Texas Senate passes 'sanctuary cities' bill

AUSTIN — Embracing one of Gov. Rick Perry's top priorities, the Texas Senate voted 19-12 on party lines early Wednesday to pass a so-called sanctuary city bill despite impassioned warnings from the chamber's Hispanics that the bill will breed discrimination and make Texas "an unwelcoming place."

Senate Bill 9 would halt state aid to local governments that prohibit local officers from inquiring about immigration status. Sen. Tommy Williams, R-Woodlands, the bill's sponsor, said the bill would permit -- but not require -- officers to ask about citizenship or immigration status when they arrest or detain someone.

Under pointed questioning from Democrats, Williams defended the bill as a needed deterrent against criminal elements entering the country from Mexico and said it would help establish a coherent statewide policy.

"This is not about political parties, nor is it about race or hate or fear-mongering," he said.

Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, evoked memories of 9-11 in saying that the bill could help "provide some additional protection .. . from those people who are here to harm us."

But the chamber's seven Hispanics assailed the bill in an emotional round of speeches before the final vote, saying the measure would lead to racial profiling and harassment of Latinos.

Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, the dean of the Senate, asked the Hispanic senators to stand.

"Look at these members of the Senate," Whitmire declared. "This legislation to will force them to prove that they are U.S. citizens. Members, we can do better. This is a sad day."

Sen. Jose Rodriguez, D-El Paso, said the bill will result in "unintended consequences," resulting in expensive civil rights lawsuits because of racial profiling. He also predicted that "Texas will be viewed as an unwelcoming place" for immigrants.

Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio, a former Marine, recalled being subjected to bigotry while growing up and warned that the bill would lead to discrimination against "anyone who looks like me."

"I shouldn't have to prove my citizenship because my skin is a little darker than yours," he said. "This bill is hurtful, it's ignorant and it's offensive."

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