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PA mayor to hold meeting with Hispanic community

Nearly half of the population in Port Arthur is Hispanic and Mayor Derrick Freeman would like to reach out to them and others.

Freeman will hold a Hispanic Forum from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. on Saturday, March 11 at the Port Arthur Public Library, 4615 Ninth Ave. Bilingual staff will also be in attendance.

On social media, Freeman said on Instagram that the forum is a chance for the Hispanic community to share concerns. Freeman will discuss what it means to be a sanctuary city, the president’s executive orders, paths to citizenship and Texas Senate Bill 4.

SB 4 relates to the enforcement by certain state and local governmental entities and campus police departments of state and federal laws governing immigration and to related duties of certain law enforcement and judicial entities in the criminal justice system; providing civil and criminal penalties.

“With our demographics reflecting a population of over 40 percent Hispanic, I have an obligation to address the concerns of our community,” Freeman’s Instagram post read. “So this Saturday I have invited city staff and other officials to listen and answer questions about current events. Bilingual staff will be present to help with health, fire, police and other questions.”

Several weeks ago, Freeman wrote on Facebook that the last thing the city wants is for parts of the Hispanic community to go into the shadows because of federal uncertainties.

Freeman was in Austin meeting with Mayor Steve Adler in mid-February and said via telephone interview he wanted to take a proactive approach to the immigration issue. At the same time, he wants to link Port Arthur with larger cities with the same demographic and come up with some solutions.

The Trump administration has threatened to withhold federal funding for sanctuary cities.

Freeman said Port Arthur gets $20 million from HUD, $2 million in transportation, $2 million for healthcare issues in addition to Community Development Block Grants and other programs.

“We get a lot of money from the feds,” he said. “We want to be on the right side of the law, but we don’t want the Hispanic community in the shadows. It hurts my heart.”

He added that he doesn’t want to turn Port Arthur Police officers into federal agents.

On the other hand, Freeman said “nefarious” gang members will be turned over to Immigration Customs Enforcement agents.

Freeman’s outlook seems to be in accord with the police chief’s. Shortly after Freeman’s statements in February, the chief explained that his officers are concerned first with local crime as opposed to federal immigration law.

“We want the bad guys out and extend a hand to the Hispanic community,” the mayor said. “I want clarity of what mayors do, what county commissioners do, what legislators do.”

Freeman said he’s in a position now to be a blessing to residents and he can’t make decisions based on politics.

“That’s neither here or there,” Freeman said. “It’s a blessing not having to rely on a poll.”

“There’s no such thing as a sanctuary city. Port Arthur has passed no laws saying that,” he said.

“If anyone sees a crime committed, call the police department. If anyone sees a fire, call the fire department. If anyone knows of a contagious disease, call the health department. Public safety is what the mayor and the police does.”

David Ball: 409-721-2427