Texas Democrats have only one chance left to defeat Senate Bill 4, which is legislation that would not only ban sanctuary cities in the Lone Star State but would also penalize local officials who ignore the order.
S.B. 4 was approved by the Texas Senate on Wednesday after two days of emotional debate. Not a single Democrat cast a vote in favor of the bill.
A Texas Democratic Party statement warned the legislation would do nothing but “draft our community police into the deportation force.”
S.B. 4 would allow Texas officials to punish local governments that fail to work with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers by handing over immigrants in their local jails for deportation.
State funding could be stripped from communities that refuse to comply, as Gov. Greg Abbott (R) did to Travis County in January. The communities could also be subject to civil fines.
But who does that really hurt? Taxpayers?
S.B. 4 as approved by the Senate also offers criminal penalties against those in local governments who approve so-called “Sanctuary City” status and order their police not to cooperate with ICE.
Local officials who disobey the law could be hit with a $4,000 fine and a year in jail.
Democrats like Sen. Sylvia Garcia of Houston said the punishment language of S.B. 4 went too far.
“What’s the next [amendment] going to do?” Garcia said. “Take their firstborn children?”
Sen. Charles Perry (R), who sponsored the legislation, said his motivation was to be sure the rule of law was followed and every police department in Texas followed the same procedures.
As far as Perry is concerned, any local official who finds himself in jail or any community that is penalized millions of dollars in state funding for violating the law will have only themselves to blame.
“This bill ensures that there is predictability that our laws are applied without prejudice no matter who is in custody,” he said during the debate.
But Sen. John Whitmire (D) said the legislation’s punishment provisions would only encourage overzealous enforcement. He also argued that when it comes to racial profiling, perception can be reality.
“They see the characteristics of someone that they think could be undocumented, and they hold them,” said Whitmire. “This is not whether we believe officers or not. This is what people believe your legislation is doing.”
Democrats tried to change the bill to their liking by proposing 38 amendments, all of which were rejected.
Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa predicted the “Trump Republicans’ S.B. 4 will morally and economically bankrupt our great state.”
Outraged as Hinojosa, Whitmire and his nine fellow Texas Senate Democrats were — one was absent the afternoon of the vote — their defeat did not come as a total shock to Democrats and other opponents of the legislation. They expected the Senate to approve the legislation and were looking forward to the real battle to come in the House.
House action could begin next week. State Rep. Charlie Green (R) has filed companion legislation to SB 4. But House committees that would be tasked with working on the legislation had not been formed as of publication.
House approval is not guaranteed. Opponents of the legislation — Democrats, business leaders, and the police chiefs of Houston, San Antonio and Austin — will be focused on defeating it in the House.
“Trump Republicans in the Texas Senate have blatantly ignored the voices of Texans from all walks of life who fear the devastation S.B.4 would cause,” Hinojosa added. “We pray the Texas House remembers what has made this state great and stop this attack on our communities.”
Manny Garcia, deputy executive director of the Texas Democratic Party, said opponents of SB 4 would take the moral high ground in the debate to come before the state House.
Garcia told KEYE-TV in Austin that the legislation would not only encourage racial profiling; he said it was also “anti-Christian.”
Stephanie Gharakhanian of the Workers Defense Project is hoping moderate conservatives among the Republicans in the Texas House will join the push against the sanctuary city legislation.
“It goes against traditional conservative values,” she said. “(Republicans) are diluting us into thinking this is a law-and-order bill when it is really them grandstanding to win points in this post-Trump world.”
If Gharakhanian is wrong and the bill is approved by the House, Abbott has promised to sign the legislation.
“As governor, I will not tolerate sanctuary city policies that put the citizens of Texas at risk,” Abbott said in a written statement. “Elected officials do not get to pick and choose which laws they will obey.”
After cutting more than $1.5 million in state funding from Travis County, municipal officials have no doubt Abbott will punish them if they don’t comply with the legislation, assuming he is given the opportunity to sign it.
That didn’t bother the Dallas County Commission. The day before the Senate vote, they voted to declare the county a friendly county and “end unnecessary collaborations” with ICE.
Commissioner Elba Garcia, who sponsored the resolution, said all she wants to do is calm immigrants’ fears, make them feel safe, and respect the wishes of local police who have told her they want to work on relationships with immigrants, not deport them.
“The purpose of this resolution is the dream — the American dream,” Garcia said. “We don’t want to do the federal government’s work. ‘Nonessential’ means exactly that.”
Mike Cantrell, the only Republican on the commission, was also the only commissioner who voted against the non-binding “Welcoming Communities” resolution.
He warned that all it did was paint a big bull’s-eye on Dallas County.
“This is a resolution that supports open borders and will label Dallas County as a sanctuary county,” the Dallas Morning News reported Cantrell said. “This resolution is nothing more than pitching a personal and political agenda.”