By Thomas Kennedy
In 2011, the Florida legislature attempted to pass an Arizona-style “show me your papers” law at the behest of Republican Governor Rick Scott. The proposal generated a hugely controversial and heated debate in the legislature and ultimately failed after the Senate was unable to broker an agreement.
In the same year, Georgia actually enacted a bill inspired by the SB 1070 Arizona bill to disastrous consequences. Georgia farmers lost millions of dollars as blueberries, onions, melons, tomatoes and other and crops were left unharvested and rotting in farms. As undocumented workers fled the state in fear of the new harsh immigration measure, these agricultural jobs were simply not being filled in time to harvest crops, doing severe damage to Georgia’s agriculture sector.
More than six years later, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed into law what many immigration activists and groups consider to be the most discriminatory, anti-immigrant law inspired by SB 1070. Texas proposed Senate Bill 4 (SB4) enables local police officers to question the immigration status of individuals detained with “reasonable suspicion” of breaking the law. The bill would also preempt local municipalities from passing legislation that would conflict with SB4 and force police departments to comply with federal requests to detain suspected undocumented immigrants.
The Texas SB4 law essentially goes along with Trump administration efforts to go after “sanctuary cities” and would embolden other states with anti-immigrant legislators to take similar measures to target immigrants by transforming police officers into immigration agents.
These measures have had a chilling effect on immigrant communities by eroding the trust between the community and police departments, as there is fear that any encounter with police officers could lead to detainment and possible deportation. Police departments themselves have spoken out against these type of anti-immigrant laws.
The Los Angeles police department said in a statement: “While there is no direct evidence that the decline is related to concerns within the Hispanic community regarding immigration, the department believes deportation fears may be preventing Hispanic members of the community from reporting when they are being victimized.”
Interim Austin Police Chief Brian Manley has told legislators that SB4 will make police work harder. “I think that we will create situations where the trust we’ve worked so hard to build can be eroded,” he said at a press conference last week.
Over a 1000 immigration activists staged a large protest on the Texas House Floor during the final day of the legislative session. As legislators were discussing SB4 and the protestors that had gathered that day, House Rep. Matt Rinaldi told fellow lawmakers “fuck them, I called ICE” regarding the activists gathered there and threatened to put a bullet in a fellow lawmakers head.
The fact that a Republican legislator saw people which he assumed were Hispanic and undocumented and called ICE on them due to a political disagreement, not only demonstrates how laws like SB4 will inevitably result in racial profiling but also how these types of discriminatory proposals can be abused in order to persecute individuals who engage in political activism.
Discriminatory legislation like SB4 hurts our communities by making police officers jobs more difficult, hurting the economy, and persecuting hard working immigrants and separating families which contribute to our society.
Now more than ever, we all need to stand up and fight this hate - not just in Texas, but across the country.
Thomas Kennedy is a writing fellow for the Center for Community Change.