Protestors question Sheriff over controversial immigration program

- A group of protestors gathered on the steps of the Harris County Sheriff’s Office Thursday, demanding newly elected Sheriff Ed Gonzalez end the county’s involvement in a federal program allowing local law enforcement officials  to identify suspected criminals in the country illegally.

Sheriff Gonzalez actually came downstairs and stood with protestors, telling them he understands their concerns and will be working with lawmakers in Austin to address them next month.

Oscar Hernandez helped lead the protest. He’s undocumented and say the federal program allows law enforcement officials to racially profile.

“If you’re going to be looking for people who are undocumented, you’re going to be looking for people of color, people who look brown or people who don’t know how to speak English well,” says Hernandez.

287(g) allows designated officers to perform immigration checks. Hernandez says the program makes more than a half a million people in Houston susceptible for deportation.

“I’m undocumented. I could get deported. I’m a homeowner. I was brought to this country when I was two years old,” said Hernandez. 

While Sheriff Gonzalez did join protestors, he would not specify what actions he would take against 287(g), or SB4, which if passed could make all law enforcement agents responsible for identifying individuals for deportation.

We’re going to do it in a thoughtful way, we’ll get this figured out, with the community” said Gonzalez.

Gonzalez campaigned on eliminating his office’s involvement in the program as several protestors pointed out.

“Some of use voted for you because you would put an end to 287(g),” yelled one woman."

Mayor Turner, who was not at the protest, took a bold stance on the issue, releasing a statement moments after the protest from city hall:

I know there are a lot of families and children who are afraid and worried right now about what might happen to them.  I want them to know that Houston is, and always has been, a welcoming city, where we value and appreciate diversity.  HPD is not the Immigration and Naturalization Service.  We don’t profile, and we are not going to start profiling people to determine whether they are here illegally.  It hasn’t happened under previous mayors, and it will not happen under my administration.

But some say the county should still operate under 287(g).

“It doesn’t matter how they’re caught, if they’re here illegally, they’re here illegally, it doesn’t matter,” said Ed Sawyer.

“If you do need to come over from a different country, get your citizenship, get your green card, get everything you need to stay here” said Tony Davis.

But to Ron, the issue is not black and white. “With respect to the people who are already here, that’s a little bit more difficult and I think that there has to be some compassion. Assuming that they haven’t committed crimes. If they’ve committed crimes they should be deported.”

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