Hidalgo Co. Sheriff Addresses Signed ‘Sanctuary’ Bill
WESLACO – A controversial “sanctuary cities” bill was signed into law over the weekend by Governor Greg Abbott.
Senate Bill 4 essentially bans sanctuary cities from the state and would penalize local governments and law enforcement that don’t comply with immigration law.
The Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office said the sanctuary city bill will have little impact on their day-to-day operations.
The county sheriff said the bill doesn’t mean their deputies will be on the streets looking to round up people who are in the country illegally. They said they’re not in fear of the threats the bill makes toward law enforcement.
In addition to bans on sanctuary cities, Senate Bill 4 allows police to inquire about the immigration status of people they lawfully detain or arrest. It does not require law enforcement to ask if the person is in the country illegally.
“The bill just says a peace officer can ask for their immigration status, it doesn’t say shall ask,” Hidalgo County Sheriff Eddie Guerra said.
If the person isn’t from the United States but has proper documentation, the bill does not require law enforcement to make sure their documents are up to date or if they’re valid. Even if it did, Guerra said Texas peace officers would not be able to make that determination.
“We cannot determine if that person has the proper documentation because we haven’t been trained,” he explained.
Guerra said if a deputy stops an individual and that person fails to identify themselves, they will then be arrested. He said in booking is where the person’s real identity will be revealed, whether the person is in the country illegally or not.
“We have people that are trained in our jail that are there every day that can determine the immigration status of the individual that we have,” he said.
The bill subjects sheriff’s, constables, police chiefs and other local leaders to Class A misdemeanor charges if they don’t cooperate with federal authorities. The same will apply if they do not honor detainer requests from immigration agents. Fines will also be issued.
“All of our law enforcement agencies, here in Hidalgo County, all cooperate with our federal partners,” Guerra said.
He said he isn’t concerned. The only concern he has is the immigrant community’s perception of the bill.
“The perception of this bill now, today signed into law, is that now police agencies, whether you’re sheriff’s deputy or officers from police departments, are now going to question their immigration status when they interact with them, whether it be a traffic stop or an investigation purpose,” Guerra said.
He fears the immigrant community will stop reporting crimes against them or will be reluctant to cooperate if they are a witness to a crime.
The bill does lay out protections for people in the country illegally who are witnesses of a crime or if they’re victims of one.
The bill precludes law enforcement from asking their legal status.