Lots of people came out to testify against it, which is a good thing.
After a 16-hour hearing that included tears, heckling, bursts of anger and warnings from lawmakers to witnesses to respect the rules of the Capitol’s upper chamber, the Texas Senate’s State Affairs Committee voted 7-2 along party lines early Friday morning to advance a controversial state-based immigration bill to the full Senate.
Senate Bill 4, commonly known as the anti-sanctuary cities bill, would punish local government entities and college campuses that refuse to cooperate with federal immigration officials or enforce immigration laws.
The bill, if passed, would allow local police to enforce immigration laws if the officer is working with a federal immigration officer or under an agreement between the local and federal agency. It would also punish local governments if their law enforcement agencies — specifically county jails — fail to honor requests, known as detainers, from federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers to hand over immigrants in custody for possible deportation. The punishment would be a denial of state grant funds.
Testimony closely mirrored what witnesses have said since 2011. Proponents of the measure argued it was about the rule of law and guaranteeing the safety of Texans, while opponents, who turned out to the Capitol in vastly greater numbers than supporters, said the bill would codify racial profiling and erode the public’s trust in local police.
There was an added emphasis this year, however, on the debate over whether U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainers are set-in-stone orders by the federal government that local sheriffs must follow or just requests to hold inmates that aren’t enforceable except under limited circumstances.
Thursday’s hearing of the Senate State Affairs Committee kicked off at 8:30 a.m. on the Senate floor. Before 11 a.m., state Sen. Joan Huffman, a Houston Republican and the committee’s chairwoman, said more than 450 people had signed up to speak on the measure. As of 1:40 p.m., the large majority of those that had testified spoke against the bill. They included interim Austin Police Department Chief Brian Manley, who said he had concerns about his department being held liable for the actions of other officials. His department’s jurisdiction includes multiple counties.
“I am a little concerned [about] the strict liability it places on law enforcement that don’t manage the booking process,” he said.
El Paso County Judge Veronica Escobar, a Democrat, testified that the measure flies in the face of what Republicans in Austin allegedly champion – local control.
She also touted that El Paso is consistently ranked the safest city of its size and that beefed up immigration enforcement isn’t needed.
“When we become less safe because of the decisions made here in Austin, who will my voters throw out of office?” she said “We will end up being sued for a number of reasons. Who pays for that? The local taxpayer, and that is taxation without representation.”
Let’s not kid ourselves, this bill is going to pass. It’s certainly going to make it out of the Senate, some time next week. The House won’t take it up for a few weeks – they have not set committee memberships yet, there won’t be any bills coming to a vote till after that – but it’s hard to imagine that the will of the House is not in favor of this bill, and that’s what usually guides Speaker Straus. I could be wrong – a Patrick-pushed “sanctuary cities” bill made it out of the Senate in 2015 but never got a vote in the House – but between the Presidential election and the escalating warfare between Greg Abbott and the mostly urban areas that are defying him on this, I expect it to pass. By all means, keep up the pressure, but don’t be too optimistic.
I’ve said this before and I’ll keep saying it: The only thing that will change the course of the state is for people to lose elections over bills like this. People are highly engaged over this bill, but there were some impressive crowds for the Wendy Davis filibuster against HB2 back in 2013 as well, and we know what happened after that. I firmly believe the political climate will be different in 2018 than it was in 2014 and 2010, and the energy on our side really does seem like it will be prolonged and sustained. Which is good, because we’re going to need it. Democrats are going to need to win some elections that they are not expected to win, which is something that hasn’t happened in this state since 2008. This won’t get us anywhere near a majority – even with the shifts we saw in 2016, there are very few easy targets, and just winning one Senate seat and getting above 60 House members would be a terrific feat – but it would be progress, and it might shake a few people up a little. That’s the bottom line, and that’s what today’s activism needs to be about for tomorrow. The Observer, the Chron, the Press, Stace, Texas Monthly, the Current, and the Caller have more.