Is South Texas a War Zone?

October 19th, 2011

Traditional law enforcement has done a great job keeping South Texas safe. Why not support their efforts instead of doing wasteful programs, such as sending troops or building border walls? Henry Cuellar has taken a stand!

See Link below on Generals calling for militarization of the border.

Cuellar Campaign Seeks Funds to Counter Border ‘War Zone’ Attack

By Steve Taylor

Texans for Henry Cuellar say Fox News personality Greta Van Susteren owes Congressman Cuellar an apology.

McALLEN, Oct. 19 – U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar’s re-election team has turned disparaging remarks about the Texas-Mexico border region by two retired generals into a campaign fundraising opportunity.

In an email sent to supporters on Tuesday, Jessica Hernandez, finance assistant for Texans for Henry Cuellar, highlighted the recent appearance of retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey and retired Army Maj. Gen. Robert Scales on Fox News.

The generals appeared on Greta Van Susteren’s On The Record show soon after testifying before a House congressional panel where they clashed with Cuellar over a report they had put their names to.

The report, commissioned by the State of Texas, is titled ‘Texas Border Security: A Strategic Military Assessment. It describes the Texas border with Mexico as a “war zone.”

The report said: “Living and conducting business in a Texas border county is tantamount to living in a war zone in which civil authorities, law enforcement agencies, as well as citizens, are under attack around the clock.”

Hernandez responded with this message to supporters in her email:

“Last week two retired Generals appeared before a hearing on Capitol Hill to explain how they reached their finding that the border area of Texas was a war zone. After failing to answer the most basic questions about their compensation ($80,000 of tax dollars) and their methodologies, they turned to Fox News to attack Cong. Henry Cuellar for asking these basic questions,” Hernandez wrote.

“Now, with the help of Fox News personality Greta Van Susteren, they have launched an attack on Cong. Cuellar’s integrity. They even went so far as to selectively edit the video to downplay the missing data and false conclusions.”

Hernandez asked supporters to help Cuellar “stop these lies and distortions” by clicking on a link to make an online financial contribution to his re-election campaign.

“These retired Generals refused to admit how much they were paid, did not know how many interviews were conducted, failed to interview local sheriffs and police chiefs, and provided only anecdotal evidence to reach the false conclusion that doing business in border counties is like ‘operating in a war zone’,” Hernandez wrote.

“As those of you who live in the border area, travel there or do business there know…this statement is 100 percent false and not based in reality.”

Hernandez then posted Cuellar’s response.

“Business on the border is booming. False, baseless attacks like this harm our public image and weaken our economy by spreading misinformation that might discourage companies from doing business along the border. As a lifelong resident of the border and a pro-business, pro-jobs Congressman, I will continue to fight back against these attacks on our community, our economy and our character,” Cuellar said.

Hernandez urged supporters to help Cuellar stand up to “outsiders” who are “using attacks on the border business community to further their own personal, political agendas.” She said contributions of $5, $10, $25, $100 or more could be made.

“Ms. Van Susteren and the retired Generals owe Cong. Cuellar an apology,” Hernandez wrote. “They attacked the border community with zero evidence, and now they are attacking the Congressman’s character, honesty and integrity…again, with zero evidence.”

She added that it is “our community, our reputation and our economy at stake. Stand with Cong. Cuellar today.”

Hernandez concluded by providing a link to the Fox “attack” on Cuellar. Click here to see the video.

Hernandez asked that supporters forward their families, friends and business associates to Cuellar’s campaign Facebook page. Click here to go to it.

To make a contribution to the Cuellar campaign, click here.

The Dream Act in South Texas

February 2nd, 2011

Dream Act Threat

While demonstrations for passing the Dream Act have, on many campuses, attracted large numbers of supporters protests in South Texas have been relatively small.  The University of Texas Pan American, according to activists, has over 600 students who are undocumented yet protests at the University have only attracted a handful of students and faculty.  In fact, community members have harassed supporters of the Dream Act.  The reasons for the lack of protests, I think, do not represent indifference to passage of the Dream Act. Yet it is difficult to pinpoint the reasons for the lack of open and public support of the dream act.  Do harassment and death threats play a role? Consider the following story printed on the Channel 4 website.

Regardless of numerous threats and assaults, a student at UTPA continues to push the controversial Dream Act so that he and 601 other fellow students at UTPA can be on the path to citizenship.

Jose Alejandro Garrido has been very outspoken about the Dream Act, and his participation in rallies have gotten him in trouble.

“He just punched me…right there,” said Garrido. “He approached me and he said, ‘hey, are you one of those advocates for those illegals?'”

Garrido said he was shopping at Wal-Mart when he was asked this question, and when he said yes, he was punched.

“I knew I should know better as long as somebody uses the word illegals, they are racist because no human being is illegal,” said Garrido.

He said he’s also gotten numerous threatening calls and emails, but regardless, he continues to fight for the Dream Act because he himself is a dreamer.

“I use to live under so much fear in the past and now i realize it’s not my fault, said Garrido. “It wasn’t my fault to come here. My parents brought me here.”

Garrido came to the United States from Veracruz when he was 13 years old, and this Saturday, he’ll be graduating from UTPA.

His goal is to continue on to law school and become a civil rights attorney, but if the Dream Act doesn’t pass, his future is uncertain.

“I pretty much live in a legal limbo because of the actions of my parents,” said Garrido.

Its stories like this that moved Brian Silva to help start the Coalition for Educational Opportunity.

He along with Garrido and several other students started the organization to push for the Dream Act by hosting rallies and a hunger strike.

At one of their rallies here at the Chapel Lawn, the student activists released 602 balloons symbolizing those dreamers that are here at UTPA.

Silva said he fights for the 602 UTPA undocumented immigrant students, or “dreamers” as some call them, because they have a lot to offer society.

“(They have) this enormous capacity to contribute to American society, but they can’t do anything more because they can’t practice their degrees,” said Silva.

Garrido and Silva said they hope the Senate has been moved by the dreamers’ stories and will approve the dream act.

Elite Mexicans in South Texas

January 25th, 2011

In South Texas residents use the term “nationals” to refer to elite Mexicans while the rest of the population is known as mexicanos or Mexicans (middle or working class).  The City of McAllen is now seeking to become a regional center for granting EB-5 visas, the investor visa, granted to those who invest at least $500,000 in a business or enterprise.  Wealthy mexicans fleeing the drug violence have increasingly sought these visas.  According to the McAllen chamber of commerce applications for these visas over the last two years has increased from 3 to 5 per month to 5 to 8 per week.  In an article published in the McAllen Monitor I discuss the cultural complexities of elite Mexicans living in the valley in terms of the negative stereotypes that circulate not only about Mexican immigration but also wealthy Mexicans.  The comments to the article are telling.  I have posted three below. 

publicadvisor “Permanent residency, or a green card, is available to foreign nationals and their family members who invest at least $500,000 in the United States, Patridge said. “Money buys you anything in America! ” Thats what he said! That’s what it is! Like any currupt country in the world! Proud to be American!

paradoxvigilante  4:37 PM on January 5, 2011 whatever it’s because “mexicans” are the new scapegoats for all this country’s problems. Next thing you know some loon will say they are connected to 9/11 

machogabcho  8:41 PM on January 5, 2011 @paradoxvigilante–I don’t know of anyone in this country who’s making Mexicans “scapegoats” but I can provide links to where Mexican politicians are making Americans “scapegoats” for the problems in their country. And as for the “connected to 9/11″ theory, Mexicans have murdered a hell of a lot more Americans than the 9/11 hijackers .

  esminombre 7:50 AM on January 5, 2011 There are so many illegal aliens living (not working) in the US that probably contribute nothing to our economy. This new wave of people have the means to get into Texas legally (just go to La Plaza) why not embrace their half million contribution and consider putting 10 people to work is not a great idea? Everyone here seems to agree that these foreigners should go through legal channels to live here. Give these Mexicans a chance. We need the jobs and their money. This is a golden opportunity and I think you will see banks, real estate companies and many others lining up to form partnerships with these new millionaires. Milborne Drysdale’s will step up to bat any day.

We have too many “loosers” on this site.

Optimism about the virtual wall.

January 24th, 2011


Now that DHS has cut funding for the construction of a virtual wall, SBI-net,  it is worth revisiting the optimism about the project expressed in 2007.

  • The virtual wall would use existing technologies, therefore keeping costs down.
  • It would only require the construction of 1,800 towers to secure both borders.
  • UAVs would augment tower surveillance, this includes a hand launched UAV called Skylark supplied by Elibt systems of Haifa, Israel.
  • Seismic sensors would detect ground movement, including footsteps and vehicles.
  • Border patrol agents, with laptops, will be alerted to border crossings through a satellite communication network.

With these promises it is easy to see how SBI-net funding was authorized.  In addition, as our survey shows, border residents favor virtual walls over physical walls because they are less intrusive.  What remains to be seen is what the next big ticket request will be for border security—at this point it appears more national guard troops.

For more information see:

Border Patrol or a Military Solution

January 20th, 2011

Adam Isacson argues sensibly that militarization is not the answer to border security, while pointing out that civilian agencies such as the border patrol are successfully limiting spillover violence from Mexico.  This perspective makes sense since an expanded role for the military also runs a danger of politicizing military operations and placing military personnel in situations that they are not trained to resolve.  One also has to look at the risk of militarizing civilian agencies. The following was originally published at:

This post was guest-authored by George Withers, a senior fellow for Regional Security Policy at the Washington Office on Latin America. A former staffer for the House Armed Services Committee, Mr. Withers has closely followed the growing use of the U.S. military and National Guard in the U.S.-Mexico border region.

bill introduced at the end of the last Congress, and again at the beginning of this one, would greatly expand the U.S. National Guard’s mission on the border with Mexico. Introduced by Representative Ted Poe (R-Texas), the bill would require that “not less than” 10,000 additional National Guard troops be deployed along the border on what would turn out to be a permanent basis.

While the bill itself has little chance of passage – none of its co-sponsors in either Congress comes from a border district – it still merits a critical analysis. Rep. Poe and the bill’s other sponsors clearly intend to spark a debate about the role of the U.S. military, particularly the National Guard, on U.S. soil. What they propose, however, would set a disastrous precedent for U.S. civil-military relations and for the legal framework governing the National Guard’s mission, while having little impact on U.S. citizens’ security.

The bill responds to a political impulse. The worsening epidemic of drug-fueled violence on the Mexican side of the border has claimed a great deal of attention in recent years, and especially in the past few months. Also under the media spotlight have been illegal immigration and the steady flow of illicit drug trafficking from Latin America through Mexico and the Caribbean into the United States. As these challenges continue to mount, the need for a response has been felt more urgently, both in Washington DC and in border states.

In May 2010, President Obama announced that 1,200 National Guard troops would be stationed along the border in support of the effort to address these problems. While they were sent with specific instructions not to be directly involved in searches or detention of suspected lawbreakers, the Guardsmen are armed and are meant to provide a visual and physical deterrent at the border. As such, their presence implies a threat to use military force.

This deployment, the Poe bill, and similar proposals appear to respond to a belief that if law enforcement personnel are good, then the military is even better. The higher level of potential violence catapults the armed soldier into the role of “Supercop.” Indeed, in Mexico and in several other countries in Latin America, especially Central America, several governments have turned in desperation to their militaries to do the work of outgunned and/or corrupt police agencies. But is deploying the military the appropriate response? In particular, is it the right answer – even temporarily – in the United States, where the legal concept of separate police and military roles has a strong and relatively successful history?

Rep. Poe, an original founder of the Victims’ Rights Caucus, has more than once taken admirably strong stands in opposition to violence against women in Mexico and elsewhere. But when it comes to protecting U.S. citizens from law enforcement problems on the border with Mexico, he opts for militarization. His bill would not only deploy an additional 10,000 National Guard troops, it would do so in the following ways:

  • The bill would add a very comprehensive new section to the U.S. Code, entitled “border control activities.” This provision would enable greater federal assistance to the states’ use of the National Guard and significantly broaden the Guardsmen’s activities and authorities. These would mean allowing – or requiring – the National Guard to participate in, among other duties:
    • Armed vehicle and foot patrols on U.S. soil along the international border.
    • Interdiction of vehicles, vessels, or aircraft, including those of U.S. citizens on U.S. soil.
    • Search, seizure, and detention of suspects, including U.S. citizens.
    • Intelligence gathering, surveillance, and reconnaissance, including against U.S. citizens.
    • Aviation support.

    All of these activities are currently – appropriately – assigned to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement personnel, both of them entities of the Department of Homeland Security. Most or all of these new military activities would go far beyond what the National Guard currently practices in its current border deployment missions, as defined by the border states’ governors and the National Guard Bureau. They also are in contravention of the legal principles and practices of the federal Posse Comitatus Act, which generally disallows the military’s use in law enforcement.

  • The Poe bill would set a 10,000-person minimum troop strength level (which is in addition to any and all troops already deployed) and keep it in place until “operational control” of the border is achieved. “Operational control” is defined, by reference to a2006 law, as when the Secretary of Homeland Security can certify “the prevention of all unlawful entries into the United States, including entries by terrorists, other unlawful aliens, instruments of terrorism, narcotics, and other contraband.” This “all unlawful entries” language sets a very high standard: it is highly unlikely that the prevention of every single illegal entry into this country could ever be certifiably achieved. Thus these troops would, in effect, be deployed permanently.
  • It is highly unusual, if not entirely inappropriate, for the U.S. Congress to pass a law dictating the appropriate level of troop strength in any specific mission deployment, as the Poe bill would do through its “required” 10,000 level. Such an operational decision falls under the core competency of military leadership, not politicians.
  • The bill chooses to authorize the troops’ deployment under a section of the U.S. Code that allows for “training” purposes only. However, since the bill would call on the Guard to carry out extraordinarily increased police activities that the military does not have a traditional legal mandate to perform – including searching and apprehending U.S. citizens – it contemplates use that goes way beyond “training.” These duties are “operational.”
  • The bill would exempt the deployment from end-strength limitations that are key to a well-balanced and militarily ready National Guard. To deploy large numbers of Guard members away from their home units, without consideration for how they would be replaced or how units might return to their designated force levels, would be disruptive to say the least.

Beyond these mostly technical problems with the bill, there remains the larger issue of militarizing our border law enforcement. Whether through the Poe bill or any other policy change, the circumstances do not warrant such a large, risky and potentially counterproductive step.

Rather than a threat of violence “spilling over” from Mexico into the United States, FBI Uniform Crime Reports actually point to an overall decrease in violent crimes in metropolitan areas along the border. El Paso, Texas, directly adjoining the border with Ciudad Juarez in Mexico, is statistically one of the safest cities in the United States: with 5 murders in 2010, it registered its lowest homicide rate since 1965. Individual, anecdotal incidents aside, the overall trend points away from the need to arm against an “invasion” or significant threat of violence.

Vastly increased numbers – and increasing strengths – of civilian law enforcement personnel, including U.S. Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, are already demonstrating success in keeping the U.S. side of the border area safe. To turn to the military serves more of a political purpose than a practical one.

Wealthy Mexicans fleeing violence may affect Valley

January 19th, 2011

This article appeared in the McAllen Monitor.  Some of the comments are amazing.

McALLEN — The drug war in Mexico could be economically beneficial to Hidalgo County as more and more elite Mexicans look to foreign investment as a way to escape the violence, said Keith Patridge, president and CEO of the McAllen Economic Development Corporation.

Wealthy Mexicans have been targeted by criminals because of their assets, Patridge said, and no longer feel safe in their country. Many are looking to relocate and invest north of the Rio Grande.

But the investment has less to do with stimulating the economy than finding a path for legal immigration.

Permanent residency, or a green card, is available to foreign nationals and their family members who invest at least $500,000 in the United States, Patridge said.

“(Mexican elites) are looking to coming over and bringing their families with them, at least until things settle down in Mexico,” he said. “And the investor visa is the principal way they are looking to do it.”


The potential influx of wealth and Mexican nationals to the area could also benefit the cultural climate, said Miguel Diazbarriga, a sociology professor at the University of Texas-Pan American in Edinburg.

“I think this is an unprecedented opportunity … that is definitely good for the (Rio Grande) Valley,” he said. “(Mexican elites) have a very global outlook, but they’re also very nationalistic and proud of their Mexican identities, and if we could find a way to mesh that with the Mexican culture of the Valley, that would be an amazing cultural hybridity.”

Getting there won’t be easy, he said. It will take strong leadership to overcome some of the stereotypes both cultures have imposed on each other.

“In the past there were many negative attitudes toward Mexican-Americans in Mexico, you know, pochos,” he said, referring to the derogatory term used for Hispanics who don’t speak Spanish perfectly. “But I think that’s changed a lot and we have to make sure that keeps changing.”

Mexican-Americans, however, also have changes to make, he said.

“We have to get rid of the (term) fresas,” he said, referring to the derogatory term given to the allegedly pretentious, wealthy Mexicans. “We don’t want to create a situation where you have Mexican elites living in one area and Mexican-American elites living in another.”

Diazbarriga also said there is potential for mixed feelings from Mexican-Americans in the area who are very patriotic, he said.

“There could be some resentment as far as ‘we’ve paid our dues as Mexican-Americans,’ for example, ‘and now we have these wealthy people that just come in and start doing their thing,’” he said. “There could be some challenges.”

The professor suggests encouraging cultural events and establishing a Mexican-American Museum to help diffuse some of the tensions. He hopes UTPA can take a leadership role and become involved in the cultural transition.

“We want to look at ways to break that down and create avenues of creativity and cultural contact,” he said. “We can’t assume that’s going to happen naturally, so the question is: How do we foster that?”

Obama’s Vision for a 21st Century Border: What is at stake?

May 21st, 2010

The vision for a 21st century border revolves around creating an environment in which people, objects, and information that are legally mandated can flow freely while illegal crossings are prevented. On the one hand, it promised to provide the infrastructure and technologies to ensure efficient and safe border crossings. This issue is particularly important to South Texans since retail sales have sharply dropped due mainly to Mexican residents having a harder time crossing the border and shopping. The plan for the 21st Century Border is vague on how border crossings will be made more efficient (see excerpt from press release below). The language suggests better integration of data across all sectors of law enforcement and perhaps, though not stated directly, the use of biometric identification cards. The Vision also suggests the use of better technologies to secure the border and prevent illegal crossings. Again, it is vague as to how this technological shift will be accomplished. Does this mean more unmanned drones? What about the failures of virtual fencing? As in most security discussions, actors hold the promise of new technologies high as a way to resolve our security needs while respecting civil rights.

On a more positive note, the Vision calls for consultation with local stakeholders and government officials. One can hope that these consultations will be wide-ranging and that border security decisions will be made with respect for human rights.

One issue remains: while the federal government introduces new technologies, drug cartels and others involved in illegal activities will search for ways to thwart these security measures. Are we more densely interlocking ourselves in a spiral that will lead to more violence and militarization? Are new technologies always the most humane and effective solution?

Below is a partial description of the system from DHSs’ website:
“The result will be a future state in which cross-border travel and in-country immigration activities are simple and convenient for eligible, low-risk persons, and virtually impossible for those who seek to do harm or violate U.S. laws. It will be a state in which decision-makers have complete access to the information they need, when and where they need it, to make the best, most informed decision every time. It will be an environment where technology is used to address the challenges posed by volume, speed, and distance and where best practices from across the Government and private sector are shared and leveraged.
The future will be an environment in which all parties – federal, state, local, and foreign governments as well as the private sector – coordinate, cooperate and collaborate to achieve the immigration and border management mission. These improvements will enhance the integrity of our immigration system and scrupulously protect the privacy and civil liberties of U.S. citizens and foreign visitors.”

Testimony at Texas House Select Committee on Emergency Preparedness and Border Security

May 19th, 2010

Texas State Representative Aaron Pena ( presided over a hearing on emergency preparedness that united discussion on topics such as disaster relief, drug smuggling and violence, and the Gulf oil spill. Among the highlights of presentations on border security.
–To what extent should we be concentrating on the interdiction of firearms and cash heading to Mexico. How can that be done more effectively?
–What progress has local law enforcement made in establishing a regional authority to handle a major crisis? On this front local law enforcement following other models in Texas is now beginning to engage in talks to establish a regional authority. Rep. Pena expressed strong support of this effort.
–To what extent do roads need to be widened and infrastructure expanded to handle a large-scale evacuation? In the case of a major hurricane or other emergency one might imagine the need for a large-scale evacuation from Mexico to the US. Testimony indicated that many of the highways off of border crossings could not handle a large-scale evacuation.
–Business leaders expressed concern about the decline in retail sales that have resulted from longer lines at border crossings.

Miguel Diaz-Barriga and Margaret Dorsey presented the findings of their survey research at the hearings. Rep. Aaron started his introduction by giving a very nice plug for Dorsey’s book, Pachangas. Our presentation emphasized that Hidalgo County residents opposition to the border wall should not be interpreted as a lack of concern about border security. Our research shows uneven support for virtual fencing and strong support for more border patrol agents. We are now in the process of analyzing this data and through follow-up interviews more closely analyze these perspectives. Our data also shows that strong supporters of the border wall, for which there are  few, favored the wall because they thought it would stop crime. Opponents viewed the wall as a waste of money that would not be effective at stopping either crime or illegal immigration.

Chad Richardson, Professor of Sociology at the University of Texas Pan American, talked about how cartel control of drug smuggling has now meant complete control of activities along the border including undocumented immigration. On a different note, he also pointed out that his data shows that Mexican shoppers are concerned about the long lines at border crossings. Any measure that would now require security checks for traffic into Mexico would have to consider how to do this effectively and quickly to avoid delays.  Such delays would discourage shoppers and others engaged in legal activities from crossing the border.

Border Wall and Necro-Citizenship

February 24th, 2010

See our lecture on the U.S. Mexico Border Wall at the Mobilities Center at Drexel University.  Comments Welcome.

Do Residents of South Texas Support the Border Wall?

February 5th, 2010

On April 28, 2008, Colorado Congressman Thomas Tancredo attended a Congressional Hearing hosted by the University of Texas Brownsville and Texas Southmost College. Towards the end or the hearings Tancredo pointed out that too many people in this area do not think that borders matter, he criticized the audiences “multiculturalist attitude” and stated in an exasperated matter:  “If you do not want a fence between you and Mexico I suggest that you build the fence around the northern part of your city.”   It is true that many residents of  South Texas are against the border wall.  It is wrong however to think that South Texans are against border security, are misguided by “multiculturalism,” and are not proud citizens of the U.S.  Our survey of South Texas residents (through random phone interviews, n=153) showed that while there is wide opposition to the border wall there is also strong support of the border patrol.  We are in the middle of analyzing the data but thought we should share our initial results.  In response to our question, “Are you for or against the construction of the border wall in South Texas?,” an overwhelming majority of respondents, 60%, were against the border wall.  Only a minority of respondents, 16%, expressed support for the construction of the border wall while 24% were neither for nor against. Security was also a concern of our respondents.

When asked, “Do you think that the number of Border Patrol agents on the U.S. Mexico border in South Texas should be increased, decreased, remain at current levels?”, over 80% responded that the number of agents should either remain at current levels or increased.

Finally, when asked about virtual fencing respondents were almost evenly divided.

The statistics show that residents of South Texas have complex and strong views on border security that should be taken into account when formulating policy.  We are now in the process or further analyzing this data, including conducting follow-up interviews, to provide a broader interpretation of this data.  One thing that appears to be true, in contrast to Tancredo’s view, residents of South Texas do care about border policy.