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What we know about contested Texas law allowing local, state immigration enforcement

Senate Bill 4, signed into law Dec. 18, authorizes state and local police officers to arrest undocumented migrants, a duty usually taken up by immigration or federal officials.

A new Texas Immigration law has advocacy and political organizations concerned, and local and state law enforcement officials in flux as its constitutionality is being determined in the courts.

Those who support the bill say the new law will be a tool for state authorities to curb a significant increase in illegal border crossings in recent years, while critics say the law, also known as Senate Bill 4, is anti-immigrant and will lead to racial profiling.

Here are four things you should know about SB 4, including how advocacy groups and law enforcement are responding to the new law:


What is Senate Bill 4?

SB 4, signed into law Dec. 18, authorizes state and local police officers to arrest undocumented migrants, a duty usually taken up by immigration or federal officials.

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The law created new state crimes: illegal entry from a foreign country, a Class B misdemeanor with a jail term of up to six months and a $2,000 fine; and illegal reentry into the state from a foreign country, a Class A misdemeanor with up to one year in jail and a $4,000 fine for repeat offenders.

One example the Texas Department of Public Safety used of its enforcement is, if an individual is arrested for a violent crime and they are in the state illegally, they could be charged with one of the crimes under SB 4.


Individuals who are smuggled across the border could also be charged if DPS can show they entered Texas illegally, a spokesperson told The Dallas Morning News.

Before SB 4, those individuals would be handed over to Border Patrol agents.

The law also empowers state judges or magistrates to give migrants deportation orders back to the foreign country from which they entered — presumably Mexico. Last week, Alicia Bárcena, Mexico’s foreign affairs secretary, said the country would not accept any deportations from Texas — including Mexican nationals.


What has happened in the courts?

Earlier this month, a ruling from a three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals blocked Texas from enforcing its new immigration law, just hours after the U.S. Supreme Court granted the state permission.

The U.S. Supreme Court had extended an order blocking Texas from enforcing a new law multiple times before it ultimately granted permission for SB 4.

Texas has requested a stay pending appeal, which would allow SB 4 to go into effect while federal courts determines its constitutionality. Late Tuesday evening, the 5th Circuit denied Texas’s request in a 2-1 ruling.

The next step scheduled in the case will be oral arguments on April 3 about whether a federal judge was correct when he blocked the law’s implementation in February. The same three judge panel that blocked the law Tuesday will preside.

In January, the U.S. Department of Justice sued Texas, and challenged the constitutionality of SB 4.

What is law enforcement saying?

The back-and-forth court decisions have left law enforcement agencies seeking advice on how to proceed, with some along the border ready to arrest migrants believed to be violating the law and others holding off in hopes of clarity from the DPS or Gov. Greg Abbott’s office.


Last week, a top DPS official said troopers would focus on arresting migrants they see crossing the Rio Grande, but on Monday clarified that SB 4 would be enforced statewide.

In Dallas, a city that is at least 40% Hispanic, police Chief García voiced concerns about how SB 4 could impact DPD’s community relationships. But the chief added there’s a bottom line: “If this passes, we must have policies in place,” he told The Dallas Morning News. “We can’t prohibit enforcement of the law.”

Garcia said he’s scheduling meetings to establish what the department’s policies would include. Those efforts, he said, are to “ensure we do not violate anyone’s civil rights” and to alleviate fear about how officers would enforce the law.


Fort Worth police, which serve a city that is 35% Hispanic, released two messages that showed the confusion some departments are facing.

The department first released a statement saying that “the primary responsibility for immigration enforcement and border protection should be left to our federal and state partners” and that the “department remains unwavering in its commitment to community policing and making Fort Worth the safest city in the country for all who call this community home.”

A few hours later, it released a follow-up message saying that the department “will ALWAYS enforce the law.”

How have local advocacy organizations responded?

At large march and rally Sunday afternoon in downtown Dallas, people who are against SB 4 shared multiple concerns. Some said the law would lead to widespread racial profiling, others said enforcement of the law would lead to the separation of families.


Multiple organizations in North Texas have created a coalition — DFW for Immigrant Rights — to rally against the new law and other social injustices against immigrant communities.

Xavier Velasquez, co-founder of La Frontera Nos Cruzó, said his organization started in late 2020. He said he and the other members of the group saw a need for immigrant advocacy in the city. He said the new coalition, which has participation from more than a dozen other groups in North Texas, started organizing its Sunday march and rally in December.

Velasquez said the coalition will continue to shore up support and “steam” for events to protest SB 4. He said the Sunday rally, which drew hundreds, was a big moment for the coalition.


“Up to this point, we hadn’t seen those types of numbers, so now we’re trying to figure out what the next steps are,” he said.

Stacey Monroe, director of the Trans Empowerment Coalition, said it was “beautiful” to see the diversity within the DFW for Immigrant Rights march over the weekend.

“Our stories are intertwined, and one of us can’t be free without the other being liberated,” she said.

Staff reporter Aarón Torres contributed to this report.

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