Perry Makes a Mockery of State’s Rights with Immigration Bill

It’s ironic that a governor who says he values local control and state’s rights is pushing for immigration legislation that makes a mockery of both.

Yesterday, Governor Perry added SB 9 to the special session call. The bill by Senator Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, incorporates immigration legislation to abolish “sanctuary cities,” mandates a federal program called “Secure Communities” and codifies language that allows DPS workers to ask for citizenship status when they issue a driver’s license. Together these pieces of legislation tie the hands of local law enforcement forcing them to implement federal programs that some states are already bailing out of due to concerns about cost and community policing.

During the regular 82nd session, the sanctuary cities bill caused much debate and grief. Ultimately it was blocked by the 12 Democrats in the Senate from coming up for a vote. Not so this time. There’s no two-thirds rule in a special session. And so that means the 12 Democrats can’t block the bill from passing. In the House, the bill already skated through during the regular session with the Republican super majority. We already know how this story’s going to end.

It’s too bad. Because while the consensus is that something needs to be done about illegal immigration, SB 9 is not the answer. It won’t prevent people from coming to the United States illegally. What it will do is lead to lawsuits and more confusion. Critics of the sanctuary cities legislation say it will lead to racial profiling because it allows law enforcement to ask for citizenship status. At least in the recently filed version, the bill carves out school districts and hospitals. But it still authorizes not only police officers and sheriff’s deputies but also park rangers, river authority officers and any other peace officer working for a special district in Texas to function as federal immigration officers.

Governor Perry is framing the legislation as helping law enforcement. “Texas owes it to the brave law enforcement officials, who put their lives on the line every day to protect our families and communities, to give them the discretion they need to adequately do their jobs,” he said yesterday after adding the bill to the special session call.

Yet, law enforcement officials across the state, say the legislation takes away their discretion to do their jobs. During the regular session, one police chief after another testified that the bill would usurp their ability to oversee their officers

Testifying against the bill in March, Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo worried that if he had officers who instead of working a robbery felt it was their duty to hassle people in front of the Home Depot for their citizenship papers, there was little he could do as chief to stop them if the law passes.

“What is being proposed as a law enforcement bill will do nothing more than hurt law enforcement at the end of the day,” he said. If passed, the bill will take away funding from fighting violent crimes and lead to a breakdown in communication between the immigrant community and law enforcement, Acevedo said. “This is going to impact law abiding, productive members of the community, people we depend on to keep the communities as a whole safe.”

Yesterday, police chiefs and sheriffs from across the state sent legislators a letter again asking them not to pass the bill. They wrote: “Texas’ security depends on community involvement and partnerships which are the cornerstone of our community policing plans. We believe that local law enforcement should be focused on criminal activities, not on enforcing civil violations of federal law. Mandating local police to enforce the federal immigration code alienates a significant and growing sector of our society, especially in the Latino community. In order to achieve national security and border security, we must incorporate Texas’ immigrant communities as part of the solution. Alienating any sector of our community from law enforcement is not good for Texas and is not good for our security.”

Apparently, Perry didn’t get the memo.

It’s also questionable whether Texas should be mandating the federal program Secure Communities when many states are pulling out of the program. Secure Communities places federal agents in county jails to check for citizenship status. Yesterday, Massachusetts joined Illinois and New York in pulling out of the program. “Official figures from Boston showed that 54 percent of the immigrants deported under the program had no criminal convictions, only civil immigration violations.  Only about one in four deportees under the program had been convicted of a serious crime,” reported the New York Times.

Deval Patrick, Governor of Massachusetts, like other governors and law enforcement, is concerned that involving police in the deportation of non-criminals will destroy the ties between law enforcement and immigrant communities. Crimes will go unreported and witnesses to crimes will be unwilling to testify fearing deportation.

The legislation introduced this special session would expand Secure Communities beyond what even the federal government requires – it would mandate the program in city jails as well as county jails. So if a local police department decides it would rather try something different than Secure Communities – it’s out of luck if this bill passes.

Putting into law DPS’ ability to check for citizenship status before granting a driver’s license might also be a bad idea. There are dozens of different legal visas from refugee visas to temporary protected status visas. Will Texas invest the money it takes to train DPS workers to recognize these various visas? In a state that ranks consistently at the bottom for state spending, it’s unlikely. U.S. citizens have already been denied driver’s licenses because they didn’t have the right paperwork. And lawsuits have already been filed. “There is a cloud over this issue right now so why make it law?,” said Luis Figeuroa, an attorney with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund.  This mandate is also part of the federal Real ID act, which many states, including Texas have tried to exempt themselves from because of the burdesome costs.

When it comes to bashing the feds and touting state’s rights Governor Perry likes to pick and choose. Apparently, when it comes to immigration Perry isn’t so “Fed up” after all.

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

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Published at 4:12 am CST
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