Immigration Lawyer in Houston: What you Need to Know about Texas SB4

May 16, 2017 Posted in immigration law

Immigration Lawyer in Houston Texas SB4.jpeg

What is Texas SB4?

Texas Senate Bill 4 is a law that was passed in the Texas legislature and signed by Governor Abbot on May 7, 2017. The law is similar to Arizona’s controversial SB 1070, which was passed in 2010.  As an immigration lawyer in Houston, I will be closely following new developments in immigration law. Here's what you need to know.

Parts of SB 1070 were struck down in 2012 by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional, but the Court upheld the portion of the law that allows police to check the immigration status of a person who is stopped, detained, or arrested if there is a reasonable suspicion that the person is not in the country lawfully.

Texas SB4 is set to go into effect on September 1st of this year. It is a state law that is separate from President Trump’s Executive Orders for Immigration Enforcement which were announced in February.

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What Does SB4 Do?

This new law basically has two main prongs. The first prong targets so-called “sanctuary cities” by mandating criminal punishment for anybody that fails to follow all federal immigration laws and detainer requests. The law is broad and requires a range of officials to join in an effort to enforce immigration laws.

City council members, members of county commissions, sheriffs, district and city attorneys, and police on college campuses are all prohibited from “adopting any policy to prohibit or ‘materially limit’ a corrections officer, commissioned peace officer, booking clerk, magistrate, district attorney, criminal district attorney, or other prosecuting attorney from checking into a person’s immigration status” and reporting that information to the federal government. Officials who “prohibit or materially limit” enforcement of the law are subject to the following penalties:

  • A civil penalty for entities in violation of the law of up to $25,500 for each day of the violation.
  • A civil penalty for entities in violation of the law of up to $25,500 for each day of the violation.
  • Removal from office for any elected or appointed official who does not comply with the law. 

All of this means that local law enforcement agents are essentially deputized as immigration agents and must turn over suspected undocumented immigrants to federal authorities or face penalties. They also must comply with federal detainer requests wherein officials keep immigrants in local custody until federal officials can grab them for potential deportation proceedings. The law goes as far as to encourage employees of local governments or colleges to turn in any employer who is not following immigration law to the attorney general.

The second prong of the law authorizes Texas local law enforcement agents to ask about the immigration status of people they detain during arrests. This aspect of the law goes even further than other similar provisions because officers can even ask victims or witnesses to crimes about their nationality or immigration status if officers believe there is “probable cause” that the person committed a crime. However, considering that entering this country without inspection is a misdemeanor, officers in reality could start questioning individuals based on questionable assumptions.

 

Could SB4 Be Struck Down by a Court?

While Texas SB4 is not set to go into effect until September 1, the law is already controversial and faces legal challenges from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Mexican American Legal Defense Fund (MALDEF). There are multiple provisions of the law that raise constitutional questions that most likely will be litigated.

The first provision likely to be challenged is the one that authorizes law enforcement to question the immigrant status of people during arrests. This provision faces civil rights and racial profiling challenges, especially as it applies to victims and witnesses. Latinos will likely face increased questioning even while reporting a crime and as a result ensures that people from these communities will be discouraged from reporting crimes.

Secondly, the requirement that local officials honor federal detainer requests will likely be challenged on Fourth Amendment grounds. The Fourth Amendment guarantees freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. As a result, officials must have sufficient cause to hold a person beyond the designated release date.

Finally, the possible removal of any official who is found to be “materially limiting” enforcement or cooperation of immigration doctrines could violate an individual’s First Amendment right to freedom of expression. MALDEF has argued that an official who “voices disagreement with the provision could be seen as obstructing police officers from immigration enforcement.” The expression of disagreement is protected by the First Amendment.

 

What Can You Do Now?

Texas Senate Bill 4 is an extremely harsh anti-undocumented-immigrant law. It has profound implications for every individual in our state while immigrant communities will justifiably fear the potential disparate impact the law could have on them.

Click here to learn what you can do if you're worried about your immigration status. 

Immigration Lawyer in Houston

For anyone seeking to apply for immigration benefits in the United States, it is very important to make sure you work with an experienced immigration lawyer to put your best case forward. If you are undocumented, it is a good time to start preparing information for an attorney to use if you are arrested and detained or placed in immigration court. It is also important to know your rights and to begin gathering information for any immigration applications you may have to make.

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