Spotlight on D.C. Turns to Immigration

Texas’ focus on Washington will likely shift next month from health care to immigration. In late April the U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments in the state of Arizona’s case against the federal government after a lower court halted several key provisions of the state’s controversial immigration enforcement bill, SB 1070. The enjoined sections include a provision that makes it a state crime to be in the country illegally and another that requires local law enforcement officers to check the immigration status of people they suspect are in the country illegally.

Since the Arizona bill’s inception in 2010, a number of states, including Texas, have attempted to pass or have passed several of their own contentious immigration-enforcement bills. Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi all passed similar bills, only to see parts blocked by the federal courts as well. The case against them was mainly that the federal government, not individual states, has the sole power to enforce immigration laws.

In 2011, Texas’ version of an immigration enforcement law, the so-called sanctuary cities bill, failed to make it to Gov. Rick Perry’s desk twice, once during the regular legislative session and again during the special called session in June. That came despite the bill, which would have denied funds for local entities that prevented law enforcement officers from checking the immigration status of anyone arrested or detained, being deemed an emergency item by the governor. But stakeholders are betting that if SB 1070 is upheld, lawmakers will try again to pass similar legislation here. Bill author and Carrollton Republican Burt Solomons, who has chosen to not seek re-election, said the issue is too “hot button” to go away. It will likely continue to be so until some sort of reform is enacted on the national level, he added.

So what have Texans done in the meantime? Filed a flurry of amicus briefs supporting the federal government’s decision to block key provisions of Arizona’s bill. The city of Austin, the city of Laredo and Dallas County have joined other municipalities and the National League of Cities in voicing concerns that the law would divert resources from cities and counties.

Lars Etzkorn, the NLC’s program director, said the amicus brief shifts the attention from the pre-emption argument to what local governments claim would be the erosion of public safety.

“What we wanted to do was share the diversion of resources that were occurring as a result of the Arizona law,” Etzkorn said. “What it really did was make public enforcement safety harder by local governments.”

The diversion of resources is also a concern for Laredo, but the leadership in that predominantly Latino community has other concerns.

“Mayor [Raul] Salinas was concerned about the inherent ‘racist’ spirit of the law, as only a suspicion of someone being undocumented is required for police to begin questioning a person’s citizenship, leading to racial profiling for many Hispanics,” city spokeswoman Xochitl Mora Garcia said in a statement. “Additionally, law enforcement officials also point out that many crimes in immigrant communities may go unreported, for fear of deportation. For these reasons, the City of Laredo City Council decided to be a part of the collective voicing their dissent of this law.”