The police chiefs in six of Texas’ largest cities responded to the anti-sanctuary city bill passed by the Texas House on Thursday by signing a letter of opposition and releasing it to the press on Friday. The chiefs said the issue is one for the federal government and representatives are “pandering.”
The bill makes it a crime for sheriffs and chiefs of police to refuse cooperation with immigration officials. Law enforcement could also be removed from office for providing “sanctuary” to illegal aliens in their jails by failing to honor immigration detainers.
When asked before the House vote about whether he could be put in jail himself, Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez replied, “I guess potentially they could if we aren’t in compliance.”
Provisions in Senate Bill 4 make it a Class A misdemeanor for elected and appointed officials, other law enforcement officers, and those appointed by them to ignore immigration detainers.
The chiefs of police from Austin, Arlington, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, and San Antonio, and the general counsel and executive director of the Texas Police Chief’s Association, signed the letter reported the San Antonio Express-News.
These law enforcement officials also said the legislation would be an unfunded mandate.
San Antonio Police Chief William McManus said: “that it’s not one chief or two chiefs that are opposed to this legislation — it’s all of us, in every large city across the state.”
“This is not a political issue for police chiefs. It’s a practical issue that will affect public safety,” he added.
The policy in San Antonio has prohibited police officers from asking people in custody about their immigration status.
The bill, authored by Senator Charles Perry (R-Lubbock), prohibits state criminal justice agencies, campus police departments, and local jurisdictions from discouraging or prohibiting a person who is a commissioned peace officer, a corrections officer, a booking clerk, a magistrate, or a district attorney, criminal district attorney, or other prosecuting attorney, from following immigration laws.
SB 4 allows law enforcement officials to ask a person being detained about their immigration status in addition to those who are under arrest.
A recent poll reveals that 93 percent of Texans support a policy that allows a police officer to check a person’s immigration status when arrested. Forty-three percent say that immigration status may be checked during a traffic stop, 40 percent say it is okay if the person is reporting a crime, and 39 percent believe that asking about their status is okay if the person is a witness to a crime. Ninety-nine percent of Republicans and 88 percent of Democrats think immigration status should be checked during an arrest.
Open borders and amnesty advocates have compared the bill to laws in Arizona and California and have called it “a show-me-your-papers style law.” However, the proposed law provides that a law enforcement official may not inquire into a person’s immigration status if they are a victim or witness to a criminal offense, or if they are reporting a criminal offense. Moreover, a police officer may not stop a motor vehicle or conduct a search of a home or business solely to enforce a federal immigration law. If they are providing assistance to, or at the request of a federal immigration officer, or under an agreement between their agency and the federal government, a peace officer may arrest an illegal alien if they are acting under Texas law to preserve the peace.
Texas officials have been in the forefront of the nation’s sanctuary city fight. An ICE report on March 20 exposing sanctuary jurisdictions ranked Travis County, Texas, as number one in the nation for not complying with ICE detainers. More than 70 percent of the criminal aliens released during the week of January 28-Februay 3 were released by the Travis County Sheriff’s Office, reported Breitbart Texas. Surrounding Austin, Travis County is the home county for Texas’ state government.
Governor Greg Abbott cut state law enforcement grants to Travis County after Sheriff “Sanctuary Sally” Hernandez refused to reverse her stance. Sheriff Hernandez has denied that she is not in compliance.
In October 2015, Breitbart Texas reported that Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez changed her policy on immigration holds on legal immigrants and illegal aliens jailed on minor offenses. Valdez maintained, “Immigration is a federal law. I don’t know why they keep expecting me to take care of federal issues.”
“We make our decisions based on reason, safety and what’s best for the community,” the Dallas County sheriff said. Governor Abbott responded by sending Sheriff Valdez a stern letter that warned her “case-by-case immigration detention plan will no longer be tolerated in Texas.”
The Texas Senate passed the anti-sanctuary jurisdiction bill in early February. Before passing the House on Thursday, Texas sheriffs and other law enforcement officials attended the Senate Bill 4 protest at the Texas Capitol. Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez, Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez, representatives from the Bexar County Sheriff’s Department, and other law enforcement officials were there with DREAMers and other supporters of illegal immigrants, reported Breitbart Texas.
Texas Governor Abbott has consistently maintained that he would sign an anti-sanctuary bill and has pushed for its passage. Abbott declared the issue to be an emergency item in his State of the State Address in January.
As the legislation stands now, if the Senate does not accept the changes made to the bill by the Texas House, a conference committee will be appointed to resolve the differences and send the bill to the Governor for signature. The law would go into effect on September 1.
Senate Bill 4 provides for a process for filing a complaint about any violation of the law and states that “any person,” including the federal government, may file a complaint with the attorney general. The person must offer evidence that a local entity, state criminal justice agency, or campus police department is violating the statute, and swear to the accuracy of the stated facts.