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Texas' SB4 anti-immigration law is on a legal roller coaster — and it's making people dizzy

Stella M. Chavez

For a few hours this week, Texas’ controversial immigration enforcement law was in effect. Then it wasn’t. The legal seesaw over SB 4, which gives local and state police the authority to arrest someone suspected of illegally entering Texas, has felt dizzying to immigrant and civil rights advocates.

“Our community has endured a legal and emotional roller coaster as SB 4 continues to go in and out of effect here in Texas,” said Christine Bolaños, Communications Director at Workers Defense Project and Workers Defense Action Fund in Texas. “While SB 4 is not currently [in] effect and the appeals court was...slated to have a hearing this morning, SCOTUS has yet to rule on the constitutionality of SB 4.

She described SB 4 as "one of the most extreme anti-immigrant laws that the United States has ever seen.”

Labor and immigrant rights groups have been talking to each other, members say, to discuss how they can work together if SB 4 takes effect permanently. They also plan to protest. A so-called "mega march" is scheduled to take place Sunday afternoon in Dallas.

Since Gov. Greg Abbott signed the bill into law in December, Bolaños and others have spread the word about it to their members, educating them on their rights or helping them devise what they call a dignity plan. It’s a plan that includes steps to take if someone is arrested and deported under the law.

Many of Workers Defense’s members are immigrants who work in construction and other day labor industries. Some come from families whose members have migrated to Texas for several generations or who’ve worked for the same companies.

“They have paid their taxes for decades,” Bolaños said. “They’ve raised their families here but also established a strong presence in their communities, whether it’s at church, whether it’s in their workplace, whether it’s in their neighborhood.”

Jose Rodriguez, a community organizer with La Frontera Nos Cruzo, which stands for The Border Crossed Us, said the past week has been tiring.

“A lot of us are having frustration, especially this week, where it’s really back and forth,” Rodriguez said. “We’re constantly trying to figure out how we’re going to adjust ourselves.”

One thing he’s hearing a lot is fear. Rodriguez said some people don’t want to leave the house, such as drive to the grocery store. Others are angry and question whether they should stay in Texas.

Rodriguez said the feeling is similar to when Donald Trump first ran for president and described immigrants disparagingly.

“The hostility is definitely growing on a national scale,” he said.

Other groups say they worry SB 4 may harm victims of child and domestic abuse.

Patricia Castillo, executive director of The PEACE Initiative in San Antonio, which is dedicated to fighting family violence, said the law will make some people even more fearful of interacting with law enforcement. 

“They become the perfect victims because they're not going to report," Castillo said. "They don't want to get deported. They don't want to be found out. They don't want to be identified. They're too terrified, because the parents, you know, could end up being deported.”

Jennefer Canales-Pelaez, who is Policy Attorney and Strategist at the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, called SB 4 unconstitutional and said it should be struck down.

“SB 4 is an extension of Operation Lone Star, Gov. Greg Abbott’s unconstitutional and deadly law enforcement scheme that wastes vital state resources to target migrants for arrest, jail, and deportation,” Canales-Pelaez said in statement.

Texas Public Radio's Bonnie Petrie contributed to this report.

Got a tip? Email Stella M. Chávez at schavez@kera.org. You can follow Stella on Twitter @stellamchavez.

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Stella Chávez is KERA’s education reporter/blogger. Her journalism roots run deep: She spent a decade and a half in newspapers – including seven years at The Dallas Morning News, where she covered education and won the Livingston Award for National Reporting, which is given annually to the best journalists across the country under age 35. The award-winning entry was  “Yolanda’s Crossing,” a seven-part DMN series she co-wrote that reconstructs the 5,000-mile journey of a young Mexican sexual-abuse victim from a small Oaxacan village to Dallas. For the last two years, she worked for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, where she was part of the agency’s outreach efforts on the Affordable Care Act and ran the regional office’s social media efforts.