Texas police chiefs slam sanctuary city bill

Texas police chiefs slam sanctuary city bill
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Police and sheriff's departments in Texas are decrying an immigration bill passed by the state legislature, saying it will drive a wedge between law enforcement and immigrant communities.

The bill in question, known as S.B. 4, passed the Texas Senate Wednesday, and Gov. Greg Abbott (R) is expected to sign it.

The measure includes provisions that would ban "sanctuary cities" in the state and force officers to ask the immigration status of every individual they detain, while enacting fines on police that refuse to comply with the law.

The police chiefs of Texas' two largest cities, Houston and Dallas, published an op-ed in the Dallas Morning News last week, calling immigration enforcement a "burden" on local law enforcement agencies.

And more Texas police chiefs are following suit, reported NBC News.

James McLaughlin, executive director of the Texas Police Chiefs Association, complained to NBC about the punitive measures police could face under S.B. 4 — fines, jail time, civil penalties and the prospect of removal from office — that would force police to act as immigration agents even in innocuous encounters with civilians.

"Let's not hang around asking people who jaywalk and decide who may be here illegally. Instead, let's go work," said McLaughlin.

The bill would also force local jails to comply with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainers — requests from ICE to hold detainees and prisoners up to 48 hours so federal agents can pick them up.

Those detainers are at the center of the debate on sanctuary cities, as feds argue they allow ICE to pick up potentially dangerous criminal aliens before they are released to the streets.

Many local governments say those detainers are unconstitutional, violating the Fourth Amendment. They argue that honoring detainers puts cities at risk of liability while violating individual rights.

S.B. 4 originally started as a bill to ban sanctuary cities — those who refuse detainers or some other form of full cooperation with federal authorities on immigration — but through amendments came to include much more expansive immigration provisions.

The amendments earned S.B. 4 comparisons to Arizona's 2010 S.B. 1070 "show me your papers" law, which had its enforcement severely limited by the courts, and eventually the state negotiated partial application with immigrant rights groups.

“A state that prides itself on its commitment to individual freedom is about to become a ‘show me your papers’ state,” said Terri Burke, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas.

Police chiefs like Houston's Art Acevedo have been vocal in opposition to "show me your papers" clauses, saying immigrants will shy away from reporting crimes whether as victims or as witnesses if they fear authorities will question their status.

But Texas state Sen. Charles Perry (R) told NBC the law would make immigrants feel safer "if it is properly messaged." 

Perry noted the bill includes protections for victims and witnesses to come forward without declaring their migratory status and said it is on police departments to make sure immigrants understand those protections.