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Tiguas given stay, casino to remain open, for now

EL PASO, Texas ? The Tigua tribe in Texas has been granted a brief reprieve by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals that allows its Speaking Rock casino to remain open during the appellate process.

The stay request granted by the court overturned the Nov. 30 deadline set by U.S. District Judge Thomas Eisele to close the casino.

During a press conference in front of the casino, Tigua Tribal Gov. Albert Alvidrez said, 'We are very happy with the decision of the court. We have always been confident that we are fully in compliance with the appropriate federal laws and have a sovereign right to economic self-sufficiency.'

Alvidrez went on to say he believes the core issue for the appellate court is to examine and review the basis of Texas Attorney General John Cornyn's attempts to reclassify American Indian tribes as 'associations.'

'This is a recognition that the irreparable harm that would occur is something they need to review before any decisions are made,' tribal spokesman Marc Schwartz said.

In response to an earlier motion from the tribe asking for a stay, Judge Eisele wrote that the law is 'clear and unambiguous.'

The Tigua have argued they will be forced back into poverty if the Speaking Rock Casino is shut down by the state of Texas and there will be irreparable harm to the economic status of the surrounding community. Community leaders have supported the tribe in its efforts to keep their casino open.

Mayor Ray Caballero cited business closures and a decline in the number of Mexican shoppers coming into the community since the Sept. 11 attacks and tightened security on the border as one reason to keep the casino open. 'I've had some issues myself regarding gaming. It wouldn't be my first choice, but when you have economically depressed areas, you don't have a lot of options.'

City Representative Paul Escobar remembered the pre-casino days. 'This casino has provided a lot of benefits people would otherwise not get from the state or federal government. Before this casino was built, there was nothing out here, the people were poor and there was no economic development.'

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The casino employs 850 people and earns $60 million per year. The City Council, Chambers of Commerce and County Commission have all stepped up, saying they recognize just how vital the business is to the community.

Along with jobs, the tribe has donated more than $4 million to various El Paso charities.

One fire station received two $25,000 thermal imaging helmets which firefighters say have already saved lives.

The tribe purchased close to 300 weather radios they distributed throughout the public school system in the area.

Now it is up to the courts to decide if the good deeds will continue or if the Tigua will be forced back into poverty with the closure of the casino.

Tigua attorneys have argued that the Ysleta Del Sur Pueblo is a sovereign nation and therefore can do anything it wants to that is legal in Texas.

Cornyn disagrees and has said tribal elders knew what they were doing was illegal, under Texas law when they opened the casino in 1993.

Part of this most recent court decision includes an agreement by the court to speed up the appeal.

'We will prepare ourselves for the oral arguments scheduled for Jan. 9, 2002, in New Orleans,' Alvidrez said 'We will make our case there.'