Houston Chronicle. October 1, 2023.
Editorial: What if we got serious about border challenges?
Visiting Eagle Pass last month to investigate reports of outsiders overwhelming the small border city, a member of this editorial board found few signs of immigrants who had just waded across the Rio Grande. Perhaps they weren’t all that obvious, because usually those who arrive alone or in small groups don’t linger.
We did find an invasion of sorts. An invasion from the north.
Department of Public Safety troopers from Texas and other states and National Guard soldiers from Texas and elsewhere had not necessarily overwhelmed the community of nearly 30,000 residents, but their uniformed presence was ubiquitous. Whatever work they were doing to protect the border, they had discovered the best lunch specials at local Mexican restaurants and were keeping hotels and motels at capacity. They also had commandeered a riverside city park, transforming its soccer fields and green space into a staging ground for trucks, boats and DPS SUVs, as well as rolls of razor-sharp concertina wire and Rio Grande barrier buoys. The equipment and personnel were all part of Gov. Greg Abbott’s border-enforcement showpiece, his multibillion-dollar Operation Lone Star. After allegations that state troopers mistreated migrants, some private property owners denied DPS access to their land along the border.
The scene in Eagle Pass the last few days has been different from just a few weeks ago. According to news reports, several thousand migrants, many from Central and South America and the Caribbean, have been making it across the river daily seeking asylum. Thousands are coming from Venezuela, a nation beset by government corruption and ineptitude. These waves have arrived before, and, as in the past, their numbers have overwhelmed Border Patrol agents, who have resorted to releasing people onto city streets. The only emergency shelter in Eagle Pass has strained to accommodate the arrival of so many people.
Mayor Rolando Salinas Jr., told the New York Times that the local hospital was being swamped, as well. He declared a state of emergency.
“Here in Eagle Pass, we feel abandoned,” he told Fox News, pleading with President Joe Biden or anybody with the administration to come visit, to issue a statement, to indicate a plan of action. He deserves a reply.
Obviously, Abbott’s get-tough, Texas-style going-it-alone approach has not worked, either in Eagle Pass or in El Paso, Brownsville and other border cities. Neither has U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s desperate bank-shot effort to deflect attention from a government shutdown by blaming the White House for not invading Mexico or building a wall or whatever it is the hardliners are demanding.
“The border doesn’t need more money to be solved,” McCarthy told reporters last week. “It needs a policy change that the president put in when he became president. You have the materials to finish the wall now. He’s paying money to make sure the wall doesn’t get built.”
McCarthy’s own desperate ploy — basically to keep his job — underscores the fact that what the border really needs are serious people doing serious work to solve a serious problem. Neither Abbott’s concertina wire nor Donald Trump’s wall are going to stop desperate people seeking a better way of life for themselves and their families.
Every nation has a right, indeed an obligation to its citizens, to maintain secure borders. Dangerous drugs being smuggled across borders are an outrage; they must be stopped. Chaos at the border is itself dangerous.
Also outrageous are governments so inept, corrupt and threatening that their citizens see no alternative but to set out on a life-threatening journey for refuge. It’s hard to imagine a situation so dire that a family decides to undertake a weeks- or months-long trek through a jungle seeded with thieves, rapists and murderers, before clambering atop a swaying freight train through Mexico, before entrusting their fate to a coyote who takes whatever money they have and who may or may not get them to within sight of the promised land. If they reach the Rio Grande, wading across a shallow river or contorting themselves through dangerous razor wire is certainly no deterrent.
Granted, some of these people fleeing harm and risking everything to get to America stretch the definition of asylum, and yet our history obligates us to give them a hearing. It’s worth remembering that our asylum laws were enacted in the wake of the Holocaust as a solemn promise to people fleeing persecution that the United States would never again turn them away.
Serious elected officials doing the serious work of immigration reform and border security would not be playing jeans-and-boots dress-up on congressional tours of the border. They would be spending their time crafting legislation on Capitol Hill that both broadens and simplifies pathways of legal immigration. They would be writing laws designed to open up opportunities for asylum-seekers to work in this country while their cases are adjudicated. They would increase the number of personnel at ports of entry to conduct orderly asylum interviews.
They would be working, as well, to fortify those ports of entry, the primary gateway for components of fentanyl and other dangerous drugs. They would be working on initiatives with Mexico and other neighbors to the south to lessen the deleterious influence of Venezuela, Nicaragua, Haiti and other countries whose governments are driving desperate citizens to seek refuge elsewhere. More than 7 million people have fled Venezuela, for example; more have sought refuge in neighboring Colombia than in the U.S.
The Biden administration has taken a variety of approaches to addressing the crisis, including a parole program for Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans and Venezuelans. The policy is designed to assist refugees who have urgent reasons to flee their homes but who may not meet the legal requirements for asylum. It’s a good idea and probably should be expanded to other countries, but the White House, acting on its own, is limited in what it can accomplish. Only Congress can take a comprehensive approach. That won’t be happening in the foreseeable future.
Andrea R. Flores, an immigration adviser in the Obama administration, noted in the New York Times recently that America’s asylum system is not set up to meet the needs of every immigrant forced to flee. “But the global challenges we’re facing,” she wrote, “require a reimagining of the country’s immigration framework.”
Reimagining would seem to be a tall order for a nation that has ignored for nearly four decades the ever-growing need to fix our broken system. Reimagining, if it were to happen, would involve an acknowledgement of the fact that people from around the globe, including Central and South America, are on the move. Political and economic turmoil, poverty, violence, hunger and, yes, climate change, are driving vast numbers to seek, not only better lives, but life itself. This country cannot wall itself off from reality. Desperation finds its way around most any wall.
Imagine reimagining. Republican House members would not be obsessed with Hunter Biden and impeaching a president without evidence. They would not be ready to flip the sign in the government window from open to closed, forcing federal employees to feed their families without a paycheck. GOP candidates for president would not be shouting at each other about $50,000 curtains at a UN residence. They would not be bloviating about drone strikes, blockades or military raids on Mexico, a country of 130 million people and now our largest trading partner. They would not leave Eagle Pass and other border communities alone to cope with waves of migrants.
Reimagining requires serious people working together on a serious problem. Or, we can talk about curtains.
Fort Worth Star Telegram. September 30, 2023.
Editorial: Why did Texas let troubled Fort Worth children’s clinic reopen so soon?
Our city’s kids are our next generation — we need to take better care of them. Unfortunately, that’s not always happening in some vital facilities around the area, specifically Fort Behavioral Health, a residential treatment center for adolescents who have experienced severe trauma or have special mental health needs.
Texas regulators temporarily shut down the privately owned facility in January following allegations of sexual abuse by staff, children harming one another, fights, lack of supervision, and other concerns about staffing and care. The state let Fort Behavioral reopen after 30 days under a one-year probation agreement but never explained thoroughly to the public what prompted the shutdown. . The fact that the facility was allowed to reopen after such serious allegations demonstrates a serious need for transparency and accountability.
A Star-Telegram investigation found that state regulators had cited Fort Behavioral with scores of violations in the two years before the shutdown, many involving the safety of both foster children housed there and adolescents whose families admitted them for treatment.
Days before the January shutdown, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services began removing the 23 foster kids from Fort Behavioral. Our Community Our Kids, the organization that oversees foster care in the Fort Worth area, no longer places any children at Fort Behavioral, even since the facility reopened. You know it’s bad when the state foster care system, always desperate need for beds, passes on a facility.
One would hope, upon reopening and especially because it’s on probation, Fort Behavioral would have shown signs of improvement. But since Fort Behavioral reopened in February, the state has cited the facility at least 30 times for a number of violations. So much for a restorative probationary period.
Fort Behavioral’s management appears to struggle with transparency, accountability and authority. Our reporter’s investigation, poring over thousands of state documents, police records and several wrongful termination lawsuits, demonstrated that the rot started at the top. From understaffing to under-reporting, Fort Behavioral’s administration seemed obsessed with the bottom line rather than helping kids.
During training, staff was encouraged to be cynical of state regulators, rather than to welcome the oversight that might correct misdeeds or mistakes, and prevent so many citations and complaints. This sounds like one of the driving factors that encouraged a lack of transparency, something this industry desperately needs, when their primary clients are struggling children who often cannot advocate for themselves.
In addition to the abuse, which is bad enough, several former employees said there often isn’t any actual programming there, so they’re essentially expensive babysitters. A lackadaisical, boring environment would make a healthy child eventually act out. Children dealing with trauma and other issues need routine and structure for their days.
Fort Behavioral’s administration appears to shun attempts to be held accountable, instead treating the investigations as if they are a normal part of a residential treatment center. If they are, they shouldn’t be. And no one, including anyone in this industry, the state or struggling parents, should normalize this. People make mistakes, but ongoing safety violations must be rooted out.
It sounds as if children continue to be at risk, and the fault lies with regulators who acted too quickly to allow the reopening. The state needs to shut it down as long as necessary to get it right and work with other organizations and parents to re-home the children in need.
Most important, parents have entrusted their children — children with vital needs — to this facility for care they are unable to give themselves. To discover, after trusting Fort Behavioral with their children, that some haven’t received adequate treatment or have been subjected to additional trauma, must be a nightmare.
Our children, especially those dealing with trauma and special needs, are some of the most vulnerable members of our society. They cannot advocate for themselves, and so we must. Here, there is more work to be done and quickly, before more children are put in harm’s way.
San Antonio Express-News. September 28, 2023.
Editorial: It’s a great time to get the latest COVID booster
COVID-19 is a powerful enemy, its threat rendered more potent by an unlikely accomplice — ourselves.
Whether sparked by politics or disregard for the warnings of health officials, complacency and defiance among some members of the population have led to spikes of the virus since the pandemic struck the U.S. in 2020.
Vaccines do work in preventing the spread of COVID, and with a new wave of the virus, it’s a great time to get the latest COVID-19 vaccine.
Hospital admissions for COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, increased about 16 percent in the week ending Aug. 26, compared with the previous week, and deaths from the virus increased at roughly the same rate during the same period — nearly 18 percent. For the week ending Sept. 9, 89 people were hospitalized with COVID in San Antonio.
The bad news, however, is mitigated by some good news.
COVID boosters are now available throughout the country, free to most Americans through private insurers and the Bridge Access Program, a new CDC initiative for the uninsured.
Free COVID tests are also available online through COVIDTests.gov.
Perhaps most importantly, the statistics on the number of incidents — and deaths — from the virus are not as gloomy as they may first appear.
While COVID cases increased at the end of August, the numbers remained relatively low, averaging about 600 deaths per week, compared with about 3,000 per week in late August 2022. The figure was even worse in late August 2021 — about 14,000 per week.
The latest figures, while not ideal, indicate the current wave may not be as severe as initially feared.
“What I think we’re seeing is the virus continuing to evolve and then leading to waves of infection, hopefully mostly mild in severity,” said Dr. Dan Barouch, head of the Center for Virology and Vaccine Research at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.
The virus has shifted to an endemic phase, with health care systems no longer overwhelmed by a disease spreading exponentially.
That does not mean we should relax. Some segments of the population — older adults, pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems, for example — still face risks from infection and COVID complications.
“Octogenarians comprise the highest-risk group for complications following COVID infection,” said Dr. Jonathan Reiner, a professor of medicine at George Washington University.
The virus, most health experts agree, seems to be settling into a stage in which people of all ages should get vaccinated once a year, as they do with the flu. While vaccines will not necessarily prevent a COVID infection, they do reduce the chances of infection and symptoms.
We have made tremendous progress since 2020, a confusing, chaotic, tense and polarizing time. In many ways, life has resumed in familiar ways. But this is thanks to vaccines. We are incredibly fortunate to live at a time of rapid vaccine development. Celebrate by getting your booster, and while you are at it, get a flu shot, too.