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After the Uvalde Massacre in South Texas, Will Migrants with Key Info Be Protected from Deportation?

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The Department of Homeland Security announced Wednesday it would try to temporarily pause “immigration enforcement activities” in the town of Uvalde, Texas, so families could freely seek assistance and reunite with their loved ones following Tuesday’s massacre at Robb Elementary, which left 19 students and two teachers dead. The school’s population is nearly 90% Latinx, and Uvalde is part of a heavily militarized border zone in South Texas. Officials must take proactive steps to protect immigrants, especially those who are survivors of crime, says César Cuauhtémoc García Hernández, author of “Crimmigration Law,” who grew up in the region and is professor of law at Ohio State University.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.

Tuesday’s mass shooting at an elementary school took place in the small South Texas city of Uvalde. Ninety percent of Robb Elementary School students are Latinx. The area is also in this heavily militarized border zone in South Texas. Official say it was a member of the Border Patrol’s Tactical Unit, known as BORTAC, who shot and killed the shooter. This is CBP Del Rio Sector Chief Jason Owens.

JASON OWENS: My men and women that work at the Uvalde station, this is their home. They had children that go to this school. You know, so, any time a call like this goes out, it’s all hands on deck. They’re going to respond, but even more so when it impacts their home like this did. … We did have over 80 Border Patrol agents from the Uvalde station, from Brackettville, from the special operations detachment and all points in between. Some came from off duty. Some came from training. And they all responded so collaboratively. Everybody came together. We did have a contingent of our BORTAC team that helped DPS and other police departments make entry and actually confront the suspect and ultimately bring this to a conclusion.

AMY GOODMAN: Some of the parents who came to find their children at the school after the massacre were from mixed immigration status families. And Department of Homeland Security issued a statement — this is after a lot of people were calling for this — calling Uvalde, Texas, a protected area, and said, quote, “To the fullest extent possible,” it would “not conduct immigration enforcement activities” there. This comes after ICE deported a woman who survived the 2019 El Paso massacre that targeted Latinx people and killed 23. Even after she reportedly helped prosecutors in their case against the shooter, they deported her.

Well, for more, we’re joined by César Cuauhtémoc García Hernández, who was born and raised in McAllen, Texas, about a four-hour drive to Uvalde, and has been following this closely. He’s the author of Crimmigration Law and Migrating to Prison: America’s Obsession with Locking Up Immigrants.

Welcome to Democracy Now! The horror of what took place in Uvalde, a place that you’re very familiar with, César, and the fact that people started calling for this immediately — you’ve got to say that ICE is not going to pick people up; if parents or grandparents or aunts and uncles go looking for their kids, they’re not going to check their immigration status. And then the federal government did issue this yesterday. But talk about the issue larger. Of course, it’s also a community of Latinx population that has lived there for decades.

CÉSAR CUAUHTÉMOC GARCÍA HERNÁNDEZ: Yeah, I was glad to see that the Department of Homeland Security did issue that statement, but I hope that the Department of Homeland Security and Border Patrol agents, specifically who are on the ground there in Uvalde, are being much more proactive than simply relying on a press release, a three-paragraph press release published on the DHS website. I hope no one is expecting that the families and community members who are directly affected by this latest massacre in the United States are tuning in to the DHS website. And so, it’s really incumbent on the leadership in the Uvalde Border Patrol station. This is a community that has a Border Patrol station in town, and so I’m not surprised to learn that some of those officers, or many of those officers, did respond. They are, after all, federal law enforcement officers. In an incident like this, it appears that officers from all units of government responded.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, César, could you talk specifically about the role of ICE here?

CÉSAR CUAUHTÉMOC GARCÍA HERNÁNDEZ: Yeah. So, the governor did reference Homeland Security Investigations, which is a component of ICE, that is involved in the investigation. It’s unclear to me to what extent they’re involved in the investigation at this point. But the more concerning question for me is: Moving forward, what happens in the days and weeks and potentially even years ahead as law enforcement officials and community members try to unravel exactly what happened that led to Tuesday’s massacre?

And the 2019 shooting in the Walmart in El Paso is really something that poses a concern, because, there again, we had a heavily Latino community in the state of Texas, and in that instance we see that at least one individual who survived the El Paso shooting and was trying to cooperate, was in fact cooperating with the local prosecutors who were putting together their case against the shooter, was eventually deported, and deported as a result of a fairly ordinary traffic violation — a busted taillight, it turns out — and which led from a run-in with the local police to being handed off to Border Patrol and was soon out of the United States.

There is absolutely no reason to believe that that is impossible to happen in a community like Uvalde. Yes, most of the people who live in that community are U.S. citizens, many of them have had their families in this area for generations, but this is still a Texas community. About 10% or 11% of the population of the city of Uvalde appears to have been born outside of the United States. There’s no reason to doubt that there might be some individuals who were at the school, whether students or otherwise, whose immigration status in the United States is not at all solid and who may benefit from the kind of visa that Congress has created specifically for victims of crime. And I hope that the many elected officials who are currently offering their thoughts and their prayers will soon, if not already, turn to also offering assistance in navigating what is always a complicated legal process to help individuals who may be affected by Tuesday’s shooting with tapping the legal resources, the immigration law resources, that Congress has created.

AMY GOODMAN: We won’t get into this right now, but there are serious questions about why authorities didn’t move in faster as this man killed — this 18-year-old killed 19 kids and their two teachers. Parents were outside clamoring to get in, and it now looks like authorities were holding them back, that the man was inside for something like 40 minutes to an hour.

But I wanted to, finally, ask you, César, about this story of what happens to immigrants who help. Here in New York, we had this horrible subway shooting, though no one died. The New York Times had a piece: “After New York’s worst subway attack in decades, a Mexican woman who had been on the ill-fated train gave police her cellphone to retrieve videos of the chaos. She was undocumented. The next day, … Frank James walked by three men upgrading surveillance cameras at a hardware store in the East Village in Manhattan. They flagged down police officers. and flagged down police officers. They were an undocumented Mexican immigrant, a Lebanese student and an American-born Syrian who had fled civil war and left his parents behind. The authorities have credited all four with helping to capture” the shooter.

And this is the key part of the Times piece: Police have credited immigrants — an undocumented Mexican immigrant, Lebanese student, American-born Syrian who fled civil war — with helping to capture the man in New York. They now seek relief from the U.S. immigration system as they seek “visas set aside for victims, witnesses and informants who help law enforcement, and [are] determining whether they can access alternatives like humanitarian parole or political asylum.” And goes to what happened in El Paso: A woman who survived and helped the police was then deported. Your final comment?

CÉSAR CUAUHTÉMOC GARCÍA HERNÁNDEZ: Republicans in Texas have often led the way in describing migrants as outsiders who have no attachments, who have no commitment to the communities in which they reside. But I think what we see over and over again is that migrants are just as committed to the communities in which they live as the rest of us are.

And so I hope that the governor and the attorney general of Texas, who have made their name in recent years by attacking migrants in Texas and across the United States, will really put their resources — their offices’ resources behind helping to make sure that any and all individuals who have some useful information are actually protected legally by the very laws that Congress has enacted specifically to protect survivors of crime, like murder, like felonious assault, both of which are high on my list of possibilities for exactly the kind of — to describe exactly the kind of situation like occurred here. And if they don’t come through, then it’s up to federal law enforcement agencies, like the FBI, like the Department of Homeland Security, both of which are authorized to also assist individuals through what is called the U visa process. And I hope that the Biden administration and the Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas will take seriously that responsibility and make sure to step in if the state of Texas does not.

AMY GOODMAN: César Cuauhtémoc García Hernández, I want to thank you for being with us, professor of law at Ohio State University.

Coming up, we speak to Patrick Cockburn about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Stay with us.

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