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Williams Files Sanctuary Cities, Secure Communities Bill

Three contentious and broad-based immigration and homeland security issues have been rolled into one bill filed today by a Republican state senator.

State Sen. Tommy Williams on the Senate floor on May 16, 2011.

Three contentious and broad-based immigration and homeland security issues have been rolled into one bill filed today by a Republican state senator.

Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, filed SB 9, a bill that includes the controversial “sanctuary cities” legislation and additional policies relating to statewide use of the Secure Communities program. The proposed legislation also outlines new specifications for applications for driver’s licenses and state IDs.

Gov. Rick Perry on Monday called a special session to have lawmakers complete work essential to finalizing the 2012-13 budget. On Tuesday, he added congressional redistricting to the call. Williams said he has not spoken to Perry about adding homeland security or immigration issues to the agenda for the current special session, which can last up to 30 days. A spokeswoman in Perry’s office said today it had nothing new to announce. It's up to the governor to decide what topics the Legislature will consider in a special session.

SB 9 would eliminate state grants for entities that prohibit local law enforcement from inquiring into the immigration status of persons lawfully detained or arrested (commonly referred to as the “sanctuary cities” legislation). State Rep. Burt Solomons, R-Carrollton, filed HB 9, the House special-session version of his “sanctuary cities" bill, HB 12, on Wednesday.

Williams' bill also mandates that law enforcement officers verify through the federal Secure Communities program the immigration status of a person arrested and transported to a detention center. The third provision of the bill requires that the Department of Public Safety index the citizenship status of each person with a driver’s license or ID, and requires that applicants for a license or ID, unless they have already done so, to furnish to the department proof of citizenship or legal status.

Critics of such proposals allege the policies would turn DPS clerks into de facto immigration officers and say the large number of immigration documents issued by the federal government would inevitably lead to confusion and the denial of licenses or IDs to qualified applicants. Williams says the change is necessary to ensure that only individuals legally residing in the country be furnished with licenses and IDs.

The Secure Communities program has also come under fire by critics who allege the program can punish legal immigrants arrested or detained for minor crimes, including traffic violations. The state of New York recently told the federal government it was opting out of the program after receiving numerous complaints. Williams said it will work for Texas and that the provision is already in place in every Texas county. What is necessary, he said, it to close loopholes used by certain city and local jails that do not use the system and do not transfer inmates to the county jails.

“Our whole idea is that if you are arrested and booked in to jail, you need to be run through this program,” he said. “It’s not profiling. It’s everyone that gets taken to jail that is treated that way.”

Williams also takes issue with labeling his bill “immigration legislation.” He said immigration is under the purview of the federal government and what his bill seeks to address is homeland security.

“I don’t see sanctuary cities or any of this as an immigration-related issue," he said. "This is about homeland security and about knowing who is lawfully in the country."

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