VICE profiles Texas law that cracks down on sanctuary cities

Author: Joey Bunch - September 1, 2017 - Updated: September 1, 2017


During the last legislative session, Colorado lawmakers heard a pair of bills to crack down on so-called sanctuary cities, one that would have allowed public officials to be sued or arrested for the violent crimes of undocumented immigrants.

A second would have allowed the cities, in essence the taxpayers, to be held accountable in civil court by the families of people of maimed or killed by people in the country illegally.

Colorado House Democrats killed both bills aimed to curb sanctuary cities.

Both times proponents cited the gains on tougher, locally based immigration enforcement from Senate Bill 4 in Texas, which was signed into law after a contentious legislative battle and profiling and public safety. The law was set to go into effect Friday. It would allow, if not require, officers to question the legal status of people they suspect to be undocumented.

A federal judge at least temporarily roped in the law Wednesday, declaring that portions of the new Texas law violated the Fourth Amendment, which bars unreasonable searches, among the same arguments made against Colorado’s House Bill 1134 and Senate Bill 281.

Colorado law enforcement opposed both bills, citing constitutional concerns with holding suspected undocumented immigrants longer than their local sentence, awaiting Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agents to pick them up for possible deportation.

It’s solely the federal government’s constitutional role to enforce federal immigration laws, opponents of the Colorado bills said.

Thursday night VICE News and HBO took a look at the effects and opposition from law enforcement to Senate Bill 4.

The Texas law would allow local law enforcement discretion to question the immigration status of people they encounter for circumstances beyond immigration, such as a broken tail light.

But to do that, they come perilously close to profiling, which is illegal.

If they fail to detain someone who turns out to be undocumented, officers and public officials could be arrested or face penalties in excess of $25,000.

Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo, the first Hispanic to lead the department, is no fan of the new law.

“The perception that this law has created is having a chilling effect on the cooperation in the community (where) we need it most,” he told VICE News in the piece.

What does Acevedo tell his officers to do? It’s not clear.

“If they racially profile they’re breaking the law,” he said. “The Constitution, the law does not require a person to be able to speak without an accent. It does not require people to even speak English. It only requires people to identify themselves when they’re pulled over for a violation of state law.”

He fears crimes are being committed but not reported because of fear of the new law. The Houston Police Department has seen a 43 percent drop in reports of sexual assault in Latino neighborhoods, while crime reports have remained consistent in non-Latino communities.

Acevedo was among the chiefs of the state’s five largest cities who opposed the bill before it was signed by Gov. Greg Abbott with great Republican fanfare. The sponsors said the bill was about public safety from the crimes committed by undocumented people, but the police chiefs said it makes Latino communities less safe, because people don’t trust officers not to have them deported.

Sen. Charles Perry, a Republican from Lubbock who sponsored Senate Bill 4 said the police chiefs are wrong.

“Some of that rhetoric and fear-mongering that’s going on to effectively try to discredit SB-4 is shameful,” he told VICE.

Joey Bunch

Joey Bunch

Joey Bunch is the senior political correspondent for Colorado Politics. He has a 31-year career in journalism, including the last 15 in Colorado. He was part of the Denver Post team that won the Pulitzer Prize in 2013 and is a two-time Pulitzer finalist. His resume includes covering high school sports, the environment, the casino industry and civil rights in the South, as well as a short stint at CNN.