UT System police clarify impact of 'sanctuary cities' bill on campus

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As several cities, including Austin, battle Senate Bill 4, the “sanctuary cities” law in court, the UT System prepares for how UT System Police will handle its implementation.

Photo Credit: Chase Karacostas | Daily Texan Staff

San Antonio federal court Judge Orlando Garcia temporarily blocked Senate Bill 4, the “anti-sanctuary” law, on Wednesday, two days before it was set to be implemented. The UT Police Department stressed that the law, should it be enacted, will not change campus police operations for UT.

Garcia’s decision prevents implementation as Texas cities, including Austin, continue contesting SB 4, which allows local law enforcement to question individuals about immigration status and requires cooperation with U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement detainer requests. Last spring semester, while the state legislature drafted the bill, a student network called Sanctuary UT collected about 400 signatures from UT faculty, staff and students for a petition to make UT a “sanctuary” for undocumented students.

International relations junior Alisa Hernandez said she joined Sanctuary UT because she has undocumented friends and is unsure how the law will be carried out at UT this fall.

“I don’t know what campus is going to look like after Sept. 1,” Hernandez said. “I don’t know how much UTPD will be enforcing that. I would want UT to be clear so that way folks can know, and it might help some people feel better to report sexual assault or any other crime that happens to them on campus.”

UTPD works under the statewide UT System police that protects UT System schools and land throughout Texas. UT System Director of Police Michael Heidingsfield said in an emailed statement that the UT System provided campus police with legal guidance on the new law earlier this month.

“The University of Texas System has developed a training bulletin for use by campus police chiefs that provides an overview of Texas Senate Bill 4 as it relates to the enforcement of state and federal laws governing immigration,” Heidingsfield said. “However, we believe SB 4 will have little impact on campus law enforcement operations or responsibilities.”

The UT System SB 4 informational bulletin states that officers “shall cooperate with federal officials who are investigating immigration matters,” except when “enforcement action is to take place at a place of worship.” 

UTPD Chief David Carter emphasized that SB 4 does not actually force campus police to do anything differently because UT System police do not operate any jails to hold individuals with detainer requests from ICE. ICE agents make detainer requests to hold individuals suspected of being undocumented. UTPD officers do not usually get involved in immigration matters, and individuals do not have to disclose their immigration status when interacting with campus police, Carter said.

“UTPD is here for our entire UT community,” Carter said. “We’re not changing from after or before the law goes into effect. We’re operating exactly the same.”

Carter said UTPD cannot weigh in on political discussion, but he welcomes UT community members to address questions and concerns with UTPD. 

“It’s really important to have the entire community trust it’s police force,” Carter said. “That’s the essence of community policing. That’s how the community remains safe.”