Sanctuary Cities Bill Hits Bump in Texas Senate

A controversial immigration proposal scheduled for a public hearing Monday was postponed after a border Democrat argued that Republicans did not give the public sufficient notice about the meeting.

State Sen. Jose Rodriguez, D-El Paso, in April 2013.

* Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout.

A controversial immigration proposal scheduled for a public hearing Monday was postponed after a border Democrat argued that Republicans did not give the public sufficient notice about the meeting.

The "sanctuary cities" measure, Senate Bill 185, by state Sen. Charles Perry, seeks to prohibit cities from adopting policies that forbid police from enforcing federal immigration laws — or asking the immigration status of someone they arrest.

The proposal was scheduled for an 8 a.m. hearing before a subcommittee of the Senate Veteran Affairs and Military Installations Committee. But state Sen. José Rodríguez, D-El Paso, used a procedural move called “tagging” — or blocking — to get the item knocked off the agenda because the notice for the hearing was posted online Friday. It should have been posted earlier, state Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, the committee chairman, said at the hearing.

“The bill should have been posted as early as Thursday to ensure compliance with Senate rules,” Birdwell said. “It was my fault. I personally apologize.” 

Under the chamber's rules, senators are allowed to request an additional 48 hours of notice for hearings that are posted 72 hours or less in advance. Rodriguez requested that notice Monday morning.

The hearing has been rescheduled for March 16, when the subcommittee will also hear Birdwell’s Senate Bill 3, an omnibus border security bill.

Rodríguez said he fielded several phone calls over the weekend from constituents, including El Paso County Sheriff Richard Wiles, who wanted to speak against the bill but couldn’t make it to Austin in time.

“We refer to it, and I think some of you refer to it, as the ‘show me your papers’ bill,” Rodríguez told reporters at a news conference Monday. “We made a procedural move to allow for more time for people to come before this committee and be able to have their views heard on this major, major legislation.”

Perry, the bill's author, said in a statement that he remained committed to passing the bill.

"Today, unfortunately, some placed political posturing over public safety and common sense," he said. "Our bill is simple, cities cannot pick and choose the laws they want to enforce; public safety, not political correctness should be the priority. I look forward to working with my fellow legislators to pass this bill and place this crucial legislation on the Governor's desk by the end of Session."

Sen. Perry's statement included two videos featuring the parents of people who were killed by undocumented immigrants. In one, Laura Wilkerson explains that an undocumented immigrant killed her son, Joshua Wilkerson, in 2010. Her son was giving the man a ride home when the attack happened, she said.

In the other video, Dan Golvach tells how an undocumented immigrant killed his son, Spencer Golvach, a Houston-area musician, as he sat in his car one night.

“He randomly chose my son’s head for target practice,” Golvach says in the video. Spencer Golvach was honored with a memorial resolution on the House floor Monday.

Monday's delay means only a temporary victory for Democrats, as the measure is likely to sail through the GOP-controlled Senate. Its fate in the Texas House is less clear.

In 2011, a similar measure failed to pass during regular and special legislative sessions, even though former Gov. Rick Perry fast-tracked it by declaring it an "emergency." Rodríguez said he expects the same kind of opposition this year.

But the postponement also galvanized opponents who said the bill will erode the public’s trust in the police, lead to racial profiling and hurt the state’s economy. 

“I think it’s critical that we understand what this will do to everybody in this state. This will basically give someone the opportunity, if you will, to racially profile or just stop you for driving while brown,” state Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, said at the press conference. “And that is not good for Texas.”

Opponents of the bill said Republicans only hurt their efforts by trying to fast-track the bill.

“They woke up a sleeping evangelical, Latino giant,” said Pastor Lynn Godsey, the president of the Coalición Evangélica de Alianzas de Texas, a faith-based immigrant rights group. “We’re awake and we ain’t going back to sleep. This move here today was a bad move, y’all.”