Bill could force UH to cooperate with federal immigration requests
Texas public universities could lose state funding if they fail to comply with federal immigration enforcement in the detention of undocumented immigrants, according to the Texas Tribune.
Senate Bill 4, passed by the Texas Senate in February, would penalize any local or state government entities, including college campuses, that do not cooperate with federal immigration requests, known as ICE detainers — effectively preventing Texas cities from becoming so-called sanctuary cities. Any entity in violation of the law could lose state funding.
Officials could be subject to a Class A misdemeanor, resulting in a punishment of up to one year in a county jail and a fine up to $4,000, according to the Houston Chronicle.
“The law in effect tries to create a situation where localities will feel pressure to enforce the immigration laws,” said Geoffrey Hoffman, director of the UH Law Center Immigration Clinic.
Hoffman said enforcing immigration laws is the “province of the federal government — not the states,” under the U.S. Constitution’s Supremacy Clause.
According to the Texas Tribune, Laredo Sen. Judith Zaffirini proposed an amendment that would have removed college campuses from the bill, but it was voted down across party lines. If the bill is passed by the Texas House of Representatives and signed by Gov. Greg Abbott, UHPD officials could be charged if they do not enforce federal immigration laws.
Executive Director of Media Relations Mike Rosen said that UH complies with all local, state and federal laws. A cursory search of UHPD’s records did not reveal any instances of someone being detained strictly for the purpose of an ICE investigation, he said.
The bill is widely considered to be an “anti-sanctuary cities bill,” aimed at forcing cities to cooperate with ICE investigations of undocumented immigrants, according to the Texas Tribune.
Hoffman said cities are not legally obligated to comply.
“The issue surrounds the concept of an ‘immigration or ICE detainer’ and whether or not localities are required to honor such detainers,” Hoffman said. “Federal courts have found that these are not constitutional, and therefore, unless signed by a judge, are solely voluntary and not mandatory requests to hold someone pending being released to ICE.”
The director of the International Students and Scholar Services, Anita Gaines, said the bill does not affect the ISSS mission to assist international students with maintaining visa status and compliance with federal law.
“ISSS is constantly monitoring any changes in U.S. immigration policy and will continue to assist international students in compliance with U.S. immigration law,” Gaines said.
The bill, which was referred to the House State Affairs Committee Wednesday, will have to pass the committee before being voted on in the House, according to the Texas Legislature. It would then go to Gov. Abbott for signing. Gov. Abbott has called for a ban on sanctuary cities.
Maria Ivonne Treviño-Rodriguez, a political science sophomore and vice president of the immigrant-led Youth Empowerment Alliance, said she fears SB4 could worsen racial profiling.
“Racial profiling already exists, but it would continue, and it would allow and give specific law enforcement officials the opportunity to intentionally racially profile,” Treviño-Rodriguez said. “At this point, people who are aware of their biases will be able to use this as a tool to truly engage in some extremely hateful actions, such as intentionally pulling over individuals who look differently than them because of reasons like a blinker light that’s maybe broken, or an unintended turn, or maybe not even anything, truly.”
Treviño-Rodriguez, who has been an undocumented immigrant since 1995, believes that people would be more compassionate toward undocumented immigrants if they realized they probably already know one.
“We’re having to re-inform and educate Texans about what an undocumented person looks like, and they don’t realize that they probably know an undocumented immigrant,” Treviño-Rodriguez said. “These people who they’re trying to expel from their communities are people who have been their neighbors for a very long time.”