All posts by Sara Coello

Laughs by the Lake brings community together

“I just came to get out of my house,” comedian Dorie Mclemore told a roaring audience sprawled out on lawn chairs and picnic blankets at Lake Carolyn.

While some of the estimated 1,500 visitors of the fourth annual Irving Laughs by the Lake event may have just needed to get out of their homes for a couple hours, many more seemed drawn by the comedy performances, free food and scenic evening lake view.

The event, presented by Frontier Communications and the City of Irving, was held on Sept. 1. Dallas-based Comedian Q hosted Mclemore, Troy Walker and three-time Daytime Emmy winner Ben Bailey. In-N-Out Burger gave two hamburgers, a soft drink and chips to each of the first 1,000 attendees, while Fuzzy’s Tacos sold food and beer.

“I had never booked a comedian before,” said Jasmine Lee, city of Irving special events coordinator. “The main goal was to get a wide range of styles so everybody can laugh at least once.”

For the first time, this year’s event featured a contest for local comedians. Hannah Vaughan, Todd Justice, and David Jessop, were chosen as finalists by a panel to compete onstage for a cash prize and the title “Irving’s Funniest Comic,” determined by an audience vote.

“Normally you turn down an outside event,” said Justice of Carrolton, who won about 70 percent of the vote. “Comedy is not normally an outside event and we made it work tonight.”

Justice said the speaker system and generator allowed the audience to hear and participate, and the crowd’s closeness to the stage and ample laughter set the scene for good performances.

To make the event more accessible for comedians and the audience, Lee and her team have been working to make changes based on feedback from past years.

“The biggest change was to push people to sit closer to the stage,” Lee said. “Comedy is interactive, and our comedians last year told us that would be helpful. We put out a rope around the stage and made people sit in front of the rope. When that area filled up we just moved the rope back.”

“I think the setup is a lot better this year,” said Ernesto Banuelas, who worked at last year’s Laughs by the Lake event. “People have a really nice view now [that the stage faces the lake].”

Changes based on surveys passed out last year include free on-site grass parking which, though limited, proved popular with the crowd. In years past, attendants had to pay for private parking or use Dallas Area Rapid Transit’s Orange Line to Las Colinas Urban Center Station. The city of Irving also provided a complimentary shuttle bus service to the Tower 909 parking garage and Las Colinas Urban Center station.

In the past a band followed the hired comedians but this year the comedy showcase replaced the live music. The audience was asked to vote on their phones for their favorite of the three 5-minute acts.

All of the comic acts were free of adult language and themes and families brought dogs on leashes and children in strollers. According to Lee, Laughs by the Lake is also intended to provide an inexpensive community experience for Irving’s adults.

“Every resident deserves some type of event,” Lee said. “We do a lot for elementary-age kids and families, which is great, but we also wanted people to be able to have a fun night out with the community.”

Town Hall addresses community’s concerns about Senate Bill 4

The Irving Police Department (IPD) hosted a town hall meeting in Irving High School’s auditorium on Tuesday, Aug. 29, to discuss the IPD’s response to Senate Bill 4 and address the town’s concerns. The halls filled with Irving residents and families in a mix of work uniforms and bright red hats and shirts reading “Stop SB4, keep families united — sí se puede.”

Senate Bill 4 (SB4) prohibits any policy limiting local law enforcement officers from communicating and cooperating with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), thereby cracking down on ‘sanctuary cities.’ The Texas bill signed into law by Governor Greg Abbott in May and took effect at 12 a.m. on Sept. 1. Only hours before the bill was to take effect, federal judge Orlando L. Garcia of the Western District of Texas handed down a ruling preventing some provisions of SB4 from becoming law while leaving in place other elements some consider controversial.

“This is too important of a topic for you to rely on third party information,” Police Chief Jeff Spivey said. “That’s the purpose of this meeting: to stop rumors and get the truth out.”

Some cities, including Houston in wake of Hurricane Harvey, as well as Arlington, have declared they will not comply with this law. Legal repercussions remain to be seen but could include fines and removal of acting officials.

The IPD will comply with the law, but emphasized the department’s victim protection measures should reassure community members.

Since the majority of lawful detainments occur in response to traffic violations, officers noted the most effective way to avoid encounters with the new law is to avoid driving when possible.

“It’s impossible not to drive,” one woman said to much applause. “We have jobs and kids to take to school.”

 “I have clients who have gone back to living in the shadows,” another attendee said. “People are afraid to drive their children to school. All of the Irving residents are not represented here.”

“We want to let everybody in Irving feel safe,” Officer Charlie Cavazos said. “Those who come here, those who live here, all those who visit here.”

Officers encouraged those present to ask for clarification of their rights from officers. Aside from name, address and date of birth, all legally detained people have the right to remain silent in response to questioning.

“While the new law does not require or prohibit it, the Irving Police Department has chosen to specifically prohibit officers from asking [victims, witnesses and those who report crimes their immigration status],” an information sheet on the city of Irving’s website states. “The goal of the department is to protect victims of crime and to make the city safe for all. They should not be afraid to call the police if they need help.”

An exception to this departmental rule is victims who may require special paperwork to remain in the country until their cases are processed.

While officers are allowed to ask unidentified persons of their immigration status, a racial profiling standard requires any officer who asks one person must repeat the question to all other unidentified people they detain. Body cameras will be used to ensure this standard.

Officers also have some discretion the documents allowed for identification. While a valid U.S. driver’s license is sufficient in all cases, licenses which have expired may also be sufficient if other documents with the same name can be presented. Some officers said they simply ask for a phone number, where a third party can confirm the detained person’s name.

If a speeding ticket is signed, the speeder will not need to be taken into custody, regardless of immigration status. ICE would not be notified in that case.

A flyer entitled “Senate Bill 4 Q&A” offers more information in English and Spanish and is available on the city of Irving’s website. The city also offers Spanish and English informational videos on the topic.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has said he will appeal Judge Garcia’s ruling. The issues will likely battle their way to the Supreme Court.

Some of the portions of SB4 put on hold:

A provision requiring local jails to honor federal agents’ requests to incarcerate immigrants for up to 48 hours after they would have been released on bond, finished sentence, or found not guilty, so ICE could pick them up.

A provision preventing local officials from “endorsing,” or appearing to endorse, any policy even materially limiting immigration enforcement.

A provision requiring local police to allow officers to cooperate with federal agents whenever possible, including “enforcement assistance” of federal immigration law, thereby requiring local officers to act as federal agents.

University of Dallas class of 2021 settles into Irving

The University of Dallas’ class of 2021 proved full of surprises, all of them pleasant.

The 427 students exceeded the school’s goal of 400, forcing the school’s Housing and Residence Life Department to scramble to find accommodations for the 383 new students who are living on campus. But after a smooth move-in day on Friday, Aug. 18, faculty and students alike seemed fully prepared for the year ahead.

This is the largest freshman class in the university’s history, breaking the previous record of 393. Though an official number cannot be given until the 12th day of class to allow for any last-minute changes, faculty and upperclassmen seem ready for a bustling year.

Executive Vice President for Enrollment and Student Affairs John Plotts emphasized this year’s class is impressive in more than its size. These students hold the highest average SAT score in the school’s history, 1260, ranking them in the 83rd percentile nationally.

Nearly 25 percent of incoming freshmen will also compete on at least one of the school’s Division III teams, according Plotts. He said the class is also one of the most diverse by some measurements with a record-breaking 27 percent of students claiming Hispanic ancestry.

These numbers reflect well on Texas, which half the students call home. A quarter come from the Dallas-Ft. Worth Metroplex, and 20 hail from Irving itself.

“We’ve been trying really hard to recruit in the local state,” Plotts said. “It’s slowly becoming more Texas. We used to be 56 percent out-of-state and 44 percent in-state. We consider [the percentage of local students] a success.”

Plotts pointed out that other liberal arts schools of comparable size, such as Austin College, have closer to 90 percent of the student body coming from within the state.

The Texas representation does not overshadow a sizeable national and international population though; the class includes students from another nine countries, 39 states and 250 cities. One student traveled over 9,600 miles from Sri Lanka to attend UD.

Samuel Ramirez came from Austin and plans to spend more than four years in the area as he completes the nursing program.

“[We’re] somewhere between Dallas and Fort Worth,” is all Ramirez knows of Irving, but he plans on recruiting a friend with a truck to explore the area.

Lydia Martin is an English major and transfer student from east of Dallas. She has relatives in the area and says it seems nice, but does not know Irving outside of campus.

“It’s not the same as the first time going to college,” Martin said. “I’m not nearly as explorative.”

Michael Wambsganns is also a transfer student from Saint Louis University. He and his family have not had much time to leave campus and the Las Colinas area, but are interested in the chance to use Dallas Area Rapid Transit to go downtown and reach the local airports.

Both students look forward to getting to know their fellow classmates first, and said they experienced warm welcomes so far, from faculty as well as at least 60 upperclassmen orientation leaders who volunteered to help move the new students into their dorms.

“They brought in all my stuff while I was doing the room form,” Martin said. “It was amazing.”

“I kept taking things out [of my car] and they kept taking them away,” said Lydia’s mother, Cindy Martin.

In addition to the help moving in and informational sessions on academic life, the orientation team led a social justice project Sunday afternoon, where students put together packages for local homeless shelters. Advertised in the orientation pamphlet as “a fun and collaborative way to start serving your community in DFW,” the event was in keeping with the school’s Catholic focus on charity, as well as a way to connect students to the community outside of the school.

Other popular orientation events included a school-wide scavenger hunt, panels on leadership and community involvement, wellness and spiritual life informational events, and Masses. As classes begin and clubs start their activities, Irving’s newest residents are sure to find their place in their new school and city.