On Tuesday evening, the Texas House of Representatives voted to approve one of the most controversial and strictest immigration laws in the country. This will have major implications for migrants across the state and could also trigger lawsuits and an international dispute with Mexico.
The bill now heads to Texas Governor Gregg Abbott’s desk to be signed into law.
Before Tuesday’s vote, state Rep. Jolanda Jones, a Democrat, issued a scathing rebuke of the bill, calling SB 4 and its supporters “racist.”
“It’s not okay to be racist. I’ll stop pulling the race card when you stop being racist,” she said.
SB 4 was considered as part of the fourth round of a special legislative session ordered by Texas Governor Greg Abbott to consider several related to immigration invoices.
It creates two new state crimes for migrants who illegally enter or re-enter the state from another country, punishable by up to two years in prison.
One of the most controversial aspects of the bill would allow local and state law enforcement to arrest migrants they suspect of entering Texas illegally. It also gives judges the ability to order some migrants to return to the country from which they crossed illegally instead of filing charges.
State officers and agencies would be allowed to transport them to ports of entry to ensure compliance. If migrants refuse to comply with the return order, they could be charged with a second-degree felony and face up to 20 years in prison.
SB 4 has raised concerns among immigrant rights advocates that the bill could lead to widespread racial profiling and a circumvention of protections afforded to asylum seekers under constitutional law and international obligations. The bill provides no funding or requirements to train agents in immigration law, although it would authorize them to quickly make decisions about a person’s immigration status.
“There is no U.S. federal analog to a lone agent who, at his discretion, escorts someone to the border and tells them to get out. It’s a very frightening prospect that is categorically different from this what the federal government is doing. On top of that, under the federal government, people in the system would be able to present their claims to an immigration officer and an immigration judge,” said David Donatti, senior attorney for the ACLU of Texas.
There are also growing concerns that parents could be separated from their children if they are arrested in connection with these new state crimes.
Aron Thorn, senior attorney for the Texas Civil Rights Project, says the law could trigger lawsuits and an international dispute with Mexico because it would lead to migrants being sent across the southern border regardless of their legal status.
Some opponents of the bill also suggested that it was being introduced to spark a challenge to a 2012 Supreme Court decision in Arizona v. United States, which confirmed the authority of the federal government to enforce immigration laws. That case revolved around a law similar to SB 4, which allowed police officers to question migrants about their immigration status and arrest them.
Thorn says that because the new crimes created by SB 4 only apply to undocumented immigrants, it will lead law enforcement officials to use race as probable cause to apprehend people.
“We know our history is full of examples of race being used as a proxy for immigration status. We live in Texas, our history books are full of them, and I think people are right to be concerned, especially because there is no possible way to violate that without being a foreigner, which means they must have some sort of idea that you are a non-citizen and race is used as an indicator for that.” , Thorn said.
A Department of Homeland Security spokesperson declined to comment on the specific legislation proposed in Texasbut said deporting noncitizens was the responsibility of the federal government.
“Generally speaking, it is the federal government – not individual states – that is responsible for determining how and when to deport noncitizens who violate immigration laws. State actions that come into conflict with federal law are invalid under the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution,” the spokesperson said. .
Lawmakers considered several versions of SB 4 and other similar proposals throughout the year, but failed to send them to the governor’s desk in previous sessions. The hearings were marked by strong opposition from infighting between Democrats and Republicans.
During a Senate vote on the bill last week, Republican Sen. Brian Birdwell, author of a previous version of the bill last session, said this version undermined the Constitution by challenging jurisdiction of the federal government regarding the expulsion of migrants.
“Members, this is why all my attempts to pass this bill and the wording of the bill have been placed in the hands of the appropriate federal authority responsible for the disposal and deportation of those we detain,” Birdwell said.
He added that the bill would set a “terrible precedent” by violating the constitution.
“President Biden’s failure to uphold his oath does not require us to violate ours. Instead, it requires our federal representatives to compel him and the electorate to remove him from office within the year to come,” Birdwell said.
State Sen. Charles Perry, the current author of the bill, defended its legality.
“While I recognize that we are testing and pushing the limits, the state has every right to protect its citizens, and this nation has every right to expect Texas to do so when called upon to do so. do,” Perry said.