Sanctuary Cities Bill Update
Senate Passes SB 4 Quickly. Bill Still Languishing in House
Governor Greg Abbott declared ending sanctuary cities in Texas as one of his emergency items for the 85th Legislature. The Senate responded by quickly passing SB 4 by Sen. Charles Perry which accomplishes that goal, but needs a stronger provision to remove government officials who refuse to comply. The Texas House received SB 4 on February 9th and the Speaker did not refer the bill to committee until nearly a month later.
Rep. Charlie Geren is sponsoring the House version of SB 4 which is being heard before the State Affairs Committee today, March 15th. Importantly the House version, like the Senate version, broadly prohibits a city from declining to cooperate with federal immigration detainer requests, and from prohibiting local law enforcement agents from inquiring as to the immigration status of detained individuals. At this point, the House sanctuary cities bill is a weaker bill than what passed the Senate.
There is one significant deficiency in both bills:
- Removal Provisions: Governor Abbott stated his desire that the legislation "remove from office any officer-holder who promotes sanctuary cities." Neither the House nor the Senate version adequately addresses this goal. Both versions require the office holder to be found criminally liable in order to be removed. This presents issues with burden of proof and that local DAs, often from the same political party as the offending office-holder, will be reluctant to bring criminal charges. A civil removal proceeding would present a lower burden of proof and allow the Attorney General concurrent standing to bring removal proceedings, thereby making enforcement more likely.
There are some significant differences between SB 4 by Sen. Perry, and the House bill by Geren:
- Loss of State Grant Funds: The Senate version threatens local governments and law enforcement agencies with the loss of state grant funds if they refuse to cooperate with immigration authorities. This important disciplinary provision is not in the House version.
- Definition of "Sanctuary Policy": The Senate version prohibits any policy that "prohibits or discourages" the enforcement of immigration laws. The House version amends this language to prohibit any policy which "prohibits" [but not discourages] enforcement of immigration laws. The Senate language is stronger.
- Government Liability: The Senate version makes a state criminal justice agency, county, or municipality liable for damages resulting from a felony committed by an illegal immigrant who was released from custody in violation of an ICE detainer request. The House version does not include this important enforcement mechanism against governmental entities which violate the law, instead directing liability to bail bondsmen.
- Grant Spending: The House version asks the Governor's Criminal Justice Division to establish a grant program for local governments to assist with the costs of enforcing immigration laws, with no spending limit and little guidance on how the funds will be spent.
- ICE Detainer Validity: Senate Bill 4 instructs political subdivisions to presume an ICE detainment request is valid. The House version does not include this provision.
The Texas Freedom Caucus will monitor the House committee discussion on SB 4, and work to ensure that this legislature finally ends sanctuary cities in Texas. We have reason to believe that House leadership will not bring the sanctuary cities bill to the House floor for a vote until after the main budget bill, which will likely happen the last week of March or early April.