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Is Houston a Sanctuary City?

Accusations have been made that Houston is a sanctuary city which harbors and supports immigrants instead of running them off and deporting them. Houston is a sanctuary, they say, a holy place for immigrants seeking employment and a new life, a place of protection.

If Houston is a sanctuary city, it has escaped us. This is a cruel joke.

If Houston is a sanctuary city, where is the sanctuary light? If it is a sanctuary, where is the Blessed Sacrament?

We don’t see light. We see darkness. We see people being harassed and arrested. We see people who are not paid a just wage or a living wage, and people who are not paid at all. We see workers who have fallen off scaffolding with broken backs and who cannot move a finger or toe, and society provides nothing. We see women forcibly made to work under prostitution conditions in cantinas. We see families separated and powerless to do anything about reunification.

Immigration agents enter apartments without search warrants and carry people off. Lawyers who visit the detention center in Houston and families of the deported have told us that these agents go to an apartment to follow up on one person who may have a deportation order. They do not stop there, however. Immigrants recount how the agents have burst into surrounding apartments without warrants to search and arrest the neighbors. People live in terror.

If Houston is a sanctuary city, why are there 1,000 prisoners each day in the detention center here, with many more farmed out to jails in nearby cities and counties? Why is it so hard for people to locate their relatives when they are detained?

The need for security at the border does not give permission to be cruel to people who are already working in our economy.

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, Archbishop of Galveston-Houston, was quoted recently in theSan Antonio Express News , saying that he and the Catholic Bishops of Texas have for three decades supported comprehensive immigration reform with an emphasis on family reunification. “Certainly we want to protect our borders,” he said. “At the same time, punitive measures alone are going to be ultimately ineffective, and I think counterproductive. Most of the immigrants who come here really want to work and be part of our country.”

Tearing up families who have been here for years and are integrated into our neighborhoods, businesses, schools, and churches is hardly a comprehensive immigration program.

At present the only thing that is comprehensive is the xenophobia and racism that drives people to forget their immigration roots—every one of them. The existence of problems at our borders does not give permission for a police state spreading all over the Western hemisphere.

Three young people came recently to Casa Juan Diego for help when their parents were deported. The oldest was 17, the middle boy 14, and their sister 10 years old. Their parents were simply walking on the street in downtown Houston when they were nabbed by federal agents.

The priest in charge of Casa Juan Diego Matamoros recently told us that hundreds and hundreds of people are being deported to Mexico from Houston. They arrive in shorts and tennis shoes, as they were dressed when they were snatched on the street.

It is not only Houston, of course. Work places in cities throughout the country have been raided in recent months by federal agents of ICE, the Immigration Customs and Enforcement Agency, now a part of Homeland Security. Parents are quickly deported with no concern for what may happen to their children. Families are torn apart and children end up in the hands of the government, perhaps never to see their parents again.

The latest screed undermining immigrants is to accuse them of identity theft when they are simply using a fake social security card which takes nothing from anybody, but adds to the social security account of the person who owns the number any deductions from the immigrant’s work.

The media bears a terrible responsibility for participa-ting in drumming up hatred against immigrants, begin-ning with featuring the Minute Men at the border as major news when there were only four or five people involved. It appears that inflammatory editorial policies in newspaper and television that have such a drastic effect on people’s lives are often implemented simply to make scandalous headlines, improve ratings and thus draw in more advertisers. The over-whelming majority of immigrants are not criminals. They perform work important to all aspects of our nation’s economy and the personal life of our citizens.

The Modesto Bee recently published helpful suggestions from the Catholic Bishops of California for the restructuring of immigration policy:

– Easily available temporary visas for those willing to work

– Improved border security and enhanced humanitarian training for border guards

– Fair and equitable rules and reasonable time frames for processing applications to become legal permanent residents

– Compassionate rules and practical time frames for family reunification for legal resident aliens and naturalized citizens

– Reasonable requirements for legal residents to become citizens.

– Recognition of the impact of globalization and free trade on patterns of migration.

See also the U.S. Bishops’ page Justice for Immigrants: www.justiceforimmigrants.org.

M.L.Z., L.Y.Z


Houston Catholic Worker, Vol. XXVIII, No. 1, January-February 2008.