SAN JUAN — U.S. Vicente Gonzalez said he’s been getting calls every day from U.S. citizens of Hispanic origin who, despite having every right to move freely around the Rio Grande Valley, are afraid of being targeted by law enforcement.
“They are thinking, are we going to be harassed? Are we next?” said Gonzalez, D-McAllen. “I’m trying to bring calm to the community and tell them I don’t believe that will ever happen, but we need to be vigilant and make sure that everybody’s rights are respected.”
This same fear was reflected by the testimony and questions asked during a two-hour roundtable yesterday at La Union Del Pueblo Entero focused on immigration and the recent executive orders signed by President Donald Trump. But Policy Strategist Astrid Dominguez, of the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, explained this fear is nothing new.
“Our communities were scared long before these executive orders came to happen, but now they are terrified,” said Dominguez, who’s originally from Brownsville. “Our border was already militarized, and our communities already fear coming out, and they already fear these agents.”
Gonzalez and U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville, brought several guests with them to yesterday’s roundtable including Reps. Joe Crowley, D-N.Y.; Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn.; Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Calif.; and former Housing and Urban Development secretary Julián Castro, so they could hear the communities fears and concerns first hand.
Norma Aldape, of Mercedes, stood before the representatives on the warm and humid Monday afternoon and spoke passionately to the room packed beyond capacity. She said she works every day to provide for her six children and to contribute to the country with her calloused hands and her taxes.
“They are all U.S. citizens and my fear every day when I leave for work is if I get deported, what will happen to them,” Aldape said about her children. “My fear every day is to be returned to Tamaulipas, where violence is rampant.”
“I don’t want to return to that country because this is the country of my children, and they need to be here to have an opportunity to succeed,” the mother added in a stern voice, but with tears in her eyes. “This is our sin, and I speak for the many mothers who suffer my same pain, I am not a criminal, we are not criminals.”
DeLauro, from Connecticut’s third congressional district, also gave a heartfelt testimony during her introduction, sharing with everyone the story of her father who came to the United States in 1913 as an immigrant from Italy. She said he could not read or write English and left school in the seventh grade because his classmates would laugh at him.
He later served in the U.S. military and worked in “sweatshops” in the garment industry, alongside her mother, to help put her through school.
“I’m the daughter of immigrant parents who could only dare to dream that their daughter would serve in the U.S. House of Representatives,” DeLauro said inciting a burst of cheers from the crowd. “That’s what the American Dream is all about, that’s what we are all about.”
DeLauro also spoke briefly about the president’s “harmful rhetoric” aimed at Mexican immigrants and how it does not reflect reality but has a real impact on the lives of immigrant families. The congresswoman called the recent executive orders “anti-immigrant” and “anti-American.”
On Jan. 25, the president signed two executive orders that, according to the representatives at Monday’s meeting, target border communities and could have lasting negative effects on future U.S.-Mexico relations.
“These executive orders are being done to try and create an impression that Trump is actually getting something done. In reality he’s gotten very little done,” said Castro, who served as Mayor of San Antonio from 2009 to 2014.
“A lot of it is for show, but I also wouldn’t take for granted that he is not really going to try and build a wall or try to use the National Guard to enforce immigration law,” he added. “Everybody needs to be ready.”
Despite similarities to previous policies, Vela said yesterday, “make no mistake about it,” the executive orders are aimed at deporting or repatriating the more than 11 million people believed to be in the country illegally.
Vela said more important than having their out-of-town guests hear directly from the community, they invited them because they knew Speaker of the House Paul Ryan was coming to the Rio Grande Valley this week.
“We knew Republican leadership was coming to this community this week so they could go back to Washington to talk about how we need to build this great beautiful wall which we don’t need,” Vela said. “And to talk about how dangerous this South Texas community is, when you and I know that it’s not dangerous and that statistically we live in some of the safest communities in the U.S.”