By Mike Ward and Lindsay Ellis
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed a sweeping ban on "sanctuary cities" into law on Sunday, giving police officers new authority to question a detained person's immigration status and blocking local entities from passing laws that would prohibit these questions from officers.
"The reason why so many people come to America is because we are the nation of laws," he said, seconds after dotting his signature on Senate Bill 4 on Facebook Live. "Texas is doing its part to keep it that way."
The legislation allows for misdemeanor criminal penalties for law enforcement officials who refuse to cooperate with federal immigration authorities. Fines could reach $25,000 for repeat violations.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said Sunday that the bill "will ensure that no city in Texas will be allowed to ignore the law," thanking Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, who wrote the bill.
Immigrants' rights groups and police forces statewide -- including in Houston -- criticized the bill as potentially sowing distrust of law enforcement among immigrants. Last week, the Republican-controlled Legislature issued its final approval of the bill, which Abbott had listed as a priority for the session.
Senate Bill 4 applies to officers across the state, including on college campuses. It excludes those who are contracted by religious groups and schools, government mental health care facilities and hospitals.
Abbott cited California resident Kate Steinle's 2015 murder, committed by an immigrant in the U.S. illegally, as he described why the law is necessary.
"He should never have been in this country. If he hadn't, Kate would still be alive today," Abbott said.
Before Abbott signed the bill Sunday, he criticized the policies of Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez, who said she would no longer cooperate with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement requests to hold immigrants while federal authorities investigate their status.
"Those policies are sanctuary city policies (and) won't be tolerated in Texas," he said.
The bill is expected to be challenged in court. The ACLU on Sunday said the bill encourages racial profiling and is expected to "clog" Texas's jails.
"It will not stand," said Terri Burke, the ACLU's executive director, in a statement.
Abbott on Sunday said he has no qualms about its legality, saying its "already been tested at the United States Supreme and approved there."
The event marked the first time that a Texas governor has enacted state law over social media, as Abbott did. On Friday, protest groups announced plans to picket the Capitol early next week, anticipating that Abbott might sign the bill into law on Monday or Tuesday. By signing it on Sunday, he avoided any showdown.
"As Governor, my top priority is public safety, and this bill furthers that objective by keeping dangerous criminals off our streets," Abbott said in a statement after the Facebook Live signing. "It's inexcusable to release individuals from jail that have been charged with heinous crimes like sexual assault against minors, domestic violence and robbery. There are deadly consequences to not enforcing the law, and Texas has now become a state where those practices are not tolerated. With this bill we are doing away with those that seek to promote lawlessness in Texas."
(c)2017 the Houston Chronicle