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Murillo, Foster: When your home no longer is sanctuary SB 4 sends chilling message to all immigrants in Texas

By Laura Murillo and Charles C. Foster

May 6, 2017 Photo: Yi-Chin Lee, Staff Cesar Saenz brings a homemade sign to participate the "Day Without Immigrants" protest at Guadalupe Plaza Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017, in Houston. ( Yi-Chin Lee / Houston Chronicle )

With the Texas Senate voting last week to pass Senate Bill 4, the legislation is now headed to Gov. Greg Abbott's desk for his signature. That means this law is a foregone conclusion, and with it, Texas is saying that the state no longer is a place where every Texan can thrive, no matter where they're from. With this law, Texas is saying that it no longer champions its immigrant history or the robust diversity that is a catalyst for the state's economy. With this law, Texas is saying that our state is no longer welcoming to everyone who calls it home.

There are claims that this legislation is only about illegal immigrants, but the reality is that this sends a message to all immigrants, even those here legally. This legislation requires that, if asked, any immigrant must provide documentation that demonstrates their status. This not only creates a culture of fear and instability, it also threatens to break up families across this state.

Much has been made about "facts" during the debate around in both the Texas House and Senate. Defending his legislation last week, the bill's sponsor in the Senate, Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, stated that "we shouldn't operate in hypotheticals; we should focus on the facts."

So let's focus on the facts.

From an economic standpoint, immigrants - both documented and undocumented - have an invaluable role in Texas' success.

Texas immigrants make up a fifth of the state's overall population of adults who are of prime working age. Similarly, immigrants of working age have a labor force participation rate that is notably higher than that of U.S.-born Texans. This is Texas' workforce of the future. Yet with this law, we are discouraging its development. In addition, immigrants contribute more than $70 billion in yearly economic output, and the businesses they start contribute more than $5 billion in yearly earnings to the state's economy. Documented and undocumented immigrants pay taxes at a rate that is similar to those of U.S.-born Texans. These are our coworkers, neighbors and friends. Yet with this law, we are dissuading them from being part of our communities.

Legislators in support of this measure have also defended this policy as a preemptive, public safety measure that will protect every Texan. They say that this legislation will keep "illegal criminals" off of the streets and reduce crime in our communities. Despite the pushback from law enforcement officials across Texas localities, these legislators claim that sanctuary cities make it easier for criminals to commit a crime and be released back into our neighborhoods.

Now for the facts: Immigrants commit crimes at a significantly lower rate than U.S.-born Texans. According to a recent national study by the Center for American Progress, crime is significantly lower in those areas that call themselves "sanctuaries" than those that do not. Specifically, there are on average 35.5 fewer crimes committed per 10,000 people in sanctuary counties compared to non-sanctuary counties. Another study conducted by the University of California in San Diego found that 654 fewer crimes per 100,000 residents were committed in sanctuary counties than their non-sanctuary counterparts. This data illustrates that when people feel comfortable and valued in their communities, they are less likely to commit any kind of crime. The discourse around this legislation has been combustible and troubling, to say the least. And, despite the toxicity of this debate, this isn't what should trouble us most. What's most troubling is that, with this legislation, it's going to be much harder for immigrants in Texas to feel comfortable in their communities, their neighborhoods and their homes.

And if you can't feel safe in your own home, then it is a sanctuary no longer.

Murillo is president & CEO of the Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Foster, chairman of Foster, LLP, is a Houston-based immigration attorney and serves as the chair of the Greater Houston Partnership Immigration Task Force.

As published by the Houston Chronicle: