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ALAMO, RGV – Bishop of Brownsville Daniel Flores was invited to give a blessing Wednesday for the Caravan Against Fear that is traveling from San Diego, California, to Brownsville, Texas.

The Caravan aims to defend immigrant rights, keep families together, and build momentum for a May 1 National Strike. The caravan, which is supported by the RGV Equal Voice Network, arrived in Alamo on the same day the Texas House of Representatives debated Senate Bill 4, the so-called anti-Sanctuary City legislation.

In an interview with the Rio Grande Guardian, Bishop Flores said he strongly opposes SB 4.

“I was invited to offer a blessing, a few words of encouragement to this Caravan Against Fear that’s been traveling from California to here. Basically, to give expression to some of the fears the community is experiencing in the country right now, trying to encourage people to overcome their fears, to express themselves and to speak about what immigrant families are experiencing in their everyday lives,” Flores said.

“The Church always encourages people to express their views and their thoughts. To overcome that fear which often keeps people silent. It is a perplexing thing, very often we try to craft laws without consulting the very people most affected. The immigrant community, having full human dignity deserves to be heard and consulted.”

Asked if he had spoken with those on the Caravan, Bishop Flores said:

“I have been listening to their presentations here today. And, on other occasions, I have been hearing about children and that there may be a summary deportation of their parents. That is a fear we have to address. We must also recognize, at the state level now, because of SB 4, that fear may very well multiply. We have to be aware of that. The Church, especially in Texas, has consistently asked that local law enforcement be left to enforce local law and use their good judgment.”

SB 4 allows local peace officers to question the immigration status of people they legally detain. The original House version was more moderate than the Senate version in that it only allowed officers to inquire about status during a lawful arrest. However, an amendment offered by a Republican legislator reinstated the detainment language. At 3 a.m. today, the House tentatively passed SB 4. It has already been approved by the Senate and looks set to be on Governor Abbott’s desk for signature in the coming weeks. Abbott said at the start of the legislative session that the bill was a priority. It will go into force Sept. 1.

Asked if he could influence the legislative debate at this late stage, Bishop Flores said: “All of the bishops of Texas, all of us, were in Austin about three weeks ago. We met with the leadership of the House, the Senate and with the Governor’s advisers and we expressed our views on a lot of issues. Certainly, SB 4 was one of them. They know very well how the Church views this matter right now.”

Asked to elaborate on his position against the anti-Sanctuary City legislation, Bishop Flores said:

“Sometimes the language boxes us. We have to have a certain freedom of language, and the fact is that the bill being proposed, basically is the state telling local law enforcement what they have to do in whatever circumstances. When, the fact is that being an immigrant in itself is not a criminal act.

“Therefore, local law enforcement should have good relations with the community such that the immigrant community can feel free to report crime because criminal acts do happen. But, if the local community does not report them, then it simply is going to get worse. The long-term effect of this kind of a hand-tying of local law enforcement is to make the community less safe.”

Border Wall

Asked about the news out of Washington, D.C., that the Trump Administration will not link funding for a border wall with a must-pass spending bill, Bishop Flores said he was not surprised. He said he expects the Administration to try again later in the year.

“I, myself, and a number of other bishops I have talked to are quite convinced that using that much money to build a wall, which is of dubious effectiveness, is a severe misuse of resources that could be better used in other ways. So, prudentially, it (the border wall) does not quite pass the test for being absolutely necessary. That is the view of a lot of people here in the Valley,” Bishop Flores said.

Asked if he had any other messages for the people of the Rio Grande Valley, Bishop Flores said:

“We have to encourage the community. We have to encourage peaceable-ness and neighborliness and good relations, which I think is one of the gifts of the Rio Grande Valley. We have that. We need to work to preserve it. The community exists prior to differentiation on who has documents and who doesn’t have documents. That is an example for the whole country. I really wish people would have a chance to come down without cameras and without press briefings and just come and get to know the grace and the goodness that is here.”

Other Voices

Many community leaders attended the Caravan event, which was held at the Hidalgo County Precinct 2 Multi-Purpose Center in Little Mexico. Here are some of their views:

Ramona Casas, of ARISE and the Equal Voice Immigration Working Group co-chair:

“We live in one of the safest areas of the country. We are also one of the poorest regions in the United States. We are hardworking people who have invested in the future of our children—and the future of our communities. At a time when so many in this country are frightened by the hateful language coming out of Washington and Austin, we stand strong with our community and refuse to let fear rule our lives. The Caravan Against Fear is a united front for all communities that have been under attack by this administration. This is our opportunity to push back against the hateful rhetoric and urge our elected officials to listen to border communities, and to really understand what we need. Our communities should be revitalized, not militarized.”

Maria Cordero, community organizer for the ACLU of Texas and co-chair of Equal Voice Immigration Working Group:

“Our border communities have suffered for years under an unaccountable and irresponsible ICE and Border Patrol, and under the Trump administration it’s only gotten worse. Anti-immigrant leaders and law enforcement agencies are using fear as a tool to terrorize immigrant and refugee communities and break apart families, and we must organize, mobilize, and act to fight back. I welcome the Caravan Against Fear and invite all our brothers and sisters living along the southern border to stand with us in rejecting fear and standing for our values.”

Martha Sanchez, community organizer for La Unión del Pueblo Entero:

“The Caravan Against Fear has arrived in the Rio Grande Valley on the same day that the Texas Legislature will vote on SB4, the bill that would make state and local police partners in Trump’s mass deportation agenda. With the caravan’s help, we will send a message to Austin that we embrace immigrants and refugees and reject Trump’s agenda of hate and fear.”

Sister Phylis Peters, of Proyecto Juan Diego:

“We have a moral obligation to welcome and protect all people, regardless of their immigration status. The federal government’s lack of moral grounding and basic respect for the dignity of all is troubling for all border communities. We call upon our leaders to reject policy that seeks to destroy our communities.”

Marlene Chavez, co-chair of the Equal Voice Jobs’ Working Group:

“For far too long, conversations about the border region have been misguided and biased. This caravan has given border residents a chance to share the real story of what’s taking place in our backyard. The southern border is a key engine of economic growth; an international trade hub that creates jobs and generates wealth for this country. We are not second-class citizens. We demand more accountability from elected officials and we demand that this administration restore our constitutional protections. Now, as State of Texas legislators vote on SB4, the so-called ‘anti-Sanctuary Cities’ Bill’ we more than ever must stand strong as a community to defend our rights to live as the powerful, life-giving, good communities that we are.”

Editor’s Note: Video Journalist Apolonio Sandoval, Jr., assisted with this story from Alamo, Texas.