About Houston mayor and U.S. Senate candidate Bill White and the 287(g)
The Lion's Den: About Houston mayor and U.S. Senate candidate Bill White and the 287(g)
by Jaime Abeytia
It will be interesting to see if the El Paso County Democratic Party holds White accountable for a 287(g) in Houston. And there are some other local considerations as well.
Posted on August 10, 2009
Bill White, Houston mayor and Democratic candidate for the United States Senate seat that is projected to be soon vacated by Kay Bailey Hutchison, will visit El Paso next Monday night (Aug. 17) for a gathering at El Pisto Restaurant.
White already has visited El Paso to campaign and is looking to gain some support in one of the few Texas Democratic Party strongholds. In fact, outside of the urban areas of Dallas-Houston-Austin-San Antonio, the main Democratic Party strongholds are along the Texas-Mexico border, so it's no surprise that White has made several campaign stops along the border.
I'm interested in hearing his pitch to Borderland voters regarding immigration. I'm interested personally, and while I'm not speaking on their behalf, I know that the group for which I work, the Border Network for Human Rights, also is interested, as are other groups interested in immigration reform.
Because Bill White, as mayor of Houston, is in the process of signing onto a controversial agreement with the federal government, known as a 287(g) agreement.
Here's what a 287(g) agreement is in a nutshell.
The program began in 1996 under the Clinton Administration and was implemented widely under the Bush Administration. The federal government offers communities a certain amount of money to deal with immigration issues and that money can be given, all or in part, to local law enforcement agencies to, in effect, enforce federal immigration laws. The government outsources their responsibilities to local law enforcement and corrections. The reason this has been so controversial is because it has led to an epidemic of reports of racial profiling. Under 287(g) agreements, law enforcement agencies around the country were using the fact that someone “looked” Latino as a pretext to stop or detain them.
Since the program began it has received criticism from elected and federal officials, activists, community organizations, advocates, and law enforcement. In March of this year, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report charging that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) lacked sufficient oversight of the program. Coincidentally in March, an investigation by the Justice Department was launched against Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County in Arizona.
The premise of the investigation? Racial profiling under 287(g) agreements.
A couple of towns in Texas have 287(g) agreements, but they are the kind of towns that you’d expect to see that kind of agreement, cities like Carrollton and Farmer’s Branch. These are towns in mostly rural and solidly conservative parts of Texas. One wouldn’t expect a 287(g) agreement to come from an urban area like Houston, Texas, whose mayor is Democrat Bill White.
There is no mention of White’s immigration stance on his website but there is a small reference to his respect for diversity.
The fact that Texas is a border state with a high Latino population makes this particular issue so much more interesting in the Senate campaign, especially given the fact that many social justice organizations are posturing for a strong campaign for Immigration Reform.
Many of those same groups thought that under new leadership in the White House that 287(g) agreements would be scaled back, but in fact Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, former Democratic governor of Arizona, has actually expanded 287(g) agreements to 11 more communities. This isn’t all that surprising considering Napolitano sent National Guard troops to the border before Republicans in other states. She out Republicaned the Republicans.
Arizona is a Republican state and Napolitano won the race for governor at the height of Republican control of Arizona. How did she accomplish that? Well, a few political scandals helped along the way, but so did the fact that she picked up a key endorsement from a member of the opposite party, none other than Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
Locally, Sheriff Wiles is against the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office participating in 287(g) agreements, and it will be interesting to see if the El Paso County Democratic Party holds White accountable for a 287(g) in Houston. Unfortunately, White's support for a 287(g) agreement in Houston is something most El Paso Democrats haven't had a chance to consider.
Wiles was elected with strong support from the Democratic Party, but every candidate in the crowded Democratic Party primary election committed to the same idea; that as Sheriff of El Paso County they would not make deputies enforce federal immigration law.
Which leads to an interesting philosophical discussion and dilemma for party leaders. Do they try to sell a candidate to the rank and file even though his previous political decisions may not be consistent with the general consensus of the party membership? Or do they hold the candidate at arms length and let him be master of his own destiny? Or does the party leadership choose yet another course of action and support the other candidate for United States Senate?
White was pressed on the issue a bit in Dallas by the local chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) and responded by saying, "We have not changed our policy of longstanding that our police officers will not be immigration folks. We are not in the business of checking people's immigration status or profiling people." He also added the serious criminals "need to be deported because of the safety of our community. Hispanic residents don't want the gang members and serious criminals in their neighborhoods."
That interesting because 287(g) agreements do exactly that. There is a specific program in place that targets the second part of the quote, the serious criminals. That program is called Secure Communities. In fact, in his letter requesting the 287(g) agreement, he goes further than the Secure Communities program, which targets only serious crimes, and refers to a previous agreement that allows Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to screen “all arrested persons for ICE warrants and holds,” which would include even minor traffic arrests.
As a Democrat myself, I’m not necessarily against White, but I want to see the senior members of the Democratic Party in El Paso lead the way and ask the tough questions. When we properly vet candidates we are in a better position to make an informed decision.
There is also a bit of a political faction subtext at play. The Chavez faction is behind the other Democratic candidate for United States Senate, John Sharp. Chavez, along with city Rep. Eddie Holguin, hosted the candidate last month at Café Mayapan where they subjected the candidate to some questions from the audience and a plate of tacos de chapulin.
Does that mean that just because Chavez is backing the other guy, that the other factions will align themselves with White? Not necessarily, but it’s not outside the realm of responsibility in this town.
The truth is in most elections, much like most job interviews, it’s not the most-qualified candidate who gets the job ... it’s the one who tells the best story. Time will tell if El Paso Democrats will support White despite the controversial 287(g) agreements.
Abeytia writes the Lionstar blog and is a political animal who spends way too much time traveling the wilds of El Paso politics. Reach him at lionstar@....