Texas lawmakers bring back idea to strip APD of grants

(KXAN Photo/ Phil Prazan)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Some Texas leaders resumed a push Friday to force Austin police to play a more active role in enforcing immigration laws. A Texas Senate committee on border security tackled tough questions. Should cities and counties police Texans regardless of their legal status? Should police ask if someone came here legally?

“This is serious business,” said Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury. “Is there a willful or complicity in the disobedience of law?”

Last session, SB 185 came one vote short from passing the Texas Senate. It would have forced police to ask someone their legal status when they had probable cause and it would have stripped state grants from departments that did not. It failed to pass the senate by one vote.

In between sessions, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick assigned lawmakers to study the laws again. Here is his charge:

Study the various sanctuary city policies statewide, the number and types of crimes committed by previously arrested illegal immigrants within the jurisdiction of a “sanctuary policy” and possible solutions to discourage governmental entities from putting in place policies that conflict with immigration laws. He also wants recommendations made to improve community safety.

Critics say this would lead to racial profiling.

Cladea Espinosa told the Senate committee she moved here from Mexico with her husband and two kids. For two years, she says her husband beat her and she stayed silent. She came here illegally.

“I thought that if I reported the abuse I would be separated from my family,” said Espinosa. “I’m fearful for the women that are suffering domestic violence and are still afraid to call police because they’re afraid to be deported.”

For years, Austin police reached out to the immigrant community for trust, hoping to encourage everyone to call 911 to report crimes.

But the author of the bill made it clear Friday, he’s determined to bring the idea up again.

“There’s a group we continue to ignore. Those who are law abiding citizens that have the potential to have their safety jeopardized by inaction” said Rep. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock. His office confirmed APD’s policy of policing “regardless of status” is what the idea hopes to stop. Simply put, he wants police to regard status while they do their police work.

He says victims of crimes like Cladea would not be deported and this law would make everyone safer. But police could be stuck between a rock and a hard place – lose money, or lose trust from part of the community.

For some perspective, Travis County detains some of the highest numbers of undocumented people in the country. In the first few weeks of this year they’ve issued 51 ICE detainers.

Republican lawmakers in Texas and across the country are trying to crack down on cities like Austin where officers don’t ask people they stop about their immigration status. In 2011 and again in 2015 state lawmakers introduced bills to ban so-called sanctuary cities, but the legislation failed both times.

Just two months ago, North Carolina passed a bill banning sanctuary city policies in that state. And in Wisconsin, lawmakers are debating a bill that would take away funding from cities who ban questions about a person’s immigration status. Just last October, the U.S. Senate tried to strip federal funds from so-called sanctuary cities, but Democrats blocked that bill.

Republicans have urged taking action since this summer. That’s when a woman in San Francisco was allegedly killed by a Mexican national who had been deported five times and was released from a jail without being turned over to federal immigration officials.

Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick is using a recent sexual assault as ammunition on this issue. Thursday night we told you police charged a man, who was in the country illegally, for allegedly raping a woman near a gas station at Interstate 35 and St. John’s Avenue. Police identified him through DNA. Patrick’s Twitter account says this is another example highlighting the need for border security.

Lt. Governor Patrick also sent a statement to the committee Friday:

“For some, this is an emotional, personal issue. For others, it’s a matter of the police being expected, and allowed, to enforce laws already on the books. For us all, it is a matter of public safety and the need for comprehensive border security,” said Patrick. “Let there be no misunderstanding, however, while legislation has yet to be drafted and the debate continues, the Senate will pass legislation in 2017 that will include a provision to end the practice of ‘sanctuary cities’ in Texas, once and for all, and second, there will be enough votes to pass it in the Texas Senate.”

Austin police get several state grants through the governor’s office. Their active grants are:

$133,881 for Austin Police Services for Victims of Domestic Violence (VAWA)

$98,718 for APD Coverdell Project

$230,310 for Victim Crisis Intervention Project

$47,916 for Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Project.

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