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After hundreds oppose ‘sanctuary’ bill, committee approves it


Highlights

More than 450 people signed up to speak about Senate Bill 4. Almost all were against it.

State Sen. Charles Perry said his bill to ban so-called sanctuary cities restores the “rule of law.”

Critics say the bill would endanger public safety by hurting police relations with immigrant communities.

A young woman who attempted suicide after her father was deported. An unauthorized immigrant who has lived in Dallas for 17 years and owns a small business. Police chiefs who say they depend on strong relationships with immigrant communities to solve crimes. A nurse whose patients are largely immigrants. The Catholic bishop for Austin.

They were among the more than 600 people who signed up to testify Thursday at a marathon state Senate committee hearing on Senate Bill 4, which aims to eliminate so-called sanctuary cities and counties, where local officials decline to participate in federal immigration enforcement efforts. All but a few spoke in opposition to the bill by state Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock.

But at 12:45 a.m., after 16 hours of testimony, the State Affairs Committee approved the bill in a 7-2 party-line vote, sending it to the full Senate next week.

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The early morning vote, taken with only a handful of people remaining in the Senate chamber, followed a long day that began with the galleries filled to capacity and protesters periodically disrupting the proceedings, singing, “Which side are you on?” before being removed.

The scores of speakers throughout the day included many unauthorized immigrants living in Texas.

“I’m an undocumented and unafraid immigrant,” Dallas car dealership owner Marco Malagón, 34, told members of the State Affairs Committee. “I’m here to show the face of the people you are targeting. … Tell me to my face if I look criminal to you.”

Although there are very few law enforcement agencies in Texas that have declined to assist immigration enforcement, Republican lawmakers have tried unsuccessfully to ban “sanctuary” policies in the state for years. With Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick making it a top priority for the legislative session and with President Donald Trump preparing to tackle the issue nationwide, Republicans are hoping they will succeed this year with Perry’s bill.

Under the bill, police chiefs and sheriffs would be prohibited from discouraging officers from inquiring about subjects’ immigration status, county jails would be forced to cooperate with federal requests to extend the detention of inmates suspected of immigration violations, victims of crimes committed by unauthorized immigrants in sanctuary jurisdictions could sue local governments, and the state would withhold grant money from local jurisdictions that don’t comply with the bill.

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“SB 4 is about the rule of law and keeping our communities safe,” Perry said. Allowing local agencies to decline to pursue immigration cases creates “a culture of contempt for the federal law in this area, and that’s a dangerous path.”

Academic research on the subject has shown there is no clear link between sanctuary policies and increased crime. Immigrants, whether unauthorized or not, are less likely to commit crimes than U.S.-born citizens.

Although she wasn’t at Thursday’s hearing, Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez is at the center of the debate. After taking office in January, Hernandez announced that Travis County jails would only honor federal detention requests without warrants for inmates accused of such serious crimes as murder and rape.

The decision made Travis County’s jails the only ones in the state with an explicit “sanctuary” policy and it led Abbott to begin the process of stripping the county of millions of dollars in grant money. (Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez has a similar but less specific policy.)

At the hearing, Jackson County Sheriff A.J. “Andy” Louderback said he supported the bill and attacked Hernandez without naming her, saying 253 of Texas’ 254 county sheriffs were doing their jobs.

“You don’t get to decide which laws you like,” he said.

Other law enforcement officials, including Austin interim Police Chief Brian Manley, San Antonio Police Chief William McManus and Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar, testified against SB 4.

Democratic state senators questioned whether the bill would lead to law enforcement officers racially profiling Texans.

“You’re asking us to pass a law that allows for every law enforcement agent in Texas to be able to become an immigration officer, and that’s a serious concern,” state Sen. José Menéndez, D-San Antonio, said. “The folks who are worried … aren’t necessarily criminals. They are law-abiding citizens that, maybe because of the way they look, (fear) that they’re going to become targets.”

Perry noted that federal and state law already prohibits racial profiling and said that, under his bill, immigration cases will still be adjudicated by federal officials.

“I want the current federal law that we have on the books enforced,” Perry said.

What is a sanctuary city?

There is no set definition, and Senate Bill 4 doesn’t define the term.

But the term generally refers to local government policies, whether written or informal, that don’t let jail officials and police officers inquire about the immigration status of somebody in custody, or don’t allow compliance with requests to aid the transfer of prisoners into the federal immigration system.



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