by Andrea Elizondo, intern in the Texas Legislative Study Group
On Thursday, February 2, 2017, the Senate Committee on State Affairs held a hearing on Senate Bill 4 (SB4). The bill relates to enforcing local and university campus police departments’ compliance with state and federal immigration laws.
On Tuesday, January 31, 2017, just before this hearing, Governor Greg Abbott addressed his legislative priorities in his State of the State address. One of these priorities is to prohibit local government entities and higher education institutions from declaring themselves sanctuaries by threatening to take away their state funding. The term “sanctuary” has become so polarized that it is treated as a dirty word by opponents. President Donald Trump also has stated his opposition to sanctuary city policies.
Throughout the day last Thursday, 606 individuals signed up to testify against SB4, including members from faith communities, law enforcement officers, educators, lawyers, etc. In contrast, only 11 people signed up to testify in favor of the bill and 3 people testified “on” the bill (“on” stances are made by state agency employees as a resource to committee deliberations). Public testimony took place until 1:00 a.m. I was overwhelmed by the support for immigrants from faith communities and their leaders. It was great to see so many people being politically involved in ways beyond voting. I also found comfort in seeing a few professionals that I had previously worked with in the immigrant community of Harris County and surrounding counties coming to speak up for their clients. Despite all the testimony in opposition, SB4 was voted out of committee. This bill is expected to pass the Senate, and then will have to go through the full legislative process within the House of Representatives before it has a chance to become law.
Lately, sanctuary cities have become a hot topic in both national and state politics. There has been a movement from cities, campuses, and churches to declare themselves sanctuaries. While there is not a legal definition of a “sanctuary city”, the term generally refers to counties, municipalities or colleges that strive to promote the dignity, well-being and safety of their community populations in regards to immigration status requests. In other words, local law enforcement prioritizes the needs of that community instead of federal immigration law. As I understand this, this does not mean that they will not comply with Federal immigration law, it simply means they will comply with the minimum requirements of that law. What does this look like? Let’s look what is happening in Travis County (Austin) with Sheriff Sally Hernandez who declared that she will limit her cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the federal agency that is in charge of detaining and deporting undocumented immigrants. Sheriff Hernandez has stated that she intends to only share information with ICE if an undocumented detainee has committed murder, sexual assault, or human trafficking or if ICE has an arrest warrant. Information would not be shared with ICE if an undocumented individual gets stopped by a police officer for a minor traffic incident (e.g., busted headlight, going over 10 miles of the speed limit).
I went to the Senate Gallery Floor on Thursday to observe the hearing and take notes for the bill analysis I wrote as a policy analyst for the Texas Legislative Study Group (LSG), a caucus chaired by Representative Garnet Coleman that provides bill analyses for its members that include state representatives, senators, and associate members. As a policy analyst, it is my job to write bill analyses in regards to how a bill will benefit or hurt Texas families. Below, I share points of the SB4 analysis that I produced as part of my internship responsibilities. My analysis spells out why I recommend that SB4 would be bad policy for Texas. I hope that this is helpful to readers who want to gain a better understanding of immigration policies and learn how these policies affect immigrants and other vulnerable populations.
- If a city declares itself a sanctuary city, the state government will take away state funds from its local law enforcement and public safety departments. In SB4, the only state funding that is exempted from being eliminated relates to safety and training of local police departments, such as body cameras. The state funded programs that have the threat of being defunded will hurt the most vulnerable Texans. These programs include: Building Capacity to Recover and Restore Survivors of Child Sex Trafficking, Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention Program, Residential Substance Abuse Treatment for Prisoners, and the Sexual Assault Services Formula Grant Program.
- The bill exempts hospitals and public and charter schools, enabling these locations to be safe from deportations. It also exempts from deportation victims of crime, witnesses of crime, and individuals that report a crime. It does not exempt private schools, higher education institutions, nor religious institutions from deportations. Even though the bill states that victims and witnesses of crime will be exempt from deportation, both undocumented and legal immigrant individuals may still be unlikely to bring crimes to the attention of their local police due to fear, resulting in lost trust between the immigrant community and local law enforcement and less crime being reported. This legislation will encourage immigrant communities to remain in the shadows because they will live in fear knowing that one traffic stop on the way to dropping their kids off at school, going to church, or buying groceries will mean deportation. While this bill exempts hospitals, it does not exempt hospital police, meaning immigrants may also fear getting their health needs checked.
- The bill states that racial profiling is illegal, yet its impact will be to encourage law enforcement officers to racially profile Latinos. While undocumented immigrants are not solely Latino, because anybody from any ethnicity can be undocumented, Latinos are usually stereotyped for being undocumented due to the media portrayal of this group. According to Cardoso and Faulkner, “deportations disproportionately impact the Latino community – 96% of all people deported were from Latin America and the majority of children with at least one undocumented parent are Latino, mostly from Mexico (70%) and other Latin American countries (17%).”
- Cardoso and Faulkner also find that “parenting stress occurs when the demands of parenthood exceed the perceived personal and social resources available to deal with challenges. Parenting stress is found to be associated with lower life satisfaction, higher depression, greater marital discord, and increased likelihood of separation or divorce. Additionally, it affects children. Children whose parents experience high levels of parenting stress exhibit greater mental health problems and, for younger children, lower academic achievement.” Raising children in the United States without legal status adds challenges to the already stressful task of parenting, related to fears of detection and deportation that could lead to family separation, as well as feelings of powerlessness in being able to protect children from the impact and stigma of undocumented status and anti-immigrant sentiment. Aggressive immigration policies negatively impact Latino immigrant families, regardless of whether a family member is actually detained or deported.
- Local police officers are not trained in immigration law. Lines of power should not be blurred between local police officers and ICE officers. Local police officers should not be asked to prioritize the needs of the federal government, but instead, should be in the position of putting the needs of their local communities first. Communities in Texas should have control over local public safety matters – local residents and leaders know what is best for them and how to keep their residents healthy, productive and safe.
- There has been no evidence that sanctuary cities are more dangerous than any other city. Researchers from the University of California-Riverside and Highline College in Des Moines found that “there is no evidence that crime rates are higher in cities that have implemented “sanctuary” ordinances.” They examined 54 cities in 19 states, plus the District of Columbia. This legislation will not actually make our cities, communities or state safer, but instead provides an outlet to dehumanize and degrade immigrants. No human is illegal and no community deserves to be punished for thinking so.
As social workers, it is our ethical duty to be politically engaged and to be socially active on behalf of our clients. Not only will immigrants and Latinos be affected by this legislation if it becomes law; human trafficking victims, domestic violence victims, and other vulnerable individuals will also be affected. As I have learned from my social work classes, problems don’t exist in a vacuum. Everything is intersected. My social work education enables me to analyze this bill using an intersectional lens, identifying potential unintended consequences of the bill such as the effects on potential victims of crime, the immigrant community, Latino families, local public safety, and mental health. Having an intersectional lens is crucial for effective policy making, which is why we need more social workers involved in the political process as elected officials, working in legislative settings, and communicating with their representatives to advocate for their clients.