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Smarten up, America: Quit Criminalizing Willing Hands

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One reason why we have too many prisons locking up too many people for too many reasons is that rural America has too many workers looking for good-paying jobs. And prisons promise steady paychecks.

The only reason why 20-year-old Suzi Hazahza and other young immigrant women from the Dallas area are still locked up at the Rolling Plains prison of Haskell, Texas is not because they are threats to society. But if the feds keep people like Suzi in jail, they can spend a budget of $7,000 per prisoner per month to keep the prison empire propped up.

But if we are not to become a nation in which half of the population is paid to keep the other half locked up, we need to activate our imaginations and vaunted American know-how to figure out where prison money might be better spent on better jobs with better human consequences.

And so we have been talking with Jay Johnson-Castro of the Rio Grande Valley who next week will walk in protest of two, maybe three prison camps for immigrants in South Texas. We asked him what the Rio Grande Valley really needs. First on his list is a Veterans Administration Hospital. "Can you believe we don't have one? But when you ask people around here why we don't have one, they say there's not enough money."

Money flows without impediment into immigrant prisons, yet can't find its way to a V.A. Hospital? Surely this is something easily fixed by a budget.

The next most obvious public need is education. With Latin America surging northward, we should greet people with classrooms and teachers, not guards and cells. If you go look at the geography of things near the Statue of Liberty, there is no end to the colleges one can choose from. And when the Ellis Island crowds were overflowing, some of the nearby public colleges were open for free.

So we are pleased with this morning's news in the Rio Grande Guardian that one Hispanic lawmaker from the Rio Grande Valley has been appointed to a House Select Committee on Higher and Public Education Finance. Says State Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City:

"This year I am fighting for funding for two new technology training centers in Starr and Zapata counties because students there need other options than they have today. I thank Chairman Craddick for the appointment and we will work hard to find a way to provide more educational opportunity for all students in Texas."┬Ł

Continuing the list of things that can be done with willing hands, Johnson-Castro says the Rio Grande Valley, like New Orleans, is a river delta. And like New Orleans, the Valley has levees that need work before the next hurricane disaster strikes.

Oh, and Highway 83 could be expanded in recognition of the fact that the Rio Grande Valley is a major metropolitan area with international traffic jams.

Finally, on this short list of things people need more than jail cells is running water. The Magic Valley teems with fruits and vegetable crops because of water, and a healthy, public water supply could use some upkeep.

Smarten up, America. If you can't figure out anything better to do with willing hands than to criminalize them for profit, then your days of freedom leadership are sadly numbered.
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Greg Moses is a member of the Texss Civil Rights Collaborative and editor of The Texas Civil Rights Review. He writes about peace and Texas, but not always at the same time.

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