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Texas House Approves 'Sanctuary Cities' Bill

Martin do Nascimento
State Rep. Charlie Geren (right), who sponsored Senate Bill 4, listens to debate on the House floor Wednesday with state Rep. Paul Workman of Austin.

The Texas House of Representatives passed a bill Thursday to penalize jurisdictions that don't honor detainer requests from the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

The vote on Senate Bill 4 was 94-53, along party lines. Final approval followed an early-morning vote on a second reading of the bill.

The bill requires law enforcement officials to honor all warrantless requests from ICE to detain suspected undocumented immigrants who’ve already been cleared for release. It would penalize jurisdictions that enact "sanctuary city" policies and allows the removal from office sheriffs and police chiefs who refuse to comply with detainer requests.

State Sen. Charles Perry of Lubbock, who authored SB4, applauded the House for passing the bill.

"We welcome people from all over the world who immigrate to our country legally," he said in a statement, "but it is imperative that we uphold the rule of law and keep our communities safe."

Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez has said she will follow SB4 if it becomes law. At a news conference, interim Austin Police Chief Brian Manley said the bill includes language that makes it a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by jail or a fine, for local law enforcement not to cooperate.

"As your police chief, I will cooperate with the law," he said.

Manley said he was concerned about the current language in the bill and hoped the Legislature would listen as a final bill is crafted. 

The bill does not allow police chiefs to discourage officers from inquiring about a person’s immigration status during a traffic stop or other routine detention. Manley said he does not oppose asking about a suspect's immigration status upon arrest, but asking during a detention could "create a wedge between police departments and their communities if it is seen that we are an arm of immigration enforcement."

"[Asking about immigration status during a detention could] create a wedge between police departments and their communities if it is seen that we are an arm of immigration enforcement." - Interim Austin Police Chief Brian Manley

Manley said it could erode trust with the immigrant community. 

"We will have folks that may be concerned to come forward and report their victimization or report being a witness to a crime because we're going to start to blur that line of whether or not we're working with ICE on the civil side of enforcing immigration law," he said. "We are focused on the criminal side."

Democrats tried to convey that message earlier during debate on the House floor. State Rep. Mary Gonzales of El Paso said SB4 will discourage undocumented immigrants from reporting crimes to local police for fear of being deported.

“You’re protecting the rapist. You’re protecting the rapist because the women will not be able to come out. I need you to understand what you’re doing because these are people’s lives," she said.

State Rep. Diana Arevalo of San Antonio said the fight wasn't over.    

“For those who may not know where to stand on this issue, understand one thing: When you vote for SB4, you are hurting families like mine,” she said.

Attorneys and advocates for immigrants said they were also prepared to fight. They said if the bill becomes law, it will lead to racial profiling and make the state less safe.

Attorney Jose Garza, who has been part of legal teams that have successfully fought Texas lawmakers over redistricting and the state’s strict voter ID law, said SB4 is part of a larger issue in the state.  

"This act of discrimination perpetuated by the state Legislature is not an act that is happening in isolation," he said. "In the very recent history at least three federal courts have found that the state of Texas passed legislation that had a discriminatory impact and a discriminatory intent."

Sheriff Hernandez issued a statement saying she was proud of the Democratic delegation who debated the legislation.

"They truly listened to leaders in both law enforcement and communities of faith, as well as the people we are sworn to protect and serve," she said. "They presented factual, common sense truths rather than fear based, misleading rhetoric. They recognized the cost of forcing local law enforcement to do the job of the federal government and the liability it places upon us."

SB4 now goes back to the Senate, where it originated. Senators will decide whether they agree with the House amendments or send the bill to a conference committee to work out the differences. From there, it will go back to the House and Senate for a single up-or-down vote. If both chambers agree to the final bill, it goes to the governor's desk.  

Gov. Greg Abbott listed a sanctuary cities ban as one of his emergency itemsthis legislative session. 

Stephanie Federico is a digital news editor at Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on Twitter @steph_federico.
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