FORT WORTH — In a legislative session expected to be dominated by the budget and redistricting, Republican Gov. Rick Perry has pushed the issue of sanctuary cities -- where law enforcement officials don't ask about immigration status during routine calls -- to the front of the line.
By making it an emergency issue, the Republican-dominated Legislature can start considering this issue in the first month of the session, pushing it ahead of most other issues and drawing the ire of many Democrats who say it is about partisan politics.
"There is no such thing as a sanctuary city in Texas," said Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth. "There is no crisis. It's a made-up issue pandering to the radical right of small-minded bigots. ... It will be a true slap in the face to every law-abiding Latino in this state."
Perry said the issue is real and needs to be addressed. Last year, during his gubernatorial race against former Houston Mayor Bill White, he said he would make eliminating sanctuary cities an emergency issue this session.
He hasn't said what he'd like a bill to include and he hasn't said how many cities, or which ones, are sanctuary cities.
"There are cities in this state that have made decisions that they're going to be havens for those that are in conflict with federal immigration laws or state laws and we're going to prohibit that," Perry said recently. "We'll have a good and open discussion about what we're going to prohibit."
Several immigration-related bills, ranging from creating an Arizona-style immigration policy here to making English the official language of Texas, have already been filed. Members of Congress are talking about some type of immigration reform, although political observers say any Democratic initiatives, such as seeking a path to citizenship for some, won't go far.
The so-called sanctuary movement has been around for decades, and though there's not an exact definition, the term can refer to communities whose policies prevent their authorities from helping enforce federal immigration rules.
Last year, Perry specifically targeted Houston, White's hometown. Officials there have said Houston does not have a formal sanctuary policy, but a longtime policy does prevent authorities from asking suspects about their immigration status.
Asked about Houston recently, Perry told the media that the city has some "policies in place that are inappropriate."
Perry hasn't said whether he wants police officers to ask people they detain during traffic stops about their immigration status. "I don't know yet," he said. "We'll write the legislation over the next 140 days."
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