House Readies for Sanctuary City Battle

House Bill 12—the sanctuary city immigration bill— is scheduled for debate Friday on the House floor and legislators on both sides of the aisle are gearing up for a long battle. “There is a very real danger that this is going to be a free for all,” said state Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine.

The bill prohibits any government agency from adopting a policy that forbids officials from enforcing federal immigration law.  Gov. Rick Perry designated the abolishment of sanctuary cities as an emergency item back in January, but even proponents of the bill have a hard time defining exactly what a sanctuary city is or if they even exist. “Based on what I’ve read we don’t have any, so I don’t see what the big deal is” said state Rep. Burt Solomons, R-Carrollton, the author of the bill during a committee meeting in March. “But people perceive this is a problem. So in this context we ought to have a uniform and consistent policy.”

Governor Perry who made Sanctuary Cities an emergency item at the beginning of session, also seemed fuzzy on the concept. But for Republicans, the bill is an important symbolic measure they can take back to their constituents clamoring for immigration enforcement. But many Democrats and Latino advocacy groups worry that it opens the door to racial profiling and the harassment of law-abiding citizens and legal immigrants.

Some Hispanic Republicans in the House, wary of not upsetting their Latino constituents, have promised to file amendments that prohibit racial profiling. Democrats are worried that the bill may be used as a vehicle for more divisive anti-immigrant amendments. “The difficult time that the Republican leaders of the House are going to have is keeping off the amendments that are more radical or discriminatory or less palatable to Texans,” said state Rep. Rene Oliveira, D-Brownsville. Oliveira said that the GOP leaders are working out deals to avoid the more divisive amendments from immigration hardliners like Leo Berman and Debbie Riddle.  We’ll know if they were successful Thursday when all the amendments for the bill have been filed.

For Democrats things look bleak. With only 49 members in the House, Democrats have little hope of stopping the passage of the bill, but have vowed to do everything they can to slow it down. “We still have to fight,” said Rep. Roberto Alonzo, D-Dallas.  “We have to let people know that what they are doing is wrong.”

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