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 can be found here, and a report from event attendee Toni Medellin is here.)

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8 Responses to Guest post: Carol Alvarado

  1. Kevin Whited says:

    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?

  2. Klabusul says:

    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.

  3. Dennis says:

    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.

  4. Julia Guerrero says:

    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!”

  5. becky earle says:

    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.

  6. Kevin Whited says:

    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).

  7. Tim says:

    Ah, yes. Play the race card.

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

  8. ubu roi says:

    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.

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