Something like this is going to pass, it’s just a matter of what form it takes.
A state House committee on Wednesday passed a “sanctuary cities” bill that is less harsh than the version passed by the Senate, but that still would require local sheriffs and jailers to comply with federal requests to hold on to individuals in this country illegally or face a misdemeanor criminal charge.
The Republican-dominated House State Affairs Committee voted 7-5 along party lines to send the bill to the full chamber for what is expected to be a heated debate and floor vote as early as next week.
At issue is whether local law enforcement should honor every federal immigration request by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to hold on individuals in the country illegally until federal officials give further instructions or take them into custody.
As noted by several of the bill’s opponents, the decision to honor ICE requests, known as detainers, is voluntary.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security acknowledged last month that ICE detainers are not legally binding and that local jurisdictions have various policies regarding whether to honor the agency’s requests.
The Senate version of the bill, which was passed in February, would bar local law enforcement agencies and university police departments from enacting policies prohibiting officers from asking about immigration status if they have been stopped with probable cause.
Introducing his changes to the Senate version, state Rep. Charlie Geren, the Republican from Fort Worth who wrote the House bill, said the criminal penalty is enough to deter sheriffs and constables from violating the law. He eliminated a provision in the Senate proposal that would have withheld state grant money from local jurisdictions that do not comply, a punishment Democrats have argued would hurt domestic violence programs, veterans courts and other local services.
“By implementing this, we’ll be able to remove these individuals from office for not complying with the provisions of the bill. Also, by targeting those solely responsible for not complying with detainer requests, there is no need for removal of state grant funds,” Geren said.
Denise Gilman, director of the Immigration Clinic at the University of Texas’ School of Law, said the federal government cannot force a local sheriff’s department to comply with ICE detainers, so Texas lawmakers are trying to introduce stiff penalties to deter their actions as much as possible.
“Really, what I think is troubling in particular is that the whole debate at the Legislature seems to be one of suggesting that the problem is that certain jurisdictions are acting unlawfully that SB 4, cloaked in legality, would bring them into compliance,” Gilman said. “The opposite is the case. Under federal law, there is no obligation to comply.”
She also predicted lawsuits if the bill is signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott, who has named such legislation a priority.
“The question is whether it’s a good idea for the state to get in the middle of a question of federal immigration enforcement in a way that limits local jurisdictions to make their own decisions,” Gilman said. “If it passes, it’s extremely likely that there will be a lot of litigation around implementation and individual cases where people are profiled by law enforcement under the encouragement of SB 4, where people are held under detainer not supported by probable cause.”
See here and here for some background. There’s so much that’s wrong with this, from the assault on local control, to the erosion of trust in law enforcement and corresponding drop in crime reporting in immigrant communities, to the actual threat of deportation to people who haven’t committed any crime, to the questionable legality of the whole thing. But it’s going to happen because it’s a priority of Greg Abbott’s and Dan Patrick’s because they have to have someone to demonize and they care as much about cities as they do about immigrants. I wish I could be less cynical about this, but I can’t. The Trib and the Observer have more.