Armando Villafranca, Houston Chronicle, September 26, 2006
Immigrants fear a backlash in the wake of the arrest of a Mexican national in the shooting death of a Houston police officer, local immigration experts and community activists say.
Even more damaging, they believe, is how the incident will diminish gains made in the immigration reform debate, especially after thousands took to the streets in the spring to protest legislation making illegal entry a felony offense.
“Everyone is aware that the anti-immigrant sentiment has increased,” said Maria Jimenez, special projects coordinator for the Center for Central American Resources.
Though the shooting was reportedly the act of a single undocumented immigrant, she said immigrants believe they will be judged based on his action.
Last week, Juan Leonardo Quintero, a 32-year-old Mexican national, was charged with capital murder in the death of Houston police officer Rodney Johnson following a routine traffic stop.
She said she believes the Houston Police Department will be pressured to change its policy regarding the questioning of immigration status.
She said the issue has already drawn national attention. On Good Morning America, Houston Police Chief Harold Hurtt defended department policy, which does not require officers to inquire about a person’s immigration status on traffic stops.
“People are bracing themselves for a rough time,” she said.
The shooting will overshadow the image of immigrants marching for their rights and demanding that their voices be heard.
Community activists are concerned that the shooting will wash out any perception of immigrants as hard-working families who are consumers and taxpayers and contributors to the community.
“I was thinking how this one event, this tragic event, from the perspective of politics and immigration, this one event can set back all the progress that’s been made in immigration,” said Nestor Rodriguez, chairman of the University of Houston sociology department and co-director of the university’s Center for Immigration Research.
“This is something that politicians and others who want to restrict immigration are going to use,” he said.
Last week, some in Congress cited the shooting as evidence that stronger enforcement of immigration laws and not reform is needed.