Punching back at the polls will heal Texas’ black eye on immigration
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Wow, Texas. Things are looking really messed up there following a near fistfight on the floor of the state House over a new, worst-in-the-nation racial profiling law. 

As reported in local and national news media, Republican state Rep. Matt Rinaldi was angry that hundreds of mostly Hispanic demonstrators were protesting Texas’ new “show me your papers” law targeting sanctuary cities.

He taunted Hispanic Democrats, telling them he had called federal immigration agents to deport the protestors, some of which he said were holding signs proclaiming their undocumented status.

“F--k them,” he said before turning to one of the Hispanic lawmakers and adding, “F--k you.” Tempers flared and Rinaldi threatened to put a bullet in the head of another colleague after he said he was threatened by Democratic Rep. Poncho Nevarez.

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For all of us who oppose state and federal measures that would codify racial prejudice, the Dallas-area Republican proved our point. He racially profiled hundreds of people, doing exactly what his party denied would happen under the new law, which essentially forces local police to be part of a ramped-up deportation machine, a tactic also being pursued by the Trump administration. 

 

Rinaldi’s own bias exposed the poison running through the body politic, not just in Texas but nationwide.

This is really sad. Instead of trying to stop the hate being unleashed in Washington, instead of looking for rational, commonsense solutions to update our immigration system, politicians are picking fights when the targets are immigrants. Heck, if Trump can whip up the nativists by calling Mexicans rapists and criminals, we should not be surprised when junior politicos with grandiose ambitions start hurling insults laced with spit while threatening to throw punches, or worse.

But we don’t have to stand for this. We need to keep showing up to voice our opposition. We also need to register to vote and cast ballots in next year’s congressional elections, because the politics of hate across will not change until we change the politicians who refuse to represent us at the local, state and federal levels.

I am not just a casual bystander in this debate. I am an advocate for citizenship and voter registration drives, and for reforming the immigration system that broke apart my family. My parents struggled to legalize their status before being deported when I was a freshman in high school.

When they were taken, no government agency considered the fact that a 14-year-old daughter would come home from school and find an empty house, have no one to turn to for help, and have to go to school the next morning alone and afraid. 

That was 18 years ago. The political climate has worsened in recent years. The numbers of hate incidents and presence of hate groups continue to grow, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. Politicians who rhetorically and literally fight to defend their biases surely must realize the great harm caused by cruel and racially divisive measures, but do not care.

In Texas, there are reports of women not showing up for healthcare appointments, worried about being harassed by immigration agents posted nearby. Children, regardless of status, are confused and fearful. Construction workers are missing jobs.

Instead of making cities safer, as proponents claimed, the new Texas law will make it tougher for police to solve crimes because increased immigration enforcement by local agencies will erode community trust. Under the new law, policing agencies that do not cooperate with federal agents could be fined and be thrown in jail. That makes no sense.

The law is being challenged in the courts, and Rinaldi’s outburst should be Exhibit A in its “legislative intent.” The legal outcome will likely impact the limits of such policies in Washington and other states. 

In the meantime, let us never forget what triggered the dispute in the state House chamber: People standing in defense of civil and human rights for everyone. The politicians may not want our community to show up and speak out, but we can have the final say on behalf of our families when we vote in 2018.

Diane Guerrero (@dianeguerrero__) is an actor in “Orange Is the New Black,” and author of “In The Country We Love: My Family Divided.” She volunteers with various immigrants’ rights and civic engagement groups, including Mi Familia Vota, which operates in six states, including Texas.


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