In near record time, the Texas Senate passed Senate Bill 4, legislation authored by state Sen. Charles Perry (R-Lubbock), which seeks to end so-called sanctuary city policies in our state.
To date, only Travis County has put such policies in place, while Dallas County has reserved the right to do so on a case-by-case basis. The other 252 county sheriffs in Texas have not done so.
A sanctuary city is generally understood to be a place where local law enforcement refuses the request of the federal government to have the immigration status reviewed of someone charged with a crime.
SB 4 focuses on four specific areas: civil liability; assistance to federal agents, custody and prohibitions. The bill:
• States that an entity is civilly liable if a detainer is issued and not honored and the criminal is released and commits a felony offense.
• Allows — not requires or encourages — an officer to provide assistance to federal law enforcement.
• Allows an individual with a detainer to serve the last seven days of a sentence in federal custody.
• Bars a local entity or university campus police department from prohibiting or discouraging the enforcement of immigration laws — including inquiring about immigration status — once under lawful detention or arrest and cooperating with appropriate federal partners, like Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
At issue is whether cities, counties and college campuses can choose to be sanctuaries for illegal immigrants.
Supporters of sanctuary city policies generally give one reason for their view: They believe a chilling effect will occur throughout immigrant communities if police officers cooperate with immigration officials. For example, an illegal immigrant who witnesses a crime might be unwilling to share information with police for fear of being deported, the argument goes.
But this argument is entirely unpersuasive. The bill specifically protects the identities of victims of domestic abuse or witnesses to a crime. So now that reason to oppose this bill is null and void.
It is true that many law enforcement officials support sanctuary cities. But not all of them do.
In fact, former Travis County Sheriff Greg Hamilton, a Democrat who just retired after a sterling career, repeatedly refused to make Travis County a sanctuary for illegal immigrants because he thought it was not in the best interests of public safety.
The question here is whether those charged with a crime should have a “detainer request” — which must be issued by a federal judge — honored by a local sheriff’s office. There is simply no legitimate reason why a few sheriffs wish to ignore requests from federal judges and stop cooperating with ICE.
In Austin, Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez recently announced her decision to make the county a sanctuary, saying: “The public must be confident that local law enforcement is focused on local public safety, not on federal immigration enforcement. This office will not increase our liability or set unwise public safety priorities simply to ease the burden of the federal government.”
But she did say that in cases of murder, sexual assault and human trafficking, she would cooperate with immigration officials and honor detainer requests.
So let me get this straight: Is she not worried about the “chilling effect” in those cases?
Why not also include kidnapping, spousal abuse, driving under the influence and drug trafficking on the list of exceptions?
Some people ask, “What about local control?” My answer is this: The local control argument holds water under public safety that is at risk, as it is in these cases. Does anyone think that the 37 criminal immigrants that Hernandez just released will limit their future activities solely to Travis County?
SB4 seeks to punish, with stiff fines ofeventually up to $25,500 levied against any local entity in violation of this law.
There is simply no reasonable argument that a sanctuary city policy serves public safety; in fact it undermines it.
The Senate has passed strong and tough legislation. Texans should demand the House do the same – and soon.
Mackowiak is syndicated columnist, an Austin-based Republican consultant and a former Capitol Hill and Bush administration aide.