By David Wilfong
NDG Special Contributor
One piece of legislation nearing the end of its journey through the wheels of Texas government is drawing heavy fire from elected officials and civil rights advocacy groups.
With 94 Yeas and 53 Nays, Senate Bill 4 (SB 4) passed a vote through the Texas House of Representatives on April 27, sparking criticisms and even disgust among those opposed to what they describe as “Draconian” measures to force cooperation with federal immigration authorities in regards to individuals in the country illegally.
The bill calls for an end to any “policies, patterns, or practices that prohibit the enforcement of state or federal immigration law” among local government entities such as municipalities. After passing the House, the bill now only needs the signature of Texas Governor Greg Abbott.
It comes as part of a wave of conservative support for a more diligent approach to removing undocumented residents from the U.S., including crackdowns on “sanctuary cities” with local policies sympathetic to illegal immigrants. This was a prominent theme during Trump’s run for the presidency, and support or opposition to it runs starkly along political lines.
Provisions of the bill — which go as far as potentially removing elected officials who do not comply with the language of the statute — are drawing sharp fire from opponents who hold public office.
“So I don’t know who died and made Gregg Abbot Putin,” said Greg Casar, who serves on the Austin City Council, to reporters via teleconference on April 27. “But I think that our constitution, and the people of Texas, and our cities are going to fight back. Even though this law has passed, just like SB 1070 in Arizona; I don’t think that the people of Texas will stand for a ‘Show me your papers’ law in the state.”
One of the primary scenarios often given where increased vigilance over citizenship status by police might jeopardize public safety is a decrease in the willingness of witnesses or crime victims to come forward, fearing deportation or other legal consequences. Supporters argue this possibility is already covered.
“When investigating an offense, peace officers could ask about witnesses’ or victims’ immigration status or nationality only if necessary to investigate the offense or to provide the victim or witness with information about federal visas designed to protect individuals who assisted law enforcement,” read the House Resource Organization’s (HRO) analysis released on April 26. “Peace officers would not be prohibited from conducting separate investigations of other alleged offenses. Officers also would not be prohibited from making such inquiries if there was probable cause to believe the victim or witness committed a separate crime.”
While that may be the case, opponents point out openings for individuals to be caught up in minor infractions like traffic stops. Some are saying this is a window of opportunity for profiling and thinly-veiled discrimination against a vulnerable population.
“Today, Texas officially became the front line of resistance against racist and discriminatory immigration policies,” said Jose P. Garza, executive director of the Workers Defense project. “SB 4 will result in increased racial profiling, communities that are less safe and a more stagnant economy. On behalf of working families across the state, we vow to fight this policy in the streets, in the courtroom and at the ballot box until we prevail.”
Terri Burke, executive director of the ACLU of Texas, told reports via teleconference on Thursday that data relating to traffic stops and detentions in Arizona following a similar measure suggest minorities are subjected to an unfair level of scrutiny and literally more total time sitting on the side of the road next to a police car.
Supporters of SB 4 contend those fears are unfounded, though they stopped short of suggesting something as simple as a broken headlight couldn’t ultimately lead to deportation.
“The bill would not authorize officers to stop people solely to enforce immigration laws and would not allow questions about immigration status of those who merely were detained by officers,” according to the HRO analysis of supporters’ assertions. “Instead, it would focus on those who were arrested in order to avoid any potential confusion about its meaning. Texas peace officers would not be required to act as immigration agents, to determine anyone’s immigration status, or to deport anyone.”
Advocacy groups like the ACLU say they are preparing for legal challenges to the new policies, and are vowing to lead opposition to it from the courtroom to protests in the streets.
“I am deeply grieved but wholly unsurprised that anti-immigrant lawmakers in the Texas House have taken a wrongheaded, racist piece of legislation and made it a ‘show me your papers’ bill,” Burke said. “They have stated as clearly as they can that they’re willing to target innocent children, break up families, encourage constitutional violations like racial profiling and endanger Texas communities solely to make immigrants feel unwelcome in Texas.
But the members of our immigrant communities should know that you are welcome in Texas, and you’re not alone. The ACLU stands ready to fight the inevitable excesses and abuses of this inhumane, wasteful, hateful bill. We stand with Texas immigrants.”