Senate Dems:SB 9 Passage is about Fear & Politics

After 9 hours of testimony Tuesday by Senate Democrats against SB 9, the controversial immigration bill passed anyway along a party-line vote.

It’s pretty certain SB 9 will pass just as readily in the House, with a Republican supermajority that already voted out the controversial “sanctuary cities” immigration legislation during the regular session.

So at this point we have to ask what are the Republicans thinking? In a state with a 38 percent Latino population and growing, Bush’s brain Karl Rove must be feeling dyspeptic right about now. All those George W. years of the Republican party making inroads with the Hispanic community in Texas only to have it obliterated by some poorly crafted Arizona-immigration style pandering.

For you lucky readers who have a life outside of the Legislative dome, SB 9, incorporates the prohibition of “sanctuary cities” language from the regular session with a mandate that Texas use the federal program Secure Communities which places federal agents in county and city jails to check for citizenship. (Texas already uses Secure Communities in every county in the state, but oh well.) SB 9 also makes it law that DPS clerks check for citizenship status before granting a driver’s license.

The most controversial portion of SB 9 is the language banning so called “sanctuary cities.” In these mystical Texas “sanctuary cities” illegal immigrants run amuck doing whatever they please. Except, that throughout the six months this legislation has been debated, Republicans pushing the bill have been unable to name a single sanctuary city.

But who needs facts when the 2012 presidential election is just around the corner? Forget Texas’ multi-billion dollar budget shortfall, the public school crisis or crippling healthcare cuts Governor Rick Perry deemed it a legislative emergency to ban sanctuary cities. Longtime Austin political reporter Harvey Kronberg summed up Perry’s naked political ambitions in an op ed piece in Quorum Report: “Governor Perry needs a non-Arizona style Arizona bill for his non-campaign campaign.”

Passing the bill also wouldn’t hurt Lt. Governor David Dewhurst’s chances in the Republican primary, he noted.

And let’s be clear that’s what this is all about – politics. Police chiefs from every major city across the state, a wide swath of the religious community, business owners and countless other Texans testified against the bill but to no avail. Texas’ Republicans want to pass SB 9 and they have the numbers to do it. And it’s the people of color in Texas who will pay the price. With the passage of SB 9, Texas’ citizens of color will have to prove their U.S. citizenship to law enforcement – a burden that Texas’ Anglo citizens won’t have to bear.

During the course of the debate, Democratic Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa offered an amendment to the bill, which Williams accepted, that should soften the blow. It requires that the exchange between police and citizens be consistent with DPS policy. The policy is that a police officer can’t pull someone over or search a business or residence to check immigration status unless requested as back up by a federal immigration officer.

Close to midnight one Hispanic senator after another rose to speak against the passage of SB 9 even though they didn’t have the numbers to prevent it from passing. At times they got emotional. Laredo Senator Judith Zaffirini exhorted the Anglo Republican senators to vote against the bill. “Voting for SB 9 will cause you to discriminate against us,” she said. Senator Carlos Uresti who represents two-thirds of the border said “This bill strikes at the heart and soul of Latinos of Texas.”

Brownsville Senator Eddie Lucio called the passage of SB 9 the lowest point in his 24-year career as a legislator. Senator Jose Rodriguez of El Paso pointed out that at a time when Hispanics are making a mark as the fastest growing population and future workforce the Senate is passing a “law that threatens that progress and harms not only their prosperity but Texas’ as well.”

But their passionate speeches didn’t budge SB 9’s supporters. Republican Senators Bob Deuell and Steve Ogden spoke in support of the bill.  Ogden said most of the complaints about the bill sounded preposterous to him. “Law enforcement is not going to go out and hassle people,” he said. Deuell said he was an optimist and that the bill will not bring out the worst in Texas. “Some of us are uncomfortable but we are going to vote for this bill anyway,” he said.

And with that the bill passed along a party-line vote. If the passage of SB 9 isn’t a wake up call for Texas’ Latinos and other minority communities to start voting I don’t know what is.

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

Published at 4:23 am CST