Senate Bill 4, the controversial “sanctuary cities” ban, is on its way to Governor Greg Abbott’s desk — where it’s almost certain to be signed into law — after the Senate voted Wednesday to accept changes made to the legislation by the House last week.
Democratic senators voiced their concerns about the bill — that it will lead to racial profiling, widespread fear among Hispanics and deter local police agencies’ ability to investigate violent crimes — during debate on the Senate floor, but ultimately the measure passed on a 20-11 party-line vote.
“It has frankly gone from a bad bill to a really, really, really, bad, horrible bill,” said Senator Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston. “I’m afraid that this legislation will lead to harassment and profiling of Latinos, especially our children. We certainly don’t want ‘walking while brown’ to become reasonable suspicion, and frankly, I’m afraid that’s what will happen with this legislation.”
The bill would allow local police officers to be deputized to enforce federal immigration law, including asking people who have been detained — not just arrested — to prove citizenship. Law enforcement officials who enact policies that prohibit assisting federal immigration officials could be jailed, under SB 4. Critics have labeled the bill “show me your papers” legislation and compared it to Arizona’s infamous SB 1070, which was partially struck down as unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2012.
Senator Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, said he believes the impact of his bill has been exaggerated and that any fear on the part of immigrants and Latinos is “hypothetical.” On Monday, 24 people, including Austin City Council member Greg Casar, were arrested on criminal trespassing charges after refusing to leave the lobby of Abbott’s office in protest of SB 4. The group held a sit-in for nearly eight hours.
During the debate on Wednesday, Senator John Whitmire, D-Houston, asked Perry whether American citizens who are Hispanic should carry proof of legal status.
“You and I would never be questioned for our papers,” Whitmire told Perry. Both lawmakers are white.
“I don’t believe that’s an accurate statement,” Perry said, adding that he has been mistaken for a Latino and that people have spoken to him in Spanish because he “used to be dark.”
Perry said he “trusts” local police officers in Texas to carry out the law without discriminating against a racial minority. (In an earlier debate, Perry said he’d never had a negative interaction with a cop.) Democratic senators pointed out that law enforcement leaders from Austin, Dallas, Houston, El Paso and San Antonio have said SB 4 would be a hindrance to public safety in testimony to lawmakers.
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“I am appalled that we’ve come to a point in history where people are so adamant in support of illegal immigration. They think that illegal immigrants that commit crimes, whether it be molesting children, whether it be rape or domestic assault, that those criminals, or suspected criminals, should literally be released out on the streets, and that’s the right thing to do. I just completely disagree with that basic premise,” said Senator Van Taylor, R-Plano, who called the bill “terrific. ”