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Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Opinion

Staff Editorial: Senate bill endangering UH immigrant students


Senate Bill 4 will affect immigrants more harshly than ever. | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

On May 7, Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law Senate Bill 4 — a multifaceted, draconian measure set to take effect on Sept. 1.

The controversy began in late January when  Abbott engaged in a public standoff with Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez over her decision to comply with federal immigration requests only if suspects are accused of serious offenses like rape, murder or human trafficking.

Abbott responded by withholding $1.5 million of funding from Travis County.

Several weeks later, S.B. 4, known as the anti-“sanctuary cities” bill, grew harsher and harsher as it was amended in the Texas House and Senate.

This piece of legislation is dangerous and reactionary, and the University of Houston should establish itself as a sanctuary campus to protect the estimated 1,000 undocumented immigrants who attend UH.

The legislation originally aimed to cut state funding from any local and state institutions, including public universities, that fail to honor requests from Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers to hold people suspected of improper immigration authorization. Then, it was amended to allow any department heads who don’t comply with ICE detainers to be criminally prosecuted.

The final version does all this and goes one step further —­ it allows local police officers to ask for the citizenship status of anyone they detain. The bill effectively deputizes local police as ICE agents and criminalizes any department heads who refuse to comply with detainers, which ICE itself said is voluntary.

In light of S.B. 4 and President Donald Trump’s increased immigration raids, the stage is being set for statewide and nationwide battles over immigration.

We ask UH to establish itself as a bastion of safety for its silent victims, becoming a protector for those who can’t protect themselves.

What exactly would a sanctuary campus do? It would pledge to not allow ICE agents onto our campus unless required by a warrant; it would guarantee that students’ records won’t be released to ICE without a warrant, subpoena or court order; it would prevent the UH Police Department from enforcing ICE detainers; and it would offer scholarships, increased financial aid and confidential legal support to undocumented immigrants and recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

In doing so, UH would be the first university in the state to join a list of colleges across the nation that have adopted policies designating themselves as sanctuary campuses, including Trump’s alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania.

In other words, we would be the first Texas university that’s not afraid to tell Abbott that our undocumented students are valued members of the community.

Most of us don’t have to worry about bringing identification with us everywhere we go, whether it be commuting to campus, late-night Whataburger runs or trips to the grocery store, in the event that we’re detained by police.

Most of us don’t have to worry about our families being ripped apart by deportation raids.

Most of us don’t face the possibility of being expelled from the country if we report to police that we’re victims of rape or assault.

But an estimated 1,000 UH students do, according to Maria Trevino-Rodriguez, the vice president of UH’s chapter of the Youth Empowerment Alliance.

UH should join the chorus of vocal opponents to S.B. 4, which include Texas’ four largest cities, religious groups, the American Civil Liberties Union and leaders of the state’s law enforcement community.

Two top police figures — Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo and Texas Police Chiefs Association Director Joseph McLaughlin — warned that S.B. 4 will sow distrust of law enforcement among members of the community and “lead to the fear that they can’t seek assistance from police for fear of being subjected to an immigrant-status investigation.”

This law will create more silent victims. Indeed, Acevedo reported that HPD saw a 43 percent decrease in the number of reported rapes from Hispanic people, even though the total number of reports increased by 8 percent among non-Hispanics.

A UH spokesman told The Cougar in February that UH complies with all local, state and federal laws. But it is the moral duty of the administration not to let backwards policies create silent victims on campus.

We must adopt sanctuary policies to protect our students now.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article stated that Maria Trevino-Rodriguez is the president of the Youth Empowerment Alliance. She is the vice president. We regret the error. 

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