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Opponents Say Gov. Abbott’s SB4 Signing Builds Walls, Borders on Profiling and Crosses the Line

AUSTIN – With Governor Greg Abbott signature of legislation banning sanctuary cities in the state of Texas, the showdown has begun and promises to be the “Mother of All Fights” statewide among some leaders, activists and citizens opposed to the bill due to become law in Texas on Sept 1.

Senate Bill 4 (SB 4) requires local government entities and law enforcement officials to comply with federal immigration laws and detainer requests, and creates criminal penalties for entities that do not enforce the law.

Sanctuary cities offer safe harbor for undocumented immigrants who might otherwise be deported by federal immigration law enforcement officials.  There are over 140 sanctuary jurisdictions — cities and counties — across the U.S., including at least 37 cities — San Francisco, New York, Chicago, Seattle, Miami and Los Angeles, among others.

Banning sanctuary cities was one of Governor Abbott’s emergency legislative priorities.

“As Governor, my top priority is public safety, and this bill furthers that objective by keeping dangerous criminals off our streets,” said Governor Abbott.  “It’s inexcusable to release individuals from jail that have been charged with heinous crimes like sexual assault against minors, domestic violence and robbery. There are deadly consequences to not enforcing the law, and Texas has now become a state where those practices are not tolerated. With this bill we are doing away with those that seek to promote lawlessness in Texas.”

Abbott made it clear in the signing that no elected officials and law enforcement agencies, don’t get to pick and choose which laws they will obey.

Only the Beginning

Terri Burke, Executive Director, ACLU of Texas expressed that the fight over immigration is Texas is only in its infancy.

“The Texas I know is free,” she said in a statement. “SB4 will turn ours into a “show me your papers” state, where any encounter with local law enforcement can turn into a citizenship interrogation. It will encourage local police without a single minute of immigration enforcement training on their resumes to profile skin tones and accents and languages.

She added that the Texas she knows values its immigrants and know loves diversity.

“Every nation on earth is represented here. Our people pray in churches, temples, mosques, and synagogues. 164 different languages are spoken in homes across Texas. But SB4 will make all our immigrants, regardless of their residency status, feel like something other than—or less than—Texans. And that’s just wrong.”

As part of the legislation, entities and officials that do not comply with the law could face the following penalties:

A civil penalty for entities in violation of the law of up to $25,500 for each day of the violation.

A class A misdemeanor for a sheriff, chief of police, or constable who fails to comply with federal immigration detainer requests

Removal from office for any elected or appointed official who does not comply with the law.

The bill, which will go into effect Sept. 1, allows local law enforcement to ask those who are “lawfully detained” what their immigration status is.

Officers also will have the authority to detain suspects thought to be in the country illegally, and may be required to do so at the request of federal officials.

Sheriffs from Travis, Dallas, Harris, Bexar and El Paso Counties, along with police chiefs from Dallas, Houston, Austin, Arlington, Fort Worth and San Antonio all begged the legislature not to pass this awful law. Now law enforcement agencies and city leaders across the state who opposed the measure remain firm in their positions and are now hoping to find some peace and relief in the court system.

GOP lawmakers who supported the bill feared the current policies would continue to allow criminal immigrants to roam free and prey on innocent victims

Texas Cities/Leaders React

In Houston

Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo tweeted, on the issue stating, “Violent crime is on rise across our nation & some would rather men & women in blue go after cooks and nannies, instead of hardened criminals.”

Mayor Sylvester Turner Issued his statement on Immigration back in January and that has not changed.

“I know there are a lot of families and children who are afraid and worried right now about what might happen to them.  I want them to know that Houston is, and always has been, a welcoming city, where we value and appreciate diversity.,” Turner said. “HPD is not the Immigration and Naturalization Service.  We don’t profile, and we are not going to start profiling people to determine whether they are here illegally.  It hasn’t happened under previous mayors, and it will not happen under my administration.”

Sen. Sylvia Garcia, a Houston Democrat, did not support the bill and said it does more harm than good.

“We don’t want walking while brown to become reasonable suspicion,” she said.

In Dallas/Dallas County

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins believes Senate Bill 4 puts politics before public safety.

“I think the fact that they had to do it under the cover of darkness with no warning on a Sunday night giving you a feeling about the way the people of Texas feel about this stupid law,” Jenkins said. “The biggest problem with this bill is that we now cannot set our own local law enforcement priorities as far as telling our officers not to ask those questions about papers and status until a person is arrested.”

The response was not all unfavorable in the DFW and not all are opposed to the new law.

Tarrant County Sheriff Bill Waybourn believes the bill protects Texans.

“I’m fine with it because it doesn’t change the way we’ve conducted business,” Waybourn said.“I think there had been an outcry of sanctuary cities and criminals who are back out on the street that should’ve been deported out amongst us. So from that perspective, I think it’s exactly what the people of Texas wanted and the think the politicians responded to.”

He insists his deputies will not be randomly asking people for ID for minor infractions, such things as traffic stops.

Even though Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez has been very vocal on the issue of immigration in the past, she did not offer any comments.

However, the Dallas County Sheriffs Office released a statement about its concerns and response to the issue. “We hope that the passing of Senate Bill 4 won’t damage our existing relationship with the citizens of Dallas County. Our department does not want the community to doubt local law enforcement and not report crimes due to fear.”

Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings has made his stance to citizens in Dallas and is promoting and immigration and refugee resources on the city of Dallas website.

“Recent events have understandably left many residents and visitors in and around Dallas on edge,” he said. “The City of Dallas is and will remain an inclusive, multi-cultural, tolerant and welcoming place. We support the men, women and children who come to Dallas from other countries for a better life. We welcome those traveling internationally to our region to do business, visit their loved ones or attend school.”

He said he is committed to doing everything he can as mayor to ensure that those who are most vulnerable have access to the services they may need, whether it be in City Hall or through outside agencies.

In Austin/Travis County

During his Facebook Live announcement and signing Governor Abbott called out Travis County and its sheriff for its opposition. Travis County officials are not happy about being “outed” by Abbott, but are taking its role in stride.

Looks like Austin is ready for a fight in the city where the governors mansion and the Texas capital is.

“For five months, we’ve been on the sidelines while the legislature has treated Austin’s safety like a political football,” Austin Mayor Steve Adler said in a statement. “I’m glad the action is moving to court where it’s not about politics, it’s about the law. A judge will decide whether the United States of America or Texas determines federal immigration policy and whether local police and prosecutors have the discretion to keep their communities safe.”

Austin City Councilman Gregorio Casar, a Democrat who represents a heavily Latino district, said Republican leaders in Texas were trying to pressure elected officials into betraying their immigrant constituents, but that he and others were committed to fighting the “racist and unconstitutional” law.

Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez said the campaign to push it through was based on miscommunication, misinformation and fear.

“This law does not keep our community safe, in fact, it goes against public safety,” she said. “I believe that this law encourages racial profiling.”

Hernandez had been in a standoff with Abbott over the legality of sanctuary cities, which are communities that don’t entirely comply with federal immigration law. But now, honoring those requests will be mandated by a new state law in Texas. 

Her response to it was simple. If the law goes into effect, she will have to change her policies, but still disagrees. “I will not violate the law,” she said.

In San Antonio

San Antonio Police Department enforced a policy that barred officers from asking about immigration status.

However, under the new law, officers will be allowed to ask suspects if they are in the country legally.

SAPD Chief William McManus expressed his discontent for the policy, saying it will put a burden on the department and cause fear in the community.

“There’s nothing positive that this bill does in the community or law enforcement,” McManus said, adding that the law was “dumped on” the department by lawmakers. “Austin didn’t want to seem to listen to its law enforcement leaders across the state and that, to me, is very troubling.”

An estimated 1.4 million undocumented immigrants live in the state, 71,000 of which reside in Bexar County, according to the Migration Policy Institute.

“I’m afraid that people will shy away from the police all together,” McManus said. “We work with the community every single day all over the city — North, South, East and West — and people are not afraid to interact with us. That bill legitimately creates that fear.”

“Damn the Torpedoes, Full Speed Ahead”

According to Burke, the Texas she knows believes in democracy and is a place where rugged individualism is admired and where there is a statewide culture of entrepreneurship that is only strengthened by immigrants. She passed on a strong message to Abbott and to immigrants and citizens to fight.

“To all the immigrants who fear the impact of this law on your lives, know that we stand with you. SB4 won’t take effect until September 1, but we won’t wait that long to fight it,” she said. “Fight it we will, in the courts, at the ballot box, in the streets if we have to, and for as long as it takes, until Texas once again becomes the Texas I know and love.”

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