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How Does The Texas 'Sanctuary Cities' Bill Stack Up Against Arizona's 'Show Me Your Papers' Law?

Gabriel Cristóver Pérez
An audience sits in the balcony as Texas lawmakers hear public testimony on Senate Bill 4 in February.

Austin City Council Member Greg Casar sat on the floor, his back blocking one of the two main entrances to a state building on the Capitol grounds. He’d taken a seat as part of a sit-in Monday to protest Senate Bill 4

The bill, known as the “sanctuary cities” bill, which would require local law enforcement to cooperate with warrantless immigration detainer requests from Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“[Gov. Greg Abbott] wants to sign the hateful, anti-immigrant, discriminatory, dangerous and unconstitutional law known as SB 4,” Casar said before he was arrested and charged with criminal trespassing along with at least 20 others. The sit-in's forced end came after nine hours.

“This law basically wants to turn our police officers into folks asking to ‘Show me your papers,'” he said, referring to a provision in the bill which allows local law enforcement to ask a person's immigration status.

Last week on the House floor, the bill drew comparisons to Arizona’s SB 1070, which was signed into law in 2010. So, how do the bills stack up?

Big picture? It's similar

Elissa Steglich, professor at the University of Texas School of Law Immigration Clinic, said the general effect of the two bills is the same.

“In the same way that the Arizona legislation removed local authority, local control, local decision-making from how there was cooperation with ICE, SB 4 accomplishes the same objective,” she said.

In general, both bills force local law enforcement to fully comply with federal immigration law.

Steglich, along with immigrant rights advocates, also said both bills result in a chilling effect among immigrant communities and people of color.

“Their loss of faith in law enforcement is accomplished,” she said.

Interim Austin Police Chief Brian Manley has told lawmakers SB 4 will make his job harder.

“I think that we will create situations where the trust we’ve worked so hard to build can be eroded,” he said at a press conference last week.

The authors of SB 4 have said any fear is assuaged by a provision protecting witnesses and victims of crime from being asked about immigration status.

So, how do they differ?

When you dig into both bills, the specific provisions differ greatly. Arizona’s SB 1070 is much more comprehensive and prescriptive than the Texas bill. It created numerous criminal offenses, including making it illegal for an undocumented immigrant to solicit work or fail to carry immigration documents. SB 4 includes nothing like that.

But perhaps the most notable difference is that SB 1070 required law enforcement to ask about someone’s immigration status if they reasonably suspected that person was in the country illegally. SB 4 does not go that far. Instead, by prohibiting policies limiting an officer’s ability to ask about immigration status, the Texas bill gives local officers the option to ask about legal status once someone has been detained or arrested.

And then there are ICE detainer requests. Arizona’s bill left these mostly untouched. SB 4 not only mandates that local heads of jails honor all requests to detain inmates believed to be in the country illegally, but it also gives the attorney general the power to remove from office elected officials who limit their department’s cooperation with federal immigration agencies.

For example, Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez’s current policy to honor ICE detainer requests only in the case of high-level felonies has made her the target of SB 4 supporters. Hernandez has said she will follow SB 4 should it become law.

This might all end up the same

“It is almost a certainty that this, SB 4, is going to be challenged immediately as soon as it goes into effect in September,” said Jackie Watson, an immigration lawyer with Walker Gates Vela, PLLC. “Of that I have no doubt.”

And that's what happened in Arizona.

In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down three provisions of SB 1070, ruling that federal law preempted them. A fourth provision, which mandated law enforcement ask about immigration status if they have suspicions someone is in the country illegally, was taken down as part of a settlement with immigrants rights’ groups.

Faye Kolly, an immigration lawyer with De Mott, McChesney, Curtright and Armendáriz LLP, said a lawsuit may depend, in part, on how SB 4 plays out.

“Will we see a pattern in practice of individuals being detained based on national origin or racial profiling?” she said. “Will we see individuals being held for longer than is constitutionally permissible in order for ICE to arrive?”

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick signed SB 4 on Thursday. It still requires the governor’s signature. On Wednesday, Abbott tweeted: “The Texas sanctuary city ban wins final legislative approval. I'm getting my signing pen warmed up.”

Audrey McGlinchy is KUT's housing reporter. She focuses on affordable housing solutions, renters’ rights and the battles over zoning. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on Twitter @AKMcGlinchy.
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