Members of Houston’s legal services community – both non-profit organizations that serve low-income immigrants and members of the private bar – oppose SB4, which was signed by Governor Abbott on Sunday, May 7th and will go into effect on September 1, 2017. Punishing so-called “sanctuary cities” was one of the Governor’s “emergency items” for the 2017 legislative session.
At its core, SB4 will lead to racial profiling and the detention and deportation of long-standing members of our Texas community. Specifically, the bill:
- Prohibits any local jurisdiction or campus police department (both private and public) from adopting, enforcing or endorsing any policy that “prohibits or materially limits the enforcement of immigration laws.”
- Requires all local jurisdictions to comply with ICE detainers, despite the fact that detainers have been found by federal court to be unlawful and are acknowledged by the federal government to be voluntary.
- Creates civil, financial penalties for local jurisdictions or campus police departments who fail to comply with these policies.
It is important to note that immigration law is a federal, civil matter, and is in no way the jurisdiction of local law enforcement or local jurisdictions. As has been argued by many members of local law enforcement agencies and advocates, SB4 will erode trust between local law enforcement and immigrant communities.
SB4 Will Lead to Increased Detention and Deportation of our Neighbors
The greater Houston region is also home to the third largest population of undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. – estimated at 575,000, or nearly one-third of the region’s immigrant population (compared to 28% nationwide). Under President Trump’s expanded immigration enforcement priorities, all of the undocumented members of our community are at risk of detention and deportation. SB4 will only exacerbate this process as local officials are empowered to inquire about immigration status and then refer individuals to ICE for detention and eventual deportation. This will have a dramatic impact on Houston’s local economy – 32% of the labor force and 42% of the self-employed population is foreign-born – and social fabric, from school enrollment to family stability.
SB4 Will Reduce Access to Legal Representation and Due Process
We estimate that local service providers currently serve only 20% of low-income immigrant clients who are eligible for any type of immigration legal services. This number is much lower when it comes to representation for detained immigrants in removal proceedings (deportation).
It is well documented that detention dramatically decreases an individual’s access to legal counsel. Indeed, from 2007-2012, 69% of non-detained respondents in the Houston Immigration Court were represented as opposed to just 13% of detained respondents. Neither is a good figure, but the representation rates for detained individuals is dismal.
Studies have shown that immigrants who are represented are much more likely to win relief than those who go without representation. A 2014 study by the Stanford Law School found that detained immigrants with representation are three times more likely to win their deportation case than those without attorneys. For asylum-seeking women and children, the odds of winning an asylum case increases fourteen-fold with legal representation. Having a good immigration lawyer is the key factor in being able to establish a right to remain in the United States. This has been proven true particularly in the unaccompanied minor context. While the vast majority cases initially filed in the Houston immigration Court in FY2016 are still pending, less than 1% of represented cases resulted in removal, whereas 99% of unrepresented cases resulted in removal.
SB4 Empowers Domestic Abusers and Human Traffickers
It is well-documented that domestic abusers and traffickers routinely manipulate their victims by threatening to have them deported if they call the police. A survivor might therefore face the impossible “choice” of risking separation from her young children and forfeiting custody to her abuser upon deportation, or continuing to endure life threatening violence at home. Abusers also commonly hold proof of their victims’ lawful immigration status hostage in order to keep them silent. Citing immigrants’ growing mistrust of police, Houston Police Department cited a 42% reduction in rape reported from Hispanics from January to March 2017 compared to the same period last year.
Regardless of any carve-outs, when local police and federal immigration functions are indistinguishable to immigrants, police become the unwitting accomplices of abusers and traffickers in creating a climate of fear for the most vulnerable among us. Abusers and traffickers are often recidivists and engage in other criminal activity as well. Law enforcement officers rely on victims and witnesses to provide critical, firsthand information to help solve crimes that afflict all members of our communities. Knowing this, Congress created protections for victims in the Violence Against Women Act and Trafficking Victims Protection Act to incentivize immigrant cooperation with law enforcement. SB4 directly undermines their intent. We are all less safe when immigrants are too afraid to come forward, or are swiftly deported and unable to provide eyewitness testimony or access their rights under federal law.
The undersigned stand opposed to SB4 and its chilling effects on due process and public safety.
United We Dream Houston
BakerRipley (formerly Neighborhood Centers)
Texas Organizing Project
Justice for our Neighbors Houston
Bonding Against Adversity
Mi Familia Vota
Tahirih Justice Center
Texas Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church
Living Hope Wheelchair Association
Migrant Rights Collective
Chinese Community Center
Muslim Bar Association of Houston
Mexican American Bar Association
ACLU of Texas
Texas Gulf Coast Area Labor Federation, AFL-CIO
State Representative Gene Wu
Andrea Guttin, Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative
Kate Vickery, Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative
Geoffrey A. Hoffman, Director UHLC Immigration Clinic
Hania Luna, Tahirih Justice Center
Heidi Tso, Chinese Community Center
Teresa Messer, Law Office of Teresa Messer
Deborah Chen, OCA-Greater Houston
Marisol Valero Torres
Erika J. Lindberg
Justine K. Fanarof, JD, MPH
Joy Green, Esq.
Salma H. Khan
Dr. Nusrat Ameen
Kristin Zipple-Shedd, JD/MSW
Robert H. Etnyre, Jr.
Jane Langdell Robinson
Cesar G. Leyva
Joseph Y. Ahmad
Murtaza F. Sutarwalla, Esq.
Sophia Bajwa, Esq.
Jason E. Beesinger
Law Offices of Midhat Syed
*Individuals are not signing on behalf of their institutions/organization. Institutions are listed for identification purposes only.