Mayor to O'Reilly: Don't use the S word!

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Just before Christmas, in response to some immigration bluster from Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly, the Chronicle ran a story asking once again if Houston is a sanctuary city for illegal immigrants.

We’ve grown a bit tired of the increasingly pedantic nature of that debate (since it tends to obscure the fact that our local elected leaders seem not to want to consider the issue at all), but we did find the following snippets of interest:

For years, White has tried to shed the sanctuary label, bestowed on Houston and more than 30 other cities and counties by a 2006 Congressional Research Service report. The report described sanctuary cities as having a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy when it comes to questioning illegal immigrants about their immigration status.

White has twice tightened up the policy for dealing with suspected illegal immigrants, most recently after the death of Houston police Officer Rodney Johnson, who was shot in the head during a traffic stop in September 2006. The alleged gunman, Juan Leonardo Quintero, was an illegal immigrant with a criminal record.

In the past year, Houston spent $800,000 in overtime to improve screening of suspects, including those accused of minor crimes, such as traffic tickets, the mayor’s office said.

And, of course, it’s the local daily’s job to regurgitate what the mayor’s office says (apparently).

It is worth noting that the firestorm that emerged following Officer Johnson’s death at the hands of an illegal immigrant forced our mayor — who reportedly has ambitions to higher political office in Texas — to deal with the sanctuary issue.


“Unlike many other cities in the United States, the governing body of the city of Houston has never adopted some sanctuary city policy or resolution,” White said. “The Houston Police Department … cooperates fully with ICE, including undertaking criminal raids against undocumented people who are engaged in criminal activities.”

Technically, that’s right. HPD’s earlier “don’t ask” sanctuary policy (previously supported by Mayor White) was the result of a directive from an unelected police chief in 1992, and not any elected body. The mayor, of course, controls the Council agenda, and apparently neither Mayor White nor any other Houston mayor has wanted this issue to come before the city’s elected policymakers for real discussion, debate, and vetting of an official policy. Maybe there’s no need, since our immigration problem obviously hasn’t grown worse in a decade and a half (er, or maybe our elected leaders DO need to have that discussion, since the story does trumpet the fact that the policy has changed under MayorWhiteChiefHurtt — this spin all gets so hard to keep straight!). In any case, it’s helpful background to keep in mind (and helpful background curiously omitted from the story).

All pedantry over our “sanctuary” status aside, perhaps we can at least agree that that the illegal immigration issue is only growing in importance, even if you agree with Mayor White that it’s apparently not a matter that should be discussed or debated by our elected leaders around the Council table.

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Kevin Whited
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Kevin Whited is co-founder and publisher of blogHOUSTON. Follow him on twitter: @PubliusTX