The House author of the controversial sanctuary city immigration bill admitted during a State Affairs committee hearing Wednesday that his legislation has more to do with perception than an actual crisis.
“Based on what I’ve read we don’t have any, so I don’t see what the big deal is” said Rep. Burt Solomons, a Republican from Carrolton of sanctuary cities. “But enough people perceive that this is a problem. So, in this context we ought to have a uniform consistent policy.”
For the 38 witnesses ranging from bishops to sheriff’s deputies that testified in the packed committee room it was a big deal. The majority of the testimony was against the bill, which allows police officers to ask for citizenship status and prohibits any law enforcement agency from stopping them. Early in the session, Governor Rick Perry designated the abolishment of sanctuary cities as a legislative emergency.
The bill was left pending after several hours of testimony late into the night. Within the coming week, however, the bill will fly out of committee, said Rep. Sylvester Turner, a Democrat from Houston who sits on State Affairs. “There are more than enough votes to pass it,” Turner said. Republican members on the committee see the non-emergency as a priority. Turner said they’re rushing to get it out ahead of the appropriations and redistricting bills.
Throughout the Wednesday hearing, Solomons emphasized that the bill would help law enforcement. However, one law enforcement official after another testified that the bill would only make their jobs more difficult. Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo said he was baffled by the urgency to pass the bill. “To be quite frank. I am not sure what we’re trying to fix.” Acevedo said. “We (Travis County) lead the nation in deportation.”
Acevedo said that 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. “This is going to impact law abiding, productive members of the community, people we depend on to keep the communities as a whole safe,” he said. “What is being proposed as a law enforcement bill will do nothing more than hurt law enforcement at the end of the day.”
Former Houston narcotics officer Richard Salter gave an emotional testimony for the passage of the bill. Salter said he was shot in the face by an illegal immigrant during a drug raid. Blind in the right eye, partially paralyzed in the left side of his body, Salter limped to the podium to testify. His wife Sue told the committee “You can stick your head in the sand and believe these places (sanctuary cities) don’t exist but they do. They are safe places for these people to rob to pillage to rape.”
It was questionable, however, whether the passage of HB 12 would help Salter. The many who shot him had already been deported twice.
A wide swathe of Texas’ religious community from Jewish rabbis to United Methodist Bishops also spoke against the bill. Elizabeth Riebschalaeger, a nun from the Catholic Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word, waited patiently into the late evening to give her testimony. “This bill represents a violation of the will of the god and therefore is immoral,” she said. “Try thinking of immigrants as brothers and sisters instead of illegal aliens.”