Monday, June 12, 2017

El Paso - The Huntsville of the Undocumented

For the most part, despite what people campaign on, local government is pretty mundane. You don't really change the shape of people's lives in a way they "feel it" very often. Most days are pretty routine. 

But today is different. Today is the day where Commissioner's Court discussing the continuation of a bad policy that directly contradicts our collective values of opposition to things like SB4 and a border wall. 

Today is pivotal and is one of those rare opportunities where local government has the opportunity to make REAL and MEANINGFUL change to policies that should eat at our collective conscience. 

An article in the El Paso Times over the weekend really puts the importance of this issue into perspective because it outlined County Judge Veronica Escobar's likely congressional bid along with Commissioner's Stout and Leon's interest in running for County Judge. 

Depending on how things flesh out today, all will likely be impacted by today's decision. But for Escobar, who has the most at stake right now, continuing a bad policy could be a mailer that writes itself. 

She undoubtedly has the most to gain, and the most to lose today. Especially when you consider Washington funding in a congressional race. 

People have given lip service to the image of El Paso for years, whether its in the context of economic development, attracting new talent to El Paso, or keeping our existing talent. Obviously, El Paso’s image has been raised in the mayoral election as well. We’ve wrestled with it for years. 

Now that Commissioner Perez has had his Sunday morning press conference, we may have yet another image problem to worry about - El Paso becoming the Huntsville of undocumented immigrants. Hunstville is Texas’ perfect example of the penal industrial complex at its worst. 

And the revelation of data is really going to challenge long-time advocates of immigration reform and their allies. Click this link to see all of the data of Commissioner's agenda item for today if you wanna take the time to peruse the data on your own. 

Perez laid out a lot of data and it can be a lot to chew on, so I decided to write this post to break it down as I understand it. 

And its probably going to make you mad as a tax payer, or someone who believes in immigration reform, when you read it. Bear one thing in mind as you read this data - no one else at the county has come forward to dispute the validity of the data. Perez would have to be completely wrong in their data for this issue to go away and not be one of the most important issues this county has dealt with in years. Seriously, he'd have to be REALLY off. 

Dual Messages & Morality

First, lets start with the most startling revelation - El Paso County is earning a lot of revenue off of the incarceration of the undocumented while at the very same time publicly opposing bills like SB 4, commonly known as the Sanctuary Cities Bill. 

There are members of the Court that have years of history being strong and vocal advocates for sensible immigration policy and have even testified before the legislature on the issue like County Judge Veronica Escobar and Commissioner David Stout. 

Frankly, they should be leading the charge to right this injustice. 

No matter how you slice it, the County is saying one thing and doing another. There is no way to spin in otherwise. The undocumented are going to be housed somewhere. The Feds can put them anywhere they want. Our community is unique in Texas in its desire to house them in such large numbers. 

So we say we reject bad policy like SB 4 that asks law enforcement to be defacto Border Patrol agents and enforce immigration law, but we are perfectly okay with profiting off their incarceration? Okay, I guess profiting isn’t the right word because a) (as if the principle of the matter weren’t bad enough) we are losing money and b) a government doesn’t make “profit” per say.

But you get my point. 

So lets look at the data Perez produced. This chart that looks like Pac-man shows a projection of the booking of federal inmates for FY 2017, based on 8 months of data from the El Paso County Jail. 

When you think federal arrests on the border, you naturally assume that most of them have to do with drugs. Contraband, trafficking, that sorta thing. The total pie represents the total number of bookings from FY 2014 to date in FY 2017 for a total of 15,216 arrests. 

Here’s the shocking part - of that number, the blue Pac-man part shows the amount of those arrests that are charges related to immigration. Yep, thats right - the lion’s share of the arrests totaling a projected 10,800 (a whopping 71%) are charges related to immigration. Less than 30% of the federal inmates we are holding are for drugs or other crimes. 

Seriously, what does that say about our collective stance on SB 4 while we are housing that many undocumented immigrants? 

This chart further illustrates how little of the federal inmates detained are even brought in by agencies other than Border Patrol or Customs who make up 87% of the arrests by agency. 

This leads to a question that the Court will have to wrestle with - is this the right thing to do based on their opposition to SB 4?

It is a betrayal of everything that groups like the Border Network for Human Rights that have basically said yes. Its like walking in on Cesar Chavez eating a big bowl of non union grapes and lettuce. 

BNHR other communities allies have long worked, to some degree in a futile effort, to shape border and immigration policy for mostly meaningless policies like municipal IDs. For the most part its an issue they don’t have much influence on. But whether or not this community continues to be the dumping ground of the undocumented - gives them, for the first time in a really long time, a local issue they can actually have a meaningful impact on. 

Not only do we make it a practice to house the undocumented we say we are against local law enforcement rounding up, but we do so more than ANY OTHER COUNTY IN TEXAS. According to the Perez data, our county alone makes up more 1/4 of all the undocumented housed in county jails across the state!

Pocket-Book Issue

Perez asserts that despite the amount of revenue we are generating from housing undocumented immigrants we are only getting paid $80 per day per federal inmate when it actually costs us $89 per day to hold them. Thats per inmate, per day. That means we are really bleeding money on this over the life of the contract - to the tune of millions and millions of dollars. How long would any business do something like that before they realized it was a mistake?

Sheriff Richard Wiles has always maintained that we aren’t losing money on the contract. This event is going to put a lot of pressure on Wiles not only because he’s long been an immigration reform advocate, but because he’s now in the position of having to show the Court that the County isn’t losing money on the contract. 

And frankly, he has no choice but to justify the cost. 

Because there’s a bigger pocket book issue at play - why the hell the jail was even expanded in the first place. 

If you read this article from KDBC, the Sheriff says that since we have 3000 beds in the jails that we should fill them because otherwise its a waste. Well…how the hell did we get the expanded space in the first place? Our capacity is twice the jail population. 

You know what that means?

It means we didn’t need the damn thing in the first place! 

But you the tax payers paid for that in a bond. At some point the media will likely parse the conversation about taking that project to the voters and what data was used to justify the need for it, but in the aforementioned article Sheriff Wiles appears to at least tangentially acknowledge that the county jail was well-below capacity to the extent he felt it necessary to fill beds. 

So now we have duplicate facilities. Sure, some things like centralized booking aren’t duplicative, but almost everything else is an example of the tax payer paying twice for the same thing.

Based on the data presented by Perez - and so far no one else has any data saying otherwise - we are not only housing undocumented immigrants at a loss and unnecessarily, but we are paying for unnecessary infrastructure. 

It means we have a lot of jailers that we don’t really need. 

Go back up and look for the data if you don't believe me, Perez put it all in the agenda item back-up.

Are You Kidding Me?

Which leads me to Commissioner Andrew Haggerty. I guess he forgot how to be a Republican, but he’s the guy that is supposed to be sounding the alarms for unnecessary spending. But not only has Haggerty apparently completely blown off this issue despite being part of a committee to deal with the issue, but he is now incredibly saying the contract is good because of the jobs it provides. 

Yes, you heard that right…a Republican is advocating for government subsidized jobs. Haggerty’s position makes no sense and it boggles the mind how he comes to that conclusion. 

And frankly the court should stop bitching about being “blind-sided”. By their own admission, this is an issue they have been looking at for three years. If you’ve been looking at if for three years, how in the blue hell are you being blind-sided? 

Commissioners, its your job to be looking out for the tax payers. Thats your job. How could this possibly be something you're blindsided when each of your offices have access to County data?

And you know what else blows my mind? Border Network having the audacity to talk about how not having immigrants in the county jail will make "the logistics of prosecuting immigration violations more expensive and time consuming for the Federal Government."

Are you kidding me right now? Who the hell cares? And more importantly - why would an immigration rights group care about it in the first place, much less use it as a talking point for keeping a terrible policy?

Thats completely contradictory to all they stand for - like a PETA advocate working in a meat factory. 

Today Commissioners have to decide if we really mean what we say when we take stands against harmful legislation like SB 4 or if our stand is just as worthless as a resolution written on paper. Whats the point of standing next to a border fence with a bullhorn at a BNHR event if you advocate a contract that makes El Paso the top place for the federal government to house undocumented immigrants in Texas. Is that really what this community stands for? 

Are we really going to say we are against local law enforcement enforcing immigration law but be completely okay with that same local law enforcement building an infrastructure around incarcerating those same immigrants? 

Today is the day to walk the walk, not just talk the talk. 


Anonymous said...

Commendable. This one of the few times you expose what s wrong at any government level in El Paso. Don't agree with your position on SB4 but I agree there is wasteful spending and a confused governing style.

Makes one wonder if everyone stating contradictory views is actually the opening shot for county judge. They are distancing themselves from a policy that is sure to start a firestorm regardless of the results of the lawsuit.

Wiles is playing it safe by not feeding into the SB4 frenzy and simply ing stating he is complying with Fed policy even if he doesn't agree. Good move. He's getting his cake and.....

Escobar is playing to the Hispanic vote as usual instead of what's good for the county. She might truly disagree with SB4 but I would venture that if there was a majority for SB4 in El Paso, there wouldn't be any lawsuit or anti SB4 rhetoric. It's a move to ensure she has the Hispanic/Democrat vote. She leaves one wondering if she would have been better off by running in Juarez. Since that seems to be her focus. She is such a strong advocate for Juarez, she could win Mayor of that city.

Haggerty is just Haggerty. Speaking occasionally for the exact reason Escobar does except in reverse. He caters to the Republican voters even if it makes no sense. I will give him credit, he's the only Republican in the county that does anything. He's really a man party.

Carlos Leon is the mannequin on the Court. If he ever decided to skip the meeting, no one would notice if he DID use a mannequin.

Vince wants a higher office so bad he would draw cartoons if it would boost his popularity. So much for the graphs, just vote for or against.

Those that announced to campaign for Judge will be more of the confused and terrible decisions. I would say leave everyone on commissioners court as is even permanent. At least we know these stooges and can predict what the next dumb move will be.

Harsh, but being honest. We need qualified candidates and future statesmen.

Anonymous said...

Commissioner Vince Perez FAILED AGAIN today. The commissioner who doesn't know what he's talking about made a motion to terminate the county's contract with the federal government to house federal prisoners at the county jail. The measure FAILED miserably. Perez couldn't even get a "second" for his motion. Commissioner Stout exposed Perez for being a self-serving demagogue. Quote: "I reached out to you, and you didn't respond." Stout said he did not appreciate Perez's "gotcha" approach, going to the media to "strongarm" the commissioners court. And Perez didn't even have the decency to speak up during strategic planning before embarrassing the entire court with his grandstanding.

C.D. said...

It is sort of ridiculous for local governments to weigh in on national policy far above their pay grade.

It's really just grandstanding. Local electeds pretending to be statemen/statepeople.

No wall is going to be build, and frankly nobody (I mean nobody) wants to see the fences put up by Reyes to come down. Look at the home burglaries before and after the fence. There is a reason why nobody puts bars over their windows anymore.

Little walls seem to work. For some cities on the border at least.

Carl M Starr said...

It was sad, not once was it mentioned the San Antonio Federal Judge Garcia had just ruled Detainers unconstitutional. I found the CCC June 12 meeting hard to believe. The Answer was crying out and it was never uttered ie make ICE/U.S. Marshall get Judicial Warrants like 23 states require and as well as the 4th and !4th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. That's what the same Judge hearing SB 4 ruled, as well as the Dallas Federal Judge.

Get Warrants or take your Federal Prisoners to Hudspeth County.

I felt terrible watching the charade.