Border lawmakers who oppose Gov. Rick Perry's call to abolish “sanctuary cities” in Texas are misinterpreting his stance on the issue, according to his aides.
Aides say the governor wants peace officers in Texas to have the option to inquire about a person's immigration status, but would oppose laws that require them to ask — what his office referred to as Arizona-style legislation. It’s all about “discretion,” a spokeswoman says.
“If a peace officer feels it's necessary to question the legal status of an individual during a lawful stop, he [or] she should be able to do so and refer to the appropriate federal authorities,” says Perry spokeswoman Catherine Frazier. “The governor continues to oppose demanding peace officers inquire, just as he opposes measures that prevent them from asking.”
Last week El Paso lawmakers met in that border town to denounce Perry’s declaration that abolishing “sanctuary cities” be fast-tracked after he declared the issue an emergency item.
“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. The move could potentially increase crime in Texas, according to Rodriguez and a host of other lawmakers, including U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-El Paso.
Those lawmakers said the legislation filed so far this session would require “police officers to ask about immigration status” and that “chiefs and sheriffs would not be able to limit the ability of their offices.”
“At this point, there has been legislation filed that requires [it] and that’s what we were basing it on,” says Rodriguez’s spokeswoman, Emily Amps Mora. “HB 311 which is [by state rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth] says ‘peace officers shall inquire as to the immigration status of any person under arrest on other grounds.’”
Perry’s office concedes that a number of bills contain language that mandates peace officers inquire about status, and that the office was still working with lawmakers to achieve Perry’s ultimate goal. But aides also say any black-and-white language that specifically requires officers to ask won’t garner his support.
“We are working with lawmakers to formulate legislation that the governor has talked about and he will not accept any measure that will require law enforcement to inquire about immigration,” Frazier says.
Lawmakers in El Paso also argue that the system in place there is working, and that the city remains one of the safest of its size in the country despite being across from Ciudad Juárez, one of the world's deadliest cities.
“The threat of spillover violence remains a harsh reality and a hazard that Texas has not been completely immune from," Frazier says in reply to that. "Texas must ensure all border communities have adequate resources at hand to put a line of defense between their citizens and the ongoing violence along the Texas-Mexico border."