Texas House passes most hardline immigration bill since Arizona’s SB 1070

(Photo credit: Bradley Siefert via Flickr / Creative Commons)

In the wee hours Thursday morning, the lower house of the Texas state legislature passed a bill immigration policy observers say is the most radical state legislation since Arizona’s controversial SB 1070. It comes on the heels of a 9th Circuit Court ruling against the Trump administration’s attempts to deny federal funding to cities where local police do not take on federal immigration enforcement duties. The Texas bill, SB 4 passed the state Senate in February. Lawmakers from both chambers must agree on final language before the bill heads to the governor’s desk. Shannon Young has more.

Download Audio

After 16 hours of heated debate that ran until 3 a.m. Thursday, the Republican majority of the Texas House of Representatives pushed through SB 4, known as the ‘anti-sanctuary city’ bill. It prohibits cities and counties from enacting laws that prevent the use of local resources for immigration enforcement. During the hearing phase of the bill, even police chiefs and sheriffs spoke out against it, saying that it will undermine public safety.

Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice Education Fund, says the bill is a radical measure in the national context.

“This is a dramatic enabling of a federal strategy with a now coerced, local cooperation to make undocumented immigrants and their families so terrified of staying that, if they’re not picked up and deported that they pick up and leave on their own,” Sharry says.

SB 4 not only mandates collaboration between federal and local police, but an amendment tacked onto the bill could allow for the removal or criminal prosecution of elected officials or law enforcement who refuse to comply.

Austin City Council member Greg Casar says the measure is unconstitutional and he will continue to openly oppose it: “I represent the most immigrant parts of Austin, in north Austin. Many of my neighborhoods are majority immigrant neighborhoods. And during the recent Immigration and Customs Enforcement door-to-door raids that occurred, I saw terror in homes and in children’s eyes like I’ve never seen before. I sat in constituents’ homes where they had duct-taped sheets across the windows and were packing all their things up to go and abandon homes that they themselves owned. What this bill is asking us to do is not only unconstitutional, but is trying to push us into making children and families feel that kind of fear every time they see a police officer, not just every time that there is an Immigration and Customs Enforcement raid.”

In addition to its substantial population of immigrants with legal status, Texas is home to 1.5 million undocumented residents, according to estimates by the Migration Policy Institute. The state is also one of four so-called ‘minority-majority’ states, where people of color outnumber whites.

Jose P. Garza, Executive Director, Workers Defense Project says SB 4 is the latest example of a bill that marginalizes members of the state’s demographic majority.

“This act of discrimination perpetuated by the state legislature is not an act that is happening in isolation,” Garza points out. “In the very recent history, at least three federal courts have found that the State of Texas passed legislation that had a discriminatory impact and a discriminatory intent. Some of those findings were specific to populations along the Texas-Mexico border.”

The counties in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas are the most heavily Latino in the United States, with 9 in ten residents identifying as Hispanic according to U.S. Census data.

“Those communities are so militarized right now, what with local law enforcement, what with the Department of Public Safety, Border Patrol, state guard,” Terri Burke, Executive Director of the ACLU of Texas, says SB4 plus militarization in border communities is a recipe for abuse of power. “This is an invitation to racial profiling. When 90 percent of the people who live in an area are brown skinned and look ‘foreign,’ they’re going to be asked for their papers, they’re going to be asked to prove that they have legal status.”

The ACLU is already seeing dash cam footage of Texas Department of Public Safety troopers detaining people for more than an hour during traffic stops so that immigration agents can check their status. While legal permanent residents can show a green card, for citizens the documentation can be bulkier.

“If you’re a U.S. citizen, a native-born, I guess, you’re going to have to carry your birth certificate or passport,” says Burke. “I mean, I think that people are just going to have to carry a little pouch of all their documents to prove that they’re here legally.”

While cities in California double down on resisting the Trump Administration’s anti-sanctuary policies, Texas’ SB4 is putting the Lone Star state and its large immigrant population on the front lines of a 21st century civil rights battle.

You may also like...