By JOSE DE LA ISLA
Hispanic Link News Service
Wasn’t "flip-flop" a charge made by Republicans against Democrats in 2000? Along those lines, a key political fight is developing in Texas around the so-called "sanctuary" controversy.
Sanctuary policies go back to the mid-1970s when then-U.S. Attorney General Griffin Bell reminded local police departments they were not authorized to ask for identification (read "of Hispanics") in the pretext of enforcing federal immigration law.
In 1992, a Houston police-department policy went into effect to help it maintain trust with emerging immigrant communities. Those without proper identification can still be held eight hours for immigration authorities.
But now a group called Protect Our Citizens claims the city is a sanctuary because the department does not allow officers to inquire further into immigration status. The group expects to collect 20,000 signatures for a November ballot initiative to amend the city charter to allow police to enforce immigration laws.
Shelly Sekula-Gibbs is a term-limited council member who provided in late June the first signature to POC’s petition. A well-known figure, Sekula-Gibbs initially ran under the hyphenated name "Sekula-Rodriguez," then changed it following her election and marriage to "-Gibbs."
One of her political advantages was having been the spouse of Houston television news anchor Sylvan Rodriguez. Her late husband was the face of a stable, moderate society after Houston’s divisive history in the ’60s and ’70s. He brought you the news at dinnertime.
After his death of cancer at age 52, a park, a foundation and a scholarship fund were named for him. He is fondly remembered, even revered, by the public and news professionals.
Sekula-Gibbs is a tall, good-looking, blond, fifth-generation Texan and a community-minded physician (a dermatologist). After Sylvan’s death, she won a city council seat in a district that included the NASA space center.
In 2005, she was an unbeatable incumbent with a good record on health care, fiscal responsibility, mobility and economic growth.
Now, as one of four Republican candidates for former House GOP leader Tom DeLay’s suburban Houston seat _ and with a court ruling that DeLay must remain on the ballot _ the politician has changed her tune. She is running on the fear factor: immigration without amnesty, strengthening the borders, shrinking government and the right to bear arms. Each issue is shrouded in code language that plays to the crowd. They’re issues that appeal to the hard-core DeLay base.
She flip-flopped in May on funding a day-labor site, now saying it encourages illegal immigration. In late June, Sekula-Gibbs promoted POC’s petition to change the city charter on sanctuary.
Opponents claim she has flip-flopped on this, too, by saying in 2003 she would continue the current police policy. She told the Houston Chronicle last November that she didn’t have a "strong opinion" on a similar measure by another city council member.
Now an e-mail she sent out calls on taking the anti-immigrant petition to churches for signatures. The text does not square with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, among other religious organizations.
At its national convention in June, the League of United Latin American Citizens passed a resolution urging its chapters to conduct town-hall meetings to seek ways to protect immigrants in these types of law-enforcement issues.
Victor Trevino, a local constable who helped bring about the current policy, says he has no problem with identification criteria applied equally in the ritzy part of town and in the barrios.
But the matter is not really about identification. It’s a wedge issue with a long history of profiling and official misconduct. It uses some people’s fears of dark colors to shape a bright political future for others.
Unfortunately, political ambition can flip even a once-moderate champion.
(Houston-based Jose de la Isla writes a weekly commentary for Hispanic Link News Service. E-mail joseisla3(at)yahoo.com.)