Tyrant’s Foe: Lourdes Flores Helps Colonia Residents Help Themselves

Lourdes Flores didn’t know she wanted to help others until someone helped her. She was born in Reynosa, Mexico, and moved to Mission, Texas, at age 12. When she graduated from high school she couldn’t legally work, so family members suggested she join a new community organization an Irish nun had founded in nearby Las Milpas. Las Milpas is one of many colonias along the border wracked by poverty and lacking basic necessities. At the time, the colonia didn’t have paved roads, public schools, a fire station, doctors or a pharmacy.

Flores, 42, has been with the organization, A Resource In Serving Equality (ARISE), ever since, working to improve conditions in colonias in the Rio Grande Valley. ARISE’s mission is to aid communities by helping residents identify life goals and helping them reach those goals on their own. Its guiding tenet: Don’t do anything for anybody that they can’t do for themselves. The organization’s founder, Sister Gerrie Naughton, recruited Flores early on and encouraged her to share her skills.

“I was discovering I had abilities I didn’t know I had; it made me feel really good,” Flores says. “I saw how much ARISE changed me, and I thought, ‘I can’t keep this for myself; I have to share it with other women.’”

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Federal Immigration Reform Proposals Ignore Workers’ Rights

As the immigration debate continues on the national stage, one issue is consistently left out of the conversation: workers’ rights. Texas has the second-largest undocumented population in the country, and in 2011 the state accounted for 16 percent of construction permits issued in the U.S. (more than Florida and California combined). Many undocumented immigrants take construction jobs, becoming easy targets for employers trying to cut costs by exploiting workers.

The Austin-based nonprofit organization, Workers Defense Project, says workers’ rights need to be part of the conversation as legislators in Washington, D.C. hash out immigration reform. On Thursday the group released a study, “Build a Better Nation,” that found 50 percent of all construction workers in Texas are undocumented. Workers Defense and University of Texas researchers surveyed 1,194 construction workers in Austin, Houston, Dallas, El Paso and San Antonio for the study. About 70 percent of construction workers in Texas are concentrated in these areas, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

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Texans March for Immigration Reform in Austin

A steady throng of demonstrators marched down Congress Ave. to the Capitol Friday morning, carrying huge colorful banners and signs with messages like “I was born in the USA – Don’t take my mommy and daddy away!” and “End detentions now!” The demonstrators came from all over the state and represented about 30 organizations calling for “fair and just immigration reform that provides dignity and rights for all.”

Immigration reform rallies in 2006 drew massive crowds (Dallas reportedly had 500,000 demonstrators) and were predominantly staged in response to the Border Protection, Antiterrorism and Illegal Immigration Control Act pushed by Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wisconsin). Though the march today was much smaller (the Austin Police Department estimates less than 1,000 people participated), the message was still clear: immigrants are coming out of the shadows and demanding that the federal government finally pass an immigration reform plan that grants them more rights.

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Conservative Groups Push Immigration Reform with ‘Texas Compact’

The topic of immigration is seldom discussed these days in the Texas Legislature, but Texans still want a seat at the table in Washington, D.C., where immigration reform has finally gained traction and bipartisan support. A group of conservative religious and business leaders, pushing a set of immigration goals they call the Texas Compact, wants to ensure Texas has a role in new immigration laws by lobbying Texas’ federal legislators to get behind reform.

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Secret ‘Fracking’ Deal Comes to Light in Dallas

So about that fracking fight in Dallas … Things just got real.

This morning a letter surfaced revealing a secret deal between Dallas City Manager Mary Suhm and natural gas producer Trinity East. In the letter, Suhm essentially agrees to help Trinity drill on city parkland, writing that her staff was “reasonably confident” that the company would get permission to drill. Around the same time, however, Suhm was telling Dallas City Council that Trinity wouldn’t be allowed to do so. The letter is dated August 15, 2008—two months after the park board had prohibited drilling in city parks and five days before the City Council passed a resolution banning the same thing.

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Workers’ Group Urges Reform of Austin’s Incentive-Giving System

In recent years, Austin has become a generous incentive-giver to corporations – but not all companies keep up their end of the deal. On Wednesday the labor advocacy group Workers Defense Project released documents it says prove that an Indiana-based hotel developer violated a $3.8 million incentive deal with the city by failing to pay workers a prevailing wage during construction of a 34-story Marriott hotel in downtown Austin.

In 2009 the city gave White Lodging $3.8 million in tax incentives. In early fall of 2012, the Electrical Workers Union tipped off the city about White Lodging’s noncompliance. Workers Defense, which represents workers in wage theft cases, also got involved.

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