Texas Republicans Add College, University Campuses to "Sanctuary Cities" Crackdown

Texas Republicans Add College, University Campuses to "Sanctuary Cities" Crackdown
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Texas Republicans on Wednesday unveiled the newest version of their proposal to crack down on so-called "sanctuary cities," adding college and university police departments to the list of agencies that would not be allowed to stop officers from asking about immigration status in routine police encounters.

Several members of the Texas Senate's GOP caucus lined up behind Sen. Charles Perry as he repeated numerous times that the purpose of his bill is to maintain "the rule of law." The addition of campus police departments to Perry's proposal comes just one day after Gov. Greg Abbott, in his state of the state address, named "sanctuary cities" one of the emergency items he's picked to fast-track through the legislature. It also comes the day before a Senate committee hearing on the bill, which is supposed to get very, very crowded (senators said as many as 500 people have signed up to give testimony).

While Perry and the bill's Republican supporters have said the measure would keep local police from releasing dangerous criminals onto the streets, many of the state's major police chiefs, including San Antonio Police Chief William McManus, contend the proposal would be a disaster for local departments. At a forum last week, McManus said the bill would upend SAPD's current policy on dealing with immigrants (basically, that it's almost always unnecessary to ask about immigration status). He called the bill "damaging to local law enforcement" and argued that it could alienate the city's large immigrant community and keep them from reporting crime or cooperating with law enforcement.

Even though San Antonio city leaders have been adamant that we should not be considered a "sanctuary city" (probably because the city receives about $153 million in federal and state grant funding every year), Perry's bill would still threaten to strip funds from SAPD if it keeps any policy that "prohibits or discourages" its officers from enforcing immigration violations. The bill also says that police departments — now including college and university campus police departments — cannot keep officers from "inquiring into the immigration status of a person under a lawful detention or under arrest."

The senate hearing on the bill comes as Gov. Abbott this week follows through on his threat to pull state grant funding to the Travis County Sheriff's Office. Abbott has even vowed to seek legislation that would oust from office those like Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez, who this week started implementing her new policy of only detaining undocumented suspects if they have been charged with serious crimes (like sexual assault, murder or human smuggling) unless immigration officials get a warrant. Hernandez's department could stand to lose $1.5 million in state funding this year alone.

At a forum last week, State Rep. Diego Bernal, a civil rights attorney and former San Antonio city councilman, said he fears how the Donald Trump Administration's new executive actions on immigration could further weaponize the kind of anti-sanctuary cities legislation Texas is proposing. "I'm really, really concerned about how these two things work together," vowing to fight the measure in the House.


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