"We are being asked to enforce a law that has no connection to crime on the streets," said County Judge Nelson Wolff, standing in front of the county courthouse Friday morning. "This bill would divert our efforts away from violent crime and public safety."
Senate Bill 4, which was approved by a House vote Wednesday, would void the kind of policies San Antonio and most big-city police departments have on the books barring officers from inquiring about immigration status in routine police encounters. It would also force local law enforcement to hold any noncitizen the feds ask them to until an Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent shows up. If they don't comply, police officials could face a Class A misdemeanor charge under the law.
Wolff was joined by San Antonio Police Chief William McManus, Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar, District Attorney Nicolas LaHood and a handful of other state and local officials in asking Abbott to veto SB 4. Not only would the bill distract them from local crime-solving, they argued, but it would institutionalize racial profiling.
"What do I use to determine who I'm going to ask for papers?" McManus asked the crowd Friday. "I may ask you because your skin is a little darker. I may ask my mother-in-law because she can't speak English very well. SB4 will send communities into hiding."
McManus, who's already joined five Texas police chiefs of major cities in publicly opposing the bill, said that every chief in Texas he's spoken to about the bill agrees it'll only hinder public safety. The lawmakers that supported HB4, however, have argued that will protect Texas from serious criminals, echoing claims made by President Donald Trump. McManus and Sheriff Salazar — and a number of national studies — say otherwise.
According to Salazar, there's usually around 4,000 inmates at Bexar County Jail and 27,000 people in the county with active arrest warrants at any given time. "The vast majority of those people are American citizens. They are not undocumented immigrants. That is not who's committing crimes in Bexar County," he said.
Both City Councilmen Roberto Trevino and Alan Warrick were present at the morning press conference. Mayor Ivy Taylor was not.
Despite their efforts, it's unlikely Gov. Abbott will change his mind, especially since he's already led his own anti-sanctuary city crusade in recent months. Abbott has threatened to pull funding from any Texas county that won't hold all undocumented immigrants in its jails (even for committing the pettiest of crimes), and effectively banned "sanctuary campuses." And the penalties for breaking these rules are unusually extreme. It's hard to envision the governor walking back his near-giddy support of the changes SB 4 promises.
After the emotional Wednesday-night vote on the bill, Abbott tweeted that he was "getting my signing pen warmed up."