Congressman Henry Cuellar (D-TX) hosted a meeting at TAMIU to discuss the treat of the Zika virus in Texas, and how it affects Laredo as a border city. Officials of the meeting discussed the actions that were being taken by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Aside from the efforts of the federal government, they discussed the efforts taken by state, local, and international agencies. Their discussions explored how all of these levels of governments could cooperate for the health of their citizens. Alongside the congressman were high-ranking officials from the CDC, as well as other government officials from the Department of Homeland Security, the State of Texas and the Texas Department of State Health Services, the City of Laredo Health Department, Webb County, and representatives from the Laredo hospitals and hospital from Nuevo Laredo. With those officials were also representatives from universities including TAMIU, universities from Mexico, and University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. The Zika virus began its spread form infected mosquitos similar to the West Nile virus. Common symptoms from the virus include fever, rash, joint pain, and red eyes. The virus is not extremely lethal, and those who catch symptoms do not feel sick enough to go to the hospital. However, the Zika virus is seen problematic for women infected during pregnancy. It has been causing birth defects for newborns that have been fatal. On the brighter side, once someone has been infected, they are likely to be protected from future infections The first confirmed infection originated in Brazil in May 2015. From there, it spread across Latin America and the Caribbean. Just recently, a Zika virus related death was confirmed in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and other American island territories. There have been 358 confirmed travel-associated cases of the Zika virus in 40 American states. 27 of those cases were in Texas. However, there have been no cases or reports of the Zika virus in Webb County or the border area. The discussions brought upon by the congressman and the other officials plays in part with Cuellar’s understandings of international affairs. Cuellar takes into much consideration for the need of inter-governmental and international cooperation. The Zika virus, alongside all of Mother Nature, pays no regard to national boundaries and governments. Doing so, nations and agencies need to come together in the common goal of human health. The amount of representation from both the United States and Mexico was remarkable, and it contradicts the rhetoric coming from presidential candidates that accuse and misjudge our Mexican neighbors and the border region. “The Zika virus disease is a reminder of how we must stay vigilant against biological and physical threats at our borders,” said Congressman Henry Cuellar. “While the news seems alarming, no cases have been reported in South Texas. However, it is concerning because of the rapid spread of the disease and the birth defects it causes in pregnant women” concluded Cuellar.
The Bridge News had the delightful honor of meeting and interviewing Laredo Mayor Pete Saenz. The interview was held in Killam Library, and conducted openly with students continuing on with their daily studies. Saenz was elected mayor in 2014, succeeding Raul Salinas. His term ends in 2018, but he plans on considering reelection. Saenz considers himself “different” than his predecessor. Unlike the previous mayor, he aims to remain neutral. Personally, Saenz has both liberal and conservative views like many Laredoans. When Saenz was elected, he came in as the outsider. He was the independent candidate coming from a professional career in law. He has good relations with the city manager, but he does acknowledge some of the gridlock in in city government. There is some divide between the Laredo establishment and new voices emerging in Laredo’s government. Saenz is one of one them, and understands the people who voted for him wanted change from the old institutions. With Laredo being a city that lives and breathes on economic trade, Saenz has been pushing for ways to create more and new jobs. Laredo’s populations grows by the day, and though he gave a modest number of 260,000, the city is probably pushing 300,000. With the city growing at a rapid rate, he understands that employment must also grow as well. Voter participation was also a large concern for the mayor. He takes note that many people in Laredo do not vote, which inhibits the democratic process. However, Saenz recognized the some of the political enthusiasm coming out of the presidential election. He was pleased with the amount of younger people becoming politically active, and hopes that their enthusiasm could reflect local politics as well. Likewise, Saenz was impressed in the student’s efforts to discuss local politics and be further involved with civil affairs. Concerning the city’s growth, Saenz has been working with different parties in looking to allocate funding and support into completing and maximizing Loop 20’s potentials. Performing these feats requires Saenz’ neutrality. He understands that to achieve such construction, he would have to cooperate with Democrats in the city and Republicans in the state legislature. Recently here on campus, a controversial petition was presented. The petition was originally intended to appear on the November ballot, and if passed, will add some strength to the mayor’s veto power. The petition comes as a reflex to some of the gridlock seen in the city council. Saenz does favor this. He understands that Laredoans elected him for a reason, and understands that legislations needs to get done. This gridlock cannot go on forever. He does not want the city’s government to look like the current U.S. Congress. Saenz was interviewed on FOX Business a few months ago where he was asked about some of the proposed plans by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. Though he does not have full confidence that Republicans will be achieving the White House, he did share his thoughts on the matter. He strongly acknowledges that harming relations with Mexico would cause severe economic damage to Laredo, other border cities, and the state of Texas. Saenz also agrees with the state legislature on their opposition to Trump’s proposals. He also knows that the increased presence of federal authorities in Laredo, such as the Department of Homeland Security and possibly the military, would turn the city from the one of the largest land ports to a defense fort. Laredo’s international trade would become a service to the military industrial complex. Though the heavy rhetoric coming from the Republican field is supported among their voters, Saenz feels confident to know that Laredo, for the most part, rejects these ideals. “If you remove yourself from the border area, it is very easy to say ‘build a wall’,” said Saenz Saenz believes that the people of Laredo, who are immigrants themselves or first-generation Americans, understand the plight of national acceptance. Laredo is mainly a Hispanic/Mexican-American city, but he agrees that the city and its people would be very welcoming to other foreigners of different background. Laredo may be relatively homogenous, but it does excel in tolerance. “Laredo is very welcoming. We’re good people,” he said. Saenz is definitely a man who understand the city, and its needs. He stays and works here for a reason. He hopes that more people, especially the young and educated, will consider staying in and improving Laredo, a growing city that is still worth investing in.
Melissa Castro, a new staff member for The Bridge News, also contributed to this report. The recently established Campus Carry Law comes into effect on August 1, 2016. It has has been raising eyebrows from Texas A&M International University (TAMIU) students. On April 27, 2016, The Texas A&M University System (TAMUS) Board of Regents accepted to comply with the law governing Campus Carry in all campuses including Texas A&M International University. TAMIU President Dr. Ray Keck states, “We are an agency of the State of Texas and are required by law to comply with the applicable Texas law. Our rules for the campus will be in place with the law’s activation later this year.” According to the Senate Bill 11, Campus Carry Law allows license holders to carry a concealed handgun on any campus of higher education private or independent in the state of Texas. Despite the approval of Senate Bill 11 by the TAMU Board of Regents, some TAMIU students still have some concerns on of carrying weapons on campus. In a recent 2016 TAMIU survey on campus carry, one student responded under the alias Henry responded, “Campus carry will not make the campus safer. We already have people committing crimes on parking lots over parking spaces. Most minor altercations would immediately escalate if both people were to possess firearms.” Another TAMIU student, Matthew Wirsching, states, “I am strongly for it. I think every person has the right to defend their own life and not have to rely on government to protect themselves”. Renee Mares, English major at TAMIU explains how, “It goes back to the safety precaution where students might abuse this law. So maybe it is best if P.D. is the only one to carry concealed weapons.” G.P. Franco, another TAMIU student acknowledged the new gun law are a positive measure. “I believe it is a great step forward for addressing the threat of school shootings that have occurred in recent years as students and faculty will now have the ability to be able to protect fellow students and visitors should an immediate situation arise.” TAMIU Police Chief Fructuoso San Miguel ensures that precautions have been taken by TAMIU P.D. which include mock drills which involve active shooters, and a freshman active shooting course on TrainTraq which will prepare students on how to respond in the case of an active shooting. Chief San Miguel quotes, “Let’s keep in mind that this is not open carry. There has been a misunderstanding that people are going to be walking around like in the Old Western Days. Campus carry must be concealed in a holster which concealed licensed holders should understand.” San Miguel also acknowledged the complications this could bring between those who carry and police officer, especially during an emergency. “What we have discussed here that we hope they identify themselves (concealed holders) because we don’t want an accidental shooting where we don’t know who is the bad guy. If we don’t know the officer will have seconds to think good guy or bad guy? So the officer may accidentally shoot the wrong person, or the officer might get shoot. So there is pros and cons to this. “ The weapon cannot be openly displayed and failure to comply with concealed standards will result in an immediate revoke of license. San Miguel also makes certain that all TAMIU P.D. use their, “discretion” before pointing out who might be an active shooter to prevent accidents. TAMIU P.D. undergoes various active shooter trainings through different agencies in order to prepare for such an event. Trevor Liddle, TAMIU associate vice president for administration and chair of TAMIU Campus Carry Task Force, reminds the community of specifics that are meant to enhance the safety of the campus through the Task Force. For example, Campus carry becomes obsolete in “areas where the concealed license holder would not be able to readily meet their duties, exclusion zones that TAMIU rules creates, student health and counseling centers, and in science and engineering facilities where the presence of a handgun could have unforeseen complications with science experiments”. The gun debate has been a hot topic in American society. Every so often, another mass shooting happens causing the death of innocent people including children. Texas, being a Republican state, is usually very considerate on their citizens’ Second Amendment rights. Now, as most people understand or should understand, a gun is not a patriotic item or symbol. It is a tool, designed in heavy detail, to cause death or serious bodily harm. That is its ultimate purpose. Guns do not shield from danger. They are used to for force protection. They are used for an offensive defense. That being said, those who do decide to carry after August 1 are going to have to always remember this when they carry. There are also some realities that TAMIU students must also consider. As San Miguel stated, this is concealed carry. There are rules to concealed carry. To obtain a license, a person must be twenty-one years or older. That already eliminates the eighteen, nineteen, and twenty year olds in the university. That already reduces a significant amount of students who would be eligible to carry. To obtain a license, one must attend a course, and be properly trained before being given the privilege. The course, itself, runs close to $200 in fees. On top of all that, students would have to go a purchase a handgun which usually pushes at $500. The average student may consider paying for a new car or new phone before purchasing a gun. Also, the cost of tuition may further deter students from purchasing a gun. Lastly, concealed carry requires that the weapon be hidden at time. As trivial as it may sound, the added responsibility to concealed carry only adds to the stress of university life. That being, expect for a select type of character to be carrying a concealed weapon. At the end of the day, the type of students would likely be carrying concealed weapons are going to be the off-duty police officers and border patrol agents who attend classes, military veterans, and generally older individuals. Under that notion, students are likely to feel comfortable knowing that these individuals are the ones carrying. However, universities are sacred institutions of knowledge, and no one should come to a place of learning with violence in their hearts. Sadly, that is all very idealistic, and the reasons behind owning a gun is another debate for another time. In light of this news, those who felt a new arms race was coming to TAMIU should feel less cynical when given the proper information.