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Sunday, December 3, 2023


Texas House Bill 4 leads to outrage among Latino community

Jose Gonzalez-Campelo/ The Cougar

Last Thursday, the Texas House passed three immigration bills after debating almost the entire night on them.

One of the bills that drew the most attention was House Bill 4, which if passed, would allow law enforcement officers to arrest, apprehend or send back immigrants who cross the border illegally.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. David Spiller, R-Jacksboro, will make it a state crime to migrate to the U.S. without legal authorization, said assistant political science professor Michael Kistner.

“This is important, because immigration enforcement is traditionally considered a federal responsibility – the nation as a whole decides how to police its borders,” Kistner said. “A first offense would be a misdemeanor, but repeated offenses or failing to return to Mexico when ordered to would be felonies that could entail multiple years imprisonment.”

In a rare move to end the debate sooner, state Rep. Cody Harris, R-Palestine, made a motion to block new amendments. After the motion passed, House Speaker Dade Phelan called the house on a break and it stood at ease for hours, until lawmakers returned and the additional amendments were passed.

State Rep. Armando Lucio Walle, D-Houston, confronted Harris and said that it is unfair for Republicans to end a debate early.

“It hurts us to our f—-ing core,” Walle said, according to a video posted on social media. “And you don’t understand that you don’t live in our skin. And that’s what pisses me off.”

Kistner said that harassment of the Hispanic community remains a concern, unless a law enforcement offer actually sees someone crossing the border outside of authorized places of entry, it’s essentially impossible to know who is or is not a legal resident.

“Passing this bill and giving these powers to state law enforcement officers, thus raises the risk that law enforcement officers use other cues – skin color, language proficiency, etc. – to accuse people of being illegal aliens,” he said.

The bill grants the power to any law enforcement officers that have the authority to enforce state laws to arrest any suspected unauthorized immigrants.

To restrict the power of state law enforcement officers, house Democrats introduced  amendments limiting the enforcement ability to only apply when a border crossing is witnessed in person and limiting these powers to Texas Public Safety officials, but they did not pass.

Former legislative aid for Walle and sociology senior Esme Ledezma is outraged by this bill and said that it brings “constant fear” for families.

“This bill is heartbreaking. It tears families apart, it disrespects entire communities, and it shows where the true cultural values of Texas politics lie,” she said.

Approximately 44.5% of the city is Hispanic or Latino, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. If this bill passes, it would have a broader impact on students at UH.

“There is a significant Hispanic population at UH and this bill would tear families apart, which could impact enrollment and graduation rates. Additionally, it could provide more barriers to undocumented students applying to the University,” Ledezma said.

Furthermore, students would be hesitant to reach out to UHPD for help if they think there is chance they or someone they know could be deported. This could lead to victims unable to get the justice or resources they deserve, Ledezma added.

The bill passed the Texas House by 84-60 vote and is now headed to the Senate, where there is firm GOP support for boarder security.

In the past courts have struck down laws when they think states are intruding on federal powers. The bill authors argue that this bill doesn’t preempt any federal authority, it only supplements it.

“While the bill’s text does not use the word “deport”, what it describes is very close to deportation. If this bill passes, I would expect this to get challenged in court, with a good chance that it makes it to the Supreme Court,” Kistner said.

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