In a Trump era, It’s essential for Latinos to use the bureaucracy to protect their own communities

By Alex Gonzalez

The same day that Trump administration announced its new guidelines on immigration, Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez announced Harrys County  was ending its controversial 287(g) agreement with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). And this is a perfect example of how local agencies can do to stop or minimize the negative effects of Trump’s executive order in Hispanic communities. The “executive order” was supposed to “encourage” the expansion of the 287(g) program, but the “order” is having the opposite effect in the 4th largest city in the nation with neighborhoods entirely made of Hispanic immigrant communities and well-established older generation of Mexican-Americans that work within the city bureaucracy, like the Sheriff Department.  And having control or leverage over local bureaucracies is an equalizer tool for “who has power.”

I always encourage friends and family members to become members of the bureaucracy. Become a police officer, work for the federal government or state agencies in charge of enforcing policies, I tell them, work for the county or “City,” even as a County clerk. And there are many economic and political benefits in managing the local or state bureaucracy.

Though managing the government bureaucracy  may seem as tedious work, working for, or within the bureaucracy it is a form of measurable “power” for working-class Americans when the “Elites” and politicians failed to attend the needs of the members of the community. Moreover, working for a state or county agencies serve as a conduct to “middle-class” salaries and  status for many offspring of immigrants, as it was the case for Irish, Italians, and Jews in the East Coast. So there is real “power” in working for the local bureaucracy.

Managing the local bureaucracy is also a tool,  a “power,” to slow things down, an unjust law, and bring a political equilibrium to the federal laws that threaten the harmony of the local community.

In his book, Who Governs, Political scientist Robert Dahl argues that political power, its distribution, and representation in New Haven, Connecticut was a matter of who ran the city bureaucracy. The book is widely considered one of the great works of empirical political science to measure community power in the cities. Dahl argued that New Haven worked under, according to Dahl’s, a theory of “pluralism: elite political groups exist, but they aren’t very powerful.  Instead, they balance each other out by leaving politicians (and thus their voters) firmly in control of the bureaucracy.”  He studied the overlap between local social and economic elites in New Haven, WASPs, and the ascendency of new groups like the Irish, Italians and Jews who became the main controllers of the bureaucratic by 1959; and thus, forcing the WASPpish Establishment to negotiate with other non-protestant groups who took controlled over the city bureaucracy.

In Dahl’s argument, in New Haven the decision making power was divided among different groups. One set was involved in urban development, another group in education, another in policies within the city, and another set of groups with respect to political nominations and elections. Thus, according to Robert Dahl division of power, no single elite dominated across these issues. Hence, power was divided: Pluralism—competition for power.  And this power comes from a structure based on groupings of power bases (ethnic, regional, intellectual, and industry) and strategically selected political “representatives” of those distinct groups selected by the elected official.  Especially his section on the levels of integration of immigrant minority groups into the political process.

According to Dahl, the Waspish society slowly began to open up their social clubs to successful business people they had previously considered their ethnic inferiors. In 1920, the bureaucracy of New Haven was held by a WASP society. Patricians had all the political resources they needed: wealth, social position, education, and a monopoly of public office: New Haven, and for that matter the colony and the state of Connecticut, had been ruled for a century and a half by an elite, consisting of Congregational ministers, lawyers, and men of business, of whom the ministers had historically furnished most of the leadership. They were of one common stock and one religion, cohesive in their uniformly conservative with control over social institutions and the educational and even business enterprise in 1920.

The arrival of Irish immigrants changed that. The Irish immigrants in New Haven moved quickly from working-class to middle-class status, surprisingly quickly considering the meager jobs skills and discrimination they encountered and begun working for the city. Consequently, by 1959, second generations if Irish Catholics had the highest number of city workers second only to Jews. Therefore, according to Dahl, public sector economic resources–jobs–served as major conduit of social mobility for Catholic Irish and Italians.  By controlling the bureaucracy, “Celtic” mobilization, especially electoral mobilization, was crucial to secure share of the public resources, and thereby, accelerating this group social mobility. Moreover, Irish immigrant groups-unions–already had experiences with bureaucracies, so they knew–as groups–the importance of becoming part of it.

So in this analysis of power and community, the main way by which Latinos can acquire political power is by working within  the state, county, and city bureaucracy (county agencies workers such as police officers, county clerks. etc…). By controlling the bureaucracy, a Latino mobilization, especially electoral mobilization, can be a powerful tool because they can share the public resources, and thereby, accelerating this Latino social political mobility with economic and social values.  

Admittedly, the term bureaucracies connotes big government for conservatives. However, the reality is  that in conservative states like Arizona and Texas operate with conservative bureaucracies, and they have kept a conservative bureaucratization of policies aimed at maintaining and favoring conservative policies and politicians. Thus, Arizona and Texas Republican are themselves are bureaucratic entities pushing for selective laws reflecting their party “conservative” party mantra. So what determines who has power is more about who runs the bureaucracy of state and counties’ governments.

The Sheriffs and Trump

Before releasing his new immigration guidelines, Trump showed numbers of sheriffs in the White House agreeable to his tone of “lawless society, “American carnage” or “gang violence.” He depicted minority communities as areas filled with “crime” and poverty while he was surrounded by the sheriffs. Evidently, this is tactic commonly used by authoritarian regimes to justify a militarization of communities, or a police state, so citizens can surrender their constitutional Rights under fear, and willingly agree to live in a police state under the pretense of “safety.”

However, under the new immigration “Executive Order,” Hispanic-looking citizens living in Hispanics communities without “papers” will now need to worry about being swept up in an immigration raid or being harassed by an ICE officers. So the real test for this immigration “order” will come from cities, counties, police forces and ordinary citizens in Hispanics communities that will see this as an excuse by Republicans to harass and target members of their communities.

The sheriff department is also an extension of the city bureaucracy; and the role that sheriffs and local police departments will play in the Trump era will be essential in the interaction between local government agencies, the federal government and members of Hispanic community, as it was in the case of Houston on Tuesday, and as it is the case in San Antonio, Dallas and Austin, San Jose CA, Los Angeles CA, San Diego CA,  Phoenix AZ, Albuquerque NM, and Santa Fe NM where the heads of Sheriff Department are also Hispanic and want to work with the community without instilling fear of immigration raids or potential deportation of innocent hard-working Hispanic immigrants. Furthermore, for many Hispanic sheriffs and police officers, the policing of Hispanic immigrant communities is seen as fraternal relations.  So the local sheriff not only is seen as an authority image, but also as a member of the community who is there to build community relations and trust.

And the human and personal story of Hispanic sheriffs in these communities cannot be extricated because many of them grew up in such communities. Some are often the sons and daughters of undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. and their personal experience, dual-language skills, and background are essential for them to deliver results at their work as officers of the law to “serve and protect.”

For example, a  recent Pew Research Center survey highlights how Hispanic officers see their jobs, their communities. The survey underlines that:

Overall, Hispanic officers hold views similar to those of white officers on a variety of issues related to recent high-profile incidents between blacks and police. But when it comes to working with federal authorities on enforcing immigration laws, the views of Hispanic officers align more closely with those of black officers…A majority of Latino (60%) officers say it should be up to federal authorities to identify undocumented immigrants. On the other hand, a majority of white officers (59%) say that when it comes to identifying undocumented immigrants, local police should take an active role.

FT_17.02.14_hispanicPolice_immigrants Thus, for Hispanic officers, “serving and protecting” the community is also an opportunity to remedy any past unjust social norms and local police policies in which Hispanic communities were targets.

And even those new Border Patrol and ICE agents, Hispanic ones, that Trump wants to hire under the new “order” too increase deportation may have different views from Trump about immigration because they too see themselves as members of Hispanic community, especially in the Southwest.

In a report about the allege violence on the border, the New Yorker and report on how Border Patrol agents who are Hispanics see themselves as first line of defense to “protect American.”The one of pieces in report was title We Could Be Them because, as the Pew survey also shows, you cannot remove the personal story among many Hispanics CBP agents.

Many of them grew up nearby. Some are often the sons and daughters of undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. when the border line was not as hard of a line. Their personal experience, dual-language skills, and bicultural background are essential for them to deliver results at their work as border guardians. They may be naturalized citizens or first-generation Americans, or their parents or grandparents may have crossed the border illegally in the past. Many share one trait as they do their jobs: an understanding that the people on the other side of the border, or who are trying to cross the border illegally, could be them.

Thus, whether it is the rejection of the expansion of 287(g) program, the role of police in “sanctuary cities” ordinance, or protecting the border, the more Hispanics work for the bureaucracy agencies and police and sheriff departments, the more leverage Hispanics will have about how the law is applied in their communities.

Moreover, more than 300 cities and counties are counted as sanctuaries because they defy federal immigration policy. Thus the direction that Houston, Harris County, is also similar views to the others three big cities in Texas — Dallas, Austin and San Antonio – and in other states like California where the city of Los Angeles as also reiterated its decisions to keep a “sanctuary city.”

Because the data shows  that those cities and counties with “sanctuary city’ policies have lowers crime rates according to FBI statistics, yet the argument against it is “crime” created by “illegal immigrants;” and because those making that arguments are Republicans, we can easily concluded this is about politics more than facts to push the fear tactics political angle to throw red meat to party base that for long time has harbored anti-Hispanic anti-immigrants views. Hence, having control, or leverage, over the local bureaucracy is an essential tool to have a more just, legal, and economic political tool to protect Hispanic communities from an overarching Trump administration.

The New Immigration Trump “executive order” want local and state enforcement agencies to embraces his new policy, which will require local county and cities to enter into an agreement with ICE so the officers can be deputize as immigration officer. But, this is clearly not what cities and states with large Hispanic immigrant communities really want. And this is where local government bureaucracies, especially police officers and sheriffs who are first line of defense, will have the power to stall, or at least minimize the unjust harassment to Hispanic communities.


Alex Gonzalez is a political Analyst and Political Director for Latinos Ready To Vote. Comments to or @AlexGonzTXCA


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