Revisiting "Sanctuary Cities" in Texas Policy

Perry Speaks on the First Day of Session 2011
Perry Speaks on the First Day of Session 2011

Despite a budget shortfall that could hit $27 billion, Gov. Rick Perry on Tuesday declared enhancing private property rights and abolishing "sanctuary cities" as emergency priorities, enabling them to be fast-tracked through the legislative process. "Immigration laws and their enforcement are the responsibility of the federal government ... but we cannot compound their failure by preventing Texas peace officers from doing their jobs," Perry told lawmakers.

This isn't the first time the governor's made sanctuary cities an issue. He brought them up in his 2009 State of the State address and criticized his 2010 Democratic opponent, former Houston Mayor Bill White, throughout the campaign for presiding over an alleged sanctuary city. White and current Houston Mayor Annise Parker (see below) both adamantly rejected that claim.

The term "sanctuary city" has no legal meaning, but it generally refers to a municipality that has established policies prohibiting police officers from enforcing immigration laws or cooperating with federal immigration officials. In fact, Texas law states that police officers generally cannot arrest people without probable cause of a crime, and immigration violations often are civil matters, not criminal cases. 

In light of the renewed discussion over sanctuary cities, we invite you to revisit a story by the Tribune's Matt Stiles and Reeve Hamilton that described the similarity between Houston's policy and the state's policy of not allowing Department of Public Safety troopers to inquire about immigration status during routine patrols. Stiles and Hamilton asked: If Houston is a sanctuary city, why isn't Texas a sanctuary state

Much like Houston, the Texas Department of Public Safety doesn't allow its troopers to stop individuals solely based on the suspicion that they might be illegal immigrants. "We do not enforce federal immigration laws," said Tela Mange, a DPS spokeswoman. "If, for some reason, a trooper on a traffic stop suspects that someone may not be here legally, the trooper can contact ICE for assistance, but we can't detain that person solely because we think they may not be here legally."

 

For more, read the full story, which includes downloadable documents detailing the DPS policy and Houston's corresponding rules.

Late in the campaign, the Tribune's Evan Smith raised the "sanctuary state" question with Perry during their hour-long sit-down:

SMITH: The policies of DPS. I'll quote you the language. "The Department of Public Safety will not engage in enforcement of federal immigration statutes." That is from the Department of Public Safety's own charge. Why is that different from Houston?

PERRY: I think that the Houston statute is different.

SMITH: You just think it's different? But it basically says the same thing: They don't enforce federal immigration statutes.

PERRY: I think the, I think the Houston law is different, than what you're looking at there.

Watch the full exchange:


As for the city of Houston's policy, Mayor Annise Parker had this to say to critics when we quizzed her about it in late 2009:

 

Texas Tribune donors or members may be quoted or mentioned in our stories, or may be the subject of them. For a complete list of contributors, click here.

Sign Up for The Brief

Our daily news summary