Texas sanctuary city ban debases our politics | Ana Hernandez

Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas
Republican Gov. Greg Abbott's law targets Texas' status as a sanctuary city REUTERS/Mike Stone

With the recent signing into law of Texas' Senate Bill 4, the state's police crackdown on undocumented immigrants, it seems almost a lifetime ago that national and state policymakers attempted to address immigration in a practical, constructive way.

In 1987, President Ronald Reagan utilized his executive powers to allow the children of certain immigrants to remain with their guardians and keep families together. President George H.W. Bush took those measures a step further in his term in the Oval Office, leveraging the powers of the presidency to prevent the deportation of some spouses and children of immigrants.

In both cases, neither Republican president faced any serious revolt from their party rank-and-file — and why would they have expected to? Who could support, with a straight face, the preservation of a bloated, ineffective bureaucracy that consistently failed to meet demand and help the country's economy grow? That type of leadership certainly wouldn't survive in the private sector. Reagan's Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 and subsequent executive action paved the way for hard-working immigrant families, like mine, to formally participate in our workforce, pay taxes, help reduce state and federal deficits and contribute to our country's explosive economic growth in the 1990s.

Texas, too, has been no stranger to forward-thinking immigration measures. In fact, it wasn't too long ago that our state led the way in real solution-driven approaches to compassionately support children without status and with a mind toward our future prosperity.

The Texas legislature overwhelmingly passed HB 1403 in 2001. It recognized that undocumented families pay into the state's budget and that our public school system has invested heavily in their children. The state was the first in the nation to grant in-state college tuition rates to its young adults without status. Then-Governor Rick Perry signed into law the Texas Dream Act that has stood as a model for other states to emulate while, years later, Arizona damaged its own economy with discriminatory legislation like SB 1070.

Again, like the national efforts of the late eighties and early nineties, common sense ruled. Why wouldn't you give families something they've already paid for, especially when it helps the state's businesses grow?

The political courage and statesmanship of past decades no longer exists. The new SB4 law does nothing to improve safety. If anything, it creates a second class of individuals who will be more susceptible to crimes for fear that reporting an incident to the police could lead to a loved one's removal. As signed by the governor, SB 4 would not only permit law enforcement officers to ask an individual's immigration status at any detainment, including traffic stops, but also makes mandatory, under state law, compliance with ICE detainer requests which are permissive under federal measures. The bill, not content with pre-emptive local pro-immigrant ordinances, also applies to college campuses and campus police.

The costs of this legislation can't be measured solely by the size and scope of the unfunded law enforcement mandate. The law also fractures the relationship between local police and the communities they serve. In Houston alone, incidents of rape reported by Latino victims has fallen by over forty-two percent from last year. Campuses, intended as a place of learning, now have white supremacist groups calling for the harassment and deportation of young Texans studying toward a degree. Far from providing safety, SB 4 only encourages and rewards this illegal activity.

Ultimately, this law is likely to be defeated in expensive litigation at taxpayers' expense. Federal efforts by the Trump administration to deny funding to so-called "sanctuary cities" has been blocked by a federal district court. Arizona's SB 1070, the "show me your papers" model legislation that SB 4 is largely based upon, has seen successive defeats in court and a hefty price tag in attorneys fees billed to the defence by the state government.

As SB 4 moved toward final passage on April 26th, I asked colleagues in the Texas House of Representatives to consider our legacy. Will we follow the same path as California in 1994 with its passing of Proposition 187? Or would we follow California's example in 2017, and send a message that our state is a safe harbor for all families? I cannot help but notice our leadership has set us on the path towards social disintegration.