SENATORS LAY OUT SANCTUARY CITY BAN
(AUSTIN) — Cities could not adopt policies that prevent police departments from inquiring about immigration status or aiding federal immigration authorities under a bill unveiled at a press conference Wednesday. SB 4 is about strengthening the rule of law in Texas, according to its author, Senator Charles Perry of Lubbock. "The integrity of our criminal justice system is built on the premise that it applies to everyone equally," he said. "When you undermine that by having individuals decide which laws they will apply, when they will apply them and how they apply them, you begin to create a perception of a double standard that will weaken this nation as we know it."
Senator Charles Perry of Lubbock was joined by colleagues in support of the bill to outlaw sanctuary cities in Texas at a Wednesday press conference.
Sanctuary cities, as described by Perry, are any municipalities with a formal or informal policy of discouraging or prohibiting licensed peace officers from asking about a lawfully detained individual's immigration status or cooperating with requests from federal immigration officials. Fellow Senator Paul Bettencourt of Houston, who was among a number of Senators joining Perry in support of the bill, believes this is bad policy. "There have been more than 210,000 criminal illegal aliens processed in Texas jails since June 1, 2011," he said. "These criminal aliens have had 559,000 charges applied to them…It is completely preposterous public policy to have any entity of local government ignore this reality of public safety."
The bill as originally filed would require that a police department inquire about immigration status when booking a suspect as well as checking a federal immigration database to see if the person has been previously identified as a danger to public safety. They would also have to comply with federal immigration authority requests to transfer custody of a person suspected of illegal immigration status.
As far as outlawing sanctuary city policies, the bill would prevent any policy, formal or informal, that bans or frowns on inquiring into the immigration status of a person lawfully arrested. They couldn't prevent police officers or departments from sharing immigration status or information with federal authorities, prevent cooperation with federal immigration authorities, or bar them from entering city or county jails to enforce immigration policies. Municipalities violating these rules could lose state grant funding.
The bill does prevent officers from stopping or arresting a person solely for the purpose of asking about immigration status. Perry says it also exempts people who are witnesses to or victims of crimes, in an effort to avoid a scenario where people are afraid to come forward due to immigration status. He added that sanctuary city policies that don't violate a federal or state statute, such as a legal defense fund for people facing deportation, would not be prohibited by his bill.
Normally, the Legislature can't consider bills in the first two months of session, but Governor Greg Abbott announced that he's designated the issue as an emergency in his State of the State address Tuesday. That means SB 4 won't be subject to the first 60-day constitutional prohibition. The bill will go before the Senate State Affairs committee Thursday. This issue is highly contentious and Senators at today's press conference said they expect the number of witnesses testifying for and against the bill to be in the hundreds. The hearing is slated for 8:30 a.m. in the Senate Chamber.
The Senate will reconvene Monday, February 6 at 2 p.m.