The ACLU issued a “travel alert” in the state of Texas Wednesday, warning “anyone planning to travel to Texas in the near future to anticipate the possible violation of their constitutional rights when stopped by law enforcement.”
The alert was announced in response to the passage of Senate Bill 4, otherwise known as the “papers please” provision. Texas Governor Greg Abbott unexpectedly broadcast himself signing the bill banning sanctuary cities in a Facebook live stream, during which he specifically targeted Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez for pushing back against the ban, warning, “This will not be tolerated. There will be consequences.”
The “papers please” law encourages police to demand proof of citizenship during routine traffic stops and “requires Texas law enforcement to comply with the federal government’s constitutionally flawed use of detainer requests, which ask local law enforcement to hold people for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), even when they lack the legal authority to do so,” the ACLU notes.
The executive director of Texas’ ACLU made it clear the organization will be challenging the new legislature, saying:
“We plan to fight this racist and wrongheaded law in the courts and in the streets. Until we defeat it, everyone traveling in or to Texas needs to be aware of what’s in store for them. The Lone Star State will become a ‘show me your papers’ state, where every interaction with law enforcement can become a citizenship interrogation and potentially an illegal arrest.”
According to a press release from the governor’s office, any elected official who does not comply with the draconian measures faces heavy penalties, including jail time, removal from office, and a fine of up to $25,500 for each day of the violation. “Elected officials and law enforcement agencies, they don’t get to pick and choose with laws they obey,” Gov. Abbott claims. Conversely, a competitive grant program will be established by the Governor’s Criminal Justice Division to reward counties and municipalities with financial assistance “to offset the costs” of enforcing immigration laws and honoring or fulfilling immigration detainer requests. In other words, the state of Texas is incentivizing local law enforcement agencies to hunt immigrants.
However, Texas’ top police chiefs have railed against the bill for months, saying the new legislation will endanger public safety. The police chiefs of Austin, Arlington, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, San Antonio, and the Texas Police Chiefs Association voiced their opposition in an open letter to the House of Representatives in April, calling SB4 “political pandering that will make our communities more dangerous.”
The letter explains how the law will further damage relations between law enforcement and their communities and leave more violent criminals on the street:
“Legal immigrants are beginning to avoid contact with the police for fear that they themselves or undocumented family members or friends may become subject to immigration enforcement. Such a divide between the local police and immigrant groups will result in increased crime against immigrants and in the broader community, create a class of silent victims, and eliminate the potential for assistance from immigrants in solving crimes or preventing crime. It should not be forgotten that by not arresting criminals that victimize our immigrant communities, we are also allowing them to remain free to victimize every one of us. When it comes to criminals, we are in this together, regardless of race, sex, religion or nation of origin.”
San Antonio Police Chief William McManus expressed his displeasure in a press conference Monday, stating “There’s nothing positive that this bill does in the community or in law enforcement. Austin didn’t seem to want to listen to its law enforcement leaders across the state. And that, to me, is troubling.”
McManus, just one of many law enforcement officials ardently opposed to S.B.4, has been very straightforward about exactly what this new law requires him and his officers to do — and who to target:
“We’re talking about folks south of the border. We’re not talking about people we think might be here from Russia or from somewhere else. We’re talking about out people south of the border,” he said. “In order for me to identify someone who I don’t think is from here, it’s either skin color, language or accent. And in order to do, that I’m profiling. So that’s another part of the bill that’s distasteful, to say the least.”
However, none of the police chiefs were staunchly opposed to the bill enough to give any indication they would refuse to comply with the “papers please” provision, despite the fact that they believe it to be dangerous. Sheriff Hernandez clearly stated she will comply with the sanctuaries ban if it becomes law— and she believes it will. Well, it has become law, and it officially goes into effect on September 1st, 2017, giving Texas law enforcement some time to remember the Oath of Honor they took, review their code of ethics, and decide whether to follow their consciences or their marching orders.
To review your rights when stopped by police, immigration agents, or the FBI, go to ACLU.org.
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