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SB4: What does the law do?

What is a law called when it causes fear among immigrant communities, authorizes campus police officers to ask about a student’s immigration status, criminally and civilly penalizes local authorities if they fail comply with an immigration detainer, and allows citizens to file a complaint against local authorities for failure to comply with the law? Is it overly ambitious and discriminatory or necessary for public safety?

The Texas law known as SB4, which passed on May 7, 2017, will go into effect on September 1, 2017. The law authorizes higher education campus police departments and certain local government entities to inquire as to the legal status of an individual who is under a lawful detention or under arrest. What is lawful detention? Pursuant to section 752.051(4), lawful detention is defined as the detention of an individual by a local entity, state criminal justice agency, or campus police department for the investigation of a criminal offense.

Additionally, local entities must assist or cooperate with federal immigration officers including providing enforcement assistance. However, the law does not apply in certain places such as hospitals, school districts, open-enrollment charter schools, public health departments, community centers, or local mental health authorities. Further, the law precludes campus police departments or local entities from inquiring as to the legal status of victims, witnesses, or individuals reporting an offense, as long as they are not under investigation for a criminal offense.

If the campus police department or local entity fail to comply with the law, they can be penalized. An elected official may be removed from his or her position for failing to adhere to the law. Also, if a sheriff, chief of police, constable, or a person who otherwise has primary authority for administering a jail intentionally fails to follow the law, he or she can be charged with a criminal offense.

If a Texas resident believes the law is not being followed, the resident can file a complaint. Section 752.055 states that a citizen may file a complaint with the attorney general if the citizen asserts facts that the campus police department or local entity is not complying with the regulations under SB4. The citizen must include a sworn statement stating that to the best of the citizen’s knowledge, all facts asserted in the complaint are true and correct.

Overall, the law is controversial. The law has a strong undertone of racism despite it’s attempt at addressing discriminatory issues. Section 752.054 of the law states: a local entity, campus police department…may not consider race, color, religion, language, or national origin while enforcing immigration laws except to the extent permitted by the United States Constitution or Texas Constitution. How will the law be implemented without appearing discriminatory? Who will be asked about their immigration status? Will the campus police officer ask every detained individual if they are in the United States lawfully? The officer may ask the person where they were born, but that is not always indicative of the person’s immigration status in the United States. What does an undocumented person look like? Will the inquiring officer be trained in assessing an individual’s immigration status?

Laws are meant to protect people and make communities feel safer. How can a law that stirs fear in communities and punishes governing agencies be good for a state and its residents?

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