Texas Gives The Green Light To Racial Profiling

06/26/2017 10:59 am ET Updated Jun 26, 2017
Protest against SB4 at Texas State Capitol, May 29
Protest against SB4 at Texas State Capitol, May 29

Today, a judge in San Antonio will be hearing opening arguments on a lawsuit against Senate Bill 4, a law passed in Texas last month that is the single biggest attack on immigrants this country has seen in decades. SB 4 commands police to search the papers of anyone who looks like an immigrant and levels hefty fines and even jail time for law enforcement officers who resist. Under SB 4, even campus police will have the power to do random searches, transforming college campuses, traditionally a site of sanctuary, into a source of terror.

But SB 4 is not just an anti-immigrant law. At its core, it is a racial profiling law, meant to strike fear into any person of color anywhere in the state. It is a Jim Crow law, explicitly designed to submit black and brown Texans to a different code of law than their Caucasian counterparts.

In that way, it is reflective of the national climate, where anti-immigrant rhetoric is simply code for attacks on people of color as a whole.

SB 4 will force anybody who looks “like an immigrant” to carry extra documentation every time they walk out their front door or face the possibility of being arrested and detained – and in Texas, the vast majority of immigrants come from either Latin America, Asia, or Africa. It will mean black and Asian college students at Texas universities need to watch their backs every time a campus police officer comes near – after all, more than twenty percent of the state’s immigrants come from Asia, and nearly five percent from Africa.

And it could turn a simple road trip into a one-way trip to prison for people of color in Texas. Similar laws passed in Arizona and Alabama led to a profusion of racially motivated traffic stops, triggering a cascade of court cases that struck down significant portions of the laws in both states.

One thing gives me hope. The Texas law – and the constant stream of hate emanating from the White House – have brought together organizers from all ends of the spectrum in a way we have never seen before.

In Texas, immigrant rights advocates weren’t the only ones who stood up against the law. They were joined by the NAACP, the National Black Justice Coalition, Black Lives Matter, and scores of black faith leaders.

And nationally, immigrant rights champions are forming closer partnerships with their counterparts working on policing and criminal justice reform. These partnerships have proved particularly fruitful in challenging and expanding the concept of “sanctuary city” to encompass more than just policies that protect immigrants. Increasingly, the concept is being used to mean cities that respect the lives of all their communities, including an end to broken windows policing, discriminatory housing policies, and structural inequities that continue to suppress communities of color.

The unity couldn’t come soon enough. The next stop for a Texas-style law is my home state of Wisconsin, where Republican legislators have been cooking up a bill that would compel law enforcement to carry out Trump’s deportation agenda. In Milwaukee Sheriff David Clarke, Wisconsin already has its own home-grown version of Joe Arpaio, the Arizona Sheriff who put a face on the abuses of the state’s own racial profiling law, SB 1070. Under Clarke’s watch, the Sheriff’s department has been implicated in a string of scandals and suspicious deaths in custody.

We can defeat these laws. And we have defeated them before – in Arizona, in Alabama, and in scores of small towns across the country who have dared to attack their immigrant communities. Over and over again, when these discriminatory laws crop up, they are eventually struck down – even if it takes months or years.

The Texas law will likely face the same fate – but until it does, it will bring communities in Texas and around the country together in a resistance like we have never seen before. We know that we are facing a moment that will define us forever, and we know that all we have to lose – what all of us have to lose - is our chains.

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