Border Watchers Coming To City

Edward Hegstrom, Houston Chronicle, July 8

The Minutemen are coming to Houston.

Leaders of the controversial group dedicated to stopping the flow of illegal immigration said they will patrol the streets of the Bayou City beginning in October, as part of a campaign that will extend north from the Mexican border. Houston volunteers will gather near day labor centers and corners where immigrant workers solicit work, in an effort to draw critical attention to the city’s hands-off policy toward illegal immigrants.

“We will be videotaping the (day laborers) and we will be videotaping the contractors who pick them up,” said Bill Parmley, a Goliad County landowner who heads the Texas chapter of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps. The Minutemen will only observe to draw attention to the problem and will not attempt to make arrests, he said.

News of the potential patrols in Houston drew a muted response from Mayor Bill White, who said he did not want to engage in a “pointless public relations battle.”

“I’m not in a position to dictate to private organizations other than that they should obey the law,” White said.

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“These people who hunt immigrants are only thinking of themselves,” added Maria del Carmen Yupe, a leader of The Metropolitan Organization. “They don’t think of the suffering of these immigrants who stand on the corner hoping to work for something to eat.”

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Houston Police Department policy forbids officers from asking about immigration status in most cases. The city also funds day labor sites used by immigrants, including illegal immigrants, to find work.

“Aren’t they aiding and abetting illegal immigrants?” asked Parmley. “Isn’t that against the law?”

White defended current policy.

“The protection of our borders is essentially a federal function,” the mayor said. “I am not going to take our police out of the neighborhoods” to start looking for illegal immigrants. “Our police priority is going to be public safety.”

Local law enforcement agencies have particular reason to be gun-shy about rounding up illegal immigrants.

In 1994, the Katy Police Department decided to conduct a raid for illegal immigrants, but it led to the detention of some Hispanics who were in the country legally. That led to a federal lawsuit resulting in a settlement under which Katy police promised to no longer enforce immigration law.

The lawsuit also led to an injunction that forbids even federal immigration officers from entering some local institutions like hospitals and schools, said Luisa Deason, a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Houston.

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