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Houston activists call for an end to controversial immigration program

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The 287g agreement between Harris County and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has yet to be renewed, but the immigrant youth-led organization United We Dream has begun their campaign to reject the program that allows officers to screen detainees for undocumented immigrants and can lead to deportation proceedings.

In opposition to the program, nearly 20 protestors held a press conference in downtown Houston that proceeded with a march to the Harris County Sheriff’s Office to deliver roses, a Valentine note, and a large heart to Sheriff Ron Hickman. The heart signified the broken hearts of pulling families apart due to deportations.

Maria Treviño-Rodriguez, the 21-year-old alliance and coalition builder for the campaign, “Houston Sin Miedo”, handed the items to one of the officers to pass on to Hickman. After a few minutes, the officer returned to notify Treviño-Rodriguez that Hickman could not meet with them.

“The fact that he’s an elected official and he refused to speak with his constituents really grossed me out,” Treviño-Rodriguez said.

Treviño-Rodriguez’s family moved from Mexico City to Houston nearly 20 years ago. She has attended school in the U.S. as an undocumented student and is currently attending the University of Houston using the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program (DACA), but said she knows her goal of achieving a higher education can be taken away at any moment.

“I’m deeply rooted in this community, and I want to do the right thing for my community,” Treviño-Rodriguez said.

Treviño-Rodriguez added that Hickman needed to prove his love for the immigration community by putting an end to the contract.

“We wanted to make it understood that we are open to speaking, that we are not wanting to attack him whatsoever, and we’re hoping that he’s responsive and receptive to our communication,” Treviño-Rodriguez said.

The 287g program has been in tact since 2008 with Sheriff Tommy Thomas and was renewed a few years later by former Sheriff Adrian Garcia.

Data provided in 2015 by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards reported that Texas jails spent $77 million housing undocumented detainees in 2014. Harris County topped the list, spending $22.9 million housing 13,969 alleged undocumented inmates.

In January of this year, a total of 534 undocumented inmates were detained, according to a Texas Commission on Jail Standards’ Immigration Detainer Report.

Sébastian Troitiño, who runs the communications side of the “Houston Beyond ICE” campaign, said that 287g is a law that brings fear to our Latino community.

“(Latino community) should instead, be looking to (officers) as safety, and people who are on their side, and not threatened because they will be deported,” Troitiño said.

Sheriff Hickman released a statement following the protest saying that there were no plans to abolish the program and that he will continue working with ICE to ensure the safety of the community.

“I believe the controversy surrounding the program has a legitimate history reflected in public outcry and concern,” Hickman said. “It’s important to note, that no one is held in the Harris County Jail on federal immigration charges.  Inmates are jailed solely on state criminal violations.”

The sheriff said ICE now operates a daily transportation system, meaning inmates will not be held an additional 48 hours after their scheduled release and that pre-trial detainees will have the opportunity to make bond regardless of their immigration status.

“Ultimately this is a program designed to protect the public from the most violent of offenders with histories of immigration violations,” Hickman said.

On Sunday, the Houston Beyond ICE Campaign will hold a vigil at Sheriff Hickman’s church. The organization is planning to hold workshops, seminars and other presentations to inform people about their campaign and encourage them to act.

“Our actions will take place in different public spaces with a specific target in mind,” Treviño-Rodriguez said. “These are meant to persuade the sheriff to end 287g via different institutions he respects.”

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