The Texas Senate has given preliminary approval to a bill that would penalize jurisdictions with so-called “sanctuary” immigration policies. The 20-11 vote fell along party lines.
Senate Bill 4 would allow state money to be withheld from jurisdictions that don’t cooperate with warrantless requests from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to detain undocumented immigrants.
After Travis County enacted a similar policy earlier this month, Gov. Greg Abbott declared the issue one of his emergency items this legislative session, allowing the bill to move swiftly through the legislative process.
“I am proud to pass legislation that upholds the rule of law and protects Texans,” said Sen. Charles Perry (R-Lubbock), the bill's sponsor. “The safety of our communities relies on law enforcement agencies working together at the local, state and federal levels. Those promoting sanctuary cities and failing to cooperate with other agencies are in effect evading their first duty to protect and serve the citizens of Texas.”
"Today's action in the Senate helps ensure that Sheriffs and officials across Texas comply with federal immigration laws and honor Immigration and Custom Enforcement detainer requests that keep dangerous criminals off of our streets," Gov. Abbott said in a written statement.
Hundreds of people testified on the bill last week during a marathon 16-hour Senate committee meeting on the bill. It passed through committee early Friday morning on a 7-2 vote along party lines.
Some Democrats argued the bill is unconstitutional.
“I would commit to you that what’s at stake here with your bill is a discriminatory effect," Sen. Carlos Uresti (D-San Antonio) said. "The discriminatory effect that it’s going to have on many individuals in my district, and probably in your district and in the state of Texas, as well. I do believe your bill is unconstitutional on its face.”
Earlier this month, Abbott canceled $1.5 million in criminal justice grants to Travis County over Sheriff Sally Hernandez’s immigration policy, which limits detention requests from ICE, though it still honors requests in cases of murder, aggravated sexual assault or human smuggling.
The Senate bill had 39 amendments, with many of them, like the final vote, falling along party lines.
One amendment from Perry, the bill's author, would target officials like Hernandez in Travis County. That is, it would charge officials who are knowingly out of step with the sanctuary cities ban with a Class A misdemeanor, which is punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $4,000. That would also allow that official to be removed from office, a measure Abbott called for explicitly in an interview with Fox News last month.
Another amendment from Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin) sought to add protections for funding withheld from the county if that funding was intended for mental health or rehabilitative purposes. That amendment was spurred by the cuts in Travis County. Some of the $1.5 million in state funding withheld had gone to rehabilitative programs and mental health treatment.
Democrats tried to tie the action to President Trump's similar calls for federal funding to be cut off from "sanctuary cities."
“Trump Republicans’ S.B. 4 will morally and economically bankrupt our great state," said Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa. “Trump Republicans in the Texas Senate have blatantly ignored the voices of Texans from all walks of life who fear the devastation S.B.4 would cause."
A final vote is expected Wednesday. The Senate will convene at 11 a.m.
This post has been updated.