Enforcing U.S. immigration laws is the job of the federal government, not state or local officials, and the feds cannot compel local law-enforcement officers to serve as immigration agents. However, that has not prevented repeated efforts in the Texas Legislature to conscript local police, as a matter of state law, to aid the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency in identifying and detaining unauthorized immigrants. The latest such effort is SB 4, the so-called “sanctuary cities” bill by Sen. Charles Perry (R-Lubbock).
SB 4 mandates compliance by local governments in Texas with federal requests to detain suspected unauthorized immigrants. It grants local law-enforcement officers broad authority to inquire into immigration status, and it cuts off state grants to local governments that fail to comply.
The bill was opposed by hundreds of witnesses who testified or signed in against it in a 16-hour hearing that ended in the wee hours of Thursday night. At the end of the hearing, the bill was approved in committee by a seven-to-two, party-line vote. The dissenters were Democrats Eddie Lucio of Brownsville and Judith Zaffirini of Laredo. The seven Republican members of the State Affairs Committee who backed the bill were: Joan Huffman of Houston, Bryan Hughes of Mineola, Brian Birdwell of Granbury, Brandon Creighton of Conroe, Craig Estes of Wichita Falls, Jane Nelson of Flower Mound, and Charles Schwertner of Georgetown.
Texas AFT joined in opposing SB 4, which is now likely to be voted on soon by the full Texas Senate. Our reasons are clear:
- Public schools have a constitutional duty to serve all students regardless of immigration status, according to the U.S. Supreme Court. But SB 4 turns school law-enforcement personnel into immigration agents, if they are contracted-service providers from a local police department. The bill exempts school districts, but it does not exempt local police when districts contract out for their services. Local police officers are bound by the rules the bill would apply to their local government employers. In addition, the substitute version of the bill voted on in committee makes it explicit that college law-enforcement personnel would be covered directly.
- The schools and colleges affected would be distracted from their mission and obligation to educate, and the bill would help create an atmosphere of suspicion and fear on campus for students and their families that would impede learning.
- The use of local police in the community at large for immigration enforcement will interfere with public safety by causing immigrants not to engage with or provide information to police, lest their immigration status be called into question. The better solution is simple: Let the feds do their job and let local police do theirs.