Sanctuary sayonara on hold

Certain Texas legislators have been busy jockeying for position to introduce controversial bills that would target illegal immigrants, but they've got only two months left to pass such legislation or they'll have to wait until 2011.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott recently issued a ruling that the state legislature would be within its right to craft legislation that would compel so-called “sanctuary cities” to comply with federal immigration enforcement efforts, but no such legislation is actually pending.

"'Sanctuary cities' advocate policies which are favorable to illegal immigrants but contravene federal immigration law," Rep. Franke Corte, (R-San Antonio), wrote in his request for the AG's opinion.

A bill that attempts to utilize Abbot's ruling is still a ways off though â?? the deadline for introducing new legislation was March 13 and the Texas legislature bizarrely only meets in odd years, meaning such a law is on hold until at least 2011.

“He did the inquiry in order to set the parameters, it's not his intention to craft it,” Corte spokesperson and policy advisor Kathi Seay said today.

In the meantime, Rep. Leo Berman (R —Tyler) has already spearheaded several bills to ratchet up pressure on officials in sanctuary cities. Berman's House Bill 254 would require all illegal immigrants to live in such sanctuary cities, while his House Bill 261 cuts off state funding to local entities that match the definition of “sanctuary city” from HB 254, which defines it as “a municipality that adopts a resolution declaring that the municipality does not discriminate or deny municipal services on the basis of a person's immigration status and that all persons are treated equally regardless of immigration status.”

Berman has also filed bills that would deny U.S. citizenship to children of immigrants, bar them from state colleges and universities, and require documentation for public school students. He admitted to the Texas Observer that he doesn't expect HB 254 to go anywhere, saying that he crafted it to make a point to mayors of such cities “that if you want to support illegal aliens, we'll send them all to your city.”

Though he said he won't be pushing HB 254, Berman has requested hearings on HB 261, which is in the State Affairs Committee awaiting action from Chairman Burt Solomons (R-Carrollton). An anonymous Berman spokesperson acknowledged that HB 254 and HB 261 would actually technically conflict with each other, further framing HB 254 as the political stunt that it is.

While the ACLU has contended that immigration legislation is the jurisdiction of Congress, Berman disagrees.

“It's not the purview of Congress,” Berman told the QueQue today. He said that the Ninth Amendment offers states the ability to act on issues that aren't being addressed by the federal government.

“You can't pass a law that's in direct violation of federal law,” said Berman of sanctuary city laws. “It's my duty as a state legislator to protectâ?¦ all Texans.”

Berman said Texans need protection from the loss of roughly $4billion a year in state funds to support about two million illegal aliens, who are “totally taking advantage of us.” (He attributed the $4 billion figure to a report from the Lone Star Foundation.) He was unsure if HB 261 would come up for a vote before the end of the legislature's current session on June 1, saying it's his understanding that Solomons will start dealing with immigration legislation around April 21.

The Texas ACLU argues that any such local legislation fails to get to the root of the problem, which they say is federal inaction, and that Abbott overstepped his authority in even ruling on it since the courts have historically ruled that immigration regulation is the “exclusive purview of Congress.”

Texas ACLU Policy Director Rebecca Bernhardt thinks Berman may have been thinking of the Tenth Amendment, which limits the federal government's power to tell the states what to do.

“The attorney general's opinion seems focused on the idea that states have to do what the federal government says about immigration, and I think that's notâ?¦ an accurate impression to take from the decision,” said Bernhardt. She cited U.S. Code: Title 8, 1373 on communication between government agencies and the Immigration and Naturalization Service (now Immigration and Customs Enforcement), saying that the code does not mandate local entities to follow the federal immigration law.

“This is a pretty darn complicated area of law,” admitted Bernhardt, but she said the policy arguments are straightforward. She rejected Berman's assertion that illegal immigrants are costing the state.

“There's actually a lot of evidence to show the opposite is true,” said Bernhardt, citing how illegal immigrants contribute to the economy in ways that aren't recordable due to their underground status.

Bernhardt said the thing to know about sanctuary city policies like the loose ones employed by Dallas and San Antonio, where police are barred from asking people about their immigration status unless they've been charged with a crime, is that such policy is usually motivated by the desire to protect public safety.

“Because when local law enforcement goes into immigration status, they lose access to victims and witnessesâ?¦ Victims stop reporting crime and witnesses stop providing information,” said Bernhardt. “The criminal element gets to take over and that is dangerous for local governments.”

The Mexican American Legal Defense Fund has argued similarly, by saying that local immigration ordinances increase racial profiling and discrimination and complicate local-federal relations by defying the longstanding principle that the federal government regulates immigration. MALDEF also argues that courts have repeatedly found that local “immigration reform” initiatives conflict with federal law and violate the U.S. Constitution, including the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

Operation Border Star gets thumbs down too

The Texas ACLU also recently came down on Operation Border Star, a $110 million, state-funded effort that is supposed to combat violent crime, drug smuggling and terrorism at the border. But an ACLU report says that the program's “performance measures encourage participating agencies to engage in law enforcement activities that do not further the state's goal of improving state-wide public safety and protecting Texas from organized crime” and that it lacks meaningful oversight of the six-figure investment.

“Ten of the eleven departments we looked at did not invest the resources into fighting border crimes,” said Laura Martin, Texas ACLU policy analyst. She noted that the operation's broad performance measures encourage increased arrests for crimes like public intoxication and standard traffic violations, which are not what the Border Star funds are intended for. “So there's a need for tailored performance measures and greater oversight.”

Martin says that the Governor's Division of Emergency Management is the agency currently overseeing the operation. “We're concerned, based on what we've seen, that that has not led to an optimal use of funds,” said Martin.

In other border news, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano will conclude a three-day border tour witha stop and press conference in Laredo on Friday afternoon, where she will be meeting with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement officials, observe border protection operations at ground level and hold discussions with Mexican leaders on ways to combat increased violence with warring drug cartels.

In related news just out today, officials with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said most of the guns found in the largest gun seizure in Mexican history back in November have been traced to Texas retailers.ATF agents traced 383 rifles and said that 80 percent came from licensed gun dealers in Texas, mostly along the border. If she's really serious about cutting down on that drug violence, maybe Ms. Napolitano might want to think about convening with Governor Rick Perry and the Texas legislature on a bill to make those guns less accessible? The QueQue will not be holding its breath.

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