LAREDO, Texas – City of Laredo Mayor Pete Saenz and Acting Police Chief Gabriel E. Martinez, Jr., held a press conference today at City Hall to inform the public on the effect Senate Bill 4, the Sanctuary Cities Ban, will have on the city of Laredo.
The SB4 will penalize law enforcement officials who do not cooperate with federal agents and detain and turn over undocumented immigrants.
It will also allow peace officers to question the immigration status when an individual is detained. The SB4 law was signed by Texas Governor Greg Abbott on Sunday and will take effect Sept. 1, 2017.
“Please rest assured that the law doesn’t request or ask that we stop people at random and ask them for their nationality. That is not the purpose of the law,” Mayor Saenz said.
The only way possible that peace officer will ask for nationality, citizenship or resident documents is in the event that there is a probable cause. If the officer were to detain an individual and begin the interrogation process, they will have the right to inquire depending on the need for more information.
Hospitals schools and places of worship are exceptions. Peace officers within those confines will not have the right to ask, Saenz further explained.
As the Acting Police Chief for the City of Laredo, Martinez said: “If this law actually becomes effective as of September 1st, we must follow the law.”
One of the main concerns that has been brought up is the rights of crime victims or their family members. Officials fear immigrants will not call for help in fear of being deported.
If the individual is involved in criminal activity and is legally detained, the law will allow the officer to ask about nationality. It will be a discretionary act by the individual police officer. “There has to be a legal reason to be in contact with the officer,” Martinez commented. “What this law does is give the officer the right to do it.”
Crime victims should not be victimized over and over in fear of calling the police. They are protected under this law, Martinez explained. The police will not be asking immigrants where they are from unless it is absolutely necessary for their investigation or even to help the victim with a possible new VISA in certain situations.
“Do not be afraid to call the police for help. We are here to protect the victims. That is our primary goal, and our number one value as a police department. This law allows protections for that. We are here to help you, not to inquire about your nationality.” Martinez said.
“We want people to know that we are here to protect and serve our community, that’s our number one priority,” Martinez said, in a statement issued later in the day. “While the City of Laredo has and will continue to follow the law, they are not necessarily going to police any differently when this new legislation takes effect on September 1, 2017.”
Martinez acknowledged the new law has given additional discretion to peace officers to ask about immigration status. However, he said it does not require them to do so, unless the situation and context calls for it. Each officer will make a judgment call in relation to this particular fact on a case by case basis, Martinez added.