El Paso

City concerned about so-called 'sanctuary cities' law; looks to join coalition

City concerned about so-called...

EL PASO, Texas - Mayor Oscar Leeser and city council representatives Tuesday directed the city attorney to look for an effective coalition that would benefit the city in regards to Senate Bill 4.

The vote was unanimous. City Rep. Cortney Niland not present.

About a dozen people carried signs showing their opposition to the so-called "sanctuary cities" law at Tuesday's city council meeting.

The mayor and city representatives discussed the application of the new law behind closed doors with city attorney Sylvia Borunda-Firth in executive session.

"Council does not want to see what we are calling a 'federalization' of our local law enforcement," City Attorney Silvia Borunda Firth said, "There are concerns of people not feeling comfortable calling law enforcement when they need assistance because they are worried about being asked for their immigration status."

"We'll look at other cities that match El Paso and then join forces," El Paso Mayor Oscar Leeser said, "It's really important that instead of having a small voice, we have a large voice moving forward together and kind of share resources."

The new law allows Texas officers to inquire whether a person is in the country illegally, even if they are not under arrest.

In a letter sent to the House Committee on State Affairs back in March, Mayor Oscar Leeser wrote SB4 would put the responsibilities and duties of federal law enforcement on the backs of local law enforcement without training or guidance.

"The City of El Paso is already faced with a shortage of police officers, which has resulted in our men and women in uniform having to work extra hours and perform additional duties," Lesser said. "To put this additional requirement on the backs of our local law enforcement would be a problem for our force. Instead of being out on the streets patrolling and responding to incidents, officers would be forced to interpret federal immigration provisions that are extremely complex."

Police chiefs and sheriffs could be charged with a Class A misdemeanor- which carries possible jail time - if they fail to honor a jail detainer request from federal immigration agents. Not honoring a request would qualify as an official misconduct charge, which adds the threat of removal from office is a police chief or sheriff is convicted for not complying.

Republicans and Texas Governor Greg Abbott, who signed the bill into law, says it is needed to take criminals off the streets.

Cities and counties who try to stop SB4 from being enforced could be hit with a $25,000 fine per day and even removal from office.

Opponents of the law worry it will lead to widespread racial profiling.

"Every Latino can be targeted. That means that even if you are a US citizen, you might be approached and questioned about your legal status," said Fernando Garcia, Executive Director of the Border Network for Human Rights.

Mayor Leeser, along with police chiefs from the states' five largest cities, warned the bill will push immigrant families further into the shadows and deter them from coming forward to cooperate as witnesses or report crimes, including when they're the victim.

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