As Houston begins its recovery from the flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey, our office is working hard to keep our clients up to date with new changes to immigration law.
Just before Harvey hit, I wrote about how enforcing immigration law is not black and white. I had no idea when I wrote the blog that President Trump would pardon Joe Arpaio, former sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona, who was notorious for his policies of racially profiling the citizens of Maricopa County in order to try to identify undocumented immigrants. This seemed to be a form of approval of this behavior, which was very concerning.
As Harvey receded from the Houston area, our clients were bracing for SB4 to take effect on September 1st. Then, on Wednesday, August 30th, a federal judge in San Antonio temporarily blocked SB4 from going into effect. This was good news for the Houston community in particular - we are a community of citizens and recent immigrants from all over the world - but SB4 isn't dead. The State of Texas has announced that it will appeal the decision, so the fate of SB4 is still unclear.
We want everyone to be aware of the provisions of SB4 since it may ultimately be upheld as Constitutional.
Texas SB4 Effective September 1st
As an immigration lawyer in Houston, I closely follow new developments in immigration law. Texas Senate Bill 4 is a law that was passed in the Texas legislature and signed by Governor Abbot on May 7, 2017.
The first part of this new law targets so-called “sanctuary cities” by mandating criminal punishment for anybody that fails to follow all federal immigration laws and detainer requests. The second part of the law authorizes Texas local law enforcement agents to ask about the immigration status of people they detain during arrests.
We have previously written about the specifics of the Texas SB4 program in a blog article entitled, What You Need to Know About Texas SB4. Today's blog article will focus on how SB4 will actually be enforced in practice by police officers.
In less than a week, Texas Senate Bill 4 will go into effect and Texas police and deputies will be allowed to interrogate individuals on their immigration status during an arrest. Immigrant communities are understandably nervous about the effects of the bill and wary of how potential police interactions will be affected.
Police departments all over Texas are making efforts to explain Texas SB4 to immigrant communities and are trying to ease their fears. “We’ve already got a lot of fear out there because of Senate Bill 4,” said Grand Prairie Police Chief Steven Dye. “So now, what we’re trying to do is mitigate that damage.”
When Can Texas SB4 Be Enforced?
Once SB4 kicks into effect on September 1st, law enforcement must be allowed to inquire into individuals’ immigration status. That means cities and localities cannot make laws that completely prevent officers from inquiring about immigration status. However, this does not mean that officers can walk up to people on the street and ask about their legal status.
An officer first must have detained or arrested an individual on legal grounds. In theory, this limitation sounds like it would prevent officers from approaching most people, but in reality something as minor as jay walking or turning without using a turn signal is sufficient for an officer to detain a person and then would justify an officer’s questioning an individual about immigration status. The more substantial limitation might be that an officer cannot start asking questions about a person’s immigration status if the person produces a valid government I.D. such as a driver’s license.
Beyond traffic stops and arrests on the streets, the primary effect of SB4 will be seen within local jails where officers will have no choice but to comply with federal “detainer” requests. This requirement to comply with all federal “detainer” requests does not sit well with some sheriffs who believe that police officers should focus on people who have been charged with serious crimes rather than harass immigrants. “"We chase crooks, not cooks and nannies and day laborers," Police Chief Art Acevedo said. "I think that's a view that's shared by the majority of Texas lawmen."
Where is Texas SB4 Prohibited from Being Enforced?
Texas police officers have stated that they will not apply Texas SB4 in community centers, hospital and hospital district police agencies, school districts and open-enrollment charter schools, community centers, local public health departments and federally qualified health centers. Additionally, officers state that they will not apply the law during a religious service or on the grounds of religious organizations.
However, the most important protection against discriminatory and unfair enforcement of SB4 lies in the United States Constitution’s Equal Protection clause because it prohibits the enforcement of SB4 through racial profiling. The concern that SB4 will result in racial based harassment of Hispanic communities is pervasive and is among the most significant criticisms leveled at the bill. “One of the main points we want to emphasize with our community, we do not want officers to act on racial profiling,” said Fort Worth police spokesman Daniel Segura, who was the UNIDOS meeting. “Racial profiling is illegal.”
Where is Texas SB4 Headed?
The law will go into effect on September 1 amidst a swirling storm of legal challenges to the bill. Multiple cities, including San Antonio, Dallas and Austin, have sued Texas over the bill. Attorney General Ken Paxton’s attempt to preemptively stop these lawsuits has failed with U.S. District Court Judge Sam Sparks stating “the State’s own argument underscores its deficiencies. Because SB 4 does not take effect until September 1, 2017, it is impossible for Defendants to take any action that would violate the not-yet-effective law.”
So now the fate of Texas SB4 rests in front of U.S. District Court Judge Orlando Garcia in San Antonio because all of the cases have been consolidated to Judge Garcia’s court. It is not clear when a ruling on the law is expected but if Judge Garcia makes no decision before September the law will go into effect.
What Can You Do?
Whether SB4 remains in effect or is limited or struck down by a court, the Trump administration has made it clear that enforcement of immigration law will continue to be heavily enforced, whether a person has a criminal record or not. If you are worried about your immigration status or concerned that you might be arrested, it’s important to meet with an experienced immigration lawyer to understand your options.
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.
To speak to our staff of immigration lawyers, click here: