Anti-Sanctuary Bill Stalls in Texas House

AUSTIN (CN) — A bill that would kill sanctuary city policies in Texas stalled in a state House committee Thursday, as lawmakers promised to make significant changes before sending it to the full House.

Senate Bill 4 would end policies that prohibit local law enforcement from inquiring about the immigration status of detained people, and would require local police to comply with detainer requests from federal immigration officers.

After hearing hours of public testimony, which was fast-tracked through the Senate in February, the House State Affairs committee left the measure pending early Thursday morning.

“It’s not perfect, it’s not complete and we will continue to work on it,” state Rep. Charlie Geren said.

Geren, R-Fort Worth, said he was considering amendments that would scale back the bill.

One amendment would specify that law enforcement officers could only inquire into the status of an arrested person. The Senate version allows officers to inquire into the status of “lawfully detained” people, which means they could question a person’s status during a routine traffic stop.

Another possible amendment would prevent bail bondsmen from taking advantage of undocumented immigrants, as they often charge a large amount of cash up front to bond them out.

Law enforcement officials testified at the hearing that they appreciated the proposed amendments, but still were concerned that the bill would erode public trust and make their communities less safe.

Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar, from San Antonio, said the bill would increase racial profiling and keep witnesses and victims from reporting crimes, though it includes language ostensibly protecting them.

S.B. 4, in addition to a recent surge of immigration raids, has already made immigrant families reticent about dealing with law enforcement, according to Salazar and several other sheriffs from across the state who testified Wednesday.

“It’s imperative that we maintain the strong relationship with the community that we serve,” Salazar said. “When policies exist that undermine the public trust between law enforcement and the surrounding community, including the immigrant community, we risk driving this segment of the population into the shadows, where they are preyed upon by criminals.”

Salazar said that he already has heard of incidents in which victims of domestic violence have been told by their attackers to “go ahead and call the cops … you’re going back to Mexico.”

“Where they should be seeing me as their protector, they’re terrified of me,” Salazar said. “As a first responder, that rips your heart out.”

After waiting at the Capitol since 8 a.m. Wednesday, several children spoke of that fear, testifying for their undocumented parents. Committee Chairman Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, allowed them to jump the witness line a little after 11 p.m.

Nine-year-old Wendy Membreno peered over the podium that towered in front of her as she told the committee she “should be worrying about homework or friends, but instead I am worrying about my mom and dad.”

She said her parents came to the United States to give her a better life than they had.

“How can we be expected to succeed in school if we are constantly worrying that they will be OK?” Membreno asked. “If my mom is five minutes late picking me up from school, I start worrying that she has been taken away. If we drive past a police car my heart starts beating faster and faster.

“Please, I beg you, don’t take them away from me.”

Ten-year-old Lizbeth Martinez tearfully told the committee the bill should not be approved because “it is racist” and it “would depress a lot of kids.”

“We came here to change your minds, to show you that we are more than just numbers on a piece of paper,” Martinez said. “We are capable of great things, you just have to give us a chance. I know you can’t fully understand this, you don’t know what type of fear we live in. You don’t know what it’s like to see our parents that we thought of as invincible, afraid.”

More than 630 people signed up to testify against the bill Wednesday, while only 11 favored it.

Cook told the Texas Tribune on Thursday that the legislation only need ensure that local jurisdictions honor federal detainer requests. Nearly all Texas counties already do so, with the exception of Travis County in Austin, where Sheriff Sally Hernandez has said she will honor detainer requests only for a handful of serious, violent offenders.

Cook said the state should shoulder the responsibility of any costs associated with honoring detainer requests, instead of financially burdening local jurisdictions.

“We’ve got a long ways to go to get this right,” Cook said.
It’s uncertain when the committee will take up the bill again.

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