A Sanctuary City Bill Setback

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At the beginning of the six hour-debate Friday in the Texas House, Republican state Rep. Solomons worked to differentiate his sanctuary city immigration bill from the controversial Arizona immigration bill passed last year.  He explained that the Arizona bill requires police to check for citizenship status. His bill prevents cities and state agencies from prohibiting it.

It got more confusing from there. First it started with a debate over whether sanctuary cities existed at all.  “Why do we even need this bill?” asked Democratic state Rep. Armando Walle.  What wasn’t said on the House floor was that HB 12 is all about the 2012 elections. Republicans need something to bring back to their districts where illegal immigration has become a defining issue. For Democrats in the House it was all about taking a stand and trying to get some amendments passed that wouldl lessen the damage.

Throughout the debate, Democrats argued that the bill is an unfunded mandate for local governments, promotes racial profiling and prevents police chiefs from having discretion over their officers.

Earlier in the session, police chiefs from across the state spoke out against the bill during a House committee hearing and civil rights groups warned that it would create more racial profiling. “We already have driving while black in Texas,” said Democratic State Rep. Rene Oliveira on the House floor. “Now we’ll have driving while Mexican.”

The bill also allows any citizen to file a complaint with the Attorney General’s office against any city, police department or other state agency that doesn’t follow the sanctuary city law. The AG would then decide whether the complaint was worthy of a lawsuit.

Democrats Trey Martinez-Fischer and Armando Martinez introduced points of orders on the bill, taking issue with various technical faults in the hearing process. Finally, a point of order by San Antonio Rep. Martinez Fischer stuck and the bill was jettisoned back to State Affairs committee after six hours of debate.

Not wanting to waste too much time, Rep. Solomons had the bill heard in a quick committee hearing that night. The bill was voted out again with the three Democrats on the committee: Rene Oliveira, Jose Menendez and Pete Gallego voting against the bill.

There seemed to be some doubt, however, about whether it should be the committee substitute or the original version passed out of committee this time. Committee member Rep. Tom Craddick, the former House Speaker who knows a thing or two about the legislative process, said he had his doubts about the way the bill was passed out of the committee. “I’m not sure it’s right but I’m not chairman,” he said, smiling as he walked out.

Could this be another technical point of order for Rep. Martinez-Fischer to offer on the House floor? We’ll find out Monday when the House brings it up for another debate.

 

– Texas Observer Intern Daniel Setiawan contributed to this report

Melissa del Bosque joined The Texas Observer staff in 2008. She specializes in reporting on immigration and the U.S.-Mexico border. Her work has been published in national and international publications including TIME magazine and the Mexico City-based Nexos magazine. She has a master’s in public health from Texas A&M University and a master’s in journalism from the University of Texas at Austin.