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Sanctuary Cities Added to Special Session Call

Gov. Rick Perry has added controversial immigration and homeland security measures to the agenda for the special legislative session that began last week.

Protesters with signs and American flags line the hallway outside the Senate chamber on sanctuary cities bill HB12 on May 25, 2011.

Gov. Rick Perry has added controversial immigration and homeland security measures to the agenda for the special legislative session that began last week.

Perry added abolishing “sanctuary cities,” the common term for entities that prohibit law enforcement from inquiring about immigration status, to the special session "call" — the list of items he’s asking lawmakers to address. The item was the only one of six "emergency items" so designated by Perry that didn’t make it the governor’s desk during the regular session that ended last month. The governor has also asked lawmakers to address matters relating to the federal government’s Secure Communities program, which is administered by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The initiative compares the fingerprints of those arrested to a federal database to determine if the individual is eligible for deportation under current immigration laws. Additionally, the call includes matters relating to “the issuance of driver’s licenses and personal identification certificates.”

“Texas owes it to the brave law enforcement officials, who put their lives on the line every day to protect our families and communities, to give them the discretion they need to adequately do their jobs,” Perry said in a statement. “Abolishing sanctuary cities in Texas, using the federal Secure Communities program and ensuring that only individuals who are here legally can obtain a valid Texas driver’s license sends a clear message that Texas will not turn a blind eye to those breaking our laws.”

The three items are part of SB 9, a bill filed last week by state Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, and co-authored by every Republican member of the Senate. The driver’s license provision of SB 9 requires that the Department of Public Safety index the citizenship status of each person with a driver’s license or ID. It also requires that applicants for a license or ID, unless they have already done so, furnish to the department proof of citizenship or legal status. State Rep. Burt Solomons, R-Carrollton, who successfully passed HB 12, the House's version of the sanctuary cities bill, in the regular session, has also filed a bill for the special session.

The Secure Communities program has been the subject of recent controversy in at least four states — Illinois, Massachusetts, New York and California — that have opted out or are considering opting out of the program. The governments of those states claim, among other things, that the program erodes trust between law enforcement and their communities and doesn’t prioritize the deportation of serious offenders, as the federal government purports. The program is already in place in Texas’ 254 counties. Williams said his recently his intent is to close a loophole that allows local and municipal jails to bond out deportable immigrants without running their prints or transferring them to the custody of the federal government.

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