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Law Enforcement Voices and Legal Experts Raise Alarm on SB4 and Larger Implications

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Washington, DC — Following the whiplash legal decisions over Texas’ SB4 law (better known as “show me your papers”), law enforcement figures and legal experts have expressed concerns over the implications on migrant communities and the country overall. As legal advisor to America’s Voice and Immigration Group Leader at UB Greensfelder LLP David Leopold recently assessed:

“Not only is Texas resting its legal argument on the dangerous ‘invasion’ clause, but it is seeking to usher in a new and dangerous era of state anti-immigrant policy making. It would undercut the federal government’s supremacy on immigration law and invite chaos and consequences that would result in harms well beyond immigrant communities. The Texas legal strategy is best understood as part and parcel of a larger right-wing immigration vision dictated by politics and crystallized by Donald Trump and Stephen Miller.”

Below are several examples of law enforcement and legal experts describing the potential for harm, lawsuits, liability, jail overcrowding, and other pitfalls over SB4 if ultimately upheld:

Law Enforcement: 

  • Quoted in Border Report, El Paso County Sheriff’s Office Patrol Cmdr. Ryan Urrutia said: “This is a law that complicates the issue of racial profiling as well. Our department has not had racial profiling complaints for several years and we want to maintain that standard … We don’t want the community to feel your status is going to be cause for deportation, for you to be arrested. If you are a victim of crime, we want you to speak up, hold individuals accountable. Maintaining that trust with the community is very important.”
  • Another Border Report story notes that the local Sheriff in Eagle Pass, ground zero for the Texas seizure of the U.S. border, has deep reservations: “Maverick County Sheriff Tom Schmerber, whose deputies patrol the Eagle Pass area, told Border Report that he does not have enough space in his jail to hold migrants. ‘How are we going to do this? It’s impossible…What if we deport a U.S. citizen? … My deputies are not trained for immigration work.’ Schmerber said he would advise his deputies not to drive migrants to a port of entry because he worries they could have an accident on the way. ‘I don’t recommend it. I would just call the Border Patrol to take them to the bridge,’ he said.”
  • San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg, interviewed by NPR, was asked if SB4 makes sense or will work as a deterrent: “It doesn’t sound like a good idea. There are some good ideas to help with the situation at the border and migration challenges, but this is not one of them, and in fact is just another in a series of steps that partisan state legislators in Texas have taken to advance the corrosive rhetorical battle they have been fighting and really creates challenges for law enforcement. Doesn’t help anything at all…The people coming through San Antonio through the auspices of the asylum process, many of them have traveled by foot thousands of miles through great personal danger. That these kinds of confusing pieces of legislation – that really challenge local law enforcement more than anything else – would be a deterrent is kind of ridiculous on its face.” 
  • The Houston Chronicle captured the confusion over the back-and-forth implementation of SB4 in a piece titled “Texas’ migrant deportation law SB4 was in place for 9 hours. It was chaotic.”: “Sheriffs visiting Abbott in Austin on Wednesday gave conflicting answers about the enforcement of SB4. The law empowers any law enforcement officer in the state to arrest someone suspected of illegally crossing into Texas from Mexico. Some sheriffs stressed the law would only majorly impact border counties, but others said they were ready to use it to crack down on illegal immigration in other parts of the state.”
  • As the New York Times reported, during the back-and-forth between the courts, there was not only confusion for local law enforcement in Texas, but also resolve to oppose aspects of the law that will undermine policing: “In San Antonio, Javier Salazar, the sheriff of Bexar County, which includes that city, issued a policy manual that directs his deputies to enforce the law without engaging in racial profiling, which many critics of the law fear would happen as state and local police try to determine who may have entered the country illegally. Deputies making arrests will base them ‘on probable cause supporting the elements of the offense and not on national origin, immigration status, ethnicity or race,’ it said.”
  • The Times also reported: “The police chief in the border city of Laredo, Miguel Rodriguez, said that he too had concerns that Latino residents might fear that his officers could target them at random. ‘We want to avoid the racial profiling part of this; it lends itself for that,’ Chief Rodriguez said. ‘Unless you are crossing the river and we see that as a crime in progress, then we can apply it right away.’ If the law were to go into effect, he said, his officers would apply it only during the course of another arrest, such as for drunken driving, and that his officers would not be routinely ‘asking for papers and immigration status.’”

Legal Voices:

  • Writing for The New York Times, Charlie Savage and Jack Healy speak to several legal experts and scholars over Texas’ challenge to the federal government. Among those quoted are: 
  • Heather K. Gerken, Dean of Yale Law School: “It’s really stunning what kind of proxy war is taking place. It’s all because the vicious partisanship that has long been a feature of Washington has now filtered down to the states.”
  • Jessica Bulman-Pozen, Law Professor at Columbia University: “We have a lot of political fighting that gets channeled through this federalist structure, where if you have a Democratic president, Republican-led states try to pick fights with the presidency and the same with Democratic states during Republican administrations.”
  • Lara M. Brown, political scientist and author: “The states have been growing more and more powerful … Most of us exist under state laws more than federal laws. Texans are happy they can walk around with their guns. And Californians are happy people aren’t.”
  • For NBC News, Rebecca Shabad and Kyla Guilfoil write: “Judges on the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals appeared unreceptive to arguments by Texas’ solicitor general Wednesday that the state’s new immigration law should take effect because it ‘mirrors’ federal law … Chief Judge Priscilla Richman, a George W. Bush appointee, noted that states don’t have police power to remove people from the U.S. ‘This is the first time, it seems to me, that a state has claimed that they had the right to remove illegal aliens,’ Richman said.”