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Border question reaches Gregg County commissioners

By Glenn Evans
Aug. 26, 2014 at 11 p.m.

Advocates and opponents of a resolution opposing relocation of people surrendering at the Mexican border into local communities gave Gregg County commissioners an earful Tuesday.

"Just because our federal government is complacent in protecting our border doesn't mean our local government should as well," Rhonda Anderson told commissioners, who will decide whether to debate the resolution at a future meeting. "This has now become the most misunderstood epidemic of my lifetime. The enemy is not the illegal aliens themselves."

Opponents of the measure, which is making the rounds of Texas counties, had a big gun on their side - the Republican whose countywide election in 1970 predated the GOP takeover of Gregg County by a decade.

"I have a great faith in the integrity and compassion of this deliberative body that I am addressing," retired Family Court Judge William Martin said, opposing the resolution. "I think all it does is express xenophobia, the fear of the foreign-born."

The judge was preceded by longtime immigrant advocate Jose Sanchez, an attorney, recent graduate of the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and U.S. citizen since 2003.

"I was very saddened when I read that Rusk County had passed a resolution trying to, supposedly, protect itself from the young children coming from Central and South America these last few months and that are being detained by the federal government," Sanchez said. "The resolution that was passed in Rusk County was passed without any data to support its reasons to pass such nonsense, as is the current proposal presented to Gregg County."

Resident Mike Denholm also urged commissioners to take up the resolution at their Sept. 8 session.

"The news has been diverted to the young people coming across," Denholm said. "And that's exactly what it is, is a diversion."

He credited the diversion to the Obama administration.

Earlier, resolution proponent Terri Hill presented seemingly alarming data.

"How many of you know that, according to the Texas Refugee Health Program, most are from - most immigrants coming across the border are from Iraq - 27 percent," Hill said. "These are not my statistics. These are coming from the state of Texas. We do know that illegals are attempting to enter the U.S. from 75 countries."

That last statistic was in a Brietbart Texas blog citing a U.S. Customs and Border Patrol report leaked to the conservative site by "a trusted source" in the federal agency.

The other study Hill cited, which she also provided to the newspaper, applies to clients of the state refugee health program. Those are, according to the website, "refugees, asylees, parolees, Special Immigrant Visa holders and international Victims of Trafficking (sic)."

"This program has nothing to do with UACs (unaccompanied alien children)," state health department spokeswoman Carrie Williams wrote in an email to the News-Journal. "So that 27 percent statement is not applicable to the UAC situation. UACs are not served by our Refugee Health program. They are in federal jurisdiction."

Texas Health and Human Services Executive Commissioner Dr. Kyle Janek also told a committee of state lawmakers on Aug. 5 that immunizations in the three Central American countries from which most of the children are arriving have stepped up vaccination practices in the past decade.

Janke told the House Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee those countries have achieved a 95 percent vaccination rate for the same diseases against which American children are vaccinated.

Janek also said the children were being screened by health officials and vaccinated again.

County Judge Bill Stoudt said after Tuesday's meeting that commissioners will decide whether to place the matter on an upcoming agenda for discussion.

Commissioner John Mathis wasn't discussing it Tuesday.

"I ain't got nothing to say," he said when asked his feelings.

Commissioner Ronnie McKinney said he had not made up his mind but was getting input.

"I'm still gathering information," McKinney said. "I've had both parties in my office. I've made no decision at this time."

Commissioner Gary Boyd said the issue may not be solved to everyone's satisfaction.

"Reasonable people can disagree," he said. "I can be looking at a problem. And for you, it may be this side's right and this side's wrong. ... I'm not saying I'm right and you're wrong. I'm just saying we view it differently."

Commissioner Darryl Primo was not available for comment later Tuesday.

In action Tuesday, the court OK'd a $3.2 million contract with Trane Comprehensive Solutions to renovate courthouse infrastructure, pending review by a third party.

If approved by the independent reviewer chosen by the county, the contract guarantees at least $206,000 annual energy savings by replacing ventilation, lighting, plumbing and other infrastructure in place for decades.



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