AUSTIN, Texas — Texas Gov. Greg Abbott sought to dispel fears that the state’s new ban on so-called sanctuary cities will contribute to racial profiling, saying Tuesday that Hispanics shouldn’t be afraid that police will stop them and ask for proof of their legal residency unless they’re “suspected of having committed some serious crime.”
Opponents fired back that no such safeguards are written into the law, which will allow Texas police officers to ask a person about their immigration status during routine stops starting in September.
The law signed this month by Abbott, a Republican, gives police the right to ask residency questions during any “lawful detention or arrest.” That provision is already stoking fear in Hispanic and immigrant communities, according to Democrats and immigrant-rights groups who say the wording is so broad that stops over broken taillights or speeding could lead to deportation.
Abbott dismissed that idea as fear-mongering during a live-streamed Facebook interview with a Univision reporter in Austin.
“If you are Hispanic, or frankly anybody from any other country, you are not going to be stopped and required to show your papers unless you are suspected of having committed some serious crime,” he said. He added that prohibitions against racial profiling by police will be “strictly enforced” and invoked his wife, Cecilia Abbott, who is Hispanic and the granddaughter of Mexican immigrants.
“As the husband of the first Hispanic first lady in the state of Texas, I want to make sure that neither she nor her family is going to be stopped and detained inappropriately,” Abbott said.
Cecilia Abbott joined the wives of lawmakers in the Texas Senate on Tuesday. Approached by a reporter about the law and whether she feared getting stopped, an aide stepped in and said the first lady would not be commenting. John Wittman, a spokesman for the governor, said later that “the answer is no, she’s not worried about getting pulled over.”
Outside on the steps of the Texas Capitol, Democrats and local officials from Texas’ biggest cities held a rally to renew their vows to challenge the law in court and pledge what they called a “summer of resistance” before it takes effect. The law was opposed by every big-city police chief in Texas, who worry that immigrants will be more reluctant to come forward as witnesses or crime victims. At least one lawsuit has already been filed in federal court.
The Legislature is seeking to deny work-study aid to immigrants attending public college under a temporary residency permit, a move that starkly contrasts with a policy enacted 16 years ago that positioned the state as the nation’s most welcoming place for foreign-born students.
Under the proposal, which is on the verge of clearing the Texas Legislature, only individuals eligible for federal financial aid would qualify for the state’s off-campus, work-study program.
That group includes U.S. citizens, permanent residents and refugees. It doesn’t include students who came into the country illegally as children and have a work visa allowing them to stay longer, or immigrants granted permission to stay in the country because they were crime victims.
It wasn’t immediately clear how many Texas college students would be denied services if the measure is enacted.
Sen. Charles Schwertner, who sponsored the amendment, would not respond to requests for comment on the floor of the state Senate. At a hearing earlier this month he said the measure simply served to “ensure that students receiving state-subsidized employment are legally eligible to work in the United States.”
“This amendment simply requires that the student qualify for federal financial aid,” he said. “You must have a Social Security card or be a U.S. citizen.”
But immigrant advocates said that, to their knowledge, this is the first bill to deny work-study aid to foreign-born students protected from deportation because of a temporary visa. The young people who benefit are called ‘dreamers’ because the program mimics versions of the so-called DREAM Act, which would have provided legal status for young immigrants but was never passed by Congress.
“We were surprised to see this amendment,” said Nicholas Espiritu, a Los Angeles-based staff attorney for the National Immigration Law Center, who said his organization was not aware of another similar law.
Immigration attorney Jacqueline Watson, the former Texas chairwoman of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, explained that “the state rules for financial aid are historically broader and have broader eligibility requirements than federal financial aid.”
“As long as you’re authorized to work you could participate in work study, so a DACA recipient could qualify,” said Watson, referring to Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which is the federal program through which the immigrants receive temporary legal status.
A federal grand jury in San Antonio has issued multiple felony fraud charges against a Texas state senator from a border district.
Sen. Carlos Uresti, a Democrat from San Antonio, was charged Tuesday with bribery, wire fraud, conspiracy to commit money laundering and securities fraud. If convicted, Uresti could face up to 20 years in prison on several of the charges.
Federal officials say Uresti is expected to be arraigned in a San Antonio court on Wednesday.
The indictments accuse Uresti of engaging in an investment Ponzi scheme to market hydraulic fracturing sand for oil production. He’s also charged with aiding a bribery scheme to secure a prison medical services contract.
Uresti’s office did not immediately comment. Uresti is one of 11 Democrats in the 31-member Texas Senate.
SCHOOL LUNCH SHAMING
The Texas Senate has revived a bill to keep schools from stigmatizing children while trying to collect lunch debts from parents.
Brownsville Democratic Sen. Eddie Lucio included prohibiting “lunch shaming” on a bill studying the cost of a universal school lunch program offered federally. His modified proposal passed Tuesday and now heads to the state House.
Some students who owe lunch debts are currently denied hot meals like pizza and given cheaper options, including cheese sandwiches. Rep. Helen Giddings, a Dallas Democrat, introduced a House measure banning that.
It went on an “uncontested” calendar for non-controversial legislation. But a few tea party-backed lawmakers blocked the entire uncontested calendar, protesting their own failed bills.
That made Giddings declare, “The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who harm our children.”
LIMITS ON SUING INSURERS
The Texas Senate has preliminarily approved a bill limiting liability for insurance companies sued by policyholders over storm damage, leaving the hot-button measure on the verge of heading to Gov. Greg Abbott.
Tuesday’s 21-8 state Senate vote followed contentious debate and passage in the House earlier this month.
The bill would cut penalties for insurers sued for offering too little money on storm claims, including wind and hail damage, while making it harder for those suing to collect attorneys’ fees.
The proposal is opposed by trial lawyers but backed by powerful conservatives who promoted past laws limiting jury awards in lawsuits against businesses.
Supporters say the number of hail and windstorm claim lawsuits increased 1,400 percent in recent years. Democrats counter that Texans will have less recourse when insurers underpay claims.
The House’s next floor session should begin Wednesday at 2:30 p.m. The Senate will gavel back in at 11 a.m.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“The indictment alleges that the defendants developed an investment Ponzi scheme to market hydraulic fracturing (fracking) sand for oil production,” from Tuesday’s U.S. attorney’s news release on the indictment on multiple felony counts of state Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio.