The bill to ban so-called sanctuary cities is headed to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk.
After the Texas House last week approved Senate Bill 4 after an emotional 16-hour debate, the Senate, which had already passed its own version, on Wednesday voted 20-11 along party lines to approve the House’s modifications, averting the need for a joint committee to hash out the differences between the two chambers’ versions.
At the beginning of the legislative session, Abbott said banning sanctuary cities, the common term for local jurisdictions that decline in some way to assist federal immigration enforcement, was one of his priorities for lawmakers.
SB 4 by Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, imposes stiff penalties on local governments and officials who lead local police forces that restrict when officers can inquire about subjects’ immigration status and on county jails that don’t cooperate with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement “detainer” requests, meant to facilitate deportation proceedings for inmates suspected of being unauthorized immigrants.
The bill’s House sponsor, Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, attempted to soften the bill after it was passed by the Senate, but the lower chamber ended up making it tougher when it adopted amendments proposed by tea party-aligned legislators.
During Wednesday’s debate, Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, questioned Perry over one of those provisions — labeled by critics as the “show me your papers” amendment — that requires police departments to let their officers ask immigration-related questions of anyone who has been detained, a broad category that includes those involved in routine traffic stops.
Whitmire noted that he and Perry, both white men, were unlikely to face such questions, while many Latino Texans will have a new reason to fear interactions with police.
Perry said he didn’t think that was an “accurate” statement and added that he has been confused for a Hispanic in the past. He noted that racial profiling is already illegal and said that he had taken those issues into consideration in crafting the bill.
“I sat through the testimony and I heard every one of those concerns … but I’m elected to try and maintain civil order and civil society,” Perry said. “I have friends, Hispanics, who talk to me regularly. Some of them are like, ‘It’s a great law.’”
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who presides over the Senate, applauded lawmakers’ efforts to send the bill to the governor after failed attempts in previous legislative sessions.
“This legislation will eliminate a substantial incentive for illegal immigration and help make Texas communities safer,” Patrick said in a statement. “There is no excuse for endangering our communities by allowing criminal aliens who have committed a crime to go free.”
Although the bill is almost across the finish line, Democrats aren’t giving up their staunch opposition.
Two dozen bill opponents, including Austin City Council Member Greg Casar and Austin Community College Trustee Julie Ann Nitsch, were arrested Monday after an all-day, sit-in protest in the lobby of a state office building that houses some of the governor’s staff offices.
On Wednesday, Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, said that in weighing whether to sign the bill, Abbott faces a decision pitting the teachings of the governor’s Catholic faith and wife’s Hispanic immigrant roots against the demands of a “sliver” of the electorate that controls GOP primaries.
Anchia, who chairs the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, said that Abbott must ask himself, “Am I going to be true to my faith and the person I am married to and I love, or am I going to look like a hypocrite by signing this bill?”
After the House vote last week, Abbott tweeted, “In a few weeks I will sign a law that bans sanctuary cities in Texas. I’ve already defunded one.”
That is a reference to his move to cut off some funds to Travis County because of Sheriff Sally Hernandez’s policy limiting the county jail’s cooperation with ICE detainer requests to inmates accused of the most serious crimes.
If the bill becomes law and Hernandez doesn’t change her policy, she could face criminal charges and be removed from office, and the county could face fines of up to $25,000 per day. Hernandez hasn’t yet detailed her plans for dealing with SB 4, but she has said she will follow state law.
Additional material from staff writer Jonathan Tilove.