DALLAS – For activists and defenders of human rights in Texas, 2011 will be remembered for a rash of bills against illegal immigration in the state legislature and, in response, the fight to protect immigrants.
Early last year the legislature was inundated by the innumerable bills punishing undocumented immigration requested by Gov. Rick Perry, who pushed the Republican majority to pass a measure penalizing sanctuary cities.
After months of intense debate, however, none of the almost 40 bills passed.
While the legislative redistricting plan that emerged was blocked by federal judges who accepted the U.S. Justice Department’s contention that the map would reduce the ability of minority voters to elect the candidates they preferred.
Now the matter rests with the Supreme Court, which in January must rule on the map put forward by the judges, which creates a new, largely Hispanic state House district in the Rio Grande Valley and increases the Latino population of two existing districts in El Paso and Houston, respectively.
Domingo Garcia, former state lawmaker with the League of United Latin American Citizens, said that LULAC and other organizations have planned numerous meetings and events in Texas during 2012 with the sole intention of getting out the Latino vote.
The goal, according to Garcia, is to register 25,000 new Hispanic voters for the November elections.
For Maria Jimenez, an immigrant rights’ activist in Houston, 2011 was a bittersweet year for the Hispanic population of Texas, because despite the struggles there were a number of victories, such as blocking the wave of anti-immigrant bills similar to Arizona’s SB 1070.
“We organized the community and staged protests in the Texas Capitol and the Department of Public Safety. We were also able to quash bills seeking to penalize undocumented immigrants,” she said.
She added that “our task for next year (2012) is to reduce the high percentage of Hispanics serving time in the Texas prison system, mainly for their immigration status and for breaking immigration laws.”
Jimenez believes that with the presidential elections in 2012, discussions about a possible immigration reform will be back on the table, but she doesn’t expect much success as a result.
“Political realities tell us that immigration reform won’t be possible – but I do believe it’s possible to defeat programs like Secure Communities, which enables a large number of immigrants to be taken into custody, separating them from their families,” she said.
Census data show 37.6 of the Texas population is of Latino origin, but fewer than half of the state’s Hispanics are registered voters and many of those who have U.S. citizenship are still minors. EFE