Proposing state enforcement of immigration laws can produce strange bedfellows.
The Texas ACLU and an El Paso county sheriff who supports the controversial Secure Communities program stood side by side at the State Capitol in Austin on Thursday to denounce pre-filed, immigration-related legislation similar to Arizona’s SB 1070. A conservative businessman was added to the mix, indicating lawmakers intent on rounding up Texas’ undocumented population might have a harder time than initially presumed.
“Who would imagine that after 28 years of law enforcement the ACLU would be talking so nicely about me,” Sheriff Richard Wiles joked after being introduced as a common-sense sheriff by ACLU of Texas Executive Director Terri Burke for his opposition to proposed legislation patterned off Arizona’s.
Wiles and Burke were a part of a coalition that included the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Texas Residents United for a Stronger Texas and the Reform Immigration for Texas Alliance.
Wiles said policies that require local law enforcement to enforce federal immigration laws would take resources away from where it’s needed.
“Police departments are not growing, many of them are shrinking yet the workload has not. So we want … to add an additional workload on officers and take them away from doing what the citizens expect them to do, which is to be in their neighborhood targeting criminals that are burglaring their homes or stealing their car,” he said.
Through the Secure Communities program, administered by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, local law enforcement compares the fingerprints of anyone arrested against those in a Department of Homeland Security database to determine if the individual can be removed under immigration laws. Some organizations, including the ACLU, have called it a tool that enables racial profiling. Wiles defended the practice, however.
“You are talking about issues of criminals in our community, whether they are undocumented immigrants or not, and that is certainly a concern of law enforcement. So where we have the opportunity to take a criminal who is undocumented, hold them accountable for the crime and then deport them, is a definite benefit for our community for everybody,” he said.
Wiles said the proposed immigration legislation would do nothing to curtail the violence across the border, specifically in Ciudad Juárez, refuting claims by lawmakers that an immigration crackdown would stymie the bloodshed.
“These issues that are occurring in Juárez have nothing to do with the immigration problem. Those issues are about the drug trade and about cartels fighting each other,” he said.
Bill Hammond, the executive director of the Texas Association of Business, said Texas should realize the business “pipeline” in Arizona has run dry after it passed its law and that Texas could share the same fate if bills aimed at businesses who hire undocumented immigrant pass.
“Some of this legislation would require then to become forensic experts and we think that’s unfair. It’s an unfair burden on them when what they are trying to do is provide employment for Texans who want a job,” he said. “Mexican nationals invest literally millions and millions of dollars in Texas and we believe that one of the detrimental effects that people haven’t considered is the drying up of that investment. In my view, if this legislation were to become law, perhaps someone should file a bill to change the state’s motto ['Friendship'] as well,” he said.