2018-2019 Year of (No) Plastic

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DO YOU KNOW HOW MUCH PLASTIC PASSES THROUGH YOUR LIFE?  Last year several members of our Environmental Justice group tracked 1-time use plastic items that flowed through our lives on a daily basis.  It was a real eye-opener. In my 31 days, the number of items ranged from 0 to 18. Besides the obvious items like plastic bags* from the produce aisles of your local grocery store, yogurt containers or water bottles, plastic comes with so many ordinary items we use every day. For example, a Kleenex tissue box has a plastic insert in the opening. I tried soaking it to remove the cardboard so I could put the plastic with my collection of clean plastic film– all plastic film has to be clean and dry and bunched up together in a plastic bag or wrapped together before being put in your grey bin or taken to the Recycling Center. A metal cap on a bottle of sparkling water has a ring of plastic around it. The batteries you buy come packaged in cardboard and plastic. Multiple rolls of toilet paper are packaged in plastic. Produce from Trade Joe’s comes in plastic containers (although now the company is finally responding to customer’s urges to stop that practice–I for one never buy produce there because of the plastic. When you get takeout food, does the restaurant stick in a plastic fork? What implement do you use to write? I would guess it’s a plastic-encased disposable pen. I could go on and on about the data our group has uncovered in more than a year of researching the insidiousness and dangers of plastic.

People were led to believe that recycling solves the problem of our over-consumption of stuff. The fact is that 91% of plastic worldwide is NOT RECYCLED. A recent study by marketing researchers at Citi found that only 14 percent of plastic packaging is recycled. And when China declared in 2018 that it would not longer accept our “recyclable” trash because much of it was contaminated and they have their own garbage to deal with, America was stopped dead in our wanton wastefulness and confronted with mountains of so-called recyclables that are now being hauled to landfills.

Why?  Because so many communities, including our own, went to single-stream recycling. That is, we were told to place metal, glass, paper, cardboard, and plastic altogether in our grey bins. This resulted in contamination of many items, making it impossible to be recycled, hence they end up in landfills. Years back people in El Cerrito had to separate our recyclables into different bins; that was in the era before food waste was accepted. Then single stream recycling came into practice and new trucks were designed and built to accommodate one large bin and prevent workers from having to pick up and lift the bins and tilt them into the yawning rear openings of the recycling trucks. What used to take several workers now only takes one worker to run the truck and its grippers that pick up the bin and toss its contents into the side opening of the truck and then set the bin back on the street. When materials are contaminated, purchasers or recyclable materials don’t want to buy them and they have to go into landfill. Not only does this pollute our Earth, it loses money for our City.

Recycle processing equipment cannot handle small bits of plastic. 500 million straws were being used every day in the U.S.; they plus the ubiquitous plastic stirrers and plastic knives, forks, and spoons slip through the machines. And yet they can be found by the 1000s in our creeks, pathways, streets, at bus stops, and blown into people’s yards.

These are just a few of the reasons why last Summer we took our “Skip the Straw” campaign to El Cerrito’s Environmental Quality Committee, an advisory group to the City Council. Although we called it “Skip the Straw,” what we really want is for our city to ban all 1-time use and non-recyclable and non-compostable foodware. In July 2018 we started an awareness campaign at the One World Festival, and collected signatures of El Cerrito residents. We had a contest for people to guess how many plastic straws were picked up at the festival, and gave out organic plants as prizes. We made informal and formal presentations to the EQC, whose members acknowledged that we had done the heavy lifting for them by doing a lot of relevant research, complete with references to problems and cases where cities, states and whole countries are tackling the issue.  We showed them the environmental, health, litter, and economic consequences of so much plastic being used and tossed on streets, in creeks, in parks, and all around town. As a result, EQC set up a sub-committee on plastics and declared 2019 The Year of Plastics.

Other cities are way ahead of us. Richmond passed their food ordinance in 2010 that required food providers to stop using disposable foodware and use recyclable or compostable foodware, encouraging them to provide reusable containers. Polystyrene foodware was banned in 2018. In December 2018 they added bans on the use and sale of all plasatic straws and stirrers by retail establishments, food providers, and transient lodging, and added utensils and lids to the list of disposable foodware that must be compostable or recyclable and applies it to City facilities and events. In January 2019 after a council member  introducing the idea in April 2018, Berkeley passed an ambitious comprehensible Single-Use Foodware and Litter Reduction ordinance.  Among other things, the Berkeley Ordinance includes small items such as plastic packets of condiments (e.g., ketchup), customers are encouraged to bring their own clean beverage containers for takeout beverages or be charged 25¢ for a disposable cups. Disposable foodware must be BPI Certified Compostable starting January 2020. The details about their ordinance are a role model for other municipalities to follow to get to Zero Waste.

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Although we have urged the EQC to work on a comprehensive plastics and non-compostable foodware ordinance, the staff has told EQC and us that they are only willing to work on a plastic straw and stirrer ban this year.

Our belief is that it will take a lot of effort just to go this one small step, and question why we should not design a comprehensive foodware and anti-litter ordinance that supports the healthy and safety of workers, diners and drinkers, and helps business improve their bottom financial line. Rethink Disposables, part of Clean Water Action has helped businesses save money by eliminating disposable foodware.

If you care about the health of our city and its inhabitants, food providers and workers, please join our campaign. Contact us through this website.

Barbara Chan, Convener for Environmental Justice

* For years i have cleaned and re-used plastic bags, like my mother before me, taking them with me to the store. Lately I stopped putting my produce into bags and just pile apples and oranges on the conveyer belt and then put them loose into my large cloth grocery bag or my wicker basket.

 

 

Refugees, Immigrants and Trauma – a community responds

HumanRights


Dr. Adrianne Aron speaks on Human Rights and Wrongs

Saturday, March 23, 2019

3:00- 5:00 pm

Berkeley Zion Presbyterian Church in El Cerrito


Join Dr. Adrianne Aron and learn of her journey into the lives of the men, women and children living without a homeland and seeking a safe place in the United States.  How does their journey impact their lives and ours?
Human Rights and Wrongs grew out of Dr. Adrianne Aron’s experience as a liberation psychologist serving immigrants and refugees who have suffered traumatic abuse. This experience also generated Writings for a Liberation Psychology (Harvard University Press, 1994); her English translation of Mario Benedetti’s powerful play about torture, Pedro and the Captain (Cadmus Editions, 2009); and several professional articles, book chapters, and lectures about the unique challenges of doing psychology with oppressed populations. For respite, she took up writing short prose pieces, which won her acclaim in the worlds of both fiction and nonfiction. She has been awarded literary prizes by, among others: New Millennium Writings, Able Muse, the Jack London and San Francisco Writers’ Conferences, and the California Writers Club. 
Adrianne Aron took up fiction writing for respite from her long hours with traumatized refugees. The recognition she received for her short fiction encouraged her to write Human Rights and Wrongs, a work of nonfiction, in the style of a collection of stories for the general reader rather than as didactic narrative. Dr. Aron used to think of herself as a psychologist who writes. Nowadays she thinks of herself as Adrianne, a writer who does a little psychology. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area where she is an active advocate for social justice.
In addition to Dr. Aron’s presentation on her latest book, the community event sponsored by El Cerrito Progressives – Social and Racial Justice Committee will provide participants and opportunity to share information on advocacy and action including opportunities to support refugees and immigrants locally.
For more information about the event:  elcerritoprogressives@gmail.com

Will Tenants Ever Find Relief?

Screen Shot 2019-02-26 at 11.38.43 PMThe El Cerrito City Council postponed a decision on a package of tenant protections following almost 4 hours of a presentation and public comment at the February 19th meeting.  The crowd, composed of a majority of single family home landlords, spoke out against “just cause eviction” and “rent control”.  The landlords sported bright yellow tags identifying themselves as “responsible housing providers”, compliments of the California Apartment Association (CAA).  Members of the CAA also circulated a document on rent control, which according to one tenant in the audience, read like “gobblygook.” The photocopied document, without a credited author, basically served as a rant against the Richmond rent control model, citing the high salaries of the department members and overall cost of the program.  Again, a reminder to the reader, the city council agenda that evening did not address rent control, nor were any of the tenant protections remotely similar to that referenced anonymous rent control article. The circulation of this document seemed to be an extension of a scare campaign aimed at single family home landlords.

The study session began when he Affordable Housing Analyst Aissia Ashoori, led the council through a lengthly overview of the tools:   Just Cause for Eviction  Rent Registry  Tenant Relocation triggered by rent increases.

The Powerpoint, which can be accessed at this link, Tenant Protections Presentation  did little to relieve the fears of the numerous landlords worried about creating a new bureaucracy that might ultimately cost them additional money.  A graphic display of the Rent Registry information flow system, intended to collect data on number of rental units, and rental rates, resembled a full size checkerboard.  The number of steps from start to finish were so numerous and burdensome, even those of us in support of a Registry questioned the wisdom of this system.  Council member Fadelli commented in this vain stating  something similar at the close of the presentation .  Ashoori attempted to clarify the process, verbally offering a simpler explanation of the Rent Registry syste.

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Although the Rent Registry drew a great deal of heat from the landlords, mainly because of the bureaucracy and a potential cost, a Just Cause Eviction Ordinance truly stood front in center as the enemy of the “responsible housing provider”.  Biggest objection:  Landlords claimed that they could not afford the cost of eviction, and that their rentals represented their 401k or retirement plan.

After the meeting I approached one landlord who schooled me on “landlording as a business”. She explained that her rental was an investment and every investment has a risk factor. At some point if the risk factor outweighs the benefit, or in this case the profit, then she, as a smart investor, would simply take her house off the market.  The council heard similar threats from many of the landlords who spoke at public comment.  Just a side bar- the cost for eviction doesn’t change with “just cause”.  What does change is that the landlord can no longer evict for “no cause”.

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I found irony, sitting in a meeting for tenant protections with  a room dominated by people identified as “responsible housing providers” speaking fearfully about what amounts to be fairly weak protections for tenants.  But fear won the wrestling match, pinning compassion to the ground, and in this case using a choke hold.  One tenant said to me, “I thought this meeting was suppose to be for tenants?”

For those who are concerned about maintaining an economically and racially diverse community, a community where we can house our teachers as well as our IT workers, our grocery clerks as well as our lawyers, our seniors or others on fixed income, this meeting missed the mark.  Notable was the absence of this concern in the discussion. Two speakers both spoke to their disappointment with the landlords/investors, with  one speaker calling out the reactions and threats as selfish and clearly not in the interest of the greater community.   To be fair, a few landlords did express sympathy with those tenants facing eviction and proposed some type of community fund for renter relief on a case by case basis.

After 50 or more speakers, with the clock nearing the 11th hour, the council voted to hold over discussion and action until March 5th.  They will re-adjourn at 5:30 p.m. without public comment at the onset.  This decision seemed to be in the best interest of all parties, as people were tired, the presentation seemed to leave more questions than answers, and most importantly, if the city acts they should get it right.

Honestly, the meeting disturbed many of us who are concerned about tenant protections, as we are not certain that the staff  or council is getting it right.  On December 18th the Human Relations Commission put forward a recommendation for tenant protections.  This recommendation included a temporary rent cap, just cause eviction ordinance,  and the convening of a community task force comprised of tenants, landlords and homeowners to hash out a more permanent solution.  If the council had paid attention to the HRC resolution,  the meetings and discussion in January might have lead to an ordinance by as early as March.

While the City staff and Council drag out this arduous process, other cities, regional bodies and the State of California is moving forward.  The State is contemplating a state-wide anti-rent gouging legislation as well as just cause for eviction, and the  CASA Compact 2019 drafted by the Committee to house the Bay Area includes similar recommendations for the Bay Area region.

Please write the Mayor and Council Members prior to the March 5th meeting El Cerrito City Council E-mail  and ask them to reconsider the HRC Resolution on Tenant Protections.  Let’s get the predatory landlords out of El Cerrito and lets tell the “responsible housing providers” to turn their ears away from the fear mongering of the CAA.  

 

City Council Set to discuss tenant protections…….again.

evictionOn December 18, 2018 more than 25 speakers, including tenants telling compelling stories of near homelessness, severe rent hikes and heightened anxiety, the El Cerrito City Council directed city staff to come back with an ordinance for Just Cause Eviction and a plan to develop a Rent Registry.  In January, when Council reconvened for the first meeting of 2019, the staff did not present an ordinance for review.  Instead, the city staff recommended, and the city council accepted the proposal to have  a study session in February.

Let’s fast forward to February.  The city council will be meeting on the 19th to review a package of “tenant protections.”   These protections include:

 Just Cause for Eviction

 Rent Registry

 Tenant Relocation triggered by rent increases

What is missing from the agenda on Tuesday is a discussion about a temporary anti-gouging measure for rent increases to be in effect while the city establishes new policies to disrupt displacement of our residents. In December, at the city council meeting, the Human Relations Commission made a compelling argument for such a measure, in addition they asked for the formation of a housing committee to craft a long term solution to rising rents.  The resolution can be read here.

El Cerrito Human Relations Commission Resolution on Tenant Protections

 

Come out for either meetings and help us maintain a city where all people can afford to live.

Follow up to City Auditor’s November 2018 Report

FOLLOW UP THE CITY AUDITOR’S REPORT OF 2018

 

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Last year the Finance Director of El Cerrito, Mark Rasiah, hired a new auditor to ensure that the city had a thorough review of the finances. In November of 2018 the City Council received a report from this auditor that raised concern among council members as well as residents in attendance. The ECP initial blog post on that presentation can be found here.

The auditor’s findings raised quite a few questions for us, and we submitted questions in a letter sent to the Finance Director soon after the meeting.  We met with the Finance Director and the new City Manager, Karen Pinkos, on January 24, 2019. Both the City Manager and Finance Director were eager to clarify what they felt were misrepresentations by the auditor when he spoke at the city council meeting. We also had a follow up phone call with the Finance Director on February 6, 2019.

What We Learned

The City Manager and Finance Director explained that the “transfer” of funds is actually a common practice for continuous operating costs.For example, the Integrated Waste Management (IWM) (Recycling Center) continuously generates revenue into the general fund and continues to expend those funds on a revolving basis.What is not  part of a continuously operating budget is the debt that began to accumulate in 2012 due to the statewide shutdowns of redevelopment agencies. According to Mr. Rasiah, the city completed several projects that were never repaid as anticipated, when our Redevelopment Agency ceased to exist. According to the City Manager, the city is involved in litigating the taking of redevelopment money to pay down state debts.  We link to several articles on that below. The Finance Director explained all of this to the city council on January 15, 2018. The presentation can be found here and his slides can be found on page 174 here.

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Currently, the city plans to comply with the audit findings by selling several properties previously purchased by Redevelopment. The Finance Director aims to eliminate the loan from the Recycling Center in the 18/19 Fiscal Year through a mid-year budget modification. If he cannot pay it all off then the balance will carryover into FY 19/20 for repayment. The balance of the loan as of June 30, 2018 is $317,966.

Timing and the Audit – Who Knew What and When

The entire audit was done much later than usual due to the availability of the new auditor. The Finance Director received the initial report in August, and the document required a thorough review by him before release. The former City Manager, Scott Hanin in his report to Council on September 6, 2018, stated that the audit had been released but only made an very vague reference to the issues raised by the auditor. He stated “This was the first year that the new auditors audited the City’s financial records and as a result they made several prior period adjustments in accordance with auditing standards that had not been applied before by the previous auditors, Maze and Associates. The link to that report is here. He also stated that the council would be getting their copies of the CAFR that week which is earlier than the Finance Director told us they received it. There is a question as to why none of the city council members asked staff about the issues after reading the CAFR (which is admittedly a difficult document to read and understand.)

The Finance Director reported that City Council received a hard copy of the Comprehensive Financial Report (CAFR) in October and it went online as public information in early to mid October.

audit findingsIn mid-October, with the report finalized,  the Finance Director made the decision to bring the auditor  to the city council to provide further explanation. The Finance Director said it is atypical that the auditor report the findings to council and this is the first time for a city council presentation in recent memory.  The presentation occurred on November 20, 2018.

Although some community members speculated that the timing of the report was intentionally delayed given the Measure V election, the City Manager and Finance Director both stated that the presentation after the election was a coincidence and that the CAFR was online prior to the election. In regards to the Financial Advisory Board (FAB) The Finance Director stated that FAB did not see any issues with the auditors report that required further review.

Future Plans

The issue of fund transfers alarmed the auditor as well as the staff and city council.  The presentation, which the City Manager thought to be more alarming than necessary, did shed light on the need for the Finance Department to be more transparent and create a paper trail. The Finance Director commented on the lack of documents or even notes to explain some of the earlier practices of the fund transfers conducted by the Finance Department. The Finance Director stated that the city will continue to budget  continuous operating funds like IWM, but these would be handled differently than what the auditor called loans. When asked if there would be a written policy, the Finance Director stated that the Financial Advisory Board (FAB) reviews the policies of the city annually. The FAB is just finishing up this years review. This item will be addressed during the 2019 review which occurs at the end of the calendar year. FAB also reviews the CAFR annually. The review happened as part of a budget review this year (because the CAFR was not completed until August). This past year the review happened in June 2018 and the minutes are linked to here.

The City Manager did agree that the city could do a better job of getting information to the public in a more accessible way. She did point out that the city budget is now easily accessible online via a contract with Open Government. That can be accessed here.

Further Resources/Information

El Cerrito Settles Redevelopment Case.

El Cerrito Surrenders Redevelopment Money to the state

 

From GMO to Biofortied

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As genetically engineered product manipulators work against what many say is a well-deserved bad name, they continue to push for public acceptance. According to the Waking Times and other publications, the latest push very aggressively leads towards relabeling GMO as “biofortified”.

Biofortification cross-breeds certain food crops to increase needed vitamin and mineral content without genetic engineering. An example would be to increase the vitamin or iron content of sweet potatoes, moving certain areas of the planet towards better nutrition, including nutrition for areas with soil depletion.

The results of a 2010 study show that the number of respondents who find GMOs dangerous had shot up to 79% in 2016, while just 18% thought GMOs are not dangerous, and 4% said they did not know.

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However when asked in the same time frame, only 7% of the average (wo)man on the street stressed that GMO labeling was most important in their consideration of food quality, and only 6% wanted more info about where or how food was grown or processed.

In spite of the lower indication of worry exhibited in the more casual inquiry, the consistent flow of evidence pointing to the biological and ecological harm related to GMO products is causing consumers to increasingly avoid brands that contain GMO. GMO companies have therefore “adopted” the term “biofortified” as a new idea to divert consumers from regarding GMOs as health detractors and into seeing these products as health promoters.

Codex Authority

Under the jurisdiction of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, Codex Alimentarius is a collection of codes and guidelines that standardize world food trade, safety, and production. The Codex standard allows use of the term “biofortified” for the cross-breeding of vegetables to increase the content of certain vitamins and minerals as a nutrition boost to malnourished populations.

In an apparent effort to exercise control over Codex influence, a primary GMO engineering company is pressuring Codex delegates to broaden the definition of “biofortified” to include foods that are genetically modified. The National Health Federation (NHF), the only natural health advocate delegate at Codex, reports that many of the delegates saw the deception in this attempt. Even so, the topic was tabled for further consideration at the November, 2018 Codex convergence in Berlin under a new chairperson, Dr. Anja Brönstrup, a Policy Officer at the German Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL).

Dr. Brönstrup did not call upon any of the international non-governmental organizations (INGOs) signaling her that they wanted to speak. Only the sponsoring INGO, the International Food Policy Research Institute, was allowed to speak, and then only on the broadened definition of the term “biofortified”. The NHF however was able to submit written comments stating its position against the proposed definition.

At days end Chairwoman Brönstrup suddenly stated, “I am referring this definition back to the Codex Committee on Food Labelling [CCFL],” proclaming that the GMO-inclusive definition would be sent to CCFL for its review and probable approval.

INGO Resistance

A strong resistance to GMO engineered foods in many European countries spawned a movement which has led to a moratorium in the EU and hostility towards imported genetically modified (GMO) products. The considered healthy alternative to GMOs in the EU is termed “biofortified,” just as “organic” is used in the U.S.

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In addition to confusion in Europe, the U.S. population’s consideration of “biofortified” could easily be paired with “organic,” encouraging perception of the broadened term to support health, instead of containing perceived GMO health detractors.

NHF President Scott Tips said: “It is a very sad state of affairs where we have come to the point where we must manipulate our natural foods to provide better nutrition all because we have engaged in very poor agricultural practices that have seen a 50% decline in the vitamins and minerals in our foods over the last 50 years. We will not remedy poor nutrition by engaging in deceptive marketing practices and sleight of hand with this definition.”

In May of 2019 at a gathering in Ottowa, Canada CCFL delegates will continue to review the conflict of the term “biofortified” being broadened to include GMO products. Opposers of the broadened terminology are encouraged by the fact that the Final Report of the Nutrition Committee meeting, upon which the CCFL must rely, will not include the misleading impression that there is broad support for GMO-inclusive biofortification.

A sharp eye, detailed concentration, and uncommon knowledge is already required for consumers to decode food labels. Deceptive infusion of GMO into biofortified terminology can only further confuse the situation. The conflict now depends on objections from the EU and others to prevent this mis-terminology. However even if GMO companies are unable to broaden biofortification, it is almost certain that they will continue to promote GMOs to consumers in other ways.

For more information on the attempt of the GMO engineering industry to infuse genetically modified organisms into the definition of “biofortification,” see the following sites, from which this information was derived:

Natural Blaze – GMO Foods Will Soon Be Mislabeled As Biofortified

Biology Fortified – The scary truth behind fear of GMOs

WAKING TIMES – MONSANTO TRYING TO HIDE GMO FOODS UNDER THE TERM ‘BIOFORTIFIED’

Natural News – Monsanto’s latest marketing ploy: Labeling GMOs as “biofortified”

We Demand Smart Community-Informed Border Solutions

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Please contact your Congressional representatives!

In the debate about border walls, the (false) alternative to wall has been “increased border security” including more drones, surveillance and an increased Border Patrol presence.

This is not a smart solution. More policing and militarization of the border will lead to increased racial profiling and anxiety in border communities. We don’t need more militarization at the border any more than we need more militarized police forces in our hometowns.

What we DO need is community-informed solutions developed by those most heavily impacted.

The BEST POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS we have found are from The U.S.-Mexico Border Policy Report of 2008. It includes 13 pages of excellent recommendations from their task forced that included the faith community, law enforcement, academics, civic leaders, attorneys and community organizations along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Please consider emailing the letter below to your representatives in Congress through their websites (takes 6 minutes). Note: you will need to reformat the paragraph breaks once you copy and paste the letter.

If you have an extra 30 minutes, please email the senators on the conference committee listed below who are tasked with negotiating an end to the logjam with President Trump vis-à-vis the border wall.

Please reject border security that puts communities at risk – Propose Smart Solutions

Dear ______ ,

I call on you for a border approach that involves affected border communities who understand their situation and their needs.

An armed Border Patrol presence around existing and planned border walls has proven to be lethal too many times according to Southern Border Communities Coalition* that tracks deaths at the hands of the Border Patrol.

The blanket “increased border security” alternative to more walls is NOT a smart solution. More drones and Border Patrol agents too often go hand-in-hand with racial profiling and detention of people who are citizens or those with legal immigration status. This increases anxiety in the community.

According to Ann Williams Cass, Executive Director of Proyecto Azteca and a health care researcher, a recent study of Hidalgo County’s colonias (near McAllen, Texas) found a shocking 80% FOOD INSECURITY RATE among residents because they are too afraid to leave their neighborhood to shop, for fear of being arrested. For comparison, according to the USDA in 2017**  only 11.8% of US households were food insecure. Most of those families in McAllen have money, transportation and access to food stores – but they and their children are going hungry out of fear of arrest. This is just one of many serious and invisible implications of racial profiling and high security along the border.

The Border Patrol needs better vetting as part of their hiring process as well as better training. According to Politico reporting in The Green Monster: How the Border Patrol Became America’s Most Out of Control Law Enforcement Agency the Border Patrol has had serious problems including hiring members of the MS-13 gang and averaging one arrest per day of its own agents in a seven year period.

The US-MEXICO BORDER POLICY REPORT (2008) proposes the BEST COMMUNITY-INFORMED POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS I have seen. PLEASE incorporate their excellent suggestions (pages 21-34).

https://law.utexas.edu/humanrights/borderwall/communities/municipalities-US-Mexico-Border-Policy-Report.pdf

Thank you very much.

Sincerely,

 

*https://www.southernborder.org/deaths_by_border_patrol

**https://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/food-nutrition-assistance/food-security-in-the-us/key-statistics-graphics.aspx#children

Continue reading “We Demand Smart Community-Informed Border Solutions”