This Week: ‘Show Me Your Papers’ and ‘Baby Jail’ Bills Advance

Tears, protests and hate filled the Texas House during a marathon debate on anti-immigrant 'sanctuary cities' legislation this week.

Children and parents demonstrate against SB 4 while lawmakers leave the Texas House through a rear exit.  Sam DeGrave

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The Texas House jumped off a political cliff this week by passing anti-immigrant legislation that deputizes local police as federal immigration officers and jails officials who don’t comply, writes columnist Chris Hooks. Outnumbered Democrats tried to fend off the so-called sanctuary cities bill with a hunger strike, legislative maneuvers, organized protests and tearful pleas on the House floor, but the final vote fell along party lines.

Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, comforts Gene Wu, D-Houston, after an emotional testimony.  Sam DeGrave

During the 16-hour debate Wednesday into Thursday, Republicans swatted attempts to soften Senate Bill 4. In doing so, the GOP voted to allow cops to question people, including children, about their immigration status regardless of whether they’ve been arrested. Democratic lawmakers compared SB 4, which is likely now on its way to becoming law, to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.

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After relying heavily on cheap, undocumented labor to bolster its economy — and generally steering clear of Arizona-style immigration measures — Texas has decided the million or so undocumented immigrants in the state are no longer welcome.

And while there is plenty of blame to go around — Governor Greg Abbott declared a crackdown on “sanctuary cities” as a legislative emergency — editor Forrest Wilder points to House Speaker Joe Straus and those closely aligned to him. Straus and his lieutenants in the House could’ve killed SB 4, but, as Wilder writes, “The center did not hold.”

SB 4, which has abortion-rights advocates worried about a chilling effect for women seeking health care services, was not the only anti-immigrant measure that moved a step closer to law this week: On Wednesday, Senate Bill 1018, which would lower the state standards for family detention centers so that they can be licensed as child care facilities, was approved by a Senate committee.

The licensing would allow detention centers, run by private prison firms, to hold immigrant children for the duration of their asylum cases. That can be several months or longer. Ultimately, the prison firms could skip all the regulations required of other child care facilities. Critics have labeled the facilities “baby jails.”

Outside the Legislature, an Observer investigation reveals increasing cooperation between Texas DPS troopers and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents that legal experts say tramples the Constitution.

We took a closer look at just how bad a Trump-led trade war with Mexico would be for Texas, which traded more than $176 billion worth of goods with Mexico (compared to only $71 billion for California) in 2015.

Joanna Wojtkowiak

Nearly a year after the Supreme Court struck down two major provisions in the state’s sweeping anti-abortion law, an Austin abortion clinic reopened Friday. The clinic, which was among more than half the state’s abortion facilities closed by the 2013 law, is one of two that have now reopened.

Three captured pronghorn are airlifted in body bags to a service station on a ranch outside of Pampa, where volunteers and researchers are waiting to give them a full medical workup.
Three captured pronghorn are airlifted in body bags to a service station on a ranch outside of Pampa, where volunteers and researchers are waiting to give them a full medical workup.  Sasha Von Oldershaushen

The Observer went to the Texas Panhandle, where wildlife experts are airlifting and trucking pronghorn into West Texas in hopes of replenishing a shrinking population.

A proposal to protect playgrounds and parks from pollutants emitted by concrete crushing facilities was considered by a Senate committee this week, while another advanced legislation that would overhaul the state agency charged with licensing and inspecting housing for hundreds of thousands of farmworkers in Texas.

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We have some exciting news at the Observer: We have our next publisher! Michael Kanin will head up our business office and help us innovate new ways to fund independent, investigative journalism in this brave new world beginning May 29. Kanin comes from the Austin Monitor, a nonprofit daily website that focuses on Austin and Travis County. 

Want to help Mike hit the ground running? Consider a donation today and come celebrate great journalism at the our annual MOLLY Prize dinner.

Kolten Parker is the digital editor of the Observer. You can find him on Twitter or at [email protected].

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Published at 2:06 pm CST
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