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Tag Archives: sanctuary cities

City of El Paso joins MALDEF, Other Texas Cities in Suit Against SB 4

The City of El Paso will be joining a lawsuit against Senate Bill (SB 4), also known as the Sanctuary Cities Bill, along with San Antonio, Austin, and several non-profit organizations.

This lawsuit is with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) who is covering the expenses related to the suit. There will be no cost to El Paso tax payers.

Despite El Paso not being a sanctuary city, the City is concerned with provisions in SB 4 that raise questions related to the compliance and integration of the proposed bill in current law enforcement operations.

The City of El Paso is hopeful that the suit will prevent SB 4 from putting the responsibilities and duties of federal law enforcement agencies on the back of local law enforcement without training and clear guidance.

The unfunded mandate is expected to put additional strain on the El Paso Police Department, as SB 4 will add an extra requirement on the workforce that is already seeing a shortage in staff.

The City of El Paso has a long successful history of working alongside our federal law enforcement partners, to add additional mandates on local resources will only limit officers from performing their public safety responsibilities.

“Sanctuary Cities” Bill Clears Latest Hurdle, Heads to Abbott for Signature

The Texas Senate on Wednesday voted 20-11 to accept the House’s version of Senate bill 4, legislation that would ban “sanctuary” jurisdictions in Texas and allow police to inquire about the immigration status of people they lawfully detain.

The bill now heads to Gov. Greg Abbott, who declared the legislation an “emergency item” in the early days of the legislative session, and is widely expected to sign it.

The legislation makes sheriffs, constables, police chiefs and other local leaders subject to a Class A misdemeanor if they don’t cooperate with federal authorities and honor requests from immigration agents to hold noncitizen inmates subject to deportation. It also provides civil penalties for entities in violation of the provision that begin at $1,000 for a first offense and climb to as high as $25,500 for each subsequent infraction. The bill also applies to public colleges.

But the final version also includes a controversial House amendment that allows police officers to question a person’s immigration status during a detainment, as opposed to being limited to a lawful arrest. Democrats and immigrant rights groups argue this makes the bill “show-me-your-papers”-type legislation that will allow police to inquire about a person’s immigration status during the most routine exchanges, including traffic stops.

Before Wednesday’s vote, some lawmakers were still hopeful the bill would go to a conference committee where lawmakers from both chambers could strip the amendment from the bill. But during a floor debate Wednesday before the measure was approved by the Senate, the bill’s author, state Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, said that the bill doesn’t require that officers ask a person’s immigration status. However the language does leave the door wide open for officers to make such inquiries if they feel the need during routine stops.

“We certainly don’t want ‘walking while brown’ to lead to reasonable suspicion,” said state Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston. “It will happen. And in some parts of my district, it already is happening.”

Sen. Sylvia Garcia D-Houston  looks on as Se. Jose Menendez D-San Antonio ask questions to author of SB4, Sen. Charles Perry R-Lubbock as the  bill is heard again in the Senate after changes made by the House.  May 3, 2017
Sen. Sylvia Garcia D-Houston looks on as Se. Jose Menendez D-San Antonio ask questions to author of SB4, Sen. Charles Perry R-Lubbock as the bill is heard again in the Senate after changes made by the House. May 3, 2017

The amendment to allow local police to ask about immigration status during a detainment was added during a 16-hour House debate by Tyler Republican Matt Schaefer, who told the Tribune last week that he had been willing to pull the proposal if Democrats had agreed to limit the debate of the bill on the House floor. But whatever deal was allegedly in the works fell through and Democrats could only sit and watch as the amped up version of the bill passed the lower chamber.

Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick have said the bill is about rule of law and making sure that criminals who are also in the country illegally should be deported before they are able to commit more crimes in this country.

Patrick praised the Senate’s move late Wednesday in a news release, saying, “I have been working to end sanctuary cities in Texas since my days as a state senator. This legislation will eliminate a substantial incentive for illegal immigration and help make Texas communities safer.”

But several law enforcement leaders have said the bill will erode the public’s trust.

“Officers would start inquiring about the immigration status of every person they come in contact with, or worse, inquire about the immigration status of people based on their appearance,” David Pughes, the interim chief of police for Dallas and Art Acevedo, chief of police for Houston, wrote in an op-ed for the Dallas Morning News last week. “This will lead to distrust of police and less cooperation from members of the community. And it will foster the belief that people cannot seek assistance from police for fear of being subjected to an immigration status investigation.”

Abbott’s signature on the bill will cap his quest to ban “sanctuary” cities that made national headlines after Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez announced in January she would limit her jail’s cooperation with Immigration and Customs and Enforcement. Hernandez later amended her policy but not before Abbott withheld state grant funds from the county.

It’s unclear however, if Abbott’s signature on the bill will be the end of the conversation. Several lawmakers have said a lawsuit to stop the implementation of SB 4 is very likely and cite several reasons, including legal questions surrounding the federal preemption of immigration laws and whether ICE detainers are voluntary.

Before the final vote, Perry seemed to acknowledge as much.

“We will let the court systems figure this out,” he told state Sen. Jose Menendez during a lengthy back-and-forth about probable cause.

Read related coverage:

Author:  JULIÁN AGUILAR – The Texas Tribune

Poll: Majority of Texans Believe Immigration Helps Country More Than Hurts

More than 90 percent of Texans believe that local police should be allowed to ask about immigration status if a person is arrested for a crime, according to the results of a poll released Tuesday.

Only about half of Texans oppose “sanctuary” policies in which law enforcement or other local authorities don’t report undocumented immigrants to federal authorities.

But more than 90 percent of Texans believe that local police should be allowed to ask about immigration status if a person is arrested for a crime, according to the results of a poll on immigration conducted by the Texas Lyceum this month.

The poll was the nonprofit leadership group’s first deep dive into the issue of immigration in its 11-year polling history. The results were released as border security and state-based immigration efforts continue to be key and divisive issues for Texas lawmakers heading into the final six weeks of the current biennial legislative session.

The poll of 1,000 Texans was conducted from April 3 to April 9 and also focused on President Trump’s promised border wall and whether it should be up to employers to check the immigration status of the people they hire. It has a margin of error of +/- 3.1 percentage points and was overseen by University of Texas at Austin professor Daron Shaw and Joshua Blank, the manager of polling and research at the Texas Politics Project at UT. (Both Shaw and Blank have also worked on the University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.)

The pollsters found that 62 percent of Texans said immigration helps the United States more than it hurts the country. That’s an increase from 2016, when 54 percent of the respondents said they viewed immigration was more beneficial than harmful.

The pollsters defined “sanctuary” entities as those in which “[when] local police or city government employees learn that someone is in the country illegally, they do not automatically turn that person over to federal immigration enforcement officers.”

Forty-five percent of the respondents supported sanctuary policies, while 49 percent opposed them. At the same time, 93 percent of all respondents said local police should be able to inquire into a person’s immigration status when arrested for a crime.

The results suggest most Texans would likely support “sanctuary” legislation currently moving through the Texas House, which would limits inquiries into immigration status from local law enforcement to people who have already been arrested.

Proposed legislation that passed the Senate earlier this year permits local police to ask about immigration status if a person is either arrested or detained by law enforcement for other reasons.

The Lyceum poll found deeper divisions among Texans when asked if inquiries by law enforcement into immigration status should be allowed for people who aren’t arrested. Only 44 percent agree that police should check a person’s status during a traffic stop, while 41 percent agreed that immigration status should be checked when a person is reporting a crime. Only 39 percent said that status should be checked when the police believe that a person is a witness to a crime or could provide information.

Opponents of more broad-based inquiries argue that the expanded authority would create a chilling effect that would lead to the public cooperating less with law enforcement. When broken down by party lines, 99 percent of Republicans think immigration status should be checked when a person is arrested for a crime, while 68 percent think it should be checked during a routine traffic stop. A slight majority, 53 percent, agree that status should be checked when a person is reporting a crime or is a witness.

While 88 percent of Democrats think immigration inquires should be made when a person is arrested, only 28 percent think it should be checked during a traffic stop. Only 30 percent think it should be checked when a person is reporting a crime or is a witness to one.

The poll also delved into how much the state should be spending on border security. In 2015, the Texas Legislature approved a record $800 million border security budget.

Half of the respondents were asked if the state should stay the current course with President Trump in the White House, while the other half was asked about state expenditures with Republicans in charge of the U.S. Congress. Under both conditions, most of the respondents with an opinion on the issue 45 percent of those questioned about Trump and 41 percent questioned about Congress – agreed the state should keep spending largely on the border.

“This indicates that, overall, Texans are expressing a greater expectation that the President will deliver on border security and/or immigration enforcement than Republicans in Congress, but there is no outcry to decrease the amount of money Texas spends securing its borders,” poll supervisors wrote in their summary.

When asked about President Trump’s plan to build a wall on the southern border, only about a third, or 35 percent, favored a barrier separating Texas from Mexico. Sixty-one percent opposed the project. The numbers are almost identical to the poll’s results from 2016, when 35 percent favored building the wall and 59 percent opposed such a project. This year, however, the percentage of respondents who identified as Hispanic that supported construction of the wall rose from 18 percent in 2016 to 25 percent.

The survey also found that nearly two-thirds of respondents, or 63 percent, strongly supported a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants after a long waiting period if the applicants paid taxes and a penalty, passed a criminal background check and learned English. Twenty-seven of the respondents somewhat supported that idea, while 4 percent somewhat opposed and 5 percent strongly opposed.

Nearly three-fourths of Texans agreed that employers should check the immigration status of prospective employees and favored harsh penalties and fines for people who knowingly hire unauthorized immigrants. Forty-nine percent of the respondents strongly supported those measures, while 23 percent somewhat supported them. Only 23 percent opposed placing the responsibility on employers and making them subject to fines and punishment.

On Wednesday, the Texas Lyceum will release poll results on how Texans view President Trump, Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz‘s re-election prospects against a possible Democratic opponent.

Disclosure: The Texas Lyceum and the University of Texas at Austin have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

Author:  JULIÁN AGUILAR – The Texas Tribune

House Committee Advances Scaled-Down “Sanctuary Cities” Bill

The latest version of the Texas Legislature’s bill to outlaw sanctuary cities in Texas is a scaled down version of what the state Senate passed out in February.

But the measure is still a bitter disappointment to Democrats and progressive groups who say the changes will do little to ease the fears of the immigrant community who will be less likely to report crimes.

The bill, Senate bill 4 by state Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, passed out of the House State Affairs committee Wednesday after a 7 to 5 party line vote. The House version is being carried by state Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth.

Like the senate version, it still makes sheriffs, constables and police chiefs subject to a Class A misdemeanor for failing to cooperate with federal authorities and honor requests from immigration agents to hold non-citizen inmates subject to removal — usually booked on crimes unrelated to immigration violations.

But the House version only allows peace officers to ask people about their immigration status if they are arrested and not those who have been solely detained for other reasons.

Despite the changes, some Democrats still argued that cops shouldn’t be in the immigration-enforcement business.

“It still creates a chilling effect for immigrants to work with local law enforcement and it still perverts the mission of local law enforcement,” said state Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas. “You can be arrested for anything, virtually. It doesn’t require due process, it simply requires probable cause.”

The House bill also kept in tact the Senate’s requirement to include college campuses in the bill’s provisions. Anchia said that could lead to deportation for college students for something as minor as being in the possession of an open container of alcohol, which would normally result in citation.

But Geren said he worked diligently on the bill to try and appease some of its critics. His version clarifies that it doesn’t apply to public schools or hospital districts, and he added a provision where law officers hired by religious organizations wouldn’t be subject to the bill’s requirements.

Geren also changed language in the bill to make a punishment only applicable to the head of the law enforcement agency deemed non-compliant. The Senate version allows the state to withhold funds from the entire local government body, similar to a punishment Gov. Greg Abbott issued to Travis County earlier this year after Sheriff Sally Hernandez decided she would only cooperate with federal immigration officials on a very limited basis.

“There is no need to remove the state grants funds” from the entire government body, he said. “That goes beyond just targeting the jail.”

But the House version also keeps in the civil penalties that could be as much as $25,000 for entities who adopt policies restricting cooperation with federal authorities.

The bill is expected to be debated by the full House sometime in the next couple of weeks, lawmakers said. That’s where it is likely to undergo another round of changes. Far-right Republicans have already tried to amend a Child Protective Services bill and the biennial budget bill to include immigration language. Though those attempts were unsuccessful, Anchia said Democrats should brace for what could be a lengthy floor fight.

One thing is clear however: lawmakers have no choice but to pass some type of bill. Abbott has identified the legislation as a priority, prompting speculation that lawmakers would be called back for a special session this summer if the bill fails to reach his desk.

Read more:

Author:  JULIÁN AGUILAR – The Texas Tribune

UT/TT Poll: Texans Take a Hard Line on Immigration and Refugees

A majority of Texans support banning Syrian refugees and blocking individuals from seven countries from entering the United States, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.

They balk, but only a bit, at banning Muslims who are not U.S. citizens from entering the country, the poll found.

Asked about banning Syrian refugees, 54 percent they support that policy — 37 percent of them “strongly” so. Republicans are with President Trump on the issue: 65 percent strongly support a ban, and another 17 percent “somewhat” support a ban. Democrats are on the other side, with 51 percent “strongly” opposing the ban and 18 percent “somewhat” opposing it. White Texans support a ban (63 percent), while a plurality of black (49 percent) and a slight majority of Hispanic Texans (51 percent) oppose one.

The responses were similar to a question about blocking entry of people traveling from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen — the seven countries listed in an executive order from President Trump. Overall, 56 percent support temporarily blocking entry from those countries while 38 percent oppose it. Again, there’s a partisan split, with 88 percent of Republicans in favor and 71 percent of Democrats opposed to blocking travel.

TT-UT_polls.006
Graphic by Emily Albracht

“I’m used to talking about how Texans are more open about this stuff, but these are more conservative than the national numbers,” said poll co-director Daron Shaw, a professor of government at the University of Texas at Austin.

Republicans said they would support banning Muslims who are not U.S. citizens from entering the U.S., with 51 percent strongly in support and another 16 percent somewhat in support. But the overall numbers for a religious ban were mixed, with 45 percent in favor and 47 percent opposed. Among Democrats, only 19 percent support a ban, while 56 were strongly opposed and another 16 percent were somewhat opposed.

“The administration has claimed that this is not a Muslim ban, and you can see the social undesirability of it in the answer here,” said Jim Henson, co-director of the poll and head of the Texas Politics Project at UT-Austin.

“Sanctuary” cities

Half of Texans oppose “sanctuary” cities, where local police and city government employees don’t automatically enforce immigration laws by turning undocumented immigrants over to federal authorities. Only 37 percent support that practice.

Republicans in state government are pushing hard for a ban on sanctuary cities, and their voters appear to be solidly behind them: 71 percent “strongly oppose” sanctuary cities and another 8 percent “somewhat oppose” them. Democrats support them, but not as intensely: 41 percent strongly support sanctuary cities and 24 percent somewhat support them.

A narrow majority of Hispanics — 53 percent — are with the sanctuary cities. Among white Texans, 30 percent are with them and 61 percent are against; 41 percent of black Texans are with the cities and 29 percent are against.

“This the kind of debate that does better in the ivory tower than it does out on the streets,” said Shaw. “But if the supporters of sanctuary cities get their message out, their base lines up. The overall numbers are dismal, but Democrats in the electorate are open to it if their elites can and will make the argument.”

Undocumented students

A plurality of Texans — 47 percent — would continue to extend in-state tuition at state colleges and universities to undocumented immigrants who graduated from Texas high schools, have lived in the state for three years or more and have applied for U.S. citizenship. More than a third — 36 percent — would have those students pay higher out-of-state tuition rates.

As in so many responses in the current poll, the party flags were flying in these answers: 66 percent of Democrats said the students should pay in-state tuition, and 57 percent of Republicans said they should pay out-of-state tuition. Among Tea Party Republicans, 68 percent said out-of-state tuition should apply.

Even so, Texas politicians have been more forgiving on this issue than their counterparts in other states, and they have suffered for that in national elections.

“[National politicians] wonder why Rick Perry and others had this albatross around their necks, but they were reflecting Texas attitudes,” Shaw said.

The University of Texas/Texas Tribune internet survey of 1,200 registered voters was conducted from Feb. 3 to Feb. 10 and has an overall margin of error of +/- 2.83 percentage points. Numbers in charts might not add up to 100 percent because of rounding.

This is one of several stories on the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll. Yesterday: What Texans think of the new president, and their views on the economy and the direction of the country and state. Coming Wednesday: Texas voters on education.

Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here

REFERENCE MATERIAL

Author:  ROSS RAMSEY – The Texas Tribune

Texas Senate Committee Weighs “Sanctuary City” Ban (Live Video)

The Senate State Affairs committee meets Thursday beginning at 8:30 a.m., CST, to hear state Sen. Charles Perry‘s bill banning sanctuary cities and sanctuary college campuses in Texas.

A sanctuary city or campus is the general term for entities that do not comply with federal immigration law. Perry’s bill would punish local governments if county jails fail to honor requests, known as detainers, from federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers to hand over immigrants in custody for possible deportation. On Wednesday, Perry announced he had tweaked the bill to include college campuses in Texas as well.

On Tuesday, Gov. Greg Abbott designated the issue of sanctuary cities as an emergency, allowing lawmakers in both chambers to take up the issue faster. And on Wednesday, Abbott made good on his earlier threats and cut off state funding for Travis County over a new “sanctuary” policy implemented by Sheriff Sally Hernandez.

Hundreds are expected to testify on Senate Bill 4 at Thursday’s committee hearing.

In “Sanctuary” Fight, Abbott Cuts Off Funding to Travis County

Gov. Greg Abbott has followed through on his threat to cut off state funding for Travis County over its new “sanctuary” policy.

Abbott’s office said Wednesday it has canceled criminal justice grants it usually administers to the county, whose sheriff, Sally Hernandez, recently announced her department would reduce its cooperation with federal immigration authorities when they request an inmate be flagged for possible deportation. The policy was set to go into effect Wednesday.

The move appears to target about $1.5 million Travis County was due to receive this year from the criminal justice division of the governor’s office. The division doled out $1.8 million to the county last year and has already paid out roughly $300,000 in 2017.

Hernandez, whose jurisdiction includes Austin, has showed no signs of backing down from the policy, even after Abbott raised the prospect she could be removed from office. The move came a day after Abbott named banning so-called “sanctuary cities” one of four emergency items in his State of the State speech.

Democrats had pushed back on Abbott’s threat to withhold the grant money by noting it funds programs that help children, women, families and veterans. But the Republican governor has held firm, saying his No. 1 concern is public safety.

Abbott’s move Wednesday was first reported by the Austin American-Statesman.

Related Tribune coverage:

  • Gov. Abbott demands Travis County reverse new “sanctuary” policy.
  • Travis County sheriff announces new “sanctuary” policy.
  • Six years later, fight over anti-sanctuary cities bill has changed.

Author:  PATRICK SVITEK – The Texas Tribune

Abbott Proposes Removing any Officeholder who “Promotes Sanctuary Cities”

Gov. Greg Abbott said Wednesday that he and state lawmakers will pursue legislation that would “remove from office any officeholder who promotes sanctuary cities,” raising a new consequence as Republicans crack down on local officials who do not fully cooperate with federal immigration officials.

Abbott is threatening to cut off state funding to Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez after she announced Friday she would reduce her department’s cooperation with federal immigration authorities when they request an inmate be flagged for possible deportation. If she continues with the policy, Abbott suggested a more serious punishment.

“We will remove her from office,” Abbott said in an interview on Fox News.

It was not immediately clear how legislation would remove Hernandez from office. She won her election last year. Sanctuary cities opponents view such officials’ immigration policies as a violation of their oaths of office.

The Fox News interview appears to be the first time Abbott has suggested officials like Hernandez could lose their jobs under sanctuary cities legislation. Abbott is expected to prioritize the legislation in his State of the State address on Tuesday.

Hernandez’s office did not have an immediate comment on Abbott’s remarks. The governor’s comments, however, quickly drew ire from other Democrats, with the state party saying in a statement that Abbott was “launching a new assault on the will of Texans.”

“I don’t know how the governor would suggest to do that,” state Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, said at a news conference that was called to push back on sanctuary cities legislation. “Typically people are elected by the voters. Democracy, in fact, works.”

“And unless the governor wants to be king and remove people from office unilaterally, then I think the people of Travis County will have an opportunity to speak on the sheriff, the governor and all other elected officials when they stand for re-election,” Anchia added.

By the end of Wednesday morning, the Texas Senate GOP caucus released a letter, signed by all 20 GOP senators, backing up Abbott in his showdown with Hernandez. The letter did not address Abbott’s proposal to remove officials like her, but told Hernandez her policy “is a reckless and blatant political stunt that not only prohibits law enforcement officers from doing their job, but also jeopardizes the safety of the citizens of Travis County.”

Julián Aguilar contributed to this report.

Read more:

  • Abbott demanded Monday that Hernandez reverse her new policy or lose state dollars.
  • Hernandez announced Friday her office would scale back its cooperation with federal immigration authorities.

Author: PATRICK SVITEK – The Texas Tribune

El Paso Doesn’t Want ID as “Sanctuary City”

An El Paso-based immigrant rights group could see its hopes for a municipal ID card dashed after leaders there determined that issuing the card might prompt immigration hardliners to label the town a “sanctuary city.”

In 2014, the El Paso-based Border Network for Human Rights launched a petition drive asking the city council to consider creating a standardized ID card available to city residents. The card would not reflect a person’s legal status in the country but could be used as proof of residency by undocumented immigrants waiting to apply for President Obama’s executive action on immigration, which is stalled in the courts.

The ID could also be used to open bank accounts, protect day laborers and other workers paid day-to-day from predatory check-cashing agencies that charge high fees and be used to access city services like libraries and emergency care, proponents argue.

Oakland and San Francisco issue similar cards, and the petition to launch them in El Paso garnered more than 10,000 signatures.

But an analysis of the program released by the city reflected leaders’ concerns over what, if any, reprisals could come from state and federal leaders who oppose sanctuary cities, the common term for municipal governments that don’t enforce federal immigration laws.

“In the past year, there has been legislation filed at both the state and federal level regarding ‘sanctuary cities.’ These bills seek to prohibit local government entities from having policies, ordinances, and rules that prohibit or interfere with the enforcement of immigration laws,” the city’s report states.

The city council acknowledges that so far, a municipal ID isn’t considered a criterion that defines a sanctuary city. But that could change next year, the city officials said.

“It is likely, however, that during the interim and upcoming state legislative session, the impact of municipal ID on immigration policies will be discussed, particularly in the Texas Senate. In addition, any current “sanctuary city” legislation could be amended or proposed legislation could be re-drafted to include Municipal ID as a prohibited policy, ordinance or rule,” the report says.

The idea’s backers accused the city of bowing to political pressure.

“The language and reasoning in their report not only contains ambiguous, hypothetical, and artificial arguments to undermine the community demand, but in so doing is guided by reaction to anti-immigrant elements as the City of El Paso panders to fears of ‘sanctuary cities’” Gabriela Castaneda, a BNHR spokeswoman and director, said in a statement. “The report prepared by city staff needlessly takes a political stand against immigrants and marginalizes the positive impacts on civic integration, safety, and community.”

A city spokesperson declined to comment until a final decision has been made.

Castaneda said the group will continue pushing for the program when the council meets next month. But according to the city’s study, the card would have limited benefits if the program is implemented.

In a letter to Verónica Soto, the city’s director of Community and Human Development, Texas Department of Public Safety General Counsel D. Phillip Adkins said DPS wouldn’t consider a municipal ID card a primary document needed to obtain a state-issued driver’s license. It could be considered a secondary document, which can be used in conjunction with another form of identification. But that depends on the final product, Adkins said.

But the proposed city ID would work to obtain some services that other documents, including the Mexican consular ID, are also used for, according to the city analysis. Those include some utility services and school registration in the Socorro Independent School District.

Author:  – The Texas Tribune

The Texas Tribune is a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them – about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues

Texas Congregation Gives Sanctuary to Guatemalan Refugee

AUSTIN, Texas – A church in Texas has given a Guatemalan refugee sanctuary and is hoping that more religious organizations will follow suit. Saint Andrews Presbyterian Church in Austin, Texas has taken in a woman who church officials will only call Hilda. She says she came to the U.S. to escape violence in her home country and is concerned that she may be deported.

Reverend Jim Rigby, a minister at Saint Andrews Presbyterian Church, says he hopes the church’s actions will counter what he sees as hypocrisy in American policy toward refugees.

stAndrews“It’s very disturbing when the subject of immigration comes up and we don’t tell the part about powerful nations destroying helpless people,” says Rigby. “When somebody comes to our border whose nation we destabilized, we can’t act like we’re innocent; we have to start taking responsibility.”

Rigby says most of Central America, including Guatemala, is beset with drug-gang violence, and thousands of people, including families, have come north in recent years to escape. He says deporting Hilda would be a death sentence for her.

Rigby adds he believes Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials, also called ICE, will not arrest Hilda and others on church property.

“At this point, what we are hoping to do is get a network around the city of churches that can just adopt individual families, and synagogues and secular groups that want to do this,” Rigby says. ” The premise that is being worked on is that ICE doesn’t want to come on church territory.”

Contacted about the situation, ICE officials said while it is illegal to provide sanctuary from federal officials, there is an agency policy that advises agents to generally avoid enforcement actions at schools and churches.

Author: Mark Richardson – Texas News Service

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