By the end of the 85th Legislative Session, the so-called “sanctuary cities” bill had regrettably escalated into a “show me your papers” bill.
Senate Bill 4 is an emotionally divisive issue and threatens to disrupt the lives of all our citizens, not only those who are undocumented but also U.S. citizens of Hispanic ethnicity. It becomes effective September 1, and I believe it is critical to highlight the impact it will have on all Texans.
SB 4 is an overreach. It goes too far. Those who have doubts any harmful impact will occur need only look to the last day of session that brought conflict and tension. Peaceful protests occurred at the Capitol that sparked hostility between legislators on the House floor. Assumptions were made that just because protesters looked Hispanic, they must be “illegals” and immigration must be called to question their immigration status. Heated words between legislators were exchanged and confrontation erupted. This behavior proved in an instant exactly what law enforcement and those opposed to SB 4 feared. If this is the behavior and assumptions of educated, well-respected legislators then how will the rest of the state do?
There is no doubt our immigration laws are broken, but the problem lies with the federal government. I believe that if an undocumented person commits a crime in our country and is arrested and jailed, that person should be detained and INS notified. Or, if there is a detainer by INS, that detainer should be honored. That person should not be released back into our community. We do not want any person who commits a crime and is a danger to our families, to be set free. However, there are many undocumented persons who have committed no crimes and live peacefully among our communities. The immigrants that are coming into our country are looking for work to support their families and better themselves, and most of them significantly contribute to our local economies and pay taxes. Instead, they are all labeled as criminals and rapists.
But SB 4 is now forcing our local entities and institutions of higher education, both public and private, to enforce federal immigration laws. Law enforcement and college campus police departments are allowed to ask the immigration status of any person under detention or under arrest. A lawful detention includes routine traffic stops, stop and frisk encounters or request for I.D. It does not require an arrest. It will impact law abiding undocumented immigrants and will tear families apart, as some family members are legal residents and some are not. This “show me your papers” mentality is dangerous and will certainly negatively impact our cities and college campuses.
Law enforcement was opposed to SB 4 and is deeply concerned about its ramifications. There will inevitably be bad actors who will overreach and abuse this new power given to them. Officers have testified they are confused about their enforcement authority and lack of proper training. In fact, law enforcement officials can be charged with a crime and be put in jail, while public office holders can be removed for violating SB 4. Also, it takes away from their public safety responsibilities for our communities and will undermine the level of trust and cooperation between immigrant communities and law enforcement; thereby increasing crimes as it makes it difficult for an immigrant to report crimes they have witnessed or crimes committed against them.
The issue of releasing an undocumented person who commits a crime in our country is an easy one to fix. But that is not the purpose of SB 4. Its purpose is to discriminate against Hispanics. Whether it is intentional or not, it is the real-life consequences of SB 4 and dangers will be created for our communities and our families. It allows for different treatment of a person or group of people based on their racial origins. We must be vigilant and do our part to ensure injustices or abuses do not occur with the enforcement of this law. It is my hope that the courts will soon determine this is an overreach of state government and declare that SB 4 is unconstitutional.