Texas House and Senate Democrats said Wednesday morning they’d continue their fight against state-based efforts to force cities to cooperate with federal immigration laws despite reports that President Trump would issue an executive order on the issue later in the day.
“This may be come a moot point [later], but we have to be ready for what is in front of us right now,” state Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, said at a Capitol press conference organized by the Mexican American Legislative Caucus. “And if President Trump issues some executive orders, then the arena of this battle moves to Washington.”
Trump is expected today to announce executive actions that would speed up the construction of his promised wall on the southern border and other immigration-enforcement measures.
The pushback in Austin stems from proposed legislation that would eliminate sanctuary cities, the common term for local governments that don’t cooperate with federal immigration officials. Senate Bill 4 by state Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, and House Bill 889 by state Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, would allow local police to enforce immigration laws, but only if the officer is working with a federal immigration officer or under an agreement between the local and federal agency.
The proposals, if passed, would also punish governments if their law enforcement agencies — specifically county jails — fail to honor requests, known as detainers, from federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers for sheriffs to hand over immigrants in their custodies for possible deportation. The penalty would be a denial of state grant funds.
During the press conference, Anchia labeled the legislation as a solution in search of a problem because Texas jails have a proven track record of complying with ICE officials.
A Texas Tribune analysis of ICE data shows that Texas counties weren’t the main offenders when it came to denying federal requests. Only 146 of the country’s 18,646 declined ICE detainers between January 2014 and September 2015 came from Texas jails.
But newly elected Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez announced last week she’d severely roll back her jail’s cooperation with ICE, prompting Gov. Greg Abbott to threaten to eliminate nearly $2 million in state funds for her department and to pursue legislation that would have her removed from office.
“If they’re doing it anyway, why do we need legislation?” Anchia said. “For this issue, that is so tiny, we are employing a really blunt instrument of state intervention and local policing? Why don’t [lawmakers] just let local police do their job and keep us safe?”
When asked what the harm was in codifying the policy if it’s relatively minor, Anchia said “it would create bad results.”
“You erode trust with local communities, you force law enforcement officers to become immigration agents and you don’t allow local sheriffs and local police departments to manage jail overcrowding,” he said. “The ripple effects are not great.”
Even though the proposed bills don’t apply to witnesses to or victims of crimes, state Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, said the language in the bills proposed by Perry and Geren is still too broad.
“[The language] is suggesting that working together with immigration [officers], local law enforcement can search and do all sorts of things,” she said. “I think it would probably open this up to more racial profiling and to a lot more litigation."
Anchia added that the two bills are only a fraction of the state-based immigration legislation that has been filed so far this session and that lawmakers opposed to such measures need to be vigilant about every proposal.