The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has issued a “travel alert” for Texas after GOP Gov. Greg Abbott on Sunday signed SB 4, a law banning so-called sanctuary cities and authorizing Texas police officers to investigate immigration status during routine traffic stops.
SB 4, which goes into effect September 1, penalizes law enforcement officials who don’t comply with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainer requests.
ICE detainers, though not mandatory or legally required, are a key immigration enforcement tool that involve ICE submitting a written request asking a local jail or other law enforcement agency to detain an undocumented person for an additional 48 hours (excluding weekends and holidays) after their release date to provide ICE agents extra time to take that person into federal custody.
“The alert comes amid the passing of a Texas law known as SB4 … leading to widespread racial profiling, baseless scrutiny, and illegal arrests of citizens and non-citizens alike presumed to be ‘foreign’ based on how they look or sound,” the ACLU statement reads. “The travel alert applies to all travelers to Texas, including U.S. travelers from other states and U.S. citizens. In addition, this alert applies to all encounters with federal, state, county law enforcement including local police and sheriffs.”
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Although some regions choose not to honor detainer requests for a variety of reasons—including being instructed by federal courts not to because of constitutional concerns and pricy lawsuits—the Trump administration continues to shame municipalities that don’t honor them. But ICE detainers affect U.S. citizens as well.
Between 2008 and 2012, ICE requested local law enforcement hold 834 U.S. citizens, some of whom subsequently spent days in jail as a result, the ACLU reported. The organization claims the state of Texas is placing “the rights of its residents, including U.S. citizens, in extreme jeopardy” with SB 4.
As a result of the new law, refusing to comply with federal detainer requests in Texas is now considered “a Class A misdemeanor (punishable by up to either a $4,000 fine and/or a year in prison) upon the first offense, with a civil penalty resulting in a fine of $25,500 per day also possible, as well as removal from elected or appointed office,” ThinkProgress reported.
Undocumented people living in Texas are speaking out against the anti-immigrant law, expressing their fears that family separation is imminent.
“Instead of thinking about how to celebrate Mother’s Day on Sunday, thousands of immigrant families like mine will be holding each other tight and fearing it might be the last time we celebrate this day together,” said Yanira, an undocumented mother and member of the Labor Justice Committee, a community organization in El Paso. “If SB 4 goes into effect it will prevent us from living our lives because of the constant fear of being deported. We have to stop it.”
Advocates from groups like We Belong Together, a campaign of the National Domestic Workers Alliance to mobilize women in support of immigration policies, are drawing comparisons between Texas’ SB 4 and Arizona’s SB 1070, which passed in 2010. SB 1070 made racial profiling legal in Arizona; one of the law’s biggest proponents, infamous Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, had a lengthy court record in relation to SB 1070.
“[This is] one of the worst anti-immigrant laws in the country since Arizona’s ‘show me your papers’ law in 2010,” claimed a We Belong Together statement.
Accusations of racism and xenophobia trailed Arpaio for the entirety of his six terms as sheriff, until he lost his seat to retired Phoenix police sergeant Paul Penzone in November’s election.
Officers have significant discretion in whether to inquire about a person’s immigration status, charge people with low-level crimes, or honor ICE detainers—all of which can lead to detainment and deportation for undocumented people. Texas’ new law removes this discretion, forcing officers to participate in immigration enforcement.
President Trump is increasing ICE reliance on local law enforcement to carry out his mass deportations. His January executive order on immigration enforcement included measures to ramp up a program that deputizes local law enforcement officers to act as federal immigration agents. Numbers are quickly shifting, but as of this Tuesday, 41 law enforcement agencies are collaborating with ICE, according to the government’s latest figures. But as Rewire reported, many law enforcement agencies already assist ICE in immigration enforcement without a formal agreement, including those in so-called sanctuary cities.
Advocates called Abbott’s signing of SB 4 “cowardly” and expressed concerns over the conditions this will create in the state.
“By the stroke of a pen, Abbott has plummeted Texas into a constitutional crisis. Immigrants and any person of color who the police perceive could be undocumented will have to produce their papers. This is a license to profile and target Latinx, Brown and Black people—plain and simple,” said Sameera Hafiz, advocacy director of We Belong Together.
“Abbott has put Texas on the wrong side of history. Signing SB4 into law tears families apart, creates fear and anxiety for children who already experience over-policing in their schools and communities, and keeps survivors of gender-based violence silent and in abusive situations. How will this keep families and communities safe? How will this protect the future of Texas if thousands of kids could be separated from their parents and left in foster care?”