Tiny ‘sanctuary’ town fights Texas, Trump on immigration

Tiny ‘sanctuary’ town fights Texas, Trump on immigration

What exactly is a sanctuary city?

Many cities across the U.S. identify as sanctuary cities, despite President Trump’s threat to withhold federal funds. Here’s a closer look at what that label means. USA TODAY NETWORK

EL CENIZO, Texas – In this city on the border with Mexico, Mayor Raul Reyes presides over 3,500 residents, city hall, two convenience stores, two churches and not much else.

But Reyes and his border hamlet are on the frontlines of a growing fight between Texas cities, the state of Texas and the Trump administration over what role local municipalities play in enforcing federal immigration laws.

Reyes, along with the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) and Maverick County, were the first to file a lawsuit in May against the state of Texas challenging Senate Bill 4 (SB 4), a newly-enacted state law that punishes local leaders who do not comply fully with enforcement requests from federal immigration agents. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed SB 4, the so-called “sanctuary cities” law, last month.

“It takes away local authority from elected officials and police departments,” Reyes, 34, said. “We’re ready for the challenge. We’re ready to take this all the way to the Supreme Court, if need be.”

Senate Bill 4 mandates that local law enforcement officials honor requests from federal immigration agents to hold non-citizen inmates suspected of having committed crimes. It also allows local police and sheriff’s deputies to inquire about a person’s immigration status during an arrest or lawful detention, such as traffic stops. It’s slated to take effect Sept. 1.

Supporters of the law say it will help crack down on dangerous criminals who entered the country illegally, while critics warn it could lead to racial profiling and drain the resources of local agencies, whose officers are ill-trained to enforce federal immigration rules.

The Texas law follows a similar order by President Trump in January, which threatened to withhold some federal funds from communities that refuse to cooperate with federal immigration enforcement.  A San Francisco federal judge in April blocked that immigration order.

Since Reyes and LULAC filed their lawsuit in May, El Paso County, San Antonio, Austin, Dallas, Houston, the ACLU and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) have followed. Department of Justice attorneys have also joined the fray, siding with Texas on the issue.

At the lawsuit’s first hearing Monday, hundreds of protestors gathered outside the U.S. District Courthouse in downtown San Antonio, as Reyes mingled with immigrant rights advocates and the mayors of San Antonio and Austin. A scrum of reporters interviewed Reyes, in English and Spanish, as activists pulled him aside to have their pictures taken with him.

“He’s the best person to be there in this fight,” said Gabriel Rosales, LULAC’s vice president for the Southwest, who backed Reyes in the lawsuit. “He feels strongly about standing up for people affected by this law.”

Despite its small size, this is not the first time El Cenizo has taken a controversial issue to the national stage. In 1999, the city made headlines when it enacted laws that made Spanish the official language of city business and declared itself a safe haven for undocumented immigrants, prohibiting city officials from asking about or disclosing the legal status of residents. Most of El Cenizo’s residents are predominately Spanish speakers and some lack proper documentation to be in the country.

Reyes was only 16 at the time but he remembers the death threats that flooded into City Hall and how the KKK threatened to burn down the city. He hasn’t received any threats this time around, but he said he realizes confronting the state of Texas and the federal government is a formidable task that could bring its own ramifications.

“I could be removed from office, fined, even go to jail,” he said. “That’s a risk I’m willing to take. I know at the end of the day I’m on the right side of history.”

In El Cenizo, residents generally backed Reyes, but also voiced concerns that being so outspoken bring trouble. Felix Ramos, 21, said the town has already seen increased Border Patrol agents since Trump’s executive order in January and residents are generally afraid to make the 30-minute drive north to Laredo, Texas.

Reyes’ lawsuit could bring more unwanted federal attention, Ramos said. “I don’t think he could win,” he said. “Donald Trump is too powerful.”

Reyes, who is pursuing a master’s degree from Texas A&M International University in nearby Laredo, said the lawsuit is not just about El Cenizo or even Texas. It’s about combatting a growing national trend of demonizing immigrants and racial profiling, he said.

“This is bigger than El Cenizo,” Reyes said. “This will determine the future of our country and how other states target minority groups.”



SB 4 Showdown

A federal judge heard arguments in a San Antonio court on Monday over the so-called sanctuary cities law that is set to go into effect in September. According to the San Antonio Express-News, the plaintiffs—which include Texas’s four major cities, a handful of border counties, immigration advocate groups, and the little border town of El Cenizo—argued the law is too vague to properly enforce. Additionally, the plaintiffs said that Senate Bill 4 would be detrimental to public health, education, and the economy of Texas without making communities safer. The state’s lawyers made the case that SB 4—which would ban sanctuary cities and punish elected officials who don’t cooperate with federal immigration authorities—is a moderate law that simply allows, rather than mandates, local law enforcement officers to ask a detained person about their immigration status.

Lone Star Snub

Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook won the NBA MVP award on Monday night, beating out two Texas stars—James Harden of the Houston Rockets and Kawhi Leonard of the San Antonio Spurs, according to ESPN. The vote wasn’t really close, with Westbrook getting 69 of 101 first-place votes, Harden 22, Leonard 9—but both Texas players had strong cases. For one, both Harden and Leonard led their respective teams to a much better record than Westbrook’s Thunder. The Spurs won 61 games and the Rockets 55, while Oklahoma City finished pretty far behind both of them with a 47-35 record. And while Westbrook had a ridiculous statistical season, breaking a record with 42 triple-doubles, Harden and Leonard had statistically amazing seasons too. Harden’s season was similarly historic, with the bearded wonder nearly averaging a triple-double. Leonard, meanwhile, was really in his own class by playing MVP-level ball on both offense and defense. It’s been a decade since the last NBA MVP played for a Texas team, with the Dallas Maverick’s Dirk Nowitzki winning the award after the 2006 to 2007 season.

Crystal City Crackdown

The former mayor and ex-city manager of Crystal City—also known as “the most corrupt little town in America”—were convicted by a federal jury in Del Rio on Monday on multiple counts of corruption, including bribery, wire fraud, and conspiracy, according to the San Antonio Express-News. Mayor Ricardo Lopez and former city manager James Jonas were found guilty on all counts, with some of the charges carrying up to twenty years in prison. Their sentences have yet to be set. One hundred federal agents swept through the South Texas city last year and rounded up every local leader except for one city councilman, leaving the city’s political leadership in shambles and putting it in the national spotlight. They were all indicted shortly after, along with a businessman, for soliciting bribes. Everyone except Jonas and Lopez pleaded guilty, and the trial for the two men began a week ago. Prosecutors played recordings made by informants who taped the two men soliciting bribes.



Wedding Woes in Waco

A good chunk of the country, including some Texas cities, celebrated LGBT rights over the weekend by holding Pride parades. Meanwhile, the Waco Tribune-Herald highlighted the fact that gay couples still can’t get married in the Central Texas city’s courthouses. According to the Tribune, only one justice of the peace in Waco, Dianne Hensley, has been hosting civil wedding ceremonies since the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision in July 2015 legalizing gay marriage. And Hensley, thinks she’s entitled to a “religious exemption” that allows her to deny gay couples who want to get married while she continues to perform weddings for straight couples. Other Waco justices have simply stopped performing weddings completely since the ruling. Hensley told the Tribune that when same-sex couples inquire about a courthouse wedding, her office tells them that the judge is unavailable and instead hands them a list of local ministers who would preside over a same-sex wedding.

Dramatic Victory

Texan golfer Jordan Spieth wowed golf fans on Sunday, winning the Travelers Championship tournament with a ridiculous birdie shot on the eighteenth hole. In the first round of a playoff after tying Daniel Berger for the lead, Spieth somehow nailed a 60-foot chip shot from a bunker for a walk-off win, according to the Associated Press. Spieth was perhaps buoyed by the energy of the crowd, which seemed pretty stoked to see a big-name golfer like Spieth face off against some other top talents who signed up for a tournament that’s historically been kind of meh, according to ESPN. But this one was fun. By the time the eighteenth hole rolled around, the crowd was chanting Spieth’s name and even doing the wave. The win puts Spieth in some coveted golf territory: it’s the 23-year-old’s tenth PGA Tour victory, so he joins Tiger Woods as the only golfers to reach double-digit tour wins before their twenty-fourth birthdays since 1983, according to ESPN.

Enjoy Your Flight

The latest chapter in the ongoing airline horror story was on a Houston-bound Southwest flight, when a passenger reportedly tried to open up the emergency door in mid-air. According to KTRK, the Los Angeles-to-Houston flight had to be diverted to Corpus Christi after a passenger was acting unstable. Fellow passengers said the woman had been ranting in the airport before takeoff, and she was pacing up and down the aisle of the plane while in flight. Then she tried to pry open the emergency door, which freaked out everyone, including the pilot, who decided enough was enough and landed in Corpus Christi. The woman was restrained on the plane by an off-duty cop who works for Liberty County ISD, according to the Houston Chronicle, and she was escorted off the flight by local law enforcement once the plane landed.

California bans travel to Texas and 3 other states

California bans travel to Texas and 3 other states

California is banning travel to Texas and three other states. At least where it concerns state business.

The attorney general of California, Xavier Becerra, says California will not be sending some employees to Texas, Alabama, South Dakota and Kentucky because of legislation those states passed that discriminate against the LGBT Community.

A new Texas law lets child welfare organizations deny services and adoptions to families because of “sincerely held religious beliefs.”

These are not the only states to be singled out. North Carolina, Kansas, Mississippi and Tennessee are already on the list for similar discrimination laws.

The new law will ban non-essential travel to the states, but will continue travel deemed necessary to enforce California law.

A spokesman for Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said: “California may be able to stop their state employees, but they can’t stop all the businesses that are fleeing over taxation and regulation and relocating to Texas.”



SB 4 Suit

Houston’s city council debated whether the city will join the lawsuit filed by other Texas cities against Senate Bill 4, the so called sanctuary cities bill, on Tuesday. According to the Houston Chronicle, things got pretty heated. More than 130 people testified in crowded council chambers, including state Representative Gene Wu, who ruffled some feathers by calling the law “evil,” and the people who support it “racist.” Houston is the last of Texas’s four big cities to hold out in joining the lawsuit. Mayor Sylvester Turner has previously called upon the city council to vote in favor of Houston jumping into the fray, and Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo has also been an outspoken critic of the law. But after a day of debate it’s unclear which way the council will lean. A final vote is expected on Wednesday. – See more at: http://www.texasmonthly.com/the-daily-post/texas-braces-tropical-storm-cindy-texas-roundup/#sthash.WpTrKUyJ.dpuf

Big Mouth

U.S. Representative Pete Olson, a Republican from Sugar Land, had to apologize on Tuesday after comments he made on a local radio show earlier this month surfaced. In a June 9 interview with Houston-based radio host Sam Malone, Olson parroted a number of Clinton-family conspiracy theories, making baseless claims that President Bill Clinton admitting to murdering aide Vince Foster (who committed suicide in 1993), and threatened former Attorney General Loretta Lynch if she continued her investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails. After his comments were brought to light by the liberal advocacy group Right Wing Watch, Olson had some explaining to do. “The personal wreckage suffered by many people during the Clinton years is well documented,” Olson said in a statement, according to the Texas Tribune. “Just ask Paula Jones, Jim and Susan McDougal, Kathleen Willey, and many others. However, in my discussion about Loretta Lynch and Vince Foster, I took the accusations a step too far. I regret my choice of words. The fact remains Hillary Clinton broke the law, violated national security, and was excused away by Jim Comey and the Obama Justice Department. Most Americans understand this and loathe the Clintons for continuing to live under a different set of rules than the rest of us.” That’s quite the apology. – See more at: http://www.texasmonthly.com/the-daily-post/texas-braces-tropical-storm-cindy-texas-roundup/#sthash.WpTrKUyJ.dpuf

Buckle Up

United Airlines is once again making waves for all the wrong reasons, and this time the controversy is back in Texas. According to the Houston Chronicle, a Houston-bound United flight was so turbulent that at least ten passengers were injured during the flight from Panama on Tuesday. KTRK reported that United later said as many as fourteen folks were hurt, some apparently sustaining serious enough injuries to be taken to local hospitals upon landing in Houston. It’s unclear what condition they’re in. “United flight 1031 experienced turbulence while en route from Panama City, Panama to Houston,” United told KTRK in a statement. “Paramedics met the aircraft to provide medical care and initial reports are that nine customers and one crew member were transported to the hospital for evaluation. Our thoughts and concerns are with those who were injured and our team is reaching out directly to our customers to provide further care and support.” – See more at: http://www.texasmonthly.com/the-daily-post/texas-braces-tropical-storm-cindy-texas-roundup/#sthash.WpTrKUyJ.dpuf



Excess Energy

Energy Secretary Rick Perry backed President Trump’s proposal to slash funding for his department’s research programs on Tuesday. “This budget proposal makes some difficult choices, but it is paramount we execute our fiduciary responsibility to the American taxpayer,” Perry told the Subcommittee on Energy and Water Tuesday, according to the Houston Chronicle. Under Trump’s proposal, the department’s research programs would face an 18 percent cut, renewable energy and energy efficiency could be cut more than 60 percent. A program that helps fund research at Texas A&M and other Texas universities would be eliminated entirely. This proposed cuts have drawn criticism from both sides of the aisle, particularly after Trump pulled out of the Paris climate accord earlier this month. Still, Perry told the subcommittee that, based on his time in Texas, the cuts aren’t a sure thing. “This is the first step in a long process, and I was governor long enough to know governors’ budgets don’t always come back to them the way they started,” he said.

Title IX

The family of Thomas Klocke, a University of Texas at Arlington student who committed suicide last year, is filing a lawsuit alleging that the university violated the Title IX process, according to the Dallas Morning News. Wayne, Thomas’s father, said that Klocke took his life after he was wrongfully punished for harassing another student and banned from class without due process. Klocke, who was one class short of graduating, was investigated after another student said that the 24-year-old hurled a gay slur at him. Klocke, meanwhile, maintained that he only thought the fellow student was flirting with him. As the investigation went on, Klocke died by suicide at Grapevine’s Silver Lake Marina Park in June 2016. The Klocke family is also suing the student for defamation, denying his account of the incident. UTA denies that it broke procedure, but has not provided many details about the investigation. “We express our deepest condolences to the family for their loss,” the university said in a statement. “The welfare of our students is our highest priority. Any loss is a heartbreaking one for our entire community.”

Declaration of Innocence

After serving 21 years behind bars, the former owners of an Austin daycare could finally be cleared of heinous crimes they were accused of committing, according to the Austin American-Statesman. A Texas judge approved a prosecutor’s declaration of innocence for the couple, who were accused of performing satanic rituals on children and pets at the daycare that they ran out of their Austin home. Dan and Fran Keller, who were convicted of assaulting a three-year-old in 1992, were freed in 2013 after the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals found that a doctor inaccurately concluded that there was evidence of assault, overturning their conviction. But with a declaration of innocence, the Kellers would both be eligible for $80,000 in compensation for each year that they were falsely imprisoned. The Kellers were sentenced to 48 years in prison after children came forward to allege that they had been used in satanic rituals. No evidence of that abuse was ever found. Keith Hampton, a lawyer for the couple, said that the accusations were part of a strange trend that began in the eighties. “Day care panic or the satanic panic began to occur and it reached a fever pitch around the time the Kellers were prosecuted,” Hampton said. “And like most hysterias, it thereafter died away.”

Disaster At Sea

Texas Monthly


“I think I’m prepared both mentally and physically for the office.”

—Recently elected San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg to the San Antonio Express-News. Nirenberg is a competitive body builder and weightlifter. At his peak, he could bench press 320 pounds, dead lift 600, and squat 450. He still works out about three times a week and regularly benches 225 pounds.


Disaster At Sea

A Texas sailor was found dead after the Navy’s USS Fitzgerald collided with a Philippine container ship off the coast of Japan early Saturday morning. Gunner’s Mate 2nd Class Noe Hernandez, a 26-year-old Welasco native, was among the seven sailors found dead after the 30,000-ton container vessel tore a massive gash under the destroyer’s waterline and flooded two crew compartments, the radio room and the auxiliary machine room, according to Reuters. Commander Ron Flanders, a spokesperson for the U.S. Naval Forces in Japan, told KRGV that the sailors had just minutes to escape. “The crew shined in this moment and kept the ship afloat,” Flanders said. “Unfortunately, two of the ship’s crew berthing spaces where the sailors were sleeping were flooded, and seven sailors were trapped inside and were lost at that time.” Multiple agencies are investigating the cause of the crash, including the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard, Japan’s Coast Guard, and Japan’s Transport Safety Board, the Washington Post reports. According to Reuters, this was the deadliest disaster involving a U.S. Navy vessel since the USS Cole was bombed off the coast of Yemen in 2000, killing 17 sailors. Collisions like this are extremely rare. The last time a warship was hit by a larger vessel during peacetime was likely in 1964, when Australia’s HMAS Melbourne, an aircraft carrier, crashed into the destroyer HMAS Voyager off the coast of Australia, killing 82 members of the Voyager’s crew. The U.S. Navy will hold a memorial service for the seven people killed next week.



Sloppy Sid

Sid Miller is in trouble again. The agriculture commissioner was fined $2,750 last week after two complaints were filed by the Texas Ethics Commission accusing him of improper accounting during his 2014 campaign, according to the Texas Tribune. Miller was slapped with $2,500 for violations in reporting political contributions and expenditures leading up to his May 2014 primary runoff election win, when he claimed in disclosures that he had about $19,300 in his campaign account. However, his bank account actually showed Miller had more than $53,300. The commission also fined Miller $250 for messing up his January 2013 campaign finance report. Miller’s campaign spokesman Todd Smith told the Tribune on Saturday that the investigation was “nothing more than a politically motivated witch hunt,” and said the commission fixated on “very minor technical issues.”  Smith added, “We believe that this was a two-and-a-half-year waste of time—of taxpayer money and resources—to investigate what where politically motivated complaints. This is one additional example of why the Texas Ethics Commission should be renamed the Texas Compliance Commission.” Miller has previously misused campaign funds for a trip to a rodeo in Mississippi and on a trip to Oklahoma, where he received a pseudo-scientific treatment called the “Jesus Shot.” Miller repaid the state for those incidents.

Surveys Say

Texans weighed in on the bathroom bill and immigration laws in a new poll from the University of Texas at Austin and the Texas Tribune. According to the survey, most Texans don’t really care about a law restricting bathroom use for transgender people. Only 44 percent of respondents rated bathroom legislation as “important,” while 47 percent said it was “not important.” But the divide over the bill is sharp among Democrats and Republicans. The survey shows that 54 percent of Republican respondents said bathroom legislation is important, but just 35 percent of Democrats answered the same. A whopping 70 percent of tea party voters said bathroom legislation is important. Meanwhile, over in the immigration survey, 58 percent of respondents supported laws requiring local police to work with federal immigration authorities, and 53 percent supported giving local police the right to check immigration status. Support for the “show me your papers” provision was sharply divided along racial lines. 59 percent of Hispanic voters and 57 percent of black voters opposed it, while 64 percent of white voters gave their support.

Crystal Corruption

The local leaders that made Crystal City “the most corrupt little town in America” are set to go to trial on Monday, more than a year after one hundred agents flooded the tiny South Texas city and rounded up the entire political leadership, save for one city councilman, on charges of corruption. Former city manager and city attorney James Jonas III and former mayor Ricardo Lopez go to trial this week before a federal judge in Del Rio on charges that include bribery, wire fraud and conspiracy, related to accusations that they accepted bribes and kickbacks from people hoping to do business in Crystal City, according to the San Antonio Express-News. Jonas alone faces 18 counts, with of the offenses carrying a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison. Four others involved in the probe, including former City Councilmen Rogelio Mata, Roel Mata, and Gilbert Urrabazo, as well as eight-liner operator Ngoc Tri Nguyen, have already pleaded guilty to single counts of bribery. Crystal City’s corrupt leadership will likely be reunited in court. According to the Express-News, the councilmen are expected to testify against Jonas and Lopez.



Rallying The Troops
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said he plans to ask Houston leaders this month to vote on whether the Bayou City should join the legal battle against the state’s sanctuary cities law, Senate Bill 4, according to the Houston Chronicle. “I will ask this month City Council to consider and vote to join the lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of SB4,” Turner wrote in a tweet Thursday morning. It’s unclear at the moment which way the city council would vote, but if it decides in favor of jumping into the lawsuit against SB 4, it would mean Texas’s four largest cities would be fighting against the sanctuary cities law. Austin, San Antonio, and Dallas have already joined the lawsuit filed last month by the little border town of El Cenizo, along with Webb County, Maverick County, and El Paso County. Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo has been one of the most outspoken critics of the law, saying it would make things harder on police officers. Turner has danced around using the term “sanctuary city” to describe Houston, and as recently as Wednesday he advised Houstonians worried about SB 4 to take their concerns to the Capitol, according to the Chronicle.

But Her Emails
Fired FBI Director James Comey testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday, and Senator John Cornyn took the opportunity to grill him about Hillary Clinton’s emails. At first, Cornyn’s line of questioning reflected his defense of President Donald Trump when Comey was fired back in May, when the senator downplayed the controversy by arguing it wouldn’t make sense for the president to fire the FBI director to obstruct his investigation of the Trump campaign’s ties to Russian election hacking. “If you’re trying to make an investigation go away, is firing an FBI director a good way to make that happen?” Cornyn asked Comey at the hearing, according to the Texas Tribune. “It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me,” Comey replied. “But I’m obviously, hopelessly biased, given that I’m the one who was fired.” But according to the Dallas Morning News, most of Cornyn’s other questions focused on the FBI’s investigation into Clinton’s emails, asking Comey why he didn’t appoint a special counsel in that case and about former Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s conduct throughout the scandal. After the hearing, Cornyn said that nothing in Comey’s testimony suggested that there was a case to be made that Trump obstructed justice, according to the Washington Post.

Denny’s Death
A white Harris County sheriff’s deputy and her husband were indicted by a grand jury and charged with murder on Thursday, after choking a Hispanic man to death during an altercation outside a Denny’s restaurant last week. Deputy Chauna Thompson and her husband, Terry Thompson, face life in prison for allegedly intentionally choking 24-year-old John Hernandez. A cell phone video of the incident released on Monday shows Terry Thompson choking Hernandez as he kicks and gasps for air. “The man was turning purple,” a witness told reporters through tears after testifying before the grand jury, according to the Chronicle. “We begged him to get off the man and he wouldn’t.” The grand jury returned a murder indictment on the same day Hernandez’s family held his wake. His death has prompted protests and rallies in Houston against police brutality. “This is exactly what we wanted,” Jose Morales, a close friend of the family, told the Chronicle. “Thanks to all the attention, justice is going to be served.”



Tag Team
Dallas jumped into the legal battle against the state’s anti-sanctuaries law on Wednesday, according to the Dallas Morning News, joining Austin, San Antonio, and the little border town of El Cenizo in a lawsuit challenging Senate Bill 4. “The bill is unconstitutional and would infringe upon the city’s ability to protect public safety,” Mayor Mike Rawlings said in a statement on Wednesday. Rawlings also told reporters that he had already been in touch with the mayors of Austin and San Antonio. “I told them both this was a serious issue,” Rawlings said, according to the Morning News. A San Antonio federal district court said on Wednesday that it will consolidate the lawsuits filed by all of the cities against the bill, designating El Cenizo, the first to file suit, as the lead plaintiff. A hearing in the case is scheduled for June 26, ahead of the law going into effect on September 1.

Present For Paxton
Looks like Attorney General Ken Paxton will get what he wanted in his criminal fraud case: a new judge. On Wednesday, Texas’s highest criminal court said it wouldn’t hear the prosecution’s argument for keeping the presiding judge. This decision came after a Dallas appellate court ordered to vacate any further rulings by current Judge George Gallagher after he had the case moved from Paxton’s home base, Collin County, to Harris County. Paxton’s team had argued for months to have Gallagher removed from the case, and now Gallagher will probably have to step down by Friday, according to the Dallas Morning News. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals voted 6-3 against the prosecution. The dissenting judges gave no written explanation. With Gallagher heading out, so too is the case’s scheduled September trial date. It’ll take a while to find a new judge, further dragging out a case that has already lasted nearly two years.

Explosive Afternoon
Law enforcement detonated a suspicious package outside a federal building in downtown San Antonio on Wednesday and detained three men who apparently attempted to mail it, according to the San Antonio Express-News. The package ended up not containing any explosives, but it was still a pretty wild afternoon in the Alamo City, with the FBI, Homeland Security, and San Antonio Police Department all descending on the Hipolito F. Garcia Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse after the suspicious package was flagged by the X-ray machine at the post office inside. The building—which is right next to the Alamo—was evacuated, and the surroundings were quickly cordoned off while the authorities investigated. The detonation of the package reverberated throughout downtown San Antonio. According to KENS-5, the detained men cooperated with the FBI and were not arrested. The area was cleared and everything was back to normal by Wednesday evening.



Team Texas
There are still hundreds of vacancies across the federal government under President Donald Trump’s administration so far, but he’s added quite a few Texans, including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Energy Secretary Rick Perry, and now there will be another representative of the Lone Star State serving Trump. Dallas investor and restaurateur Ray Washburne was named president of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation on Monday, an important role helming an agency tasked with lending money to developing countries to spur development, according to the Dallas Morning News. Washburne hopped on board the Trump train last year as vice chairman of the Trump Victory Committee, a fundraising effort created by GOP Chairman Reince Priebus. He was considered for a few larger cabinet roles, as Secretary of Commerce, Energy, and Interior, but was picked over for all of them. According to the Morning News, Washburne the CEO of private real estate company Charter Holdings, and he co-owns M Crowd Restaurant Group, which owns and operates Mi Cocina, Taco Diner and The Mercury restaurants. He’s also president and managing director of the wealthy Highland Park Village development in Dallas.

Coal(d) Shoulder
Austin’s NPR station, KUT, dropped in on Texas coal country to gauge residents’ thoughts on President Donald Trump taking the U.S. out of the Paris climate accord. Most of the eight folks KUT spoke with in the little Central Texas town of Blue had no opinion on the Paris climate accord itself, but all of them agreed that the climate was, in fact, changing. One resident echoed a familiar concern tugging at people in coal country. “Everybody wants the environment to do good,” said David Sherrill, a watermelon farmer who used to work at the coal plant in Blue. “But then, nobody wants to lose their job over it, either.” One of Trump’s stated reasons for backing out of the international coalition aimed at curbing global warming was because he felt the deal was bad for the coal industry. “I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris,” Trump said when he announced the exit last week.

Big Lineup
The concert lineup for this year’s State Fair of Texas was announced on Monday, and some big-name acts will be headlining the festival of all things fried. Headlining the lineup is country star Maren Morris, a native of Arlington who was named New Artist of the Year in the 2016 CMA Awards and recently took home a Grammy for Best Country Solo Performance. Also set to perform is rapper Flo Rida, who is obviously not from Texas. Morris will take the stage on the fair’s opening night on September 29, followed the next evening by Flo Rida, with famous Houston Tejano group La Mafia closing out the first weekend on October 1. The rest of the lineup includes Ro James, Wilson Phillips, Charlie Daniels Band, For King & Country, and Los Traileros del Norte. The Dallas Morning News says this lineup is “one of the better announcements we’ve seen at the State Fair in years.”



Racist Remarks
An African-American girl at Tippit Middle School in Georgetown was the victim of racism from her fellow students, a report written by the school about the incidents said, according to the Austin American-Statesman. In May, a student told the twelve-year-old girl that she looked like an ape, and called her a slave and pretended to whip her. A male student also reportedly made racist comments toward the girl. The girl’s father, Robert Ranco, says the school didn’t react strongly enough—none of the students involved were suspended, and the district didn’t even go so far as to call the incident bullying. “It makes me feel like the school district is sweeping this under the rug,” Ranco told the Statesman. In March, a girl followed the twelve-year-old around a tennis court, pretending to whip her with a long piece of trash and saying “You’re my slave now!” During a lunchtime dispute that same month, a male student said “You’re not really going to take the word of a BLACK person over the word of a WHITE person, are you?” And in May, a male student said he wasn’t sitting next to the twelve-year-old because “I don’t sit next to apes.” The same girl who pretended to whip the girl with trash then pulled up a photo of an ape on her phone, and said, “This is what you look like.”

Bayou City Bombers
The Houston Astros completed a three-game sweep of the Texas Rangers on Sunday, stretching a scorching-hot winning streak to ten games. The ‘Stros have been dominant all season, and they lead the majors with a 41-16 record. If they can keep up that pace then they’ll finish with 117 wins, more than any team in baseball history. They look like a good bet right now to fulfill Sports Illustrated‘s 2011 prophecy, when the magazine boldly predicted Houston would complete its rebuilding process and win a World Series this year, thanks to the bats of Jose Altuve (.323 average), Carlos Correa (.315, 11 home runs), and George Springer (.280, 16 homers), and ace arms Dallas Keuchel (9-0, 1.67 ERA) and Lance McCullers (6-1, 2.71). The Rangers, meanwhile, have fallen well short of expectations this season. They currently sit five games below .500 and have lost eleven of their last fourteen games, an unpleasant turn for a team just one season removed from claiming the best record in the American League.

Leaving Us Hanging
Governor Greg Abbott is taking his sweet old time to decide whether we’ll have a special session of the Texas Legislature. As the Texas Tribune notes, he keeps pushing back his announcement. Last Monday, he said he’d make the announcement sometime during last week. On Wednesday morning, Abbott said he was just waiting for the budget to be certified and wanted to go through more bills on his desk first. The budget was certified on Thursday. Still no announcement. When Friday finally rolled around, Abbott said he wouldn’t have anything to say over the weekend. “Stay tuned,” Matt Hirsch, the governor’s communications director, told the Austin American-Statesman on Friday. “Enjoy the weekend.” Well, the weekend’s over. We’re still waiting. Perhaps no one is waiting as anxiously as Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, who pressured Abbott to call a special session to pass his agenda items, particularly the “bathroom bill” that prohibits transgender people from using the bathrooms that match their gender identity in schools.



Pension Tensions
Governor Greg Abbott signed into law on Wednesday two separate bills aimed at reforming the troubled pension systems for the cities of Houston and Dallas. Had Abbott not signed the Dallas reform bill, HB 3158, which primarily targets the city’s broken fire and police department, then the pension plans likely would have gone broke within ten years thanks to unsustainable benefits and poor investments that had long been overvalued, according to the Dallas Morning News. With HB 3158, there will be a new board of trustees, benefit cuts, and the addition of tens of millions of taxpayer dollars more than what the city had previously paid into the pension fund. Abbott also signed SB 2190, which will presumably help shrink the $8.1 billion unfunded liability in Houston’s municipal, police, and firefighter funds by slashing benefits, while also lowering the fund’s rate of investment return to a rate closer to the nation’s average, according to Reuters. But the reform negotiations have been tense in both cities, and the firefighter’s pension fund in against the city over the new pension reform plan on Wednesday, alleging the plan violates the Texas Constitution, according to the Houston Chronicle.

ICE Cold
Advocates feared a chilling effect after ICE agents detained a woman as she was seeking protection from an alleged domestic abuser at an El Paso courthouse in February, and now those fears seem to be taking root. According to the El Paso Times, at least three victims of domestic violence have expressed fear of deportation to the El Paso County Attorney’s Protective Order Unit since that incident, indicating that they did not want to proceed with their protective order cases because they were afraid of being detained by ICE. Lucila Flores Camarena, the trial team chief for the County Attorney’s Protective Order Unit, told the Times that she was able to convince the women to continue with their cases and they were all eventually granted protective orders. But the nationally publicized February detainment seems to have done damage in the immigrant community. The El Paso County Attorney’s Office received 532 applications for protective orders February 16 to April 30, 151 fewer than the same period in 2016. “We want them to come in; we want them to apply for protective orders,” Flores Camarena told the Times. “We would do everything in our power to help them. We just don’t want them to feel so afraid that they stay in the situation that they are in.”

Racist Recruiting
Fliers containing what appeared to be recruiting material for the Ku Klux Klan littered more than a dozen yards in Texas City this week, and police are investigating the incident as a crime, according to the Houston Chronicle. Investigators believe the flyers were thrown from a vehicle on Monday night, and residents discovered the unwelcome trash in their yards on Tuesday inside plastic bags weighed down by fishing weights and chocolate or Twizzlers, per KHOU. Some of the flyers bear Confederate flags and the message “Say No to Cultural Genocide,” while others show a hooded Klan member with the phrase “Join the Best or Die like the Rest.” Earlier this year, a white supremacist group papered a handful of Texas college campuses with racist propaganda. And according to the Houston-based Southwest Region of the Anti-Defamation League, the organization has seen a 50 percent jump in hate incidents this year compared to last year.



Cooler Heads
The lawmaker at the center of Monday’s House floor kerfuffle on the final day of the Texas Lege is in the hot seat. State Representative Matt Rinaldi was already on shaky ground in his Irving district before he called ICE on protesters at the Capitol and threatened to shoot a fellow lawmaker, having won last year’s election by just more than a thousand votes (59,000 people cast a ballot). Now, according to the Texas Tribune, Democrats are using Rinaldi’s dust-up to add fuel to their run for his seat in 2018. “When someone like that shows their true colors, I would say he’s a broken person, and I hope his community back home realizes that when he’s back up for re-election in 2018,” state Representative Justin Rodriguez, a Democrat from San Antonio, told reporters after the incident on Monday. Rinaldi’s Democrat challenger, Dorotha Ocker, told the Tribune on Tuesday that she was already planning to run against Rinaldi again, adding that “it’s sad Rinaldi did what he did.” Rinaldi’s House District 115 went for Hillary Clinton by eight points in November’s presidential election, so the 2018 race should be interesting to watch.

Lots To Lose
Between President Donald Trump’s proposed budget plan and the Obamacare overhaul being pushed by House Republicans, the poorest Texans stand to lose billions in Medicaid coverage, according to the Dallas Morning News. Trump’s budget would slash Medicaid spending by more than $600 billion over the next decade, while the healthcare overhaul passed by House Republicans in May would strip more than $830 billion from Medicaid over the same period. The left-leaning Center for Public Policy Priorities says millions of low-income kids, seniors, and people with disabilities in Texas will get hit the hardest should Trump’s budget and the healthcare overhaul pass as it is now. An analysis by one consulting firm has found that under the proposed healthcare plan’s funding model, Medicaid funding for non-disabled kids alone would drop by $43 billion over the next ten years, with Texas seeing a bigger decrease in Medicaid funding than any other state, potentially losing $5.1 billion between 2020 and 2026. Still, it’s unlikely Trump’s budget will be approved by Congress, and the healthcare bill that passed the House has a tough road ahead in the Senate.

Taco Wars
The latest flare-up in the ongoing taco war between major Texas cities continued this week, with Houston and Austin firing shots. Houston Chronicle restaurant reviewer Allison Cook visited the Bayou City’s newly-opened Taco Deli, the first branch of the beloved Austin-based chain to plant its flag in H-town. She was not impressed. “Tacodeli is perfectly OK, and I have spent several weeks now thinking about why that isn’t OK with me,” Cook wrote after her first visit left her “baffled and underwhelmed,” the merely good-enough ingredients hampered by “mediocre” flour tortillas, “disappointing” corn tortillas, and “wholly unmemorable” queso. She gave Taco Deli one star. Ouch. Austin took the slight personally, because, as Texans, we are the tacos of our respective cities. Austin American-Statesman food critic Matthew Odam weighed in on Cook’s review, adding just a touch of salt, pointing out that Cook is a non-Austinite, and that in her review she “saves a good amount of her subtle snark for Austin culture,” “rolling her eyes at the (admittedly ‘exceptional’) fair-trade coffee, Hill Country rainwater, organic ingredients and employees who looked like the belonged at a co-op or bookstore.”



Easy Rider
Governor Greg Abbott signed a bill into law Monday morning that overrides local rules on background checks that have caused ride-hailing services Uber and Lyft to leave town in several Texas cities, including Austin. “What today really is is a celebration of freedom and free enterprise,” Abbott said during the signing ceremony, according to the Texas Tribune. “This is freedom for every Texan—especially those who live in the Austin area—to be able to choose the provider of their choice as it concerns transportation.” The companies barely waited for the ink to dry before officially restarting their operations in Austin, the city that they bailed on last year after residents voted against an Uber and Lyft-supported ballot measure that would have repealed stricter fingerprinting regulations for ride-hailing drivers. According to the Austin American-Statesman, Abbott signed the law shortly after ten in the morning. The Lyft app went live in Austin at about 10:40, and Uber reactivated at around noon.

Feeling The Heat
The CEOs of fourteen of the biggest companies in the world sent a letter to Governor Greg Abbott on Saturday, warning him not to sign any discriminatory laws, according to the Dallas Morning News. The signees include some famous names, like Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Apple’s Tim Cook, and the leaders of Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Dell, IBM, Hewlett Packard, and CISCO. “As large employers in the state, we are gravely concerned that any such legislation would deeply tarnish Texas’s reputation as open and friendly to businesses and families,” the CEOs wrote in the letter. “Our ability to attract, recruit and retain top talent, encourage new business relocations, expansions and investment, and maintain our economic competitiveness would all be negatively affected. Discrimination is wrong and it has no place in Texas or anywhere in our country.” The letter didn’t call out a specific piece of legislation, but it’s likely a response to the Texas House passing restrictions on which bathrooms transgender kids can use in public schools.

Foster Careless
The inspector general of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released an audit of Texas’s broken foster care system on Tuesday, and the findings are not particularly surprising. The eighteen-page report identified bureaucratic lapses that could potentially put children in danger, according to the Associated Press. The feds reviewed 1oo child welfare cases, finding 46 that did not comply with federal requirements, including investigators not discussing findings with supervisors in a timely fashion. According to the report, those failures “undermines the State agency’s internal controls for providing oversight of the investigation and could place foster care children at risk.” The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services took issue with the title of the report, which claims Texas didn’t always investigate allegations of abuse and neglect in accordance with state and federal rules. DFPS Commissioner Hank Whitman told the AP that the title is “inflammatory” and sensationalized, and pushed back at the report’s findings. “There is no suggestion that there were any actual problems in the investigations caused by delay in obtaining supervisory approval,” Whitman said.

This Week In Texas

Texas Monthly


Prosecutors Race to Keep Angel-of-Death Behind Bars

by Peter Elkind
Texas is scheduled to release Genene Jones, a former nurse and suspected serial killer of children, early next year. Today, prosecutors in San Antonio moved to prevent her release, bringing a new murder charge against Jones in connection with the death of a child 35 years ago.

Texas principal who killed himself at school was not under investigation

Texas principal who killed himself at school was not under investigation

Updated May 25: Revised to include that Reeves was not under any criminal or disciplinary investigation.

A southeast Texas high school principal shot himself Tuesday afternoon after he notified district officials of his resignation, police said.

Dennis Reeves, 45, killed himself between 4:30 and 5 p.m. while sitting in his pickup at Kirbyville High School, Police Chief Paul Brister said. The truck was in reverse and his foot was on the brake pedal.

 Police found a .38-caliber semi-automatic pistol believed to be the weapon, he said. Police are still awaiting an autopsy report that Brister expects to “confirm what we think we know.”

View image on TwitterView image on Twitter

The school year ended last week, and Superintendent Tommy Wallis and an assistant superintendent were the only people on campus at the time, according to KFDM-TV.

Wallis, who was hired in March, saw Reeves still in his truck about an hour after he resigned and called police to check on him, Brister said.

 Wallis told the Beaumont Enterprise that Reeves said he was quitting to “pursue other interests.” He was not being investigated by police or the school district for any reason, Brister and Wallis said.


The Kirbyville school board held an emergency meeting Tuesday night, according to the school website.



Wall Talk
Senator John Cornyn pulled no punches on Wednesday when he criticized President Donald Trump’s newly proposed budget allocation for a wall along the Mexico border. “What I’d like to see is a real plan rather than a piecemeal approach,” Cornyn said according to the Dallas Morning News, calling Trump’s proposal a flawed approach to border security because it focuses on construction of the wall without first having a more comprehensive plan in place. “I don’t see the benefit to doing this on a piecemeal basis, and it’s harder for Congress to know is this really going to work.” Trump’s proposed budget sets aside $1.6 billion for wall construction, which would hardly pay for much wall at all—just a 60-mile expansion along the Rio Grande and 14 miles of replacement fences in San Diego, according to the Morning News. Some Texas lawmakers also grilled Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly about the wall during a House hearing on the budget. Representative Henry Cuellar, a Democrat from Laredo, said that the wall would be too costly and ineffective. “You can put the most beautiful wall that you want to but they’re either going to fly in, drive through a bridge or come through a boat,” Cuellar said, according to the Morning News.

Need For Speed
The U.S. Census Bureau released estimates of population growth in 2016 on Thursday, and Texas made up half of the top ten—and four of the top five—fastest-growing cities with populations of 50,000 or more, according to the Associated Press. The suburbs came out on top, with Conroe (outside Houston; 7.8 percent population increase), Frisco (north of Dallas; 6.2 percent increase) and McKinney (also north of Dallas; 5.9 percent increase) taking spots one through three on the list. Austin suburb Georgetown rounded out the top five, with 5.5 percent increase, while San Antonio suburb New Braunfels came in at number nine. Austin’s Cedar Park managed to crack the top fifteen at number twelve on the list. Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, and Austin all made the top ten in overall population increase, ranked sixth through ninth respectively, and our state tied with California for the most cities on the bureau’s list of the fifteen most populous cities, thanks to Houston (number four, with 2,303,482 people), San Antonio (seven; 1,492,510), Dallas (nine; 1,317,929) and Austin (eleven; 947,890).

Forget The Alamo?
San Antonio’s tourist attractions haven’t been getting much love lately from out-of-towners. Not long after a Chicago politician railed against the Riverwalk, Business Insider recently fired some shots at the Alamo, putting it atop a list of the “worst tourist traps in every state,” the San Antonio Express-News reported on Wednesday. “Remember the Alamo? More like, spend a day at the Alamo and you’ll remember to never go back,” Business Insider savagely writes. “The building’s remains are so small they consistently disappoint visitors. History buffs might get a kick out of it for an hour or so, but looking at a picture will suffice for most.” Bet they wouldn’t say that to Davy Crockett’s face. The publication disrespectfully puts our Alamo in the same disgraced class as Virginia’s “Foamhenge” (literally a Stonehenge replica made of foam), Nebraska’s “Carhenge” (a Stonehenge replica made of, uh, cars), a mound of nuclear waste in Missouri, and a Wisconsin cheese castle (which, to be honest, actually sounds pretty amazing).



Flushed Down
The Texas Senate seems primed to kill the bathroom bill passed by the Texas House on Sunday, so we’re still going to be talking about bathrooms for a while. According to the Texas Tribune, Senator Larry Taylor, a Republican from Friendswood, promised to reject the changes made in the House to his Senate Bill 2078, requesting the formation of a special committee to work out a compromise. Apparently Taylor thought the amendment to SB 2078 that targeted bathroom access for transgender students in public schools didn’t go far enough. “I heard it reported as a compromise, but it really doesn’t do anything,” Taylor said, according to the Tribune. But the amendment’s author, Republican state Representative Chris Paddie of Marshall, is sticking his guns and doesn’t seem particularly inclined to move forward on forming a special committee. “I don’t speak for the entire House, but I’d like to hear the reasons why before I say it’s something I think is necessary,” Paddie said, according to the Tribune. “I believe it accommodates all children and I believe that the House has taken a very thoughtful, reasonable approach to trying to address concerns that have been raised leading up to this session… I believe we did it in the right way.”

Wall Ball
President Donald Trump’s new budget proposal sets aside $1.6 billion toward his promised border wall, but according to the Dallas Morning News that would only go so far—about 74 miles, to be specific. Trump’s 2018 budget would pay for just 60 miles of new barrier along the Texas-Mexico border, plus 14 miles of replaced fences near San Diego. Based on this budget, the math puts Trump about $48.5 billion short of what would be needed for the “big, beautiful wall” Trump has promised would stretch along the entirety of the U.S.-Mexico border. Still, the Trump administration seems optimistic. “We are absolutely dead serious about the wall,” White House budget director Mick Mulvaney said on Tuesday after the proposed budget was released, according to the Morning News. But this specific spending plan for the wall may be a non-issue, given the fierce opposition from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to Trump’s budget. Texas Senator John Cornyn called the budget “dead on arrival,” according to NBC, adding that most presidential budgets fail in Congress anyway.

Brisket Battle
Outspoken Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller took to the online pages of the Texas Tribune on Wednesday to write an op-ed addressing a matter of utmost importance to his Texan constituents: barbecue. Miller led off his piece with a Bible verse (Proverbs 20:10), because barbecue is the official religion of Texas, obviously. He went on to challenge Governor Greg Abbott to veto a bill that would exempt barbecue joints from state inspections of the weights and scales they use to measure meat. According to Miller, the current inspection law “prevents any dishonest business owner from putting their thumb on the scale and ripping us off,” but that the Lege has instead “decided that everyone that runs a barbecue joint is as honest as the day is long.” Miller says that’s a mistake. “Horse hockey,” Miller writes. “As Ronald Reagan said, ‘Trust but verify.’ I trust my local barbecue guy, but I still want to see that when I buy a pound of sausage I’m getting a pound of sausage.” Miller clearly doesn’t mess around with his meat.



Court Crackdown
Meanwhile, the U.S. Supreme Court also handed down a ruling that may spell the end of the glory days for a federal court in Marshall, which has become known for hosting an insane amount of patent infringement cases. The justices ruled unanimously to make it more difficult for parties to file patent infringement lawsuits in courts that are friendly to their cause, according to the Washington Post. It overturns a ruling by a federal appeals court that allowed plaintiffs more room to pick and choose where their cases were heard, which resulted in a ridiculous number of cases being filed in the federal court in tiny Marshall (we wrote about that a few years ago). One single judge in Marshall oversaw about a quarter of every patent case in the country from 2014 to 2016. Now companies will have more of a home court advantage over so-called “patent trolls,” and the court in Marshall will likely be a lot quieter from now on.

End Of An Era
The San Antonio Spurs were eliminated from the NBA playoffs on Monday, swept out of the Western Conference Finals in four games by the Golden State Warriors. The Spurs were shorthanded against the best team in the league, with star Kawhi Leonard missing the final three games with an ankle injury, but it’s still a disappointing end to their season. Monday may have also been the last time we see Spurs legend Manu Ginobili take the court. Perhaps knowing the Spurs were unlikely to play another game, coach Gregg Popovich gave the 39-year-old sixth-man his first start in the playoffs since 2013 “out of respect,” according to the San Antonio Express-News. Ginobili made the most of the opportunity, scoring fifteen points with seven assists before heading to the bench with 2:25 left, as the home crowd showered him with cheers and chanted, “Manu! Manu!” After the game, however, Ginobili didn’t exactly sound ready to ride off into the sunset. “I do feel like I can still play,” Ginobili said, according to the Express-News. “But that’s not what’s going to make me retire or not. It’s about how I feel, if I want to go through all of that again.”

Rest In Peace
Texas learned Monday of the deaths of four beloved musicians: Austin singer-songwriter Jimmy LaFave died on Sunday after a long battle with cancer; George Reiff, another Austinite known for playing the bass and producing, also passed away Sunday from cancer; Barbara Smith Conrad, a world-famous opera singer from tiny Center Point, Texas, died Monday at the age of 79; and in Houston, blues-rock guitarist Kenny Cordray and his 33-year-old son were found shot dead in their home on Sunday in a possible murder-suicide. According to the Austin American-Statesman, the 61-year-old LaFave was one of Austin’s best-known musicians, seeing his biggest success was his 2001 album Texoma. He continued performing even after he was diagnosed with cancer. Reiff, 56, toured with dozens of Austin artists and produced albums for many more, and he once toured with Eagles guitarist Joe Walsh, according to the Statesman. Conrad was one of the first black undergrads at the University of Texas-Austin, where she became a controversial figure in the national civil rights movement after being cast as the lead in a school musical opposite a white male actor, according to the Statesman. She went on to perform around the world for a bunch of different operas, including New York’s Metropolitan Opera, the Vienna State Opera, and the Houston Grand Opera. Cordray, 62, was a beloved member of Houston’s blues-rock community, according to the Houston Press. Police are still investigating the circumstances of his death.