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Appeals court to decide if Texas immigration law violates Constitution

The law remains on hold as the U.S. Justice Department is suing, arguing Texas is trampling on federal authority to enforce immigration laws.
Appeals court to decide if Texas immigration law violates constitution
Posted at 6:16 PM, Apr 02, 2024

A Texas law that would authorize police to arrest and detain migrants suspected of illegally crossing the border from Mexico remains on hold as it proceeds through the appellate process. The law known as SB4 applies to all of Texas' 254 counties.

In rural conservative Texas there's strong support for it. However, in Houston, the nation's fourth-largest city, with 45% of the population having Hispanic heritage, the fear of the law is palpable among many. There's a belief that if the law is found constitutional, it would be used in racial profiling.

"My district, District I, is about 75% Latino," said Joaquin Martinez, a Houston City Council member.

Martinez says fear amongst Spanish-speaking immigrants in his neighborhood regardless of their immigration status is palpable.

"Now you're just targeting a specific community," Martinez said, "In a way where you're asking everybody to start investing in this and creating this fear."

SB4 would make crossing illegally into the U.S. from Mexico a state crime, and would give police all over Texas authority to enforce it. Furthermore, Martinez thinks it will open the door to racial profiling.

"One hundred percent. I think right off the bat, some of the first conversations about this amongst older members of the Latino community were about 'Operation Wetback'," Martinez said.

The Houston City Council member is referring to the infamous massive deportation program that occurred in 1954 under the Eisenhower administration. It resulted not only in the removal of undocumented Mexicans, but caught up U.S. citizens of Hispanic heritage. He fears that if federal courts find SB4 constitutional and put it into effect, Hispanic communities will be less likely to cooperate with local police.

SEE MORE: Texas' migrant arrest law will remain on hold under new court ruling

"Prior to that and even now we have communities that are like hands off," Martinez said. " We don't want to get involved in law enforcement because of fear of status."

The law remains on hold as the U.S. Justice Department is suing, arguing Texas is trampling on federal authority to enforce the nation's immigration laws. However, in urban Texas it has irked Hispanic immigrant communities, and local police and officials feel compelled to respond.

Before the law was held up in the courts, Houston Mayor John Whitmire told reporters, "HPD is not enforcing immigration laws. Period."

Fort Worth's chief of police put out social media videos in English and in Spanish reiterating that the department will "follow the law," but views immigration enforcement as primarily the responsibility of the federal and state governments, not local police.

Immigrant advocacy groups like Houston's FIEL, which staunchly opposes the law, still get a constant stream of questions about it.

"Is it going to be enforced in the border? Is it going to be enforced everywhere? And sometimes people just enter panic mode and they say, 'How can I get out of here?,'" said FIEL executive director Cesar Espinosa.

Because the law applies to all of the 254 Texas counties, Espinosa views the reassurances from law enforcement with skepticism.

"One of the things that we're seeing is the second- and third-generation folks that are showing up, also afraid that SB4 is going to target them just because of the way they look. Just because, you know, they may have relatives who are undocumented or immigrants," Espinosa said. 

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and the supporters of the law say it helps Texas assist the federal government to enforce immigration laws. 

But the federal government argues it would create chaos and confusion, saying Texas' foray into immigration enforcement would create patchwork response and result in less cooperation with our biggest trading partner: Mexico. 

The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals takes up the case Wednesday.

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