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TribBlog: Hispanic Democrats: Lege "Chasing Ghosts"

Hispanic members of the Texas House responded swiftly to Gov. Rick Perry designating abolishing "sanctuary" cities a legislative emergency. “Instead of leading us through a $27 billion dollar budget shortfall that is poised to cripple our schools, our communities and the public health system, we are chasing ghosts,” said Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio.

Perry Speaks on the First Day of Session 2011

It didn’t take long for Hispanic Democrats to pounce on Gov. Rick Perry for calling on the Texas Legislature to fast-track immigration-related legislation today. Perry designated abolishing sanctuary cities, the common term for municipalities whose police officers do not enforce federal immigration laws or refer persons suspected of being in the country illegally to federal authorities, as an emergency item during the 82nd Texas Legislature that began today. Eminent domain legislation is also on the list, which means the issues can be addressed during the first 30 days of the session.

“Governor Rick Perry has decided to gloss over the real challenges at hand and instead focus on proving up his Anti-Federal Government bona fides,” said Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, the chairman of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus. “Instead of leading us through a $27 billion dollar budget shortfall that is poised to cripple our schools, our communities and the public health system; we are chasing ghosts.”

Perry made the plea in separate speeches to the Texas House and Senate today. “We must abolish sanctuary city rules in this state,” he said. “Free up our police officers to do their job, keeping our families and our neighborhoods safe."

When asked how many cities currently have these policies in place — and if the amount warranted the “emergency” declaration — the governor’s office did not provide a number. Instead it said the laws are an attempt to prevent the "sanctuary" policies altogether.

“The designation was to make sure that there are no cities that have those policies any longer,” said Katherine Cesinger, Perry’s press secretary. “We are looking to work with lawmakers to abolish the ability of any municipality to implement that type of policy.”

State Rep. Mike Villarreal, D-San Antonio, said the issue is an attempt to distract Texans from the budget deficit.

“Once again, the Governor demonstrates that he is a masterful politician,” Villarreal said in a statement. "Just when the public begins to learn that the state's financial crisis is worse than California's, he distracts us with a controversial issue that ultimately cannot be resolved by the state."

"Texans deserve a state government that puts responsible governance over scoring political points," Rep. Villarreal said. "Doesn't he know the election is over? He won. Now it's time for him take responsibility for our schools, our jobs, and the financial crisis he helped create."

Added state Rep. Armando Walle, D-Houston: “Law enforcement officers across the state understand that crime victims and witnesses are their most important resources for solving crimes. We cannot afford to alienate anyone who could be of assistance in solving crimes.”

In Arizona, state enforcement of federal immigration laws has faced legal challenges since its government passed SB 1070. The legislation is currently tied up in a federal appeals court. Opponents of similar legislation in Texas say the laws will receive the same fate and cost the state millions in legal fees in an already tight budget cycle.

Cesinger said she didn’t think that was true and that Perry would also disagree with that assertion.

“He would also say that law enforcement, specifically, have concerns about this themselves. This is something that ties the hands of law enforcement and we need to make sure that they have all the tools to protect our families and communities,” she said.

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