With Clock Ticking, Immigration Bills in Limbo

A homeland security bill that was a major factor in whether the state’s sanctuary cities legislation — one of Gov. Rick Perry's emergency items — would be signed into law failed to get placed on a House calendar for this week.

Protesters hold signs reading "No Arizona Hate in Texas" — a reference to a recently passed law in that state — during a 2011 demonstration against "sanctuary city" legislation in Austin.

A homeland security bill that was a major factor in whether the state’s sanctuary cities legislation — one of Gov. Rick Perry's emergency items — would be signed into law failed to get placed on a House calendar for this week.

Sunday was the deadline to set bills. Even though the House Calendars committee met, once in a formal meeting and later during its annual committee dinner, no action was taken on SB 9.

The bill, by state Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, is an omnibus homeland security bill that would, among other things, require all law enforcement agencies to adopt Secure Communities, institute stronger penalties for a laundry list of felonies codify proof-of-citizenship requirements for driver's licenses and state-issued IDs. It would also establish an automatic license-plate reader pilot program for vehicles used by DPS officers. The House last week added measures that included language on southbound checkpoints, E-Verify, states' rights and new laws involving the distribution of seized assets.

Last week, Williams, frustrated that SB 9 was languishing in a House committee after passing the Senate 26 to 5, turned the tables on the House: He accepted a committee substitute for HB 12, the sanctuary cities bill, which essentially gutted the immigration-related language and replaced it with his SB 9. The Senate bill made it out of the House Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security on Friday, however, and Williams subsequently made a motion to accept HB 12 with the sanctuary cities language intact during a later committee meeting. It was placed on today’s Senate intent calendar, which means it can see floor action anytime before Wednesday’s deadline for the upper chamber to consider House bills.

When asked what was next and if Williams had any procedural maneuvers in mind to revive SB 9, his office declined to comment.

With eight days remaining in the session, all eyes are on the 31-member Senate. The 12 Democrats can block HB 12 from reaching the floor for debate if the Senate follows tradition and requires two-thirds of the body needs to agree to get a bill to the floor. They have already distributed a letter to their colleagues urging a vote against the measure.

“We have concerns about racially profiling our citizens under the guise of cracking down on so-called 'sanctuary cities,'" the letter said. "There is a tremendous risk that such legislation would inadvertently target legal citizens of Texas, solely because they fall within a certain ethnic demographic.”

One Democratic senator, José Rodríguez of El Paso, went further in explaining his opposition to the bill at a Monday morning press conference. “HB 12, in my view, is driven by fear — fear of the growing political and socioeconomic influence of Latinos on this community,” he said.

The full text of the Senate Democrats' letter:

May 21, 2011

Dear Colleague:

We are writing to you today to ask you to fully consider the impact of proposed legislation that aims to target certain demographics of the Texas population. We have concerns about racially profiling our citizens under the guise of cracking down on so-called "sanctuary cities." There is a tremendous risk that such legislation would inadvertently target legal citizens of Texas, solely because they fall within a certain ethnic demographic. As we are all well aware, racial profiling is illegal in Texas.

Numerous law enforcement leaders, including sheriffs and police chiefs from our state's largest cities, have been united in their opposition to so-called "sanctuary city" bills. If passed and signed into law, not only will law enforcement officials be limited in their ability to regulate their individual officers, but enforcement of the law will likely lead to lawsuits against police departments and sheriff's departments should legal residents be detained. This will strain the budgets of local governments during a time when many of our cities and counties are having a difficult time making ends meet.

Law enforcement officials have invested considerable time and effort building partnerships with the Latino and immigrant community. This type of legislation will likely undermine that trust, and immigrants will be afraid to report crimes such as domestic abuse, resulting in tragedies and less safe communities.

Many in the business community, including the Texas Association of Business, also have concerns regarding the impact such legislation may have on our state's economy. In Arizona, similar legislation has negatively affected the economy of that state. According to the Center for American Progress, four months after the passage of SB 1070 in Arizona, cancelations of conventions alone cost Arizona $45 million.

We agree that more must be done to address undocumented immigration, and that as a body, we must urge the federal government to do so immediately. However, during a time when we face a multibillion dollar budget shortfall, which is likely to result in drastic changes to public education, thousands of jobs lost in the private and public sectors, and higher health care costs, we should not spend our limited time passing policies that will do more harm than good.

We cannot afford this type of divisive legislation and the resulting long-term unsustainable costs to our state and our communities. It is time that we stand together for the benefit of our state.

Sincerely,


Senator Mario Gallegos, Jr. (District 6), Senator Wendy Davis (District 10), Senator Rodney Ellis (District 13), Senator Kirk Watson (District 14), Senator John Whitmire (District 15), Senator Carlos Uresti (District 19, Senator Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa (District 20), Senator Judith Zaffirini (District 21), Senator Royce West (District 23), Senator Leticia Van de Putte (District 26), Senator Eddie Lucio, Jr. (District 27), Senator José Rodríguez (District 29)

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