Lege Lines: The “Sanctuary Cities” Bill's Detrimental Effect
Can anyone reasonably testify in favor of SB 4?
Though she was barely tall enough to reach the microphone, 11-year-old Jaylin Castro stepped up to the podium before the House State Affairs Committee last Wednesday, March 15, and bravely pleaded for state lawmakers to vote against the so-called "sanctuary cities" bill, Senate Bill 4. The fifth grader, the youngest of four children, said her father, an undocumented resident who came to the United States from Mexico as a teenager, is hard-working, supportive, and deserves to live without the fear of deportation.
"I'm always worried whenever I come back home [from school] that he might not be there because ICE took him," Castro said. "I don't know what I would do if my dad was taken away from me. He is my world and a good dad. He always looks after us and keeps us safe." The girl began to break into tears. "Please don't separate mine or anyone's family because we would all be very sad and depressed. My dad isn't an alien; he is a human being and should be treated like one, too. Please stop SB 4."
Other children – as young as 9 years old – approached the podium to deliver passionate and emotional pleas for the same during a marathon 10-hour Capitol hearing that stretched past midnight. Among its provisions, the bill, filed by Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, seeks to punish cities, counties, and universities that don't fully cooperate with federal immigration policies. On a party line vote last month, the full Senate – working quicker and more callously on red-meat policies than the lower chamber – passed SB 4 after a 16-hour committee hearing the previous week that featured similar calls to stop the bill.
Last Wednesday, in an effort to mitigate some concerns, Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Ft. Worth, offered a revised version of the bill that allows law enforcement to ask about someone's immigration status only if they are arrested, not just detained. In the new version, police chiefs (in addition to constables and sheriffs) could also face a class A misdemeanor for breaching the potential law. However, as evidenced by the steady stream of local law enforcement officials from Houston, San Antonio, El Paso, Dallas, and Austin, the bill still undermines the fragile relationship between the immigrant community and police, and in effect, compromises public safety. "We've worked so hard to build this trust," APD Police Chief Brian Manley told the committee. "And I'm proud to be able to say: 'If you see this patch and this badge, we're focused on your safety, not your immigration status.' [SB 4] would take away from our ability to do that."
Those in need of concrete evidence that Texans overwhelmingly oppose Perry's bill should look no further than the remarkably disproportionate witness list: More than 600 Texans signed up to speak against the bill, while fewer than a dozen spoke in support. Most of the speakers, as one witness noted, were non-Latino residents. Indeed, immigration attorneys, faith leaders, activists, and citizens warned the committee that SB 4 would tear families apart, lead to racial profiling, and prevent witnesses of domestic violence and child abuse from coming forward out of fear of deportation.
If emotional pleas from children or expert advice from actual law enforcement officials didn't sway the committee, conservatives – often operating under the stated influence of rigid Christianity – had the opportunity to be moved by the moral argument. Joe Vásquez, bishop of the Diocese of Austin, expressed his disappointment with the committee for not correcting the most "egregious" parts of the bill that would cause "detrimental" effects. This is not a political issue, said Vásquez, but a matter of human rights: "We know that Jesus Christ himself was a refugee, he was an immigrant. He had to flee because he was being persecuted. So we want to see people treated with dignity and want to be aware of their rights."
Unlike the Senate, the House will give itself more time to digest the anti-immigrant bill, left pending in committee as of press time. Chairman Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, has indicated that he's interested in curtailing some provisions and is in no rush to pass SB 4 without giving it a closer look. As we inch toward the session's halfway point ("The 85th's State Something," March 17), it's another sign the House is more likely to stall on some of the big ticket right-wing priorities – a dash of hope for progressive onlookers. However, for the hundreds who testified against a bill that will break their families apart, there are no bright spots when lawmakers use their lives and futures to score political points.