The Austin Chronicle

Lege Lines: Same Old “Sanctuary”

House version of SB 4? Still Terrible.

By Mary Tuma and the News Staff, April 21, 2017, News

A bit less harsh but still terrible: That's the consensus among pro-immigrant lawmakers and advocacy groups concerning the Texas House's modified version of the "sanctuary cities" bill, which passed through committee last week on a 7-5 vote on party lines. The ultra-conservative Senate was quick to pass Lubbock Repub­lican Sen. Charles Perry's punitive Senate Bill 4 in February, but at the hands of the House State Affairs Committee, the bill – which targets cities, counties, and universities that don't comply with all U.S. Immi­gra­tions and Customs Enforcement detainer requests – looked like it could move slower and transform into a measure less burdensome to local law enforcement, especially considering the nearly 640 testifiers – including emotional, tearful young immigrant children and police chiefs statewide – who spoke against the legislation in March. While Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Ft. Worth, did spend several weeks tweaking the bill with colleagues, the committee eventually slid the substitute straight to the full House for debate on April 12, in a shape that failed to erase deep fears among the immigrant community.

Though he was thankful for some changes, House State Affairs Committee member Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, didn't hesitate to rebuke the finalized bill. "Despite the improvements made in the committee, SB 4 is still a heavy-handed solution to an imaginary problem," he said. House Repub­licans "will own the unnecessary suffering caused by the bill, the decrease in public safety, the next generation of taxpayer-backed lawsuits, and the significant growth in the size and power of the Office of the Attorney General." Mexican American Legis­lative Caucus Chairman Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, sounded off in a similar manner, saying that the more than 600 people who testified against the bill – many of whom worried their families would be torn apart – "were ignored in order to address a manufactured issue."

So what changed? While both bills impose criminal and civil penalties (up to $25,000) on local law enforcement agencies that won't bow down to ICE, the House version doesn't strip those cities of state grant funds if they're in violation, and punishes only police chiefs, sheriffs, and constables – not the entire governmental body, as happened locally with Gov. Greg Abbott's February retaliation against Sheriff Sally Hernandez. And police are allowed to ask about an individual's citizenship only after an arrest is made, whereas the Senate version allows for that to happen during any lawful detention, such as a routine traffic stop.

Geren's bill keeps in place most of the controversial provisions, like forcing local jails to comply with ICE detainer requests (currently voluntary) and requiring campus police to follow federal immigration directives. The latter is of particular concern to the Center for Public Policy Priorities, whose leader Ann Beeson said the "unjust burden" on campus police will contribute to a "climate of fear" for undocumented Texas college students.

The only minimally scaled-back House version, sure to be additionally amended on the floor amid debate in the coming weeks, leaves the meat of the original legislation intact. It continues to undermine community safety, pose a danger to immigrant families, and task local law enforcement with acting as ICE agents. So while the House committee may have given SB 4 some pause, as one of Abbott's "emergency items" it was never destined to suffer its fate pending in committee – no matter how many literally crying children urged the committee to reconsider. – Mary Tuma

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