The cost to vote can be thousands of dollars




Originally aired on Marketplace on August 2, 2016

You may not think twice about casting your ballot this November. But many non-citizens are racing to get their ability to vote in time. Citizenship applications have increased 11 percent in the 2015 fiscal year alone. And the naturalization process is more than just filling out papers and taking a civics test. It can also mean thousands of dollars.

The least anyone will spend is $680 – the cost of filing the citizenship application and getting a biometrics appointment, where your fingerprints are scanned and photos taken. A few months later, you’re called in for an interview and a civics test — no fee for those. If you pass, congratulations: you become an American.

But that’s if your case is straightforward. If you need an attorney, lawyer fees alone can bring the price up significantly.

“I can say that it will be more than probably $1,000. And then average will be from $1,000 to $5,000,”  immigration attorney Iris Albizu said, who offers a payment plan to help clients.

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Out of the Blue: 50 Years After the UT Tower Shooting

ut tower

Miguel Gutierrez Jr.

The Texas Standard spoke to nearly 100 survivors of the UT Tower shooting for an hour-long radio documentary commemorating the 50 year anniversary. Listen to their stories in “Out of the Blue: 50 Years After the UT Tower Shooting,” Texas Standard’s oral history of the first public mass shooting of its kind.

For four months, I worked as Production Assistant on this project. I found survivors and scheduled interviews, conducted a third of the overall interviews, edited audio, archived historical footage, coordinated with the multimedia team, and collaborated on ideas for the documentary’s end result.

Austin’s Jennifer Aldoretta talks menstruation with Humans with Periods


Lucia Benavides/ Austin American-Statesman

By Lucia Benavides

Originally published in the Austin American-Statesman on July 4, 2016

When Jennifer Aldoretta got her period at 11 years old, her first thought was: “What’s wrong with me? I must be dying.”

The severe pain that came with menstruation made her miss school every month. She would sometimes vomit, or be on the verge of passing out. At 14, she was put on birth control to ease the pain, which brought on issues of anxiety and heart palpitations. So at 20 years old, she decided to consult the internet and immediately found answers.

“I stumbled across all of this reproductive health information and learned all of these things that, in hindsight, I wish I had learned in fourth grade about how the menstrual cycle works, why you have a period, what your hormones are doing throughout your cycle,” says Aldoretta, 28. “It really was like a lightbulb for me.”

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Texas lake businesses booming again after long drought

Oasis sunset old 2

From 2010 to 2015, Texas faced a severe drought. Lake Travis was down to one-third of its water levels. (The Oasis)

By Lucia Benavides

Originally aired on Marketplace on May 12, 2016

In Central Texas, the lifeblood of outdoor activity is Lake Travis, a reservoir on the Colorado River that runs through Austin. The lake is just as popular with tourists as it is with locals, who take to its waters to cool off in the heat of Texas summers.

On a Sunday evening in early April, the weather outside is a breezy 70 degrees. The Oasis on Lake Travis has a one-and-a-half hour wait. There’s a live band, and the restaurant’s four decks are packed with customers overlooking the water, waiting for the oncoming sunset.

But five years ago, the scene looked much different. From 2010 to 2015, Texas suffered one of the worst droughts in its history. During that time, Lake Travis dropped to one-third of its level. For a restaurant that offers lakeside dining, the view of a barren lake with islands sprinkled throughout wasn’t exactly what they were advertising.

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Relive a forgotten part of World War II POW history at Camp Hearne


Miguel Gutierrez Jr/ Austin American-Statesman

By Lucia Benavides

Originally published in the Austin American-Statesman on April 9, 2016

Driving through Hearne, a small town northwest of College Station, you see the common rural Texas sites: historic train depots, a Main Street dotted with 19th-century buildings and perhaps a few antique stores. But as you venture the back streets of Hearne, the first thing that catches your eye is a barbed-wire fence from the 1940s. Then, a small barrack comes into view, followed by a watchtower.

It might look like an old prison or a Japanese internment camp, but Japanese-American citizens weren’t the only ones imprisoned in the U.S. during WWII. Almost half a million prisoners of war — mostly from Germany and Italy – were held in camps all over the country.

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Federal Report: Texas at High Risk for ‘Induced Earthquakes’

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By Lucia Benavides

Originally aired on Texas Standard on March 29, 2016 

In the evolution of the Texas language, one of the newer and more notable words in our vocabulary is “fracking.”  Fracking as a practice – hydraulic fracturing – has been a part of the energy business for quite a long time indeed. But the process of extracting from places otherwise thought to be too cost prohibitive, like horizontally, has been at the center of the so-called the fracking revolution which has emerged over the past 15 years or so. The idea is to fracture or shatter the subsurface shale with liquid, which leaves a lot of chemical-laced wastewater to be injected back into the ground.

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How Declassifying ‘Dirty War’ Documents Could Change US Relations with Argentina


Pablo D. Flores/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 2.5)

By Lucia Benavides

Originally aired on Texas Standard on March 24, 2016

Forty years ago today, Argentina experienced a military coup that threw out then-president Isabel Perón. What followed was seven years of military dictatorship, where tens of thousands of people “disappeared.”

But they didn’t simply disappear – they were tortured and killed by the militia. The military claimed these people were from violent guerrilla groups, threatening Argentina’s democracy, but many were college students, professors, priests, and social workers – anyone who was deemed a threat or spoke out against the Argentine government, a dictatorship that lasted from 1976 to 1983. Some say human rights violations had been taking place even before the military officially took power.

The role the U.S. played in Argentina’s so-called Dirty War is still a little unclear. Many Americans don’t know about the country’s involvement in Argentina’s Dirty War, but Argentines have some lingering anti-American sentiment because they feel the U.S. is responsible for some of the crimes committed during that time.

President Barack Obama, who is in Argentina today, has pledged to declassify U.S. military and intelligence records surrounding the events.

Mark Jones, a fellow in political science at the Baker Institute at Rice University, says Argentines believe the U.S. was, at the very least, complicit in murders, if not directly responsible.

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This Texas Tea Company is Helping Villages Halfway Around the Globe

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Lucía Benavides/ Texas Standard

By Lucia Benavides

Originally aired on Texas Standard on March 16, 2016

On a windy and overcast Sunday afternoon at the Mueller Farmer’s Market in Austin, dozens of people are stopping by a tea stand. There are a variety of mixes to sample: hibiscus tea and lemonade, hibiscus tea and mango, sweetened and unsweetened hibiscus tea. And that’s hibiscus as in the flower. The responses from newcomers seem to be positive.

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Why We Need More Housing for Domestic Violence Survivors


Helga Weber/Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)

By Lucia Benavides

Originally aired on Texas Standard on February 26, 2016

After enduring thirteen years of domestic violence, Lisa Pous walked out of her marriage. But her battle with her abuser was far from over.

“He said ‘you’ll be homeless and you’ll lose your kids,’” Pous says. “I did. He was right. When I fought for them again, he tried to kill us.”

When Pous finally left the marriage for good – 10 years ago last month – her husband also made sure she left the house. Pous was suddenly homeless. Her three children would try to sneak her back in and hide her. One shelter offered a two-week stay, which Pous said wasn’t enough time to get back on her feet. She ended up at Safe Place in Austin, and lived at their transitional housing unit for over two years.

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