Lubbock County Sheriff Kelly Rowe and Mayor Dan Pope both say Lubbock is not a sanctuary city — that local officers are already enforcing federal immigration laws within their abilities.
But pending legislation introduced by state Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, could expand local law enforcement agency options for enforcement. Area officials say that wouldn’t change their operations, but opponents of the bill fear the stricter enforcement would change the role of local law enforcement.
Perry said his intentions are to make sure all officers are enforcing the law, and he believes the vast majority of his constituents agree. Pope agreed, saying, the “law of the land is what should be expected, and in the city of Lubbock and Lubbock County, that’s the way we operate.”
Perry’s bill banning sanctuary cities was approved earlier this month by the Senate in a vote along party lines and now heads to the Texas House with the backing of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who called addressing sanctuary cities one of his four “emergency items” this legislative session. Senate Bill 4, known as the anti-sanctuary cities bill, would punish local entities that don’t honor requests from federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement to hand over immigrants by withholding state funding and potentially handing out civil fines. It also punishes cities and counties that have policies preventing officers from asking about immigration status.
“I would venture that this changes the guys on the front line very, very little. I don’t think you’ll see a mass inquiry,” Perry said. “Everybody is thinking this is new law, but it’s just taking what’s already the law and saying you’ve got to apply it.”
Lubbock police officials declined to comment on the pending bill but did refer A-J Media to the department’s general manual outlining its current policy on immigrants in the country illegally. The policy states officers may not arrest an immigrant not here legally on any charge for which they would not normally arrest any other suspect. The current policy says officers may not detain or arrest a person solely on suspicion of being in the country illegally and may not detain them longer than any other suspect.
If an officer does arrest an undocumented person on another charge, that’s when LPD notifies Border Patrol.
The text in Senate Bill 4 says peace officers may arrest an undocumented person if the officer is acting under the duties and powers to preserve the peace within the officer’s jurisdiction. The bill prohibits local policies keeping officers from seeking immigration status once a person is detained, and it says a peace officer shall enforce immigration law at the request of a federal law enforcement officer.
“After a lawful detainment has occurred, if that officer deems it appropriate for the facts and circumstances they currently have, they can inquire regarding immigration status,” Perry said.
Some law enforcement officials speaking at a Senate hearing on the bill earlier this month in Austin testified against officers inquiring into people’s immigration status for fear those people may be afraid to call police or of a family member or neighbor being deported.
Perry used this example while the bill was being discussed: If an officer pulls a vehicle over and sees three distressed women in the back seat with a driver who has no “digital footprint” or documentation and who won’t answer questions about where he’s going and who appears to be in the U.S. illegally and possibly human trafficking — then Perry says after a lawful detainment he expects the officer to inquire about immigration status.
“If you’re not doing anything illegally, you shouldn’t be pulled over or shouldn’t be imposed upon,” said Perry. “Those (officers) out there on the front line are going to use great discretion, but if there’s a need then they need to fulfill it.”
But Miguel Levario, an associate professor of history at Texas Tech who has spoken against the bill, gave a different scenario where a driver is pulled over for speeding. Currently, he said, if the driver doesn’t have a valid license he or she will likely receive citations — one for speeding and another for not having a license. He argues that if SB 4 becomes law, speeding now gives officers probable cause to seek immigration status. And Levario argues that lots of citizens don’t have driver’s licenses, so the lack of one shouldn’t be a reason for a police officer to inquire about immigration status; with Hispanics, he believes that will happen.
Opponents of the bill say they’re concerned this will promote racial profiling by officers, who may fear being accused of not enforcing federal immigration laws. And because federal detainers are requests to keep a suspected unauthorized immigrant in jail so that immigration enforcement can determine if the person should be deported, opponents also fear they will be jailed longer than allowed by law.
The Lubbock County Democratic Party has been a vocal opponent of the bill, arguing it will cause a divide between the police officers and the rest of the community. In a news conference held a few weeks ago, speakers said the bill would create an avenue for racial profiling, ultimately leading to fear of police and repression of minorities.
Perry said the bill specifically states a peace officer may not stop a motor vehicle or conduct a search solely to enforce federal immigration law. He says the bill denounces racial profiling, and an officer can only inquire about immigration status after a person is detained.
Even so, Levario said racial profiling is inevitable, since he believes people with Hispanic surnames are more likely to be pegged as undocumented immigrants and to be required to show proof of residency during routine interactions with police.
The proposed bill, he said, would also put officers in a tough situation — if they satisfy the requests from Immigration and Customs Enforcement it could violate someone’s constitutional rights by detaining them without a legal warrant, and if officers don’t satisfy the request, they could be in violation of the state law.
“This is now a politicized issue, and it is racist,” said Levario. “Sanctuary cities are not more crime-ridden — immigrants are less likely to be violent criminals than people born here, by far. This does nothing but harm, and if they’re threatening to pull funding, then they’re pulling funding out of programs that help police officers build the trust with their community, whether it’s for domestic violence or whatever it may be.”
An argument against the bill is that victims or witnesses will no longer go to police, but Perry said the bill addresses this by creating the first-ever measure to protect victims of or witnesses to crimes who cooperate with law enforcement. Levario believes the bill will make immigrants less likely to cooperate with authorities because of the new, intimidating perception of law enforcement.
Apart from withdrawing funding, the bill also includes civil and criminal penalties for entities not complying with the law. The Texas Tribune reported that one amendment to Perry’s bill makes the department head of the agency that violates the law subject to criminal prosecution in the form of a class A misdemeanor. The local agency would also be subject to civil penalties, including a $1,000 fine for first offense and a $25,000 fine for each thereafter.
Rowe said he hasn’t completely analyzed the bill to see if it changes the county’s policy, but what he’s seen so far hasn’t led him to believe there will be any changes. He said his office already works with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
When A-J Media spoke with Rowe last week, there were 26 people with a federal detainer at the Lubbock County Detention Center. The Texas Immigration Detainer Report for December 2016 showed 20 immigrants were detained for a combined 447 days in Lubbock County, at a cost of about $23,600. Senate Bill 4 does not come with extra state funds for counties, even if there’s an increase in detainees.
On his patrol side, Rowe said officers already contact Border Patrol during a traffic stop if an individual is believed to be an undocumented immigrant. Most of the time, he said a Border Patrol agent is able to get to the scene and determine if the individual is in the U.S. legally, adding that this scenario plays out about 25 to 30 times a year in the county.
“It’s the rule of law, and that’s what gets me on this when I watch the coverage,” said Rowe. “I’m just going off the United States’ code in regards to immigration — they’re classified as illegal aliens if they’ve entered into this country. They also have committed, on the first unlawful entry into this country, a misdemeanor criminal offense. If they’ve been deported once, their next unlawful re-entry is a felony criminal offense. We’re welcoming, and I’m not disputing that, but these folks have committed a crime.”
The bill also would punish college campuses as well as local and state government entities that refuse to enforce immigration laws. It excludes hospital districts and victims or witnesses to crimes.
Chris Cook, Texas Tech’s managing director of the Office of Communications and Marketing, said Tech is not a sanctuary campus and will follow the law as presented.
The bill now heads to the Texas House, although as of Thursday a companion bill to the one approved by the Senate had not been introduced. HB 889, a companion bill to Perry’s original (not amended) sanctuary cities bill, has been filed but not yet sent to committee.