Decriminalizing Marijuana in Texas: a ‘Divine’ Cause?

While the legalization of marijuana campaign continues to gain steam as multiple states, including Colorado and Washington (having moved past the “medical” portion of the argument and included “recreational use” as part of their revamped laws), many in Texas believed that the Lone Star State would not be considering any form of legalization soon. Texas remains one of the true bastions of far-right traditionalism and has furthered the move to the outer limit of right conservatism under Tea Party rule. Therefore, it was a bit of a shock when House Bill 2165, an act that would completely legalize adult use of marijuana, was proposed and actually gained some traction.

The bill was not the only marijuana decriminalization proposed this legislative session (see House Bill 507), but it was the only one that touted full toleration of “weed” for adults.

The statute was the creation of David Simpson, a Christian conservative Republican out of Longview, Texas, with strong ties to the Tea Party. During an interview with the Texas Observer in May 2015, Simpson rationalized, “Right now, you can’t legally use the plant responsibly to help people with PTSD, epilepsy, cancer or pain.” He added, “We need to change that.”

As is the case with the vast majority of conservative Christian politicians and their supporters, the separation of church and state tends to be a mere suggestion and Simpson’s reasoning for the legislation had a religious foundation. During the same interview, Simpson was quoted as saying, “I don’t believe that when God made marijuana, he made a mistake government needs to fix.”

As bizarre as that may sound to some non-Christian conservative right-wingers, one thing is for sure: according to Simpson, one can now add divinity as a legitimate argument for the decriminalization of marijuana. The masterful blending of church and state, Texas style.

Amen, anyone?

And while the initial justifications are far more accepted and utilized in the fight for marijuana decriminalization, it is likely “pot” pundits will accept any reason they can if it means it will help the cause. Bill 2165 made it out of the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee by a 5-2 vote but met its end in the House Calendars Committee: a graveyard for bills that lawmakers do not wish to tackle publicly. It’s a failsafe area used by the government to avoid “hot topic” issues deemed not ready for public debate.   Buried alongside 2165 was HB 507 (Sponsor: El Paso Democrat Joe Moody), which would have made possession of less than 1 once of cannabis a civil offense.

Regardless of the outcome of both pieces of legislation, the fact that two Texas bills harvested support to decriminalize marijuana suggests that lawmakers will have to debate this issue in the near future.

What are your thoughts on the legalization of marijuana in Texas?

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Laredo Animal Protective Society: Keeping Positive despite Daily Struggles

LAPS 3Despite the “dog days” of summer heat, the Laredo Animal Protective Society (LAPS) pressed forward with the “Pooches on the Patio” pet adoption drive. The event was held at the parking lot of the Border Foundry Restaurant and Bar located at 7718 McPherson Road. Initially, LAPS arrived to the location with over 30 dogs, ranging from little puppies to the more seasoned of canines, looking for a “forever home.”

Unfortunately, the doggie mobile unit used to transport the pooches had technical difficulties; the generator that powers the air conditioning unit used to keep the dogs cool would not ignite. This led to most of the dogs being returned to the shelter prematurely and only seven bow-wows were left at the site.

As Laredo’s only “no-kill” shelter, LAPS continuously puts on adoption drives in an effort to keep their ever-growing animal population in check. Being a “no-kill” establishment does have its challenges as no matter how noble a cause, everything still depends on money to survive.

LAPS 1Prior to 2012, the non-profit did not have to worry much about finances as the City of Laredo would cover the monthly expenses, at a cost: many dogs and cats were euthanized on a monthly basis. Ultimately, disagreements between city leaders and shelter management led to a divorce. Since the split, LAPS has marched on leaving the euthanizing behind and focusing on finding families for all of the shelter residents.

Monica Mondragon is the newest Executive Director of the shelter; she is a few days shy of her third month at the helm of the day-to-day operations. Mondragon was not part of LAPS in 2012, but appreciates that the shelter is a “no kill” foundation.   Mondragon added that she was “very fortunate to have come in at the right time” as she could not have been involved with LAPS knowing that “some of [the animals] were going to be put down just to make space.”

Mondragon stated that so far, her tenure as director has been “exciting” and “rewarding” but also reported that it is not “easy” as the shelter consistently runs short on funds and “struggles to make it every month.” She informed that the monthly budget ranges from $11,000 – $13,000 and with expenses including food, medicine, spay, neutering, vaccinating, paying employees, water, and electricity. Mondragon added that overhead tends to spike during the summer due to a higher number of animals arriving to the shelter.

LAPS 2Because of the constantly strained budget, LAPS depends heavily on volunteers which is something that the non-profit never has to worry about.

“We’re very blessed, as the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts are a huge help,” Mondragon said. She added that LAPS also gets a lot of support from FFA students and the Junior Honor Society, just to name a few.

Even though the struggle of making ends meet is real, Mondragon keeps a positive attitude: “We do struggle but it is definitively worthwhile as anything worth doing is worth struggling for.” Mondragon added, “We’re very grateful to everyone who adopts and helps us.”

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Trump Sets Out Immigration Policy… Sort Of

Love him or hate him, Donald Trump continues to dominate the media airways and national Republican polls in key battleground states. The unrelenting billionaire has actually shown some restraint in the past few days, toning down the insults towards his fellow republican rivals and presenting a more controlled persona during interviews.

Trump was recently interviewed by CNN’s Dana Bash. One of the key things that Bash discussed with top Republican candidate was immigration. The CNN reporter pressured Trump regarding immigration, requesting for specific policies the real-estate tycoon would implement regarding the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants.

Trump reiterated that there are a lot of “bad dudes” illegally in the United States so he would ensure their banishment from this country. He pledged that these criminals would not return to the United States but did not present how he would accomplish this.

In reference to the law abiding undocumented immigrants, the Republican frontrunner told Bash that he would proceed to deport all persons illegally in the U.S. but would allow them to apply for legal re-entry into the country via an “expedited process.” Trump clarified that an actual path to citizenship was not part of his plan, but that these “good ones” (referring to the non-criminal immigrant) would be allowed to live in the U.S. legally.

Bash also questioned the mogul about the undocumented immigrants that came to the U.S. as children but have been educated and assimilated to American culture, identifying more as Americans than from their countries of origin. Most of these individuals are positive members of their communities and are seeking to obtain citizenship in order to further their financial and educational goals in a legal fashion.

Trump appeared perplexed and stated that this scenario presented a “tough situation” but remained firm that all undocumented immigrants needed to be deported and then allowed to apply for legal entry under his equivocal “expedited process.”

Although this was a very broad account of the policies he would implement if elected president, at the very least Trump provided a framework as to what he intends to do with all undocumented persons residing in the country.

The question: Do you agree with Donald Trump’s potential policies? Why or why not?

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Trump Visits Laredo and Controversy Ensues

By: The County Reporter

Common sense dictated that polarizing Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s visit to Laredo, Texas, on July 23, 2015, would not be void of controversy and the billionaire mogul’s “tour of the border” did not disappoint. Trouble bubbled early after Trump’s initial host, the National Border Patrol Council Local 2455, got cold feet and reneged on their invite.

Local 2455 released a statement that, after communications with members of the National Border Patrol Council at the National Level and “careful consideration of all the factors involved in this event,” the organization decided to “pull out of all events involving Donald Trump.” The statement further added that the intentions of Local 2455 was to provide a “Boots on the Ground perspective” to the presidential hopeful and all the media involved. The organization further clarified that “an endorsement was never discussed” and that “Local 2455 does not endorse candidates for any political office.”

Trump’s incendiary comments about Mexicans and immigration have sent many Latinos into an uproar. When Trump arrived, protesters from Mexico, Laredo, and other areas in South Texas were present to show their disdain for his characterization that the Mexicans coming to this country illegally are mostly criminals and “rapists.” His assertion implicates the Mexican government as “sending” this element out of their country and into the United States.

Trump offered little-to-no information on actual policies he intends to push if elected outside of building a fence between the two countries. The candidate added that he would get Mexico to “pay” for the construction of this fence but did not say how he intended to accomplish this.

Trump had been greeted by Laredo Mayor Pete Saenz, newly-appointed City Manager Jesus Olivarez and Council Members Alex Perez and Juan Narvaez. Considering the sentiments towards Trump from Latinos at large, the fact that these Hispanic city leaders appeared star struck in the presence of the Republican candidate – with no indication that any of them challenged Trump’s assertions – led to some quick backlash from both local and national Hispanic leaders.

United States Congressman Joaquin Castro (San Antonio, TX) tweeted the following: “@MayorPeteSanez Donald Trump just used you and the other councilmembers to make him look good. Embarrassing for South Texas and Hispanics.”

Laredo Council Member Roque Vela Jr. (District 5) shared on Facebook that he was disappointed with how city officials “came off with this whole Donald Trump fiasco.” Vela Jr. took issue with the perception that a “message” was sent to the country that Laredo city leaders “agree” with Trump’s views on immigration. The council member added that he would have liked to have seen city officials “call [Trump] out in a classy manner.” Vela Jr. further stated that after meeting with city officials the day before, “I was under the impression that the city was going to have little-to-no involvement in this fiasco.”

Laredo’s own United States Congressman Henry Cuellar (Democrat) was not present during Trump’s visit. Considering the criticism bolstered by a fellow U.S. Congressman, Cuellar was approached for comment. Congressman Cuellar stated, “Both Mayor Saenz and Congressman Castro are good friends of mine and I respect their point of views. I have very publicly stated that I do not agree with Donald Trump’s comments about Mexican immigrants. I do not agree with Donald Trump’s comments about Mexican immigrants. National crime statistics clearly show that the border is far safer than every large county in Texas and even exponentially safer than New York City. We are all entitled to our own opinion, but not our own facts. Laredo and the border are safe for families and businesses.”

The question: What is your take of these Laredo City leaders? Do you agree with Congressman Castro and Council Member Vela Jr.?

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Mass Migration (from Central America) and our Fed’s Response

June 4th has come and gone.  That was the date that a few of the Honduran women stated as the deadline for a supposed amnesty or program that they believed would allow them to stay in the United States.  I did have a slight battle with technology and my first few interviews and pictures are gone (I was so frustrated!!) but I returned to the downtown Laredo bus station that had housed so many migrants who had been released by ICE on their own recognizance after being detained and processed by Border Patrol.

Those of you on the border know, the mass migration that began to start to trickle and impact the local community started about three weeks ago.  In that time, thousands of migrants from Central America have entered the US.  Normally, we in our border community don’t see much behind the closed doors.  This time, it is different.

As I made mention in my previous post, there were mainly women and children taking up all the seats, some lining up against the wall on the floor.  Because the downtown bus station employees were not as friendly to us distributing items or speaking to people, I was able to interview with three young women from Honduras inside the rest room.  One was breastfeeding so did not speak but the other two shared the following responses to questions:

The chain of events since then has included an interview with Border Patrol Union Local 2455, attending a press conference from the the Laredo Sector Border Patrol which was canceled, writing to Commander Harris for information on how to bridge the agency with local entities, being granted private audience with several Border Patrol officials, Breitbart Texas’ story “Leaked Images Reveal Children Warehoused in Crowded U.S. Cells, Border Patrol Overwhelmed” including photos of the overcrowding, the start of a clothes/toiletries drive and… no significant news of changes about to occur.

The following are some of these interviews:

The Border Patrol Union representative expressed the concerns of the overcrowding situation with relation to the Border Patrol Agents. They have raised a flag of concern because detention centers cannot safely hold those who have been detained. What has surprised me personally, is the silence that has come from the federal government. After sending the following email to Border Patrol:

Thank you, Sara, for letting us know who to contact in DC at this morning’s Border Patrol press conference that resulted in a cancellation. Besides the media, the community was also interested so if you can forward this to Commander Harris, I would be most appreciative. Thank you. VG

Commander Harris,

As someone involved with various non-profits, the concern from the last few days of excess amounts of people released after processing at the local bus stations is still felt. While it seems that the drops at the bus stations are stopping as of today, we imagine that overcrowding still continues. I am asking on behalf of the Holding Institute Community Center, who provided hygiene kits via the Bethany House and offered showers to those interested, how can we best work with families who may have food & basic care needs beyond what Border Patrol is prepared to provide?

In all honesty, the Bethany House soup kitchen was taken by surprise. Pooling resources let some volunteers buy diapers and easy food that can be carried for those waiting hours at the bus station. I understand that it is not the responsibility of Border Patrol to go above and beyond to provide care for detainees about to be released; but, this situation did create a strain on the community’s resources. Any suggestions of how to prepare or updates on the continuation of this unusual migration are most welcome.

Sincerely, (me)

So, the Holding Institute Community Center has begun to collect clothing for children and hygiene products to be given to Border Patrol for detainees being released.  But – let’s think… the resources that are being pooled to assist because of the humanitarian void people are falling into because of the long processing and our federal government’s decisions on how to handle those in detention are going to a massive agency with a multi-billion dollar budget.  Those resources would normally be going to local organizations that we all support – Bethany House, Volunteers Serving the Need, Goodwill, the Salvation Army and many others.  Even though the request has been made via the FACE Coalition, at a Sisters of Mercy discussion on immigration, via Univision & Fox station, etc., the donations collected will be a drop in the bucket of what is needed – most importantly, it will divert the resources needed in Laredo, one of the poorest cities in the US.

When called in response to my email about alerting the community of possible impact, I was given audience at a meeting on June 3, 2014.  I met with Deputy Chief Marcos Garcia, Acting Division Chief of Op Support Enrique Martinez, Division Chief of Operations Mathew Hudak, Acting Patrol Agent in Charge Eugenio Rodriguez, and Acting Special Ops Supervisor of Comms Branch.  The discussion was clear but the expectations from each other were different.  While I made mention of examples of cases like natural disasters where our city has a disaster plan in place for receiving evacuees, they made mention of not knowing who to contact for different services in the community.  I do understand that it is not the responsibility of Border Patrol or ICE to follow anyone being released, there is a humanitarian responsibility to those in their custody; but also, to the community where they work and live along with all of us.  I did state I would pass the word about the immediate needs for children’s clothing, diapers, hygiene items because the overcrowding has brought issues never before anticipated – and I have.

What I still do not understand the stance taken of the agency existing in a bubble, as if it does not affect those in and around them.  One of the questions asked of me is if I would be the point person for efforts; the answer is of course not!  I am simply a community volunteer who is having a hard time with the recent actions in dealing with the Central American mass migration.  Unfortunately, this also points to a deficiency in the Laredo community with our communication amongst nonprofits but at least there are several coalitions where the message about a drive can be disbursed.   Laredo may not have the best leaders, nor the best systems to respond in emergencies but it does have a beautiful community of caring people.  This does not absolve the Department of Homeland Security from the responsibility of communicating with the greater public and its humanitarian responsibility.  When Border Patrol and then ICE decide to release hundreds of people, not everyone had a family member to call to buy their bus ticket to reunite with family.  As the employee at the bus station told us, “I don’t mind selling so many bus tickets since it is good for my employer but our regular schedule means everyone is stuck here until we can find them space on a bus to go.”

The problems are many but unfortunately, it is reluctantly admitted as a problem and only recently because of the push from media and others.

I’m beginning to get a little lengthy here so I close with one final point.  In the several interviews I did, the women with children talked about the end of May, beginning of June deadline for some amnesty program they believed to be going on.  This idea did not come out of everyone but of many.  The question remains, WHAT has caused the sudden mass migration?  Is it a rumor run amok that just became so distorted that people risked life and health and home stability to run to the United States??  If you are conspiracy theorists, maybe you might think it was an idea planted by a nefarious organization meant to intentionally pull Border Patrol resources away from surveillance & deterrent presences to pass more than just human smuggling??  Even now, as I passed by the railroad bridge, only one Border Patrol vehicle was in sight when normally there are three or more.  Maybe, just maybe, it is the mixed messages being sent by our federal government in its decisions for immigration reform that are being twisted and misunderstood and encouraging those on the brink to take the plunge and cross.  What was striking was that those I interviewed did not view their detention & processing as something negative – I honestly believe that some interpreted the action as part of the process to come in to the United States.  As a woman humbly told me, “My kids will automatically be admitted in to the US but I will have to go to court 3 or 4 times before I get my papers to let me stay.  All that we went through will be worth it.”  Strange.  I feel her desire to better her life and know that to make the decision to move from one country to another is not one that is taken lightly; but, I couldn’t say, “You’ve got it wrong” because honestly, I am not so sure she does have it wrong.  I wish her the best and also to the border communities that are impacted by an unprepared system not quite open to working outside of themselves.

Should you want to donate, please drop off any supplies or clothing at the Holding Institute Community Center at 1102 Santa Maria or to any of the Border Patrol Sector offices marked for Processing Center donations.

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Crazy overcrowding over at Border Patrol and yet…

I’m tired.  As I sit here wondering when Bluehost will be done with my blog migration, I realize that I am thinking of such a minor insignificant nothing.  So yes, I am tired from the minor worries but I’m also physically tired from having gone out to distribute food last night and out again tonight.

Most importantly, I am tired of our broken systems.  Last night (Wednesday), a frustrated bus station worker called Bethany House (soup kitchen) to report a higher than usual number of people at the station.  She described the the uniform of the driver, the decals on the bus that dropped off about 50 people at the station.  From there, I was called to ask my sources if I knew what was going on because that was highly unusual.  So I called around and was told by one detention center that shouldn’t be happening that the usual release happens at the border for those returning or may happen at a bus station at request for someone OR’d but not a whole bus load.  Everyone  I spoke to when looking for answers said “that sounds strange” or “that is not protocol” or the like.  What was a fact was that now there were about 50 people at a bus station.

My friend, who first went with Bethany House to pass out diapers and some supplies to the one station in the North, remained concerned.  At 11pm, I picked up another friend and went to buy bags of oranges, apples and granola bars – food that could be stored for later consumption.  When we got to the bus station, tired looking people just stared at our bags and pretty soon, the kids were gathered around us.  We spoke with a few who said they had not eaten since sunrise.  Even though we were systematically giving out the food, the fruit went fast.  There is no denying that they were hungry.  The majority seemed to be from Honduras, some San Salvador and a few from Guatemala.  What was most striking was that almost all were women with children.

So, who were they?  Immigrants who had crossed in the Valley of Texas, detained and then brought to Laredo.  Apparently the overcrowding is so severe in detention areas, the subcontractor who holds them, released them with their OR (own recognizance) paperwork.  While it is not uncommon for a few to be released in this way, what is different is how this is now a mass dumping at the bus stations that started this week.  There was no warning – not to the bus stations, not to those who serve the hungry or care about humane treatment.  They were released but had no resources, little (if any) food, little (if any) hygiene products, little (if any) information.

Not only those 50 but in talking to the bus station workers, they said that another busload had been taken to a bus station downtown.  The three of us hopped in and went to buy out the local HEB of their apples, oranges and granola bars.  At the downtown station, we again saw almost all women with many children.  Their destinations were as varied as the first group – Maine, Illinois, Minnesota, Florida, Louisiana, Kentucky.  Again, almost all were from Central American countries.  We heard quite a few thank yous and god will bless you but the core of the problem is not just filling a belly with a one time snack.  What is going on?  Why the mass migration?  Or is it really Border Patrol changing policies or procedures? Or is it the subcontractor?  What has changed and how is our border protection system resolving problems created by those changes?  Local media covered the story from the viewpoint of the Border Patrol Union who is complaining of the overcrowding and inhumane standards it is creating.  LareDOS newspaper (May 2014, page 14), KGNS, KGNS 2, and Univision covered some of the story.

It isn’t just Laredo.  This is a link to a story out of Tucson via the Arizona Daily Star.  In the last two days, they have had the same scenario as Laredo at their bus station.  They state:

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Arizona is processing 400 people, mostly families coming from Central America and Mexico who were apprehended in South Texas and flown here over the weekend, officials said. To process the surge of crossers from Texas, the Border Patrol is turning to all available resources at its disposal, said Daniel Tirado , Border Patrol spokesman for the Rio Grande Valley Sector.

Regardless of your political bent, regardless of how you feel about immigration (legal or otherwise), regardless of the manner of entry to the country, people have a right to at least food.  That had been the concern of the bus station worker.  But today was another day.  We thought maybe it was a fluke but Bethany House did a check and again, more people were dropped off by the busload.  At least today, the nonprofit soup kitchen was able to prepare for the extra mouths to feed.  I did a visit around 11:30pm.  I spoke with a few of the women camping out at the bus station.  I do have some audio that I will upload in a follow-up post and some photos of the crowded station.  Normally, at midnight, the station only has a handful of people.  Tonight, there were people lying all over the floors, outside on the benches and, of course, in the seats.  The place was abuzz with activity.  I was able to interview Mari and Velma, two young women from Honduras, about why they decided to come now.  Management did not seem too pleased with my presence.  When my friend and I returned with bags of food for a family who had missed the Bethany House food distribution, my friend was shoved by the security man from the station as he intended to take his camera.  Those spending the night on the floors were willing to talk to us but management had other ideas.  More about the interview tomorrow along with an additional interview from the spokesperson for the Border Patrol Union in Laredo.

People’s lives are fascinating but in that fascination, humanity must come first (according to me).  Border Patrol has scheduled a press conference at 10am to respond to the situation.  I can’t wait to hear some of the solutions.  From the outside, it looks like our borders have become porous in such an unintended way – and could this be one of the causes of the increase in migration?  Or is something beyond the surface picture taking place?  For today, may the families and children get some rest as they wait for the ironically named AMERICANOS buses to take them to their new destinations while they wait for their court dates.  What a system we have.

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Undergoing a few changes

Yes, readers (former readers), I am finally going to self-host and am migrating the blog.  A ver como sale.  Wish me luck!

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