Blogs

Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams
Patrick Michels
Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams speaks at a Texas Charter Schools Association conference.

For folks hoping to open a charter school in Texas, this time of year is a little like spring training: full of possibility for the bright future ahead, lots of idealism mixed with meticulous planning.

And every year in mid-July, during intense, hours-long interviews in Austin, state regulators take their turns dumping buckets of cold water on the would-be school operators. Having picked over the schools’ epic applications—this year’s longest is 648 pages—Texas Education Agency staff and State Board of Education members probe the applicants for weakness, grill them on financing, on their grasp of federal law, on their typos, offering at least a taste of the greatest challenge of all: keeping the school running once it opens.

Ten applicants were invited to in-person interviews this week, which wrapped up Wednesday. The meetings were long and intense, with tears, applause, and more than a few awkward pauses to explain, for example, what looked like plagiarism in one application.

Though lawmakers want to grow Texas’ charter school offerings, it’s one of the smallest applicant pools ever, with none of the out-of-state networks state leaders are so enthusiastic about. California-based Rocketship Education—the most high-profile applicant this year—pulled its application this month.

To judge by last year’s class, only a few of the remaining 10 will get the green light from Education Commissioner Michael Williams (and the SBOE has the chance to veto any of his picks after that). With no big charter-school brand names in the mix, the remaining 10 proposals offer a fascinating look at locally raised ideas for giving students programs they need. Some are small, some are really big; four (by my estimation) have vaguely religious roots; some come from well-established local nonprofits; one is from a team of Texas’ best-connected education researchers.

So if you’re scoring at home, here are the latest applications, along with my notes. These applications are long and detailed—often padded with generalities and jargon that’s hard to pin down (hello, “brain-based learning“)—and the state has the benefit of reviewers with actual qualifications. Texas even contracted with a national charter school group to provide training on the interview process.

Below, I’ve included a few things I found most interesting about each school. If anything else catches your eye about an application, I’d love to hear about it in the comments. Click on the school’s name and you can read the full application—the state has them online as PDFs, but the files are big and unsearchable. Our links go to searchable versions on DocumentCloud that you can read without downloading.

 

Athlos Academy
Where: 15 campuses in Dallas and Tarrant counties, likely beginning in East Dallas
Grades: K-8, expanding to K-12

Who’s behind it: Edward Conger, Martha Rocha, Paul Reyes, Erin Ragsdale. Conger is superintendent at another charter school, International Leadership of Texas. Rocha is a director at Children’s Medical Center Dallas, and Ragsdale is an executive at Dallas political communications firm Allyn Media.

Their proposal:
A school built on Athlos’ “three pillars of excellence: Prepared Mind, Healthy Body, and Strong Character.” The application focuses on the achievement gap in state test scores, but also on students’ health and well-being and sports, with a P.E. program developed by California-based Velocity Sports. The school would have after-school sports, but not contact football. “We view athletics as a tool that when utilized to its full extent, has the ability to improve the mind, body and character.” Students can get instruction in English, Spanish and Chinese, and Dual Language Immersion for English. A charter school with a similar approach, Athlos Leadership Academy, is opening in San Antonio this fall (under a pre-existing charter for the Jubilee Academic Center). Athlos is Greek for “feat” or “achievement.”

 

Beta Academy
Where: 3 campuses in Houston/Harris County
Grades: K-6, expanding to K-12

Who’s behind it:
Latisha Andrews, Martha Smith, Philip Smith, Reba Blakey, Teresa Sones. Andrews is director of Responsive Education Solutions’ Vista Academy charter school, and a former principal at Life Christian Academy, both in Houston. Sones chairs the sponsoring Beta Foundation. Philip Smith is a program manager at Raytheon.

Their proposal:
This is Andrews’ third time pitching the state on a charter—last year the Texas Tribune featured Andrews and Beta in a piece about charter schools in churches:

Andrews started Beta Academy after her own church, which is across the street from Christian Temple and where her husband is a pastor, closed its private school because of declining enrollment.

Beta promises “a world-class school” with “a culture of ‘joyful rigor.’” Supplemental programs would include aviationScrabble, and fundraising for the Invisible Children campaign.

 

Brentwood Stair Preparatory School
Where: 1 campus in Fort Worth
Grades: Pre-K to 8

Who’s behind it:
Julia Michelle Nusrallah, Nabil Bawa, Walid Joulani, Alex Farr, Nizam Peerwani, much of the leadership from the sponsoring nonprofit, the private Al-Hedayah Academy. Peerwani is Tarrant County’s chief medical examiner and sits on the Texas Forensic Science Commission.

Their proposal:
The school would also locate at Al-Hedayah’s campus near I-30 in west Fort Worth. “The Al-Hedayah Academy wants to ensure that families who have previously expressed a desire to attend but may not have been able to afford the tuition are given a chance to enroll.” Brentwood Stair’s team promises a “non-parochial school” with a “richly diverse faculty and staff.” Students can learn Spanish or Arabic, and teachers will encourage students’ self-discovery and differentiated learning.

Excel Center
Where: 1 campus in Austin
Grades: 9-12

Who’s behind it:
Traci Berry, Dodie Brown, Roberta Schwartz and other leadership generally come from Goodwill Industries of Central Texas.

Their proposal:
Excel Center applied last year, too, promising a dropout recovery school for “older youth and young adults up to age 25,” with a twin focus on diplomas and career skills. A similar school run by Goodwill has opened in Indianapolis, which was featured on PBS NewsHour in January. The Austin location would be at the Goodwill location at Anderson Lane and I-35.

 

Foundations Charter School
Where: 50 (!) campuses of 50-100 students each surrounding Dallas and Houston
Grades: Pre-K to 2, expanding to pre-K to 5

Who’s behind it:
Steve Edwards, David Greak, Michael Owens, Don Hooper, Susan Landry, Lonnie Hutson. Edwards’ Ignitus Worldwide is the charter sponsor. Owens and Greak are associated with Texas Successful Charter Schools, a charter school support company that would also partner with this school. Landry leads the Children’s Learning Institute at the UT Health Science Center, which has (somewhat controversially) become a powerhouse in Texas’ pre-K world. Hutson runs a series of pre-K centers around Houston. Schools would locate at pre-existing child care and early ed facilities. Former state Rep. Rob Eissler (R-The Woodlands) is also on the school board.

Their proposal:
An innovative, research-based focus on early education to keep students from falling behind before the “learning gap” develops, promising what Landry calls “a seamless link” into later grades. Instruction—offered year-round or on a traditional schedule—would be “presented in the context of a relevant or coherent ‘whole.’” The school would partner with the UT Health Science Center’s Children’s Learning Institute—which developed a number of programs the school would use—and specifically mentions an agreement with the online Western Governor’s University to provide a pipeline of new teachers. The TEKS Resource System (neé CSCOPE) would help map the curriculum.

 

High Point Academy
Where: 3 campuses in Fort Worth, first in west Fort Worth
Grades: K-8, expanding to K-12

Who’s behind it:
Katie Stellar, Lori Manning and Dana Yates. Stellar is, according to her LinkedIn profile, executive director of Faith In Action Fort Worth—the nonprofit sponsoring High Point Academy’s charter—a former art teacher, owner of a custom T-shirt firm and an ordained Methodist minister. Manning is a former principal at Fort Worth’s Pinnacle Academy of the Arts, one of seven campuses under the umbrella of Honors Academy—which Texas Education Commissioner has moved to revoke after three years of subpar test scores. The group is opening its first charter school this fall in Manning’s hometown of Spartanburg, South Carolina. The group applied in Texas last year too, but Stellar pulled its application after learning parts of it had been plagiarized.

Their proposal:
High Point promises a focus on STEAM instruction—that’s science, technology, engineering and math, plus art—and will use the Texas Resource Management System (neé CSCOPE) and E.D. Hirsch‘s “Core Knowledge” program. They’ll offer before- and after-school programs including Zumba and Krav Maga, and tablets and laptops for textbooks.

 

Ki Charter Academy
Where: 1 campus in San Marcos
Grades: 1-12

Who’s behind it:
Lura Davidson, Ruben Garza, Trinidad San Miguel. Davidson is an adjunct professor at Concordia University. Garza and San Miguel are instructors at Texas State University.

Their proposal:
A school for students in state residential facilities (RFs), with plans to partner with the largest RF in the state, the San Marcos Treatment Center. School would top out at 220 students, and focus on an “underrepresented and high-needs population” with a curriculum including Scholastic’s boxed Read 180 and Math 180 programs, and the “Pitsco STEM/CTE Modular laboratory,” a short-term program with a 2-to-1 student-teacher ratio.

 

Royal Ambassador Academy
Where: 1 campus in Beaumont
Grades: Pre-K to 4, expanding to pre-K to 8

Who’s behind it:
Johnny Brown, Rev. John Adolph, Felicia Young. Adolph is pastor of the Antioch Missionary Baptist Church. Brown is CEO of the J&C Brown Institute for Learning, and a former superintendent at ISDs including Wilmer-Hutchins and Port Arthur. Young and other leaders come from the sponsoring nonprofit, the Jehovah Jireh Village Community Development Center.

Their proposal:
A Montessori program with a STEAM—science, technology, engineering and math, plus art—focus, plus character (social, emotional and moral) education and strong parent involvement. The school would be located at the Antioch Missionary Baptist Church.

 

SA Youth Youthbuild Academy
Where: 1 campus in Central San Antonio
Grades: 9-12

Who’s behind it:
Cynthia Le Monds, and other SA Youth leadership. “SA Youth is one of the largest and most respected youth serving organizations in San Antonio,” according to the application, a 30-year-old nonprofit focused on “high-risk urban youth.”

Their proposal:
Built on the Youthbuild model developed decades ago in Harlem, a year-round high school for students, most ages 16 to 24, who’ve dropped out of traditional schools—basically the students SA Youth already serves. They’ll prevent kids from dropping out again by building tight-knit, family-style cohorts for both classroom and career education. Instruction will be self-paced, including online coursework, a web-based curriculum like Plato Courseworks, and direct instruction from teachers who’ll be “on call” in the evenings.

 

Trinity Environmental Academy
Where: 1 campus in South Dallas, “near Great Trinity Forest”
Grades: K-1 and 6, expanding to Pre-K to 12

Who’s behind it:
Jennifer Hoag, Lisa Tatum, Dhriti Pandya, Michael Hooten. Hooten comes from the well-established North Texas charter chain Uplift Education. Sustainable Education Solutions is the nonprofit behind the application.

Their proposal:
A school in a high-need South Dallas location taking advantage of its proximity to the Great Trinity Forest, “the largest urban hardwood bottomland forest in North America.” Students would conduct “local environmental field investigation,” with classroom programs built on environmental education, health, sustainability, STEM, civic skills, and “green career pathways.” The Trinity River Audubon Center and Paul Quinn College’s football-field/garden would offer more connections between the school, the community and the environment.

fletc
Courtesy of Artesia Chamber of Commerce
The Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Artesia that houses the temporary detention facility

An immigration attorney, working with Central American asylum seekers, in a newly opened detention facility says it’s becoming clear that the U.S. government is doing whatever it can to deport families as quickly as possible and only going through the motions when it comes to the asylum seekers.

Immigration attorney Shelley Wittevrongel, a former nun, was one of the first to volunteer to help Central American women and children pro bono at a newly opened detention facility in Artesia, New Mexico. The isolated detention center is located at a U.S. Border Patrol training facility about 200 miles from the Mexican border. It currently houses about 400 Central American women and children, according to media reports.

In Artesia, Wittevrongel has 10 clients and a list of 20 other women who have asked for legal representation. From the beginning, Wittevrongel says she has struggled to represent her clients in an isolated facility with no access to photocopiers, scanners or a place to file documents. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials who have been deployed from across the country to staff the detention facility have been courteous and helpful to attorneys but they’ve made it known that their goal is to deport the families as quickly as possible. “The officer in charge told me, ‘I want you to know that all of these people are going to be deported,’” says Wittevrongel. “He said, ‘Our job is to get them deported and there’s maybe one in 1,000 entitled to stay in the United States, and the rest are going to go,’” she says.

Wittevrongel was startled by the admission. “I told him, ‘I appreciate you giving me such a clear statement about it because the whole place feels that way.’”

All 10 of Wittvrongel’s clients had signed a form while in Border Patrol custody, agreeing to expedited removal, a fast-track process to deportation. “They are kept two or three days in custody at the border and processed under difficult, cramped conditions,” she says. “A client told me she was held for several hours in a room with several other women and children. They called her in at 3:00 a.m. and told her to sign the papers. She told me she was so tired and confused she had no idea what she was signing.”

Once someone has agreed to expedited removal it’s extremely difficult to avoid deportation, says Dan Kowalski, an Austin-based immigration attorney. “Statistically it’s hard to overturn,” he says.

Another step in the process that has been cut short, Wittevrongel says, is the credible fear interview, in which an U.S. asylum officer determines whether the immigrant has a “well-founded fear of persecution.” The interview is one of the most important steps in the asylum process. If a person doesn’t pass a credible fear interview he or she will not be able to present their asylum case before a judge. There is a chance for appeal but it’s rarely granted. Many of the women are fleeing extreme violence and persecution and have been traumatized in their home countries and on the journey to the United States. The law requires that the fear of persecution be “on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.”

But the type of violence afflicting Central America and Mexico doesn’t often fit neatly within these categories. Honduras, currently the lead country in the number of refugees arriving, has the highest murder rate in the world. But the violence is caused by a nexus of organized crime, street gangs and corrupt politicians. It takes time for Central Americans to relate their stories of persecution and explain the links between government and crime in their communities. “You’re interviewing traumatized people,” Wittevrongel says. “Typically, these type of credible fear interviews take several hours.”

Women are also forced to meet with the asylum officers accompanied by their children. This makes it difficult for them to focus on the interview and difficult to emphasize to the asylum officer the danger in their home countries. “They’re trying to protect their children,” Wittevrongel says. “They don’t want to say in front of them that they might be killed if they’re sent back, and it’s already likely they’re going to be deported.”

Some of her clients are deported before she can even meet with them for the first time, she says. “Yesterday I asked to see a client but she had already been sent back.” Another client told her that last week 80 women and children were woken up at 1:00 a.m., placed on a bus to the airport and flown back to Central America on a chartered plane. One woman, however, was allowed to stay at the last moment in the United States. She hadn’t passed her credible fear finding, but a judge disagreed with the asylum officer’s ruling and allowed her to continue her asylum case. “One out of 80,” Wittevrongel says. “That gives you an idea of the odds of staying.”

The 72-year-old immigration attorney says she left her home in Boulder, Colorado, to volunteer in Artesia so that the families can have “full access to what the law provides.” The families deserve a chance before they are sent back to the violence and persecution that forced them to flee their home countries. But unfortunately, the process at Artesia seems more like window dressing than what the law requires. “It’s more hurry up and deport than giving them their full due process,” she says.

Wendy Davis
Patrick Michels

As we enter the last couple of months before the November general election, Democrats here, as they have nationally, have been apprehensive about a cluster of laws and rule changes that they claim represents a modern-day form of voter suppression. On Wednesday, the Texas Democratic coalition launched what they’re calling a “voter protection program”—a joint effort of the Texas Democratic Party and Battleground Texas, which is closely aligned with the Wendy Davis campaign.

The groups will be getting support and advice from a relatively new Democratic National Committee effort called the Voter Expansion Project, supported by Bill and Hillary Clinton, which has been active in a number of states. On a conference call Wednesday morning, Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa explained that the voter protection program seeks to provide additional education and support to voters who may not yet be aware or well-acquainted with voter ID requirements, while training additional poll-watchers to ensure the November election holds to the letter of the law.

Davis, also on the call, touted the importance of the effort for the November election, and her own “strong record of fighting for voter protection” in the Texas Senate. “By contrast, Greg Abbott has fought the Voting Rights Act in court. He’s used his office to try to remove protections against voter discrimination and actively sought to weaken the voting power of some Texans,” Davis said. “He’s using our tax dollars fight against our own rights.”

Added Davis: “We want more Texans to participate in this election, not less.”

Over the years, Abbott’s office has aggressively prosecuted predominantly older, minority voters for small violations of election law, while ignoring potential violations from likely Republican voters. Abbott’s office sent state police officers to spy on older, minority voters to determine whether they were eligible to vote by mail. From a 2008 Observer story:

Fort Worth’s Gloria Meeks, 69, was a church-going community activist who proudly ran a phone bank and helped homebound elderly people like Parthenia McDonald, 79, vote by mail. McDonald, whose mailbox was two blocks away from her home (she recently died), called Meeks “an angel” for helping her, a friend of both women said.

[...]

The lawsuit describes various investigative tactics used by Abbott’s special unit, including an incident in which two state police officers were seen by Meeks “peeping at her through her bathroom window” while she was taking a bath on August 10, 2006. “She later learned that these two persons were investigators with the office of the defendant Attorney General Abbott,” the suit said.

But Abbott’s office never showed much interest in white voters:

A PowerPoint presentation used by Abbott’s office to train Texas officials was rife with racial stereotypes associating voter fraud with people of color-communities that in recent history have supported Democrats.

As an introduction to a section of the PowerPoint involving ‘Poll Place Violations,’ a slide depicts a photograph of African-American voters apparently standing in line to vote,” the lawsuit’s complaint said. “Notably, the 71-slide presentation contains no similar photographs of white or Anglo voters casting ballots.”

In recent years, state Republican parties in many parts of the country have favored laws that make it more difficult for poor, elderly and minority voters to exercise their franchise. These include voter ID laws, but encompass many different kinds of efforts. Before the 2012 presidential election, Republicans in Ohio, a critical battleground state, attempted to cut early voting periods, restrict absentee voting and reduce polling place availability in major cities, moves that disproportionately affected Democratic-leaning populations.

Democrats have been suitably freaked out about these developments. In Texas, where Democratic groups have been trying to turn hundreds of thousands of people who don’t normally vote into regular voters, it’s seen as especially important to counter restrictive voting laws.

Here, much of the discussion has been about voter ID laws. On the conference call, state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer (D-San Antonio), a Democratic heavyweight and leader of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, said the motivation for new voter ID laws was transparently political.

“Of 13 million votes cast across the state in the 2008 and 2010 elections, there were four investigations into improper voter impersonations and one conviction for a young man who voted on behalf of his brother,” Martinez Fischer said. “To go after one person, we threw 795,000 registered voters under the bus because they lacked the proper ID.”

The state offers free “Election Identification Certificates” to those who lack acceptable forms of voter ID, but Martinez Fischer notes that “one-third of Texas counties don’t have a DPS facility where people can go get a free election certificate.” And to get ID, you must obtain other forms of identification first—and because that can cost money, opponents of the ID law have argued it’s a form of the constitutionally prohibited poll tax.

Tarrant County Commissioner Roy Brooks put the effort against voter suppression in the context of long-standing civil rights struggles. “For several decades, my mother served as a precinct election judge in Tarrant County. In the early years of her life, she was told to pay to vote. She wasn’t allowed to vote in the primary, and she was made to enter a test before she could enter a polling booth,” Brook said. “Through her election work, my mother saw firsthand the trajectory of history that always points towards progress.”

Brooks added: “She knew, and I know, that progress isn’t won permanently. It’s renewed every election. Every time we cast our votes, we strike another blow for progress. That’s why I raised my children to know that voting goes beyond a simple right. It’s a sacred duty. But today, too many politicians are trying to roll back the right to the vote.”

TomlinsonHillUnless you’ve been living under a rock—and perhaps even if you have—you’ve probabably heard the news that former Texas Observer managing editor Chris Tomlinson (now a columnist with the Houston Chronicle) has a new book, which officially published yesterday.

Tomlinson Hill: The Remarkable Story of Two Families Who Share the Tomlinson Name—One White, One Black (St. Martin’s Press) has been getting warm notices from Texas Monthly to NPR, and while the Observer‘s own review won’t be available for another week or so (check the forthcoming August issue), we wanted to jump the gun and let Observer friends and family know that Chris has some statewide book-launch events coming up.

On Wednesday, July 23, he’ll introduce the book at BookPeople in Austin. On Thursday, July 24, he’ll be signing books at The Twig Book Shop in San Antonio; on Tuesday, July 29, he’ll sign books at the Lincoln Park Barnes & Noble in Dallas; and on Friday, July 30, he’ll be signing at Brazos Bookstore in Houston.

If you’re not able to make any of those (or even if you are), you can check out the book’s trailer here:

Lacy M. Johnson
Lacy M. Johnson

Lacy M. Johnson reads at Brazos Bookstore in Houston on Thursday, July 22, at 7 p.m.; at The Twig Book Shop in San Antonio on Sunday, July 27, at 3 p.m.; and at BookPeople in Austin on Tuesday, July 29, at 7 p.m.

How does one tell an unspeakable story? This question hovers like fog over Lacy M. Johnson’s The Other Side, a memoir about the author’s imprisonment and rape, in 2000, at the hands of a man she had once dated. Since then, Johnson has found happiness both professionally (she received her Ph.D. from the University of Houston and now works as director of academic initiatives at UH’s Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts) and personally (as a wife and mother), yet the crime—whose perpetrator escaped the American justice system by moving to Venezuela—has continued to haunt her. The Other Side is a book about an abusive relationship leading to a violent crime, yes, but more than that it’s about the difficulty and necessity of telling such a story instead of allowing others to tell it for you.

The Other Side
Tin House Books
The Other Side
By Lacy M. Johnson
Tin House Books
232 pages; $15.95

Johnson shows less interest in the awful facts at her memoir’s center than in the way she experienced those facts. She rarely addresses the rape directly, circling it at a distance, oftentimes even standing outside of her story to focus on objective-seeming materials—police reports, photographs, newspaper articles—only to then question their objectivity by delving into her own memories. (“It’s possible I’m not remembering right,” Johnson tells her therapist, who responds: “Is there any other way of remembering?”) This tension between fact and perception forms the book’s intellectual backbone, and though The Other Side begins as a true-crime story, it flowers into an investigation of memory.

Despite the subject matter, Johnson never wallows in bleakness. Her writing style is engaging and redemptive, a trick accomplished partly by virtue of Johnson’s voice—clear and direct, but with a breezy archness that belies her story’s dark core. Upon seeing her possessions in a Ziploc bag marked EVIDENCE, Johnson writes: “Nice to meet you, Evidence.” Elsewhere she exhibits both the touch of a poet (blood in her mouth becomes “the taste of a penny stolen from the kitchen jar”) and a novelist’s eye for character-fleshing detail (her mother addresses crises with Cool Ranch Doritos). As for the crime itself, Johnson breaks it up over a couple of different chapters, never asking the reader to experience the horror in a sustained way. The Other Side moves lithely from scene to scene, shuffling the chronology so readers remain aware that no matter how terrible events may seem, a happier life for Johnson lies ahead.

All of this adds up to a great book, one that isn’t ultimately about violence, but about a woman taking control of her own story after years of looking at it as if it were a reflection, something familiar yet distant, something she never quite accepted as her own.

“How is it possible,” Johnson asks, “to reclaim the body when it’s visible only in a mirror?” The Other Side is Johnson’s attempt to shatter that mirror—to reclaim a seemingly unspeakable story and, in so doing, to bring it to an end.

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Governor Rick Perry speaks at a press conference announcing the deployment of the National Guard to the Rio Grande Valley.
Christopher Hooks
Governor Rick Perry speaks at a press conference announcing the deployment of the National Guard to the Rio Grande Valley.

Does the deployment of 1,000 National Guard troops to the Texas-Mexico border make any sense? Politically, it makes a great deal of sense to the three state officials who attended the high-profile launch of the effort at a press conference in Austin on Monday. Gov. Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Attorney General Greg Abbott are taking charge of the situation and sending the boys in brown-green digicam down to the border, and they’re going to make sure the national media knows it.

At the press conference, Abbott and Dewhurst got to play a fun supporting role—if Obama doesn’t pay for the Guard deployment, we’ll sue him, they said—but this was by and large Perry’s show. He’s been benefiting greatly from this border episode among political observers in Washington, D.C., who value strong action and skillful media positioning. A lot of Republicans (and journalists eager to amplify the 2016 horserace) have been eager to let Perry redeem himself, so he’s won many unearned plaudits lately. What’s more presidential, after all, than the assertive application of military power?

From many in Perry’s conservative base, he’s been getting the opposite. They want “border security,” and they can’t understand why it wasn’t happened in the decade and a half that Perry’s served as governor. Many don’t trust him on this issue. Deploying the National Guard will assuage some members of this crew, at least for a bit.

But does the deployment of the National Guard make sense practically? Monday’s event shined little light on this question. Adjutant General John F. Nichols, head of the Texas Military Forces, gave sober and somewhat glum remarks that cut a stark contrast to the energized politicians around him. The National Guard would be a “force multiplier,” he said. The military will contribute air assets and night-vision equipment. The National Guard would draw on experience carrying out operations on the border in the past, Nichols said.

The National Guard is joining an ongoing Texas offensive called “Operation Strong Safety.” In football, a strong safety is a defensive player who lines up against the strong side of the play and is tasked with either stopping the run or dropping back for pass coverage. But once the troops get to the border, their hands will be essentially tied—they’ll be in the field but it’s hard to see what sort of “tackling” they’ll be doing.

The National Guard won’t actually take part in the enforcement activities of the Border Patrol—for that matter, neither can the DPS. “If we were asked to, we could detain people,” said Nichols. “But we’re not planning on that. We’re planning on referring and deterring.”

The best they can do is make a call to another agency, in the same way a bystander could. Even if they could, minors from Central America—the primary subject of the current crisis—are generally surrendering themselves to the Border Patrol the moment they get here.

It’s also the case that much of the current strain in our immigration system has to do specifically with the handling and processing of migrants after they’re taken into custody. The National Guard isn’t going to build better detention facilities, one presumes.

The Guard might contribute equipment to anti-trafficking and smuggling operations, but law enforcement officials along the border say they haven’t seen an increase in crime. Even if they did, the Border Patrol, the Texas Department of Public Safety and other law enforcement agencies, are already armed to the teeth, with helicopters, a small army of vehicles, unmanned drones and countless other pieces of military hardware. They’ve got a fleet of gunboats that wouldn’t have been out of place on the Mekong River Delta in the bad old days. Even the state’s game wardens have taken to approximating a military unit.

Last week, Gov. Perry conceded that the National Guard couldn’t do much to increase operational control of the border: The military’s presence, he told Fox News in a sometimes-tough interview with Brit Hume, would be primarily important as a “show of force,” to send “a strong message” and create unwelcoming “visuals.”

Even that’s an odd claim, though. It’s up for debate exactly how frightening lightly-armed part-time soldiers will be to migrants who grew up in some of the world’s most violent societies, then made a 2,000-mile trek past nations bristling with military, cops, border checkpoints and criminal gangs. One of the last times armed military units were deployed along the border, one Marine shot an 18-year-old in Big Bend.

And regardless, the National Guard won’t be fully deployed for a month, possibly late August, even though there’s some evidence the surge in border crossings was already in decline last week. Then there’s the cost—the deployment of the National Guard along with the ongoing “surge” of DPS troopers will bring the bill for the taxpayers of Texas to some $5 million a week. An intergovernmental memo obtained by The Monitor, a newspaper in the Rio Grande Valley, reports that “Perry’s office has said the money will come from ‘non critical’ areas, such as health care or transportation.”

At the conference, one reporter pointed out that border law enforcement reported no increase in crime. So why deploy troops now?

“I think an anecdotal questioning of one or two people may not give the full vision of what’s going on along the border,” said Perry, before relating an anecdote of his own about a criminal immigrant.

“The idea that the border is without crime is a very false statement,” Perry said, though no one had suggested that. “What we’re talking about here is clear data.” He pointed to a giant pie-chart that showed the kinds of crimes that undocumented immigrants have been arrested for in the course of the last six years. Nothing about the chart would indicate the changing levels of crime over time.

“This idea that somehow or other there’s a militarization going on is frankly a little offensive to the National Guard,” Perry said. The Guard had been down there before, and Guard members sometimes do charity medical work in the Rio Grande Valley. So it couldn’t be a militarization, could it? Maybe it’s the re-militarization.

As for the conservatives Perry might have hoped to win over with today’s press conference? Some seemed underwhelmed. “Apparently guardsmen are only going to the Rio Grand [sic] Valley sector—same place the [DPS surge] is focused,” wrote Julie McCarty of the Northeast Tarrant Tea Party. “That is not where they are needed. Nothing changes. Nearly 400 miles are still uncovered.”

Republicans have built a kind of trap for themselves—the border can’t really be “secured” in the way that many say when they’re on the campaign trail. But now they have to keep feeding that ill-founded belief. It’s like Slim Charles said: “That’s what war is. Once you in it, you in it. If it’s a lie, then you fight on that lie.” Or, you know, you send the National Guard to Pharr on that lie.

Correction: The article incorrectly stated that National Guard patrols would not be armed. A Guard spokesman clarified that troops “will be armed for self-defense purposes only.”

Anti-immigration protestors at a demonstration at the Mexican consulate in Austin, July 18.
Sarah Mortimer
Anti-immigration protestors at a demonstration at the Mexican consulate in Austin.

Texas and federal officials have been preoccupied this summer by the immediate needs of the 50,000-plus children who’ve arrived in South Texas since last fall, fleeing violence and poverty in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. The kids are entitled, by federal law and international agreement, to food, shelter, medical care and legal attention in the U.S.—even if they’re destined to be returned to their home countries eventually—all of which has the government scrambling to meet the most basic needs.

A few of Texas’ bold political thinkers, though, have taken the long view and urged their neighbors to consider—as conservative activist Alice Linahan put it recently—“What is going to happen in September?” Well, late August, really. That’s when public schools in Texas welcome kids back and—according to the horrific scenario some tea party groups envision— tens of thousands of little Central Americans will slide right into school desks alongside your sons and daughters, hands out and palms open, demanding a free education.

“We must begin the crisis planning immediately to address the catastrophic wave of minor school-age children that could be enrolled in Texas schools this coming September,” the Clear Lake Tea Party announced in late June, on the way to asking Gov. Rick Perry to convene the Legislature for a special session to “deal with all of the peripheral issues” related to illegal immigration. The tea party group’s announcement was posted by Mary Huls, a former Texas House candidate, and coupled familiar notes of xenophobia—painting the refugees as dangerous or diseased—with worries over Texas kids. “Do your schools have the capability of managing youths that are members of or affiliated with criminal gangs?” the group wonders. “Are health protocols in place to protect our children from common diseases endemic to the Third World?”

On Alice Linahan’s online Women on the Wall radio show, Kaufman County Tea Party Chairman Ray Myers said he’s spreading the message that the crisis on Texas’ border is about to become a crisis in Texas’ schools. “We’re trying to raise the awareness of those soccer moms and dads,” Myers said. “We’re trying to raise the awareness that this is coming and it’s coming to your school, and they’re gonna take your kid’s desk. … There is not a public school in the state of Texas that has a budget prepared for this particular pitfall this September,” Myers said. “They didn’t budget for it.”

At a press conference last week, state Rep. Steve Toth (R-The Woodlands) jumped on board too, telling Breitbart Texas he’s worried about “the detrimental effects on the public school system, that the new arrivals would ‘overwhelm’ the public schools and should be returned to their home countries quicker than current immigration policies were allowing.

So… sound the alarms? Well, not exactly.

“We don’t anticipate that this is going to be a problem,” Edinburg CISD Superintendent Rene Gutierrez tells the Observer. “We have the resources and the staff to accommodate those kids if they stay in our schools.” But kids who enter the immigration system in South Texas won’t stay there for long—they’ll move on to federal shelters within a few days, and then to family or foster homes across the country. Gutierrez says that Hidalgo County officials have said most kids will leave Texas for New York, Chicago or Pennsylvania—but even if many return to his district in the Rio Grande Valley, Gutierrez says, “we have the space.”

School districts in Houston and Dallas have so much space, in fact, that they may even turn vacant school buildings into temporary federal shelters for the kids. Grand Prairie ISD is also considering letting the feds use one of its vacant schools as a shelter, prompting debate at a packed board meeting last week.

It’s too soon to know how many Central American refugees will be enrolling in the state’s biggest districts this fall, but officials from both say their districts are prepared. Houston ISD spokeswoman Sheleah Reed says her district already has programs for students who speak little or no English, and says they’re ready to expand those in southwest Houston. That’s where refugee students would likely be concentrated, Reed says, which they know because Houston ISD got 900 new students from Central America last year—all without a budget crisis or a disease outbreak.

“It doesn’t matter where a student comes from,” Reed says. “Before they go to school, they would have to have the appropriate immunizations and health support. Wherever they come from, we would work to make sure they have those.”

But Ray Myers and his suburban Dallas tea party group won’t just wait and see if this year is different. Myers said he’s coordinating with activists in Arizona, Oklahoma and Louisiana to spread the word about the looming school invasion—and best of all, he said, “We’ve got Ted Cruz on board.”

“We’re talking about thousands of kids and they don’t care a thing about George Washington,” Myers said. “They’re here to overload the system. This is part of Obama’s plan and this is part of the Democrats’ plan.”

That plan, Myers explained, even has a name: the Cloward-Piven strategy—a 40-year-old theory that overwhelming America’s systems of social welfare, healthcare and schools, might undo the country’s capitalist foundation. The notion that President Obama is now orchestrating just such a gambit has been spread by luminaries like Texas Congressman Steve Stockman and former Georgia Congressman John Linder, and even Rick Perry. “I mean I hate to be conspiratorial,” Perry told Fox News’ Sean Hannity in June, “but I mean how do you move that many people from Central America across Mexico and then into the United States without there being a fairly coordinated effort?”

Anti-immigration protestors at a demonstration at the Mexican consulate in Austin, July 18.
Sarah Mortimer
Anti-immigration protestors at a demonstration at the Mexican consulate in Austin, July 18.

During the evolution of the recent border crisis, Texas has seen no outbursts like the one that took place in Murrieta, California, when a raucous mob blocked the arrival of Central American migrants to a detention center in the town. But given the character of the state’s politics at the moment, it seemed inevitable that there would be demonstrations of some kind.

We’re in the middle of an election year in which rhetoric on the border has been particularly heated—occasionally verging on naked racism—so Texas seemed ripe for more directly expressed anger. But the first incarnation of those protests took place today, and they were pretty underwhelming. Gatherings organized by the conservative group Overpasses for America took place at dozens of locations throughout the state, with more set for tomorrow. Most protests didn’t appear to be well-attended, or well-organized. In major cities, the protests took place outside Mexican consulates, for reasons passing understanding—it’s the surge in immigrants from Central America that’s at issue—and which left the distinct impression that this crowd was not particularly well-read about the origins of the current crisis.

But these protests are never really about policy: They’re about the accumulation of assorted resentments. Of the 20 or so people that gathered at Austin’s Mexican consulate on Friday, several seemed mostly concerned about the Benghazi attacks. Several called for the impeachment of President Obama. And talk about the border was fairly unspecific. Curiously, for a crowd that saw the open border as an existential threat to their freedom and prosperity, they faced away from the consulate and toward the street, unconcerned with the steady stream of Mexican nationals getting consular services who wove in and out of Gadsden-flag waving oldsters.

Shelly Kramer, one of the protesters, urged Perry to deploy the National Guard. Perry has spent much of the last few weeks trying to convince these people he’s their man: But the border, as is its wont, remains insecure. Many believe “securing the border” is just around the corner, and well within the government’s reach, if it just went a bit further. Kramer likened America to a soiled dove, peddling its wares too cheaply.

“America means so much to me, and I feel like they’re cheapening it and giving it away for free. So it really bothers me,” she said. “The administration—this was an agenda on their part. And it’s so awful to use children.”

Many of the protestors, like Kramer, believe the recent surge in migrants is someone’s grand plan—for something. One man held a sign reading, “Today’s illegals, tomorrow’s Democrats.”

A small number of protestors also gathered at the Mexican consulate in Houston.
Fauzeya Rahman
A small number of protestors also gathered at the Mexican consulate in Houston.

In Houston, a similar protest took place near the Mexican consulate there. Liz Theiss, with a group called Stop the Magnet, told the Observer that the only way to stop illegal migration was to make the country an inhospitable place for migrants.

“Our focus is to go after the businesses that are hiring them, or the Republican politicians that are hiring them,” she said. “A lot of these unaccompanied minors, 18 to 20 percent, are gang members. They’re very dangerous, we don’t know what their true names are or their health situation. They’re completely unvetted and being dumped off in cities across America. Americans are not allowed to weigh in. They’re not allowed to weigh in whether or not they want these people in their community. This is tyranny.”

In Austin, protestor Rachel Brunson, holding a sign with the hated hammer and sickle, said that “Mexico and the countries of Central America are working together to get these kids here,” and that Obama is helping them. She knows this because of the emails she’s gotten from her friends, and the Texas Public Policy Foundation.

She read one of them to an Observer reporter, a piece by conservative writer Rick Wells, who alleges House Speaker John Boehner is a pawn of the American Communist Party and that Mexico is flooding the United States with child migrants to bring the country to its knees. The Observer gently suggests that some of Wells’ assertions may not be true. “Many things we’re told aren’t true,” she says, a knowing look on her face.

Why would Mexico want Guatemalan minors to come to Texas? There’s a pause. “I’m not sure,” she says. “They must have a reason.” What’s the reason? A longer pause. “I’m not sure,” she says. Then she realizes the answer. “To hurt us. To break our economic system.”

She doesn’t like Perry, who has failed, in his 14 years in office to “secure the border.” She likes Ted Cruz. The people here love Cruz. Several have signs that echo Cruz’s call to action: “Make DC Listen.” Cruz, of course, is Cuban-American, and Cubans have long benefited from their special status as political refugees in this country.

But that hasn’t stopped Cruz from taking a particularly hard line on refugees from countries whose present situation is dire. He intends to derail any bill addressing the current crisis that doesn’t include rolling back DACA, a program which offers limited protection from deportation to immigrants who came here without authorization as children.

In other words, Cruz doesn’t just want all the people currently detained deported, he wants to expand the scope and scale of deportations. Imagine one day that the child of a Honduran migrant currently in a detention facility has become a United States senator from Texas, and that child tells her children: “In the bad old days, in my father’s time, there was a man who wanted us gone from here named Ted Cruz…”

Sarah MortimerThe people at this protest are fringe, but Cruz and friends have real influence. And they are responding to the populist anger generated by groups like these. Why are these people angry? They’ve been told a lie: That the border can be totally secured, locked down like you would a bank. It can’t—not really. You can put more people on the border (though it’s very unclear what the National Guard could really do) but migrants will never stop coming, and neither will smugglers.

For years, these activists have been told, by people like Cruz, that the border can be “secured.” But it doesn’t happen. It’s easy to understand why they’re so mad about it. The lie has been told for so long that even politicians seem to believe it: Dan Patrick won his primary campaign by telling it, and he’ll be accountable to that promise if he wins and takes the state senate’s gavel in 2015. Future state Sen. Bob Hall is one of a number of conservative activists who has generated an interesting view of the Texas Constitution, which allows the state to deploy massive state power against an “invasion.” This is one of them, they say.

In theory, it should be possible to tackle both aspects of our immigration problem at once—increase enforcement while expanding legal immigration. But that’s not the political reality of the moment. The crowds at the Mexican consulates on Friday may not have added up to much, but they’re a reminder of why this issue has become so intractable.

They just keep coming, the little buggers. Day after day, the child alien invaders—too old to be anchor babies, too young to be put to work mowing our lawns and building our homes—arrive on our sovereign Texas soil from their Central American hellscapes. They want water. They want food. They want to not die before their 18th birthday.

The Librul media, and the kids themselves, would have you believe they are refugees, victims of circumstances beyond their control seeking solace in a land of immigrants. But We Patriots, We Band of Bros, know better. We are not fooled by those wet brown eyes or those stories of persecution, poverty and violence. We know these pobrecitos come bearing gifts of Ebola and TB. We know many of them aren’t even kids, and most of the actual minors are, it must be noted, well past potty-training age. Just ask JoAnn Fleming, leader of Grassroots America and Pearl Burras understudy. Said Fleming at a press conference this week [~8:40]:

“For some reason some people are focused on what represents 20 percent of the problem: the children… Those are horrible circumstances and for those small children it’s heartbreaking. But you know the federal government calls a child somewhere up to like 17 or 18 years old. And I have friends in law enforcement that are on the border who tell me that they have people that are training themselves to be 14, 15 years old… We’re not talking about the cute little kids in diapers. We’re talking about older children.”

And we know they come because of The Magnets (how do they work again?): the ObamaPhones, the free health care, the extended stay at McAllen’s Palm Aire Hotel and its luxurious “green pool” and stained sheets.

It’s just like that scene in Breaking Bad.

And you know what to do… STOP THE MAGNET.

As an invading force, these li’l Ill Eagles are a peculiar one; after a treacherous 1,000-mile journey plagued by murderous cartels, the risk of death in the desert or onboard a limb-lopping choo-choo train pleasantly nicknamed La Bestia and the presence of Rick Perry and Sean Hannity posing with .50 caliber boat-mounted machine guns, they choose to turn themselves in to our Border Patrol. Thank God the tea party and some very brave, very H.U.M.A.N.E. politicians are on the case.

Let’s remember who we are dealing with here. Says Christian pastor and state Rep. Steve Toth (R-The Woodlands):

And you know what we do with people who have no right to be on our land?
round em upNow that might seem kind of harsh when you’re dealing with frightened kids. But Americans for Legal Immigration PAC wants you to know, that it’s all about peace, love and civil rights.

 “Our protests are modeled after the successful civil rights effort of Martin Luther King and Ghandi. While civil disobedience and infractions of minor laws may be required to save America and protect our rights please only use passive resistance strategies.”

Hey, ALIPAC, what part of ILLEGAL don’t you understand? Now, to get yourself in the right frame of mind for Solving the Border Crisis, let us go to Breitbart Texas, which Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst says uses the “time-tested techniques of investigative reporting.”

BspCZq3CcAAGPIg

Apparently unsatisfied with how much attention the story received, Breitbart Texas went full-on Faces of Death, changing the headline to:

animals prey

 

 

 

 

Mission accomplished:

You scared yet, bro?

Good.

Rick Perry, version 2.0 (eye-wear-equipped, fully Metrosexual-ized), has a plan: Immediate deportation of all the kids—”round ‘em up and ship ‘em out”!—and an amassing of National Guard troops on the border. But the plan has its critics: Eyebrows have been raised and questions have been asked. Such as Fox News’ Brit Hume, who asked Perry what exactly would these troops be doing since soldiers can’t make immigration arrests.

The best Perry could come up with: “…it’s the visual that I think is the most important…” The National Guard: One Weekend a Month, Two Weeks a Year… Unless We Need You to Intimidate Kids Down on the Rio Grande.”

But Perry’s plan—get Obama to use his presidential authority to active the National Guard—falls far, far short for some of Texas’ tea partiers.

“We have all reached the conclusion that Governor Perry needs to stop asking Washington to come save us,” said Grassroots America Executive Director JoAnn Fleming in her opening remarks. “Washington is not on its way to save us. We’re asking Governor Perry and Attorney General Greg Abbott…to work together to invoke Article I, Section 10, Clause 3 of the United States Constitution; that gives states rights to declare an ‘imminent danger’…and to call up the Texas National Guard.”

Sorry, kids, there’s no more room in the insane asylum.