Interposition and Nullification at A&M

The recent announcement by Texas A&M University President Robert Gates on the suspension of affirmative action places the College Station, Texas campus once again at the center of leadership for Republican-style racism.

Texas A&M University is the home of the George Bush presidential library and hosts a student body that is among the most conservative in the world.

On Dec. 3 (2003) Gates released a statement declaring that Texas A&M would no longer pursue affirmative action… The decision is dismaying but hardly shocking, because the Texas A&M University System has been historically reluctant to produce excellence in anti-racist leadership skills.

Please see a collection of links and resources collected at the Texas Civil Rights Review:

The evidence is consistent and weighty in support of the proposition that “interposition and nullification” is the living soul of the “Aggie Miracle.”

The words “interposition and nullification” are taken from the 1963 “I Have a Dream Speech” by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

A New Book on the “Texas Model” — Part I

By Nick Braune

A teacher friend raved to me about a funny but also very informative new book about this troubled state: As Texas Goes, by Gail Collins. Although I told him I would look it up, I wasn’t going to, until it clicked who Gail Collins is. I had drawn a blank momentarily because I was picturing a Texas writer, then I recognized who she is, the very clever, skewering, biting, regular political columnist for the New York Times. (Love the Times or hate it, everyone knows that its editorial writers are world-class — not everyone who wants to write for the Times gets to.)

I whisked over to Barnes and Noble to snag one: Gail Collins skewering Texas…it’s got to be good. And – let me be clear — my trip to the store was worth it. The book is fairly short, refreshing, and a real kick. It has everything, from current digs at Governor Perry’s incoherent, “oops” campaign for the Presidency to a demystified interpretation of the historic, sentimentalized, Alamo stand of Davey Crocket: Historic, maybe; heroic, maybe; stupid, stubborn and adolescent, surely. I am constantly aware that Texas is not normal, but I have lived here so long that I forget just how people outside the state look at it. And Gail Collins’ book is a brutal, friendly reminder.

According to Collins, Texas always thinks it should be a model for other states. Governor Perry, for instance, campaigned for president in 2011, touting some economic miracle which Texas could provide for the nation. But of course few people rushed to Perry’s incoherent model once they found out that Texas has very high foreclosure rates, is 49th in average credit scores, is 38th in average hourly earnings in manufacturing, and surpasses every other state except four in child poverty rates.

Twelve years before Perry was bragging about how America should model itself on Texas’ economy, George W. Bush was campaigning for president saying that Texas is a miracle model for education.

That campaign was twelve years ago and, not incidentally, Texas is still low (42nd) in the number of high school graduates going to college. Eighth graders in Texas are three percent below the national average in reading, and yet the amount of state aid per pupil is 47th in the country. Collins shows that higher education (from community colleges, on up) is also cheated by Texas: Texas only has two public institutions listed in America’s “100 Best” colleges and universities (U.S. News and World Report’s famous ranking). Two out of a hundred, and UT is ranked 45th and A&M is ranked 63rd.

Want to shudder, remembering Governor George Bush’s “Texas model” of education and how America fell for it? Get Collins’ book, which has a few chapters on education:

“Then came the 2000 elections. During the campaign George W. Bush couldn’t stop talking about education. ‘It’s important to have standards,’ he’d say, holding up his hand to indicate the setting of a bar – a gesture that seemed to indicate the standards he had in mind were about five feet high…As a presidential candidate, George W Bush wasn’t just issuing general promises to improve the schools. He claimed to have the secret recipe.”

But in actuality, according to Collins, Texas’ education testing model was phony and ill-conceived, to the extent that the Bush/Perry Republicans are now denying they ever pushed it.

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]

How ICE Illegally Deprived Saad Nabeel of his College Education

The Sophomore Who Isn’t

By Greg Moses

DissidentVoice / CounterPunch / TheRagBlog

As the 2009 graduates of Liberty High School in Frisco, Texas begin their sophomore year of college under new stresses of time and study, they do not forget that their classmate Saad Nabeel never got to finish the first semester of his freshman year. And Nabeel’s immigration advocate Ralph Isenberg says the young man’s abrupt deportation last year was so unfair and illegal that he should be immediately restored to his college career in the USA.

Thanks to Nabeel’s energetic internet campaign seeking return to his American homeland, the young man’s deportation has been covered by reporters in Texas, Germany, and India. His open letter to President Barack Obama was recently published at The Huffington Post.

Pinak Joshi is one of Nabeel’s best friends and was able to take calls during some of the cruelest days of detention last year. Joshi is a sophomore in Molecular Biology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, where he is already doing independent experimentation on prostate cancer.

“Although I’m proud of all that I do, it is a very strenuous weight to hold at the age of 19,” says Joshi via email. “What happened to Saad showed me that this is a privileged kind of stress. Being a sophomore in college has changed how I look at the world. Thanks to my research experience and coursework, I’m more thorough with my responsibilities and I’m able to think about complex problems analytically.”

“Saad is missing out on all that,” says Joshi. “He’s missing out on the ridiculous volume of math problems he would get as an engineer. He’s missing the laughs, the good times, and the beauty that is in the struggle of leading a scholarly life. He’s missing out on making new friends and building a network that could help him in the future. Most of all, he has been denied the opportunity to pursue his dreams.”

At the College Station campus of Texas A&M University, another close friend of Nabeel, sophomore engineering student Chris Anderson, finds himself already caught up in three-day bouts of homework and tests.

“Being a sophomore in college is more than just a title of what age I am,” says Anderson, “it means that I was able to make it through a whole year on my own. Being able to manage a tough engineering curriculum while still having time to do other activities has helped teach me how to prioritize and manage my time better. If I hadn’t had these skills coming into my sophomore year then I would be behind and struggling in my classes.”

“When Saad’s first semester of his Freshman year of college was disrupted he lost not only his grades which he spent so much time and effort to keep up, but he also lost the whole Freshman experience and the ability to prove himself as an independent person,” says Anderson. “College is about more than just getting a degree, it’s about learning to grow as a person and getting that life experience, but because our government decided to deport him and interrupt his education he is missing a year of his life that he will never get back.”

In Bangladesh, Nabeel struggles with living conditions quite different from the college apartments that he enjoyed last year while attending the University of Texas, Arlington on full scholarship for engineering.

“It is very hot and humid here,” says Nabeel in a draft script that he is preparing for an update to his YouTube page. “The temperature is constantly above 100 degrees outside. The apartment I live in has no air conditioning. To make matters worse, the electricity stays off for upwards of 9 hours a day. Then there is the pollution. The air can make you sick here and some days I can barely get out of bed. I have also suffered several bouts of food poisoning. I hope you can better understand why I am so anxious to get home. Bangladesh is not home but rather a nightmare that I hope soon ends.”

To get his American dream back on track, Nabeel has been working with Dallas businessman and immigration advocate Ralph Isenberg. After a recent review of Nabeel’s case, Isenberg is arguing that US immigration authorities contradicted themselves when they first separated Nabeel from his mother and then failed to treat him as an unaccompanied minor.

On Isenberg’s reading, immigration law defines minors as younger than 21. Therefore, when Nabeel at age 18 was separated from his mother, immigration authorities should have transferred him to Health and Human Services (HHS), where he would have been entitled to education and legal representation, both denied to him under supervision of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

“Saad’s detention was unlawful and ICE knew it,” says Isenberg via telephone. “Immigration law defines a minor as 21 years old or less. And there are two types of minors, accompanied and unaccompanied. Saad coming to America at age three was clearly an accompanied minor the whole time.”

ICE authorities in New York separated Nabeel from his mother on the day before Thanksgiving, 2009. ICE then detained the 18-year-old in an adult facility and refused the young man’s requests to communicate with his parents who were both under ICE detention. ICE could have allowed communication between the young man and his parents. They could have transferred the younger Nabeel to detention with his father in Haskell, Texas. Or they could have released the 18-year-old to the care of his uncle in New York.

At no point during their 15-year immigration saga in America were the Nabeel family “illegal,” explains the younger Nabeel in his upcoming YouTube video. They arrived with visas in 1994 and were very close to finalizing Green Cards in 2009. It was not the application of immigration law that forced the family to Bangladesh in 2010, but the misapplication of law by authorities who misused their powers.

“There is no gray area in the law,” explains Isenberg. “Unaccompanied minors must be handed over to HHS. ICE knew it, but refused to do that. They took a minor and put him into an adult detention facility without protections of law that minors are entitled to. There are halfway houses for unaccompanied minors. HHS has definitive responsibilities to provide education and social services. Saad was denied all that.

“When Saad asked for help he was called a security risk. ICE not only could have but should have paroled Saad to his uncle,” says Isenberg. “I dare say had that happened he would have never been deported. ICE broke the law by ignoring Saad’s request for political asylum while detained. They broke the law, put him in jail, threw away the key, put him on the plane, and there was no due process whatsoever.”

On a sweltering day in late August Nabeel received an email with a link to the just-released Taylor Swift video. When he clicked on the link he was informed that the video was not available for viewing in the Bangladesh region.

“It sucks,” he emailed, “because I had tickets to her concert twice but couldn’t go because my parents said, ‘we don’t know if immigration will extend our time that long’.” The family were living lawfully and obediently according to the directions that ICE had communicated. What else could keep the young Nabeel from twice buying his Taylor Swift tickets in advance?

Of course, eight hours after the first email a second one arrived from the computer saavy Nabeel. In all caps it read “just watched it, greatest music video ever!” How do you get to be more of an American kid than that?