Texas leaders discuss impacts of SB 4 across Texas and beyond


By National Immigration Forum

Texas Senate Bill 4 (SB 4) will have serious public safety and economic impacts, Texas faith, law enforcement and business leaders said on a press call this week.

Gov. Greg Abbott recently signed the bill into law, and it will take effect Sept. 1. SB 4 will impose harsh civil and criminal penalties on cities, counties and law enforcement that opt not to perform federal immigration enforcement activities beyond what federal laws require.

“SB 4 really makes it a lot more difficult for law enforcement to keep our entire community safe. The fear that this is creating — that rogue police officers, rather than combating violent crime or property crime, are going to become ICE agents — really has a chilling effect. … We know that the unintended consequences are not just making the immigrant community less safe but making all in the community less safe,” said Art Acevedo, Houston police chief.

SB 4 can also significant on a national level. SB 4 will encourage other state legislatures to take up similar legislation, as occurred after Arizona passed its SB 1070 law. Already, similar bills are pending in other state legislatures including Florida, Louisiana, and North Carolina. These bills take a similar approach to SB 4 by imposing harsh penalties on law enforcement and other government agencies that do not honor detainer requests and/or prevent local law enforcement agencies from having policies that direct law enforcement resources to the most serious threats to public safety and away from identifying people who are undocumented.

“Enforcement of immigration laws is, first and foremost, a federal responsibility. Federal law continues to apply in so-called sanctuary jurisdictions, and federal agents can enforce immigration laws in those jurisdictions. SB 4 is a counterproductive way to address immigration enforcement. Congress should provide clarity for states and act on constructive solutions to fix our immigration system that help America thrive,” said Jacinta Ma, director of Policy and Advocacy, National Immigration Forum.

The law will make it more difficult for law enforcement to keep everyone in the community safe because relationships of trust between immigrants and law enforcement will give way to fear and tension. Despite a provision in the law intended to protect crime victims and witnesses, law enforcement leaders are concerned that in practice, they will refrain from calling police for fear of being targeted for immigration violations.

SB 4 limits the authority of local police chiefs and sheriffs to direct their departments in ways that boost community safety. For example, SB 4 will make racial profiling more likely because it restricts local law enforcement agencies from establishing policies such as commonsense restrictions on questioning individuals about their citizenship or immigration status. Racial profiling leads to community members feeling hurt, angry and less trusting of all law enforcement officers. The result is less cooperation between law enforcement and immigrant communities, which can negatively impact community safety for everyone.

SB 4 can also affect business and the economy. SB 4 is likely to deter businesses, organizations and tourists from coming to Texas and spending money there, as occurred in Arizona following passage of that state’s show-meyour-papers law, SB 1070.

SB 4 could depress the buying power of the state’s 4.7 million immigrants. The combined purchasing power of Latinos and Asians in Texas as of 2014 was $297 billion.

The bill moves in the direction of removing more undocumented immigrants, who, in Texas, are responsible for $69.3 billion in economic activity, $30.8 billion in gross state product and 403,174 jobs. In 2013, state and local tax collections from foreign-born Latinos totaled $4.6 billion (and federal collections totaled $8.4 billion).

The agriculture, construction, retail, health care and hospitality industries in Texas rely heavily on an immigrant workforce. SB 4 will harm our developing workforce and economic vibrancy because immigrants will view Texas as a state that is hostile to them and choose to live in states that are viewed as more welcoming.

“Whenever Texas or any other state is looking to pass immigration laws, they need to look at the economic impact of those decisions. We’re very disappointed, and we’re very concerned about what this means for Texas. I think it’s going to be very damaging to our state,” said Cathy Stoebner DeWitt, vice president, Governmental Affairs, Texas Association of Business.

Overall, SB 4 will put federal immigration enforcement work in the hands of local law enforcement officials, who often lack the specialized training needed to do this work.

SB 4 will amount to an unfunded mandate on local law enforcement, forcing them to redirect already limited resources away from their communities’ law enforcement priorities.

Rather than seeking cooperative partnerships with local law enforcement, SB 4 will make local law enforcement leaders and other elected or appointed officials subject to misdemeanor criminal charges and up to a year of jail time if they limit a jurisdiction’s involvement with federal immigration officers.

“As people of faith, we pursue truth and grace. The truth is it’s the proper role of government to secure the borders and protect its citizens. But grace calls us to recognize that many live, work and pay taxes, without the appropriate documents. The immigration system is broken and needs revision to deal safely with our borders and compassionately with those without documents. We continue to pray for a better day, for justice and for the opportunity to show kindness and mercy to our neighbors regardless of their status,” said Gus Reyes, director, Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission.