A priority for Gov. Greg Abbott and the Republican Party of Texas, lawmakers quickly got to work on legislation to ban sanctuary cities and compel law enforcement officials to cooperate with federal authorities.
As with all of Abbott’s other “emergency items,” the Texas Senate acted first and quickly passed a reform package by State Sen. Charles Perry (R–Lubbock) by a party-line vote at the beginning of February.
After languishing on House Speaker Joe Straus’ desk collecting dust for a literal month, Perry’s SB 4 was finally referred to the House Committee on State Affairs earlier in March. The committee, chaired by State Rep. Byron Cook (R–Corsicana) – who has previously authored legislation to provide illegal immigrants with Texas drivers’ licenses – has historically been a dead-end for legislation to ban them.
Just last session, Cook killed similar legislation to ban sanctuary cities in his committee. In a brazen display of doublethink, Cook claimed that they didn’t exist and that banning them would prove costly for cities.
“I am not surprised that the bill died,” Cook told the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. “Historically, we haven’t found any cities that are sanctuary cities.”
In the article, Cook also called Perry’s legislation a “divisive issue” and “a tremendous unfunded mandate for local cities.” While Cook still touts such falsehoods, the spotlight on him now is much brighter than last session—he knows he must pass the legislation, but he’s doing all he can to weaken it first.
Perry’s legislation is rather robust. It not only requires law enforcement officials to inquire about individuals’ immigration status, but also compels them to honor detainment requests from federal authorities. Should they refuse to comply, elected law enforcement officers would be subject to criminal charges and their jurisdictions could be fined by the State. Victims of crimes committed by illegals released in cities with sanctuary policies could also sue them for damages.
According to his remarks made in the committee hearing, Cook seems to want to dispense with those changes and much of the stricter language. Instead, he wants to limit the legislation to only detainer requests.
“If you look at this on the big picture, all we’re really needing to do, all that’s really been said is that local jurisdictions need to honor federal detainer requests,” Cook said.
The House sponsor of the legislation, State Rep. Charlie Geren (R–Fort Worth) is also working to dilute the legislation as well.
After being asked whether the bill exempted public school and university police from the requirement that they cooperate with federal law enforcement officials, Geren pledged to work with Democrat State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez (Austin) to exempt campus police departments from the legislation.
Conservatives argue that such a change puts Texans at risk. Just two days after Geren’s commitment to water-down SB 4, two illegal immigrants were arrested at a public high school in Maryland for brutally raping a 14 year old girl in the school bathroom. One of them is an 18 year old adult who arrived in the U.S. seven months ago and has a pending “alien removal” case against him.
The school did not notify federal authorities when he enrolled.
Unfortunately, Geren’s determination to weaken the legislation doesn’t end there. At the bill’s committee hearing, he also committed to working with Democrats to neuter the legislation by amending the law to defer to cities on their policies. In essence, the change would prevent cities from being held accountable so long as they had no written policy forbidding cooperation.
Such a change would allow the vast majority of sanctuary cities, who currently operate on a wink-wink-nod-nod system, to continue to skirt the law.
Those concerns and others were raised by conservative State Rep. Matt Rinaldi (R–Irving) who issued an urgent update about sanctuary cities legislation on Thursday.
“The chairman of the committee considering the bill has publicly proposed gutting the bill completely, to the point to where almost every sanctuary city in Texas could continue doing exactly what they are doing without any repercussion,” said Rinaldi in a video where he pledged to fight Cook and Geren’s proposed changes.
“Understand this, if this the bill is gutted in this way, local governments can prohibit officers from asking a murderer or rapist in jail about his immigration status, and they will still be following the law,” he warned.