Passage of Sanctuary City Bill a Pyrrhic Victory

In a statement today, Governor Rick Perry applauded the passage of one of his legislative emergency items – HB 12, otherwise known as the “sanctuary cities” bill. The bill roiled the House for three days in a divisive and highly emotional debate before it passed on the final read Tuesday afternoon 100 to 47. You can’t help but feel that it was a pyrrhic victory for Republicans creating bitterness among the Legislative body and alienating just about everyone except the Republicans who supported HB 12.

After 10 hours of heated debate Monday night, Rio Grande Valley Democratic Rep. Veronica Gonzales summed it up. “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.”

Or maybe you would and that was, unfortunately, the point as Democratic Rep. Harold Dutton, who is African American, pointed out in a floor speech. “Some people believe there are too many Mexicans in Texas and they believe they are here illegally,” he said. “They say there won’t be any racial profiling but we’ve been trying to outlaw racial profiling in this body for a long time. Look at the front page of the Houston Chronicle today. It says black folks are 23 percent of the Houston population, yet they are 33 percent of the people who are stopped by the police.”

The bill wouldn’t just affect Latino Texans, he said. “The bill bothers me because there are Nigerians, there are Italians and people of all nationalities who will be affected. In one school in Houston there are 80 different countries represented. The opposition says this bill will help local officials do their job but it’s a smokescreen, that’s not what this is about.”

Throughout the debate, Republican state Rep. Solomons, author of the bill, worked to differentiate his bill from the controversial Arizona immigration law 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. “My bill doesn’t mandate anything,” he said. “It just creates a uniform policy so that cities can’t opt out of federal immigration policies.”

HB 12 requires that any city, school district, groundwater district or other state agency follow the law or lose state funding. The bill also allows citizens 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.

Solomons accepted Republican amendments to prohibit racial profiling and exclude school districts with the exception of campus police from checking for citizenship.

Tuesday, after it was all said and done and the bill was passed, Houston Rep. Ana Hernandez Luna gave one of the most poignant personal privilege speeches in the history of the Texas House. Hernandez Luna told the chamber that she had grown up undocumented in Texas. The amnesty granted by President Ronald Reagan in the 90s had allowed her family to come out of the shadows, she said. “I remember the constant fear I lived with each day,” she said. “The daily task to go buy groceries, it was a simple task for you but for us it was a death sentence because at any time one of my parents could be deported. Some say immigrant children are a drain on public schools. I don’t consider myself a drain. I graduated at 16 with honors got a bachelors degree, got a law degree and was elected to the Texas House at age 27,” she said. “I know firsthand the impact HB 12 will have on families who are undocumented, the fear mothers will feel when they go to the grocery store.”

There was scarcely a pause to consider her words on the House floor, before the next bill came up for debate. For Democrats like Hernandez Luna, the bill was personal and had real implications. But for Republicans it was just politics, and they had already moved on to the next task at hand.

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

Published at 3:10 am CST
Top