Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A Boom Behind Bars

Selvin Cardenas's three months in the U.S. immigrant detention system began in the usual way, with a knock at his door. At 5 a.m. on Apr. 21, 2009, three men in suits spotted him through the window of his Houston home. "We're here for you," one of them said. "You're Selvin Cardenas. Open up the door."

Cardenas says he arrived in Miami legally from his native Honduras in 1990, at the age of 32, working aboard a ship. He moved to Houston and for nearly two decades lived there working as a pizza deliveryman, dishwasher, and truck driver. He has four kids born in the U.S., in addition to one born in Honduras, and when the agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) appeared, his instinct was to wake his children and say goodbye.

He didn't open the door, but after stalling and calling a lawyer, he decided to cooperate, in the hope that if they took him away without a fuss, they might not arrest his wife, whose immigration status was also precarious. He says the agents were civil throughout the encounter and didn't cuff him, but they did lead him outside and into an unmarked green Tahoe. They cruised around Houston for three hours looking for other potential deportees. Finding none, they drove him to ICE's Houston Contract Detention Facility.

Then, as quickly as ICE detained him, it released him. His freedom lasted about 10 seconds—the time it takes to walk from the ICE building on Greens Rd. to its neighboring building, the Houston Processing Center, a prison owned and operated by Nashville-based Corrections Corporation of America (CXW) (CCA). A publicly traded company, CCA is the largest private prison contractor in the U.S. ICE pays CCA about $90 a day per person to keep immigrants behind bars and to manage every aspect of detainees' lives, running its prison much as the government does. The main difference is that CCA locks people up for profit.

The private prison system runs parallel to the U.S. prisons and currently accounts for nearly 10 percent of U.S. state and federal inmates, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Those numbers rise and fall in response to specific policies, and CCA has been accused of lobbying for policies that would fill its cells—such as the increase in enforcement of regulations like the one that snagged Cardenas. Tougher policies have been good for CCA. Since the company started winning immigrant detention contracts in 2000, its stock has rebounded from about a dollar to $23.33, attracting investors such as William Ackman's Pershing Square Capital Management, which is now its largest shareholder.

CCA has current contracts with ICE and other federal clients, as well as 19 state prison systems. Its largest competitor, the Geo Group (GEO), is slightly smaller, and together they account for more than $3 billion in gross revenues annually. The next-largest player, MTC, is privately held and does not disclose numbers, but the industry as a whole grosses just under $5 billion per year.

In Houston, ICE is paying CCA to hold about 1,000 alleged illegal immigrants while they are processed for potential deportation. CCA manages them until the moment they leave U.S. soil. If they are Mexican, it puts them in white CCA buses with tinted windows and drives them on its daily run to the Mexican border. If they're from somewhere else, it drives them across the road to the airport, marches them to an airline counter, and watches them fly away.

CCA declined interview requests but did answer some questions by e-mail and issued a written statement that outlined their strategy—to try to do what government does, but more efficiently. When the federal government or states want to build a new prison, they take as long as six years; CCA says they build theirs in 18 months, at less than half the cost. Despite their speed, they claim to meet and exceed public prison standards and point to the high marks their facilities have won from the American Correctional Assn., the main trade organization in the corrections community.

Read the rest here.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Sen. Klein quotes letter calling Latino students 'gangsters' (UPDATED)

Sen. Klein quotes letter calling Latino students 'gangsters' (UPDATED)

This is downright offensive.

Charter school wait lists spark legislation

Important quotes from within:

"According to the Texas Charter Schools Association, about 120,000, or 2.5 percent, of Texas' 4.8 million public school students are enrolled in charter schools, which are public schools, usually run by nonprofits, that are subject to fewer state regulations.

A TEA report on 35 charters operational from 2006 to 2009 found that, because any nonprofit organization may submit an application to start a charter school, many "encountered substantial challenges resulting from founders' lack of experience in public education."

Fifty-five of the 289 charters granted since 1996 have ceased operation because of revocation or nonrenewal.

And at a time when a multibillion-dollar state budget shortfall has made efficiency in education the mantra, charters typically have higher administrative costs. According to the Texas Association of School Business Officials, from 2004 to 2009, an average of 11 percent of operating costs went to administration at charter schools, compared with about 6.7 percent for public schools with enrollments of less than 1,000."


Charter school wait lists spark legislation
With state oversight possibly stretched by layoffs, questions arise about increasing number of charters issued.

By Andrew Kaspar
Published: 10:23 p.m. Friday, March 18, 2011

An estimated 56,000 Texas students are on waiting lists for charter schools the kind of demand that prompts discussion and legislative proposals.

State lawmakers will soon begin considering bills that would chip away at those lists by authorizing more charter schools. But given the need for stringent oversight of these occasionally failed education enterprises, some question whether expansion is appropriate at a time when the Texas Education Agency — public education's chief regulatory body — has laid off about 10 percent of its staff.

State law caps the number of charters the State Board of Education may grant at 215, and there are currently 210 active charters.

House and Senate committees will take up bills related to raising that cap as early as Tuesday. The most ambitious would allow up to 100 new charters per year, with no total limit. A more moderate proposal would allow 10 new charters annually.

The number of campuses would presumably multiply by a number greater than whatever new cap the Legislature might ultimately authorize: Because charter holders may run networks of schools, those 210 open-enrollment charters currently encompass 520 campuses.

House Public Education Committee Chairman Rob Eissler, R-The Woodlands , said he believes some upward adjustment of the cap will pass this session.

"There's a market for them," Eissler said. "We've got charter schools that have long waiting lists, and it's a very market-driven mode of education, which is promising."

According to the Texas Charter Schools Association, about 120,000, or 2.5 percent, of Texas' 4.8 million public school students are enrolled in charter schools, which are public schools, usually run by nonprofits, that are subject to fewer state regulations. In a kind of trade-off, although charters receive some public funds, they are not eligible to receive money from local property taxes or most state money for facilities.

Advocates promote charter schools as educational innovators for students who find their local public school inadequate. Many charters are tailored to a specific demographic or specialized academic program.

Detractors point to the think-outside-the-box philosophy of charters, which can bring nontraditional players to the education table and occasionally results in a trial-and-error approach that subjects students to the consequences of those errors.

Founders' credentials

The TEA is charged with monitoring and intervention when any public school fails to meet expectations. But spokeswoman Debbie Ratcliffe has said more agency layoffs could come this summer, raising concerns about the agency's ability to effectively monitor a new generation of charters.

"If a law passes to increase (the cap), then we do what we can to make it happen," said Suzanne Marchman, another TEA representative.

Lindsay Gustafson, public affairs director for the Texas Classroom Teachers Association, said her organization is not unequivocally against lifting the cap but opposes the proposition at this time, given the state's budget woes and TEA staff reductions.

"They're already strapped, in looking at charters — oversight of charters and any time that they take to close charters is pretty significant," Gustafson said. "It's not an easy thing to do."

A TEA report on 35 charters operational from 2006 to 2009 found that, because any nonprofit organization may submit an application to start a charter school, many "encountered substantial challenges resulting from founders' lack of experience in public education."

The Texas Charter Schools Association was founded in 2008 to be an advocate for the Texas charter movement and to serve as a resource for charter operators, from the application process through day-to-day school administration.

"We've launched the first-ever comprehensive set of model policies for charter schools in the state," said David Dunn, the organization's executive director. The goal is to give charter operators the blueprint they need to run schools that are both effective and in compliance with state and federal laws, Dunn said. Raising the cap is one of his association's "top priorities" this session.

Rankings compared

First introduced to Texas in 1995, charter schools have received significant attention in recent years; the 2010 documentary "Waiting for Superman" — highlighting wait-listed children's agonizing experiences with the lottery system by which students are admitted to many charters — featured the highly successful KIPP charter school network, founded in Houston. President Barack Obama's Race to the Top education initiative encourages pro-charter reform.

But compared with regular school districts, a higher proportion of charter schools ranks as "academically unacceptable" — the lowest rating possible — under the state's accountability measures. In 2010, 11.1 percent of charters received the designation, compared with 1.4 percent of regular public school districts. Schools or districts that receive this rating for multiple years are subject to various sanctions, including potential closure.

At the same time, nearly one-quarter of all charters have the state's top rating of exemplary, compared with 18.5 percent of regular districts.

The TEA's latest round of accreditation will result in the revocation of four charters, and 16 of the 22 districts newly designated as warned or on probation are charters. The annual accreditation process is based on a district's academic performance and financial health, among other criteria. All four charters slated for closure are appealing. Fifty-five of the 289 charters granted since 1996 have ceased operation because of revocation or nonrenewal.

And at a time when a multibillion-dollar state budget shortfall has made efficiency in education the mantra, charters typically have higher administrative costs. According to the Texas Association of School Business Officials, from 2004 to 2009, an average of 11 percent of operating costs went to administration at charter schools, compared with about 6.7 percent for public schools with enrollments of less than 1,000.

In Austin, two charters illustrate the promise and pitfalls of such schools.

There is NYOS, a two-campus charter that has operated for 12 years and was ranked the fourth-best public high school in Austin last year by a Houston-based research group. And then there is SAILL, opened in 2007 and shuttered in 2009 as financial mismanagement led to one superintendent's ouster and the resignation of the entire board of directors.

Regardless of the challenges the state's charter movement has faced, students continue to migrate to the schools. Charters have made a net gain of more than 67,000 midyear transfers since 2000, according to TEA data.

As of the fall, 743 students were hoping their number might be called at NYOS, and at least 56,000 Texas children will watch the charter cap debate with a vested interest in the outcome.

Find this article at:

Arizona's Shock Doctrine? Children Call Out Legislators on Immigration Bills Defeat

Russell Pearce doesn't always get his way thank God. What a mean-spirited person.


The Huffington Post
MARCH 19, 2011

Arizona's Shock Doctrine? Children Call Out Legislators on Immigration Bills Defeat
by Jeff Biggers

Call it Arizona's Shock Doctrine.

And the children are the shock troops.

They dressed as firefighters, doctors, lawyers, police officers, pilots and scientists. They carried signs, including a 30-foot banner of colorful hand prints. They marched along the Arizona Capitol grounds, singing "This Little Light of Mine."

On the eve of the Arizona state legislature's historic vote today on a blockbuster array of radical new immigration bills, including a controversial legislative challenge to a US Supreme Court ruling for K-12 education access for undocumented students and 14th amendment birth rights, children from Tucson to Flagstaff held a symbolic sit-in on the Capitol lawn with a reminder that no one would suffer more from the draconian bills than state's youngest.

In a stunning defeat to Senate President Russell Pearce, every immigration bill was voted down by his own senate today, even though Pearce defiantly declared immigration was a state issue, not a federal one.

And for Pearce, he may have lost the battle, but the war over immigration in Arizona will continue to flourish. Despite the fact that Arizona has the lowest crime rates in 40 years, Gov. Jan Brewer has joined Pearce in turning immigration troubles into Arizona's own shock doctrine vehicle for their radical agenda.

"It took me a while on 1070, too," Pearce scolded his fellow senators, referring to last year's controversial immigration bill that is currently in the courts. "I introduced it in 05, 06, 07, 08, 09 and 2010 before we had a governor that would sign it. And we've become the envy of this nation with 25 states writing legislation modeled after 1070."

Pearce learned a lesson today, though.

"Real education should consist of drawing the goodness and the best out of our own students," Arizona native and labor leader Cesar Chavez once reminded the nation. "What better books can there be than the book of humanity?"

On the heels of an unforgiving year of outrageous state rebellion, children in Arizona have had to create their own book of humanity -- if only to defend their state's diverse heritage and basic human rights.

As part of the Repeal Coalition campaign in Arizona, a volunteer grassroots organization that is calling for the end to all hateful, anti-immigrant legislation and for the Repeal of SB1070 and other anti-immigrant laws, the children and youth opened a stunning new chapter in the on-going saga of an Arizona state legislature gone wild.

Last year's anti-immigrant bill earned Arizona's right-wing legislature the reputation as the "meth lab of democracy."

Just ask the kids: One banner simply asked, "Russell Pearce: Why do You Hate Arizona's Youth?"

Even some of Arizona's most conservative CEOs and Chamber of Commerce stalwarts wrote the legislature last week that they "strongly believe it is unwise for the Legislature to pass any additional immigration legislation, including any measures leaving the determination of citizenship to the state."

For Arizona Republic columnist E. J. Montini, the upcoming vote amounts to a "legislators wage war on children."

And not just undocumented children. Already ranked at the bottom of funding per pupil nationwide, Arizona's legislators singled out education for the deepest cuts in their budget yesterday, including a 26 percent reduction in university funding and a 7 percent reduction in K-12.

Catch your breath: Here's a brief rundown of the immigration bills from the Arizona Republic that failed in the Senate today:

- Senate Bill 1222 would require public-housing operators to evict anyone who allows an illegal immigrant to live with them, as well as require proof of legal status to receive any public benefits.

- SB 1012 would allow the Arizona Department of Public Safety to conduct fingerprint-background checks on only individuals who can prove that they are U.S. citizens or legally eligible to work in the state. The state-issued fingerprint-clearance cards are required for a variety of jobs and work permits.

- Senate Concurrent Resolution 1035 would ask voters to change the state Constitution to prohibit any state official or agency from using a language other than English for official communications. Individuals could ask that communications be conducted in a second language, but the state doesn't have to adhere to the request.

The full Senate is also expected to vote in the coming days or weeks on broader immigration-related measures, including SB 1611, which makes several changes to immigration law, including preventing children not born in the U.S. from attending school, prohibiting illegal immigrants from driving or buying a car, and denying illegal immigrants the ability to obtain a marriage license in Arizona.

Other pending bills include SB 1405, which would require hospitals to check the legal status of a patient if he or she was unable to show proof of health insurance, and SB 1308 and SB 1309 - the "birthright citizenship" measures.

"These bills will be back again next year," one state senator warned.

The final showdown in Arizona has yet to come.

Immigrant Detentions Draw International Fire

I hope that this Inter-American Commission on Human Rightswill make a difference on immigrant detention.


March 17, 2011
Immigrant Detentions Draw International Fire

Immigration enforcement in the United States is plagued by unjust treatment of detainees, including inadequate access to lawyers and insufficient medical care, and by the excessive use of prison-style detention, the human rights arm of the Organization of American States said Thursday.

The group, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, issued those findings in a report that also took aim at a federal program that allows county and state law enforcement officials to enforce federal immigration laws. The report said the government had failed to ensure that local police were not singling out people by race or detaining illegal immigrants on the pretext of investigating crimes.

The commission recommended that the federal government cancel the program, known as 287(g).

While many of the findings reiterated criticisms that have been made before by immigrant advocates and others, the report appeared to be the first comprehensive review of American immigration enforcement in recent years by an international body of the organization’s stature.

The commission, based in Washington, has no enforcement powers, but it has considerable moral authority and a record of cooperation by member countries, including the United States.

The 155-page report was based on hearings and research that began in 2008, including visits in July 2009 by a team of investigators to six American detention centers in Arizona and Texas.

Since much of the research was completed, however, the Obama administration has begun a major overhaul of the detention system. A month after the commission’s visits, immigration officials announced a sweeping plan to establish more centralized authority over the system and to renovate centers designed for penal detention to make them more appropriate for detainees facing deportation, particularly those accused of administrative violations.

The administration said it would also close centers that were rarely used or failed to meet its standards, and would consolidate the nation’s patchwork of detention centers to meet increasing demand in specific areas, especially near big cities. It also said it would explore alternatives to detention.

Felipe González, president of the commission, acknowledged those plans but said the commission would withhold judgment on the efficacy of the reforms. “According to the information that we have so far, it’s not clear that it’s been implemented or will satisfy the international standards” of human rights, he said in an interview.

The commission will continue monitoring immigration enforcement to ensure that its grievances were addressed, Mr. González added.

A spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees enforcement, said Thursday that the department would review the report, and made no further comment.

Earlier, however, the Obama administration was given a draft. In their response, according to the report, administration officials pointed out that they had conducted their own comprehensive review of immigration enforcement and made “important changes.”

Still, the commission said it was “deeply troubled by the continual and widespread use of detention in immigration cases,” the report said.

“The Inter-American Commission is convinced that in many if not the majority of cases, detention is a disproportionate measure and the alternatives to detention programs would be a more balanced means of serving the State’s legitimate interest in ensuring compliance with immigration laws,” the report said.

Mr. González also expressed skepticism that the administration would provide less penal settings for immigrants held on administrative, rather than criminal, charges. “It’s not clear to us whether the new system will really mean that the facility will provide migrants in detention with a system that is fully respectful of human rights,” he said.

Mr. González said his commission was inspired to investigate the system after receiving numerous requests from human rights advocates and civil society organizations. The group, he added, is now planning to investigate other immigration detention systems in the hemisphere.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Agent: I was ordered to let U.S. guns into Mexico

(CBS News) WASHINGTON - Federal agent John Dodson says what he was asked to do was beyond belief.
He was intentionally letting guns go to Mexico?

"Yes ma'am," Dodson told CBS News. "The agency was."

An Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms senior agent assigned to the Phoenix office in 2010, Dodson's job is to stop gun trafficking across the border. Instead, he says he was ordered to sit by and watch it happen.

Investigators call the tactic letting guns "walk." In this case, walking into the hands of criminals who would use them in Mexico and the United States.

Dodson's bosses say that never happened. Now, he's risking his job to go public.

"I'm boots on the ground in Phoenix, telling you we've been doing it every day since I've been here," he said. "Here I am. Tell me I didn't do the things that I did. Tell me you didn't order me to do the things I did. Tell me it didn't happen. Now you have a name on it. You have a face to put with it. Here I am. Someone now, tell me it didn't happen."

Agent Dodson and other sources say the gun walking strategy was approved all the way up to the Justice Department. The idea was to see where the guns ended up, build a big case and take down a cartel. And it was all kept secret from Mexico.

ATF named the case "Fast and Furious."

Surveillance video obtained by CBS News shows suspected drug cartel suppliers carrying boxes of weapons to their cars at a Phoenix gun shop. The long boxes shown in the video being loaded in were AK-47-type assault rifles.

So it turns out ATF not only allowed it - they videotaped it.

Documents show the inevitable result: The guns that ATF let go began showing up at crime scenes in Mexico. And as ATF stood by watching thousands of weapons hit the streets... the Fast and Furious group supervisor noted the escalating Mexican violence.

One e-mail noted, "958 killed in March 2010 ... most violent month since 2005." The same e-mail notes: "Our subjects purchased 359 firearms during March alone," including "numerous Barrett .50 caliber rifles."

Dodson feels that ATF was partly to blame for the escalating violence in Mexico and on the border. "I even asked them if they could see the correlation between the two," he said. "The more our guys buy, the more violence we're having down there."

Senior agents including Dodson told CBS News they confronted their supervisors over and over.

Their answer, according to Dodson, was, "If you're going to make an omelette, you've got to break some eggs."

There was so much opposition to the gun walking, that an ATF supervisor issued an e-mail noting a "schism" among the agents. "Whether you care or not people of rank and authority at HQ are paying close attention to this case...we are doing what they envisioned.... If you don't think this is fun you're in the wrong line of work... Maybe the Maricopa County jail is hiring detention officers and you can get $30,000 ... to serve lunch to inmates..."

"We just knew it wasn't going to end well. There's just no way it could," Dodson said.

On Dec. 14, 2010, Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was gunned down. Dodson got the bad news from a colleague.

According to Dodson, "They said, 'Did you hear about the border patrol agent?' And I said, 'Yeah.' And they said 'Well it was one of the Fast and Furious guns.' There's not really much you can say after that."

Two assault rifles ATF had let go nearly a year before were found at Terry's murder.

Dodson said, "I felt guilty. I mean it's crushing. I don't know how to explain it."

Sen. Grassley began investigating after his office spoke to Dodson and a dozen other ATF sources -- all telling the same story.

The response was "practically zilch," Grassley said. "From the standpoint that documents we want - we have not gotten them. I think it's a case of stonewalling."

Dodson said he hopes that speaking out helps Terry's family. They haven't been told much of anything about his murder - or where the bullet came from.

"First of all, I'd tell them that I'm sorry. Second of all, I'd tell them I've done everything that I can for them to get the truth," Dodson said. "After this, I don't know what else I can do. But I hope they get it."

Dodson said they never did take down a drug cartels. However, he said thousands of Fast and Furious weapons are still out there and will be claiming victims on both sides of the border for years to come.

Late tonight, the ATF said it will convene a panel to look into its national firearms trafficking strategy. But it refused to comment specifically on Sharyl's report.

Statement from Kenneth E. Melson, Acting Director, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives:

"The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) will ask a multi-disciplinary panel of law enforcement professionals to review the bureau's current firearms trafficking strategies employed by field division managers and special agents. This review will enable ATF to maximize its effectiveness when undertaking complex firearms trafficking investigations and prosecutions. It will support the goals of ATF to stem the illegal flow of firearms to Mexico and combat firearms trafficking in the United States."