July 28, 2006
Guest post: Carol Alvarado

It's time to call the "debate" over the Houston Police Department's policy concerning illegal immigrants for what it is. Unfortunately anyone who believes this so-called debate, fueled by a group that calls itself "Protect Our Citizens," has anything at all to do with the police or immigration is going to be disappointed.

On the surface, what members of this organization want is for the voters of Houston to authorize a change in police policy that would, in effect, require all Houstonians to prove their citizenship whenever they are ordered to do so by the police. They don't advertise it that way, of course. They describe it as a means of enabling the police to become more aggressive in identifying illegal immigrants in our midst.

Designed to appeal to a narrow slice of our city's voting population, this petition drive and possible referendum is built on the assumption that the people inclined to vote for it won't ever be affected by the policy change because they "look like Americans." Those who will be affected by it and will be forced to "show their papers" to the police don't matter because they aren't the target of this ugly effort at voter outreach.

The goal is not to make our city safe from the supposed scourge of illegal immigration, nor is to help the police solve crime. The goal is to increase turnout at the polls among this thin slice of voters - turnout that supporters calculate will benefit one political party over another.

I like to call this scapegoat politics. In scapegoat politics, you designate a certain group of people as somehow inherently evil and responsible for all the ills facing society. You then persuade your targeted voters that they must rush to the polls to support a ballot item that will eliminate this scourge and, while they're at it, vote for certain candidates who are on the right side of this pressing issue.

In 2005, Republicans did this with the Constitutional Amendment to ban gay marriage in Texas. To this day I do not believe the Republican leadership gives one whit about gays who might wish to enter into legally binding monogamous relationships but by scapegoating monogamous gays they were able to persuade numerous conservative voters to come to the polls who might otherwise have stayed home.

This year, in Houston, the scourge of the moment is the illegal immigrant. And, let's be honest, it's not the illegal Canadian or British or French immigrant. It's the illegal Latino immigrant (the one that doesn't sufficiently "look" American). There is no need to have a real debate about the issues facing our community when you can persuade people that our crime and our economic challenges are all a result of our tolerance of this evil group and if we just get tough on them our city will, once again, be the land of milk and honey.

For evidence of just how cynical this is I need only to look to my immediate left when I am sitting at the City Council table. There sits an elected city council member who has long been either neutral or even somewhat sympathetic to the city's immigrant population. Suddenly, she is one of the most ferocious supporters of this petition drive. It is merely a coincidence, she says, that her position radically changed at the same time that she was launching a bid for Congress the success of which requires the support of the very same people who will be inspired by this anti-Latino anti-immigrant effort.

Ironically, a victory for "Protect Our Citizens" would be a defeat for public safety. The police often desperately need the cooperation of the general public in their hunt for suspected criminals. If members of a certain segment of the general public know they are going to be forced to prove their citizenship every time they encounter a police officer, that cooperation is going to dry up. Those who are not citizens won't cooperate because cooperation will mean possible imprisonment and deportation. Those who are citizens but don't "look American" enough are also going to be less likely to cooperate because of the indignity of being forced to prove their bona fides due, solely, to their skin color or accent.

With less cooperation, our police officers will have a tougher time protecting all of us. In other words, the citizens who stand to be protected the most from the efforts of "Protect Our Citizens" will be criminals.

Illegal immigration is a serious issue facing the United States, but it is a federal issue. The Houston Police Department policy of assisting federal officials while not actively engaging in enforcing federal immigration rules is a healthy and balanced one. It enables them to work with all who live here to protect Houston, and it provides the federal government with sufficient support.

Don't get me wrong. I firmly believe our community should be engaged on the issue of illegal immigration and members of the community from all perspectives should be working together to discuss and debate it. But that is not the debate we have today. Instead, we have a group with a name that suggests a desire to protect us and make our city safer but whose actions will do nothing more than divide us and make it more dangerous.

Carol Alvarado
Member, Houston City Council
District I

(Note: A Chronicle story from Tuesday on the kickoff event for ProtectHouston.com can be found here, and a report from event attendee Toni Medellin is here.)

Posted by Charles Kuffner on July 28, 2006 to Local politics | TrackBack

For evidence of just how cynical this is I need only to look to my immediate left when I am sitting at the City Council table. There sits an elected city council member

Why not refer to Councilmember Sekula-Gibbs with the expletive you once used in Council chambers?

Maybe Charles Kuffner doesn't allow such potty talk on his blog.

So here's a thought -- if the policy is so great and you're so open to a debate, then join those of us who have been calling for Mayor White to open the Council Agenda for a debate on this very issue instead of hiding behind a directive issued by the police chief in 1992.

1992 was a long time ago. Even 9-11 is starting to seem like a long time ago. So surely the policy could be refined -- or rescinded -- by our current elected leaders. Except Mayor White and his allies seem to be ducking that debate in Council (forcing those who want a debate to go the referendum route). Take up the debate in council like real leaders, and you blunt the referendum. Why not?

Posted by: Kevin Whited on July 28, 2006 9:53 AM

If I go to Mexico, and am either witness or suspect to a crime, or for that matter, just get stopped for a traffic violation, exactly how many cities there are prohibited from asking me what my country of origin is?

If you would like to work to prevent police abuse, I would ask that you support, in no uncertain terms, the continued funding of the Bromwich probe. There we have, not a possibility, but REAL and ACTUAL police misfeasance, probable malfeasence, and outright abuse of the justice system. INNOCENT people HAVE been arrested, and conivcted of felonies not merely inconvenienced or "frighted" by police whom, lets be honest, you are accusing of being racist in their enforcement.

And finally, if the U.S. dislikes Latino emmigration so much, why do Cubans get a free pass the moment they set foot on our soil? Don't they look "not like us?"

I agree that someone is playing to their base here, trying to appeal to voters, but I don't think it's the councilmember with a hyphen.

Posted by: Klabusul on July 28, 2006 1:28 PM

Unfortunately I live just outside the Houston city boundary, so I could not vote in the referendum if it were called. This life-long Democrat would vote in favor of the proposition and proudly so. Enough of the narrow base constituency politics here. Like most Americans who travel frequently, I have a U.S. passport. In order to receive that document, I had to show evidence of U.S. citizenship. Why should receiving a drivers license - which would then indicate legal status - be any less burdensome? Houston police officers take an oath of office to enforce the laws, not just the laws that higher command officers decided should be enforced. I have great difficulty understanding how Democrats got ourselves in the position of appearing to support illegal immigration. Unless we represent the majority view, we will always be a minority party.

Posted by: Dennis on July 28, 2006 2:46 PM

Mr. Whited, I believe Councilmember Carol Alvarado makes very valid points on this issue and is one of the only elected officials taking a leadership role on this issue. She hosted a community meeting early in the week to discuss this topic. Where were you? I'm sure you had more pressing issues - like riding the light rail all day long. Your obession with the "train" reminds me of the classic Depeche Mode song entitled "Get Your Kicks on Route 66" From your postings, I gather you get your kicks from riding the light rail up and down Main St. You and your cronie Anne Linehan need to take a train out Houston and not comeback. Your takes on Metro and the Chron are so predictable. As you would say to immigrants, whom you've decided to pick on "Don't let the door hit you on the way out!"

Posted by: Julia Guerrero on July 28, 2006 3:00 PM

Where I may not always agree with Ms. Alvarado on all things, I certainly agree with her on this. I appreciate her insight and the ability to see through the political rhetoric.

Posted by: becky earle on July 28, 2006 3:03 PM

You and your cronie Anne Linehan need to take a train out Houston and not comeback. Your takes on Metro and the Chron are so predictable. As you would say to immigrants, whom you've decided to pick on "Don't let the door hit you on the way out!"

Now Julia, telling those with whom you disagree to get out of town isn't exactly in the spirit of Councilmember Alvarado's notion that we should have a debate, is it?

Better to call people you don't even know names and tell them to go away, hmm? Nice.

As for how I feel about immigrants, how would you know? You've not bothered to ascertain my views on immigration or immigrants, but merely assumed you know them and let your emotions take over.

So I guess you're in the camp that thinks a 1992 directive from the police chief is a good substitute for a substantive policy crafted by our current elected leaders? That seems to me to be DUCKING debate, which was the point of my comment (and which you failed to address with your outburst, although you managed to throw out many other personal sorts of matters that seem to annoy you).

Posted by: Kevin Whited on July 28, 2006 7:03 PM

Ah, yes. Play the race card.

I wonder how that card plays in the Mayor Pro-Tem's office?

Posted by: Tim on July 28, 2006 9:34 PM

Tim: I don't know, but I keep hoping someone will start a pool on how long until White reappoints the Temporarily-Not-Mayor-Pro-Tem to that post.

Julia: So, what you're saying is you want to take someone who disagrees with you and railroad them out of town? Be careful of those connotations. That one's very negative....north of the border.

Posted by: ubu roi on July 29, 2006 8:48 AM


Republicans are on every side of the immigration issue.

However, it is more than a big tent capacity, as Republicans pitch stories (scapegoating, fearful and unhelpful to real problem solving) for political advantage, hoping to account for November wins with such unpopular numbers.


So, it is encouraging when Republicans do the right thing to problem solve for everyone's safety (Global Warming, Immigration, National Security) at all levels of government:



Thursday 27 July 2006

The following is a letter from former Republican Congressman and Presidential candidate Pete McCloskey.

The Need for a Democrat majority in the US House of Representatives in 2007

I have found it difficult in the past several weeks to reach a conclusion as to what a citizen should do with respect to this fall's forthcoming congressional elections. I am a Republican, intend to remain a Republican, and am descended from three generations of California Republicans, active in Merced and San Bernardino Counties as well as in the San Francisco Bay Area. I have just engaged in an unsuccessful effort to defeat the Republican Chairman of the House Resources Committee, Richard Pombo, in the 11th Congressional District Republican primary, obtaining just over 32% of the Republican vote against Pombo's 62%.

The observation of Mr. Pombo's political consultant, Wayne Johnson, that I have been mired in the obsolete values of the 1970s, honesty, good ethics and balanced budgets, all rejected by today's modern Republicans, is only too accurate.

It has been difficult, nevertheless, to conclude as I have, that the Republican House leadership has been so unalterably corrupted by power and money that reasonable Republicans should support Democrats against DeLay-type Republican incumbents in 2006. Let me try to explain why.

I have decided to endorse Jerry McNerney and every other honorable Democrat now challenging those Republican incumbents who have acted to protect former Majority Leader Tom DeLay, who have flatly reneged on their Contract With America promise in 1994 to restore high standards of ethical behavior in the House and who have combined to prevent investigation of the Cunningham and Abramoff/Pombo/DeLay scandals. These Republican incumbents have brought shame on the House, and have created a wide-spread view in the public at large that Republicans are more interested in obtaining campaign contributions from corporate lobbyists than they are in legislating in the public interest.

At the outset, let me say that in four months of campaigning I have learned that Jerry McNerney is an honorable man and that Richard Pombo is not. Mr. Pombo has used his position and power to shamelessly enrich his wife and family from campaign funds, has interfered with the federal investigation of men like Michael Hurwitz, he of the Savings & Loan frauds and ruthless clear-cutting of old growth California redwoods. Mr. Pombo has taken more money from Indian gaming lobbyist Jack Abramoff, his associates and Indian tribes interested in gaming than any other Member of Congress, in excess of $500,000. With his stated intent to gut the Endangered Species and Environmental Protection Acts, to privatize for development millions of acres of public land, including a number of National Parks, to give veto power to the Congress over constitutional decisions of the Supreme Court, his substantial contributions to DeLay's legal defense fund, and most particularly his refusal to investigate the Abramoff involvement in Indian gaming and the exploitation of women labor in the Marianas, both matters within the jurisdiction of his committee, Mr. Pombo in my view represents all that is wrong with the national government in Washington today.

It is clear that the forthcoming campaign will be a vicious one, with Mr. Pombo willing to stretch the truth as he has in the past with respect to the elderberry beetle, levee breaks, his steadfast opposition to veterans' health care, including prosthetics research for amputees from Iraq and other wars, the impact on Marine lives of endangered species protection at Camp Pendleton and other issues. That Mr. Pombo lied in testimony to the Senate in 1994 is an accepted fact. He testified that the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service had designated his farm near Tracy as habitat for the endangered California kit fox. This was untrue, and Pombo admitted to the untruthfulness a few months later when questioned over public television, an agency for which he recently voted to cut federal funds. Such a man should not be allowed to be in charge of the nation's public lands and waterways, a position to which he was elevated by the now-departed Tom DeLay.

Some 18 months ago, my former law partner, Lewis Butler, an Assistant Secretary of HEW in the Nixon Administration and subsequently the distinguished Chair of California Tomorrow and the Plowshares Foundation, and I initiated an effort we called The Revolt of the Elders. All of us were retired and in the latter years of Social Security entitlement. Most of us were Republicans who had served in the Congress or in former Republican administrations with men like Gerry Ford, John Rhodes, Bob Michel, Elliot Richardson, Barry Goldwater, Ronald Reagan and the president's father, George H. W. Bush, all men of impeccable integrity and ethics.

We had become appalled at the House Republican leadership's decision in early 2005 to effectively emasculate the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct by changing the rules to protect Majority Leader Tom DeLay. DeLay had been admonished three times by the Committee for abuse of power and unethical conduct. It was our hope to persuade Speaker Hastert and the Republican leadership, of which Northern California Congressman Richard Pombo and John Doolittle were prominent members, to rescind the rules changes and to act in accord with the promise of high ethical standards contained in Speaker Gingrich's Contract With America which brought the Republicans majority control in 1994. We failed. Letters to the Speaker from an increasing number of former Republican Members were ignored and remained unanswered. Then, only a few weeks ago, the House leadership refused to allow even a vote on what could have become an effective independent ethics monitor. Instead of repudiating the infamous Pay to Play program put in place by DeLay to extract maximum corporate campaign contributions to Retain Our Majority Party (ROMP), DeLay's successor as Majority Leader called for a continuance of the free luxury airline trips, mammoth campaign contributions to the so-called Leadership PAC and the continuing stalemate on the Ethics Committee. Strangely, even after the guilty pleas of Abramoff, Duke Cunningham and a number of former House staffers who had been sent to work for Abramoff and other lobbyists. The Republican House leaders don't see this as corruption worthy of investigation or change. That their former staff members and Abramoff were granted preference in access to the legislative process is not seen as a problem if it helps Republicans retain control of the House. It reminds one of the contentions of Haldeman and Ehrlichman long ago that the national security justified wire-tapping and burglary of Ellsberg's psychiatrist's office and the Democratic National Headquarters at the Watergate. Republicans are happy with this new corporate lobby/House complex, which is far more dangerous that the Industry/Defense complex we were long ago warned about by President Eisenhower.

I have therefore reluctantly concluded that party loyalty should be set aside, and that it is in the best interests of the nation, and indeed the future of the Republican Party itself, to return control of the House to temporary Democrat control, if only to return the House for a time to the kind of ethics standards practiced by Republicans in former years. I say reluctantly, having no great illusion that Democrats or any other kind of politician will long resist the allure of campaign funds and benefits offered by the richest and most profitable of the Halliburtons, oil companies, tobacco companies, developers and Indian gaming tribes whose contributions so heavily dominate the contributions to Congressmen Pombo and Doolittle.

As an aside, it seems to me that the Abramoff and Cunningham scandals make it timely for the Congress to consider public matching funds for small contributions to congressional candidates, the same type of system we adopted some time ago for presidential elections. It may be cheaper for the taxpayer to fund congressional elections than to bear the cost of lobbyist-controlled legislation like the recent Medicaid/Medicare drug bill.

There is another strong reason, I believe, for Republicans to work this fall for Democrat challengers against the DeLay-type Republicans like Pombo and Doolittle. That is the clear abdication by the House over the past five years of the Congress' constitutional power and duty to exercise oversight over abuses of power, cronyism, incompetence and excessive secrecy on the part of the Executive Branch. When does anyone remember House Committee hearings to examine into the patent failures of the Bush Administration to adhere to laws like the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, or to the arrogant refusal of the President to accept the congressionally-enacted limits on torture of prisoners? When can anyone remember the House's use of the subpoena power to compel answers from Administration officials? Why have there been no oversight hearings into the Cunningham bribery affair or Abramoff's Indian gaming and exploitation of women labor in the Marianas?

When three former congressional staff aides join Abramoff in pleading guilty to attempting to bribe Congressmen, and a fourth takes the 5th Amendment rather than answer Senator McCain's questions about his relationship with Abramoff and Indian gaming, with all five having given substantial campaign contributions to Mr. Pombo, with Indian tribes alone having given more than $500,000 to Pombo, would it not seem reasonable to ask him to conduct an appropriate oversight committee Hearing into these matters, as long demanded by members of both parties, notably including his neighbor, George Miller?

For all of these reasons, I believe and hope that the Republicans who voted for me on June 6 will vote for Mr. McNerney and against Mr. Pombo in November.

The checks and balances of our Constitution are an essential part of our system of government, as is the public faith that can be obtained only by good ethical conduct on the part of our elected leaders.

If the Republicans in the House won't honor these principles, then the Democrats should be challenged to do so. And if they decline to exercise that privilege, we can turn them out too. I appreciate that I had serious deficiencies as a candidate, and that four months of campaigning and the expenditure of $500,000 of the funds contributed by old friends and supporters were unsuccessful in convincing Republicans of the 11th District to end the continuing corruption in Washington. I hope, however, to partially redeem my electoral failure by working, as a simple private citizen, to rekindle a Republican sense of civic duty to participate in the electoral process this fall. The goal of The Revolt of the Elders was and is to educate voters to the need for a return of ethics and honesty in Washington. That goal was right 18 months ago, and seems even more worthwhile today.


Pete McCloskey, Dublin, California. July 26, 2006.


Posted by: Prove Our Democracy with Paper Ballots on July 29, 2006 2:39 PM

The ignorance of Texans never fails to astound.

Posted by: Double B on July 29, 2006 11:45 PM

THANK YOU Carol!!!!

Exactly what I said in Immigrants. The GOP's Pinata"

"Make no mistake about why the Republican Party is raising the immigration issue after being silent for 6 years: They have absolutely nothing else to campaign on and are afraid of losing control of Congress in November. "

Posted by: John Cobarruvias on July 30, 2006 9:52 AM

Your obession with the "train" reminds me of the classic Depeche Mode song entitled "Get Your Kicks on Route 66"

Please tell me you're joking, and that you don't actually think that's an original Depeche Mode song. Nat King Cole recorded it in 1946, more than a decade before any member of Depeche Mode was born.

Similarly, Jimi Hendrix did not write "The Star Spangled Banner."

Posted by: Matt Bramanti on July 31, 2006 10:05 AM