Texas lawmakers have approved a ban on so-called sanctuary cities, warning they will punish local law enforcement chiefs with jail time if they refuse to cooperate with federal immigration authorities. The bill was approved by the Senate Wednesday night along party lines, 20-11, and it is now headed to the governor’s desk for final approval.
This measure would make Texas the first state to ban sanctuary cities under the Trump administration when it goes into effect Sept. 1. President Trump’s Jan. 25 executive order gave federal immigration agents broad leeway to arrest virtually any undocumented immigrant they encounter, and he has since threatened to withhold federal funding from sanctuary cities.
The ban expands the provisions of the SB4 bill passed by the Texas House at the end of April, which makes it a criminal offense for law enforcement officers to not comply with ICE “detainer requests,” where suspected undocumented immigrants can be held for up to 48 hours. Under the ban, local jurisdictions that do not comply with federal immigration laws could face fines of up to $25,000 per day and police chiefs, sheriffs, mayors, and cops could be charged with a Class A misdemeanor, the most serious misdemeanor category in the state.
SB4 has been criticized by police chiefs in cities all over Texas, including current sanctuary cities Dallas, Houston, Austin, Arlington, Fort Worth, and San Antonio. Law enforcement representatives from all these cities called out the measure in an opinion piece in the Dallas Morning News, saying: “SB 4 is not the answer to immigration reform; rather it is political pandering that will make our communities more dangerous.”
Texas has the second-largest population of undocumented immigrants in the U.S., estimating the number at 1.653 million in 2014, according to the Pew Research Center. Most of these immigrants live in 20 metropolitan areas, per the Pew numbers. Houston and Dallas ranked third and fourth, with 1 million in the two cities combined. Austin ranked 20th, with an estimated 100,000.
Republican Gov. Greg Abbott will likely sign the bill into law, tweeting after the Wednesday vote: “I’m getting my signing pen warmed up.”
What does the measure do?
It allows law enforcement to ask any detained person about their immigration status, for any reason. It would also require local police chiefs and sheriff to obey federal demand to hold suspects for possible deportation.
Longtime proponents of the ban on sanctuary cities are pleased with this progress.
Sen. Charles Perry, who carried the bill through the Senate, tweeted his excitement about the bill passing. And Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who has been working to end sanctuary cities in Texas since his days as a state senator, said that “there is no excuse for endangering our communities by allowing criminal aliens who have committed a crime to go free.”
Democrats have fiercely opposed measures like this since the initial push to ban sanctuary cities first surfaced six years ago. Many Democrats and activists groups have vowed to challenge the ban in court if it is signed into law.