Last week, after a bitter and hours-long debate, the Texas House passed the latest version of Arizona's infamous "papers please" law, a crackdown on so-called "sanctuary cities"
and one of Gov. Greg Abbott's top priorities this session.
While the measure, Senate Bill 4,
seems destined for Abbott's desk, some of the loudest voices opposing it are police chiefs in the state's biggest cities who argue that forcing local departments to enforce federal immigration law would increase crime and alienate entire communities where cops have been working to forge stronger relationships and cooperation.
In an open letter this weekend, six of Texas' top police chiefs, including SAPD Chief William McManus, call SB 4 a dangerous mistake. "This is not a political issue for police chiefs," they write. "It's a practical issue that will affect public safety." Chiefs in Austin, Arlington, Dallas, Fort Worth and Houston also signed the letter.
Indeed, chiefs like McManus have raised their hands in opposition every time
the legislature drags up the "sanctuary cities" boogeyman. That's because most of the state's large police departments realized a long time ago that pushing immigrant communities into the shadows makes people less likely to report crime and therefore makes cities less safe. As the chiefs put it in their letter this weekend, a law "requiring local law enforcement to take a more active role in immigration enforcement will further strain the relationship between local law enforcement and the diverse communities we serve."
Per their letter
"Distrust and fear of contacting or assisting the police has already become evident among legal immigrants as well. Legal immigrants are beginning to avoid contact with the police for fear that they themselves or undocumented family members or friends may become subject to immigration enforcement. Such a divide between the local police and immigrant groups will result in increased crime against immigrants and in the broader community, create a class of silent victims, and eliminate the potential for assistance from immigrants in solving crimes or preventing crime. It should not be forgotten that by not arresting criminals that victimize our immigrant communities, we are also allowing them to remain free to victimize every one of us. When it comes to criminals, we are in this together, regardless of race, sex, religion or nation of origin. SB 4 will make our communities more dangerous, not safer, as we presume the legislature intended."
Police say this is not an abstract concern. Houston's chief has said that already the number of Hispanics reporting rape in that city is down 43 percent
from last year, and that the number of Hispanics reporting other violent crimes saw a 13 percent dip during that same timeframe. Hours after the Texas House advanced the bill last week, McManus held a press conference to tell reporters
, "We are very, very fearful that the community will no longer cooperate with us because of this bill." He said there's "not one thing in this bill that I consider to be positive, nor do my colleagues consider to be positive."
That's also because under the bill, chiefs like McManus could no longer enforce their own internal policies barring cops from asking about immigration status in routine law enforcement encounters. Like, say, a traffic stop. "That takes away our authority to direct our officers not to do something," he said — like racial profiling.
As for racial profiling, McManus was blunt on who that would largely affect in Texas:
“We’re talking about folks south of the border. We’re not talking about people we think might be here from Russia or from somewhere else. We're talking about out people south of the border," he said. "In order for me to identify someone who I don’t think is from here, it’s either skin color, language or accent. And in order to do, that I’m profiling. So that’s another part of the bill that’s distasteful, to say the least."
McManus also said that should SB 4 be signed into law, San Antonio would likely have to train its police officers on immigration law. He said he had no idea how much that might cost, but added, "It ain't gonna be cheap."