A new flashpoint in the battle between so-called sanctuary cities and the federal government. This week, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf gave illegal immigrants a heads up about a surprise operation by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. A top ICE official says, as a result, about 800 illegal immigrants who have committed new crimes in the U.S. avoided arrest. Just how to handle populations of illegal immigrants has become a local debate. Texas recently passed a statewide anti-sanctuary city law: SB4. While recently visiting Laredo to go on patrol with border agents, we dug into the city's unusual position on SB4.
Laredo, Texas is a border town and a bustling commercial center that’s 95 percent Hispanic. But Laredo Mayor Pete Saenz says there’s one thing it’s not.
Sharyl: Laredo is not a sanctuary city?
Pete Saenz: Laredo is not a sanctuary city.
Sharyl: And you don't think it should be?
Pete Saenz: Correct. That's, that's been my stance.
Not only that, Laredo also has a reputation for being tough on illegal immigration. Joe Baeza is the police department’s public information officer.
Joe Baeza: We don't know anything different. There is no turning a blind eye. We don't. We are staunchly not a sanctuary city. We've been very clear to the citizenship and the non-citizenship for that matter about the fact that we are, We don't get to choose what mandates or laws that we get to enforce. That's not our role.
So you might be surprised to learn that the city of Laredo officially opposes Senate Bill four or SB4 the new Texas state law banning sanctuary cities.
Pete Saenz: Laredo's position basically was to file an amicus brief, basically a statement saying, we don't like that SB4, simply because it's got all these dangers, and we've outlined basically the dangers. Racial profiling is one of them.
Sharyl: So Laredo is not a sanctuary city, but it opposes aspects of this anti-sanctuary city law?
Pete Saenz: Correct, aspects of it, right.
Greg Abbott: Texans expect us to keep them safe. And that is exactly what we are going to do.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed anti-sanctuary city bill into law last May. It allows police to ask a suspect whether he’s in the US legally, and requires police to cooperate with federal immigration officials. That means keeping illegal immigrants who should be deported in custody until the feds can pick them up.
Sanctuary cities like San Francisco refuse to do that. That’s where Kate Steinle was shot and killed in 2015 by an illegal immigrant who had seven felony convictions and five deportations on record. He claimed he shot Steinle by accident and a jury found him not guilty of murder in November.
Tens of thousands of illegal immigrants prove to be repeat criminal offenders in the US every year. In 2013 and 2014 alone, Immigration and Customs Enforcement released more than 66,000 illegal immigrant criminals who already had more than 166,000 convictions. 400 kidnappings. 11,000 rapes or other assaults and nearly 400 homicides. More than 2,000 of those criminals quickly committed new crimes in the US-- robbery, aggravated assault, lewd acts with a child, and terroristic threats.
President Trump: Block funding for sanctuary cities. We block the funding. No more funding.
In January of 2017, the President signed an executive order to withhold federal taxpayer funds from sanctuary cities. A federal judge in California blocked the move calling it “unconstitutionally broad.” Parts of the Texas anti-sanctuary law are also on hold amid a court challenge by the border town El Cenizo, Maverick County, and five of Texas’s biggest cities. Laredo Police Chief Claudio Treveno.
Chief Treveno: Some agencies are already reporting that there's less cooperation with the police or less willingness to call the police for services or, or as victims of crime and I would like to emphasize the fact that these victims of crime or witnesses of crime will not be targeted in any way.
Joe Baeza: Kids get sick, kids fall, kids, you know, bump their heads and our biggest, my biggest personal fear, my own personal opinion is, is that I would hate to hear that somebody would have to sit there and make a hard decision, maybe even the wrong decision, about calling for an ambulance or assistance from first responders because they fear being deported.
Sharyl: Laredo officials insist they already had a winning formula: good cooperation with federal officials prior to SB4.
Joe Baeza: And, and the highly likeliness is, is that if you are, you know, if you wind up finding out that you are here illegally, we'll detain you and we'll turn you over to INS.
Chief Trevino: If there is ever a doubt that this person is committing crime is potentially targeting and ready to commit a crime, then we involve border patrol to identify, this individual. It takes us out of our routine or out of our job maybe a few minutes, 15, 30 minutes maybe depending on the time it takes for border patrol to, to respond and then they take on the responsibility of identifying further, determining if he is here illegally or not and then they make the detention if, if necessary.
Sharyl: No matter what the courts ultimately decide about SB4, Laredo officials say they will follow the law.
Joe Baeza: We may not like it, we may not agree with it, but we're going to enforce whatever is on the books.
Legal challenges to Texas' anti-sanctuary city law have now reached a U.S. Court of Appeals.