ICYMI: Texas Governor Greg Abbott Signed a Bill to Outlaw Sanctuary Cities in the State

By Deepa Iyer May 08, 2017

On May 7, in a Facebook Live post, Texas governor Greg Abbott signed into law a bill that prohibits campus police departments and local law enforcement agencies from creating “sanctuary cities” in the state. The far-reaching law, also known as Senate Bill 4 (SB4), punishes cities, counties, elected officials and campuses that don’t collaborate with federal immigration enforcement by turning over undocumented immigrants who are in local custody. The law makes it a criminal offense for police chiefs or sheriffs who violate the ban, and could result in the removal from elected and appointed officials who refuse to comply. In addition, local jurisdictions that violate the law could be charged up to $25,000.

Various stakeholders criticized the law as it made its way through the Texas state legislature, equating it to the anti-immigrant “show me your papers” law passed in Arizona in 2010, parts of which were later held to be unconstitutional. Texas-based businesses raised concerns about the negative economic impact of the anti-immigrant bill. “Business leaders will think twice about locating their business in our state, just as we saw in Arizona following the passage of a similar law,” noted the Texas Association of Business in a statement to the state’s legislators.

Ed Gonzalez, the sheriff in Harris County, Texas raised concerns that victims of crime and witnesses will be less inclined to trust law enforcement. He said in a letter to the state legislature that "Senate Bill 4 could limit our ability to address a myriad of local safety priorities –such as rape, murder and human trafficking to elder abuse and the challenges of mental health in our criminal justice system.”

On a May 8 press call, advocates lambasted Abbott for signing SB 4 into law by cover of night and away from the scrutiny of the media and the public. Karla Perez, a leader with the University of Houston’s Youth Empowerment Alliance and Board Member of United We Dream, points out that the law will target immigrant families as a whole, not only individuals without immigration status. “Like other families, my family has legal permanent residents, U.S. citizens, undocumented youth protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, and individuals with no status," she says. "This bill will affect us all. How do you terrorize just half a family without affecting everyone?”

The American Civil Liberties Union noted on the press call that it plans to sue the state of Texas on the grounds that SB4 will result in unconstitutional discrimination and profiling. Local elected officials and advocacy organizations plan to ramp up their opposition to the law before it goes into effect on September 1.