One week before Christmas, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott outdid himself by signing into law a bill that authorizes police of any agency, anywhere in the state, to arrest any person they think looks “illegal.” Senate Bill 4 goes into effect March 5, the day of Texas’ presidential primary, along with Senate Bill 3, which allocates about $1.5 billion to support Texas’ ongoing efforts to build a wall at the Mexican border.
Texas’ SB4 was signed into law with outlandish drama right on the Texas/Mexico border in Brownsville, Texas. As he signed the bill, Abbott was seated with other racist politicians, behind a table with a sign, all in caps, reading ‘TEXAS’ HISTORIC BORDER SECURITY.’ Above and behind the crowd was a giant Texas flag held up high by a large construction crane. Ironically, the U.S. flag was missing.
In recent legislative sessions, Texas had enacted attacks on women, trans people and youth. The lawmakers outlawed diversity, equity and inclusion offices in state universities. Its abortion laws are among the most restrictive in the U.S. Rather than face criminal charges, parents of trans youth are leaving the state to access the proper health care their children need. Women are leaving as well after being denied life-saving reproductive health care, which has been declared illegal.
Abbott has called four special sessions of the legislature to attempt to put into law that private and religious schools be funded by the state, cutting money from already underfunded public schools. All this is on top of Abbott’s Operation Lonestar, a multibillion-dollar state campaign to strengthen the border to brutally stop migrants with razor wire, floating buoys and National Guard troops.
Abbott has consistently pushed the boundaries of law regarding migrants, even ordering the bussing of migrants to cities with Democratic mayors across the country. So, what does this newest reactionary law mean for Latinx people in Texas? Racial profiling by police will increase even more.
Millions of U.S. residents, including citizens, can be arrested and deported without due process.
SB4 encourages racial profiling
Latinx people are now the largest ethnic group in Texas, numbering over 40%. According to the U.S. Census numbers from June 2023, they outnumber whites for the first time since 1850, as reported by The Texas Tribune. (tinyurl.com/yuhe73x9) This legislation makes racial profiling easier. “Why do people who look like me now have to carry our passports around with us?” asked Texas state Rep. Armando Walee.
Activists and legal organizations were prepared before Abbott even signed SB4. They filed a federal civil rights lawsuit the very next day. The American Civil Liberties Union and the Texas Civil Rights Project filed on behalf of El Paso County and two immigrant rights organizations.
One, Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center, is a nonprofit legal service organization serving the legal needs of low-income noncitizens and asylum seekers in West Texas, Southern New Mexico and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. The other, American Gateways, is a nonprofit organization founded in 1987 and incorporated in Texas with offices in Austin, San Antonio and Waco, Texas. They provide a broad range of low and no-cost legal services to noncitizens throughout the region, including asylum seekers and victims of family violence, sexual assault and human trafficking.
Opposition swift in response to SB4
The chair of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, Texas State Rep. Victoria Neave Criado, said the new laws will potentially harm all Latinos.
Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, issued the following statement: “SB4 is Governor Abbott’s shameful and malicious attempt to carry out the Trump agenda of mass deportation. But immigrants are and have always been essential to the fabric of Texas, which is why we have seen powerful community organizing and widespread opposition from diverse constituents, including law enforcement.”
She stressed: “Immigrants and our allies will not stand for being terrorized by Abbott and this cruel bill. SB4 is hateful, ideology-driven, race-based policy. Texas voters will not forget who turned their backs on their neighbors, family and friends to enact this shameful law.”
“Under the new law, 79 different law enforcement agencies, from constables to school resource officers in the Houston area alone, would have the power to arrest undocumented immigrants,” said Cesar Espinosa, executive director of Familias Inmigrantes y Estudiantes en Lucha (FIEL) [Immigrant Families and Students in Struggle], an active civil rights organization in Houston.
FIEL has begun holding town hall meetings about SB 4 with its 16,000 members, many of whom are undocumented immigrants. Espinosa said, “These people make up a significant portion of the Texas labor force and contribute to the state’s economic success.”
Tsion Gurmu, legal director at the Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI), said: “Black and Brown people, regardless of citizenship, are already racially profiled and over-policed, and SB4 empowers local law enforcement to continue trampling on our rights.”
Gurmu emphasized: “Every second of the day, Black and Brown communities are criminalized, whether that be by ICE, state and local law enforcement, school security or vigilantes. Historically, criminalization of Black people in the U.S. has been used as a tool to maintain a system of white supremacy!”