Texas Launches Operation to Combat Drug, People Smuggling at Southern Border

Migrant families wait for their bus at a bus station in Brownsville, Texas before traveling to meet relatives or sponsors on March 2, 2021. (Sergio Flores/AFP/Getty Images)

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Saturday launched a program that would deploy state national guard troops and other agencies to respond to the burgeoning crisis at the southern border.

Abbott announced that his office has launched Operation Lone Star, which will deploy air, ground, and marine, and tactical border security assets to prevent Mexican criminal organizations from smuggling drugs and people into Texas. The operation will be launched in collaboration with the state’s Department of Public Safety.

“Texas supports legal immigration but will not be an accomplice to the open border policies that cause, rather than prevent, a humanitarian crisis in our state and endanger the lives of Texans,” Abbott said in a statement to media outlets on Saturday.

“We will surge the resources and law enforcement personnel needed to confront this crisis.”

This comes as the number of illegal crossings at the southern border continue their steadily rise since October last year. The number of encounters at the southwest border between October 2020 and January 2021 was 296,259, which is up from 164,932 during the same period in 2019 and 2020, according to data from the U.S. Custom and Border Patrol (CBP), representing a 79.6 percent increase.

Meanwhile, Reuters has reported, citing anonymous sources, that the number of illegal immigrants apprehended by U.S. border agents spiked even further for the month of February at nearly 100,000 migrants detained. CBP has yet to release its February data.

Since taking office Biden has reversed several Trump-era border security measures that were aimed at stemming the flow of illegal immigration at the southern border and increasing America’s public security.

The increased number of unaccompanied minors arriving at the border in recent weeks has seen the Biden administration open more overflow shelters to handle the influx. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas added on Monday that instead of “expelling young children” to Mexico while processing their asylum claims, as was done under the Trump administration, DHS is working to release minors to relatives or sponsors in the United States if the minors are from Guatemala, Honduras, or El Salvador.

Some of the immigration policies that Biden implemented include temporarily ending former President Donald Trump’s Migrant Protection Protocols that sent illegal immigrations back into Mexico while their cases are decided. He has also reversed Trump’s ban on travel from terror-prone countries, halted the remaining construction of the border wall, and has issued a sweeping immigration package to Congress that offers a legalization pathway to an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants already in the country.

These actions have drawn widespread criticism, in particular, from Trump.

“Our border is now totally out of control thanks to the disastrous leadership of Joe Biden,” Trump wrote in a statement released on March 5 through an intermediary.

“Our great Border Patrol and ICE agents have been disrespected, demeaned, and mocked by the Biden Administration,” Trump added, referring to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

“A mass incursion into the country by people who should not be here is happening on an hourly basis, getting worse by the minute. Many have criminal records, and many others have and are spreading covid,” he wrote, referring to COVID-19, the disease caused by the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus.

Earlier this month, a large group of migrants seeking to cross the U.S.-Mexico border held a demonstration in Mexico, calling for Biden to let them into the United States.

Biden has not yet acknowledged the crisis or announced any concrete plan to address the growing numbers of illegal crossings. When asked by a reporter this week whether there is a crisis at the border, Biden replied, “No, we’ll be able to handle it.”

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) sent a letter to Biden on Friday requesting a meeting to address the issue, saying that he has “great concern” about how his administration is handling the border crisis.

“We must acknowledge the border crisis, develop a plan, and, in no uncertain terms, strongly discourage individuals from Mexico and Central America from ever making the dangerous journey to our southern border,” McCarthy wrote (pdf).

Source: Texas Launches Operation to Combat Drug, People Smuggling at Southern Border

Democrats Accept 2 of 286 Amendments Sought by Republicans for $1.9 Trillion COVID-19 Stimulus Bill

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) speaks at the weekly news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington on Dec. 3, 2020. (Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

Republicans have criticized Democrats for continuing to push their pandemic stimulus package while accepting little to no Republican input. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said Wednesday out of 286 amendments proposed by Republicans for the $1.9 trillion spending package, only two were accepted.

“Republicans offered 286 amendments to President Biden’s massive $1.9 TRILLION spending blowout. Democrats accepted 2 of them. So much for Biden’s calls for ‘unity,’” McCarthy said in a statement.

On Feb. 19, Democrats unveiled the full text of a 591-page bill (pdf) titled the “American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.”


House Republicans held a press conference on Wednesday in which they voiced their opposition to the Democrats’ “rescue” package that includes many items that have little to do with pandemic relief.

Rep. Jason Smith (R-Mo.), who serves as the Republican Leader of the House Budget Committee, called the $1.9 trillion package a liberal “wish list” because so little of the total funds are going to fighting the effects of the pandemic.

“It’s very simple. We’re here today because Pelosi, Schumer, and Biden decided to use a pandemic to push forward a progressive wish list; items to reward political allies, friends, and donors at the expense of the American working class,” Smith said.

He said that less than 9 percent of the $1.9 trillion is allocated for COVID health spending and only 5 percent is marked to fund the extra needs at schools amid the pandemic.

“Why is it that this package spends more than 25%, according to the Congressional Budget Office, on items that kill millions of jobs,” he added.

The Republican Study Committee (RSC), the largest conservative caucus on Capitol Hill, released a fact-sheet on items “Democrats are hoping the public won’t find about [sic]” that are included in President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus bill.

Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.), the RSC’s newly elected chairman, said in a memo sent to caucus members that Democrats have included items of “special interest pork and other liberal goodies” in the proposal.

“If that’s not bad enough, Nancy Pelosi plugged in a $200 million earmark for an underground tunnel in San Francisco for Silicone Valley employees,” Banks said. “This is a bailout to the special interest groups that gave them power.”

Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) said another reason why the GOP will oppose the package is because it does not help get kids back to school full time.

“That’s not what this $1.9 trillion liberal wish list, giveaway bill does and that’s why we’re strongly opposing it, and we’re also pushing to expose just what is really in this bill,” he said.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said the $1.9 trillion package will provide “bold COVID relief to Americans nationwide” and criticized Republicans for obstructing Democrat efforts.

“Republican leaders are reportedly ‘maneuvering’ to get every single Republican member to oppose urgent, bold COVID relief. Every single one! Make no mistake: Democrats are working to quickly deliver the American Rescue Plan and big, bold COVID relief,” Schumer said.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said the Democrat’s rescue package was not addressing the issues that would help reopen the economy.

“Only about 1% of the Democrats’ partisan plan goes to vaccines. Only about 5% of its K-12 funding would even go out this fiscal year. Democrats are not addressing the urgent needs of a re-opening America. They started with a preconceived liberal wish-list and worked backward,” McConnell said.

Source: Democrats Accept 2 of 286 Amendments Sought by Republicans for $1.9 Trillion COVID-19 Stimulus Bill

Landlords bear financial burden of eviction moratoriums for renters

Tenants who received an eviction notice from their landlord fill out forms at the Civil Law Sel ...
Tenants who received an eviction notice from their landlord fill out forms at the Civil Law Self-Help Center at the Regional Justice Center, on Nov. 16, 2020, in Las Vegas. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye

Eviction moratoriums have protected cash-strapped renters affected by the coronavirus pandemic for the past 10 months, but mom-and-pop landlords are finding themselves shouldering tremendous financial burdens.

Landlord Mario Tafarella is owed more than $30,000 in rent from two of his Las Vegas rental properties in Desert Shores, and it’s money he never will receive.

“Thirty grand — take it out of your bank account. Would it have a financial impact on you?” Tafarella said, referring to eviction moratoriums implemented by Gov. Steve Sisolak and the federal government. “It’s horrible what was done, and it should be illegal.”

Shannon Conley, a landlord in Reno, said the eviction moratoriums are frustrating. She found herself not only out rent money from her tenant but also discovered extensive damage to her property including “the carpet with all (their pet) ferret’s poop on it.”

Landlords looking to evict tenants for nonpayment of rent must wait longer before taking action.

That’s because Sisolak reinstituted his eviction moratorium last month. The directive is expected to expire March 31. Like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention order, eligible tenants must opt in by signing a declaration form and giving it to their landlord.

The governor’s office did not respond to request for comment.

Tafarella said he was unaware of Sisolak’s latest directive but is concerned should his tenants stop paying rent.

“We’ve got tenants that have been with us five and seven years, and they paid us through the eviction ban … but who knows, anything can happen,” he said. “If all of them (stop paying) it would drive us to bankruptcy.”

Another extension

Las Vegas resident and landlord Bob Smith said his worst-case scenario would be foreclosing on his properties in Pahrump and Las Vegas.

Smith had to tap into his savings when one tenant stopped paying rent last year after the eviction moratorium took effect. He’s lost more than $6,500 and had to requested a mortgage forebearance on the home.

“I used it on that house — I had to,” he said. “They put it on the back end of the loan (but) I did try to catch up on the payments.”

Smith said that like during the Great Recession, when he had to foreclose on four properties, he doesn’t recall very many government programs aimed at helping smaller landlords.

Attorney Rory Vohwinkel of Las Vegas-based Vohwinkel Law, which specializes in bankruptcies and foreclosures, said there’s very little help for smaller landlords.

“The CARES Act has a lot of incentives for larger property owners to be able to apply for benefits, but the smaller homeowners are really struggling,” he said.

The main lifeline for mom-and-pop landlords is a mortgage payment forbearance option first made available after last year’s passage of the federal coronavirus relief package, or the CARES Act.

The program allows for homeowners to pause their mortgage payments for up to 12 months on government-backed home loans, but they’re required to eventually make repayments.

A lender or loan servicer is also prevented from foreclosing on a property until the end of March. The moratorium on foreclosures was set to expire Feb. 28, or Jan. 31 for Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac-backed loans, but President Joe Biden extended the protection Wednesday.

Rental assistance also is offered through the CARES Housing Assistance Program (CHAP), said Bailey Bortolin, policy director at Nevada Coalition of Legal Service Providers.

“Rental assistance is available, and it’s given directly to landlords so that landlord relief element is still there and has been there the entire time,” she said.

Clark County has an estimated $125 million budgeted for housing and utility assistance, which is being paid out through the CHAP program, according to Clark County spokesman Dan Kulin.

‘Full of flies’

For landlords like Tafarella, whose rental properties are paid off and serve as retirement income, the forbearance program offers no help, and one of his tenants was unable to receive rental assistance because the funds had run dry at the time he applied.

Tafarella, who lives in Santa Barbara, California, owns 12 rental properties — 11 condominiums and a house — in the Las Vegas Valley.

He stopped receiving monthly rent payments at two of his properties in March when Sisolak announced his first eviction moratorium.

When Sisolak’s moratorium expired Oct. 15, Tafarella quickly learned about another moratorium in place. The CDC issued a national moratorium on evictions for nonpayment of rent Sept. 4. It was extended this week by Biden through at least the end of March.

Tafarella recalls learning about the CDC order when his tenant handed him a signed declaration form. The tenant was on the lease with his girlfriend, who was working as a nurse.

“I contacted our eviction company and said, ‘What’s the deal? There’s two tenants. Can you please check with the legal staff and see if one form is sufficient,” he said. “The (eviction) company said I was right — we need a form from both tenants — so we kicked off the eviction process.”

Tafarella was able to evict the couple in December because the girlfriend was not covered by the CDC moratorium.

Meanwhile, his second tenant stopped responding to emails, phone calls and texts about creating a payment plan.

“We went through the full eviction process, which was very lengthy, so we could have access (to the property) because we presumed she was still there,” he said. “That presumption was wrong. We found out she vacated months ago and never told us — left food, furniture and just totally trashed the place. It was full of flies.”

Trouble ahead

Real estate broker Tom Blanchard of Signature Real Estate Group said other than restaurants and bars, smaller landlords have “had to bear the brunt of this pandemic.”

He said mom-and-pop landlords are those who purchase one or a handful of properties expecting some extra income, especially as a part of a retirement plan.

“They’re not the large corporate conglomerates that can handle taking a loss because they’re making money (on other investments),” said Blanchard, who last year served as president of trade association Las Vegas Realtors.

Nevada could see a rise in foreclosures should smaller landlords fail to keep up with their multiple mortgage payments, according to Blanchard.

The latest report from CoreLogic found 6.1 percent of mortgages in October were delinquent by at least 30 days or more, including those in foreclosure, up 2.4 percent from October 2019. In Nevada, the delinquency rate was 7.5 percent and 8.5 percent in the Las Vegas metro area.

Serious delinquencies, those 90 days or more past due including loans in foreclosure, was 4.1 percent in the U.S. for October. Nevada reported 5.5 percent, making it No. 8 for the state with the highest serious delinquency rate. New York ranked No. 1 with 6.4 percent, while Hawaii was No. 4 at a rate of 5.7 percent.

Real estate broker and Las Vegas Realtors President Aldo Martinez said smaller landlords usually don’t have enough leverage to cover a tenant’s missed rent payments for an extended period of time, adding that some clients are now looking to sell their rental properties.

“They’re just cutting their losses where they can,” he said. “If you think owning rental properties is a good idea because there’s someone helping you pay down the property plus you’re making some income, all of that makes sense. But then you run into COVID and an eviction moratorium and now a state that was actually very good for landlords has become a catastrophe for them.”

Source: Landlords bear financial burden of eviction moratoriums for renters