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Texas House to Begin Debate on Anti-Sanctuary Cities Bill Today

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The Texas House will begin debate today on their version of SB 4, a statewide anti-sanctuary cities bill, just a day after a federal court ruled against the Trump Administration’s attempt to do something similar on the national stage.

Yesterday, a San Francisco judge ruled that the Trump Administration could not withhold funding from cities and counties that are friendlier to immigrants than the federal government would like them to be. Yet today, the Texas House will pursue a similar model, with the Texas Senate already having passed it through a 20-11 party-line vote. There are most twice as many Republicans as there are Democrats in the House, so opponents of the bill say they are “praying for a miracle.”

Senate Bill 4 criminalizes immigrants

Here are some things the Texas bill does:

  • Allows local law enforcement to ask about the immigration status of individuals who have been arrested
  • Forces local law enforcement agencies to honor immigration detainers from ICE
  • Charges local law enforcement officials with a misdemeanor if they don’t comply with federal immigration authorities
  • Strips cities and counties that act against the bill of state grant funding and makes them subject to civil fines

Multiple Republicans have characterized SB 4 as a “tough on crime” kind of bill, since police would only be asking for the immigration status of those who have already been arrested. “If you aren’t arrested, there’s no problem. It’s that simple,” said State Rep. Charlie Geren, who is carrying the House bill.

It’s not that simple. In fact, that completely belies the reality and pitfalls of undocumented life. Many immigrants, for example, have been detained and deported because they had a broken taillight, which led police to discover that they did not have a driver’s license, which led to them being arrested and then picked up by ICE. Texas does not allow undocumented immigrants (who are not DACA recipients) to legally drive, yet there are 1.6 million immigrants living in the state who must get to work or school somehow.

Texas Democrats, advocates fight back

According to polling, however, Texas legislators should be coming up with ways to better allow immigrants to contribute to the state (such as passing a driver’s license bill) – not trying to punish and help the federal government deport immigrants.

A recent poll found that 62% of Texans say that immigration helps the US more than it hurts it. Sixty-three percent of those polled strongly supported immigration reform with a path to citizenship. Fifty-six percent did not believe that police should check a person’s immigration status during a traffic stop.

To protest the bill and the vote, dozens of Texans have been praying and fasting, hoping to “soften the hearts” of state lawmakers planning on voting for the bill. The fast is being led by Victoria Neave, a state Rep whose father came to the US without papers and who has been fasting since Sunday.

Last week, five Texas sheriffs published a joint op-ed arguing that the state shouldn’t force local police to do the federal government’s job, and that SB 4 would make communities less safe for everyone. The Houston Police Department announced earlier this month that the number of Hispanics reporting rape is down 42.8% from last year, while those reporting other violent crimes is down 13%, presumably due to fear of immigration authorities. The report numbers are down during a period in which crime reports from non-Hispanics increased. As the sheriffs wrote in their op-ed:

If passed, SB 4 would coerce local law enforcement to dedicate frequently scarce resources — such as jail space, on-duty officers and local tax dollars — to a job that is supposed to be done and funded by the federal government. While it is in the interest of federal agencies to let local law enforcement do its job, the costs will be entirely passed onto you, the local taxpayers. Federal enforcement should not be paid for with our local taxes. Our communities’ tax dollars should be used to invest in our local priorities and programs. It is at the local level that we are aware of the most pressing issues facing each of our Texas communities.

SB 4 provides zero support to local officials. In addition to opening up law enforcement departments and officers to costly litigation, the bill would force local taxpayers to shoulder the cost of ICE detainers. In 2016 alone, Texas county compliance with ICE detainers cost local taxpayers $61 million. Despite the federal government’s promises, they have only reimbursed a tiny fraction of the costs to local communities and counties. Ultimately, it is our local taxpayers that will pay even more for this unfunded state mandate. SB 4 robs our local communities of local tax dollars while hampering our ability to allocate our scarce resources to protect our communities from the largest threats facing our local neighborhoods and populations.

SB 4 is wrong because it fundamentally functions with the assumption that the state government knows what is best for our local communities. It also ignores our familiarity with our own cities and counties — and how we keep them safe. Our government is ideally designed to have the power of federal officials balanced with state and local authority. This bill is a result of anti-immigrant grandstanding and will strip local law enforcement of our designated power and ability to protect and serve our communities. We ask that the Texas House of Representatives reject SB 4 and any initiative to force local law enforcement to carry out the responsibilities of the federal government.

Read more about sanctuary cities here.