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For this Texas State Rep., the immigration law SB4 hits personally

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The Texas immigration law known as SB4 would allow state police to arrest and deport people they suspect are undocumented immigrants. And while the federal courts debate the legality of this law, Texas State Representative Armando Walle, a Democrat, has been calling attention to the real-world consequences of SB4. Last fall, Walle was recorded on video ripping into his Republican colleagues in the state House after they cut off debate on the bill.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ARMANDO WALLE: I can't go to a baptism because my community is being attacked. Y'all don't understand. The [expletive] that y'all do hurts our community. It hurts us personally, bro.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Could've just let us debate it.

WALLE: It hurts us.

CHANG: Representative Armando Walle, who represents North Houston, joins us now. Welcome.

WALLE: Thank you. Thank you for the opportunity.

CHANG: So I know that piece of tape, that whole encounter you had on the House floor, has been played back to you, like, a million times. But what is it like to hear yourself played back to you? What do you replay in your mind about how you were feeling at that very moment?

WALLE: Well, it's really not a replay. It's something that we live on a daily basis. My family's been - on my mother's side - has been here for generations. But we just so happen to have roots in Mexico as well. My father was born in Mexico, and so I come from a mixed status family. And these type of bills, the hateful rhetoric that is being displayed by - not just at the local level, but at the national level with the rhetoric from President Trump, has now seeped into Austin, Texas. I've been in the legislature now 16 years. We've seen just a heightened sense of attack of our community members in the Texas legislature. And so that encounter just encapsulates what we've felt over the years.

CHANG: Can I ask you more about your family? - because I know, in an Op-Ed yesterday in the Houston Chronicle, you wrote that your first thought - when that moment on video we just heard went viral last year, your first thought was about your family and their safety. Can you tell me why? What were you scared about?

WALLE: Look, my father - I've been very open about this. My father was deported when I was in junior high and high school. He served time in prison. And, you know, he was held accountable for his actions, and he was deported. And so it brought back those memories. I'm a father of a 13-year-old and a 10-year-old. I spent a lot of time with my boys, and I try to instill in them to do the right thing and to stand up for what they believe in. But they're - they are American kids of Mexican descent, and I fear that - in the future, that when we're trying to build better relationships with law enforcement, that my children would be targeted based on the color of their skin.

CHANG: Well, even though Houston isn't a border town, like, what kinds of concerns or fears about SB4 are you hearing from the people in your district?

WALLE: Well, we recently had - we've recently worked with our local civil rights organizations - and it was well-attended - about knowing folks' rights as...

CHANG: You're talking about the Know Your Rights event in your district a few weeks ago?

WALLE: Yes, ma'am. And the fear was palpable. A lady came up to me afterwards and was fearful of herself - and she's a U.S. citizen, just so the public knows. She's a U.S. citizen - was fearful of - for herself, for her children, about being racially profiled. She was fearful that giving this type of authority to untrained law enforcement officials goes too far and that mistakes can be made.

CHANG: Well, let me ask you this because no matter where you stand on SB4, the immigration system in this country - it's dysfunctional at best, right? I'm sure you're also hearing from constituents who are worried about the influx of migrants into this country. So how does Texas solve the problem of illegal immigration into this state?

WALLE: Well, look, you can work with our federal partners. You can work with the Department of Justice. You can work with ICE. You can work with Homeland Security. There are ways to coordinate in a complementary role, but what Texas is trying to do is usurp federal authority.

CHANG: Well, supporters of SB4 say the federal government isn't doing enough on their own, and that's why Texas needs the authority to enforce immigration laws. That's what the supporters of SB4 are saying. So what about the federal government? What more should be done on their part?

WALLE: Well, President Biden had a proposal that would have increased the amount of Border Patrol agents along the border, to improve the technology in and around ports of entry. And so I think there are ways to coordinate with the federal government. But to completely usurp federal authority - I think that strikes at the foundation of our democracy. And so there are ways to coordinate. This is not the way to handle a very complicated, complex international issue that we have along the U.S.-Mexico border.

CHANG: That is Texas State Representative Armando Walle, a Democrat in North Houston. Thank you very much.

WALLE: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Alejandra Marquez Janse
Alejandra Marquez Janse is a producer for NPR's evening news program All Things Considered. She was part of a team that traveled to Uvalde, Texas, months after the mass shooting at Robb Elementary to cover its impact on the community. She also helped script and produce NPR's first bilingual special coverage of the State of the Union – broadcast in Spanish and English.
Sarah Handel
Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.