San Antonio Express-News. March 19, 2021.
Editorial: No solutions for border in political posturing
As politicians hurl blame and lies about the unrelenting surge of migrants at the border, the Biden administration is engaged in an unprecedented effort to transform a broken immigration system.
The U.S. Border Patrol apprehended nearly 100,000 refugees at the U.S.-Mexico border in February, the 10th consecutive month of increased apprehensions and a return to levels last seen in mid-2019, according to the Pew Research Center.
During a hostile grilling in a House committee hearing Wednesday, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas predicted the southwest border was on pace to see more refugees than in the past 20 years.
Mayorkas said the department was reactivating detention facilities in Texas and Arizona, and deploying FEMA to help care for the overwhelming number of migrant children flooding the border until they can be returned or placed with sponsors.
The border is not open — most single adults and families who cross illegally are expelled to Mexico. Migrants shut out by former President Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy are making perilous journeys out of hope — desperately fleeing conditions in Central America unimaginable to most Americans.
Thousands are sending their children to the United States in hope they will have a better chance of asylum. About 8,500 children are being held too long in facilities in South and West Texas — in conditions where no one, especially children, should stay, especially during a pandemic.
Transformation is messy, and while there are no quick fixes, progress must be swift.
Yet the familiar political rhetoric is deterring progress. Arguing on Twitter and during a congressional hearing about whether it should be called a crisis or a disaster, incorrectly stating that President Joe Biden opened the border, making border visits that are more political theater than substantive, and holding news conferences to complain and blame are not helpful.
“This is more than a crisis,” Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., told reporters in El Paso, where he and others toured a detention facility. “This is a human heartbreak.”
Indeed. But this isn’t the first surge, and there is plenty of blame to share.
Like many Republicans, McCarthy did not express outrage in 2019 when a record number of migrant children — almost 70,000, many unaccompanied — were held in U.S. custody, according to the Associated Press. There wasn’t a word of concern from Gov. Greg Abbott or Sen. Ted Cruz or others who are now speaking so loudly.
Where was the outrage then? Where was their anger when in 2020 it was widely reported that the parents of 545 children who were separated at the border could not be found? Was their indignation and concern for migrants muted because a Republican was in the White House?
Referring to a “Biden border crisis,” McCarthy said terrorists were trying to cross into the United States via Mexico — a claim Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., chairman of the House subcommittee on Intelligence and Special Operations called “wrong or a lie,” according the Washington Post.
A day after lifting COVID-19 restrictions, Abbott accused migrants of spreading the virus and then refused FEMA reimbursement for the testing and quarantine of immigrants.
Immigration has been broken for decades and we need a bipartisan effort for systematic change. And while perfection is impossible, the Biden administration should have been more prepared for the surge.
Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, said the border is always a politicized issue: “There are some in politics who use the surge to paint the idea that there are a bunch of brown people coming here to hurt Americans; that is not the case — these are desperate people trying to flee desperate situations.”
Enough with the partisan bickering and lies. If concern about the border is genuine, then get to work on comprehensive reform, including substantive relief to El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.
Roberta Jacobson, Biden’s coordinator for the southern border, shared the administration’s plan to “seek $4 billion over four years to address the root causes of migration — including corruption, violence and economic devastation exasperated by climate change.”
We can’t build a better immigration system — one that exemplifies humanity and security — with rote partisan responses.
Dallas Morning News. March 19, 2021.
Sheltering migrant children in Dallas is the right thing to do, but it’s not a solution. We need more border infrastructure and more pathways to immigrate legally
Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas spent much of his first congressional appearance Wednesday parrying attempts by Republican lawmakers to get him to say that the Biden administration is facing a “crisis” at the border.
“I’m not spending any time on the language that we use,” Mayorkas said. “I am spending time on operational response.”
Still, Mayorkas admitted that the rate of unauthorized border crossings could soon hit a 20-year peak. And news reports indicate that as many as 13,000 unaccompanied migrant children are currently in U.S. custody.
Our leaders can debate semantics all day, but it’s indisputable that this country’s federal agencies are, once again, overwhelmed by an influx of children whose asylum cases they are ill-equipped to process. Customs and Border Protection is supposed to transfer custody of unaccompanied minors to U.S. Health and Human Services within 72 hours, but kids are staying in cramped CBP holding facilities longer because the licensed shelters for children are at capacity. An attorney representing migrant youths told CBS News that children at one border facility were taking turns sleeping on the floor.
The decision by federal officials to open an emergency intake center for 3,000 teen boys at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in Dallas was a pragmatic move to accommodate the children. Federal agencies, not the city, will pay for the teens’ food and care at the convention center, which will house minors for a period of 90 days while officials work to reunite them with relatives in the U.S. Once released to their families, the kids will wait for their immigration court hearing dates.
We need this temporary shelter, but in the end it is another Band-Aid, another neon sign telling us that our immigration system is busted. What we really need is long-term solutions, and we’re looking at the Biden administration to lead here.
We commend the administration’s decision to restore an Obama-era program that allows Central American youths to apply from their homelands for permission to join parents who are lawfully present in the U.S. The Biden administration should push for legislation that opens other legal pathways for asylum-seekers and economic immigrants, especially measures that would discourage the dangerous journey to the border. It should also pursue investments to expand border infrastructure and personnel so that asylum-seekers’ cases are processed more quickly and more humanely.
GOP leaders have accused President Joe Biden of “opening the floodgates,” but our border failures span Republican and Democratic administrations. Donald Trump, whose draconian immigration policies defined his administration, faced a migrant surge in May of 2019, when Border Patrol apprehended nearly 133,000 people.
It’s shameful that our country, a champion of human rights around the world, treats migrant children as a political football. We’re tired of the border blame game, and we urge our president and our lawmakers to stop squabbling and start fixing, together.
Amarillo Globe-News. March 19, 2021.
Editorial: Senate bill takes aim at pandemic-enforced isolation
One of the worst tolls exacted by the COVID-19 panic took place in nursing homes and long-term care facilities, where far too many residents lost their lives as a result of the virus.
But that was only one terrible effect. Another occurred when such facilities were locked down, preventing family members and loved ones from visiting. Though the move was well-intentioned and meant to protect the health and safety of all involved, the consequence was widespread loneliness and depression among residents, depriving an already vulnerable group of the important gift of human contact.
Earlier this week, the Texas Senate took a meaningful step toward trying to ensure this doesn’t happen again, unanimously approving a bill Wednesday guaranteeing residents can receive visits – even if another pandemic is declared.
According to our story earlier this week, Senate Bill 25 would allow residents to designate so-called essential caregivers who must be allowed access in terms of an in-person visit lasting at least two hours a day.
We see this as the kind of compassionate legislation that had to emerge in the aftermath of the pandemic. There were too many stories across Texas and other states in which residents could not have in-person visits from loved ones, amplifying the impact and fear associated with COVID-19, which was not only highly contagious but also particularly lethal for older people.
Enforced isolation, lasting months, was for most residents and their families especially difficult to handle while also placing facilities in a no-win situation where they were forced to balance public health and mental health.
State Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, brought the bill forward after hearing many stories of the pandemic’s impact on the mental health of residents, especially those dealing with dementia.
“We were working to protect all of Texas, but when we were doing some of those protections, we were also creating some harm,” she said in our story. “It’s not the nursing homes’ fault. It’s not the operators. It’s certainly not the nurses aides. They love it when we’re in there. We give them support, but these were the saddest of sad stories.”
Under the bill’s provisions, nursing homes, state supported living centers and long-term care facilities would be able to suspend visits by designated essential caregivers for seven days – with approval from the state Health and Human Services Commission – if in-person visitation “poses a serious community health risk” with possible extensions requested in seven-day increments, according to our story.
The bill creates a right for in-person visits by essential caregivers who would be selected by the resident, putting safeguards in place ahead of time if the state finds itself confronting another pandemic in the future. Essential caregivers could be kept from visits if they violated the facility’s public-health protocols.
The Senate also voted 29-0 in favor of Senate Joint Resolution 19, which would put an item before the voting public to amend the state’s constitution and create a right to essential caregiver visits.
Both measures now go to the House, which is considering similar measures. We urge passage of both of these to help improve a difficult situation that left far too many family members on the outside looking in.
Houston Chronicle. March 17, 2021.
Editorial: Winter storm death toll gives Abbott, Patrick 57 reasons to fix Texas’ power grid
Maybe your busted pipe is fixed by now. Perhaps the petrified sago palm has been repurposed into mulch. Maybe the memories of those shivering nights under layers of blankets, boiling snow to flush the toilets and waiting in long grocery store lines for rationed bottled water are themselves becoming frozen in time.
A month after a winter storm brought Texas’ vulnerable power grid to its trembling knees, leaving 4 million without electricity, most of us are getting on with our lives.
But at least 57 of our fellow Texans can’t say the same.
They lost their lives as a direct result of the storm, according to preliminary data released this week by the Texas Department of State Health Services. Harris County had the greatest number of deaths by far: 25.
Most of the deaths were associated with hypothermia. In ordinary terms: they froze to death, some in their beds like an 11-year-old boy in Conroe.
Others died of carbon monoxide poisoning when they tried to keep warm in a running car in the garage or when they burned an outdoor grill indoors out of desperation.
Still others died of “medical equipment failure” when their last oxygen tank ran empty. Others of falls.
Some of fire, as in the case of three children and their grandmother in Sugar Land — all killed in a blaze that may have started near the fireplace they had used to keep warm.
Their mother, Jackie Pham Nguyen, who had to be physically restrained from going back into the house to save them, described her children to CNN as “phenomenal, amazing, little badass humans.”
We may never know how many phenomenal, amazing, badass humans Texas lost because of a government failure that was entirely foreseeable, entirely forewarned, entirely preventable.
The finger-pointing continues in Austin, at Gov. Greg Abbott, at his political appointees on the Public Utility Commission, at the power grid operator ERCOT, at the frozen wellheads and wind turbines, at lawmakers who created a system that encourages industry to bathe in windfall profits at the very moment when a life-and-death crisis is at its most desperate peak.
Some political opportunists are even attempting to use the tragedy to score partisan points by blaming renewable energy.
All the noise — the din of legislative hearings, the pandering press releases, the grandstanding on Fox News — must never drown out the loss so many Texas families have suffered.
Instead, the loss must infuse every debate with purpose, steer every lawmaker toward the right decision rather than the expedient or politically popular one.
We cannot let our elected leaders forget what is at stake in these debates. What has already been lost due to their refusal to put our safety before industry profits. What future catastrophe is possible if they fail, yet again, to fix the problems.
So, yes, the messy reckoning and hashing of technical issues we’re seeing in the Texas Legislature is needed. Yes, Abbott is right to call for weatherization of power plants. Yes, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick is right to demand that astronomical power prices kept in place too long during the crisis be retroactively re-priced.
But no, there is no room for gamesmanship or egos or greed to blur the mission.
Texans must come first, finally, even for Abbott, whose tens of millions in campaign donations from the oil and gas industry have fueled his political rise.
The governor, lieutenant governor and lawmakers must never forget what happened the last time they failed.
Should they need a reminder, they have 57.