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The Watson Wire is one of the more unique political newsletters in Texas. Stay tuned for a different perspective about Texas politics, news from the Capitol, and the best stories I can come up with every week (believe me, I try).

Senator Watson -- already with his successful "Watson Wire" -- has pushed the envelope throughout the campaign season ..." Burnt Orange Report

We’re getting it done — another great day in Austin, Texas

In 2011, I challenged our community to transform healthcare and our economy by laying out 10 goals we would need to accomplish in 10 years –10-in-10 – to achieve that transformation.

Just three years later, the progress toward 10-in-10 has been nothing short of amazing. Our transformation is underway, largely because Travis County voters embraced the challenge in 2012. They had faith that this transformation could happen. And that faith is being rewarded, remarkably quickly.

You’ve probably heard by now that the LIVESTRONG Foundation is giving The University of Texas $50 million to create the LIVESTRONG Cancer Institutes of the Dell Medical School at The University of Texas.

Our public commitment and endorsement of the 10-in-10 vision sparked this new partnership between two great Austin institutions — LIVESTRONG, a premier cancer foundation, and UT, a top tier research university.

Together, they’ll create the next generation of doctors capable of providing world-class, patient-centered cancer care for all patients regardless of ability to pay. Here’s video from the announcement. My comments start around 9 minutes.

The rest of the transformation

We’re well on our way to completing the rest of the 10-in-10 vision, too.

Dell Medical School

The corner of 15th and Red River Street is awash in activity as the site is prepared for building the new medical school, research and related buildings. We are on schedule to welcome the first class of medical students in July 2016.

Teaching Hospital

Groundbreaking for the Seton Medical Center at The University of Texas is just around the corner. Seton’s parent organization is funding $245 million of the anticipated $295 million cost and fundraising for the final $50 million is well underway. The new hospital will remain an integral part of our healthcare safety net.

Uniquely Austin Health Clinics

The transformation of our safety net healthcare system involves programs that focus on patient outcomes — getting people the right care at the right time in the right place so illnesses are addressed earlier and fewer people end up in the hospital. The $59 million in annual tax revenue that voters approved in 2012 has enabled Central Health to draw down almost $83 million in federal funds to make this happen.

Innovation Zone

The goal is to develop specialized labs and other research facilities to foster public and private healthcare innovation and commercialization. An Innovation Zone Advisory Committee has been looking at what we have, what we need and how other communities have been successful so that our innovation district is done right.

Both the medical school and the teaching hospital have been designed to foster that innovation and create a sense of place.

Improve psychiatric services and facilities

The region’s first Psychiatric Emergency Department opened this spring and provides patients in serious crisis a treatment space designed for their needs and staffed by professionals specifically trained for this purpose. It also provides law enforcement a place to bring individuals in need rather than taking them to jail, as so often happens.

Austin Travis County Integral Care last month announced the creation of a short-term psychiatric care center, a place for folks to transition back into the community or perhaps into other locations for long-term care. The St. David’s Foundation will provide nearly $9 million for construction and the first two years of operational costs.

There is still a lot of work to be done. But I’m confident that it will come together because look at how much we’ve already accomplished.

Some people say I’m all wet…

In honor of a longtime friend and to help draw some attention to another important health issue, I accepted the challenge of a friend to let some people throw ice water on my head.

If you haven’t heard about it, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge has gone viral in recent weeks. It has helped raise millions for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. And I was happy to get doused and make a contribution to this great cause.

Watch the video here

Pirates Love Ice Cream

I just returned from the 74th Annual Black Hills Motorcycle Rally in Sturgis, South Dakota.  I rode my motorcycle all the way up there and all the way back.  Counting Texas, I covered eight states and over 2900 miles.

In Ogallala, Nebraska, I stopped at a Dairy Queen for a large chocolate-dipped ice cream cone.  A young mother came in with two beautiful, little blond girls.  While we waited for our treats, I asked the youngest girl how old she was.  She said she was two and offered the obligatory two fingers to prove it.  Her sister immediately presented four fingers and announced that she was four.

The four-year-old started excitedly telling me in some detail about how they were headed to her cousin’s birthday party.  The whole time we were talking, her little sister stared at me and intensely studied the way I was dressed.

After quite a while, she very earnestly and sweetly asked me, “Are you a pirate?”

I told her, “No, honey.  I’m just a Democrat.”

By the way, I admit I considered stopping at every DQ I saw until I’d eaten through the entire ice cream menu.  While this never became an official goal, evidence suggests it was the de facto policy.

Honoring Fallen Peace Officers

I went to South Dakota, in part, to participate in the inaugural Blue & Chrome Law Enforcement Memorial Celebration.  It was held outside of Sturgis in Rapid City.  This new event honors peace officers that died in the line of duty during the past year.  We lost 105 peace officers from across the U.S. last year. Thirteen were Texans.

I was really pleased to speak at the event and had fun riding near the front of the charity ride through the Black Hills.  Here’s a good news clip with some of my talk.

This is a neat way to honor the public service of some great people.

And regardless of how I look, I don’t think I sound like a pirate.

There Oughta Be a Law

We’re only about six months away from the next regular legislative session, which officially starts on Tuesday, January 13, 2015.

It’s not too early to be thinking about potential legislation.  You know, laws to make the great State of Texas even greater. Legislation enhancing our quality of life.  Bills creating a legacy of accomplishment.

Here’s a thought:  Require public officials to use up-to-date, current photos instead of old pictures from when they were much younger.  This progressive legislative thought was ignited when I recently saw pictures of the Governor and Lt. Governor displayed at a state agency.

Really? How old are these?  Is every day #ThrowbackThursday?

In fairness, Perry and Dewhurst probably don’t check to see what photos are hanging in every state building.   Plus, I can’t really fault a state agency that sucks up to them by hanging youthful memories on the wall.  And, let’s face it, those guys have been hanging around a long time.  For all I know, the pics were current when they were first put up.

 

This is the kind of bill that will be hard to pass because it personally impacts aging public officials.  Every member has a conflict of interest.  Well, I’m a flexible legislator.  If my bill fails, I’ll resort to the old rule that if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.  Here’s the Kirk Watson picture you’ll see in perpetuity.

Speaking of young people:  Ways to help at the border.

Recently, Texas has seen a significant increase in the number of unaccompanied children from Central America arriving at the U.S. border, resulting in a significant humanitarian crisis. The Department of Homeland Security reports that U.S. Customs and Border Protection in the United States has processed 57,525 unaccompanied children since October 2013.  That’s a 106% increase over the entire previous Fiscal Year.

Not surprisingly, our community and folks across Texas are responding with compassion. People are donating time, money, and expertise to help these children in need. My office has been tracking ways to get involved and here’s what we’ve put together:

  • The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) indicates that lots of Texans have asked about becoming foster parents for the many unaccompanied children who recently have entered the U.S. from Central America. DFPS has instructed folks wanting to learn more about this situation and how to become a foster parent to visit the following website: http://www.acf.hhs.gov/unaccompanied-children-frequently-asked-questions.

  • The Texas Young Democrats have stepped up to organize an Amazon wish list of supplies for the children.  You can help by ordering here: http://amzn.to/1sInHdk.

  • Catholic Charities of Central Texas is assisting by helping assure these children are treated with respect, dignity and compassion, as well as helping them navigate the legal and social services system. They’ve outlined very specific ways people can be helpful.   They’re also plugged in with other Catholic Charities chapters across Texas.  Here’s their website: http://ccctx.org/ils/unaccompaniedminors/

  • To read one Texas attorney’s take on the humanitarian crisis along the South Texas border and to learn more about how attorneys can be of assistance, check out the following State Bar of Texas blog post:  http://blog.texasbar.com/2014/07/articles/news/a-texas-attorneys-perspective-on-the-unaccompanied-minor-crisis-along-the-south-texas-border/

  • For those attorneys in the Austin area, American Gateways is doing some great work around training and capacity issues for the specific legal representation of these children. The agency notes that many of these children may be eligible for a form of immigration relief known as Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS). SIJS presents a unique opportunity for pro bono attorneys to gain experience working with both the Travis County family courts and U.S. immigration.  In order to meet the anticipated increase in demand for assistance with SIJS cases, American Gateways will be partnering with Volunteer Legal Services of Central Texas to provide training and mentoring for pro bono attorneys interested in taking on these cases. Here’s more information on that upcoming training:

Special Immigrant Juvenile Status for Unaccompanied Minors: In collaboration with the Volunteer Legal Services of Central Texas, American Gateways will be holding a training for pro bono attorneys interested in representing minors in their application for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS). The training will be hosted by the law firm of McGinnis Lochridge and Kilgore and will take place on Wednesday August 20, 2014 from 11:00AM until 1:00PM. The training will offer a basic overview of both the family court and immigration components of the SIJS process. The address for the training is: 600 Congress Ave #2100, Austin, TX 78701

Thumbs Up

Call it an occupational hazard.

I shake a lot of hands. But for about a year now, my right thumb — my handshaking thumb — has been a mess. Some days it was frozen and wouldn’t bend. Other days, with some real effort, the joint would pop free but not without a painful zing.

Either way, it hurt like crazy to shake hands. I tried to adapt. Some people got a fist bump.  Others were offered my left hand. Many folks, particularly those I was meeting for the first time, probably thought I was a little too friendly when they got a hug instead of a more traditional greeting.

But mainly I gripped and grinned through gritted teeth. That is, until I recently ran into a friend who has one of those weak as water, milquetoast handshakes. Even he almost brought me to my knees. Well, now my ego hurt too. So I scheduled surgery.  On the thumb. The ego can’t be fixed.

Continue Reading…

Watson Wire: Affordability and Fairness in Property Taxes

Everybody hates property taxes.

Can I get a witness? Can I get an “Amen”?

I thought so.

We’re all frustrated. We can’t control our property values but we have to pay the tax bills that are based on those values. We feel helpless as taxes soar because we live in a rapidly growing community and, well, a market economy. Lots of demand for houses and a relatively limited supply leads to higher property values, which leads to higher property taxes.

At the same time, we care about the schools and the parks and the roads those taxes pay for. We want infrastructure and services to keep up with the growth so that we all can have a good quality of life.

So where’s the balance?

I’ve posted my ideas here. It’s a working draft and I welcome your ideas. With a little over 6 months until the regular session, I want to start the discussion now.

Fairness and Affordability

Owning a home in Texas shouldn’t be so frustrating.

Those in control of the Capitol have allowed this to get out of hand. They’ll yammer about the need for reform. But they actually do very little to assure the system is fair and too often there’s not enough discussion about whether Texans get the quality services they deserve.

So I’m developing a reform plan. I’m doing lots of research and listening to people about how to better assure fairness in property taxes and improve affordability. I want your input. We’ll have a place on my website to seek thoughts and advice. I’ll be hosting a tele-town hall on the subject in the near future and we’ll use social media like Twitter and Facebook to get opinions.

Make the Commercial Appraisal Process More Fair

Commercial appraisals have emerged as the primary target for many who are concerned about affordability and the tax burden borne by homeowners. Both the City of Austin and Travis County are considering a formal challenge to the commercial appraisals.

I’m glad we’re having these discussions and encourage cities and counties to use every tool already at their disposal to provide homeowners some relief.

State law makes appraising commercial property harder than it should be. While a property’s sales price is arguably the single best determiner of actual market value (it’s only the price paid in the marketplace), state law blocks disclosure of that price.

A little transparency is such a basic tool. Texas needs to allow sales price disclosure. Almost every other state has it — yet the Legislature has resisted. Texans deserve better.

There’s also been a lot of discussion about commercial property owners taking advantage of a certain tax code provision to drive down their valuations through litigation. This provision has one of those great names you often see at the Capitol. It’s called the “equal and uniform” provision.

The problem is that it appears to be causing inequality and unfairness when it comes to commercial properties paying their fair share of taxes. There are some pretty simple ways to level the playing field.

Right now there are few, if any, substantive standards of evidence in these lawsuits. That’s silly. Well-established appraisal standards are already laid out elsewhere in the tax code so we don’t have to look very far for a solution. There’s really no good explanation for why a challenge under one part of the code doesn’t need to meet the same basic requirements as under another part of the code.

Also, the current system requires the appraisal district – that’s you and me, the taxpayers — to pay the property owner for legal fees if the district loses. But, amazingly, there’s no requirement that the property owner pay if it loses. So there is little downside for them to sue while the appraisal district has a big incentive to settle.

Let’s make it a fair fight: if the court sets a value within 10 percent of the appraisal, then both sides cover their own costs. But if the property owner loses, they pay the taxpayers (again, you and me) back for the costs of the failed effort.

These are two pretty simple fixes and there are some other things that can also help. I’ve listed some others in the working draft of my reform package.

A Homestead Exemption would help with Affordability

Anyone arguing for greater affordability or property tax relief should favor a homestead exemption. Not every jurisdiction has an exemption, even though state law allows one for up to 20% of the home’s appraised value.

So let’s enhance and expand this affordability tool. The governing bodies of cities and counties should have a choice: Adopt an exemption that would be a flat amount of $25,000 or at least 10% of the appraised value (it could go up to the 20% allowed in current law); or hold an election and let the voters decide whether to have an exemption of either $25,000 or at least 10% of appraised value (with a cap of 20%).

This approach would allow for a fair debate and discussion of exemption’s impact and it would preserve local control. We could smooth the transition by allowing a phase-in of the exemption so the cities and counties don’t take a sudden hit because of a reduction in the tax. For school districts, we should also consider adding $10,000 to the school homestead exemption on top of the current $15,000 flat rate. This hasn’t been increased since 1997.

Reforming our state’s property tax system for affordability and fairness won’t be easy and nothing will be perfect. But homeowners have been doing their part. It’s long past time for the Legislature to do its part and help relieve homeowner frustration.

Let me hear from you either at kirkwatson.com or on Facebook.

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Sen. Watson statement on HB 2 ruling

Senate Seal State Senator

 Kirk Watson

 District 14

Friday, August 29, 2014

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACT: Kate Alexander, Office of Senator Kirk Watson: (512) 463-0114

Judge: Abortion clinic requirements create undue burden for women

The following is a statement from Sen. Kirk Watson following Friday’s ruling from U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel striking down key provisions of House Bill 2:

House Bill 2 was not about protecting women’s health. The true agenda of the bill’s proponents was to reduce access to safe and legal abortion procedures by forcing clinics to close and imposing enormous burdens on women. Making it harder for women to access healthcare does not reduce the number of abortions. Rather, it reduces the number of safe, legal, affordable abortions and that harms women.

I’m relieved that Judge Yeakel recognized that Texas women would shoulder an undue burden if the state requirements were allowed to stand. And I would hope we can now turn our attention to crafting policies that are constitutional and reduce the need for abortion, such as improved access to birth control and medically accurate sex education.

Democrats: Fix school finance system now

Texas Senate Democratic Caucus 

 

The following is a joint statement issued by the Texas Senate Democratic Caucus following the school finance ruling by state District Judge John Dietz:

We as lawmakers bear the responsibility under the Texas Constitution to ensure children receive the knowledge they need to be thoughtful participants in our great state. But for too long now, those in control of the Capitol have neglected that constitutional duty by failing to provide adequate funding to school districts. Judge Dietz made that abundantly clear today when he ruled Texas’ school finance system has once again run afoul of the Constitution.

Texas’ school finance system is woefully out of date and everyone in the Capitol knows it. We also know how to fix the problems, but too many of our colleagues are reluctant to make difficult decisions about how to pay for those fixes. Instead, they will drag out this case and hope to get political cover from the Supreme Court before doing what is right.

“Do we really want to relegate our schoolchildren to an unconstitutional public education system for another two years? Our children should not suffer because those in control are too scared to lead,” said Sen. Kirk Watson of Austin, chairman of the Senate Democratic Caucus.

Other Senate Democrats also added their voices to the call for the Legislature to get to work:

Sen. John Whitmire of Houston

“The ruling confirms what most parents, teachers, and public education supporters have known for some time. Funding for our public schools is inadequate and the Legislature needs to step up to the plate and do its job to provide much needed funding and equity for our public schools.”

Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa of McAllen

“Our goal is to provide equal funding for each student regardless of where the student lives.  Our current funding system is not accomplishing that goal. We cannot expect to succeed as a state if we do not make smart investments in our students, teachers, and schools.”

Sen. Judith Zaffirini of Laredo

“Judge Dietz’s ruling once again is telling us what we already know: Texas’ school finance system is unconstitutional and a disservice to Texas students. The legislature should meet its responsibility and fix the system during the legislative session that convenes on January 13. Doing so requires that we address not only inadequate education funding levels that have left our school districts without meaningful discretion in setting property tax rates, but also equity issues and outdated weights that impact negatively our ability to educate students with different needs.”

 

Sen. Rodney Ellis of Houston

“The legislature should treat the underfunding of our children’s schools like what it is: an emergency that must be solved immediately. In fact, there’s ample precedent for us working to solve this issue prior to the Texas Supreme Court weighing in.  In 2004 and 2005, the last time the constitutionality of Texas’ school finance system was in court, the legislature worked on school finance for three special sessions and one regular session – all before the Supreme Court finally ruled the system was unconstitutional.”

 

Sen. Carlos Uresti of San Antonio

“How can we expect to educate our kids to enter the economy of tomorrow using a system of funding that is as inequitable, unconstitutional and inadequate today as it was 10 years ago.”

Sen. Royce West of Dallas

“As a state, we have consistently chosen to underfund the educational needs of a student population that has reached historic levels of diversity At the same time, traditional public schools are being vilified by one means and then yet another. In such a scenario who will be the winner? It’s time to stop playing games with the future of Texas and properly fund our schools.”

 

Sen. Sylvia Garcia of Houston

“Education is the most important investment our state can make.  It is embarrassing that Texas continues to find themselves in court over and over again because we have failed to take proper care of our education system.  Every child, regardless of whether they live in a rich community or a poor community should be treated fairly and have access to a premium education.”

 

 

Sen. José Rodríguez of El Paso

“The current Texas public school funding system promotes unacceptable levels of inequity in funding between the state’s lowest and highest property wealth school districts, even though  all Texas children are held to the same standards and rightly so — when it comes to assessments.  If the Legislature acts on today’s ruling, we will be one step closer to all children getting an equal chance of academic success regardless of what side of town your child goes to school.”

 

 

The Texas Senate Democratic Caucus is Sen. John Whitmire of Houston, Sen. Judith Zaffirini of Laredo, Sen. Rodney Ellis of Houston, Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. of Brownsville, Sen. Royce West of Dallas, Sen. Leticia Van de Putte of San Antonio, Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa of McAllen, Sen. Carlos Uresti of San Antonio, Sen. Kirk Watson of Austin, Sen. Wendy Davis of Ft. Worth, Sen. Jose Rodriguez of El Paso, and Sen. Sylvia Garcia of Houston.

First Blue and Chrome tribute roars into history

August 05, 2014 9:00 pm  •  Andrea J. Cook Journal staff

Hands pressed to their hearts, Lori and Tim Lynaugh watched a procession of 50 motorcycles rumble past the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center in downtown Rapid City on Tuesday.

The Minnesota couple was there, like many others, to honor lost law enforcement officers — in their case, their son, a police officer who died after doing his duty.

They were part of a contingent of folks with law enforcement backgrounds who saluted the riders participating in the first annual Blue and Chrome Law Enforcement Memorial Celebration.

Organizers hope the fledgling event, which honors fallen law enforcement officers, will grow into a signature event for Rapid City during the first week in August when thousands of motorcyclists are drawn to the Black Hills for the Sturgis motorcycle rally.

The Lynaughs’ youngest son, Josh, a St. Paul police officer, was one of the 105 law enforcement officers whose photos and stories were recorded on placards adorning Memorial Park prior to Tuesday’s motorcycle ride.

Josh Lynaugh, 30, had just completed a foot-pursuit through deep snow to make an arrest when he collapsed next to a squad car. He died eight days later, on Feb. 6, 2013, from complications due to a massive heart attack, said his father, a retired St. Paul police sergeant.

Their son was a “legacy cop,” Tim Lynaugh said. He grew up knowing he would follow his dad into law enforcement. He was a good officer, willing to work the toughest neighborhoods. During his five years with the St. Paul Police Department, Josh Lynaugh earned two Life Saving Awards and 16 letters of commendations.

He loved his job, once telling Lori Lynaugh —”I’d do it for free.”

The Lynaughs learned about the Blue and Chrome event just two weeks ago. Their son loved Rapid City and the Black Hills, they said.

Coming to Rapid City this week was a tough choice. A good friend, 22-year veteran Mendota Heights police officer Scott Patrick, was shot and killed last week. His funeral is today.

“It’s important to keep our son’s memory alive,” Tim Lynaugh said. “We just hope and pray this will lead to something that gets bigger and bigger.”

The inaugural event tapped retired South Dakota Highway Patrol trooper and Sturgis Motorcycle Hall of Famer Ron McKinley to be grand marshal.

Also joining the ride was Wisconsin custom bike builder Cabana Dan Rognsvoog, who was inducted into the Hamsters Motorcycle Club on Monday.

Riding for Blue and Chrome was a must for Texas state Sen. Kirk Watson.

“When I found out they were having the inaugural Blue and Chrome ride … I’m very close to law enforcement in my hometown in the state of Texas,” the former Austin mayor said.

“We had 13 officers that fell in the past year, so one of the things I wanted to do was take the opportunity to honor them,” Watson said. Peace officers provide a very “high public service,” he explained.

“Those that are lost give us everything they’ve got, literally,” Watson said. “The idea that I get, just by being here, being a small part of this, I wouldn’t have missed it.”

Watson promised to spread the word about the event among riders back in Texas so more Texans ride next year.

Watson statement on Transportation Commission Discussion of Potential Mobility Improvement Programs

Senate Seal State Senator

 Kirk Watson

 District 14

Thursday, July 31, 2014

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACT: Sarah Howard, Office of Senator Kirk Watson: (512) 463-0114

While we’ve been successful in getting numerous major transportation projects funded and to construction over the past five years, there is much more to be done. I’m doing everything I can to bring about more solutions, almost every idea is worth considering and we’ll need a variety of types of projects and programs to truly make a dent in congestion.

Today, the Transportation Commission considered efforts that could help ease our daily commute in Central Texas. I strongly supported and encouraged TxDOT’s toll reduction pilot to incent big-rigs to get off of IH-35 and onto SH 130. I worked to find additional funds when the program was running out of money earlier this spring. I also asked and advocated for TxDOT to include a request for funding in its appropriations request to the next legislature. I plan to introduce legislation in the 2015 session that will continue the program. I’m pleased that TxDOT included this funding request in their draft appropriations request, which we anticipate will be finalized at the August Commission meeting.

Last session, I introduced a bill that would have required TxDOT to implement a pilot work-trip reduction program.  TxDOT leadership agreed that it was a good idea and set to work on developing a robust work-trip reduction pilot program for their employees in the Austin area. With hundreds of employees at various locations around the region, this program can help improve mobility, reduce air pollution and serve as a model to other state agencies as well as private employers.  The pilot will be well documented to identify best practices, lessons learned and impact.  As a first step, a telework program will begin this fall, with a more robust pilot including multiple trip-reduction strategies implemented in 2015.

Also, Texans will have the opportunity in November to direct a portion of the revenue already coming to the state from oil and gas severance taxes to help pay for additional transportation projects through a constitutional amendment. The Commission appointed a working group of local level transportation stakeholders with specific issue expertise such as freight, urban congestion, ports and energy producing areas to consider potential methods for distributing those funds around the state. Trying to look at the glass half full, the good news about having some of the most congested roads in the state and being a fast growth community is that it’s broadly recognized that we need our fair share of those funds.

Resources for Humanitarian Crisis

Not surprisingly, our community and folks across Texas are responding with compassion to the humanitarian crisis taking place at our border. People are donating time, money, and expertise to be of help to these children in need. My office has been tracking ways to get involved you can find a few of the many resources here.

  • The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) has noted that many Texans have asked about becoming foster parents for the many unaccompanied children who recently have entered the U.S. from Central America. DFPS has instructed folks who want to learn more about this situation and how to become a foster parent for the Unaccompanied Alien Children’s program to visit the following website: http://www.acf.hhs.gov/unaccompanied-children-frequently-asked-questions.
  • The Austin Immigrant Rights Coalition recently updated their website with instructions for how to help: http://austinirc.org/?p=1562.
  • Catholic Charities of Central Texas is already working to assist in doing what’s in the best interest of the child – both in terms of treating them with respect, dignity and compassion, as well as helping them navigate the legal and social services system. They have outlined very specific ways folks can be helpful on their website: http://ccctx.org/ils/unaccompaniedminors.
  • Interested attorneys: American Gateways notes that many of the children may be eligible for a form of immigration relief known as Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS). SIJS presents a unique opportunity for pro bono attorneys to gain experience working with both the Travis County family courts and U.S. immigration. In order to meet the anticipated increase in demand for assistance with SIJS cases, American Gateways will be partnering with Volunteer Legal Services of Central Texasto provide training and mentoring for pro bono attorneys interested in taking on these cases. Here’s more information on that upcoming training:
      • Special Immigrant Juvenile Status for Unaccompanied Minors: In collaboration with the Volunteer Legal Services of Central Texas, American Gateways will be holding a training for pro bono attorneys interested in representing minors in their application for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS). The training will be hosted by the law firm of McGinnis Lochridge and Kilgore and will take place on Wednesday August 20, 2014 from 11:00AM until 1:00PM. The training will offer a basic overview of both the family court and immigration components of the SIJS process. The address for the training: 600 Congress Ave #2100, Austin, TX 78701
  • Lastly, the Texas arm of National Association of Social Workers has some great content on their website. I encourage you to check it out: http://www.naswtx.org/news/181328/NASW-Response-to-Humanitarian-Crisis-at-the-Border.htm.