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Texas groups helping at-risk populations must certify that they aren’t violating immigration laws

 Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton at a border security briefing in January. On Wednesday, Abbott directed the Department of Public Safety to target drug cartels as fentanyl deaths continue in Texas.
Michael Gonzalez
The Texas Tribune
Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton at a border security briefing in January. On Wednesday, Abbott directed the Department of Public Safety to target drug cartels as fentanyl deaths continue in Texas.

KERA has learned that if those organizations get funding administered by the governor’s office, they are required to certify that they aren’t violating any immigration laws.

Failure to comply with requirements spelled out in a five-paragraph document could result in the Office of the Governor terminating or rescinding a grantee’s funding.

Organizations that work with domestic violence victims say they’re concerned about the possible ramifications.

“I've spoken to many executive leaders over the last few weeks who are agonizing over this,” said Gloria Aguilera Terry, CEO of the Texas Council on Family Violence. “It's striking some fear.”

Terry said there are state and federal statutory protections that require organizations like hers to serve people regardless of their national origin.

“So when you read the document at the first pass, it leads you to believe that it's impeding you from providing those services,” she said.

KERA News reached out to the Governor Abbott’s office for comment Wednesday afternoon. This story will be updated when a response is available.

The policy puts organizations that work with at-risk populations in a dilemma. They must choose between helping clients — regardless of their citizenship status — or losing funding that could force them to cut back services to others in need.

The requirements are in a document called Certifications and Assurances Form issued by the Public Safety Office.

The form states that a grantee “does not have, and will continue not to have until the later of August 31, 2023 or the end of the grant project period, any policy, procedure, or agreement (written or unwritten) that in any way encourages, induces, entices, or aids any violations of immigration laws.”

The grantee organization must also certify that it’s not subject to any policy or practice that would “encourage concealment, harboring, or shielding from detection of fugitives from justice or aliens who illegally came to, entered, or remained in the United States…”

The form goes on to require that a grantee won’t adopt or enforce any policy that would prohibit them from enforcing immigration laws.

Terry’s organization represents a statewide coalition of nearly 100 community-based organizations across Texas. She said it’s not an anomaly for conditions to be placed on funding. Sometimes, that condition comes from the federal agency allocating money to the state.

But she said this language is different.

Terry has had several conversations with Abbott’s office to try to understand what the condition means.

“What they have conveyed to me is that this has been an assurance that they have had in place for at least for three years with their other types of grantees — primarily law enforcement — and that they are looking to create consistency across funding streams and across grantee types,” Terry said.

Terry and others say signing this form sends the wrong message and strikes at the core of what they do — protecting people, often in life-threatening situations, regardless of their background.

“It is forcing us to examine that most agencies aren't going to be able to successfully serve their communities if they don't get this funding,” she said. “But signing this document feels like we are compromising our values for money.”

Kathryn Jacob, president and CEO of Safe Haven of Tarrant County, said she was confused when she read the document and realized she was going to have to sign it.

“We make a promise, essentially, that there will be no what we call barriers to entry,” Jacob said. “We can’t say, ‘You have to have red hair to come stay here.’ There can be no barriers, so if you are any victim that is fleeing domestic violence…any race, any gender, anything, it is our obligation to serve you in some capacity.”

In fact, organizations like these have helped immigrant victims of domestic violence who are undocumented. Such victims are sometimes eligible to apply for special visas specifically for survivors of human trafficking or other situations.

Jacob also points out that when someone seeks shelter at Safe Haven, they don’t run a background check on that person. But her organization does cooperate with law enforcement when needed.

“While we will never give away names or identifying information of people in shelter — because that is our primary means of keeping someone safe, we’re not in the business of harboring fugitives.”

Got a tip? Email Stella M. Chávez at schavez@kera.org. You can follow Stella on Twitter @stellamchavez.

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Copyright 2022 KERA. To see more, visit KERA.

Stella Chávez is KERA’s education reporter/blogger. Her journalism roots run deep: She spent a decade and a half in newspapers – including seven years at The Dallas Morning News, where she covered education and won the Livingston Award for National Reporting, which is given annually to the best journalists across the country under age 35. The award-winning entry was  “Yolanda’s Crossing,” a seven-part DMN series she co-wrote that reconstructs the 5,000-mile journey of a young Mexican sexual-abuse victim from a small Oaxacan village to Dallas. For the last two years, she worked for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, where she was part of the agency’s outreach efforts on the Affordable Care Act and ran the regional office’s social media efforts.