Why Police Chiefs Oppose Texas’s New Anti-Immigrant Law

Last month, Greg Abbott, the Republican Governor of Texas, signed into law an anti-immigrant measure allowing local police officers to ask for the citizenship status of anyone they detain. This sort of provision—often called a “show me your papers” law—has been attempted at the state level before, most notoriously in Arizona, which passed a measure in 2010 that was subsequently blocked in federal court. In response to the new law, civil-rights groups and several Texas city governments have filed lawsuits against the measure. Earlier this week, thousands of demonstrators descended on the state capitol, in Austin, to protest on the last day of the legislative session, prompting one overwhelmed Republican representative to call Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ice), presumably so that agents could arrest and deport members of the opposition while they stood in a gallery of the statehouse.

Texas’s law, known as Senate Bill 4 (S.B. 4), is in some ways even harsher than the one Arizona passed seven years ago: the new measure allows state authorities to punish any police chief or sheriff who tells his or her subordinates not to act as de-facto immigration agents. Violators face steep fines (a thousand dollars for the first offense and up to twenty-five thousand dollars thereafter) as well as potential removal from office. For this, and other reasons, some of the most vocal critics of S.B. 4 are leaders of the state’s law-enforcement community.

On April 28th, just after the bill passed the Texas House of Representatives, a group of police chiefs led by David Pughes and Art Acevedo—the heads of the Dallas and Houston Police Departments, respectively—wrote a public statement urging lawmakers to reconsider. “No one believes in the rule of law more than police officers,” they began, but this bill was “political pandering that will make our communities more dangerous.” In their eyes, the bill would undermine the work they’ve done to build trust in the communities they police.

By Jonathan Blitzer for The New Yorker
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