Time is running out on a citizens group's attempt to change the Houston Police Department's policy on illegal immigrants, and it's unlikely it can get a referendum before voters this fall, City Attorney Arturo Michel said Tuesday.
The group Protect Our Citizens wants voters to change the city charter and allow police officers to inquire about the citizenship status of people they encounter, reversing what backers call a "sanctuary" policy toward illegal immigrants.
To do that, the group needs 20,000 signatures from Houston voters, validated by City Secretary Anna Russell, and approval of the referendum by City Council. That all has to happen before Aug. 28.
The problem, Michel said, is with the calendar, not opposition by Mayor Bill White and Police Chief Harold Hurtt, both of whom strongly object to the "sanctuary" label.
"It just doesn't seem that it could be on the ballot for November," he said.
After today, there are only two council meetings remaining before the cutoff date. The measure almost certainly would be delayed a week by a parliamentary procedure known as a "tag." The eventual vote, then, wouldn't come until after Aug. 28, he said.
To get the measure to the council in time, the signatures would need Russell's validation by Friday. She said that isn't possible, particularly since the group has not yet turned in its petition.
Protect Our Citizens organizers blasted the city's position Tuesday, pledging to fight to get the measure before voters this fall.
Founder Mary Williams said Michel "set an arbitrary date from a vaguely worded law to their benefit and not ours. ... However, he has the gun to our heads and we'll do the best that we can."