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Former Hidalgo County Judge Ramón García celebrates with Dolly Elizondo, chair of the Hidalgo County Democratic Party, after García filed the legal paperwork to place his name on the March 2, 2010 ballot for Hidalgo County Judge.  García, who was joined by numerous area mayors at the event, which was held in his law office in Edinburg on Tuesday, December 15, pledged to lead one of the state’s most important regions, noting the many contributions he made during his first successful term, and pledging to get the county government budget fiscally back on track. “Today, we are operating in a deficit,” said the prominent attorney and community leader. “I am proud of the fact that when I left the office over two and half years ago, we had an unprecedented budget surplus. Our county was in the best financial condition in its 153-year history. And I intend to see to it that we get the county back to a budget surplus position when I am elected. Being fiscally responsible is a requirement to be the county judge.” See story later in this posting.

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U.S. Army Sgt. Abram Camacho of Mission, featured left, who already has two tours of duty under his belt in Iraq and could be possibly be headed to Afghanistan later this spring, was welcomed home for the holidays by family, friends, and community leaders when he and his family flew in to McAllen on Saturday, December 12. Camacho, a graduate of La Joya High School who in 2003 answered his nation’s call to fight the scourge of terrorism stemming from the Middle East, arrived with his wife, Nora Lee – a former Valley resident and a graduate of Hutchison High School in Alaska – and their five-year-old daughter, Jackqueline Iriz, at 10:10 p.m. at McAllen Miller International Airport. Part of the welcoming delegation included Rosalba Hernández-Martínez with the office of Rep. Ismael “Kino” Flores, D-Palmview, and her husband, Rudy Edward Martínez, a former U.S. Marine. “As we get ready to celebrate this holy season in our nation, Sgt. Camacho’s visit back home serves as a reminder how blessed we are to have men and women of his high caliber – many from the Valley – protecting our lives and liberties,” said Flores, a former U.S. Army veteran. “He is a symbol of the thousands of South Texans who voluntarily place themselves in harm’s way to protect our precious way of life.” See story later in this posting.

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South Texas College and the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Independent School District are seeing stars from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. That’s because the two institutions were named recipients of the THECB’s prestigious Star Award for 2009. The partnering pair received the honor for their work on the PSJA College, Career and Technology Academy, which offers students between the ages of 18 and 25 a chance to go back to high school and earn a diploma. Participants work to make up missing credits or focus on passing one or more sections of the state’s standardized test. They also begin work to earn college credit in the hope they will continue on to earn a certificate, or an associate’s or bachelor’s degree. Featured, from left, are: Leonore Tyler, principal of the PSJA College, Career and Technology Academy; María del Pilar Garza, PSJA administrator; Ben Garza Jr., PSJA ISD board vice president; Pete García, member of PSJA ISD’s board; Dr. Shirley Reed, STC president; and Luzelma Canales, STC associate dean of community engagement and workforce development. See story later in this posting.  See story later in this posting.

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Sharpen up those gambling skills and get ready to enjoy a Las Vegas Style Casino Night at the 11th Annual “Noche de Gala” hosted by the McAllen Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. This years theme is “A Night in the Orient”.  The evening consists of a gourmet dinner, silent and live auction, the awarding of the Golden Eagle Award, and the Vegas-style Casino.  The fun formal event is scheduled for Saturday, January 16 at the Corinthian Banquet Hall in Mission. The committee has already received many auction items such as: trip to Las Vegas with airfare and hotel; television time on KRGV-TV Channel 5; jewelry; sporting tickets; golf outings; restaurant certificates; and a pachanga for 100 people that includes on-site barbecue, dance and open bar, etc. Tickets and sponsorship information are available by calling the MHCC at 928-0060. Featured working on their Black Jack skills are, from left: Hari Namboodiri, chair-elect; Roxanna Godínez, vice chair of membership; Cynthia M. Sakulenzki, president and chief executive officer; Connie Hernández, committee member; Rachel García, committee member; Diana González, committee member; and casino dealer Joe Roxks.

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Rep. Martínez targets two state funds to build Valley VA Hospital, help veterans statewide

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

Two major state economic development funds controlled by Texas’ governor, lieutenant governor, and speaker of the house should be used to help build a Veterans Affairs Hospital in the Valley and elsewhere, as well as be made available to upgrade existing VA Hospitals statewide, says Rep. Armando “Mando” Martínez, D-Weslaco.

The nearest VA Hospital to the Valley – a major metropolitan area with more than 1.2 million residents – is 250 miles away in San Antonio. More than 100,000 veterans call the Valley home, according to recent findings by the Texas Legislature.

To speed up the development of a full-fledged VA Hospital in the four-county South Texas region, Martínez is calling on the Gov. Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, and Speaker of the House Joe Straus – all Republicans – to support his call to tap into the Texas Enterprise Fund and the Texas Emerging Technology Fund for a VA Hospital in deep South Texas.

Martínez said he was optimistic that his idea would be embraced by Perry, Dewhurst, and Straus because it would benefit all regions of the state.

“The time is always right to help veterans and their families, especially when they are fighting for our nation and our freedoms on the other side of the world,” said Martínez. “The people of Texas, year after year after year, have made it crystal clear that when it comes to our wounded war veterans, we shall always take care of our own.”

However, if legislation is required to allow those two funds to be used to build a Valley VA Hospital, Martínez said that would be the first bill he would pre-file next November, when lawmakers can begin introducing measures for action by the Texas Legislature. State lawmakers will return for their five-month regular legislation session in early January 2011.

VA Hospitals have huge payoffs for economy

His plan to use state money from the Texas Enterprise Fund and the Emerging Technology Fund would precisely achieve the state’s economic development goals, plus such a move would help bring hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funds to the state’s southernmost border region, Martínez noted.

“A VA Hospital not only creates high-paying jobs and improves medical care and medical education, such a facility serves as a powerful economic engine that brings in scores of private companies with their own emerging technologies and thousands of direct and spin-off jobs,” said Martínez.

Using the Texas Enterprise Fund and the Texas Emerging Technology Fund would also help bipartisan efforts by the state’s congressional delegation and its two U.S. senators to bring a VA Hospital to deep South Texas.

Currently, a federal bill filed by Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and supported by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, is pending in Congress. It calls for the establishment of a full-fledged VA Hospital in the four-county Rio Grande Valley.

“By pledging money from the Texas Enterprise Fund and the Texas Emerging Technology Fund – which together currently have several hundred millions of dollars available for jobs creation – Texas would have significant leverage in persuading the U.S. Veterans Affairs Department to finally create an in-patient military medical complex for our region,” said Martínez.

The Will of the People

His call for the use of those two funds also comes soon after the widely-supported passage of Proposition 8, a statewide constitutional amendment.

Martínez was a House author last spring of the legislation that placed Proposition 8 on the statewide ballot.

“The time is always right to help veterans and their families, particularly in light of the overwhelming passage of Proposition 8, which authorizes the state government to use state resources, in partnership with the federal government, to build VA Hospitals in Texas, including in the Valley,” said Martínez.

Martínez, along with lead House author Rep. Ismael “Kino” Flores, D-Palmview, and fellow House authors Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City, and Rep. David Leibowitz, D-San Antonio, carried the Proposition 8 measure in order to pave the way for a Valley VA Hospital.

The passage of Proposition 8 cleared any legal hurdles that could have been used to delay or block the use of state resources to help bring a VA Hospital to the Valley.

Proposition 8 was approved statewide by a landslide margin of 785,775 to 264,250, according to unofficial totals from the Texas Secretary of State.

Locally, Hidalgo County residents favored Proposition 8 by more than 80 percent of the cast ballots, 6,477 to 1,542, according to the secretary of state’s unofficial results on Wednesday, November 4.

In Cameron County, the margin was about the same, with 5,452 favoring Proposition 8 to 1,339 opposing that measure, the secretary of state’s unofficial results also showed.

Goals of the two funds

According to the governor’s office:

  • The Texas Enterprise Fund (TEF) currently provides the state’s leaders with a “deal closing fund” that has the flexibility and financial resources to help strengthen the state’s economy. The fund can be used for a variety of economic development projects including infrastructure and community development, job training programs and business incentives. Before funds can be awarded, the governor, lieutenant governor and speaker must unanimously agree to support the use of the TEF for each specific project; and
  • The Texas Emerging Technology Fund (ETF) is a $200 million initiative created by the Texas Legislature in 2005 at the governor’s request, and reauthorized in 2007 and again this session with $203.5 million for the 2010-2011 biennium. A 17-member advisory committee of high-tech leaders, entrepreneurs and research experts reviews potential projects and recommends funding allocations to the governor, lieutenant governor and speaker of the House. To date, the ETF has allocated more than $118 million in funds to 94 early stage companies, and $148 million in grant matching and research superiority funds to Texas universities.

According to House Concurrent Resolution 86, approved last spring by the Texas Legislature, there are more than 100,000 veterans living in the four-county Rio Grande Valley.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs operates only nine in-patient veterans’ hospitals in Texas – in Amarillo, Big Spring, Bonham, Dallas, Houston, Kerville, San Antonio, Temple, and Waco – but none in the Rio Grande Valley, which, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, is one of the fastest growing regions in Texas, with more than one million residents (Hidalgo County, 726,200; Cameron County, 392,746; Starr County, 62,249; and Willacy County, 20,600).

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Ramón García, Democrat for Hidalgo County Judge, files for second four-year term

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

Former Hidalgo County Judge Ramón García on Tuesday, December 15, filed for a second four-year term to lead one of the state’s most important regions, noting the many contributions he made during his first successful term, and pledging to get the county government budget fiscally back on track.

García submitted the proper paperwork to get him on the Democratic Party ballot for the March 2, 2010 primary election. Dolly Elizondo, chair of the Hidalgo County Democratic Party, was on hand during a 3 p.m. press conference in Garcia’s Edinburg law office to receive his filing papers.

“Today, we are operating in a deficit,” said the prominent attorney and community leader. “I am proud of the fact that when I left the office over two and half years ago, we had an unprecedented budget surplus. Our county was in the best financial condition in its 153-year history. And I intend to see to it that we get the county back to a budget surplus position when I am elected. Being fiscally responsible is a requirement to be the county judge.”

García detailed his strategies and vision for Hidalgo County during a press conference, which included numerous area mayors who support him, including Mayor Richard Garcia (no relation) of Edinburg and Mayor John David Franz of Hidalgo.

Also lending his public support at the news conference was Hidalgo County Precinct 3 Commissioner Joe M. Flores of Mission.

“When I was county judge, my leadership mandate was to see to it that our community was getting the attention and focus it needed in many areas,” said García. “I spent much of my time focused on finance, crime prevention, healthcare, drainage and transportation, tax appraisals and our legal system.”

García says his decision to again seek the county judge’s post is based on his dedication to serving his community and his priorities.

“I have been a long-time businessman, attorney and public servant in the County, and I have never labeled myself as a professional politician,” said García. “I have enjoyed many years of community service. As my parents instilled in me, giving back to the community is one of the pleasures I truly enjoy.”

A Rio Grande Valley native, García is the eldest of eight children.

Priorities

  • He intends  to get the county back to a budget surplus position with appropriate  collecting and spending. Fiscal responsibility is his campaign mandate;
  • Taxpayer dollars from real estate properties are a big income source for the county, and he wants to implement a fair and  equitable tax system for everyone. He says the current system is not right and not fair;
  • He intends to work closely with the county sheriff to  see that the county has the necessary tools,resources and manpower to provide safer communities;
  • He wants to see better paying jobs and more economic  wealth for the residents of the county;
  • He will continue to modify and enhance the county’s  infrastructure system with improved roadways and drainage, not only to improve what currently exists, but to better compete and attract much-needed investment and industries for enhanced economic development;
  • He proposes to re-direct critical funding to  establish more connectivity and accessibility to regional healthcare  providers. This will generate more affordable heath care options for all  communities; and
  • With 60 percent of the county budget devoted to its legal  system, he believes that he is qualified to address the needs of a quality  judicial system, and see to it that all people are treated with fairness, dignity and respect.

García has extensive business and political contacts at all levels in Texas and the nation, and he said he will use all of the influence he has earned over the years to champion the goals of Hidalgo County.

“As the county’s  highest elected office, I will assure you that I will be a hard-working and tireless representative and spokesperson for the county,” he said. “I will do the best I can to effectively lobby and work with our congressmen and state officials, and see that we get the resources we need to provide us with the quality of life we deserve.”

Background

García has served on the Board of Regents for Pan American University from 1983 to 1987, and Chairman of the Hidalgo County Democratic Party from 1994 to 2000, and Hidalgo County Judge from 2003 to 2007.

A lifelong Democratic and devoted party advocate, García has served on the Texas Democratic Party Roundtable, the National Democratic Party Leadership Council, and as a delegate to state and national Democratic conventions.

Countless local organizations have awarded his community service including the recipient of the Governor’s Humanitarian Achievement Award, the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Golden Eagle Award and the UTPA University Library Valley Hispanic Award.

Throughout his legal career, García at one time represented over 25 school districts, cities, and counties in South Texas. In addition, he is a current member of the American Association of Justice, Federal Bar Association Board of Directors, and he is a Charter Member of the Texas Trial Lawyers Association. Moreover, he has served on the Committee of the State Bar of Texas which formulated the Texas Rules of Professional Conduct. He has not limited his activities to his own practice, and has served on numerous professional committees, including the State Bar Grievance Committee which oversees the ethical standards for the legal profession.

For more information, please visit the García campaign website at http://www.ramonforcountyjudge.com.

Political Ad Paid for by Candidate, Ismael Rodríguez, Treasurer, 222 W. University, Edinburg, TX 78539

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$5 million from Texas Emerging Technology Fund to be used for cancer research, says Gov. Perry

Gov. Rick Perry on Friday, December 11, announced the state will invest $5 million through the Texas Emerging Technology Fund (ETF) in Mirna Therapeutics Inc. for the development and commercialization of its biopharmaceutical research in micro ribonucleic acid (RNA) treatments for cancer.

“Texas’ biotechnology industry is essential to developing products that can improve and save lives, and we are working to foster continued growth of this industry within the state,” Perry said. “This investment will help develop the research associated with this innovative cancer treatment into a therapy that will help improve cancer patients’ quality of life, and strengthen our state’s biomedical technology sector.”

Mirna is developing a cancer treatment that introduces synthetic micro RNA, or miRNA, back into tumors to trigger their death. Research has shown that the use of this therapy has reduced or eliminated cancerous tumors in mice. The treatment would focus on inflammatory, cardiovascular, ophthalmic, metabolic, neurological and infectious diseases.

The company is partnering with the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, the University of Texas Southwestern and the University of Texas at Austin for further development of the therapy.

The TETF is a $200 million initiative created by the Texas Legislature in 2005 at the governor’s request, and reauthorized in 2007 and again this session with $203.5 million for the 2010-2011 biennium. A 17-member advisory committee of high-tech leaders, entrepreneurs and research experts reviews potential projects and recommends funding allocations to the governor, lieutenant governor and Speaker of the House.

To date, the TETF has allocated more than $124 million in funds to 96 early stage companies, and $148 million in grant matching and research superiority funds to Texas universities.

For more information on the ETF, please visit:

http://www.emergingtechfund.com.

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Edinburg’s retail economy during October drops almost 19 percent from same month in 2008

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

Edinburg’s retail economy during October 2009, as measured by the amount of local and state sales taxes generated by a wide range of local businesses, was down almost 19 percent over the same month in 2008, according to the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts.

The latest figure represents the sixth consecutive decrease when comparing monthly figures between this year and during 2008.

For the month of October 2009, Edinburg generated $1,013,015.10 in local sales taxes, compared with $1,242,450.90 in October 2008 – a decrease of 18.46 percent.

In September 2009, Edinburg’s monthly sales tax figure was 9.95 percent lower than the same month in 2008.

In August 2009, Edinburg’s monthly sales tax figure was 7.77 percent lower than the same month in 2008.

In July 2009, Edinburg’s monthly sales tax figure was 5.39 percent lower than the same month in 2008.

In June 2009, Edinburg’s monthly sales tax figure was 2.46 percent lower than the same month in 2008.

In May 2009,  Edinburg’s  monthly sales tax figure was almost five percent lower than the same month in 2008.

However, year-to-date –  from January 2009 through October 2009 – Edinburg was holding on to a positive showing, with the local retail economy during the that period up 2.01 percent over the same 10 months last year.

Between January and October 2009, Edinburg’s retail economy generated $14,501,132.36 in local sales taxes, compared with $14,215,364.48 during the same period in 2008.

The report represents the latest figures compiled by the state, and announced on Friday, December 11.

The state and local sales tax figures mostly represent money generated in October, reported to the Texas Comptroller in November, and distributed back in early December to local governments by the comptroller’s office in the form of rebates.

Retail businesses are required to collect both the local and state sales taxes and send them to the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts. The state government then sends the local share of the sales taxes to the communities in which they originated.

The local sales tax is used to help pay for dozens of major city services, ranging from new streets to city personnel.

Local sales taxes in Edinburg are generated by the city’s 1 1/2 cent local sales tax, and the 1/2 cent economic development sales tax that is administered by the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation.

The EEDC, which is a city government entity, is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg City Council. It sits on a public treasury of millions of dollars.

McAllen retail woes continue

McAllen – the largest economic engine in South Texas – continued to show double-digit decreases in its retail economic woes.

For October 2009, McAllen generated more than $3.9 million in local sales taxes, compared with more than $4.2 million in October 2008 – a drop of more than 7.4 percent.

In September 2009, McAllen’s monthly sales tax figure was down more than 14.5 percent.

In August 2009, McAllen’s monthly sales tax figure was almost 10 percent lower than the same month in 2008.

In July 2009, McAllen’s  monthly sales tax figure was almost five percent lower than the same month in 2008.

In June 2009, McAllen’s monthly sales tax figure was more than 11 percent lower than the same month in 2008.

From January through October 2009, McAllen generated more than $53.6 million in local sales taxes, compared with more than $58.8 million during the same period in 2008 –  a decrease almost nine percent.

For the month of October 2009, all cities in Hidalgo County generated more than $8.6 million in local sales taxes, compared with almost $9.7 million in October 2008, a drop of more than 11.3 percent.

Year-to-date, all cities in Hidalgo County have generated more than $119.2 million in local sales taxes, compared with more than $125.1 million during the same 10 months in 2008, a decrease of 4.72 percent.

The county itself does not collect a local sales tax.

Comparable cities in Hidalgo County also posted negative numbers for October 2009.

  • Pharr’s latest monthly retail sales activities showed the biggest drops among major communities. For October 2009, its local economy generated more than $713,000 in local sales taxes, compared with more than $1 million during the same month last year – a drop of almost 31 percent.
  • Mission registered an almost 10.5 percent drop, generating $957,911.94 in October 2009, compared with $1,069,976.67 in October 2008;
  • Weslaco generated more $656,331.79 in local sales tax activities in October 2009, compared with $733,418.31 in October 2008, a drop of 10.51 percent.

Also posting decreases were the two key communities in Cameron County.

Brownsville, the Valley’s most populated city, saw its retail economy in October 2009 generate less local sales tax revenue than during the same month in 2008.

In October 2009, Brownsville generated $2,163,273.63 in local sales taxes, compared with $2,619,534.68 in October 2008 – a drop of 17.41 percent.

Harlingen also posted a double-digit drop in its latest monthly retail activity report.

In October 2009, Harlingen registered $1,370,522.07 in local sales taxes, compared with $1,655,512.31 in October 2008, a decrease of 17.21 percent.

All cities in Cameron County generated a total of almost $4.2 million in local sales taxes in October 2009, compared with more than $5.2 million in October 2008, a drop of 19.25 percent.

Cameron County does not collect a county sales tax.

Texas down 14.4 percent

At the statewide level, Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts Susan Combs offered her assessments:

The state collected $1.70 billion in sales tax in November, down 14.4  percent compared to November 2008.

November state sales tax collections and December sales tax allocations  to local governments represent sales that occurred in October.

“Sales tax collections, declining since February 2009, continued  to be weak in November,” Combs said. “Compared to a year  ago, sales tax collections were down across all major sectors of the Texas  economy, including oil and natural gas production, construction, manufacturing  and retail trade.”

The comptroller sent cities, counties, special purpose districts and transit  systems $417.1 million in December sales tax allocations, down 14.6 percent  compared to last December.

The final sales tax allocation of 2009 brings local sales tax revenue for the year to $5.6 billion, 5.1 percent less  than in 2008.

Combs sent Texas cities December sales tax allocations of $279.6 million, down 14.9 percent compared to December 2008.

Counties’ December  sales tax allocations totaled $24.6 million, down 20.2 percent compared  to December 2008.

Ten local transit systems received December sales tax allocations of $96.5  million, a 12.1 percent decline compared to December 2008. December  sales tax allocations of $16.3 million went to 163 special purpose taxing  districts, a decrease of 15.4 percent compared to last December.

For details of December sales tax payments to individual cities, counties,  transit systems and special purpose districts, locate the Monthly Sales and Use Tax Allocation Comparison Summary Reports on the  Comptroller’s Web site at http://www.window.state.tx.us/taxinfo/allocsum/compsum.html.

The next local sales tax allocation will be made on Friday, January 8.

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Sgt. Abram Camacho, pride and symbol of South Texas, spending holidays in Mission before returning to duty, possibly Afghanistan

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

U.S. Army Sgt. Abram Camacho of Mission, who already has two tours of duty under his belt in Iraq and could be possibly be headed to Afghanistan later this spring, was welcomed home for the holidays by family, friends, and community leaders when he and his family flew in to McAllen on Saturday, December 12.

Camacho, a graduate of La Joya High School who in 2003 answered his nation’s call to fight the scourge of terrorism stemming from the Middle East, arrived with his wife, Nora Lee – a former Valley resident and a graduate of Hutchison High School in Alaska – and their five-year-old daughter, Jackqueline Iriz, at 10:10 p.m. at McAllen Miller International Airport.

Leading the big receiving crowd at the airport were his parents, Francisco Camacho Jr. and Barbara Lucia Camacho, along with other family members.

Helping welcome him home was  the La Joya High School Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps (JROTC), under the direction of Lt. Col. David Edson, Sgt. 1st Class Jarry Smith, and Sgt. 1st Class Diego Olague.

Also, the La Joya High School Mariachi Los Coyotes, under the direction of Emilio Cantú, participated in the homecoming at the airport. In addition, several members of the Dance Team for the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, the development team for the Houston Rockets,  joined in the welcoming reception at the airport.

“As we get ready to celebrate this holy season in our nation, Sgt. Camacho’s visit back home serves as a reminder how blessed we are to have men and women of his high caliber – many from the Valley – protecting our lives and liberties,” said Rep. Ismael “Kino” Flores, D-Palmview, a former U.S. Army veteran. “He is a symbol of the thousands of South Texans who voluntarily place themselves in harm’s way to protect our precious way of life.”

Camacho’s life also was featured on Tuesday, December 15, when he was scheduled to talk about his roots, his decision to join the military, and what he has seen and done on behalf of two grateful nations – the U.S. and Iraq.

His December 15 presentation was set for the La Joya High School JROTC.

His story will be featured a few days later on the high school’s television network, which is broadcast on Channel 17 to subscribers of Time Warner Cable.

As part of the December 15 school events, Camacho was set to be honored by the school district as Soldier of the Month.

Highlights of Camacho’s background relating to his service on behalf of the United States follow in excerpts from an e-mail he recently sent to Flores’, who had requested the biographical sketch from him.

“My name is Abram Camacho. I was born and raised in Mission. I graduated from La Joya High School in May 2003.

“I joined the Army on October 2003, graduated basic and AIT (advanced individual training) in January 2004. I was sent up to Fort Wainwright, Arkansas.

“In Febuary 2004, I was assigned to Bravo Company 1st Battalion 17th Infantry Regiment.

“I conducted training and prepared for Iraq. In September 2005, I was deployed to Mosul Iraq, FOB (Forward Operation Base) Marez.

“My duties included supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom with the 172nd SBCT (Stryker Brigade Combat Team) with the 1st Battalion 17th Infantry Regiment. I served as a Stryker driver and a Stryker gunner. (The Stryker Mobile Gun System is an eight-wheeled armored fighting vehicle mounting a 105 mm tank gun.)

“Later on I was moved to be a squad automatic rifleman. Our tour was supposed to be up in September 2006, but it was extended so we could help out in Baghdad, Iraq. Our tour ended up being 15 months long.

“We came back to the United States in December 2006, where we reflagged to be the 25 Infantry Division. Our battalion also reflagged to be the 1st Battalion 5th Infantry Regiment, where I was still assigned to Bravo Company. I served as an infantry team leader. We conducted a series of training and cross training with other countries, including the Australian, Philippines and the Singaporian Army.

“We prepared for deployment once more in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, where we were stationed on FOB (forward operation base) Warhorse, Iraq Dihyala Province. There, I served as a team leader for the battalion command group as their personal PSD (personal security detachment).

“I am currently assigned to HHC (headquarters and headquarters company), 1st Battalion 5th Infantry Regiment, where I am serving as a team leader. I am on my way to 4th Brigade 10 Mountain Infantry Division at Fort Polk, Louisiana.

“More than likely, we will deploy – I do not know where or when they may send us – but I think it may be Afghanistan.”

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Emma Vigil, former vice president with Lone Star National Bank, convicted of bank fraud

By ANGELA DODGE

A former vice president and senior loan officer of Lone Star National Bank has been convicted of bank fraud, U.S. Attorney Tim Johnson has announced. Emma Vigil, 48, of McAllen, pleaded guilty to two counts of bank fraud on Tuesday, December 15, before U.S. District Judge Randy Crane.

At the December 15 hearing, Vigil admitted to using her position at Lone Star to conduct hundreds of thousands of dollars in fraudulent and unauthorized debit transactions from her loan clients’ bank accounts over a two-year-period beginning in 2007.

Vigil carried out the debit transactions in various ways and frequently targeted clients with high balance and high activity accounts to conceal her scheme. In some instances, Vigil would fill out a checking or savings account withdrawal slip with a client’s account information and present the slip to a teller for cash.

In other cases, she would fill out a loan advance slip with a client’s loan account information and request a teller to generate a cashier’s check made out to the client. Vigil would later forge the client’s name on the endorsement line and present the check to a teller for cash. Vigil would typically represent to the teller that she was going to deposit the cash from these transactions into another Lone Star account held by the client or hand-deliver the cash to the client. Instead, Vigil deposited the cash into bank accounts she controlled at two McAllen area banks.

Vigil also admitted to creating and inducing the approval of a $179,500 commercial loan under the fictitious name Gilbert Posada-Arana. Specifically, Vigil used information she obtained from the files of her loan clients including dates of birth, addresses, passport numbers and financial statements, among other items, to make it appear in the loan application package she submitted to Lone Star’s loan committee as though Posada-Arana was legitimate and creditworthy. When the loan funded, Vigil controlled the proceeds.

Throughout the course of her bank fraud scheme, Vigil deposited more than $600,000 of embezzled client funds and other fraud proceeds into her own bank accounts.

Judge Crane scheduled Vigil’s sentencing for March 3, 2010, at which time Vigil will face a non-parolable sentence of up to 30 years in federal prison, a $1,000,000 criminal fine, a maximum five-year-term of supervised release and mandatory restitution. Vigil has been permitted to remain on bond pending sentencing.

FBI conducted the investigation leading to the charges and Assistant United States Attorney Gregory S. Saikin is prosecuting the case.

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Kinky Friedman drops Democratic bid for governor in favor of Agriculture Commissioner

Following weekend meetings with Mayor Bill White and Farouk Shami, Kinky Friedman on Monday, May 14, announced that he is abandoning his campaign for Texas governor and entering the race to become the Democratic nominee for Texas Commissioner of Agriculture.

“This has never been about me; this has always been about what is best for the people of Texas and the Democratic Party,” Friedman said. “After my visit with Bill, my mind was made up. There is a clear alternative for the people of Texas, and today I’m changing courses with a happy heart. I’ve determined that the best way that I can help the ticket and serve Texas families is by switching to the Ag Commissioner’s race. Former Texas Agriculture Commissioner, Jim Hightower explained how much the office does and how much potential there is to do more.”

Friedman’s announcement came on the heels of White’s entry into the race for governor. Freedman, who claimed he had been the frontrunner in the race for governor, spent the week re-evaluating his role on the ticket, culminating with a meeting with White.

Friedman filed on Tuesday with the Texas Democratic Party.

“Mayor White, Farouk (Shami) and I share the same desire for changing the leadership in Austin, up and down the ballot,” Friedman continued. “I’m confident that the torch for many of my issues will be carried forward in November, and now, we’ll do our part by campaigning hard to represent our party and the people of Texas starting with protecting our farmlands, not give them away to Spain.”

Friedman plans to focus on revamping the position of agriculture commissioner to increase the number of farmer co-ops, improve production of biofuels and bioenergy, expand the market for Texas agriculture products, and solidify the future of Texas agriculture through numerous programs, including a doubling of the cap for the Young Farmer Loan Program and defending farmers against eminent domain.

“I’ve got a pretty detailed plan of action that we’ll be rolling out later in the week,” Friedman concluded. “From forming a statewide public defenders office and setting a goal of at least one animal rescue facility in each county, to restoring our depleted woodlands and promoting a greater role for local producers in school cafeterias, we’re going to shake things up and show folks what the office can be if you have someone there who actually cares about the job.”

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Congressman Hinojosa co-sponsors measure designed to reform national immigration laws

By PATRICIA GUILLERMO

Rep. Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, on Tuesday, December 15, co-sponsored the “Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America’s Security and Prosperity” Act of 2009 (CIR A.S.A.P.).

“I come from immigrant grandparents who came to Texas 100 years ago. I know first-hand the contributions immigrants make to our great nation”, said Hinojosa. “Immigration reform has taken the slow road until now. We stand united and ready to make the changes that will make this country stronger”.

The bill will protect workers, keep families together, and promote our national security.

The bill also:

  • Provides a fair pathway to earned legalization that honors the hard work of immigrants and America’s tradition as a nation of laws;
  • Promotes and respects family unity to keep spouses together and children with their parents;
  • Protects opportunities for education and service through an expanded DREAM Act;
  • Protects the due process of all;
  • Enhances national security by focusing enforcement and security measures on serious criminals, drug runners and terrorists;
  • Creates an employment-based visa system that is fair to workers and employers; and
  • Allows for undocumented farm workers who have been part of the agricultural guest worker program to earn legalization.

“This bill is the product of months of collaboration with immigrant advocates, labor organizations, and members of Congress,” said Hinojosa. “I am looking forward to seeing my colleagues from the other side of the aisle support us in getting this bill ready for President Obama’s signature early next year”.

The bill was introduced by Congressman Luis V. Gutiérrez, D-Chicago. The bill includes 89 co-sponsors, including members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC), the Black Caucus (CBC), the Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC) and the Progressive Caucus.

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Husband, wife smugglers, co-conspirators, including Edinburg man, convicted of alien smuggling, money laundering

By ANGELA DODGE

A husband, his common-law wife and their co-conspirators will be serving prison terms for their involvement in smuggling illegal aliens and laundering smuggling fees, United States Attorney Tim Johnson announced on Wednesday, December 16.

Nazareth Rodríguez-Alamo, 28, a Mexican citizen illegally in the United States headed this smuggling operation, while his common-law wife, Leticia García, 32, a permanent legal resident from Mexico, received the smuggling fees through Western Union and MoneyGram for the organization. Both were sentenced on December 16 by United States Judge Randy Crane to 51 months and 24 months, in federal prison, respectively. Rodriguez pleaded guilty to and was convicted of conspiracy to transport illegal aliens in September 2009, while Garcia pleaded guilty to and was convicted of conspiracy to launder the smuggling fees in October 2009.

In July 2007 the FBI and the U. S. Border Patrol began an investigation into an alien smuggling organization transporting illegal aliens from the Rio Grande Valley to Houston. Agents learned the organization would hold the illegal aliens at various stash houses operated by Rodríguez-Alamo until they were ready to be transported by vehicle to an area south of the border patrol checkpoint where they were dropped off to walk around the checkpoint. The organization relied upon individuals to scout for law enforcement agents in order to make their venture successful. Specifically, the driver of the vehicle carrying the illegal aliens would stop south of the Falfurrias, Texas, border patrol checkpoint, leave the vehicle on the side of the road and guide the aliens on foot around the checkpoint. A scout vehicle carrying a passenger would drop off the passenger who would drive the vehicle north of the checkpoint where he would leave it for the guide and the aliens while he was picked up by another scout vehicle. The organization usually used at least four scout vehicles – two vehicles ahead of the load vehicle and two behind the load vehicle. While they kept in constant communication via cell phones, they would notify each other of law enforcement presence.

Rodríguez-Alamo, Alfredo Ortiz, Higinio Ortiz and Margarito Chávez transported several thousand aliens from 2005 through the date of the indictment. Rodriguez-Alamo and Garcia laundered approx. $1.7 million during this time.

Chávez, Danny Ray Vargas, Alfredo Ortiz, René Vargas, Francisco Emeterio García, Higinio Ortiz, Miguel Ángel Granado, Julian Treviño and Jaime Lee Treviño worked as scouts for the alien smuggling organization. All nine of these defendants were identified as a result of the investigation, pleaded guilty between May and August 2009 have been convicted for their role in the smuggling organization of conspiracy to transport illegal aliens.  On December 16, Crane sentenced Vargas, 28, of Edinburg, to 16 months in federal prison. Alfredo Ortiz, 29, of Alton, was sentenced to 70 months in prison. René Vargas, 35, Julian Treviño, 22, and Jaime Lee Treviño, 33, all of Mission, were sentenced to 18 months, 12 months and one day, and three years probation, respectively. Francisco Emeterio García, 29, of Alton, will serve three years on probation, while Higinio Ortiz, 28, also of Alton, will serve 57 months in prison. Miguel Ángel Granado, 23, of Brownsville, was sentenced to 14 months imprisonment. The sentencing for Chávez, 30, of Mission, was continued with no new date given at this time.

Jose Enrique Schiffer-González, 27, and Emilio Estrada, Emilio Estrada, 37, both Mexican nationals, worked as load drivers and guides that walked the illegal aliens around the border patrol checkpoint. Both men, who pleaded guilty earlier this year to their role in the conspiracy, were also sentenced today. Schiffer-González was sentenced to 20 months, while Estrada received 18 months in federal prison.

All 12 defendants were also ordered to serve terms of supervised release following their prison terms. Each defendant faces a return to prison to serve additional prison terms if they violate the conditions imposed by the court. The non-US citizen defendants also face possible deportation upon completing their prison terms.

The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Aníbal J. Alaniz.

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25 alleged drug transporters, including one from Edinburg, arrested in major federal operation

By ANGELA DODGE

The United States Postal Inspection Service (USPIS), together with the Hidalgo County High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Task Force and the United States Border Patrol, have arrested 25 individuals in the past two weeks on federal charges for mailing parcels containing controlled substances through the mail, United States Attorney Tim Johnson announced on Thursday, December 10.

A criminal complaint is merely an allegation of criminal conduct, not evidence.

A defendant is presumed innocent unless and until convicted through due process of law.

The operation, conducted in the McAllen area, represents the increasing efforts by the USPIS to protect the U.S. Mail from criminal misuse in South Texas. The USPIS is focusing on drug traffickers that attempt to use the mail to distribute illegal narcotics out of the Rio Grande Valley.

“The American public demands a safe and secure Postal Service and its employees deserve a safe working environment,” said Manuel González-Latimer, the inspector in charge. “The U.S. Postal Inspection Service will continue using a variety of investigative techniques to identify persons responsible for this type of activity and bring them to justice.”

Agents visiting local area post offices and mailing facilities have discovered numerous individuals placing drug laden boxes in the mail to be shipped to varied destinations outside the Rio Grande Valley. Federal criminal charges have been filed against those arrested and the statutory punishment range depends upon the amount of drugs a given defendant is charged with having possessed with intent to distribute.

Many of those arrested and charged face up to five years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine if convicted for drug trafficking offenses as alleged in the complaints.

Those arrested include Jesus Castillo, 32, of Donna; Carlos Ojeda, 48, of San Juan; Homar De Hoyos, 27, of San Juan; Manuel E. Gómez, 20, of Pharr; Juan Rodríguez-González, 46, Carmen Serrano, 38, Don Diego White, 33, and Sydia Arroyo, 31, all of McAllen; Benjamín González, 24, Miguel Román, 26, Esmeralda Balderas, 36, Ramiro Vásquez, 37, Luis Rodríguez, 47, María I. Sánchez, 33, Carmen Muñoz, 25, and María Méndez- López, 36, all of Mission; Sergio González, 26, Miguel Cerda, 19, and Jonathan J. Martínez, 22, all of Corpus Christi; Javier Zavala, 24, of Weslaco; Nelson Martínez, 26, of Edinburg; Juan M. Alaniz, 37, of Brownsville; San Juanita Villegas, 41, of Alton; Iván Van Buren, 45, of Corona, Calif.; and Mauro Martínez, 34, of Mexico.

Román, Sergio González, Jonathan Martínez and Cerda made an initial appearance on Thursday, November 10, before U.S. Magistrate Judge Peter Ormsby and were all detained pending a bond hearing set for Monday, December 14, 2009, at 3 p.m. The others have or are expected to appear before a U.S. Magistrate Judge in the near future.

In addition to the packages being mailed, agents have discovered and seized other drug laden parcels which are being analyzed in an effort to determine the identity of the shippers.

In a separate and unrelated, but similar case, earlier this year, USPIS inspectors arrested five of eight area residents allegedly involved in sending kilogram quantities of marijuana through the U.S. Mail. Criminal charges were filed against these eight. Four have been convicted and are pending sentencing. A fifth is pending trial.

The remaining three –  Tomás Silva Jr., 32, Román Vásquez-Méndez, 30, and Eduardo García Quijana aka Lalo, 23 – are fugitives and warrants remain outstanding for their arrests.

Quijana is last known to have lived in the Mission area while Silva and Vásquez-Méndez are last known to have lived in the Mission and Alton areas.

Silva is a Hispanic male, 6’0”, and approximately 300 lbs. with brown hair and brown eyes. Vásquez-Méndez is also a Hispanic male, 5’7”, approximately 160 lbs. also with brown hair and brown eyes and he has tattoos on his left hand, chest, right arm, abdomen, left forearm, upper left arm and upper right arm and is missing toes on his right foot.

The investigative efforts are continuing.

Anyone with information about persons responsible for mailing narcotics or have information regarding the whereabouts of aforementioned fugitives is encouraged to contact the local Postal Inspection Service at (956) 971-1721.

The United States Postal Inspection Service will pay up to $50,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of individuals who use the U.S. Mail to distribute narcotics.

••••••

South Texas College, PSJA seeing stars with  award from state higher education agency

By HELEN J. ESCOBAR

South Texas College and the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Independent School District are seeing stars from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. That’s because the two institutions were named recipients of the THECB’s prestigious Star Award for 2009.

The partnering pair received the honor for their work on the PSJA College, Career and Technology Academy, which offers students between the ages of 18 and 25 a chance to go back to high school and earn a diploma. Participants work to make up missing credits or focus on passing one or more sections of the state’s standardized test. They also begin work to earn college credit in the hope they will continue on to earn a certificate, or an associate’s or bachelor’s degree.

“The program is a model for how we can change lives and help students be successful,” Dr. Shirley Reed, STC president said. “No one entity could have done this alone, but by working together we have made this program a success.”

Only six Star Awards were given in 2009 at the annual Texas Higher Education Leadership Conference held in Dallas in early December. All recipients were honored for exceptional contribution towards the Closing the Gaps Higher Education Plan for Texas.

Since graduating its first class in December 2007, the academy has helped 444 students graduate from high school, 77 of those between the ages of 21 to 25.

“The staff at the academy is to be commended for their hard work and outstanding results,” said PSJA Superintendent Daniel King. “Many thanks to PSJA and STC boards for supporting this unique partnership and to Dr. Reed and her staff for being great partners. The academy success story demonstrates that even challenging problems like school dropouts can be solved when entities work together.”

According to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board:

The Texas Higher Education Star Award, established by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board in 2001, recognizes public and independent institutions of higher education; public and private schools and school districts; and organizations, groups, and individuals for their exceptional contributions toward one or more of the goals of Closing the Gaps by 2015, the Texas higher education plan adopted by the Coordinating Board in October 2000. The plan establishes four goals – to close the gaps in student participation, student success, academic excellence, and research. (See Closingthe Gaps by 2015 at: http://www.thecb.state.tx.us.)

Star Award applicants will compete in six categories: (1) two-year colleges; (2) four-year colleges and health-related institutions; (3) partnerships (with other institutions, businesses, or the community); (4) individuals; (5) public or private schools (PreK-12) or school districts; and (6) organizations that promote a college-going culture.

••••••

Congressman Hinojosa votes to hold Wall  Street accountable, and to protect consumers

By PATRICIA GUILLERMO

Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, on Friday, December 11, voted to help restore common sense to Wall Street and to protect consumers with the largest reform of the nation’s financial regulations since the New Deal.

The Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (H.R. 4173) will end taxpayer-funded bailouts and ‘too big to fail’ financial institutions, protect consumers from predatory lending, safeguard our retirement and college savings from unnecessary risks, and inject transparency and new accountability into a financial system run amok.

“For eight years, the former administration looked the other way as Wall Street and big banks exploited loopholes and gambled with our money – compromising our savings, our future, and the American Dream,” said Hinojosa. “Risky and irresponsible behavior, and the failure to regulate the financial industry led to the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. But it stops now. This bill will hold Wall Street and the big banks accountable. It will help protect consumers. It will help me protect my constituents.”

The legislation will create a new Consumer Financial Protection Agency to protect families and small businesses by ensuring bank loans, mortgages, and credit cards are fair, affordable, and understandable. For the first time, the new agency streamlines into one place the role of protecting ordinary Americans’ financial security.

This bill also creates the Office of Financial Literacy, which was authored by Hinojosa.

The office will help educate consumers on consumer financial products and services by providing one-on-one financial counseling; helping individuals understand basic banking and savings tools; helping individuals understand their credit history and credit score; assisting individuals in their efforts to plan for major purchases, reduce their debt, and improve their financial stability.

Hinojosa also made sure the bill would call upon the Director of the Office of Financial Literacy to develop a marketing campaign to promote financial education and on-on-one counseling for all individuals during all stages of life throughout the United  States.

“This bill also contains provisions to improve the financial literacy and financial education of consumers who send remittances to loved ones here, overseas and in other countries,” said Hinojosa. “Consumers should also have peace-of-mind of knowing that they are not going to be tricked by unscrupulous lenders”.

The Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2009 unwinds  “too big to fail” financial firms before their risky and irresponsible behavior threatens to bring down the entire global economy. It also strengthens government oversight over large banks and financial firms – including new regulation of credit rating agencies and riskier hedge funds, derivatives, and other complex financial products and entities.

This bill includes tougher enforcement and oversight of existing protections. It gives the Securities and Exchange Commission new enforcement powers, including requiring hedge funds and private equity funds to register. It enhances oversight and transparency of the credit rating agencies whose seal of approval gave way too many of the excessively risky practices that led to a financial collapse. It addresses egregious executive compensation, allowing shareholders to have a ‘say on pay,’ requiring independent directors on compensation committees, and limiting the risky pay practices of bank executives that jeopardized banks’ soundness.

“Wall Street reform and additional consumer protections are the next critical step to create jobs and exit the current sever recession”, said Hinojosa. “As we rebuild our economy, we must put in place common-sense rules to ensure that neither financial institutions nor Wall Street can jeopardize our economic recovery and hurt hard-working families and small businesses. Wall Street may be bouncing back, and giving themselves raises on their own, but we know from experience they’re not going to police themselves.”

This bill creates the Office of Fair Lending and Equal Opportunity that will provide oversight and enforcement of Federal laws intended to ensure the fair, equitable, and nondiscriminatory access to credit for both individuals and communities under the Equal Credit and Opportunity Act (ECOA).

Under ECOA, no creditor can discriminate against any applicant based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex or marital status, or age (provided the applicant has the capacity to contract); because all or part of the applicant’s income derives from any public assistance program; or because the applicant has in good faith exercised any right under the Consumer Credit Protection Act.

“I did what I thought was right,” said Hinojosa. “I represented my constituents and voted for legislation that will prevent another global economic crisis and settle the mortgage markets.”

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Sen. Hutchison ensures Texas toll moratorium through 2010

By JEFF SADOSKY

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, a member of the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development (THUD) Appropriations subcommittee, on Wednesday, December 9, announced that her language reinforcing a current ban on placing tolls on existing interstate highways in Texas through September 2010 was included in the conference report and is expected to be signed into law for Fiscal Year 2010.

In 2007 and 2008, Hutchison passed legislation that forbids the tolling of existing federal highways in Texas built with taxpayer dollars. Hutchison’s provision was signed into law as part of the Fiscal Year (FY) 2008 and 2009 THUD Appropriations bills.

“Texans should not be forced to pay for their highways twice. I am pleased that my provision in this bill prevents Texas drivers from having to overpay for federal highways through the end of Fiscal Year 2010,” Hutchison said. “I will continue to work hard to ensure that our federal highways remain permanently free from double taxation for good.”

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Gov. Perry: Washington shortchanges Texans by removing money to hold undocumented immigrants

Gov. Rick Perry on Friday, December 11, criticized the federal government for slashing funding from the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (SCAAP), which helps states cover the costs of incarcerating illegal aliens who have committed crimes in the U.S.

The omnibus appropriations bill currently moving through Congress increases overall spending by $6.8 billion, or 11.7 percent over last year, while reducing SCAAP funding by $70 million or 17.5 percent from last year’s level. A final Senate vote was expected a few days later.

“The federal government continues to compromise the safety and security of our country, and is adding insult to injury by leaving the cost of incarcerating criminal aliens who have infiltrated a border Washington has failed to secure on the backs of our state and local communities,” Perry said. “The State of Texas has already committed hundreds of millions of dollars to fill gaps along the border, and the least the federal government can do is fully reimburse states and local communities for picking up the slack on a federal responsibility.”

In May, Perry sent a letter urging President Barack Obama to reverse the administration’s proposal to zero out the program in the president’s budget for fiscal year 2010, thereby eliminating SCAAP completely.

“Not only do Texans suffer from increased crime associated with a porous international border, but taxpayers must pay for the legal defense and subsequent incarceration of criminal aliens, only a fraction of which is reimbursed by the federal government,” Perry’s letter read. “For these reasons, I hope that you will give serious consideration to expanding, rather than eliminating SCAAP.”

The federal government funded SCAAP at a total of $400 million in fiscal year 2009, of which Texas received only $18 million, while the Texas Department of Criminal Justice spent $143 million to incarcerate more than 13,000 criminal aliens in fiscal year 2008 (latest data available).

This proposed federal funding cut follows a plan announced by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in October to transport illegal aliens from other states into Texas solely for the purpose of deportation. The Alien Transfer and Exit Program (ATEP) will transport more than 34,000 illegal aliens per year through Presidio, essentially turning the area into a way station for the repatriation of illegal immigrants and increasing the likelihood that these individuals will immediately cross back into Texas, which is already bearing an uneven burden in dealing with immigration and border security issues along the Texas-Mexico border.

Since January, Perry has repeatedly urged the federal government, through letters to President Obama, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, to approve his request for 1,000 Title 32 National Guardsmen to support civilian law enforcement efforts to enhance border security in Texas. The federal government has yet to officially respond to the governor’s request.

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Congressman Cuellar votes to extend $31 billion worth of tax deductions for Americans

By ASHLEY PATTERSON

Congressman Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo/McAllen, on Thursday, November 9, voted for the Tax Extenders Act of 2009, a bi-partisan bill to extend $31 billion worth of federal income tax deductions scheduled to expire at the end of this year.

The tax breaks would provide relief for millions of Americans by extending deductions for rising property taxes, small businesses, state and local taxes and various tuition-related expenses.

“These are real tax cuts for millions of middle-class families and they will put hundreds if not thousands of dollars back into the pocketbooks of Americans,” said Cuellar.

“Families count on these deductions as they budget during the year and they’re a sure way to provide relief in these hard economic times.”

The individual tax deductions will bring an estimated $5 billion worth of tax credits back to Americans, providing up to 30 million homeowners with property tax relief, 4.5 million families with college tuition-related deductions and saves 3.4 million teachers money for their classroom expenses.

The bill also extends a tax credit for small businesses who continue to pay National Guard and Reserve employees when they are called up to serve.

Cuellar strongly supported and sponsored several parts of the bill, including a provision to extend tax credits for Texas’ low-income rural and urban community “Empowerment Zones.”

These areas can apply to receive favorable tax credits to boost local job growth and stimulate local economies.

Part of the Rio Grande Valley and the City of Cotulla, Texas are considered “Empowerment Zones” and currently Cotulla receives these tax breaks. Both areas are represented by Congressman Cuellar.

“Tax breaks to underserved communities give them the leg up they need to spawn growth in their communities,” said Cuellar. “Saving tax dollars means more money can be invested in the community and attract outside investors to develop in their towns.”

Cuellar also sponsored a tax provision to enhance charitable deductions for book contributions to public schools and supported tax deductions for areas affected by federally-declared disasters.

The extensions would also serve as a boon to the sluggish real estate and retail development markets, providing property tax credits for homeowners and $5 billion worth of incentives to encourage improvements to retail stores, constructions of restaurants and improvements to local development.

Low-income housing tax credits would also be saved, providing $3 billion worth of economic encouragement for developers to build-up economically distressed areas.

The House passed Wednesday H.R. 4213, the Tax Extenders Act of 2009, by a vote of 241 to 181. If passed by the Senate and signed into law by the President, these tax extensions will be extended by one and two years.

For more information on the extensions included in the Tax Extenders Act of 2009, please visit:

http://www.rules.house.gov/111/LegText/111_4213_txt.pdf

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Congressman Hinojosa votes for economic growth through consolidated appropriations act

By PATRICIA GUILLERMO

Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, on Friday, December 11, voted to invest in improvements in education, health services and support for Veterans for the residents of District 15. The Consolidated Appropriations Act offers improvements to many areas and includes new jobs and will give local areas an economic boost.

“This legislation is an important part of our broader economic strategy,” said Hinojosa. “We are focused and ready to move forward to strengthen our economy in a fiscally responsible manner. We are investing in programs that we know, have and can and will work”, said Hinojosa.

Some of the national programs included are in the area of health:

  • Community Health Centers: $2.2 billion for centers across the country that will provide quality care in both urban and rural underserved areas across the country. Su Clinica Familiar in Harlingen just received $7.5 million to go towards building a new medical center.
  • Health Professions Workforce Shortages: $498 million to support the training of students across health professions and nursing fields in our nation. Some programs are specifically targeted to disadvantaged, underserved populations.

Another vital area for the success of our communities is in the education of youth and adult residents. This bill offers an array of national programs that will have a positive impact on education in deep South Texas.

  • GEAR UP: $323 million. Texas has the second largest Gear Up programs in the country. The University  of Texas-Pan American and Region I have served and are serving a combined total of more than 30,000 students. In the past five years both have received more than $129 million in federal grant funding.
  • TRIO: $853 million for programs that help disadvantaged, first generation and students with disabilities prepare for, enter, and complete college.
  • Strengthening Minority-Serving Institutions: $117 million for Hispanic Serving Institutions for undergraduate degrees and $10.5 Million for graduate degrees.
  • Adult Education: $628 million to help adults acquire basic literacy skills complete a secondary education and become more employable, productive and responsible citizens.
  • Pell Grants: $17.5 billion which will support a $5,550 maximum Pell Grant in fiscal year 2010 for financial assistance to ensure access to higher educational opportunities for low-and middle-income students.
  • High School Graduation Initiative: $50 million to stop the drop out crisis.
  • Head Start: $7. 2 billion for childhood services, including educational, health, nutritional, and social services for low-income children before they enter school.
  • After School Centers: $1. 2 billion for tutoring, mentoring and enrichment activities for students.

This bill includes funding for many other national education programs which include:

  • Reading is Fundamental (RIF): $24,803,00;
  • Teach for America: $15,000,000;
  • Reach Out and Read: $6,000,000;
  • Center for Civic Education: $35,000,000;
  • National Council on Economic Education Exchange Program: $5,019,000;
  • Promoting Post-Baccalaureate Opportunities for Hispanic Americans: $10,5000,000;
  • Migrant Education (HEP/Camp): $36,668,000; and
  • Even Start: $66,500,000.

“I have continued my strong support in the arena of education and have made certain that the educational provisions in my district have been and will always be a priority,” said Hinojosa.

As part of our commitment to our veterans, this bill increases funding for services to the men and women who served our country so bravely – including increases for mental health services, health care in rural areas and assistance to homeless veterans. The bill offers a commitment to the men and women of the armed services to help our veterans find and keep their jobs. It includes:

  • Centers of Excellence for Veterans Success: $6 million for the Department of Education for a new initiative to establish college and university-based support centers for veterans seeking to obtain a post-secondary education.
  • Veterans Employment and Training: $256 million to maximize employment and training opportunities for veterans to transition to the civilian workforce, and to protect their employment rights.

“Our troops and their families sacrifice a tremendous amount for this country,” said Hinojosa. “We have a moral obligation to support the military families in Deep South Texas and across the nation before, during and after their service. This bill does just that, with programs and services that will play a significant role in improving the quality of life for our brave men and women in the armed services.”

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House passes plan to fund national priorities for federal government, says Congressman Cuellar

By ASHLEY PATTERSON

Congressman Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo/McAllen, on Thursday, December 10, voted for a national investment package providing annual federal funding to the nation’s critical priorities, including funding for veterans and the nation’s housing department.

The omnibus bill also includes funding for military construction and the health, labor and education departments, plus funds for the nation’s justice system.

Cuellar also secured $2.1 million worth of federal funding for local law enforcement, health, transportation and community small business priorities in South Texas, including $550,000 in local funding for a border region crime lab and funding for the Port of Roma bus terminal.

“This is for our teachers, our students, our police officers, our military and our veterans, and ensures our country is moving forward stronger and more secure in 2010,” said Cuellar. “This funding keeps our country functioning and helps the millions of Americans who rely on these federal programs.”

The Consolidated Appropriations bill makes targeted investments in the nation’s vital programs including $518 billion for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid and $19 billion for federal student financial aid programs. More than $109 billion will be made available for veterans programs next year and $41 billion for highway infrastructure nationwide.

The measure also includes $7 billion for the U.S. Census Bureau, the agency responsible for conducting the constitutionally mandated 2010 Census next April, plus a 35 percent increase in funding for the Small Business Administration.

Cuellar also secured significant funding for local law enforcement efforts, including $450,000 for police and sheriff departments to purchase new equipment, of which $250,000 will assist the South Texas Forensics Laboratory serving Webb, Jim Hogg, LaSalle, Zapata and Starr Counties.

The City of Roma will also receive $300,000 to build a bus terminal at the Port of Roma, a critical crossing point between the U.S. and Mexico.

Currently, bus companies are operating out of narrow streets spread across the city. The terminal will create a central location suitable enough to facilitate mass international bus travel and it will expedite the movement of thousands of travelers who cross the border daily.

“This bus terminal will transform the City of Roma as a main border crossing point to Mexico,” said Cuellar. “It will make travel safer, faster and better for those people who rely on busses to cross the border.”

Cuellar and Congressmen Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, and Congressman Solomon P. Ortiz, D-Corpus Christi, also helped secure $24.8 million for the national “Reading is Fundamental” program, a literacy organization that uses public and private funds to purchase books for children attending underserved public schools. The program currently benefits children and families in the Rio Grande Valley.

The House passed H.R. 3288, the Consolidated Appropriations omnibus bill on December 10 by a vote of 221-202. If passed by the Senate and signed into law by the President, these funds will be made available for fiscal year 2010.

To learn more about funding provisions included in the bill, please visit: http://appropriations.house.gov/

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