On Thursday, police chiefs and sheriffs set out for the Texas capitol to condemn recent proposals that would require them to enforce immigration laws at the local level. They worry this would seriously get in the way of carrying out and maintaining public safety in local communities.
As reported in the Houston Chronicle, the officers emphasized that is not something they as local law enforcement, should be tasked to carry out but rather, is a responsibility of the federal government. They also stressed a the importance of being able to set the limitations for their own officers.
San Antonio Police Chief William McManus said, “We depend on the community to work with us to identify crimes in their neighborhood. We would not get that kind of collaboration from the community if, all of a sudden, SAPD officers were out there enforcing immigration laws.”
Among others in attendance were McAllen Police Chief Victor Rodriguez, Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez and El Paso County Sheriff Richard D. Wiles. Their visit came a day after Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Chairman Tommy Williams and Rep. Burt Solomons filed legislation eliminating so-called “sanctuary city” policies.
House Bill 12 and Senate Bill 11 would put local government agencies in jeopardy of losing state grant dollars if they take on policies that prohibit enforcement of state or federal immigration laws including barring law enforcement from asking about immigration status.
Though the Houston Police Department and Harris County Sheriff’s Office did not attend the news conference, Houston Police Chief Charles McClelland offered a statement saying, “officers would need clarity and protection from liability if asked to perform more tasks.”
“If the federal government (or) state government want me to do some type of federal immigration enforcement, they need to do several things,” McClelland continued. “We need (to) secure our borders, they need to bring some clarity to the issues of what documents are going to be accepted to prove that one is a United States citizen. And I think police officers need some liability shield because police officers are human, and if they make a mistake and an innocent American citizen goes to jail, then where is that liability going to fall – on the officer, the city, the department? I’m concerned about those things.”
Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia already has an immigration enforcement program at the county jail, and according to spokesman Alan Bernstein, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement considers it to be “one of the most successful in the nation.”
However, Bernstein also cautions that asking officers to carry out ICE operations in the field, “where they encounter victims, witnesses, other law-abiding citizens and potential detainees,” raises concerns.
Sen. Williams said he will gladly meet with the local law enforcement officers and address their concerns if he can.
Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo, who has described the proposals as “scapegoating”, said, “I look forward to calling out B.S. when we go to these hearings.”