RAYMONDVILLE, RGV – Valley Interfaith and the Hector P. Garcia American GI Forum are among a number of South Texas groups traveling to Austin on Monday to testify in opposition to so-called “Show us your Papers” legislation.

Senate Bill 185, authored by state Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, would prevent police chiefs from stopping their officers from asking for a person’s immigrant status when detained. Many police chiefs do not like the legislation because they fear it will drive a wedge between their departments and immigrant communities and, as a consequence, result in fewer crimes being reported.

Perry’s bill is being heard by the Senate Subcommittee on Border Security. The committee has only three members and one is state Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville.

“We will warn the Senate Subcommittee on Border Security that this bill would effectively blackmail cities and law enforcement by withholding state funds unless they take on the role of immigration agents,” said Father Carlos Zuniga, pastor of St. Pius Catholic Church in Weslaco and a leader with Valley Interfaith, referencing SB 185.

“Many Texans are angry the state is undermining local control. It isn’t the state’s responsibility to pass immigration laws. We invite you to join us in working for more just federal immigration laws.”

Zuniga said leaders from the Network of Texas Industrial Areas Foundation, which includes Valley Interfaith, will describe their experiences of working on local crime issues and what it takes to establish and maintain good relationships between law enforcement and community members. In a news release, IAF provided quotes from some of its leaders around Texas.

“The bedrock of community policing is trust – having local law enforcement act as immigration officials will tear that apart,” said Rev. John Ogletree, pastor of First Metropolitan Church and a leader with The Metropolitan Organization of Houston. “Where there isn’t trust, people don’t report being victims of crime.  This keeps police in the dark about crime patterns — which makes all of us less safe.”

Austin Interfaith leader Kurt Cadena-Mitchell agreed. “This bill affects all Texans. When families don’t report crime because they are afraid of deportation, it puts us all in jeopardy.”

Adri Garcia, a leader with Border Interfaith said crime reduced and police relations with the local community improved with police stopped asking about immigration status. “The sheriff started telling the community that all they cared about was keeping us safe – and we started believing them. El Paso has been in the top three safest cities in the country for over 10 years. That is what trust can lead to.”

Sandra Fuentes, a leader with The Border Organization in Del Rio, said: “We have met with both our sheriff and police chief, and they are opposed to this bill. They will be coming to Austin to testify also.”

Sen. Perry defended SB 185 from attack. “SB 185 is a common sense measure that will address the ongoing problem of sanctuary cities in Texas and hopefully open up dialogue on what other measures we can pass at a state and federal level to solve our crisis in illegal immigration,” he said.

Perry added that currently, many cities across the state put into place policies that prevent law enforcement from inquiring about a person’s immigration status or sharing information on their status with the federal government. He said SB 185 will prohibit local governments from adopting policies that prevent them from enforcing state and federal immigration laws. “One of the things that have made America truly great is that we are a nation of immigrants. We should never forget that, but we must ensure that the rule of law is upheld and that people are coming here legally through the proper means,” Perry said.

Vietnam War veteran Placido Salazar, legislative liaison for the Hector P. Garcia American GI Forum Organization of Texas, spoke passionately against SB 185 at a veterans meeting in Raymondville on Saturday. He said the legislation was bound to lead to more Latinos being stopped for “driving while brown” and urged “every Latino person to flood the state Capitol” on Monday.

Salazar told the story of Luis Alberto Delgado, who was stopped by a sheriff’s deputy in Elsa and deported to Mexico even though he was a United States citizen. He said the Delgado was stopped by law enforcement while out driving with his brother.

“One had a receipt where he had applied for citizenship. His brother was a U.S. citizen. He had his birth certificate and other documents which proved he was a U.S. citizen. The trouble was, although he (Delgado) was born here he was raised in Mexico because his parents were separated. His English was very poor. So, he must be a wetback, right? He was deported although he was a U.S. citizen and it took him a long time to get back across at Matamoros,” Salazar said.

Salazar said the consequences for U.S. citizens, especially children and veterans, could be dire if they are deported to Mexico. “It does not take too much for anybody to be beheaded in Mexico. Now, what a shame if one of our veterans especially, or a child, even though he was born in the U.S., but since he looked Mexican, gets deported. And they end up getting beheaded. That would be a travesty. It would be a gross injustice. That is why we need to get involved.”

Salazar said he will be at the state Capitol bright and early on Monday to testify against SB 185. He is likely to have a lot of company from South Texas groups because, coincidentally, Monday is Latino Legislative Advocacy Day.

Attempts to “outlaw” so-called “sanctuary cities” have been tried in previous legislative sessions, even when they have been made a legislative priority by the governor. None have succeeded. The Subcommittee on Border Affairs meets at 8 a.m. in Capital Extension Room E1.016.

Editor’s Note: The main picture with this story shows Placido Salazar of the Hector P. Garcia American GI Forum Organization of Texas.