On Sunday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed a bill which forbids the state’s cities and counties from enacting so-called “sanctuary” laws that prevent local law enforcement officers from inquiring about the immigration status of anyone they detain.
Abbott took an unconventional step of signing the bill on Facebook with no advanced public notice. He said Texas residents expect lawmakers to “keep us safe” and said similar laws have already been tested in federal court, where opponents have already been hinting the bill will be immediately challenged.
Protests over the bill have been intense for months and about 20 people were charged with criminal trespassing last week after staging a daylong sit-in at a state building where some of Abbott’s staff works. One Democratic state representative embarked on a three-day hunger strike in protest, Fox News reports.
Teri Burke, executive director of the ACLU of Texas, said “we will fight this assault in the court” and the ballot box. Abbott said key provisions of the bill had already been tested at the U.S. Supreme Court, which struck down several components of Arizona’s law but allowed the provision allowing police to ask about immigration status.
Republicans say the bill is needed to ensure local jails honor requests from federal officials to keep criminals
This immigration 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.
One of the bill’s most controversial provisions allows for criminal charges against city or county officials who intentionally refuse to comply with federal authorities’ attempt to deport people in the country illegally who already have been jailed on offenses unrelated to immigration. Elected officials could face up to a year in jail and lose their posts if convicted of official misconduct.
Every major police chief in Texas opposed the bill. Thomas Saenz, president of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, said millions in the nation’s second most populous state will now be subjected to racial profiling and suggested that worried Hispanic residents will now be less willing to cooperate with police investigations.
“Given the size of the state, this may well be the most costly gubernatorial signature in all of United States history,” Saenz said.
Some Democrats said the timing of the signing particularly stung after three recent federal court rulings that found intentional discrimination in Republican-passed voting laws.
“They did not connect the history of our culture or how closely that it is tied to Mexico,” Democratic state. Rep. Eddie Rodriguez said. “It’s just extremely personal. There is a lot of disconnect. They don’t really see this as affecting people.”
Texas doesn’t currently have any cities which have formally declared themselves sanctuaries for illegal immigrants.