A new bill will go into effect on September, 1, 2017, allowing Texas local law enforcement agencies to ask about immigration status and enforce immigration laws.
The justification given for the law by Governor Abbott is that it will keep Texas safe from criminal immigrants. In a five minute video posted on Facebook, he said, “Citizens expect law enforcement officers to enforce the law, and citizens deserve lawbreakers to face legal consequences.”
Those who defend this new law also say that if law enforcement doesn’t turn over unauthorized immigrants to federal authorities, they could commit more crimes.
On the surface, this may seem like a good call because illegal immigration is a legitimate problem. Furthermore, it is reasonable that illegal immigrants should be prosecuted and possibly face deportation.
However, this new law may present significant civil rights problems for ordinary citizens and legal immigrants who may happen to appear to be foreigners. Additionally, there is already a system in place that allows US Immigration and Customs Enforcement to take custody of individuals who are charged with crimes if they are found to be illegal.
A police officer can now pull somebody over for a traffic stop and detain that person to verify their immigration status.
The bill defines lawful detention as “the detention of an individual by a local entity, state criminal justice agency, or campus police department for the investigation of a criminal offense”. This means that under the pretext of checking their immigration status, a police officer may detain an individual for as long as he wants.
Consider the following scenarios:
Scenario 1: Jose Campos is driving down Franklin Street in downtown Houston. He is doing 45mph in a 30mph zone and is subsequently pulled over by officer Smith.
Officer Smith may have a personal bias against illegal immigrants and begins questioning Jose upon learning his name.
Despite being born in the United States, Officer Smith has no direct access to the DHS database, and therefore, no immediate way to verify Jose’s immigration status. Given that Jose does not carry his birth certificate everywhere he goes, it is then left to the discretion of Officer Smith as to whether or not or how long Jose may be detained. What would have otherwise been and illegal detainment is now perfectly fine under this new law.
Scenario 2: Jose Campos is driving down Franklin Street in downtown Houston. He is doing 45mph in a 30mph zone and is subsequently pulled over by officer Smith. However, this time Jose is in possession of a controlled substance.
Officer Smith may have consider hispanics to be prone to be involved with illegal drugs, and needs a clever way to legally search the vehicle. While he is “checking” Jose’s immigration status, Office Smith radios the K-9 unit requesting a dog to sniff the vehicle.
Under current law, officers are not allowed to detain individuals until a K-9 officer arrives at the scene. What would have otherwise been and illegal search is now perfectly fine under this new law.
Where do we go from here?
Each of us, especially those with foreign names should always carry proof of legal status. Whether it is a birth certificate, naturalization certificate, passport or permanent resident card, ensure that you are always able to prove your legal status.
Any further suggestions would be welcome in the comments.