House approves sanctuary city bill after long debate

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Texas House approved a hard-line immigration bill early Thursday morning after a long debate. The House vote was 93 to 54. It was taken at 2:58 a.m.

If Senate Bill 4 is signed by the governor, police officers would be able to ask the immigration status of a person before they make an arrest. The original intent was to force Texas county jails to hold alleged criminals here illegally for immigration officials to pick them up for deportation.

“All it does is scare people, create terror in the Hispanic community and it feels like discrimination against our community,” said Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas.

Senate Bill 4, the so-called sanctuary city bill, would ban local rules that prevent authorities from enforcing immigration laws or asking about someone’s immigration status. It became an issue after Travis County sheriff Sally Hernandez would let accused criminals here illegally bond out of jail, including several people accused of sexual assault of a child.

House lawmakers have made some changes to SB4 since it cleared the upper chamber in February. They took out a provision that would cut funding to local programs if an official violates the law.

“There’s some changes,” State Senator Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, said. “Some for the better, some are neutral, some that you know we probably need to have a discussion about, but all in all it is a pretty stout bill, still.” Perry, who authored SB4, says his bill would reinforce the existing rule of law and provide consistency among the state’s law enforcement agencies.

Within the 30 minutes of the item being up for discussion, there was a tense exchange between Rep. Jason Villalba, R-Dallas, and Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas.

“It is suggested that Latino countries don’t send their best here, well, I’m the son of immigrants,” said Rep. Anchia. “And I love my country. And when my mother came here, Mexico sent her best.” In response, Villalba said, “Chairman Anchia, Why do we have this bill? We have this bill because there are people in our communities who we care about feel unsafe.”

Several lawmakers are participating in a hunger strike in opposition to the bill. State Rep. Victoria Neave, D-Dallas, started fasting on Sunday and says she will continue fasting until the House adjourns on Wednesday.

“We don’t have enough votes to defeat it,” Neave said. “I just don’t think people realize the impact that this legislation is going to have on our state and our communities.”

Earlier in the day, Immigrant families gathered at the Texas State Capitol with lawmakers against the bill to discuss, what they’re saying is, the disastrous impact the bill’s passing could have on Texas families and the economy.

On Tuesday, Austin Mayor Steve Adler left a meeting with U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions believing that the Texas capital isn’t a sanctuary city in the eyes of the federal government.

Gov. Greg Abbott has already vowed to sign the bill into law if it reaches his desk.

Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez released a statement about the vote Thursday morning:

I’m very proud of our Democrat delegation. They truly listened to leaders in both law enforcement and communities of faith, as well as the people we are sworn to protect and serve. They presented factual, common sense truths rather than fear based, misleading rhetoric. They recognized the cost of forcing local law enforcement to do the job of the federal government and the liability it places upon us.

These men and women inspire me and I have great respect for the valiant fight they continue to wage for the sake of public safety in our great state.

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