‘Sanctuary city’ bill filed as Senate priority

A bill filed Tuesday would require Texas cities to enforce federal immigration laws or risk losing state money.

The legislation by state Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, seeks to short circuit “sanctuary city” policies that prohibit or discourage police, jail personnel, prosecutors and other officials from inquiring into the immigration status of anybody who has been arrested or detained.

“By electing a Republican president and Republican majorities in Congress, the American people made it clear that solving our illegal immigration crisis must be a priority,” Perry said in a statement. “That starts by eliminating sanctuary cities, securing our border and enforcing the immigration laws we currently have on the books.”

A similar bill by Perry stalled in 2015 when it failed to gain enough support to allow for a floor vote.

RELATED: At Trump protest, Austin mayor vows to keep immigrant families safe

Changes in the Senate’s Republican membership, however, are expected to favor passage of Perry’s bill in the 2017 session that begins in January — at least in the upper chamber. As an added boost, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who presides over the Senate, designated Perry’s bill as a priority and gave it a correspondingly low bill number: Senate Bill 4.

“This legislation is key to keeping our border secure,” Patrick said Tuesday in a statement. “Cities that decide to act as safe havens for illegal immigrants are not only breaking federal immigration laws, they are also creating a magnet for illegal immigration.”

Opponents fear Perry’s bill could lead to racial profiling by police and force immigrants further into hiding, making them more likely to be crime victims.

“It’s bad policy and bad policing to mix immigration and local law enforcement,” said Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership, a criminal justice and immigration reform advocacy group based in Austin. “People then conflate local police with immigration (agents) and are afraid to call the police.”

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Several courts have found that requiring people to be held on suspicion that they are in the country illegally, without a warrant, violates the Constitution, Libal said.

“It’s mandating that communities violate the constitutional rights of their residents, and it’s setting communities up to be sued,” he said.

Austin police officers cannot ask about someone’s immigration status unless it is relevant to a criminal investigation, police Chief Chief Art Acevedo has said.

Travis County Sheriff-elect Sally Hernandez, a Democrat, campaigned on a promise to end cooperation at the jail with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. In recent weeks, however, Hernandez backed away from that position after facing criticism.

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