Secure Communities Provision Added to House Bill

A portion of a multi-faceted homeland security bill that appeared near dead earlier was successfully attached tonight to a House bill relating to the deportation of illegal immigrants who have been incarcerated and released from prison.

A portion of a multifaceted homeland security bill that appeared near dead earlier was successfully attached tonight to a House bill relating to the deportation of illegal immigrants who have been incarcerated and released from prison.

SB 9, by state Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, was left pending in the House Calendars Committee after sailing through the Senate last month. The deadline to set a House calendar was Sunday, and SB 9 didn’t make the cut. But today Williams attached a piece of SB 9 — the part that requires the names of all persons arrested to be run through the federal Secure Communities initiative — as an amendment to HB 2734 by state Rep. Jerry Madden, R-Plano.

Secure Communities is a program administered by Immigration and Customs Enforcement in which local law enforcement compares the fingerprints of those arrested to a DHS database to determine if the individual can be deported. The system is currently in place in county jails statewide, but Williams said there are “loopholes” — specifically, local jails that do not transfer arrested persons to county lock-ups.

Madden’s bill would require that illegal immigrants who are arrested be released to the custody of ICE and leave the country as soon as possible.

Williams, the Senate sponsor of Madden’s bill, said last year that more than 3,180 offenders in the state prison system had final deportation orders but  “due to a backlog and ICE priorities it wasn’t always a fact” that deportation occurred.

Williams has made clear the high priority he places on SB 9, which would also institute stronger penalties for multiple felonies, codify proof-of-citizenship requirements for driver's licenses and state-issued IDs, and would establish an automatic license-plate reader program for vehicles used by the Texas Department of Public Safety. 

After learning the bill was stuck in a House committee last week, Williams, the chairman of the Senate Committee on Transportation and Homeland Security, took the unusual step of accepting a substitute for HB 12, the controversial sanctuary cities legislation designated by Gov. Rick Perry as an emergency item. HB 12 would prohibit local governmental entities from adopting policies that prevent local law enforcement from inquiring about the immigration status of people lawfully detained or arrested. The substitute replaced the immigration legislation with language from SB 9. Two days later, however, Williams reverted back to the sanctuary cities language when the Senate committee convened again.

HB 12 is on the Senate’s Intent Calendar and could be considered at any time before Wednesday’s deadline. But the 12 Senate Democrats have vowed to try and block it from floor consideration and could likely do it if the upper chamber adheres to the rule requiring a two-thirds vote of the body to get a bill to the floor.

There was a brief tense moment today when Williams was asked whether he would accept any more amendments to Madden’s bill, including any sanctuary cities legislation.

“You wouldn’t accept an amendment that had any part of HB 12, is that correct?” pressed state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin.

Williams said he would not, as he didn’t think the issue was similar enough to attach it on to Madden’s bill. Watson went a step further and asked about the possibility that HB 12 language could be attached to HB 2734 if the bill went to a conference committee.

“It’s not my intention to put this [HB 12] here or anywhere else,” Williams said. The bill passed without additional amendments.

Williams said he was still intent on finding a vehicle for HB 12 should he need to, however. He has said repeatedly that he thinks sanctuary cities and homeland security should be considered as separate issues, and he stuck by that position today. Still, he insisted that he supports HB 12 and was looking for a means to pass it through the Senate.

“At some point I am going to try and bring the sanctuary cities bill. I am going to do my best to pass it,” he said.

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