After an extended debate that lasted nearly 17 hours, members of the Texas House of Representatives finally approved a measure to ban sanctuary cities.
The Lone Star State, with over 1,000 miles bordering Mexico, suffers more than most states when it comes to illegal immigration. If passed into law, Senate Bill 4 will prohibit counties, cities, and universities from creating “sanctuary” policies. Cities who do so anyway will be met with severe financial penalties.
The bill was written by Senator Charles Perry (R-Lubbock) and pushed through the House by Rep. Charlie Green (R-Fort Worth). The final vote was 94-53.
An amendment pushed by Rep. Matt Schaefer (R-Tyler) allows police officers to question a person’s immigration status if he or she is detained (rather than solely arrested).
In response to concerns that the amendment could affect individuals in any circumstance where they come into contact with police, Schaefer explained that police must have reasonable suspicion under state law to detain someone for a crime.
“This in no way allows any more authority to state law enforcement than exists right now,” said Schaefer. “It just ensures that once a person is now being detained or they have been arrested lawfully, that when the police are doing their work and as part of that they are inquiring into this person’s identity and they learn that the person has a federal detainer, that they can honor that.”
Another amendment, pushed by Rep. Matt Rinaldi (R-Irving), allows elected or appointed officials to be removed from office if they violate the ban.
Democrats, who overwhelmingly voted against the measure, are still holding out.
“We know we’re going to go to court,” argues Rep. Roberto Alonzo (D-Dallas). “We know we’re going to fight in court, and it’s my opinion our side is going to win.”
“It’s been very hard for me to look at any of you because I’m filled with a lot of sadness,” said Rep. Rafael Anchia (D-Dallas).
Anchia, who chairs the Mexican-American Legislative Caucus, says the law targets racial minorities. “The message that we are sending from this body is that once your work is done, you and your families had better stay in the shadows.”
Rep. Victoria Neave (D-Dallas), whose father came to the US as an illegal immigrant, announced Sunday that she was going on a hunger strike to protest the bill. Other Democrats expressed displeasure by wearing black on Thursday.
SB 4 still requires Senate approval. When both chambers agree on a final version of the bill, Texas Governor Greg Abbott will have the opportunity to make it a law. Abbott has already stated that banning sanctuary cities is a priority.