get rid of the exhibit, which advocated for the separation of church and state.

The preservation board had initially approved the display, which featured a cardboard cutout of the nation’s founding fathers and the Statue of Liberty looking down at the Bill of Rights in a manger. Abbott, writing to the preservation board once the exhibit had gone up, denounced it as a “juvenile parody” intended to offend Christians.

U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks wrote Tuesday that the lawsuit should proceed because Abbott’s order may have been based on the fact he simply disagreed with the viewpoint the exhibit was expressing. Groups are allowed to display exhibits in certain parts of the Capitol as long as they have a “public purpose,” according to state rules.

Abbott’s office said Wednesday it was pleased Sparks did not require the state to put the exhibit back on display. “Governor Abbott remains confident that the Constitution does not require Texas to display this intentionally disrespectful exhibit,” Abbott spokesman John Wittman said in a statement.

Texas Republicans like Abbott are no strangers to these kinds of dust-ups around the holidays. Attorney General Ken Paxton recently took the Killeen school district to court over the removal of a Christmas-themed cartoon poster.

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EPISD declares support for undocumented students

Lindsey Anderson

El Paso Independent School District trustees have joined a growing movement declaring support for undocumented immigrants but stopped short of saying they would defy attempts by federal authorities to enforce immigration laws in public schools.

Trustees on Dec. 20 unanimously approved a resolution affirming their commitment to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which gave temporary protected status to young people, known as Dreamers, who were brought into the country illegally as children.

During his campaign, President-elect Donald Trump threatened to end the program and deport millions of immigrants who are in the United States illegally. In response, schools, cities and universities across the country have passed resolutions and issued statements, ranging from calling on the federal government to enact comprehensive immigration reform to ordering staff not to cooperate with immigration enforcement officials.

In their resolution, EPISD trustees said deporting Dreamers, who are enrolled in El Paso schools and universities, would destroy families and negatively affect the regional and national economy.

The school board “supports a bi-partisan effort in Congress to enact comprehensive immigration reform and provide these DREAMers, along with other undocumented immigrants, a path to citizenship,” said the resolution.

Trustees, according to the resolution, “will provide input and support policies within the incoming administration that are humane and respect the rights of DREAMers.”

Under federal law, public school districts are required to educate all students regardless of their immigration status or their parents’ statuses. Schools are also prohibited from releasing certain information about students without their permission or the permission of their guardians.

Trustee Susie Byrd said the resolution is necessary considering El Paso’s history, which includes a time when Border Patrol agents patrolled near Bowie High School, pulling over teachers and students outside the school that sits just across the border from Mexico. A past EPISD cheating scheme also sought to deny many immigrant students their right to an education by pushing them out of school or preventing them from enrolling in the district.

“Because of the Trump message and because of our own history … there’s a real sensitivity to it,” Byrd said. “That was not so long ago and we just don’t want there to be an environment … at any of our schools where a child might not feel safe because of the presence of Border Patrol.”

An estimated tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants live in El Paso, Border Network for Human Rights policy director Robert Heyman told the trustees as he praised the resolution.

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At this Dallas school, it takes a village to help refugee kids learn to read

Holly K. Hacker

Students at McShan Elementary School come from some of the world’s most tormented spots — Iraq, Bhutan, Somalia and Congo, to name a few.

They fled with their families from civil war, famine or persecution. Now, they’re refugees resettled in Dallas. With help from an army of volunteers, McShan students are tackling their next challenge: the English language.

For an hour or more each week, 125 grown-ups tutor an equal number of refugee students, many of whom had little or no formal schooling before coming to the United States.

“They have a long, very steep mountain to climb,” said Dalene Buhl, who founded the volunteer program, called Reading Homeroom, at McShan two years ago. The kids may come from different countries and speak different languages, but the goal is the same: get them reading on grade level.

District officials say the program shows what kids and schools can achieve when their community pitches in.

Dallas ISD enrolls about 1,200 refugee students, most of whom live in the Vickery Meadow area. More than 250 of those students attend McShan, a red-brick school tucked among tired apartment buildings near Texas Health Presbyterian Dallas hospital.

These children arrive at McShan throughout the school year. Together they speak about 20 languages and dialects, including Arabic, Burmese, Nepali, Swahili, Tibetan and Urdu.

On a recent Thursday, kids and grown-ups worked in pairs at desks.

Halima Hassan, a first-grader from Somalia, poised a chubby blue marker in her hand as volunteer Gerald Fogarty, a retired family doctor, dictated a sentence:

“Mom had a top on a big pot.”

Like an Olympic runner who hears the starting gun, Halima took off. She wrote on a small dry erase board and raised it in triumph.

“That’s a whole sentence,” Fogarty said. “You did it by yourself, you know that?”

The 7-year-old in the tiger print hijab and hot pink Mary Janes smiled and erased the board, ready for the next sentence.

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State Board of Education chairwoman pleasantly surprises critics

By Julie Chang

Donna Bahorich, whose assignment as State Board of Education chairwoman in 2015 garnered backlash from fellow board members and education policymakers, will be up for reappointment in February.

But less controversy is expected to shadow her probable confirmation this time.

The reason — according to one of the loudest critics of her appointment in 2015, fellow Republican and outgoing Board Member Thomas Ratliff of Mount Pleasant — is that she hasn’t turned into the political climber she was expected to be. Nor has she returned the board to its divisive past.

“I threw a little fit on Twitter when she was appointed because I didn’t feel like she was qualified,” Ratliff said. “What she has helped me understand is that you don’t have to be a part of public ed to have a heart for kids, and she listens to her district more than the average SBOE member.”

In order to keep her position, Bahorich, a 61-year-old Republican from Houston, must be appointed by Gov. Greg Abbott again and approved by the state Senate by February.

Board critics say Bahorich’s leadership will be tested right around her potential confirmation hearing when the board tackles how the theory of evolution should be taught to Texas students.

But others say her work as chairwoman over the past two years will speak for itself.

When Bahorich assumed the role, critics questioned her ability to lead the board — which oversees the state’s public education system — because she had chosen to home-school her three sons. Critics also worried that as a former staff member for then-state Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, she would corrode the public education system. Patrick has been a vocal supporter of school choice, a divisive idea that would allow public money to pay for alternative education options, such as private school, for students who choose to leave traditional public schools.

READ: School choice gets lukewarm reception at Texas House hearing

Bahorich said she understands why people were concerned but said that she has defied those expectations.

“To some people who didn’t know me or who wouldn’t understand why, they asked, was my home-schooling some kind of statement against public school? To me, they were all legitimate questions and rightfully asked. You can’t be upset with people for asking intelligent questions,” Bahorich said.

Putting differences aside

Bahorich’s acts as chairwoman include creating a statewide roundtable discussion on digital learning and educating children living in poverty. She advocated posting copies of textbooks online to allow the public to review and comment before the board adopts them. Recently, a proposed Mexican-American studies textbook for high school students was widely criticized by both scholars and activists, prompting the board to reject the textbook. Some of the board’s biggest critics applauded the move.

“The reason so many people got access to it is because the board has made it all online, and that was a need that I saw right when I got elected,” Bahorich said.

She also spearheaded a series of regional discussions and an online survey to solicit input on the embattled State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness. From those efforts, a report was compiled and sent to the Texas Legislature.

She appointed Erika Beltran, a Democratic board member with extensive knowledge of education policy, to a state commission to evaluate Texas’ public education assessment and accountability systems. Ratliff said the appointment showed Bahorich’s bipartisan efforts.

She chalks up her willingness to put differences aside to her deeply religious, small-town upbringing in West Virginia.

Bahorich, whose father was a preacher and a used-car salesman and whose mother spent most of her childhood caring for her ill brother, was the first to go to college — Virginia Tech, where she earned a financial management degree.

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Abbott says Obama-backed arms trade treaty could let U.N. police guns

By W. Gardner Selby

Greg Abbott warned in a recent tweet that President Barack Obama seeks Senate ratification of a treaty that could empower the United Nations to regulate guns.

The Texas governor tweeted: “This Treaty by Obama could give the UN some authority to regulate guns. Tell the Senate to reject it.”

Abbott further pointed to a story stating, in part, that the Arms Trade Treaty, recently urged on the Senate by the lame-duck Democratic president, seeks to regulate the world’s annual exchange of $70 billion in conventional weaponry including tanks, helicopters and missiles.

That Dec. 13 story doesn’t say the U.N. deal would regulate guns within the U.S. But it notes opposition from Republicans including Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, who signed legislation prohibiting the enforcement of international laws “that could affect the Second Amendment,” says.

The Democratic-led Senate signaled its concerns in 2013, voting by 53-46 against the U.S. going along with any such treaty. That move occurred a month before the U.N. General Assembly approved the treaty with 154 nations in favor, three opposed and 23 absent. The U.S. voted for it; North Korea, Iran and Syria opposed it.

The story also recaps that when Abbott was attorney general of Texas, he “promised to slap the federal government with a lawsuit if the treaty was ratified.” On Sept. 25, 2013, then reported, AG Abbott said in a press release: “By signing this treaty, the Obama administration has attempted to subject Americans’ right to bear arms to the oversight of the United Nations.”

Abbott said in a 2013 Fox News interview: “The concern is that the United States is trying to use the United Nations as a back-door mechanism to try to legislate here in the United States, in this instance trying to impose gun control.”

In that interview, Abbott was pressed to elaborate on the treaty’s threat to domestic gun rights. He conceded the treaty focuses on international trade. Still, he expressed concern the U.N. would exploit the treaty to impose gun registration and other requirements.

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Supreme Court verdict hasn’t deterred Texas lawmakers from filing abortion bills

Samantha Ketterer

AUSTIN — This summer’s landmark Supreme Court ruling on abortion could put a wrench in Texas’ plans to further restrict the practice in the spring, experts say.

Whether legislators will err on the side of caution is a different question.

“States like Texas are going to try to continue to push the envelope,” said Matthew Wilson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University. “I don’t think legislatures are going to be dissuaded from passing abortion decisions based on existing decisions.”

In Whole Woman’s Health vs. Hellerstedt, the nation’s highest court ruled that two provisions of Texas’ law were unconstitutional — one that would have required abortion clinics to have admitting privileges into hospitals, and another that would have made clinics adhere to standards of ambulatory surgical centers.

The court ruled that the restrictions would place an undue burden on women and that the state didn’t provide enough evidence that the law would benefit women’s health.

Abigail Aiken, a political science professor at the University of Texas at Austin, said if Texas lawmakers wanted to venture back into similar laws, they’d be walking into a “legal minefield.”

“It’s pretty clear in the Whole Woman’s Health decision that laws that are masquerading as protecting women’s health are not going to fly anymore,” Aiken said. “I think that’s kind of closed the door on that for now.”

Arguments that women’s health would benefit from abortion restrictions are going to be more susceptible to legal challenges in the future, said Amanda Allen, state legislative counsel for the Center for Reproductive Rights, the group that sued the state in the Supreme Court case.

“The relationship between the restrictions that Texas wanted to enforce and the actual impact on improving women’s health was zero,” Allen said. “The court is really going to closely scrutinize those types of arguments moving forward.”

But the Supreme Court didn’ t look at one provision of Texas’ 2013 law — one that prohibits abortion in Texas after 20 weeks of pregnancy. John Seago, legislative director for Texas Right to Life, said abortion bills that use the basis of “fetal life” as an argument are more likely to be implemented.

“There is still a legitimate state interest in protecting fetal life,” Seago said. “Our opponents don’t want to talk about that.”

But so far, lawmakers haven’t filed many bills that argue in support of protecting fetal life.

One of the bills filed for the spring would require aborted or miscarried fetal tissue to be buried or cremated. The Center for Reproductive Rights has sued the state on the measure, and a judge will hear the case in early January.

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Virginia Voter ID Law Unanimously Approved By Federal Appeals Court

Robert Jonathan

Perhaps lost in headlines as of late is the recent news that a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit upheld Virginia’s voter ID law.

A separate panel of the same court tossed out a stricter North Carolina voter identification law in July, and the Supreme Court — which is currently split 4-4 (generally) among liberals and conservatives — declined to hear an appeal. A Texas voter ID law was also struck down in the same month by the Fifth Circuit.

The Virginia law allows people who show up without a government-issued or otherwise-approved photo ID to vote, but they have to return within three days with their ID for it to count. Voters without an ID can obtain one for free from board of elections offices around the state.

“In the Virginia case, the appeals court sided with attorneys for Virginia election officials who said the state’s requirement for in-person­ voting is far more flexible than election measures in other states and was not designed to discriminate,” the Washington Post reported in a loss for the Democrats who had challenged the law on grounds that it violated the U.S. Constitution and the federal Voting Rights Act.

“The 4th Circuit noted in its ruling that the Virginia legislature ‘went out of its way to make its impact as burden-free as possible. It allowed a broad scope of IDs to qualify; it provided free IDs to those who lacked a qualifying ID; it issued free IDs without any requirement of presenting documentation; and it provided numerous locations throughout the State where free IDs could be obtained,’” ABC News explained.

A Gallup Poll in August of 2016 revealed that 80 percent of Americans support voter ID laws. While the Democratic Party and various civil rights organizations vehemently opposed the requirement to show a photo ID to vote, and have filed lawsuits across the country to block their implementation, such laws are also on the books in blue states such as Connecticut and Rhode Island, in addition to red states, as a way to combat voter fraud.

Voter ID is a requirement in most countries around the world, both developed and developing.

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