EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – El Paso County Commissioners Court will change its procedures as a result of Monday’s heated immigration debate.
“I make a commitment going into 2021 we will always have public comment before voting on a resolution,” County Judge Ricardo Samaniego said at the weekly commission meeting.
The vow came after a split vote on a resolution to endorse the Border Network for Human Rights’ campaign to bring about immigration reform that includes legalizing 12 million unauthorized migrants in the United States.
The issue deadlocked after two commissioners objected to wording in the resolution that appeared to accuse local law enforcement of human rights abuses against immigrants and communities of color. (See complete resolution below)
“I spent 30 years with the El Paso Police Department. I came to know that department inside and out,” said District 1 Commissioner Carlos Leon. “I’ve supported law enforcement in the past, I support it today and I will support it in the future. For those reasons, I cannot, I will not support this resolution.”
He said the El Paso Police Department and El Paso County Sheriff’s Office are among the best in the country and a big part of why the city is among the safest in the country year after year.
District 4 Commissioner Carl Robinson agreed.
“To condemn the majority because of what a few do is not the right way to go. So, my vote on this action is no,” Robinson said.
Samaniego broke the tie, approving the resolution, but later he would admit that the public debate that followed should’ve taken place before, not after the vote.
“The only paragraph in the resolution that talks about local law enforcement talks about accountability and human rights abuses that can be and have been perpetrated by law enforcement,” said District 2 Commissioner and resolution sponsor David Stout.
He said the item was not an attack on any local agency but simply called for accountability.
“It means we should hold (law enforcement) accountable for abuses that they commit, just like we hold criminals accountable for crimes they commit, we have to also hold people that don a uniform accountable for abuses that are committed, whether it’s local law enforcement or DHS of whoever,” Stout said. “But this is not some type of blanket statement saying that we condemn every law enforcement agency or agent, and I feel it’s unfortunate that folks are trying to twist it to be that.”
That only appeared to upset Leon further.
“Nobody is trying to turn the words in any way. Now you’re comparing criminals to local law enforcement. Absolutely not. I will never support something like that,” Leon said. “The Police Department and the Sheriff’s Department have the entire community behind it. We’ve got great law enforcement and I’m offended by you adding this again to your resolution. So, no.”
Community members also got into the debate.
“When I read this resolution my heart sank,” said Pam Faraone. “You (Stout) submitted a resolution that does not represent the values of a significant number of people in El Paso, including moderate Democrats.”
She accused the commissioner of advocating for open borders instead of a “safe and secure” society.
“The truth is that not every immigrant should be allowed into this country and acknowledging that truth does not make one a racist or xenophobic. If you want the county to support immigration reform that can be stated without divisive rhetoric,” she said.
Border Network for Human Rights Executive Director Fernando Garcia said the resolution dealt with reforming the laws, not condemning law enforcement.
“It would be very unfortunate that this resolution be distorted by what it’s not what it’s meant to be,” he said. “I am very surprised this is being said in this court. Accountability is an American value. We need to make our elected officials accountable, our institutions accountable.”
Attorney Karen Dykes, who said she often drafts and reviews contracts, addressed the contentious third paragraph of the resolution.
“If you read the words as they’re written, it seems to casually accuse our local law enforcement of human rights abuses without any evidence to support this idea,” Dykes said. “I would hope that the court in the future would endeavor not to denigrate, even accidentally, or to slander our local law enforcement agencies in the process of doing good.
“Just like Black lives matter and immigrant lives matter, words matter,” she said.