New Texas bill would allow police to ask for proof of legal status

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Maria Esquinca, Copy Editor

Viridiana’s aunt has been afraid to come back to El Paso after a police officer told her he was going to call immigration services on her after he gave her a traffic citation. Her aunt, a Mexican citizen with a tourist visa, was picking up her son from school.

“He assumed that she didn’t live here or that she was illegal, simply because she had Mexican license plates,” said Viridiana, 25, who was in the country unlawfully for eight years after her tourist visa expired until she was approved for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

Although the officer didn’t call U.S. Customs and Border Control on Viridiana’s aunt, if passed into a law, S.B. 185, filed by Texas Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, would allow enforcement officers to ask for proof of legal status to people they detain or arrest.

The law would ban municipalities or counties from receiving state grants if they pass rules, ordinances or policies that prohibit sheriffs and members of the municipal police, among others, to ask a person they arrest or lawfully detain about their immigration status. The law would also allow officers to share information with any federal, state and local entity, such as United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“It’s not something that concerns me because I don’t enforce it…Their social status, resident status doesn’t affect my job. It’s not going to change what I do,” said an El Paso Police Department officer.

In the bill analysis of SB 185, Perry wrote under the statement of intent that Texas cities, known as a “sanctuary cities,” adopt policies that prohibit local law enforcement inquiring about a person’s immigration status.

Travis McCormack, communications director for Sen. Perry, said in an email that, “‘Sanctuary City’ policies are policies put in place by local entities that prohibit the enforcement of state and federal law relating to immigration enforcement.”

The exact number of sanctuary cities in Texas is unknown. In a separate email to The Texas Tribune, McCormack said there is no legal definition of a sanctuary city. He also said San Antonio is the largest city in America that is not a sanctuary city.

It’s also unclear whether El Paso has passed any sanctuary city policies.

“Due to a settlement agreement with El Paso County after alleged civil rights violations, there is a policy in place that ensures the Sheriff’s Department would not enforce civil immigration laws. It’s not clear if S.B. 185 would affect this agreement,” said Texas Sen. Jose Rodriguez, D-El Paso, in an email. “One of the concerns is that the bill provides for a private citizen complaint process that could easily be abused and waste the time and resources of the Attorney General’s office.”

According to proponents, the bill is aimed at the enforcement of federal

and state immigration laws at the local level, specifically the Federal Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C Section 1101).

“The Texas Legislature is about to invest hundreds of millions of dollars into border security, with current proposals giving grants to local governments to help address public safety concerns. It does not make sense to provide resources while at the same time allowing local governments to undermine state and federal immigration laws,” McCormack said.

One of the concerns regarding the bill is that it could lead to racial profiling and has been compared by critics to Arizona’s S.B. 1070, a law that requires police to ask people who are criminally detained about their immigration status — if there is reasonable suspicion they are not in the country legally.

“It’s very susceptible to being subjective,” said Dr. Jose Villalobos, associate professor of political science. “There’s all kind of people walking all over the place–you’re going to choose to ask somebody for their documents. How do you make that decision of who you’re going to ask?”

According to the American Civil Liberties Union, their website states, “laws inspired by Arizona’s S.B. 1070 invite rampant racial profiling against Latinos, Asian-Americans and others presumed to be ‘foreign’ based on how they look or sound.”

However, McCormack said racial profiling is specifically prohibited in the bill.

“This bill can say do not racially profile, but it’s very difficult to not racially profile,” Villalobos said.

The bill says that officials cannot consider, “race, color, language, or national origin while enforcing the laws.”

“It’s (S.B. 185) clearly against immigrants. It’s made to cause fear amongst the Hispanic community,” Viridiana said. “That is not the job of the police.”

Despite her opinion regarding the bill, Viridiana said she still trusts the police.

Maria Esquinca may be reached at [email protected]