Mayor Sylvester Turner today announced the creation of the Office of New Americans, an office which will assist immigrants and refugees with services that will help with their integration into their new hometown. By looks of the website, it is more of a clearinghouse of information, and that’s a good thing.
The Mayor reiterated Houston’s commitment to being a Welcoming City, stating that a task force he created on immigrant communities is developing best practices on how to address the needs of the immigrant community. To the community he said he has their backs.
“Many members of our community are living in fear and asking whether they will continue to have a place in our great city,” said Mayor Turner. “I want all of our residents, including immigrants and refugees, and people of all faiths, to feel safe and protected. The Houston that existed before the November election is the Houston that still exists today. We will not tolerate violence or criminal activity against anyone. Houston is going to remain a city where all are welcome, where neighbors look out for one another and where we are proud of our diversity.”
He passed the mic over to new Houston ISD Superintendent Carranza who stated that schools will not be where immigration raids take place. Citing past Supreme Court decisions, he strongly reiterated that all students have a right to a free education.
Carranza went on to list some of the tasks they have worked on to show their commitment: Distribution of immigrant rights fact sheets; Hosting a DREAM Summit to provide college and financial aid information to parents and students; and utilizing teachers to distribute information to encourage open discussion on political topics; and a January 4 informational phone bank to assist immigrant families.
Finally, Carranza stated that public schools are not in the immigration enforcement business and that they do not track student immigration statuses. “We will see you in school every single day.”
Chief Art Acevedo encouraged the immigrant community to work with HPD in reporting crimes and facts of crimes without fear of deportation or detention. Acevedo stated that HPD is in place to fight crime and their singular goal is to go after those who do wrong. In Spanish, he stated, “No somos agentes de inmigracion,” or, “We are not immigration agents.”
Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee and State Senator Sylvia Garcia also addressed the press conference ensuring constituents that they would stay strong in the fight against bad anti-immigrant policies. State Rep. Gene Wu stated that “we will not be divided and that we stand as one.”
Councilmembers Laster and Gallegos also reflected on the diversity of Houston as a source of strength, stating that they will continue to be of service to the immigrant community. Laster’s is the most ethnically diverse council district, while Gallegos’ is a strongly Latino-populated district. “Everyone will be heard and respected,” stated Laster.
I was unable to attend, but thanks to a couple of buddies and KHOU, I was able to watch the live feed. At the tail end of the press conference, there was a bit of back and forth regarding sanctuary cities, but as feeds go, they were sort of going kaput. Needless to say, Sanctuary Cities will be a major issue in Texas in the Legislature. Dan Patrick has committed to passing Senate Bill 4, a bill to ban sanctuary cities. Will Houston utilize its lobbying pros to try to knock that bill down? (At least, that’s what I would have asked.)
[Here’s a cold, hard fact: While it is easy to commit to protecting children of immigrants from raids and rhetoric, their parents have just as big, if not bigger, target on them and deserve protection, too.]
From the looks of online reactions, many left the press conference feeling good about Houston and what they had just heard. The fact of the matter is that there are real battles ahead which require political leaders at all levels to take a stand against anti-immigrant policies. But as my friend Cesar Espinosa of FIEL called the Mayor’s new initiatives, “it’s an important first step.”
We’ll keep an eye on things. And, thank you, Houston leaders, for stepping up.