EDINBURG, September 25 - Numerous Rio Grande Valley residents and state Rep. Terry Canales say DPS is lying when it says its troopers are not checking immigration status at its random checkpoints in the Valley.
Canales, D-Edinburg, said he would be posting a video on You Tube of DPS working with Border Patrol at one of the temporary checkpoints.
“My office has been on the phone with DPS in the last 72 hours more than five times. In a telling remark from one of their staff, I was told DPS is putting up the checkpoints because the federal government is not doing its job. When I pressed her on this point she backtracked. I think this is indicative of what their plans are and what they are really trying to accomplish,” Canales said.
DPS has said the temporary checkpoints are in place to check if drivers have a valid driver’s license and auto insurance. It says it is not checking the immigrant status of drivers. Canales does not buy this.
“I have posed questions to Steve McCraw, pointed questions that have largely gone unanswered. They have responded to some of the questions but not to my satisfaction and not to the satisfaction of my constituents,” Canales told the Guardian.
Steve McCraw is director of Texas DPS. In a Sept. 13 news release, DPS said a multi-agency law enforcement initiative was being set up to “temporarily increase the patrol presence in the Rio Grande Valley area of Texas to address several public safety issues.”
One Valley resident called the Guardian to say her friend was stopped at a temporary checkpoint on Hwy 107 in Edinburg on Wednesday. When the woman, aged 38, could not produce papers to vouch for her legal residency Border Patrol were called and she was taken into custody.
“DPS is not telling the truth. They are lying. They are checking legal residency at the checkpoints,” the Guardian reader said. “The whole community is frightened. Everyone is afraid. DPS is acting as though it is Border Patrol.” The woman did not want to be identified for fear of reprisal from DPS.
Another Guardian reader, who also did not wish to be identified, said he saw a group of men being taken away by Border Patrol at a DPS checkpoint on 23rd Street in south McAllen. “The DPS troopers are checking everyone’s driver’s licenses. If drivers do not have a valid license they are calling Border Patrol. Their agents are parked a block away from the checkpoint awaiting a call from DPS,” said the reader.
Numerous media outlets have been contacted throughout the last few days from residents complaining about the checkpoints. Many readers and viewers have said DPS is checking the legal residency of drivers. On Facebook, residents are informing friends and family where the checkpoints are so they can be avoided.
Mission community activist Alexia Solis challenged Valley media outlets to create a map pinpointing all the areas where DPS has staged its checkpoints. “I would like a map to show proof and to show people the unjust actions that our DPS is taking,” Solis said.
Canales said he has concerns about where the checkpoints are being put up.
“Why are they are targeting low income, economically disadvantaged areas? None of us have heard of checkpoints on Trenton, or Dove. I have not seen a roadblock at Doctors Hospital at Renaissance. That poses a problem to me,” Canales said.
“I represent a largely disadvantaged area to me. It is indicative that DPS has some other motive other than the safety and welfare of the people. If they can come up with a justifiable reason why they are doing it… that is what we are looking for. But, to date, they have not been able to explain what their reason or rationale. Without a proper justification they should scrap these checkpoints.”
Here are the questions Canales has sent DPS Director McCraw:
• What are the locations that have already had checkpoints set up and over what time frame were those checkpoints active?
• How many troopers are currently stationed in Hidalgo County and how does this compare with the rest of the state?
• How many troopers are being deployed for this program?
• How many DPS trooper man hours are being utilized on these checkpoints?
• What is the expected cost to the taxpayers for this operation?
• How many troopers have been brought into Hidalgo County and how does this affect other communities in Texas?
• Can we get a complete list of federal, state and local agencies that are involved in these operations?
• Who initiated this checkpoint operation and on what basis?
• Please provide scientific or verifiable data that rises to the level to initiate this operation.
• “Law enforcement has identified various criminal activities and unsafe driving behaviors in south Texas,” according to the DPS announcement. Can you provide us data that illustrates increased criminal activities, unsafe driving behaviors, vehicle crashes, and the increase of commercial vehicles operating on the roadways?
• What measured effect if any have the checkpoints had on the alleged problems cited by DPS? How many citations and arrests have resulted from the program so far?
• You have also stated that, “DPS began this operation on September 16 and will continue for a short duration”. What constitutes a “short duration” according to DPS?
• Are cars being stopped only randomly? We have heard reports from constituents that these checkpoint stops seem to be focused on economically disadvantaged drivers. According to your agency, what constitutes a suspicious vehicle?
• In setting up these checkpoints, is DPS attempting to take over tasks that are best left to the federal government?
State Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, said he has been assured by McCraw that DPS troopers are not involved in checking legal residency at the Valley checkpoints.
“DPS’s focus is doing checks on driver’s licenses and insurance compliance. They are not involved in working with immigration. They are not involved in checking citizenship status. They are stopping every third car. I am not happy about it,” Hinojosa told the Guardian.
Hinojosa said Hidalgo County leads the state in the number of drivers without a driver’s license and the number without auto insurance. “It is a very unfortunate position we find ourselves in Hidalgo County. Many people, because they are not legal, cannot apply for a driver’s license.”
Hinojosa said he has spoken with DPS Director McCraw and DPS Commander Joe Rodriguez. He said they have told him they will be wrapping up their checkpoint operations in the Valley early next week. Hinojosa said he his office has received a lot of complaints about DPS’s actions from his constituents.
“Obviously, there is apprehension in the community but they (DPS) are not enforcing immigration laws. DPS has assured me they are not working with immigration and they assured me they are not working on the immigration status of any person,” Hinojosa added.
Hinojosa said he did not know if DPS was setting up checkpoints in the poorest parts of the Valley. “The whole Valley is poor. We have one of the highest poverty levels in the state and country,” he said. He said he understands the apprehension of residents. “People feel our government overreaches and they do not appreciate that,” he said.