It's never too early to get started on bad legislation.
Some Texas lawmakers could launch a new effort to crack down on illegal immigrants by punishing businesses that employ them or cities that give them sanctuary, if the ideas get the legal go-ahead from Attorney General Greg Abbott.
Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, and Rep. Frank Corte, R-San Antonio, asked Abbott this week for his legal opinion with an eye to the legislative session that begins in January.
The legislation would spark a fiery debate in a state where illegal immigrants have a significant impact on the economy and have roots going back many generations. The state has roughly 1.6 million illegal immigrants and a foreign-born population of nearly 4 million.
If Texas approved anti-illegal immigration laws, it would join a growing list of states that have enacted such proposals in recent years.
"I would move forward on legislation to end sanctuary-city policies, if Abbott says such a move would be legal," Patrick said.
Patrick didn't offer specifics of repercussions cities might face, but he acknowledged that one option would be a loss of funding to cities. A measure last year would have affected federal security funding for cities that don't fully enforce immigration laws.
Bill Hammond, president of the Texas Association of Business, said his group opposes the idea of the state revoking businesses' licenses for immigration offenses "primarily because we believe this is a federal issue that needs a federal solution."
Of course, it's not just their problem. If Patrick and Corte get their way, it'll be much broader than that.
The definition of sanctuary city is imprecise. Police departments may set policies focused on what officials see as their primary responsibilities.
Houston Police Department officers aren't authorized to detain people solely on the belief that they are in the country illegally. People arrested for criminal violations are asked their legal status by Harris County Jail personnel.
The Houston Police Department says Immigration and Customs Enforcement will be contacted if people are confirmed to have a deportation warrant, for example.
Houston Mayor Bill White has said emphatically that this isn't a sanctuary city, and White spokesman Frank Michel echoed that sentiment Wednesday.
"Clearly and demonstrably, Houston is not a sanctuary city," Michel said. "Our police department cooperates fully with federal immigration authorities, and the ICE officials have confirmed that repeatedly."
Patrick disagreed: "We may not have billboards up that say, 'Welcome, illegals, to Houston,' but it's clear we have a 'Don't ask, don't tell, don't look, don't apprehend' policy."
And speaking of the Mayor, I wish he'd take off the gloves and go on the offensive against the likes of Patrick and their demagoguery, much as Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon did. What Patrick wants to do would be deeply harmful to many people, especially children, would be harmful to law enforcement, and would be harmful to business and the economy. But he's going to keep driving the debate on this until someone his size or bigger takes him on. I don't know who that might be, but someone needs to do it.Posted by Charles Kuffner on August 21, 2008 to That's our Lege