AUSTIN (AP) – A Texas Senate panel on Friday approved a so-called sanctuary cities bill that would withhold state money from local jurisdictions that don’t hand over immigrants already in custody for possible deportation.
The Senate’s state affairs committee passed the measure after more than 16 hours of often emotional testimony marked by outbursts and protests from spectators.
The bill moves to the full Senate for a vote expected next week.
Hundreds of people registered to testify before the panel Thursday, and the hearing was disrupted repeatedly, prompting security to remove several people. Committee Chairwoman Joan Huffman warned that the chamber would be closed if the outbursts continued.
The term “sanctuary cities” has no legal definition, but Gov. Greg Abbott has promoted the legislation as a move to crackdown on criminal suspects who are in the country illegally.
Individual sheriffs and police chiefs — particularly those in heavily Democratic areas of the state — have long opposed enforcing federal immigration law. Abbott has already ordered $1.5 million withheld from the Travis County sheriff who has said the jails in the state capital, Austin, would no longer honor most federal immigration detainers. That money supports projects such as family violence education and a special court for veterans. Abbott has warned that more money could be cut.
Opponents of the measure also contend immigrant communities wouldn’t cooperate with law enforcement for fear of deportation.
Sen. Eddie Lucio, one of only two Democrats on the state affairs committee, said he has “moral” objections to the bill.
“(This) undermines trust between police and immigrant communities. We risk further endangering women and children who fall prey to violence and extortion such as human trafficking,” Lucio said Thursday.
But the author of the bill, Republican state Sen. Charles Perry, said local authorities must enforce the law.
“This is not a deportation bill, this is a rule-of-law bill,” Perry said. “We have almost a culture of contempt for federal immigration law.”
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