COLONIA GENOCIDE

Introduction | Real Life Examples | My Story

Strike One | Strike Two | Home Run - HB 2096 | Alternatives | Letters

Follow-Up: SET UP FOR FAILURE! | UPDATE 7/7/08 | Letter from Anonymous

SEX OFFENDER STAYS: VICTIM CANNOT COME HOME

NEW! UPDATE - SB 2253! | Helpful Links

Introduction

If you already know what a colonia is, then you probably live on the US-Mexico border.   A colonia is any unincorporated community within 50 miles of the border that lacks infrastructure.  If you are not aware of all of the laws that have changed the face of colonias (and their residents) then there are some links at the bottom of this article to aid you in your quest.  In the meantime...

As an anthropology student at UTEP, and a colonia home owner, I have to say that I personally find many of the colonia laws discriminating against the homeowners and landowners.  Many of the laws were designed to go after developers have not always helped those who have bought their land and lived on it.  Some good work has been done though, like the "Fair Land Sales Act."  These subsequent laws were brought forth to aid the colonia dwellers and refinance their land so they don't lose it (and their homes they had built on that land).  The contract for deed issues were then meant to be a problem of the past because it built in consumer protection.  Since 2001 owners in Texas can utilitize the Bootstrap Loan Program to obtain a self-help mortgage for their property.  But this program is not always supported by all, and some initiatives tried to get it banned in 2005, but thanks to social justice organizations those efforts were stopped. 

The real issue concerning colonias was not always in their growth, in what is termed "urban sprawl and poverty," for migration patterns and civilization and city growth have historically been through the expansion of its borders.   The wealth of the cities swallowing up the edges of its boundaries, and their so-called "fringe societies" through economic development and the construction of buildings and homes.  It is not unlike a hand's fingers reaching out and grabbing up what is still within its reach and taking it for its own, and pulling those folks from outside into the money-producing tax base in the process.  Cities can "grow" by adding new people within it's current boundaries, or via the moving outward of its previous boundaries and drawing new lines to incorporate those that already existed beyond them

In pre-history (pre-neolithic, more than 10Kya) it was the practices of migration, hunting and gathering, and nomadic lifestyles of sapiens sapiens that was a consistent part of life.  The concept of staying in one place long-term and building up civilizations only became popular with the advent of agriculture, and the consequential freeing up of peoples' time, which was the selective pressure for invention and specialization of trades and the arts.  This is a fairly new development since for hundreds of thousands of years mankind and his/her ancestors did not live in cities.   Furthermore, it is an ethnocentric -- which is not only a narrow view but also biased -- idea and view on the part of city-dwellers to think and behave and create laws that make outlying law-abiding citizens into "the others" (outcasts) by stereotyping them and labeling them with prejudiced words such as "illegal," "colonias," "wretched," "poor," "filthy," "drinking their own excrement," "ignorant," and other choice terms.  The fact is that these colonia-dwelling "others" would be considered "normal" if only they moved their belongings into the city's boundaries instead of living outside of them.  This is an abominable way to treat human beings!

The worst thing of all is the violation of human rights by this colonia genocide, which is based merely on geography.   Some might argue the point that statistics show that severe poverty, high unemployment rates, and health problems abound in colonias, and that is something that I have to wholeheartedly agree with IN SOME, and maybe even MOST CASES (in some areas), but certainly not all.  Regardless of the percentages, it is the stereotypical labeling and across-the-board punishments that the colonia laws create for colonia dwellers that many of us consider a crime.  It is a simple aspect of "blame the victim" syndrome when it comes to our government.  This is structural violence, and also, selective victimization

I have personally heard statements from our El Paso County officials say things like, "Well those people knew about the conditions before moving there, before they bought that land, so why should they be running to us asking for help now after all of these years?  Why should we help them now?   Water is not our business.Notice the "those people" terminology shows this particular individual thinks of anyone outside of his inner-city group as "the other."  Mr. Commissioner (I will not name names), beg my pardon but if your business is to serve the people of the community, then realize YOU WORK FOR THEM, not the other way around -- understanding that they pay taxes, which pays your salary, and you CAN be voted OUT of office!  When will the tax-paying people of the districts of El Paso county be vindicated?  When will our officials care enough to make a difference, rather than cause the difference to be perpetuated through unemotive detatchment and uncaring indifference?

If the problems of colonias include poverty then poverty-stricken people should be helped, not punished. 

If the problem is unemployment, then where's the anti-colonia laws helping those that need jobs to find them?

If the problem is health then where are the anti-colonia laws that aid the people in obtaining help in any/all areas of health?

The question that begs to be asked is:

WHY ARE THE COLONIA LAWS, THAT WERE INTENDED TO ADDRESS DEVELOPERS, CAUSING THE COLONIA DWELLERS THEMSELVES TO BE PUNISHED AND OPPRESSED?

REAL-LIFE EXAMPLES (stories I've personally heard from others):

Wasted Money on Illegal Land
1) People have unwittingly purchased land that was suddenly "illegal" to buy, spent time and money to clear their land by machine or by hand, pay for a septic tank to be installed, and then discovered that they could not get electricity because the electric companies are bound by the laws that were created to stop colonia growth.  In order to get electricity you must already have running water provided from the city.  Other rules that are in place also hurt the purchaser, who only wants a place to live that is affordable.  The folks that this has happened to have had to abandon their efforts, their land, the dream of owning their own property, and have had substantial financial loss, which altogether does nothing but harm the families that are trying to improve themselves and their situation.

Selective Victimization
2) Before the 1980's and 1990's the idea of purchasing land and building a home was considered homesteading.  Today it is considered illegal... at least if you live in a border colonia.  Anywhere else in the country homesteading can still be done, however (more selective victimization).  The right to be able to buy property, invest in real estate, develop property, live there and/or sell it, is no longer a viable option for individuals, families, individual investors, and even many developers.  Hueco Mountain Estates was one of the land sales companies to sue for damages done to their business for legislation that made selling their land "illegal" since 1995.   Outside of the colonia boundaries of a 150 mile radius the same size and type of surveyed lands can be bought and sold via the right to contract (protected by the U.S. Constitution).  Civil wrongs regarding contracts, etc. falls under the Tort law.

Investment... NOT!
3) A young couple purchased land in El Paso County, paid a company for a registered septic tank, hooked up their electricity, built their house (after living in a mobile home the first number of years), got a water tank, pump, and pressure tank, and were proud to be homeowners for the first time.  Their taxes were far more affordable than in the city.  They didn't qualify for a house in town due to their lack of credit, and lack of enough money, and lack of enough income to pay for the outrageous house mortgage payments.  With the El Paso ecomony and unemployment rates being so detrimental to families (lacking a living wage), they both worked at minimum, or barely above minimum wage jobs.  In lieu of this, their house out in the county was perfect for them, but today, even as continued proud homeowners who turn on their faucet just like anyone else (in the city - with their city water hauled in and filtered instead of piped in), they cannot ever sell their house or move away or they will lose everything they've invested.  If one of them gets a better-paying job in another city they cannot take the opportunity without losing their house, since it is now "illegal" and not sellable.

Human Rights Violation
4) A family who could not afford to live in town, and wanted to own their own land and house, bought land in El Paso county.  Afterwards they found out, from the electric company, that in order to get electricity they needed to have city water.  The family lives there today, not only without water, but also without electricity.  So now the law that was intended for developers has harmed this particular family (among MANY others) by making their home environment even more unhealthy than before the colonia laws went into effect.  They do not have running water from a well or a tank and pump, and they are not able to run lights, watch TV, run an electric can opener, radio, hair dryer, refrigerator and freezer, toaster/toaster oven, washing machine and dryer, or a host of other life-enhancing electric appliances.  The laws intended to protect people from living without running water has actually CAUSED them to live without any type of running water, and without electricity, so that they (and their children) are forced to exist in the third world conditions of a developing country.

Unfortunately, the same selective laws that were designed to stop colonia growth, are exactly what is responsible for this kind of structural violence.  It affects human rights because it affects health.  Poverty and families being forced to live under these conditions are subjected to extreme hardship, and pressures and stresses to their mental and emotional health.

Based on the current colonia laws in TX, and other border-surrounding states, there are rules that will not allow you to purchase land that is under 5 acres, but can be bought if they are 5 acres and above. 

If you have electricity, and then turn it off for ANY reason, you will not be able to get it back on.  We found this out the hard way. 

MY STORY

Our own house in the Hueco Tanks area, east of El Paso, which we spent a few years and $10K to add three bedrooms onto, plus spent thousands of dollars and 6 months to fix up, repaint, add a hardwood floor, 1/2 bathroom, new faucets,  etc. to in order to prepare it for renting out (because we had to move because of a family emergency, so we chose to be closer to UTEP where I was taking classes anyway), was all stolen from us when we found out our electricity wasn't going to be turned back on into our tenants' names.  Realize that just 2 months prior (late June, 2007) to this the electric company HAD put the electric on in a previous tenant's name, but since she didn't pay us the rent we had to evict her.  This was a $1,100 loss in itself (including court fees), but what came next was worse.

Strike One

The new tenants called in to get the electricity turned over to thier name, but they were denied service (Aug 30, 2007 - the day after the electricity had been turned off).  When I went to put the electricity back on in my name (the owner), I was also refused

The electric company told us that the electricity had been put on in the previous tenant's name on accident because it was "overlooked" and that it was their error.  They had us zoned within the city limits, and once they discovered we were in the county instead, our account was flagged and they could not, BY LAW, turn our electricity back on without a "certificate of compliance" to prove we were worthy of such. 

We needed a Certificate of Compliance, so I went to apply for one at the County Roads and Bridges office, bringing with me the copy of my original deed from 1991, and the required information, but they told me we didn't qualify for the certificate due to not having city water.

At that point I was told there was an exemption, and in order to qualify I had to:

1. Be the original owner prior to the 1995 colonia laws (which I was, and provided the 1991 deed),
2. The foundation of the house had to be in place prior to that date (which it was, in early 1995),
3. We had to show a registration for septic tank compliance (which I provided from 1994).  

ALL of these things were shown and we were still denied the certificate of compliance due to a technicality they would not approve... I had transferred the property to my brother in 1997 before transferring it back to us in 2000, which caused us to lose our property being grandfathered in, even though the property had remained within the family.  At this point I felt they were picking on us and were just purposefully causing harm.  The county attorney's office insisted they were just "following the law."  This was a human rights violation, and a violation of our rights as homeowners and taxpayers.  I had just had electricity the week before, so why deny it to us after all of these years of having it legally?

I went home and couldn't sleep that night.  I had done all I could to get the electricity turned back on, and now it was the weekend and nothing could be done for many days, especially since it was Labor Day weekend (a 3-day weekend).  I cried not as much as for my house but for the family that had moved in, couldn't get electricity, and had to stay with relatives because they were made instantly homeless because of these victimizing colonia laws.  The entire day had been wasted trying to get the electricity on by obtaining the correct documents from the City-County Health (for the septic registration), and the County Clerk's (for the deeds), and then bringing them to County Roads and Bridges, only to be denied.  It was so humiliating and disturbing that I was nauseated and nearly fainted.  I cried myself to sleep.

The next day I decided that it was unfair and morally and spiritually unethical to treat people this way... not just us, but ALL colonia dwellers, since I figured we were far from being the only ones this had happened to.  I decided to email (on a Saturday) they county attorney, who was the one who was to decide if an "exception" could or would be made in our situation of transferring our property to my brother and back to us, since it had remained within the family.  I copied the County Comissioners, County Judge, Senator, Congressman, the newspaper Editor, as well as El Paso Electric, plus others.  I would have to wait till Tuesday of the next week before anything could be done, however. 

Strike Two

The following week's trials would continue.  Tuesday and Wednesday came and went, and no answers came in our favor.  We went to speak with the county attorney's office personally, but they didn't find any answers for us.  I had made a bold move to email so many people to make the officials accountable, since our taxes pay their salaries, but the answers were still the same.  By Wednesday evening we felt defeated, but my anger turned it over to determination.  Victimization is a choice; it is up to us to say NO! I didn't know where to turn, but then, when it seemed utterly hopeless I hit a streak of luck.  The legislation that was affecting us had come at the State level, and it was at that level that we turned to in order to find our answer.

Home Run - HB 2096

I was told about our Texas House of Representatives creating a new house bill (HB 2096) that just went into effect on Sept 1, 2007, just several days earlier!  I was actually the first one to use this house bill to get my electricity turned back on a week after it was turned off.  I went to the local Representative's office for my district to speak with them personally.  Thanks to TX House Rep Quintanilla's help (he is truly a man who is for the people) and his staff, along with Commissioner Sarinana (who called me daily to keep me informed), and the county of El Paso, we were able to put the bill to use.  My electricity was back on as of Sept 7, 2007.

The HB 2096 details and criteria are here:  
http://www.capitol.state.tx.us/BillLookup/History.aspx?LegSess=80R&Bill=HB2096 
 
I wrote this page to help others who have homes in colonias (it used to be called living in "the country," which is exactly WHY I had bought that property, because I am not a city-type of gal, and I like my independence and privacy).  Hopefully this bill will help MANY others (perhaps you) who have been victims of the structural violence of colonia genocide.

Remember that victimization is a choice; don't let our law and policy makers victimize you and your family.  Don't let them take away your right to have a home of your own, to build it as you can afford it (building one room at a time is NOT against the law!), and to let them promote prejudice against you by making you "the other."   The ONLY difference between you and city dwellers is geographic location.    The poor of El Paso city are no better off than the poor of El Paso county... they just live closer to the monopoly of the utility companies that our government is protecting, and promoting via colonia laws.  There are alternatives that are not illegal, which are available to the public.  Also, not all of the colonia dwellers are poor!  Not all of them have water wells, but they can have access to clean and filtered water. 

Remember that if you meet the criteria for a certificate of compliance EXCEPT for city water you can dig a well.  If your water well passes the required test you might be able to get your certificate of compliance.  Check with your local county for the rules in your area to see if you qualify.

ALTERNATIVES

Alternatives to city water include having a water well, a water tank (make sure it is safe for potable water!) and pump with a household filtration system, and a sink R/O filter.   There are also solar water distillers to purify your water on-site, which do not require water pressure or electricity.

There are special septic tanks approved by the TCEQ that recycle black water (toilet and kitchen sink water), and gray water (water from showers and sinks, except the kitchen sink).  There are legal gray water collection methods and recycling tanks to water your plants.  Sun-Mar composting toilets are also NSF approved, and there are both electric and non-electric types, plus no water, and low-water use types.

Electricity can be used via a generator (although these pollute many times more than using electric from your local company) but they are very expensive to use.  There is also solar energy (as of this writing is it is about $4/watt, which is not cheap), and wind energy (which is 1/10th the cost of solar, but is not always feasable everywhere).  There are solar yard lights, and many other solar products out there.   Unless you are VERY frugal with how much electricity you use then don't expect to spend less than $5K-$20K for a small solar system to meet your most very basic needs.   The best bet is to learn more before buying.  Remember that for every electric appliance, light, and implement that you can substitute with a non-electric version, you will reduce the need for great amounts of electricity to begin with.

There are propane gas refrigerators, DC refrigerators, and other appliances (even propane clothes dryers, as well as clothes lines for air drying... consider solar clothes dryers also) available for areas without electricity and/or running water.  There are wind-up radios, and flashlights that last almost forever without batteries.  Technology and the internet now give people nearly unlimited choices and alternatives.  For those who like more old fashioned items there is also always www.lehmans.com .

You can build a passive solar home and save on heating and cooling.  You can utilize earth tubes to cool your home in the summer.  You can even build your home with a tornado and hurricane resistant design. Consider alternative construction techniques also. 

Whatever of the above alternatives (or even something else I have not mentioned here), just be safe; be legal!  Our government would like people to believe that there is NO other way except the way they approve, but it's simply not true.  There are many viable and legal and safe and wonderful options.  Don't let these oppressive laws get you down... be creative!

Good luck, and don't give up!   

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Letters

Sept 6, 2007

From the Assistant County Attorney:

Dear Ms. Cornet:

As with all requests for certificates of compliance, you will need to fill out an application for the certificate and pay the required $25.00 application fee.  The application form is available at the Roads and Bridges Department on the 4th floor (Rm. 407) of the County Courthouse.  The fee should be paid to the County Auditors (Rm. 406).  You will need to submit the completed and notarized application to the Roads and Bridges Department who will review it and notify you. The actual certificate of compliance is created electronically and is still being developed for final issuance.  However, to accommodate your request,  upon approval of your request by Roads and Bridges,  I will notify ***** at El Paso Electric that  the request has been approved and service may be authorized.  

You will need to contact ***** at EPEC regarding any deposits, date of service commencement, or other matters relating to the Electric Company.  She may be contacted at 543-5711.

*****

Assistant County Attorney

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Sept 6, 2007

Letter to TX House of Representatives:

Thanks so much for all you did today, and for making sure that bills like HB 2096 were created! 
 
Sharon

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Sept 7, 2007

Hi Sharon,

It was quite a moment for us as well.  It is rare that a legislator and his staff get to experience the benefit of their work so soon after it becomes effective.  Your case was exactly the intent of the bill.  Our office will be here if you have any other questions concerning colonia laws.

Thank you for allowing us to assist you and your family.

Robert Grijalva, Chief of Staff

Office of Representative Chente Quintanilla

Texas House of Representatives

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The following week I went back to the county courthouse building, shook hands with, and personally THANKED County Commissioner Sarinana, the Assistant County Attorney, and County Roads and Bridges in person for taking the time to help in this matter.

 

FOLLOW-UP: SET UP FOR FAILURE!:

I had thanked the County Attorney (among others) at the county courthouse in early September, and had saved my house out of absolute desperation.  I moved out of our apartment and soon realized that there was no way I could just force the people out of my house and into the streets "just like that."  It was not only unethical, but it was against the law.  By real estate law, I had to give these folks at least 30 days (minimum) to vacate the premises.  

Unfortunately, and evidently, it would take me a month, via a certified letter from the County Attorney, to realize that not even 2 weeks after the electric was turned on, the County Attorney called into EP Electric and had them send their investigator to my neighbors to ask questions on whether I was living at the house, or not (my neighbors were clueless as to what was going on, so told them false information).  Understand, because of the county's actions, which I now have in writing, I was not allowed to follow the law, and give these folks 30 days to move out!  This is so highly unethical on the part of El Paso county, and was obviously a ploy to set me up for failure. Why?  Because the county must obey the laws/legislation made by the state of Texas (The Assistant County Attorney told me this personally), and the states laws, such as:

Subchapters B, C, and E of Chapter 232 (my house is outside of the ETJ (Extra Territorial Jurisdiction, a limited area surrounding the city limits, in the county)), 
HB 2096 (allowing me (or anyone) to occupy the (their) house and retain electric service – even though, in my case, it was on continually since the early 1990’s, and turned off by EP Electric on August 29, 2007 without informing me I would not be able to get it back on), 
HB 1001 (which was aimed at Developers selling land within 200 miles of the border – but has consequently victimized the victims, the colonia dwellers themselves), 
SB 2
(EDAP (Economically Depressed Areas Program) monies reliant on MSR (Model Subdivision Rules) enforcement) that was modified by... 
HB 1189
(from subdividing 1 acre or less to 5 acres or less – which shouldn’t apply to my property since it was platted and sold/bought prior to MSR adoption), 
HB 2079 (where the TX Attorney General’s office can get involved – and in this case I hope they do), 

It’s too bad, for the county, that HB 1817 (allowing code enforcement and zoning ability by the county) was defeated, but according to the C.P.A. and a TX Licensed Surveyor I spoke with, this is to my advantage, and to other colonia residents' advantage as well.

After all of this, I’ve been getting conflicting stories by attorneys, Real Estate companies, Co. Roads and Bridges, and others, on whether or not the certificate of compliance will actually, eventually, allow me to sell my house... ??? (NOTE: I received a response via a phone conversation with Mr. Rivera at County Roads and Bridges on 7/7/08 that once electricity service is shut off in a colonia then a certificate of compliance is NOT TRANSFERRABLE to anyone else in the future (it is only transferrable if it is grandfathered in, PRIOR to service disconnect and reconnect.)  We do not qualify for a transferrable certificate of compliance, therefore our house can never be sold or rented, and we can never move without losing our property value (and we still would have to pay the house payments anyway).

Realize that the Texas state laws (i.e. "colonia laws") sole purpose it to ELIMINATE COLONIAS, and STOP COLONIA GROWTH.  Allowing me to have electricity, since we have had it all of these years, since before my house was built (which also preceded colonia laws, therefore allowing me to retain electric service back in the 1990's), was NOT causing colonia "growth," since GROWTH requires NEW DEVELOPMENT.  My house was grandfathered in, and is not new development; however, it is still outside of the ETJ, and is part of an unincorporated community, so therefore it still falls under the state of Texas' sole goal for colonias... TO ELIMINATE ME.  Colonias are not places/buildings, they are PEOPLE.  Without people living in the homes, the colonias cease to exist (according to the State), so therefore, the state of Texas is selectively victimizing colonia residents by discriminating based on geographic location (i.e. "within 200 miles of the US-Mexico border"), and now causing structural violence to colonia residents by using the county to enforce, and ultimately the local electric company as their tool regarding that enforcement).  If this is not true, then why are my efforts to keep my house, and retain electric service being thwarted and set up for failure at every turn?  If it is not true, then why has the county attorney (one individual in particular) taken EP Electric company's word for it (one person, whom I will not name) that, in the investigative report "confirmed" that I was not living in my house?  Unless they were spying on me (invasion of privacy) then all they could muster this information from is because the electric was not turned off at the apartment right away... but this is because my husband and son chose to stay at the apartment, since my son is deeply involved with his school and friends there and don't want to go back to the house right now.  Running the home business from the apartment is also easier for my husband, since cable internet service is far superior in speed than a land-line connection.  If I move into the house my husband does not have the right to run his business out of the other place he lives (he is not on the deed, I am)?  Unless EPE had spoken directly with me/us on these matters (which they did not), then it was information based on assumption, at best.  EPE could not "confirm" anything, just like they cannot confirm anything similar in the future unless they choose to invade our privacy.  THERE IS NO LAW, NOT EVEN ONE ASSOCIATED WITH A COLONIA LAW, THAT REQUIRES ELECTRIC SERVICE AT ONLY ONE'S PRIMARY DOMICILE.  In other words, they cannot require any family or person(s) to stop electric service at one location (a second home, a business, a summer or winter home, etc.), in order to have it at another location (one's primary domicile).  And what if people own more than one home?  Which is their primary domicile?  If they spend 6 mos at one, and 6 mos at the other, then BOTH are their domiciles, equally.  If someone goes on a trip to Peru for a half a year, or even 3 mos., to do missionary work, and are not occupying their house during that time, then is it not still their primary domicile?  People do this all of the time, and yet EPE and the County REQUIRED that we had to turn off the electric at the apartment, and the lady from EPE actually called me and asked me, "When do you want me to turn off the electricity at the apartment?"  This is illegal.

The fact is, that when the electricity was turned on, we couldn't afford to keep both the apartment and the house due to financial constraints, but my husband had since signed a new contract for work and received his first check soon afterwards, so keeping both places then became no problem.  

Furthermore, the folks who were in the house ran a business from there (fax, phone, internet, heavy equipment, etc.) and home-based businesses are not illegal either, but yet the county and EPE and the state of TX wanted them OUT, and NOW, even though they informed me that they have been looking for an alternative place to go, but haven't yet been able to find one that meets their needs the way this house does.  We are all looking into different options that will HELP everyone involved, rather than HURT them (as the state, the county, and EPE are working so hard to do), especially since this "certificate of compliance" may not even a viable option in the long term.

It is important to note that when I received the certified letter from the County Attorney (dated Oct 15, 2007 - since the EPE investigation was done on Sept 21, 2007) I was told that EPE "confirmed" I was not living at the apartment (which is a bogus assumption), and that my neighbors "confirmed" I was "renting" the house as a "landlord" (also untrue), and that I was making a "profit" (absolutely untrue, since in every way (that is entirely documented and provable) we are taking a major loss on this property no matter what we do with it), I WAS THREATENED WITH PERJURY (an attempt to criminalize the victim) if I didn't remedy the situation.  I immediately sought legal counsel, and we obtained a letter from a local engineering firm stating that drilling a well (to get water, which is another way to get the certificate of compliance) with a filtration system is NOT financially feasible for domestic use.  The water in Hueco is very deep (500' - 1200' deep) and is most often brackish.  Even a local hydrologist I spoke with on the phone laughed when he heard I was asking about drilling a well there, because it was not within normal/adequate means or even logical to do so in the Hueco Tanks area.  So a water well is the ONLY other option to living in the house, in order to get a certificate of compliance (for us), and yet that is not an option at all.  Legal counsel, showing this information to the County Attorney, still refused to issue us the certificate of compliance THAT THEY PROMISED US IN EARLY SEPTEMBER, BUT LIED to me.  They never had any plans to issue it to me, evidently, but set me up for failure instead.

I had asked for a copy of the infamous "10-page Investigative Report" from EP Electric, but EPE refused to give me a copy of it.  They told me to ask the County Attorney for a copy, but their staff couldn't find anything in their file.  A call back to EPE gave me the information that I could obtain a copy of the report from the Sheriff's Dept., but when I went there there was no such copy in any of their files (I have a signed and dated statement from the Sheriff's dept. saying so, written on their own internal request form).  It took $500 and hiring a lawyer  in order to finally get a "1-page Supplemental Report" and so far my request to anyone and everyone has denied me any chance of obtaining a copy of the original report.  Perhaps there is a reason they didn't want me to see it?  I wondered if it even existed at all.

Realize this... we ONLY moved away from our house originally in order to get away from the man next door who is a sex offender!!!

I could not ethically rent that house or sell it or let anyone live there who had children, and if they did have children I absolutely INFORMED them of the sex offender next door so they could make their own choice, which they did.

The people in the house, as of fall 2007, were still trying to find a place to move to even though they really WANTED to stay.

My husband and son and I were going to have to split our family up in order for me to live at the house to keep the electricity on, so that my son could finish out his school term in town.  

My kids can NEVER live in that house again due to the sexual offender next door (he knew our family well, and one of my children was his victim).  

IF my kids were ever to be placed next door to the sex offender, then I would be arrested for putting them in harms way, and CPS would abduct my children from me, and tear apart my family (again), terrorizing and traumatizing my family further.  My one child can NEVER live there, but I am being FORCED to live there (so we don't lose everything we owe on the house -- equaling $58+K by the time all the interest and loans are paid off) in order to keep the electricity on.  

So far, EPE has REQUIRED (forced) my whole family to move from the apartment and live in the house, which is illegal. If I didn't they threatened perjury.

Even though the Assistant Co. Attorney knew about the sexual offender from the time I first met with him, and he knew that my kids should not be near that man next door, he still had EPE do the "dirty work" and send the investigator prior to me being able to obey the law (30 days notice) to FORCE us to move in there anyway.

The D.A. offered the sex offender a guilty plea with NO TIME SERVED (in prison), and with NO RESTITUTION/COMPENSATION to be paid to the victim and the victim's family, and was NOT REQUIRED TO MOVE AWAY FROM NEXT DOOR, plus, to top all of that off, the victim and the victim's family were not told about the sex offender's plea hearing, so OUR VICTIM'S RIGHTS WERE VIOLATED, and Victim's Assistance (which is part of the D.A.'s office -- kind of like having the fox guarding the hen house, eh?) apologized profusely, but said that it was too late to do anything.

We consulted (not free) with a Board Certified Attorney, and were told that WE CANNOT SUE THE SEX OFFENDER FOR HIS PROPERTY BECAUSE HE IS PROTECTED BY THE HOMESTEAD LAW, which means one cannot force another person out of their primary domicile... and yet that is exactly what EP County, and especially the State of TEXAS is trying to do to people via these harmful colonia laws!!!  So the sex offender is off the hook, protected by the state, and the victim's are being victimized further, to the point of criminalization, just because we want to protect our kids, and save our house by not losing everything we own (and owe).

I called the sex offender's Probation Officer and a status hearing was set up to see about getting the sex offender to move away, via another method (an amendment to his probation terms), but the Probation Officer misrepresented (who had no right to "represent" me anyway, since this person was NOT my legal counsel) what I was planning on telling the judge, and so the judge refused to make the offender move away, and he refused to see me or my child (who were sitting in the next room waiting to see the judge), and he refused to read the letter I had written stating the facts and problems of this whole mess.  We tried again another time, and called again another time, but were continually refused.   They said, "Hire a civil lawyer," which I couldn't afford.  We were basically screwed, in favor of the sex offender... again.

Where is justice in this country? 

Where is justice in this county? 

Where is justice in this city? 

Where is justice at all?

Colonias exist because of the PEOPLE in them, not because of the buildings (or how the buildings are built).  Colonia laws were meant to go after the developers (also people), and the colonia residents are the ones being persecuted and not allowed utility services (making their lives even harder for those who choose to stay... perhaps out of having no other choice or place to go)

This is not helping anyone, including the utility companies (because they are losing business too).  The utility companies are also "stuck" being the "enforcer" for these state/county rules, which is not a fair requirement when they are not even equipped for such (in analogy: its like giving UPS delivery men/women the responsibility to tell the people they deliver packages to that they can no longer receive shipments from anyone because of where they live, after they've already refused them the package that was available to them, but suddenly isn't). People who are told by the electric company that they cannot get their electricity on (or back on) are going to be very angry at the utility company(ies), and will want to hold them legally accountable if they were not informed of these laws prior to their electricity being turned off.  Not everybody qualifies for HB2096.   Not everybody can stay at their homes, and yet don't want to lose all their property value due to a lack of electricity service being available. 

These laws are unfair, unjust, victimizing, a violation of our Constitutional rights and property owner rights, not to mention discriminating against its own citizens (across the board, based on geographic location -- which although targets Hispanic/ Latino/ Chicano/ Mexican minorities, and immigrants, but also Caucasians, Native Americans, Asians, those of mixed-genetic heritage, and a host of other Americans and peoples).

The state of Texas needs to answer me on why these laws are victimizing the victims so thoroughly.  I want answers!  Don't you?

UPDATE: 7/7/08

I had packed my bags numerous times and told the folks in our house that if they wouldn't move out I would have to move in WITH them in order to avoid being brought up on perjury charges.  So in November of 2007 the people in our house decided they wanted to buy the house instead of have me move in (they had kept saying I could come but then would call and refuse me when I was on my way, stating the house or room wasn't "ready" for me yet) but I said that in order to allow them to purchase the home they would have to go OFF-GRID (meaning have NO electricity service).  We spoke of a solar energy system, some independent solar lights, a propane fridge, and an industrial sized diesel generator (all to the tune of about $12.5K) and it was agreed that my family would take out a personal loan to pay off the privately financed mortgage, and the home equity loan (so there would be no notes on the home), and to purchase the solar system and other items.  I paid $300 for a new contract to be written up by our attorney (who was familiar with colonia laws) to ensure that EVERYTHING was done legally, and we stated that the house was off-grid and had a septic tank and no city water (hauled water only).   By December the contract was ready, but the solar system was delayed in being delivered.  We tried to get a team of people together in January to install the solar system, but it still didn't arrive until after, so we had to keep delaying the installation.  By the end of January the people had stopped paying and I gave them a 30-days notice to vacate, but they came with cash and paid everything up to date, so I couldn't make them leave.  They said they still wanted to buy the house.

FINALLY the solar system arrived, but the people had deaths in their family so said they just wanted to install it themselves, later.  We cancelled the installation altogether.  In the meantime I had called EPEC on January 11th so they would turn off the electricity on the 14th.   On the 17th or so I called EPEC to verify if the electricity had been turned off and they said it was still on, but in the other peoples' name!  Evidently they had called in and had this done without my knowledge.  I was furious because I felt that it would put me back in the hot seat legally, but also realized that it was their bill at this point, since it was in their name.  I was not legally responsible for their bill.

I found out later that the reason they called EPEC to have the electric service put in their name was because although the solar system arrived, the inverter was missing.  Without the inverter the entire solar system will not work!  The folks in our house said they were ready to sign the paperwork to buy the house (via the new contract).  We set a day to get together to sign the contract, but THE VERY DAY THEY WERE GOING TO SIGN TO PURCHASE THE HOUSE WE LOST THE SALE because EPEC decided to change the electric bill back into MY name, and send them a "final bill" stating such, and EPEC did so WITHOUT MY KNOWLEDGE OR CONSENT.  The people backed out of the deal.  I called EPEC to complain about the switch of the electricity service back into my name and they asked if I wanted to cut off the service, but since I was told by my attorney that I was NOT legally liable for their bill (which EPEC put into my name without telling me) I could not authorize a disconnect of the peoples' service (since I was not liable for the bill).  Only the people using the service could do so, and since the inverter had not arrived there would be no electricity at the house. 

The inverter finally arrived but the solar system was never installed.  I sent the folks the electric bills but they never paid them.  I sent them (via fax, plus phone messages and sometimes emails) the final notice from EPEC that the electricity was going to be turned off in April, but they never returned my calls or paid the electric bills.  I allowed the consequences of their actions to find their natural end and the electricity was turned off in mid-April.   They also had quit paying me any house payments since January, so went into default.   In the meantime we were going under financially and were under great stress.   All of the time and energy and loans and solar system (and other large items) purchases, new contract, etc. was all for naught.  I strove so hard to help this situation but it seemed that fate (and colonia laws that caused such a fate) had other plans.  Because of EPEC causing a ruckus with the "final bill" issue the people backed out of the purchase that same day, and because they were afraid that they "might still not be able to live there because of the colonia laws" (a real fear/concern that the lady specifically asked me about multiple times, due to the wording in one tiny section of the contract (which was explained by the lawyer and appeared to settle the situation -- but evidently it didn't!) the people wound up moving out of the house (after the electricity was  already off).

The people promised to clean the house completely, mop it, get the dog poop smell out of the house, and make sure everything was back the way it was, including picking up all of their tires, pallets, railroad ties, and poles and fencing materials (plus other junk and raw garbage and trash, which was strewn all over the place) out of the yardThey said they would pay the $300+ overdue electric bill amount that was due in order for us to move back into our own house, which was THEIR bill, but illegally put back into my name without EPEC even having the courtesy to inform me about.  EPEC refused to turn our electricity back on until it was paid.   The people moved out, but their "mopping" job just smeared poop all over.   The house stunk.  There was a hole busted in the kitchen wall that had to be repaird by our contractor.  Two of the top cap burners on the range were missing (costing $104 to replace).  One wheel to the dishwasher drain rack was gone.   Dried poop and other stains were all over the floor, the wall and wall trim, and the new sink cabinet in the 2nd bathroom (from puppies they kept in there). There was much more and it was a horrible mess. None of the stuff in the yard was cleaned up and we had to hire neighbor teenagers to pick up the yard, and to get all of the trash and white grocery bags out of the bushes and cacti.  Widespread piles of dog poop remained in different places since they had tied their dogs up outside.  The dog chain damaged the corner of the metal shed in the back yard.  Worst of all, WE not only had to pay the $300+ electric bill THEY had run up and not paid, but we had to pay $210 to a cleaning company (they upped their price from $180 to $190 once they heard how bad it was, and upped the price again to $210 once they SAW how bad it was with their own eyes!) to clean the house.  The slight smell of the dog poop was still lingering, and a stale smell was in the air despite the cleaning agents used on the floors, appliances, walls, etc.  It was a horrid mess, an expensive and wearisome event, but we finally were able to move into the house in May of 2008.   By then I had had so much stress due to these and other legal issues that I had had a breakdown (April 18th) and quit my $32K/yr job, my new grantwriting job, I abandoned my classes at UTEP, and quit everything else.  I couldn't function or focus.  I was suicidal and felt HOPELESS to change anything, and that we had NO FUTURE because of all of these legal issues and the problems with the house, and not being able to get my daughter back, etc.  There were so many other things happening that I can't even write here.  It was far too overwhelming.   What kind of future could we have if I couldn't get away from that man next door and get my daughter back?  That was the bottom line for me.  We were screwed by the system that was supposed to protect us.

Today (7/7/08) I finally found out for sure that the certificate of compliance that we have will NOT EVER transfer to anyone else in the future, which is the opposite of what the lady at EPEC told me (she said it would stay with the property no matter who owned it).  We went through hell to get our electricity turned back on, even then (that's a whole other story) via HB2096, but it finally was turned back on in our names.  Now we face dealing with what we're going to do next month (August) when we have to register the kids for school when my daughter is still not able to live with us, and won't be as long as the sex offender still lives next door.  Do we abandon the house and still have to pay for it anyway?  Do we lose everything all over again after paying all this money to move back in and clean everything up?

To be continued.... keep check and refresh often.  We're not done with this battle yet.  

(c) Sharon Cornet 2007, 2008


An anonymous letter received on 10/13/08
Published with Permission

Dear Sharon,

It was with great interest that I read your article about difficulties with El Paso Electric in the Hueco Tanks Area, because I have spent the past three days checking out the Hueco Mountain Mountain Estates.   I have selected a 5.1 acre lot and intend to buy it unless I hear from you that I should not.

County Road and Bridge Department told me today that Hueco Tanks Mountain Estates lots are exempt from many of the other regulations regarding running water.  After studying the cheap land market for several months, I frankly don’t know who to trust, however.   

Your article also explained a lot in terms of why the entire real estate industry seems determined to get you under the weight of $100,000 mortgage.  Many people in the area are trying to sell $50K-$60 mobile homes on small lots, but no one will finance them.  You are correct in asking, in so many words, who are these people that presume to tell others how to live and try and punish them by denying utilities when the utilities are already in the area?  It is a human rights abuse.   

Personally, I don’t mind the challenges of living in the Hueco Tanks area.  I am fortunate enough to have the money for a tank, pump, and septic system which could all be in place in 30-60 days.   Being 20 minutes from El Paso and yet out in the desert like that sounds like heaven on earth to me.

Best Regards,

Anonymous (by request)


NEW SURVEY AVAILABLE FOR COLONIA PROEPRTY OWNERS (or previous owners)

THIS SURVEY IS FINISHED - thanks to all who participated!

This survey is for present or past TX colonia property owners only, specifically in El Paso county.  If you reside in another county and have had these same issues (as we have, stated above) then I would love to hear from you.  Email me.


SEX OFFENDER STAYS: VICTIM CANNOT COME HOME

Well, it's done.   As of September, 2009, I was forced to move from my house, because the sex offender was not made to move out from next door in time.  I waited, and my poor daughter (the offender's victim) waited for over 6 months for the sex offender next door to move away so she could finally come home.  It had been over three years since she had lived at home, forced by CPS to live with relatives, and causing her to cry and sob uncontrollably for up to 2 hours at a time because she just wanted to come home.  Punishing the victim is the way the criminal "justice" deals with these things in El Paso County.  In February, 2006 (now over 6 months ago) the Judge said that he didn't want to make the offender move away because he had maintained a "perfect" record, advocating in favor of the sex offender instead of the victim and her mother (me).   However, the offender stated he had a place he could go, once it opened up, and that he was a list to go there once they called him with an opening announcement. The Judge finally agreed that he could move once an apartment at that complex opened up.   The problem ran much deeper than this, however. 

Right away, after that hearing, I spoke (separately) with the manager and the owner of the apartments in question, and both of them said they do NOT have any official waiting list, nor do they call people since the apartments are in high demand and fill up by walk-ins right away.   I immediately gave the name, address, and phone number, plus this information to the DA's office (specifically, the ADA in charge, via email, of which I have a copy), and to the offender's Probation Officer (PO) via phone voicemail.  After waiting months for something to come of it - for the offender to be held accountable, or to be ordered to continue looking for other possible places to move, or even for a kind of deadline for moving - NOTHING HAPPENED!  All cries and please for help regarding this outstanding inconsistency and unreliable information from the offender were ignored outright.  In the summer of 2009 I again told them (especially the PO), and yet nothing was done, even after my dad hired an attorney to get this problem of the offender fixed. 

My dad being repetitively anxious, worried - along with me - about where we would register my daughter for school.  None of us wanted her to have to be moved mid-year, disrupting her school work, and disrupting being settled into a school with the same teacher, and friends.  My parents paid a lawyer for advice, and the PO was contacted to make a new hearing.  The only problem, once it was realized, was that it was TOO LATE!  By the time a hearing would ensue, and IF the Judge even forced a time limit, or an investigation into alternative living places, then those things would take time, and TIME is not something we had left.  The time we had was all wasted on 6 months of waiting for officials to enforce what had been declared at the hearing earlier that winter.   My daughter had to be registered at a school in a few weeks, period.  We didn't have a month or two for the offender to be forced to find another place, or another month or two for him to actually move.  My parents and I knew that the hearing had come too late, and so it was cancelled due to its impotence.

I sent out a desperate email to friends and family. Never before did I have to beg for help, and it was degrading.  A friend from church offered her spare room for us to stay in, where my daughter could go to the same school that her older brother once attended. Having absolutely NO other choice, we accepted it, moving in soon thereafter.  Most of our belongings were left at the house, because there was nowhere to put them.  The following month our house was broken into and several expensive items were stolen, including our big screen HD TV.  Not only do you feel violated because of being robbed, but the fact of knowing that your situation was caused by the ineffective criminal justice system just makes it worse. 

So the offender has won, and we have lost this battle, but at least I have my daughter back (no thanks to the Judge, DA, or PO)! 

My property is now worth $10, according to Central Appraisal, and the Texas colonia laws.

 

UPDATE - SB 2253!

In spring of 2009 I received an email from the organizer of EPISO, stating that HB 1656, which was supposed to grandfather in colonia properties (regardless of who owned them), had died during the legislative process; however, an email received in September of 2009 from House Rep Quintanilla's office said that SB 2253 did pass! 

Although this bill is permissive, rather than mandatory, it basically accomplishes the same thing - the grandfathering in of colonia properties to all owners.  The biggest question on everyones' minds is, will Jose Rodriguez at the El Paso County Attorney's office INTERPRET and ACCEPT this new Senate Bill and apply it as it ethically and morally should be to ALL EP County residential property owners in order to restore their PROPERTY RIGHTS, and PROPERTY VALUES, and so their HUMAN RIGHTS will be evident by allowing electricity service at their homes to enhance quality of life?  Or will El Paso County's rural residents be selectively victimized further by making them live and stay in the dark? 

If those paid by and in charge of the County and the welfare of its residents, were forced to live without lights, heat, air-conditioning, the ability to pump water for cooking, flushing toilets, and showering, and other life-enhancing qualities that electricity service brings, I bet it wouldn't take a few days before human rights (or at least their own) were restored!   It's one thing when it is too easy to accept an "us" vs. "them" attitude, to justify the harming of individuals (or the collective who are labelled and discriminated against), but when the rules are applied to the self, suddenly it isn't fun anymore.  It is too bad that such conditions could not be thrust upon those who have harmed Texas border (colonia) residents, so that they may see the error of their ways.  

Will my property be saved, or is it destined for ruin? Can I just build a business and turn it into commercial property and avoid this entire "colonia" mess?  That takes money and time, and I don't have the former.

Frankly, now the true test will come, because SB2253 is now allowed, and should be implemented!  If EP Co. does not honor this legislative bill that grants the rights (which should have never been illegally taken away to begin with via improper interpretation - the colonia laws were meant to go after corrupt developers, NOT the residents, who were the victims!), then we will know exactly where their hearts and minds are at, and will be able to band together in a class action lawsuit for purposeful damage. 

I have a feeling though, that EP County ultimately has a heart, and will jump on this to not only implement SB 2253 across-the-board, but to promote it so that other counties, and every rural resident in El Paso County is aware of it!  Just like those who believe in upholding the human rights of those who were oppressed and harmed (and killed) during the Holocaust, the rights of rural U.S. border residents will also be upheld, and this region will be seen as the unsung heroes of this great city, county, state, and country!

 

HELPFUL LINKS:

Texas Colonia FAQ's (Frequently Asked Questions):
http://www.sos.state.tx.us/border/colonias/faqs.shtml

Colonias Prevention [i.e., stopping colonia growth, including reducing population densities in colonias; to 'eliminate colonias' = eliminate people!]
http://www.oag.state.tx.us/consumer/border/colonias.shtml

"Historical Sketch of Texas Laws Related to Colonias Remediation and Prevention"
http://www.oag.state.tx.us/consumer/border/history.shtml

Border Coalition - Accomplishments Timeline (Improving conditions in the colonias):
http://www.texashousing.org/bc/page5/page5.html

TDHCA
Contract for Deed Conversion Program: http://www.tdhca.state.tx.us/oci/cfdc.jsp
Colonias Self Help Center (SHC) Program: http://www.tdhca.state.tx.us/oci/centers/index.jsp
Consumer Information Resources: http://www.tdhca.state.tx.us/oci/resources.jsp  Quote from site: "The toll free 800 hot-line 1-800-462-4251 is available to colonia residents to voice concerns or request information. This number is also used when colonia residents have trouble making monthly mortgage payments."
Texas Bootstrap Loan Program: http://www.tdhca.state.tx.us/oci/bootstrap.jsp

Border Colonia Geography Online (maps): http://maps.oag.state.tx.us/colgeog/

Senate Bill 2253 allows grandfathering in of colonia property!!!:
http://www.legis.state.tx.us/billlookup/History.aspx?LegSess=81R&Bill=SB2253

Do a search on google.com and you'll find a TON more resources regarding colonias.  

 

 


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