Since being signed into law by Governor Abbott last month, communities across the state have risen up in protests, community meetings, and rallies to decry SB4 for what it is — a racist law designed to target millions of Black and brown people, trample on civil liberties, and forcefully place Texans in a position vulnerable to racial profiling and state-sanctioned abuse.
Senate Bill 4 erodes community trust and safety by compromising relationships between law enforcement and the people they pledged to protect and serve. By preventing local cities and police departments from limiting their entanglement in immigration enforcement, the law further drives a wedge between local communities and the police and undermines community safety.
Hidalgo County Sheriff Eddie Guerra recognized this major issue before it was signed into law. “It hampers my ability to do my job, which is to keep my community safe,” Guerra said to KURV after the bill passed the state House and Senate.
Sheriff Guerra pointed to public perception of the law, as well as lack of immigration training for officers, as challenges the law would create for his department. “There are over 185 different types of visas. Local law enforcement is not trained to determine somebody’s legal status,” Guerra told KURV.
Guerra added: “No law enforcement agency that I know of asked for this bill. I know all the unions lobbied against it. No major police chief in a major city or sheriff in a major county likes this bill.”
When Guerra said this on KURV, our community was hopeful that our efforts through years of organizing to build trust between immigrants and law enforcement in the RGV were being recognized.
Now, however, Sheriff Guerra has flipped his position on this controversial law. He joined Governor Abbott and McAllen Police Chief Victor Rodriguez last month in an op-ed in the San Antonio Express News saying that SB4 will make Texas communities safer.
Sheriff Guerra and Chief Rodriguez are disappointingly siding with those who passed this racist law, rather than standing with their communities who have actively voiced opposition against it. After first appearing to side with our community in denouncing SB4 as a racist law, they now fail to recognize that their constituents will be wrongfully targeted by it.
SB4 will tear apart families of immigrants who enrich our lives and our economy. With few exceptions, individual officers will now have the full authority of state law to ask for immigration status. By empowering local police to make decisions on immigration enforcement, a simple call to Border Patrol could destroy a family. With SB4 tying their hands, Sheriff Guerra and Chief Rodriguez will have no power to keep that from happening.
RGV residents are already showing the damage a law like SB4 can cause for a community. Many have already been hesitant to attend their healthcare appointments. The presence of Border Patrol and ICE along routes to healthcare clinics have increased. With SB4, police will also be perceived as immigration enforcers. SB4 is a healthcare crisis that our legislators, and officials who support SB4, are responsible for. This is one example of how this law does everything but keep our community “safe.”
SB4 reinforces the practice of racial profiling. More than 90 percent of local residents could be subjected to profiling and pretextual stops by police for insignificant traffic violations in hopes of nabbing what they wrongfully perceive to be a “dangerous criminal immigrant.” We are kidding ourselves if we think white-skinned individuals will be asked about their immigration status. The people who “look undocumented” are those with brown and black skin. Much like with California’s Prop 187 and Arizona’s SB1070, generations of young Texans will remember the politicians who voted to attack their parents, grandparents, and the communities of color they live in.
Whatever the motivation for Sheriff Guerra’s flip-flop on SB4, it is imperative that Rio Grande Valley leaders step up. We need our local officials to show the community what side they are on by condemning the unconstitutional law and doing their part to strike it down.
The cities of Austin, Dallas, San Antonio and El Cenizo, and the counties of El Paso and Maverick have voted to bring or join legal action against SB4 in an effort to strike it down. Given our history and community, Hidalgo County should have been the first in line to challenge SB4 in the courts.
But Hidalgo County can still join the growing list of cities and counties taking legal action against SB4, recognizing that it is unconstitutional and will increase violations of our civil rights. The moment is now.
Editor’s Note: This guest column has been endorsed by the following community organizations:
Planned Parenthood Texas Votes
Fuerza del Valle Workers’ Center
National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health-TX LAN
Aquí Estamos RGV
The Progressive Young Democrats at UTRGV
Minority Affairs Council
La Unión del Pueblo Entero
Our Revolution Rio Grande Valley Cameron County
Muslim Students’ Association (MSA)
Background and links:
SB 4 will make Texas communities safer
Greg Abbott, J.E. “Eddie” Guerra and Victor Rodriguez, For the Express-News
Guerra’s comments on SB4 before being signed into law: