Greg Abbott

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott speaks at a press conference in Austin on May 18, 2020.

(Photo: Lynda M. Gonzalez-Pool/Getty Images)

ACLU Leads Legal Challenge to 'Dangerous' Texas Immigration Law

S.B. 4 "will have a devastating impact on people seeking safety at our borders and Texans throughout the state," said one advocate.

Vowing to stop Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott from enforcing an anti-immigration law that "overrides bedrock constitutional principles" and that has already prompted travel advisories for people planning to visit the Lone Star State, the ACLU led civil rights groups on Tuesday in suing to block Senate Bill 4.

The national group led the ACLU of Texas and the Texas Civil Rights Project (TCRP) in challenging the law a day after Abbott signed it, permitting local and state law enforcement officers to arrest and detain people who they suspect of being undocumented immigrants.

Under the law, which is set to go into effect in March unless courts block it, state judges would also be empowered to order a person's deportation even if they were eligible to seek asylum or other protections under federal law.

Texas judges, said the ACLU, "are not trained in immigration law and have no proper authority to enforce it"—just one of the ways in which S.B. 4 is unconstitutional, according to the groups.

"Texas," said the ACLU as it announced the lawsuit, "we'll see you in court."

Representing the Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center, American Gateways, and the County of El Paso, Texas, the legal groups argued in their complaint that S.B. 4 violates the supremacy clause of the U.S. Constitution, which establishes that federal laws—such as the right to seek asylum and the right to due process of law—take precedence over measures passed by states.

"We have sued to block Senate Bill 4 because it will have a devastating impact on people seeking safety at our borders and Texans throughout the state," said Rochelle Garza, president of the TCRP. "This law blatantly disregards people's right to due process and will allow Texas law enforcement to funnel family, friends, and loved ones into the deportation pipeline. S.B. 4 is unconstitutional—Texas does not have the power to implement its own immigration laws. We will not let this stand."

S.B. 4 has also led Mexican President Andres Manuel López Obrador to prepare a legal challenge through his country's foreign ministry, and several federal lawmakers from Texas and in the Congressional Hispanic Caucus to call on U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland to block the law.

"S.B. 4 is dangerous for the people of Texas and interferes with the federal government's exclusive authority over immigration and foreign affairs," wrote the lawmakers, including U.S. Reps. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas), Nanette Diaz Barragán (D-Calif.), and Al Green (D-Texas). "S.B. 4 is an unlawful attempt to engage in federal immigration enforcement. This law will also interfere with federal efforts to create a safe, humane, and orderly system at the border."

The ACLU pointed out that the law could arbitrarily subject thousands of people of color to Texas' state prison system, "which is already rife with civil rights abuses."

In addition to being unconstitutional, said Anand Balakrishnan, senior staff attorney at the ACLU's Immigrants' Rights Project, S.B. 4 is "dangerously prone to error, and will disproportionately harm Black and Brown people regardless of their immigration status."

"We're using every tool at our disposal, including litigation, to stop this egregious law from going into effect," said Balakrishnan.

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