As Anti-Sanctuary Bill Advances, Estimates Reveal Size of Undocumented Population

Leah Binkovitz | @leahbink | February 7, 2017

The Texas State Capitol in Austin.

Hundreds of Texans showed up to the Texas State Capitol  last week for a hearing that lasted 16 hours in hopes of voicing concerns about a state bill that would withhold funding from local municipalities and public colleges that refuse to detain undocumented individuals at the request of federal immigration officials. But the controversial bill known as SB4 sailed through the State Affairs Committee with a 7-2 vote Friday, where it now awaits its fate in the full state senate.

The bill would essentially require local jurisdictions to cooperate with federal immigration officials or risk funding, according to the Austin-American Statesman, which writes:

Under the bill, police chiefs and sheriffs would be prohibited from discouraging officers from inquiring about subjects’ immigration status, county jails would be forced to cooperate with federal requests to extend the detention of inmates suspected of immigration violations, victims of crimes committed by unauthorized immigrants in sanctuary jurisdictions could sue local governments, and the state would withhold grant money from local jurisdictions that don’t comply with the bill.

Immigrants of all backgrounds make up roughly 17 percent of the state population, according to the latest numbers from the census. And they represent an even larger chunk — roughly 20 percent — of the labor force, according to the Center for Public Policy Priorities.

Meanwhile, the estimated number of undocumented immigrants coming to the state has remained relatively flat in recent years, according to the Pew Research Center. The latest numbers from the Migration Policy Institute, based on 2014 census data, estimate that there are almost 1.5 million undocumented individuals in Texas. Meanwhile, studies have shown that there’s no link between immigrants and violent crime, and data from the Pew Research Center actually suggests immigrants commit less crime than native-born populations.

Yet proponents of SB4 have said the bill, which also affects Texas colleges, is about safety. “At the end of the day, this bill is about keeping our schools and communities safe,” said state senator Charles Perry, the primary sponsor of the bill, in a statement. Last year, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott indicated he would “cut funding for any state campus if it establishes sanctuary status.” And because he declared it an emergency item, the bill could move through the legislature faster than usual.

Some activists at Texas universities are demanding that school administrators also refuse to cooperate with efforts to cooperate with federal immigration officials. In response to those efforts, Perry added colleges to the bill and harshened funding restrictions two days before the senate hearing Thursday.

In Houston, local officials including the police chief and mayor, have repeatedly said law enforcement will not inquire about a person’s immigration status. Recently-elected Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez, who ran partly on a platform opposing a previous sheriff’s cooperation with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement, told protestors in January he is still reviewing the agreement with federal officials.

Opponents of the bill said it would hurt the relationship between all immigrant communities and law enforcement and raises concerns about racial profiling and the use of limited local resources in the name of federal enforcement. Others spoke about the impact it would have on families and the state’s economy, which relies, in part, on labor from undocumented immigrants.

In the Houston area, for example, new numbers from the Migration Policy Institute estimate that there are roughly 376,000 undocumented immigrants in Harris County, most of whom have been in the country for 10 years or more. The majority — 63 percent — of undocumented immigrants in Harris County come from Mexico. Most are employed and almost all of school-age children are enrolled in school. Roughly a third are homeowners.

Here’s a breakdown of the industries undocumented immigrants in Harris County work in, according to the Institute’s estimates:

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