Today's Fair Shots - May 11th, 2017

1-Giddings: 'Hottest Places in Hell' Reserved for Those Who Harm Our Children

2-Buzzfeed Posts 'New American Slavery,' a Harrowing Portrait of Conditions for H-2B Visa Workers

3-Ratcliffe Named Political Editor of Texas Monthly

1) Texas AFL-CIO Legislative Director René Lara calls it a "Let them eat cake" moment in this 140-day session of the Legislature.

  Yesterday, the Texas Senate gave final approval to SB 1018, a bill (discussed in this space yesterday) written by a private prison company to generate business for private prisons. The bill would grant a state license to otherwise underused facilities that house families seeking asylum from dangerous conditions in their home countries.

  Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio, succeeded in amending the bill to put some outer limits - and we are talking outer - on putting children in the cells, er, "family residential centers." Under the amendment, if 90 percent of the families are held longer than 90 days, the proposed state license would be revoked. (If that moment arrives, I would be prepared to eat my head.) To his credit, Uresti remained on the "no" side of a 20-10 final vote.

  Lara paired the "baby jail" bill with HB 2159, a bill that would afford schoolchildren a grace period so they can receive a regular lunch while it is determined whether families qualify for free lunches based on income. The bill would also authorize schools to collect private voluntary donations to pay for the lunches. The bill by Rep. Helen Giddings, D-Dallas, seemed to have no opposition and was placed on the House Local and Consent Calendar, a fast-track way of moving uncontroversial bills through the process. 

  As it turned out, the bill had opposition -- from the self-styled "Freedom Caucus" that occupies the right wing in the Texas House. That caucus obtained the five signatures necessary to knock the bill off the Local and Consent Calendar, subjecting the proposal to the vagaries of the late-session rush to get bills finished. 

  In response, Rep. Giddings delivered a "personal privilege" speech in which she said her bill is intended to "give some students relief from going hungry at lunch, to keep them from being embarrassed, to keep them from being labeled," the Rio Grande Guardian reports. Giddings did not pull any punches in discussing the procedural upset of her bill:

  ...I will tell you, because of the action that we took, children in Texas are going to be worse off. You and I, and our families, don't face hunger, because we're privileged. But remember, that but for the grace of God go I.

In the end, it ain't power, it ain't privilege that really defines us. It's character. It's kindness. It's love.

Members, we can do better for our children. They deserve better. And I personally believe that the hottest places in Hell are reserved for those who harm our children. And I think we've harmed our children today.

I close by saying, God bless all of the children of Texas today. And we especially ask that He bless those children who are hungry." 

  Read more on Giddings's moving speech: 

2) Buzzfeed posted a long-form takeout on "The New American Slavery," taking place in the form of mistreatment of H-2B visa workers.

  The beginning of the Buzzfeed story gives the flavor of the investigationWe're not talking your garden-variety mistreatment of working people, bad as that is. The article speaks of orders never to leave a compound without permission -- a company jail rather than company town. 

  The Buzzfeed investigation is a walking argument for comprehensive immigration reform, not scapegoating:

  MAMOU, Louisiana - Travis Manuel and his twin brother, Trey, were shopping at Walmart near this rural town when they met two Mexican women who struck them as sweet. Using a few words of Spanish he had picked up from his Navy days, Travis asked the two women out on a double date.

  Around midnight the following Saturday, when they finished their shift at a seafood processing plant, Marisela Valdez and Isy Gonzalez waited for their dates at the remote compound where they lived and worked.

  As soon as they got in the Manuel brothers' car, the women began saying something about "patrón angry," Travis recalled. While he was trying to puzzle out what they meant, his brother, who was driving, interrupted: "Dude," Trey said. "There's someone following us."

  Trey began to take sudden turns on the country roads threading through the rice paddies that dot the area, trying to lose the pickup truck behind them. Finally, they saw a police car.

  "I said, we're gonna flag down this cop" for help, Travis recalled. "But the cop pulled us over, lights on, and told us not to get out of the vehicle," Trey added, noting that the pickup pulled up and the driver began conferring with the police.

  An officer asked Trey and his brother for ID. From the backseat, their dates began to cry.

  Travis tried to reassure them. They weren't doing anything wrong, he said, and they were in the United States. "I was like, 'There's no way they are going to take you away.'"

  He was wrong.

  The man in the truck was the women's boss, Craig West, a prominent farmer in the heart of Cajun country. As Sgt. Robert McGee later wrote in a police report, West said that Valdez and Gonzalez were "two of his girls," and he asked the cops to haul the women in and "scare the girls."

  The police brought the women, who were both in their twenties, to the station house. McGee told them they couldn't leave West's farm without permission, warning that they could wind up dead. To drive home the point, an officer later testified, McGee stood over Valdez and Gonzalez and pantomimed cutting his throat. He also brandished a Taser at them and said they could be deported if they ever left West's property without his permission.

  A little after 2 in the morning, they released the women to West for the 15-minute drive through the steamy night to his compound - a place where, the women and the Mexican government say, workers were stripped of their passports and assigned to sleep in a filthy, foul-smelling trailer infested with insects and mice. Valdez and Gonzalez also claimed that they and other women were imprisoned, forced to work for little pay, and frequently harassed by West, who demanded to see their breasts and insisted that having sex with him was their only way out of poverty.

  These women were not undocumented immigrants working off the books. They were in the United States legally, as part of a government program that allows employers to import foreign labor for jobs they say Americans won't take - but that also allows those companies to control almost every aspect of their employees' lives.

  Each year, more than 100,000 people from countries such as Mexico, Guatemala, the Philippines, and South Africa come to America on what is known as an H-2 visa to perform all kinds of menial labor across a wide spectrum of industries: cleaning rooms at luxury resorts and national parks, picking fruit, cutting lawns and manicuring golf courses, setting up carnival rides, trimming and planting trees, herding sheep, or, in the case of Valdez, Gonzalez, and about 20 other Mexican women in 2011, peeling crawfish at L.T. West Inc.

  A BuzzFeed News investigation - based on government databases and investigative files obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, thousands of court documents, as well as more than 80 interviews with workers and employers - shows that the program condemns thousands of employees each year to exploitation and mistreatment, often in plain view of government officials charged with protecting them. All across America, H-2 guest workers complain that they have been cheated out of their wages, threatened with guns, beaten, raped, starved, and imprisoned. Some have even died on the job. Yet employers rarely face any significant consequences.

  Many of those employers have since been approved to bring in more guest workers. Some have even been rewarded with lucrative government contracts. Almost none have ever been charged with a crime.

  Read more:

3) Congratulations to Texas Monthly's R.G. Ratcliffe on being named that publication's Political Editor. 

 I worked alongsideR.G. in the Capitol press corps many years ago and have worked with him on a regular basis since going to work for the state labor federation. Ratcliffe is a veteran reporter who has a deep understanding of how things work in Texas politics, and he has covered labor matters fairly. We wish him the best of luck. Editor Tim Taliaferro writes:

  R.G. represents the best kind of political journalist: he's tough, fair, and accurate. He is sourced with Republicans and Democrats. His extensive experience covering Texas politics gives him perspective, which enables him to do the kind of clear-eyed analysis (like this widely read piece on Dan Patrick) that's increasingly hard to find. In an era of fake news, when it can be hard to tell what's reliable and what's not, we could all stand more reporters like R.G. I'm thrilled that he has agreed to join our team and carry on the work that the great Paul Burka did here for years.

Read more: