File Photo: McAllen Police Chief Victor Rodriguez speaks at a news conference held at McAllen Police Department. Hidalgo County Sheriff Eddie Guerra is pictured behind him. (Photo: RGG/Ena Capucion)

AUSTIN, Texas – Gov. Greg Abbott says 23 South Texas law enforcement officials have lent their names to an op-ed he wrote in opposition to Sanctuary Cities and in support of Senate Bill 4.

The op-ed, which first appeared in the San Antonio Express-News, was co-written by Hidalgo County Sheriff Eddie Guerra and McAllen Police Chief Victor Rodriguez.

In the op-ed, the Abbott, Guerra and Rodriguez discussed the need to “decrease fear and uncertainty about what the law really does.” They wrote: “Whether driven by misunderstanding or by purposeful fear-mongering, those who are inflaming unrest place all who live in Texas at greater risk.”

Senate Bill 4 has been dubbed by critics as the “show me your papers legislation.” However, in their op-ed: Abbott, Guerra and Rodriguez make these points:

  • Senate Bill 4 does not change how most law enforcement agencies in Texas already work.
  • Senate Bill 4 specifically prohibits racial profiling and discrimination.
  • Senate Bill 4 provides new protections to crime victims and witnesses.”

The op-ed is posted in full at the end of this story.

Guerra’s co-authorship of the letter might surprise members of La Unión del Pueblo Entero, a community group that helps immigrants in Hidalgo County. Earlier this month, LUPE issued an op-ed from its executive director, Juanita Valdez-Cox, which stated in part:

“Early this morning, I spoke with Sheriff Eddie Guerra who expressed his strong opposition to SB 4, saying, ‘I am concerned that the law would erode the relationship that has been built between the community and my deputies I fear that people will stop reporting crimes for fear of being deported.’ Sheriff Guerra worked hard to convince the Legislature not to pass SB 4.”

When a reporter questioned whether Guerra had done that much to convince the Legislature not to pass SB 4, Valdez-Cox told the Rio Grande Guardian: “Perhaps, Sheriff Guerra’s name should not have been included.”

Valdez-Cox’s response to the Abbott-Guerra-Rodriguez op-ed is posted at the end of this story.

Abbott’s news release lists these law enforcement officials as signing onto the op-ed:

Sheriff Joe Frank Martinez: Val Verde County
Chief Arturo Espinosa: Alamo PD
Chief Enrique Sotelo: Alton PD
Chief Ruben “Ram” De Leon: Donna PD
Chief Eloy Cardenas: Edcouch PD
Chief David White: Edinburg PD
Chief Primitivo Rodriguez: Elsa PD
Chief Rodolfo Espinoza: Hidalgo PD
Chief Ramon Gonzalez: La Joya PD
Chief Victor Garcia: La Villa PD
Chief Olga Maldonado: Mercedes PD
Chief Robert Dominguez: Mission PD
Chief Michael Vela: Palmhurst PD
Chief Christopher R. Barrera: Palmview PD
Chief Roel Bermea: Peñitas PD
Chief Ruben Villescas: Pharr PD
Chief Juan Gonzalez: San Juan PD
Chief Richard Ozuna: Sullivan PD
Chief Stephen Mayer: Weslaco PD
Constable Celestino Avila: Constable Pct 1
Constable Martin “Marty” Cantu: Constable Pct 2
Constable Lazaro “Larry” Gallardo: Constable Pct 3
Constable Atanacio “J.R” Gaitan: Constable Pct 4

Here is the Abbott-Guerra-Rodriguez op-ed in full:

SB 4 will make Texas communities safer

As law enforcement officers and elected officials, it is our sworn duty to protect and serve our communities, and to uphold and enforce the laws of our country and of our great state. We take that responsibility seriously. It is a high calling.

We feel compelled to speak out about Senate Bill 4, which bans “sanctuary cities” and was signed into law by the governor, to decrease fear and uncertainty about what the law really does.

Whether driven by misunderstanding or by purposeful fearmongering, those who are inflaming unrest place all who live in Texas at greater risk.

Here is the truth: Regardless of your immigration status, if you have not committed a crime and you are not subject to an Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainer, you have nothing to fear about the change in Texas law.

Senate Bill 4 does not change how most law enforcement agencies in Texas already work.

Before SB 4, law enforcement officers in Texas were already allowed to ask about a lawfully detained individual’s immigration status.

This does not change after SB 4 goes into effect on Sept. 1.

SB 4 does not require law enforcement to ask; it allows it.

This approach has been ruled on and upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.

SB 4 specifically prohibits racial profiling and discrimination. You will not be asked about your immigration status while walking down the street.

Under SB 4, law enforcement officers who profile or discriminate will be subject to serious consequences. Both Texas and federal law strictly forbid racial profiling.

The objective of SB 4 is to identify dangerous criminals, not detain hardworking families or innocent children.

SB 4 requires law enforcement agencies to honor ICE detainers issued for violent criminals. The goal is to prevent the release of individuals from custody who have been charged with crimes such as sexual assault against minors, domestic violence and robbery. Dangerous criminals shouldn’t be released back onto the streets to be able to commit more crimes.

This new law targets criminals, not those on whom criminals prey.

SB 4 provides new protections to crime victims and witnesses. For the first time ever, SB 4 gives crime victims and witnesses greater assurance of safety when they report a crime — not less.

SB 4 makes clear that law enforcement agencies may instruct their officers not to ask about the immigration status of a crime victim or witness.

And protection can be offered to those victims and witnesses.

Now more than ever we all need to work together. We need to encourage all who are here to report crimes, suspicious activity and fugitives so that we may all enjoy a better quality of life and safer neighborhoods.
SB 4, not fearmongering, will result in less crime and fewer criminals in our communities.

Finally, SB 4 requires all law enforcement agencies to enforce the law. Because there are consequences — deadly consequences — to not enforcing the law, SB 4 imposes penalties and can lead to jail time and removal from office of officials who refuse to comply with this law.

Texans expect law enforcement officers to enforce the law.

As we celebrate law enforcement officers during National Police Week, we remember that we are a nation of laws. This is what elevates America above other nations and is why people from around the world seek to come to America.

As governor and as a police chief and border sheriff, we will continue to enforce the law because it makes all of Texas safer.

LUPE responds

Valdez-Cox, executive director of La Unión del Pueblo Entero, issued a statement in response to the pro-Senate Bill 4 op-ed from Abbott, Guerra and Rodriguez.

Juanita Valdez-Cox

Valdez-Cox said:

“While many law enforcement entities across the state have denounced this hateful SB4 ‘Show me your Papers’ law, we are disappointed and concerned that 23 police chiefs and Hidalgo County Sheriff Guerra, instead of standing firm with the South Texas community, have sided with the governor’s view on SB4. They intentionally do not explain that lawful detention includes routine traffic stops and stop-and-frisk encounters with police. If you’ve been stopped for a broken tail light or jaywalking, you’ve been lawfully detained and under SB4 you could be asked for your papers.

“The perception that they have given the community is that they agree with Governor Abbott and his SB4 “Show Me Your Papers” law. This act adds fear to community residents because the reputation of the governor is that of not being a friend of the immigrant community. As a measure to ensure against abuse from SB4, LUPE will be implementing a community watch program that will train community leaders to document any abuse by local law enforcement agencies.

“La Union del Pueblo Entero will also continue with a lawsuit against the State of Texas because we cannot understand and we will not tolerate the basic premise of this hateful law. We must not allow our local law enforcement to be willing participants in the business of deportations. The reality is that our communities are safer when more of us have access to due process and equal justice. We believe in an America in which all of us, no matter skin tone, place of birth, or what we have in our past, is viewed as fully human, with dignity and value as part of our nation.

“SB4 was not needed and if this law goes into effect, the community will hold our local law enforcement accountable by documenting abuses and filing civil rights violations against any peace officers that violate our rights. In order to defeat SB4, we need the support from the community. All people of conscience should contact their city and county elected officials and ask them to bring or join legal challenges against SB4.”

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying this story shows McAllen Police Chief Victor Rodriguez, Texas Governor Greg Abbott, and Hidalgo County Sheriff Eddie Guerra.