Saturday, February 26, 2011

Sanctuary cities may cost lives

Houston police officer Officer Rodney Johnson once saved several children who were trapped in a burning building. On September 21, 2006, Johnson’s five children were left fatherless after an illegal immigrant gunned down Johnson during a routine traffic stop. A twelve-year veteran of the Houston police force, Johnson’s life was one dedicated to service and to family.

The photo tribute below showcases the impact of Johnson’s death.

Johnson isn’t the only decorated Houston police officer whose life has been cut short or endangered by violent acts perpetrated by illegal immigrants. More recently, Officer Nash Patel was seriously injured  during a raid on an illegal immigrant drug dealer. Like Johnson, Patel had demonstrated extraordinary bravery during his long tenure with the Houston Police Department.

Some Texas politicians allege that Houston should be considered a sanctuary city because law enforcement officers are not allowed to ask suspects questions related to their immigration statuses. The result? Criminal suspects who immigrate illegally to the U.S and who should be subject to deportation often slip through law enforcement’s grasp and remain stateside, at great risk to the communities in which they live.

Pictured above: the scene of Officer Patel's shooting.

Johnson’s killer and Patel’s assailant both had prior run-ins with the law. Yet, both managed to re-enter and remain in the U.S. undetected. Houston Police Chief Harold Hurtt described the illegal immigrant who killed Johnson by saying, “The subject was deported, and yet he came back, so if the government fulfilled their responsibility of protecting the border we would probably not be standing here today.”

Certainly, police officers take necessary risks every day in the course of their work. Likewise, not all illegal immigrants commit acts of violence. However, these stories illustrate the price that cities sometimes pay when they become lax in enforcing federal immigration laws. These are also the stories that Texas advocates for stricter laws against illegal immigration, including sanctuary cities, use to garner support for their legislation.

The proposals currently before the legislature typically fall into two categories:

  •       Amending current laws to ensure cities cannot have policies that prevent officials from upholding either state or federal drug laws
  •       Passing new laws under which cities cannot explicitly oppose state or federal immigration laws.

Senate Bill 11 and correlating House Bill 12 are two of the most prominent anti-sanctuary cities being considered this session. SB 11 is before the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee, and HB 12 has moved to the State Affairs committee. A public hearing for HB 12 is scheduled for March 22.

It is still too early to predict the chance that these bills will pass in this session. One thing we do know is that legislators will likely find themselves caught in the crossfire between Hispanic constituencies who oppose such measures and mounting public support for tougher immigration laws among other constituencies.

- By Kimberly Dena

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