More significant to addressing the problem is enlisting the governments of Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala to better enforce their own borders and discourage adults and children from attempting the dangerous trip northward. Reports from the region since our last commentary on this issue indicate those governments are responding, and the numbers of departing migrants already appear to be dropping.
Even if border security were the problem, it's not clear how much good Perry's troop deployment would do. Soldiers trained for natural disaster assistance and foreign wars can contribute little when the crisis involves swarms of children who are not evading capture.
As Hidalgo County Sheriff Eddie Guerra says, National Guard troops are not trained in law enforcement. They have no legal authority to conduct arrests or demand identification if the soldiers suspect that civilians they encounter might have crossed the border illegally.
The state already is spending about $1.3 million a week to boost the Department of Public Safety's presence in the Rio Grande Valley. The additional expense of Guard troops could bump that price tag to $5 million a week. Perry's office reportedly would finance it by drawing from "noncritical" areas such as health care or transportation. Given the limited prospect for success, that seems too steep a price to pay.
Perry has previously maintained that the show of force would have a deterrent value and could help free up members of the Border Patrol and Drug Enforcement Administration to focus on their primary responsibilities. But the most helpful — and least wasteful — approach is to wait for a federal request for help and then coordinate activities.
Republican U.S. Sen. John Cornyn says the current crisis isn't a border security problem and argues that it won't be solved by adding troops or Border Patrol officers. The system is overwhelmed because unaccompanied child migrants and single mothers with children are flooding the border and immediately surrendering.
No show of force can stop them from crossing. Once they're here, U.S. law requires that they enter a legal process intended designed to ensure they're protected from predators in their home countries.
The plan Perry offers is certainly a show — not of force but of political theater. What this situation requires are scores more immigration-court judges and facilities to house and feed the young migrants, not soldiers near the border.
Fort Worth Star-Telegram. July 21, 2014.
Perry's border move is just a single step
In what should come as a surprise to no one, Gov. Rick Perry said Monday he will send up to 1,000 National Guard troops to the Texas border to bolster the response to the flood of Central American migrants into the U.S.
Perry said it is not the recent headline-grabbing influx of unaccompanied minors that prompted his move.
Speaking in Austin, the governor told reporters that these migrant children make up only 20 percent of the total apprehensions on the border.
But detaining and caring for the deluge of kids has taken an inordinate amount of the Border Patrol's time and resources, both of which should be spent on the agency's primary mission of catching criminals crossing the border. Criminals, said the governor, are exploiting gaps in enforcement while border agents are distracted.
Last month, Perry and state leaders announced they would spend $1.3 million a week for a surge of Department of Public Safety officers on the border.
Perry credited a recent decline in apprehensions (36 percent in three weeks), to the DPS surge.
Under his new plan, National Guard troops would supplement the efforts of DPS personnel, enhancing security and providing a visible presence along the border.
There are problems with Perry's approach.
For example, National Guard troops are not authorized to make arrests. They can only direct immigrants to the proper authorities — "refer and deter," as Texas National Guard Major General John Nichols put it.
Further, it's unclear whether the ramped-up DPS presence is responsible for the dip in illegal migrants. U.S. diplomatic efforts aimed at preventing kids from fleeing their homelands in the first place may be having some effect on would-be travelers.
And the volume and intensity of media coverage on the topic — which has surely filtered back to Central America — is probably a deterrent force in its own right.
In ordering troops to the border, Perry is thumbing his nose at the president. He's also getting ahead of members of his own party, including Rep. Kay Granger of Fort Worth, whose special House working group is expected to call on the president to mobilize the National Guard in recommendations due out this week.
Perry's move also comes with a high cost to Texans — $12 million a month — and no guarantee that the federal government will reimburse the state.
But absent any federal action — approval of the president's $3.7 billion supplemental funding request, passage of a bill like the Cornyn-Cuellar HUMANE Act — Perry is limited in his ability to address a serious and growing problem in his own state.
Sending troops to the border is not the ultimate answer on immigration, but it's not unprecedented. President George W. Bush did it in 2006 and President Barack Obama did it in 2010.
Perry has addressed the "seal the border" part of the immigration debate. Congress must get busy on resolving the rest.
El Paso Times. July 20, 2014.
Congress must act to address crisis at border
In an editorial published July 2, we noted that the immigration crisis now unfolding on the border is a federal responsibility, and the federal government should bear the costs to address it — not state and local governments, or local churches and service groups. That has not changed.
But much has changed since then.
We expressed our support in principle for an emergency relief bill that, at the time, was anticipated to come in at a little over $2 billion. The president has since submitted a request for $3.7 billion.
Our endorsement was not for a blank check. Congress should take a careful look at the president's request and trim anything not needed to address the crisis. But the funding must be adequate to provide for humane holding facilities, swift immigration hearings, medical screenings and outreach efforts to Central America to stem the flow at its source.
Congress should also take a second look at the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008, which was intended to provide for protection of children escaping from the sex trafficking trade, but has had unintended consequences. That law guarantees protections to children coming here from throughout the world that are not available to those coming from Mexico or Canada.
Sen. John Cornyn and Rep. Henry Cuellar, both of Texas, have proposed changing the law so that Border Patrol officials would determine if a minor might be eligible for asylum or other types of visas. If so, the youths would be guaranteed a hearing before an immigration judge within seven days. If not, they could be immediately deported.
We believe those fleeing from violence in their home countries should have the opportunity to make their case, with the expert help that is necessary to navigate the system, in hearings that are both fair and timely. Those who argue that all immigrants should be shipped back immediately without the due process called for by law are often the same ones who scream the loudest about the sanctity of the rule of law in dealing with immigration.
The system has simply been overwhelmed with this latest flood of immigrants from Central America. Those detained are being turned loose with orders to show up for hearings that many will undoubtedly miss.
Time is getting short, and news reports suggest that disagreements about the level of due process protections in the Cornyn-Cuellar proposal could slow passage.
We have long been frustrated at the inability of Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform. We would hope they could at least respond to the immediate crisis caused by that failure.
Houston Chronicle. July 18, 2014.
Fracking ban: Oil and gas industry faces a trust deficit that threatens to undermine the fracking boom
From the top of Houston's downtown skyscrapers on a clear day, you can see straight out to the refineries that surround the Houston Ship Channel. On a not-so-clear day, you can see the brown haze of pollution that hangs over our city. Houstonians know well the jobs, energy and wealth that come from our oil and gas industry, and we also know that it must be balanced against the dangers of pollution. That balance is easy to make when you live in a city built on the bounty of oil and gas. When your only perspective is a fracking well across the street, the balance is tougher to strike.
So while the recent debate over banning fracking in the North Texas city of Denton is a confusing sight to our Houston eyes, it is also understandable. With gas wells within spitting distance of residential areas, Denton has become a hotbed of conflict over fracking, and citizens recently collected enough signatures to force a November vote to prohibit any future wells.
The topic was taken up by their city council this week, hearing testimony about rising asthma rates, polluted water and an overall desire to control what happens in one's own city. Hyperbole often rises to the top in these fracking arguments, but it's hard to deny that oil and gas companies have refused to follow the drilling regulations that Denton laid out. A mandatory 1,200-foot buffer between oil wells and homes, schools, parks and hospitals was supposed to prevent this sort of conflict in the first place, but companies simply drilled wells without permission. Lawsuits failed to put a stop to these illegal acts. State regulation pre-empts further local control. Pushed to the edge, no wonder Dentonites are trying to shut down fracking altogether. This is what happens when folks are treated like a commodity instead of a community.
Voters should reject the fracking ban and seek a compromise solution. Too much good comes from fracking, but oil companies need to be an honest, trustworthy partner. Reports about small towns putting locks on fire hydrants to stop drillers from stealing water, as the Chronicle reported last week, only lend credence to fracking opponents. This isn't the sort of corporate stewardship that we've come to appreciate in Houston.
Opaque business practices and disdain for rule of law have consequences beyond the Denton vote. The entire state of Colorado will likely face similar referenda this November, with several proposed ballot items that would limit fracking.
The campaign behind these votes has largely been funded by millionaire U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., who suddenly became passionate about the issue when wells appeared next to his vacation home.
Even the most die-hard wildcatter can understand the hesitance of crunchy Coloradans to fill their state with fracking wells, given that the beauty of Rocky Mountain landscapes may be more obvious to the untrained eye than the dry plains of the Texas oil patch. But in Colorado as in Denton, there has to be a balance. Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper tried to negotiate a deal in the state legislature that could pre-empt a ballot vote, but time ran out and he's refused to call a special session to address fracking. Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., has wisely opposed the proposed ballot initiatives.
Americans take pride in our private property rights. It is that individual control that has allowed our oil and gas economy to flourish, while approvals languish in nations where the state holds all mineral rights. But with drillers refusing to comply with reasonable regulations, property owners often see a full ban as the only way to protect what they own. Voters should reject these one-size-fits-all prohibitions, and oil and gas companies need to make the votes unnecessary in the first place.
San Antonio Express-News. July 18, 2014.
Negotiated departure a good move
The University of Texas at Austin is a state treasure, and it has been alarming to watch as politics over its administration threatened the school's reputation.
We hope that tide is turning now that UT President Bill Powers and the UT System have negotiated an agreement on his departure for June 2015 and as the university system prepares to recruit a new chancellor and a replacement for Powers.
It is disappointing but not surprising that it came to this. Tensions have been escalating for years. Powers has clashed with Gov. Rick Perry and the board of regents over higher-education policy. Last year, Regent Wallace Hall launched his own investigation of UT operations, filing voluminous records requests that prompted some members of the Legislature to seek his impeachment for abuse of power.
Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa, who announced his own resignation earlier this year, stood by Powers in December when it appeared the regents were ready to oust him. At that time, Cigarroa said his relationship with Powers was strained but keeping him was in the university's best interest.
Unfortunately, things did not improve. Late last month, Cigarroa announced plans for an external investigation into issues raised by Hall about the role some state lawmakers have played in UT admissions, and things only continued to deteriorate.
Cigarroa last week asked Powers to resign or be fired, citing continued breakdowns in communication and a lack of trust.
The agreed departure is the best conclusion to an unfortunate situation spawned by Perry's misguided attempts to recast higher education.
Powers has served the state well during his eight-year tenure as head of the flagship university. He has raised $3 billion for capital projects, worked to establish the Dell Medical School and help launch the $310 million Engineering Education and Research Center.
But the ongoing controversies have taken a toll. Allowing him to stay until early next summer is a good move that aids recruiting efforts for the next president and next chancellor.
Both positions are filled by regents appointed by the governor, and having Perry out of office in January will allow for a smoother transition.