The Dallas Morning News. October 24, 2020

The policy of separating families was a tragic mistake

Border security can be achieved without callous strategies that destroy families.

It is hard to believe that anyone could have thought that separating children from their parents at the border wouldn’t lead to a tragedy.

Yet, the Trump administration ignored warnings that nothing good could come from this policy, and now, after much chaos, the deported parents of 545 children, including about 60 under the age of 5, still have not been found.

That’s a clinical way of saying that parents and children may never again see each other, and that U.S. immigration policy has effectively broken apart families. Former first lady Laura Bush called it “cruel” and “immoral,” and others called it child abuse and torture.

Begun unofficially in 2017 as a pilot program in El Paso to deter families from entering the country illegally at the U.S.-Mexico border, this zero tolerance policy quickly became the most toxic aspect of the administration’s strategy to curb illegal immigration. The policy called for charging parents with immigration crimes, which would then lead to separating them from their children (who would be sent to shelters).

The policy of separating families became even more tragic when the administration failed to enact an adequate process to reunite them. Neither the Department of Health and Human Services nor Immigration and Customs Enforcement kept effective records. Only after court orders required disclosure did the nation learn that over 5,500 families had been separated.

The administration now says that while most of the children have been reunited with their families, some children have been moved out of shelters and into the care of relatives, family friends or foster families. In other words, the policy of forced family separation policy predictably produced a cruelty that may never be set right.

During Thursday’s debate, we found it depressing that President Donald Trump showed no regret for this failed policy and falsely claimed that the children were brought to the United States by smugglers, cartels, gangs and “lots of bad people.” While smugglers are a reality on the border, the truth is that many parents arrived with their children and his policy created trauma for thousands of families.

It is important that this nation secure its borders. However, security can and must be achieved without Machiavellian strategies that rip children from parents. The separation policy has ended; its impact is a great stain on this nation.

America has long needed to reform its immigration system to address those who are here and those who wish to be here. The nation has failed repeatedly to even address the easiest and least controversial part — the granting of legal status to the young adults whose parents illegally brought them to this country as children.

Words cannot adequately express how excruciating and shameful the separation policy had been. Our toxic immigration politics continue to erode the decency, common sense and respect needed to forthrightly deal with those who seek this nation for a better life.


Houston Chronicle. October 23, 2020

Texas plan would worsen homelessness

Supportive housing reduces homelessness, improves public safety and saves taxpayer money. It’s the kind of successful program that brings together the public and private sector, nonprofits and faith-based groups — even Democrats and Republicans.

So, why is it suddenly under attack by the state of Texas?

“This doesn’t make any sense. We are shaking our heads over here,” said Mike Nichols, head of the nonprofit Coalition for the Homeless of Houston/Harris County. “I believe good government can help, and this is just the opposite.”

A proposal by the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs would block people with criminal records from accessing the effective combination of affordable housing and wraparound supportive services that has helped reduce Houston’s homeless population by more than 50 percent over the past eight years, according to Houston officials.

The draft rule change is part of the state’s qualified action plan for 2021, which outlines how Texas spends federal funds earmarked for developing affordable housing. Barring those with criminal convictions would severely limit the main intervention used to successfully house the homeless, said Marc Eichenbaum, special assistant to the mayor for homeless initiatives.

“By doing this, we’re creating this huge class of untouchables who are stuck on the streets,” he told the editorial board. “We’re creating modern day lepers without giving them even a colony.”

Most chronically homeless people have criminal records. Nearly 50 percent self-identity as having been convicted of a felony, officials said. The real number is likely to be higher and is probably around 75 percent once you include misdemeanors, Eichenbaum said.

This comes with the territory, as many suffer from substance abuse issues or mental illness that led to their homelessness in the first place. Being on the street itself increases the chance of being arrested.

“If you’re homeless, you are 10 times more likely to have a negative experience with the police,” Nichols said. “If you drink a beer in your house, nothing happens. They drink a beer; they’re going to have a problem.”

The state’s proposal would keep applicants out of affordable housing for two years if they have been convicted of nonviolent felonies. Even Class A misdemeanors, such as possession of 2 ounces of marijuana or criminal trespass, would ban someone for at least a year.

This blanket prohibition is likely to become a never-ending circle, as the longer someone spends on the street, the longer they’re exposed to trauma and the likelier they are to suffer from substance abuse and mental illness.

Speaking to the Texas Tribune, a TDHCA spokesperson said the proposed rule change stems from safety complaints about a now-canceled supportive housing project in the West Campus neighborhood near the University of Texas at Austin.

The state’s argument about keeping dangerous people out of communities makes sense, but putting NIMBYism aside, would you rather have someone with a criminal record roaming the streets or housed and getting the help they need?

There are also rules already in place. The federal government prohibits subsidized housing for certain sex offenders and those convicted of arson or of manufacturing meth. Affordable housing developers can create their own screening policies, but they are flexible and can address issues on a case-by-case basis.

Even the development of tax-supported affordable housing projects is subject to community input and minor opposition can scuttle plans.

The rule change doesn’t make much sense fiscally, either. A recent Harris County study found that it costs local taxpayers an average of $91,000 a year for a person to remain on the street, mostly in emergency health care, criminal enforcement and clean up. Compare that to the $17,000 a year, mostly in federal funds and divided almost evenly between rent and services, spent on supportive housing.

With little to warrant the rule change, it’s no wonder that Republican and Democratic lawmakers are speaking out. A bipartisan letter — signed by 17 legislators, including Republican state Reps. Sarah Davis and Dan Huberty and Democratic Reps. Harold Dutton and Senfronia Thompson — urges the state to reconsider the “misguided plan.”

Texas state Rep. James White, R-Hillister, head of the House Corrections Committee and far from a bleeding heart, is a little more blunt, calling the proposal “absolutely unproductive” in a recent Twitter post.

“This housing program is funded through federal tax credits and federal policy has addressed this issue since 2016 and I have not heard of any concerns. TDHCA needs to pull the damn rule. This is bureaucracy on top of bureaucracy,” White wrote.

We agree.

The Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs must drop the proposed rule before it votes on its plan next month. If it fails to do so, then it will be up to Gov. Greg Abbott to reject the change.

In the past, Abbott has railed against Austin’s homeless policies. It would be hypocritical and foolish for the state to take away one of the best ways to fight the problem.


Fort Worth Star-Telegram. October 23, 2020

Our Editorial Board’s recommendation for voters in Arlington-area battle for Congress

Fewer things are less fun in politics than being in the minority in the U.S. House.

The majority controls all the committees, the most powerful positions and the flow of legislation. It’s even harder if you’re a first-term lawmaker; without either seniority or party power, it’s hard to be effective.

Rep. Ron Wright, a Republican finishing up his two-year term under those circumstances, has nonetheless found ways to be effective, often in a bipartisan way. He’s earned a second term representing the 6th District, which covers much of Arlington and Mansfield and counties southeast of Tarrant.

Wright, 67, is capping a career of service. He worked for his predecessor, Rep. Joe Barton, in North Texas and in Washington, giving him extensive knowledge of the district and a leg up on how Congress operates. Before winning the seat in 2018, he was also Tarrant County tax assessor-collector and Arlington mayor pro tem.

He’s a rock-solid conservative, to the point of joining the House Freedom Caucus. That group has often created headaches for GOP leadership by drawing a hard line on tax and spending compromises. Wright, however, lacks the rough edges of many of his colleagues, and his views reflect much of his district.

If any Democrat were to win the district, it would be one such as Wright’s opponent this year, Stephen Daniel. The 44-year-old lawyer and small business owner is largely a political neophyte. He’s running as a moderate focused on health care, favoring a public option that allows Americans to access Medicare-style coverage, rather than a single-payer system.

While Democrats are expressing some hope that Wright could be vulnerable if a major Democratic sweep materializes, Daniel needs a little more seasoning before he’s ready for Congress.

Wright, however, hit the ground running. He’s worked with Democratic colleagues, including Rep. Marc Veasey of Fort Worth, on issues such as improving internet access in developing countries and infrastructure security.

The Wright-Daniel race has been a relatively sleepy contest. The pandemic, of course, has dampened campaigns, and Wright’s ongoing battle with lung cancer, including a recent hospitalization for pneumonia, has limited his activity. The incumbent says he’s feeling well and that his trial has given him perspective on the importance of good health coverage and the danger of a single-payer system.

Wright is advocating for protections against surprise bills, mandatory coverage of pre-existing conditions and efforts to curb drug prices. Too often, the health care debate is reduced to the fate of the Affordable Care Act or another attempt to completely overhaul the system. It’ll be more useful for lawmakers to try to tackle specific problems in a bipartisan way, though of course the details will determine the merit of such proposals.

In a joint interview with the Editorial Board, both candidates also emphasized the need to tackle the pandemic through expanded testing, economic relief and vaccine development. Wright might be a step too far on the “open everything now” side of the debate for our comfort, but he understands that no serious economic recovery is possible until the coronavirus is under control.

Wright’s experience and even temperament have served the 6th District and Tarrant County well for decades. There’s no reason for voters to fire him now.