Editor’s Note: This post and the post below both focus on Texas’ SB4, which received preliminary approval, with additional amendments, from the Texas State Senate on the evening of February 7, after these posts were completed. After final approval by the Senate, the bill proceeds to the Texas House of Representatives for further debate.
by Tyler Anderson, intern in the Texas Legislative Study Group
On Thursday, February 2nd, the Senate Committee on State Affairs heard testimony on SB 4, a bill designated as emergency legislation this session by Governor Greg Abbott. This bill would essentially penalize sanctuary cities and university campuses that refuse to comply with Federal immigration detainers and would give localities the ability to act as an enforcing arm of the Federal immigration system. “Sanctuary city” has been a buzzword at the Texas Capitol this session. Governor Abbott, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, and many other prominent conservative legislators have spoken out against this practice used by cities and university campuses that they say defies federal law and allows criminals to reside in our state. Legislation that penalizes sanctuary cities is controversial for many reasons, primarily because of the fear and mistrust it could create within immigrant and refugee communities and possible increases in racial profiling that could result. I’m not going to spend much more time discussing SB 4 itself; instead, I am going to focus on my experience sitting in on the hearing.
When I got to work last Thursday at 8:00 am, the Capitol rotunda was already filled with people who had traveled to the Capitol to testify on SB 4. Immigrant rights advocates, immigration attorneys, human rights advocates, faith leaders, educators, students, and more were slated to testify against the bill. In total, over 500 individuals registered to testify, with only 3 individuals testifying in favor of the bill. After working and listening to the live stream all day, I finally made it to the Senate Gallery to watch the testimony live around 6:30 pm; at this time, people who had registered at 8:30 that morning were just getting to testify, a sign that it would be a long night of testimony to come.
I was able to stay for a couple of hours and listen to moving testimony that caused visceral emotional reactions in me. I was able to hear testimony from an 11-year-old girl, a Holocaust survivor’s wife, a social worker, and a woman in her 70s who all expressed similar feelings of fear and uncertainty surrounding the passage of SB4. The most poignant testimony I heard came from a girl who felt so strongly opposed to SB 4 that she resigned from her job as a Senate Page so that she could register to publicly testify. She spoke about her dad being detained, the multiple jobs she works to pay her way through school, and the inhumane and unjust treatment she and her family have suffered at the hands of a broken immigration system. After she concluded her testimony, multiple Senators (including the author of SB 4) hugged her and thanked her for speaking. It was a rare, hopeful, and conciliatory moment amidst the emotionally charged, and at times, palpably tense testimony.
During the testimony and throughout the day, there was a general consensus that SB 4 was definitely going to be voted out of committee, and it ultimately was. The ideological makeup of the committee members (7 Republicans, 2 Democrats) and Governor Abbott’s focus on naming sanctuary city policies as an emergency item in his State of the State address made the outcome of the hearing feel predetermined. Multiple people’s testimony included statements like “we know you’re just listening to us as a formality” or “we know your vote has already been cast.” Watching the hearing perfectly illuminated the idea of finding value in the process and not focusing solely on the outcome. While it was well known that SB4 was likely to progress, hundreds of people still understood the importance of making their voices heard in a show of solidarity with immigrant communities.
It was absolutely moving to be in the Senate Chambers and feel the energy buzzing late into the night, despite knowing the likely outcome of the vote. I am so humbled to have witnessed so many individuals coming together to defend vulnerable communities in Texas; it was the perfect illustration of what “meaningful work” can be and the opportunities I will have to do meaningful work this session.