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AUSTIN, Texas – Lively discussion has taken place between Rio Grande Valley community group leaders over whether local legislators let down colonia families by not attending a major rally held in support of undocumented immigrants.

State Senators José Rodríguez, D-El Paso, and Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, spoke at the RITA rally.
State Senators José Rodríguez, D-El Paso, and Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, spoke at the RITA rally.

Rogelio Nuñez, executive director of Proyecto Libertad, said Valley legislators should have participated in the event, which took place on south steps of the state Capitol in Austin last Wednesday. He said they should have done so out of respect and to show solidarity.

Martha Sánchez, a community organizer for La Unión del Pueblo Entero, said the absence of the Valley legislators was no big deal because all of them support issues important to undocumented immigrants.

More than 250 members of Valley colonia groups such as Proyecto Azteca, La Unión del Pueblo Entero, Project ARISE, Movimiento del Valle, Proyecto Juan Diego and Proyecto Libertad attended the rally, which was hosted by the Reform Immigration of Texas Alliance. The colonia groups hired three buses to take their members to the rally. Undocumented residents did not attend the rally for fear of being “picked up” at Border Patrol’s checkpoints at Sarita and Falfurrias.

Numerous legislators representing heavily Hispanic districts did attend and speak at the rally. They included state Sens. José Rodríguez, D-El Paso, and Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, and state Reps. Ana Hernández Luna, D-Houston, Roberto Alonzo, D-Dallas, Poncho Nevárez, D-Eagle Pass, and Armando Walle, D-Houston.

The 11-member Valley legislative delegation comprises state Sens. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, and Juan Hinojosa, D-McAllen, and state Reps. René Oliveira, D-Brownsville, Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City, Armando Martinez, D-Weslaco, Eddie Lucio, III, D-San Benito, Sergio Muñoz, D-Mission, R.D. Bobby Guerra, D-McAllen, Oscar Longoria, D-La Joya, and Terry Canales, D-Edinburg.

LUPE’s Sánchez said she had no problem with Valley legislators not attending the RITA rally.

“We will be seeing our Valley legislators this afternoon in their individual offices and we know they will be supporting us. We know they are not able to be here. We also know that yesterday was Rio Grande Valley Day and everybody was here visiting them. We have appointments to visit with all of them. They are all supporting the driver’s license legislation. They are all against repeal of in-state tuition. And, they are supporting accountability and transparency for DPS, especially given the amount of DPS we have in the Valley. We will visit with them locally if we cannot get to see them today,” Sánchez said.

“We also know that they (Valley legislators) know that banning sanctuary cities is not good for the Valley. If they do not know that would be a bad bill then we have a problem. We would have to talk to them very seriously. I am not worried too much about our local delegation.”

Nuñez, of Proyecto Libertad, had a different view. He said Valley legislators should have shown solidarity with the Valley community groups and the 200-plus Valley residents that made a special effort to get to the Capitol on issues of great importance to the Valley.

“Representation from the Rio Grande Valley was sadly lacking at this rally. I am director of Proyecto Libertad in Harlingen, Texas. We have been working a lot of immigration issues, border enforcement, accountability, the National Guard. It is really disappointing none of the Valley representatives or senators were here while the representatives and senators from other parts of Texas were here. I think if we are going to stand united, I would like, as a citizen of the Rio Grande Valley, as an immigrants rights activist, as a civil rights activist, I would like to see that representation here on this particular day,” Nuñez said.

Asked to respond to Sánchez’s point that the Valley legislators can be relied upon to back legislation that helps the Valley’s undocumented residents, Nuñez said: “We cannot assume those things. We cannot automatically assume they are with us. I can tell you that if they had come out today that would really have put the blessing on the whole issue. It is hard to know. You have to talk to everybody to make sure they are on board. It has to be done every day and all the time. We cannot take it for granted. We cannot assume. We cannot assume, just because they are Latino that they are with you either. Look in the Rio Grande Guardian yesterday for RGV Day at the Capitol. Everyone was opposed to the National Guard on the border except for Senator Lucio. Well, at least he stood out. The Valley delegation is not here and that is what I am upset about. I am going to have to talk about this and bring it to the attention of the public. We need to get a commitment, either a voice commitment or in a letter, whichever way it can be that they part of the movement that supports these immigrant issues that we have.”

Martha Sánchez of La Unión del Pueblo Entero.
Martha Sánchez of La Unión del Pueblo Entero.

Asked what he thought about two of the Valley legislators walking past the rally and on towards Congress Avenue, possibly to visit a restaurant for lunch, Nuñez said: “Out of courtesy they could have come over and said a few words. It is little bit disturbing and unfortunate.”

A South Texas lobbyist who did not want his name published defended the state legislators. He said the entire Valley legislative delegation is fully supportive of legislation to allow undocumented residents the opportunity to get a driver’s license and against repeal of in-state tuition for undocumented students.

Rogelio Nuñez of Proyecto Libertad.
Rogelio Nuñez of Proyecto Libertad.

“Our legislators can be far more effective by working with the Republican leadership inside the Pink Dome than by antagonizing them outside. If I were asked, I would have advised them not to attend the rally. Our legislators are excellent. They know how to get things done,” the lobbyist said.

The lobbyist added that the place to hold rallies was back in the Valley, where state leaders will not pay so much attention.