‘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.

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“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.

Sam DeGrave
State Representative Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, waves a copy of SB 4 in the air as he speaks out against the bill in Spanish at a morning press conference.
Sam DeGrave
House Democrats stand behind Harold Dutton, D-Houston, as he speaks against SB 4.
Sam DeGrave
Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, comforts Gene Wu, D-Houston, after an emotional testimony.
Sam DeGrave
UT Austin students sit in the middle of the Capitol rotunda floor to protest SB 4. They planned not to leave until the House voted on the measure, but they relocated to the gallery well before then.
Sam DeGrave
Democratic state representatives huddle to discuss a possible deal that would end the SB 4 debate in the House.
Sam DeGrave
Organizers with Workers Defense Project gathered at all the entrances to the House chamber. Here, kids and adults wait to catch legislators trying to sneak through the backdoor.
Sam DeGrave
State Representative Philip Cortez, D-San Antonio, takes a card from Wendy, 9, and promises her that he will vote against SB 4.
Sam DeGrave
Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez spoke at the rally against SB 4 on Wednesday morning.
Sam DeGrave
Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, listens in a huddle as lawmakers discuss a possible compromise to shorten the SB 4 debate.
Sam DeGrave
David, a young boy who opposes SB 4, presents a drawing he planned to give to lawmakers, urging them to kill SB 4.
Sam DeGrave
(Left) Armando Walle, D-Houston and (right) Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie
Sam DeGrave
State Representative Victoria Neave, D-Dallas, speaks against SB 4 at a morning press conference. Neave has been fasting as a form of peaceful protest against SB 4 since Sunday.
Sam DeGrave
Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, speaks in opposition of SB 4 on the House floor. “If you’ve succeeded in anything, members, you’ve succeeded in terrifying an entire community,” Anchia said. “This is not theatrics. Ladies and gentlemen, this is not a show. These are people’s lives.”
Sam DeGrave
Joe Moody, D-El Paso, listens in as lawmakers discuss a possible deal to end debate on SB 4.
Sam DeGrave
David (left) and Wendy (right) are among those opposed to SB 4. They made this known at a morning press conference against the measure.
Sam DeGrave
The crowd at a morning press conference listens as state Representative Victoria Neave, D-Dallas, speaks out against SB 4.
Sam DeGrave
Wendy, a 9-year-old girl, tells the adults in the Texas House to "do your job" and stop SB 4.
Sam DeGrave
Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, and Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, discuss strategy as they walk to join a huddle of other Democratic lawmakers.
Sam DeGrave
Andrea (left) and Lizbeth (right) stand with several lawmakers, activists and law enforcement officials who oppose SB 4.
Sam DeGrave
The University Leadership Initiative, an immigration advocacy group from the University of Texas at Austin, staged a sit-in at the Capitol Rotunda during the SB 4 debate.
Sam DeGrave
UT Austin students hold a banner during an SB 4 vigil held in the Texas Capitol rotunda.
Sam DeGrave
State Senators Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, and José Rodriguez, D-El Paso, join those protesting SB 4 in the rotunda.
Sam DeGrave
Wendy, 9, hands cards to state representatives entering the House chamber. She spent hours making them because her mother is undocumented. "I just want to keep my family together," she said.

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.

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Published at 8:36 pm CST
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