House Bill 11, passed during the 2015 legislative session, is a sweeping law pitched as part of a broader $800 million border security effort. It expands the border presence of the Texas National Guard, green-lights hiring more troopers, and mandates an intelligence center to analyze crime data at the border.
One of the law’s other provisions has recently drawn a lawsuit that’s just now making headlines. The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, better known as MALDEF, has filed suit against Texas over what’s called the “immigrant harboring” provision. They argue that it is unconstitutional under federal law.
Thomas Saenz, MALDEF’s president and general counsel, said in a recent news release that the law embroils Texas in litigation and “(divides) the state in the name of political gamesmanship.”
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of two San Antonio landlords, David Cruz and Valentin Reyes, who say the law could hurt them. Cruz and Reyes say they don’t usually question their tenants’ immigration statuses. If they had to comply with the law, they would be required to ask lease signers of their legal status and could lose tenants. If they didn’t inquire, Cruz and Reyes could be arrested.
Those who pushed for the law back during the legislative session say there’s a public safety function here. Underlying the bill’s language is a seeming effort to crack down on human trafficking. The bill charges anyone caught shielding someone who is here illegally with a felony.
Lynne Rambo, a professor at Texas A&M University School of Law, says that it’s not at all clear whether laws like this one are leaning more toward combatting human trafficking, so much as trying to catch immigrants who are undocumented.
“Based on Gov. Abbott’s own statements, the bill seems to be aimed at just simply objecting to the federal government’s failure to control the situation,” Rambo says. “Texas is – for lack of a better phrase – in a state of revolt about how the federal government is handling immigration.”
Federal law trumps any state law on a similar subject. That’s what MALDEF is hoping to get a ruling on for this section of House Bill 11.
“It’s not an aspect of equal protection, it’s an aspect of preemption under the supremacy clause,” Rambo says. “The complaint in this case is that there are already federal harboring provisions and that those are completely adequate to deal with human trafficking.”
Listen to the full interview in the audio player above.