Houston state senator tries to create safe zones in wake of anti-sanctuary city bill

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After unsuccessfully proposing more than 3o amendments to Senate Bill 4, an anti-sanctuary city bill, state Senate Democrats are making another attempt at adjusting the proposed legislation.

Following the long but rather easy passage of Senate Bill 4 out of the Texas Senate, state Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, has proposed Senate Bill 997, which attempts to carve out safe zones throughout the state where peace officers can not perform federal immigration law enforcement. The other 10 state Senate Democrats have joined Garcia as co-authors on this bill.

Senate Bill 4 already exempts public K-12 schools and hospitals as well as victims of crimes. Garcia’s legislation would expand that definition of a safe zone to include places of worship, public colleges and universities and courthouses.

Worth noting, Senate Bill 4 plans to utilize campus police to enforce the same sanctuary city policies for the state’s other law enforcement officers.

Garcia said that her bill is not in response to Senate Bill 4 but rather the federal immigration climate and a discrepancy between federal and state immigration policy.

In 2011, Immigration Customs & Enforcement passed a sensitive locations memorandum that prohibits federal ICE agents from running enforcement at schools and churches. Enforcement actions within the memorandum are defined as arrests, interviews, searches and surveillance for immigration enforcement purposes.

State officers would not be covered by this policy, though.

“We come together today to make a stand in defense of some of the most important institutions in our society,” Garcia said. “We say no, we don’t want police officers carrying out federal immigration laws at these places that are supposed to be safe for everyone.”

Several other legislators and leaders of Garcia’s proposed safe zones joined her at the press conference including Sen. Jose Menendez, D-San Antonio, and Sen. Jose Rodriguez, D-El Paso.

This bill may face a tough path forward as several amendments to Senate Bill 4, proposed for similar purposes, failed on a party-line vote. Even with all of the bill’s authors’ affirmative votes, a coalition of Republican Senators—the same group who passed Senate Bill 4—could derail the attempted changes.

Garcia said she has yet to receive a signature from a member of the other party yet, but will continue working the floor.

The full text of Senate Bill 997 can be viewed here.

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Emily Donaldson

Emily Donaldson is a recent transplant to the Austin area from Houston, Texas, where she started with Community Impact Newspaper in May 2016. Donaldson started covering public education in Cy-Fair ISD, the third largest school district in the state of Texas, and then she transitioned into her role as the company's legislative reporter, providing statehouse coverage for all 22 editions. Currently, she reports on the city of Round Rock and Round Rock ISD for the Round Rock, Pflugerville and Hutto edition. Donaldson graduated from the University of Missouri with bachelor's degrees in magazine journalism and political science.

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