Candidates argue over ‘sanctuary’ policy

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With Election Day just a week away, Gov. Rick Perry’s campaign has revived previously disproved claims that Houston is a sanctuary city, arguing that immigration policies led to the death of a Houston police officer.

The Perry campaign has launched a new ad airing around the state that features Joslyn Johnson, the widow of Rodney Johnson, claiming Bill White supported policies that prevented law enforcement from catching Juan Leonardo Quintero, the illegal immigrant who shot her husband, before he committed the crime.

“In the past, Bill White supported sanctuary city policies that made it difficult for officers to safely do their jobs,” said Johnson in the ad.

The assertion that Houston was a sanctuary city or that White supported such policies simply isn’t true, according to the Austin American-Statesman’s PolitiFact Texas, who rated the claim as false in February. While there is no legal definition of what a sanctuary city is, it generally refers to municipalities that have passed resolutions or laws restricting local law enforcement from cooperating with federal immigration officials.

“Houston is not a sanctuary city,” said Houston Mayor Annise Parker in a March interview with the Statesman. “If you break a local law in Houston, we will arrest you, we will take you to jail, we will run your information and if you’re in this country illegally, we will turn you over to the appropriate federal agency.”

A spokeswoman said Monday that Parker’s office would not offer further comment on the matter because it had become such a large issue in the governor’s race. She did say that Parker’s position on the matter had not changed.

Carl Rusnok, a spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Dallas, said Monday that federal immigration officials and Houston have a “very active partnership.”

Former Houston Police Chief Harold Hurtt and Bill White, Houston’s former mayor and Democratic gubernatorial candidate, both deny that Houston has ever been a sanctuary city.

The Texas Department of Public Safety maintains similar policies, when it comes to illegal immigration, as the Houston Police Department. Neither agency allows their employees to inquire about immigration status unless there is a reasonable suspicion that a violation of federal law has occurred.

During Perry’s hour-long interview with the Texas Tribune, CEO and editor-in-chief Evan Smith repeatedly questioned the governor on his campaign’s attack — if Houston’s policy made it a sanctuary city, did DPS’s policy make Texas a sanctuary state?

“I think the Houston statute is different,” Perry said. Smith pressed, pointing out that the policies were essentially identical, Perry again said, “I think the Houston law is different.”

Quintero, who shot Johnson, had been previously deported from the U.S. in 1999, after he was convicted on a charge of indecency with a minor. After his deportation, his name was removed from the Texas sex offenders database by the Department of Public Safety.

The White campaign released a letter Monday, written in the wake of the 2006 shooting, from the Houston mayor’s office to the Department of Public Safety that complained about the practice. The letter claimed that removing sex offenders from the sex offenders database once they were deported made it more difficult to track offenders should they re-enter the country.

The White campaign said the practice of removing sex offenders from the database once they’re deported ended within weeks of sending the letter.