I’ve had the opportunity and pleasure of speaking with U.S. Air Force veteran Gina Ortiz Jones several times this year. As COVID-19 suddenly compounded my duties as a first term County Commissioner, I appreciate everyone who actively contacts me with help to offer. Gina Ortiz Jones reached out early and often, and our conversations about other counties in the district yielded valuable ideas for our COVID response in Frio. As the site of one of the hottest of hot spots in the country at one point, we needed all the help we could get.
This Saturday, August 1st at 3pm Gina Ortiz Jones will host a virtual town hall focused specifically on the Winter Garden region including Frio, La Salle, Dimmit, and Zavala- an area that feels closer in identity than any zone established by political districting. Gina Ortiz Jones is campaigning to fill the seat vacated by outgoing Congressman Will Hurd.
The virtual town hall is a perfect opportunity for those of us that want to be more involved in learning about the people asking to represent us. And since it’s virtual, we don’t have to change out of our pajamas, fill up the gas tank, or find ways to keep the kids entertained- just click on the link…
About Gina Ortiz Jones (from ballotpedia):
Gina Ortiz Jones’ professional experience includes serving as director for investment at the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative and as the senior advisor for trade enforcement. She is a U.S. Air Force veteran where she served as an intelligence officer in Iraq. She earned her master’s and bachelor’s degrees in economics and a bachelor’s degree in East Asian studies all from Boston University. She also earned a graduate degree from the U.S. Army School of Advanced Military Studies.
–written by Jose Asuncion, County Commissioner, Pct. 4
Typically, Frio County Precinct 4 and the city of Dilley get only one day of early voting for county and state elections. For the 2020 primary runoff, we had a full week.
The last days of early voting for this round of elections in Dilley will be today (Thursday July 9) and tomorrow (Friday July 10). Hours are 8am-5pm and for these two days, voting for both Boxes 9 & 10 will take place at the old library.
Early voting is recommended to avoid the lines and congestion of election day, especially for those practicing social distancing.
One of the earliest pieces of advice I received as County Commissioner was to be cautious about endorsing candidates. Answering questions about who you’re voting for? Fine. Privately reaching out to voters on behalf of another candidate? Ok. Anything further than that? No way.
The risks are too many. Your candidate will lose and the winner might not cooperate with you. Or the candidate you vouched for will win, and they will only disappoint you and the community after they take office. Either way, you will alienate one base of voters, jeopardizing not only your political standing, but your personal relationships in a county where everyone is connected.
But I’ve seen good people lose. And Dilley did not elect me to sit in silence.
Vote for Aaron Ibarra for County Clerk.
If you read nothing else in this post, vote for Aaron Ibarra for County Clerk.
He’s been through the fire. Aaron was appointed to County Clerk last year, and he walked into that courthouse like Ethan Hawke in Training Day. Hazed by some of the old guard in that building. Tested by a clique hoping to see him fail.
But he stuck with it. Thrived. Learned all aspects of the job. Reshaped communication between Frio County and the public. Personally, I lean on Aaron constantly for records in preparation for meetings.
This job is more important than most of the public gets to see. County Clerk Aaron Ibarra recently asked for a debate, attempting to start a new cycle of candidate evaluation and accountability, something we desperately need in Frio County.
After his opponent refused, Aaron walked into the fire again, setting up an online forum on social media. If asked, I would have advised against it. But he showed what he was made of. And if the tone of a candidate’s supporters tells you anything about the candidate, I think his Ask Me Anything forum told a story of two starkly different choices for County Clerk, and potential future of Frio County.
Read the thread here:
Frio County Commissioner, Pct. 4
I was trying to concentrate on replacing a windshield in a truck parked in my grandfather’s front yard, but the customer was fixated on the sky. I didn’t ask what she was looking at. I didn’t want to know.
“There’s an old man in your tree,” she said.
I looked up. Oh yeah that’s Cornelio, I told her, relieved. A mesquite limb fell to the ground.
Cornelio survived mostly on yard work and probably other odd jobs. All manual tools. A saw blade roped and taped to the end of an 8 foot pole. A rusty grass whip. Sometimes he carried the tools for the mile-or-so walk to the job. Sometimes a friend gave him a lift.
My grandma loved hiring him. He made her feel like a doña. He worked without break on an acre of land in the brutal Dilley sun, and she didn’t pay him much more than a cup of water and maybe enough money for that night’s beer. Embarrassed, my mom always slipped him extra cash and a brisket plate from Eagle Oil BBQ.
I saw that he passed away on Councilman Everardo Castillo Jr.’s Facebook page. Bebe said he passed away a couple days ago, alone in his apartment. Like me, he didn’t know when Cornelio moved to the States from Mexico or even what his last name was. “I’ll call you back,” he said.
I remembered a photo I snapped of Cornelio. The file’s metadata says it was October 20, 2018. I’d never seen Cornelio wearing anything but Cintas work pants and a long sleeve linen shirt, but that day he was walking around town looking fly. I snapped a pic for style inspiration. He liked it. He was clearly feeling himself.
“His last name was Hernandez,” Bebe said when he called back. “But he signed his last name ‘HH.’ My mom thinks it stood for Hernandez Hernandez.”
We know he lived in Dilley for a long time. Judge Flores remembers him for sure 15 years ago. Bebe remembers maybe 30. He spoke purely in Spanish, in a gentle voice.
We don’t think he has any family in town. If he doesn’t, Judge Flores, who did the inquest, will call the Mexican consulate in the morning. If they don’t claim him, his cremation will be paid for by Frio County, and he’ll rest in one of our cemeteries.
Que en paz descanse.
–written by Jose Asuncion, County Commissioner, Pct. 4
In the week that ended May 8, Frio County was subjected to a slew of positive COVID-19 case press releases in GEO’s immigrant detention center in Pearsall. At first, it was a steady trickle- only one case each day of May 1st, 2nd, and 3rd. And then fifteen positives out of the detention center on May 6. Add nine on May 8, for a cumulative total of thirty-two cases associated with the detention center.
With no statutory authority over the publicly traded, privately operated GEO Group that runs the South Texas ICE Processing Center, Frio County, Pearsall and Dilley leaders demanded a public accountability session with management through phone calls, email, and certified mail.Continue reading “GEO: Zero New COVID-19 Cases This Week.* How Did That Happen?”
May 5, 2020
To GEO Group South Texas ICE Processing Center Management,
Frio County Commissioners Court often invites local organizations to attend our meetings to address matters of concern. As GEO Group’s South Texas ICE Processing Center in Pearsall is the focus of a COVID-19 outbreak, we have cause for concern.
On behalf of local elected officials and community leaders, I would like to formally extend an invitation to local GEO Group management to attend our next Commissioners Court Meeting. The purpose is to provide transparency and guidance to the Frio County community. For many of us, this could be a matter of life and death.
I have emailed you and published a list of questions to maximize your ability to be prepared for the most productive conversation possible.
Our meeting will be on Monday May 11 at 3pm. Please participate by web conference or dial-in. The link will be emailed to you by County Clerk Aaron Ibarra 20 minutes before the start of the meeting. The public is encouraged to view the proceedings online.
- How many employees work at the South Texas ICE Processing Center and how many of your employees live in Frio County limits?
- How many contractors are retained that make contact with detainees and/or employees at the South Texas ICE Processing Center? How many live in Frio County limits?
- Are you testing all employees/contractors? Will it be done on a recurring basis?
- How many employee tests are currently pending?
- Are you providing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to employees?
- Have you made any recommendations to employees/contractors about visiting public places, such as restaurants for lunch, grocery stores, etc?
- Will you release Zip Code information for “associated cases?”
- Have any employees/contractors who reside outside of Frio County tested positive?
- What was the average daily population for the last complete reporting year?
- What is the revenue per bed per day inside GEO?
- May we have breakdown of the offense level of any crimes committed by the detainees in GEO? Do you have percentages?
- How often will the detainees be tested? Will it be done on a recurring basis?
- Has transport of detainees in and out of the facility been halted?
- How many detainee tests are currently pending?
- Are you providing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to detainees?
- How many dorms are in the facility?
- How many detainees are currently quarantined?
- What protocols are in place and have they been adjusted in the past month?
- Will you be keeping track of recoveries and deaths? Will you publicly report them?
- Can you create a website with an accounting dashboard, so that the community may hear new reports more quickly and directly from the source?
If you saw the ad for the drive-thru covid19 testing and are curious if you should go… do it.
At the beginning of the day Thursday April 23rd, Frio County still had only one confirmed positive in a person who already recovered weeks prior. It was starting to feel like this hurricane was going to miss us. But by the time we woke up on Friday, we had six new active cases. Yes, five of them were detainees in the GEO immigrant detention center, but one was a resident of Dilley.
We pray that this doesn’t spread further, but we should continue to prepare as if it will. Since we’re early in a potential outbreak, testing will have a greater impact by providing the data necessary for a focused response. This isn’t just about whether you have the virus. It’s about slowing the spread.
Testing is by appointment only from 9am-5pm, Thursday April 30, 2020
Location: Frio Regional Hospital
Frio County Commissioner, Pct. 4
Today, Frio County issued a statement regarding two confirmed Covid-19 cases at the South Texas Detention Complex in Pearsall. Like any good government press release of bad news, it was designed to mitigate community alarm and legal liability.
But I believe I owe you some context.
What happened? The GEO immigrant detention center in Pearsall confirmed that two detainees tested positive for Covid-19.
Is that all you’re going to tell me? For now yes, because that’s all the confirmed information I have. Remember, the GEO immigrant detention center is not a public facility. It’s owned and operated by a private corporation, contracted by the Department of Homeland Security.
If they’re contracted by DHS, that means they receive public funds and should be subject to public information laws. That’s cute. There’s no time for the history of the private prison industry’s efforts to lobby for information laws that favor withholding, but for some light reading, check out: “Private Prison Lobbyists Are Raising Cash For Hillary Clinton.” And on the other end, a federal agency such as Immigration and Customs Enforcement will always withhold information in the name of protecting the public: “Inmate at Krome detention center tests positive for COVID-19. Here’s how ICE kept it quiet” and “ICE blocks release of coronavirus testing information at jail, N.J. official says“
So then how did County officials find out? To this moment, I still haven’t received “official” information except for the county press release. Nothing from GEO, ICE, or Texas Department of State Health Services. County officials were on the same text-text-pass rumor mill as the rest of you, and it wasn’t until a county official actually reached out to GEO that we were able to confirm the claim about positive covid cases in the detention center.
What are the “appropriate infection control procedures” from the press release? Again, that information has to come from the people in charge of it. Namely, GEO and/or Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
What do these cases mean for Frio County? The GEO South Texas Detention Complex has a capacity of 1,904 detainees. The actual population varies, but two of the detainees have tested positive for a virus that is most contagious before symptoms appear. The facility also retains hundreds of employees and contractors, many of whom reside locally. No one can make a prediction on this. You’re capable of imagining the possibilities, even accounting for “appropriate infection control procedures.”
Well then what the f*&k am I supposed to do? This is only beginning to unfold right now. Until we have more data, the advice remains the same, wear a mask, stay six feet from people who don’t live with you, and stay home when possible. Ask the Feds to keep sending those checks because that’s the only way these measures will remain possible. Too many of us still have to go to work while at the same time being advised to stay home.
But if I’m an employee of GEO, live with one, and/or want to support them…
Then I would be asking:
- What was the timeline from when (1) the detainees arrived, (2) showed symptoms, (3) were tested, and (4) received positive results?
- Are there detainees that tested positive but have been moved and do not reflect in the Frio County numbers?
- Can you show us the reports?
- How often will we be tested?
- How often will the detainees be tested?
- How many employees and detainees have been tested?
- How soon will further test result counts be released?
- Can I get a big-a$& raise?
Disclosure: I am a Frio County Commissioner, who votes on how to spend revenue property taxes from the GEO facility. As more information is released, consider the personal or organizational financial interests of the source.
Frio County Commissioner, Pct. 4
We all have to face an “El Guapo” some day. Today, our El Guapo happens to be the Coronavirus…
I’m asking the residents of Frio County to respond to the Frio Hospital staff’s plea for homemade face masks with a Santa Poco style sew-a-thon.
And if you haven’t seen Three Amigos, you haven’t lived, but let me get more to the point:
- Hospitals are facing a dire shortage of basic protective gear, and with our remote location, Frio County Hospital, South Texas Rural Health Services, and all of our private clinics will face a greater risk to staff, patients, and the people they interact with.
- Lori Keck of Dilley and Frio Hospital posted this request with a set of instructions that can best be summarized as “google it.” We really have to help figure this out for them, as they are busy treating patients:
3. Some of you have asked about sterilization. For now, that will be the hospital’s responsibility, and I have confirmation of that from hospital management.
4. How many do we need? All of them. Send two, send one hundred. If we somehow produce enough for hospital staff, we have first responders, grocery baggers, at-risk residents, neighboring counties…
5. How soon do you need them? Now.
6. Where can I send them?
Frio Regional Hospital
c/o Cassandra DuBose
200 IH 35 South
Pearsall, TX 78061
Please be sure to get the tracking number to confirm delivery. We want to make sure they don’t get “lost in the mail” as there are local ordinances being passed/considered around the country to essentially commandeer personal protective equipment.
7. Take a video and upload it to social media so we can all see how you’re helping!
Disclaimer: I categorically reject the racist stereotypes and reinforcement of hierarchies in Three Amigos. It’s also one of my favorite movies, and I can never resist a good Three Amigos reference.
Frio County Commissioner Jose Asuncion, Pct. 4