The Urban Lifeline of Immigration and Why We Must Stop Government From Criminalizing It (OPINION)

(Image via United We Dream – Houston)

(Image via United We Dream – Houston)

Years ago, my white American father lived in the Barker-Cypress area, and I periodically traveled from El Paso to visit him. When I was 17, my father informed me that he often wanted to have my Mexican mother deported.

The threat was more emotional than real. My mother became a resident many years prior to their meeting and was a citizen when he made the threat. My relationship with my father was toxic. I didn’t like the person that I became in his presence. In college, I remember screaming at the top of my lungs, “You’re ignorant.” Screaming back at him was unproductive and fed into his negative energy. I chose to close that door, not out of hate, but for self-preservation and peace.

When I moved to Houston in 2005, I had some reservations because I had painful memories of this area, but I fell in love with the city. I found a pluralistic society that includes Tejanos with a longstanding history and immigrants from across the globe. I found people here who are open to learning about our cultural differences. It is precisely by acknowledging that we are different that we find a common space, but Houston isn’t perfect.

Our Houston community has been rattled by the effects of detentions and deportations, especially 287g, a measure that ties the Harris County Sheriff’s Department to Homeland Security. It’s one way that the federal government taps into local resources in order to enforce strict immigration laws, a practice that was once limited to the Border Patrol. The effects are tangible—the Obama government deported more immigrants than the total number of all other presidential administrations together. It creates distrust within the immigrant communities, so they are less likely to report crime. And with Donald Trump promising to top Obama’s record of deportation within the first year, it has created even more fear.

Society paints Black and Brown bodies as criminal. In my mother’s case, she had shown generosity to my father by allowing me to visit for a month when the custody agreement only allotted two weeks. By claiming he wanted her deported, my father was indirectly criminalizing my mother —a resident— and so aiming to shift the boundaries of the law in his favor. Under 287g, undocumented immigrants are often deported for low priority misdemeanor violations, making their deportations cruel and unusual punishment.

Immigrants are Houstonians who add to the cultural fabric of our city. Like other Houstonians, I benefit from the culinary cultures our city enjoys, and I can’t imagine life here without the wide array of food from across the globe: Mexican, Vietnamese, Thai, Japanese, Indian, Turkish and countless others. The lifeline to all of those restaurants is composed of immigrants, and the servers tend to be Mexican. We might call those restaurants foreign, but they are a visible indication that immigrants are contributing to the economy and that we live in pluralistic society. Being a Houstonian should not be defined by citizenship or place of birth.

In the coming weeks, we must protect the unique mosaic of cultures that is part of our local community. Please join United We Dream’s Houston chapter in pushing the city to end its connection to 287g. The group was instrumental during the election of incoming-Sheriff Ed Gonzalez, who promises to end 287g. You can find UWD’s plan of action on on its Facebook page. The group is currently attending City Council meetings on Tuesdays to encourage local leaders to take a stand. Also, please defend your immigrant neighbors and report hate crimes to the Houston Police Department at 713-308-8737.

(Via United We Dream - Houston)

(Via United We Dream – Houston)

After living in Houston for several years, I got the urge to look for the house where my father once lived. I drove down that eerily familiar path down by Fry Road. My father moved to Lexington, Texas, years before I moved to Houston. It wasn’t that I was searching for my father—I wanted to come to terms with my past. As I sat there in my car, I realized that I had already reconciled. In Houston, I’d reclaimed a space by celebrating my Mexican heritage and dedicating my work to migration, and I had done it in a place nearby, but beyond my father’s reach.

Let’s work on building a common future for an open and inclusive society. Support your immigrant neighbors.

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Christina L. Sisk is the author of Mexico, Nation in Transit: The Cultural Representations of Mexican Migration to the United States (University of Arizona Press, 2011). She tweets from @borderculture

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