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Ahead of Session, "Sanctuary Cities" Debate Renews

Gov. Rick Perry reiterated his support for the ban on “sanctuary cities” on Monday, the same day opponents of such measures said that a Supreme Court decision on a controversial Arizona law did not automatically pave the way for Texas to enact its own immigration policies.

Demonstrators stand in front of the Texas Capitol on Feb. 22, 2011 to show their opposition to immigration legislation.

As state lawmakers began pre-filing bills Monday, opponents of state-based immigration legislation said that a U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding a tenet of a controversial Arizona law would not automatically pave the way for Texas’ "sanctuary cities" bill to pass.

The bill, which Gov. Rick Perry twice placed on his list of emergency items in 2011, would have denied state funds to local or state entities that prevented their law enforcement officers from inquiring into the immigration status of a person arrested or detained. It failed to pass both times.

In June, the high court ruled that a provision of Arizona’s SB 1070, which requires police officers to verify the legal status of people they stop or arrest, was not unconstitutional. Some conservatives here immediately said that would allow Texas lawmakers to enact a similar bill when the 2013 session begins in January.

On Monday, the first day lawmakers could pre-file bills for the upcoming session, lawmakers had yet to file an immigration-enforcement bill. A bill by state Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio, would eliminate in-state tuition for illegal immigrants.

Perry on Monday reiterated his support for "sanctuary cities" legislation.

“Governor Perry still thinks banning sanctuary cities is good policy,” said Catherine Frazier, a Perry spokeswoman. “We need to ensure that local law enforcement has every tool available to keep Texans safe and that no municipality in our state is taking discretion away from our peace officers."

Frazier said it was premature to talk about whether the measure would be a priority item this next session, but opponents of the bill were already taking aim on Monday.

Luis Figueroa, regional counsel for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said the Supreme Court only ruled on whether states could enact their own immigration policies. He said that proved that the court wanted to ensure that after the law was implemented there would be no racial profiling, violating the 14th Amendment. 

“Legally speaking it’s important to note that it was only the pre-emption issue that was taken up by the Supreme Court, so [the bill] will have to be implemented in a way that does not have any racial profiling or impact on Latinos, which is going to be very difficult to do,” he said.

State Sen. José Rodríguez, D-El Paso, who joined Figueroa and state Rep. Roberto Alonzo, D-Dallas, at a Monday news conference advocating for a new dialogue in Texas on immigration, said he doubted whether the policy would be enacted in the way the court mandated.

“It takes place every day, and so we’re definitely expecting there to be some racial profiling as a result of the implementation of the statute,” he said.

State Rep. Burt Solomons, R-Carrollton, who authored the bill last session and decided not to seek re-election, said the issue was not going away — at least not any time soon. And he said it’s possible the next proposal could be more controversial.

“You’re gong to end up having to resolve this issue,” he said. “There is a perception out there — whether it is true or not — that there are cities or entities out there that are ignoring what the law says. For all I know it may turn out to be a much harsher bill.”

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