Immigration advocates to Perry: What sanctuary cities?

Liz Goodwin

Gov. Rick Perry has left some perplexed in Texas this week after he issued a vague directive to the new legislature that "sanctuary cities" need to be eliminated in the state.

Perry wouldn't say, though, which cities he considered to be in violation of federal immigration law.

The term typically refers to a city that provides safe haven to undocumented immigrants, directing local employees and police not to alert federal immigration agents about their presence. San Francisco, California, for instance, has a sanctuary-city ordinance on its books. The practice became popular during the El Salvador civil war in the 1980s, when thousands of Central American immigrants fled to the United States.

But Texas immigration advocates say sanctuary cities don't actually exist in their state.

"There are no sanctuary cities in Texas," Jim Harrington, director of the Texas Civil Rights Project, told The Lookout. He thinks the governor is highlighting this issue to distract attention from the state's unexpectedly high budget deficit, which many fear will result in steep cuts to education funding.

Perry made repeated reference to sanctuary cities while seeking re-election, targeting his Democratic opponent, Bill White, for supporting sanctuary-city policies when he was mayor of Houston. In Houston and Austin, police do not usually ask about immigration status during routine patrols. But PolitiFact notes that Houston is now a part of the federal "Secure Communities" program, which gives immigration authorities access to local arrestees' fingerprints so that the feds can deport those who are in the country illegally.

Every county will be enrolled in the program by 2013, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

Houston Mayor Annise Parker told a press conference she doesn't think there are any sanctuary cities in the state of Texas. "We are going to continue doing what we do, and we believe common sense will prevail in Austin," where the state legislature convenes, Parker said, according to the AP. A 2007 Department of Justice report on sanctuary cities did not list any Texas cities, the Houston Chronicle notes.

Texas lawmakers may pass a bill revoking funding from cities that have policies discouraging local police officers from enforcing federal immigration law.

(Photo of Perry: AP)