SAN JUAN, February 8 - A candidate forum hosted by La Unión del Pueblo Entero in San Juan on Thursday evening focused on two local races, Hidalgo County District Attorney and Hidalgo County Commissioner, Precinct 2.
However, one should not get the impression from this that LUPE does not care about statewide races. Community organizer Martha Sanchez said her colonia community group is paying close attention to the race for governor and other top statewide races and would be educating voters on the merits of the candidates.
In an exclusive interview with the Guardian immediately following the candidate forum, Sanchez said she wanted to focus on gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott’s “Securing Texans Plan.” The plan was unveiled in Dallas earlier in the week.
“We are not impressed. In fact, we are very disappointed. We are very disappointed that Attorney General Abbott did not reach out to the RGV Equal Voice Network before developing this misguided border security plan,” Sanchez said.
Under the Securing Texans plan, Abbott wants the Legislature to commit an additional $286 million to the Department of Public Safety for border security operations. This money would fund the hiring of an additional 500 state troopers.
“All too often, federal agencies such as U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have provided insufficient protection for Texas’ border. Thus, it is Texas that must inevitably pick up the slack,” Abbott’s 60-page plan states. “Currently, DPS deployments to the border region are operating in normal routine along the border. Normal routine means routine patrols 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, with a set number of troopers assigned to each district.”
Abbott’s plan went to say: “From time to time, DPS conducts “surge operations,” in which DPS personnel, from other districts are temporarily assigned to the border. Notably, DPS recently engaged in a related Operation Strong Safety, which temporarily increased the patrol presence in the Rio,Grande Valley area from September 15 to October 4, 2013. Operations like these may be necessary when the threat-level, on the border demands it, and they require adequate funding. Such a strategy to deter criminal activity requires adequate funding, personnel, and resources to sustain those goals.”
Sanchez said LUPE and other groups within the RGV Equal Voice Network are particularly concerned about any proposals that give DPS license to carry out more “surge operations.” Sanchez was on TV every evening during the September 15 to October 4, 2013, surge, pointing out that immigrant families were staying at home for fear of being captured at one of the 18 DPS checkpoints and then deported.
“You know all the problems we had when DPS erected those 18 checkpoints and how they affected our community and how it affected our economy and the Valley. How they interrupted the life of residents in the Valley, especially in the western part of Hidalgo County. We know that this was a very foolish operation. It did not take into consideration the 1.3 million people that live in this region,” Sanchez said.
Sanchez said giving more money to DPS and allowing the agency to do more “surge operations” is foolish because state troopers are not trained to do border security work. She said such work should be left to the federal government. She also said local police chiefs resent DPS getting the lion’s share of the additional funds under Abbott’s plan.
“DPS has grown too fast in recent years without any oversight, accountability or transparency. It is a most foolish decision by Attorney General Greg Abbott to give DPS all the money when they have no support in our community. It calls into question his viability as a candidate for governor,” Sanchez said.
“We know DPS is not in touch with our community and has lost the respect of our community. That was shown during Operation Strong Safety. If he, Abbott, would come and listen to the people who live and work on the border he would know that this is not an issue that we have trouble with.”
Sanchez said her group resents the taxpayers of Texas having to pay twice for border security, once to the state and once to the federal government.
“What we have trouble with here on the border is a lack of health coverage, we do not have the money for health insurance, many of our citizens do not qualify for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act because the State of Texas decided not to expand Medicaid,” Sanchez said.
“Most of the people who come to us to ask about Obamacare do not qualify because their incomes are so low. That is where we need to spend the $500 million. If there is that much money sloshing around, that much extra, put it into healthcare. Not DPS. We do not need more DPS.”
Sanchez underlined LUPE’s main point on this issue: “We do not need any more entities that are not Border Patrol doing the work of Border Patrol. Local law enforcement will tell you that they need the confidence of the local community if they are to do their job. Every agency has its own job to do and DPS's job is to give tickets for speeding on the highway. They are not trained to do Border Patrol's job. We do not need any more checkpoints or surges. Everybody in the Valley knows that is not the kind of help we need.”
Sanchez added that she is saddened Abbott, in all his visits to the Valley, has not sought any dialogue with LUPE or the RGV Equal Voice Network. “He needs to learn what the needs of border communities are so that he spends that $300 million the right way, in the right places.”