SAN BENITO — Come September, if you are pulled over by police in the state of Texas, you could be asked your immigration status.
It’s part of the state’s “sanctuary cities” ban, which was signed into law Sunday night by Gov. Greg Abbott.
But, while many politicians, civilians and organizations are talking about it, one of the problems appears the lack of clarity for area police departments and how they are supposed to operate under the new regulations.
San Benito Police Chief Michael Galvan is one of those law enforcement leaders having to analyze and determine how to abide by the law. Right now, just days after its signing, he has several concerns and questions regarding the “sanctuary cities” ban.
The law, which is expected to take effect Sept. 1 but will likely face legal challenges, allows police officers to ask about the immigration status of anyone they detain, including during routine traffic stops. The law also imposes penalties on law enforcement officers and agencies that fail to comply, including with federal immigration officials.
Galvan, who said he doesn’t see a huge change from what his department already does, also said the law needs to be looked at very closely by all police departments.
“I don’t agree with the law, but I am not in a position to say no. Unless someone wants to come along and change it,” Galvan said.
Opponents blast the Texas bill as a version of Arizona’s immigration crackdown law, SB 1070, which launched protests, lawsuits and national controversy in 2010. The Arizona law went to the U.S. Supreme court, which voided much of the measure but allowed the provision permitting police to ask about immigration status.
But the Texas and Arizona bills are not identical. Whereas the Arizona law required police to try to determine the immigration status of people during routine stops, the Texas bill doesn’t instruct officers to ask. But it does allow Texas police to inquire whether a person is in the country legally, even if they’re not under arrest.
The law penalizes local governments and law enforcement agencies that fail to enforce immigration law and respect federal detainers for people in custody.
The Texas bill allows police to inquire about the immigration status of anyone they detain, a situation that can range from arrest for a crime to being stopped for a traffic violation. It also requires local officials to comply with federal requests to hold criminal suspects for possible deportation.
This is where Galvan’s concerns arise.
Galvan wants to be mindful of the constitutional and civil rights of the people.
San Antonio police chief William McManus ripped into the Republicans who pushed the law through despite the objections of every big-city police chief in the state. The Migration Policy Institute estimates that Texas is home to more than 1.4 million people who are in the country illegally, including 71,000 living in the San Antonio area.
McManus and the other police chiefs, including those in Dallas and Houston, say it will create a chilling effect that will cause immigrant families to not report crimes or come forward as witnesses over fears that talking to local police could lead to deportation. Critics also fear it will lead to the racial profiling of Hispanics and put officers in an untenable position.
“We want to make sure we don’t cross that line into racial profiling,” Galvan said.
Not only will this create animosity between departments and the people but Galvan said it could affect how crimes are reported.
The biggest issue for Galvan is victims of crimes and those who witness them.
“I don’t want people to be afraid to report a crime because of their (immigration) status,” Galvan said.
Cameron County Deputy Chief Gus Reyna said that scenario is always a possibility but encourages people to report crimes never the less.
“We will deal with it as it comes,” Reyna said. “Just know, we are here to help and assist.”
The law could affect crime statistics, also.
“Are crimes stats going down because no one is committing them or are they going down because no one is reporting them,” Galvan questioned.
As of right now, during the booking process, naturalized citizens are asked if they want to contact the Mexican consulate.
“That’s where that questioning ends for them,” Galvan said.
Every morning, the department is visited by DPS, ICE and other agencies. They make contact with the arrestees regarding information on current cases.
Galvan said they collect data and any information that might help them in their cases.
If an arrestee is found to be illegal during the booking process, an ICE detainer is placed on that person. Galvan said if the fingerprints of the person are run through the database, information about their status usually comes up.
Reyna said their process is similar to the local police department.
“We will be following the law,” Reyna said.
The sheriff’s department has been complying with what they call the “cap system.” Once a person is arrested and their immigration status is in question, an ICE detainer is placed on them.
For now, local and county law enforcement departments are busy reading the law and making sure they understand it.
Reyna, who welcomes any training the state may offer, said the county will modify its policies and procedures as necessary to fit the new law.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela
Congressman Filemon Vela has been a strong opponent of Texas Senate Bill 4, calling it racist and an attack on human decency.
It preys on some of our most vulnerable by driving a wedge between law enforcement, universities, immigrant communities and people of color, Vela said.
Vela said the bill will only serve to damage relationships between people and law enforcement.
“Local police and campus police aim to protect and build trust with local residents, but the ‘Show Me Your Papers’ bill shifts the focus away from keeping communities safe. Instead of turning to local law enforcement in times of peril, mixed status families and noncitizens may now withhold important information when reporting crimes, or stop reporting crimes at all, out of fear of deportation,” Vela said.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick
On the other side is Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, who has been a strong supporter of Texas Senate Bill 4. The bill has been a top priority for Patrick and his office.
“I have been working tirelessly since my days as a state senator to ban sanctuary cities in Texas — a practice that has put our communities in needless danger and made them victims of crimes that may have been prevented,” Patrick said.
“Texas has finally said ‘enough is enough’ and banned sanctuary cities. Now, no liberal local official can ignore the law and allow criminal aliens who have committed a crime to go free.”
State Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr.
State Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, opposes the law. “I have a moral objection to the Sanctuary Cities Law. I believe this legislation targets immigrants in a way that could tear families apart. This law erodes community trust, where I believe we are called to show love and compassion to those fleeing oppression, violence and poverty.” Lucio said.
What the ACLU says
Yesterday, the American Civil Liberties Union issued a “travel alert” informing anyone planning to travel to or through Texas soon to anticipate the possible violation of their constitutional rights when stopped by law enforcement.
According to the ACLU, the travel alert applies to all travelers, including U.S. citizens from not only Texas but other states as well.
“We plan to fight this racist and wrongheaded law in the courts and in the streets. Until we defeat it, everyone traveling in or to Texas needs to be aware of what’s in store for them,” said Terri Burke, executive director of the ACLU of Texas. “The Lone Star State will become a ‘show me your papers’ state, where every interaction with law enforcement can become a citizenship interrogation and potentially an illegal arrest.”