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Updated: ‘Sanctuary City’ bill clears senate committee after 16 hours of public testimony

Friday, February 3, 2017 by Audrey McGlinchy, KUT

Texas lawmakers heard hours of public testimony Thursday and into early Friday morning over a bill banning so-called “sanctuary cities” in Texas, ultimately voting early this morning 7-2 -along party lines to send the bill to the full Senate

Texas lawmakers heard hours of public testimony Thursday over a bill banning so-called “sanctuary cities” in Texas.

Hundreds came to the Capitol to speak on Senate Bill 4, which would financially penalize any local jurisdiction that doesn’t cooperate with warrantless requests from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to detain undocumented immigrants.

Nearly 500 people signed up to testify about the bill. Austinite Ann Glenn was one of them.

“It’s extremely upsetting for the governor – who is all about local control – trying to make local entities, local governments, do the work of the federal government,” she said.

While there is no legal definition of “sanctuary city,” it generally refers to a local entity that has a policy limiting cooperation with ICE.

Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez adopted a similar policy just yesterday, a move that prompted Gov. Greg Abbott to cut $1.5 million in grants to the county. Abbott singled out Hernandez in the weeks ahead of the rollout and even made a legislative ban on the policy one of his emergency items for the legislative session.

Sen. Charles Perry (R-Lubbock), the author of Senate Bill 4, speaks during the Senate Committee on State Affairs’ first hearing on the bill. Credit Gabriel Cristóver Pérez/KUT.

Travis County’s policy honors requests from ICE to further detain an undocumented immigrant who has been booked into the jail only in the case of murder, aggravated sexual assault or human smuggling.

Sen. Charles Perry (R-Lubbock), who authored the bill, and Sen. Sylvia Garcia (D-Houston), sparred over the legality of local law enforcement not honoring all ICE detainers.

“Even the federal government acknowledges that it’s up to the local elected officials to set their priorities and allocate their resources,” Garcia said. “(Local law enforcement) are the ones that are on the ground who can really know what they need to do to make their community safe. I’m just baffled by the suggestion that they’re not following the law.”

According to several immigration lawyers, ICE detainers are warrantless, so local law enforcement agencies handle them as requests to detain. Several courts have upheld this view of the law.

But Perry contended that local law enforcement officials who don’t, at the very least, communicate with ICE are in violation of federal law.

“We seem to have a proliferation, a momentum, almost a culture of contempt for the federal law in this area,” he said. “And that’s a dangerous path we go down.”

Austin Police Department Interim Chief Brian Manley also spoke out against the bill.

“Perhaps my greatest concern is what this will do to police-community relations,” Manley said. The bill excludes those detained by local law enforcement because they are a victim or witness to a crime, or they are reporting a crime.

A protester who interrupted the hearing was later escorted from the Senate gallery. By Gabriel Cristóver Pérez/KUT.

“Once you break down that trust, I just don’t think the community will see it the same,” he said. “And they will see that their local police departments are involved in immigration enforcement.”

The governor has made a sanctuary city bill an emergency item, expediting the process it takes to become the law.

Top photo by Gabriel Cristóver Pérez/KUT. Additional reporting by Andrew Weber. This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT.

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