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May 31, 2017 | Paulette E. Martin

SB 4 Sows Seeds of Fear for Austin Immigrants

A lawyer and translator help Jiménez* and her twin daughters fill out power of attorney paperwork.

Preparing for the worst, Elena Jiménez,* along with her 15-year-old twins, Camila and Carla,* came to St. James’, Austin, May 6, to get help preparing a power of attorney and caregiver affidavits, just in case the family is separated by deportation.

“As a single mother, I am very worried,” Jiménez said, tears welling up in her eyes. “I want the best for them and it hurts to be in this situation. We are in a very complicated place.”

Jiménez would not want the teenage girls to be forced to live with the father who abandoned the family when she was just three months pregnant. He has never been a part of their lives. She has been living in the United States for nearly 30 years and the girls were born here.

Jiménez, along with other families in the Austin area, attended an immigration forum at St. James’ to learn about their rights and to anticipate the effects of the bill signed into law on May 7 by Gov. Greg Abbott, which eliminates sanctuary cities in Texas beginning September 1.

This legislation will force state, local and campus police to serve as immigration enforcement officers and mandate that they detain and hold immigrants in custody for Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE). It takes away local police departments’ right to set their own public safety priorities and commitments to protect immigrants who are victims of a crime or who may be a witness to a crime. 

The forum was led by human rights lawyer, Jim Harrington. Four additional attorneys—three of whom are members of St. James’—notaries and teachers all volunteered to help families fill out the complex forms.

“This is the fifth time that we have done this for the community in case parents are deported, but I think it’s more critical now that SB 4 is going to become law because it’s very important to let people know that this increases the probability or possibility of folks getting deported,” Harrington said.

One of the key messages organizers gave to the immigrant families was to be very cautious while driving.

“We are telling them to not drive if they don’t have a driver’s license—it’s better to pay someone than to risk getting stopped,” Harrington said.

For most of the families who attended the forum, fear and uncertainty are something that they must deal with on a daily basis.

One of the ways Carla deals with those emotions is by “not thinking all the time about what could happen.”

Camila, who was unsure why her mom made her and her sister attend the forum, understood the significance after hearing the situation explained.

“We want to help our mother and give her some peace of mind. We know there’s a possibility we might get separated,” Camila said.

The twins said that their goal is to do well in school and have a career so that, one day, they might give their mom a better life.

“I like to be a chef,” Carla said.

“And I would like to be a doctor,” Camila added. “I want to show my mom that we are here for her.”

The forum was a collaborative effort by members of the church and the community. Odenia Gutiérrez, a member of St James' for more than 12 years, played an important role.

“I like to contribute as much as I can, so I brought people to the event so they can leave with a power of an attorney letter and are aware of their rights,” Gutiérrez said. “I was also undocumented for 11 years, and I understand what they’re going through.”

For more information:

Documents in Spanish explain immigrants' rights during a raid.
Attorney Jim Harrington talks to a woman in need of information.

The Rt. Rev. Andy Doyle, Bishop of Texas, joined other religious leaders on May 8 to write a letter to Governor Abbott, condemning the action. Texas now becomes the first state to mandate compliance with ICE detainer requests and require local police to enforce immigration laws.

“The anti-immigrant agenda is born out of fear and promoted out of a sense of privilege, jeopardizing justice for everyone,” wrote Bishop Doyle. “We have seen the damage caused by discriminatory, unconstitutional ‘show me your papers’ laws to our economy and our communities. We will continue to build welcoming communities across Texas. Texans are a hospitable, kind and welcoming people and we lament this law’s attempt to spread fear among us. As our sacred texts remind us: ‘When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself.’ (Leviticus 19:33-34).”

Harrington hopes the ministry of Proyecto Santiago will alleviate some of the fear.

“I think people understand the necessity of helping immigrants. If you believe in the Gospel, that is a main message,” Harrington said. “People who immigrate to this country aren’t doing it because they need a vacation. You don’t get up and leave your home and your family and your culture just to go somewhere else. I think people understand that and also understand the role of the Gospel and the Scriptures and I think that’s why they want to help out.”

* Names have been changed to protect identities.