- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 18, 2014

San Antonio Express-News. March 13, 2014.

Border fence not same as reform

If and when immigration reform is reprised, talk of “the fence” will spout as reliably as Old Faithful.

Consider, then, the difficult experience of just one part of the 56 miles of the existing border fence and wall in the Rio Grande Valley. An Express-News article Nelsen spelled it out.

The Rio Grande meanders. Its banks are sometimes here, sometimes there. Other factors, including environmental, intrude.

But what is immediately separated from the United States at the Sabal Palms Sanctuary is the United States. As Nelsen explained, no passport is required to pass through its gates. In some places, more than a mile separates the fence, built on top of the levee, from the river. In between is the same farmland that predates the fence.

But also there, residents say, is a “no-go” land in which scrutiny - of the Border Patrol and those who cross the river without documents or with drugs and other contraband - is difficult.

Yet proponents of more border security have, in the past, blithely suggested more fence. Some suggest one continuous 1,950 mile fence from the Pacific to the Gulf. Others a mere 350 miles of double fencing. There are now 651 miles, which includes 352 miles of barrier to thwart pedestrians and 299 miles to block vehicles.

Now, imagine about 1,200 miles more - if a completely walled off Mexico is your taste. And since much of this would be in Texas, along the Rio Grande, picture the fence as having to separate much of Texas from Texas.

Picture also the cost along the entire length of the U.S. Mexico border: $185 million for a standard 10-foot chain-link fence topped by razor wire.

There is a better way to control and regulate immigration. A fence isn’t it.

___

El Paso Times. March 17, 2014.

Immigration debate: Obama right to review deportations

President Barack Obama will no doubt face criticism for his decision last week to review the nation’s deportation policy. But it’s a correct step, and one made necessary by Republican refusal to even consider immigration reform at this point.

Following a meeting with congressional Hispanic leaders last week, the White House announced that Obama had ordered Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson “to do an inventory of the Department’s current practices to see how it can conduct enforcement more humanely within the confines of the law.”

“The president emphasized his deep concern about the pain too many families feel from the separation that comes from our broken immigration system,” the White House said in a statement.

The announcement is deliberately vague, and comes after months of complaints from Hispanic leaders about the Obama administration’s deportation policy. The president for months has said his hands were tied on any more changes to deportation policy, but last week’s announcement appears to mark a course shift.

The United States has deported almost 2 million people in the five years since Obama took office, matching the Bush administration’s total from eight years.

The focus from critics of the Obama administration has focused on deportations that separate families, especially those that separate children from their parents.

We’re not talking about slowing deportations of undocumented immigrants who have committed violent or other serious crimes while in the country.

“It is clear that the pleas from the community got through to the president,” said Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., one of the congressional leaders who met with Obama. “The (Congressional Hispanic Caucus) will work with him to keep families together. The president clearly expressed the heartbreak he feels because of the devastating effect that deportations have on families.”

Obama has taken steps before to review deportation policy, particularly in 2012 when he deferred deportations for hundreds of thousands of young undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children.

It’s unlikely the president will take another step so sweeping. But the administration is correct to review its policies to look for instances where deportation is not in the country’s best interest. Deporting parents of minor children who are U.S. citizens isn’t good for families, and it’s not good for this nation. Of course, the preferred route is for Democrats and Republicans to work together on reforming an immigration system that virtually all observers say isn’t working.

But that seems unlikely this year because of the mid-term elections. After those elections, we’ll be told nothing can be done ahead of the 2016 vote.

So we’re left with small, incremental steps such as reviewing and revising deportation policy.

___

The Monitor of McAllen. March 16, 2014.

Mexican drug war affects U.S. border towns also

What an oppressive life it must be for our Mexican neighbors to the south in Tamaulipas who endure a military-like curfew state because of deadly, feuding drug cartels, which threaten our economic prosperity, as well.

As The Monitor laid out last week, residents cut their dates short, abandon wedding receptions early and plan their lives knowing they should not venture out on the streets during the wee morning hours for fear of getting caught up in disputes between the Gulf Cartel and its former enforcers, the Zetas.

After four years of these factions fighting, Ortiz reports, neither side seems any closer to claiming victory - but it’s the people who are facing defeat. The residents who are impacted by this unnecessary violence are not any closer to claiming their rights to roam and relax in their hometowns.

Even employers warn staff not to be out between midnight and 6 a.m. so as not to endanger their lives.

Such a state of existence is stifling and more law enforcement pressure should be brought to bear. It’s prohibitive to creativity and economic expansion. It chokes travel and threatens economic relations between our symbiotic border region.

As The Monitor Editor noted earlier this week, the March 7 contingency of McAllen business and community leaders - including Mayor Jim Darling, Commissioner John Ingram, South Texas College Board Trustee Paul Rodriguez, IBC President David Guerra and McAllen Chamber of Commerce Chairman of the Board Brian Lewis - who traveled to Reynosa at the behest of the city’s mayor, was a significant event especially given the violence that is stigmatizing that city.

A State Department warning issued as recently as January urges caution and recommends all non-essential travel should be postponed to Matamoros, Reynosa, Nuevo Laredo and Tampico, citing “U.S. citizens have been the target of violent crimes, such as kidnapping, carjacking, and robbery.”

Tensions first came to a head in mid-February 2010 after the Gulf Cartel commander Samuel “Metro 3” Flores Borrego gunned down his Zeta counterpart, Sergio “El Concord 3” Peña and since then fighting between both sides has been constant. Ortiz reports that cartel lookouts are regularly seen late at night keeping tabs on vehicles that are driving around the city in order to see whether any rival cartel members try to enter their turf.

How scary an image and how debilitating to the Mexican communities. And while neither side is claiming victory, nor defeat, it is obvious that the people of Tamaulipas and our joined regions - which prosper and suffer together - ultimately are the losers in this drug war.

___

Longview News-Journal. March 18, 2014.

Pressuring candidates to drop out is not good for democracy

We’re dismayed - and a bit surprised - that some on the far right of the political spectrum in Texas are pushing Republican candidates to drop out of runoff elections so their favorites don’t have to face another primary test.

It’s disappointing because those groups are trying to get, through the not-so-subtle use of pressure, what they were unable to achieve through the democratic process - which is to say a clear victory.

We understand such wishful thinking, but that isn’t the way the system is supposed to work. In Texas, we have party primary elections that require candidates to win a majority of the votes cast before they move on to the ballot in the general election. It is a good scheme and has served us well for years.

Obviously some candidates who make the runoff might want to step aside, especially when their opponent was only a handful of votes away from a majority. But that should be a decision made by the candidate based on practicalities, not on pressure.

The arguments being made now are that Republican party unity calls for concessions, and that the front-runner in the primary is sure to win anyway.

Of course, that’s not always the case. A lot can happen in a campaign between March and May.

A shining example of how primary election results can be flipped in a runoff is U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz. Two years ago, he topped Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in a runoff though Dewhurst had won the primary. Cruz stuck with it and won despite the appearance he had no chance whatsoever.

Think of a runoff this way: It’s needed because a majority of voters cast ballots opposing the leading candidate. Yes, it is typical that the leader in the primary goes on to win, but the opposite happens often enough that anyone with a reasonable chance should not give up.

In our current primary, state Rep. Dan Branch, who came in second to state Sen. Ken Paxton in the race for attorney general, has been pressured to drop from the race, though Branch got more than 30 percent of the vote. We hope he does not give in and that he gives it his best through the runoff. Dewhurst, who cleared 28 percent of the vote in running second to challenger state Sen. Dan Patrick, also has received pressure to concede.

If Paxton or Patrick wins, we have no problem with the decision of the voters.

All we want is for the voters - not the political bosses - to have their say.

___

Waco Tribune-Herald. March 16, 2014.

Worth fertilizer industry initiative could narrow focus to questionable actors in the business

While state and federal officials aren’t setting any speed records in determining the need for more safeguards in the wake of the West fertilizer plant explosion nearly a year ago, The Fertilizer Institute and Agricultural Retailers Association rate praise for seeking to fill the void. If successful, their effort could highlight “best practices” worth codifying into law and make federal inspections far more efficient.

At a March 6 hearing of the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, Billy Pirkle of The Fertilizer Institute told lawmakers it “has taken a number of concrete steps to work with federal regulators and investigators and to keep the community of fertilizer retailers informed of the most up-to-date technical and compliance information.”

These include formation of a voluntary program called ResponsibleAg that will train private auditors in federal storage regulations and implement comprehensive inspections to supplement governmental inspections - not a bad idea given the seeming inconsistency of inspections of the West Fertilizer Company over the years before it blew up on April 17, killing 15 people, maybe more.

Among other things, the TFI and ARA have produced “Safety and Security Guidelines for the Storage and Transportation of Ammonium Nitrate Fertilizers” to disseminate to retailers as well as first responders, considering that “it is clear today that emergency responders (in West) had insufficient information regarding safe procedures for responding to a fire involving ammonium nitrate.”

“We are not waiting for government to act,” he told committee members.

Yes, a voluntary effort might still fail to gain access to a business such as West Fertilizer Company, which was not a member of The Fertilizer Institute or any trade organization and certainly didn’t embrace best practices. There was no sprinkler system and the volatile ammonium nitrate was kept in wooden bins, which could burn easily - and apparently did, triggering the explosion. But if ResponsibleAg can survey and assess plants that do cooperate, it could help regulators prioritize what is left that really needs inspecting.

Because of other Senate business, it was hard to deduce consensus during the March 6 hearing. But committee chairwoman Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., was as excited about the private industry initiative as she was put out with the Environmental Protection Agency, which has yet to add ammonium nitrate and other chemicals to the EPA’s risk management program. “I don’t know why it’s taking you so long to figure this out,” she said tersely at one point. “We’re seeing the results of not doing it.”

Good point, though the situation highlights society’s mixed feelings about such matters. We all like to complain about the EPA’s intrusiveness, yet when it and other regulatory agencies fail to do their jobs, we get episodes like the deadly explosion in West or the pollution of the Elk River in West Virginia, impacting the drinking water of 300,000 people. Go figure.

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