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HB 3738: No more asking victims, witnesses about immigration

Political experts here in Texas have noted that the current legislative session has been noticeably calm and free from the bitter debates that characterized the previous two sessions. Some of this, they say, likely has to do with the fact that the prevailing attitudes toward certain hot-button issues, such as immigration, have actually shifted among state lawmakers.

To illustrate, immigration recently came to the forefront a few weeks ago when the House State Affairs Committee was called upon to consider House Bill 3738, a measure that would prohibit state law enforcement officials from making any inquiries about immigration status to either the victims or witnesses of crimes.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Lon Burnam (D-Fort Worth), passed the committee by an 8-4 vote with the support of five Democrats and three Republicans.

"This session's tone is completely different from last session's tone," said Burnam. "People are recognizing that there are fundamental questions and problems in our community that need to be addressed, and this bill is one of those issues."

It should be noted that while HB 3738 expressly prohibits law enforcement from asking about "the national or immigration status" of victims/witnesses, they may still do so if it is germane to the investigation. Furthermore, the bill is only applicable in the reporting of a specific crime and doesn't grant any sort of immunity from prosecution.

HB 3738 has gained the support of both immigrant advocacy groups and law enforcement officials, both of whom say the measure is necessary as it will help curb the inherent distrust/fear that many immigrants have of the police and encourage them to come forward if they need assistance.

"It is critically important for law enforcement to gain the trust of all segments of our population," said Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo, one of the bills primary supporters. "It is simply a bill that will assure the immigrant population that police officers are there to investigate crimes and not to be an ICE agent."

It remains to be seen whether HB 3738 will pass the full House with such ease, but supporters remain optimistic that lawmakers will look beyond any controversy and see the bill for its merits.

Stay tuned for updates from our San Antonio criminal defense blog ...

This post was provided for informational purposes only and is not to be construed as legal advice.

Source: The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, "Bill would bar Texas law officers from asking crime victims about immigration status," Dave Montgomery, May 2, 2013