Sanctuary Cities Bill Heads to Full Senate

Along party lines, a Senate committee Wednesday advanced a controversial "sanctuary cities" bill from Lubbock Sen. Charles Perry that would cut state funds to cities that don't let their peace officers enforce immigration laws.

Sen. Charles Perry during a March 16th, 2015 Senate Subcommittee on border security
Sen. Charles Perry during a March 16th, 2015 Senate Subcommittee on border security  Marjorie Kamys Cotera

A Texas Senate committee voted Wednesday to advance a controversial measure that would stop cities from limiting the immigration enforcement powers of local law enforcement.

Senate Bill 185 by state Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, also called the “sanctuary cities” bill, would cut off state funding for local governments or governmental entities that adopt policies forbidding peace officers from inquiring about the immigration status of people they detain or arrest.

The bill passed the Veteran Affairs and Military Installations Committee on a 4-3 party-line vote and now heads to the full Senate. When that chamber considered similar legislation in 2011, Democrats argued that the bill could lead to racial profiling by rogue police officers and hurt the state’s economy. The measure failed to pass during the regular and special sessions of the 82nd Legislature.

Republicans have revived their arguments that the measure is a simple way for police officers to determine who is in Texas in violation of federal immigration laws. Perry’s bill was tweaked in committee on Monday and does not apply to commissioned peace officers hired by school districts or open enrollment charter schools. Victims or witnesses to crimes are also exempted from the proposal.

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Despite those changes, the Texas Democratic Party was quick to rebuke the Republican senators for supporting the measure and passing it out of committee the same day that a bill to repeal in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants also advanced.

“It is anti-Latino day in Dan Patrick’s Tea Party Senate,” party Deputy Executive Director Emmanuel Garcia said in a statement. "These bills are bad for Texas families and bad for Texas business. We look forward to the day when Republicans have the courage to join Democrats to stop these mean and misguided threats to our communities."

It’s unclear when the full Senate will take up the measure.