During the legislative session that just wrapped up, the Texas House of Representatives passed a controversial bill known as SB4. The bill bans so-called sanctuary cities in Texas and allows police officers to ask about the immigration status of anyone they detain for any reason, while granting the state the authority to criminally charge sheriffs and police chiefs who fail to comply with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. It passed along party lines—94-53, Republicans-Democrats.
One of the co-sponsors of the bill is State Representative Sarah Davis, a 40-year-old defense lawyer and Republican from West University who has held her position in District 134, one of the wealthiest and highest-educated in Texas—spanning the cities of West U, Bellaire and Southside Place, along with River Oaks and the Texas Medical Center—since 2010.
Since the bill’s passing, Davis and others have taken heat for breaking up a longstanding but delicate truce that had counted on pro-business members, moderates and Democrats to vote together against harsh legislation directed toward immigrants.
“I don’t believe we have the personal freedom to ignore the law,” Davis says when asked how the bill squares with her political philosophy—which prizes personal freedom above all else—adding that the bill specifically targets criminals who are here illegally, something that opponents like HPD Chief Art Acevedo say isn’t true, according to the bill’s own text.
In immigrant- and Latino-heavy Houston, Acevedo believes the ability to question people about their immigration status, when they haven’t been arrested, will lead to victims failing to report crimes to police. “The perception we’re going to create by having this legislation is going to have a tremendously chilling effect on the immigrant community,” the dismayed police chief said at a press conference following the bill’s passage.
Despite taking a hard line on immigration, in Texas, Davis is considered a “moderate Republican.” It’s something that is hard to fathom until you realize that she takes a surprisingly progressive view on a number of other hot-button social issues—especially for this moment in Texas politics. At a time of increasing polarization along party lines, Davis, who self-identifies as a “rational Republican,” is difficult to pigeon-hole: Some might call her anti-immigrant, but she’s also pro-choice, in favor of gay marriage, and against the latest session’s bathroom bill, which she calls “a solution in search of a problem.”