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Victory: Anti-Immigrant House Bill 12 Defeated - at Least Temporarily - in Regular Session of Texas Legislature

The most significant anti-immigrant bill in the 2011 Texas Legislature, House Bill 12, was defeated during the regular legislative session, though it was subsequently revived in a special session. The mis-named “sanctuary cities” bill is the centerpiece of the anti-immigrant agenda pressed by Governor Rick Perry and tea party conservatives in the Texas Legislature. HB 12 was an Arizona-style bill which would have given individual law enforcement officers license to divert their efforts away from public safety enforcement and focus instead on self-appointed enforcement of federal immigration laws. (Links to more info about HB 12 appear below.)

HB 12 was overwhelmingly passed by the Texas House of Representatives on May 1o, despite strenuous opposition from police chiefs and sheriffs across Texas, religious leaders, business organizations, civil rights groups (including the Equal Justice Center), and the overwhelming majority of Latino, African-American, Asian, and moderate members of the House.

However, the bill was stopped in the Texas Senate when, in the waning hours of the legislative session, all twelve Democratic senators held firm voting to block further consideration of the bill, even as all 19 Republican senators voted to take up and pass the bill. (Under the rules of the Texas Senate, bills normally require a two thirds majority to proceed to full floor debate and a final vote). The vote preventing HB 12 from proceeding came up as the last item considered on the Senate agenda Tuesday night May 24 at 11:30pm. With Wednesday May 25 being the last day for unpassed bills to be considered by the Senate this session, opponents of HB 12 kept up a wary vigilance against any last-minute legislative manuever through the day and evening. When the Senate finally adjourned Wednesday night at 11:00pm any chance for HB 12 to be enacted this session ended. Final adjournment of the 2011 regular session of the Texas Legislature in May 30, with only conference bills already passed by both houses allowed for consideration in the final few days.

Unfortunately Governor Perry, determined to establish an anti-immigrant reputation which can appeal to right wing Republican voters, resurrected the provisions of HB 12 a week after the conclusion of the regular session, by putting in on the agenda for the subsequent special session of the Legislature. The new version introduced into the special session is designated Senate Bill 9 and House Bill 9.

The less demanding rules of the special session mean that the bill is likely to be passed with Republican votes alone, in spite of unanimous opposition by Senate and House Democrats. One consequence of reintroducing the measure in the special session, however, has been to cast a much more glaring spotlight on the anti-Latino, anti-immigrant, and anti-law enforcement aspects of the bill, with greatly increased potential for long-term political consequences among the growing number of voters from Latino and immigrant families. Even if the bill is eventually enacted in the special session, some commentators suggest that its defeat in the regular session, on a straight party-line vote, may ultimately prove to be more significant in the political realignment that many expect to accompany the changing demographics of Texas.

• More about what was wrong with HB 9 and SB 9

• See Broad opposition to HB 12 by law enforcement leaders, religious leaders, business groups, and civil rights organizations

• See handout fact sheet about HB 12