Today, in a win for civil rights advocates, as well as tens of thousands of Texas residents, a federal judge has temporarily blocked Texas Senate Bill 4, also known as the Show Me Your Papers Bill, just days before it was set to go into effect.
Gov. Greg Abbott signed the bill into law during a Facebook Live broadcast which occurred late on a Sunday evening in May. The bill, which was one of Abbott’s top priorities during the recent 85th Legislature, drew immediate backlash from Texas residents, civil rights advocates, law enforcement officials and more. Just days after Abbott signed it, the border city of Cenizo filed suit against the State of Texas, claiming the bill would infringe upon people’s constitutional rights.
Cenizo was joined in their suit by Maverick County and the League of United Latino American Citizens (LULAC). Soon, several other cities, counties and organizations moved to join the lawsuit, as well, including the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), El Paso County, Cameron County, the cities of Houston, Dallas, Austin and San Antonio and others.
Law enforcement officials from across the state testified at the state Capitol, voicing their concerns about the bill, which were many.
Chief among them were Fourth Amendment worries, as the bill would require local law enforcement to keep people detained in jails and prisons until they could be transferred into the custody of federal immigration officers.
They would be required to do so even if a detainee had met or satisfied the conditions of their detention, such as posting bail or completing their sentences. Or, even if they had been detained but had not been charged with a jailable crime, such as a minor traffic offense.
Law enforcement also raised concerns about how the bill’s mandate that local law enforcement officers ascertain a person’s immigration status conflicted with the U.S. Supremacy Clause, which makes immigration issues a matter of federal enforcement, not local enforcement.
As a matter of practicality, the bill’s mandates made no provisions for how its implementation would be funded, or how officers should be trained to carry out its implementation.
One small town police chief I spoke with said that, social and community concerns aside, his department simply didn’t have the financial resources to implement the bill. That included funding needed for officer training, as well as the housing and feeding of detainees who would need to be kept in his jail until ICE could take custody of them.
But for that chief, as well as other top lawmen throughout the state, one of the biggest concerns of all is how SB4 would have a detrimental effect on how police departments interact with the communities they are tasked with serving.
Police fear crime victims would be hesitant to report crime for fear of being detained and deported. The bill, many officers said, would make Texas less safe, not more.
Then there’s the portions of the bill that spell out what the consequences will be for any law enforcement officer or elected public official who discourages officers from carrying out its racist mandates. They can be fined and public officials can be removed from office.
Maybe deposing a city council person or county commissioner doesn’t seem like such a bad thing to you, but it is. Repeatedly, Texas courts have found that the only way an elected official can be deposed is via a recall by the voters. Circumventing the election and the representative democratic process is never a good thing.
But perhaps most absurd of all is the man who authored the bill, State Sen. Charles Perry (R-Lubbock). For those not familiar with Texas geography, Lubbock is about as far away as you can get from the Mexico border and still be inside the state. (Well, ok, there’s still a bunch of Panhandle past Lubbock, but that might as well be Oklahoma). This year Perry had the distinction of being listed among Texas Monthly’s worst politicians.
Perry was first elected to the state senate in 2014. He introduced anti-immigrant legislation soon after, but it failed. Never one to give up, Perry took full advantage of the new far right wing leadership that took over the state’s executive branch in January 2015, primarily, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.
Patrick is so conservative that even other Republicans give him the stink eye, wave their hands frantically and say “we’re not with him” all the damned time (though not often enough when it comes to casting their legislative ballots).
Backed by Patrick’s support of all things anti-Latino, anti-poor people, anti-poor school kids, anti-government transparency, as well as the convenient timing of Donald Trump fueling similar attitudes on a nationwide scale, and well, Perry’s racist bill got the green light this time around. Much to the perpetual shame of a vast majority of Texans.
Anyway, tonight was a win for common sense and common decency, but it was only a partial victory. U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia didn’t strike down the part of the law which says local LEOs can ask a person about their immigration status.
Nor did he provide any additional clarification about what an officer should do if they determine a person is, in fact, here without proper documentation. They could call federal agents, if they think it’s necessary. Or, they could let that person go along their way. It will be at the officer’s discretion.
And in the parts of Texas where this bill DOES have some support — places like Sen. Perry’s Lubbock, where more than 75 percent of the population is white — I’m willing to bet that “officer discretion” isn’t going to be that discrete to anyone with brown skin.
Think I’m being hyperbolic? Perry’s colleague and fellow state senator, José Rodríguez (D-El Paso), has previously spoken about the time he was detained by federal officials who questioned his immigration status at a Texas airport. Rodriguez, a former migrant farm worker, was at the time serving as the El Paso County attorney.
Another state legislator, Rep. Eddie Lucio, Jr. (D-Brownsville), was once detained as a child. He and his mother were actually deported to Reynosa, Mexico despite the fact that they are both American citizens. Lucio recounted that experience on the House floor during the legislative session.
So, the fight isn’t over. There’s still some life to this bill. But there’s also a shining spark of hope among those fighting for what is right. This evening I watched as members of La Union del Pueblo Entero (LUPE) celebrated the district court’s decision. I have hope yet that justice will indeed prevail.
Links (not embedded in the story because I’m on mobile and lolkinja):