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Growing Fears in Immigrant Communities

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Federal and state initiatives targeting undocumented immigrants have spread alarm through Latino communities as people face ethnic profiling, and some in Houston even feared seeking refuge from Hurricane Harvey because of the possibility they would run afoul of law enforcement.

"Texas is ground zero for the fight against Trump-inspired, white nationalist legislation," said Salvador Sarmiento, National Campaign Coordinator for the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON), which represents thousands of day laborers across the country. Sarmiento has also been leading the fight against recently passed anti-immigrant legislation in Texas known as SB 4.

I spoke to him in Dallas on August 30 about the dangers that SB 4 presents for undocumented people in Texas and about the implications for hundreds of thousands of so-called "Dreamers" and their families as President Trump moves to rescind President Obama's directive allowing them to stay in the U.S., known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

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In a recent victory for NDLON and other immigrants groups, Chief U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia ruled on August 30, that Texas officials may not implement Texas Senate Bill 4, which was set to go into effect on September 1 and would have given local law enforcement the power to ask for information regarding a person's immigration status during routine interactions such as a traffic stop.

Critics of the law argued that it gave a green light to racial profiling and violates the First and Fourth Amendments. In his 94-page ruling, Judge Garcia maintained there is overwhelming evidence from local officials, including local law enforcement, that SB 4 would "erode public trust" and actually make many "communities less safe."


U.S. Customs and Border Protection in Washington, D.C. during the inauguration of Donald Trump. January 20, 2017.
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Dennis Bernstein: I'd like to talk to you about the struggle against the draconian SB 4. But I have to begin by asking you about the more than half a million undocumented people in the greater Houston area. The border patrol has said that they will proceed as usual, unlike in the past when they suspended activities during hurricanes.

Salvador Sarmiento: The people in Houston and the surrounding communities are trying to focus on making life and death decisions. Instead, the immigrant community in Houston is facing a triple threat. They know that ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] is going to be setting up checkpoints, there is now news that DACA could be under attack and, at the same time, we are dealing with SB 4, this racial profiling law. Emergency officials know that this is not a time to be talking about immigration enforcement.

DB: Despite that, on Friday [August 25], the border patrol came out with the following statement: "Border patrol checkpoints will not be closed unless there is a danger to the safety of the traveling public, and our border patrol resources, including personnel and transportation, will be deployed on an as-needed basis to augment the efforts and capabilities of local response authorities." This sort of feels like the checkpoints in Palestine.

SS: It is outrageous that we even have to deal with this at this time. Even the mayor of Houston directly stated that he himself would defend undocumented immigrants because this is no time to be thinking about enforcement.

DB: I imagine there is a sort of widening underground railroad, with people opening their homes. I imagine that kind of organizing is going on and expanding.

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SS: We are relying on the grassroots capacity already in place. They really are the first responders. Professional disaster response is important, but even that depends on the networks that exist on the ground.

DB: This is all happening at a time when Texas is going extreme right-wing with the passage of SB 4. You have a half million undocumented folks in the greater Houston area facing that kind of terror, you have Donald Trump pardoning Joe Arpaio. So there is this coordinated campaign of hate. What efforts are underway to resist all this? These are difficult times for you all.


An Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officer making an arrest. November 30, 2014.
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Dennis J Bernstein is the host and executive producer of Flashpoints, a daily news magazine broadcast on Pacifica Radio. He is an award-winning investigative reporter, essayist and poet. His articles and essays have appeared in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Nation, and (more...)
 

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