Senate Bill 9 passed in the Texas Senate early this morning, after six hours of debate. As expected, the bill passed on a 19-12 party-line vote. Though the bill would not have passed during the regular session when the voting process operated under a two-thirds majority rule, the special session’s majority rule for voting allowed the bill to pass with votes only from Republican Senators. The bill will now move to the Texas House of Representatives where it will probably go to the Committee on Homeland Security and Public Safety and could be voted out of committee and onto the House floor as early as this week. SB 9 is expected to pass fairly easily in the House as HB 12 did during regular session.
SB 9 creates a statewide mandate that local governments cannot enact a policy prohibiting the enforcement of state or federal immigration laws. It allows police to question anyone’s immigration status who is detained during the investigation of a crime, which includes any crime committed at any time, according to the bill’s author Senator Williams. This includes questioning the immigration statuses of witnesses to a crime. Any citizen may file a complaint with the Attorney General if a police department is not making a habit to seek the immigration statuses of witnesses to crimes, and the penalty for not complying is denial of state funding. SB 9 also requires all detention facilities to comply with the federal Secure Communities program, which makes employers check the immigration statuses of employees before they are able to work. Additionally, it puts tighter requirements on obtaining a drivers license and requires the department to keep an index of the citizenship status of all drivers license or personal identification card holders.
Some amendments were made to the bill in the Texas Senate. A law enforcement officer may not arrest someone without a warrant solely because he or she believes the person is in Texas illegally. Additionally, public schools, junior colleges, and hospital districts are excluded from checking immigration statuses. Though before, peace officers who worked at public schools could still investigate the immigration statuses of people at public schools, this amendment prohibits even the peace officers from doing so because it would interfere with the right that everyone in the United States has to go to public school.
Additionally, some proposed amendments failed in the Texas Senate. An amendment to excluded witnesses to crimes failed along with an amendment to exclude children and the victim of crimes from immigration checks. An amendment explicitly prohibiting racial profiling failed, and an amendment to require probable cause before checking the immigration status of someone failed.
If the bill passes in the Texas House, it should take effect 91 days after the special session ends.
UPDATE: SB 9 is still pending in the Texas House’s State Affairs Committee.
UPDATE: SB 9 was referred to the State Affairs committee in the House today. It needs to be heard in this committee, voted out of this committee, and debated on the House floor before it may be voted on by the House of Representatives.
By Betsy Stukes, HRI Summer Legal Intern & J.D. Candidate, The University of Texas School of Law