“Sanctuary” law will make Texans less secure, less safe

Photo by Otis Blank

Earlier this year, I sat in the Texas Capitol listening to a daughter of immigrant parents testify against Senate Bill 4, the state’s new anti-sanctuary law. She expressed her deep fear and sadness at legislators’ intent to tear her family apart. Not two weeks later, I became a parent myself. The thought of being permanently separated from my daughter is a nightmare I cannot imagine.

I’ve spent my adult life working to make my hometown of Houston more welcoming to individuals and families of all backgrounds. My own life is emblematic of the city’s diversity: My father is a Greek immigrant who came to Houston for college, where he met my fourth-generation Texan mother. After graduating from Rice, I started a nonprofit for refugee youth, and now I lead programs that provide legal assistance and business training to immigrants and entrepreneurs, regardless of their background. My wife Christina and I speak Greek and Spanish to our daughter, Mina, to help introduce her to the wealth of diversity our community has to offer.

Gov. Greg Abbott recently signed SB 4 into law. Its stated purpose is to make communities safer, but in practice, it targets and terrorizes immigrants who simply seek better opportunities for themselves and their families.

The new law will allow local law enforcement and other government officials to inquire about a person’s immigration status during unrelated interactions. We already have good laws on the books that are tough on undocumented immigrants who commit serious crimes. This law turns every interaction with a government official into a potential cause for deportation. Pulled over by the police on an unfounded suspicion? Need to pay your water bill? These and other scenarios could lead to deportation.

I was proud to submit testimony against SB 4 at the Texas Capitol, where I highlighted three of its many flaws. First, it compromises safety and security by diverting law enforcement resources from fighting crime to doing the work of federal immigration officials. It also makes immigrants less likely to trust law enforcement officials or report crimes. Houston Police Department Chief Art Acevedo and Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez have expressed concerns about how such measures hurt our communities.

Second, it will separate Texas families. Deporting parents of U.S. citizens will leave families in limbo and painfully disrupt the lives of kids across the state.

Finally, this law ignores immigrants’ contributions to our region’s economic growth. In 2014, immigrant-owned businesses generated $7.9 billion in business income in Texas, and immigrants paid nearly $9 billion in taxes, with spending power of nearly $90 billion. This law will shrink our economy, hurting all of us.

I’m proud to be a Houstonian. Instead of complaining, Houstonians roll up our sleeves and create solutions, setting an example for other localities nationwide. Last summer, Mayor Sylvester Turner asked me to help lead the Welcoming Houston Task Force, which created a community plan to make our city more welcoming to immigrants and others.

Now I’m urging local law enforcement officials and concerned citizens across our great state to fight SB 4 and other measures meant to divide us. In Houston and across Texas, we are at our best when we embrace our diversity and welcome those who are eager to contribute to the cultural and economic fabric of our community.

Alex Triantaphyllis

Director of Immigration and Economic Opportunity, BakerRipley