Texas’ sheriffs are not very enthusiastic about being charged with enforcing federal immigration laws.
Texas has 254 sheriffs, and while opinions vary about whether illegal immigration should be their problem, some Republicans are pushing measures that won’t give them a choice. More than a dozen bills targeting illegal immigration await the Legislature when it convenes Tuesday, when the GOP will enter with a historic conservative supermajority in the House.
One bill would require police to ask drivers without identification if they’re in the country legally. Another would cut off state funds to departments that don’t enforce immigrations laws.
“It’s split among my colleagues on whether we should be out here just stopping individuals without probable cause, and questioning them on their immigration status,” said Travis County Sheriff Greg Hamilton, who believes the proposals invite profiling.
Many Texas sheriffs along the border, long vocal about being understaffed and underfunded on the edge of Mexico’s violent drug war, oppose the measures as another drain on their deputies. They and sheriffs in Houston and San Antonio also worry about profiling.
Others don’t see it as an imposition, and maybe a necessity. In Fort Bend County, which includes Houston’s conservative suburbs, Sheriff Milton Wright said he would support laws requiring his deputies to enforce immigration laws if the federal government won’t.
“If they’re not going to do it, then we need to,” he said.
Arizona’s new law left Texas facing unavoidable questions. Texas has an estimated 1.6 million illegal immigrants, second only to California, and Republicans control every statewide office. Gov. Rick Perry has said he doesn’t support Texas adopting a law identical to Arizona’s, while at the same time praising that state’s initiative for taking the illegal immigration problem into its own hands.
I fully expect that Gov. Perry will sign whatever immigration-related legislation makes it to his desk, despite what some people think. I do not believe he will cross the base on this, and I think there’s plenty of room to make enough cosmetic changes to Arizona’s bill to allow him to claim that Texas’ version of it is different.
It would have been good to hear from more Sheriffs on this. With the exception of Fort Bend’s Wright – who, if he truly believes there are no constitutional issues with making people show their papers as a matter of routine, can certainly instruct his deputies to do so – everyone in the story was opposed to such legislation. How many Sheriffs agree with Wright, and how much of the state’s population do they represent? Based on this story, the opponents can claim Harris, Bexar, Travis, El Paso, and all the border counties; I will presume Dallas is in this group as well. That’s an awful lot of the state right there.
It’s not at all clear that the legislators who want to force the sheriffs to do their bidding care about what they think, however.
So important is the issue to state Rep. Debbie Riddle that she camped outside the clerk’s window to ensure her get-tough immigration bills would be first in line. State Sen. Dan Patrick filed a bill that would require police to ask anyone without an ID whether they’re in the country illegally, but the Houston-area talk radio host says his measure affords officer discretion. For instance, he said an officer could choose not to arrest a harmless minivan-driving mom who is revealed to be an illegal immigrant.
Patrick, who visited Arizona to see its new law in action, said the possibility of legal challenges is no barrier.
“Too many people want to duck and cover and bury their heads in the sand,” Patrick said. “This is an issue we have to stand tall on. Republicans have to stand together.”
During the previous two legislative sessions, Patrick said “too much chaos” in the House doomed immigration proposals. This time, Patrick said, Republicans have the numbers – and a willingness to work with law enforcement.
“You have to have their buy-in,” Patrick said. “I want them to be enthusiastic about it.”
Won’t stop him from proceeding if they’re not, though. I continue to be fascinated by Republicans like Patrick who scream bloody murder when the federal government imposes a requirement on the state of Texas but have no problems imposing their own requirements on local governments that don’t want them. I guess counties don’t have rights.
If Patrick et al don’t care what the sheriffs think, do you suppose they’ll care what businesses think?
The Texas ACLU and an El Paso county sheriff who supports the controversial Secure Communities program stood side by side at the State Capitol in Austin Thursday to denounce pre-filed, immigration-related legislation similar to Arizona’s SB 1070. A conservative businessman was added to the mix, indicating lawmakers intent on rounding up Texas’ undocumented population might have a harder time than initially presumed.
“Who would imagine that after 28 years of law enforcement the ACLU would be talking so nicely about me,” Sheriff Richard Wiles joked after being introduced as a common-sense sheriff by ACLU of Texas Executive Director Terri Burke for his opposition to proposed legislation patterned off Arizona’s.
Bill Hammond, the executive director of the Texas Association of Business, said Texas should realize the business “pipeline” in Arizona has run dry after it passed its law, and Texas could share the same fate if bills aimed at businesses who hire undocumented immigrant pass.
“Some of this legislation would require then to become forensic experts and we think that’s unfair. It’s an unfair burden on them when what they are trying to do is provide employment for Texans who want a job,” he said. “Mexican nationals invest literally millions and millions of dollars in Texas and we believe that one of the detrimental effects that people haven’t considered is the drying up of that investment. In my view, if this legislation were to become law, perhaps someone should file a bill to change the state’s motto [“Friendship”] as well,” he said.
Texas Politics and the Statesman also covered that rally. While I appreciate Hammond’s willingness to speak out on this issue, I will once again say that until they actually target someone for defeat over this, they should continue to expect it from the Republicans they otherwise support. When TAB-backed candidates take on Riddle and Berman in the 2012 GOP primaries, that would be putting their money where their mouth is. Until then, I don’t expect any current Republicans to take their words on this too seriously.