by Regina Cantu @ Matt.org
In what sounds like Texas’ version of SB 1070, the Senate approved on Tuesday night a bill allowing peace officers to inquire on the immigration status of any person arrested or legally detained.
Six hours of debate resulted in the body voting to pass the special session version of the sanctuary cities bill out of the upper chamber along a party line vote, 19 to 12. The bill, SB 9 by state Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, would deny state funds to entities that prohibit peace officers and employees of special districts from inquiring into the status of a person arrested or detained for the investigation of crime. It also expands the federal government’s Secure Communities initiative to all detention facilities, and codifies tighter regulations for applicants for driver’s licenses and state-issued IDs. Gov. Rick Perry added the measure to the special session agenda last week.
Williams fought off repeated accusations that his bill is a blatant attempt to empower local law enforcement to act as immigration officers and deport illegal immigrants. He said there is no provision in the law that requires or allows them to do so. Instead, he said it was a necessary measure to identify criminal aliens intent on harming Texans, especially as the violence in Mexico continues unabated.
“If during the course of whatever criminal or traffic (offense), whatever they are investigating, they come to the belief that that person is in the country illegally, this bill gives them the discretion (to determine what to do),” he said during the debate.
Yet police chiefs and sheriffs of every major city in the state opposed the bill, arguing that turning police into ICE agents fosters an environment of mistrust and ultimately ensures that less crime is reported and more criminals go free. Several law enforcement officers testified the bill would not only erode the success of what they labeled “community policing,” but also cost most of them millions more annually to detain immigrants and train officers.
Williams, however, routinely dismissed claims that the bill would erode trust in law enforcement and pointed to testimony Monday by a woman who said she cooperated with police officers when her abusive partner constantly badgered her and her daughter. The witness said she initially gave in to her fears and called the police, but testified that she would have been scared to do so if SB 9 was in place, for fear of being deported.
“What she said yesterday exemplifies what is going to happen,” said Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth. “They are going to fear calling the police.”
The vote came after a series of emotional speeches by Democrats in the legislature. At one point,Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston
asked his seven Latino colleagues to stand up. “This legislation will force them to prove their citizenship (if pulled over for a traffic violation)… This is a sad day,” he said.
State Senator Carlos Uresti “recalled his days as a U.S. Marine when he was called a ‘wetback’ and given the name ‘Charlie’ because Spanish was forbidden in school.”
And on Wednesday, after the passage of the bill, Texas faith leaders, business owners, human rights advocates, and law enforcement personnel traveled by bus from all over the state to rally on the Capitol steps. Hundreds of immigrant rights advocates also protested at the Senate Capitol the Senate’s approval. Said Reform Immigration for Texas, one of the rally organizers, “We will not forget SB 9.”
“I can’t think of another piece of legislation that I believe will be judged to be so unfair and so inequitable as this piece of legislation,” said Whitmire. “We must slow down, members. It’s our moral duty to stand up against discrimination. We’re fixing to impact every Hispanic citizen in the state of Texas.”