TribBlog: El Paso Lawmakers Denounce Perry's Request

Gov. Rick Perry’s request that lawmakers work to abolish “sanctuary cities” in Texas could potentially increase crime in spots across the border from Mexico, according to lawmakers who met in El Paso today to denounce the governor’s request.

Demonstrators march through the streets of downtown Dallas in 2010 to protest the passage of Arizona's controversial new immigration law.

Gov. Rick Perry’s request that lawmakers work to abolish “sanctuary cities” in Texas could potentially increase crime in spots across the border from Mexico, according to lawmakers who met in El Paso today to denounce the governor’s request.

“Instead of focusing on keeping crime off our streets, police will begin to focus more on a person's immigration status than catching criminals,” freshman state Sen. Jose Rodriguez, D-El Paso, said in a statement.

Perry made abolishing sanctuary cities an emergency item, telling lawmakers this month that “ 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.”

That job, according to Rodriguez, is to fight crime — not to invite legal threats that could drain resources.

“To allow officers, untrained in immigration laws, to become immigration officers is a recipe for disaster, which could lead to lawsuits placing more of a financial burden on local governments," said Rodriguez.

Joining Rodriguez were U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-El Paso, El Paso County Judge Veronica Escobar, Mayor John Cook and members of the El Paso County Sheriff’s Department. The group also questioned whether more enforcement is needed. According to the statement, data from the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition shows that approximately 100,000 people were deported from Texas last year, which is about a quarter of the total deportations in 2010.

According to a poll conducted last year, the majority of El Pasoans feel safe, despite living across from Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, which has witnessed a murder count exceeding 7,500 since 2008. The poll commissioned by the Border Network for Human Rights and conducted by the Reuel Group reflected that 76 percent of El Pasoans said they felt their neighborhoods were as safe as those elsewhere in the U.S.

Rodriguez’ press conference came one day after Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told an audience at George Washington University that the border was more secure than ever.

“The number of illegal crossings – the best indicator of illegal traffic – is now at less than half its all-time high,” she said in a prepared statement. “Because of the dedicated work of our ICE personnel, in the past fiscal year more illegal aliens with criminal records were deported from the U.S. than ever before, a 70 percent increase from two years ago.”

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