By Corrie MacLaggan
AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - The Texas Senate early on Wednesday passed a measure pushed by Governor Rick Perry aimed at cracking down on cities that provide sanctuary to illegal immigrants.
"Drug traffickers and transnational gangs should think twice before they step foot in Texas," Lt. Governor David Dewhurst, who presides over the Senate, said in a statement. "Prohibiting sanctuary city policies will make the apprehension, detention and deportation of dangerous criminals more uniform -- keeping us all safer and Texas more secure."
The measure now heads to the House, which passed a similar bill during the regular legislative session that ended May 30. That measure died because Senate Democrats blocked it. But lawmakers are now in a special legislative session, and since different rules apply, Senate Democrats were unable to stop it this time. Both chambers have Republican majorities.
The measure would prohibit local governments from banning law enforcement officers from asking about the immigration status of people who are lawfully detained or arrested.
Perry, a Republican who is thinking of running for president, made the issue an emergency priority during the regular session, putting it on a legislative fast track. When it didn't pass, he made it an agenda item for the special session. During the special session, lawmakers are only allowed to consider topics on the governor's agenda.
Critics say that the measure would lead to racial profiling, place a burden on law enforcement and keep crime victims and witnesses from talking to police.
"I can't think of a piece of legislation that we've considered this session or really in recent history that I believe will be judged to be so unfair and so inequitable as this piece of legislation," Democratic Senator John Whitmire of Houston said during debate on the bill.
Whitmire said that he and other non-Hispanics would not be affected by the legislation. But, he added: "We're fixing to impact every Hispanic citizen of the state of Texas, documented and undocumented."
Texas is one of more than a dozen states where Republicans have sought to tighten immigration laws a year after Arizona passed a high-profile crackdown on illegal immigration.
Perry has said the Arizona law wasn't right for Texas, and the governor has to walk a careful line between showing his conservative base he is tough on immigration while avoiding alienating the state's rapidly growing Hispanic population.
(Editing by Greg McCune)