Most of Texas’ SB 4, the nation’s harshest anti-immigrant law, was cleared for implementation this week after a federal appeals court lifted an injunction preventing the law from being enacted while legal challenges proceed.
SB 4 requires police chiefs and sheriffs to cooperate with federal immigration officials by honoring ICE detainer requests for deportation (or face $25,000 fines per day, jail time, or removal from office). Multiple federal court cases, however, have ruled that ICE detainers are unconstitutional when they violate immigrants’ due process.
SB 4 allows police, including college campus police, to question the immigration status of anyone they detain or arrest. Educators fear SB 4 will poison the education environment. Routine traffic stops have led to deportation for passengers who were stopped for minor infractions.
Last year, Texas DPS director Steve McCraw changed a policy to require Texas troopers to call Border Patrol or ICE if they suspected someone of being undocumented, even though being undocumented is a civil violation and not a crime. A spike in traffic stops raised concerns about racial profiling and Constitutional violations, which have been grounds for costly lawsuits.
How SB 4 harms public safety
Police chiefs have expressed concern about Texas’ immigration crackdown hurting law enforcement efforts to stop crime, preferring to pursue “crooks not cooks.” The Texas Major Cities Chiefs and the Texas Police Chiefs Association opposed SB 4, saying it would cause mistrust and fear between police and minority communities by driving down cooperation and willingness to report crimes. Last year, Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo reported a 43 percent drop in Latinos reporting rape, with other violent crimes registering a 13 percent drop. This was in a year when crimes reported by non-Hispanics increased.
Texas has seen evidence of Trump’s immigration crackdown through retaliatory ICE raids in Austin, and an immigration arrest rate that’s the highest in the nation in Dallas, according to the Pew Research Center. This blanket of fear has caused a crisis in education (from parents withdrawing children from school), businesses, and public health.
The Cato Institute, Center for American Progress, and the American Immigration Council found that communities with more friendly immigrant policies have lower crime rates and stronger economies. SB 4, which targets immigrants, will damage public safety.
In El Paso, ICE detained an undocumented domestic violence victim who came to the local courthouse to file a protective order, which stoked fear in three additional victims. Advocates and legal service providers in 48 states have found that immigrants are afraid to call police, press charges, and testify at trial because of ICE courthouse arrests. Last summer, a string of robberies in Fort Worth targeted Latinos “because they’ve got money and they don’t call the police.”
With the Trump Administration warning that crime victims and courthouse witnesses are not safe from deportation, community policing efforts needed to fight violent crimes will be threatened. Criminals emboldened to prey with impunity on people afraid of contacting police will only worsen public safety for everyone.
In Austin currently, there have been a series of deadly package explosions that some residents fear could be hate crimes. Austin Police Chief Brian Manley has called for community help to be the “eyes and ears” for information on the bombings. But Texas’ fresh crackdown on immigrants will give those who are undocumented a reason to avoid police.
As a Texas Major Cities Chiefs and Texas Police Chiefs Association statement said:
Don’t forget that if we don’t arrest criminals who victimize our immigrant communities, we allow them to remain free to victimize every one of us. When it comes to crime, we are in this together, regardless of race, sex, religion or nation of origin. SB 4 will make our communities more dangerous, not safer, as we presume the legislature intended.
As a reminder, Efrén Olivares, Racial and Economic Justice Director for the advocacy group Texas Civil Rights Project, stated:
The implementation of SB4 must still follow the Constitution and is not a blank pass for police officers to ask everyone about their immigration status. We urge community members to know their rights and contact us if they face civil rights violations.
- Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative (HILSC)
- HILSC is coordinating the hotline staffed by the ACLU of Texas, Boat People SOS, BakerRipley, Houston Volunteer Lawyers, and Tahirih Justice Center, Monday through Friday, 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. (CST, except holidays).
- Texas Immigrant Rights Hotline: 1-833-HOU-IMMI (1-833-468-4664)
- American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Texas
- Texas Civil Rights Project
- American Immigration Council
- Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC)
- National Immigration Forum