House could soften sanc­tu­ary cities bill

Panel might al­ter pro­hi­bi­tion on agen­cies hav­ing poli­cies that pre­vent of­fi­cers from in­quir­ing on im­mi­gra­tion sta­tus.

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Sean Collins Walsh scwalsh@states­man.com

A Texas House com­mit­tee is con­sid­er­ing sig­nif­i­cant changes to a bill aimed at ban­ning so-called sanc­tu­ary cities — lo­cal ju­ris­dic­tions that de­cline in some way to par­tic­i­pate in fed­eral im­mi­gra­tion en­force­ment — that could limit the reach of the leg­is­la­tion.

A new ver­sion of Se­nate Bill 4 that was con­sid­ered by the House State Af­fairs Com­mit­tee on Wed­nes­day would al­ter the bill’s pro­hi­bi­tion on sher­iff and po­lice de­part­ments adopt­ing poli­cies that pre­vent of­fi­cers from in­quir­ing about sub­jects’ im­mi­gra­tion sta­tus. The change by the bill’s House spon­sor, state Rep. Char­lie Geren, R-Fort Worth, would only pro­hibit agen­cies from bar­ring their of­fi­cers from get­ting in­volved in im­mi­gra­tion is­sues with peo­ple who have been ar­rested, and not merely de­tained, a broader cat­e­gory that in­cludes any­one pulled over for a mi­nor traf­fic vi­o­la­tion.

While the tweak might tem­per some of the con­cerns raised by crit­ics of the bill who say it will lead to ra­cial pro­fil­ing, Geren has kept many of the Se­nate ver­sion’s harsh­est pro­vi­sions, in­clud­ing ones cre­at­ing a crim­i­nal of­fense for law en­force­ment of­fi­cials who adopt sanc­tu­ary poli­cies and stiff fi­nan­cial penal­ties for their agen­cies.

The El Paso Times first re­ported on pro­posed changes by Geren, who chairs the House Ad­min­is­tra­tion Com­mit­tee and is a top ally of House Speaker Joe Straus,

R-San An­to­nio.

The orig­i­nal ver­sion was au­thored by state S en. Charles Perry, R-Lub­bock, and ap­proved by the Se­nate last month in a 20-11 par

ty-line vote. In ad­di­tion to en­sur­ing lo­cal of­fi­cers could tackle im­mi­gra­tion is­sues, it aimed to ban lo­cal jails from de­clin­ing to honor fed­eral Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus- toms En­force­ment “de­tain- ers,” which are re­quests

to ex­tend the de­ten­tion of in­mates sus­pected of be­ing in the coun­try il­le­gally for up to 48 hours for pos­si­ble

de­por­ta­tion pro­ceed­ings. Travis County Sher­iff Sally Her­nan­dez, who has in­sti­tuted the state’s only county pol­icy lim­it­ing a jail’s co­op­er­a­tion with fed­eral ICE de­tainer re­quests, has be­come the face of the de­bate. Gov. Greg Ab­bott has al­ready pulled back mil­lions of dol­lars in state funding to Travis County in re­talia- tion for her new pol­icy, in which the county only hon- ors de­tainer re­quests for in­mates sus­pected of se­ri­ous crimes such as murder

and rape. Ab­bott has made ban­ning sanc­tu­ary cities one of his four “emer­gency items” for the cur­rent leg­isla­tive ses­sion. He and other Republi- cans who back such a mea­sure say it is needed to pre­serve the “rule of law” and to pre­vent unau­tho­rized im­mi­grants from com­mit­ting crimes against U.S. cit­i­zens. They have got­ten a boost from the elec­tion of Pres- ident Don­ald Trump, who reg­u­larly points to crimes com­mit­ted by im­mi­grants

as jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for his plans to build a wall along the U.S.-Mex­ico bor­der and to crack down on sanc­tu­ary cities by with­hold­ing fed­eral funds. Stud­ies have shown, how

ever, that im­mi­grant com- mu­ni­ties typ­i­cally have lower crime rates than the over­all U.S. pop­u­la­tion.

As was the case when the Se­nate con­sid­ered the mea­sure, hun­dreds of peo­ple signed up to tes­tify at Wed­nes­day’s House hear­ing on SB 4, and a vast ma­jor­ity of them op­posed it. Those who spoke against the bill Wed­nes­day in­cluded Bishop Joe Vasquez of the Catholic Dio­cese of Austin, sev­eral unau­tho­rized im­mi­grants and top law en­force­ment of­fi­cials from Austin, San An­to­nio, Dal­las and Hous- ton.

Brian Man­ley, Austin’s in­terim po­lice chief, said the bill would hurt pub­lic safety by erod­ing ties between the Po­lice Depart­ment and im­mi­grant com­mu­ni­ties, po­ten­tially mak­ing it less likely that crime vic­tims and wit­nesses would come for­ward. “We’ve worked so hard to build this trust,” Man­ley said. “I’m proud to be able to say, ‘If you see this patch and this badge, we’re fo­cused on your safety, not your im­mi­gra­tion sta­tus.’ (The bill) would take away from the abil­ity to do that.”

Many of the bill’s crit­ics tes­ti­fied Wed­nes­day that they ap­proved of Geren’s changes but still op­posed the over­all mea­sure.

“I must say that we are glad­dened and en­cour­aged

by the pro­pos­als that Chair­man Geren has made in the pro­posed lan­guage,” said Gerald Pruitt, a deputy city at­tor­ney for Fort Worth. Nev­er­the­less, he said, his city still op­poses SB 4 be­cause of a pro­vi­sion that al­lows vic­tims of crimes com­mit­ted by unau­tho­rized im­mi­grants in a sanc­tu­ary city to sue the ju­ris­dic­tion for dam­ages.

RI­CARDO B. BRAZZIELL / AMER­I­CAN-STATES­MAN

Peo­ple wait to at­tend Wed­nes­day’s state House hear­ing on Se­nate Bill 4. Hun­dreds signed up to tes­tify, and a vast ma­jor­ity of them op­posed it. Those who spoke against the bill in­cluded unau­tho­rized im­mi­grants and law en­force­ment of­fi­cials from Austin, San An­to­nio, Dal­las and Hous­ton.

RI­CARDO B. BRAZZIELL / AMER­I­CAN-STATES­MAN

Leg­isla­tive aide Toni Bar­cel­lona (from left), state Rep. By­ron Cook and state Rep. He­len Giddings lis­ten to a speaker tes­tify about Se­nate Bill 4 on Wed­nes­day in the House. The bill was ap­proved by the Se­nate last month.

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