Earlier this week, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed one of the nation’s harshest immigration bills into law. But while the ACLU has already issued a travel alert to warn both residents and travelers to stay clear of the Lone Star State, others are saying the law won’t even last long enough to go into effect in September.
In fact, most legal experts agree that the Texas immigration law is doomed to die a swift death in the courts.
“This bill is crazy. There are so many different legal problems with this, it’s almost like a law school exam intended to test your knowledge,” said Thomas A. Saenz, President of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, to The Huffington Post. “I expect a judge will have problems with virtually every section of it.”
Senate Bill 4 specifically targets sanctuary city policies, which protect undocumented immigrants from legal action taken by the federal government. The new law states that no Texas jurisdiction can refuse to cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Any local jurisdiction that violates the law would be subject to fines (anywhere from $1,000 to $25,000) and the loss of state funding. But Senate Bill 4 goes further than that; local officials who refuse to abide by the law could be thrown out of office and spend up to a year in jail.
Police now have the authority to question anyone they stop — even for a minor traffic infraction — about their immigration status. It even applies to university campus police. Curiously, the state of Texas already has a law that allowed undocumented immigrants to attend local colleges and pay in-state tuition rates.
The public was given no advance notice that the bill was being signed into law. Abbott made an announcement in a five-minute Facebook broadcast, an unconventional approach that allowed him to circumvent any public protests that may have occurred with a public signing.
But opponents have already drawn comparisons to Arizona’s highly controversial “Show Me Your Papers” law, passed in 2010. Furthermore, the bill is ripe with constitutional challenges that have immigration advocates chomping at the bit.
For one, courts have already ruled that continuing to hold individuals in local jails who would otherwise go free violates the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Furthermore, those who oppose the bill argue that it looks as if Texas is trying to create its own immigration policies, which the Constitution designates as a responsibility for the federal government alone.
Senate Bill 4’s opponents say that Texas — along with every other state in the union — benefits greatly from undocumented immigrants. Activists argue that many undocumented immigrants settle in the U.S. and take on undesirable or dangerous jobs that American citizens refuse to do. In 2015, 4,836 people were killed on the job, which means 13 workers died every day. Without these low-wage employees, many restaurants, roofing companies, and farms are forced to function without reliable help. In fact, research has shown that the U.S. now has too few immigrants to fill empty positions in agriculture, construction, and food service.
Unsurprisingly, the ACLU has openly condemned the law, as they say it legally allows law enforcement to racially profile.
“We can only anticipate that vulnerable people will be subjected to profiling and other constitutional violations,” Texas ACLU executive director Terri Burke told reporters. “By giving local police the green light to inquire about a person’s immigration status, we know from experience that people — that is citizens and non-citizens alike — will be held unlawfully for extended periods of time while their status is checked.”
Austin City Councilman Greg Casar told The Huffington Post that many Texas jurisdictions are already planning to challenge the new law.
“We won’t be coerced,” Casar said during a sit-in at the governor’s office, an event which ended in his arrest, along with 20 others. “Even if [Governor Abbott] threatens us with criminalization, even if he threatens to remove us from office, we can’t betray our communities.”
Currently, only Travis County and Dallas County are designated as sanctuary cities in Texas. The city of Rochester reaffirmed its sanctuary status in February of 2017.