Proposed law would require police to check for citizenship

Editor’s note: This is the fourth in a six-part series examining bills that could impact the lives of students.

Law enforcement officials would have to inquire about the immigration status of every person they arrest if proposed legislation the state Legislature this session.

Rep. Burt Solomons, R-Carrollton, proposed legislation last November to make the subject of immigration status a mandatory topic in all arrests made in the Texas.

“It’s not the intent to require local law enforcement agencies to check individuals who are given warnings,” said Solomon’s general counsel Carsi Mitzner said. “It’s when someone has been arrested, and that’s a key issue. This isn’t an Arizona-style law where they’re talking about stopping people on the side of the road — it’s only relating to a person who is taken into custody.”

The intent of this bill is to make sure the state requires the use of the federal programs that are available and to identify people who are in this country illegally, Mitzner said. The Secure Communities program sends the fingerprints of all people who are arrested to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, but that is not required in this bill, which states that law enforcement agencies can use whichever program they choose to report statuses, she said.

“It’s not legislative intent to require [law enforcement] to hold the illegal alien beyond what they can hold them for the offense they were arrested for,” Mitzner said. “A lot of people get [this bill] confused with other bills that are similar in nature but go a little bit further.”

According to the legislation, a person’s immigration status must be verified within 48 hours of arrest and before the person is released on bond. A peace officer or other authorized state or federal law enforcement officer is required to report the results to ICE if the arrested person is unlawfully present in the U.S.

Mitzner said there will not be any sort of auditing to make sure the legislation is enforced. The Austin Police Department was unavailable for comment.

In addition to this bill, Solomon’s sanctuary cities bill would deny state funding to any local law enforcement agencies that are prohibiting their police officers from fully enforcing the law, she said. Sanctuary cities are those where law enforcement officials do not actively enforce immigration laws, according to the bill.

A University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll released Thursday shows that 53 percent of 800 Texans polled support repealing automatic citizenship for individuals born on U.S. soil whose parents are undocumented, and 69 percent disapprove of sanctuary cities.

Young Conservatives of Texas supports the bill and others that may prevent cities from taking stances that do not enforce immigration laws, said Tony McDonald, senior vice chairman of the group.

“When cops are questioning someone, they ought to go ahead and check on their immigration status,” McDonald said. “It’s one more opportunity where we can enforce our immigration laws.”

McDonald said the state should take all opportunities it has to enforce immigration laws.

“The general thought is that illegal immigration enforcement is going to be a bit of a war of attrition. You’re not going to round people up or get rid of everyone who is here illegally in a day,” McDonald said. “This is about finding ways to discourage people from coming here illegally, and we ought to be looking for opportunities to send [them] back to their home countries.”

UT clinical law professor Barbara Hines said Solomon’s bill could potentially increase the number of people in jail and create fear within the community.

“The more involvement that local police officers have with checking immigration status, the more negative it will have on community policing,” Hines said. “The community will be unwilling to cooperate or participate in programs that might reduce crime. Even though it may be limited to people who are arrested, unfortunately, I don’t think that information always goes out to everyone, and it might create fear within the community.”

The bill will lead to longer jail stays, and in a time of budget crises, checking everyone’s immigration status is going to mean greater costs to the citizens of Texas, she said.

“While you might want to check the immigration status of violent criminals, it takes more time and more money to check the statuses of people who are arrested for charges that are ultimately dropped or who are arrested for minor offenses,” Hines said. “That’s another reason why I think it’s a bad idea.”