The Consequences of SB 4

Words by Jose Medina

Edited by Josue Ramirez and Abigail Vela

Update On February 26, 2024: SB 4 was officially halted by a federal judge in Austin, Texas. While this may be a victory for our immigrant community in the Rio Grande Valley, we must remain informed of the consequences that these discriminatory bills pose.

Update on March 20, 2024:
SB4 was scheduled to go into effect on Monday, March 18, but was blocked on the morning of Tuesday, March 19, 2024. However, the Supreme Court allowed SB4 to take effect regardless the ongoing lawsuit against Texas. SB4 was stopped once again Tuesday night by an appeals court

On November 21, 2023, Texas Senate Bill 4 was signed and passed by Texas Governor Greg Abbot, and will be taking effect on March 5, 2024. The law creates new charges at the state level for the unauthorized crossing of the Texas-Mexico border. The first-time offense of “illegal entry” would be a class B misdemeanor carrying up to 6 months in jail, with repeat offenses (“illegal re-entry”) carrying up to 20 years. The law would also allow state judges to remove people from the United States instead of prosecuting them. Some argue that this would overstep the jurisdiction of states as they would now enforce federal issues.

Illustration of police cars with lights on as they pass a sign that reads, “Welcome to Texas.”
Senate Bill 4 is one of the most intrusive sets of laws that Texas attempted to pass as it allows Texas officers to arrest people suspected of illegally crossing into Texas—illustration by Ruby Delgado.

There are problematic issues with SB 4. According to the Supremacy Clause, the Constitution and the U.S. laws are the “supreme law of the land,” and thus states have to abide by them. When conflicting laws are made, federal laws take priority. In this case, Texas enforcing an immigration law is encroaching on the responsibility and power of the federal government.

SB 4: Its Effects on the Rio Grande Valley

Our Rio Grande Valley community in particular is severely affected by SB 4 as we are next to the border and have a large Hispanic population who could be targeted by this law. Texas has 29 million people, with about 11 million of them being Hispanic or Latino and an estimated 1.6 million undocumented immigrants. The Rio Grande Valley alone has about 1.4 million people with 94 percent of those being Hispanic or Latino.  

 

Even if you aren’t someone who crossed the border, anyone in our community is at risk of being racially profiled and suffering from unfair policing practices. According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), even if you are a United States citizen, “you can be arrested and taken to a magistrate. The magistrate may ask you to agree to a state deportation. You have the right to agree or not to agree to removal, and you can invoke your right to remain silent and ask for the appointment of an attorney.” It would be a felony to refuse to comply with the order to leave. 


The bill also protects individuals involved in carrying out the law from liability. This is a worrisome facet of this bill, as it washes away the liability of wrongdoing. Some could argue that if there is no punishment or consequences, then there is nothing stopping them from abusing this law. This undermines the protection that should be afforded to individuals who are arrested, prosecuted or affected by this law. 

 

It is not the local police’s job to get involved with matters of federal immigration. Texas law enforcement is not trained to handle immigration like a federal agent would be due to it being their job. Not only would state and local law enforcement be burdened with managing immigration issues but they would also be burdened financially by allocating resources toward addressing immigration. 

The South Texas border fence with a border patrol vehicle crossing through an entrance in the fence.
Photo obtained from WikiCommons. Photo by Donna Burton.

Texas Sued by Department of Justice

Unsurprisingly, the United States Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against the state of Texas on January 3. Precedent Supreme Court Case Arizona v. The United States was a case from 2012 that draws certain similarities to this situation. Arizona passed a law that similarly created charges at the state level for matters relating to illegal immigration. The Supreme Court decided that most of the laws conflicted with federal powers set in place regarding immigration; the state was trying to do the government’s job. As such, the Department of Justice does not think that Texas should be doing its own thing regarding immigration and deporting people. There is already precedent in place to show that some powers are mostly reserved for the federal government and Texas should not be getting involved with immigration enforcement.

In a letter to United States Attorney General Merrick Garland, several members of Congress urged the Department of Justice to take action and stop the bill from taking effect. Missing in the signatures was Democratic United States Representative Henry Cuellar, who represents a chunk of the Rio Grande Valley. Although he also believes SB 4 should not take effect, he refused to sign the letter due to “extreme language”. “There was some extreme language (in the letter) that, quite honestly, I just did not agree with,” he said. However, this letter only reiterates how the bill poses a significant risk to the civil rights of citizens and undocumented people in Texas and their due process.

Illustration of a Texas state trooper stoping a Hispanic citizen, the citizen looks worried.
Law enforcement profiling a driver. Illustration by Ruby Delgado.

Making a Change with Your Vote

The situation on the Texas-Mexico border is dire. Barbed wire and bouys aim to deter people from crossing and in the process increase the risk of harming them. On top of that, new laws are being put in place to criminalize people seeking a better life. These measures are not humanitarian and are cruel responses from a hateful mindset. 

Last December a video appeared to show a woman and a child crossing the river. The woman yelled for help at a boat with Texas National Guards, while they seemingly ignored her and the child. The woman begged for help and said she couldn’t walk anymore. The woman reportedly was able to make it back safely to the Mexican side of the river. However, this further conveys the cruel and nonchalant perspective on immigration. People are quite literally begging for help while they are watched as they struggle in the water. The actions seem to mirror the laws being passed in the state. Governor Abbott’s Operation Lone Star, a series of responses to immigration, has cost Texas more than 4 billion dollars in two years.


You may be wondering what can be done about these laws. Besides the Department of Justice pursuing legal action to stop the laws from being implemented, something you might be able to do is
know your rights and exercise your right to vote. Ordinary citizens have the power to elect their Governors and representatives. It is really important that you voice your opinions through voting if you are able to vote. Vote for someone who aligns with your values and principles and will make decisions that you find to be correct. 

 

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A Note from the Editor: 

 

To learn more about the upcoming primary elections on March 5, take a look at the Ya Guey Go Vote Election Series on our Instagram:

 

How to Know if You’re Registered

What’s on the Ballot

Election Information by Texas Turnout

 

For further information on candidates visit Texas Secretary of State Candidate Information.

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