Arrogance of power at Texas Capitol must be stopped

Photo by Bob Daemmrich for The Texas Tribune

As the Texas Legislature finishes the anti-sanctuary cities bill, Senate Bill 4, one question keeps going through my mind: When did it become so easy for the Republican-controlled leadership to ride roughshod over people like me and those who represent the interests of the Latino and immigrant communities?

As state director of the nonpartisan Mi Familia Vota, which works to increase civic participation, I have watched the growth of arrogance and discrimination against us by the controlling party. I do not write this lightly, as courts have recently reaffirmed that the Legislature acted with discriminatory intent when it passed a 2013 voter ID law to suppress minority voter turnout, and created at the start of the decade congressional and state House districts that diluted the voting strength of minority residents.

Is there no longer any shame in the state Legislature being called racist? Has the venom against minorities and immigrants become so commonplace that we no longer care if our political system is poisoned?

SB 4 is a “show-me-your-papers” measure which would allow law enforcement officers to ask for a person’s legal status during any stop, including traffic stops. The bill also would punish local police chiefs, sheriffs and other law enforcement officers who refuse to take on the work of federal immigration agents, proposing a $1,000 fine or prison for up to one year for the first offense.

Equally distressing is how SB 4 backers lacked common decency during the House debate on the measure. They ignored expert testimony of police chiefs and sheriffs from major jurisdictions that the bill would diminish community safety for all residents by taking resources away from fighting crimes. They also rejected amendments to shield people from police harassment at places such as shelters for the homeless and domestic violence victims, pre-kindergarten schools and public school events like football games. Tired of voting “no” to amendments that appealed to compassion, House leaders changed the rules of the debate and canceled votes on more than 80 pending amendments.

The debate was deeply saddening, including for students in our Emerging Latino Leaders Youth program who marched, rallied, called, wrote letters, met with legislators and testified against SB 4, sharing devastating stories of loss, the impact of family separation and fear.

Before moving to Texas several years ago, I worked in Arizona, where in 2010, that state’s Legislature passed SB 1070, a harsh anti-immigrant bill that spurred an economic boycott, seriously harming the state’s economy.

A year later, Texas tried to copy the Arizona law but was stopped when the late Houston homebuilder Bob Perry and San Antonio grocery store magnate Charles Butt called the bill bad for Texas and said lawmakers should respect the views of local policing authorities whose community safety policies would be impacted.

In the years since, the Texas Legislature hardened its position against communities of color. Recently, a federal court ruled again that the state’s voter ID bill of 2011, Senate Bill 14, was intentionally discriminatory and violated the 1965 U.S. Voting Rights Act (VRA). Last month, a separate federal judicial panel ruled the 2011 redistricting map also was intentionally drawn to discriminate against minority voters, violating the VRA and the U.S. Constitution. Every 10-year redistricting cycle since 1970 has been ruled against by a federal court, including the U.S. Supreme Court, for violating the VRA or the Constitution.

SB 4 is likely headed to court, at a great cost to taxpayers. Texas lawmakers also can expect some economic backlash, as other states experienced after enacting discriminatory laws. Community safety also is at risk when police are forced to become immigration agents, as Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo has warned. In his city, the number of crimes reported by Hispanics decreased within the first three months of 2017, which Acevedo partly attributed to increased fears of deportation. Additionally, more children are missing school, and families are not keeping health care appointments or going to church, where food donations are distributed.

Our community will rise up again. I will not sit idly by while our state is destroyed by xenophobic politics. I encourage everyone to get involved and fight for justice and an end to the arrogance of power at the state Capitol.

Disclosure: Charles Butt has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, as was the late Bob Perry. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

Carlos Duarte

State director, Mi Familia Vota