House makes changes to ‘Sanctuary Cities’ bill

“ You can put perfume and lipstick on a hog and put it in a silk dress, but it’s still not going to make it pretty.”

That is how State Rep. Rene Oliveira, D-Brownsville, described a Texas House committee’s efforts earlier this week to adjust the language in House Bill 889, the “Sanctuary Cities” bill.

The most significant change to the bill, perhaps, is that it will only allow a law enforcement officer to inquire into an illegal immigrant’s status if they are arrested.

Other changes being considered are adding police chiefs to the list of officials that could be charged with a Class A misdemeanor for violating the bill; clarifying that an entity with no written policy forbidding or allowing immigration-status checks are still in compliance; and excluding select clinics from the proposed legislation.

“ All of us are for getting the so-called ‘bad hombres’ off the streets. We don’t want any drug dealers or human traffickers … we want them deported as much as anyone else,” Oliveira said. “But this bill is not what this country is about.”

The legislation would accomplish a few things, if passed.

First, it would prohibit sanctuary jurisdictions. Second, it would allow law enforcement officers to arrest individuals they have determined to be unlawful residents. Finally, it would require city and county LEOs to comply with immigration detainer requests.

There is a hefty price to pay for violators of the bill’s provisions. For cities and counties, that is a denial of state grant funds. For the department head of an agency, the punishment is a Class A misdemeanor.

“ The (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) Commander for the state of Texas has told us that everyone is in compliance, so I don’t understand why we have this legislation in the first place,” Oliveira said.

Oliveira argues the bill will lead to “driving while brown,” or racial profiling against Hispanics.

“ Do we really want to allow a supposed traffic stop and then have these police officers go through an interrogation about where you’re from, your country, what type of visa you have out of the 165 that exist?” Oliveira said. “It takes the government six to eight months to renew your visa, and what happens if you’re pulled over and in the gap?”

Several law enforcement officers testified Wednesday morning with the same message: The bill would make the public less willing to come forward with information.

This is because the proposed legislation runs the risk of damaging the public’s trust in law enforcement, Oliveira said.

“ People are very frightened right now because of (President Donald J. Trump’s) executive order and legislative garbage like this,” Oliveira said.

Brownsville is not a sanctuary city, affirms Mayor Tony Martinez. To his knowledge, there has never been a resolution passed by the city commission that restricts law enforcement from following the law.

A 2015 report by the Center for Immigration Studies labels Austin as the only sanctuary city in Texas, but as of March 13, 2017, the Ohio Jobs & Justice PAC considers 15 cities in Texas sanctuary jurisdictions, including Brownsville.

“ I’ve been a lawyer for 40-some-odd years, and you can have an actual contract and an implied contract, but you cannot legally say, ‘I am a sanctuary city’ unless it is done by the entire city commission. That I know,” Martinez said. “Anyone can make an assertion of whatever they like … The Ohio people can stick to their guns and that’s fine.”

ICE agents check in at the county jail every morning, Sheirff Omar Lucio said.

If they feel someone is not from the U.S., they take their information. In the meantime, ICE waits to take action until after they go through due process, Lucio said.

County Judge Eddie Treviño Jr. has said Cameron County has always cooperated with federal agents on detainer requests. Whether there is a change in state law or not, Cameron County law enforcement will comply, Lucio said.

“ We will wait to see what the law is. Whether you or I like it or if we have different opinions, it doesn’t matter. (Law enforcement officers) are supposed to enforce the laws of the state of Texas and the United States,” Lucio said.