Suit Challenges Texas' Immigrant Harboring Statute | Texas Public Radio

Suit Challenges Texas' Immigrant Harboring Statute

Jan 25, 2016

Jonathan Ryan (left), Executive Director of RAICES, with representatives of MALDEF outside the U.S. District Court Office in San Antonio.
Credit Virginia Alvino / Texas Public Radio News

Immigration advocates say a Texas law penalizing people who shelter undocumented immigrants  is unconstitutional. The lawsuit was filed this week.

HB 11 went into effect in September of 2015. It creates a felony charge for immigrant shelters and landlords who rent to undocumented individuals.

Republican Representative Dennis Bonnen was primary author of the bill. He said during a House debate on the bill last year “We have great agreement with members from the border region and across the state, that the way the language is presently that addressing smuggling and those who want to smuggle in our state, that they should be in trouble, and they should have heightened penalty.” 

The non-profit RAICES oversees a shelter that provides residential services to women and children, no matter their immigration status. Executive Director Jonathan Ryan says in order to keep operating, "I must have assurance that my operations are legal and that I do not have to live under a day in and day out threat that I could be arrested on my way to work."

Ryan and several landlords are suing Governor Abbott and the state, hoping to strike down the statute. Among the plaintiffs is  San Antonio landlord David Gutierrez Cruz. He says he doesn’t ask his tenants about their legal status, and he doesn’t want to start.

“I’m concerned for myself because they can come and start making me do things that are just not my job, it’s not my role," says Cruz. "And they can write all the laws, but just because the law is written, doesn’t mean it’s correct."

Ryan and Cruz are represented by MALDEF – a Latino civil rights group.  

Chief Counsel for the case Nina Perales says Texas already has a smuggling statute, and HB 11 oversteps federal ruling.

“We already have a legal framework that allows Texas and DPS and local prosecutors to protect everybody who lives here," says Perales. "This is simply an additional punitive measure that we believe was intended to intimidate those who work directly with immigrants.” 

Perales says the threat of enforcement of the statute is real and present.  She says violators could face 2 to 5 years in prison or more, and face a fine.

The Texas Department of Public Safety says it does not discuss pending litigation.