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Hearing portends coming battle over ‘sanctuary cities’


In 1996, Claudia Espinosa was an unauthorized immigrant living in San Antonio with two kids, ages 6 and 10, and an abusive husband. She wanted out of her marriage, but she couldn’t find a safe escape.

“I remained silent for two years because of the fear that I had of the authority and the law that did not protect me as an undocumented woman,” Espinosa, 41, told a Texas Senate committee. “There are many undocumented women who are fearful about speaking up. My ex-husband threatened me with the idea of deportation if I reported to the police.”

The latest skirmish in the legislative battle over so-called sanctuary cities — local jurisdictions that decline to enforce federal immigration policies — happened Friday in a hearing of the Senate Veteran Affairs and Military Installations Committee. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has tasked the committee with studying the issue in advance of next year’s session.

Conservatives have tried and failed several times to pass laws prohibiting cities and counties from failing to cooperate with immigration enforcement efforts or punishing those who don’t cooperate. With the support of Gov. Greg Abbott and Patrick, they are sure to make another push next year.

“The Senate will pass legislation in 2017 that will include a provision to end the practice of ‘sanctuary cities’ in Texas, once and for all,” Patrick said in a statement Friday. “There will be enough votes to pass it in the Texas Senate.”

Espinosa, who said in an interview that she has become a U.S. citizen through the federal Violence Against Women Act, was one of several witnesses who told senators that forcing local law enforcement agencies to allow their officers to inquire about suspects’ immigration statuses will make communities less safe.

State Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, who last year authored a bill on the issue, said future proposals are likely to include exceptions for victims of crime.

“We live in very trying times with respect to protecting the citizens of this country. We have a porous and open border,” Perry said. “The one thing that government is supposed to do is protect the good and punish the evil. … We just want our laws enforced.”

Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez made headlines last fall when she said she will not always honor federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s “detainer” requests, in which county jails hold inmates suspected of immigration violations for an extra 48 hours. The move led Abbott to say he will withhold state grant money from sheriffs who fail to assist federal immigration efforts.

In liberal Travis County, where many oppose assisting federal immigration authorities, Sheriff Greg Hamilton has been criticized for doing so. Hamilton, however, is not running for re-election, and all of the Democratic candidates have vowed to end the county’s practice of honoring the detainer requests.

Patrick asked the Senate committee to study three areas that could bolster conservatives’ position next session: examining sanctuary city policies that exist in Texas now, determining how many previously arrested undocumented immigrants later committed crimes and looking for solutions “to discourage governmental entities from putting in place policies that conflict with immigration laws.”

Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, said he understood that Republicans will probably have enough votes next session to pass a bill on sanctuary cities but urged them to “reconsider the fact that there are human beings coming to the border.”

“I read the Bible quite a bit, and even the Messiah was an immigrant at some point,” Lucio said. “It’s still the same thing 2,000 years later, quite frankly, where people are trying their best to survive.”

Perry responded with his own biblical invocation.

“My Bible says government is on the shoulders of Christ,” Perry said. “The one thing that government is supposed to do is protect the good and punish the evil.”


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