Texas Republicans have willfully ignored the existence of the United States Constitution in several of the laws they’ve passed since May, American Civil Liberties Union attorneys say.
The most recent of these laws – Senate Bill 4 – received its inevitable court challenge yesterday, when the ACLU of Texas and the Texas Civil Rights Project filed suit to stop the law from going into effect.
SB 4 was signed by Gov. Greg Abbott on Dec. 18. It gives local sheriffs, city police, and state troopers the power to arrest and hold people they suspect of having entered Texas without federal authorization. It would let state judges, who are untrained in immigration law and have no authority to enforce it, order immigrants to be pushed back across the border without the usual court process and, crucially, without a chance to seek asylum, a federally guaranteed right.
The Texas ACLU’s Adriana Piñon called SB 4 one of the most extreme anti-immigrant bills ever passed by any state legislature. “The bill overrides bedrock constitutional principles and flouts federal immigration law while harming Texans, in particular Brown and Black communities,” Piñon said. “Texans deserve better and we’re holding Texas politicians accountable to make sure this law never goes into effect.”
In the lawsuit, the ACLU attorneys write that SB 4 creates its own immigration crimes. It allows state police to arrest noncitizens, state prosecutors to bring charges, state judges to order deportation, and state officers to carry out the orders. The federal government has no role in any of it.
This, the attorneys argue, is a violation of the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution – the rule establishing federal law as the supreme law of the land. “Congress has created a carefully calibrated immigration system, with detailed procedures that determine whether a person may remain in the United States,” the lawsuit reads. “SB 4 jettisons this system, grasping control over immigration from the federal government and depriving people subject to that system of all of the federal rights and due process that Congress provided to them, including the rights to contest removal and seek asylum. SB 4 is patently illegal.”
The system the suit references is called the Immigration and Nationality Act, a set of rules that have been rewritten many times since 1952. In 1980, the INA was amended to protect people who come to this country fleeing danger. Under the law, every noncitizen who “is physically present in the United States or who arrives in the United States” has the right to apply for asylum, whether or not they enter at a port of entry. Other provisions of the INA prohibit unaccompanied children from being removed from the country and prohibit the removal of people to countries where they will face persecution.
Advocates say that aside from damaging immigrant communities, SB 4 violates the rights of American citizens along the border by subjecting them to police harassment based on the color of their skin. It will also have a disproportionate impact on the budgets of border counties.
El Paso County, one of the suit’s plaintiffs, calculates that if DPS’s estimation of an additional 72,000 arrests per annum statewide are correct the county will lock up 8,000 more people in its county jails each year. The suit says this would cost the county approximately $24 million per year. If SB 4 isn’t struck down, the county estimates that it will need to build a new jail at the cost of an additional $162 million.
Got something to say? The Chronicle welcomes opinion pieces on any topic from the community. Submit yours now at austinchronicle.com/opinion.