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Public hearing in Edinburg on Monday to identify undocumented immigrants who die when crossing through Texas

McAllen Chamber of Commerce’s 84th Legislative Session Wrap-Up Luncheon

Featured, from left: Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, greets constituents at the McAllen Chamber of Commerce’s 84th Legislative Session Wrap-Up Luncheon, held on Thursday, July 9, 2015, at the DoubleTree Hilton Hotel in McAllen as Alex Ri?os, the District Director for Canales’ legislative office in Edinburg, looks on.
Photograph By MARK MONTEMAYOR

Efforts to improve the identification process of undocumented immigrants who die while crossing from Mexico into Texas will take center stage in the Rio Grande Valley on Monday, September 28, when the Texas Forensic Science Commission hosts a public meeting at the Edinburg Conference Center at Renaissance, Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, has announced. The meeting will be held from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the facility, which is located at 118 Paseo Del Prado, near the intersection of McColl Road and Dove Avenue in southwest Edinburg. The gathering in Edinburg, which is the result of a last- minute amendment on May 26, 2015 by Canales to Senate Bill 1287, will focus on what is known as the Rio Grande Identification Project. The Edinburg lawmaker’s amendment created the Rio Grande Identification Project and requires the Texas Forensic Science Commission – a state agency – “to develop a method for collecting forensic evidence related to the unidentified bodies located less than 120 miles from the Rio Grande River,” Leigh M. Tomlin, with the Texas Forensic Science Commission, stated in an advisory about the Edinburg meeting. “In accordance with its legislative mandate, the commission is working with stakeholders to develop a systematic plan for proper forensic evidence collection of biological material that may help identify human remains found along the border. The goal for the session is to establish best practices in Texas for subsequent publication and dissemination,” Tomlin explained. Canales said an estimated 1,000 immigrants without any identification have died in the Rio Grande Valley during the past 10 years. In the summer of 2014, international attention was focused in deep South Texas with the discovery that mass graves of hundreds of suspected unidentified immigrants were buried haphazardly in a cemetery in Brooks County. In addition, hundreds of immigrants’ bodies have been recovered on the ranches in Brooks County in recent years. Smugglers guide immigrants through the brush trying to circumvent a Border Patrol highway checkpoint an hour’s drive north of the border. There is little water and the walk can take two or three days in punishing temperatures. The House District 4o lawmaker recalled how the Legislature late last spring took action to bring compassion and closure to thousands of families who never know what happened to their love ones who crossed into Texas seeking a better life. “It was spontaneous. I just noticed the subject of the bill and it got me out of my chair,” Canales told reporter Kristian Herna?ndez with the Monitor newspaper in McAllen. “I ran to the front of the House of Representatives and said, ‘I have an amendment to this bill, hold on.’” The passage of his amendment was even more remarkable given the political climate in the Legislature, he noted. “I think it was one of my most exciting moments in the Legislature,” Canales said. “I was a little overjubilant that it passed, especially with the anti-immigrant sentiment that exists in the Texas legislature. I think it’s a great victory.” Canales’ amendment forced the Texas Forensic Science Commission to create a manual for the postmortem examination and identification process of unidentified border crossers, Herna?ndez added. “I think that it’s unquestionable what role immigrants play in our daily lives in our economy,” Canales said. “Not only do we need to respect what they do for our country but we need to respect human life in death.”

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South Texas International Film Festival (www.stxff.us) bringing to clear view the potential value – through local productions of movies and videos for television – on economic development for Edinburg and South Texas

Photograph By DIEGO REYNA

Featured, from left: Letty Reyes, Director of Business Development and Public Affairs, Edinburg Economic Development Corporation; Jonathan Torres, Production Specialist and Event Coordinator, City of Edinburg; and Leticia S. Leija, Director of Library and Cultural Arts, City of Edinburg, who are among the Board of Directors of the South Texas International Film Festival, which will be held on Friday, August 21, and Saturday, August 22, at several prime locations in Edinburg. The other members of the Board of Directors of the South Texas International Film Festival are: Magdiel Alfonso, Arts Coordinator, City of Edinburg; Agustín “Gus” García, Jr., Executive Director, Edinburg Economic Development Corporation; Letty González, President, Edinburg Chamber of Commerce; Dr. Dahlia Guerra, Dean, Department of Arts and Humanities, The University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley in Edinburg; José Alberto Navarro, Consul for Political & Cultural Affairs, Consulate of Mexico in McAllen; Imelda Rodríguez, Director of Tourism for the Edinburg Convention and Visitors Bureau; Valente Rodríguez, Actor, Producer, Director, former star of The George López Show; Larry Safir, Member, Board of Directors, Doctors Hospital at Renaissance, and former Executive Vice President, Entravision Communications Corporation; and Luis Enrique Suner, Filmmaker and Journalist, El Mañana;
Photograph By DIEGO REYNA

Known as the “Movie Capital of the Valley” in the late 1960s, Edinburg’s cultural life has been seen as a symbol of the city’s vitality and ingenuity. From the movie theaters in the 1930s and 1940s to the TV revolution in the 1950s, then advancing with cable TV, personal computers, the Internet, the cellphone and electronic tablet innovations, Edinburg’s creativity transforms and re-forms with the changing times. The informal title as “The Movie Capital of the Valley” was built on a rich history of film venues in Edinburg going back decades, and the visual arts continue even stronger today, with the impressive, 84,000-square-foot Carmike 20 Cinema, the groundbreaking Cinemark Movie Bistro, and the upcoming inaugural South Texas International Film Festival (www.stxff.us), which is set for Friday, August 21, and Saturday, August 22, at several prime location in the city. The South Texas International Film Festival will bring into clear view the potential value, in terms of economic development, of increasing local productions of movies and home videos in Edinburg and the Rio Grande Valley. The South Texas International Film Festival– of which the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation is a sponsor – will showcase the abundant regional talent of filmmakers, producers, actors, and related professional staffs, and promote the city and the region as a premium site for national and international movies to be filmed. The Edinburg Economic Development Corporation, of which Mayor Richard Garcia is President of its five-member Board of Directors, is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg Mayor and Edinburg City Council. In addition to the EEDC, the other major sponsors and organizers of this landmark two-day event include The City of Edinburg, the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce, Edinburg Arts, and the Consulado de México en McAllen (Mexican Consulate in McAllen). Why consider feature films, documentaries, and other visual works of art as economic development tools? Agustín “Gus” García, the Executive Director for the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation, explains the potential links between Hollywood, the home of the U.S. motion picture industry, and American hometowns, such as Edinburg. The many positive benefits of clustering creative businesses was explained by Jamie Bennett, Director of Public Affairs for the National Endowment for the Arts, said Gus García (no relation to the mayor), who cited the following perspectives: “A theater has 1,000 people show up at eight o’clock and leave at eleven o’clock. A museum might have 1,000 visitors spread out over the course of an eight-hour day. A rehearsal studio might have 30 people coming and going every hour over 12 hours,” said Bennett. “You put the three different organizations in proximity to one another and, all of a sudden, you have a full day of positive foot traffic on a street — feet that belong to people who need to eat meals, buy newspapers, go shopping and take public transportation. You have every mayor’s dream.” Investing in human capital “is immeasurable,” Gus García continued, and that is why the Edinburg EDC is a champion for developing human capital and in supporting projects that help a community prepare its future leaders. Mayor García contends that the role of arts and culture in shaping community-wide prosperity is a priority for the city. This includes the direct and indirect employment effects of the arts and culture. “Today’s workforce seeks certain characteristics in the places they choose to live. Places with entertainment options, public interaction, lively streets, and recreational and educational amenities are preferred, along with arts and culture activities and amenities,” the mayor said. “Leaders in the field of planning and economic development are developing noteworthy, creative approaches to making places of any scale more satisfying to this workforce, while increasing economic viability and competitiveness. This new collaboration between business owners is resulting in increased economic vitality and sense of community between merchants as well as residents, and Edinburg EDC, the Edinburg City Council, and our many partners in the public and private sectors want to capture them all.”

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Almost $100 million in key funding secured for UT-RGV medical school and RAHC, DPS training facility, Edinburg airport hangar, and STC law enforcement center in final state budget, says Rep. Canales

Photograph By MARK MONTEMAYOR

Featured, from left: Rep. R.D. “Bobby” Guerra, D-McAllen; Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg; Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen; Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville; Alma Ortega-Johnson, Area President South Texas Region for Wells Fargo; and Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Mission, on Tuesday, September 17, 2013, following the State Legislative Session Wrap-Up Luncheon, sponsored by the City of McAllen and the McAllen Chamber of Commerce, at the McAllen Country Club. Photograph By MARK MONTEMAYOR

 

Several key projects vital to the Edinburg region – specifically the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine, the UT-RGV Regional Academic Health Center Medical Research Division, a Texas Department of Public Safety multi-use training facility, a hanger for emergency first responder capabilities at the South Texas International Airport at Edinburg, and the South Texas Regional Center for Public Safety Excellence in Pharr – are included in the $209.4 billion two-year state spending plan that was approved by the Legislature on Friday, May 29, Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, has announced. Those legislative priorities represent almost $100 million in state investments, beginning on September 1, 2015, that will be coming to the Rio Grande Valley in addition to a separate but enormous infusion of other state funding for the major functions of state government in the Rio Grande Valley. “The Valley legislative delegation played our roles in generating the political support from our 172 other colleagues in the Legislature for securing additional state funding for exciting new projects for House District 40 and for the rest of deep South Texas,” said Canales, who represents House District 40. House District 40 includes portions or all of Edinburg, Elsa, Faysville, La Blanca, Linn, Lópezville, McAllen, Pharr, San Carlos and Weslaco. “The special appropriations totaling almost $100 million were secured by Valley legislators, led by Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, who was the only South Texas lawmaker to serve on a 10-member Senate-House panel that came up with the final version of the state budget,” said Canales. “Having Sen. Hinojosa on the conference committee was invaluable. He deserves congratulations for a job well-done.” Hinojosa, D-McAllen,was one of only five Senate appointees – and the only Democrat – selected on Thursday, April 23, by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, to serve on the Senate/House Conference Committee that came up with a final state budget for the 2016-17 biennium. A conference committee is a special legislative panel appointed by the Lt. Governor and the Speaker of the House when there are differences between a Senate bill and a House bill that deal with the same issue, such as the proposed state budget that has been approved by the Senate and the proposed state budget that has been approved by the House of Representatives. Edinburg, where a major campus of the UT-RGV School of Medicine, now under construction, and the adjacent UT-RGV Regional Academic Health Center Medical Research Division are located, will see those two cutting-edge facilities share in $91.7 million in state funds over the next two years. The UT-RGV School of Medicine also includes a major presence in Harlingen, with the UT-RGV RAHC Medical Education Division, while the UT-RGV School of Medicine in Edinburg will provide the first two years of a medical student’s education, along with the groundbreaking studies at the neighboring UT-RGV RAHC Medical Research Division. From the $91.7 million in state funding, more than $60 million will go towards the School of Medicine, while $31.4 million will be invested in the UT-RGV Regional Academic Health Centers. The leadership of UT-RGV will decide what portions of that money will be invested in each of the facilities and their programs. New money for public safety and law enforcement – not counting hundreds of millions of dollars for border security measures that will come into the Valley – was approved for the Edinburg region. The South Texas International Airport at Edinburg picked up $3 million to help expand its hangar capabilities, which are needed by the Texas Department of Public Safety for emergency and first responders for staging and storage purposes. That money is coming out of a state highway fund that is reserved for public safety efforts at local airports throughout Texas. Also, $2 million has been set aside to build a Department of Public Safety multi-use training facility to be used by DPS, the Texas military forces, county and municipal law enforcement agencies, and any other military or law enforcement agencies, including agencies of the federal government, for training purposes. It is the intent of the Legislature that the governing body of the County of Hidalgo or the City of Edinburg may donate 200 acres of real property to DPS for the training facility. If donated, DPS shall accept 200 acres of donated land from the governing body of the County of Hidalgo or the City of Edinburg for the purpose of constructing the training facility. Edinburg’s neighboring community, the City of Pharr, picked up more than $1.5 million, effective on September 1, 2015, to help in the construction of the South Texas College Regional Center for Public Safety Excellence. That complex, to be built on a 50-to-60 acre tract of land to be donated by the City of Pharr, will “increase necessary access to training opportunities for officers in the Rio Grande Valley region and, in turn, improve public safety and border security,” said Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Mission, whose House District 36 includes most of Pharr. “The training provided at the regional center also would provide officers with college credit toward either an associate’s or a bachelor’s degree, while the four police academies in the area would not.” The state money would be in addition to $4.2 million already set aside by South Texas College for the construction of a 16,000 square-foot facility to include a vehicle driving range, outdoor shooting range, firearms simulator, mobile firearms simulator/live firing range, driving simulator, obstacle course, fitness rooms, classrooms and administrative offices. “The Regional Center for Public Safety Excellent will increase necessary access to training opportunities for officers in the Rio Grande Valley region and, in turn, improve public safety and border security,” Muñoz further explained. “The training provided at the regional center also would provide officers with college credit toward either an associate’s or a bachelor’s degree, while the four police academies in the area would not.” The state funding comes as part of House Bill 1887, which is well on its way to being approved by the Legislature. HB 1887, authored by Muñoz and sponsored by Hinojosa, amends the Education Code to create the Regional Center for Public Safety Excellence to provide education and training for law enforcement personnel in the Rio Grande Valley. “Having such an educational facility for our current and future law enforcement officials will be a tremendous benefit for the delivery of justice and the protection of all of us in deep South Texas,” said Canales, whose House District 40 includes 19 percent of the City of Pharr. “I appreciate Rep. Muñoz allowing me to sign on as joint author of HB 1887, and I appreciated working with him and the leadership of Pharr and South Texas College on this most important legislative effort.” Along with Canales, the other joint authors of HB 1887 are Rep. R.D. “Bobby” Guerra, D-McAllen, Rep. Eddie Lucio, III, D-San Benito, and Rep. Ryan Guillén, D-Rio Grande City.

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$70 million Science Building for UT-Pan American set for final approval on Wednesday by the UT System Board of Regents, EEDC announces

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Featured, from left: Dr. Havidán Rodríguez, President Ad Interim, The University of Texas-Pan American, and Edinburg Mayor Richard H. García, during ceremonies on Friday, February 28, 2015 in Pharr at the Boggus Ford Events Center, where García was honored as one of five alumni named 2015 Pillars of Success, in recognition of their outstanding contributions to the region and to UTPA, which will become The University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley, complete with a full-fledged UT medical school, in late August.

Photograph By JOSUE ESPARZA

Fresh off the grand opening of the $42.7 million Performing Arts Complex at the University of Texas-Pan American – and with the nearby $54 million Medical Education Building taking shape – local and state leaders are awaiting final approval on Wednesday, May 14, for the release of funding and final approval of design development for a $70 million Science Building at the Edinburg campus. The upcoming action item by the UT System Board of Regents, which will be part of that governing body’s regularly-scheduled public session in Austin, was announced by the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation, Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, and Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg. The EEDC is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg Mayor and Edinburg City Council. The EEDC, whose president of its five-member Board of Directors is Mayor Richard García, is led by Agustín “Gus” García, (no relation to the mayor), the Executive Director for the EEDC. Dr. Havidán Rodríguez, President Ad Interim for UT-Pan American, also serves on the EEDC Board of Directors. The Science Building is vital since it will provide the academic skills, equipment, and laboratories to prepare university students to attend and succeed in the UT medical school in Edinburg, scheduled to open in Summer/Fall 2016, said Rodríguez. “This facility will provide the research experience that they need, with the expectation that our students will continue through a number of pre-med programs needed to apply to medical school here, and medical schools throughout the country,” Rodríguez explained. “The idea is to get these folks trained, have them get their M.D.s, and return to the Rio Grande Valley, or stay in the Rio Grande Valley to provide the healthcare needs of our population.” The Science Building will help increase the quality and number of courses known as STEM, which stands for the fields of science, technology, engineering and math. According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, STEM-related programs became a national priority in 2011 because too few college students are pursuing degrees in these fields. The U.S. Department of Labor expects that there will be 1.2 million job openings in STEM related fields by 2018, but there won’t be enough qualified graduates to fill them. “The four-story Science Building will be built on the Edinburg campus for the benefit of UT-Rio Grande Valley,” the mayor said, citing UT System documents. “The approximately 115,000 gross square foot facility will increase research capacity for approximately 168 researchers and provide four teaching labs allowing students to take courses and labs during the same semester. The project will accommodate 16 additional research labs, two classrooms, 42 faculty offices, 11 staff work stations, and eight suites for research assistants.”

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McAllen Medical Center Foundation gives UT-RGV $100,000 to start endowed professorship at South Texas Diabetes and Obesity Institute

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Featured, from left: Dr. Cynthia Brown, Deputy Provost, The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley; Dr. Guy Bailey, Founding President, UT-RGV; Doug Matney, Regional Vice President, South Texas Health System and President, McAllen Medical Center Foundation; Dr. Matthew Johnson, Associate Professor of Medicine, South Texas Diabetes and Obesity Institute; Dr. Francisco Fernández, Founding Dean, UT-RGV School of Medicine; and Dr. Havidán Rodríguez, President Ad Interim, UT-Pan American, and Founding Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs, UT-RGV.

Photograph By JOSUE ESPARZA

The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley and the South Texas Diabetes and Obesity Institute have gained another partner in the fight against diabetes. The McAllen Medical Center Foundation, a nonprofit wing of the McAllen Medical Center, on Monday, April 27, announced that it is funding a $100,000 professorship for the institute, a UT-RGV research, clinical and education program that will conduct advanced research on diabetes and obesity and, ultimately, help develop better treatments. During a press conference Monday at McAllen Medical Center, UT-RGV Founding President Guy Bailey thanked the foundation for its support and said partnerships with area hospitals are key to the success of UT-RGV and its School of Medicine. “It’s really kind of a second red-letter day,” Bailey said. “Last week, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board gave its stamp of approval for our M.D. (degree). We followed it up this week with an extraordinary gift.” The partnership established with this endowment will allow UT-RGV to tackle an increasingly pervasive health issue for the Valley and the nation. About 30 percent of people in the Valley have diabetes, Bailey said, and it is the seventh-leading cause of death in the United States. “Together, we’ll go forward. We’ll combat diabetes,” Bailey said. “It’s not something we’ll solve tomorrow, but the research that happens will be something that will address and ameliorate it in the future.” Doug Matney, Regional Vice President of South Texas Health System and President of the McAllen Medical Center Foundation, said the foundation traditionally has awarded scholarships to students pursuing degrees in healthcare-related fields, but decided to start the endowment with UT-RGV to support its work in researching diabetes. “We will look to a large degree to UT-RGV to do the research and to come up with some of the solutions that, hopefully, we’ll be able to implement face-to-face with the patients,” Matney said. “Our area of expertise is providing health care. When it comes to education, educational institutions are in a better position on how to select, how to spend those dollars. From our standpoint, we wanted to put those dollars in the hands of who we thought would be the best steward of them and, as a result, we chose to work with UT-RGV,” he added. “Diabetes research is something that certainly adds value to this community.”

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