MAGINE A SCENARIO where hundreds of children cannot attend school because the roads by their homes are impassable. Or that these children are so ill from recurring ailments that they continue to miss school over protracted periods of time. The ailments they suffer, such as dysentery, typhoid, diarrhea, tuberculosis, cholera, and even leprosy, keep them out of school and severely hinder their progress in elementary school.
It sounds like a story from the Third World, but it's not. It's happening right here on Texas soil, up and down the 900 miles of the Texas-Mexico border. The children who live in colonias, subdivisions that lack basic infrastructure such as potable water and sewage disposal, live in conditions that most of us would consider a public health menace.
Border Attorneys General Meet in El Paso
In March, we at the Office of the Texas Attorney General, together with the National Association of Attorneys General, held a conference in El Paso to address the public health issues created by the living conditions in colonias. Colonias Strike Force Gets Reinforcements To escalate the fight against the spread of colonias, we have added four of our top environmental lawyers to the Colonias Strike Force. Entitled "NiAos de las Colonias," (Children of the Colonias), the conference included a tour of the College Park colonia, located about 40 miles east of El Paso. We also witnessed how residents obtain water for their daily needs, including bathing, from 55-gallon drums that may have once held toxic substances. Also at issue was how to apply legal remedies to quell the proliferation of these illegal subdivisions and solve the economic and public health issues faced by border-area counties with large concentrations of colonias. Not only are colonia residents affected by the unsanitary conditions in illegal subdivisions, but all Texans, as well as many Americans in other states, would potentially be affected if a Third World epidemic spread to other cities. Already, we have initiated more than 80 lawsuits against developers who sold property before meeting local and state requirements. Department of Justice, Housing and Urban Development, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and local health officials and community leaders. Legislation currently in debate among lawmakers would, among other things, require new subdivisions in the border areas to have adequate water, wastewater, utility and road systems and would increase civil and criminal penalties against colonia developers. The residents inquired about getting the road paved, or at least leveled, as soon as possible, so the buses could come closer to the children's homes. Conference participants included the attorneys general of New Mexico, Tennessee and Arizona, as well as representatives of the U. A Better Life for the Children of the Colonias As Attorney General, I am committed to pursuing an aggressive program of litigation against developers of illegal subdivisions. All of those suits were based on thorough investigations, as well as complaints from a myriad of sources, including citizens, and local and state officials.