‘Sanctuary Cities’ Debate Brings Tears, Protests, Feuds to Texas House


Hundreds of people gather in the Texas Capitol Rotunda to protest SB 4.  Sam DeGrave

Lawmakers gave heartfelt speeches about their experiences as minorities, immigrants and children of immigrants on the Texas House floor Wednesday during heated debate over the so-called sanctuary cities ban.

Representative Ana Hernandez, D-Houston, fought back tears while describing the fear she experienced as an undocumented child in Texas who attended public schools. “I knew I wasn’t a U.S. citizen, and I feared the reactions from my classmates if they knew I wasn’t a citizen. I see myself in many of those students now that share the same fear of being deported, or having their parents deported,” Hernandez said.

Representative Victoria Neave, D-Dallas, who launched a four-day hunger strike in protest of SB 4, spoke to her colleagues with a photo of her immigrant father. Representative Gene Wu, D-Houston, shed tears during his speech, in which he said the bill brought up memories of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.

“Those are laws that were created out of fear. Those are laws that were created out of hatred and misunderstanding,” Wu said.

Hundreds of protesters flooded the Capitol in opposition to the bill. By evening, they gathered in the Capitol rotunda for a vigil, and their chants could be heard during debate on House floor.

kids, sb 4

Despite emotional pleas, Democrats acknowledged they do not have the votes to stop Senate Bill 4, which could jail local law enforcement officials who refuse to assist enforcing federal immigration law or enact such policies. Instead, they attempted to soften the legislation, but were shot down on party-line votes during the first eight hours of debate.

Representative Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, said Governor Greg Abbott, who made the SB 4 a legislative emergency, ”misled” and “lied” to legislators about the bill making Texas communities safer. Law enforcement officials from Austin, Dallas, Houston, El Paso and San Antonio have said the proposal would have a negative impact on public safety in testimony to lawmakers.

By 7 p.m. on Wednesday, 202 amendments to SB 4 had been filed, and only 16 had been heard. Democrats and Republicans huddled during a seemingly failed attempt to reach a deal on the legislation, causing a nearly two-hour break in discussion.