Joint Statement Opposing Anti-Immigrant Legislation in Texas

TRUST is a diverse coalition of business, religious, and advocacy organizations that champions policies that value immigrants as vital, productive members of Texas communities. As stakeholders, we strive to work with our elected leaders on long-term solutions to create an immigration system that meets the needs of our state and respects the rights and dignity of asylum seekers and other migrants. Yet we, and joined by the organizations signed below, find ourselves once again fighting unconstitutional, anti-immigrant state legislation designed to usurp federal authority and spend billions of our tax dollars to target our families, friends, and neighbors.

After wasting $10 billion over the last two years on deterrence-only policies that simply do not work, including $1 million on a deadly buoy barrier along the Rio Grande, the Texas Legislature in the last two weeks enacted SB 4 (88S3), SB 4/HB 4 (88S4), and SB 3 (88S4). This legislation doubles down on Governor Greg Abbott’s abuse of state authority to implement failed deterrence initiatives that discriminate against immigrants and communities of color. Experience shows that these kinds of policies have widespread and devastating impacts, encourage racial profiling, and violate migrants’ fundamental human rights.

Bill Summaries

SB 4 (88S3) Sent to the Governor for his signature on November 2, 2023, this bill creates a 10-year mandatory minimum sentence for human smuggling and eliminates judicial discretion for Texans convicted of that crime. The Texas human smuggling statute exposes individuals to criminal prosecution for innocent activities such as offering a car ride to a friend or neighbor if a law enforcement officer decides that activity constitutes concealing, harboring, or shielding an undocumented person from detection. SB 3 (88S4) is a bill awaiting the Governor’s signature that designates $1.5 billion to build a border wall and further fund ineffective and deadly “border security” operations.

SB 4/HB 4 (88S4) are bills awaiting the Governor’s signature that create state crimes for illegal entry and reentry to Texas, and for refusal to return to Mexico if so ordered by a state judge. It authorizes state and local law enforcement to arrest people who enter Texas between ports of entry. This bill challenges well-established Supreme Court precedent holding that states cannot carry out immigration enforcement.

These bills are founded on dangerous “invasion” rhetoric to justify inhumane and unconstitutional immigration enforcement by the State. The same rhetoric that fueled violence like the El Paso shooting  is now condoning a reckless response to the humanitarian crisis at our border.

The Impact on Children, Families, and Communities 

In Texas, 1 in 4 children live in mixed-status families. Their well-being is integral to fostering safe and thriving communities in our state. Xenophobic, racist, anti-immigrant legislation like SB 4/HB 4 profoundly shapes the development of young Texans by threatening family unity and children’s sense of safety. Specifically, SB 4/HB 4:

  • Subjects children to prosecution and removal, without guaranteeing additional protection from endangerment;  
  • Risks widespread family separation by failing to establish procedures for children whose parents are arrested or providing safeguards for family unity; and
  • Exacerbates children’s fears of government officials by authorizing over forty categories of peace officers to arrest individuals they suspect entered the state unlawfully.

In addition, this legislation will further diminish community trust in law enforcement and undermine Texas’ anti-trafficking efforts by failing to shield survivors of trafficking and other crimes, such as domestic violence, who may otherwise provide vital information to law enforcement officers.  

Constitutional Concerns

SB 4/HB 4 (88S4) is unconstitutional. Senator Birdwell, chairman of the Senate Committee on Border Security and author of previous versions of the bills, argued passionately on the Senate floor that SB 4 is “setting a terrible precedent for the future by invalidating our obedience and faithfulness to our Constitution” in violation of legislators’ oath of office.

In Arizona v. United States, the U.S. Supreme Court reaffirmed that states are preempted from carrying out immigration enforcement. As explained by thirty former immigration and appellate immigration judges in a signed statement to the Texas Legislature:

The proposed Texas legislation, which would allow a state court magistrate judge to issue a removal order, is not lawful. Immigration is plainly a federal function…Furthermore, persons in the United States who entered unlawfully have rights and protections under federal law, including the right to apply for asylum.

Among the concerning constitutional and technical issues with SB 4/HB 4 are:

  • Criminalizing the entry into the United States of certain categories of non-U.S. citizens.
  • Authorizing state and local police to make alienage determinations and to make arrests based on those determinations;
  • Requiring non-immigration judges and magistrates to make immigration determinations such as whether a person has “lawful presence” in the United States;
  • Placing the burden of proving lawful presence or immigration status on individuals while prohibiting state courts from waiting for the outcome of federal immigration proceedings;
  • Authorizing state and local judges to order the removal of individuals from the United States;
  • Compelling state officials to ignore pending federal immigration detainer requests;
  • Exposing legal immigrants to the threat of criminal prosecution for “illegal reentry” if they had previously been deported and subsequently obtained legal status; and
  • Creating an ex post facto offense by imposing a criminal penalty for illegal entry against defendants who entered the U.S. before the bill passed.

Despite our repeated efforts to urge legislators to oppose these bills, state leaders persist in imposing policies that will adversely affect us all, showcasing a lack of understanding of the federal immigration system and the realities along the Texas-Mexico border.

We, the TRUST coalition and the additional undersigned organizations, oppose SB 4 (88S3), SB 4/HB 4 (88S4), and SB 3 (88S4), and together, we call on Governor Abbott to abandon his unconstitutional efforts and veto these bills or risk thrusting the state into costly litigation.

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