Dems: R’s Will Rue the Day they Passed Sanctuary City Bill

Photo by Joanna Wojtkowiak

Latino, Asian and African American Democrats lined up to testify late Monday night against HB 12, known as the “Sanctuary City” immigration bill. Some cried, some raised their voices and some tried to reason with Anglo Republican legislators intent on passing the bill that allows police to check for citizenship status. It took six hours of emotional testimony last Friday then another 10 hours Monday before the bill passed along party lines 100 to 47.

Rep. Jose Menendez told a story about how his father, a legal immigrant from Cuba, was detained by police in South Texas because he didn’t have his immigration papers with him. Brownsville Democrat Eddie Lucio III was thrown against the wall and handcuffed by a Border Patrol agent at an airport when he was 15. “They didn’t ask anyone else for their citizenship,” he said “I was in shock when it happened.” Another Rep. Jessica Farrar said her mother was pulled over by the police because she was Hispanic. “She was flustered and humiliated,” Farrar said, tearing up. “And I don’t want anyone else to go through that.”

Republicans were unmoved by the personal stories, however. For them it was a red meat issue they could bring home to voters clamoring for an illegal immigration fix. Throughout the debate, Republican state Rep. Burt Solomons, author of the bill, worked to differentiate his immigration bill from the controversial Arizona immigration legislation 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. That way they can’t become “sanctuary cities” for illegal immigrants, according to the bill’s supporters. “My bill doesn’t mandate anything,” Solomons said. “It just creates a uniform policy so that cities can’t opt out of federal immigration laws.”

Earlier in the session, police chiefs from across the state spoke out against the bill during a House committee hearing saying that it would alienate immigrant communities and encourage rogue officers to hassle immigrants. 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. “Now we’ll have driving while Mexican.”

According to the bill, any city, school district, groundwater district or other state agency that doesn’t follow the law will lose state funding. 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.

After 10 hours of emotional debate Monday, Republicans moved to end the debate with a parliamentary procedure that is rarely used called a “move to previous motion.” The procedure cuts off any further debate or amendments to a bill. Democratic Rep. Pete Gallego said in 16 years the procedure had only been used three times but in the last three days it had been used twice. “”The House has always been about robust debate.” he said. “What does this say to the people of Texas?”

Democratic Rep. Sylvester Turner asked the Speaker if he planned on cutting off debate and amendments for the rest of the session. “Could you let us know now so we don’t have to spend long hours studying bills,” he said sarcastically. Speaker Straus responded that he’d consider it on a case by case basis.

There were several testy moments throughout the debate between Republicans and Democrats. In one exchange Republican immigration hardliner Leo Berman said Democrats were over exaggerating the negative impacts of the bill. “You’re talking about papers as if we were in Nazi Germany with the Gestapo,” he said to Rep. Oliveira. “If you’re legal and driving and the police ask for your drivers license and insurance and if you have them the odds are 99 percent of police will let you go.”

Oliveira said he’d seen too many cases as a lawyer in South Texas of people being pulled over by police because of their skin color. “I wish Leo I could live in that Pollyanna world, But that’s not what I’ve seen at the court house or what I’ve read about in the history books of our great state of texas. Some people don’t need much of a reason they just don’t like the color of your skin — it happens in Texas and I wish it wasn’t that way.”

Berman said he was a supporter of the bill but he didn’t “have a racist bone in his body.”

Rep. Jose Menendez warned that Latinos living in Texas would not forget Republicans who passed the bill. “If you cast this vote 9 million latinos are going to take this very personally,” he said.

After the bill passed, Democrats convened for a press conference where they did not mince words. “This is the most anti-civil rights legislation I’ve ever seen in the Texas House and I’ve been here for 27 years,” said Rep. Oliveira. “We have suffered a major setback today. They say this isn’t Arizona type legislation but they’re wrong — the net results are the same. It tells our biggest trading partner Mexico that they they are not welcome here and it will bring disaster into our public schools.”

Democratic Rep. Veronica Gonzales said the bill was nothing more than discrimination against Latinos. “The face of Texas has changed. There are more minorities in this state now but you wouldn’t know it by looking at this legislation.”

Spanish language TV reporters were also at the session Monday following the bill closely. Democratic Rep. Roberto Alonzo said that news about the bill was prominent on Spanish channels. “This is the most important bill right now at the Capitol for Hispanics. They want to know do I need to carry a passport with me wherever I go now, or a birth certificate?”

The vote would come back to haunt Republicans in the next election, Alonzo said. “After Arizona passed its immigration bill Latinos got organized and turned out to vote,” he said. “The same thing is going to happen in Texas.”

Melissa del Bosque is a staff writer and a 2015-16 Lannan Fellow at The Investigative Fund.

Published at 6:54 am CST