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Feds continue to defend immigration raids as protesters take to Miss. streets

From wire reports

As U.S. authorities continued Sunday to defend mass immigration raids this past week at poultry plants, dozens of people marched through the streets of a Mississippi town in protest.

Acting customs and border protection commissioner Mark Morgan said Sunday that the operations at Mississippi workplaces were not “raids,” disputing the terminology that has been widely used to describe the arrests.

“I think words matter. These aren’t raids. These are targeted law enforcement operations,” Morgan said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Acting homeland security secretary Kevin McAleenan, meanwhile, said he regretted the timing of the raids, which were carried out just days after a mass shooting in which a gunman killed 22 people at an El Paso Walmart. The suspect told authorities that he was targeting “Mexicans,” according to police.

“The timing was unfortunate,” McAleenan said on NBC News’ “Meet the Press”

U.S. authorities have in recent days strongly defended the raids amid outrage over images of weeping children arriving home to find their parents missing. The operation also has exposed what state and local officials say is a major shortcoming in ICE procedures for dealing with children, with parents caught up in immigration-related enforcement activities while at work unable to pick their children up from school, day-care centers and elsewhere, leaving some of them deserted and scared.

“In this case, this was a joint criminal investigation with ICE and the Department of Justice targeting work site enforcement, meaning companies that knowingly and willfully hire illegal aliens so that, in most cases, they can pay them reduced wages, exploit them further for their bottom line,” Morgan said Sunday. “That’s what this investigation was about — a criminal investigation.”


Meanwhile, protesters Sunday in Canton, Mississippi, carried what they said was a message of opposition against immigration raids that their parents could not.

“I will not sit in silence while my parents are taken away,” read a sign carried by two Hispanic boys. They were among a group of marchers who set out on foot from Sacred Heart Catholic Church to the town square in Canton to protest this past week’s arrests of 680 people.

“Imagine coming home and not finding your parents,” said Dulce Basurto-Arce, an 18-year-old college student, describing how parents of friends were arrested. “We are marching so no other kid has to go through what we went through. Let our voices be heard!”

Basurto-Arce spoke from the steps of the same courthouse in Canton where Martin Luther King Jr. once rallied protesters against segregation in a 1966 “March Against Fear” across Mississippi.

Churches were the backbone of the civil rights movement. Today, as President Donald Trump and Republican allies continue to defend the raids, churches have emerged as the top sources of spiritual and material support to the mostly Mexican and Guatemalan workers targeted by the raids.

Some churches are going beyond comfort and material aid, with their response flaring into political opposition. The state’s Catholic, Episcopal, United Methodist and Evangelical Lutheran bishops denounced the raids in a joint statement Friday.

The bishops said they would aid the immigrant families, saying there is “an urgent and critical need at this time to avoid a worsening crisis.”

“We are called ... to speak the truth. And the truth is, this is not right,” said Bishop Brian Seage of the Episcopal Diocese of Mississippi, speaking at a news conference one day after the raids.

Targeting corporations

Prosecuting corporations — as opposed to workers — for immigration-related offenses has slowed under the Trump administration, according to a database maintained by Duke University and the University of Virginia and data reviewed by The Washington Post, with only a handful of companies prosecuted for such violations since 2017.

Morgan and McAleenan suggested Sunday that videos of children crying after their parents were taken away were designed to elicit sympathy from the public.

“I know it’s emotional. I know it’s done on purpose to show a picture like that,” Morgan said about a widely circulated video of a young girl crying and begging for her father to be brought back.

Morgan added that he “understands” why the girl is upset, “but her father committed a crime.” He said the girl was later reunited with her mother.

McAleenan told NBC’s Chuck Todd that federal agents took the issue of the children’s welfare “very seriously.”

“I think it’s important, Chuck — you had a lot of really sympathetic video there, and I want to tell you that ICE took great pains to make sure that there were no child dependent-care issues that were ignored. … They had a process with 14 different caseworkers and phones available to call and find parents and kids and make arrangements, so this was done with sensitivity,” he said.

McAleenan also suggested that the raids were carried out to serve as a deterrent to other potential migrants from Latin America.

“The priority, right now, is our border security crisis, the humanitarian and security crisis at the border,” he said.

Todd interjected, pointing out that Mississippi is not on the border. McAleenan responded that the move was part of a “balanced enforcement strategy.”

“We’ve got to secure the border,” he said. “But we also have to have interior enforcement to stop this incentive, this work opportunity, that we have in the U.S. that employers are exploiting.”

On CNN, Morgan also took issue with the phrase “undocumented immigrants” to describe those targeted by the raids.

“These aren’t undocumented immigrants. These are illegal immigrants,” he said.

He parried questions about reports that Trump’s companies rely on undocumented immigrants. The Washington Post reported Friday that a Trump-owned construction company has employed undocumented immigrants for years, raising questions about how fully the Trump Organization has followed through on its pledge to more carefully scrutinize the legal status of its workers.

Asked why the federal government is turning a blind eye to the reports about Trump’s companies, Morgan said he was offended by the question.

“What I can tell you is, in my 25 years, I take offense to saying anyone’s turning a blind eye to someone who’s violating the law,” he said.

Morgan also disputed the notion that there has never been a raid or investigation into Trump’s companies.

“You really can’t say that for sure, because there are investigations going on all the time ... and we shouldn’t be aware of those investigations” because it could jeopardize them, he said.

Learning love from history: Author screens film based on 1919 racial turmoil in Longview

Learning from history was the theme during a recent screening of a film at the Longview Public Library that chronicled violent race riots that took place 100 years ago in East Texas and across the nation.

“Foote Switch," a short film written and produced by Longview author and resident Mandel Stoker, is a fictional account inspired by true events. The movie is based on Stoker’s book, “Foote Switch: An Untold Love Story.”

The movie tells the story of a relationship between a black man who had moved to Longview and a white woman from Kilgore. The story takes place just before the Red Summer race riots of July 1919, which resulted in one death and the imposition of martial law in Longview.

Stoker’s book and short film draw inspiration from the murder of Lemuel Walters, who was killed June 17, 1919, after he was beaten by two white Kilgore men who accused him of improperly propositioning their sister. After the beating, Walters was jailed and later killed by a lynch mob.

The story of the violence was reported in the Chicago Defender newspaper, bringing nationwide attention to the slaying.

The title “Foote Switch” was inspired by the name of a location between Longview and Kilgore where Walters’ body was found after he was murdered.

Master of ceremonies Terrell Edwards opened the screening event with a quote from philosopher George Santayana: “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.”

Stoker followed Edwards’ welcome with a reading of “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” by author Langston Hughes, and poet Princess Miles recited her original poem, “If All Were Blue.” Lakeshia Jarrett then sang Billie Holiday’s song “Strange Fruit.”

After the screening, Stoker said he had been encouraged to show his film in recognition of the 100th anniversary of the Red Summer race riots.

“The reason they called it ‘Red Summer’ was because of all the bloodshed at that time. There were riots all over the country,” Stoker said.

Audience members expressed their feelings about the importance of telling the story of Lemuel Walters by showing “Foote Switch” to audiences new and old alike.

“It’s important for the young people, because that’s what everything grows from," Edwards said. "It’s important for the old people who saw this to tell the young people better solutions to solve the situations that went on and why they went on and to pave new roads, to provide better options and to present more love in these situations.”

Paulette Goree said the film was important because it can teach history to a new generation.

“It’s history, and the conditions that our world is in today, it’s just like history is repeating itself. Young people need to know about their history. I think it’s very important that our young people learn where they came from and, hopefully … we can learn how to get along and love each other,” she said.

Frankie Mitchell said he felt the film was important because the events of Red Summer are rarely discussed these days.

“I think it’s so important because our young people are not familiar with history. It’s not really spoken about or talked about because a lot of our older relatives have passed away. The film will bring light to our history, a history that has been forgotten about. A lot of people don’t want to talk about it, and a lot of those that could, have passed away, so this is a way of reintroducing our history to this new generation.”

Stoker’s book, "Foote Switch: An Untold Love Story," is available for purchase on Amazon.

Longview High School grad to intern at National Prayer Breakfast

When the 2020 National Prayer Breakfast kicks off, a Longview High School graduate will be working behind the scenes.

Emily McCarty, 22, graduated from Longview High in 2015 and from Abilene Christian University in May. She will head to Washington, D.C., in September as an intern with National Prayer Breakfast.

The National Prayer Breakfast is an annual event that brings people of all religions together for prayer and includes a speech from the president and a guest speaker, who is not known until the morning of the event, she said. The speaker is someone who has had a humanitarian or religious impact.

After a call from a professor who told her he had a friend at the National Prayer Breakfast looking for an intern and after a couple of phone interviews, McCarty landed the internship.

She said she believes she is the only intern specifically working with National Prayer Breakfast.

Once she starts Sept. 9, McCarty said she will spend the months leading up to the event helping with day-to-day organizational tasks.

"Today (the National Prayer Breakfast's) role is being one of the few bipartisan events," she said. "It’s a big event reminding everyone we’re all still one. It doesn’t matter Democrat or Republican. I think that’s nice especially right now (since) it’s kind of a hot political time."

While she will not be working in the White House, McCarty said she is still nervous about being in Washington, D.C., during a divisive political climate.

But, she said she still sees it as an adventure and the possible start of her career.

While she is still not completely sure what her career route will be, McCarty said she is interested in nonprofit work and possibly attending law school.

This internship is a chance for her to meet people who can help her achieve those goals, she said.

"It’s a huge résumé booster just having that I interned in D.C., and especially with a political science degree, a lot of employers would want to see that you were somewhere like that," McCarty said. "I went to a Christian school; I try to live my life the way that God would be happy about. I just think it’s kind of honoring to God to see how all these people get together."

City of Longview health plan more stable, official says

The city of Longview’s self-funded employee benefits plan is more stable than a year ago because of contributions and changes made by the city and workers, said Director of Administration Mary Ann Miller.

Miller talked about the changes during a benefits fair for employees this past week at Maude Cobb Convention and Activity Center.

“At this point last year, we had to go to City Council and ask for some money from the general fund balance to help us make it through a very difficult year with a lot of expenditures, and they made it very clear that we needed to fix the plan, so that is what we have attempted to do,” she said.

The city’s Group Health and Life Fund generated $12.42 million in net revenues — employee and city contributions — through the first 10 months of this fiscal year. That is about $2 million more than last year’s net revenues when the City Council funneled $1.5 million from other funds to shore up a nearly $3 million shortfall.

Administrators expect that those revenues will reach $13.71 million when this fiscal year ends Sept. 30, which would mark year-to-year increase of more than 30%.

Meanwhile, the city’s health expenses have dropped by $565,000, or 4%, to $12.54 million so far this year, and budget estimates are forecasting those expenses to drop another $210,000 next year.

The self-funded health plan is separate from the city’s general maintenance and operations, City Manager Keith Bonds said, but revenues come from city and employee contributions.

Strengthening the health plan last year was a joint effort of the city’s contribution — including $500 deposits into health savings accounts — but also more money from employees through premiums from their paychecks as well as a reduction in health claims, administrators said.

“In FY 17-18, employees put $1,748,848 into the health plan by paying for their premiums,” Miller said. “In FY 18-19, that number increased. We are projecting that at year end (Sept. 30), employees will have paid about $2,278,500 into the plan via their premiums. That is an increase of almost $530,000.”

Starting Oct. 1, 2018, employees were given the option of either joining the standard health insurance plan or opening a health savings account that comes with cheaper premiums taken out of paychecks but also higher deductibles — if they accepted health coverage at all.

The city agreed to add $500 into each health savings account chosen by an employee.

In the 2019-20 budget, employees with an health savings account will again get $500 placed into their account, but from the health fund itself — not from the city.

“This year, our health fund has done so well that we’re able to pay for that out of our health plan (but) not out of the general fund like we had to last year,” Miller said.

In 2017-18, the cost of health insurance for Longview municipal workers was $4.62 a paycheck for employee-only insurance or between $140 and $181 to insure themselves along with their spouse, children or entire family.

This fiscal year, the standard rate has increased about 10-fold for employee-only insurance. Employees choosing the standard rate with their spouse, their children or their family are paying about $51 more a paycheck, which comes to $1,326 more out of pocket for the year.

If an employee opened a health savings account, the rate increases on each paycheck have been almost $20 more for employee-only insurance and between $8 and $10 for family rates. However, employee-only deductibles are 80% higher — $1,300 more — than standard-rate insurance holders, and family deductibles are $900 more.

Of the city’s 844 employees, 58% chose the standard option, 35% opened health savings accounts and 6% waived health insurance altogether, Miller said.

Employees’ premiums and deductibles as well as the city’s contributions won’t change in the upcoming fiscal year.

Keeping employees mindful of their impact on the plan — particularly in how they value their health — will always be key to the plan’s success, officials said.

“One of the problems that we had last year during our most expensive year was catastrophic claims, and our medical claims were up last year in general, but our catastrophic claims were up by quite a bit,” Miller said, “and one of the things when we sat down with everyone, we talked about being healthy (and) mitigating those claims.

“Things are going to happen, and that’s what insurance is for, but if we can help with situations before they occur — diabetes, those sorts of things — that’s why we have a health clinic. That’s why we have the benefits fair,” she said, “helping our employees think about the need for insurance in a different way.”