Bill banning sanctuary cities in Texas passes in House, moves one step closer to becoming law

Mikaela Cannizzo

Senate Bill 4, which would prevent cities from creating “sanctuary” policies known to protect immigrants who are in the country illegally, passed in the Texas House of Representatives Thursday afternoon by a 93-54 vote along party lines.

The decision came after a nearly 17-hour debate starting Wednesday morning that persisted until 3 a.m., enduring lulls as representatives from both parties met behind closed doors in an attempt to compromise provisions in the bill. 

House Democrats expressed their disappointment and some were moved to tears throughout the night when an amendment filed by Rep. Matt Schaefer, R-Tyler, that would expand officers’ questioning of immigration status to those who are detained rather than solely arrested, passed. 

Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, said the provision would create a culture of fear among the undocumented community and encourage a racist approach among law enforcement officials. 

“The message that we are sending from this body is that once your work is done, you and your families had better stay in the shadows,” Anchia said moments before the final vote was taken Thursday. “Immigrants to this country commit crimes at materially lower rates than even our native-born Americans, but you would not know that from the discussion we had on the House floor yesterday.”

The bill’s House sponsor, Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, said his version of the bill, which only included arrests, intended to ensure safety for all community members and keep criminals out of the country rather than target the undocumented population. However, both Democrat and Republican representatives said Schaefer’s amendment opposed Geren’s intention by implementing language used in the original version passed by the Senate in February. 

Rep. Roland Gutierrez, D-San Antonio, said while he does not support the bill, the hope for a more lenient version disappeared with the addition of the amendment. 

“The very notion that we were going to do a softer house bill is a complete farce,” Gutierrez said early Thursday morning before the House recessed for the night. 

Despite concerns from legislators that the detainment provision in the bill could potentially affect individuals in any circumstance where they have contact with the police, Schaefer said his amendment still requires the prerequisite of reasonable suspicion under state law to detain someone for a crime. 

“This in no way allows any more authority to state law enforcement than exists right now,” Schaefer said in regards to his amendment. “It just ensures that once a person is now being detained or they have been arrested lawfully, that when the police are doing their work and as part of that they are inquiring into this person’s identity and they learn that the person has a federal detainer, that they can honor that.” 

SB 4 will now return to the Senate where senators will either accept the version of the bill passed by the House or call for a conference committee where members of both chambers will be tasked with agreeing on a revised version. 

After an agreement is reached by both chambers on the final version of the bill, Gov. Greg Abbott, who named it one of his emergency priorities at the beginning of the session, will have the opportunity to sign it into law.