Immigration Status Questions Abound

Houston's diverse population and large immigrant community could put the city at the forefront of the debate over so-called sanctuary cities. Governor Rick Perry told lawmakers he wants to create legislation to abolish sanctuary cities. And that has immigrant service groups concerned. Laurie Johnson reports.

Governor Perry didn't lay out any specific details for his plan to abolish sanctuary cities. But there's speculation that he intends to green-light Arizona-style legislation that would authorize police to question detainees about their immigration status.

Bianca Santorini is staff attorney with Houston's America for All — an immigrant advocacy group. She says such legislation overburdens the police, whose primary job is to deal with public safety issues.

"I think it's also important to note that when an individual does go to custody through the police department or anything of that nature, they are all reviewed by immigration officials at that time and they are either flagged or not flagged as an immigration case. So it kind of doubles the work of something that's already being performed and it places the burden on the inappropriate agency to handle the situation."

Right now Houston police officers follow the procedure set by the Texas Department of Public Safety — legal status isn't checked unless an arrest is made.

Santorini questions whether new legislation would unfairly target Hispanics and lead to racial or ethnic profiling.

"It creates a vulnerability within a community that already many times operates underground because they feel underrepresented. I think it also creates a lot of concern for people who may be here legally, especially under the program TPS, or Temporary Protected Status. They may have some concerns as well as far as what rights do they have, what rights do they not have and where do they fit in."

Perry's decision to give the sanctuary city issue emergency status means lawmakers can take up proposed legislation within the first 60 days of the session.

But it's unclear how much traction such legislation will get with lawmakers spending most of their time and energy trying to balance a nearly $30 billion shortfall.

Bio photo of Laurie Johnson

Laurie Johnson

Local Host, All Things Considered

Laurie Johnson is the Houston host for All Things Considered at KUHF NPR for Houston. Before taking the anchor chair, she worked as a general assignments reporter at KUHF, starting there as an intern in 2002...