El Paso, Texas, a US city right on the US-Mexico border, is one of the least friendly cities for immigrants that I have ever lived in. What?!? But, that can’t be – is likely the question you are asking yourself as you digest the first sentence. Some of you are likely going to point out the two recent proclamations issued by the City of El Paso and County of El Paso leaderships as an example of why I am wrong. However, the reality is that immigrants are nothing more than stepping stones for the politicians to use to create illusions and distractions to keep you from noticing what is really going on. Let me explain.
For all the fanfare of pro-immigrant and inclusiveness that the city leadership likes to periodically trot out, the reality is that it is nothing more than words for self-serving political agendas. That’s right, they are just words for political purposes. They are pieces of paper used to create illusions of realities that do not exist. It is part of the “it’s all good” in El Paso façade.
Many readers are under the mistaken illusion that Hispanics or Latinos are the same as Mexicans. This is complicated even more when the word Mexicans is used interchangeably with Hispanic or Latinos. The word Mexican, as used in the common vernacular, symbolizes either a citizen of the Republic of Mexico or a US citizen of Mexican descent. Those born in the United States or who have become naturalized US citizens are US citizens, regardless of their ethnic heritage. Although El Paso has an Hispanic ethnic majority of over 80%, that does not translate into friendliness towards immigrants, even those from Mexico.
As an immigrant from Mexico, El Paso was not welcoming towards me, even though the majority is Hispanic. It wasn’t an issue of open hostility or closed public doors, but rather an undercurrent of immigrant, especially Mexican, bashing and unvoiced animosity towards citizens of Mexico. The use of frontchih was routinely used in El Paso while I was there, as a derogatory term towards those from Cd. Juárez. Before I made El Paso my home, I, like many of my compatriots, contributed to the El Paso economy through our consumption of goods and services. Many of us operated or operate businesses in El Paso that offer jobs to local residents.
Several economic reports have demonstrated that Mexican citizens spend upwards of half-a-billion dollars annually in El Paso. When cross-border trade, because of NAFTA, is included in the equation, then it becomes apparent that the Mexican economy is a significant component to the El Paso economy. Western Refining exports about 6% of its refined oil products, mostly gasoline, to PEMEX via PMI trading. As recent demonstrations in Mexico have demonstrated, refined oil products are in high demand in Mexico and refineries are positioning themselves to serve that market. Notwithstanding the Mexican economic impact on El Paso, other than mainly lip service, the El Paso leadership does very little for Mexican immigrants.
Some readers may be tempted to point out the expedited border crossing initiative that the City of El Paso embarked upon a few years ago. It is designed to expedite border crossings by offsetting Homeland Security overtime pay to allow for the full manning of inspection stations. However, the government-to-government partnership is focused on increasing the economy rather than in helping immigrants cross the border.
This brings us back to the two proclamations issued by the City of El Paso and County of El Paso. They are nothing more than pieces of paper that have no bearing on public policy in El Paso. The proclamations are designed to create an illusion.
To understand this, let’s look back at the municipal identification cards controversy that had the City create a report, on their feasibility, and both the County and City governments holding several public meetings. Other than the meetings and the report, the municipal identification card is dead in the water.
That is not to say that either government should proceed with the scheme as the municipal identification card proposal is nothing more than smoke-and-mirrors that has distracted some local grassroots organizations from their goals. The scheme is driving a hidden agenda via the municipal identification card scheme.
If the true intent is to benefit the immigrant population in El Paso, then either, or both city governments could have accomplished that by simply issuing a directive to its subordinate agencies that the Mexican Matricula Consular would be acceptable as proper identification for county and municipal purposes. An order issued by either would have had no direct cost to the taxpayers of the community. The idea was never considered even though public resources were spent in investigating and debating the municipal identification cards.
El Paso need not reinvent the wheel if it truly intends to help the immigrants in its midst.
There are about 300 so-called sanctuary cities in the United States. The terms “sanctuary city” has many definitions but is generally accepted to mean that a local jurisdiction does not cooperate with Immigration and Customs (ICE) detainer for deportation requests for immigrants that enter the city’s legal system. As of December, 2016, there are two cities designated as “sanctuary cities” in Texas. They are Austin and Dallas. El Paso is not one of them.
Additionally, there are several local governments that have put their community’s money into protecting the immigrants in their midst. San Francisco has allocated $5 million towards its public defenders’ offices and other community organizations to provide legal services to the undocumented immigrants in their community that are in the court system.
New York has been operating the New York Immigrant Family Unit Program since 2013. The New York program pays for legal services for undocumented immigrants that are under court process.
The City of Los Angeles recently launched a private-public partnership program where $10 million has been allocated to help undocumented immigrants in Los Angeles navigate the court system. California Senator Ben Hueso submitted SB6 to the state legislature for consideration for adoption during this legislative term. SB6 would fund programs to offer legal representations to California’s undocumented immigrants. Oakland’s Assembly Member, Rob Bonta, offered AB3 as a mechanism for training public defenders in immigration law.
As you can clearly see, these cities are offering tangible support for documented and undocumented immigrants in their midst. El Paso, on the other hand, only offers pieces of paper that only adds to the layers of smoke-and-mirrors that is the façade that El Paso is staking its future on.
Those of you who are celebrating that El Paso is not a sanctuary city or that it is not spending public monies on protecting the immigrants in the city, should stop for a moment and ask yourselves why the hoopla over the proclamations supporting immigrants and the push to offer municipal identification cards? You will soon recognize that the answer is both insidious and dangerous to your tax dollars.
Although you may be celebrating the fact that El Paso is not immigrant friendly, the fact remains that there is a public policy agenda afoot that is using immigrants as fodder to distract you from what is truly going on.