Perry adds immigration issues to lawmakers' agenda

June 8th, 2011

Austin American-Statesman

Tim Eaton

Gov. Rick Perry told state legislators Tuesday to get to work on some immigration-related measures while they're in town for their overtime session.

Among them is a measure banning so-called sanctuary cities, which got House but not Senate approval in the regular five-month session that ended last week.

The regular-session measure by Rep. Burt Solomons, R-Carrollton, would ban governmental entities — including cities, counties and school districts — from adopting policies that prohibit law enforcement agencies from enforcing federal immigration laws. The bill also says the state could withhold grants and other funding to governments refusing to comply.

Solomons was not available late Tuesday for comment.

Perry, who had designated sanctuary cities an emergency item in the regular session, added the immigration measures to the agenda for the special session, asking lawmakers to consider Senate Bill 9, by Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands.

Perry also wants passage of a measure requiring every person arrested to be run through the federal immigration databases as part of the Secure Communities program. He also wants to provide the state Department of Public Safety with the authority to make sure someone is in the U.S. legally before issuing a driver's license.

These measures, along with a ban on sanctuary cities, would "provide a clear message that Texas will not turn a blind eye to those breaking our laws," Perry said in a statement.

"Texas owes it to the brave law enforcement officials, who put their lives on the line every day to protect our families and communities, to give them the discretion they need to adequately do their jobs," Perry said.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, a fellow Republican, said: "Border security is not just about keeping illegal immigrants from crossing our Southern border — it's about keeping our citizens safe and our communities free from dangerous drugs and violent transnational gangs. A sanctuary cities ban will give our local law enforcement the tools they need to enforce the law."

Opponents of the legislation, including many police departments, say it could lead to racial profiling and cause immigrants to not report crimes.

Luis Figueroa, a legislative attorney for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said Perry's move brings a sense of bitterness to the special session by adding a bill that saw strong opposition in the regular session.

"We're disappointed," Figueroa said. "This is obviously very divisive legislation that will undermine community policing."

The agenda, or call, for the special session is already lengthy, with Perry ordering lawmakers to deal with school finance laws, congressional redistricting, the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association and a Medicaid bill.

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