AUSTIN, Texas (CN) — A bill to ban “sanctuary cities” cleared its final hurdle in the Texas Legislature Wednesday when the Senate voted to accept changes made last week in the House.
Senate Bill 4, which critics say encourages racial profiling and turns Texas into a “show me your papers” state, now goes to the desk of Gov. Greg Abbott for signature.
The bill, which will punish local governments and college campus police units that refuse to comply with detainer requests from immigration officers, was one of Abbott’s emergency items this session. Abbott already has withheld $1.5 million in state grants for Travis County, home of the state capital, to punish the sheriff for her stand on immigration detainers. The bill allows sheriffs to be charged with a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail, if they refuse to comply with immigration detainer requests.
During final debate on the measure Wednesday, the bill’s author, state Sen. Charles Perry, said the bill has been sensationalized and “is not an immigration bill.”
“SB 4 is a bill to say ‘do what the law is today’ and we’ve made it look like a demon that it’s not,” said Perry, R-Lubbock.
During marathon committee hearings in February and March, hundreds of people testified against SB 4, while only a handful of people expressed support.
Tearful children at the Capitol well past their bedtimes pleaded with lawmakers to stop the bill that would threaten their undocumented parents, while sheriffs and police chiefs from major cities — including Dallas, Houston, Austin and San Antonio —the said the bill would make their jobs harder and their communities less safe.
During House debate on the bill last week, Democrats, including several who shared their own immigration stories, asked their colleagues for mercy and for their votes on amendments that would make slight changes to the bill to add protections for some of the most vulnerable people in their communities, including children and people living in domestic violence shelters.
But after 16 hours of debate, the House approved a version that allows law enforcement officers to inquire into the immigration status of any “lawfully detained person,” whether arrested or not.
That language would allow officers to question the immigration status of people during a routine traffic stop, or f people present during a disturbance of some kind, such as a fight at a party.
Perry said that the bill does not allow officers to stop a person solely to enforce federal immigration law. But Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, compared the bill to Arizona’s “show me your papers bill,” SB 1070, parts of which were found unconstitutional.
Garcia told her Senate colleagues Wednesday that she’s afraid SB 4 legislation will lead to harassment and racial profiling of Latinos.
“We certainly don’t want walking while brown to become reasonable suspicion, and frankly, I’m afraid that this is what will happen with this legislation,” Garcia said.
Although the bill includes provisions designed to protect victims of crime and witnesses from being interrogated about their immigration status, Garcia said it will make immigrants distrustful of police and reluctant to report crimes.
The number of Latinos reporting rape in Houston is down 42.8 percent from last year, Garcia said, and reports of other violent crimes has dropped 13 percent, due to fear of deportation.
“I strongly believe that we should focus the efforts of police on stopping dangerous criminals in our neighborhoods and allow federal officials to focus on immigration,” Garcia said.
Other Senate Democrats, who thought that the bill might go to a conference committee for final changes before heading to the governor, pressed Perry on the discriminatory nature of the bill and questioned its constitutionality.
Perry said that concerns about the legal validity of federal detainer requests should be dealt with by the federal government and that it’s the state’s responsibility to ensure that jurisdictions obey the law.
“For us to suggest that we know what is and isn’t, according to what federal law says is a valid detainer, we’re beginning to make our own laws,” Perry said. “We will let the court systems figure this out. ... Until then, Texas has to send the message that we do not want illegal criminals released back on the street.”
Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, told Perry that the bill could have dire unintended consequences.
“Are you aware that because of this legislation, hundreds of thousands of Texans are preparing for the passage of this, preparing in terms of, ‘What are we going to do if our undocumented father is asked for documentation?’” Whitmire said. “I know families that are preparing for the worst under your legislation.
“Do you not worry?” Whitmire asked Perry.
Perry said he did have some “angst” about unintended consequences of the bill, but finds it “devastating” to see the rule of law undermined by rogue jurisdictions.
“I have friends and Hispanics that talk to me regularly. Some of them are like, ‘It’s a great law,’” Perry said. “Some of them say, ‘I got concerns.’ And I don’t know how to reconcile those two other than to go forward with what I know is best and that’s have a system that’s uniformly without prejudice.”
The Senate voted 20-11, along party lines, to accept the House version of the bill.
Abbott then tweeted: “I’m getting my signing pen warmed up.”
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