AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - Texas Gov. Greg Abbott sought to dispel fears that the state's new ban on so-called sanctuary cities will contribute to racial profiling, saying Tuesday that Hispanics shouldn't be afraid police will stop them and ask for proof of their legal residency unless they're "suspected of having committed some serious crime."
Opponents fired back that no such safeguards are written into the law, which will allow Texas police officers to ask a person about their immigration status during routine stops starting in September.
The law signed this month by Abbott, a Republican, gives police the right to ask residency questions during any "lawful detention or arrest." That provision is already stoking fear in Hispanic and immigrant communities, according to Democrats and immigrant-rights groups who say the wording is so broad that stops over broken taillights or speeding could lead to deportation.
Abbott dismissed that idea as fearmongering during a livestreamed Facebook interview with a Univision reporter in Austin.
"If you are Hispanic, or frankly anybody from any other country, you are not going to be stopped and required to show your papers unless you are suspected of having committed some serious crime," he said. He added that prohibitions against racial profiling by police will be "strictly enforced" and invoked his wife, Cecilia Abbott, who is Hispanic and the granddaughter of Mexican immigrants.
"As the husband of the first Hispanic first lady in the state of Texas, I want to make sure that neither she nor her family is going to be stopped and detained inappropriately," Abbott said.
Cecilia Abbott joined the wives of lawmakers in the Texas Senate on Tuesday. Approached by a reporter about the law and whether she feared getting stopped, an aide stepped in and said the first lady would not be commenting. John Wittman, a spokesman for the governor, said later that "the answer is no, she's not worried about getting pulled over."
Outside on the steps of the Texas Capitol, Democrats and local officials from Texas' biggest cities held a rally reiterating their vows to challenge the law in court and pledged what they called a "summer of resistance" before it takes effect. The law was opposed by every big-city police chief in Texas, who worry that immigrants will be more reluctant to come forward as witnesses or crime victims. At least one lawsuit has already been filed in federal court.
Democratic state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, of Austin, said maybe the governor would realize the law went too far if a member of his family was stopped and detained.
"The problem is he's already signed it into law. There's nothing to do about it now unless we come back and try to change it next session," Rodriguez said. "And I don't have to tell you how hard that's going to be to soften an immigration bill."
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