Texas on track to deputize police as immigration agents

The bill echoes an Arizona state law struck down in the U.S. Supreme Court.

Students gather in the Rotunda at the Texas Capitol to oppose SB4, an anti-”sanctuary cities” bill. CREDIT: AP Photo/Eric Gay
Students gather in the Rotunda at the Texas Capitol to oppose SB4, an anti-”sanctuary cities” bill. CREDIT: AP Photo/Eric Gay

In 2010, when Arizona passed S.B. 1070 — an anti-immigrant bill requiring police officers to ask that suspected undocumented immigrants provide documents proving their legal status — the state faced a million-dollar public opinion backlash, as major businesses pulled out of events and conventions in the state. Arizona suffered a deep decline in GDP, employment levels in the construction industry have not completely recovered.

Now, Texas is set to follow suit. On Thursday, the Texas State House passed SB4, an anti-immigrant piece of legislation that would crack down on so-called sanctuary jurisdictions and penalize local law enforcement agents who don’t turn over suspected undocumented immigrants to federal authorities.

The 93–54 vote on the bill, which fell along party lines and came at 3 a.m. early Thursday morning, includes a controversial amendment authorizing local law enforcement agents — including sheriffs, state troopers, and other peace officers — to ask about the immigration status of people they detain during arrests. The bill also makes it a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by $1,000 fine or prison for up to one year for the first offense, for law enforcement officials to not honor federal detainer requests. These requests oblige officials to keep immigrants in local custody until federal officials can pick them up for potential deportation proceedings. Subsequent offenses can result in fines up to $25,500.

Initially passed in the Senate, the revised bill again goes to the Senate before it heads to Gov. Greg Abbott’s (R) desk. He is expected to sign the bill.

District 75 Rep. Mary González broke down crying as she took to the floor to oppose the bill. She asked her fellow legislators to “be as brave like me” and vote against the bill, which she said would discourage immigrants from reporting crimes like sexual assault and rape out of fear of deportation. González is herself a sexual assault survivor.

I became a legislator to fight for the most vulnerable people.

“I became a legislator to fight for the most vulnerable people,” González said as she became overcome with tears and briefly moved away from the podium. “We aren’t trying to exaggerate when we say the people in the shadows will be in the shadows more.”

“We aren’t exaggerating when we say the people who will feel the biggest effect of this are the most vulnerable: are the women and children who are survivors of sexual assault, rape, human traffickers…the people who we are supposed to make them safe.”

Contrary to the bill’s claimed purpose, the immigrant advocates say, the bill would violate the rights of immigrants and jeopardize public safety. Terri Burke, executive director for the ACLU of Texas, said that the Texas bill echoes many of the Arizona bill’s most controversial policies.

“It’s an invitation to racially profile Asians, Latinos, and any others who look ‘foreign,’” Burke said on a press call Thursday. He explained the ACLU of Arizona previously found many incidences of border agents prolonging routine traffic stops involving minor infractions — a Fourth Amendment violation — to ascertain the immigration statuses of not just drivers, but passengers as well.

Burke added that the cost of requiring local jails to collaborate with ICE would go beyond simple economics.

“It’ll cost us because it’ll jeopardize public safety and the numbers of crime that go unreported — we just recently saw those numbers in Houston for the steep and sharp decline of assaults by Latinas,” Burke said, referencing a drop in the number of assault victims coming forward soon after an immigrant domestic violence survivor was detained at the courthouse as she tried to get a protective order.

Advocates also pointed out that Texas’ 1.5 million undocumented immigrants have made direct and indirect contributions to the state’s economy. They have contributed $1.5 billion in local and state taxes, for example.

And as in Arizona, many immigrants work in the construction and restaurant sectors. So if they flee Texas because of restrictionist laws, the state economy may suffer as a result.

“Immigrants are an essential part of the workforce,” Jose P. Garza, executive director of Workers Defense Project, said on the press call. “Just to give you an example, in the construction industry, immigrant workers make up up to 50 percent of the workforce. What we have seen in the last several months is that developers in the construction industry have been complaining to anyone to anyone who will listen about a massive labor shortage in that industry.”