The debate over “sanctuary cities” in Texas is heating up ahead of a highly anticipated showdown on Thursday in Austin at the capital.
Opposing side will meet for a public hearing on one of the first bills filed this session aimed at ending sanctuary cities.
Some who represent undocumented workers plan to testify the legislation could drive people further into the shadows while victims of crime will insist something has to change.
Welton Bailey's son, Welton Betts, was cut down in the prime of his life. He was 44 years old, married to his high school sweetheart with two grown children and was working in a management position in his company.
“He was the kind of person who didn’t want to depend on nobody else,” Bailey said. “He wants to do everything himself.”
It all ended when Betts stopped for gas in Cedar Hill last September. A man pulled in, shot Betts, pushed Betts' wife out of their car and stole it. Police say the gunman picked his victim at random.
“I hope nobody has to feel what I feel now,” said Bailey. “I feel like a wasted pieced of humanity with my son dying and me not being able to do nothing about it.”
Bailey's despair is matched only by anger. Much of it is directed at the government, which bailey feels could have prevented his son's murder.
The gunman was identified by police as Silvestre Franco-Luviano, an undocumented immigrant with a rap sheet who was deported three times.
“What right did he have to be here? He had no right to be here,” Bailey said. “The third time? Why is he here?"
Franco-Luviano is the type of person who slips through the cracks, according to State Senator Charles Perry of Lubbock. He introduced Senate Bill 4, the so-called sanctuary cities bill.
The bill would require all law enforcement in Texas to do what some already do: confirm the legal status of anyone arrested if they don't have proof within 48 hours. It would also free up officers to ask a person about his or her immigration status.
“They pull you over on a traffic stop, and there is no digital footprint in any database that they search. And there is someone in the front seat or someone in the backseat that seems to be out of place or whatever the facts determine the situation at the time. That officer has the freedom to ask the questions are relevant to keep something bad from happening moving forward,” Perry said. “It would probably send a pretty clear message that we're serious about our immigration status and our immigration law.”
But critics of the idea worry the legislation could allow for racial profiling. Pastor Lynn Godsey of Ennis plans to speak out against S.B. 4 in Austin.
“The rapists, the murders, drug traffickers, we pastors say, that's fine. Get them,” Godsey said. “But not at the cost of separating our families.”
He says congregations like his, that are mostly Hispanic, would live in fear.
“That their mom and daddy, when they kiss them to go to school, they won't be back,” the pastor said. “That's wrong. That's persecution. If they pass these types of laws, may God have mercy on them.
Mercy is what Laura, who asked us not to use her last name, is requesting of lawmakers.
“It's difficult to live in fear, to think that at any moment a police officer could stop you and tell you that you can't identify yourself. You don’t have papers,” she said.
Laura and her husband, who works in construction, are undocumented. Their three children are American citizens. She says her family crossed the border from Mexico illegally to look for opportunities to work.
It was a risk, Laura says, they took hoping their children can get an education and have the life Laura couldn't have for herself.
“I've learned to love this nation and this country like my own even though people can say that it doesn’t belong to me,” Laura said. “But I've learned to love and to respect it more than anything.”
But Laura's fears have little bearing on the feelings of another father, whose son was murdered two years ago. Dan Golvach spoke to us from his home in Houston. He's become an outspoken critic of sanctuary cities.
“I’ve said before that the real killers of my son are the government, and I mean it,” he said.
In 2015, Golvach told state lawmakers that his son, Spencer, was killed at random by an undocumented criminal who had been deported previously. The bill failed last session, and Golvach blames business interests. But he says his cause is now getting a boost from the governor and the president.
“I think there's zero chance it's going to happen in Texas,” Golvach said. “I do think it’s going to happen, and it's because we have a friend in the White House.”
The issue has become a political flashpoint. Lawmakers at the federal and state level are considering a policy that is deeply personal.
S.B. 4 does not allow a local officer to arrest someone solely for an immigration violation unless the officer is working with an immigration agent. There are multiple bills addressing sanctuary cities.
The first public hearing is Thursday at the capital at 8:30 a.m. Lawmakers will hear testimony from victim's groups and others who say it could hurt cooperation between police and witnesses or victims of crime who would fear deportation.