We'll be liveblogging throughout the weekend from The Texas Tribune Festival's race and immigration track — which includes panels on cross-border cartel violence, interdependence between the U.S. and Mexico, the relationship between illegal immigration and criminal justice, and the economics of immigration reform.
Featured speakers include U.S. Reps. Henry Cuellar, Silvestre Reyes, Michael McCaul and Blake Farenthold; former U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Tony Garza; and former U.S. Census Bureau Director Steve Murdock.
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Speakers: U.S. Reps. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo and Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi; Foster Quan Attorney Charles Foster, ACLU Attorney Lisa Graybill
Cuellar: “The Rio Grande does not divide us, it unites us with Mexico. For anybody that thinks you can just put a fence and cut off (trade) it will have an economic impact.”
If you look at Mexico and benchmark against the rest of South America, they're about middle of the path in terms of violence.
"You can't paint with too broad a brush," Garza says.
Mexico, he says, is concerned and frustrated about U.S. consumption of drugs and inability to stem flow of guns south.
There's still "awareness" in some circles about the degree to which the U.S. would be involved with Mexico on security issues.
"It's a different country with a different history when it comes to the United States," he says.
"All of the sudden the climate started changing in terms of cooperation," he says, adding that base allowed the countries to work more closely to share information about the ongoing drug war.
"In that respect that relationship is very healthy," he says.
Garza says the U.S. sends messages about Mexico being a failed state has been frustrating for that country.
75-80 percent of the violence is in three or four communities, and up to 80-85 percent of that is drug-on-drug.
Garza says you can feel very safe in the city where he lives, Mexico City.
"There are some spots I would definitely stay away from" in the country, especially Mexican border communities. But on the U.S. side of the border, he says, it's still safe.
"Quite frankly, I feel very very safe in El Paso, McAllen, San Diego," he says, referring to claims about spillover violence. "Those are very safe communities."
"Our economies have become more converged," Garza says.
What the U.S. has to do, he says, is see Mexico as a ally, instead of as a set of problems.
He says the president doesn't want to hear from the ambassador during an election cycle.
His advice to the current ambassador: be like a duck on the water, churning those legs and working below the surface, but calm above it.
He says the issue has always been on President Calderon's radar along with the treatment of Mexican's abroad.
"I'd like to see a better tone," he says, adding he's not so naive to believe that political elections are going to generate that kind of tone.
Evan asks if the political environment in this country will allow constructive debate and reform of immigration.
Garza says others in the world have been surprised and disappointed at the U.S. inability to deal with immigration.
"This ditch isn't deep enough, ... apparently we're not quite there yet," he says.
Evan asks what the Garza immigration solution would look like.
Garza says he's the grandson of Mexican immigrants. He says he wants "a policy that allows people to become part of this great American dream experience that we have."
The language that we use to talk about immigration, he says, needs to change. "Any characterization of anything like an amnesty was like a death knell."
He says you need an aggressive guest worker program and work from there.
"I don't think you can send everybody back," he says.
"I didn't see that explosion coming," he says.
His concern was less with the imagery of the fence than concerns about its effectiveness.
Security should be based on coordinated response and intelligence with Mexico, he says.
"That's just not the best way to secure our country," Garza says.
Evan asks which Mexican presidential candidate would be best for the U.S. strategically.
The institutionalization of the relationship between the U.S. and Mexico, Garza says, means that it will likely maintain the status quo.
"We make to much of that first picture" of the two presidents together, he says. "We make too much of the superficial," he says.
The interests of the two countries are aligned, and he says that's not likely to change.
What's the possibility of Mexico providing a greater percentage of oil to the U.S.?
Garza: Their production has been waning for years now. "It's way down," he says. The likelihood them opening up for more investment in production is slim, he says.
Garza: "Why the heck" should Latinos bear the burden alone when everyone benefits from it, he asks.
"All of us as country, whether its business — just us as a civil society black, brown, white, whatever" ought to see the benefits of immigration reform and a more orderly system, he says.
"Real leadership anticipates things," he says, and our political leaders in the 90s did not.
Audience question: Do you think policies like the border fence and voter ID hurts relationship between the U.S. and Mexico?
Garza says they're two different issues.
"Nobody felt too good about it," regarding the wall.
Voter ID, he says, doesn't resonate in Mexico.
"There's still a lot work to be done in Mexico," he says.
Legalization is not a panacea he says. He says there will be black markets for other drugs with potentially more violent crimes. Mexico needs to build stronger institutions to match the crime, he says.
He does not see any hope in going on playing this particular game. It will end in disappointment for almost everyone.
What are we to conclude about the unrest in societies around the world, he asks.
"Should we be considering what might happen when almost no one has a chair?" he says.
He says in Veracruz 49 bodies will be buried today.
"My view of the world is colored by the dreadful things that are happening in my country," he says.
But no how uncomfortable it is, he says, the truth must be spoken, he says.
"My experience is not the experience of many of my countrymen," he says.
He reads from John F. Kennedy's proposal for the Alliance for Progress.
"He spoke with a realism that was well founded," he says.
But now the situation of his country, he says breaks his heart.
He begins a slideshow with a discussion of problems that immigration pose at the street-level in five areas: education, rule of law, medical care, natural resources, law enforcement.
Teachers get automatic tenure and salary tactics include the use of violence. There are no parent-teacher associations, Junco de la Vega says.
Students are automatically admitted to university after high school.
Although South Korea invests less than Mexico in education, their students perform better, he says.
Slide title: Mexico's education system gets an "F".
Parents take education into their own hands when teachers get caught up in union violence and fights, he says.
Defendants mostly are forced to prove their innocence, and prosecutors are immune from accountability, says Junco de la Vega.
He says 42 percent of inmates are awaiting trial. 80 percent, he says, never see a judge but only a courthouse clerks. Public defenders lose 90 percent of their cases.
Only 1 in every 100 criminals is ever punished, the slide says.
Judges, he says, are not held accountable either. Public officials rarely pay fines and have their records cleared with bribes. Denouncing crime can result in death.
Only 19 percent of Mexican patients have access to medical coverage, he says.
Public health workers get three months of vacation each year. Some communities have no access to a physician on the weekends.
One woman, he says, got an appointment after she had already died.
Half of Mexico's land does not have a single undisputed owner, he says. Crop yields and productivity are low, and Mexico imports half of its gasoline.
The son of a man who denounced illegal logging was killed.
Prisons are a source of crime. Police work for criminals. Prison escapes happen often. One inmate collected $32,000 from prison. Police returned a kidnap victim who escaped back to his captors.
Only one-third of police get review and evaluation.
In 10 month 305 inmates escaped in the border state of Tamaulipas.
They discovered that Russians were impressed that even during the depression a family could afford an automobile.
Junco de la Vega says he faces sensors, too, that others tell him his words are bad for business and the economy.
Over the past eight months he says three grenades have exploded on the steps of his newsroom.
"We believe in our newsrooms," he says. "Our newsrooms are determined not to be a party to more of this."
Mexico is caught between the faint glimmer of the American dream and the reality that is their Mexican nightmare.
Even if all the guns were stopped at the border, even if all the drug consumption stopped, there's a legacy of dysfunction in Mexico, he says.
Nothing short of deep reform.
"No simple fix will be a true one," he says.
The stream of people into Texas, he says, he knows brings fear.
He asks the audience to consider them refugees.
"The flood of my countrymen across the border speaks of something much, much deeper. It speaks of a nation profoundly damaged," he says.
No longer does the immigrant hold his hand out for money; he holds it up for help, Junco de la Vega says.
"Most human beings are not innately bad or lazy or lawless," he says.
By any measure the country of Mexico was in better shape when Kennedy was president 50 years ago than it is today, he says.
"We are, sad to say, number one at something. Today we hold first place in the OECD extreme poverty index," he says.
For every one immigrant under JFK, he says, there are 15 now.
"Your neighbor is bleeding ladies and gentleman. What could possibly come next? Without a diagnosis the hemorrhaging will come next," he says.
The criminal ecosystem in his country, Junco de la Vega says, must come to an end.
Gangs of criminals run free because no one there is to protect from them.
"Because our children see that criminals run free at will doing this, they too come to believe that anything the state runs or owns is free for the taking," he says.
The light of truth, he says, must be shown on public officials and corruption.
"All of this must go, because all of this is our problem," he says.
Mexico wants the same thing America wants, he says: peace and prosperity.
"We want to put our nation on the right course and become partners with you."
A cancer of dysfunction chokes the lungs of Mexico, he says.
"What we are in search of ladies and gentlemen, is the beautiful solution," he says, "... the one that was buried with Kennedy."
Look beyond the symptom of immigration to the root of the problem, he says.
"There is a Mexico behind those images that is not full of peril," he says.
"I do believe that this session was especially harmful to Hispanics," she says.
The cuts and the laws, she says are going to be felt for years to come.
Cuts to public educations, higher education, health and human services all disproportionately hurt Hispanics.
Voter ID and redistricting were a direct hit on Hispanics, she says.
"I think that's a good thing," he says.
He says 68 percent of Hispanics supported voter ID legislation.
"We need to have safeguards in our electoral system so that we have confidence in our electoral outcomes," he says.
Our tax system has a structural problem built into it, and future budgets, she says, will be even worse.
"In the very near future we're going to be spending more money not just on education but on health care," she says.
Funding cuts to universities were not wise, she says, and those will affect us right away.
"If we want companies to come to Texas, they come to where there is an educated workforce," she says.
"We did the best we could," he says.
For the first time 25 years, statewide property values went down, the margins tax didn't produce what was expected, there were no federal stimulus dollars and a lousy economy, Margo says.
"We funded 170,000 new students. Is that enough? No," he says, reiterating that legislators did the best they could with the hand they were dealt.
"You can't just say we're going to tighten our belts and everybody's going to suffer the same," she says, "because everybody is not going to suffer the same."
It's about priorities, she says, and Latinos are the fastest growing demographic so they need to stand up.
Rep. Farrar says Hispanics are a diverse group. But there is a common belief that education brings opportunity.
"For us as Democrats in the coming election it will be much easier to show how these cuts are affecting those opportunities to get ahead," she says.
Legislators, she says, have only dealt with public education funding in response to lawsuits by a Hispanic school district. But people, she says, better understand the problem when they see teachers cut from classrooms and real-life impacts of the cuts.
"For us as Democrats, it's easier for us to paint a picture of who's for ya, and who ain't for ya," Farrar says.
"They're worse off," he says of Hispanics.
He agrees that education is the key to making it in this country, but you don't have to rely on the government. Citing his sons use of the GI Bill, he says, he doesn't understand the reliance on the government.
"There is no correlation between spending and a better education," he says. "Show me the correlation."
Government mandates do not produce better results, he says.
Margo says the Rainy Day Fund can't be used anymore.
He says the Rainy Day Fund is committed because of the "Solomon choices" that no one was happy with. "It's committed ladies and gentlemen, it's spent," he says.
He reiterates that the legislators did the best job they could.
"Education is critical," he says. He went to Canutillo Independent School District this weekend to work on a dropout prevention program. "But we've got to make Solomon choices."
Taxes across the board, he says, would not have done any good but would have been far more harmful.
"The proof is in the pudding," she says.
Politics, rather than doing what's right, drives the debate, she says.
She says she was one of the first in her family to go to college. "I want to see that happen for other students," she says.
Gaming to bring in revenue, she says, was not on the table for political reasons.
Aliseda says the people on the bus to go to Vegas to gamble are the ones who can't afford it.
"Gaming would be a tax on the poor," Aliseda says.
Gonzales says: "Well, Jose, I'm glad you're here to be the moral judgment for all of us."
When things aren't going well, he says, people are forced to re-examine and make changes.
"We've really got to address tax policy in this state," she says.
But addressing the tax problem, she says, was sacrificed because of the political agendas of legislators and Gov. Perry.
Margo says there were some good things legislators did, but he agrees Texas needs to re-examine the margins tax, which isn't bringing in the revenue predicted.
"We do need to address it but we weren't going to be able to address it given length time we had and what we were dealing with," he says.
Aliseda asks how the sales tax is regressive. Farrar says because everyone pays the same rate, regardless of their income. "That's the way it should be," Aliseda says.
Aliseda says, "When I grew up we had 4o to 50 kids in my classrooms."
"And you probably walked through the snow to get there," Gonzales retorts.
It's getting a little snippy in here.
The two Democrats on the panel say they agreed with the DOJ decision on the map drawing.
Aliseda says it was a good map.
"I personally think with respect to my district I was satisfied with the way it was drawn," he says.
Gonzales: "They did the best they could to keep as many seats as the could keep regardless of the voting rights act," she says.
She was left with about 2 percent of her original district, she says. There was no need to changes the lines in her district, she says. They could have just created a new seat. "I think the Justice Department is very justified," she says.
Gonzales says traditionally Latinos and Blacks tend to vote as a Democratic block. So, when districts are drawn to lean Republican, the impact is to turn it into a non-minority district.
"That's the kind of thing that the Justice Department is looking at," she says. "The impact that you're going to have is to dilute the voting strength."
He says he went to school in Illinois.
He supported voter ID because people expect to show ID for things as mundane as renting movies, and they don't have confidence in a system where they're not required to show an ID. "The reason I supported the voter ID bill was because the people expected it, they wanted it," he says.
Farrar says that you don't have a constitutional right to rent a movie, but you have a constitutional right to vote.
"It is an added government investment in my education," he says.
Aliseda says it's a benefit in return for his service in the military.
"I know lawyers making less than teachers," he says.
"Its a sacrosanct right to vote," he says.
He says his kids were educated in public schools. Education is not a partisan issue, he says. "I'm a believer in education. I'm a believer that it drives the economy."
Margo compliments Farrar for fulfilling her role as head of the Democratic Party in the House after she talks about her hope that Democrats will do better in the coming election cycle, which will affect the next legislative session.
Margo says he is worried about the growing cost of Medicaid.
And the day finishes up with a note from Margo that all legislators, regardless of party, are trying to do what they think is best for the state with the resources they have available to them.
Burton tells us that things are bad in Mexico, but the country is not on the verge of collapse.
From a trending issue, what's worrisome to him, he says is the connections between organized gangs and street gangs in the U.S.
Salinas agrees that Mexico is not on the brink of collapse.
"We have to stop the flow of weapons going south," he says. They go for one reason, to harm people.
Cars and cash headed south serve the same purpose.
"People are concerned about spillover violence," he says, but in Laredo there have been only six murders and statistics in U.S. border cities show that they are safe. Spillover, he says, is a bunch of "baloney."
"It really frustrates me because we're trying to bring business to the border," he says.
Salinas questions the appetite for drugs in the U.S.
"It's really challenging to separate emotionally from what's happening a stone's throw away from you," she says.
Americans' insatiable appetite for drugs, she says, contributes to the violence.
Border policy, she says, is a really broad policy conversation that includes immigration, drugs, security.
And despite all the talk, she says, there has been no additional investment in the border ports. The focus has been myopically on violence and security.
Traffic to cross the border and share with family members south of the Rio Grande, she says, has pretty much come to a screeching halt.
When politicians come to the border to discuss the violence and ignore the other issues, she says, it doesn't help the conversation.
"You're creating walls that are monuments really in my opinion to hatred and monuments to failed policy," she says. Meanwhile they refuse to deal with immigration.
Absolutely, there are Mexican prison gang members in the United States, but she says that has long been the case.
Fred Burton says that there is overlap between Mexican military forces that force gang members back into the United States.
Salinas says, "You don't put a wall between friends and neighbors."
What Laredo needs, he says, is a fusion center to gather intelligence.
Aguilar asks just how infiltrated Laredo is.
"Is there activity, yes there is," he says. "That's why it's important for us to have communication."
The community, he says, must get involved in reporting to police and investigators.
Children on both sides of the border, he says, are vulnerable to the drug gangs and cartels.
Aguilar to Burton - How infiltrated is the rest of the U.S.?
Burton says communities like Atlanta that weren't before affected are now being used by the drug cartels for money.
"Cities such as Atlanta and Los Angeles have pretty much fallen to the control of the criminal cartel networks," he says.
This is just not a Mexico-U.S. problem, though, he says it involves all of Central and Latin American.
Aguilar asks about a more overt military presence by the U.S. in Mexico.
Burton says he doesn't see that happening in the foreseeable future.
"The simply do not want U.S. boots on the ground to go after the Chapos over the world," he says.
Escobar says it would break her heart to see U.S. troops in Juarez.
She says the U.S. has a role in solving the problem, but the solution needs to be policy driven.
About 85 percent of immigrants, she says, are non-criminal.
Immigration reform is needed to focus on the 15 percent of immigrants who are criminals. And we need smarter more efficient ports."There are smarter ways to do it," she says, than to send troops South.
Those kinds of statements, she says, get us further and further from a solution.
"That's what you really have to," he says, "work together."
Aguilar asks if one can feel safe anywhere in Mexico.
Burton says there is no state in Mexico that is not touched by the cartel violence.
"Texas is ground zero," he says. "We're at the tip of the spear."
Because of the location on the border and the lucrative gateways into the United States, he says, the border is more dangerous.
Escobar says it's been about three years since she has visited Mexico. "I do feel like you could be in the wrong place in the wrong time, and it is an absolute tragedy," she says.
Salinas says he has been to Mexico recently. "Do you take precautions, of course you do," he says.
Mexico City, he says, is one of the safest cities in that country. "You have to take certain precautions and maintain a low profile," he says.
Burton says there are sections of our own country that are just as bad in terms of street crime.
The difference, Escobar says, if you get robbed in Washington D.C., you can trust law enforcement to intervene, but not so in Mexico.
Burton says the corruption of police doesn't stop at the border, either. "We haven't been very good at taking ownership ourselves of our own problems on our side of the border," he says.
Salinas says corruption affects everyone. "It's a worldwide phenomenon," he says.
The U.S., she says, has to acknowledge the war on drugs in a failure.
"We need to talk about drug policy," she says. "We need to talk about better ports."
There doesn't need to be a trade off of trade for increased drug security at the ports.
"We should be leading the way around the globe having better technology," she says.
Politicians, she says, are evading the real policy issues, she says. They are debating on a national scale immigration but saying the border must be secure first without defining what a secure border is.
"We're investing in the wrong places," he says. "Lets be smart about how we're detecting those drugs that come across."
He says Americans need to wake up to the drug problem. "We've got to get our act together," he says.
"If you look at sheer volume of politicians that have been executed in Mexico that's another frightening issue," he says.
When there's less violence there's more control by a cartel.
Less violence is a good thing from a political perspective, but it also raises questions about their involvement with the cartels.
When there's less violence, Escobar says, that means the U.S. can go back to being in denial about the problem.
Salinas says regardless of which political party is in charge, there's a mood of readiness for change in Mexico.
But also regardless of which party is in charge, he says, there needs to be more cooperation between the U.S. and Mexico.
Burton says there's not a day that goes by when multinational corporations don't ask about the affect of violence in Mexico.
"There is that ramification to the business community," he says. The cost of doing business there is increasing because of the cost of security.
He says corporations don't want to know if their employees in Mexico are paying protection money because it brings up ramifications under U.S. law.
Escobar says she has not heard of the maquiladora industry being involved with cartels.
"There's always that propensity," Salinas says.
Salinas says as a former law enforcement officer says, "I haven't seen anybody who says, 'I use marijuana, and I'm a winner,'" he says. He has a problem with it because of the problems it creates.
Burton says as a former police officer he is "old school, too," and doesn't believe in legalization.
He says cartels look to other crimes to bring in money when drugs aren't bringing it in.
"I think we need to talk about it," Escobar says.
But she says it's treacherous territory in this country to talk about legalization and meanwhile there's too little spent on drug prevention and treatment.
"In this country we don't have enough of a focus on treatment, rehabilitation and getting help to people who need help," she says.
Burton says if drugs are legalized, the nimble cartels will just switch to some other crime like kidnapping or money laundering.
"When your money dries up then you're going to have alternatives," he says.
Escobar says you can mitigate not eliminate but in the U.S. the problems get worse because we refuse to talk about mitigation in a reasonable way.
Audience Question: Seems like there's a never-ending circle of Mexico-U.S. problems, is there another model to look at in another country we could use?
Salinas brings up the Colombian model.
He says the Colombianization of Mexico is happening now.
Burton says the trip wires that were crossed in Colombia involved plots to attack U.S. officials and then mobilized Washington to assist.
Cartels in Mexico, he says, have pushed the envelope but haven't crossed that threshold.
"I think that there's some brilliance in their simplicity," he says.
Staples says current visa system is not needs based but data based (visa caps). He says, however, that the mindset most have is that jobs for Americans must come first.
Acevedo agrees, but says if the concentration is on border security only, the country is missing out on the opportunity to meet its labor needs.
“You are absolutely right, we have to look at our borders but we cannot look at it by just looking at the Rio Grande.”
Peña advocates for a Utah-style guest-worker program. “Someone got to pick up the jobs that maybe we don’t want to do anymore.”
Peña filed the legislation during the regular session but it never moved out of committee. Says the “polarized atmosphere” on immigration does not allow for a discussion on the issue
Staples: “When we talk in terms of comprehensive immigration reform, it signals to many Americans we are going to give up.” Says one thing that always derails discussion is the “pathway to citizenship.” He says that if people want to live the American dream they should be able to but, he also says if people want to come to the US and become citizens they should apply in their home country, first.
Peña says the discussion always leads to labels of racism, which he says is disingenuous.
“It does raise the anxiety level. We need to calm it down and realize it (reform) is in our interest,” says Peña
“They have a workforce. It works well for Canada and it works well for Mexico,” he says.
Staples says people who are unemployed are listening to the discussion and wondering why there is talk about a shortage of workers. Says the problem is that the unemployed are not relocating to where the jobs are.
“When you look at things you have to look at global labor mobility,” she says.
Acevedo says it is frustrating that issues of border security and immigration always get conflated. Says we must take in to account how that rhetoric harms America’s ability to remain in a positive light around the rest of the globe, especially when dealing with the issue of foreign labor.
U.S. economic woes has contributed to a drop in "in-flow" migration from Mexico.
Illegal immigrants are about 3.7 percent of the U.S. population and 5.2 percent of the labor force. Of the Texas population, about 6.7 percent is made up of illegal immigrants.
Houston ISD: 92 percent of the population is non Anglo.