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More on the status of SB4

Ed Sills sent this one-pager from MALDEF to his mailing list; there’s no link and I couldn’t find it on the MALDEF webpage, so I’m just going to copy and paste here:

What did the Fifth Circuit Court decide?

On March 13, 2018, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit issued its ruling on whether SB4 should be allowed to take effect while the lawsuit moves through court. Most of SB4 is in effect today. The Fifth Circuit decision allows most of SB4 to remain in effect, but keeps part of SB4 blocked. In addition, the Fifth Circuit stated several important limitations on SB4.

What is the status of SB4 after the Fifth Circuit decision?

  • Elected officials are allowed to criticize SB4 and speak favorably about immigration reform without the fear of being punished. The Fifth Circuit ruled that SB4’s prohibition on speech about immigration is likely to be unconstitutional.
  • Cities and counties can adopt immigration-neutral policies that preserve scarce local resources. This means that cities and counties can direct their police officers to focus on local priorities such as keeping the community safe and maintaining community trust.
  • Cities and counties cannot bar their police officers and employees from assisting or cooperating with federal agents on immigration enforcement. However, local officials can only cooperate with federal agents when federal agents ask for help. Local officials cannot act on their own. Local officials also must act under federal direction and supervision.
  • Cities and counties cannot prohibit their employees or local police officers from questioning a detained person’s immigration status. However, local officers must still comply with the Constitution. For example, a local officer cannot decide on his own to arrest an individual simply for being undocumented. Local officers cannot stop individuals because of their race or detain individuals for prolonged periods of time.
  • SB4’s mandate to comply with ICE detainers remains in effect. However, jail officers must review detainers and can refuse a detainer if they know a detainee is authorized to be present in the United States or if the detainer does not follow ICE rules.

Where are we in this case?

The Fifth Circuit’s March 13, 2018 decision on the preliminary injunction is temporary. The district court will make a decision in the case after a trial. The March 13, 2018 decision from the Fifth Circuit remains in effect until a new court ruling is issued.

What can I do to help?

Contact MALDEF Staff Attorney Fátima Menéndez at fmenendez@maldef.org with any reports of local officers making immigration arrests or a jail detaining a person after that person has posted bail.

See here for the background. This Trib story discusses the legal strategy.

Attorneys and immigrants’ rights groups who fought against SB 4 said their next move isn’t clear but that they’re considering seeking a hearing before the entire 5th Circuit.

“There are a lot of parties [involved], so we are coordinating on this,” Efrén Olivares, the racial and economic justice director for the Texas Civil Rights Project, told reporters during a conference call. “But procedurally, the next step would be to request an en banc hearing.” There is also the possibility of asking the U.S. Supreme Court, he said.

The plaintiffs’ attorneys admitted Wednesday that they were not surprised at the ruling due to the 5th Circuit’s conservative leanings, so it’s unclear how much faith they will have in pleading their case before the entire court. But, they said, there remains the option to show that in its implementation, SB 4 leads to several constitutional violations.

[…]

Olivares said that while the next step in the appeals process is being considered, the lawyers and their supporters will also prepare for the case to head back to San Antonio. Tuesday’s ruling was only on the temporary injunction of SB 4; now, the district court is set to consider the law itself.

It’s not so much that the Fifth Circuit is conservative but that the specific three-judge panel that heard this appeal was made up of some of its most conservative members. Any time you draw Edith Jones and Jerry Smith, you can probably predict the outcome, and it ain’t gonna be pretty. There’s at least a chance the en banc appeal could get a different result. Beyond that, I’d say focusing on the case on the merits is probably the best thing to do. Either way, it still sucks.

Matt Rinaldi’s words will be used against him

Good.

Matt Rinaldi

On Monday, Representative Matt Rinaldi, called Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) after hundreds of mostly Latino activists filled the House gallery to protest Senate Bill 4, the controversial ‘sanctuary cities’ ban.

Jose Garza, an attorney representing El Paso County in its suit against SB 4, told the Observer that the incident will “almost assuredly” be used to help establish in court that the Texas Legislature passed the law with “discriminatory intent.”

“This was a peaceful protest and many were citizens,” Garza said, “and Rinaldi sicced ICE on them because they were brown.”

Rinaldi, a member of the far-right House Freedom Caucus and an outspoken supporter of SB 4, said in a statement on Monday that he called ICE after seeing signs that read “I am illegal.”  After several people, including Democratic lawmakers, said there was no evidence of those signs, Rinaldi clarified in a radio interview Thursday that the signs read “undocumented and unafraid” and “undocumented and here to stay.”

See here for some background. As we have seen with the Muslim ban litigation, judges have been more than willing to pay attention to what politicians have said outside the courtroom to help discern their intent. In this case, it’s Rinaldi’s actions that give away the show. You can say whatever you want about SB4 not being anti-Latino or it not being about harassing law-abiding people, but when you have a State Rep calling ICE on peaceful protesters because he got freaked out by them and wanted to put them in their place, it all rings pretty damn hollow. Now it’s up to the courts to step in and sort it out. There will be plenty of evidence for them to consider.

(It should be noted that while Jose Garza has brought this up, the ACLU attorneys in the litigation, who are the same attorneys that successfully halted Donald Trump’s Muslim ban, are not including Rinaldi’s words at this time. Of course, that can change, and there will be plenty of opportunities for others like Rinaldi to add to the pile.)

Session ends in chaos

Seems fitting.

The normally ceremonial last day of this year’s regular session of the Texas Legislature briefly descended into chaos on Monday, as proceedings in the House were disrupted by large protests and at least one Republican representative called immigration authorities on the people making the noise.

Rep. Matt Rinaldi, R-Irving, said he called U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement while hundreds of people dressed in red T-shirts unfurled banners and chanted in opposition to the state’s new sanctuary cities law. The action enraged Hispanic legislators nearby, leading to a tussle in which each side accused the other of threats and violence.

Rinaldi said he was assaulted by a House member who he declined to name.

“I was pushed, jostled and someone threatened to kill me,” Rinaldi said. “It was basically just bullying.”

Hispanic Democratic lawmakers involved in the altercation said it wasn’t physical but indicated that Rinaldi got into people’s faces and cursed repeatedly.

“He came up to us and said, ‘I’m glad I just called ICE to have all these people deported,’” said state Rep. César Blanco, D-El Paso, whose account was echoed by state Reps. Armando Walle, D-Houston, and Ramon Romero, D-Fort Worth.

“He said, ‘I called ICE — fuck them,'” Romero added. Rinaldi also turned to the Democratic lawmakers and yelled, “Fuck you,” to the “point where spit was hitting” their faces, Romero said.

[…]

“Matt Rinaldi gave the perfect example of why there’s a problem with SB 4,” said state Rep. Ramon Romero, D-Fort Worth. “Matt Rinaldi looked into the gallery and saw Hispanic people and automatically assumed they were undocumented. He racial profiled every single person that was in the gallery today. He created the scenario that so many of us fear.”

And in a press conference, following the altercation, state Rep. Justin Rodriguez, D-San Antonio, said Rinaldi in a second scuffle had threatened to “put a bullet in one of my colleagues’ heads.”

But Rinaldi defended the decision to called immigration authorities.

“We didn’t know what to do,” he said. “A lot of people had signs that said ‘We are illegal and here to stay.’”

He said he called law enforcement “to incentivize them to leave the House.”

“They were disrupting,” he said. “They were breaking the law.”

Asked if the protest was too little, too late since the measure has already been signed into law, Adrian Reyna, an organizer with United We Dream, said the movement is just getting started.

“We have to show resistance the whole summer,” he said. “We have identified key representatives that we will take out of office who voted for SB4. People are outraged, people are tired of the Legislature walking all over people.”

First of all, good Lord Rinaldi is a weenie. What a pathetic display of phony bravado. And as Rep. Romero suggests, his words will only help the plaintiffs in the anti-SB4 litigation. Words matter, and judges in the travel ban litigation have made it clear they will take what politicians say about these actions as seriously as they take what the lawyers say.

You can see video of what happened here, Democratic response to what happened here, and a statement from the AFL-CIO here. If there’s going to be an injunction in one or more of the court cases, we ought to know fairly soon, but the bigger fight, both in the courtroom and at the ballot box, will play out over a much longer period. We’re going to need to see a lot more of the kind of action that makes people like Matt Rinaldi cry. The Chron, the Observer, and RG Ratcliffe have more.

El Paso files “sanctuary cities” lawsuit

Two and counting, as El Paso gets in on the anti-SB4 action.

The lawsuit, filed by El Paso County, its Sheriff Richard Wiles and the Texas Organizing Project Education Fund, a client of the Texas Civil Rights Project, charges that the law, if enacted, would violate several provisions of the U.S. Constitution, including the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of the equal protection of laws; the 14th Amendment’s due process clause; and the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches and seizures.

The plaintiffs also allege the bill would violate the U.S. Supremacy Clause, which states that federal law — including statutes dealing with immigration enforcement — is “wholly dedicated to the federal government and may not be usurped by the states.”

“All law enforcement agencies and jurisdictions that opt to stay out of immigration enforcement face stringent civil liability,” the lawsuit charges. “And, persons in Texas, particularly Mexican-Americans, those of Hispanic descent, and immigrants and their families, will be caught in the crossfire.”

The lawsuit, filed in San Antonio, which is part of the Western District of Texas’ federal judicial district, comes after the City of El Cenizo and Maverick County filed suit against the state earlier this month. The city of Austin also voted last week to file a suit to stop the controversial measure, which Abbott and other Republicans have argued is needed to ensure Texans are safe from non-deported criminal immigrants who aren’t turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.

El Paso County is in a unique situation, however, because it agreed in 2006 to a court settlement after a local resident sued, accusing sheriff’s deputies of conducting unlawful immigration checks at roadside checkpoints. The parties reached an agreement: The sheriff’s office had to “memorialize in writing its policies that prohibits Sheriff’s Department Deputies from enforcing civil immigration law.”

“El Paso also has adopted policies, which may violate SB 4’s unconstitutional mandates,” the complaint reads. “Specifically, the El Paso County Attorney’s office has adopted a policy that prohibits its investigators from making inquiries into the citizenship or residency status for the purpose of determining whether an individual has violated civil immigration law or for the purpose of enforcing those laws.”

See here for more on the El Cenizo/Maverick County lawsuit. More cities are expected to follow suit, though on different grounds than El Paso and its unique situation. It would be nice to know when Houston will join in; one hopes there are plans to address this after the session is over and pension reform is in the can. Meanwhile, Greg Abbott is out there telling lies about SB4 and its effects. Gotta do what you gotta do when the facts are against you, after all. The Press and the Current have more.

“Sanctuary cities” bill gets final passage

It’s done.

The Texas Senate on Wednesday voted 20-11 to accept the House’s version of Senate bill 4, legislation that would ban “sanctuary” jurisdictions in Texas and allow police to inquire about the immigration status of people they lawfully detain.

The bill now heads to Gov. Greg Abbott, who declared the legislation an “emergency item” in the early days of the legislative session, and is widely expected to sign it.

The legislation makes sheriffs, constables, police chiefs and other local leaders subject to a Class A misdemeanor if they don’t cooperate with federal authorities and honor requests from immigration agents to hold noncitizen inmates subject to deportation. It also provides civil penalties for entities in violation of the provision that begin at $1,000 for a first offense and climb to as high as $25,500 for each subsequent infraction. The bill also applies to public colleges.

But the final version also includes a controversial House amendment that allows police officers to question a person’s immigration status during a detainment, as opposed to being limited to a lawful arrest. Democrats and immigrant rights groups argue this makes the bill “show-me-your-papers”-type legislation that will allow police to inquire about a person’s immigration status during the most routine exchanges, including traffic stops.

Before Wednesday’s vote, some lawmakers were still hopeful the bill would go to a conference committee where lawmakers from both chambers could strip the amendment from the bill. But during a floor debate Wednesday before the measure was approved by the Senate, the bill’s author, state Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, said that the bill doesn’t require that officers ask a person’s immigration status. However the language does leave the door wide open for officers to make such inquiries if they feel the need during routine stops.

“We certainly don’t want ‘walking while brown’ to lead to reasonable suspicion,” said state Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston. “It will happen. And in some parts of my district, it already is happening.”

[…]

It’s unclear however, if Abbott’s signature on the bill will be the end of the conversation. Several lawmakers have said a lawsuit to stop the implementation of SB 4 is very likely and cite several reasons, including legal questions surrounding the federal preemption of immigration laws and whether ICE detainers are voluntary.

Before the final vote, Perry seemed to acknowledge as much.

“We will let the court systems figure this out,” he told state Sen. Jose Menendez during a lengthy back-and-forth about probable cause.

You better believe there will be lawsuits. I trust we’ll have top-notch lawyers on this, I just hope the courts will keep up. May this wretched law never spend a day being enforced. The Chron, the Observer, and RG Ratcliffe have more.

Get ready for the “sanctuary cities” lawsuits

It’s just a matter of time.

Now that Senate Bill 4 is on its way to becoming law, opponents are looking to the courts for relief – and a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court case is giving them hope.
The high court struck down parts of a controversial 2010 immigration law in Arizona on the grounds that Congress, not the states, has the power to create immigration law. Experts say that argument could come into play with Texas’ SB 4, which requires local jails to comply with immigration detention requests that federal officials have said are voluntary.

“My opinion is the state is regulating in the immigration field,” said Barbara Hines, senior fellow at the immigration reform group the Emerson Collective. “What the state of Texas is doing is they are creating their own detainer program. That is pre-empted. Immigration is a federal area.”

Among other things, SB 4 would create civil and criminal penalties for officials who disregard requests by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to extend the detention of jail inmates suspected of being in the country illegally. Those detention requests, or detainers, help facilitate possible deportation proceedings.

State Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, predicted that the bill will follow the same course as Arizona’s SB 1070, better known as the “papers please” law because it required law enforcement officers in Arizona to demand the documentation of anyone they believed was in the country illegally.

Texas’ SB 4 doesn’t require officers to ask, but it prohibits sheriffs or police chiefs from keeping their officers from doing so.

“It allows local law enforcement to ask anybody on the street for their immigration status,” said Anchia, who chairs the Democrat-dominated Mexican American Legislative Caucus, which is fighting the state in court over redistricting maps it says are racially discriminatory.

[…]

Critics have argued the bill would separate families, deport well-meaning immigrants and create a fear in immigrant communities that might undermine their safety.

They picked up a legal argument this week after a group of mayors, including Austin Mayor Steve Adler, met with U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions for clarity on the ramifications for so-called “sanctuary cities.”

Sessions confirmed Tuesday to the mayors that compliance with the federal immigration detention requests sent to local jails — the central requirement of SB 4 — isn’t mandated under federal law. Rather, the jails can choose whether to hold inmates longer at the request of ICE, Sessions said.

That the comments came from such a high-ranking Trump administration official deflated the notion often associated with SB 4: that local officials like Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez are breaking federal law by choosing to ignore some ICE detention requests.

It also raised questions over whether the state could step in and create an immigration law making the detainers mandatory.

“It is inevitable that you will see cities and counties across the state suing the state. The overreach is unprecedented,” Austin City Council Member Greg Casar said. “I don’t know who died and made Greg Abbott (into) Putin, but our cities are going to fight back.”

See here for the background, and here for more on what Mayor Adler said about his meeting with Sessions. I hope opponents of this lousy bill flood the zone with lawsuits. It’s clear from the HB2 experience that setbacks in court will not stop the Lege from trying the same things again in the future, but it’s still necessary. Also, I say Greg Abbott has always had authoritarian inclinations, he’s just more comfortable expressing them in public now.

There will also be many headaches for law enforcement agencies, which strongly opposed SB4.

Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo spoke vehemently against Senate Bill 4 Thursday afternoon, calling it a dangerous move by the state Legislature because it would redirect limited HPD resources from crime fighting efforts to an initiative that does not improve public safety.

Acevedo did not share if HPD would alter its policies if SB 4 were to become law. However, he made it clear during the afternoon presser he would make public safety a priority over policies he believe are unrelated.

“I am carrying out my sworn duty and moral duty to speak out on matters of public safety. And I’m not here to keep a job to do it,” he said.

[…]

The legislation would force police to honor all federal requests to detain people suspected of being in the country illegally until federal authorities can investigate the person’s status. It also would prohibit local jurisdictions from passing or enforcing an ordinance that prohibits police officers from inquiring about a detained person’s immigration status, which would nullify the Houston Police Department’s 1990 policy on the matter.

“If that language does not get removed … we’re going to have some negative consequences,” Acevedo said.

Police departments across the state, including Houston, are understaffed, he said. And the bill would diminish those already limited resources, he added. Just this year Acevedo announced plans to target high-crime areas and violent documented gang members.

He also announced a joint effort with the Texas Department of Public Safety to decrease violent crime in the area by creating two squad assigned to the initiative.

However, he believes SB4 may affect those plans.

“We don’t have the resources, nor do we have the bandwidth nor the desire to be ICE agents. If I wanted to work for ICE, I would’ve applied for ICE,” he said.

Acevedo’s worry is that a police officer’s duty and the proposed policy will create a divide among departments throughout the state. While police officers are sworn to protect, he says the bill could open the door for harassment.

“I will lose my ability and authority to direct (my officers) workflow,” he said. “ … And all of sudden I’ll have a police officer that wants to go off and play ICE agent all day.”

He went on to add he hopes that isn’t the case, but that perception would be damaging for Houston – particularly on immigrant communities.

It’s not about what local officials want, it’s about what Greg Abbott wants. Sorry, Chief. The Chron, ThinkProgress, and the Press have more.

First shenanigan spotted

There will be more to come, I’m sure, but this will be happening today.

A Tuesday debate over the future of the state agency that regulates the oil and gas industry could instead become a showdown over immigration and where transgender Texans use the bathroom.

House Republicans will look to force a vote on the regulations proposed in the Senate’s controversial “bathroom bill,” which House Speaker Joe Straus has decried as “manufactured and unnecessary.” Tyler Republican Matt Schaefer has filed two amendments that would essentially require the Railroad Commission to enact some of the bathroom-related regulations proposed in Senate Bill 6 — a measure that would require people to use the bathrooms in public schools and government buildings that align with their “biological sex.”

A separate amendment by state Rep. Tony Tinderholt, R-Arlington, appears to target transgender people by requiring the commission to define women business owners — who can qualify for certain benefits in contracting — on the basis of the “physical condition of being female, as stated on a person’s birth certificate.”

Schaefer and Tinderholt are members of the socially conservative Texas Freedom Caucus, which is expected to repeatedly offer up portions of the “bathroom bill” as amendments to other measures. On just the second day of the legislative session, Schaefer, who leads the caucus, unsuccessfully attempted to amend a routine resolution with language requiring people in the Capitol to use bathrooms corresponding with their biological sex.

See here for the background. According to the Chron, the bill in question in HB1818. As RG Ratcliffe notes, the amendment will likely be killed by a point of order, but that won’t put an end to the effort. The rest of the session may well turn into an exercise in swatting flies, as I doubt these guys will be deterred by reason, threats, or humiliating defeat. Buckle up, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

There’s also this:

On the immigration front, an amendment by state Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, would require that a company regulated by or contracting with the Texas Railroad Commission certify that it doesn’t hire undocumented workers and charged with perjury if found to have lied. The amendment would also require the commission to alert Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the local district attorney if a company CEO or supervisor is in violation of the provision.

Anchia, the chairman of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, said he has no desire to expand state-based immigration enforcement, and doesn’t expect his fellow Democrats to vote for the amendment. It’s symbolic: He wants businesses to be more vocal against what he called extreme immigration proposals the Legislature is considering this session, specifically Senate Bill 4. That measure, passed by the Senate last month and now pending in a House committee, would ban “sanctuary” jurisdictions in Texas and vastly expand the immigration enforcement powers of local police.

“For Republicans to only demonize immigrants but not talk about the insatiable appetite on the part of businesses for immigrant workers is hypocrisy at its best,” he said.

I respect Rep. Anchia and I get what he’s trying to accomplish here. I don’t know if it will work – if nothing else, I’m sure there’s a point of order with this amendment’s name on it as well – but it’s about making a point. We’ll see how it goes.

UPDATE: Schaefer’s shenanigan gets averted, while Anchia’s amendment gets adopted.

“Sanctuary cities” bill modified by House committee

It’s less bad than the Senate version, but it’s still not good.

A Texas House committee on Wednesday began debate on the lower chamber’s version of the controversial proposal to outlaw “sanctuary” jurisdictions, making few but significant changes to the bill the Senate passed out last month.

Outlawing “sanctuary” entities, the common term for state and local governments and college campuses that don’t enforce federal immigration laws, has been deemed must-pass legislation by Gov. Greg Abbott. It’s likely a bill will make it to his desk before lawmakers gavel out in late May.

But members of the House State Affairs Committee also told witnesses and other lawmakers that Senate Bill 4 by state Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, will likely be revised several more times before it’s presented to the full House for a vote.

“It’s not perfect, it’s not complete and we will continue to work on it,” Fort Worth Republican state Rep. Charlie Geren, the bill’s House sponsor, said during the hearing.

One major change to the proposal is that the House version makes inquiring into the status of an undocumented immigrant allowable only if that person is arrested. The Senate version is broader in that it applies to immigrants that are arrested or detained. Perry said during the Senate debate that meant a police officer could question a person’s status during even routine traffic stops.

Rep. René Oliveira, D-Brownsville, said he appreciated Geren listening to his concerns and working with the members, but added that a person could still be turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents for a class C misdemeanor, which normally would only require them to pay a fine.

[…]

After a suggestion by state Rep. Oscar Longoria, D-Mission, the House committee is also working on a change that would prevent bail bond agents from charging a large amount of cash up front to bond out an undocumented immigrant. Geren said that currently, bondsmen can take advantage of an arrested person by knowingly accepting their money up front even though that person will likely be transferred to ICE agents for subsequent deportation.

See here and here for the background. A lot of people showed up to testify against this bill.

As the lawmakers debated the language, hundreds pleaded with them to scrap the proposal altogether.

In all, 638 people registered to speak about the bill. Of those, 619 registered to voice opposition to the legislation, while just 11 registered in support. Eight were neutral.

The opponents included the Houston Police Department, which called the plan “short-sighted” and Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez, who said it would strain relations with immigrant communities and make minorities less likely to report crimes. Despite the fierce opposition, neither Houston nor Harris County has adopted “sanctuary city” policies.

Others spoke of the impact on the lives of immigrants.

Sergio Govea, a 9-year-old, choked back tears as he told a reporter before the hearing about the constant fear that plagued him that his parents won’t return “every time they leave the house.”

“I haven’t lost my parents physically but they are not the same as they were before this,” he said. “They are scared to go to H-E-B to get food, a basic necessity. … I don’t even know if they will be there today when I get back home.”

The bill was left pending in committee, but it will come back (possibly with more changes) and when it gets voted on it will get sent to the full House. How long that will take is unclear at this time.

Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, the chairman of the House State Affairs committee, said he is in no hurry to rush through the process.

“We’ve got a long ways to go to get this right,” Cook said at the Capitol the morning after a marathon hearing on the current measure, Senate bill 4 by state Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock. The legislative session ends on May 29.

[…]

Abbott called banning sanctuary jurisdictions a priority after Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez, a Democrat, announced following her 2016 election victory that she would only honor detainer requests on a very limited basis. As punishment, Abbott yanked state-grant funding for all county programs.

Cook said Thursday he thinks the bill could be consolidated to only include the detainer provision. Testimony from hundreds of witnesses at Wednesday’s hearing reflected a sentiment that allowing officers to question a person’s immigration status without arresting them would create a chilling effect that would erode the public’s confidence in law enforcement.

Cook took note of those concerns, he said.

“If you look at this on the big picture [level], all we’re really needing to do, all that’s really been said is that local jurisdictions need to honor federal detainer requests,” he said, noting Hernandez was the only outlier. “And what the testimony indicated once again last night is that though one sheriff deviated for a short period of time, all our law enforcement agencies across the state are in fact honoring detainer requests, as they’re supposed to.”

Rep. Cook also indicated that the state should pay for detainer costs, not the counties. I appreciate the effort that Cook has made to make the bill less bad, but it’s still a bad bill that serves no good purpose.

State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, said he’s on board with Cook’s desire to limit the scope of the bill and said the issue has become a political football more than anything else.

“If it was just dealing with detainers in the jails, it addresses [the Republicans’] issue, which is really just to get a vote on an immigration issue,” he said. “Because this is all politics, as far as I’m concerned. We’ll still vote against it but at least it’s not as bad as it can be.”

Indeed. The danger here is that when the House version passes, the modifications made by the House could get gutted by the conference committee, with something close to the original Senate version passing. The only right answer is to keep opposing this bill.

Cutting ICE

Another campaign promise gets fulfilled.

Sheriff Ed Gonzalez

Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez has ended a controversial partnership with federal immigration authorities that trained a team of county deputies to determine the immigration status of jailed suspects and hold those selected for deportation.

Gonzalez, a Democrat who took office in January, said he will reassign 10 deputies trained under a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement program known as 287(g) that cost at least $675,000 in salaries and deploy them to other law enforcement duties.

The withdrawal of sheriff’s deputies still will allow ICE officials to come to the jail and screen jail inmates to determine their immigration status, and the county will hold them for deportation if requested, Gonzalez said.

The sheriff said overcrowding in the county jail complex, where staff shortages have hiked overtime costs to $1 million every two weeks, has forced him to deploy his ICE-trained deputies elsewhere. He said his decision was not political “but an issue of resources,” explaining the deputies may be assigned to help improve clearance rates of major crimes or bolster the patrol division.

“After thoughtful consideration, I’ve decided to opt out of the voluntary 287(g) program,” said Gonzalez, who sent ICE officials notification of his decision Tuesday. “We’ll still be cooperating with local, state and federal authorities as we always have, we just won’t have our manpower resources inside the jail doing that.”

In addition to the annual cost-savings, he said, “We’ll be able to release that personnel to offset some of our overtime costs inside the jail and local public safety priorities we have.”

[…]

The exit from the ICE program could put Harris County in the crosshairs of Gov. Greg Abbott and local GOP senators, who are working to pass a “sanctuary city” law that would withhold funding from law agencies that do not cooperate with federal requests to hold inmates. The term sanctuary city has been used to criticize the refusal by certain cities and counties to cooperate with the enforcement of federal immigration law.

Gonzalez, however, said Harris County will hold anyone at ICE’s request no matter what criminal charge the inmate may be facing. The jail will hold the inmate until ICE agents can take custody and move them to a federal detention facility, which Gonzalez said in the past has been done quickly.

“It’s my understanding that I need to comply with the law,” Gonzalez said. “If ICE makes a determination there is someone they have identified and they make a request (for detention), then I plan to honor that request.”

I’d have preferred to go a little farther along the Sally Hernandez path, but Sheriff Gonzalez will not have the backing of Commissioners Court the way Sheriff Hernandez does, so it’s hard to argue with the path he has chosen. The Texas Organizing Project and the ACLU of Texas both applauded the Sheriff’s announcement, with neither of them bringing up my nitpicky point, so I’d say that he hit his target here, and as the TOP statement points out, reminded us that local elections matter, too. Stace and Campos have more.

UPDATE: More from the Press.

Deportation nation

Appalling.

The Trump administration on Tuesday moved one step closer to implementing the president’s plans to aggressively rid the country of undocumented immigrants and expand local police-based enforcement of border security operations.

In a fact sheet outlining the efforts, the Department of Homeland Security said that though their top priority is finding and removing undocumented immigrants with criminal histories, millions more may also be subject to immediate removal.

“With extremely limited exceptions, DHS will not exempt classes or categories of removal aliens from potential enforcement. All of those in violation of the immigration laws may be subject to enforcement proceedings, up to and including removal from the United States,” the fact sheet explains. “The guidance makes clear, however, that ICE should prioritize several categories of removable aliens who have committed crimes, beginning with those convicted of a criminal offense.”

The memo did not include instructions to halt the 2012 executive action called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, which has allowed about 750,000 undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States as children to live and work in the country legally.

The guidelines also state that the Department of Homeland Security has authority to expedite the removal of undocumented immigrants who have been in the country illegally for at least two years, a departure from the Obama administration’s approach of concentrating mainly on newly arriving immigrants.

“To date, expedited removal has been exercised only for aliens encountered within 100 air miles of the border and 14 days of entry, and aliens who arrived in the United States by sea other than at a port of entry,” the agency states.

The action also seeks to expand a police-based immigration enforcement program known as 287(g), which allows local and state officers to perform immigration duties if they undergo the requisite training. The program fell out of favor under the Obama administration after Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced in 2012 that it wouldn’t renew contracts that were in place at the time.

“Empowering state and local law enforcement agencies to assist in the enforcement of federal immigration law is critical to an effective enforcement strategy, and CBP and ICE will work with interested and eligible jurisdictions,” the memo reads.

This is going to be a humanitarian catastrophe. It’s going to be devastating for a lot of industries – agriculture, construction, hospitality – all of which will be a drag on Texas’ economy. It will do further damage to our already dented international reputation. And it won’t do a damn thing to make us safer. I wonder what Jeff Sessions will do when churches start offering sanctuary to people who are being targeted. Oh, and it will be a big unfunded mandate on cities and counties, in the same way that the “sanctuary cities” bill in the State Senate will be, if local cops are being required to enforce immigration law. This is going to be very, very ugly. Political Animal, Daily Kos, the Current, and ThinkProgress have more.

“Sanctuary cities” bill passes in Senate

As expected.

The Texas Senate late Tuesday gave preliminary approval to a controversial immigration measure to ban “sanctuary” jurisdictions in the state.

Senate Bill 4, filed by state Sen. Charles Perry, would punish local and state government entities and college campuses that refuse to cooperate with federal immigration officials or enforce immigration laws. The vote was 20-11 along party lines.

It would also punish local governments if their law enforcement agencies 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. The bill doesn’t apply to victims of or witnesses to crimes, public schools or hospital districts.

[…]

The vote came after Perry added tough civil and criminal penalties for entities that don’t comply with the bill’s provisions. One amendment would make a department head whose agency violates the provisions of SB 4 subject to criminal prosecution in the form of a class A misdemeanor. Another added a provision that would subject the local agency to civil penalties, including a fine at least $1,000 for the first offense and $25,000 for each subsequent violation.

The severity of the proposals prompted state Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston to ask Perry how far he was willing to go.

“What’s the next [amendment] going to do? Take their first born?” she asked.

The upper chamber also predictably shot down by party line votes several amendments Democrats offered to make the bill more palatable to their constituents, including a measure by state Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, that would have excluded college campuses. An amendment by state Sen. José Menéndez, D-San Antonio, which sought to require peace officers to learn immigration law was also voted down, as was another by state Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. that would have prohibited the arrest of a person only because he or she was in the country illegally.

Garcia also asked Perry to remove a section of the bill that would punish a local entity for “endorsing” a policy that prohibits or discourages enforcing immigration law. Garcia said that section could be a violation of an elected official’s right to free speech and could be interpreted broadly.

See here for the background. There will certainly be lawsuits filed when this thing gets signed into law. The fact that legal genius Ken Paxton swears it’s legal is irrelevant – was there ever a chance he wouldn’t say that? – though what the courts ultimately do with this remains to be seen. (Other lawyers disagree with Paxton’s assessment.) The thing that needs to happen of course is for there to be a political price to pay for passing this bill. Lots of people showed up to testify against SB4. We need that same kind of turnout next November. Stace has more.

Senate “sanctuary cities” bill hearing

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.

Abbott pulls state grant money to Travis County

As threatened.

Sheriff Sally Hernandez

Gov. Greg Abbott has followed through on his threat to cut off state funding for Travis County over its new “sanctuary” policy.

Abbott’s office said Wednesday it has canceled criminal justice grants it usually administers to the county, whose sheriff, Sally Hernandez, recently announced her department would reduce its cooperation with federal immigration authorities when they request an inmate be flagged for possible deportation. The policy was set to go into effect Wednesday.

The move appears to target about $1.5 million Travis County was due to receive this year from the criminal justice division of the governor’s office. The division doled out $1.8 million to the county last year and has already paid out roughly $300,000 in 2017.

[…]

Democrats had pushed back on Abbott’s threat to withhold the grant money by noting it funds programs that help children, women, families and veterans. But the Republican governor has held firm, saying his No. 1 concern is public safety.

“The Governor is willing to sacrifice veterans, women and children to garner political points,” state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, said in a statement Wednesday. “Governor Abbott must be held accountable for playing politics with the lives of the most vulnerable in our communities.”

U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, went even further in a statement, saying Abbott’s “vindictiveness is more like Russian President Putin’s authoritarian regime than our democracy.”

See here, here, and here for the background. As the Statesman notes, the grants “support projects such as family violence education and a special court for veterans”, so way to get tough there, Greg. One point five million isn’t nothing, and Abbott is looking for more leverage to use, but I feel reasonably certain Travis County could cover the difference if it wants to. Looking over their fiscal year 2017 budget, there’s $169 million allocated to the Sheriff’s office, with another $105 million in reserves. My guess is Abbott will need to find a considerably larger stick to get their attention. But we’ll see, and if the so-called “sanctuary cities” bill passes this year, plus whatever horrors Congress and Trump conjure up, things could change.

Sheriff Hernandez not backing down

Good for her.

Sheriff Sally Hernandez

Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez indicated Thursday she is not backing away from her recently introduced “sanctuary” policy.

Her comments came a day after Gov. Greg Abbott proposed the removal of Hernandez, who announced Friday she would reduce her department’s cooperation with federal immigration authorities when they request an inmate be flagged for possible deportation.

“Our community is safer when people can report crimes without fear of deportation,” Hernandez, whose jurisdiction includes Austin, said in a statement. “I trust the court system and our judges to assess the risks and set appropriate bonds and conditions for all who are incarcerated.”

Hernandez, who was elected in November, has said her department would honor requests from federal immigration officials only if they obtain a warrant from a judge ordering the confinement.

See here and here for the background. Sheriff Hernandez clearly has the moral high ground here – people shouldn’t be held without a warrant, minor offenses should not result in deportation, law enforcement needs the cooperation of the people they police in order to be effective, etc etc etc. Abbott, meanwhile, keeps ratcheting up the pressure. Something is going to have to give here. It’s one thing to pick on Travis County, which is a traditional punching bag for Texas Republicans, but will they go after Harris County, too?

Sheriff Ed Gonzalez appeared at this morning’s rally against 287(g), a flawed immigrant removal program.

Gonzalez reiterated his support of immigrant rights and his promise to rid Harris County of the controversial program. He did, however, ask for patience and time to study and navigate its ending because of its ties to federal and state funding, and because he wants to ensure that such a program targets violent and serious criminals. During the press conference, he also reiterated that the program is run within the jail and not out in the field and that his deputies will not be targeting individual suspects because of immigration status.

Local immigrant rights activists are seeking policy changes and strong statements of support to undo programs that target immigrants and have run amok of their stated intents. Programs which basically federalize local law enforcement are flawed and have been a cause for racial profiling, wasted resources, family separation, and downgraded local economies.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, also sought out by immigrant rights activists recently responded with his strongest statement yet.

I certainly wouldn’t put it past Abbott et al to lash out at anyone and everyone who defies him, but at some point it’s not a good luck for him to be fighting with so many big cities and counties. I don’t know how this plays out, but I suspect it will get messy. And kudos to Mayor Turner for standing up and doing the right thing, as numerous Mayors around the country are doing. We’re going to be in for a lot more of this from Trump, so we’d better be ready for it.

Abbott versus Travis County

This could get ugly.

Sheriff Sally Hernandez

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is formally demanding that Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez reverse her new policy on cooperation with federal immigration authorities or lose state dollars, further escalating a showdown over “sanctuary cities” that have been in the crosshairs of Republican officials.

“This is not a pronouncement of sound public policy; it is a dangerous game of political Russian roulette — with the lives of Texans at stake,” Abbott wrote to Hernandez — whose jurisdiction includes Austin — in a letter dated Monday.

The newly elected sheriff, who campaigned on the issue, announced Friday that her department would reduce its cooperation with federal immigration authorities when they request an inmate be flagged for possible deportation. Her office said it would continue to hold people charged with very serious crimes, such as capital murder.

But that was not enough for Abbott, whose letter calls the policy, which is set to go into effect Feb. 1, “shortsighted” and backed by “frivolous” justifications. He quickly reacted Friday on Twitter, saying that his office “will cut funding for Travis County adopting sanctuary. Stiffer penalties coming.”

Abbott’s threat targets Criminal Justice Division grant money that is administered by his office. Travis County got almost $1.8 million from the division over the past year “based upon the commitment that federal immigration law would be enforced,” according to the letter.

“Your policy is in violation of that commitment,” Abbott told Hernandez. “Unless you reverse your policy prior to its effective date, your unilateral decision will cost the people of Travis County money that was meant to be used to protect them.”

In the letter, Abbott also made clear that he intends to make an example out of Hernandez during the 85th Legislative Session that started earlier this month. Abbott is set to lay out his priorities in his State of the State address, which is scheduled for Jan. 31.

Let’s pause for a moment to marvel at the glory of Greg Abbott – Greg Abbott! – demanding that federal law be obeyed and enforced. It’s almost as if all of his previous blathering about “states rights” and “federal overreach” was based not on principle but crass partisan politics. I know, I’m as shocked as you are.

While basically everyone agrees that violent criminals who are undocumented should be deported, they represent a tiny fraction of the people who have been expelled from the country. The vast overwhelming majority are just ordinary people, including a lot of children who get swept up with their parents; many others get left behind without one or both parents. The Chron goes into some of the issues.

Though Travis County could be the first jurisdiction in Texas to lose funding over its immigration detainer policy, it’s not the first time Abbott has threatened to cut money over the issue. After Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez made minor changes to her county’s policy last year, he also promised to slash funding. It ultimately stayed in place because the county never declined an immigration detainer.

Harris County Sheriff-elect Ed Gonzalez has said that he is also concerned about holding inmates without pending charges for immigration enforcement, but will continue working with the federal government while he studies the issue.

Political fighting over so-called sanctuary cities has waged for years.

Though it is strictly the federal government who enforces immigration law, Washington and local entities began cooperating on the issue in 2008. The program matches the fingerprints of every person booked into jail against a sweeping law enforcement database, including immigration information from the Department of Homeland Security.

After they determined someone was here illegally, federal officials could request that local authorities detain those immigrants even if they were otherwise eligible for release, say by posting bond or having their criminal charges dropped.

Roughly one-sixth of the record 2.5 million immigrants President Barack Obama deported between 2008 and 2015 were removed through this program, many of them after being booked into jail on misdemeanor crimes.

Critics said it encouraged racial profiling and deported immigrants accused of minor crimes such as traffic offenses rather than focusing the government’s limited resources on violent immigrants. Several federal courts, none in Texas, also found that it could violate the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure.

Five states and more than 500 counties have scaled back on cooperating with the federal government on the issue, according to a tally by the National Immigration Law Center, an advocacy group in Los Angeles.

Though the Obama administration overhauled the program in 2015 to try to address constitutional concerns, they remain. Last summer, the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office was sued for holding a man for more than two months after officials dismissed the misdemeanor assault charge that had him flagged by immigration officials to begin with.

Lena Graber, an attorney for the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, a national immigrant advocacy group in San Francisco, said federal detainer requests are civil orders, not arrest warrants meeting Fourth Amendment requirements.

You know all those arguments we’ve been having about why bail reform is needed to ensure our county jail isn’t stuffed full of people who aren’t a threat to anyone and who in many cases have never been (and never will be) convicted of a crime? The same is true for immigrant detention centers, and the stakes are a lot higher. That doesn’t even get into the whole sordid private prison industry, which has been the driving force behind the construction of many of those detention centers. Requiring local police to enforce federal immigration law is a huge drain on their resources, and has been devastating to a lot of people who have done nothing harmful. And as Sheriff Hernandez fights this battle in Travis County, Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez made his own promises about 287(g), which he says he is still working on. People are going to expect an answer soon. Campos and Stace have more.

Nothing says “holiday season” like immigration raids

How festive.

Immigration agents are planning to round up Central American families that have been ordered deported by a judge in response to an unexpected surge in children and families crossing the border in South Texas, a former high-ranking immigration official said Thursday.

Alonzo Peña, the deputy director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in 2009 and 2010, said officials are concerned because the number of families crossing the border usually slows down this time of year, yet Border Patrol agents in the Rio Grande Valley have seen an increase in recent months.

The Border Patrol apprehended about 50,000 children and families in 2015 in the Rio Grande Valley, down from about 100,000 in 2014, but the number of apprehensions has spiked since September, according to Border Patrol statistics.

“The numbers for this time of year, normally they drop, and they’re continuing to surge and increase,” Peña said. “They’ve got to figure out ways to send a message that the gates are not open, the doors are not open and it’s not a free pass. And they’re concentrating on those that have final orders, who have exhausted their due process.”

ICE regularly conducts what it calls targeted enforcement operations, in which agents round up immigrants who fall under the agency’s priorities for deportation, including those who recently crossed the border, those convicted of crimes and those who have been ordered removed by an immigration judge. This would be the first such operation specifically targeting families.

News of the planned raids, first published by the Washington Post, which reported they would likely happen in January but hadn’t received final approval, drew criticism from activists. Hundreds of immigrants might be targeted, the newspaper reported.

“Such a roundup would be a nightmare for those families and for our claim to being a nation of refuge,” Frank Sharry, executive director of the immigration advocacy group America’s Voice, said in a written statement.

Here’s that WaPo story. Some of this may sound reasonable, but ICE’s track record is lousy, and the so-called “family detention centers” we use are horrible, for-profit jails being used to warehouse children. And not to be crass about it, but the politics of this are awful for Democratic Presidential candidates trying to draw clear distinctions between themselves and the deport-em-all GOP frontrunners. This is a bad idea, and we really need to rethink what we are doing here. ThinkProgress and TPM have more.

What about LGBT asylum seekers?

Good question.

Sulma Franco

As millions waited this week for a landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage, dozens of LGBT immigrants sat in American detention centers after fleeing what they say is persecution in their homelands because of their sexual orientation.

Now, a coalition of attorneys, lawmakers and immigrant rights groups are calling on the federal government to release some of the asylum-seekers, arguing they remain at risk for violence while they are locked up. The groups also want the government to collect better data that would shed more light on how many people are fleeing because they are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

Opponents of releasing asylum-seekers from detention centers say such immigrants would be unlikely to show up for hearings.

The issue hit close to home for many LGBT Texans when earlier this month, Sulma Franco, a lesbian from Guatemala, sought sanctuary in a Central Austin church after being denied asylum.

Immigration Equality, a New York-based group that advocates and provides legal services for LGBT and HIV-positive immigrants across the country, recorded more than 500 cases involving LGBT asylum-seekers from 2010 to 2014. But that number is only a fraction of the bigger picture, said Sharita Gruberg, a policy analyst with the Center for American Progress.

Though immigration agents question asylum-seekers about their concerns, the federal government does not track the number of people seeking asylum specifically because they are LGBT.

“We’ve been advocating for the government to collect data on this,” she said. “We don’t get a good picture of who’s seeking protection.”

LGBT asylum-seekers who are released from detention are likely to show up for their hearings because their cases have merit, said Vanessa Allyn, a managing attorney at Human Rights First, an advocacy group whose Houston office has secured two asylum claims for LGBT people in the past year and has five more pending.

“The real question is: Why are we detaining these individuals in the first instance? If they can articulate a credible claim of fear on recognized grounds for protection, then they are going to show up for their hearings,” she said. “There is no reason for them to disappear into the ether of the United States. They are definitely going to come and they are going to articulate their claim and they are probably going to be granted relief.”

Ms. Allyn’s claim is based on a 1994 ruling by AG Janet Reno in which a gay Cuban man was granted asylum due to his sexual orientation, known as the Toboso-Alonso case. Cuba’s a class by itself in immigration law, but the argument for asylum is strong on its own. We granted asylum on grounds of religious persecution to plenty of immigrants in the 70s and 80s, often to folks from countries whose (Communist) governments we didn’t like. Lord knows, there are plenty of countries in which being LGBT can put your life in danger. We’ve spent the past few days celebrating the victory won at the Supreme Court, but this deserves the same attention, too. It’s why Jennicet Gutiérrez spoke out at the White House during the annual LGBT Pride reception.

Whatever you think of Ms. Gutiérrez’s actions, they had an effect.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement will implement new guidelines designed to better protect transgender people in immigration detention facilities, the agency announced Monday.

The announcement comes after 35 congressional Democrats wrote to U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson earlier this month asking ICE to change it’s policies toward those detainees. The lawmakers also asked ICE to collect better data on how many people flee their homelands for fear of persecution because they are gay, lesbian transgender or bisexual.

“We want to make sure our employees have the tools and resources available to learn more about how to interact with transgender individuals and ensure effective standards exist to house and care for them throughout the custody cycle,” Thomas Homan, executive assistant director for ICE’s Office of Enforcement and Removal Operations, said in a statement.

According to the memorandum, ICE will now collect data on how many immigrants in its custody are transgender, and provide training and guidance to ICE officers to keep those detainees safe. ICE will also name of a special coordinator to manage such issues for each of its 24 field offices.

It’s a small step forward and it is one of the things that immigration activists asked for, but it’s not that much and it’s not going to get anyone out of detention. Activists were critical of this and will continue to push for asylum. I think the President needs to listen to them.

No quorum for Lawrence’s Council meeting on 287(g)

Good.

Three City Council members fell short of forcing a vote Wednesday on the city’s participation in a controversial immigration screening program after the rest of their colleagues skipped a special meeting.

The city secretary counted only three members — Toni Lawrence, Anne Clutterbuck and Mike Sullivan — present at the afternoon special meeting before it was called off for lack of a quorum. To officially meet on the issue, they would have needed at least eight members of council present.

After the aborted meeting, City Council member Pam Holm joined the trio at a news conference calling for Mayor Bill White to hold a public meeting on whether the city should participate in the 287(g) program, which trains local law enforcement to identify illegal immigrants in the jails.

The lackluster turnout came as little surprise as several council members reported last week that they had scheduling conflicts. Others had called for an informal boycott of the rare special meeting, accusing Lawrence of political “grandstanding” on the sensitive immigration issue.

Lawrence, who is campaigning to become the next Harris County Precinct 4 commissioner, denied calling the meeting for political gain, saying, “I have never grandstanded in the six years I’ve been on the council. I’m very passionate about this.”

Remember when Council Member Lawrence walked out of a Council meeting along with several of her colleagues while then-CM/candidate for Congress Shelley Sekula Gibbs was giving a speech that demanded the city change its immigration policies? Lawrence said she was “embarrassed” to be in the same room as Gibbs was. Funny how
running a race as a Republican changes one’s perspective, isn’t it? And as Stace notes, the claim about never grandstanding is a bit shaky, too.

Now I’m willing to have a real debate about the 287(g) program, as long as it is a substantive debate and not a political stunt. Seems to me we’re going to have to have this debate sooner or later, since most of the Mayoral candidates have talked about closing the city jail and outsourcing that function to the county, where the 287(g) program is being used. We’ve got the County’s example, now let’s learn from it. How many of the inmates they’ve referred to the feds really were “dangerous”? How many left families behind? How can we objectively quantify the effect, good and bad, of doing this? When we get those answers, we can talk about what the city should be doing.

Change in course on 287 (g)

The Chron notes a change in course on how the city wants to deal with undocumented immigrants.

Mayor Bill White is distancing himself from a controversial federal program that trains local law enforcement to identify suspected illegal immigrants, saying this week that he favors an automated immigration screening program in the city’s jails.

This spring, after a Houston Police Department officer was critically injured in a shooting by an illegal immigrant, White formally requested that Department of Homeland Security officials expedite his request that the city participate in the 287(g) program, which would train jailers to act as de-facto immigration agents.

ICE officials announced in July that HPD had been accepted into the program. But since then, the city and Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials have been locked in protracted negotiations over a range of issues related to the program, from how it should be administered to which agency should shoulder the costs.

White, who is running for U.S. Senate, now appears to be backing away from the program, saying ICE officials were “bureaucratic” in the negotiations. Vincent Picard, an ICE spokesman, declined comment on the Houston negotiations.

“Rather than letting us simply write the agreements on our own terms, they want to put language in there that we object to,” White said. “We don’t want anything that creates obligations on the part of the city, or that would be inconsistent with our policies not to divert patrol officers from solving crimes.”

White said this week that he has not eliminated the possibility of participating in 287(g) on the city’s terms, but would prefer to participate in another ICE program instead. That program, “Secure Communities,” gives local law enforcement agencies access to a massive immigration database to check suspects’ immigration history.

White said that unlike 287(g), the Secure Communities program would require “no special agreement” with DHS or cost nearly as much. City officials had estimated 287(g) would cost an estimated $1.5 million to $2 million a year to operate and require training for 22 police officers and two supervisors in Houston’s jails.

However, the city so far lacks the technical capability to directly access ICE’s immigration database. White said he plans to have the technical problems resolved before the end of year, when he leaves office. Immigration screening in the city jails likely will be a key issue for Houston’s mayoral candidates, who are vying to replace White in January.

Campos is pleased by this. Stace calls it a “small victory” but still has a lot of questions about how the “secure Communities” program would work, and he isn’t too happy with the way that the Mayoral candidates have been talking about this issue. Coby notes that Gene Locke has been saying different things to different people. I share Stace’s concerns, and I hope this matter is given a lot of thought by the next Mayor before we commit to anything. It’s not just about the money, though there are certainly questions about that, it’s about making sure we treat everyone equally.

UPDATE: More in today’s Chron on how the Mayoral candidates are like or not like Mayor White on this issue.

Two immigration stories

Governor Perry writes a letter to the Department of Homeland Security.

Perry asked Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano this week to take a series of steps to improve information-sharing between federal, state and local law enforcement. The Homeland Security-related issues “seriously affect public safety in Texas,” Perry wrote earlier this week in a letter to Napolitano.

A spokeswoman for Napolitano, Sara Kuban, said Napolitano would respond directly to Perry and declined to comment on the specific issues raised in the letter.

The governor’s requests include:

  • Giving all Texas jails access to a database that automatically checks suspects’ immigration history. So far, 19 of the 252 jails in the state with electronic fingerprint booking participate in the program, including the Harris County Sheriff’s Office and Houston Police Department.

    Those 19 jails have checked 37,000 people through the database since last fall, and have identified 8,844 with fingerprints on file with immigration officials, according to Perry’s letter.

    Perry specifically cited the case of Wilfido Alfaro, an illegal immigrant from El Salvador who avoided deportation after multiple arrests in Texas and last month shot and critically wounded a Houston Police officer.

  • Requiring ICE officials to notify the state when they deport a foreign national with a Texas driver’s license, which would close a gap that has allowed illegal immigrants to keep valid state identification. For example, according to local investigators, Alfaro had a Texas driver’s license, even though an immigration judge ordered him to leave the country in 2001.
  • Keeping illegal immigrants convicted of crimes in federal custody until their deportation. Perry cited a recent case involving two Cubans convicted of robbery in Florida and dropped by immigration officials at a bus stop in Willacy, Texas, after being released from custody.

Based on a 2001 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, immigration officials have about six months to deport or release immigrants after their immigration case is decided. To hold someone longer, the federal government must show that a foreign government will issue the detainee travel documents in the “reasonably foreseeable future” or certify that the person meets stringent criteria to be classified as a danger to society or national interest.

In cases involving immigrants from countries like Cuba, which lacks a repatriation treaty with the U.S., the detainees routinely are released from immigration custody within six months because they cannot be deported.

Other than number three, which raises some Constitutional issues and really needs to be resolved by the US growing up and re-engaging with Cuba, these strike me as perfectly reasonable requests. There’s a big difference between verifying the immigration status of someone who’s already been arrested for something, and verifying the immigration status of someone who’s been pulled over or stopped on the street by the cops for whatever arbitrary reason. Maybe there’s something here I’m not seeing, but offhand I don’t have any objections to the first two items.

The earlier story about DA Pat Lykos’ “no plea bargains unless you confess your immigration status to us” proposal is a different kettle of fish. Mark Bennett gets into some of the problems with this idea, which he also sums up in a simple question, but it’s John Nova Lomax with a truly impressive deconstruction of the Lykos Plan. I can’t really add anything to what he wrote, so go check it out for yourself.