The tiny town of Palmhurst, Texas has under 3 thousand residents, but is similar to many border cities, it is made of a predominantly Hispanic community and Hispanic police force, “and we’re here for the citizens” said Police Chief Michael Vela. Chief Vela has been with the department for more than a decade and has seen significant growth in the citrus farming city and in his department with additional officers and new headquarters.
Another change to state policing is looming, come September 1st, the sanctuary city law take effect, giving police the authority to ask for immigration documentation under lawful detention. Currently law allows police to ask once a person has been charged. Because of an amendment in the law, critics have dubbed it the “show me your papers” law. Hispanic lawmakers argue the language opens the door for racial profiling and violates civil liberties. Chief Vela argued his department will not be actively seeking illegal immigrants, “if you’re a criminal and you get caught that’s a totally different story.” Said Chief Vela.
Late May, Chief Vela was recognized by Texas Governor Greg Abbott following an op-ed in the San Antonio Express News. Governor Abbott Applauded Chief Vela’s support to enforce the law, along with 22 other Law Enforcement agencies along the Texas-Mexico border, “it’s not too where we are going to enforce it, you know? We are not there to create fear for the community. We are here for the community regardless of status.” Said Chief Vela.
Chief Vela’s Department falls under Democratic Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa’s District and doesn’t believe law enforcement can uphold the law without prejudice. While on the Senate Floor in May, Sen. Hinojosa sited Arizona’s efforts to enforce a similar law but was found discriminatory, “There was a sheriff who was lawless. Went beyond what the law required. We have and could have potential problems here in Texas, as some of the sheriffs who may go beyond the authority that they think they have to enforce immigration laws.”
Senator Hinojosa strong opposed the proposed law and shared his personal story of how as a U.S. citizen he was deported along with his mother when he just 5 years old, “I remember they took us over the bridge and walked us across…after a year in Mexico, my mother became a U.S. citizen and a legal resident.”
Hinojosa testified an officer’s discretion to ask, could lead to oppression, however, Chief Vela disagrees, “The officer has a discretion and I’ll give you an example they have a discretion to give a citation or a warning they are not forced.”
If Senator Hinojosa’s foreshadowing of departments abuse of the law, then similar to Arizona’s law it could be lead to massive legal battles and court settlements. March 8th, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner announced his city council will consider and vote to join lawsuits filed by Austin, San Antonio, El Cenizo and Maverick County and El Paso County, to determine the constitutionality of the law. Dallas has also announced their efforts to challenge the law.