The 85th Legislature

The Texas House of Representatives passed Senate bill 4, which would eliminate sanctuary cities, on Thursday.

Representatives voted 94-53 along party lines after debating the bill on the House floor from 10 a.m. Wednesday until early Thursday.

Linda Rivas, Mavericks Without Borders president, attended the meeting in Austin, and she remembers hearing protesters of the bill chanting outside. The English senior testified against SB 4 in March during the House State Affairs Committee meeting. She said the bill's passing saddened and frustrated her.

Although the term "sanctuary cities" doesn’t have a definite meaning, they have been generally defined as a place where local police officers do not cooperate with immigration officials to deport undocumented residents. The bill would allow police to ask a person’s immigration status when arrested.

SB 4 co-sponsor and Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, said SB 4 targets criminals, not undocumented immigrants. The bill adheres to the law already in place, he said.

The bill would punish sheriffs and police chiefs who refuse to cooperate with immigration officials by charging them with a class A misdemeanor.

The bill would protect undocumented immigrants while they report a crime to the police.

The House passed an amendment by Rep. Matt Schaefer, R-Tyler, to allow police to question a person’s immigration status while being legally detained, not just arrested.

Rivas said this amendment in particular would lessen the accountability for police officers.

Many amendments that aimed to limit the places where police could ask about a person's immigration status, like private universities, public school events and shelters, failed to pass. However, the House passed an amendment by Rep. Victoria Neave, D-Dallas, to prevent immigration arrests at religious places of worship.

The debate sometimes became heated and emotional as representatives either defended or attacked SB 4. The bill's supporters said the legislation would keep communities safe, while opponents argued that SB 4 is unnecessary and would threaten the Hispanic community.

Rep. Ana Hernandez, D-Houston, tried not to cry while she shared her experience as an immigrant child, who was in constant fear of immigration raids that would separate her from her family.

Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, called the bill disrespectful and hard to swallow.

"If you succeeded in anything today, it’s in terrifying a community," he said during the meeting. "This feels like a dark day in the House."

Public relations senior Maria Yolisma Garcia called the bill racist and said the bill's passing sets back the state’s progress.

"Texas politics hit a new low," she said. "All politics aside, these are human beings."

Rep. Jason Villalba, R-Dallas, recognized the sting of overt racism, but said he supported the bill, because he wants to protect the people in his district from criminals.

"In America, we are bound by law," he said during the meeting. "We have this bill, because people in our communities, who we care about, feel unsafe."

Garcia said Villalba’s rhetoric supports the "good immigrant, bad immigrant narrative," and SB 4 could allow his own Hispanic family to be racially profiled.

Garcia and Rivas are now focused on educating their communities on what their rights are.

"We are here to stay, we’re not going anywhere," Rivas said. "We are going to speak up and fight. We are not going to let people bully us into silence."

The Senate passed SB 4 in February. Next, the bill may go to a conference committee to sort out any differences between the Senate and House versions of the bill, then to Governor Greg Abbott’s desk for his consideration.


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