McAllen: Not a sanctuary city

McALLEN — While statewide conversation swirls about Senate Bill 4, commonly known as the anti-sanctuary cities bill, Mayor Jim Darling wanted to be clear at yesterday’s commission meeting that McAllen is not a sanctuary city.

It can be confusing with the Humanitarian Respite Center at Sacred Heart Church temporarily housing immigrants. They will often stay there briefly before moving on to meet up with family elsewhere in the United States while they wait for their day in immigration court.

“People in Austin ask about Sacred Heart,” Darling said. “They say, ‘how do you know they’re not illegal?’ And I tell them that Border Patrol drops them off. They just don’t know the intricate process.”

SB4 would punish local governments and college campuses that refuse to cooperate with federal immigration officials or enforce immigration laws. Darling said he hasn’t gotten any questions about why McAllen is not a sanctuary city. The bill has already passed the Senate on a 20-11 vote. State Sens. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, and Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, voted against it.

Darling said that he and Police Chief Victor Rodriguez will be going to Austin to testify on the bill. Rodriguez has said that McAllen police already cooperates with federal agencies, but his department’s job is not and will not be to enforce immigration law. Rodriguez said that if his department discovers a person is in the country without documentation, then the officer will contact Border Patrol. But he said his officers find that out in the process of typical police work.

“ We do not enforce federal immigration law — we can’t,” Rodriguez said earlier this month. “Immigration is a federal jurisdictional enforcement issue. We cannot do immigration work at a local level. And that is especially true in a border community like ours. We respond to calls for service every three-and-a-half minutes. If we take our people off that, who will field those calls? That’s a federal responsibility.”

Thousands are expected at the Capitol today for “a day of action for immigrant and refugee rights.” Texas Together, a legislative advocacy group, is putting together the march, followed by meetings in Austin. The group said there will be people coming from across Texas, including advocates from the Rio Grande Valley.