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SAN JUAN — A few dozen people gathered inside the San Juan office for La Unión del Pueblo Entero, or LUPE, headquarters to show support for a delegation of LUPE members and other organizations who were in Austin this week to testify against Texas House Bills 7 and 800.
Those bills would create a state-led border protection unit and increase punishment for certain smuggling of persons and stash house crimes.
Protesters, many clad in red T-shirts who held red and black United Farm Workers flags, offered encouragement with chants of “Vamos” and “Si Se Puede” as the speakers gave impassioned testimonials against the proposed bills, including a woman who said that she’d continue to protest with or without her legal documentation.
“We gathered here today for something that we’re calling the ‘Pueblos Hearings’ because today the Senate Border Security Committee in Austin is hearing about the bill HB 7 and HB 800,” LUPE’s Director of Communications Dani Marrero Hi said. “These are two bills that would bring a lot of money to the border, but not to help working families or to help the needs here. It’s just to bring more police, bring more militarization, and pretty much fulfill Governor (Greg) Abbott’s personal dreams of, like, how he thinks the border should be.”
“There’s a lot of folks that can’t travel to Austin because of the checkpoint, but these are the families that will be most impacted,” she added.
Many of those who couldn’t make the trip to the Texas Capitol carried signs that read “Texas Para de hacer leyes racistas,” or stop making racist laws; “Basta, no mas militarizacion,” or enough, no more militarization; and “HB7 daña nuestras comunidades,” or HB 7 hurts our communitie, among others.
HB 7 was introduced by State Rep. Ryan Guillen, who on November 15, 2021 announced his decision to switch from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party. His district includes Starr, Karnes and Wilson Counties.
“I was just saying how disappointed we are that being a border representative, instead of investing his time and energy and try to help us out in our communities, infrastructure, health care and whatnot, he’s focused on wanting to militarize our communities even more,” LUPE’s Director of Community Organizing Joaquín García said. “Today people went (to Austin) to testify. We’re gonna continue working hard.
“Whatever passes, we’re gonna hold them accountable. We’re still going to be representing our members, we’re gonna continue fighting these harmful, racist bills.”
His bill would establish a “border protection unit” that will “address the effects of ongoing disasters, including disasters caused by transnational and other criminal activity and public health threats.”
“This border protection unit would be able to question anybody that these people perceive to be immigrants,” Garcia said. “It could be the color of their skin, it could be their accent, it could be the language that they speak, and they wouldn’t be really held accountable for any action that they take. They will be able to arrest and deport people to the other side of the border.”
HB 800 would increase the punishment for “certain criminal conduct involving the smuggling of persons or the operation of a stash house.”
Members of the community are worried that the bill will target mixed-status families who may simply be crossing in and out of Mexico for their own personal needs.
“There’s no definition of what human trafficking is for them,” Garcia said. “So if, let’s say, a son is taking their parents to the doctor, and they’re getting stopped, and the parents are undocumented, the minimum penalty for that would be 10 years in jail. So this would be really, really bad for a lot of people here in south Texas.”
Maria Arias, a native of San Luis Potosí, Mexico, has lived in Edinburg for 18 years. She was among those who delivered fiery, impassioned speeches during Thursday’s protest.
She said that she’s tired of people like her being treated “like animals.” She said that immigrants and people like her are worthy of living dignified lives and earning livable wages and housing.
“I just want my community to know that we’re not alone,” Arias said. “We’re stronger together, and we can continue going against these laws. We’re not alone. God is with us, and these people who are heartlessly debating to find ways to harm us, we’re more than them.”
To find a comprehensive list of bills filed — and the status of those bills — visit MyRGV.com and click the 88th Texas Legislative Session tab, which has an interactive spreadsheet and a comprehensive list of AIM Media Texas’ legislative coverage.
To see more, view Monitor photojournalist Delcia Lopez’s full photo gallery here: