The 287g Immigration status program has been a very sore subject for Latinos in Houston. As I asked people their opinions about the program it seems that there is a fear in the Latino community in which they believe that they could be detained for something as simple as a class C misdemeanor Public intoxication arrest in order for an overzealous police officer to be able to have their fingerprints run through a system in order to satisfy his curiosity. Wow, could that happen? Yes it could. As I ponder my position on this subject I remember commenting to my non-Hispanic police partners that I would be offended if I got stopped on a traffic stop and was immediately asked if I was legal here. It started an argument in which I had to hold my emotions back because I really couldn’t articulate why.
Now I know, it’s because I am an American and a fourth generation Hispanic here in my United States. I am proud of being an American and usually that comes with working in this industry. I pictured myself riding with my partner who is a white male and being stopped by an officer for traffic infractions and being the only one in the car questioned as to citizenship status. I would feel insulted, it would hurt my trust in the police system that I now rely on as a part of life, it would undermine my thoughts about the officer stopping me as to why he really was stopping me, it would make me feel that I was being somewhat profiled by this officer.
That aside, how would we prevent our officers from being put in circumstances such as Rodney Johnson found himself in, and Rick Salter found himself in and recently Officer Canales. These were all wonderful officers who cared about the community that they lived and worked in, why did this happen? Because our systems do not communicate with each other. Recent investigation shows that all three of these suspects had been handled before the murders they went on to commit but even though they had been incarcerated for minor crimes after illegal re-entry into this country there was no warrant issued for the illegal re-entry, nor was there anyone from ICE looking to detain them while they sat in our jail. Ask yourself why? There is a communication problem and because of that communication problem our systems failed Houston Police Officers with families who depend on them and loved ones who will never forget them.
So, am I for the 287g? Yes, I am for the criminal aspect of it, I want to be able to know every fact possible about a person that I stop on traffic or make contact with in a minor or major criminal investigation. I want to come home to my family because I was able to make a fact supported decision about a situation involving a possible felon.
Do I believe there are over zealous officers out there who will use racial profiling as a result of 287g, yes I believe there some bad apples in the police department, just as there are some bad apples in our immigrant population and every other aspect of life. There is an Internal Affairs Division with the Houston Police Department set in place for officers such as these. Is there a system in place to catch the people that are committing numerous crimes under their illegal alien status? No. That’s why my brothers and sisters suffer and that’s why their families will suffer for the rest of their lives. Do I still feel offended at the question, Are you legal here? Yes. But, as I sit here and think things through, I know I have a valid social security number that can be checked and a valid Texas driver’s license as well. If a well thinking officer stops me and I forgot my driver’s license or misplaced it, I can verbally give him my valid identifying numbers because I am an American. I shouldn’t have to be asked about my status unless I just can’t produce any form of identifiers for the officer who is questioning me.
I write this article as I sit by the door side of my good friend, Rick Salter. He did not deserve in any way the harm that befell him; he will remain handicapped for the rest of his life as a result of no 287g program. I do not believe that Houston Police should in any way become immigration officers because there are many, many immigrants in the city of Houston. The mix of people in our city is what makes our city so great but I do believe that every officer should have all information possible at their fingertips in order to make them safe and get them home. I believe our citizens should be kept safe from all felons legal or illegal. I have issues with the so called 22 officers who will be assigned to the jail. I believe ICE should send their own liaisons to work in conjunction with officers because of the manpower shortage in our police force. I also wonder why the Police Chief disbanded valuable specialized squads such as the world famous Chicano Squad who has been recognized by President Bush, and our Juvenile sex crimes Latino squad then putting out a silent message that Spanish speaking citizens are few in this city and therefore don’t need services provided by these specialized squads. Our city carries a 38% population of Latinos and after the census in 2010 will prove to be much larger. The Latino population in Houston is not a fad, either we are important to the department or we aren’t, and either the police department needs services for our fast growing population or we don’t. So, which is it Chief? Do we need specialized squads or not? I call for the Police Chief to re-instate these disbanded squads which were much needed here in our diverse city. I urge him not to punish 22 Hispanic police officers by sending them to a jail assignment that won’t be easy to transfer out of but to work towards an agreeable solution. I also ask for the 287g.