Growing Fears in Immigrant Communities

Amid more federal and state crackdowns on illegal immigrants, some Latinos feared that Hurricane Harvey relief efforts could serve as another excuse to round up people without documents, as Dennis J Bernstein learned.

By Dennis J Bernstein

Federal and state initiatives targeting undocumented immigrants have spread alarm through Latino communities as people face ethnic profiling,  and some in Houston even feared seeking refuge from Hurricane Harvey because of the possibility they would run afoul of law enforcement.

“Texas is ground zero for the fight against Trump-inspired, white nationalist legislation,” said Salvador Sarmiento, National Campaign Coordinator for the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON), which represents thousands of day laborers across the country. Sarmiento has also been leading the fight against recently passed anti-immigrant legislation in Texas known as SB 4.

I spoke to him in Dallas on August 30 about the dangers that SB 4 presents for undocumented people in Texas and about the implications for hundreds of thousands of so-called “Dreamers” and their families as President Trump moves to rescind President Obama’s directive allowing them to stay in the U.S., known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).


Map of Texas (Wikipedia)

In a recent victory for NDLON and other immigrants groups, Chief U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia ruled on August 30, that Texas officials may not implement Texas Senate Bill 4, which was set to go into effect on September 1 and would have given local law enforcement the power to ask for information regarding a person’s immigration status during routine interactions such as a traffic stop.

Critics of the law argued that it gave a green light to racial profiling and violates the First and Fourth Amendments. In his 94-page ruling, Judge Garcia maintained there is overwhelming evidence from local officials, including local law enforcement, that SB 4 would “erode public trust” and actually make many “communities less safe.”


Dennis Bernstein: I’d like to talk to you about the struggle against the draconian SB 4. But I have to begin by asking you about the more than half a million undocumented people in the greater Houston area. The border patrol has said that they will proceed as usual, unlike in the past when they suspended activities during hurricanes.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection in Washington, D.C. during the inauguration of Donald Trump. January 20, 2017. (Flickr U.S. Customs and Border Protection)

Salvador Sarmiento: The people in Houston and the surrounding communities are trying to focus on making life and death decisions. Instead, the immigrant community in Houston is facing a triple threat. They know that ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] is going to be setting up checkpoints, there is now news that DACA could be under attack and, at the same time, we are dealing with SB 4, this racial profiling law. Emergency officials know that this is not a time to be talking about immigration enforcement.

DB: Despite that, on Friday [August 25], the border patrol came out with the following statement: “Border patrol checkpoints will not be closed unless there is a danger to the safety of the traveling public, and our border patrol resources, including personnel and transportation, will be deployed on an as-needed basis to augment the efforts and capabilities of local response authorities.” This sort of feels like the checkpoints in Palestine.

SS: It is outrageous that we even have to deal with this at this time. Even the mayor of Houston directly stated that he himself would defend undocumented immigrants because this is no time to be thinking about enforcement.

DB: I imagine there is a sort of widening underground railroad, with people opening their homes. I imagine that kind of organizing is going on and expanding.

SS: We are relying on the grassroots capacity already in place. They really are the first responders. Professional disaster response is important, but even that depends on the networks that exist on the ground.

DB: This is all happening at a time when Texas is going extreme right-wing with the passage of SB 4. You have a half million undocumented folks in the greater Houston area facing that kind of terror, you have Donald Trump pardoning Joe Arpaio. So there is this coordinated campaign of hate. What efforts are underway to resist all this? These are difficult times for you all.

An Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officer making an arrest. November 30, 2014. (Wikipedia)

SS: This is what all the Trump rhetoric has been pointing to. He is using government institutions to exploit fear, to enable white supremacists, such as Joe Arpaio, and to really go after the most vulnerable among us.

The Texas government is leading the attack against immigrants across the country. SB 4, this racial profiling law, sends a message to local law enforcement that it is their job to stop and question immigrants. This is together with an unprecedented expansion of 287(g) deportation agreements with local sheriffs.

To add to all of that, they are now going after DACA, the program that protects young immigrant students from deportation. We really have to do something to raise the profile of what people are dealing with in Texas right now. This Saturday [September 2], we are joining a very powerful unity march in Austin.

There are two important things to mention about the pardon of Joe Arpaio. First, in the context of Charlottesville, Trump chooses to enable a sheriff who represents a white supremacist strategy of attrition against people of color in Arizona. The second thing is that it is not a complete defeat that we are looking at with this pardon of Arpaio. Communities in Arizona rose up against an abusive tyrant and took him down.

DB: Who is going to be impacted if Trump follows through with his plans to repeal [DACA]?

SS: The fact that DACA is even being targeted really goes to the heart of the despicable agenda that the Trump administration and the Texas GOP are trying to advance. There is absolutely no legal reason to undermine a very basic protection for young immigrants who have grown up in this country.

President Barack Obama announces his policy against deportation of “dreamers” on June 15, 2012. (White House photo)

If anything, DACA should be expanded to include their parents, to all 11 million people who are already here and part of our communities. We are talking about 800,000 youth and their families who are going to be affected, and it will open the door for a lot more targeting.

But it is also important to mention that DACA was not a gift from the Democratic party. The advances we have made over the past decade were the result of immigrant youth challenging the status quo and refusing to wait.

DB: How exactly does SB 4 empower local law enforcement to expand their ethnic profiling of a large percentage of the population of Texas?

SS: SB 4 is very much in the same vein as Arizona’s SB 1070. The extreme right in America has developed a strategy of attrition against people of color. The idea is to make the lives of immigrants so miserable that they themselves will choose to leave the country.

Local law enforcement is basically given free rein to ask for immigration documents and they are prohibited from turning down any request from federal immigration enforcement. In a way, it ties the hands of local law enforcement and forces them to abide by Trump’s deportation agenda.

DB: Trump is coming to Texas and I wonder if he is going to address the fears of a half a million undocumented people in the Houston area or instead announce the end of [DACA]?

SS: Right now there is a lot of activity in Texas. Protests are being planned in many cities. Preparations are under way in communities like Dallas and Houston and all the way to El Paso for communities to organize and defend themselves. At this point, it is very clear that the Texas government is very much on board with Trump’s anti-immigrant agenda. Actually, we are waiting to see whether a court will partially or fully enjoin or block the implementation of SB 4.

Artists work on a sign that reads “Deport Trump” during the presidential inauguration. January 20, 2017. (Photo: Chelsea Gilmour)

But the message has already been sent to Texas local law enforcement. So, while we are hopeful that a federal court in San Antonio will make the right decision, we realize that no court injunction is going to stop this white supremacist agenda. We can no longer depend on the judicial system or assume that the political parties are going to get us out of this mess.

DB: Your organization, the National Day Labor Organizing Network, just completed a week-long gathering. What was decided at this week of meetings?

SS: We just celebrated our eighth national assembly with our more than fifty grassroots organizations across the country. The theme this year was “courage over fear.”

We know that Trump’s only weapon is fear and that the people demonstrating courage today are the immigrants and the refugees. We plan to take this indignation we are feeling and turn it into action.

Right now, in California, there is a bill in the legislature, SB 54, the California Values Act, and it is not clear that public officials are getting behind this legislation.

Dennis J Bernstein is a host of “Flashpoints” on the Pacifica radio network and the author of Special Ed: Voices from a Hidden Classroom. You can access the audio archives at

26 comments for “Growing Fears in Immigrant Communities

  1. bobzz
    September 8, 2017 at 13:51

    I do not mind the refugees coming, especially as America is responsible for their ‘arrival.’ Mexicans that sneaked across the river decades ago were not escaping Mexico but coming seeking a better life. The flood of refugees is a recent phenomenon. I like Aussies, and I’ll bet Mexicans would too, but I doubt they could afford the trip.

  2. R Davis
    September 8, 2017 at 13:23

    If the idea to make the lives of immigrants so miserable that they leave the US of their own volition works – they should consider migrating to Australia.
    Australia has so very few “Latino’s” – that there is an imbalance in the Multicultural make up of Australia.
    We could also do with more Roman Catholics.
    So I ask them – “hat is wrong with Australia ?”
    Come to Australia – Australia is a wonderful country & we are good people.

  3. bobzz
    September 7, 2017 at 23:10

    Mexican citizens crossing the border are not ‘illegal immigrants.’ America’s insatiable desire for drugs and loose gun are the causes of the violence and carnage that are driving them el Norte. Add NAFTA, which has squeezed a couple million farmers off their farms, and they become cartel members or come Norte. These people are not coming voluntarily; they are REFUGEES from the hell America created for them, not immigrants or migrants.

    • bobzz
      September 7, 2017 at 23:13

      that’s loose gun laws. Can’t proof my own stuff very well.

      • hatedbyu
        September 8, 2017 at 09:54


        banning drugs in us raises prices, demand and creates demand from producers in other places.

        banning guns in mexico ensures gang activity, creates demand there, raising prices and importation in the black market.

        banning guns in big american cities, combined with banning drugs creates little mexicos.

        we should just ban banning.


        • bobzz
          September 8, 2017 at 13:41

          I was talking about what is fueling Mexican refugees not what you turned it into. I said nothing about banning drugs. The war on drugs should be banned, and drug use decriminalized to control them and treatment offered rather than jail. Then it wouldn’t make any difference where the drugs came from. Decriminalization seems to be working in Portugal. Drug use continues but addiction is dropping. Who said anything about banning guns in Mexico? It is a sovereign state; we cannot write their laws. Eighty percent of drug murders in Mexico are committed with American guns, which feeds the violence, which is driving the refugees north. That is my point. I’m happy with hunters having their rifles. Insecurity fuels handgun sales. But in reality, the war on drugs will not stop because the banks are profiting from it. During the bank meltdown the only liquidity available was the laundered drug money the big banks held. The CIA could not operate if the war on drugs ceased.

          • hatedbyu
            September 8, 2017 at 17:07


            just sayin that all the banning is contributing to the immigrants too.

            and as an aside, handguns are just tools. great equalizers for the weak and the old. and great engineering wonders. they are more dangerous than rifles but have their place. banning them in england has seen huge increases in knife and fist attacks. now they trying to ban knives. acid attacks are the new weapon there. england has the highest percentage of violent crime in europe…..

            point being that banning just begets banning.


  4. E. Leete
    September 7, 2017 at 11:11

    I don’t think there IS a National solution to this problem. I think the bought and paid foe Congress in Amurdica Absurdica will consciously and with premeditation continue to use the issue to aid and abet the wealthpowerfuls’ Divide and Conquer project by swinging the pendulum back and forth between crackdowns and amnesties on and on for the foreseeable future. Because Business. Because cheap labor predation. Because social hierarchy. Duh. and Meh. And it won’t be different in other countries; everybody KNOWS there IS no country on planet Earth where the poor and the working class are in charge of government.

    The Global Race to the Rock Bottom of the Wage Scale is a Global problem with a Global Cause – and a Global solution alone can and would solve this trouble. That global solution is called Pay Justice for all – economic justice – equal pay for equal sacrifice of time and energies made to producing goods and providing services – a just cap on personal fortunes – no more freebie wealth for having won gifts in the birth lottery, no more forcing a lifetime of underpay on those less gifted to fund the overpay – no more ceaseless, automatic transfer of wealth from earners to non-earners – no more taking from the pool of wealth more – or less – than you put in by virtue of your own work.

    I explained more about it in the mad pirates article comments but don’t think anybody saw that.

    • Zachary Smith
      September 7, 2017 at 12:21

      I didn’t see your earlier comments. Regarding a “basic income”, I believe it would need to be part of a larger package. Perhaps some almost direct bribes not to have more than 2 children.

      I’d pay for the scheme with a 100% tax on incomes over $xxxxx.

    • mike k
      September 7, 2017 at 13:51

      I saw it, and agreed. Equal pay for everyone solves many of our problems. Getting it done is a major problem, however.

      • hatedbyu
        September 7, 2017 at 18:31

        why not just ban all money?

        • mike k
          September 8, 2017 at 07:27

          Money can actually serve to equalize people’s right to share in an equally limited manner in the wealth of society.

          • hatedbyu
            September 8, 2017 at 09:56

            banning money is bad, but banning unequal pay is good.


  5. mike k
    September 7, 2017 at 10:51

    The nations south of the border are largely the creation of the white European invaders of this continent. The conditions of poverty and capitalistic slavery existing there are a major cause of the immigrants seeking a better life. We in the north are responsible for these immigrants, who we are attempting to force back into the lands of their starvation and persecution. We have done everything we could to destroy socialist governments, and install our complicit dictators to further our rape of these land’s resources. Trump is a white racist, capitalist, fascist pig. If anyone has trouble seeing that, they need a new pair of glasses.

    • hatedbyu
      September 7, 2017 at 12:55

      i dunno,
      i see someone who is prejudice. that would be you.
      i don’t presume to know if trump is a racist. he might be prejudice too.

      this stuffs getting old.

      • hatedbyu
        September 7, 2017 at 12:58

        prejudiced…..brainfart. so don’t go correcting my spelling. i

        i hate it when people do that.

  6. Zachary Smith
    September 6, 2017 at 22:44

    I’ve just done a bit of research.

    “Are Americans Too Spoiled To Take Low-Paying Jobs?”
    By Sterling Wong November 15, 2011 10:47 AM


    However, after interviewing business owners in the state, Dwoskin discovered that even though there are some 211,000 people unemployed, locals have not been enthusiastic about filling out the positions left vacant by the immigrants — positions such as picking tomatoes in the searing heat for 11 hours per day, at a rate of $2 for every 25-pound basket filled, for J&J Farms. Or filleting fish for more than 10 hours in a damp, freezing environment for minimum wage and little benefits for food company Harvest Select. As Dwoskin surmises:

    It’s a hard-to-resist syllogism: Dirty jobs are available; Americans won’t fill them; thus, Americans are too soft for dirty jobs. Why else would so many unemployed people turn down the opportunity to work during a recession? Of course, there’s an equally compelling obverse. Why should farmers and plant owners expect people to take a back-breaking seasonal job with low pay and no benefits just because they happen to be offering it? If no one wants an available job — especially in extreme times — maybe the fault doesn’t rest entirely with the people turning it down. Maybe the market is inefficient.

    The story goes on to consider the consequences of raising wages for workers. That would give the advantage to imports where the tomatoes or cucumbers are picked by honest-to-God slaves. Or young children hired out by their parents at wages where they might as well be. Unmentioned by most of these stories are the hazards. Illegals working in meat packing and chicken plants are regularly injured. Sometimes very badly. Zero recourse, naturally. That’s the way the Corporate Swine want things to be. Also usually unmentioned are the chemical poisons. Who gives a damn if the disposable illegals get sick. Or end up with cancer. Not the Big and Small Corporations.

    I’m old enough to remember when American teenagers would go out into Indiana corn fields to detassel the plants so as to produce the desired seed hybrids. Hot, dirty, and with stinging insects, but the work got done. That’s because the employers had to deal with local folks – these were their KIDS in those fields. The pay wasn’t pitiful, and safety wasn’t neglected. If a storm blew in they were taken to a place safe from lightning.

    Elderly relatives told me of local farmers (including themselves) who made a seasonal migration to Iowa for the corn-picking season – those big harvesters didn’t always exist, you know! Americans got the prevailing farm wages for a day of work!

    While driving to the city one day, the road passed a huge cucumber field. It was literally acres and acres of cucumbers almost as far as the eye could see. They seemed to go on for miles. There amidst the vastness I saw about 5 migrant workers. They were hand picking the baby cucumbers off the vines on their hands and knees. I’m told this is how we get the baby dills in our grocery stores. I remember being in awe of them and the seemingly impossible job that lay before them. I was trying to take in the vastness of the fields that needed to be harvested (while keeping one eye on the road). I thought, “How would they ever get all those acres of cucumbers picked by hand? How many man hours would this job take with so few of workers?”

    The horrors of field work can be mitigated. But again, who cares about those throw-away workers. I have a clipping from a 1979 Popular Mechanics magazine titled “It’s a dilly”, and that’s why I chose the example of “baby cucumbers”. It shows a picture of a simple German rig to pick baby cucumbers. The prone workers were moving backwards (feet first) as the tractor inched along at 10 feet/minute. They picked the baby cukes and dropped them on a conveyor moving to the center of the machine. No stooping, they were shaded, and they were comfortable. The work got done without anybody being hurt. Now that Europe has discovered the joys of migrant workers, this kind of equipment may well be history.

  7. Zachary Smith
    September 6, 2017 at 21:04

    WSJ title: “Senate Leader Mitch McConnell Sympathizes With Immigrant ‘Dreamers’”

    blog title: “Trump’s move to end “Dreamers” program sparks corporate condemnation”

    blog title: “Corporate-Owned Paul Ryan Begs Trump: Don’t Scrap Dreamers Program”

    Quote from last story:

    Ryan’s support for DACA, which is essentially amnesty, should come as no surprise considering his establishment status within the Republican elite, who prefer the cheap labor resulting from rampant illegal immigration.

    It’s not just the Republican and Democrat elite, but massive corporations who also want to see DACA remain in place.

    That last blogger is a nut, as you’ll see if you happen to look him up. But he’s right. The utterly unspeakable Ryan and McConnell are shilling for their corporate masters. Big and Small Corporations want frightened and desperate workers who can’t make any waves about safety or any other workplace conditions. The presence of these poor people in the US work pool will drag down the wages and negotiating positions of American workers.

    I wonder if the author of this piece understands how he is actually working for Big and Small Corporations? Floods of tears for a few “undocumented” “migrants” serve to enrich the top .1% and drag down the nation as a whole.

    • mike k
      September 6, 2017 at 21:13

      Like the Americans are dying to go out and pick those crops for next to nothing. That the immigrants hurt American citizens who are dying to get those back breaking jobs? No way.

      • hatedbyu
        September 7, 2017 at 12:52

        exporting jobs to other countries using slave labor is bad.

        importing jobs using slave labor is bad. bad for the workers. great for the large corporations and rich folks who don’t want to pay what labor is worth.

        if you shop at walmart you are no different. if you use immigrant labor to save money, you are no different.

        if you support the labor movement and still somehow support unlimited immigration, you are a hypocrite.

  8. mike k
    September 6, 2017 at 20:44

    It doesn’t take an investigative journalist to know that Donald Trump is a white supremist. He makes that perfectly clear. All this stuff about undoing Obama’s accomplishments, building a wall, barring Muslims from entering the US, etc. reveal his racial hatred. This is an evil man on a par with Hitler. The sooner he is removed from his Presidency, the better. Let me be clear, there is not a sliver of moral difference between Trump and Hitler. They were both great dangers to the human species.

    • hatedbyu
      September 7, 2017 at 12:47


      you guys crack me up.

  9. Zachary Smith
    September 6, 2017 at 20:42

    Attempted repost again “moderated”.

  10. Zachary Smith
    September 6, 2017 at 20:41


    Amid more federal and state crackdowns on illegal immigrants, some Latinos feared that Hurricane Harvey relief efforts could serve as another excuse to round up people without documents, as Dennis J Bernstein learned.

    In the lead-in to the essay is the only place the term “illegal” was used. That was probably done by the staff at the Consortium News site. For the rest of the piece “undocumented” was used 6 times. The term “immigrant” was used eleven times without the modifier.

    Heck, this fiddling with the English language needn’t stop with this. Why not call burglars “unauthorized visitors”? Shoplifters could become “non-paying customers”. Rapists? How about “involuntary sex partners”?

  11. mike k
    September 6, 2017 at 20:32

    Am I the first to comment?

    • hatedbyu
      September 7, 2017 at 12:46

      no. i did.

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