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Magdalena Díaz Tellez, deputy consul at the Mexican Consulate in McAllen, and Hidalgo County Judge  René A. Ramírez on Wednesday, September 15, presided over the unveiling of a plaque in the downtown square in Edinburg that helped mark Mexico’s 200th anniversary of its declaration of independence from Spain. On September 16, 1810, Catholic priest Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla declared Mexican independence, which helped ignite what would become a war that did not end until 1821. Hidalgo County bears the namesake of the Catholic priest, who was captured and executed by Spanish forces. A bust of the hero priest is located in the downtown square, which is owned by the county to help handle parking demands for visitors doing business at the nearby county courthouse.

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Congressman Ruben Hinojosa, D-Mercedes (featured first on right), on Wednesday, September 15,  presented Arturo Sarukhan, the Mexican Ambassador to the United States, with a congressional resolution commemorating the important dates in Mexican history in honor of Mexico’s Bicentennial. “As a Mexican-American, I am very proud of my heritage and culture” said Hinojosa. “My parents never forgot where they came from and taught all 11 of their children to cherish our history and our ties to Mexico." Hinojosa made the presentation on behalf of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. He joined Congresswoman Lucile Roybal-Allard, D-California, in making the formal introduction of the resolution to Congress. “We have and always will be associated with our neighbor to the south and although we are facing new challenges along our border, we must never forget how much our two countries need each other to flourish,” said Hinojosa.

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Namaste Valley Magazine will be hosting a seminar on domestic violence and self-defense for women on Tuesday, September 28, from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the RGV Hispanic Chamber of Commerce offices, located at 3313 N. McColl Road in McAllen. Tony Torres of Torres Martial Arts will also demonstrate two self-defense techniques that all women should know. "’The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and the cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people,’" said Martin Luther King, Jr. Domestic violence robs you of your hopes and your identity," noted Lana de Leon of Namaste Valley Magazine. “We encourage ladies to attend and take a step at being safer.” An Avon Reese Witherspoon bracelet will be given away as a door prize. The bracelet helped raise $4 million nationally in 2009 to  help  reducing domestic violence. Additional door prizes will be given away from Avon in honor of Avon’s Speak Out Against Domestic Violence campaign. Call to register at the RGV Hispanic Chamber at 928-0060 because seating is limited. Featured, from left:  Lana De León, Tony Torres and Stephanie Ramírez, who is an intern with the Rio Grande Valley Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

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The Texas Secretary of State on Wednesday, September 8, approved a request by the McAllen Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors to change its name to the Rio Grande Valley Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. "We intend to offer our services in all four counties and represent the area as a region in Washington, DC and Austin” said Cynthia M. Sakulenzki, RGV Hispanic Chamber Pres/CEO. "We want to be able to state that we represent the largest group of Hispanic and small business owners in the country." The business organization was initially chartered in 1997 as the RGV Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, but in February 2001, its leaders changed the group’s name to the McAllen Hispanic Chamber.  With the growth of the business community in deep South Texas, the Rio Grande Valley Hispanic Chamber will continue focusing on key constituencies and issues, including small business, economic development, women, cultural events, health, and international and local governmental affairs. Officials with the RGV Hispanic Chamber of Commerce featured here are, seated, from left: Roxanna Godínez, Vice Chair of Membership and Adelita Muñoz, Vice Chair of Education. Standing, from left, are:  Ronnie Bernal, Vice Chair of Small Business and Economic Development; Celina González, Events Committee; Cynthia M. Sakulenzki, president and CEO; Hari Namboodiri, Advisory Board; and Brent Smith, treasurer.

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The University of Texas-Pan American at Starr County has a permanent building to call its own. On Wednesday, September 8, UTPA officials were joined by local and state dignitaries, as well as representatives from its new neighbor, South Texas College (STC), in dedicating the 17,391-square-foot facility located on Farm-to-Market Road 3167 in Rio Grande City. "Having a local university is sometimes taken for granted in communities because they’ve been there for generations, but they bring opportunities, they bring growth and they bring prosperity to the local communities," said Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City. "This facility, working closely with STC, will do the same for our area. This facility will enhance the ability of UTPA to touch the lives for more students right here in the Valley." Featured, during the ribbon cutting, from left: Dr. Ana María Rodríguez, UTPA Interim Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs; Rose Benavidez, South Texas College Board of Trustees member; Eloy Vera, Starr County Judge; Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo; Dr. Robert S. Nelsen, UTPA President; Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City; Rubén Sáenz, administrator of the South Texas College Starr County campus; and Dr. Alma Pérez, director of The University of Texas-Pan American at Starr County. See story later in this posting.

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A $1 million gift from VAMOS (Valley Alliance of Mentors for Opportunities & Scholarships) that will be matched dollar-for-dollar by The University of Texas -Pan American Foundation is a boon to the university in its efforts to help more and more students succeed, said UTPA President Robert S. Nelsen. Sonia Falcón, VAMOS president, and several members of the board convened on the UTPA campus on Monday, August 30 to present a $1 million check to Nelsen, who accepted on behalf of the UTPA Foundation Board of Trustees.The $2 million from VAMOS and the UTPA Foundation will fund the VAMOS/UTPA Endowed Scholarship program exclusively for Hidalgo, Cameron and Starr county students who enter the university as freshmen. The scholarships are then renewable for up to four years as long as the VAMOS/UTPA Scholars meet the eligibility criteria. Featured, seated, from left: Alonzo Cantú, chairman emeritus of VAMOS and vice chair of the UTPA Foundation board, Sonia Falcón, VAMOS president, and Dr. Robert S. Nelsen, UTPA president. Standing, from left: Johnny Oliva, VAMOS vice president; Rodrigo Reyna, VAMOS treasurer; Maritza Rodríguez, executive director of VAMOS; Olga López, VAMOS board member; and Paul R. Rodríguez, VAMOS board member.

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Hidalgo County Commissioners Court approves key feasibility study for commuter rail system envisioned by Sen. Hinojosa, Rep. Martínez

By KARINA CARDOZA

The Hidalgo County Commissioners’ Court and the Hidalgo County Commuter Rail District have given a green light for consultants to begin working on the Hidalgo County Commuter Rail Feasibility Study. The study, to be funded by a Department of Energy grant, will allow the county and the Commuter Rail District to determine the viability of passenger rail in Hidalgo County.

In general, commuter rail, also called suburban rail, is a passenger rail transport service between a   city center, and outer suburbs and commuter towns or other locations that draw large numbers of passengers – people who travel on a daily basis. Trains operate following a schedule, at speeds varying from 30 miles per hour to 125 miles per hour.

“Hidalgo County Commissioners’ Court created the Hidalgo County Commuter Rail District to help find ways to bring intercity passenger rail services to Hidalgo County  that will eventually connect all Valley cities together,” said Hidalgo County Judge René A. Ramírez. “We live in one of the fastest growing counties in Texas and need to think creatively about how to improve mobility and reduce congestion as we continue to grow.  This feasibility study will provide us with some direction as to the kind of infrastructure we need to have in place to meet our residents’ future needs.” 

The Hidalgo County Commuter Rail Feasibility Study will analyze population growth, traffic patterns, existing infrastructure, and recommend routes for commuter rail lines. The study will also provide ridership forecasts, estimates for capital and operating costs, and identify possible funding sources.

Valley legislators envisioned rail system

“The Valley population is growing at a tremendous pace and that is why we successfully passed legislation that gave South Texas counties the opportunity to create commuter rail districts,” said Rep. Armando “Mando” Martínez, D-Weslaco. “There are areas that already have a tremendous amount of congestion and with continued growth it is only going to get worse. Studying efficient and cost-effective modes of travel is good for our residents and will foster economic development.”

Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, was the Senate sponsor in 2007 of House Bill 2510 by Martínez to help bring about commuter rail services along the Texas border with Mexico.

"House Bill 2510 created a mechanism to allow Hidalgo County and any of the other 13 Texas counties that border Mexico to create commuter rail districts," said Hinojosa. "Under HB 2510, each border county will have the opportunity to organize and create a commuter rail board to determine the feasibility of establishing a commuter rail system within their respective county."

Although Martínez was the principal author of the legislation, it had widespread support from other Valley state representatives, including Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen, Rep. Ismael "Kino" Flores, D-Palmview, Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City, and Rep. Eddie Lucio, III, D-San Benito, who served as joint authors of HB 2510.

Godfrey Garza, chairman of the Hidalgo County Commuter Rail District, said that commuter rail "has proven to be a cost effective means of travel in many places. We want to bring that option to our residents. We will soon begin a round of  meetings to gather input from the public on this important issue.”

The firm selected to conduct the commuter rail feasibility study is Lockwood, Andrews, and Newman Inc. Representatives from the firm will be making monthly  presentations to the Hidalgo County Commuter Rail District Board.

More information on this project and upcoming meetings are available online at:

http://www.co.hidalgo.tx.us/index.aspx?nid=811.

David A. Díaz contributed to this story.

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Santana Textiles denim manufacturing plant breaks ground in Edinburg’s prosperous future

By JUDGE RENÉ A. RAMÍREZ

On Wednesday, September 8, a groundbreaking ceremony was held for a new denim manufacturing plant in Edinburg.

The arrival of Brazilian-owned Santana Textiles is a big deal for Hidalgo County and the Rio Grande Valley generally.

When the $180 million state-of-the-art plant is fully operational it will create 800 jobs that will pay an average of $25,000 per year. There will be 3,200 jobs created indirectly as suppliers provide the raw materials necessary for the manufacturing process.

The plant is to be built over 33 acres in Edinburg’s North Industrial Park. It will be built in four stages with the final stage slated to be complete by 2014. Once finished, it will encompass about 400,000-square-feet of manufacturing space.

The Hidalgo County Commissioner’s Court played its part in helping to lure Santana to the region with tax abatements. We recognized the significance of attracting such a major company – Santana is, after all, the fifth largest denim manufacturer in the world.

The property eligible for the abatement includes the 775,000 square foot facility; and machinery and equipment such as the weaving and dye machines used to manufacture the denim. The estimated dollar value of the abatement is 8.5 million, provided the company meets its goals in job creation and dollars invested over the next ten years.

The success in bringing a major manufacturer to Hidalgo County is all the more impressive given the tremendous economic problems faced by a growing number of communities across the country, with so many firms laying off workers or at least not hiring new ones.

A lot of people at the state, county and city level deserve praise for ensuring that Santana Textiles is coming to our region. There were a lot of hurdles to clear and now they have been. I particularly want to say thank you to the team from the All-America City of Edinburg: City Manager Ramiro Garza and Edinburg Economic Development Corporation Executive Director Pedro Salazar.

Attending the groundbreaking ceremony I could not help but think back to my childhood in Edinburg. The area the 300,000 square-foot plant will be built on was pretty desolate when I was growing up. It was farm land.

Back then, I never thought we would have a movie theater. I never thought we would have strip centers or an Academy. When I was growing up, the push was, yes, you need to go to school and you need to get educated. But the thought was that the best jobs would be outside of the Valley.

Today, we are creating a climate where the best jobs are coming to Hidalgo County. As a father of two, this pleases me a lot. I want my children to have the chance of getting a good education, becoming productive citizens and at least have the opportunity to stay in the Valley because good jobs are available here in an economic region we are now calling the Rio South Texas.

In order to attract the best companies to Hidalgo County, we have to have the infrastructure in place. This is why we have placed such a great emphasis on fixing the levees, modernizing the drainage systems, and eliminating the bottlenecks along U.S. 281 towards interstate standards.

According to the Rio South Texas Economic Council, our region of Texas is due to grow by 15 percent over the next five years. Hidalgo County is preparing for that growth, as can be seen by our support for the two new freight corridors that will link our international bridges to U.S. 83.

We will continue to focus on job creation and planning for the long term so that our growth is handled in the right way and the quality of life improves for our residents today and for years to come.  

René A. Ramírez is County Judge of Hidalgo County

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UT-Pan American continues Starr County expansion with opening of $7.8 million facility

By JENNIFER BERGHOM

The University of Texas-Pan American at Starr County has a permanent building to call its own.

On Wednesday, September 8, UTPA officials were joined by local and state dignitaries, as well as representatives from its new neighbor, South Texas College (STC), in dedicating the 17,391-square-foot facility located on Farm-to-Market Road 3167 in Rio Grande City.

"We’re here for a great and a marvelous day, a day the people in this area have been waiting for, for a long time," said Dr. Robert S. Nelsen, president of UTPA. "On behalf of UT Pan Am we are proud to be here. I have said that if we don’t get it right in the Rio Grande Valley we won’t get it right in the nation. Today is proof that we are getting it right in the Valley, we are getting it right in the nation."

UTPA has been offering undergraduate courses in Starr County for more than 30 years, starting with education classes. Courses were first offered in classrooms borrowed from local school districts, then they were moved to portable buildings.

The university expanded its course selections to include early childhood bilingual and generalist classes for education majors, criminal justice and master’s-level courses in education leadership and reading. Interdisciplinary courses in history, English and anthropology are also offered.

At the ceremony, local and state officials, as well as representatives from the University and STC, said they were glad UTPA had a permanent home in Starr County, but it couldn’t have been done without their teamwork and the help of the Texas Legislature and city and county officials and residents.

Nelsen was joined by Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City,  Starr County Judge Eloy Vera, STC Starr County Campus Administrator Rubén Sáenz and Dr. Ana María Rodríguez, UTPA Interim Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs in dedicating the new facility.

They also thanked former UTPA presidents Blandina "Bambi" Cárdenas and Miguel Nevárez, as well as Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, and former Rep. Roberto Gutiérrez for their roles in moving the project forward.

"Having a local university is sometimes taken for granted in communities because they’ve been there for generations, but they bring opportunities, they bring growth and they bring prosperity to the local communities," Guillen said. "This facility, working closely with STC, will do the same for our area. This facility will enhance the ability of UTPA to touch the lives for more students right here in the Valley."

There are currently 164 students taking a full course load at the Rio Grande City facility and 344 students who completed their undergraduate studies at the center have graduated, Guillen said.

"Each of their lives has been enriched and changed by the opportunity to receive their education here," he said.

Rodríguez put into perspective the success of the Starr County center, saying there have been 347 students enrolled, and the 344 who graduated represent a 99 percent graduation rate from that facility, something that is unlike anything anyone else has seen in the country.

"That tells us the students in Starr County are deeply committed," she said.

The facility is the first the university has built following Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) guidelines to promote the university’s sustainability initiative. It includes a distance learning classroom, learning center, computer lab, laboratory and a multi-purpose room, an administration wing that includes a student lounge and multi-purpose area, a library, teaching lab, two general classrooms and faculty offices.

"It is all about the students and what we’re trying to do for the students," Nelsen said.

Native flora was used for the landscaping and the facility — composed of three buildings connected by a courtyard in the center — was designed honoring the traditional architecture of the area.

"The building and the way we built this building shows our commitment to being here forever," Nelsen said. "We’re not here just for awhile, we’re here to grow and we’re here to serve Starr County."

The total project cost $7,872,909, which was funded by $6 million in tuition revenue bond proceeds and $1,872,909 in higher education assistance funds.

Several students currently enrolled in classes at The University of Texas-Pan American at Starr County said they appreciate having a university close to home. Many live and work in Starr County and the commute to Edinburg can take up to an hour and a half for some of them.

Having a new state-of-the-art facility also is a great improvement from the portables where they’ve been attending classes.

"It has been 10 years that we have been waiting for this building," said Andrés Tello, a junior majoring in bilingual elementary education who lives in Roma. "The old building, which were portables, is nothing compared to this building."

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South Texas College enrollment increases  seven percent with a record 29,054 students

By HELEN J. ESCOBAR

South Texas College’s fall 2010 enrollment hit a record 29,054 students, a seven percent increase over the college’s fall 2009 enrollment. The college’s Technology Campus in McAllen saw its biggest enrollment increase in history with an increase of 31 percent over fall 2009. 

“We are seeing heavy demand for those gold collar careers that are essentially high-wage, high-skill jobs,” said Dr. Shirley A. Reed, STC president. “Students are seeking training in welding, precision manufacturing, diesel, building technology, culinary arts, and all fields related to computers and computer systems. These are the jobs of tomorrow that are going to help keep America’s economy strong. Our students are very smart and they are preparing now for the trends of tomorrow.” 

The college also saw a large increase in enrollment at its Mid-Valley Campus in Weslaco, which is expanding hands-on training in welding, manufacturing and other technical professions. Its Dual Enrollment Program saw a nine percent increase, supporting the message that the road to college begins well before high school.

“Additionally, the college witnessed an 11 percent increase in enrollment in online classes, which does not surprise me because we have made a commitment to expanding our course offerings to allow our busy students to learn at the time and location of their choosing,” added Reed. “We are here to provide opportunities and it’s more imperative than ever, with the state of the economy, to allow our students every possible venue to learn and earn a college degree. We have made a commitment to expanding the college to include a full virtual campus by fall 2011 and so online enrollment will continue to increase rapidly.”

And to meet demands of its increasing enrollment, STC has been busy expanding facilities at many of its campuses, including 900 parking spaces and 14 new portable buildings at the Pecan Campus in McAllen. Portable buildings are also present at several of the college’s other campuses to provide much-needed classroom space. The Nursing and Allied Health and Technology campuses in McAllen and the Mid-Valley Campus in Weslaco each received three portables.

At the Mid-Valley Campus, the college has completed renovations to increase the size of several classrooms, doubled the size of the campus nursing lab, and expanded the labs for the Welding, Computer Aided Drafting and Design and Precision Manufacturing Technology programs. STC’s Associate Degree Nursing Program has expanded faculty and lab space in Weslaco to increase access to training close to home for many Mid-Valley students.  At its Starr County Campus in Rio Grande City, the college renovated space so that the Precision Manufacturing Program can offer new classes to meet the needs of the area’s business community.

The college has added teaching locations to create more learning opportunities, including a teaching site at Jimmy Carter High School in La Joya. STC has partnered with The University of Texas-Pan American to use the Main Place Site close to La Plaza Mall to offer students a variety of day classes to ease commutes to and from work. And with the addition of classes at all campus location from 10 p.m. to midnight, the college is working overtime to make attending class convenient.

“I know that many more students hope to make STC the launching pad for their educational journey in the future and we promise to do everything possible to make their dreams a reality,” Reed concluded. “I want to thank our current students for continuing their commitment to higher education, and I also want to thank our faculty and staff who all work very hard to make this college a reality. No one ever dreamed STC would be at this enrollment level even two years ago. Now that it’s a reality, it’s very exciting to have a hand in positively changing so many lives in our communities.”

For more information about South Texas College call 956-872-8311 or visit http://www.southtexascollege.edu.    

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VAMOS, UT-Pan American Foundation create $2 million scholarship endowment

By SANDRA QUINTANILLA

A $1 million gift from VAMOS (Valley Alliance of Mentors for Opportunities & Scholarships) that will be matched dollar-for-dollar by The University of Texas -Pan American Foundation is a boon to the university in its efforts to help more and more students succeed, said UTPA President Robert S. Nelsen.

Sonia Falcón, VAMOS president, and several members of the board convened on the UTPA campus on Monday, August 30 to present a $1 million check to Nelsen, who accepted on behalf of the UTPA Foundation Board of Trustees.

The $2 million from VAMOS and the UTPA Foundation will fund the VAMOS/UTPA Endowed Scholarship program exclusively for Hidalgo, Cameron and Starr county students who enter the university as freshmen. The scholarships are then renewable for up to four years as long as the VAMOS/UTPA Scholars meet the eligibility criteria.

Nelsen said the scholarships are a boon to the university because they will allow the institution to help more students afford their education and move on toward further success.

"VAMOS has done something wonderful," Nelsen said. "We don’t want to have to charge students more. This will support students more. We want to support students."

Tears welled up in the eyes of Ana María Rodríguez, Interim Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, as she expressed her gratitude toward VAMOS and the UTPA Foundation.

"This is the final frosting on the cake," Rodríguez said. "Everything we’ve been doing to help our students has just been given a major boost. Also, the message it sends is that VAMOS is behind what we’re doing; it’s validating what we do."

Undergraduate students who qualify for the scholarship can receive up to $2,000 annually for four years. The first VAMOS/UTPA Endowed Scholarships are expected to be awarded for the 2010-2011 academic year, said Janice Odom, Vice President for University Advancement at UTPA.

VAMOS and the UTPA Foundation have been working on the endowment for a couple of years because the majority of the students who apply for VAMOS scholarships plan to attend UTPA, said Falcón.

"It makes me feel wonderful. I am a UTPA alumna and to be able to give back to this University has always been a goal of mine," Falcón said. "I can only hope the students who will apply have the same experience that I did when I came here and have the same love to want to give back to the University."

Falcón said she and fellow board members often hear stories from scholarship recipients — many of whom are the first in their families to attend college — about how UTPA has prepared them for successful careers.

"The satisfaction of a scholarship like this is that not only the students benefit, but the whole family benefits. We hope it changes the whole family dynamic."

Jaime Ramón, chair of the UTPA Foundation, called the endowment a "win-win situation for everybody."

"The endowed scholarships will provide a number of excellent opportunities for students who go to UT Pan American," Ramón said. "We’re just so privileged to be a part of this."

VAMOS is a nonprofit organization that a group of local business and community leaders began in 1996 to improve and broaden the educational opportunities for Hispanic students in South Texas. Its main function is to raise money for academically accomplished Hispanic students.

In addition to the new VAMOS/UTPA Endowed Scholarship, VAMOS awards four-year scholarships every year to deserving high school graduates from various backgrounds for enrollment at a university of their choice. In addition, VAMOS not only supports students by paying for tuition and books but helps with motivation and encouragement through its Mentoring Program which monitors students throughout their college careers to ensure their success, according to its website.

The UTPA Foundation is an independent nonprofit organization, chartered in 1982 to raise, manage and invest funds for charitable, educational, and scientific purposes to benefit the University. For more information about VAMOS, visit http://www.vamosscholars.org.

For more information about the UTPA Foundation, visit http://dua.utpa.edu/foundation.

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Congressman Hinojosa secures $1.7 million grant for Hidalgo County’s at-risk home owners

By PATRICIA GUILLERMO

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has awarded Hidalgo County $1,716,924 in Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP) grants to acquire land and property, demolish or rehabilitate abandoned properties, and,offer down payment and closing cost assistance to low- to moderate-income homebuyers with household incomes not to exceed 120 percent of area median income, said Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes. 

The NSP requires housing counseling for home buyers and requires NSP grant recipients, such as Hidalgo County, to ensure that homebuyers obtain a mortgage loan from a lender who agrees to comply with sound lending practices. The $1 billion in total NSP funding awarded by HUD in early September was authorized by the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act and is the third phase of HUD’s Neighborhood Stabilization Program. Since September 2008, HUD has awarded $7 billion NSP grants nationwide. 

“I commend the Obama Administration for providing Hidalgo  County with the funding it needs to turn around areas burdened with foreclosures. This development sends a strong message to those who voted against the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act," said Hinojosa. "Had they succeeded in blocking passage, Hidalgo County would not be receiving this $1.7 million grant, nor would other states and localities across this great nation receive similar grants to help turn around local, county and state economies, thereby helping prevent a future crisis.”

With these funds, Hidalgo County can create “land banks” to assemble, temporarily manage, and dispose of vacant land for the purpose of stabilizing neighborhoods and encouraging re-use or redevelopment of urban property.  Hidalgo  County will have an exclusive 12-14 day window to evaluate and bid on properties before others, and the traditional 75-to-85 day process it takes to re-sell foreclosed properties will be cut in half. NSP grant recipients are required to ensure home buyers receive homeownership counseling and obtain a mortgage loan from a lender who agrees to comply with sound lending practices.       

“As co-chair of the House Financial and Economic Literacy Caucus, I am pleased that homebuyers will receive homeownership counseling under the NSP program," said Hinojosa. "I am equally pleased the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act creates the Office of Housing Counseling within HUD to boost homeownership and rental housing counseling.”

The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act also creates a $1 billion Emergency Homeowners Loan Program to be administered by HUD. This loan program will provide up to 24 months in mortgage assistance to homeowners who are at risk of foreclosure and have experienced a substantial reduction in income due to involuntary unemployment, underemployment, or a medical condition.  

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October 4 deadline approaches for Hidalgo County residents to apply to FEMA for federal flood relief stemming from Hurricane Alex

By KARINA CARDOZA
Hurricane Alex and Rio Grande River flood survivors are running out of time to apply for federal financial assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The deadline set by FEMA to apply for disaster assistance is Monday, October 4, 2010.

As of September 15, nearly 2,000 residents registered with FEMA have been approved for more than $2.2 million in individual assistance funds for damages sustained from Hurricane Alex and related Rio Grande River flooding, with more than $5.5 million statewide for this disaster. Another $430,000 was approved by FEMA for “other than housing” assistance in Hidalgo County, compared to $1.4 million statewide.

FEMA has made applying for assistance simple. Residents can get qualified on the phone (1-800-621-FEMA) or via the web (www.disasterassistance.gov); however, the easiest and most convenient way is at a Disaster Recovery Center. The Edinburg Disaster Recovery Center, which has been stationed for a little more than one month at the Hidalgo County Old Administration Building (100 E. Cano, 2nd Floor Edinburg) next to the County Judge’s Office, will be closing on Friday, September 24.

At the Edinburg Disaster Recovery Center, bilingual representatives of state, federal and voluntary agencies are available to answer questions and provide disaster loan information to homeowners, renters and businesses of all sizes.

“With major damages sustained by numerous homes during this flood event, the federal response to help residents recover is encouraging,” said Hidalgo County Judge René A. Ramírez. “We are grateful for this support and hopeful that the funding will bring relief to residents as they rebuild their lives.” 

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UT-Pan American receives $278,658 grant for health education high-tech equipment

 By PATRICIA GUILLERMO

Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, on Friday, September 17, announced a $278,658 grant was awarded to the University of Texas-Pan American by the U.S. Health and Human Services Department for new equipment to enhance training for health professionals.

“The high-tech equipment that will be purchased for the University of Texas-Pan  American will expand current training capabilities,” said Hinojosa. “Many students will clearly benefit by using state of the art equipment in their laboratories.”

The funding is part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act which Hinojosa fully supported this congressional session. The grant funding focused on educational institutions which serve under-served and uninsured patient populations, rural communities, and minorities.

The grants are offered to strengthen and expand the health profession workforce. Types of equipment purchased include human patient simulators that give students the opportunity to improve clinical judgment and critical thinking.

Dr. Bruce Reed, Dean/Professor of the University of Texas-Pan American College of Health Science and Human Services, says they are grateful to have been awarded this grant.

“With this funding, our College will be able to buy essential high-tech equipment to open our Simulated Lab,” said Reed. “This hands-on learning center will use high-fidelity patient simulations manikins such as the SimMan, SimWoman, and SimBaby, to allow students in nursing, physician assistants, and other health professions to practice and learn. Learning in this simulated clinical environment allows the student to try, make mistakes, and try again as many times as is necessary until mastery occurs. The primary outcome is increased clinical skills and confidence in those skills.”

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Hidalgo County teams up with Equal Voice Network for Motor Voter outreach program

By KARINA CARDOZA

The Hidalgo County Elections Department and the Equal Voice Network have teamed up for the first Motor Voter Outreach and Education Tour, an attempt to raise awareness about voter registration and participation.

The premise behind Motor Voter is to make it simple and convenient for Hidalgo County residents to register to vote, update information, and learn how to use the electronic voting machines. The last day to register to vote or make changes is Monday, October 4. Early Voting takes place from October 18 to 29, and Election Day is November 2.

Motor Voter kicked off on Monday, September 13 at the South Tower Community Resource Center (1429 S. Tower, Alamo) and at the ARISE center in Las Milpas (125 Denny Dr., Pharr). The voter outreach and education tour will run through Thursday, September 23, visiting a variety of locations in or near voting precincts with low voter-turnout.

“Our goal with the Motor Voter tour is to make it easier for eligible voters in the county to vote, especially for those residents who traditionally feel left out of the process because they are not sure about how to use the new electronic machines or don’t know where to register or update their voter information,”  said Hidalgo County Judge René A. Ramírez.

The Equal Voice Network is a coalition of 10 Valley non-profits. The non-profits working in Hidalgo County are ARISE, LUPE (La Union del Pueblo Entero) and Proyecto Azteca. In a non-partisan approach, the Equal Voice Network will assist with promoting Motor Voter to residents in precincts with low voter-turnout. In addition, the coalition plans to conduct door-to-door visits, voter registration drives, host a candidate forum and participate in other events along with the Hidalgo County Elections Department.

“We are proud to work together with our grassroots organizations,” added Hidalgo County Elections Administrator Yvonne Ramón. “We know how important it is for communities to have a strong voter turnout, and we are doing our best to make sure we not only get people registered, but also make sure they take that important step and participate in the electoral process.”

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Attorney General Abbott takes challenge on federal health insurance law before federal district court judge in Florida

U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson in Pensacola, Florida on Tuesday, September 14, heard arguments from the bipartisan coalition of 20 state attorneys generals and governors that are challenging the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. During the September 14 hearing, the states urged the court to reject the U.S. Department of Justice’s motion to dismiss their case. In August, a federal judge in Virginia rejected a similar attempt by the federal government when the court denied the DOJ’s motion to dismiss the Commonwealth of Virginia’s challenge.

Court documents filed by the states contend that the Act infringes upon state sovereignty in violation of the Tenth Amendment and Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution. The new law – which will cost Texas taxpayers an estimated $27 billion over a 10-year period – improperly forces states to spend billions of additional dollars on taxpayer-funded social programs the states cannot afford; unconstitutionally requires state agencies to carry out initiatives for the federal government; improperly commandeers state resources to implement federal regulatory prerogatives; and interferes with the states’ abilities to govern their relationships with their own state employees.

“The new federal health care law violates the U.S. Constitution and unconstitutionally infringes upon Texans’ individual liberties,” Abbott said. “No public policy goal – no matter how important or well-intentioned – can be allowed to trample the protections and rights guaranteed by our Constitution. To protect all Texans’ constitutional rights, preserve the constitutional framework intended by our nation’s founders, and defend our state from further infringement by the federal government, the State of Texas and other states seek judgment from the court today to deny the Department of Justice’s motion to dismiss our legal challenge.”

The 20-state coalition represented today includes Texas, Florida, South Carolina, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Washington, Colorado, Michigan, Utah, Alabama, South Dakota, Idaho, Indiana, Mississippi, North Dakota, Arizona, Nevada, Georgia, and Alaska. The lawsuit is filed in the Federal District Court in the Northern District of Florida. The states are joined in this lawsuit by the National Federation of Independent Business, and individual plaintiffs Mary Brown and Kaj Ahlburg.

The states’ lawsuit was filed shortly after President Barack Obama signed the bill into law. The legal action specifically challenges the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and names the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services, Treasury and Labor as defendants because those federal agencies are charged with implementing the Act’s constitutionally impermissible provisions.

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Texas Border Sheriff’s Coalition receives $4.8 million to boost border security measures

By LESLEY LÓPEZ

More than $4.8 million in federal funding for  the Texas Border Sheriff’s Coalition has been awarded by the federal government to support border county  sheriff’s departments from El Paso to Brownsville.

The funding – which is being made possible by the U.S. Department of Justice Congressionally Recommended Awards Program – will be used to bolster border security efforts and maintain strong  cooperation between local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies in the  border region.

Congressman Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo/McAllen, Congressman Rubén  Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, Congressman Solomon Ortiz, D-Corpus Christi, Congressman Ciro Rodríguez, D-San Antonio, and Congressman Silvestre Reyes, D-El Paso, announced the grant on Thursday, September 9.

"These $5 million could not have come at a better time," said Cuellar. "Our men and women in law enforcement continue to fight crime along the border and these funds will provide them with the resources they need to keep up the good work and keep our communities safe."

Funding from the program is used for  initiatives recommended by Congress to improve the functioning of the  criminal justice system.

“I am pleased that the Department of Justice has recognized the work  the Texas Border Sheriff’s Coalition has done to provide a coordinated  response to border law enforcement issues," Hinojosa said. "This federal funding will help improve  the security of every border resident.”

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Texas receives $1 million to promote child passenger safety, says Sen. Zaffirini

By WILL KRUEGER

Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, on Monday, September 13, announced that Texas has received more than $1 million to promote child passenger safety.

Texas qualifies for the federal Child Safety and Child Booster Seat Incentive Grant funding because of Zaffirini’s Senate Bill (SB) 61, passed in 2009, which requires that children younger than eight years of age be secured in child passenger safety seats, unless they are taller than four feet, nine inches.

"As we celebrated Child Passenger Safety Week during September 13 through September 17,  I was delighted that this critical funding will help protect child passengers," she said. "The funding will promote a host of child passenger safety initiatives, including enforcement, training regarding the use of child seats, public education and purchasing child safety seats for low-income families."

SB 61, which went into effect on September 1, 2009, is expected to reduce by 59 percent children’s risk of serious head, spinal cord or internal organ injuries.

Failure to secure a child in a booster seat is prosecutable offense. Fines are $25 for first offenses and up to $250 for subsequent violations.

"Children are our most precious cargo, and drivers transporting them have additional responsibility." Zaffirini said. "It is my prayer that no child dies or is injured because he or she was not secured properly in a moving vehicle."

State and local agencies, including many police and fire departments, will check car seats free to ensure that they are installed properly. Additional information regarding booster seat requirements and lists of child safety seat inspection locations and events can be found at:

http://www.dshs.state.tx.us/saferiders/.

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Military personnel whose tours of duties involuntary extended under "stop-loss" orders facing October 21 deadline for retroactive pay

By LESLEY LÓPEZ

U.S. military personnel whose service was extended under "stop-loss" orders in Iraq and Afghanistan have until October 21, 2010 to apply for retroactive pay, says Congressman Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo/McAllen.

Troops eligible for retroactive pay will receive $500 a month for each month their service was extended.  The Defense Department estimates that while 145,400 troops are eligible, and only 58,000 claims have been paid out so far.

In general, "stop-loss" is the involuntary extension of a service member’s active duty service under the enlistment contract in order to retain them beyond their initial end of term of service (ETS) date and up to their contractually agreed end of obligated service (EOS). The policy has been legally challenged several times. However, federal courts have consistently found that military service members contractually agree that their term of service may be involuntarily extended until the end of their obligated service.

“Our brave men and women have made tremendous sacrifices for our country and they deserve our highest respect and appreciation,” said Congressman Cuellar. “Working with our local veterans organizations, I want to make sure that all eligible service members here in South Texas get the benefits they have bravely earned.”

In 2009, Cuellar voted to pass HR 2346, the War Supplemental Appropriations Act which established retroactive stop loss special pay (RSLSP). This allows troops whose service was involuntarily extended between September 11, 2001 and September 30, 2009 to file claims in order to receive retroactive pay if eligible. 

The average benefit is $3,800.

For more information or to submit a claim please visit http://www.defense.gov/stoploss.

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Two Roma police officers indicted by federal government for plot to distribute marijuana

By ANGELA DODGE

Two members of the Roma Police Department (RPD) were arrested on Tuesday, September 14, along with five others as the result of a federal indictment charging each with conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute more than 50 kilograms of marijuana since August 2006, United States Attorney José Ángel Moreno and acting Special Agent in Charge Thomas Hinojosa of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) announced.

An indictment is a formal accusation of criminal conduct, not evidence.

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

The indictment, the result of a year-long Organized Crime Drug Task Force investigation dubbed Operation X-Men, was returned under seal by a Houston grand jury on August 26. The one-count indictment was partially unsealed on September 14 following enforcement action by agents and officers of the DEA, Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigations, the Starr County High Intensity Drug Task Force, the Fort Bend and Harris County Sheriff’s Offices, the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).

The joint investigation resulted in the arrest of RPD officer José Omar García, 30, and his brother, RPD officer Roel Roberto García, 36. Their father, Roel García, 61, was also arrested on September 14 in Roma along with Marco Arturo García Jr., 28; Anabell Granados García, 48; Jesús Manuel García, 48; and Alejandro García, 22. All were arrested without incident.

The case will be prosecuted in Houston. 

The conspiracy count charged against each of the defendants carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison, a maximum fine of $1million, and at least three years supervised release following any term of incarceration which may be imposed. There is no parole in the federal system.

The indictment is the result of Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force Operation X-Men, an investigation affiliated with Project Deliverance, the largest Department of Justice Special Operations Division (SOD) operation to date targeting Mexican Drug Cartel infrastructure and transportation cells throughout the United States with special emphasis on the Southwest Border. 

The project originally consisted of 15 SOD operations and more than 141 investigations in 38 federal judicial districts in 30 states across the United States. Project Deliverance continues to have the support of Attorney General Holder, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security and involve agents of the ATF, DEA, FBI, United States Marshals Service and DHS’s Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security Investigations as well as state and local law enforcement agencies and federal and state prosecutors.

Assistant United States Attorney Shelley J. Hicks is prosecuting the case.

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National Association of Hispanic Journalists condemns slaying of Mexican photojournalist

The National Association of Hispanic Journalists condemns the killing of photojournalist Luis Carlos Santiago and wounding of his colleague, Carlos Manuel Sánchez, of El Diario, a daily newspaper in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. Further, NAHJ calls on Mexican President Felipe Calderón to demand a prompt and thorough investigation of the crimes and prosecution of those responsible.

Santiago was shot and killed on Thursday, September 16, in the parking lot of a shopping mall on Thursday during his lunch break, bringing to nine the number of journalists killed in Mexico in 2010. Sánchez was also shot and waws in stable condition in a hospital in Ciudad Juárez.

Santiago was an intern at El Diario, but officials at the newspaper said September 16 that he was days away from signing a contract to become a full-time employee. He had been interning at the newspaper for about six months.

Mexican authorities had not released many details, but the shooters seem to have targeted Santiago and Sánchez as part of an ongoing wave of violence that has plagued Juárez since 2008. Rival drug cartels have fought over control of the city’s trafficking routes, and so far about 6,400 people have been killed.

Reporters in Juárez, a city of about 1.5 million people across the border from El Paso, said Santiago was an ambitious and talented photojournalist who showed great promise. El Diario has published some of his photographs.

Santiago and Sánchez had just left a photography workshop when they were shot and Santiago killed.

This is the second journalist to be killed in Juárez in the last two years. In November 2008, Armando Rodríguez, a veteran reporter for El Diario, was gunned down at his home. Rodriguez had been threatened several times before he was slain.

These murders underscore the danger that many journalists working in Mexico and along the border face each day in their efforts to inform the public and uncover the truth. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, more than 30 journalists have disappeared or been killed in Mexico since 2006.

CPJ officials were scheduled to meet with Mexican President Felipe Calderón to discuss threats against journalists. NAHJ is urging Calderón to heed the concerns of journalists and redouble his efforts to ensure the safety of reporters in his country. NAHJ leaders said they will judge commitment to freedom of the press and the public’s right to know by his response.

NAHJ also joins local journalism organizations in their call for law enforcement to launch an earnest investigation and to bring justice for the families of Santiago and Sánchez.

“We strongly urge the authorities to work diligently to find those responsible for this crime,” said Gustavo Reveles Acosta, President of the El Paso Press Club and NAHJ’s Vice President for Print. “Doing so would send a strong message that the murder of journalists is not condoned.”

NAHJ also continues to express its solidarity with reporters on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border who continue to risk their lives to chronicle the violence that has crippled thousands of families in the United States and Mexico.

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For first time, UT-Austin reports that white students no longer majority of freshman class; Hispanics, Asians almost equal in numbers

For the first time in the history of The University of Texas at Austin, fewer than half of the fall semester’s first-time freshmen are white students, according to a preliminary analysis.

The report, provided by Kristi Fisher, associate vice provost and director of the Office of Information Management and Analysis, shows the number of first-time freshmen who identified their ethnicity/race as "white" on admissions information total 47.6 percent. The university’s overall total white student population, including graduate, pharmacy doctorate and law students, is 52.1 percent.

The figures reflect changes in the demographics of Texas.

The Office of the State Demographer, Texas State Data Center, estimates the state’s ethnicity in 2010 to be 45.1 percent Anglo (white), 38.8 percent Hispanic, 11.5 percent black and 4.6 percent other.

The state’s ethnic/race distribution by 2020 is projected to change to 37.6 percent Anglo (white), 45.2 percent Hispanic, 11.2 percent black and 6 percent other.

Fisher said the figures are based on 12th class day numbers. Final enrollment figures will be available in October, but there usually is little variation from the preliminary figures, she said.

Based on this reporting system, a preliminary analysis shows first-time freshmen enrollment figures increased for Hispanic and total black ethnic/race groups, as well as for foreign students. The ethnic/racial distribution of fall 2010 first-time freshmen enrollment is as follows:

• The white only category is 47.6 percent (3,464 students) compared to 51.1 percent (3,700
students) in fall 2009;

• The Hispanic (any combination) category is 23.1 percent (1,680 students) compared to 20.8
percent (1,503 students) in fall 2009;

• The Asian only category is 17.3 percent (1,260 students) compared to 19.6 percent (1,423
students) in fall 2009;

          • The black total category is 5.1 percent (372 students) compared to 4.9 percent (354 students)
in the fall 2009;

• The American Indian only category is 0.2 percent (15 students) compared to 0.4 percent (29
students) in 2009;

• The Native Hawaiian category is 0.1 percent (four students); this is a new reporting category for
fall 2010; and

• The two or more — not Hispanic or black — category is 2.6 percent (190 students); this is a new
reporting category for fall 2010;

Asians approaching Hispanic undergraduate enrollment

Total enrollment at UT-Austin increased for the 2010 fall semester by 238 students (0.5 percent) from 50,995 last fall to 51,233 in fall 2010, according to the enrollment report, which uses new federally mandated ethnic and race reporting categories and provisions for students and employees to specify more than one race/ethnicity in identifying themselves.

The university’s total enrollment increased for the Hispanic and black ethnic groups. The ethnic/racial distribution of the total fall 2010 enrollment is as follows:

• The white only category is 52.1 percent (26,671 students) compared to 53.5 percent (27,263
students) in fall 2009. It reflects a 2.2 percent decrease in the number of white only students.

• The Hispanic (any combination) category is 17 percent (8,725 students) compared to 16.2
percent (8,265 students) in fall 2009. It reflects a 5.6 percent increase in the number of Hispanic
students.

• The Asian only category is 15.2 percent (7,794 students) compared to 15.5 percent (7,910
students) in fall 2009. It reflects a 1.5 percent decrease in the number of Asian only students.

• The black total category is 4.5 percent (2,315 students) compared to 4.5 percent (2,276 students)
in fall 2009. It reflects a 1.7 percent increase in the number of black total students.

Fisher said that starting this fall, ethnic/racial categories are being reported in accordance with newly implemented federal and state guidelines. Reporting categories are consistent with those adopted by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) for the fall 2010 reporting cycle. Reporting changes include the introduction of two new race-reporting categories, "Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander" and "Two or More."

Students identifying themselves in more than one category with one being Hispanic are reported in the "Hispanic" category only, in accordance with federal guidelines.

Fisher said her office compiles 10-year trends for ethnic/racial distributions of first-time freshmen (fall and summer combined).

They show that since fall 2000, the proportional representation of Hispanic first-time freshmen has increased by 11.9 percent, total black freshmen by 1.8 percent and Asian freshmen by 4.9 percent. The proportional representation of white first-time freshmen has decreased by 12.8 percent, from 60.4 percent in fall 2000 to 47.6 percent in 2010.

Of the 14,583 first-time freshmen (fall and summer combined) offered admission for fall 2010, 7,275 (50 percent) enrolled. According to data provided by the Office of Admissions, 76 percent of all entering freshmen were automatically admitted under HB 588 (the Top 10 Percent Law). Of the entering freshmen from Texas high schools, 85 percent were admitted under HB 588.

Fisher said this fall semester marks the implementation of new federally mandated ethnic and race reporting categories and provisions for students and employees to specify more than one race/ethnicity in identifying themselves. These changes were required of all colleges and universities, as well as primary and secondary schools throughout the United States, by the fall semester of 2010.

"To ensure that reported shifts in the ethnic/racial mix of our student population are not merely artifacts of these changes to reporting methodology, the Office of Information Management and Analysis has carefully analyzed the impact of these changes with respect to categorization of multi-racial students," Fisher said.

"We performed six-year and 10-year regression analyses on the ethnic/racial percentage distribution trends of total and freshman enrollments and found the THECB reporting methodology to very closely follow the projected distributions for 2010," Fished noted. "While we know of cases where, for example, black students identifying themselves as ‘black and Hispanic’ are now being reported as ‘Hispanic’ only, the upward trend in minority enrollment percentages holds true and is not significantly affected by the reporting changes."

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