POLITICS
04/27/2017 04:26 pm ET

Texas GOP Poised To Get The Immigration Crackdown They've Wanted For Years

The bill bans "sanctuary city" policies and punishes officials who enact them.

AUSTIN, Texas ― The Texas House of Representatives approved a bill on Thursday that would put a statewide ban on “sanctuary” policies aimed at forcing local law enforcement to cooperate with deportation efforts by threatening officials with jail time, fines and losing their jobs. If the House version becomes law, it would also allow police to question the immigration status of anyone they stop ― even children.

The bill will have to be reconciled with a version passed by the Senate in February before it goes to Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk, where it is almost certain to get a signature.

The bill seeks to ban “sanctuary” policies by requiring local law enforcement to cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. This would mean sharing information and detaining people police would otherwise release upon the agency’s request. 

If the bill goes into law, jurisdictions that don’t comply will lose state funds and officials ― both within law enforcement and outside it ― could be charged with a misdemeanor. They could also be subject to fines and removed from office. That includes campus police, despite the fact that Texas also has a law on the books allowing undocumented immigrants to qualify for in-state tuition.

Democratic legislators ― who have staunchly fought efforts like these for years ― wore orange ribbons on their lapels to show their opposition and delayed the vote for some 16 hours on Wednesday by filing a flurry of more than 100 amendments. But as the debate creeped into the early morning hours, Republican lawmakers passed a motion to kill dozens of adjustments that had yet to be discussed.

They were unable to block amendments that made the bill harsher than the one passed out of committee. One change was the provision allowing local police to ask people their immigration status, even during routine traffic stops, drawing comparisons from opponents to Arizona’s controversial SB1070.  This would also include children ― Republicans voted down an amendment to apply the law only to adults.

If your goal was to use immigrants for political gain, you have succeeded Texas state Rep. Rafael Anchia

“Sanctuary” policies vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, but the term is most often applies to jurisdictions that decline to hold people for ICE if it would otherwise release them because their charges were dropped or they were granted bond.

They have a variety of reasons: it costs money to detain people for extra time, hurts police-community relations and risks legal challenges because some courts have ruled holding people on ICE detainers alone is unconstitutional. On Tuesday, a federal judge blocked President Donald Trump’s executive order also meant to force “sanctuary cities” to work with ICE, ruling it was likely unconstitutional.

The only Texas jurisdiction with a formal sanctuary policy limiting ICE detainers is Travis County, which includes the state capital city of Austin. Officials there dispute that they’re breaking the law, but Gov. Abbott stripped the county of some $1.5 million in state funds in retaliation. Other jurisdictions would likely be at risk as well; Houston, for example, bars its officers from asking about immigration status because officials say it improves their ability to work with the community.

Immigrant rights advocates, many undocumented themselves, flooded the Texas Capitol Wednesday to show their opposition to the bill. They carried voter registration applications with them, vowing to make Republicans suffer at the ballot box if they pass the bill. Austin City Councilman Greg Casar derided the bill as a “racist” attack on Hispanics and immigrants and said opponents will immediately challenge the law in the courts. “This fight is not over,” Casar told a crowd gathered for a vigil under the capitol rotunda.

A 9-year-old girl, who had testified against the bill when it was debated in committee, told the same crowd that it was ridiculous that children should be pressed into lobbying on behalf of her undocumented parents. “Be ashamed of yourselves,” she said of the Texas conservatives who pushed the law.

But Republican legislators here have repeatedly ignored the entreaties of both immigrant rights groups and some of the state’s top law enforcement officials to abandon the bill. During committee hearings, sheriffs and police chiefs from several of the state’s largest cities told lawmakers that the bill would make their jobs harder and increase criminal activity by making immigrant communities distrustful of local police.

After Trump implemented harsher deportation policies, Houston saw a decline in Latinos reporting rape and domestic abuse, Police Chief Art Acevedo said earlier this month.

Texas Rep. Mary González (D-Clint) fell to tears during a speech to the House floor, as she told her colleagues the bill would make it harder for survivors of sexual assault like her to seek help from the police.

“If you ever had any friendship with me,” González said, according to The Texas Tribune, “this is the vote that measures that friendship.”

Before final passage, Texas state Rep. Rafael Anchia (D) told colleagues that he had trouble even looking at them after they moved forward with the bill the day before.

“If your goal was to use immigrants for political gain, you have succeeded,” Anchia said.

“If your goal was to strike terror in the hearts of immigrants so they go home, you succeeded. And if your goal was to win yesterday at all costs, you succeeded. As the vanquished in yesterday’s battle, I say congratulations, and I hope you’re satisfied.”

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