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Local debate over how San Antonio Police Chief William McManus handled a December human smuggling case has reached the state Capitol.
In a letter sent to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton Wednesday evening, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick encouraged the AG to "act swiftly" to make sure SAPD is acting in compliance with the state's new immigration law, Senate Bill 4.
Paxton's office, meanwhile, sent its own letter Wednesday (obtained by
News4 San Antonio) informing San Antonio city officials that the office has received "several complaints" from citizens echoing Patrick's concerns — and that Paxton plans to investigate.
Chief McManus has been under fire for his unusual decision
to hand an immigrant smuggling case over to the state to investigate, rather than the federal government. Instead of being detained and questioned by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, the 12 immigrants found in the back of a semi truck on Dec. 23 were treated like regular victims of a crime. They were not questioned about their citizenship status, not run through a background check, and released to local immigrant aid nonprofits. Only the driver of the truck they were stowed away in faces criminal charges.
"I am very troubled by the recent news reports of the San Antonio police chief releasing suspected illegal immigrants in a case of human trafficking or human smuggling without proper investigation, identification of witnesses, or cooperation with federal authorities," writes Patrick. "Such action could be in direct violation of the recently passed Senate Bill 4 and threatens the safety of citizens and law enforcement."
Senate Bill 4, or SB 4, is a sweeping law that just went into effect in September that extends the reach of federal immigration enforcement into local police departments. It's often been called the "sanctuary city bill" or "show me your papers bill." One major part of the law requires local law enforcement to comply with routine requests from ICE officials to hold people in jail for up to 48 hours after they would have otherwise been released, so that they may be questioned or picked up by ICE if their immigration status is in question. This piece of SB4, focused on so-called "detainer requests," is currently on hold
as a lawsuit brought by Texas' largest cities (including San Antonio) weaves its way through the state courts.
What a federal judge has allowed to go into effect
, however, is the part of SB4 that allows officers to ask members of the public about their immigration status.
"Should your office receive a citizen complaint as required by Senate Bill 4, I encourage you to act swiftly to ensure San Antonio Police Department is in compliance with the law," Patrick urged Paxton.
McManus' retelling of the incident rejects this idea.
"I gave no direction to skip or disregard standard protocol or process," McManus said Friday in an email
to the Current.
He said that an agent from U.S. Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) had been notified shortly after the arrest and was present when officers brought the 12 passengers in for questioning.
"At no time did SAPD restrict or prevent the HSI agent from taking custody of the individuals," McManus added.
The chief has already faced criticism from Councilman Greg Brockhouse and the SAPD union president
for this decision. But his boss, City Manager Sheryl Sculley, says she "fully supports" McManus’ handling
of the case.
"No rule, directive, regulation or law was broken or circumvented," she said Tuesday, in a press statement. "The chief acted within his jurisdiction and, as acknowledged by federal law enforcement, had no real authority to hold the 12 individuals after they were questioned."
Two other members of City Council, Roberto Treviño and Rey Saldaña
, have publicly backed McManus' call.
In its Wednesday letter to the city, AG Paxton's office requested all staff and elected officials "preserve potentially relevant information" that could contribute to the pending investigation into the case.
It's unclear how soon an official investigation would take place.