Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Latest Stupid Texas Law

The 82nd Legislative Session keeps rolling on in Austin. And by rolling on I mean "cementing the state's reputation as the land of the right-wing nutjobs and the home of haters." As usual, the targets of our Republican-controlled legislature's bully stick are illegal immigrants immigrants foreigners Hispanics.

On the other hand, that Chong fella sounds like he might be a Chinaman.
Bust 'em both, just to be safe.
The Texas Senate just OK'd S.B. 9, which started out as an omnibus bill to establish and modify a number of law-enforcement issues. Among its original provisions were additional court costs for people convicted of drug charges, penalties for knowingly financing gang activity, and approval for a pilot program to put automatic license plate readers in police cars. All pretty ho-hum stuff, except maybe that last one, which sounds to me like a way for cops to troll for arrestable offenses without even looking up from their donuts. But not much to get excited about.

But through the magic of committee politics, the bill that emerged from the Senate chambers concerns itself with a procedure that got just a mention in its introductory version. In a nutshell, S.B. 9 would, if enacted, "allow" police officers to verify the immigration status of every person they arrest. It would also prohibit municipalties from declaring themselves "sanctuary cities" by passing local ordinances that override state laws about verifying immigration status. And for good measure, it would require the Department of Public Safety to rat out anyone who is denied a driver's license (because, for example, they can't prove they're in the country legally).

The issue of sanctuary cities is a hot button for conservatives right now. Certain cities (typically with large immigrant populations, left-leaning constituencies, or both) maintain a "don't ask don't tell" attitude toward enforcing federal immigration laws. Sort of like Congress maintaining huge tax breaks for oil companies, but on a scale that doesn't involve billionaires getting even richer on our dime. Conservatives call it "harboring illegal immigrants," liberals call it "respecting local autonomy." From where I stand in the squishy middle, it looks much like its counterpart in the military: a band-aid on a tumor.

Or to put it another way...
Of course, in Texas the opinions of liberals and moderates routinely are used as bathroom tissue by Governor Rick Perry and his right-wing puppet government. (Note to self: That sounds a bit partisan. Edit that part prior to publication. Self: Got it.) So Texas Republicans have made it one of their tent-pole agenda items to eradicate the suggestion of sanctuary from their state.

Lest we forget, their other tent-pole agenda items during this legislative session have included controlling what women do with their bodies and putting guns in our schools and churches. Then of course there's their as-yet-unacted-upon desire to secede from the United States and Gov. Perry's recent Christian Protestant inclusive and non-sectarian religious fervor.

"Are you there God? It's me, Dick."
But back to S.B. 9. It states that "a local law enforcement agency that has custody of a person who has been arrested and transported to a place of detention shall verify the immigration status of the person." That's why I stuck the word "allow" in quotation marks up in the third paragraph. The bill's author, Sen. Tommy Williams (R-The Woodlands), swears that his proposed law doesn't require police officers to question people about their immigration status and asks, "Why would we not want to give them that discretion (to question detainees)?"

Funny, but the version of the bill that I read (linked above and directly from the State of Texas website) doesn't include the words "discretion" or "option" or "if the spirit so moves them." It does include the phrase "shall verify...immigration status."

To be fair, I'm willing to swap concessions. For purposes of this discussion, I'll allow "shall verify" to incorporate the concept of discretion. In exchange, I'd like just one Republican legislator to react appropriately to the part of the bill that states police officers "may not consider race, color, language, or national origin" when enforcing the proposed law. The appropriate reaction being squirting milk (or whiskey) out his nose, followed by an exaggerated wink.

We would also accept a spit take.
This is one of those laws that are offensive enough in concept - the whole idea of "showing your papers" reflects the kind of arrogance and paranoia for which Americans typically ridicule Communist countries and Moroccan cities in Humphrey Bogart movies - but attain a whole other level of repugnancy in practice. Because in order to uphold the spirit of the law (the "let's get rid of immigrants...what? Oh yeah, illegal immigrants, sure, right, whatever" thing), probable cause and due process inevitably will be suppressed, if not jettisoned outright, when it's enforced.

Let's say a cop pulls over a blonde chick in a minivan because her taillight is out. Unless she's got a lit bong in the front seat, she's not going to be arrested, and the officer is not going to request verification of her God-given Americanitude.

This would, however, be considered a valid response.
But if someone has dark skin, and his left tire touches the double white line when he's exiting the freeway, he's going to be pulled over for a friendly warning. And if he responds to the officer's questions with a discernable accent, it seems likely that the officer may notice something - just out of the corner of his eye - "suspicious" about the guy's vehicle and institute a search. At which point he may find nothing of concern and send the subject on his way with a ticket (because you can't have scofflaws touching the double white line when they exit the freeway - that way lies anarchy). Or he may find an empty beer can, a broken windshield wiper, a decal of the Virgin Mary that allegedly obscures the view out the back window...something that escalates the situation to an "offense." Especially if the officer can scare the subject into protesting or arguing with him.

I'm not saying that all, or even most, police officers in Texas would resort to these tactics (or do so right now, even without a law on the books). I don't intend to impugn police officers at all, the majority of whom should be respected, admired, and praised for the job they do. I'm saying that the Texas Legislature has crafted a bill whose stated intention is to be tougher on immigrants than the federal government is willing to be, and the way to be tough on immigrants is to subject them to verification of their legal status as per S.B. 9. And if the only way to legally verify that status is to place them under arrest, then logically there's going to be an implicit push to arrest more "likely" immigrants.

In fact, the only "discretion" I see in Sen. Williams' bill is the understood leeway officers will have to selectively enforce it. And that means, if you look as if your ancestors stepped off the Mayflower, or at least passed through Ellis Island, you get a pass. But if your skin, voice, or demeanor indicates you originate from a country with which America shares a border and has had a historical illegal immigration problem, you will be presumed, not guilty necessarily, but sufficiently suspicious to be stopped and checked.

Also, you might want to avoid shopping here.
And S.B. 9 further states that any city that gets all uppity and passes its own law to supersede the state law will have its allowance taken away for a year. It's true. The State of Texas will withhold funding from any municipality that enacts a law that attempts to overrule the provisions of S.B. 9. So much for sanctuary.

(Texas Republicans love to play the "I'll take away your toys if you disagree with me" card; they already used it in this legislative session to try to squash Planned Parenthood in the state.)

Sure, I'll give you the money...put your integrity and morals right here.
What the hell, I'll take your balls, too.
Now, I probably shouldn't accuse the Texas Legislature of exclusively targeting Hispanics with this bill. It's entirely possible that its passage will lead to a surge in arrests for DWM, as well. You know, Driving While Muslim. If we can deport a few terrorists along with the construction workers and landscapers, so much the better.

By the way, some of you are thinking that I'm all lefty and soft on illegals and secretly own a pair of maracas. You know who you are.

You're right. I do own maracas. Mea culpa.
For the record, I don't support amnesty for illegal aliens. I do believe they are breaking the laws of our country. I do think there should be fair and appropriate consequences for those who are discovered to be in the United States without authorization, up to and including deportation.

But I don't think laws like S.B. 9 are fair or appropriate. And I don't think we should have our police officers targeting minorities while powerful business lobbies bribe the government to ignore unlawful hiring practices that encourage illegal immigration. I don't think we should reward companies with tax breaks when they outsource high-paying jobs to other countries, then criticize American workers for "forcing" them to hire illegals because they don't want to do manual labor for minimum wages. I don't think we should enforce Puritanical drug laws that create the kind of squalor and instability in other countries that millions want to escape from.

And I don't think the elected officials of a state should be hypocrites, crafting legislation that suits their interpretation of existing laws while denying local officials the same privilege under pain of defunding. Texas hasn't seceded yet, Gov. Perry. But if it ever does, remember that its cities and counties will be like states, and they may treat your federal government with the same respect and loyalty you and your allies are showing to the laws of the United States.

I wouldn't count on being President-for-Life just yet, jefe.

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