The controversial Texas SB4 law has been temporarily halted by US District Judge Orlando Garcia. However, as it is only temporarily halted, it is still important to understand the bill and learn what rights it may threaten.
SB4 punishes law enforcement agencies if they enact policies that prevent officers from asking about a person’s immigration status or if they fail to cooperate with certain requests from federal immigration officials. The law allows police officers to question someone about their immigration status during any “detention.” Officials who do not comply with the law can be fined, fired and even thrown in jail. SB4 also requires jails to detain immigrants for transfer to immigration authorities if requested by Immigrations & Customs Enforcement (ICE).
It is important to note that SB4 does not change federal immigration law and does not take away any Constitutional or civil rights. Police are not required to ask about immigration status and cannot stop someone solely on a suspicion that the person is not authorized to be in the United States. However, during police stops for suspected criminal activity (including traffic violations), they are allowed to question a person about his or her status, and they may be more likely to do so because of SB4. This may depend on the location, the individual officer involved and the circumstances surrounding the stop.
Local police officers do not have the power to arrest someone solely because he or she is here without permission. They can arrest someone for committing a crime (including most traffic violations) and they can call immigration officials and ask them to come to the scene. But Texas police cannot prolong someone’s detention to investigate that individual’s immigration status or to wait for immigration officials to arrive.
Even if you are here without legal status, you have rights:
- You have the right to remain silent. If you are stopped by police, you only need to provide your name, address and date of birth. You do not have to tell anyone your place of birth, immigration status or when you came to the United States.
- Police can only stop or detain you if they have a reasonable suspicion that a crime occurred. If you believe an officer violated this right, you should record what happens (using your cell phone camera or voice memos app) and contact an attorney.
- You have the right not to be discriminated against on the basis of your race, ethnicity or the country where you were born (known as national origin). For example, police cannot question the immigration status of some people in a group that they stop and not others, especially if the group is made up of people of different ethnicities or races. If you believe an officer is discriminating against you, you should try to record the incident and speak with an attorney.
- Other government agencies, including schools and county hospitals, cannot discriminate against you on the basis of your race, ethnicity or national origin.
- The police can question your immigration status during any lawful detention, which can include a stop for traffic violations. All drivers should abide by traffic safety laws, such as using seatbelts and car seats, and refraining from speeding and texting while driving. You should not drive without a valid driver’s license.
- You should not sign anything you do not understand.
- You have a right to a translator if you are not fluent in English.
- You should not lie to any local, state, or federal (including immigration)officers. It is better to remain silent.
- If you have filed for immigration status, keep your “receipt notice” with you at all times. If immigration questions you, you should ask for an attorney.
If you or a family member is arrested, it is more likely that local police will contact immigration and hold that person (even if charges are never filed or dismissed). This was the practice of almost all local jails prior to the law. You and your family should have a plan in case that happens:
–Keep all your important documents in a safe place. This includes copies of receipt notices from immigration, birth certificates, marriage licenses, information to access bank accounts, leases or titles to property and other information that is important to you.
-Keep a list of emergency contacts up to date at your child’s school(s).
-Create a list of emergency contacts, including the number of your attorney if you have one.
–Ask for a lawyer or for a phone call to call your attorney.
-If you are held past your scheduled release time, contact an attorney or have a family member do so.
-If you have encountered immigration in the past, been to immigration court, or applied for some immigration benefit or relief, you were likely issued an “Alien Number” or “A Number.” Be sure your family has this nine-digit number so they can locate you in the event you are detained by immigration.
Remember, even when/if SB4 goes into effect, you have rights. This is true even if you are undocumented. Remember these rights and talk to your family members about them in case you come into contact with police officers.