Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

McAllen

“I’m haunted by their eyes”

We should all be haunted, and outraged, by this.

Immigrants held in a McAllen-area U.S. Customs and Border Patrol processing center for migrants — the largest such center in America — are living in overcrowded spaces and sometimes are forced to sleep outside a building where the water “tastes like bleach,” according to an attorney who recently interviewed some of the migrants.

“It was so bad that the mothers would save any bottled water they could get and use that to mix the baby formula,” attorney Toby Gialluca told The Texas Tribune on Saturday.

But when she recalls the conditions described to her by the immigrants she interviewed at McAllen’s Centralized Processing Center, Gialluca said she goes back to one thing.

“Their eyes. I’m haunted by their eyes,” Gialluca said.

Gialluca and a slew of other lawyers have been meeting with children and young mothers at facilities across the state this month as pro bono attorneys. At the McAllen Center, Gialluca said everyone she spoke with said they sought out Border Patrol agents after crossing the Rio Grande so they could request asylum.

Gialluca said the migrants, all from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador, told her they aren’t receiving proper medical care and children don’t have enough clean clothes. Unable to clean themselves, young mothers reported wiping their children’s runny noses or vomit with their own clothing, Gialluca said. There aren’t sufficient cups or baby bottles, so many are reused or shared.

“Basic hygiene just doesn’t exist there,” Gialluca said. “It’s a health crisis … a manufactured health crisis,” she said.

[…]

On Saturday, state Sen. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, issued a letter to the Texas Health and Human Services Commission inquiring about the reportedly inhumane conditions at a Clint facility where another group of lawyers told the Associated Press about a group of 250 infants, children and teens who spent nearly a month without adequate food, water and sanitation.

Attorneys who visited the El Paso-area station said they found at least 15 children sick with the flu and described a sick and diaperless 2-year-old boy, whose “shirt was smeared in mucus,” being taken care of by three girls all under 15.

“HHSC has a responsibility to these children and individuals to ensure they are receiving, at a minimum, basic care,” Alvarado wrote, acknowledging that the facilities are managed at a federal level, but still imploring the state to do more. “As these facilities are in our state, the conditions under which they operate is a reflection of our values and commitment to the humane treatment of all within our borders.”

There are a lot of elected officials in this state who support passing laws greatly restricting access to abortion because they say they believe in the sanctity of life. Most of those same officials oppose laws that grant equal treatment under the law to LGBTQ people, and support laws that allow “sincerely held religious beliefs” to be a legal reason to not do business with LGBTQ people, because they believe that LGBTQ people are engaged in immoral behavior. These same elected officials, who care so much about life and morality, don’t have so much as an unkind word to say about the appalling, inhumane treatment of thousands of people, many of them children and babies, right here in Texas. I don’t know why any moral authority is granted to these officials, whose names include Greg Abbott, Dan Patrick, Ken Paxton, John Cornyn, Ted Cruz, Chip Roy, Dan Crenshaw, Ron Wright, Lois “Bathroom Bill” Kolkhorst, Jonathan “Former Fetus” Stickland, Tony “Death Penalty For Abortion” Tinderholt, and many many more. They have clearly shown that they don’t deserve it.

UPDATE: In addition to voting all of these useless assholes out of office, you can donate to or volunteer for any of these organizations if you want to help do something about this.

How many crimes does your police department solve?

Fewer than you think, unfortunately.

go_to_jail

Violent crime in America has been falling for two decades. That’s the good news. The bad news is, when crimes occur, they mostly go unpunished.

In fact, for most major crimes, police don’t even make an arrest or identify a suspect. That’s what police call “clearing” a crime; the “clearance rate” is the percentage of offenses cleared.

In 2013, the national clearance rate for homicide was 64 percent, and it’s far lower for other violent offenses and property crimes.

University of Maryland criminologist Charles Wellford says police have shifted priorities over the decades.

“In the ’60s and ’70s, no one thought that the police should be held responsible for how much crime there was,” Wellford says. Back then, he adds, police focused on calls for service and solving crimes.

In more recent years, he says, police have been pushed to focus more on prevention, which has taken precedence over solving crimes — especially non-violent offenses.

In short, the falling crime rate we’ve enjoyed may come at a cost: police indifference when you report your stereo was stolen.

I admit, that wouldn’t have occurred to me. I would have thought that with less crime, police departments would be more able to solve the crimes that were committed, since there would be less of a workload. I’m not a criminologist and I haven’t read any research on this, but my initial reaction here is to be a little skeptical. In what ways are police departments focused on crime prevention, and what evidence is there that those methods are working? My gut says that police departments these days – really, for the past thirty or so years – have concentrated on drug-related crimes. While I would agree that there’s some ancillary prevention benefit in that, we all know that this comes with a variety of costs. Maybe the national effort to decriminalize some drug offenses will have the benefit of allowing police departments to once again focus on solving the crimes that really do victimize the public.

The article comes with a utility to look up the crime clearance rates in your own community. Here’s what it showed for some of Texas’ biggest cities:

All violent crime Homicide Property crime City 2011 2012 2013 2011 2012 2013 2011 2012 2013 ====================================================================== Houston 46% 39% 37% 90% 70% 76% 13% 12% 11% Abilene 47% 49% 64% 80% 100% 100% 25% 22% 20% Amarillo 40% 45% 48% 60% 100% 44% 18% 19% 22% Austin 49% 49% 57% 93% 87% 100% 12% 12% 13% Beaumont 70% 70% 69% 100% 100% 75% 23% 28% 27% Corpus Christi 54% 53% 45% 67% 63% 100% 20% 23% 19% Dallas 38% 40% 37% 65% 58% 60% 13% 11% 11% El Paso 48% 47% 49% 88% 96% 80% 18% 20% 22% Fort Worth 36% 38% 39% 61% 80% 86% 14% 16% 17% Laredo 80% 80% 79% 64% 88% 100% 20% 24% 28% Lubbock 30% 32% 34% 50% 73% 100% 15% 15% 19% McAllen 56% 66% 38% 50% 100% 0% 20% 22% 16% Midland 66% 68% 59% 100% 75% 40% 22% 25% 27% Plano 54% 51% 47% 80% 100% 100% 22% 22% 19% San Antonio 48% 36% 37% 80% 70% 75% 12% 11% 12% Waco 56% 56% 55% 91% 67% 50% 23% 23% 26%

Note that these are all for the above-named cities’ municipal police departments. I limited myself to cities that I could think of that had a population of at least 100,000. (Galveston, in case you were wondering, has about 48,000 people.) “Violent crime” includes “Murder and non-negligent manslaughter”, which I characterize above as “Homicide”, “Robbery”, and “Aggravated assault”. “Property Crime” includes “Burglary”, “Larceny-theft”, “Motor vehicle theft”, and “Arson”.

Don’t be too mesmerized by the Homicide solve rates for smaller cities. The total annual number for these crimes in cities of, say, 100,000 to 200,000, is often in the single digits. McAllen, for example, had 4 homicides in 2011, one in 2012, and two in 2013. In a few cases, such as Beaumont for 2011 and 2012, the number of murders solved was greater than the number of murders. My guess is that the solved crimes included cold cases, but there was no explanation on the site. I just listed those as 100% to avoid weirdness.

What stands out to me in all this is that generally speaking the smaller cities had much better solve rates for property crimes than the big cities. In Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, and Austin, the solve rates for property crimes never topped 13%, but in the smaller cities it ranged from 18% to 28%. Fort Worth and Lubbock were the outliers there, on the low end. I’m not sure what to make of that, but it sure is interesting.

What application does this have to the 2015 Mayor’s race? (You knew I was going to get around to that, I’m sure.) Well, in addition to my wish that the candidates will eventually start to talk about public safety in a more comprehensive way, I’d think that a candidate who promised to have his police force concentrate on solving property crimes might be able to sway a voter or two. Lord knows, the Nextdoor discussion list for the greater Heights area spends a lot of time on break-ins and thefts and the like. Given how many of these crimes do go unsolved today, it seems to me there’s some traction to be gained on this issue. Just a thought.

From the “Wooing Latino Voters: You’re Doing It Wrong” department

Greg Abbott visits McAllen and gives the locals his best reason why they should vote for him.

Gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott called for unity between Republican candidates and Hispanics in McAllen on Monday, with the promise of being in South Texas much more.

As evidence voters should elect him governor in 2014, Abbott cited the 27 lawsuits he’s brought against the federal government as Texas attorney general, and he spoke of fighting against human trafficking in the Rio Grande Valley.

McAllen is in Hidalgo County, which in 2012 voted 70.3% to 28.6% for President Obama. Many of those lawsuits involve the Affordable Care Act, the environment, and the Voting Rights Act. Latinos – Hidalgo County is 90.9% Latino – are among the strongest supporters of Obamacare, and will be the main focus of its rollout, since so much of the nation’s – and the state’s – uninsured population is Latino. Latinos are also big supporters of having the EPA set standards to reduce air pollution, and of President Obama using executive power to fight climate change. And of course Latinos also strongly support the Voting Rights Act.

So go right ahead, Greg Abbott. Talk about those 27 lawsuits and how deeply committed you are to fighting President Obama and his efforts to expand access to health care, clean up the environment, and protect voting rights. I’m sure Latino voters will be listening.

The iPad classroom

I’ll be very interested to see how this goes.

A Texas school district is trying to close its digital divide by distributing thousands of Apple tablet computers in a move that could make it the largest iPads program for students in the nation.

McAllen Independent School District in the southern part of the state began distributing 6,800 devices this week — mostly the iPad tablet computers, but also hundreds of iPod Touch devices for its youngest students.

By this time next year, the district says every one of its more than 25,000 students in grades K-12 will receive an iPad or iPod Touch. The district believes it’s the largest to try for complete coverage and while Apple would not confirm that, other districts the company noted as having made large investments have not made ones as big as McAllen’s.

Educational use of the tablet computers is so new that there’s little evidence available on their impact. Superintendent James Ponce said the district wanted to change the classroom culture, making it more interactive and creative and decided Apple’s devices — even at $500 retail for an iPad2 — were the best investment.

“We’re just choosing to invest differently going forward,” Ponce said.

Like I said, I can’t wait to see how this turns out. I hope they keep good data. You would think this would help, but you never know. I suppose it’s possible it could help, but the improvement isn’t enough to justify the unit cost. Or maybe it’ll be a game-changer, and the Lege will be under pressure to figure out how to pay for these things statewide. Which would be fine by me. But we won’t know that for a couple of years at least. Let’s see how it goes.

McAllen ISD goes digital

Here’s a look at the future, coming to a school near you.

A Rio Grande Valley school district plans to equip every one of its 25,000 students with Apple iPads, rolling ahead with a digitally enhanced curriculum effort that’s among the largest of its type in the nation.

“It’s not just about a device; it’s about a device in a child’s hand,” McAllen ISD Superintendent James Ponce told school officials and local dignitaries packed into an elementary school library for the announcement Tuesday. “It puts McAllen ISD out front and center.”

The school board last month unanimously approved the first phase of the project, a $3.6 million purchase of more than 5,000 iPad 2’s and 425 iPod Touch devices.

Within a year’s time, the district plans to take things districtwide, spending millions on devices that well may become each student’s own Internet research library, project manager and academic navigator.

To equip each student with an iPad will cost about $20.5 million, district officials said. The district will buy the devices, but said they also will pursue grants and donations to help pay for them.

While McAllen ISD officials say that this is the biggest project of its type in the country, it’s conceptually nothing new. The Lege passed a law in 2009 that directed the TEA to to adopt a list of electronic textbooks and instructional materials from which schools could select electronic textbooks or instructional materials to purchase. Admittedly, it’s been slow going so far, but some more innovative districts have found ways to take advantage of smartphones to enhance the classroom experience. This is just the next logical step in the progression. I wish McAllen ISD luck in finding underwriters for this project, and I hope they keep good track of all of their data.

So much for Abbott’s big “voter fraud” case

Back in 2005, Attorney General Greg Abbott announced with a flourish a rash of arrests in South Texas on various counts of voter fraud. These arrests, some of which were announced while the Lege was debating a voter ID bill, were cited as evidence by Abbott of an “epidemic”, for which voter ID was naturally the solution. Many of these cases ultimately wound up being dismissed, with the last batch in Hidalgo County getting dropped last week.

In 2005, Belasquez and seven other politiqueras — operatives paid by campaigns to collect votes — were indicted on charges they mishandled ballots of elderly and disabled voters during their work on the McAllen mayoral race earlier that year.

At the time, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, a Republican, described the case as yet another reminder that “voter fraud is occurring on a large scale when viewed statewide, and consequently, our state elections are significantly impacted.”

Hidalgo County District Attorney Rene Guerra, a Democrat, cautioned local politicians that the indictments should serve as a warning to all those who thought they could get away with tampering with local elections.

But despite the fanfare, nearly all the charges have been dismissed five years later.

[…]

The problem with all the McAllen voter fraud cases, said Guerra during a recent interview, was that the investigations were weak, pushed on his office by the Texas Rangers and the attorney general and nearly impossible to prove at trial.

Many of the allegations involved politiqueras purportedly pressuring disabled and elderly voters to select certain candidates on their mail-in ballots. But without actually proving the election workers filled out or changed the ballots themselves, it was nearly impossible to convince a jury that criminal activity occurred, the DA said.

“I don’t care what party you’re from, you’re going to have people out hustling votes,” he said. “In some places, they’ll call them politiqueras. In others, they’ll call it paid campaign staff.”

See here, here, and here for some background. One thing that’s been true in all of the cases Abbott has pushed is that they involved mail in ballots, which as I’ve observed would be unaffected by any legislation that required photo ID to vote in person. Abbott and his allies, of course, never drew that distinction, since the purpose of the voter ID legislation that keeps getting pushed in the Lege isn’t about stopping the kind of voter fraud that actually happens, it’s about making it harder for certain people to vote. In the end, even the fraud cases that Abbott claimed to have found turned out to be a whole lot of nothing. It’s no surprise to me.