By Linda Corchado
The Texas Legislature is steps away from empowering “peace officers” across the state to summarily expel immigrants, rip apart families and destroy the lives of immigrant children.
On Thursday, the Texas House voted 84-60 to approve House Bill 4, which would empower peace officers to apprehend, arrest and expel migrants who cross the border illegally. HB 4 would subject migrants to a state level misdemeanor conviction with a 180-day sentence. The penalty could jump to a state felony punishable by up to two years in prison if the person has repeatedly entered the country without inspection.
Peace officers are so broadly defined in the bill that a municipal park patrol person could approach a family grilling hot dogs at our local park to forcefully remove a grandmother from her grandchildren – so long as that peace officer determines she entered without inspection.
No, peace officers are not trained in immigration law.
Neither does HB 4 limit its authority to recent arrivals. A mother, who entered without inspection 10 years ago and has not departed since, with a pending immigration case, could be summarily expelled.
Asylum? It would be rendered meaningless.
Should a peace officer encounter an asylum seeker with a good-faith claim pending before an immigration judge, that officer could absolutely expel them. Only a positive determination could stop enforcement.
And with an immigration court backlog which has more than tripled since 2017, that means almost any asylum seeker who entered without inspection in Texas could be subject to expulsion. In other words, our Texas government would commit the serious human rights offense of refoulement, a fundamental violation of international law that forbids a country from forcefully returning asylum seekers to a country in which they would be in probable danger of persecution.
All children would be subject to expulsion.
As HB 4 is currently written, children being treated for cancer or the flu could be approached by peace officers at any federally qualified health center. They could also be approached at child care centers while their parents are working and be expelled.
Importantly, the absence of documentation is incriminating. Any child without a U.S. passport or birth certificate in tow could be presumed to have entered without inspection. Any. Child.
There are no limitations or nuances here. No peace officer would be required to notify the parents of the child’s imminent expulsion, nor would any process be put in place to stop the expulsion.
The traumatic incidents that children would be forced to witness as peace officers administer their expulsion powers against their parents, siblings and grandparents is horrifying to even consider. This is permanent toxic stress that could forever alter the functioning of a child’s brain. And these incidents could happen over and over again. That includes U.S. citizen children with U.S. citizen parents who are racially profiled by peace officers repeatedly as they go about their day to day lives.
Could a U.S citizen child actually be removed by a peace officer? Just ask Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa D-McAllen, who was removed by Border Patrol back to Mexico at the age of 5. His father was not notified. Senator Hinojosa is a U.S. citizen.
Yes, it happens, and it happens to this day. Between 2015 to 2020, Immigration and Customs Enforcement detained 121 and removed 70 potential U.S. citizens. And that was throughout the normal execution of our federal immigration law – in the absence of HB 4.
Here at the border, we could face systematic, traumatic and persistent racial profiling like no other time in our history.
HB 4 is being teed up for success in the Senate, where there is strong Republican support for Gov. Greg Abbott’s border “security” agenda. The Senate has already passed SB 4 in a 90-57 vote, which would increase the minimum sentence from two years to 10 years for smuggling immigrants.
Like HB 4, SB 4 is dangerously vague. Here the term “smuggling” could subject bishops driving an undocumented person to church to mandatory 10 years in prison. Currently, first-degree felonies like murder carry a five-year minimum sentence.
In a politically divisive era, where politics is hardly appetizing for many El Pasoans, me included, the reality is that people in power do care about politics.
As I write this, our very existence is being deliberated by Texas senators and representatives while a governor miles away demonizes our way of life and orchestrates our repression. The politics they care about would harm our children and tear our families apart. The policies they’re putting in place would infiltrate our lives and diminish our rights to a level never seen before.
It’s time they heard our voices. If not for us, then for our children.
Linda Corchado is the Director of the Children’s Immigration Network in El Paso for Children at Risk, based in Houston.