AUSTIN, Texas— During the last legislative session, a bill similar to Arizona's controversial “Show Me Your Papers Law” failed to pass. That idea is now being considered again.
Members of the Senate Subcommittee on Veterans Affairs- Military Installations and Border Security were able to agree on one thing when they met Thursday: local law enforcement officers across Texas are in a pitch battle with drug runners and human smugglers. Identifying suspects, like those who are regularly chased in Brooks County, isn’t difficult. What no one seems to be able to do so far in the ongoing immigration debate, however, is to legally identify what an undocumented immigrant "sanctuary city" is.
"So, I haven’t defined that. We are just defining what the battlefield looks like right now,” Chairman Brian Birdwell said, a Republican from Grandbury.
The battle line was clearly drawn before the hearing even began by members of the Senate Democratic caucus. Racial profiling is something that has to be considered.
"And let’s call it what it is, this is not sanctuary cities, this is a racial profiling bill,” said State Senator Sylvia Garcia, a Democrat from Houston.
Senator Charles Perry (R-Lubbock), who sat in on the hearing, is expected to re-file a bill that would protect local law enforcement officers who ask about immigration status during traffic stops.
"Our values are centered in, that we have to have laws, and laws have to be applied whether we agree or disagree with the law, the law of the day has to be applied. If we don’t like it, there is a process to change it,” Perry said.
Those opposed to the plan include Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez. She was recently called out by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott for not fully cooperating with federal immigration authorities. She denied having sanctuary city policies but admits seeking out undocumented immigrants is something she doesn’t want her deputies doing.
"But if we only picked up 10-percent, we'd be adding between 4,000 to a 100,000 more people in our jails every year. Our budgets, our building, our systems are already stressed. We cannot handle that many more in jail,” Sheriff Valdez said.
In drafting possible legislation, a lawyer with the attorney general's office warned the committee to be careful. They may be able to outlaw local ordinances preventing police from asking about immigration status -- but a law that mandates the question, during every encounter, may be a constitutional over-step.
Gov. Abbott has indicated he wants state lawmakers to include sanctions in a bill to outlaw sanctuary cities. If passed, the punishment could involve withholding state grants from communities that violate such a law. There’s a lot of time to debate. The legislature does not reconvene until January of 2017.