Texas governor, Greg Abbott, has announced his intention to ban sanctuary cities in the Lone Star State. In a tweet on Sunday, Gov. Abbott said, “Yes. I’m going to sign a law that bans sanctuary cities. Also I’ve already issued an order cutting funding to sanctuary cities.”
A measure similar to the one supported by Abbott was proposed in 2014 but failed to pass. The bill would have provided that “government entities” in Texas “may not adopt a rule, order, ordinance, or policy under which the entity prohibits the enforcement of the laws of this state or federal law relating to immigrants or immigration.” The bill died without gaining enough support for a vote.
The term “sanctuary city” does not have a precise meaning, but generally refers to cities that have policies that prohibit their police departments from enforcing immigration laws or cooperating with federal immigration officials. In reality, it is questionable whether Texas has any cities that fit this definition.
Last February, Texas Monthly examined the question of whether any Texas cities could be considered sanctuary cities. Even though SanctuaryCities.info lists 15 Texas towns and the Center for Immigration Studies lists two, the criteria they used to determine which cities were sanctuaries was unclear. Texas Monthly found that no city in Texas had a policy that would fit the typical definition of a sanctuary city.
In August, the Texas Tribune reported that Austin, already believed to be a sanctuary city by many, was “likely to become the first true ‘sanctuary city’ in GOP-ruled Texas.” The move hinged on whether the Sally Hernandez, the Democratic candidate for sheriff in Travis County, won the election. Hernandez had promised to end cooperation with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement by not detaining county jail inmates that ICE wants to deport. The Republican candidate, Joe Martinez, had said he would end the blanket policy of cooperation with ICE, but would continue to turn dangerous inmates over for deportation. Hernandez won the election after softening her stance on immigration enforcement, but has yet to take office.
Hernandez’ election may bring new urgency to the effort to pass a sanctuary city ban. The Austin Statesman says that the bill has been refiled for the new legislative session and that Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick is making it a priority. The bill would cut off state money to cities that do not cooperate with enforcement of federal immigration law.
Local cooperation with federal immigration law is typically relating to honoring “detainer” requests from ICE at local jails. ICE requests local law enforcement to hold certain inmates who are illegal aliens until ICE can take custody and arrange for their deportation. Current federal policy prioritizes the deportation of illegals who are deemed to be “threats to national security, border security, and public safety.”
The Texas Tribune notes that “Texas law states that police officers generally cannot arrest people without probable cause of a crime, and immigration violations often are civil matters, not criminal cases.” Texas law states that police may arrest offenders without a warrant “when the offense is committed in his presence or within his view, if the offense is one classed as a felony or as an offense against the public peace.” This would exclude immigration violations that are civil matters or criminal offenses that do not rise to the level of a felony.
Gov. Abbott’s proposed ban on sanctuary cities would act as a deterrent to any city that decides not to cooperate with immigration laws, but since there are no cities in Texas that fit that description, the bill’s effect would be minimal. As a role of the federal government, the problem of illegal immigration can ultimately only be resolved in Washington.