Texas lawmakers approve bill outlawing 'sanctuary cities'

The Texas Senate on Wednesday approved a controversial “sanctuary cities” ban that would make it a crime for law enforcement to refuse cooperation with federal immigration officials.

Ending several weeks of emotional debate in both houses of the Legislature, the Senate endorsed House amendments to the bill, which provides some of the toughest penalties in the country for local jurisdictions that do not help enforce federal immigration laws.

Gov. Greg Abbott is expected to sign the measure, known as Senate Bill 4, into law, over the emotional objections of Democratic legislators and opposition from a wide range of groups, including police organizations, who said it would break down trust between law enforcement and minority communities.

“Officers will start inquiring about the immigration status of every person they come in contact with, or worse, only inquire about the immigration status of individuals based on their appearance,” Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo and James McLaughlin, executive director of the Texas Police Chiefs Assn., warned in an op-ed published in the Houston Chronicle.

The bill would punish cities, counties and universities that have policies prohibiting local law enforcement officers from inquiring about a person’s immigration status or enforcing immigration law. Those who violate the ban would face a criminal charge, and local jurisdictions could face fines of up to $25,000 a day for each violation.

Officers would also be allowed to question a person’s immigration status in the course of any legal detention, even for an offense as minor as jaywalking or speeding — a provision that has sparked anger and debate throughout the state.

“I'm getting my signing pen warmed up,” Abbott, who has been a strong supporter of the bill, tweeted Wednesday night.

“SB 4 will ensure that no liberal local official can flaunt the law,” Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said in a statement. “This legislation will eliminate a substantial incentive for illegal immigration and help make Texas communities safer.”

Sen. Charles Perry, who wrote the bill, said the legislation was intended to provide “uniform application of the law without prejudice” to everyone in Texas.

“Banning sanctuary cities is about stopping officials who have sworn to enforce the law from helping people who commit terrible crimes evade immigration detainers,” he said in a statement.

Immigrant advocates have likened the legislation to Arizona’s SB 1070, passed in 2010 but later amended, which required law enforcement to check people’s immigration status during lawful detentions when there was reason to believe they were in the country illegally.

Democratic lawmakers launched a heated bid to defeat the legislation, and 24 people, including a member of the Austin City Council, were arrested on trespassing charges earlier this week after occupying the lobby of the governor’s office for eight hours in protest of the bill.

“Today is only the beginning of the fight against SB 4,” Councilman Gregorio Casar, whose parents are Mexican immigrants, told the crowd, according to the Texas Observer.

brittny.mejia@latimes.com

Twitter: @brittny_mejia

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UPDATES:

9:15 p.m.: The story was updated with additional statements and background.

The story was originally published at 8:50 p.m.

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