State Representative Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, is joining the voices of many Rio Grande Valley residents outraged at the Texas Department of Public Safety for allegedly lying when it says its troopers are not checking immigration status at its random checkpoints in the Valley.
Many random checkpoints have been set in the Valley by DPS seemingly set to target low income, economically disadvantaged areas. DPS has said the temporary checkpoints are in place to check if drivers have a valid driver's license and auto insurance, and that they are not checking the immigrant status of drivers. Yet Canales and Valley residents are not buying their story.
Some residents are reporting having been taken into custody by Border Patrol because of not being able to produce papers to vouch for their legal residency. Others are saying having seen Border Patrol parked a block away from these random checkpoints, waiting for a call from DPS to arrest people without documents.
Read more on what is causing the mobilization of so many residents in this border community below the jump.In a Sept. 13 news release, DPS said a multi-agency law enforcement initiative was being set up to “temporarily increase the patrol presence in the Rio Grande Valley area of Texas to address several public safety issues.”
“My office has been on the phone with DPS in the last 72 hours more than five times. In a telling remark from one of their staff, I was told DPS is putting up the checkpoints because the federal government is not doing its job. When I pressed her on this point she backtracked. I think this is indicative of what their plans are and what they are really trying to accomplish,” Canales told The Guardian, one of the Valley's largest read new sources, in an interview this week.
“I have posed questions to Steve McCraw [Director of Texas DPS], pointed questions that have largely gone unanswered. They have responded to some of the questions but not to my satisfaction and not to the satisfaction of my constituents,” Canales said.
The checkpoints also happen to be located near low-income, economically disadvantaged areas.
“Why are they are targeting low income, economically disadvantaged areas? None of us have heard of checkpoints on Trenton, or Dove. I have not seen a roadblock at Doctors Hospital at Renaissance. That poses a problem to me,” Canales said.
Canales, who is an attorney, expressed great concern that the road checkpoints are violating the civil rights of Valley residents.
“The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects people from being stopped or searched by law enforcement, or their property seized, without a warrant or without probable cause that they have committed a crime,” said Canales. “I have strongly supported legislation and state policies to help our law enforcement professionals protect Texans. But I also draw the line when the constitutional rights of all Texans are threatened by unjustified actions.”
Photo being shared by civil rights organization, LUPE, warning people of the DPS checkpoint operations.
Many media outlets have been contacted by residents complaining about the checkpoints. On Facebook, residents are informing friends and family where the checkpoints are so they can be avoided.
The Guardian shared two of their readers' stories of their experiences with DPS and Border Patrol.
One Valley resident called to say her friend was stopped at a temporary checkpoint on Hwy 107 in Edinburg on Wednesday. When the woman, aged 38, could not produce papers to vouch for her legal residency, the Border Patrol were called and she was taken into custody.
“DPS is not telling the truth. They are lying. They are checking legal residency at the checkpoints,” the reader said. “The whole community is frightened. Everyone is afraid. DPS is acting as though it is Border Patrol.” The woman did not want to be identified for fear of reprisal from DPS.
Another Guardian reader, who also did not wish to be identified, said he saw a group of men being taken away by Border Patrol at a DPS checkpoint on 23rd Street in south McAllen. “The DPS troopers are checking everyone's driver's licenses. If drivers do not have a valid license they are calling Border Patrol. Their agents are parked a block away from the checkpoint awaiting a call from DPS,” said the reader.
State Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, told the Guardian he has been assured by McCraw that DPS troopers are not involved in checking legal residency at the Valley checkpoints.
Hinojosa said he has spoken with DPS Director McCraw and DPS Commander Joe Rodriguez. He said they have told him they will be wrapping up their checkpoint operations in the Valley early next week. Hinojosa's office has also received a lot of complaints about DPS's actions from his constituents.
“DPS's focus is doing checks on driver's licenses and insurance compliance. They are not involved in working with immigration. They are not involved in checking citizenship status. They are stopping every third car. I am not happy about it,” Hinojosa said.
Hinojosa pointed out that Hidalgo County leads the state in the number of drivers without a driver's license and without auto insurance. “It is a very unfortunate position we find ourselves in Hidalgo County. Many people, because they are not legal, cannot apply for a driver's license.”
“Obviously, there is apprehension in the community but they (DPS) are not enforcing immigration laws. DPS has assured me they are not working with immigration and they assured me they are not working on the immigration status of any person,” Hinojosa added.
Hinojosa stated he was not aware if DPS was setting up checkpoints in the poorest parts of the Valley. “The whole Valley is poor. We have one of the highest poverty levels in the state and country,” the senator said.
Fox 2 News reported on the DPS' response to the accusations.
In a press release sent yesterday afternoon, the DPS addressed what they called “inaccuracies” related to the two-week old initiative to curb crime and traffic violation in the rural areas of the Rio Grande Valley.
The information emphasizes that the checkpoints are legal, citing a supreme court case in 2000 and a Texas court of criminal appeals case in 2011 in which such approach of traffic verification is a permissible strategy.
Their press release also stated that the checkpoints have not and will not be used to determine the immigration status of people. That the presence of border patrol in such stops is completely false and does a disservice to the public causing unnecessary alarm.
La Union del Pueblo Entero posted on their Facebook about a press conference and rally being held against the DPS checkpoints. The rally and press conference will be held Monday, Sept. 30, 10:00am at the DPS headquarters located in Edinburg.
Disclosure: I had the immense pleasure of being a part of State Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa's staff this past 83rd Legislative Session. Comments were made by an interview with The Guardian.
Updated 4:45pm to reflect new title.