Documents show border relations chief is Mexican citizen
R.G. Ratcliffe, Houston.Chronicle.com, Mar. 30
AUSTIN — After conservative Houston activist Mary Williams received documents confirming that Gov. Rick Perry’s head of Texas-Mexico relations is a Mexican citizen, she shared the information with some of her political friends.
That apparently prompted an anonymous letter sent to farmers and ranchers claiming Mexico isn’t paying its water debt to the United States because Helena Colyandro, a resident alien, is negotiating on Texas’ behalf.
Now, the Texas secretary of state’s office is demanding Williams return all the documents she received, citing the inadvertent release of confidential information. The letter also demanded a list from Williams of everyone with whom she had shared the Colyandro documents.
Williams said Monday the demand smacks of government intrusion into her First Amendment rights of free speech and political association.
“All they’re trying to do is intimidate me,” Williams said.
Benjamin Hanson, general counsel for Secretary of State Geoff Connor, said he is just trying to recover a document that contains information that could be used to invade Colyandro’s privacy.
Williams requested information about Colyandro under the Texas Public Information Act. As allowed by the act, Hanson released her driver’s license and Social Security numbers and address, but mistakenly released her resident alien number, which is confidential under federal law.
“We’d like to be able to put the genie back in the bottle as far as the confidential information goes,” Hanson said.
“I don’t have a problem with them saying whatever they want to say about Helena because I’m 100 percent comfortable that her allegiance is to the state of Texas and the advice she gives to state officers is not conflicted simply because of her alien status.”
Colyandro, who declined comment, was hired in April 2002 by then-Secretary of State Gwyn Shea as the director of Mexico and Border Affairs.
Colyandro’s husband is Republican political consultant John Colyandro, who currently is a subject of a Travis County grand jury investigation into campaign finances in the 2002 elections.
Williams, an anti-tax activist, said she sought information on Colyandro after receiving a tip that the state’s leader on dealing with Mexico is not a U.S. citizen. She said she gave copies of the documents to some friends.
Earlier this month, an anonymous letter went out to an unknown number of West Texas ranchers and lower Rio Grande Valley citrus farmers. The letter contained photo copies of documents marked exactly as they were when released to Williams.
Williams said Monday she has not seen the letter and does not know who wrote it.
The letter said not everyone in state government has favored holding Mexico responsible for releasing water in connection to a U.S.-Mexico treaty. The letter said Perry has been advised against making the water debt an issue by a high government official.
“Should a person whose allegiance to another country hold such a position?” it said. “Why is ‘advice’ contrary to our best interests, especially on the water debt issue to be tolerated?”
In her current position, Colyandro supervises a staff of 10 and serves as the lead staffer for the state and the governor’s office in dealings with Mexico and border governors.