Closing an Agricultural Research Center Reflects Bad USDA Habits

By Nick Braune

As a teacher and local columnist, I have developed some good “contacts” and usually receive incisive comments from those I call on. But one person I know at the Kika de la Garza Subtropical Agricultural Research Center (SARC) in Weslaco, Texas told me he couldn’t comment about the scheduled closure there and suggested I call the press office in D.C. But being uninterested in stock answers from government bureaucrats, I shook off that suggestion. Still, I have pieced things together from some people I know and from some articles.

First, Weslaco will be hurt. (Weslaco is a town in the economically squeezed Texas/Mexico border area, not far from Brownsville.) Apparently 113 jobs — many of them good paying jobs — will be directly lost. And according to a Texas A&M study, the loss of income caused by losing the center will dissolve another 100 jobs area-wide.

Secondly, agriculture will be hurt. The Southwest Farm Press ran an article, “Dismantling Subtropical Research Center defies logic.” The article says, “The shutdown removes a valuable asset that farmers and ranchers use to gauge varieties, techniques and applications that are unique to their location.”

The article quotes Ray Prewett from Texas Citrus Mutual: “In many respects, the Center is the first and last defense against subtropical pests and diseases entering the U.S. agricultural system from Mexico, and without this protection, serious consequences could develop that could have a devastating effect on the U.S. agricultural industry.” Among the important things studied at the research station are Mexican fruit flies, fever ticks on cattle, and honey bees.

I have learned from some contacts that SARC is unique in researching issues with our largest trading partner, Mexico, with whom agricultural exports and imports run in the billions. The Weslaco facility has been intimately involved in many of those trade programs by developing means to overcome agricultural quarantines. And this work cannot be done elsewhere despite cheery promises from the USDA administration. (The state of Texas is not prepared to pick up the slack, nor should it, because border issues are federal, not state concerns.)

So, why is Weslaco losing SARC? The main problem, I understand, is that all of these decisions are being made by the very upper crust of administration within the Agricultural Research Service (USDA’s research agency) with no input from the science programs, users, or general public. Always a recipe for disaster.

None of the usual answers that the USDA gives for closing facilities, such as expense of operation, outdated facilities, completion of mission, or loss of relevance, apply to Weslaco. The Valley is an inexpensive location for business. Most of the facilities at Weslaco are fairly new and modern. There is an abundance of agricultural research needed here, and the Weslaco facility has been doing a top flight job. Even if budget cuts were needed, Weslaco should be one of the last places cut.

Everyone I talked to said administrators are hitting Weslaco simply because they can: the Tex-Mex border region doesn’t have enough clout to fight back.

Quick note: Besides the losses the Valley will suffer, the federal government will lose something — diversity, which it pays lip service to, but maybe doesn’t care about. Weslaco is the most diverse of all of the government’s agricultural research facilities. And the USDA shutdown is also cutting off the funding and research experience for about two dozen Hispanic students working at the Center and learning on the job. So much for the USDA’s commitment to bring diversity into agricultural science.

[This article appeared in my column, “Reflection and Change,” in the Mid-Valley Town Crier, 12-13-2011. The following week, after receiving some feedback, I ran a follow-up piece, “Closing SARC in Weslaco – Further Concerns Raised,” 12-19-2011. Nick Braune]

Further Concerns Raised:

Last week’s column questioned the rationality of closing the Kika de la Garza Subtropical Agricultural Research Center (SARC) in Weslaco. Of course I discussed how the closure will hurt the Rio Grande Valley, knocking out the employment of over 100 people, affecting local agricultural interests who work with SARC, affecting our work with Mexico, and drying up research interactions with higher education in the Valley. But two particular comments I made generated positive feedback from readers.

One reader agreed with my view that the Department of Agriculture, USDA, was closing the center because it could get away with it — the Valley lacks clout. The reader mentioned the difficulty getting a VA hospital here, or a law school. Because counties here are some of the poorest in the country, members of Congress and other politicos often simply assume they will lose and don’t fight enough. SARC is so important that there would be a screaming fight in other regions to keep a facility like this, as the USDA undoubtedly knows.

A second reader enjoyed this point: even though the USDA currently espouses sensitivity on racial and ethnic issues, advocating employment diversity, it is closing the most diverse of all its 100 research centers in the country. (I also mentioned that 20 or so Hispanic students work at SARC, gaining marvelous technical experience.) The reader mentioned that USDA should feel guilt shutting down a center named after the Congressional Hispanic Caucus member, Kika de la Garza, who was greatly informed on agricultural matters and who helped bring SARC here to aid the Valley educationally as well as economically.

The reader suggested I look up the record of the USDA on diversity and ethnic and racial issues. I did. Whoa. I found online an article by Chris Kromm of the Institute for Southern Studies, “The real story of racism at the USDA.” Kromm quotes the USDA’s own “Commission on Small Farms” in 1998: “The history of discrimination at the Department of Agriculture is well documented.” The article reviews how USDA historically has catered to racist big farmers, agribusiness and ranching interests by keeping African Americans, Native Americans and other minorities out of farm ownership through discriminatory loan policies and other practices.

Over the last decade USDA lost a massive class action lawsuit to minority farmers, and Tom Vilsack of Iowa, USDA’s chief, has publicly said he wants to correct the Department’s “checkered past.” (Another point that Kromm mentions: back when USDA was internally investigating its discriminatory relationship to minority farmers, it also found that minority employees inside USDA were also complaining. But when they filed discrimination complaints, the complaints were being unfairly backlogged.)

Well, how well has the USDA done in correcting its history of institutional racism? I wouldn’t know, but the biggest news it made in the last two years was its hasty firing of a black woman administrator, Shirley Sherrod, after Fox News panned her viciously. After it was shown that the Fox story was wrong (and racist), Vilsack publicly apologized to Sherrod and offered her job back. She declined.

The USDA is shutting its most diverse center, SARC in Weslaco…any other Texas closures? I’m unsure. I checked and, thank goodness, USDA is not closing the Children’s Nutrition Research Center in Houston, which seems to be important for minority and poor children. But I also notice that the Kerrville research center (far less diverse than Weslaco’s and important to rich Texas ranchers) is not being closed.

[First printed in “Reflection and Change,” Mid-Valley Town Crier, 12-18-11]

ICE detains, deports U.S. citizens, and their numbers don't add up

By Teddy Wilson
The Texas Independent
Reposted with permission

Jakadrien Turner ran away from home in the fall of 2010, and ended up being deported to Columbia. Turner, then fourteen years old, wasn’t an undocumented immigrant, but a US citizen from Dallas, Texas.

According to reporting by WFAA Channel 8, Turner was arrested by police for theft in Houston, and gave police officers a fake name. When the police checked the name it belonged to a 22-year-old illegal immigrant from Columbia with outstanding warrants for her arrest.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials reportedly processed Turner’s fingerprints, but didn’t confirm her identity. She was then deported to Colombia, where the Colombian government gave her a work card and released her. After her grandmother tracked down Turner through Facebook, U.S. Federal authorities notified the U.S. Embassy in Colombia. However, the Colombian government now has her in a detention facility and won’t release her.

ICE told WFAA that the agency “takes these allegations very seriously,” and acknowledges that there are instances where people provide ICE with inaccurate information regarding who they are and their immigration status.

The same year that Turner was deported after being arrested in Houston, another man who was born in Houston was deported after being detained in South Texas. Luis Alberto Delgado grew up in Mexico after his parents divorced. According to an article in the Houston Chronicle, Delgado was stopped by a Jim Wells County Sheriff who called the US Border Patrol. Despite having a birth certificate, a state of Texas ID card and a Social Security card proving his citizenship he was taken into custody.

Isaias Torres, a Houston immigration attorney who represents Delgado pro bono, told the Texas Independent that Delgado was detained and held without representation for eight hours, and was eventually coerced into signing a statement that he was in the country illegally and born in Mexico. “The officials detaining him were taunting him and telling him that they knew he was a ‘wetback’,” said Torres. “There was no evidence that he had false documents. The only evidence they had was that he spoke no English.”

“There are two types of US citizens that are deported,” Barbra Hines of the Immigration Clinic at the University of Texas Law School told the Texas Independent. “There are citizens that were actually born in the United States, and there are citizens that were born outside of the United States but by virtue of their parents’ birth are also citizens.”

Hines went on to say that citizens not born in the United States are more likely to be deported, and in many cases these people are unaware they are actually citizens. “These people think that they immigrate as permanent residents,” said Hines. “But it turns out that they are citizens.” However, these cases can be very hard to prove due to migratory patterns of families and lack of documentation.

A growing number of citizens have been detained and deported as a result of the Obama Administration’s aggressive immigration policies. According to one study by Jacqueline Stevens of Northwestern University, 82 citizens were held for deportation from 2006 to 2008 at two immigration detention centers in Arizona. These people were held for periods as long as a year, and were finally freed only after federal judges determined they were citizens.

The deportation of citizens due to improper processing of paperwork may not be the only administrative problem within ICE. A recent study by Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University shows a high “discrepancy ratio” between the number of people ICE claimed to have removed and those it can document as being removed (see TRAC excerpt below).

It has been over fifteen years since the last overhaul of immigration policy, and Hines says that “we are way overdue for an overhaul of our immigration laws.” However, in the current political climate, any talk of a change in immigration policy has been framed in the rhetoric of ‘enforcement first.’ “I don’t believe that they [Bush and Obama Administrations] were ever serious about immigration reform,” said Hines. “They have been talking about enforcement for years, without talking performance based standards. Meanwhile it has come at a tremendous cost to families, and millions of taxpayer dollars being spent.”

Excerpt from TRAC FOIA Appeal to ICE, Jan. 4, 2012

Among the data sought were records covering all instances where individuals were apprehended, detained or deported. We found vast discrepancies between the agency’s public enforcement claims and the details in the records that it released to us.

category case-by-case
data release
ICE public
Number ICE apprehended 21,339 102,034 4.8
Number ICE deported 6,906 166,075 24.0
Number detained by ICE 6,778 233,417 34.4

As is summarized in the table above, in its official reports, testimony and press releases ICE publicly claimed that it arrested almost five times the number of individuals as is shown in the agency’s own case-by-case records The agency also has publicly claimed that it deported 24 times more individuals than indicated in the case-by-case records and that it detained 34 times more individuals than the records indicate. TRAC found the same pattern of gross discrepancies in each of the other information categories covered by our FOIA request.

Organizations Call for End to Detaining Immigrant Families

Groups Demand That ICE Prioritize Release and Alternatives

AUSTIN — A broad coalition of more than 65 national, state, and local immigrant, civil rights, and faith organizations today called on Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to end the practice of detaining immigrant families, including small children and infants.

In an open letter to ICE director John Morton, the groups urge ICE to prioritize release and alternatives to detention for immigrant families awaiting asylum or immigration hearings. ICE has issued a Request for Proposals for 100 new family detention beds in Texas in a closed, secure facility. The new detention center would replace the Berks County Family Shelter Care Center in Pennsylvania, which will be closed in March.

“In the last 10 years, our government has created a large-scale immigration lock up system that pulls in thousands of the country’s most vulnerable, including asylum seekers and families with children, at enormous cost to the U.S. taxpayer,” said Lisa Graybill, Legal Director for the ACLU of Texas. “Putting innocent children in jail is not just bad policy – it is inhumane and un-American, and it is time for the government to stop.”

The current Request for Proposals seeks submissions for closed, secured facilities. A 2007 report by the Women’s Refugee Commission and the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service that examined the T. Don Hutto detention center in Taylor, Texas and the Berks facility concluded that both facilities place families “in facilities modeled on the criminal justice system, with little regard to national and international standards for the care and protection of children and families.”

The Hutto detention center, where ICE housed families from 2006 to 2009, became a national embarrassment as reports emerged that children as young as eight months old were forced to wear prison garb, locked in prison cells, denied adequate food, and threatened with separation from their parents if they cried too much or played too loudly. The Hutto detention center was the subject of a lawsuit, a human rights investigation, multiple national and international media reports and a national campaign to end family detention.

“We are acutely disappointed in the Obama Administration for continuing the needless detention of families,” said Bob Libal of Grassroots Leadership. “The Obama Administration took positive steps in rolling back family detention in 2009 by releasing families from the T. Don Hutto Family Residential Facility in Taylor, Texas, and canceling a solicitation for three new family detention centers,” the signatories wrote to ICE. “The closure of the Berks facility is an excellent opportunity for the administration to continue to demonstrate its commitment to detention system reform by ending the practice of detaining families for once and for all.”

“We call on the administration to prioritize release of immigrant families in all cases. We urge the administration to assign social workers to manage families’ cases rather than placing them in detention. For families without housing, the administration should partner with non-profit shelter or child welfare organizations experienced in supporting asylum-seeking and immigrant families to resolve any issues preventing the direct release of families. Social workers with proven track records providing family and child welfare services offer the only appropriate expertise for supporting families in civil immigration proceedings.”

“Most of these families are asylum seekers or victims of violence. They are very vulnerable and often have no place to go.NGO’s are willing to work with ICE to develop shelter options that are both humane and more cost effective than closed detention,” says Michelle Brané of the Women’s Refugee Commission.

Signatories to the letter include American Civil Liberties Union, America’s Voice Education Fund, Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Center for Constitutional Rights, Detention Watch Network,, Grassroots Leadership, Human Rights First, Human Rights Defense Center, Justice Strategies, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services, National Day Laborer Organizing Network, National Immigration Forum, National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, Religious Institute, Rights Working Group, Southern Poverty Law Center, United Methodist Church General Board of Church and Society, Women’s Refugee Commission, and 50 state and local organizations from across the country.

To read the full letter and the list of signatories, please visit

Free Ramsey Campaign Responds to Clinton's Call to Free All Political Prisoners

The National Committee to Free Ramsey Muniz has thanked US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton for her call to release political prisoners everywhere.

In a letter to Clinton in late December, Irma Muniz referred to statements made by the American Secretary of State in Burma.

“We believe that any political prisoner anywhere should be released,” Clinton told reporters. “One political prisoner is one too many in our view.”

In a direct response to Clinton’s remarks, Irma Muniz called attention to the suffering of her husband Ramsey, a federal prisoner in Texas and former candidate for Governor.

“You address the people of Burma when you state that any political prisoner anywhere should be released,” said Muniz in a letter to Clinton sent on behalf of the Committee to Free Ramsey Muniz. “My husband Ramsey Muniz has suffered pain, agony, and sadness during a period of time in which he has been unjustly incarcerated for nearly 20 years. He is 69 years of age and he is an American political prisoner.”

Muniz is serving time for a drug conviction, but supporters believe the prison time has more to do with the role that he played as a leader in the third party movement of La Raza Unida during the 1970s.

“The words ‘political prisoner anywhere’ clearly pertain to our case,” said Ramsy Muniz in a recent letter to supporters, “because I know that as an American political prisoner I should have been released many years ago rather than remaining incarcerated and suffering for the past 20 years.”

Note: letter from Ramsey Muniz to the Committee to Free Ramsey Muniz–gm

Dear Committee Members:

“We believe that any political prisoner anywhere should be released,” Clinton told reporters. “One political prisoner is one too many in our view.” USA Today, December, 2012.

There is no question in my heart and mind that the above statement made by Hillary Clinton, United States Secretary of State, was meant to be. The words “political prisoner anywhere” clearly pertain to our case, because I know that as an American political prisoner I should have been released many years ago rather than remaining incarcerated and suffering for the past 20 years.

History reveals that since my early years I have been a civil rights activist and advocate of human rights. I advocated and sought the rights and liberties for humanity, and was most instrumental in bringing about a change of the political rights for Hispanics, Latinos, Chicanos, and others during my political campaign for governor in the state of Texas. I was very instrumental in organizing and advocating human political rights throughout the entire Southwest, including the states of New Mexico, Arizona, California, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington – areas that now have political representation for Hispanics and Latinos.

During past historic political times, leaders like Cesar Chavez, Reis Lopez Tijerina, Corky Gonzales, Jose Angel Gutierrez, Dolores Huerta, and many more were involved in changing the political climate like never before in the history of the United States of America.

At that time we were the minority population in the Southwest. In the state of California, Hispanics, Latinos, and Chicanos are now the majority population. In New Mexico, Arizona and soon Texas, Hispanics and Latinos will become the majority.

We were ahead of our time, but history — especially political history, is always ahead of its time, and many have to sacrifice and be the ones who are destined to bring about historical political, cultural, and spiritual change for the sake of freedom, justice, and love.

I share these words from my heart and soul as I am being locked down for the night in a 6’x9’ cell where I have lived and suffered as an American political prisoner for nearly 20 years of my life. My family has suffered throughout this time.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton states that any political prisoner anywhere should be released. We support her position regarding the release of all political prisoners, and we thank her for defending human rights throughout the world.

In exile,
Ramsey Muñiz