After a seven-hour debate on November 14, Texas House lawmakers have given their nod to Senate Bill 4 (SB 4), a comprehensive proposal aimed at creating a new state crime for illegal immigration. The bill, which passed with an 83-61 vote along party lines, empowers Texas to expel undocumented immigrants—a function currently under federal jurisdiction.
Republican Governor Greg Abbott, prioritizing border security, directed lawmakers to address the issue in the fourth special legislative session of the year, initiated on November 7 and slated to last up to 30 days.
In addition to SB 4, lawmakers also approved Senate Bill 3 (SB 3), allocating $1.5 billion to support the continued construction of a wall along the Texas-Mexico border. The measure, approved by an 84-59 vote, will undergo further consideration in the Texas Senate due to a minor modification.
Key Points on SB 4:
- Arrest Authority: SB 4, sponsored by Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, and Rep. David Spiller, R-Jacksboro, grants state and local law enforcement the unprecedented authority to arrest immigrants in Texas illegally. Judges could then decide to prosecute or order the return of undocumented immigrants to their country of origin.
- Exclusions: The bill specifies that arrests cannot be made at schools, places of religious worship, or medical facilities.
- Legal Challenges: Immigration advocates argue that SB 4 is unconstitutional, potentially conflicting with federal law. Despite concerns, Spiller maintains the bill’s legality by closely aligning its language with federal statutes, avoiding a direct challenge to the 2012 Supreme Court ruling in Arizona v. United States.
- Legal Threats: The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas has threatened legal action, asserting that SB 4 overrides federal immigration law, promotes racial profiling, and grants unconstitutional deportation powers without due process.
Democratic Opposition and Concerns:
- Democratic Objections: Democratic lawmakers raised concerns during the debate, arguing that SB 4 could lead to discrimination against Hispanic Texans, irrespective of their immigration status.
- Discrimination Fears: Democrats warned that the bill could provide law enforcement with broad latitude to question the citizenship of individuals, potentially leading to discrimination against brown-skinned and non-English-speaking individuals.
- Financial Impact: Some lawmakers questioned the financial burden on local police, especially in border communities, for arresting and detaining undocumented immigrants. Rep. Tracy King, D-Uvalde, labeled SB 4 an “unfunded mandate,” suggesting that the state should cover the costs arising from the bill.
The Texas House is scheduled to reconvene on November 17, where lawmakers are expected to debate House Bill 1 (HB 1), a $7.6 billion proposal aiming to increase funding for public schools, provide teacher bonuses, and offer public money for families to send their children to private schools. Additionally, lawmakers will consider a bill and constitutional amendment focusing on enhancing funding for public school safety.