Texas is in the process of passing some of the country's most extreme immigration laws in its legislature as of right now. There are several different bills that are in the process of approval, but it looks like most of them, if not all, can get passed by Governor Greg Abbott.
One bill allows state authorities to arrest persons suspected of entering the country illegally. Another empowers state judges to deport persons back to Mexico without due process. And another bill is on the horizon that could potentially cause persons who are friends and family of undocumented immigrants suspected of giving them a ride to be arrested.
Let's start with the bill that was just passed in the Texas Senate called SB4 or Senate Bill Four. This bill makes it a crime to enter Texas anywhere from Mexico other than through an authorized port of entry. The first time an undocumented immigrant is caught, they are charged with the misdemeanor. Repeat offenders can face a felony and up to 20 years in prison.
The bill also grants judges the authority to identify undocumented immigrants, cross-reference them in state and federal databases, and then order them to return to their home country. If the immigrant refuses to return to their home country, the judge is then authorized to charge them with a second degree felony and put them in prison with no chance of parole.
Amendments are proposed by Democrats that would limit the scope of authority and enforcement, and included provisions to protect asylum seekers, and minors and make sure that migrants received legal representation. However, these were all struck down by Republicans.
It means that Texans who simply look like minorities or possibly just have an accent are at risk of being arrested and put into proceedings that are deportation except by a state judge without due process that are afforded to all persons underneath the INA and immigration law.
SB4 passed with a vote of 17 to 11 and will move on to the House, which is expected to meet again on Friday at 10 a.m.. If SB4 is signed into law, it will go into effect 91 days from the last day of the legislative session.
The companion bill in the House is called Texas House Bill 4 or HB4, and it contains similar provisions. It also makes it a state crime to enter Texas from Mexico, anywhere other than an official port of entry, and charges first time offenders with a misdemeanor and repeat offenders with a felony.
But immigration advocates are concerned that this will set a dangerous precedent, allowing law enforcement officers to easily transport persons who are suspected of being undocumented or of entering the country illegally to any port of entry without any due process.
This bill does not even include any exceptions for persons who have lawful status, hold permanent residency or citizenship, or are eligible for humanitarian relief. This means that law enforcement could accidentally deport persons just because they are suspected of being illegal.
This bill would frighten away a record numbers of immigrants from the country and impact several industries across the state of Texas. And indeed, we could see a repeat of what has happened in the state of Florida, where fields of crops have been left to rot because there were not enough workers to remain working in the industries in Florida.
The full House is expected to pass HB4 next week. And again, if signed into law, it will go into effect 91 days after the end of the legislative period.
This leads us to the third bill, which is also called SB4. This bill has already passed the House and the Senate and only faces one more procedural vote before being signed into law by the governor.
On the surface, it looks like a good bill and it sets a ten year mandatory minimum sentencing for human smuggling. However, once the law is passed, a prosecutor need only to prove that someone knowingly transported or concealed a person who entered the US illegally. This means that anyone carrying anyone in their car who happens to have entered the country illegally could be at risk.
This poses a huge problem for families in Texas. For example, if you are driving your undocumented cousin to the mall, you may get pulled over and not only with your cousin be at risk of deportation, but you could also be at risk of being charged with smuggling.
There is a provision in the bill that lowers the mandatory sentencing from ten years to five years. But either way, this sort of a sentence can ruin anyone's life as well as the lives of families all over the state of Texas.
Democrats tried repeatedly to amend this bill and reduced the penalties to allow provisions for teenagers or allow judges to use discretion when sentencing, but all of these amendments have failed.
This is not only going to uproot families that have been in Texas for generations, but also provide a crippling blow to the Texas economy.
The good news is that none of these bills have actually been signed into law yet, and they have not passed all the required votes. And the other good news is that even if these are signed into law, these are likely to be struck down as unconstitutional. This is because only the federal government has jurisdiction over immigration laws, not the state governments. Arizona tried passing similar laws in 2010, but the Supreme Court also struck them down.
So while these are troubling times, and while this must undoubtedly have you stressed out and anxious about the future, keep holding on. Because no matter what the Texas House or Senate tries to do, the chances are still very high that they will be struck down and the Constitution will be upheld.
I'm sure you have many questions that I did not answer. So you have further questions about this bill or about the future of your life in Texas, write your question in the comment box below and I'll do my best to make a video to answer as many questions as possible.
If you did not see my last video regarding the extreme immigration bill in Florida, I'll include a link to that video here.
My name is Moumita Rahman and I have been an immigration lawyer for the past 13 years. If you are an immigrant who would like my help on your case, give us a call at 212-248-7907. We are based in New York, but we work with clients all over the United states.