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Senate Hears Testimony on Sanctuary Cities Bill

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Liang Shi/KUT News
The Senate Transportation & Homeland Security Committee is holding a public hearing today on the controversial santuary cities legislation.

A Texas Senate committee heard testimony this morning on legislation that would enable local law enforcement to question people about their immigration status during encounters such as traffic stops. The so-called “sanctuary cities” legislation died during the 2011 regular session but Governor Rick Perry put in back on the call for this month's special session.

Democrats have been opposed to sanctuary cities legislation. Senator Wendy Davis (D- Fort Worth) questioned Texas Department of Public Safety officials this morning about the current language of the bill.  She thinks it could give police officers too much power.

“My concern is that if it's light-haired fair-eyed me, I might have a different procedure applied to determining my identity but if I am dark-haired and brown-skinned and dark-eyed, there may be a different procedure to determine my identity... that’s my concern,” Davis told DPS officials.       

Senator Davis voiced concern that if passed, this bill would open the door to stops based solely on suspicion of illegal immigration status without probable cause for a criminal offense. DPS Highway Patrol officer John Rainey spoke of how officers handle these cases right now.

“The only time we would contact border patrol or ICE on a traffic stop is if we for the most part the person’s either going to tell us their not from this country or we have good reasonable suspicion that they’re not from this country,” Rainey testified.

Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa (D-McAllen) said the state could overreach its authority when it comes to immigration enforcement.

“The immigration laws state that being in this country illegally is a civil matter not a criminal matter and the federal courts have consistently ruled that the state’s don’t have the authority to enforce the provisions of the immigration laws and is limited only to criminal,” Hinojosa said. 

Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez said the sanctuary cities bill comes with a price tag for local communities. Valdez worried about the burden on county jails at a time when many are making budget cuts.

"The undocumented stay longer in our jails than the others so therefore it’s going to give us more costs 60 dollars a day average. Who do I decide to put out when a hundred more a month come in? Who do I let out? We're already stressed and we're trying to hold as many people as we can," Valdez said. "And who’s going to make that decision on what are the categories on who we put out? I honestly believe the jails should have room for people we are afraid of not that we are upset with.”

Testimony is scheduled to continue for hours today since so many people signed up to speak.