HRI Opposes SB 9, the Texas Sanctuary Cities Bill

Human Rights Initiative of North Texas (HRI) condemns Senate Bill (“SB”) 9, commonly known as the “Sanctuary Cities” bill, and encourages legislators in the Texas House of Representatives to vote against it.  This bill will hinder Texas law enforcement officers from doing their primary job: catching criminals.  Instead, police will be tasked with questioning people-including crime victims, witnesses and children-about their immigration status.[1]  Among other provisions, if SB 9 becomes law, local governments will be prohibited from having policies that focus solely on crime prevention; instead they will face lawsuits from the Attorney General if they ban their law enforcement officers from questioning people’s immigration status.

During this special session of the Texas Legislature, the Senate recently passed SB 9 by a strict party-line vote. The bill is now being considered by the Texas House of Representatives where it is expected to pass because the House passed a similar bill during the Legislature’s regular session.  HRI strongly opposes the Sanctuary Cities legislation because it will deter immigrants from reporting crimes and decrease overall safety in communities, because it could lead to increased racial profiling, and because it will generate lawsuits which will be costly to state taxpayers.

HRI represents victims of violent crimes who have helped law enforcement prosecute the perpetrators.  We know how crucial the relationship between local police and the communities they serve is: police cannot effectively perform their duties unless crime victims and witnesses are willing to cooperate and provide information on criminals.  The Sanctuary Cities legislation severely jeopardizes this relationship.  Because local police would be authorized to question almost anyone who is detained during the investigation of any crime about that person’s immigration status, the fear of deportation would likely stop immigrants from reporting crimes.[2] This would harm the immigrants who are victims of a crime and cause immigrants to be less willing to cooperate with police if they were witnesses to crimes.[3] In this way, community safety will suffer—for everyone—because more criminals will be on the streets. Police chiefs agree that this bill would compromise the partnership between the public and law enforcement, which form the cornerstone of their community policing plans.[4] HRI understands that these victims already face many fears in approaching law enforcement for help even without this bill in place, and with the added fear of deportation, they are likely not to seek help at all.

Additionally, the Sanctuary Cities legislation would divert the attention of local law enforcement away from their job of keeping the public safe by forcing them to enforce federal immigration law in addition to local laws. This would require training in federal immigration law and would strain the local law enforcement’s already stressed resources. Instead of dealing with criminal offenses, local law enforcement will face the added burden of checking people’s immigration statuses, whether they have committed a crime or not.[5] Police chiefs across Texas agree that their focus should be on criminal activities rather than enforcing civil violations of federal law.[6]

Secondly, the Sanctuary Cities legislation could lead to racial profiling, despite the bill’s mention that an officer may not consider race, color, language, or national origin to determine whom to ask about immigration status. Studies have shown that local law officers enforcing federal immigration laws may lead to an increase in racial profiling.[7] Although the Senate amended the bill to prohibit a law enforcement officer from arresting someone without a warrant solely because of a belief that the person is undocumented, an amendment explicitly prohibiting racial profiling failed along with an amendment to require probable cause before checking on someone’s immigration status.[8] Concerns have been raised that the Hispanic community, in particular, may start to distrust law enforcement if they feel especially targeted by the passage of this law, again leading to less cooperation between law enforcement and the public.[9]

Lastly, passage of the Sanctuary Cities legislation into law will be extremely costly to taxpayers and the state. Local law enforcement will require training in federal immigration law, which will cost time and money.[10] The bill would also stretch Texas’s resources even thinner than they already are by expanding usage of the federal Secure Communities program, which checks the immigration status of everyone who is arrested by running their fingerprints through a federal database.[11] The bill would require all detention facilities to comply with the federal Secure Communities program. The added costs of housing the detained immigrants would fall on Texas taxpayers.[12] Separately, the bill also puts tighter requirements on obtaining a driver’s license and forces the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to keep an index of the citizenship status of all driver’s license or personal identification card holders. This violates privacy, and would further stretch state resources, require further training of DMV employees, and make the process of obtaining a driver’s license or state identification even longer and more burdensome for everyone.  For all of these provisions in which the state would be enforcing federal law, funding for the implementation of this bill would be funded by state tax money.[13]

Moreover, federal and state lawsuits are very likely. These lawsuits have the power to cause an economic downturn as has occurred in Arizona in response to its controversial immigration bill, SB 1070. As in other states that have implemented this type of state immigration law, the Sanctuary Cities legislation is likely to be challenged on Constitutional grounds because it usurps the federal government’s supreme power to handle immigration law under the Supremacy Clause.[14] Arizona, Georgia, Utah, and Indiana have already experienced challenges of this sort, which put a financial burden on the states’ budgets.[15] On the state level, racial profiling could lead to individuals filing suit against the government on Equal Protection grounds if people believe local law enforcement questioned their immigration status solely because of race, ethnicity, national origin, or preferred language. [16] Other lawsuits are possible.  In addition, states that have passed similar laws have lost a tremendous amount of business in their states.   One year after Arizona passed its controversial immigration bill, SB 1070, the state lost millions of dollars because of a sharp decline in tourism due to cancelled conventions and people boycotting the state.[17]

HRI strongly opposes the Sanctuary Cities legislation. Similar legislation in other states has already faced challenges, and SB 9 is likely to face the same problems if it becomes law. If the Texas House of Representatives passes the bill, it is likely to lead to a decrease in immigrants reporting crimes, a decrease in community safety overall, an increase in racial profiling by law enforcement, and an increase in expenses borne by Texas taxpayers due to an unfunded mandate. Therefore, the Texas House of Representatives should not pass Sanctuary Cities legislation into law.  If the law is passed, Governor Perry should veto it.

By Betsy Stukes, HRI Summer Legal Intern & J.D. Candidate, The University of Texas School of Law


[1] Julian Aguilar, Sanctuary Cities Bill Clears Texas Senate, The Texas Tribune (June 15, 2011), http://www.texastribune.org/texas-legislature/82nd-legislative-session/sanctuary-cities-bill-clears-texas-senate/.

[2] Gary Scharrer, Texas Senate Republicans Pass ‘Sanctuary Cities’ Bill (June 15, 2011, 12:47 AM), http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/metropolitan/7611167.html.

[3] Id.

[4] Steve Taylor, Police Chiefs Reaffirm Opposition to Sanctuary Cities Legislation (June 9, 2011), http://www.riograndeguardian.com/rggnews_story.asp?story_no=21.

[5] Melissa Del Bosque, Perry Makes a Mockery of State’s Rights with Immigration Bill (June 8, 2011), http://www.texasobserver.org/lalinea/perry-makes-a-mockery-of-states-rights-with-immigration-bill?tmpl=component&print=1.

[6] Taylor, supra note 4.

[7] Trevor Garner II & Aarti Kohli, The Chief Justice Earl Warren Inst., The Cap Effect: Racial Profiling in the Ice Criminal Alien Program 6 (2007).

[8] Aguilar, supra note 1.

[9] Peggy Fikac & Susan Carroll, Critics Raise Doubts Over ‘Sanctuary Cities’ Bill (June 16, 2011, 11:00 AM), http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/special/immigration/7612778.html.

[10] Id.

[12] Aguilar, supra note 1.

[14] U.S. Const. art. VI, § 2;Excerpts from the Legal Challenge to Georgia’s Immigration Law, Atlanta Journal Constitution (June 2, 2011, 1:00 PM), http://blogs.ajc.com/political-insider-jim-galloway/2011/06/02/excerpts-from-the-legal-challenge-to-georgia%E2%80%99s-immigration-law/.

[15] Reuters & National Immigration Forum and the National Conference of State Legislatures, Factbox: Some U.S. States Go Their Own Way on Immigration, Thomson Reuters News & Insight (June 10, 2011), http://newsandinsight.thomsonreuters.com/California/News/2011/06_-_June/Factbox__Some_U_S__states_go_their_own_way_on_immigration/.

[16] U.S. Const. amend XIV; Utah Facing Class Action Lawsuit Over Arizona-Style “Papers, Please” Law, Reform Immigration for Texas Alliance (May 8, 2011), http://reformimmigrationfortexas.org/1/2011/utah-facing-class-action-lawsuit-over-arizona-style-papers-please-law/.

[17] DeeDee Garcia Blase, One Year After Arizona’s SB 1070 – A Tequila Party Movement is Born, TusconCitizen.com (Apr. 20, 2011), http://tucsoncitizen.com/arizona-hispanic-republicans/2011/04/20/one-year-after-the-arizona%E2%80%99s-sb-1070-%E2%80%93-a-tequila-party-movement-is-born/.

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