Op/Ed – SB4. In my opinion . . .

By Gilda Morales

To most of us, September 1 is simply a day off, Labor Day, signaling the end of the summer and the beginning of school, and new hopes for a good football season.  For law enforcement officials, it also signals the start of the provisions of Senate Bill 4, which was passed during the last session of the Texas Legislature.  It is a bill that was quietly adopted even though its repercussions will be deafening.

On its face, the bill is intended to punish so-called sanctuary cities by withholding state funding.  It goes much further than that.  The bill prevents local law enforcement officials, such as county sheriffs, wardens, college police, district attorneys, and even city council and county commissioners, from adopting policies that would prevent law enforcement from asking any detainee about their immigration status.  It also requires that officers detain people with questionable citizenship status.

The potential for abuse is chilling as what happened when Arizona passed a similar bill, which was later coined as the “show me your papers,” bill.  That bill died by the wayside after over-zealous police officers stopped people of color, often without cause, to question them about their citizenship.  American citizens, mostly of Hispanic descent, were routinely stopped simply for “driving while brown.”  The bill also specifies that anyone that does not cooperate by turning in suspected non-citizens to federal authorities such as Border Patrol, will be guilty of a misdemeanor.  The fines for the first offense is $1000 and $25,000 for each subsequent offense.

The bill doesn’t stop there.  It gives state officials the power to remove from office, sheriffs, deputies, warden, college police or any other public official who does not fully cooperate or speaks out against it.   The bill does not exclude victims or witnesses of crime either.  They can also be asked about their immigration status, making for an untenable situation where people will be afraid to report crime for fear of deportation or incarceration.  This will have an effect on crime prevention and public safety, both which have been listed as a reason for the bill.

Local law enforcement officials will also be required to detain suspects in local jails, putting more stress on already taxed facilities and budgets.  Law enforcement may be asked to keep detainees  beyond their scheduled release dates, putting into question the constitutionality of the detention.  Of course, local taxpayers will be asked to foot the bill of yet another non-funded mandate, courtesy of the state legislature.

Which brings me to what I think is a logical question…what does an undocumented immigrant look like, especially in a primarily Hispanic population? Dark hair, dark eyes, dark skin?   What if the officers making a stop fit that description themselves?  Will citizens eventually be required to wear an identifiable badge on their sleeves to avoid apprehension and detention when one of their tail lights goes out?

This bill, passed under the deceptive mantle of public safety, has just the opposite effect.  It deflects our local sheriff’s department resources from fighting crime and protecting our community, to bolstering the enforcement capabilities of border patrol.  Sheriff Oscar Carrillo, just shakes his head and states that he will detain those whose immigration status is questionable at the request of ICE, but he balks at the idea of becoming another arm of Border Patrol at the expense of the health and safety of our local citizens.

As of print time, several law suits have already been filed against Senate Bill 4.