Sen. Jose Rodriguez, Sen. Sylvia Garcia and Sen. Kirk Watson
Kelsey Jukam

Senators Delay Hearing on Bill Banning ‘Sanctuary Cities’


Update: Senate Bill 185 has been rescheduled for Monday, March 16 at 8 a.m.

Original: The Senate Border Security Subcommittee adjourned after just six minutes Monday morning as senators delayed a hearing on legislation that would outlaw “sanctuary cities.” Some Democrats were frustrated that the hearing, which was publicly scheduled on Friday, was called with such little notice, especially since the bill is so controversial.

Sen. Jose Rodriguez (D-El Paso) made a procedural move called “tagging” to require at least 48 hours advance notice of the hearing. He said that the last-minute scheduling of Senate Bill 185 violated Senate rules. Sen. Sylvia Garcia (D-Houston) said in a press conference later that many Texans would have come had they been given proper notice.

SB 185 would prohibit local government from adopting policies blocking police and other authorities from inquiring about immigration status; assisting federal immigration agents in enforcement; or allowing federal authorities to operate in local jails.

The term “sanctuary cities” has no legal meaning, but is commonly used to describe cities that prohibit local law enforcement from inquiring about a person’s immigration status. Some police departments as well as immigrant rights groups say that laws such as SB 185 discourage cooperation with the police and encourage racial profiling. Rodriguez says that Texans don’t want their state to become Arizona, where the notorious SB 1070 passed in 2010.

“We don’t want to become a ‘show me your papers’ state,” Rodriguez said.

He says that “anti-immigrant” proposals like SB 185 should be rejected on economic, legal and moral grounds.

In 2011, Gov. Rick Perry declared sanctuary cities an emergency item, helping to expedite legislation similar to SB 185. The legislation was met with opposition by both business leaders and immigrant rights groups, and failed to get enough votes in the Senate.

Lynn Godsey, president of the Hispanic Evangelical Ministerial Alliance, said in the press conference today that it was a “bad move” to try to slip this hearing through so hastily. He promised to bring hundreds of people to the next hearing on SB 185, which hasn’t been rescheduled. Sen. Brian Birdwell (R-Granbury), the committee chair, said that the committee probably won’t hear SB 185 next week and didn’t know when the committee might revisit the bill.

Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin) said that “because of the way this has played out this morning” he hopes that other legislators will go out of their way to “make sure there’s a complete and robust discussion” during the next hearing on this issue.

“Something of this importance—if you believe in it, then let’s have a full debate,” Watson said.