Texas Bill Adds Civil, Criminal Penalties for Sanctuary Cities

Day Without Immigrants Texas
AP File Photo: Eric Gay

The Texas Legislature is on the final step to passing a bill that will penalize jurisdictions, including college campus police departments, which have sanctuary policies protecting illegal immigrants. The bill puts sharp teeth in the battle to stop such policies.

While Republicans control the Texas House and Senate, the road to passage has been hard fought. The Texas Senate passed the measure in early February after Governor Greg Abbott declared the issue to be an emergency item in his State of the State Address.

Senate Bill 4 provides that local entities, a state justice agency, or campus police department, would be subject to civil penalties of up to $25,500 a day for violating the new law. Civil penalties collected must be used to compensate crime victims. These governmental bodies would also be prohibited from receiving funds from state grants.

Entities could also lose their sovereign immunity in lawsuits brought against them because of injuries caused by the release of criminal aliens subject to ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) detainers. The provision applies to criminal aliens who commit a felony within 10 years after their release.

Moreover, an elected official of a jurisdiction or “an individual who is appointed by [that] governing body” would be guilty of a criminal offense. As reported by Breitbart Texas, the provisions would make it a crime for sheriffs, police chiefs, and other law enforcement officers and those appointed by them, to refuse to cooperate with immigration officials. The crime would be a Class A misdemeanor. Elected officials also face removal from office when the bill becomes law.

Texas has been in the forefront of the sanctuary city fight. An ICE report on March 20 exposing sanctuary jurisdictions ranked Travis County, Texas, as number one in the country for not complying with ICE detainers. As Breitbart Texas reported, well over 70 percent of the 206 criminal aliens released during the week of January 28-Februay 3 were released by the Travis County Sheriff’s Office.

Governor Greg Abbott flexed his purse strings to fight Travis County Sheriff “Sanctuary Sally” Hernandez. He cut state law enforcement grants to the Austin-area county when she refused to reverse positions. Hernandez has denied that she is not in compliance.

Senate Bill 4, authored by Republican Senator Charles Perry from 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.

The Texas House Republican Caucus sent out a statement after its 94-53 passage on partisan lines Thursday saying, “This legislation comes after governmental entities in Texas have adopted ‘sanctuary city’ policies that purposefully hinder or prohibit local law enforcement cooperation with U.S. Immigration and Customs and prohibit officers from inquiring about a person’s immigration status.”

The controversial bill allows law enforcement officials to ask a person being detained about their immigration status; thus, it is broader than a measure which would allow them to do so only if the person was under arrest. Those against the bill have compared it to laws in Arizona and California and denounced it as “a show-me-your-papers style law.” The legislation expressly 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. Agencies are also given the authority to engage in community outreach activities that educate the public, including victims of family or domestic violence, that officials may not inquire into their immigration status. Opponents of the bill contend the measure will discourage victims or witnesses of crimes from coming forward because of their immigration status.

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. However, 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.

The sponsor of the measure in the Texas House, Rep. Charlie Geren (R-Fort Worth) said “The purpose of this legislation is to protect Texans from criminals who are here illegally. We are trying to make sure those bad actors are detained until we can determine their status.” “This bill will not affect law-abiding citizens, only those that are in trouble with the police,” he added.

The bill expressly prohibits officials from considering “race, color, religion, language, or national origin while enforcing immigration laws except to the extent permitted by the United States Constitution or Texas Constitution.”

The bill also provides for a process for making a complaint about any violation of the legislation 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.

“House Republicans have proven time and time again that we are committed to protecting the rule of law and keeping our communities safe,” said Republican House Caucus Chairman Tan Parker. “We will continue to work tirelessly to pass legislation that ensures the safety of Texans, such as Senate Bill 4.”

Texas Governor Greg Abbott has steadfastly said that he will sign the bill and has pushed for its passage. If the Senate does not accept the changes made by the House, a conference committee will be appointed to resolve the differences and move the bill forward to the Governor for signature. The law would go into effect on September 1 of this year.

Bob Price serves as associate editor and senior political news contributor for Breitbart Texas. He is a founding member of the Breitbart Texas team. Follow him on Twitter @BobPriceBBTX and Facebook.


Please let us know if you're having issues with commenting.