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The Laredo City Council this week voted unanimously to join the lawsuit against SB 4, Texas’ new anti-immigrant law, following a public discussion lasting 2 hours during which 13 members of the public testified. All but two of those who spoke asked the City Council to join the lawsuit.
The vote follows reports that the Laredo mayor, Pete Saenz, preferred that the city issue a supportive resolution rather than joining the lawsuit, out of fear that Laredo would be labeled a “sanctuary city”.
Council members, however, preferred to take a stand, with Councilman Robert Balli saying that “I think as leaders of this community we cannot stand by with this law in effect.” Councilman Alberto Torres said that they had to fight against a law which would discriminate against “every single one of us up here” (Laredo is a border town where 95% of residents are Latino). Councilwoman Nelly Vielma spoke about her concerns that SB 4 would lead to racial profiling, and her fears of how it would affect her children.
Fifteen Texas teenagers threw a quinceañera in order to fight back against SB 4 this week, dancing to songs with political messages while wearing sashes that read “No SB4”, “accountability”, and “family unity”. They read aloud fifteen reasons why they opposed SB 4; the protest was organized by Jolt Texas and is part of Basta Texas, a summer-long campaign to fight against SB 4. As Jolt’s communications director Tania Mejia said about the colorful protest:
Quinceañeras aren’t just about parties—they are coming-of-age celebrations that strengthen the bonds of family. They are also about uniting community in celebration, which is what we need to do to stop hateful and racist policies that hurt Latinos.
This week, the Washington Post reported that several Texas counties – among others around the country – have found a way to profit off of detaining undocumented immigrants.
Four counties in Texas (Lubbock, Walker, Montgomery, and Smith) participate in two programs that 1) allow sheriff’s deputies to become certified immigration officers, and 2) accept money from federal agents to house undocumented immigrants in local jails. A number of other counties participate in one program or the other but not both.
The first program, 287(g), has been heavily criticized because it erodes the trust between immigrants and local police. Texas police chiefs have already spoken out about how anti-immigrant laws like SB 4 have caused immigrants to stop reporting crime, leading to more dangerous communities for everyone. Participating in the program allows police officers to effectively control how many undocumented immigrants they bring in – all it takes is a traffic stop in which a driver is found to be without papers. If ICE detains the person in a local jail, the county collects a fee per person per day.
ICE has called the programs an “invaluable force multiplier” for immigration agents; advocacy groups call the setup a “perverse financial incentive” that allows police to “control the pipeline of people into the detention facility where they’re then paid per day to detain people.”
An NPR story this week where reporter John Burnett embedded with an ICE team highlighted how immigration arrests in Dallas are way up this year:
ICE’s Dallas operation, which covers nearly half of Texas and all of Oklahoma, is the busiest in nation. In the first four months of 2017, arrests of all unauthorized immigrants nearly doubled to 4,969 compared with 2,586 in the same period last year. Most had criminal records, and many have been deported.
The article went on to describe multiple arrests of Texas immigrants who did not have serious criminal records, who would not have been picked up under the Obama Administration. Under Trump, however, everyone has become fair game. As the article quotes two ICE officers:
“In days past, if we encountered someone in the house who is not a priority, we would let that person walk,” supervisory officer Winner said…”Now if we encounter someone in the house that is illegally in the country, in violation of the law, we will go ahead and arrest that person.”
Flores is riding in the back seat. “I would say that the morale has gone up. There is a sense of, ‘OK, I don’t need my boss’s permission for every decision I make,'” she said.
The story is consistent with other reports on how ICE now feels more “unshackled”, even though their new policy of arresting everyone undocumented means decreased public safety and unnecessary family separation.
Yesterday, the National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators announced that it was moving its annual convention from Houston to Chicago in protest of SB 4. Their press release said that Chicago was a city that actually welcomed immigrants, unlike Texas. As one representative said:
As Latino state legislators, we cannot in good conscience invest in a great state that nonetheless has chosen to scapegoat immigrants and minorities while making communities there less safe and turning innocent Latinos into targets.
This is at least the second major conference that Texas has lost over its anti-immigrant law; the American Immigration Lawyers Association announced they were pulling their 3,000 person conference out of Texas last month.
Faith leaders from across Texas are holding immigration forums to address concerns from the community about SB 4. The forums have attracted hundreds of people to standing-room-only crowds, where leaders give general advice pertaining to the law and pray for immigrants who might be living in fear of the police.
At one forum, three dozen pastors from different churches discussed SB 4 concerns with their parishioners and an immigration lawyer. As one of them, Pastor Lynn Godsey, said afterward:
We as pastors are involved in SB4 because it’s going to divide hundreds of thousands of families. It’s ungodly to separate children from their parents. It’s inhumane.
[He called SB 4 the most] wicked, anti-church, anti-family and anti-immigrant [law in the nation]
We are going to battle this thing with whatever we got. Gov. Greg Abbott took on a battle that he will regret and he will lose. It’s him against God’s churches.