Houston debates illegal alien sanctuary policy
City council heard public comments on Houston's unofficially official sanctuary policy for illegal immigrants and Councilmember Mark Ellis' proposal to end the policy:
Houston residents asked a divided City Council Tuesday to end an official city policy that forbids local police from rounding up undocumented immigrants for being in the country illegally.
Slightly more than a dozen people appeared before the council in support of Councilman Mark Ellis' proposal to overturn the policy, which prevents officers from asking about someone's citizenship status or detaining someone for being in the country illegally.
Houston is not officially a so-called "sanctuary city," since the policy is not codified in a city ordinance. Ellis' proposal would rescind the general order that governs the policy and replace it with a city ordinance that would require officers to enforce federal immigration laws.
"Houston has never passed a resolution at City Hall designating the city as a sanctuary city," Ellis acknowledged. "But (the general order) creates the appearance of a sanctuary city."
Maria Jimenez, a veteran immigrant-rights activist in Houston, told the council the "hands-off" order, which was issued in 1992 by then-Police Chief Sam Nuchia, was necessary because it was a public safety issue.
If people in immigrant communities feared that local police would turn them in for being illegal, she said, they wouldn't call police when they needed them.
"If we rescind this order, we are undermining public safety," Jimenez said.
No, we are not undermining public safety by enforcing the law. If anything, we would be enhancing public safety.
Actually, sanctuary policies are the invention of illegal immigrant apologists:
Cities began adopting sanctuary laws in the 1980s, supposedly to foster trust between illegal immigrants and police. Proponents argued that crimes would not be reported, witnesses to crime would not come forth and immigrants wouldn't cooperate with police if they feared deportation. Yet the policies adopted reflect the power of immigration advocacy groups more than concerns about crime prevention. Politicians in large cities with significant immigrant populations simply surrendered to the demands of immigrant rights groups that sought to minimize—if not extinguish—the distinction between legal immigrants and illegal aliens. Nor is it only immigrants' rights groups that promote sanctuary cities. Business interests want a steady source of cheap, compliant and exploitable labor; the minions of the welfare state want to magnify their power by extending the largess of the administrative state to those who will, in all likelihood, take their place in the so-called "underclass."
The resulting policies not only tolerate crime—after all, illegal immigrants are lawbreakers—but actively abet and protect criminal activity by handcuffing the powers of the police.
Not only that, but poll after poll show that Americans support immigration law being enforced, including local law enforcement agencies reporting illegals to immigration officials. It is an issue that is coming to a head and Houston officials had better face up to it. It's about respecting the law, enforcing the law, and respecting our citizenship.
RELATED: Illegal Alien Sanctuary (Front Page Magazine)
UPDATE: Here's a Bloomberg story to add to the conversation. It has a bit more bite to it than the Chronicle's story:
Houston Mayor Bill White is facing increasing pressure locally and from the federal government to toughen a policy that has helped make the fourth-largest U.S. city a haven for illegal immigrants.
City Councilman Mark Ellis is trying to force a vote on a plan directing police to enforce immigration law and requiring proof of citizenship for people receiving social services. The local effort coincides with a push by President George W. Bush and bills in Congress to crack down on illegal immigration.
``The federal government, they're not going to be able to get their arms around this issue alone,'' Ellis said in a telephone interview. ``They're going to have to have assistance from the local government and state government.''
Houston police have refrained since 1992 from inquiring about the immigration status of people associated with minor crimes and investigations. The policy, General Order 500-5, is similar to one known as Special Order 40 in Los Angeles. It's designed to free up local resources and help build ties with immigrant communities.
To force a vote on his proposal, Ellis needs signatures of at least eight of the City Council's 15 members. The Republican has six so far, and said he may seek to win over Democrats if he can't get support from two fellow conservatives on the council who have yet to sign.
Mayor White and Police Chief Harold Hurtt have defended the current policy. Immigration is a federal responsibility and local police are busy fighting more serious crimes, said a spokesman for White, Frank Michel.
The city's police force has shrunk to 4,600 officers from 5,200 since mid-2003. Many officers retired early to avoid having benefits reduced by a plan that the city enacted to shore up its police pension.