As representatives debated Senate Bill 4 on the House floor, law enforcement officers paid close attention to what was being added to the bill.
There were mixed reactions to the addition of Rep. Matt Schaefer's Amendment 9, which will allow officers to ask immigration status prior to an arrest.
“When you put a man, a woman up against circumstances where they're going to lose their children or their status is going to change, then fight or flight is going to happen. And guess who’s going to be standing there? It's not going to be Matt Schaefer,” said Chalie Wilkison, executive director of the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas.
“Knowing status is sometimes very, very important in what we do in law enforcement,” said AJ Louderback with the Sheriffs’ Association of Texas.
“I see no benefits in asking the question upon a detention,” said Austin Interim Police Chief Brian Manley.
Manley worries if officers begin asking about immigration status, those in the immigrant community might be too afraid to come forward and report a crime.
“I do not see the need to bring local law enforcement into the front lines of asking these questions during detentions. I think we will create situations where the trust we worked so hard to build can be eroded,” Manley said.
Louderback said that fear would be unfounded.
“ICE has never gone after witnesses of crimes or victims of crime,” said Louderback.
Louderback supports SB 4 and said by not cooperating with federal immigration authorities, local law enforcement is creating a public safety issue. He hopes the bill, which punishes police chiefs and sheriffs who habitually ignore ICE requests, will make immigration policies consistent statewide.
“It was very apparent we had to do something or else we risk the situation of 254 counties electing to do different things in their counties and that leads to chaos,” Louderback said.
Chief Manley said he will comply with the bill, though he is not certain what level of cooperation lawmakers expect between police and the feds.
“I will be required by law to cooperate with this bill. They've actually included sanctions in the bill, in its current form, that a police chief or sheriff would be committing a Class A misdemeanor punishable by jail and a fine if they do not cooperate. So, as your police chief, I will cooperate with the law,” said Manley.
APD conducted a study and found that crime reports from Hispanic individuals in Austin have dropped 5 percent since ICE stepped up enforcement. Manley wants to remind the immigrant community in Austin that officers are just as focused on their safety as everyone else's.
There is still time for lawmakers to make changes to SB 4, but the majority of legislators don't expect that to happen.
After passage of the bill, law enforcement agencies will work with advisors to determine how their policies will need to change under the new laws.