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Residents deliver letters to Gohmert's Longview office protesting border detention center conditions

About two dozen constituents delivered letters Tuesday to U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert’s Longview office protesting “disgraceful” conditions at migrant detention centers on the border.

“He needs to spend some time there personally and know that his constituents are concerned about this humanitarian crisis,” Lauren Land said, shortly before the group passed through security at the Gregg County Courthouse to hand Gohmert Field Representative Shannon Crisp their written protests.

Land said Tuesday had been declared Close the Camps Day across the nation.

“These things are going on all over the country,” she said. “The goal is to talk to your local representative if he or she is in the office.”

Local event organizer Geff Grimes was not optimistic Gohmert, the Republican representing Northeast Texas in the U.S. House, will be influenced by the notes.

Gohmert, he said, “supports everything the Trump administration is doing. He’s carried water for the Trump administration even before there was a Trump administration.”

Noting he had not seen the letters, Gohmert indicated later Tuesday by email that he is relying on federal agents on the border to accurately report conditions in the centers.

“Since I have not yet seen the letters, I do not know if the writers have visited the facilities,” Gohmert wrote. “If they have visited the facilities, I’d like to see what their first-hand observations were that caused them concern.

“I do, however, hear from and visit with our Border Patrol constantly who have this first-hand view: Radical federal judges and Democrats in Congress are willfully stopping the Border Patrol from having the means and the authority to stop those trying to illegally cross into this country. I mourn for those being lured to our open border and losing their lives as a result of these reckless policies.”

Fran Grimes, 79, of Longview used a walker Tuesday on one of two stairless entries into the courthouse.

“I don’t even look like a protester, do I?” she quipped on her way to a ground-floor elevator to the third floor and Gohmert’s office.

The group assembled in the hallway waiting area outside the Commissioners Courtroom, opposite Gohmert’s office, and one by one knocked on the locked door to hand a letter to Crisp.

One was signed by 13 local ministers. Another, by local Democratic leader Steve Crane, cited the Gospel of Matthew’s “sheep and goats” passage in which a returned Christ curses those who failed society’s weakest for not visiting them in prison, the hospital, extending their hearts to “the least of these.”

“It is inconceivable that you, as a Christian, can stand by and let this happen,” Crane wrote.

The letters included three, one-sentence notes from Amanda Veasy’s children. Veasy said the project presented an avenue to engage Keiton, Gavin and Jayden, respective ages 13,10 and 8, and even 3-year-old Jaryn, in taking a stand for the rights of others.

“I want them to experience compassion,” she said. “I want them to stand up for people with compassion and grow up to be world-changers.”

Veasy said her children have kept up with news from the U.S.-Mexico border.

“They know about the horrific conditions down there, the lack of basic necessities,” she said. “They know about the situations of flu outbreaks and the lice.”

Democratic Women of East Texas co-founder Mary Lou Tevebaugh arrived shortly after the group reached Gohmert’s office, fresh from protesting outside a detention center outside of Clint near El Paso.

“It’s not a good environment,” she said. “I’m an attorney, and I’ve been to visit clients in the state penitentiary system. And this was ... it looked like a penitentiary, or even more secure. This is not what we expect for children in this world to be in. It’s important that we keep up the pressure. From what I’m told, there’s going to be more of these facilities.”

Suzanne Lynn’s letter urged Gohmert to “do your job,” bemoaning the lack of clean diapers, soap and other basic necessities in the children’s detention centers.

“We are a country that others, in the past, had looked up to for help and leadership. Now, we have become a disgrace. ... You are among the, ‘Make America Great Again,’ followers. DO IT NOW! Signs of our greatness are certainly not visible to me or the world!”

Lynn did not believe her congressman will be swayed.

“No, I do not,” she said. “Because I don’t think he cares about the immigrants at the border. I think he cares about being reelected.”

Congressman shares video of migrants held at border facility

WASHINGTON — A Texas congressman says he released video and photos of migrant women being held at a border facility in his state so the public could better understand “awful” conditions under President Donald Trump’s policies.

Democratic Rep. Joaquin Castro said in an interview that he had no second thoughts about taking and sharing the images after officials had asked the lawmakers on a facility tour to leave their cellphones behind. He posted the images after visiting a station in El Paso.

“There’s a reason these conditions are kept secret because (they) are awful,” said Castro, chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

Castro said because lawmakers have oversight authority, they should not be denied access or the ability to share their findings.

Castro said he holds out hope that Congress will impose standards of care and seek broader immigration reforms, though lawmakers have been unable to do so.

Trump signed an emergency $4.6 billion border funding package into law this week after lawmakers split over putting restrictions on how the money can be spent. Some House Democrats wanted more standards on the facilities, but they ran up against resistance from centrist colleagues and those in the Senate. Republicans complained that Democrats delayed the funding.

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus led a tour of migrant facilities this week, and lawmakers decried the conditions inside the Texas centers.

Castro, whose twin brother Julian is a Democratic presidential candidate, said Congress needs to “fix a broken system.”

Women held at the facility were “crammed into a prison-like cell with one toilet, but no running water to drink from or wash their hands,” Castro tweeted. Some had been separated from their children and held for more than 50 days, he said.

Castro said the women asked lawmakers to take down their names, shown in the video, to “let everyone know they need help.” He said the women feared retribution.

Lawmakers have said border officials were taking photos of the congressional delegation during the tour. Some of the female members of Congress said it made them feel uneasy, given new revelations about a Facebook group of current and retired border agents posting derogatory comments about some of lawmakers, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y.

As the House and Senate consider other legislation, Castro said, “It’s not just a matter of more cash to buy more granola bars and ramen” for the migrants.

Congress is in recess this week. But Rep. Gerald Connolly, D-Va., said “the really heartbreaking testimony” by members who visited the detention facilities “is going to have an impact” on legislation when lawmakers return.

“Children really help galvanize attention,” he said.

Group erects 'Abortion is Freedom' billboards in response to Waskom's ban

The battle over access to abortion services is heating up in East Texas.

A reproductive equality group that works toward providing women with equal access to abortion has erected two billboards in response to the Waskom City Council’s recent decision to ban abortion and declare the town a “sanctuary city for the unborn.”

The Lilith Fund for Reproductive Equity says it has put up the billboards that read “Abortion is Freedom” along Interstate 20 near Waskom to let city leaders there know that abortion is still legal in Waskom and throughout the country.

A post on the organization’s Facebook called the move by Waskom’s council a publicity stunt that was intended to intimidate organizations such as the Lilith Fund.

“They tried us, but we’re clapping back,” the post read in part.

The Lilith Fund, which has an Austin address, states on its website that it provides financial assistance for women seeking to terminate an unwanted pregnancy and education and outreach within the community about reproductive rights.

The Lilith Fund said it teamed with NARAL Pro-Choice Texas to put up the billboards. NARAL Pro-Choice, also an Austin organization, states on its website that it seeks to use the political process to “guarantee every Texan the right to make personal reproductive health decisions and to guarantee access to the full range of options, including preventing unintended pregnancy, bearing healthy children and accessing legal abortion.”

The all-male Waskom City Council on June 11 unanimously voted in favor of an ordinance that claims to outlaw abortion in the Waskom city limits, which would violate the 1973 Supreme Court Roe v. Wade decision. Council members also voted unanimously in favor of a resolution to make the city a “sanctuary city for the unborn.”

Waskom Mayor Jesse Moore said soon after the vote that the council was happy to support Right to Life of East Texas in the historic move by adopting a resolution and an ordinance.

“Right to Life approached us because the abortion laws are changing in Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi (and) the abortion clinics may start moving to Texas,” Moore said. “With Waskom being the first city, 18 miles (west) from (Shreveport) Louisiana, they were anticipating one moving over here.

“The citizens in Waskom, they don’t want to have an abortion clinic in Waskom, so they presented the board last night with an ordinance and resolution that will make abortions in the city of Waskom a criminal offense,” the mayor said the day after the ordinance and resolution were passed.

He admitted the action wouldn’t stop abortion clinics from moving to Waskom, “but if they do, they’ll be breaking the law.”

Right to Life of East Texas Director Mark Lee Dickson said days after the vote in Waskom that his group had been approached by other area cities he said wanted to make abortion illegal within their jurisdictions, but he would not name the cities.

Dickson, who also is pastor of SovereignLove Church in Longview, on Tuesday disputed the claim in the billboard that abortion is freedom, saying, “Abortion isn’t freedom, of course.”

He said it is the same as saying “that a wife killing her husband is freedom.”

Referring to the Lilith Fund billboards, he said, “People have the freedom to put up whatever they want. It does not mean it is right. Somebody could put up a billboard that says killing is cool. It does not make it not illegal.”

He said the fact the Lilith Fund placed the billboards shows “they were bugged” by what the Waskom City Council did.

Asked how his group will respond, Dickson said, “We are still working on that. There are some things we will be doing.”

Historical downtown Longview building getting more windows in renovation

Heritage Tower’s transformation from office building to senior living complex will add almost two dozen new windows and other cosmetic changes.

Four Corners Development, which will begin renovations next month to the 84-year-old structure at 208 N. Green St. in downtown Longview, detailed its plans Tuesday to the city’s Historic Preservation Commission.

The commission unanimously granted a certificate of appropriateness that allows Four Corners to make changes to what was originally called the McWilliams Furniture Co. Building but later held other monikers, including the Weaver Building.

Four Corners, based in Springfield, Missouri, is converting the six-story Heritage Tower into a mix of 36 apartment homes for senior residents 55 or older plus more than 2,500 square feet of commercial, retail and office space.

Contractors will punch 23 additional window penetrations on the building’s east side, Four Corners Development Director Michael Fogel said. The new windows will match the existing windows on the east exterior wall in size and dimensions and provide exterior light and emergency exits for apartment residents.

All of the building’s windows will be replaced, from the steel windows on the east and south sides to the hung wood windows on north and west sides, according to Four Corners. Steel windows on the east exterior wall will be replaced with aluminum windows to back the building’s historic integrity.

Among other renovations will be the removal of one of the two exterior fire exits from the east side, Fogel said.

Also, a new handicap accessible entryway will be added on the building’s southeast side near Bank Alley.

“That’s a place where there’s room to actually make that work,” Fogel said.

Commission member and local Realtor Michael Smith added, “It’s also a place where it’s not so visible that it’s there.”

The City Council on Thursday designated the building as the city’s seventh local historic landmark, joining the Train Depot, the Rucker-Campbell House, Central Fire Station, Alton Plaza at the Petroleum Building, the Idylwood Fire Station and the Everett Building.