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Vol. 71/No. 7      February 19, 2007

‘No papers? No problem!’
Immigrant, other workers in Texas
resist boss and gov’t attacks on rights
(front page)
Militant/Jacquie Henderson
Francisco Gutiérrez, a worker at a Pizza Patron restaurant in Houston, stands February 1 by sign at store saying in Spanish: “Welcome compatriots! We accept [Mexican] pesos.”

HOUSTON—”No papeles? No problema!” (No papers? No problem!) read signs in front of some apartment complexes here seeking new renters. The signs are an indication of the growing size and increased social and political weight of an expanding section of the U.S. working class—undocumented immigrants. Growing numbers of them live and work on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border, and show determination to fight for their rights.

According to state officials, the number of undocumented immigrants in Texas has increased by 270,000 over the past five years, bringing the state total to around 1.4 million, or 6 percent of the state’s population.

The widespread attitude that these immigrants are workers, not criminals, finds many expressions. “Pesos accepted here,” reads a sign at a popular Dallas-based Pizza Patron restaurant here, one of five in Houston. “Many people like to be able to use their [Mexican] pesos here,” commented Francisco Gutiérrez, “and they like the attitude too.” The sign has also prompted a few responses suggesting these customers “go back to Mexico,” said Gutiérrez, who works at Pizza Patron.

When Uriel Aguirre picked up his pizza at the restaurant February 1, he told the Militant he has lived in Houston working construction jobs for almost six years and recently returned to his home in Querétaro, Mexico. “I thought that I’d be coming back in a couple of weeks,” he said. “But it turned into almost a year of working at an electronics factory there and helping out at home until my dad got his health back.”

Aguirre pointed to the January 31 police raid and arrest of 53 immigrant workers at Solid Waste Management Company in the Houston suburb of Humble). “The migra comes out with armored cars and helicopters and what do they accomplish?” he asked. “They separate parents from their children and try to terrorize and humiliate all of us. People need to take action again,” he said, referring to the massive demonstrations and work stoppages last spring.

Another customer, Rogelia Urutia, was eager to talk about her recent experiences after traveling to El Salvador, her country of origin. “When I returned migra told me I had to reapply for all my papers to come back. It took four months for fingerprints, three for applications, two more for something else. I told them they were abusing me and I knew they couldn’t keep me out forever,” she said. “I ended up working there for a year as a fruit processor.”

Undocumented immigrant workers, who come in large part from Mexico and Central America, pay $1.58 billion every year in taxes and fees, according to a recent state comptroller’s report, which also concludes that the absence of “illegal” immigrants would decrease the gross state product by $17.7 billion a year. The report asserts that the presence of undocumented workers cost the state $1.16 billion in 2005—$968 million for education, $58 million for health care, and $131 million for prisons. About 70 percent of the 23,000 births at Houston and Dallas public hospitals in 2005 were to immigrant mothers without papers. There are currently 135,000 undocumented children in Texas public schools.

A dozen immigration bills are pending in the state legislature. These include ones that would deny access to state social service programs for children born in Texas to undocumented immigrant parents, bar in-state tuition for children of undocumented residents, require proof of citizenship for voting, and levy a fee on money sent from Texas to Mexico and Latin America.

Mexicans working abroad sent home a record $25 billion last year, most of it from the United States, according to a study released February 2 by the Inter-American Development Bank. The estimated figure represents a 25 percent increase over 2005 and nearly 80 percent over 2003.

Without resident papers, immigrants here are currently denied access to Medicare and Medicaid, cash assistance, the Texas Children’s Health Insurance Program, food stamps, Supplemental Security Income, public housing, child care, and job opportunities for low-income individuals.

In Farmers Branch, a suburb of Dallas with 27,000 people, the city council voted unanimously in November to institute a ban on renting to immigrants without papers, which was to take effect January 12. In response to protests, the ban was blocked January 11, when a state district judge issued a temporary restraining order in one of the four lawsuits filed against the measure. On January 22, the city council adopted a revised bill that exempts children and the elderly from the rental ban. This has to be ratified by a citywide vote in May.

As part of responding to these attacks, a number of immigrants have simply moved across the highway to Dallas where apartment owners have been advertising with fliers proclaiming “No Papers? No Problem!”

“These laws and raids aren’t going to change the fact that we are here,” said Bernardino Flores in a February 3 interview. “I was deported twice, and now I am here to stay.”
Related articles:
After dragnet, gov’t deports hundreds in L.A. area
Houston: protesters condemn immigration raid  
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