AUSTIN, Texas – State Sen. José Rodríguez, chairman of the Senate Hispanic Caucus, says Senate Bill 185, which was heard in the Senate Subcommittee on Border Security on Monday, is a distraction from real state business.

SB 185, authored by state Sen. Charles Perry, a Republican from Lubbock, would prohibit Texas governmental entities from passing laws to restrict police from asking about the immigration status of those they detain.

Hidalgo County Judge Ramon Garcia and Hidalgo County Sheriff Eddie Guerra submitted written testimony to the subcommittee in opposition to SB 185.  Hidalgo County Economic Development Director Bobby Villarreal and Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Department Commander Joel Rivera attended the subcommittee hearing.

Rodríguez said the bill affects cities, counties, special districts, and districts attorneys. He said the bill exempts school districts and hospital districts, but includes peace officers employed or commissioned by school districts and hospital districts.

SB 185 specifically prohibits policies that prohibit:

·         Inquiring into immigration status lawfully detained;
·         Sending or requesting information from U.S. CIS or ICE;
·         Maintaining the information;
·         Exchanging information with other state or federal entities;
·         Assisting or cooperating with a federal immigration officer as reasonable or necessary; and
·         Permitting a federal immigration officer to enter and conduct enforcement at a jail.

Sen. Perry has defended SB 185 from attack. “SB 185 is a common sense measure that will address the ongoing problem of sanctuary cities in Texas and hopefully open up dialogue on what other measures we can pass at a state and federal level to solve our crisis in illegal immigration,” Perry said.

Perry added that currently, many cities across the state put into place policies that prevent law enforcement from inquiring about a person’s immigration status or sharing information on their status with the federal government. He said SB 185 will prohibit local governments from adopting policies that prevent them from enforcing state and federal immigration laws. “One of the things that have made America truly great is that we are a nation of immigrants. We should never forget that, but we must ensure that the rule of law is upheld and that people are coming here legally through the proper means,” Perry said.

Sen. Rodríguez, D-El Paso, countered that SB 185 provides that any entity in violation shall be denied state grant funds for the following fiscal year after a finding of a violation by a judicial determination.

Rodríguez spoke about the importance of opposing legislation that restricts immigrants’ rights when he hosted a Senate Hispanic Caucus summit at the South Texas College Mid Valley campus in Weslaco last November. Other legislators to attend and speak at the summit included state Sen. Sylvia Garcia, a Democrat from Houston who is vice chair of the Senate Hispanic Caucus, state Sen. Juan Hinojosa, D-McAllen, and state Rep. Armando Martinez, D-Weslaco. Judge Garcia, from Hidalgo County, also attended.

Attendees at the summit agreed to this provision being placed in the Senate Hispanic Caucus’ legislative agenda:

“Prohibit peace officers from asking  for the nationality or immigration status of a victim of or witness to a crime, unless it is necessary to investigate the crime or gather information in furtherance of an application for a visa designated to protect victims assisting law enforcement.”

The rationale, summit attendees argued, was that this would keep communities safe by changing current practices that discourage immigrant families from reporting crimes to the police.

Rodríguez issued the following statement Monday about SB 185:

Even after today’s lengthy committee hearing, it is still unclear what problem SB 185 is attempting to solve. If it’s an attempt to address criminal activity along the border, then we need to better fund local law enforcement, not interfere with local governments’ ability to work with their respective communities. If it’s an attempt to address immigration issues, then that is clearly within the purview of the federal government, not the state.

This bill is a repeat of legislation that was defeated in 2011, and it’s simply bad policy and bad business for our state. I am concerned about the message SB 185 sends. Even if it’s not written exactly as Arizona’s SB 1070, the intent appears to be the same. The goal seems to be to encourage more local enforcement of immigration laws, and although it could affect anyone, it’s aimed at Texas’ immigrant communities.

With less than eleven weeks left in the legislative session, we have serious business that we need to attend, including passing the budget, school finance, infrastructure and other key governance issues. Yet here we are spending far too much time on legislation that is unwarranted and divisive. I hope that we will prevail as we did in 2011, and the Legislature will demonstrate that Texas is not a “show me your papers” state.

Six major points illustrate why SB 185 is bad for Texas:

1. It seeks to solve a non-existent problem. There is no indication that local law enforcement needs this authority, which is reserved exclusively for the federal government, to keep communities safe. Quite the opposite, as point number two illustrates.

2. It harms public safety. Today, El Paso County Sheriff Richard Wiles and El Paso County Attorney Jo Anne Bernal spoke out against this legislation because it would undermine law enforcement’s ability to work with immigrant communities and effectively combat cartel activity. Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia, Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo and many other local law enforcement leaders have made similar comments.

3. It’s bad business for Texas. Similar legislation in Arizona cost $5 million in lost taxes from SB 1070 and $135 million in lost economic output. As President/CEO of the Greater El Paso Chamber of Commerce Richard Dayoub testified today, we can’t afford to lose current business or future investors. It also does not make sense to drive workers away from labor-intensive but critical sectors such as construction and agriculture.

4. It targets children. While S.B. 185 exempts school officials, it includes school peace officers. I’m not one who thinks it makes sense to punish children who are in our communities, regardless of documentation, by pushing them out of school and into the streets.

5. It has legal consequences that will inevitably lead to racial profiling, and violations of the Equal Protection Clause, the Supremacy Clause and the Fourth Amendment. In fact, the issue already came up in El Paso County, where the El Paso County Sheriff’s Department was sued for pulling passengers off a bus and asking them their immigration status; the lawsuit was settled when the department agreed to establish a written policy and train its officers. Further, it places schools in an untenable position: If their peace officers do not ask immigration questions they could lose state funding, and if they do ask they could be sued in federal court.

6. It hurts families. So called “sanctuary cities” policies have the potential to divide mixed-status families in Texas. Leading leaders speaking against this legislation today, including the Catholic Conference of Bishops, the Anti-Defamation League, Evangelical Pastors, and numerous other religious orders and clergy members.

Editor’s Note: State Sen. José Rodríguez is pictured speaking at a Senate Hispanic Caucus summit at South Texas College’s Mid Valley Campus in Weslaco last November. One of the items on the agenda was sanctuary city legislation.