Prayers in South Texas were answered on June 30, when Hurricane Alex, shown here a day earlier as an approaching tropical storm, was making a predicted path to the Valley. But the powerful eye of the soon-to-be Category 2 hurricane moved westward instead, striking northeastern Mexico with heavy rain and powerful winds of more than 100 miles per hour. Although deep South Texas was spared a dreaded repeat of Hurricane Dolly in 2008 – where damages exceeded $1 billion – the northern section of Hurricane Alex still managed to dump
up to a foot of rain in key areas of the Valley, causing flooding problems, shutting down businesses, and related concerns. Hurricane Alex was the first tropical cyclone to form in the 2010 Atlantic hurricane season, which is expected to be one of the more active hurricane seasons in recent years. The 2010 Atlantic hurricane season doesn’t end until November 30.
As day breaks over the Gulf of Mexico on Tuesday, June 29, an opening in the clouds of Hurricane Alex allows the Hurricane Hunter aircrew aboard a WC-130J Hercules a brief glimpse of the water surface. The powerful storm, the strongest June hurricane to make landfall in the U.S. since 1966, came ashore late that evening on an unpopulated stretch of coast in northern Mexico about 110 miles south of Brownsville. Alex reached Category 2 classification on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale with sustained winds of 105 miles per hour, and spawned tornadoes in southern Texas. See story later in this posting.
After recovering from a hard weekend of activities and "Honey Do’s", mark your calendar to do some fun business networking at the McAllen Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Manic Monday Mixer to be held on Monday, July 12 at Pepper’s at Uptown, 4620 N. 10th, from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Special drink prices will be offered as well as some appetizers. Come and meet MHCC members and learn how the Hispanic Chamber has been recognized as the Top Small Chamber of Texas as well as the nation. The MHCC’s focus on small business has been recognized throughout the country as well as their work on education, health, women’s issues and government issues. Bring plenty of business cards to exchange with your new contacts. Door prizes will also be given. Featured making plans for the July 6 mixer are, from left: Hari Namboodiri, a member of the MHCC Advisory Board; Oneida López, chef; Fernando Niño, general manager; Cynthia M. Sakulenzki, MHCC president and CEO, and Giselle Mascarenhas-González, general manager.
Samuel García, a rising junior at Sharyland High School in Mission, poses with Congressman Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo/McAllen, during a recent visit to Cuellar’s office in Washington, D.C. García is in Washington, D.C. through July 11 as part of the Georgetown University Junior Statesmen Summer School program, a student-run organization aimed at increasing civil engagement and fighting apathy among young people. The summer program is sponsored by The Junior Statesmen Foundation and allows students to take college level courses while still in high school as well as having the opportunity to tour Capitol Hill, the CIA, and the Pentagon.
South Texas and McAllen leaders gathered on October 21, 2003 for the ground-breaking ceremony of the Alfredo González Texas Veterans Home in the City of Palms, one of the most highly-sought state facilities in Texas that year. Bringing the $13 million, 160-bed veterans nursing complex was one of the major milestones that year for McAllen, and that success has become part of the community’s many milestones as it approaches its 100th anniversary next February. Work is already well underway to capture – in printed words and photographic images – that event and other major highlights of what has become one of the most influential and highly-regarded cities along the U.S.-Mexico border. "The McAllen Chamber of Commerce, in conjunction with McAllen Centennial Publications, is publishing a beautiful, professionally produced, hard-covered keepsake historical book on McAllen’s first 100 years," reports Eileen Mattie, a prolific South Texas writer who will be the author of the landmark publication, McAllen’s First 100 Years – Leading the Way. Among the city’s elected leadership featured in this 2003 photograph are, from left: McAllen City Commissioner Ric Godínez; Rep. Roberto Gutiérrez, D-McAllen; McAllen Mayor Leo Montalvo; Congressman Eligio "Kika" De la Garza, D-Mission; Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg; Rep. Ismael "Kino" Flores, D-Palmview; Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen; and McAllen City Commissioner Jan Klinck. See lead story in this posting.
Work underway on landmark history book: McAllen’s First 100 Years – Leading the Way
By DAVID A. DÍAZ
Almost 100 years ago – on the day before Valentine’s Day – a few dozen men on February 13, 1911 voted to officially create (incorporate) the City of McAllen.
"For most of its history, McAllen was a dusty little farm town at the southern tip of Texas, long on cactus and short on jobs," Ana Campoy with the Wall Street Journal recounted in her May 4, 2010 article on the City of Palms.
But a lot happens to a community in 100 years, and during that period, McAllen has been literally transformed from a South Texas border village into what McAllen Mayor Richard Cortéz today proudly portrays as "an international American city."
For many local residents, they still have wonderful memories of McAllen celebrating its "centennial" back in 2004, when a reported 7,000 visitors celebrated at Archer Park, according to the Online History of McAllen, Texas and the Surrounding Areas.
But that event marked the establishment of the first train depot at the intersection of the present Highway 83 and 23rd Street (Depot Road), not the actual 100th birthday of the city.
The true centennial of McAllen won’t be reached until February 13, 2011, but work is already well underway to capture – in printed words and photographic images – major highlights of what has become one of the most influential and highly-regarded cities along the U.S.-Mexico border.
"The definitive book on McAllen’s history"
"The McAllen Chamber of Commerce, in conjunction with McAllen Centennial Publications, is publishing a beautiful, professionally produced, hard-covered keepsake historical book on McAllen’s first 100 years," reports Eileen Mattie, a prolific South Texas writer who will be the author of the landmark publication, McAllen’s First 100 Years – Leading the Way.
"This book will discuss how our community was shaped, the visionaries, the progress and how McAllen developed over the last 100 years," explained Mattie, whose work has also graced the pages of local and state publications, including two other books showcasing deep South Texas: Valley Places, Valley Faces and At the Crossroads: Harlingen’s First 100 Years 1910/2010.
Her latest venture, McAllen’s First 100 Years – Leading the Way, is scheduled to hit the stands on or about February 20, 2011, with a minimum distribution of 1,000 copies certain to make their way into homes, businesses, public libraries, schools, colleges and universities throughout the city and beyond.
McAllen’s First 100 Years – Leading the Way will feature at least 250 historical photographs (both color and black-and-white) with Mattie’s highly-respected research and writing style incorporated into 160 to 200 pages that will help current and future generations of readers journey through time.
McAllen’s First 100 Years – Leading the Way will be "the definitive book on McAllen’s history," she confidently proclaimed.
Family photographs, biographical sketches
Adding to the allure of the project, two other very unique aspects of the book will allow hundreds of local families to guarantee themselves a very personal place in this publishing endeavor:
• Many of the diverse images will be photographs donated by McAllen residents from their extensive personal photographic collections; and
• For a $2,500 investment, the book will include a one-page biographical sketch of individuals, including up to two images, of families, businesses and public institutions which will carry more details on their respective legacies, including their roles in the life of the community. (Additional pages can also be purchased for $2,500 per page.)
There is an August 20, 2010 deadline to purchase the biographical sketches, known as Historical Book Sponsor Profiles.
"We are proud to present historical profile sponsorships in which your business or family members can be represented, becoming an integral, permanent part of McAllen’s rich history," Mattie said.
Wanda Reyes, owner of imagen Public Relations, along with Robert Gutiérrez, Jr., owner
GT Services, are leading the local efforts to help Historical Book Sponsors secure their legacies in the book.
Reyes and Gutiérrez are also available to take pre-publication orders for the book, which can be reserved by August 31 for $37.84 per book.
Once the book – which will measure 9 inches by 12 inches per page with a hardboard cover plus a gloss laminate dust cover – is released next February, the purchase price will increase to $55.16, which will include sales tax and shipping charges.
According to John Millar with Centennial Publications, the major categories for the book already have been developed:
• Dust Cover;
• Table of Contents;
• Perspectives: Chapter – the First 100 Years;
• • Building Bridges;
• • Open for Business;
• • Visionaries;
• • Shaping the Community (Schools, Churches, Associations);
• • Arts, Museums, Culture, Architecture;
• • McAllen Milestones (Pivotal Events, Natural Disasters, Bandits, Floods);
• • Living Legacy (Philanthropy and Community Service);
• • The Future Path (Going Green, Nature Tourism, Business);
• Timeline (Highlighting events in each decade from 1900);
• Sponsor Profiles; and
"Justifiably proud of their city"
Mattie’s upcoming narrative on McAllen is sure to go much more in-depth than most – if not all – other related research currently available in print, video, or on the Internet.
But if a Texas Senate resolution, authored last spring by Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, is any indication of the contributions and successes of the City of Palms, McAllen’s First 100 Years – Leading the Way will document and organize the community’s history like never before.
According to Hinojosa, the development of present-day McAllen began in 1797 when Spanish settler José Manuel Gómez founded the Santa Anita Ranch in southern Hidalgo County. The ranch grew in size and, after passing through the hands of several heirs, it was inherited by his great-granddaughter, Salome Balli. Salome married John McAllen, and together they continued to add to the property and renamed it McAllen Ranch.
In 1904, John McAllen and other early settlers established a town site called West McAllen, and a year later, the St. Louis, Brownsville, and Mexico Railroad arrived. Other developers founded East McAllen in 1907, and the two towns eventually merged and became home to several businesses, churches, residences, and a newspaper.
In 1911, the town was incorporated (created), and ever since, McAllen has been a vital and beloved part of the Lone Star State.
"Over the last three decades, McAllen has grown into a center for business, commerce, and government in the Rio Grande Valley, and it is one of the fastest-growing metropolitan statistical areas in the country," Hinojosa said. "The citizens of McAllen are justifiably proud of their city, which has played a significant role in the annals of Texas history."
Sen. Hinojosa, Sen. Zaffirini appointed to Senate Committee on Redistricting by Lt. Governor Dewhurst
By ARTURO BALLESTEROS
Lt. Governor David Dewhurst on Wednesday, June 30, appointed Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, and Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, to the Senate Committee on Redistricting, the committee that will draw state legislative and congressional districts during the upcoming session.
The 11-member committee is composed of seven Republicans and four Democrats and is also charged with drawing State Board of Education districts.
The two veteran lawmakers are the only South Texas senators appointed to the 11-member legislative panel.
Hinojosa views this new appointment as a unique responsibility that requires a great deal of objectivity.
"My objective, as a member of the Senate Committee on Redistricting, is to draw a fair map of legislative districts – a map that truly represents the common interests of our communities as well as our growing population," Hinojosa said.
Hinojosa serves as vice-chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and holds seats on the Agriculture & Rural Affairs, Criminal Justice, Jurisprudence, and Natural Resources committees. He is also a member of the Sunset Advisory Commission and the Legislative Budget Board, two legislative bodies with considerable policy making authority.
"Redistricting affects everything from political representation to the level of federal funding for important projects," Zaffirini said. "As with every issue, my goal will be to balance the needs of Senate District 21 with those of Texas."
Some redistricting experts predict Texas will gain three or four congressional seats during this census cycle. Texas continues to see rapid population growth, especially in certain regions like South Texas.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 requires maps submitted by a state to show that all segments of the population be given an opportunity to participate in this process. Hinojosa stressed the importance of including all Texas voices in the redistricting effort.
Redistricting customarily occurs every 10 years, after the decennial U.S. Census is completed. Its purpose is to balance population in electoral districts.
"I am delighted that Lt. Gov. Dewhurst appointed me to serve on this important committee," Zaffirini said. "It is not only a great responsibility, but also a wonderful opportunity to serve our district and our state."
Dewhurst said that the committee is expected to travel the state to seek public input on the redrawing of legislative district boundaries.
"Redistricting is too important an issue for the Senate to wait until the legislative session to begin addressing. By appointing this committee now, members will be able to travel the state before session begins in January and hear from Texans on how best to draw our political lines for the next decade," Dewhurst said. "Once session convenes, the Texas Senate will then be in a strong position to draw maps that will fairly represent the population of Texas."
The committee’s membership is as follows:
• Chair, Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo;
• Vice Chair, Sen. Mario Gallegos, D-Houston;
• Sen. John Carona. R-Dallas;
• Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler;
• Sen. Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls;
• Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen;
• Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston;
• Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston;
• Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas;
• Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands; and
• Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo.
Will Krueger contributed to this article.
House approves $701 million in emergency funds to beef up U.S. southern border security
By ASHLEY PATTERSON
Congressman Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo/McAllen, on Friday, July 2, announced that $701 million in emergency funding for the nation’s southern border passed the House late Thursday, July 1, as part of a larger emergency spending measure to support the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The funding – which was authorized by H.R. 4899, the Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2010 – will allow for the deployment of 1,200 new Border Patrol agents between the ports of entry along the U.S. Mexico border and also includes $201 million for Justice Department programs that support local law enforcement.
“This is one of the single largest infusions of funding to secure the southern border,” said Cuellar. “This is a critical next step in combating illegal activity and securing our communities who face law enforcement challenges everyday.”
The emergency border funding includes $208 million for 1,200 additional Border Patrol agents, plus $136 million to maintain Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer staffing levels and will allow for 500 additional new officers for southern border land ports of entry.
In addition, $35.5 million will be made available for improved tactical communications along the border, three permanent Border Patrol forward operating bases, and a surge of workforce integrity investigations designed to prevent corruption among CBP officers and agents.
An additional $30 million will assist Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) activities to reduce the threat of narcotics trafficking and $50 million for Operation Stonegarden will supplement grants to support local law enforcement.
“This will infuse more resources to the border, land ports and local communities,” said Cuellar. “The combination of boots on the ground and increased technology will ensure our ability to stay ahead of the threats on the other side of the Rio Grande.”
The bill includes $32 million to procure two additional CBP unmanned aircraft systems. This June, the FAA approved a CBP initiative to fly a remotely-piloted surveillance aircraft over the Texas-Mexico border and Gulf Coast. The unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) will be stationed in Corpus Christi.
Cuellar, chairman of the House Subcommittee on Border, Maritime and Global Counterterrorism, has been working closely with CBP and the FAA to get the UAV approved for Texas.
Since April, Cuellar and other southern border lawmakers have been calling on Congress to approve emergency border funds. In an April letter to the Speaker of the House, Cuellar and eight other members of Congress requested over $500 million in emergency funds to support federal, state and local law enforcement in border states.
“We have to keep our finger on the pulse,” said Cuellar. “As violence in neighboring Mexico persists we have to prepare ourselves at the frontlines of our communities. These additional resources will make a difference here in Texas.”
Federal funds to keep teachers employed, workers rights for first responders, included in Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2010
By PATRICIA GUILLERMO
Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, on Friday, July 2, announced that the House-approved federal budget amendment also includes significant funding and protection for public school teachers and first responders in deep South Texas and throughout the nation.
Those changes are contained in H.R. 4899, the Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2010.
“This bill allocates $10 billion in emergency spending which is critical to ensuring that thousands of teachers in deep South Texas do not lose their jobs,” said Hinojosa. “The education of our children continues to be a top priority for me. We cannot allow our students and teachers to be short-changed and to suffer due to the state of our nation’s economy.”
The measure also helps the multi-billion dollar shortfall in the Pell Grant program, which are federal funds that provide money for the neediest students pursuing a college or university education, he added.
In addition, H.R. 4899 "provides our communities’ first responders basic collective bargaining rights so they can keep our communities safe and strong.These critical investments will help secure jobs for those who work to help us,” Hinojosa added.
A breakdown of some of the key funding provisions follows:
Protecting teaching jobs
The 2010 Supplemental Appropriations Act creates a $10 billion Education Jobs fund to provide emergency support to school districts to prevent layoffs and keep 140,000 school employees on the job next year. The Department of Education will administer the fund and distribute the money to states through a formula based on total population and school age population.
States will distribute the funds to school districts through their primary funding formula or through the Title I formula. The bill includes strict provisions that require states to use this funding only to preserve, rehire or hire new employees in elementary and secondary education. The money can’t be used to supplant state education spending.
The 2010 Supplemental Appropriations Act invests $4.95 billion, fully offset, to address the current year shortfall in the Pell Grant Program. In the last academic year, more than eight million students received Pell grants.
It will guarantee collective bargaining rights for first responders employed by states and localities. States would administer and enforce their own labor laws, while the Federal Labor Relations Authority would only step in where such laws do not exist or do not meet minimum standards. The language prohibits public safety officers from engaging in a lockout, sickout, work slowdown, strike, or any other organized job action that will disrupt the delivery of emergency services.
Sen. Lucio calls for participation in prayers for peace on behalf of victims of border violence
By DORIS SÁNCHEZ
Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. on Wednesday, July 1, called border communities to join him in Prayers for Peace every second Thursday of each month beginning July 8, on behalf of the victims of violence along the U.S. and Mexico border region.
To begin his monthly prayers, the senator is inviting the public to join him in a special Mass at the Immaculate Conception Cathedral in Brownsville at 5:30 p.m on Thursday, July 8, followed by an all- denominations assembly of prayer at the Dean Porter Park Pavilion from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. (doors will open at 6:30 p.m.).
"I am deeply saddened over the death of my dear friend Mr. Rodolfo Torre Cantú, Tamaulipas gubernatorial candidate who recently died during a firefight outside the city of Soto La Marina, about 40 miles east of Ciudad Victoria, the state capital," said Sen. Lucio. "This terrible tragedy prompted me to call for a special day of prayer and spiritual meditation on the need for peace along the border."
In addition to asking the communities all along the Texas border to take the time to pray for the victims and their families, Lucio is also encouraging churches of all denominations to participate.
"If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other," is a quote by Mother Teresa that Lucio wants the people of this region to remember when considering his request.
He is also calling leaders of border communities from Brownsville to El Paso to designate the second Thursday of each month as the day of prayer.
"As border residents we all know and understand how important peace is to the safety and economic well-being of our families. We want both sides of the border to be peaceful and to prosper, and we want our friends south of the border to know that we stand by them in their efforts to make their country safe and peaceful again by calling on our Divine Maker to intercede," he added.
Lucio is asking people to wear ribbons of sky blue in remembrance of those who have died and to bring attention to the need for peace in the region.
Attorney General Abbott demands federal action after bullets hit El Paso City Hall
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott on Wednesday, June 30, sent the following letter to President Obama:
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500
Dear Mr. President,
Deadly violence from drug cartels and transnational gangs in Mexico is knocking on the United States’ door with ever increasing frequency. Yesterday, gunfire from the cartels pierced that threshold and struck City Hall in El Paso. Fortunately no one was injured or killed. But that good fortune was not the result of effective border control – it was mere luck that the bullets struck buildings rather than bodies.
Luck and good fortune are not effective border enforcement policies. The shocking reality of cross border gunfire proves the cold reality: American lives are at risk. As (a recent) news article notes: “More than 1,300 people have been murdered in Juárez this year as a war continues relentlessly between the Juárez and Sinaloa drug cartels.” Americans must be protected as this deadly war bulges at our border.
Law enforcement officials with the Texas Department of Public Safety and your own U.S. Customs and Border Protection will reveal the hard truth. Our state is under constant assault from illegal activity threatening a porous border.
The time for talk has passed. The time for action is now. The need is urgent. Each day that passes increases the likelihood that an American life will be lost because of the federal government’s failure to secure the border.
This threat demands immediate and effective action by your Administration to secure our border. As the Attorney General of Texas, I urge you to make border security your top priority so that no more innocent lives are lost to border violence.
Almost $16 million federal grant to improve Internet for South Texas universities, colleges
By PATRICIA GUILLERMO
Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, on Friday, July 2, announced that a $15.7 million federal grant was awarded to Valley Telephone Cooperative, Inc. (VTX Telecom), which will be used to build more than 150 miles on new underground fiber network in Hidalgo, Cameron, Starr and Willacy counties.
The project is projected to benefit more than 300,000 people and more than 17,000 businesses and community institutions.
“This is a 20-year commitment to creating jobs and boosting our economic development”, said Hinojosa. “This service will benefit and expand the surrounding communities and businesses. It is a prime example of how the President’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is helping our residents of Deep South Texas and our local economy”.
The RGV Fiber Optic Me/Ed Foundation Network, as it is being called, will specifically connect the University of Texas and Texas A&M University systems and Texas State Technical College and South Texas College in South Texas.
The project is designed to provide fiber optic technologies that will provide faster and broader high-speed connections to all campuses and their 23 satellite educational facilities and the communities surrounding them.
“This is a great opportunity for the four counties and the educational systems that will benefit from this service,” said Hinojosa. “These universities and colleges will be able to use this free service for their administrative and financial records, crucial research and distant learning. It will also connect the multitude of health and medical services around the Rio Grande Valley.”
Texans with pre-existing medical conditions now eligible for U.S. health insurance coverage
By ASHLEY PATTERSON
As of Thursday, July 1, uninsured Texans with pre-existing medical conditions can apply for a new health insurance program through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, says Congressman Henry Cueller, D-Laredo/McAllen.
The new Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan (PCIP) will cover a broad range of health benefits, including primary and specialty care, for uninsured Texans who currently don’t have health insurance due to pre-existing conditions.
“Thanks to health care reform, this new insurance program will help uninsured Texans with pre-existing conditions get the coverage they’ve long deserved,” said Cuellar. “This new plan will benefit thousands of uninsured Texans whom insurance companies denied for being ill or previously sick. This program will provide long-overdue support for many Texas families.”
As of July 1, 21 states across the country will benefit from this new health insurance program as a result of the health care reform legislation passed by Congress earlier this year. Established by the Affordable Care Act, PCIP is a transitional program until 2014 when insurers will be banned from discriminating against adults with pre-existing conditions.
To be eligible for the program, Texans must be a U.S. citizen or lawfully present in the United States and must have been uninsured for at least six months before applying as a result of having a pre-existing condition.
“This is one more immediate example of what health care reform is doing for Texas,” said Cuellar. “Already, we’ve helped thousands of seniors, small businesses and families with new health care choices. The health care reform law is giving us commonsense solutions to benefit all Americans.”
To apply for the new Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan, Texans can visit http://www.pcip.gov to download the application and return it by mail. People can also visit the new health care website http://www.healthcare.gov to find out more information on new health care options.
To read a question and answer fact sheet on the new PCIP program, please visit: http://www.pcip.gov/FAQ.html
Texas congressional Democrats pass House measure that prevents Texas from diverting federal education funds to other state programs
By ASHLEY PATTERSON
The Texas Democratic Congressional Delegation on Friday, July 2, issued the following statement regarding a provision contained in the House-passed 2010 Supplemental Appropriations Act to prevent the Texas from diverting $820 million in emergency education jobs funding for non-educational use.
Last year, Texas state leaders diverted to its rainy day fund $3.25 billion in federal Recovery Act funds that were intended to support Texas public schools.
The statement was jointly issued by Congressman Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo/McAllen, Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, Congressman Solomon Ortiz, D-Corpus Christi, Congressman Charlie González, D-San Antonio, Congressman Ciro Rodríguez, D-San Antonio, Congressman Silvestre Reyes, D-El Paso, Congressman Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, Congressman Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston, Congressman Al Green, D-Houston, Congressman Gene Green, D-Houston, Congressman Chet Edwards, D-Waco, and Congressman Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Dallas.
Their comments follow:
“Last year, we voted for the Economic Recovery Act, which included $3.25 billion to support local Texas school districts. But instead of using these funds as Congress intended, State Republican Leadership used them to replace state education funding, thereby denying an increase in support for our local school districts.
“We want to ensure that any new emergency funds Congress provides for education actually help our Texas schools. We have requested additional protections be incorporated into any Supplemental Appropriations legislation specifically for Texas schoolchildren to ensure local districts actually receive this federal help. These protections will ensure that the $820 million in new emergency federal funds for education go to preserve teacher jobs throughout the State and meet other local education needs.
“These funds would go to local schools as long as the Governor certifies that (1) federal funds are not used merely to replace state education support, and (2) education funding will not be cut proportionally more than any other item in the upcoming Texas General Appropriations Act. This prevents any further shell games with federal education dollars at the expense of local schools districts. This approach has been endorsed by Texas statewide education organizations representing teachers, principals, school boards, school administrators, and nearly 40 superintendents.
“A solid education is the foundation on which our economy and our democracy rest. Our support for our local school districts reflects a two-fold understanding: First, local districts know best what the needs of their students, teachers, and administrators are. Second, especially in times of a difficult economy, we need to invest in our schools.
“Our language helps ensure local school districts in Texas have the support they need.”
Edinburg sixth grade teacher one of two Valley men arrested for soliciting minors online
By ANGELA DODGE
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott’s Cyber Crimes Unit and the McAllen Police Department on Friday, June 25, arrested Abel Castro Jr., 44, an Edinburg public school teacher, and Guadalupe López Jr., 22, of Alamo, for using the Internet to prey on children.
“These defendants are charged with arranging to meet and sexually assault a minor child,” Abbott said. “Friday’s joint operation by the Texas Attorney General’s Office and the McAllen Police Department led to the arrest of two suspected Internet predators. We are grateful to McAllen Police Chief Víctor Rodríguez and his officers for their assistance with these cases and their commitment to Texas children.”
The Cyber Crimes Unit and McAllen Police Department arrested both men on in McAllen.
According to investigators, Castro traveled to a residence where he planned to meet and sexually assault a 14-year-old male he had met online. When Castro arrived at the residence, he instead encountered law enforcement officers.
Castro was booked into the McAllen Police Department jail and charged with online solicitation of a minor and attempted sexual assault of a child, both third-degree felonies. Each charge carries punishment of two to 10 years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine. At the time of the arrest, Castro was employed as a sixth grade teacher in Edinburg.
According to investigators, López arranged to meet and sexually assault someone he believed to be a 14-year-old female he had met online. When he arrived at the pre-arranged residence, López met law enforcement authorities instead of the underage child.
López was booked into the McAllen Police Department jail and charged with online solicitation of a minor, a third-degree felony. If convicted, López faces two to 10 years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine. At the time of the arrest, López indicated he is a student at a vocational and technical training institute.
U.S. to increase fees for passport services effective July 13, says District Clerk Hinojosa
By RICARDO CONTRERAS
The U.S. Department of State has published its new passport fees for the U.S. Passport Book, the U.S. Passport Card, and other passport services, which will take effect on Tuesday, July 13.
“Despite passport fee increases, the district clerk office will continue to provide the public with convenient, complete, customer-friendly passport services,” said Laura Hinojosa, Hidalgo County District Clerk. “I encourage the public to visit our office to process their passport applications, if possible prior to the effective fee increase date.”
According to the US Department of State, passport application fees are not only used to cover the costs of producing a U.S. Passport, but also cover the costs of providing emergency services for American citizens overseas in crisis situations, helping Americans who have been the victims of crime while traveling or living abroad, and providing support to the families of American citizens who have died overseas.
Passport application fees also enable the US Department of State to keep up with technology and implement fraud prevention initiatives to protect the United States passport, in addition to funding the expansion of passport infrastructure and services.
For more information regarding passports and a full list of adjusted fees, log on to:
A notice of the passport fee increase can also be found at:
U.S. International Boundary and Water Commission begins to divert excess rainwater from Hurricane Alex into interior floodway
By SALLY SPENER
The United States Section of the International Boundary and Water Commission (USIBWC) on Monday, July 5, advised that rainfall in the Rio Grande Basin is generating significant inflow into Amistad Reservoir, located at Del Rio – Ciudad Acun?a, Coahuila, causing a rise in the reservoir. To evacuate these floodwaters, the IBC began increasing releases of water from the dam on July 5.
Based on current forecasts of inflows to the dam and Rio Grande flow downstream, the USIBWC expected to increase the releases to 35,000 cubic feet per second (1000 cubic meters per second) on Wednesday, July 6. As conditions warrant, greater releases are possible.
The USIBWC, headed by Commissioner Edward Drusina, is a federal government agency and the U.S. component of the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC), which applies the boundary and water treaties of the United States and Mexico and settles differences that may arise in their application
Releases of this volume have the potential to inundate property along the banks of the Rio Grande downstream of Amistad Dam. Residents in Val Verde County downstream of Amistad Dam should continue to monitor National Weather Service warnings and forecasts for any updated information about conditions in the Rio Grande and to heed any guidance from local emergency management officials.
To prepare for flood conditions, crews from the U.S. Section of the International Boundary and Water Commission on Saturday, July 3, began closing all drainage and irrigation structures that pass through USIBWC levees in order to prevent floodwaters from the Rio Grande and interior floodway from flowing into adjacent communities.
Once the structures are closed, drainage from the land side of the levee that would normally flow into the river or floodways will be blocked so any local storm water flows will need to be pumped over the levee by the community or drainage district responsible for local storm water management.
As conditions warrant, USIBWC staff would move into Flood Fight Operations. The last time Amistad Dam was in flood operations was September – October 2008 when releases of 17,657 cubic feet per second (500 cubic meters per second).
The last time the IBWC diverted water into the U.S. floodway was in 1988 due to the effects of Hurricane Gilbert.
Flow downstream from Amistad Dam enters Falcon Reservoir, located at Falcon Heights, Texas-Nueva Ciudad Guerrero, Tamaulipas. The commission is closely monitoring conditions at Falcon Reservoir and in the Rio Grande downstream of Falcon Dam to the Gulf of Mexico.
As conditions warrant, release of floodwaters from Falcon Dam could become necessary in the coming days.
The USIBWC is managing its flood control infrastructure taking into account prudent operation of the reservoirs, existing flood conditions in parts of the Rio Grande and its tributaries in the United States and Mexico, impact to property, and forecasts for additional rainfall in the basin, including the potential for additional tropical weather impacts in the coming week.
Information about Rio Grande flow as well as storage and release data from U.S. and Mexican reservoirs in the Rio Grande basin is available on the USIBWC web page at:
During this phase of response, crews work 24 hours per day to patrol flood control levees to identify and respond to any problems that could arise such as erosion along the levees, freeboard encroachment, or seepage on the land side of the levees. Sand bagging operations would be established if needed.
Crews also would take more frequent flow measurements to track and document the flood.
As part of its flood operations, the USIBWC exchanges information with the Mexican Section of the Commission regarding flood conditions.
The USIBWC provides data about Mexico’s Rio Grande tributaries to the National Weather Service, which uses this and U.S. data to formulate flood forecasts.
In May, the U.S. and Mexican Sections of the Commission conducted their annual flood workshop in preparation for the hurricane season.
Information about Rio Grande flow as well as storage and release data from U.S. and Mexican reservoirs in the Rio Grande basin is available on the USIBWC web page at:
Hurricane Hunter tracked growth, direction of Hurricane Alex, whose fury missed the Valley
By RANDY ROUGHTON
Hours before an aircrew from the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron left for an after-midnight flight into Hurricane Alex, the storm had just been upgraded from a tropical storm to a hurricane.
By the time the crew returned from more than seven hours inside the storm, the data they gathered showed signs the storm was growing stronger even as it approached landfall.
The powerful storm, the strongest June hurricane to make landfall in the U.S. since 1966, came ashore late Tuesday, June 29 on an unpopulated stretch of coast in northern Mexico about 110 miles south of Brownsville.
Alex reached Category 2 classification on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale with sustained winds of 105 miles per hour, and spawned tornadoes in southern Texas.
As the Hurricane Hunter crew flew into the hurricane’s eyewall, Senior Airman Jenna Daniel delivered a cylindrical object into the heart of the storm. The dropsonde, along with the stepped-frequency microwave radiometer, gathered information on the first named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season. Hurricane Alex became the first Atlantic-based hurricane to enter the Gulf of Mexico in June since 1995, as well as the first since the oil spill that followed the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20.
The Hurricane Hunter crew entered the hurricane’s eye in the WC-130J Hercules at 5,000 feet when the storm was located 130 miles off Mexico’s coast. Information gathered by the dropsondes and radiometer, which crew members call the "smurf," showed wind speeds had increased to 80 mph and maximum winds of 105 mph in the northeast quadrant of the storm. They also detected the hurricane’s lowest minimum pressure had dropped to 958 millibars, said Capt. Douglas Gautrau, an aerial reconnaissance weather officer. Later, the pressure dropped even further to 948, as it moved toward landfall. By comparison, back on August 13, 2004, Hurricane Charley had a low minimum pressure of 941 millibars before it slammed into southeastern Florida with 150 mph winds as a Category 4 hurricane.
The radiometer, which is located within a pod attached to the aircraft’s wing, accurately measures wind speeds directly below the aircraft at the ocean’s surface. Hurricane Hunter missions already improve National Hurricane Center forecasts by 30 percent. Maj. Jeff Ragusa, aircraft commander on the Hurricane Alex mission, said the radiometer further enhances the data the aircrew provides for hurricane forecasts.
"We’re getting a good picture of the surface winds of the storm," Ragusa said. "That’s a capability we didn’t have a few years ago."
Before the radiometer was added in 2008, Hurricane Hunter crew members gathered wind speed information from dropsondes and observations through windows of the WC-130. The radiometer also measures rainfall rates in a storm, and flooding in Mexico and south Texas was a major concern with Hurricane Alex.
"Before, we were getting about 10 observations every hour," Gautrau said. "Now, with the smurf, we’re getting data every second, with 3,600 surface wind observations every hour."
The dropsonde is a weather instrument package dropped by a weather reconnaissance loadmaster into the eyewall and center of the hurricane. As a parachute or drogue slows the descent to the ocean surface, the dropsonde gathers current pressure, temperature, humidity, wind speed, direction and global positioning system information to instruments on the aircraft, said Tech. Sgt. Amy Lee, a weather reconnaissance loadmaster with the 53rd WRS since 2004. This information is then sent to the National Hurricane Center by satellite communications.
The crew on this flight are reservists in the 53rd WRS, the only military unit worldwide that flies regular hurricane reconnaissance. Lee said she feels more of a sense of duty than any kind of individual pride for the role she plays in the data the Hurricane Hunters provide to forecasters at the National Hurricane Center.
"I personally feel very sad when a hurricane makes landfall for the people in the path of the storm and their loss," Lee said. "I’m really happy they were able to get out of the way in time. I’m proud just like anybody else is proud who did their job. I did my duty."
House passes bill to extend $8,000 first-time home buyer tax credit for prospective buyers who had signed contracts by April 30
By ASHLEY PATTERSON
Congressman Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo/McAllen, on Tuesday, June 29, helped pass the Homebuyers Assistance and Improvement Act to extend an important deadline to help eligible first-time home buyers benefit from tax credits.
Under current law, home buyers who entered contracts to purchase a home by April 30 had until June 30 to close their contracts and benefit from the first-time homebuyer tax credit. The legislation passed by the House on June 29 gives pending homebuyers until September 30 to complete the sale and qualify for the tax credits worth up to $8,000.
“By extending this deadline, we help thousands of Americans buy their first home and strengthen our housing market in the process,” said Cuellar. “More than four million families have already benefited from this tax credit and now we ensure thousands more can attain a part of the American dream.”
The National Association of Realtors estimates that 180,000 home buyers could benefit from this extension. The bill now moves to the Senate where similar legislation has been sponsored by Senate leadership.
“Now more than ever, we have to do everything we can to shore up the strength of our housing market,” said Cuellar. “This tax credit has been good for American homebuyers and this extension will make a difference.”
To learn more about the first-time homebuyer tax credit, please visit:
State law increase criminal penalty for polygamous group in Texas
Abram Harker Jeffs on Friday, June 25, was sentenced to 17 years in prison for the sexual assault of a child, making him the sixth member of a polygamous group to be convicted of the crime. The Schleicher County jury determined that his crime was a first degree felony due to an enhancement in punishments authored by Rep. Harvey Hilderbran, R-Kerville, in 2005.
Sexual assault is generally considered a second degree felony that carries a penalty of two to 20 years. Hilderbran’s amendment, however, made sexual assault a first degree offense if the defendant was prohibited from marrying or living under the appearance of marriage with the victim. As a first degree felony, the crime carries a penalty of five to 99 years in prison.
Jeffs was convicted under the enhancement because he was already legally married in 2006 when he “spiritually” married the victim in the case, who was 15 years old at the time. Jeffs was 34 years old.
Five other members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints – a group that mainstream Mormons reject – have previously been convicted of sexual assault of a child. Under Hilderbran’s enhancement, Allan Eugene Keate was sentenced to 33 years in prison, while Merrill Leroy Jessop was sentenced to 75 years. Jessop had been “spiritually” married to two 15-year old girls, one of whom he impregnated, and one 12-year-old girl.
“Anyone who sexually abuses a child should receive the harshest punishment possible, and I hope these strict sentences will stop other individuals from thinking that freedom to practice one’s religion somehow means freedom to force marriage, to rape, and to sexually assault young girls,” Hilderbran said.
Raymond Merril Jessop, Michael Emack, and Lehi Barlow Jeffs have also been convicted of sexual assault of a child, receiving sentences of seven to 10 years each. Two additional members of the FLDS group are scheduled to go on trial later this year for the same crime, while another has been charged with bigamy and a fourth with conducting an unlawful marriage ceremony involving a minor. All ten men were charged following a 2008 Child Protective Services search of the group’s Yearning for Zion Ranch outside of Eldorado.
The sect, which moved into Schleicher County from Utah and Arizona in 2004, first came under scrutiny when its leader, Warren Jeffs, was accused in two lawsuits of sexually abusing his underage nephew and covering up widespread molestations by fellow sect leaders. The following year, Hilderbran successfully enhanced penalties for sexual assault by offering an amendment to Senate Bill 6 during the 78th Regular Legislative Session.
Warren Jeffs is currently serving 10 years to life in a Utah prison for being an accomplice to rape, and Texas has begun extradition proceedings for crimes committed in this state.