Page 29


attend schools free of charge. If we don’t do a reasonable job, then we just foist the additional tax burden on local and state taxpayers.” If there’s a concern about residency, I ask, why not send a letter home with students rather than set up a checkpoint? “I could do a lot of different things:’ Cooper says. “I could also wait until a student breaks an arm or gets HiNi and we need to isolate him and no one can find his parents.” We walk outside. Del Rio High School sits across the street from the superintendent’s office. As we talk, a middle-aged Latina stops her pickup truck in the middle of the street and strides over. “I just want to thank you for everything you’re doing,” she tells Cooper, pumping his hand enthusiastically. “What you did at the bridge was the right thing. Americans can’t be expected to pay for everything.” Her name is Enriqueta Eaton, she says. Originally from Mexico City, she has lived in Del Rio for 38 years. Back in the ‘7os, she says, her husband paid $35 a month so her four brothers and sisters from Mexico could attend school in Del Rio. Eaton marches back to her truck. A line of motorists wait patiently behind her truck as she hoists herself back into the driver’s seat. The school district no longer accepts tuition from students outside the district, Cooper says. He’s thought about reviving the practice, but says he hasn’t received an answer from Austin. Cooper jokes about the encounter with Eaton. “I thought, ‘Oh no, now I’m going to get cussed out in front of reporters:” he says. Except for civil liberties groups and a few local attorneys, he says, most people in Del Rio have reacted as Eaton did. He’s received dozens of letters from people around the country congratulating him on preventing “illegal immigrants” from taking advantage of U.S. taxpayers. “Some of them want me to run for president,” he says, shaking his head. But “this isn’t about illegal immigrants. I’m not the U.S. Border Patrol. I guess it’s the climate of politics nationally right now.” Cooper blames the local paper for blowing things out of proportion. “This became a big deal because the local newspaper said we were turning away illegals. That’s what created the fervor:’ he says. “I would be surprised if people didn’t get their cackles up. It’s clearly something that civil liberty groups would have a concern with, because Plyler v. Doe was already heard in the U.S. Supreme Court, and that’s not something we can thumb our nose at.” Earlier in our interview, I’d asked Cooper what became of the zo students who never returned after the checkpoint on the international bridge. He shrugged. “I don’t know where they went,” he said. Others can’t help wondering. Attorney Schusheim says that shortly after the warnings were issued, a 17-year-old student came into Texas RioGrande Legal Aid with his parents. “The parents said they were headed to Minnesota to work and they planned to leave their son with a relative to attend school,” she says. “They were being told they needed a courtordered guardianship.” HIGHTOWER HIDING WORKER INJURIES FROM OSHA It’s painful enough to be injured on the job, but it adds insult to injury when your employer tries to keep it secret from safety authorities. The failure of corporations to report work-related injuries is not a rare occurrence, says the Government Accountability Officeit is routine. In a review of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s policies, GAO investigators found that some two-thirds of job injuries are hidden from the agency, though the law requires full reporting on injuries that require more than first aid. Why flout the law? Because corporate executives know a record of frequent injuries will increase the company’s worker compensation costs and will hurt its chances of winning government contracts. Why do they get away with it? Several reasons. Get this OSHA relies solely on employers to report worker injuries. Inspectors do not interview employees to determine if their bosses are being honest about job hazards and injury rates. Second, managers pressure clinics, doctors, and others to limit treatment to first aid, thus requiring no report. This cold ploy includes taking the injured person to several medical providers to find one that will certify first aid is enough. More than half of medical providers surveyed by GAO said they’d been pressured by corporate officials to play down injuries. Finally, workers themselves are intimidated, fearing they’ll be punished or fired for getting a reportable injury. As long as safety officials take a see-no-evil, hear-noevil approach, corporate bosses have no incentive besides their own sense of decency to make America’s workplaces safeand, as the GAO report makes clear, putting our trust in executive decency doesn’t seem to be working out. For more information on Jim Hightower’s workand to subscribe to his award-winning monthly newsletter, The Hightower Lowdownvisit www.jimhightowercom. After the process was explained to them, the family told Schusheim they would come back for assistance. “They were very afraid they’d lose their work opportunity,” she says, if they were delayed by legal proceedings. waited a few days, but the family never returned. She called a relative of the family. “They’ve moved on,” he said. Axochitzin Abrego, a 15-year-old student at Del Rio High, says she knows another student who never came back. “First her brother disappeared, and no one spoke about it,” she says. “I asked her where her brother was, but she wouldn’t tell me. The next week, she was gone, too. “It gives you a weird feeling,” Abrego says, “because they’re just gone, and no one talks about it.” DECEMBER 11, 2009 TEXASOBSERVER.ORG 13