Houston activists raise voter awareness of immigrant issues

Amid tense anticipation of next month’s general election, a group of local activists circulated Saturday to discuss something other than the rancorous presidential race.

About 25 volunteers with United We Dream canvassed Houston’s East End to provide residents with information about a controversial immigration enforcement program and encouraged them to vote in the race for Harris County sheriff, also on the Nov. 8 ballot.

Race for sheriff

The race pits the incumbent Republican sheriff Ron Hickman, a longtime law enforcement officer, against Democratic contender Ed Gonzalez, a former Houston city councilman and homicide investigator. The volunteers with the nonpartisan group did not advocate for a particular candidate. Rather, they worked to raise awareness about the county’s participation in the 287(g) program, which allows state and local law enforcement agencies to partner with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, to enforce immigration law within their jurisdictions.

“We don’t want to get into a political discussion about parties,” said Oscar Hernandez, one of the group’s organizers. “The conversation is really about the issue, and that when (residents) vote, they keep the immigrant community in mind.”

In Harris County, sheriff’s deputies trained under the program can screen immigrants booked into jail for possible deportation. Of roughly 120,000 people booked into the Harris County jail in 2015, about 1,800 were referred to ICE for possible deportation, according to sheriff’s office statistics. About 10 percent of those were deported, according to the sheriff’s office.

Hickman renewed his agency’s involvement in the program this year, saying it only targets those jailed for criminal activity.

By Katherine Blunt for HOUSTON CHRONICLE
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