I realize Dallas is a ways from the border. This was one of those stories, however, that just seems too outrageous to believe so I had to jump the borderline.Richard Abshire and Scott Goldstein at the Dallas Morning News have a series of stories about police officers ticketing people for not speaking English. Ernestina Mondragon, 48, was ticketed on October 2 while taking her 11-year old daughter to school. Mondragon made an illegal U-turn and was pulled over. The Dallas police officer cited her for the illegal U-turn and not having her license with her, but then he also ticketed her for not speaking English.Mondragon, a legal U.S. resident, said she felt humiliated. You can take a look at her traffic citation online. What troubles me even more is that according to the citation the police officer searched her car without her consent. An officer can’t search your car without probable cause. Not only was Mondragon subjected to the nutso citation for not speaking English but she also had her car searched in front of her 11-year old daughter as if she were suspected of a crime. At least 38 people have been cited for not speaking English since 2007. Almost all of them were Hispanic and none of the officers who issued the citations were Hispanic. The officers ranged from a rookie to a 13-year veteran, according to the Dallas Morning News.While I’ve never heard of anyone being ticketed for not speaking English along the border, residents, who are mostly Hispanic, get the Dallas treatment all the time. They get pulled over and their cars are searched by the police. Last March, the ACLU released a report on the State-Federal funded Operation Border Star, which has been in operation along the border since 2007. The Texas Legislature poured $110 million into the program to fight violent crime and drug smuggling. The ACLU found that an enormous number of border residents are pulled over for no reason. They cited the Hidalgo County cities of La Joya and Sullivan City as examples of the excessive number of traffic stops:”The Cities of La Joya and Sullivan City, which have between 4,300 and 4,700 residents, and their police departments combined to make 9,576 traffic stops as part of Operation Border Star. The result? 3,314 citations and 5,387 warnings issued. That’s roughly one traffic stop per resident.”I got an idea of what the ACLU was talking about in May, when I was pulled over on Interstate 10 outside of El Paso by two officers participating in Operation Border Star. They separated my husband and I and asked us a number of questions about where we were headed and where we were staying. It was 6:30 a.m. in the morning and I was tempted to say something snarky because I hadn’t had my quota of caffeine yet. Having just seen that video of the Texas grandmother getting tasered, I decided to be as charming as one can possibly be on the side of Interstate 10 at 6:30 in the morning. Finally, they let us go. I received a piece of paper that looked like a citation but had no fine attached (thankfully), it said that I’d received a “warning” for following too close to a truck.Being pulled over by the cops, especially when you are innocent, is a jarring experience. It’s also not something you want to happen in front of your kids, as in the case of Mondragon. Every bogus traffic stop is just one more brick in the wall between the Latino community and law enforcement.
For the past few months I’ve been following the plight of Gustavo de la Rosa Hickerson, a lawyer and human rights advocate in Juarez. I was astounded to read of his detention on October 15 after Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers forced political asylum on him as he was attempting to cross into El Paso.
I’ve heard of people requesting political asylum at an international port of entry but I’ve never heard of ICE forcing political asylum on to someone and then taking him into detention. What kind of signal does it send to imprison a 63-year old man who is very visibly trying to root out military corruption in Juarez? In recent weeks he’s had death threats. One of his bodyguards was beaten and another had his house burned down.
Hickerson has been the chief investigator for the Chihuahua State Commission on Human Rights looking into military abuses and corruption in Juarez. He has documented numerous cases of abuse, according to news reports. On October 1, Hickerson held a press conference in Juarez announcing that Jose Luis Armendariz, president of the Chihuahua State Commission of Human Rights, had removed him as investigator. Hickerson said that he and his family had received death threats. Armendariz wanted him to reveal who was threatening him. This is basically a death sentence for Hickerson.
So Hickerson is staying in El Paso for his own protection and trying to negotiate with his former boss to receive better security and more bodyguards for his family. “My mistake is that I took my job seriously,” he told the media.
I spoke with Sandra Spector, wife of Carlos Spector who is de la Rosa’s lawyer in El Paso. She said Hickerson was released from detention yesterday after being held for 6 days. After being released he crossed into Juarez then turned around and came back into El Paso as any normal visitor would which is what should have happened in the first place. Hickerson has a border crossing card which allows him to cross back and forth freely.
Spector said Hickerson has received an outpouring of support from around the world. Amnesty International has also been rallying for his cause. The hope is that Mexican officials will give him the security he needs to do such a dangerous job. He doesn’t want to leave his home. His courage to stand up for justice is a bright spot among the bleak and sad news coming out of Juarez these days.
If Hickerson’s negotiations with Mexican officials fail, he will undoubtedly think twice about seeking political asylum in the United States.
I got a sinking feeling in my stomach when I read today that El Paso’s online Newspaper Tree is taking a hiatus. I’ve always enjoyed checking out NPT’s coverage of the news in El Paso – their original analysis, their coverage of public corruption and their willingess to allow different perspectives on the page. If you want to know what’s really going on in El Paso you go to NPT and read the articles, then you read the comments. Sure, there are a few loony, crank commenters like always, but overall readers are much more thoughtful and engaged and often they contribute to understanding the story better.
The NPT became even better last year when it hired veteran investigative reporter David Crowder who had worked for three decades at the El Paso Times. Both Negron and Crowder were calling public officials to account on a weekly basis and illustrating to readers why public policy matters.
The economy took a beating on the news journal’s owner El Paso Media Group. As a result the media group’s publisher is not funding the NPT anymore. I called up Sito Negron, the editor of NPT, to find out what’s in store for the online newspaper. Negron has a very positive attitude. “What we’ve been doing has been very well received in the community and since we made the announcement we were going on hiatus, we’ve been contacted with some interesting options to keep NPT going.”
Negron said that NPT has never made money, despite their attempts to do so. El Paso doesn’t have a large Internet advertising market. To make money off of advertising NPT would have to get millions of hits everyday on its Web site. NPT has a healthy circulation but it’s by no means in the millions.
The most viable option will be to become a nonprofit, he said. This seems to be the tactic being taken by many newspapers and magazines these days. There’s plenty of stories and plenty of reporters to write them — now if we could just find a way to make a living doing it. That’s what every media organization is struggling to figure out at the moment.
Negron, 42, has been in the journalism business for at least two decades “and just about done it all,” he said. Instead of taking the gloomy path — he has two kids to feed and no salary coming in afterall — he sees great things ahead for journaiism, which I think is admirable.
“Journalism is super healthy,” he said. “We used to bitch about the corporate media and then there was an explosion of alternative weeklies and there’s magazines like the Texas Observer and Mother Jones,” he said. “There are multiple threads of journalism now.”
Multiple threads — unfortunately none of them are made out of gold. I, for one, am hoping that NPT survives and thrives in the coming years.
The Senate passed the Department of Homeland Security bill today without any additional funding for the border wall. Good move, but it still stinks for the hundreds of landowners in Texas who have the ugly 18-foot tall monstrosity in their backyards. They got caught in the crossfires of bad public policy, i.e. the Secure Fence Act, and now they’re stuck with it.
The nonprofit environmental organization Sierra Club lauded Congress’ decision today not to fund the border boondoggle.
In a previous post I pointed out that the federal Government Accountability Office said Homeland Security can’t determine whether the fence is working. It’s also going to cost us billions to maintain. How about some money from Congress to take the boondoggle down?
Is it my imagination or is Rick Perry saying even nuttier things than usual on the campaign trail?
First it’s his comments yesterday about the Cameron Todd Willingham case which my fellow Observite Dave Mann has been doing a great job blogging about on The Contrarian. Perry’s repugnant sticking-to-his-guns banter makes him sound like an amoral Neanderthal.
He was in El Paso yesterday for a fundraiser and stopped to tour a Lucchese boot factory, according to the El Paso Times. Since it’s election time, Perry has been making much noise about sending the Texas Rangers to the border. He’s got a sexy name for it called “Ranger Recon” which sounds like a Chuck Norris movie that went straight to video (I guess they probably all do these days).
He’s just got to send the Rangers because the feds (i.e.) Kay Bailey Hutchinson don’t have the political cojones to secure the border.
He’s been very evasive, though, about how many Rangers he’s sending and what exactly they will be doing on the border. That’s probably because there are only 134 Rangers in the entire state. Rangers are already stationed in Presidio and El Paso and other sites along the border. So that means he’ll be pulling Rangers off of important investigations in the rest of the state to go down to the border to make Perry look mas macho than Kay.
So, yesterday Perry was stroking boots at Lucchese and coincidentally talking about “The fact that the federal government needs to be addressing our requests for additional boots on the ground” (nice photo op). Perry told reporters that “criminals were using spots along the border as their personal playgrounds.” Oh really? Are they building swing sets?
He then went on to say about his campaign nemesis Kay “I hope she stays in Washington D.C., and continues to stop that Obama health care and the (anti-pollution legislation) and the other assaults on our freedoms.”