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Civil Rights Organizations Sue to Block Texas from Enacting Extremist Immigration Law

AUSTIN, Texas — The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Texas, and the Texas Civil Rights Project (TCRP) filed a lawsuit today challenging Texas Senate Bill 4, which would permit local and state law enforcement to arrest and detain people they suspect to have entered Texas from another country without federal authorization.

It also will authorize Texas judges — who are not trained in immigration law and have no proper authority to enforce it — to order a person’s deportation without due process and before they have an opportunity to seek humanitarian protection.

The lawsuit states that S.B. 4 is unconstitutional, arguing that the law is preempted by federal law. The plaintiffs challenging the law are Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center, American Gateways, and the County of El Paso, Texas. Governor Greg Abbott signed the bill into law Monday. If it is not blocked by the courts, it will go into effect on March 5, 2024.

“Governor Abbott’s efforts to circumvent the federal immigration system and deny people the right to due process is not only unconstitutional, but also dangerously prone to error, and will disproportionately harm Black and Brown people regardless of their immigration status,” said Anand Balakrishnan, senior staff attorney at the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project. “We’re using every tool at our disposal, including litigation, to stop this egregious law from going into effect.”

Advocates have warned that the law will separate families and will directly lead to racial profiling, subjecting thousands of Black and Brown Texans to the state prison system which is already rife with civil rights abuses. The complaint argues that the law violates the supremacy clause of the U.S. Constitution. The law bypasses federal law as Texas judges would be authorized — and in some cases, required — to order a person’s deportation regardless of whether a person is eligible to seek asylum or other humanitarian protections under federal law. Enforcement of the law isn’t limited to border communities, meaning Texans across the state would be at risk of arrest, jailing, and deportation.

“We’re suing to block one of the most extreme anti-immigrant bills in the country,” said Adriana Piñon, legal director of the ACLU of Texas. “The bill overrides bedrock constitutional principles and flouts federal immigration law while harming Texans, in particular Brown and Black communities. Time and time again, elected officials in Texas have ignored their constituents and opted for white supremacist rhetoric and mass incarceration instead. The state wastes billions of taxpayer dollars on failed border policies and policing that we could spend on education, better infrastructure, and better health care. Texans deserve better and we’re holding Texas politicians accountable to make sure this law never goes into effect.”

The legislation is the latest extremist anti-immigrant policy to be passed in the state of Texas. Earlier this month, legislators passed a bill that will give Gov. Abbott an additional $1.5 billion in tax dollars to use at his discretion for border-related operations, including the funding of a border wall and more razor wire and floating barriers in the Rio Grande.

Already, advocates in Texas and in neighboring and border states — including Arizona, Arkansas, California, Louisiana, New Mexico, and Oklahoma — have issued a travel advisory warning residents about the threat of civil and constitutional rights violations when traveling in the state of Texas because of laws like S.B. 4.

“We have sued to block Senate Bill 4 because it will have a devastating impact on people seeking safety at our borders and Texans throughout the state,” said Rochelle Garza, president of the Texas Civil Rights Project. “This law blatantly disregards people’s right to due process and will allow Texas law enforcement to funnel family, friends, and loved ones into the deportation pipeline. S.B. 4 is unconstitutional — Texas does not have the power to implement its own immigration laws. We will not let this stand.”

Additional quotes from plaintiffs are as follows:

Jennifer Babaie, Director of Advocacy and Legal Services of Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center, in El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juárez, Mexico and New Mexico, said:

“Texas’ S.B. 4 uses the cover of state law to make a hateful and unlawful assault on the U.S. Constitution, one that threatens the rights and wellbeing of all Texans. This law is intolerable. We refuse to let it stand. As persons living and working in immigrant communities, as Texans who value our rights and those of our neighbors, it is our duty, and our honor to challenge S.B. 4 in court and call out its blatant racism.

“The people and communities that this law targets are strong, resilient, and will defend themselves and their rights. We are proud to represent them in court. We urge the federal government to join us in suing Texas to defend our communities, our civil rights, and the constitution. We demand the Department of Justice intervene quickly. Any delay abdicates our immigration laws, encourages lawlessness, and subjects our communities to racism and our wellbeing to cowardice.”

Edna Yang, co-Executive Director of American Gateways, said:

“We are joining this challenge because local officials should not be deputized as customs and border protection agents, especially when they don’t have the proper training or guidance to do so. Our state should work with the federal government to push for reform and real solutions to help immigrants coming to the U.S. and the communities working to receive them.

“We are privileged to work with brave people from around the world working to improve their lives and those of their families. We will continue our work, even in the face of xenophobic policies, to push for comprehensive immigration reform.”

David Stout, El Paso County Commissioner, said:

“El Paso County provided testimony during regular and special sessions, but the Legislature chose to disregard our voices and impose a costly, unconstitutional law on local taxpayers. We have no choice but to defend our community from an unfunded mandate to racially profile residents. The Legislature chose politics over people, making us all less safe.”

Ricardo Samaniego, El Paso County Judge, said:

“SB4 creates a dangerous environment for the public by creating the potential for damaging profiling of individuals not deserving of this treatment by law enforcement. The ability to discern between residents, citizens, and migrants is very difficult in a community that is 80% Hispanic.

“A secondary negative effect is S.B. 4’s indirect threat to our economy. It is my understanding that it is the most expensive unfunded mandate that has ever been leveled at our community. One of the collateral impacts of S.B. 4, is that if the projected cost is realized, we will have to utilize funds from other initiatives such as infrastructure, quality of life and our ability to successfully attract businesses to our community as we have done with Meta, T.J.MAXX and Shneider Electric. These companies were attracted by our ability to create the proper atmosphere and infrastructure that would be aligned with their future goals. There is a high probability that our efforts to attract new business going forward will be hampered by S.B. 4.”

The complaint is available here.

Access video statement from Adriana Piñon in English and Spanish here.

Originally published at https://www.aclu.org/press-releases/aclu-civil-rights-orgs-sue-texas-over-sb-4

- Part of VUGA -USA media group