Immigrant advocates prepare residents for law that would make illegal entry to Texas a state crime

Some immigrant rights groups say their members need to have a plan in case they’re stopped by police after Senate Bill 4 is signed into law. Others say they plan to sue the state to keep the law from taking effect.

By Stella M. Chávez, KERA NewsDecember 14, 2023 9:35 am

From KERA News:

Immigrant rights groups say a soon-to-be-signed law that would make illegal border crossings a state crime is worrisome for their community. So some of them have been taking steps to prepare.

Recently, two dozen or so individuals met inside a Garland office building to hear advice from a local immigration attorney.

Gustavo Caballero, who’s from Honduras and has lived in North Texas for two decades, said this bill provokes fear.

“Immigrants are going to be afraid to go out,” he said. “If they don’t know their rights, they could get into more trouble or take unnecessary risks.”

For 22-year-old Luis Hernandez, this is a painful reminder that a few years ago, he narrowly missed applying for Deferred Action For Childhood Arrivals — a status that would temporarily let him stay and work in the country legally.

“Now this is just making me feel like hey, now I have to worry at a daily that all I built, everything I worked is being threatened again,” he said.

What Irving attorney Haim Vasquez told the group was far from reassuring.

“This law is written horribly. It’s terrible,” said Vasquez, who regularly updates followers about new immigration laws on his social media accounts.

“Will this cause discrimination?” he asked. “Possibly.”

Vasquez tells them if a police officer pulls them over and detains them, they shouldn’t sign anything without an attorney present.

Under this bill, a judge or county magistrate can order a migrant returned to a port of entry and then to Mexico. Vasquez said it doesn’t matter if the person isn’t Mexican.

Vasquez and other attorneys say this and other aspects of the legislation are problematic. For example, what if someone is ordered to leave the country but has a pending immigration case?

Ruby Powers, an immigration attorney in Houston and member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said there are too many unanswered questions.

“I think we’re going to see a lot of lack of probable cause,” she said. “But by the time an individual gets detained and potentially deported, they might not have the resources to challenge the probable cause finding.”

She also said it’s unclear if law enforcement agencies will train officers to understand the nuances of someone’s immigration status.

How will an officer know if someone has applied for asylum and has a scheduled court date, for example? Will that officer go through the time-consuming process of investigating?

Others like Priscilla Olivares, policy attorney with the Immigrant Legal Resource Center in San Antonio, worry about peace officers having wide discretion to stop and question anyone who’s suspected of unauthorized entry to Texas. She said the law could disproportionately affect black and brown people.

“So we’re talking about Texans that do have lawful status,” Olivares said. “We’re talking about Texans that are United States citizens that will be in danger of being racially profiled, arrested and even deported.”

Some groups, such as LULAC, say they plan to sue the state to challenge the law. That would tie it up in the court system and possible delay when the law takes effect.

Even if that happens though, Powers said the damage will have been done. Some people may decide to stay home more often or they may want to move out of the state.

Powers said the most important thing is she doesn’t want people to panic. She also recommends scheduling a consultation with an immigration attorney if someone is unsure about their immigration status. Some attorneys charge a minimal fee or may offer a free consultation. Others charge several hundred dollars.

“Everyone should have a plan … a place to have your documents, birth certificates, marriage, everything in one place,” she said. “Be prepared. Have a plan if something were to happen.”

After Abbott signs, the bill is expected to take effect in early March.

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