By Robert Heyman 

On Thursday, the Texas House passed three bills, namely, SB 4, HB 6, and HB 4, after hours of heated debate. The State Senate will review HB 6 and HB 4, while Gov. Greg Abbott is expected to sign SB 4 into law.

Robert Heyman

HB 6 will waste another $1.5 billion on state border fencing and walls that are doomed to fail in stopping immigrants, or anything else, at the U.S.-Mexico border. 

SB 4 will further ratchet up criminal penalties for “smuggling of persons” for the lowest-level, often unknowing, participants in these activities, doing nothing to deter crime or provide actual relief for victims of trafficking and exploitation. 

Both of those bills are unnecessary, wasteful, and based on a fundamental misunderstanding of immigration and border issues. HB 4, however, deserves closer attention.

HB 4 is bad legislation. The attorneys I work with have many concerns regarding the bill. It undermines and short-circuits the asylum process. It disregards its impacts on foreign relations, ignoring Texas’ lack of a role in shaping foreign policy. It continues Texas’ worrying zeal to unlawfully interfere with the federal government’s work and laws. 

Most importantly, HB 4 will negatively impact people’s lives and create fear in immigrant communities, harming all Texans. Any of these reasons alone should be enough to abandon this bill. 

HB 4 is unconstitutional and lawless. It undermines the fundamental protection of habeas corpus that dates back to the Magna Carta. It renders the concept of due process a dead letter.  

This bill defines state crimes of ‘illegal entry” and “illegal reentry.” Then, rather than rely on enforcement of those crimes in court, it creates an unlawful and unaccountable means for any law enforcement officer in the state to detain a person, take them to a port of entry, and order them into Mexico. 

Per the bill there is no arrest. There is no trial. There are no judges or attorneys. There’s no provision of constitutional protections. There’s no oversight to see if this is being applied through racial profiling or against U.S. citizens. There is a statute of limitation to the crime, but it is unclear how that applies if no charge is brought. And anyone refusing to submit to this illegal act gets hit with a second-degree felony.

HB 4 creates a lawless reign of terror across Texas – a brutal and despotic approach that will have the imprimatur and force of law as it tears apart the communities of this state.

HB 4 is unnecessary and based on a misunderstanding of the complexities and messiness of the American immigration system.

Immigrants keep our economy running. Their labor and spending drive our businesses. Their tax dollars sustain crucial programs like Social Security and fund our schools, roads, and hospitals. Immigrants make us all richer. HB 4 will make us all poorer.

The chaos of the asylum system reflects the unsafe and desperate conditions that individuals are fleeing from to come to the U.S. Instead of facilitating humane and orderly entry, too often we craft policy to keep vulnerable people out, which only worsens that chaos. HB 4 does exactly that and will further exacerbate the chaos at the border.

Immigrants look to the U.S. for safety and opportunity because of the robust ability of our country to provide for the well-being and prosperity of the people living here. That they want to come here is a deep affirmation of the United States and Americans. HB 4 would rather tear all that down than take such a compliment to heart with the grace it deserves.

We can still hope HB 4 won’t pass and that the Texas Senate or the governor see wisdom and stop this from becoming law. It is important to contact your state senator and urge them to vote against HB 4 and HB 6.

But, we must prepare for HB 4 to become law and resist and push back against this tyranny. Now is the time to learn your rights and ensure your neighbors know theirs, too. Now is the time to urge your local and federal representatives to defend these rights in court and, in the case of Congress, enact legislation preempting Texas’ lawlessness.  

We must invest in the service providers and community organizers who will be on the frontlines of responding to the chaos and harm this will unleash. 

We should advocate for a compassionate and well-organized immigration system that values the contributions of immigrants, protects the welfare of human beings, and offers robust legal pathways to immigrate to the U.S. 

It’s important to realize that HB 4 is not our only option. We must persist in demanding genuine solutions until our elected representatives take notice. Together, we can achieve this goal.

Robert Heyman is a strategic advisor for Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center, a binational non-profit organization based in El Paso, Ciudad Juárez and New Mexico. Robert has extensive experience crafting border and immigration policy on issues including COVID in ICE detention, community ID cards, border enforcement accountability and oversight, and envisioning new policy and humanitarian outlooks for U.S.-Mexico border communities.