A local activist is raising awareness about a Texas Senate bill that could empower campus police to report undocumented students to immigration authorities.
Senate 4 bill, commonly known as the “anti-sanctuary city” bill, was passed through the Texas Senate on Feb. 8. The bill allows local entities, campus police included, may act as Immigration and Customs Enforcement (I.C.E.) and enforce immigration laws on campus.
That bill abolishes all 300 U.S. sanctuary cities (including Houston, Austin, and Travis County). The next step, a hearing in a House of Representative committee, has not yet been scheduled. The bill’s future is far from certain; it may die quietly waiting for a vote in the House of Representatives, or it could move forward in the coming weeks.
Brian Herrington, an activist and adjunct professor for the school of music said he is concerned this bill is not receiving enough attention. Although the bill has yet to be passed and is still in motion, Herrington thinks that a discussion about the proposal is important.
“My main issue is that I just want people to know about it,” Herrington said. “All I want is a campus-wide dialogue because I’m talking to colleagues and students who’ve not heard of it. Actually, I spoke to one representative who was going to see the bill who did not know it included campus police because they hadn’t even received the engrossed text back from the Senate.”
There are five other key points according to the bill text. Municipalities are forced to comply with immigration detainers; municipalities cannot prohibit or discourage officers from inquiring about immigration status during a lawful stop; state grants will be withheld if the Attorney General of Texas finds an entity is in violation of law; the immigration status must be recorded in a person’s case file; and the bill protects witnesses and victims of crimes if they are here illegally.
Institutions and municipalities resisting this law could be charged with criminal prosecution as a Class A misdemeanor, and lose state funding. Any civil penalties could include a minimum fine of $1,000 for the first offense, and $25,000 for any further violations.
Herrington believes this bill has been overshadowed by other legislation, including controversial bills immigration, women’s health and LGBTQ issues.
“There have been several bills introduced mandating local entities should enforce immigration law, and it becomes confusing,” Herrington said. “For example, Senate 4 bill is very similar to House Bill HB-52, but HB-52 doesn’t contain language about campus police, while Senate 4 bill does.”
Though Herrington has been actively opposing this bill, he has confidence in the UPD and believes this bill would only impede them from fulfilling their duties.
“I have absolute faith in our campus police that they would not profile,” Herrington said. “The difficulty is the law would create a mandate for the police that’s difficult to work with. I don’t think we have enough resources to carry it out, nor do we have enough resources to fight it.”
Herrington said that if legislatures cared about campus life, they would focus on other issues, such as sexual
assault, rather than burdening the police with immigration duties.
“A 2015 survey from the American Association of Universities said 18.5 percent of female undergrads at U.T. had experienced either rape of sexual assault,” Harrington said. “So, I know campus police want to focus on more prominent issues like that. I’m not saying anything bad about our law enforcement; I’m saying this law is mandating they do something ridiculous.”
Herrington does not assume the producers of this bill are bigoted, just misguided and don’t understand the effect of immigrants in the U.S., or the effect of how this bill could change campus atmosphere.
“I don’t have a kneejerk reaction and assume they’re racist; just that most American’s are misinformed about the impact of undocumented immigrants have on employment or violence,” Herrington said. “It wouldn’t deter anything immigration wise, just create a negative impact on the learning environment. The fear it would create would be unhealthy, though I want to be clear that the last our campus police want is to have anything to do with that.”
President of SHSU International Hispanic Association and President of the Bilingual Education Student Organization
Alianna Araujo also believes this bill would disrupt campus atmosphere and even cause economic problems.
“It would erase the welcoming feeling and bring racism into the campus,” Araujo said. “SHSU would have less students which means less money, and eventually it would most likely affect the economy in Texas, so I would say there would be no advantages for anyone.”
Araujo is from an immigrant family and understands not only the struggles undocumented students face, but the hopes of bettering themselves through education. Araujo and her organizations feel this bill would jeopardize people’s education, and therefore her organizations are hoping to conduct peaceful protests in the future.
“I honestly feel most concern for those students who are here for a better future and have gotten this far,” Araujo said. “It takes a lot of hard work to get where we are and for it to be taken away like, that is not fair.”
To read the entirety of the bill, visit https://legiscan.com/TX/text/SB4/2017.
Associate Professor and Director of Opera Workshop at Sam Houston State University, Rebecca Grimes had an experience with two undocumented students here at SHSU.
“They were hard working, talented people who had been brought to the US as children and were making tremendous sacrifices to get a college education,” Grimes said. “Both are now US citizens, and one of these former students is now a Christian music minister. I am proud that at one time Texas was willing to extend educational opportunities to young people who were willing to work for it, and wish our leaders would rethink these new policies that only serve to target good people.”
The University Police Department and Sam Houston State University declined to comment on this story. Herrington said he does not speak for the university, and his views are only his own.
“I do not speak as an employee of SHSU, but as an educator whose life intersects with those adversely impacted by this legislation,” Herrington said.