While millions of people in Mexico, the United States and Puerto Rico rebuild after a month filled with catastrophic natural disasters, there is one group struggling silently. Undocumented residents in the U.S. are the least assisted and most vulnerable population when it comes to natural disaster and recovery efforts. Why? Because they do not qualify for any government assistance. When their homes and belongings are lost to disaster, they do not receive the same aid as their neighbors.
A recent story by NPR’s Marketplace exposes this reality for the undocumented community trying to rebuild in Houston, Texas, after Hurricane Harvey. They followed Ingrid, an undocumented Honduran immigrant who came to Houston 12 years ago, as she tried to start the recovery process. A mother of four, her husband was deported to Mexico just one week before the hurricane hit.
FEMA offers up to $33,000 in cash assistance for every household impacted by natural disasters. For Ingrid, she is only allowed to apply on behalf of her US-born children, who are ages 12, 10, 6 and 3 months. However, having children that are citizens did not guarantee her any assistance. In fact, she never even received any.
“I filled out an application with FEMA but they still haven’t responded,” Ingrid told Marketplace. “They haven’t sent me anything. They’ve told me nothing. I don’t have any idea what happened with that application. I’ve been to various organizations but none of them helped me.”
If you would like to learn more about how Ingrid is managing through the recovery, click here.
Porvenir is a Spanish word. If you break it down, por venir literally means to come, and the translation is the future. It’s also the name of what used to be a tiny town in Texas located right next to the Rio Grande on the border. The village of Porvenir in Texas, which is a town no more, had roots that reflect the brutal and deadly colonization that this country was built on.
“Porvenir, Texas” is a new documentary on PBS that brings to light the massacre that happened on the border more than 100 years ago.
As the tense immigration crisis continues in this country today, the documentary “Porvenir, Texas” shows how this struggle has been part of our history since the inception of the United States of America.
The story of the massacre cannot be told before discussing the war between the U.S. and Mexico. While the U.S. continued to expand in the southwest through its war with Mexico, the battle to live and remain in the country affected the most vulnerable people who weren’t part of the war at all. They were Mexicans who lived in Texas and along the border before it was ever part of the United States. However, after Mexico lost Texas to the United States, those living in Texas, became Americans overnight. That didn’t please the incoming residents — white people looking to make the country their home.
The documentary exposes the brutal killing of 15 Mexican men — some who were American as well — which the U.S. tried to hide from history.
With the expansion of the U.S. throughout its new state of Texas, white ranchers staked their claim in areas that were owned by Mexican-Americans. Like gentrification today, Texas was also gentrified during the Wild West, which meant Mexicans, who were now Americans, were displaced because of higher taxes.
With the revolution still going on in the Mexican border and new white ranchers taking over land, racial tensions were high. White people were told that all Mexicans were “bandits” and Mexican-Americans were in fear for their lives thinking they could be killed based on the color of their skin.
White people were killing Mexican-Americans outright with no consequences, and the film shows graphic images of that.
Here’s a summary of that fateful violent night as reported by NBC News: “In the early morning hours of Jan. 28, 1918, a group of ranchers, Texas Rangers, and U.S. Army cavalry soldiers entered the village and rousted the residents from their beds. They led away 15 unarmed men and boys of Mexican descent to a nearby bluff, where they shot and killed them. These victims ranged in age from 16 to 72, and some were American citizens. The town’s women and children fled across the border to Mexico for safety. The next day, the perpetrators returned and burned the village to the ground. Porvenir ceased to exist.”
We have no idea how many other Mexican-Americans were killed with such brutality during this period because there’s no record of it. The only reason the story of Porvenir can be told today is because of two men that documented what happened.
Harry Warren was a white teacher that worked with some of the community in Porvenir and wrote about what happened that night. He also was a witness to the bodies. José Tomás (“J.T.”) Canales, who was a state legislator at the time, launched an investigation against the Rangers, and his depositions and testimony have been preserved as well.
“There were many cases like Porvenir, where the initial response from the state was to try to fabricate what really took place,” Monica Muñoz Martinez, an assistant professor at Brown University and the founding member of the public history project Refusing To Forget, told NBC News. “It was not unusual for the state to try to justify such acts, by criminalizing the victims. Residents of Porvenir were described at times as squatters or bandits. None of this is true.”
Christina Fernandez Shapter produced the film and spoke about the importance of making sure these stories are never forgotten.
“I am Mexican American myself, I am from Texas, my family has been here for generations,” she told NBC News. “And I know we all have stories in our families, sometimes of land being taken from us or other injustices.”
The original wording of the Fourth Amendment in the Constitution stated, that “‘each man’s home is his castle,’ secure from unreasonable searches and seizures of property by the government. It protects against arbitrary arrests, and is the basis of the law regarding search warrants, stop-and-frisk, safety inspections, wiretaps, and other forms of surveillance, as well as being central to many other criminal law topics and to privacy law.” A revised version states, “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” In other words, authorities cannot probe into people’s private information, home or belongings, without probable cause. Those laws apply to everyone, right? That’s not what some officials in one city in the United States believe. They’re claiming those laws do not apply to undocumented immigrants.
In 2017, police were called to check on a domestic abuse suspect in Southaven, Mississippi. They went to the wrong house and shot and killed Ismael Lopez.
On a late Sunday evening, in July of 2017, police were called to serve a warrant for the arrest of a suspected domestic abuser named Samuel Pearman. His address was 5878 Surrey Lane, CNN reported, and police ended up going to a mobile home across the street where Ismael Lopez lived with his wife. Police entered Lopez’s home and ended up shooting him in the back of the head. He died on the scene.
“It is so troubling to learn that not only this man died but that this man died running away from people who were trespassing on his premises after he was in bed lawfully,” Murray Wells, an attorney representing the Lopez’s family, told reporters, according to CNN.
The Lopez family filed a $20 million lawsuit for his death after a jury failed to indict the police officers on the scene. The City of Southaven fired back with their own lawsuit saying Lopez has no rights under the constitution because he was an undocumented immigrant.
This case is like most cases involving the police, the investigation had conflicting reports. Lopez’s wife claims the police came in unannounced, and the lawyer says bullet holes outside of the home support her story. The police say that Lopez pointed a gun at them. However, Lopez’s wife said that wasn’t the case. The police also shot and killed their dog. City attorneys are also questioning the credibility of Lopez’s widow, with claims they were never married, and that she was married to multiple men. Lopez’s attorney showed the documents to prove they were legally married in 2003.
“It’s a real shame that they have to use these tactics to soil someone’s name when she lost her partner, the love of her life, in a tragic accident,” attorney Aaron Neglia said according to the Washington Post.
So, does the constitution protect undocumented immigrants? The answer is a resounding yes even though the matter is still taken up in courts all the time.
“Yes, without question,” Cristina Rodriguez, a professor at Yale Law School told PBS. “Most of the provisions of the Constitution apply on the basis of personhood and jurisdiction in the United States.”
Undocumented immigrants have the right to legal counsel, under the Sixth Amendment, they also have the right to due process under the Fifth Amendment. So, if the courts are already practicing the law under the constitution when it applies to undocumented immigrants, then the Fourth Amendment and all of them for that matter apply to them as well.
Southaven attorneys have a different point of view. According to the Washington Post,attorney Katherine S. Kerby wrote, “If he ever had Fourth Amendment or Fourteenth Amendment civil rights, they were lost by his own conduct and misconduct. Ismael Lopez may have been a person on American soil but he was not one of the ‘We, the People of the United States’ entitled to the civil rights invoked in this lawsuit.”