Only have a minute? Listen instead
The Texas Legislature has passed a bill that would enable local law enforcement agencies and courts to arrest suspected illegal immigrants and deport them to Mexico. Gov. Greg Abbott, who has clamored for stricter border policies in his calls for special sessions, is sure to sign it.
We can only hope that most local policing agencies think better of the measure and steer clear of enforcing it.
Senate Bill 4 makes illegal entry from a foreign country a misdemeanor and gives courts the power to drop the charges if the defendants agree to be deported to Mexico or another country. Refusal to accept deportation, however, automatically aggravates the charge to a felony, with prison terms that could be as long as 20 years.
Legal experts say the bill is unconstitutional. It is similar to an Arizona law that the Supreme Court invalidated in 2012, asserting that immigration is a federal issue and states can’t enforce federal laws. Some people believe, however, that this is a test case to see if the current court’s makeup will decide differently. Although most of the court’s current conservative majority said during their Senate confirmation hearings that they were constitutional traditionalists, in some key cases they have disregarded the wording of the document and previous rulings.
Lawmakers obviously know SB4 is problematic. They included provisions that if Mexico or another country refuses to accept the deportation, the immigrant can present that information to the trial judge, who can take it into consideration. The bill also grants asylum at schools, places of worship or facilities that provide services to people who are survivors of sexual violence. It does not, however, offer protections for children or victims of sexual or physical abuse, even though such abuse is a valid reason to receive refugee protections under federal and international law.
Allowing for Mexico’s rejection of deportation suggests that lawmakers know our southern neighbor has no reason, and probably no inclination, to be America’s dumping ground — especially since most migrants arriving at our borders at this time aren’t from Mexico; more likely they are from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, and increasingly from India, China and Cuba. In addition, a majority are asking for asylum. U.S. and international laws offer protections to refugees and they are not to be considered illegal entrants once their claims have been received.
SB4 is sure to face plenty of legal challenges, and any local law enforcement agency will become mired in that costly and cumbersome litigation. Moreover, police chiefs and sheriffs have long held that such enforcement actually makes their jobs harder, and our communities less safe, because victims and witnesses are less likely to report crimes if they fear that doing so will lead to their detention or deportation — even if they are legal residents.
Abbott and like-minded Republicans want to send a message against immigration with these kinds of efforts. The message has been received. Local agencies should leave it at that — and leave this troublesome legislation alone.