Editorial: Border mission long on hype, short on proof
It’s been a year since Gov. Greg Abbott announced Operation Lone Star, his heavily hyped, multibillion-dollar mission to stop drugs and undocumented immigrants from crossing the Mexican border into Texas. Abbott insisted the mission was necessary because the Biden administration wasn’t doing its job on the border.
Is it working? Texas lawmakers and journalists are asking that and other serious questions. Abbott’s answers don’t inspire confidence.
A troubling Texas Tribune/Pro Publica investigation published last week showed Abbott’s administration withholding or distorting facts about his border crackdown and unable to back up boasts about its success. The report found Operation Lone Star’s arrest numbers suspect, with the state taking credit for apprehensions made by local police before the program began. The Department of Public Safety had also counted arrests hundreds of miles from the border in areas not included in the operation’s mission.
Texas lawmakers throw staggering amounts of taxpayer money at border security. Texans should demand transparency and accurate data with which to determine if Abbott’s border initiative is working.
In June, the governor shifted Operation Lone Star’s focus from the Rio Grande Valley, where political support was spotty, to a vast expanse of rural private ranches around Val Verde County, an hour’s drive or more from the border. Now, it appears wealthy private ranchers are a chief beneficiary of the governor’s taxpayer-funded border policing expedition. National Guard members assigned to these patrols report having spent a lot of time standing around, rarely spotting illegal border crossings.
Against this backdrop, the Texas Department of Public Safety and Texas Military Department have stonewalled two dozen public records requests from media outlets trying to take stock of Operation Lone Star’s accomplishments.
This isn’t how accountable government is supposed to work. This is how an opportunistic politician panders for votes while spending billions in tax dollars and misleading the public about the return on investment. The lack of transparency and political posturing should trouble all Texans, as Abbott’s border operations will cost taxpayers $3 billion through 2023.
At a rally just before the March 1 primary election, the governor’s reelection campaign used the border mission in a crass attempt to capitalize on the deadly fentanyl epidemic. The campaign passed out empty pill bottles with labels that tried to blame Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke with fentanyl deaths that occurred on Abbott’s watch.
“Beto Biden open border,” the labels read, noting that 1,334 Texans died from fentanyl overdoses in 2021. The pill bottles credited Operation Lone Star with seizing 887 pounds of fentanyl in Texas. But only 160 of those pounds were seized in regions assigned to the task force, the Tribune-ProPublica investigation revealed.
Inaccurate or misleading data used to advance Abbott’s political agenda has real-life consequences. National Guard members deployed to the border as part of Operation Lone Star have had their lives disrupted, reportedly forced to live and work in deplorable conditions, without a clear mission and adequate supplies, and with their paychecks habitually delayed. In late December, the Army Times reported that four National Guardsmen deployed in the operation shot and killed themselves during a two-month span in late 2021. The Texas Military Department denied allegations about poor working conditions.
When the number of National Guard members at the border ticked up to a whopping 10,000 in January, Abbott and leading Republican lawmakers shifted almost half a billion dollars from the DPS, the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission and the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to cover it, the Tribune-ProPublica investigation found.
Border security and immigration are shaping up as a major issue in the 2022 race for governor between Abbott and O’Rourke. A University of Texas/Texas Politics poll last month showed these issues top Texans’ list of policy concerns. We share the concern, and a legitimate debate is warranted.
At a January Senate hearing on the operation, Sen. Bob Hall, a Rockwall Republican, tried to engage that debate.
“How do we know whether the amount of money was appropriate for what was needed?” Hall asked, according to the Tribune-ProPublica report. “And how do we know when we’ve accomplished what we set out to do, so that we can figure out what to do next, other than just appropriate more money and then wonder what to do next?”
Great questions — and ones the governor and his top law enforcement officials should answer immediately. Texas taxpayers and the men and women charged with carrying out this mission deserve no less.
Dallas Morning News. March 25, 2022.
Editorial: Texas needs an independent review of Operation Lone Star
Dirty metrics are the latest in a series of concerning revelations about the program.
Operation Lone Star — Gov. Greg Abbott’s massive border security initiative to deter illegal immigration — drew sharp rebukes as soon as it was announced in March 2021.
But the operation was a reaction that the White House invited with its clumsy management of the southern border. The number of migrants apprehended at the border skyrocketed soon after President Joe Biden took office, overwhelming Texas border communities already stretched thin by the pandemic. U.S. officials logged more than 1.7 million illegal crossings along the southwestern border in fiscal year 2021, and we’re already at 800,000 illegal crossings so far this fiscal year.
In deploying state troopers and the Texas National Guard to southern Texas, Abbott billed Operation Lone Star as a serious effort to combat smuggling, human trafficking and drug trafficking by cartels. He convinced lawmakers to spend $2 billion a year on it.
That isn’t what it is turning out to be. Recent reporting by the Texas Tribune and other media outlets raises troubling questions about the operation’s success and the data touted to justify it. It’s the latest in a series of concerning revelations about the program that should prompt the Texas Legislature to immediately order an independent review of Operation Lone Star.
We aren’t naive enough to believe the Legislature will follow that advice. But conservative members should reflect on this: border security done badly actually hurts the cause of securing the border.
A year into Operation Lone Star, officials highlighted that it had resulted in more than 11,000 criminal arrests. When news reporters requested data, they found arrests that were not at all related to border enforcement, like the case of a Midland-area man accused of having a fight with an ex-girlfriend’s new boyfriend. The Department of Public Safety stopped counting 2,000 arrests toward Operation Lone Star metrics after news outlets began asking questions, and it did not explain how the remaining cases are connected to border enforcement, according to the Tribune, ProPublica and The Marshall Project.
It appears Abbott also exaggerated the operation’s success with drug busts. The governor credits it with the seizure of 887 pounds of fentanyl, yet reporters determined that figure captures fentanyl busts across the state.
How much of the crime-fighting that Abbott ties to Operation Lone Star would have taken place without the additional border resources? The answer should be clear. Texans are paying for this, and they are owed transparency.
Beyond the dirty data, the deaths of operation soldiers from suspected suicide deserve more attention, as does reporting about delays in paying soldiers, the questionable handling of mass migrant arrests and the deployment of troops outside private ranches with their own private security.
This country has a genuine problem at the southern border that deserves serious solutions from our federal and state governments. What the evidence shows so far is that Operation Lone Star was poorly conceived and executed for political gain rather than designed as serious policy to fight trafficking. Our taxes should pay for results, not cheap talking points.
Fort Worth Star-Telegram. March 27, 2022.
Editorial: Make sure kids with disabilities get the help they need — not an early trip to jail
If you have kids or relatives with kids, you know that all kids act out or misbehave — including children who have special needs or disabilities.
Unfortunately, often these same kids who struggle in school also have challenges that can affect their behavior. At their wits’ end, school administrators push children who actually need more niche instruction, therapy, and an extra dose of grace, toward disciplinary proceedings and even juvenile detention centers, where they get worse.
Since 2017, Fort Worth-area schools have referred a total of 3,443 students to the Tarrant County Juvenile Detention Center — these kids were either charged or arrested for a school-related incident. Yet Bennie Medlin, director of Juvenile Services in Tarrant County, believes approximately half of the children held at the Tarrant County Juvenile Detention Center have some form of mental health or developmental diagnosis — including, but not limited to, dyslexia, autism, and more.
Data backs Medlin up. This phenomenon known as the special education “school-to-prison pipeline” means that students with disabilities make up just 12% of high school students nationwide, but represent 75% of students restrained.
In 2018-19, the number of students who received special education services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) was 7.1 million or 14% of all public school students. Students who qualify under IDEA are usually given an Individualized Education Program or Plan, known as an IEP.
The percentage of kids in juvenile corrections who have disabilities is at least three times greater than the percentage of kids in public schools with them. By the time they get to a juvenile detention center, only 37% will get the support they need via IDEA.
We need to do better for our kids who are struggling. All students must be safe in school and have the same opportunities to learn.
Parents who have children with disabilities must hold schools accountable and demand transparency. If school districts are slow to test children for an IEP and parents think their child needs one, they must pressure them to speed up. Teachers and parents need to work together to determine if their child is eligible for IDEA and then work towards an IEP. This is key.
According to Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, “If there are behavioral challenges, these could be signs that the school did not create and/or implement the IEP correctly. If a child with an IEP has a disciplinary removal from the class (suspension, expulsion or the contacting of law enforcement) and that behavior is a manifestation of the student’s disability, then the IEP needs to be revised to include behavior analysis and a subsequent behavior plan.”
Many children with disabilities escalate in “bad” behavior over small things that happen because their IEP was not followed to the letter. Parents and school administrators must stress the importance of following this.
To that end, if school administrators see there are not enough teachers and resources available in their schools to adequately address the needs of children with disabilities, the school board should cut funds in programs that are inefficient or unnecessary and reallocate funds to these programs. They should, bolster IEP teacher’s training and ensure they are aware of the importance of following the IEP and how to de-escalate small problems before they grow.
One of the reasons so many children with disabilities seem to be sent to juvenile detention centers is that they are charged over small grievances and their discipline is disproportionate to their crime. Trying to break a pencil in half is not a reason any student should go to a juvenile correction center. School boards must reevaluate their list of grievances and related punitive measures to ensure the crime and punishment correlate.
Schools also must change their accountability measures: Whether a student with a disability receives an education or a jail sentence appears to often come down to one teacher’s perception of incidents. The kind of assault that lands someone in a hospital is applied to a child who hit a teacher who was goading her on. One-size-fits-all labels and indictments meant for adults should not work for most children who are acting out due to a disability.
Finally, parents should not hesitate to seek funding in the form of grants or scholarships to either send their child to a school just for children with disabilities, or for additional after-school therapy that may help the child during the school day. In Texas, there may be charter schools that can utilize private grants and financial aid designated just for this use.
All children deserve the same opportunities in school to be safe and to learn. We must continue to help the children with special education needs before they are sent to correction centers, where their struggle will continue.
Houston Chronicle. March 25, 2022.
Editorial: Ted Cruz leads pack of presidential preeners in spectacle at Supreme Court hearings
Is Ted Cruz fit to be a U.S. senator?
We’re already on the record saying no. But we ask again after being reminded that Houston’s prestigious St. John’s School, where Cruz’s daughters are students, is dedicated to “diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging,” to quote its former diversity and inclusion director Gene Batiste. As Batiste notes in an interview on the St. John’s website, the school strives for “cultural competence and culturally relevant learning.”
Those sentiments sound awfully close to Georgetown Prep, the elite D.C. school that so mightily offended our junior senator, as he righteously intoned in his interrogation this week of U.S. Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson.
In the summer of 2020, St. John’s convened 10 parent focus groups to explore how the St. John’s community should respond to the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor at the hands of law-enforcement, as well as police brutality in general. The St. John’s library titles available online include books that Cruz disparaged as “critical race theory,” including “The 1619 Project” and Ibram X. Kendi’s “Stamped (for Kids).”
The St. John’s mission statement includes the following: “In our community, we celebrate, promote and appreciate the differences and similarities of our experiences. For us community means respecting differences in ability, age, ethnicity, gender identity, race, religion and belief, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status and thought. . . .”
Surely, Cruz must be concerned that the Houston school his daughters attend is grooming a youthful cohort of critical-race theoreticians.
Of course, it would be absurd to tie Cruz’s senatorial qualifications to the admirable efforts of his daughters’ school to encourage diversity and inclusion. It’s no more absurd, though, than what the Bearded One was trying to do with his loaded questions for Jackson during her confirmation hearing. Armed with giant show-and-tell poster boards, he attempted in his trademark ham-handed way to tie the first Black woman nominated to the high court to the dreaded CRT, insisting that this law school-level legal framework is an integral part of the curriculum at Georgetown Prep, the elite private school her daughters attended and where she serves on the board.
“If you look at the Georgetown Day School’s curriculum, it is filled and overflowing with critical race theory,” Cruz alleged, insisting that books on the school reading list taught racist notions to children as young as 4. Setting aside whether those are good books for children or not, what do they have do with Jackson, who merely sits on the school’s board and has no control over curriculum?
Of course, if Cruz really cared so much about the influence of the books he derides, he’d probably stop talking so much. After slamming Kendi’s “Antiracist Baby,” the otherwise obscure book promptly shot to a place on bestseller lists. But Cruz has a long history of abusing his platform— and children’s literature, for that matter — to further his private agenda. Whether he’s reading “Green Eggs and Ham” to an empty Senate chamber as part of a faux filibuster even his fellow Republicans condemned, or repeatedly interrupting a Supreme Court nominee when she tries to respond to his belligerent questions, or fleeing to Cancun during a devastating winter storm, he’s a case study in overweening self-regard and graceless bad form.
This week, the senator was in good company, vying for attention against a handful of other presidential wannabes on the Senate Judiciary Committee who were eager to use the free airtime during the confirmation hearing as a test-run to see how their presidential stage show might play in Peoria. With apologies to the wonderful fighting Peacocks of St. Peter’s University in New Jersey, these preening senatorial peacocks weren’t interested in using the hearing to explore Jackson’s fitness for a lifetime appointment; they were fanning tail feathers for their own future White House bids.
In addition to Cruz, there was the sonorous Josh Hawley of Missouri, he of the pumped fist at the Jan. 6 insurrection, apparently playing to the QAnon conspiracy crowd and accusing Jackson of being sympathetic toward child-porn predators during her 10 years on the federal bench. Even Andrew McCarthy, a former federal prosecutor, used his column in the conservative National Review to call Hawley’s allegations “meritless to the point of demagoguery.”
Piling on was Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, whose rants seem progressively more bizarre. Graham also asked Jackson how religious she was — on a scale of one to 10. Sens. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and a condescending Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee wandered off on irrelevant tangents, too. Nothing they brought up changed any minds, or votes, or revealed much of anything pertaining to the nominee’s fitness to serve.
Contrast these presidential preeners with Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who used his opening statement to note that Supreme Court confirmation hearings, with all their flaws and theater, are an opportunity to have a public debate about fundamental questions of law and of America’s tripartite form of governance. For the most part, Cornyn engaged throughout the week in a respectful colloquy with the nominee on issues that helped elucidate her views. A former Texas attorney general and state supreme court justice, Cornyn made clear that he disagreed with her on the issues he raised and that he’s not likely to vote for her, but he showed respect for the nominee and for the process.
Another Republican Ben Sasse of Nebraska, also used his time wisely, questioning the candidate on the originalist approach to judicial interpretation in a thoughtful way. Sasse also lamented what he called “the jackassery we often see around here.”
There was a time when judicial confirmation hearings were something other than pitched partisan battles. There was a time when they meant something more than “sounding brass or a clanging cymbal,” to borrow a phrase that South Carolina theologian Lindsey Graham might recognize. (He told Jackson he attended church two or three times a year.) In 1993, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the quintessential liberal’s liberal, was confirmed by a vote of 96 to 3. Justice Antonin Scalia, her conservative counterpart, was confirmed by an even larger margin.
“I was confirmed 98 to 0,” he said in 2007, as quoted in the New York Times recently. “I was known as a conservative then, but I was perceived to be an honest person. I couldn’t get 60 votes today. I guess the name of the game’s changed.”
Both Democrats and Republicans are to blame for politicizing the process, for demeaning a legislative ritual that has served a useful purpose. It may be irretrievable. If so, we offer a modest proposal: Instead of assessing the nominee, since minds already are congealed, we propose a panel of judges for the senatorial performers, judges similar to those who assess Olympic gymnasts or ice-skaters, complete with outstretched cards and a scrawled number sealing the performer’s fate. (For Cruz’s conservative faithful, Tuesday’s performance was no doubt a 10, ranking with his infamous “Green Eggs and Ham” reading.)
Cruz was already a shameless performer during his days at Harvard Law School, where he and Jackson were classmates. In response to a question about how to inspire young people, she recalled an experience she had a few years before law school, when she was a Harvard freshman struggling in a foreign environment and wondering whether a young, public school-educated, Black woman belonged. “I will tell them,” she said Wednesday, wiping away tears, “what an anonymous person said to me once.” She told a story about walking through Harvard Yard one evening when “a Black woman I did not know was passing me on the sidewalk, and she looked at me, and I guess she knew how I was feeling. And she leaned over as we crossed and said “persevere.’”
“I will tell them,” Jackson continued, “to persevere.”
Finally, on Thursday, after two grueling days of repetitious questioning, grandstanding and, yes, some thoughtful inquiries, Jackson got to listen. A diversity of groups and individuals testified to the strength of her intellect and character, her impeccable credentials, her ability to serve this nation as the first Black woman to sit on the Supreme Court in its 233-year history. Remarkably, or perhaps not, Sens. Cruz, Cotton and Graham were not in attendance.
San Antonio Express-News. March 24, 2022.
Editorial: Still marching for the justice Chávez sought
When United Farm Workers of America co-founder César Chávez ended a 25-day, water-only fast on March 10, 1968, in Delano, California, U.S. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy was there to break bread with him.
Chávez had undertaken the fast to recommit the union to nonviolence in its fight to raise the pay and improve the working conditions of farmworkers.
Joining 6,000 to 10,000 people, mostly Mexican American migrant workers, Kennedy called Chávez “one of the heroic figures of our time,” adding, “When your children and grandchildren take their place in America going to high school and college, and taking good jobs at good pay, when you look at them, you will say, ‘I did this. I was there, at the point of difficulty and danger.’ And though you may be old and bent from many years of labor, no man will stand taller than you when you say, ‘I marched with César.’”
Saturday, after a two-year hiatus because of COVID, thousands of San Antonians will return to the streets of downtown San Antonio to march with the spirit of Chávez and in celebration of his life and the work of he and United Farm Workers co-founder Dolores Huerta.
The 26th Annual César E. Chávez March for Justice was started by local labor organizer Jaime Martinez. It’s always around the birthday of Chávez, who died in 1993. Thursday will mark his 95th birthday.
In March 1966, he emerged as a heroic and iconic leader when he led fewer than 100 Mexican American and Filipino farmworkers on a 280-mile march from Delano to Sacramento. The march sought to draw national attention to the exploitation of people who put food on the nation’s tables but worked in dehumanizing conditions.
By the time they reached the capital of California, the ranks of the marchers had swelled to the thousands and a new movement demanding economic justice, dignity and that America do better by all its people was taking shape.
It was a movement of marches, strikes and boycotts that led to a collective bargaining agreement with major grape growers. This agreement improved farmworkers’ living conditions, raised their pay and provided the right to unionize.
It was also a movement that raised awareness of the dangers of pesticides to farmworkers and their children and to millions of American consumers.
Just as it’s wrong to confine Martin Luther King Jr. to being a great “African American leader,” Chávez should not be narrowly defined as a great “Mexican American” leader. He was a great American leader with international appeal who, like King, was passionately devoted to nonviolence. With the armor of nonviolence and his Catholic faith, Chávez forsook comfort for what he called la causa of improving the lives of farmworkers.
In a 1984 speech, Chávez said, “Once social change begins, it cannot be reversed.”
“You cannot uneducate the person who has learned to read,” he said. “You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride. You cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore.
“Our opponents must understand that it’s not just a union we have built. Unions, like other institutions, can come and go.
“But we’re more than an institution. For nearly 20 years, our union has been on the cutting edge of a people’s cause — and you cannot do away with an entire people; you cannot stamp out a people’s cause.”
People continue to march for this cause — and will do so again Saturday.
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