A century after European immigration peaked in the U.S., the topic is again at the forefront of the national conversation. This time, those coming to the U.S. mostly hail from points south instead of across the Atlantic Ocean. These individuals, like those who sailed into Ellis Island more than 100 years ago, have many personal reasons for coming here.
To try and make sense of the situation and provide assistance to immigrants and their families, The Universal Church in Houston, Texas, hosted a “Know Your Rights” panel discussion on April 2, 2019. The well-attended event was covered by NPR radio affiliate Houston Public Media and drew more than 600 guests from the local Houston community. The impetus for the panel discussion, according to The Universal Church, is “increasingly aggressive enforcement policy by federal immigration authorities in non-border related stops.”
The professions of the panel guests themselves told a great deal about the current situation in Houston, which is about 300 miles north of the border with Mexico. In attendance were a public affairs officer with the Houston Police Department, a University of Houston Law Center supervising attorney, a staff attorney with the Tahirih Justice Center and a senior attorney at Gonzalez Olivieri LLC.
From coast to coast, the topic of “sanctuary cities” has grabbed headlines and it was addressed again at The Universal Church panel. The law enforcement officials present at the April panel discussion re-enforced the following: “Immigrants should not hesitate to reach out to police if they are victims of crime, regardless of their immigration status.” This point drives at one of the main reasons for the meeting, which was getting legal and non-legal immigrants up-to-speed on enforcement of laws at the local, state and federal levels.
Given that legal ramifications weigh so heavily on families who come here, the panel also delved into SB4, which is Texas’ rule allowing for local-level law enforcement to handle federal immigration investigations. According to the ACLU of Texas, those who have been detained by Texas law enforcement “do not have to answer any questions about your immigration status, including where you were born, how you entered the U.S., if you are a citizen, or if you have lawful status or ‘papers.’”
This event from The Universal Church comes on the heels of similar discussions in Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, New York, Phoenix, Boston and Union City, New Jersey.