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Different bill, same impact: Senate Bill 4 raises concerns regarding Latino discrimination

Lily-Huynh/The Cougar

During the fourth special session, the Texas Legislature passed a sweeping immigration reform bill, now headed to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk for approval.

Senate Bill 4, would make crossing illegally into the U.S. from Mexico a misdemeanor. The bill will allow Texas peace officers to arrest undocumented immigrants and a state judge to issue the person a state order to leave the U.S. to Mexico, instead of being prosecuted.

The bill authored by state Sen. Charles, R-Lubbock, is almost identical to House Bill 4, authored by Rep. David Spiller, R-Jacksboro, which the state Senate snubbed during the third special session before being re-filled.

The bill’s proponents said that the restrictions would help stop sex trafficking and curb illegal immigration. However, the bill’s opponents say that this would open the door for racial profiling, since peace officers would determine someone’s immigration status based on how they look said associate political science professor Jeronimo Cortina.

“So, this has implications according to the opponents of the bill, not only implications for migrant communities but also implications for people that may share some of their characteristics,” he said. “It’s basically a target tool that’s aimed the Latino population in one way or the other.”

Migrant communities are also less likely to report crimes when this type of legislation goes into effect. Crime in general may go under reported which in turn would hurt our society Cortina said.

A research intern at the domestic violence unit at the Harris County District Attorney’s office, political science senior Natalie Vasquez said that victims are already scared to call police for help and this bill could exacerbate that.

“I can already see how a lot of victims with physical or mental abuse are scared to even call the police,” she said. “How many victims will continue to be silent because of the fear of being deported or being arrested for their legal status?”

Human development and family sciences junior Ashley Cardona said that the bill being passed through the state legislature is a big shame. The law increases the concerns many undocumented immigrants have had over the years and for their children, even if they are documented, Cardona said.

“My family, we’ve been here for over 20-something years,” Cardona said. “If something were happening with my parents I’ll drop everything I have and I’ll try to fix that and I’ll try to be there.”

Approximately 44.5% of the city is Hispanic or Latino, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The bill could have a ripple effect on UH’s large Hispanic population. In particular, younger immigrants or the children of immigrants could face disruptions to school and development. Undocumented students would be more worried about their safety as well, Cardona added.

For many immigrants who want to start the process to legally live in the U.S.,  new laws such as SB 4 make it even harder, Cardona said.

“The life of the undocumented immigrant is just getting heavier and heavier throughout the years. This is a big thing; there’s not as much advocacy, there’s not many people speaking up,” Cardona said.

The bill passed the Texas House by an 83-61 vote and by a 17-11 vote in the Senate. During the closing statements State Rep. Jolanda Jones, D-Houston, addressed the House Republicans on the floor regarding the prejudices in the law.

“It’s not alright to be racist. I will stop pulling the race card when you stop being racist,” Jones said on the House floor.

Under SB 4,  a misdemeanor could be enhanced to a felony if the migrant is accused of other crimes or refuses to comply with the court orders to return to Mexico. The maximum punishment for a misdemeanor charge is a year in jail. For a felony, the penalty is two to 20 years in prison. Migrants would be able to present any evidence they entered the country legally during the protection period.

The bill is expected to be signed by the governor, in a tweet on X,  he voiced his support for the bill and congratulated Perry and Spiller on this “historic progress for border security.”

In the past courts have struck down laws when they think states are intruding on federal powers. SB 4 could also go to the U.S. Supreme Court, Cortina said.

“The issue is of racial profiling, right? Obviously, that’s protected in the Constitution and perhaps also an issue regarding the role that local or state level police officers may have in enforcing immigration laws that is a federal prerogative,” he said. 

As the daughter of two immigrants, the bill doesn’t sit right with Vasquez, who said that it is important to keep advocating for better immigration policies.

“We come here to the U.S. for a better life. Not to get discriminated or be racially profiled because of where we come from — we’re past that. I definitely want to say that I will not be silent,” she said.

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