Gov. Greg Abbott signed a bill into law last Sunday evening “allowing local police officers to ask about someone’s immigration status during routine stops,” NPR reports. The legislation applies to police officers on colleges campuses, according to an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education by Fernanda Zamudio-Suaréz. Upon closer examination, the law is more punitive than permissive.
From the Chronicle piece:
Campus police officers in Texas can question someone’s immigration status even if a detention doesn’t result in an arrest. Colleges that try to ban officers from checking someone’s immigration status could be fined up to $25,500 a day.
The bill’s supporters said the legislation aims to keep communities safe and reduce illegal immigration. Critics say the bill is similar to Arizona’s Senate Bill 1070, the controversial law that was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2012, and expect the Texas law to be challenged.
The new law will take effect on September 1. Under the law, police chiefs and sheriffs could face jail time if they do not cooperate with federal immigration agents.
Virtually all media outlets report that the measure will be challenged in the courts. In the meantime, one can’t help but be puzzled about how the statute will actually work on the street. If you are a campus security officer, what will prompt you to inquire about the citizenship status of an individual, when you pull him or her over for a suspected traffic violation? Ethnicity? Language? Hunch?
For more background, here are “Five Things You Need to Know,” by Sanya Mansoor, in the Texas Tribune. The piece is informative, but not directly related to colleges and universities.
Better for our purposes, here is a take from Elizabeth Redden, in Inside Higher Ed.
The law significantly limits Texas universities’ discretion to refrain from cooperating with deportation proceedings. Many universities across the country have pledged that campus police will not ask about immigration status and that they will not cooperate with federal immigration authorities absent a warrant or other court order. Many students and faculty have pushed for such “sanctuary campus” policies since the election of President Donald J. Trump in November.
“Texas strongly supports the legal immigration that has been a part of our state from our very beginning, but legal immigration is different from harboring people who have committed dangerous crimes,” Abbott said in a Facebook address in which he invoked the 2015 murder of Kate Steinle, allegedly by an undocumented immigrant with seven felony convictions and five deportations to his name. The murder of Steinle on a San Francisco pier has become a flash point in the debate over immigration and sanctuary city policies.
“Elected officials and law enforcement agencies, they don’t get to pick and choose which laws they will obey. There are consequences, deadly consequences to not enforcing the law,” Abbott said.
Michael A. Olivas, the William B. Bates Distinguished Chair in Law at the University of Houston Law Center and Director of the Institute for Higher Education Law and Governance, said there have been virtually no cases in which undocumented students have committed crimes. “This is a chimerical solution in search of a problem,” Olivas said. He added, “It is only comprehensive immigration reform that will save us from such misplaced zealotry.”
Civil rights groups have pledged to fight the law in court. “Forcing police chiefs and sheriffs to cooperate with federal immigration officials will only foster distrust and suspicion between law enforcement and Latinos,” the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund said in a statement. “MALDEF will not stand idle while the state tacitly encourages racial profiling and discrimination.”