Taking on the anti-immigrant attack in Texas

September 5, 2017

Charles Holm and Riley Taylor report from Texas as the mobilization to defend immigrant communities from federal, state and local assaults continues.

A TEXAS activist is facing serious charges after a series of protests against the state's anti-immigrant Senate Bill (SB) 4 as Donald Trump gets ready to announce what media sources are predicting will be the destruction of federal protections for undocumented youth.

On September 5, Trump is expected to announce an end to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program implemented by Barack Obama, which grants undocumented immigrants who arrived in the country as children the conditional right to work and live in the U.S.

Trump reportedly will call for a six-month delay on the DACA ban, giving Congress a window of time to act to save the protections.

In Washington, where even Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan criticized Trump's threat to impose an immediate ban, the idea of a six-month delay was viewed by some as a compromise.

But for defenders of immigrant rights, any ban, even a delayed one, is unacceptable. Immigrant rights groups have been part of organizing protests to defend DACA, and they plan to be out again this week to respond.

Immigrant rights activist Eric Nava-Perez speaks at a protest in Texas
Immigrant rights activist Eric Nava-Perez speaks at a protest in Texas

IN THE state of Texas, where Hurricane Harvey brought destruction to Houston, the plight of immigrant communities gained a greater spotlight as undocumented immigrants and their families had to face at least three looming threats: flooding caused by the hurricane; Trump's plan to revoke DACA status for hundreds of thousands; and detention under the state's "anti-sanctuary" bill this is about to take affect.

The recently passed anti-immigrant Senate Bill (SB) 4 deputizes state, county, city and campus law enforcement officers as immigration agents, and requires them to cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection. In some cases, it demands that officers ask detained and arrested individuals their immigration status.

SB 4 was schedule to go into effect on September 1, but a federal judge blocked important provisions of the law a few days before, pending rulings on several lawsuits filed against it. However, the judge left intact SB 4's "show me your papers" provision, which requires law enforcement officials to allow cops to ask about immigration status during routine detentions for anything from speeding to jaywalking.

This is racial profiling, pure and simple.

As part of ongoing protests against SB 4 and the threat posed to DACA, Texas immigrant rights activists took part in protests on campuses across the state on September 1.

At the University of Texas-Austin, more than a dozen organizations--including Cosecha Texas, Youth Rise Texas, United Students Against Sweatshops, Amnesty International and the International Socialist Organization (ISO)--signed on to take part in the Walkout and Rally Against SB 4 and White Supremacy.

THE ACTION was called by Sanctuary UT, a network and movement of students, faculty and staff that started last year to call on the administration to declare UT Austin a sanctuary campus.

The September 1 action was organized as a show of solidarity in the face of constant harassment and abuse experienced by immigrants in the state of Texas. But harassment and abuse was what protesters experienced that day as they attempted to take part in a nonviolent protest for immigrant rights--which included the arrest of graduate student and UT Sanctuary activist Eric Nava-Perez.

Before the protest had even begun, UT police were there to ask protesters to point out the "organizers." One asked, "Is he the leader?" pointing to Nava-Perez. Some 30 UT police officers showed up as an intimidating force to patrol a protest of some 40 protesters.

"I don't know what the cops are doing here," Nava-Perez told the crowd before they started their march from the Cesar Chavez statue on the West Mall. "These are peaceful protesters, and we have the legal right to assemble. I don't know why they are going to follow us. I feel harassed."

During the protest, immigrant rights supporters were threatened by hostile bystanders who heckled and pushed them, and someone tried to grab the megaphone from an organizer's hands. The police stood by while this happened.

According to witnesses, various reporters repeatedly asked protesters for their names, even when they asked not to be interviewed. At one point, Nava-Perez was verbally defending a young student at the rally from unwanted questioning, saying, "She doesn't have to answer if she doesn't want to answer."

UT police arrested Nava-Perez, who was accused of assaulting a reporter for the campus newspaper The Daily Texan. Afterward, the newspaper ran a mug shot of Nava-Perez, with the article portraying Eric as a criminal--guilty before he could even respond to the charges against him.

UT police also detained another individual during the march, claiming they "matched the description" of someone reportedly "pushing some of the people" in the protest. Jose, the detained student activist, said that the police told him that they had "video of someone matching your description" pushing someone.

In a cruel irony, the police racially profiled someone at an anti-SB 4 protest on the day the anti-immigrant racial profiling law was supposed to take effect.

BY ALLOWING right-wing harassment to take place unchecked, the university and the UT and Austin police are the ones that allowed violence to take place during an otherwise peaceful day of action on campus. Eric and his family were harassed by police, right-wing bystanders and reporters, and yet he was the one arrested in front of his son and partner.

Activists in Austin are organizing for justice for Eric Nava-Perez and calling for all charges against him to be dropped. They are also seeking donations to help fund his legal defense.

At a Unity March and Rally at the Texas state Capitol building on September 2, where Eric was supposed to speak but could not, one participant told the crowd:

Unfortunately my friend, colleague, peer and comrade Eric Nava-Perez cannot be here today. He is an organizer with Sanctuary UT and was arrested at a walkout organized by a dozen organizations and supported by many faculty, students and staff, which faced an overwhelming police presence that targeted organizers and intimidated protesters, but did not intervene when right wingers harassed speakers and bystanders...

The University of Texas claims: "What starts here changes the world." Indeed! SB 4 and Texas State Attorney General Ken Paxton's efforts to repeal DACA put Texas at the heart of a fight against anti-immigrant racism and attacks on working-class and poor people. Together, with our families and communities, as students, workers, migrants, we will defeat the politics of hate in Texas and together we will change the world!

Austin wasn't the only demonstration on September 1. In Denton, some 80 students from the University of North Texas and Texas Woman's University, as well as area activists, marched to the steps of the County Courthouse to protest SB 4.

The event was organized by members of Movimiento Cosecha, Carnalismo National Brown Berets, the ISO, Mueve, Sanctuary UNT, the Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance, Indivisible Denton and Democratic Socialists of America. There were also speakers from National Day Laborer Organizing Network, Denton Residents Against SB 4 and other organizations.

While activists welcomed a federal judge's blocking of parts of SB 4, they also pointed out what had not been blocked. Nancy Sauceda, an organizer with Movimiento Cosecha, said:

This is only the beginning of the fight. We're also here to remind people that that is the legal way to do things. It's through the courts obviously, and it's only temporary, so it's going to be a long legal battle. We're also here to remind folks that we need to do something else and take matters into our own hands.

Sauceda pointed out the strength of "targeting the people through boycotts, strikes and mass walkouts." A recent example of this was on July 26 when a group of activists marched and shut down an intersection near the State Capitol to protest SB 4.

SB 4 IS about more than just anti-immigrant bigotry and racism. Organizer Debra Mendoza with Carnalismo National Brown Berets said, "For each detainee, they [the police] get compensation for them from the government, so it's a business. This is a business, and that's what they're looking for at the expense of us immigrants."

Other protests on September 1 included students at South Hills High School in Fort Worth walking out of class, a march through the streets of San Antonio, and a march led by the Progressive Student Union through the campus of the University of Texas at Arlington.

All of this is happening amid a spike in racist violence and the resurgence of the far right. As Nancy Sauceda pointed out:

There's definitely a connection. I think that racists--the alt-right, neo-Nazis, the KKK--now feel empowered to use their voice and to commit violent acts. There was the bombing [of a mosque in Minnesota], the folks who were hurt and murdered in Charlottesville, and obviously SB 4. So it starts here, and it's only going to get worse, so we have to definitely do something now.

In recent weeks, large marches and rallies have been held in Boston, Dallas, San Francisco, Laguna Beach, Chicago, San Diego, Seattle and many other cities across the U.S. to confront the far right.

"I think that the victory won't happen for a long time, but that doesn't mean that the fight isn't worth doing," said Kat, an organizer with Cosecha. "I would like to see a world that is free from all forms of oppression--free of racism, sexism, transphobia, homophobia, ableism, free of every single form of oppression that there is."

Or as protester Giovanna Coronado called it: "a world without fear."

Elizabeth Schulte contributed to this article.

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