Texas Legislature: Safeguard immigrant rights this session

As Texas’ 85th Legislature gets underway, there is no scarcity of proposed legislation aimed at immigrants and their families. Coupled with the rhetoric of the presidential campaign, and the uncertainty surrounding what specific immigration policies the new federal administration will implement, people around the state are on heightened alert to defend everyone’s constitutional rights.

Several proposed bills have been introduced that already raise red flags for immigration advocates, and more bills are anticipated.

SB4 is of particular note. The bill’s low number signals that it may be a priority for the Legislature, and there are a number of provisions to watch out for.

The draft bill would prohibit cities, counties and special districts from “adopt(ing), enforc(ing), or endors(ing) a policy under which the entity prohibits or discourages the enforcement of immigration laws.” It is essentially a prohibition of so-called “sanctuary cities” that would require all cities and counties to actively cooperate with immigration authorities. Only hospitals and schools would be exempted from this requirement.

The irony of proposing such a law does not escape those who have been following the DAPA litigation for the last two years. Whereas the Texas government has spent hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars fighting the current administration’s immigration policies, now this legislation seeks to require all subdivisions of Texas government to enforce the next administration’s immigration policies — before we even know what those might be. Texas now wants to force cities and counties to do what it has refused to do for years: cooperate with federal immigration authorities.

SB4 also proposes to amend the State’s Code of Criminal Procedure to allow peace officers “to enforce a federal law relating to immigrants or immigration” if the officer is acting “at the request of, or providing assistance to, an appropriate federal law enforcement officer.”

In practical terms, this could turn state and local police officers into de facto immigration agents, as the draft bill is astonishingly vague as to what “providing assistance” might mean. As many local law enforcement agents have stressed, having the community’s trust makes for more effective policing and ultimately helps protect everyone against crime. That trust enables individuals to report crimes — whether as victims or witnesses — without fear of reprisals due to their immigration status. This bill could undo the trust that has been built over the years.

Similarly, proposed HB52 would require all law enforcement officers in the state to inquire about a person’s immigration status whenever they make a stop, search or arrest. This type of “show me your papers” legislation has been declared unconstitutional in other states, as it results in discriminate enforcement that targets people of color, especially near the border. If enacted, we can expect such a bill to be challenged in the courts.

SB4 and HB52 would both require local law enforcement agencies to comply with immigration “detainers,” which are requests by immigration authorities to local law enforcement agencies to not release a person from custody. Detainers have also been found to be unconstitutional in several places around the country because they tend to result in the prolonged detention of individuals without legal justification.

Other notable proposed bills include HB328, which would make the Mexican consular ID — the matricula consular issued by Mexican consulates — an unacceptable form of ID for anyone seeking any city benefit or service. As drafted, HB 328 could, for instance, prohibit a person from using a matricula consular to purchase a public transportation ticket or connect their water service, and has no apparent constitutional rationale for such prohibition.

As with the policy that denied birth certificates to U.S. citizen children whose parents used their matricula consular to request a birth certificate, such a blanket prohibition would likely be unconstitutional, and we can expect that it would also be challenged in the courts.

There are other bills that seem to strengthen the relation between our communities and law enforcement, such as the “Call 9-1-1 without fear” bill (SB169), which would allow law enforcement inquiries into a crime victim’s or witness’s immigration status only if necessary to investigate the reported offense, but not otherwise.

The contrast between such a bill and the “show me your papers” proposal reflects, among other things, a starkly different understanding about how best to keep our communities safe without unjustifiably targeting individuals because of their immigration status.

As these and other draft bills work their way through the committees in our Texas Legislature, constituents must hold lawmakers accountable for respecting well-established constitutional rights. Now more than ever, it behooves us, voters, to demand legislation that respects due process, abides by existing Supreme Court precedents, and is a sensible use of taxpayer dollars.

Efrén C. Olivares is regional legal director for the Texas Civil Rights Project. He writes for The Monitor’s Board of Contributors. Learn more about his organization at www. texascivilrightsproject.org.