Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Obama slacking on illegal immigration reform?

President Obama met with members of the all-Democratic Congressional Hispanic Caucus yesterday for the third time in three weeks. Representative Luis Gutierrez was pleased to see Obama agree with him that it makes little sense to deport younger illegal aliens who were brought to the U.S. by their parents. 

This is an important part of this legislation because of its significance to the DREAM act, which failed last year but will be re introduced this year. The DREAM Act stands for Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors and provides conditional permanent residency to certain illegal alien students who graduate from U.S. high schools, who are of good moral character, arrived in the U.S. legally or illegally as minors, and have been in the country continuously for at least five years prior to the bills enactment. 

"The president stressed absolutely that the real fix is going to have to be legislative," Rep. Charlie Gonzalez of Texas said. 

It will definitely take a strong legislative action to fix the illegal immigration problem in the country, but the real question is once that action or bill is passed, how will everyone in Texas react? 


Immigration House Bill 2012

There has been some serious controversy and opposition towards House Bill 2012, and rightfully so. It creates an exception for people who hire for the purpose of obtaining labor or other work to be performed exclusively or primarily at a single-family residence, even if the homeowner-employer intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly hired the worker without employment authorization.

This is especially important for Texans because of the large number of illegal immigrants that work as babysitters. Texas state rep Aaron Pena said, "A large number of the Texas population would end up in prison if the bill is passed. When it comes to household employees or yard workers it is extremely common for Texans to hire people who are likely undocumented workers. It is so common it is overlooked." 

The fact that a state representative is admitting a hard truth like that to a news giant like CNN shows the gravity of this situation. It will be interesting to see how this pans out in the future because of the mixed message it portrays. They might as well make it easy and say, "We want you here, but we don't." Bills like these tend to weaken efforts of immigration reform because they propose penalties and restrictions which appear to be based on arbitrary distinctions and class privilege. 


-Matt Looney

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

March of Dimes: What's Next

As the March of Dimes continues to work so that all babies are born to stay healthy they have focused their efforts more specifically on the continued funding of newborn screening and the health care reform. Both of these major issues affect the mission of the organization so supporters advocate on behalf of MOD to make sure that cuts are not made that will effect them meeting their mission.

Newborn screening is a successful preventive public health activity. 

Newborn screening: Basic facts
  • Newborn screening is the early identification of infants affected by certain genetic, metabolic, hormonal and/or functional conditions.
  • Screening detects disorders in newborns that, if left untreated, can cause death, disability, intellectual disabilities and other serious illnesses.
  • If diagnosed early, these conditions can be successfully treated.
  • The American College of Medical Genetics, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the March of Dimes and the Secretary's Advisory Committee on Heritable Disorders recommend screening all newborns for 29 treatable disorders and reporting on an additional 25 disorders.
(SOURCE: March of Dimes Advocacy)

The march of Dimes continues to advocate for these newborn screenings because of these facts.

Currently, March of Dimes has been advocating so that all women and their children may have health care. "Having insurance coverage affects how and whether women and children can obtain needed health care services. In 2007, the Institute of Medicine reported that uninsured women receive fewer prenatal services and experience greater difficulty in obtaining needed care than women with insurance."
(SOURCE: March of Dimes Advocacy)

If you would like to assist in any of these and other advocacy efforts through the March of Dimes you may sign up below!

March of Dimes Advocacy

-Domonique M. Mack

Monday, May 2, 2011

Update on Progress of Nutritional Bills

For the past four months, this blog has followed the progress of issues currently being addressed in the 82nd Texas Legislature. A variety of subjects, including eminent domain, smoking, and gambling, have been discussed by Texas politicians; however, the $27 billion budget shortfall dominated debate for much of this session. 

While the topic of altering nutritional and physical education programs in Texas public schools did not receive much attention, several bills in the House and Senate regarding minor alterations to similar existing bills were passed.   

HB 127 created more strict rules relating to the types of beverages that may be sold to students on public school campuses. The bill was passed in House and has been received by the Senate.

HB 280 alters a health credit for high school graduation. The bill was referred to Public Education in February and no action has been taken since.

HB 281 alters physical education credits required for high school graduation. The bill was referred to Public Education and no action has been taken.

HB 643 deals with summer nutrition programs in public school districts. The bill was referred to the Agriculture and Livestock committee in February and was left pending in committee.
SB 185 creates more rigorous physical education requirements in Texas public schools. The bill refereed to Education in January and no action has been taken since.  

SB 225 relates to developing reports about goals information needed order to promote improved student health. The bill was referred to Education in January.

Debate over school nutrition and physical education programs is likely to continue in the future as obesity becomes a growing issue for children in Texas.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Adult Probation Overview

As seen throughout the past few months, it is indisputable that the budget crisis is affecting every social service industry in Texas, one being the correctional system. There have been a lot of social concerns from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. The TDCJ believes that these cuts will end up costing the state more money in the long run. With cuts to the education and re-entry programs that prisons have in place, the TDCJ sees the prisoners coming right back to prison because they were not properly helped with such a life-altering change. Ultimately costing the state more to put them back in the system. Certain cuts will be made that will not sit well with those in charge of the criminal justice system. 

The correctional budget is still ever changing and we will have to see if the concerns from the TDCJ will be taking into account when finalizing the bill. The below summary of the budget cuts are from a Dallas Morning News article. 

For sure cuts in the proposed bill…

  • About 550 layoffs: $4.6 million
  • Canceled treatment facility: $12 million
  • Not replacing equipment: $7.1 million
  • Improved information technology practices: $3.9 million
  • Cut unused treatment program funding: $3.7 million
  • Staffers’ housing: Correctional officers are also being charged at least 20 percent of fair market value for prison housing. Some housing had been free.

Some cuts still on the table are…

  • Close the Central Prison Unit near Sugar Land.
  • Raise employee health insurance costs.
  • Cut education and vocational programs for inmates.
  • Reduce substance abuse and mental health programs.
  • Charge inmates with money in commissary accounts $100 a year for health care.
  • Reduce prison release “pocket money” from $100 to $50.
  • Charge inmates for over-the-counter medications such as aspirin.
  • Charge correctional officers when they eat more than two meals per shift in the prison chow hall.

In closing, those who are interesting in keeping up with the Texas correctional system, I recommend following the Grits for Breakfast blog. This blog talks about the Texas criminal justice system at an interesting angle while sharing important information through articles and other websites. 

-Caroline Cardenas

Exploring New Solutions for Texas Education

In a state facing a $15 billion budget shortfall, almost every aspect of government will be experiencing cuts this session. Money allocated for education, which accounts for 56.3% percent of the overall budget, will have to be reduced as a result of this budget decrease. The easiest way for school districts to accommodate these budget changes under current Texas law is to simply layoff teachers because many other options, such as reducing teacher salaries, are prohibited. 

Early predictions estimated that about 80,000 to 100,000 teachers across the state would lose their jobs as a result of the budget shortfall. Many legislators have asserted that the best option is to adjust current law to accommodate changes in the budget, allowing districts more control over how they spend their budgets. By giving school districts the ability to increase class sizes, reduce teacher salaries and offer more unpaid furlough days, many teachers may be able to keep their jobs.

Everyone can agree that education is of the utmost importance. Our children are our future and the quality of their education contributes significantly to their success. Furthermore, every parent wants to see that our education system improves over time. We all want future generations to have better than what we had.

I admire the work of the Texas Senate Education Committee’s attempts to find a compromise between administrators and teachers, but is changing Texas law really the best way to address the budget shortfall? Texas teachers have fought for years to get the minimum teacher salary where it stands today at about $27,000 for first-year teachers. One thing the republicans in the legislature hate more than suggesting using the rainy day fund is suggesting higher taxes, but that may be another solution to the $15 billion shortfall, which is rarely discussed.

Some of the ideas proposed by the legislature I believe would really help alleviate the pressure put on school districts due to dramatically decreased budgets. Allowing more furlough days for teachers is a great place to start, but raising taxes or dipping into the rainy day fund would significantly reduce the amount of teachers being laid off as a result of decreased budgets. The two most important education bills proposed in the Texas legislature, SB 12 and HB 400, both of which would allow more furlough days for teachers, but we will have to continue waiting for a budget to pass both chambers to know if the rainy day fund will be used.

-Kaitlyn Van Gorkom

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Prison Budget Cuts Raise Concerns

Trimming the TDCJ, Texas Department of Criminal Justice, budget is raising concerns over the prison condition, going from good to bad. According a Dallas Morning News article, Texas prisons have been relatively calm in recent years, but riots or brawls have occurred in federal and local facilities over seemingly mundane items such as food, health care or television access.

“Criminal justice experts, inmate advocates and correctional officer representatives say good prison conditions help keep order in the system, and programs that may seem wasteful to some are helpful in inmate rehabilitation.” (Dallas Morning News)

In the long run there will be collateral consequences. The small changes in the meal plans are money savers for the state of Texas according to the Senate, however these changes could be dangerous to correctional officers. Not only is there concern over the conditions of the prison, but also the turnover rate. Some believe the turnover rate for these positions will increase while others see the weak economy making the turnover rate nonexistent.

Education programs are also being slashed in the TDCJ budget. There are concerns over the well being of the inmates diminishing after taking away something that keeps their insanity while in prison. Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, said she understands the need for educating inmates, but she wants a more effective school system than the one currently in place. And she can’t justify paying for college for inmates who rarely reimburse the state after release (Dallas Morning News).

All these changes are concerns about the condition of the prison, inmates and staffers. The Senate is adamant about these changes. The correctional system will be tested when these changes come into action. 

-Caroline Cardenas-

Big Cuts for Public Education Across the Board

When it comes to public education in Texas, the two bills to watch out for in the legislature are HB 400 and SB 12

The bills would give school districts more control over their budgets, allowing them to increase class sizes, cut employee pay and offer more unpaid furlough days for teachers. Legislators feel that these two bills provide the best compromise between administrators and teachers according to an article from Bloomberg Businessweek.

Others aren’t convinced these methods are the best way to address the situation. Lonnie Hollingsworth, an attorney with the Texas Classroom Teachers Association told the Associated Press that eliminating the state mandated minimum salary for teachers “is the equivalent of swatting a fly with a sledgehammer.”

But Texas isn’t the only state faced with huge budget cuts forcing school districts to layoff teachers and increase class sizes. Other states such as California, Florida, Virginia and North Carolina are also struggling to deal with large budget cuts. 

According to an article from the Florida Courier, legislators in Florida are looking at a $1 billion cut to K-12 funding in the state, one of the largest cuts in its history. Virtual classes, teacher furloughs, layoffs, fewer buses and four day school weeks are just a few of the options Florida lawmakers are considering in order to manage the budget shortfall. 

Students from Tallahassee-area schools wait outside Gov. Rick Scott's office to protests cuts in education.
Photo courtesy of Michael Peltier/News Service of Florida.

In North Carolina, the budget proposed by the GOP calls for double-digit percentage spending cuts for public education according to an article from Bloomberg Businessweek.

The fact is that everyone is experiencing budget cuts this session and education will be taking a big hit. Now the only question that remains is whether the legislatures will use the fly swatter or the sledgehammer to do it.

-Kaitlyn Van Gorkom

Friday, April 29, 2011

Anti-bullying legislation: A personal perspective

My posts to this point have been objective, reporting the issue of anti-bullying legislation from both viewpoints. Now, however, I would like to give my personal perspective on the issue. It is my belief that strict anti-bullying legislation is essential to schools in Texas and around the country. I understand many parents feel it is their right to guide their children morally and ethically. But no one agrees with bullying, and I believe schools adopting stricter anti-bullying policies will help educate and prevent bullying from happening or going too far. When Joel Burns visited our class, he told us 19 suicides happen a day on average. Eleven of those are college age or younger. Four or five are within the LGBT community. The Texas School Safety Center reported four bully-related suicides of Texas students since the 2009 Texas Legislative Session. As a LGBT advocate, it is a shame so many LGBT youth commit suicide, and most because of bullying. And it is the teacher and school’s responsibility to stop this behavior in schools.

Texas Legislation Tracker

Equality Texas reported recently the progression of HB 1942 by Rep. Diane Patrick, which has been placed on the House General State Calendar for Monday, May 2nd. This is not a bill I began tracking in January, but it has made progress in the Texas Legislature. Equality Texas is urging people to contact their representatives to push for this bill’s passage, claiming that time is running out. There has not been any progress on the bills I am tracking since my last post, except for SB 205. It passed the Senate on April 26, 2011, with a vote of 29 yeas and 2 nays.

Rep. Diane Patrick, District 94 

Picture from:

-Michael Dabbs

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

People ask, “Is Secondhand smoke really that risky?”

Dr. Otis Brawley, the chief medical officer for the American Cancer Society, answers the question that many people ask: “Is secondhand smoke really that risky?” In the CNNHealth expert doctor report, Dr. Brawley says, “Secondhand smoke causes lung cancer, heart and lung disease in non-smokers” (CNNHealth Expert Report). He explains that tobacco smoke is filled with chemicals such as benzene, nicotine, and carbon monoxide. Benzene is known to cause leukemia. He says that secondhand smoke is responsible for an estimated 5,000-10,000 lung cancer deaths and 40,000 heart disease deaths in the US each year. He also points out an analysis of 25 studies that showed that non-smokers who work in a smoke-environment were 20% more likely to develop lung cancer than non-smokers who worked in smoke free environments. That statistic should be enough to pass a smoking ban through legislation (CNNHealth Expert Report). Read the entire report

The Bills are still pending in the House and the Senate, but the co-chariman of the Texas Smoke Free coalition remains optimistic saying, “We are already six weeks ahead of schedule” on April 8, 2011 (Austin Business Journal).

A week ago Lance Armstrong of Livestrong was interview by Texas Tribute about Smoke Free in the Texas Legislature. They discuss the issues and arguments against the smoke free bills, which seem to be a slim category with little rational opposition to the bills.

-Jennifer Neel

SB 18 Unanimously Passes the House, Sent to Senate Floor

The Texas House of Representatives unanimously passed Senate bill 18, a.k.a. the eminent domain bill, that would limit the state's power to take or condemn private property for public use.

The Senate previously passed legislation in March, but the House made changes to tweak the bill.

Most notably, the House changed the provision drafted by the Senate that stated that landowners could buy back land after 10 years if the property was not being used for the planned purpose, taking out an allotted time period.  Also, the land may be repurchased at original value or market value based on whichever price is less.

While SB 18 would greatly improve property owner rights, but some believe that there are still far too many exemptions that would allow government to claim private property.

"Powerful special interests such as oil pipeline operators ensured that the bill did not apply to them . . . I do find it fascinating that the Republican majority's commitment to individual rights stops cold when it conflicts with the wish list of a favored industry," said Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, who voted for the bill despite some disagreement.

The bill will now be sent back to the Senate to ponder and vote on the proposed amendments.

SB 18 seems to be on the fast track to being passed through the legislature.  Gov. Perry has been trying to get such an eminent domain bill since 2007, and based on him declaring eminent domain as an emergency issue for the 2011 Legislative Session, it is inevitable that SB 18 will be signed into law.

Source: - Tim Eaton

- Michael Levy 

Monday, April 25, 2011

Commercial Breeding: Life in a cage

H.B. 1251

Large scale breeding facilities are a major problem in Texas, and the problem is only getting worse. Hundreds of commercial breeders operating in Texas, run their facilities entirely overlooked by the state, creating a devastating atmosphere for the thousands of dogs and cats bred each season. With other states such as Missouri and Oklahoma passing legislation for the protection of animals within these facilities, Texas could quickly become a magnet for some of the worst operators who will choose to move to a less-regulated and restrictive state to continue operating their sub-standard facilities without fear of being penalized.

The passing of the Large Scale Commercial Breeder Bill will ensure the humane care and treatment of dogs and cats in the custody of large scale commercial breeders.

This bill will:

o Require Commercial breeders to obtain a license from the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation(TDLR)
o Will allow TDLR to conduct annual inspections on all facilities
o Require adequate wholesome food and clean water for dogs and cats in the facilities.
o Will provide confined dogs and cats enough space to sit, stand, and turn around in a normal, easy manner.
o It will require proper ventilation and lighting for animals confined indoors.
o Will ensure adequate sanitary conditions within the living spaces
o Require proper handling, treatment and veterinary care for all animals living in the facility.

The bill will only apply to those categorized as “commercial breeders”, which is defined as persons or entities which have possession of 11 or more adult female dogs or cats and are engaged in the business of breeding those animals and selling their offspring. Pet stores selling dogs and cats, as well as small breeders (those having 10 or less female dogs or cats) will not be affected by the passing of this bill.

The bill is supported by a large group of animal protection organizations and is supported by the Texas Veterinary Medical Association (TVMA). The TVMA was in opposition of a bill very similar to this one last session; however they feel as though this bill is fair and necessary. In addition to these contributors, both the Democratic and Republican parties have endorsed this legislation.

Courtney Collings


Anti-bullying efforts: A global perspective

As anti-bullying bills move through the current legislative process in Texas, it would be beneficial to investigate the issue from a global perspective. Other countries have called for change to their anti-bullying legislation, particularly Great Britain.  According to this September 2009 BBC article, many lawyers and charities claim teachers are not being held accountable for bullying in their classrooms and anti-bullying guidelines should be strengthened.  The Anti-Bullying Alliance is an advocacy organization in Great Britain working with schools to create anti-bullying action plans and educational programs. 

Relevant to the issue of school bullying in the broadest sense is the United Nations (UN) Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), adopted by the UN in 1989.  Though conventions are only binding to Member States that sign and ratify them, this convention entered force more quickly and received more ratifying votes than any UN human rights treaty.  The United States was heavily involved in passing this treaty and has signed it, but has not currently ratified it.  Article 29 of the treaty states, “Education should develop each child’s personality and traits to the full.  It should encourage children to respect their parents, and their own and other cultures.”  And Comment No. 1 to the CRC states, “A school which allows bullying or other violent and exclusionary practices to occur is not one which meets the requirements of Article 29 (1)."

Texas Legislation Tracker

There has not been much progress on the bills I am tracking except for SB 205, authored by Whitmore and co-authored by Davis.  It is out of committee and placed on the intent calendar.  There has been no recent movement on SB 245 by Davis.  All of the bills along with their progress are listed below:
  • 82(R) HB 224-read first time, referred to the Public Education Committee, testimony taken, and left pending in committee.
  • 82(R) SB 245-read first time and referred to the Education Committee.
  • 82(R) HB 24-read first time, referred to the Public Education Committee, testimony taken, and left pending in committee.
  • 82(R) HB 130-read first time, referred to the Human Services Committee, testimony taken, and left pending in committee.
  • 82(R) HB 170-read first time, referred to the Public Education Committee, testimony taken, and left pending in committee.
  • 82(R) SB 42-read first time, referred to the Education Committee, testimony taken, and left pending in committee.
  • 82(R) SB 205-read first time, referred to the Education Committee, testimony taken, considered in public hearing, reported favorably as substituted (7 ayes, 0 nays, 2 absent), co-author authorized (Davis), and placed on the intent calendar. 
  • 82(R) SB 242-read first time and referred to the Education Committee, testimony taken, and left pending in committee.
-Michael Dabbs

Changing Nutrition Programs Can Save Money

As the 82nd Texas Legislature progressed this session, legislation regarding nutritional standards and physical education requirements in the Texas Public Schools lost attention while other important issues, such as budget cuts and bullying, became the center of education debate. 
Obesity however affects over 30 percent of Texas children—meaning that school nutrition it is not an issue that the Texas legislature can overlook. According to the CDC, obese children are more likely to develop a wide array of health problems, including cardiovascular disease and sleep apnea. Obese children also run a higher risk of becoming obese adults, making them more likely to develop heart disease, type-2 diabetes, and even cancer. Watch this video to learn more about the dangers of America's childhood obesity epidemic. 

Because public schools provide an important source of food to many of Texas’ youth, legislators need to examine and create nutritional standards and programs in these schools to combat obesity. 

Attempts to alter nutrition plans in public schools however are opposed by some American citizens. The primary argument against more strictly regulating nutritional standards is that implementing these programs would be costly. This is a reasonable concern in a recession when many states, including Texas, are cutting education funding dramatically. However, developing stronger nutritional programs in public schools actually helps save money in several ways.
  • Extensive studies by organizations, such as Healthy Kids, Healthy Schools, show that “poor nutrition and physical inactivity” cost schools money. As explained by HKHS, this is because unhealthy, obese students demand more attention from their schools. For example, these students often require more visits to school nurses and often have lower academic achievement, meaning that additional time and money is needed to combat their poor health and weak performance.
  • Also, in Texas, where education budgeting is based on attendance, overweight children can greatly reduce funding for schools. Healthy Kids, Healthy Schools also explains obese children miss an average of one day of school each month. In larger school districts, this can add up to about $5.5 million of lost funding.
  • Furthermore, the minimal short-term costs of implementing better nutrition programs to combat obesity will ultimately cost states less money than the long-term health care costs obese children will face. In their pamphlet, Healthy Kids, Healthy Schools shows that Texas estimates that by 2040 obesity-related medical issues will cost the state $39 billion. According to PBS, implementing the federal government's "Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act" will only cost the government only $4.5 billion.  
These examples highlight ways in which implementing better nutritional plans in public schools can help save money.  Some Americans dismiss the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act and other attempts to better school nutrition assuming that these programs will be funded in tax dollars—money that will ultimately come out of their pockets. However, upon further examining the programs, it is clear that bettering nutrition in schools will help America's children while saving money.

These links provide information on the progress of bills relating to school nutrition in the 82nd Texas Legislature:
HB 127: relating to the types of beverages that may be sold to students on public school campuses; referred to Public Health.
HB 280: relating to requiring a health credit for high school graduation; referred to Public Education.
HB 281: relating to physical education credits required for high school graduation; referred to Public Education.
HB 643: relating to summer nutrition programs in school districts; referred to Agriculture and Livestock committee.
SB 185: relating to physical activity requirements for students in public schools; refereed to Education.
SB 225: relating to including in public school campus improvement plans and in local school health advisory council reports to school district boards of trustees certain goals and objectives or information in order to promote improved student health; referred to Education.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Texas Cities are taking a stand on Smoke-Free Texas

Wednesday, April 13, Highland Villiage passed a Smoke-Free ordinance by a vote of 5-2. This is the second and final time for the council to vote on the ordinance. It will go into effect June 1, 2011. Smoking is now prohibited in any enclosed facilities or any facilities that are open to the general public. However, outdoor patios will still allow smoking.

The bills in the House and Senate are still pending in the legislature, that if passed will make Texas the 29th state to become smoke-free. Many national and state wide organizations are supporting the smoke-free Texas campaign. Those organizations include Livestrong, Cancer Support Community, Cheatham Street Music Foundation, American Heart Association, American Cancer Society, Children’s Hospital Association of Texas and many more associations and organizations. They have shown their support and put pressure on the legislature to pass Senate Bill 355 and House Bill 670. 

To find out more information visit Smoke Free Texas Coalition
Support the cause on Facebook, or follow Smoke Free Texas on Twitter and YouTube

-Jennifer Neel

Voter Fraud in Texas

Voting is not only a citizen’s duty, but also the way in which they may express an opinion and point of view. Voting fraud has been evident is Texas and is a growing problem that needs to be stopped.
Catherine Engelbrecht, from Houston, Texas uncovered a voting fraud that was shocking to her. Fox News reported that Engelbrecht and her friends volunteered to work at Houston’s polling places during the 2008 election. During this time she reported, “no one was checking IDs, judges would vote for people that asked for help. It was fraud, and we watched like deer in the headlights.” After discovering this fraud they created a citizen-based grassroots organization that collected publicly available voting data to prove what they witnessed. Engelbrecht and her organization were able to present their findings to both the Texas secretary of state’s office and the Harris County district attorney. The findings showed that only 1,793 of the 25,000 registrations of the Service Employees International Union appeared to be valid. Other registrations included one of a woman who registered six times in the same day and 1,597 registrations that named the same person multiple times, with different signatures.

The new Texas Voter id bill has come under great scrutiny with potential to discourage the poor and minority voters of the state by requiring a photo, but it also has the potential to do good. Many people in the state feel as if their vote does not matter because of the fraud problem. This then leads them to be discouraged to vote in general. The voter id bill will allow the citizens of Texas to display their opinions on paper without the potential of fraud. By allowing various forms of identification such as a driver’s license, a U.S. military ID card and a U.S. passport, most citizens in the state will still have option to vote.
Picture from


-Charli Henderson

Saturday, April 23, 2011

A personal perspective on sanctuary cities

  As a third generation Mexican-American, I have tremendous respect for the immigrant story.  A person’s desire to improve his or her social and economic condition is admirable and I have personally benefited from the opportunity to live in a nation that welcomes newcomers. However, sanctuary cities distort immigration law by sending immigrants the message that rule of law does not matter.

This photo from the New York Times shows two men trying to hide 
from Border Patrol officers as they cross the Arizona border.

Proponents for sanctuary cities argue that offering illegal immigrants additional protection from federal law enforcement makes immigrants more willing to report crimes. As one pro-immigration think tank report argued, this could in turn improve community safety. Yet, advocates for sanctuary cities ignore the fact that sanctuary cities often also see high rates of crimes perpetrated by illegal immigrants (see previous post for an example of violence in a sanctuary cities). Fundamentally, sanctuary cities are based on the flawed logic that laws can or should be selectively applied. This is a dangerous precedent.
Sanctuary cities erode the rule of law and put illegal immigrants and U.S. citizens alike at risk.  By enabling illegal immigrants to remain in the U.S. undetected, sanctuary cities fuel the growing economic, physical, and security challenges posed by illegal immigration. Furthermore, illegal immigrants remain outside the protection of laws that could protect them from labor exploitation and physical violence. If the number of illegal immigrants flowing into the U.S. continues to increase, American communities will be unable to sustain the costs.

The below graph by the Federation for American Immigration Reform 
depicts the breakdown of state outlays for illegal immigration.

The U.S. should remain open to immigration, but the government needs to encourage all immigrants to play by the rules. As long as sanctuary cities continue to exist, illegal immigrants have little incentive to stand in line and come through the appropriate front doors to the country. Presently, sanctuary cities in Texas seem an unlikely possibility. However, given the immense budget deficit that Texas currently faces and given Texas’ rising number of illegal immigrants (who reportedly cost the state at least $250 million annually), the Texas legislature is justified in seeking to pass legislation that will limit future sanctuary cities in the state.  

- By Kimberly Dena

Sanctuary cities: controversial since the 1980s

            Sanctuary city policies in the U.S. have a storied history that dates back to the 1980s, when American churches pioneered a sanctuary movement. Churches that participated in that movement hoped to offer sanctuary to Central American immigrants who were fleeing civil war in their home countries and entering the U.S. illegally.  Sanctuary cities emerged in cities where these churches were active, and roughly thirty sanctuary cities exist in the U.S. today. According to a Congressional Research Service (CRS) report, those cities are:

Anchorage, AK, Fairbanks, AK, Chandler, AZ, Fresno, CA, Los Angeles, CA, San Diego, CA, San Francisco, CA, Sonoma County, CA, Evanston, IL, Cicero, IL, Cambridge, MA, Orleans, MA, Portland, ME, Baltimore, MD, Takoma Park, MD, Ann Arbor, MI, Detroit, MI, Minneapolis, MN, Durham, NC, Albuquerque, NM, Aztec, NM, Rio Arriba, County, NM, Sante Fe, NM, New York, NY, Ashland, OR, Gaston, OR, Marion County, OR, Austin, TX, Houston, TX, Katy, TX, Seattle, WA, and Madison, WI.

Though slightly outdated, the below map from the National Immigration 
Law Center depicts most of the U.S. sanctuary cities. 

            Sanctuary city proponents claim that enforcing immigration laws is a responsibility that the federal government – not local or state governments – should bear. Ironically, the federal government has sent mixed messages on illegal immigration and sanctuary cities since those issues first rose to national prominence. On one hand, sanctuary cities’ ability to aid immigrants was strengthened in 1982 in Plyler vs. Doe. The Supreme Court used that case to declare that children born to illegal immigrants have a constitutional right to access public education.
On the other hand, the federal government has historically argued that sanctuary city policies are at odds with national security policies. In 2007, the Washington Times reported that Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said, “his agency will not tolerate interference by so-called “sanctuary cities” when it comes to hiring illegal aliens.” At the time, Chertoff was defending his agency’s enforcement of a Basic Pilot Program that required employers to verify new employees’ legal status before hiring them.  Furthermore, the U.S. House of Representatives has debated several bills over the past decade that have threatened to deny federal funding to cities with sanctuary city policies.
In the Texas legislature, the state's main sanctuary city bill (HB 12) remains before the State Affairs committee. Of all the legislation declared to be emergency issues by Governor Perry, the sanctuary city bill is the only emergency issue that has not yet made it to the House floor. With only six weeks left in the regular legislative session, time is running short. See below for a sample of testimony before the House State Affairs Committee.

By Kimberly Dena

Dramatic changes to the CHIPs program

The CHIP program was renewed and expanded by President Obama in 2009. It expanded from assisting 7 million families to 11 million in the United States. Every state does have a CHIP program but sometimes it is operated under a different name.

Two years later and the CHIP program, as well as many other government-funded programs, are in trouble. On April 14, 2011 President Obama signed the budget for the fiscal year. The legislation made $38.5 billion in cuts from domestic programs. Health care is one the many programs that is looking to have major economic setbacks.

“Along with trying to finalize the budget for the rest of 2011, the House is tackling several other key items Thursday.” An April 14, 2011 article from Fox News  said.
“As part of the budget compromise, the House passed separate bills to defund the federal health care law (240-185) and cut money for Planned Parenthood (241-185).”

These types of decisions will also lead to taking away funding for CHIPs. This will result in many families not being able to provide adequate health care for their children. CHIPs assists millions of children yearly and cutting back from this program are going to deeply affect these families.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Governor’s perspective on higher education cuts

Last week the Texas House proposed a $1 billion budget cut to higher education and Governor Rick Perry stands by this proposal. Perry argues that our budget will be balanced by not raising taxes. The governor is more focused on putting a cap on spending until we fix the financial situation even if this decision hinders higher education goals.

Although the budget cuts seem staggering, this will potentially be a problem only for the next two years. Texas has spent numerous amounts of money over the last ten years to improve higher education, so Perry wants to make sure these efforts are not forgotten even in the face of obstacles.

These budget cuts may offer corrections to the financial crisis and improve the situation for higher education after two years. However, any lapse in higher education efforts, no matter how small, may set us back in the field of education.

Texas and the United States are not the only regions suffering from education cuts. Students in London protested against an increase in education fees and university cuts. These protests occurred throughout the United Kingdom.
The topic of higher education is a major issue for any country. Every nation wants to see its country progress and provide exemplary education for its citizens. However, the government bodies and citizens should acknowledge the needs and demands of one another and draft a solution that serves the needs of both sides. 

Sunday, April 17, 2011

March of Dimes: March for Babies

This past Saturday, the Ft. Worth chapter of the March of Dimes hosted their annual fundraiser "March for Babies" event. The is the organizations largest fundraising event. The two little girls in the front were born 14 wks premature. My family and I started the team "Sally's Angels", dedicated to their strength and their fight.

The March of Dimes finished strong in this years legislation. Although they did not have any bills directly targeted to the organization's funding, there were bills that would have strongly affected its mission. One of the bills were to cut funding for new baby screenings. If you remember my first post, the organization compiled a fact sheet proving that cutting funding for these screenings would actually cost the state of Texas more money in the long run.

Helping women have healthy babies is the main goal of the organization, and early detection through the use of these newborn screenings is the main way to reach this goal. This is why the March of Dimes worked towards preventing the bill from passing. The bill DID NOT pass! All babies, in Texas, will continue to receive these screenings. =)

Friday, April 15, 2011

Texas Voter ID vs. Mexico Voter ID

The Texas Voter ID bill has officially been passed. One of the main supporters of the bill was Rep. Jose, Aliseda. According to the Fort Worth Star Telegram, upon being interviewed about his support, Aliseda repeatedly noted that Mexico requires voters to present a government ID that features biometric data.
The voter ID cards used in Mexico contain multiple fingerprints, and include a face/photo and iris scan. Information is stored on a magnetic strip on the card. These cards were created in hopes to increase security at the borders. Every citizen must be scanned and enrolled in this program. Previously, Mexican citizens used voter ID cards as a form of identification. The old voter ID cards contained a photo, signature, and one fingerprint.
            Even though Aliseda brings up a solid argument about Mexico’s strict voter ID cards, the reason Mexico decided to use these is different than Texas’ reason. The promoters of the Texas Voter ID bill are trying to stop voter fraud, while Mexico is trying to stop violence. In 2009, the Mexican government was faced with the prospect of civil war due to border violence. After that occurrence, the President of Mexico, Felipe Calderon, and the Mexican government sought to change the identification cards. The government hoped the “ID will help combat illegal immigration and reduce the presence of undocumented workers, privacy advocates see things differently” (Biometric National ID card for Mexico). I believe that Aliseda’s argument was interesting regarding Mexico but the facts are too different to compare the two locations.
-Charli Henderson
Picture from