Other Voices

‘Sanctuary cities’ bill makes it harder for police to protect all

Arlington’s police chief and those from other major Texas cities say immigration enforcement is a federal responsibility.
Arlington’s police chief and those from other major Texas cities say immigration enforcement is a federal responsibility. jlmarshall@star-telegram.com

The Texas Major Cities Chiefs — police chiefs in Austin, Arlington, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio — and the Texas Police Chiefs Association respectfully oppose Senate Bill 4 as amended by the Texas House of Representatives.

SB 4 requires law enforcement agencies to become more involved in the enforcement of federal immigration laws.

No one believes in the rule of law more than the agencies represented by the TMCC and TPCA.

We work tirelessly to make our communities safer, within the confines of the Constitution, by arresting those who commit criminal acts.

We specifically target individuals who commit violent crimes. We arrest anyone who threatens the safety of our communities, regardless of their immigration status.

Under the current climate of distrust of law enforcement, TMCC & TPCA members must work extremely hard to build and maintain trust, communication and stronger relationships with minority communities through community-based policing and outreach programs.

Broad mandates such as those imposed by SB 4, 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.

Officers will start inquiring about the immigration status of every person they come in contact with — or worse, only inquire about the immigration status of some individuals based on their appearance.

This will lead to distrust of police, less cooperation from members of the community and the belief that they cannot seek assistance from police for fear of being subjected to an immigration status investigation.

Distrust and fear of contacting or assisting police has already become evident among immigrants here legally as well.

They are beginning to avoid contact with police for fear that they or family members or friends here illegally might become subject to immigration enforcement.

Such a divide between 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.

When it comes to addressing criminals in our community, we are in this together, regardless of race, sex, religion or nation of origin.

If we are unable to find and arrest criminals who victimize our immigrant communities, we allow them to remain free to victimize every one of us.

SB 4 will have the unintended consequence of making our communities more dangerous, not safer as we presume the Legislature intends.

It is important to note that law enforcement in Texas already works cooperatively with federal law enforcement agencies, including Immigration and Customs Enforcement, to disrupt violent street gangs and others who threaten our communities.

If federal agencies file criminal charges or obtain judicially reviewed warrants on any person, local law enforcement officers arrest that person regardless of immigration status.

Complying with SB 4’s potential constitutionally questionable requirements would mean stretching already limited resources.

At a time of strained law enforcement budgets and critically low jail space, narrowing the focus to violent criminals, human traffickers, gun traffickers and members of organized crime syndicates is crucial.

Requiring local law enforcement to prioritize immigration efforts, without adequate funding or increased support from involved governmental agencies, will hinder our agencies’ ability to focus limited resources on the unique needs of the communities we serve.

Immigration enforcement is first and foremost a federal obligation. Any immigration reform must begin with the federal government.

While the federal government has not been able or willing to address this issue, any effort by the state of Texas to address immigration reform will be ineffective.

SB 4 is not the answer. Rather, it is political pandering that will make our communities more dangerous.

If the Legislature is serious about removing those persons here without permission, there are better ways to address this than forcing law enforcement to become immigration agents.

The Texas Legislature could start by addressing the businesses that hire the workers, which is why the majority of honest, hard-working people immigrate to this country, with or without documentation.

Addressing the primary reason people enter the state without documentation would free law enforcement to address those people who commit crimes.

The professional law enforcement executives who make up the TMCC and TPCA respectfully request that the members of the Texas Legislature withdraw the amendments to SB 4 that were passed by the Texas House of Representatives.

This legislation is bad for Texas and will make our communities more dangerous for all.

Will Johnson is Arlington’s police chief. A version of this commentary was signed by other Texas major city police chiefs.