Everything might be bigger in Texas, but that doesn’t mean it’s better — especially when it comes to immigration status.
At least, that’s how the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) feels. On Tuesday the organization issued a travel warning for the state of Texas following the passage of SB4, a controversial piece of anti-immigration legislation targeting “sanctuary cities” — warning anyone traveling to Texas that their constitutional rights may be violated while in the state.
The ACLU announced the travel warning in a press release on Tuesday, just a few days after SB4 was signed into law. All encounters with federal, state, and county law enforcement are considered potentially hazardous, and could result in harassment, the organization said on Twitter.
Because of the passage of #SB4, we are issuing a Texas travel advisory.
— ACLU National (@ACLU) May 9, 2017
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) signed SB4 Sunday night via Facebook Live, in an unannounced move that took the state by surprise.
The legislation is in response to cities like Austin, located in Travis County, that have come under fire for resisting full cooperation with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents. SB4 penalizes police officers for the failure to detain and turn over undocumented immigrants to federal authorities. Refusing to comply could result in fines, arrest, and even removal from elected or appointed office.
The ACLU considers SB4 to be a “show me your papers” law similar to the infamous legislation that Arizona passed in 2010. Arizona’s law required law enforcement officials to ask suspected undocumented immigrants for documentation establishing legal residency — at the time, the strictest anti-immigration legislation in the country.
“Until we defeat [SB4], everyone traveling in or to Texas needs to be aware of what’s in store for them,” said Terri Burke, executive director of the ACLU of Texas. “The Lone Star State will become a ‘show me your papers’ state, where every interaction with law enforcement can become a citizenship interrogation and potentially an illegal arrest.”
Current practice in many Texas cities encourages cooperation with ICE only when serious charges are involved, like murder or sexual assault. Under SB4, that would change dramatically — even a routine traffic stop could result in detention and deportation. Activists and advocacy groups say the law will be abused, resulting in unlawful detentions violating the rights of both documented and undocumented Texas residents.
With that in mind, the ACLU wasted no time in advising all people to think twice before visiting or traveling within the state.
“The ACLU’s goal is to protect all Texans and all people traveling through Texas — regardless of their immigration status — from illegal harassment by law enforcement,” said Lorella Praeli, ACLU director of immigration policy and campaigns. “Texas is a state with deep Mexican roots and home to immigrants from all walks of life. Many of us fit the racial profile that the police in Texas will use to enforce Trump’s draconian deportation force.”
Texas has long had a mixed relationship with immigration. As the ACLU of Texas has noted, 16 percent of the state’s residents are foreign-born, and with an estimated 1.2 million undocumented residents, Texas’ undocumented population is second only to California in size according to the Migration Policy Institute. Harsh anti-immigration legislation received minimal support in years past — in both 2007 and 2009, efforts by Rep. Leo Berman (R) to, among other things, deny state services to both undocumented immigrants and their U.S.-born children failed to advance. But Abbott’s tenure has been marked by moves to curtail immigration, a stance that appeals to his supporters.
“This is red meat for his base,” State Representative César Blanco, a Democrat representing El Paso, told the Washington Post. “This is for his primary voters, not for mainstream Texas.”
Abbott’s administration is already looking to get ahead of any potential legal stumbling blocks. Following the signing of SB4, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed a lawsuit asking for the law to be declared constitutional by a federal court. Barring any legal interference, SB4 is set to go into effect September 1.