Infringement of rights or necessary protection?

April 10, 2009 5:09:31 PM PDT
Is it an infringement of immigrant rights or necessary protection? The mayor is now asking for help to figure out the immigration status of people who are arrested. [SIGN UP: Get headlines and breaking news sent to you]

Mayor Bill White and Houston police are looking to crack down on illegal immigrant crime. They're wanting to get more access and information about people who are in the U.S. illegally. But the idea has its critics.

When Houston Police Department Officer Richard Salter was shot in the face during a drug raid last month, the city of Houston says it learned it was a shooting that never should have happened.

The man accused of shooting Officer Salter was an illegal immigrant, who had slipped back into the country undetected and stayed here through a loophole and a lack of computer-based information.

"That's the problem we're trying to attack," said Frank Michel with the city of Houston.

And so Houston Mayor Bill White sent a letter to the federal government, asking to join a federal program already in use at the Harris County Jail that would give the city a larger database of names of those who should not be here.

"What that would do mainly is give us access to more federal databases," said Michel. "The city policy with regard to officers on the street is the same as it's always been or it's been for a number of years. We do not stop people randomly and ask for their citizenship status."

But that plan has immigrants rights activists concerned.

"We're afraid that in a major city like this it could lead to mass deportations of people for committing minor crimes," said Cesar Espinosa with the Central American Resource Center.

They fear a more aggressive questioning of immigrants in jail will lead to a more aggressive approach on the streets.

"It will keep people from coming to the police, both as witnesses and as victims of crimes," said Espinosa. "If someone's a victim of a crime and they feel by calling the police, they could put themselves in jeopardy, they're not going to want to call the police anymore."

The city of Houston says it has no plan to ask immigrants their status outside of jail. Roberto Aguilos hopes it stays that way. He's a legal resident who's applying for citizenship.

He says it should not be a police issue at all, just an immigration issue. And while the law is the law and people should obey, the police should concentrate, he says, on tickets and accidents and people who don't drive well.

The city says that on Thursday, members of the mayor's administration met with close to 20 members of the community who have concerns with this issue. They say they're listening and will continue to do so.

      Headline check | 100 most recent local stories | News alerts
            Slideshow archive | ABC13 wireless | Help solve crimes


Load Comments