Texas Law Bans Sanctuary Cities -- and Campuses

May 8, 2017

Texas Governor Greg Abbott Sunday night signed into law legislation that prohibits local and campus police departments from limiting their officers’ cooperation with federal immigration enforcement authorities. The bill targeting “sanctuary cities” would impose fines ranging up to $25,500 per day on local or campus police departments that prohibit their officers from inquiring about the immigration status of a person lawfully detained or arrested or from sharing information with or otherwise cooperating with federal immigration officers. It would also make a local police chief or sheriff’s knowing failure to comply with a detainer request from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement a misdemeanor offense.

The law significantly limits Texas universities' discretion to refrain from cooperating with deportation proceedings. Many universities across the country have pledged that campus police will not ask about immigration status and that they will not cooperate with federal immigration authorities absent a warrant or other court order. Many students and faculty have pushed for such “sanctuary campus” policies since the election of President Donald J. Trump in November.

“Texas strongly supports the legal immigration that has been a part of our state from our very beginning, but legal immigration is different from harboring people who have committed dangerous crimes,” Abbott said in a Facebook address in which he invoked the 2015 murder of Kate Steinle, allegedly by an undocumented immigrant with seven felony convictions and five deportations to his name. The murder of Steinle on a San Francisco pier has become a flash point in the debate over immigration and sanctuary city policies.

“Elected officials and law enforcement agencies, they don’t get to pick and choose which laws they will obey. There are consequences, deadly consequences to not enforcing the law,” Abbott said.

Michael A. Olivas, the William B. Bates Distinguished Chair in Law at the University of Houston Law Center and Director of the Institute for Higher Education Law and Governance, said there have been virtually no cases in which undocumented students have committed crimes. “This is a chimerical solution in search of a problem," Olivas said. He added, "It is only comprehensive immigration reform that will save us from such misplaced zealotry."

Civil rights groups have pledged to fight the law in court. "Forcing police chiefs and sheriffs to cooperate with federal immigration officials will only foster distrust and suspicion between law enforcement and Latinos," the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund said in a statement. "MALDEF will not stand idle while the state tacitly encourages racial profiling and discrimination."

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