State of Texas: In Depth – Tears and anger over sanctuary cities bill

AUSTIN (KXAN) – The bill to ban sanctuary cities in Texas moved closer to becoming law last week. Despite passionate pleas from Democrats to stop Senate Bill 4, Republicans had the votes to push the measure through. Gov. Greg Abbott listed the sanctuary cities ban as one of emergency priorities. Sen. Charles Perry (R-Lubbock), who carried SB 4, believes the bill will become law quickly. “I’ll bet we go to conference next week and have it on the Governor’s desk for signing within two weeks,” Perry said.

During the heated debate, supporters managed to beef up the bill from the original version. House members approved an amendment from Rep. Matt Schaefer (R-Tyler) that gives police more leeway to ask about a person’s legal status. It lets a police officer ask about a person’s immigration status while they’re being detained. Some departments currently limit officers to asking those questions only after a person has been arrested and charged with a crime.

The amendment could set the stage for a new battle over the bill outside the legislature. “Whether it’s legislative or judicial, we’re going to keep fighting this bill,” Rep. Rafael Anchia (D-Dallas) said, suggesting a court battle is possible.  Rep. Eddie Rodriguez (D-Austin) was more direct. “Yeah, there will be a lawsuit,” Rodriguez said. “It’s intentionally discriminatory,” he added, and pointed to recent federal rulings against other moves by the Republican-led legislature. “The courts have said that about redistricting.  They’ve said that about voter ID. They’re going to say that about this.”

Sen. Perry defends his bill. “It’s against the law to do what they suggest could happen. Profiling is against the law. With or without SB 4, unfortunately, that still happens.” When asked what needs to be done to prevent profiling, Perry put the focus on individual agencies. “Hire good people. Hire people of integrity,” Perry said. “Trust that they’ll use good discretion and common sense.”

Not everyone shares that trust. “All it does is scare people,” Rep. Anchia said before the vote. “It feels like discrimination against our community.” Sen. Perry, while defending SB 4, acknowledges the fear brought about by the bill. “We have a responsibility… to make sure those communities that had those fears, one, they’re not true, and alleviate them,” Perry said. “I hope that those that were opposite this bill will take that on and not sensationalize it for political gain.”

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