Local police departments ordered to aid immigration enforcement following passage of divisive bill which eliminates sanctuary cities in Texas

3 months ago
Ian Seamans
Commentary

The Texas legislature passed Senate Bill 4 after a prolonged debate. Gov. Greg Abbott has finally accomplished his goal of ridding Texas of “sanctuary cities.” To illustrate the divide in opinions on the bill, you need look no further than the shoving match that took place on the Texas House floor on the final day of this year’s legislative session. Democrat Rep. Philip Cortez said that Republican Rep. Matt Rinaldi called Immigration and Customs Enforcement on SB4 protesters in the Capitol. As a result, an altercation broke out between multiple Democratic and Republican lawmakers on the House floor. Aside from the fact that our elected representatives can’t seem to act like adults, we can see that the issue may be one of the most divisive in recent Texas history.

SB4 bans “sanctuary cities,” orders police departments to comply with ICE detainer requests and permits officers to ask any detained person for their immigration or citizenship papers. The bill puts police in the position of enforcing immigration laws, which are civil, not criminal. The police explicitly only have the ability to enforce criminal law, and putting immigration in their purview is an overreach. The law also allows any individual to report police departments that fail to fully comply with federal immigration officials. A department that is noncompliant will be fined and individuals responsible may be removed from duty or jailed.

All of this to supposedly fix the problem of immigrants being let out of jail just because they’re undocumented. Fortunately for Abbott, that problem doesn’t exist. Prior to the law, individuals were not released from jail or prison, nor given a lighter sentence because they were considered an undocumented immigrant. When it comes to the application of justice, there is no differentiation based off of immigration status.

In a May 19 opinion article printed in the San Antonio Express News, Abbott and his two co-authors misrepresented, if not lied about the contents of the bill to Texans.

“Here is the truth: Regardless of your immigration status, if you have not committed a crime and you are not subject to an Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainer, you have nothing to fear about the change in Texas law. Senate Bill 4 does not change how most law enforcement agencies in Texas already work.”

That is untrue. According to Article 1, Section 1 and Article 6, Section 1 of the bill he signed, any detained person may be asked for their papers. This means that the police could ask anyone who is detained at a routine traffic stop for their papers. This is not how the process worked previously. Before SB4, an individual would be jailed, their information taken, then a review of their information by ICE, who would request a detainer if they believed that person to be in the U.S. without documentation. Police were able to decline ICE detainers, and under the new law they are not. This is troubling, given that citizens and documented immigrants have been subject to ICE detainers before.

Edwin Romero, a UTD student, was arrested this past February and later released after paying bail. While Romero was in the Richardson jail, ICE issued a detainer request for him. Romero is a legal U.S. resident, and yet under the new law, this nonviolent student who was pulled over for traffic tickets would have been held in jail after paying bail and taken into ICE custody. It’s unacceptable for a law to mandate the detention of residents, even if the police who are involved in the matter disagree.

Abbott and co-authors also wrote, “SB4 provides new protections to crime victims and witnesses. For the first time ever, SB4 gives crime victims and witnesses greater assurance of safety when they report a crime — not less.”

Although the law does specifically have protections for victims of crimes, there is a major loophole in those protections. According to Article 6, Subsection E of SB4, police may inquire immigration status if they have probable cause to believe that the victim or witness perpetrated a criminal offense. As it so happens, the act of entering the U.S. without inspection is a criminal misdemeanor, even if staying in the U.S. is a civil violation. The consequence of this is that the previous protections included in the bill are null and void if the officer suspects that the victim or witness crossed the border without inspection.

If you would like to read the bill yourself, you can on LegiScan.com, or by Googling “SB4 text.” If you come to the conclusion that this bill is not in the best interest of our community, call your representative or Abbott’s office and tell them what you think. Above all, make sure to vote in your Texas elections. Often, the laws that matter most to us are not from Washington, but Austin.

The Office of the Governor’s main switchboard number is 512-463-2000.