Texas has become a “show me your papers” state. Governor Greg Abbott signed Senate Bill 4 into law and it goes into effect September 1. Already several cities are participating in a lawsuit against Texas so that their city can remain a sanctuary city. I’m thankful that Houston is one of those Texas cities joined by Austin, San Antonio and others. But, why are these cities fighting against this bill?
Under this law, police officers would be permitted to request proof of citizenship at their discretion as opposed to the department setting those policies. There is no doubt in my mind that this will allow racial profiling to occur on a regular basis. Anyone who looks like they could be undocumented, namely people of color, can be questioned and asked to produce proof of their citizenship. As an example, there would be no protection for an undocumented immigrant stopped for speeding and having to produce papers that they do not have. At worst a citizen who is speeding has to either pay the ticket, complete defensive driving or if they have an outstanding warrant, maybe go to jail. However, an undocumented immigrant (who could be at the stage of applying for legal status) runs the risk of being deported to their country all because they were speeding. The consequence of that certainly outweighs the crime. How many of us can honestly say we have never driven above the speed limit? The law can negatively affect all people, undocumented or not, particularly communities of color.
Citizens don’t have to worry about being separated from families simply because a police officer stops us and decides to question our citizenship. Picture this: a person moves here for a better life (maybe escaping dire circumstances), they raise a family here and one day, they are walking down the street, an officer stops them and questions them. Since they are more comfortable speaking in their native language (i.e. their English isn’t perfect), the officer asks them to show their papers…which they do not have. And the next thing their family knows is that they are facing a very permanent separation, regardless of the ages of any children who may be involved. How is this morally acceptable? Have we lost our compassion? Where is our empathy?
Another point to consider, local law enforcement entities are not trained to work with undocumented communities. In Houston, officers have tried to build trust within their communities so that members feel comfortable with them and are more likely to report crime. If people are worried about being asked to show their papers, they will be less likely to report criminal activity. It seems to me that by passing this law, Texas is saying that non-citizens are no longer protected by the local police (even if they are tax-paying members of the community).
This is a very personal topic for me. Although citizens, my parents were living just across the border in Mexico when my mom was pregnant with me. She specifically crossed the border so that I was born in Texas. I thanked her for that when I cast my vote in November. It was an emotional vote being able to vote for a woman and I wasn’t sure I would have that opportunity in my lifetime. The result of that election shook me to my core and when SB4 was proposed in Texas, I had to start wondering – was my life really worth more because I have a birth certificate? If I didn’t have that piece of paper, would I be so different? In the eyes of Texas, that answer is yes. My question is why do we feel that it’s our right to judge? Why do we think we are so much better than others because we were born here?
As we look forward to Houston in March 2018, it is with the knowledge that our convention may not be safe for our undocumented colleagues to travel here (the same challenge exists for our transgender members), and for our members of color broadly. How do we continue to engage them and provide professional development? How do we continue to be the voice for those being silenced? These are questions that the convention planning team is trying to answer. We also want this convention to be about action and provide tools to be used on your campus. So, how do we support the collegiate undocumented population? If you don’t already know what office provides resources to undocumented students on your campus, please find out and learn how you can support that office. If there is a group that provides training on this area, take advantage of that training and use it to educate your colleagues on your campus. Use the Houston convention to further your knowledge in this area and learn how to be an ally to undocumented students. Sometimes undocumented students do not want to be identified so make it clear that your office is a safe space for these students and they will find you.
SB4 is not a fair bill and I hope the lawsuit is successful. In this political environment, we have to understand that other bills could come forward and/or other states could present similar legislation. It will be up to us to carry this cause forward, particularly for the college population. Will you join me? ACPA Latin/x Network has a guide for undocumented students on their FB page – it was uploaded on March 22 and can be downloaded as a reference – here are two articles included in that resource:
Angie Montelongo (she/her/hers). Angie currently serves as the Director of New Student Programs at the University of Houston – Clear Lake. She has been a member of ACPA for 20+ years and has worked in higher education in a variety of roles, including Residence Life, Student Activities and Orientation programs. She served on the 2012 Louisville convention planning team and is proud to be on the 2018 Houston team in an advocacy role on the Equity and Inclusion team. Part of her responsibilities are to raise awareness of issues in Texas politics leading up to the 2018 convention.