AUSTIN (KXAN) – Yolanda Garza Birdwell was one of hundreds of people drawn to the State Capitol on Thursday by the controversy over Senate Bill 4. “This is racist. This is not acceptable. And we are here to reject it!” Birdwell said as she stood in a crowd outside the Senate chambers. More than 450 people signed up to speak at a committee hearing on the bill. Like Birdwell, who said she’s a dual citizen of both the U.S. and Mexico, most of the speakers voiced their opposition to the bill.
Their opposition did not sway the result. After more than 16 hours of testimony, members of the Senate State Affairs committee voted 7 – 2 along party lines to send SB 4 to the senate floor. The bill would punish local government entities and college campuses that refuse to cooperate with federal immigration officials or enforce immigration laws.
Senate Bill 4 is moving quickly after Governor Greg Abbott designated the measure as an emergency item. While the bill may appear to have stemmed from a policy dispute between the governor and Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez, Texas Monthly writer R.G. Ratcliffe sees SB 4 in a larger context. “I think probably in some ways what’s almost most significant than the state bill is the change in federal policy that Donald Trump instituted,” Ratcliffe said. In most cases under President Obama, only people convicted of serious crimes were eligible to be deported. “[Trump] went back to a policy that existed when George W. Bush was President, which essentially said if you’re charged with any crime, you don’t even have to be convicted, if you’re charged you’re eligible to be deported,” Ratcliffe explained.
The uncertainty over how broad the impact will be is also raising concerns about Senate Bill 4. Additions to the bill include possible penalties to college campuses. “The Governor has said in the past he wants to cut off state funding to colleges that would declare themselves a sanctuary,” said Texas Tribune writer Patrick Svitek. He said that addition will add “a little more political charge” to the debate. It also brings more uncertainty. “It’s a little unclear what exactly a sanctuary campus would entail,” Svitek said.
Ratcliffe, Svitek, and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton shared their perspective on the sanctuary debate in this week’s State of Texas political program. “There is, at least in the Senate, a lot of momentum behind it,” Svitek said of Senate Bill 4. Similar measures have failed in the past, but the climate has changed both at the State Capitol and around the country. As Ratcliffe noted, “you have a lot of momentum for it this time because President Trump campaigned on this as an issue.”
State of Texas airs Sunday morning at 8:30 on KXAN.