EDINBURG, October 3 - When state Rep. Terry Canales called DPS to find out why the department was putting up random checkpoints in the poorest parts of the Rio Grande Valley he could not believe what he was told.
“It was such a telling remark. The staff member said DPS was putting up the checkpoints because the federal government was not doing its job. When I pressed her on this point she backtracked,” Canales told the Guardian.
All the public statements from DPS about the checkpoints have focused on the high percentage of Valley residents driving without a driver’s license and lacking auto insurance. DPS Director Steve McCraw has strongly denied state troopers are enforcing federal immigration laws.
Many immigrants do not believe DPS and dozens have contacted Valley media outlets to tell of friends and loved ones who have been deported after being picked up at the checkpoints. Thousands of immigrants have not ventured out of their homes since the checkpoints were erected. Businesses have lost workers and schools have lost students. “We cannot leave home. I can’t work, my wife cannot go to evening classes and our children cannot go to school,” said one immigrant from Edinburg, who asked that his name not be given out. “We cannot risk being picked up and being deported.”
On Wednesday, however, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst effectively claimed DPS was engaged in immigration enforcement and repeated what the DPS staff member told Canales.
“The federal government has proven incapable of fighting the increased drug and human trafficking plaguing this region,” Dewhurst said in his statement. “I'm proud to say that Texas law enforcement is showing Washington how to secure the border by coordinating the efforts of local, state and federal law enforcement entities.”
Groups in the RGV Equal Voice Network were quick to pounce on Dewhurst’s remarks, claiming the lieutenant governor was confirming what they have been saying all along, that DPS was picking up drivers and handing them over to Border Patrol.
Equal Voice network weaver Michael Seifert said members in the network were not surprised by Dewhurst's boast that state troopers went to the Valley to enforce the federal immigration law.
“We have asserted all along that the troopers were sent here to harass immigrant communities, even as the state director insisted that DPS brought in extra troops to enforce traffic laws. As is usual during the past 20 years, the State of Texas has its priorities backwards--spending millions of dollars in poorly thought-out operations that end up disrupting the lives of thousands of citizens. The great surprise would be if the State dedicated even a share of those resources to things that actually matter - early childhood education, access to medical care, and decent housing,” Seifert said.
Juanita Valdez-Cox, director of La Unión del Pueblo Entero, agreed with Seifert’s analysis. “Lt. Gov. Dewhurst confirmed today what LUPE members have been reporting to us since the roadblocks began. Texas DPS has been working with federal immigration authorities at roadblock sites. Clearly Mr. McCraw did not give the community the whole truth when he recently denied working with federal agencies at the roadblocks.”
Groups within the Equal Voice network held a protest Monday morning outside the DPS headquarters in Edinburg. At the event, Valdez-Cox called for the Legislature to create an oversight committee to monitor DPS’s activities. She pointed out that it was a DPS state trooper who shot and killed two Guatemalan immigrants from a helicopter less than a year ago north of La Joya.
“We need the consulate offices to help us put pressure on the government to rein in DPS. The Mexican Consulate’s Office, the El Salvadorian Consulate’s Office, the Nicaraguan Consulate’s Office, and the Honduran Consulate’s Office can all help,” Valdez-Cox said.
Valdez-Cox also wants state legislators from the Valley to be more vocal in opposition to DPS’s checkpoint policy. She told the Guardian that many immigrants were disappointed that no legislators attended the rally outside the DPS HQ on Monday.
“The only legislator that has really been vocal on this issue has been state Rep. Terry Canales. We thank him for his support. We will continue to insist that our legislators listen to and work with the community and that they be seen by the community as being on the side of the community,” Valdez-Cox said.
Ramona Casas, a community organizer for Project ARISE, echoed Valdez-Cox’s remarks. “Look what happened to the two immigrants from Guatemala, they were shot at from a helicopter. DPS has a wretched history in South Texas and it is doing nothing to improve its reputation. We need the consulate offices to get involved in this fight for justice, along with the businesses that are losing business,” Casas said in Spanish.
Dewhurst said he visited the Valley last week and was not impressed with the success rate of Border Patrol. He pointed to Border Patrol statistics to make his case. He said that from Fiscal Year 2011 to Fiscal Year 2012, apprehensions in the Valley have risen from 57,243 to 97,762. Deaths have also more than doubled during this same time, while drug seizures are also alarmingly high, he said. He also claimed Border Patrol’s RGV sector accounts for nearly three-quarters of all drug seizures and more than half of all deaths along the Texas/Mexico border.
“Complacency in the face of cartels and transnational gangs exploiting the porous border region is inexcusable. Officials who have claimed the border is secure must have been at a different border than the one I saw and our law enforcement personnel are patrolling,” Dewhurst said. “Until they significantly increase the number of Border Patrol agents along the border at the points of entry and all points between, and equip them with the resources they need, we won't see sustainable change in the border security situation. Until then, Texas will continue looking out for our own.”
On the issue of the Valley having a large number of residents driving on the highway without a license or insurance, LUPE’s Valdez-Cox said: “This is a situation that the state created in 2011 by denying immigrants the chance of getting a driver's license. Until then, they could. Nobody wants to have an accident with an uninsured driver and that includes immigrants. Why are state officials acting so surprised we have such high numbers without driver's licenses and insurance when they created this situation,” Valdez-Cox said.