Bexar County Sheriff and Officials Talk Immigration at Spanish-Language Event

A town hall meeting on immigration held on Monday evening became heated when some participants learned after their arrival that the forum would be held entirely in Spanish.

Hosted by Univision and Telemundo, the event, titled “Sheriff Javier Salazar’s Immigration Town Hall,” was an opportunity for local officials to answer questions about how Bexar County is handling the current influx of immigrants. immigrants.

But after hosts Antonio Guillen of Univision 41 and Jessica Montoya of Telemundo 60 opened the event, many viewers learned for the first time that it would be held in Spanish, as it was hosted by the Spanish-language networks. . Panelists answered questions in English.

A heavy security presence at the event didn’t stop several attendees from disrupting the hosts by shouting “English, please!” and “This is America!”

Those who shouted were warned that if they did not stop, they would be escorted. By the end of the event, several people had been removed from the auditorium.

Beyond the disruptions, the event gave Salazar, State Sen. Jose Menendez (D-San Antonio), County Commissioner Rebeca Clay-Flores (City 1) and others a chance to respond to questions and to correct erroneous information.

They also spoke directly to migrants and undocumented residents watching them live on social media, encouraging them to trust law enforcement if they are victims of crime and letting them know what resources are available. available.

To those concerned about the negative effect of migrants on the local community, officials spoke of the economic value that migrants bring to the country.

The forum comes in the wake of the June 27 tragedy in which 53 migrants died in an abandoned 18-wheeler in southwest San Antonio, and as the number of migrants passing through the area increased dramatically.

In response, the city recently reopened its Migrant Resource Center to help organize the hundreds of migrants who pass through the city each day. The numbers have increased so much that city officials recently asked border agencies to suspend newcomers to the city for a few days.

The immigration disputes that have fallen on San Antonio’s shoulders are weighing heavily on the community – by disgruntled downtown residents and the presence of migrants in their neighborhood and by the city, which has come under criticism for having used resources to help them.

“Please stay in your country”

The town hall opened with a video of Sheriff Javier Salazar asking migrants not to come to the United States.

“As law enforcement officers, we know that most of those who come as immigrants do so out of necessity, seeking honest work to help their loved ones out of suffering,” Salazar said. in the pre-recorded video.

“Many of these brave people… are dying without water and food in the dense areas of the southern United States… Until we find a better solution, I beg all residents of Mexico, Central America, other countries in South America and around the world, please stay in your country. Traveling to the United States right now is not the best option for your family,” he said.

Local officials participate in a town hall on the status of migrants in the San Antonio area. Credit: Scott Ball/San Antonio Report

Undocumented residents who did not report crimes or abuse for fear of deportation ended up being a big talking point.

Salazar noted that those who come to the United States “to seek employment and a better life” are “more afraid of us than the traffickers who put them in mortal danger.”

He said migrants should feel safe to share information with law enforcement, adding that they have the right to public safety and legal protection regardless of their legal status.

Antonio Fernandez, CEO of Catholic Charities, said that as part of its work with migrants, the nonprofit organization provides resources, including lawyers, to migrants who have been victims of crime and abuse.

Solving the labor shortage in the United States

Menendez said the most important thing residents can do is demand a comprehensive immigration system that allows migrants to enter the country, work for a few years, and return to their country.

“Migrants, most of them don’t want to live here. They want to come to work, earn some money and go back home,” he said. “This should not be a polarizing question. It is a human problem. They come because they know there is work and they will be paid.

Menendez’s words sparked more emotion in the audience, as a woman shouted, “They don’t pay taxes!”

Some migrants pay taxes and they work for few Americans, often at illegally lower wages, Justice for all Immigrants attorney Daniella Salas-Chacon told the San Antonio Report in a July interview. The fear of being deported or jeopardizing the possibility of obtaining asylum prevents many migrants from reporting such practices, she said.

Rene M. Zenteno, professor of demography at the College for Health, Community and Policy at the University of Texas at San Antonio, told the audience that immigration could solve some of the greatest challenges facing the country today.

“This country is aging. Baby boomers are retiring and leaving the workforce. Second, fertility in the country has declined to levels no one expected…Immigration is the only source for which the United States can solve demographic and economic problems,” he said.

Zenteno cited data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which showed more than 11.2 million job openings in May 2022. In the construction industry alone, there were about 434,000 job openings. employment that same month, but only 389,000 were unemployed in that same industry in June.

“There is a labor shortage in the United States…only immigration can help cover those jobs. We need to put immigration at the center of this discussion,” he said.

Many in the audience disagreed, shouting “No!”

Attendees and viewers also learned about processes undocumented workers could explore to apply for permission to live in the United States, the city’s migrant resource center, and the efforts of local nonprofit organizations to bringing migrants from San Antonio to their host cities.

Commissioner Rebeca Clay-Flores (Pct. 1), in whose district the 53 migrants were found, noted that the county recently established a million-dollar immigrant legal fund for organizations that help immigrants. migrants with legal services.

In her closing remarks, Clay-Flores waved the crowd to both applause and impassioned responses.

“How easy it was for you to forget that this country is a country of immigrants,” she said in Spanish, then English. “Unless you are 100% native blood from one of the sovereign nations of the United States, then you also have immigrant blood running through your veins.”

Edward K. Thompson