Senate panel halts sanctuary cities bill
Posted Wednesday, May. 18, 2011 16 Comments Print Reprints



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By Aman Batheja

AUSTIN -- Republican-led efforts to ban so-called sanctuary cities, which critics say provide safe haven to illegal immigrants across Texas, suffered what many considered a fatal blow Wednesday.

Opponents view derailing the bill as a defeat for Gov. Rick Perry, who had declared it an "emergency" legislative issue.

The measure would prevent local government entities from adopting policies to keep law officers from enforcing immigration laws. It passed the House this month amid a heated and emotional debate, with the majority of House Democrats arguing that the measure would lead to racial profiling and ruin the relationship between the state's Hispanics and law enforcement.

The bill was up before the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee on Wednesday afternoon, and supporters hoped it would be cleared for a vote on the Senate floor. Instead, the committee voted 8-0 to replace the entire bill with another one, Senate Bill 9, which addresses a wide range of homeland security issues and has passed the Senate but appears immobilized in the House.

State Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, proposed the change. Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, the author of SB9 and the committee's chairman, approved of the change and assured wary Democrats on the committee that he wasn't orchestrating a trick designed to sneak a sanctuary city ban onto the Senate floor.

SB9's provisions include requiring law enforcement to check the immigration status of people in custody, which supporters say is more sensible than the broader mandate imposed on law enforcement in the proposed sanctuary cities ban.

'Why waste our time?'

One committee member, state Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, said that he supported both measures but that the sanctuary cities ban would never get the 21 votes needed to reach the Senate floor.

"It's not going to pass the floor of the Senate anyway, so why waste our time in committee on it?" Wentworth said.

State Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, described the move as a "setback" for the measure, but Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, said she believes it is dead for the session.

Despite Perry's labeling of a ban on sanctuary cities an "emergency" item for the session, opposition from an assortment of Hispanic groups, law enforcement officials and political leaders including Fort Worth Mayor Mike Moncrief had prompted a tense debate in recent weeks.

Luis Figueroa, an attorney with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, said his group opposes both the sanctuary cities bill and the bill the committee replaced it with and remains worried that the bill finally approved at the end of the session could contain both measures.

"In theory, this could turn into a super bad bill," Figueroa said.

Aman Batheja, 817-390-7695

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