Texas police chiefs: SB 4 is not comprehensive immigration reform

The Texas Major Cities Chiefs and the Texas Police Chiefs Association would like to take this opportunity to respectfully oppose Senate Bill 4 as amended by the Texas House of Representatives.

SB 4 requires law enforcement agencies to become more involved in the enforcement of federal immigration laws.

No one believes in the “rule of law” more than the agencies represented by these two organizations. We work tirelessly to make our communities safer within the confines of the Constitution by arresting those who commit crimes that threaten our communities. We specifically target individuals committing violent crimes and arrest anyone who threatens the safety of our communities — regardless of their immigration status.

Members of these organizations work extremely hard to build and maintain trust, communication and stronger relationships with minority communities through community-based policing and outreach programs. Broad mandates like those imposed by SB 4, require local law enforcement to take a more active role in immigration enforcement and will further strain the relationship between local law enforcement and the diverse communities we serve. Officers will start inquiring about the immigration status of every person they come in contact with — or worse, only inquire about the immigration status of individuals based on their appearance. This will lead to distrust of police, less cooperation from members of the community and will foster the belief that they cannot seek assistance from police for fear of being subjected to an immigration status investigation.

Distrust and fear of contacting or assisting the police has already become evident among legal immigrants as well. Legal immigrants are beginning to avoid contact with the police for fear that they themselves or undocumented family members or friends may become subject to immigration enforcement. Such a divide between the local police and immigrant groups will result in increased crime against immigrants and in the broader community; create a class of silent victims; and eliminate the potential for assistance from immigrants in solving crimes or preventing crime.

It should not be forgotten that by not arresting criminals who victimize our immigrant communities, we are also allowing them to remain free to victimize every one of us. When it comes to criminals, we are in this together — regardless of race, sex, religion or nation of origin. SB 4 will have the unintended consequence of making our communities more dangerous — not safer, as we presume the Texas Legislature had intended.

Law enforcement in Texas works cooperatively with federal law enforcement agencies — including Immigration and Customs Enforcement — to disrupt violent street gangs and others who threaten our communities. If federal agencies file criminal charges or obtain judicially reviewed warrants on any person, local law enforcement officers arrest the person regardless of immigration status.

SB 4 reinforces the call by some for local police to become more involved in enforcing federal immigration laws; however, to comply with these constitutionally questionable requirements means stretching already-limited resources. At a time of strained law enforcement budgets and critically low jail space, narrowing the focus to violent criminals, human traffickers, gun traffickers and members of organized crime syndicates is critical. Requiring local law enforcement to prioritize immigration efforts without adequate funding or increased support from involved governmental agencies will hinder an agency’s ability to focus its limited resources on the unique needs of the community it serves.

Immigration enforcement is first and foremost a federal obligation. Any immigration reform must begin with the federal government. While the federal government has not been able or willing to address this issue, any effort by the state of Texas to address immigration reform will be ineffective.

SB 4 is not the answer to comprehensive immigration reform; it is political pandering that will make our communities more dangerous. If the Texas Legislature is intent on passing legislation to address immigration reform, passing laws like SB 4 that require local law enforcement to become immigration agents is not the answer.

If the Legislature were serious about removing undocumented people, there are better ways to address this issue than forcing law enforcement to become immigration agents. The Texas Legislature could easily start by addressing the businesses that hire undocumented workers, which is why the majority of the honest, hard-working people emigrate to this country — with or without documentation. By addressing the primary reason undocumented persons enter this state, it would free law enforcement to address those persons who are committing crimes.

Our organizations respectfully request that the members of the Texas Legislature withdraw the amendments to SB 4 that was passed by the Texas House of Representatives. This legislation is bad for Texas and will make our communities more dangerous for all.

By Austin interim Police Chief Brian Manley; Chief Will Johnson of Arlington; interim Chief David Pughes of Dallas; Chief Joel Fitzgerald of Fort Worth; Chief Art Acevedo of Houston; Chief William McManus of San Antonio; and James McLaughlin, executive director of Texas Police Chiefs Association.

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