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“Sanctuary cities” bill passes the Senate

Once it was added to the call, this became inevitable.

Senate Republicans finally passed a priority issue for their party early Wednesday morning when they outmuscled their Democratic colleagues on an immigration-related bill intended to make it easier for law enforcement to corral illegal immigrants.

At its core, SB 9 allows law enforcement officers to ask someone about their immigration status after they are detained and also establishes uniform statewide standards. It also would ban local governments from enacting a policy prohibiting the enforcement of state or federal immigration laws.

But critics say it will invariably result in racial profiling and make it less likely for immigrants to report crime because the legislation also allows police to question witnesses in the course of an investigation. Police chiefs in each of the state’s largest cities oppose the legislation.

Democrats contend the bill is the “largest assault against Latinos” in recent decades and could help inspire Hispanics to vote in next year’s election.

That remains to be seen, of course. Democrats put up a good fight – see Texas Politics and the Trib for more on that – but as has been the case all year, the conclusion was foregone; it was just a matter of time. I want to highlight one point from the Trib story that gives a clear distillation of the objections many people have to this:

Several law enforcement officers testified the bill would not only erode the success of what they labeled “community policing,” but also cost most of them millions more annually to detain immigrants and train officers.

An amendment by state Sen. José Rodríguez, D-El Paso, that would have excluded witnesses or victims of crime from being subjected to the inquiry failed on a party line vote. An amendment by Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio, that would have excluded children 17 years or younger and victims of crimes, including sex or trafficking crimes, also failed. Williams said the amendments would have the unintended consequences of possibly prohibiting the federal government from issuing the victims of T or U visas, which are given to immigrant victims of sex or trafficking crimes who agree to cooperate with law enforcement. The votes fueled Democrats’ speculation that the bill was not just an attempt to rid the state of criminal aliens, which Williams said was the bill’s intent during his opening remarks.

You may think these fears are overblown. But if you do, you need to acknowledge that some people believe that undocumented immigrants should be afraid to come forward to report a crime. As far as they’re concerned, anything bad that happens to these folks – and that would include a lot of children – is something they deserve. I will never understand that perspective.

One more point to note, which the Statesman cleanly summarizes:

Although sanctuary cities legislation was proposed during the 2009 session, it gained little traction until Perry made it an issue in his 2010 re-election campaign. While campaigning, Perry charged that Houston was a sanctuary city under his Democratic challenger, former Mayor Bill White. Then in January, Perry designated sanctuary cities a legislative emergency item, allowing it to be put on the fast track.

As with voter ID, something that was once a non-issue became an “emergency” when it aligned with larger Republican goals. Perry won’t say what a “sanctuary city” is, but he wanted a law passed to ban them, and he got one. This has always been about what Rick Perry wants. A statement from Sen. Rodney Ellis is beneath the fold, a video of Sen. John Whitmire speaking out against the bill is here, and Melissa del Bosque has more.

Statement: Ellis on Senate Passage of Sanctuary Cities Bill

Senator Ellis releases the following statement upon the Senate’s passage of SB 9, the sanctuary cities bill, 19-12, along party lines following hours of debate:

“Not one proponent of this legislation has been willing to identify one single Texas city as a “sanctuary city”. Maybe that is because there are no sanctuary cities in Texas. The term is a paper thin distraction from the state’s unaddressed economic crisis. Instead of finding solutions to even come close to fulfilling our moral obligation to provide an adequate education to our children, we point the finger at one of our most vulnerable populations and say they are at fault. This is a blatant abdication of responsibility by the Texas legislature.

Law enforcement leaders from Houston, San Antonio, Dallas, and El Paso testified that the passage of this bill would make their jobs more difficult, that it is an unfunded mandate, and would erode the public safety they are charged with keeping. Attorneys, both members of the Senate and witnesses, attested to the bill’s dangerous lack of clarity. If we did not hear the pleas of the overwhelming number of religious leaders, advocates, students, and victims of domestic violence that testified in opposition to the bill, how can we not hear the grave concerns of those charged with keeping us safe?

The so called “sanctuary cities” bill failed to pass during the regular session because it failed to achieve anything resembling a consensus. It was bad bill then and it is a bad bill now; the only difference is that they don’t need 21 of us to get it through.”

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