AUSTIN, Texas ― Hundreds of people showed up to protest when the Texas Senate took its first step last month toward passing a bill that would ban so-called sanctuary jurisdictions that limit cooperation with immigration authorities. Among them was Norma Herrera.
On a day when public testimony lasted for more than 16 hours, Herrera gave one of the most impassioned speeches, urging the Senate’s Republican-controlled State Affairs Committee to abandon the immigration crackdown.
Herrera described the time a police officer stopped her for failing to display her front license plate 10 years ago while driving to a research methods class at the University of Texas Panamerican in South Texas. She didn’t have a drivers license. When the officer asked why, she told him she was undocumented. “Thankfully,” Herrera said, the officer “saw a neighbor first and not a criminal. So he gave me a ticket and sent me on my way.”
Instead of facing arrest and deportation, Herrera went on to graduate with a bachelor’s degree, then earn a master’s. She’s worked in the Texas legislature and in health and human services agencies across the state.
“In short, I have made contributions in our state that I ask please not be ignored because they are valid, moral, beneficial and absolutely necessary contributions,” Herrera said. “It is in recognition of this truth that I ask you to please abandon these efforts to make immigrants ever more disposable.”
The crowd cheered from the gallery as she continued speaking, describing her service to the state as “just one example of a long Texas tradition of immigrants.”
That tradition includes much of her family, she said. Her brother teaches elementary school math. Her sister helps run a food bank. Her cousin works as a neonatal intensive care unit nurse. Her mother served as a home health attendant to the elderly. And her father spent 30 years laboring in the state’s oil fields.
“Across the board, we are all public servants,” Herrera said, as state Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston), the committee chairwoman, interrupted to signal that Herrera’s two minutes were up. “And I ask that you please vote ‘no’ on Senate Bill 4, and I ask that you think really hard: Which side are you on?”
Despite the opposition expressed by Herrera and hundreds of other people, the State Affairs Committee passed the bill 7 to 2 along party lines as soon as the public comment period ended. The full Senate later followed suit.
Protesters gathered once again at the Texas capitol on Wednesday as the House State Affairs Committee prepared to hold its public hearing on the bill ― the first step toward presenting it to the Republican-dominated lower house of the legislature.
Watch Norma Herrera’s speech in the video above.