Texans march against profiling legislation

Mary Ellen Knewtson

A blend of Spanish and English cries rose up to the Capitol’s south steps at a rally against proposed legislation that would target undocumented immigrants in Texas.

More than 200 people from various organizations and university groups gathered to protest, among other things, a bill state Rep. Debbie Riddle, R-Houston, proposed that is similar to one enacted in Arizona in April 2010. The Texas bill would allow law enforcement officials to ask about the citizenship of someone who is in their custody for another crime. If federal records show the person is an undocumented immigrant, they may face additional charges.

Jannell Robles, an organizer with Houston United, said laws similar to Arizona’s bill would lead to racial profiling.

“It’s not the humane thing to do, to go around asking people for their papers,” she said.
Robles said police officers waste their time inquiring about citizenship status.

Although the organizing group is based in Houston, activists from Dallas, Austin, San Antonio and South Texas were present at the rally.

Gov. Rick Perry recently included sanctuary cities — where GOP lawmakers believe city officials flout federal immigration statutes — on a legislative emergency list, which allows state lawmakers to begin debating bills on the subject. Rally organizer Michael Espinoza said the move will only appease Perry’s conservative voting base.

“Securing our borders is serious,” Espinoza said. “But what’s also serious is ensuring the safety, security and integration of people already here. This is one of many more rallies to take place during the legislative session. Our message today is that we’re all family.”

The protestors also assailed a bill that would require undocumented students to pay out-of-state tuition at Texas public colleges, said Jesus Perales, former vice president of a student group at Lamar University in Beaumont.

“We invest in education for all students,” Perales said. “They’ve grown up here in Texas, and to deny them a right to higher education would put their hope down.”

Perales’ organization worked to pass the DREAM Act, which would have granted citizenship to undocumented college students and active duty soldiers and veterans. Since the bill failed in the U.S. Senate in December, the organization shifted its focus to telling undocumented high school students who aspire to go to college about proposed legislation that threatens to put college out of reach financially, he said.