STATE OF TEXAS — Exercise increased caution in Texas due to risk of civil and constitutional rights violations.
The American Civil Liberties Unions (ACLUs) of New Mexico, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, Arizona, Texas and San Diego and Imperial Counties are issuing a travel advisory for their residents about the threat of civil and constitutional rights violations when traveling in the state of Texas. The laws don’t take effect until February and March of 2024, but issuance of the advisory enables people to consider travel plans and prepare accordingly
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has signed into law several new bills instituting immigration enforcement mechanisms and mandatory minimum sentences that threaten the safety and rights of people traveling in Texas, regardless of their immigration status.
These laws mark a further escalation of extremist anti-immigrant actions taken by the state of Texas under its Operation Lone Star program including the imprisonment of migrants under a racially discriminatory “trespass arrest” initiative, installing dangerous concertina wire and a deadly buoy barrier along the southern border, as well as troubling reports of National Guard personnel being directed to push people back into the Rio Grande for exercising their legal right to request asylum.
STATE DEPORTATION LAW (HB4/SB4 88S4): This new law, which takes effect in March, authorizes untrained police officers to engage in immigration enforcement. It creates a new unconstitutional process in which the police in Texas are permitted to detain people suspected of being non-U.S. citizens and entering or attempting to enter Texas from Mexico or another country without authorization. Police may charge individuals with a new state crime of “illegal entry” to Texas, punishable by up to 6 months in jail. Police may charge individuals previously denied admission to the U.S. or deported from the U.S. with “illegal re-entry" to Texas, punishable by up to 10-20 years in prison.
A person facing these criminal charges may defend themselves by proving that they are lawfully present in the U.S., are enrolled in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program or have been granted asylum.
The law authorizes Texas judges, who are not trained in immigration law and have no proper authority to enforce it, to order individuals deported under certain circumstances. Individuals who fail to leave the United States may then be charged under a new crime of refusing to comply with the state’s deportation order, punishable by 2 to 20 years in prison.
The law prohibits people from being arrested in certain protected locations, including established places of religious worship, as well as at health care facilities, such as hospitals, and at K-12 schools. However, the law also aims to shield Texas officials from legal liability relating to their enforcement of these new criminal offenses.
This law, when implemented, poses a risk to any person while in Texas, since travelers and Texas residents alike may be accused of “illegal entry” into Texas and face arrest and even be ordered deported by a Texas judge.
5-TO-10-YEAR MANDATORY MINIMUM FOR “HUMAN SMUGGLING” (SB4 88S3): This bill, which takes effect on Feb. 6, significantly expands enforcement of the state's criminal "human smuggling" laws by imposing a mandatory 10-year minimum in most cases. The bill also includes 5-year mandatory minimum sentences for individuals transporting certain close family members such as siblings, parents or grandparents. Texas’ anti-smuggling law already functions as a tool for prosecutorial abuse, baseless investigations into humanitarian organizations, and dangerous and increasingly fatal car chases.
People arrested on smuggling charges in Texas under Operation Lone Star have been mostly U.S. citizens with a median age of 26, an analysis by Human Rights Watch found. Some were children aged 14 to 17. These new extreme mandatory minimums are far out of proportion relative to the alleged crime involved.
This law, when implemented, poses a risk for people while in Texas, particularly those travelling with undocumented friends, loved ones or family members.
It is important to remember that racial profiling is illegal in the U.S. and previous efforts by states to take on federal immigration enforcement responsibilities have been overturned by the courts. However, the increased risk that individuals and motorists will be stopped, questioned, detained, and arrested because of their race, ethnicity, or national origin makes it imperative that people understand their rights when encountering law enforcement authorities in Texas.
IF YOU DECIDE TO TRAVEL TO TEXAS
Many residents from states along the Texas state border, both newly arrived ones and life-long residents, rely upon neighboring Texas cities to access specialized medical care, air travel, education, and more, which makes travel to the state unavoidable. Many others may travel to Texas for work or to visit friends and family.
If you are stopped by law enforcement in Texas and asked about your immigration status, there are several steps you can take to help stay safe:
How to reduce risk to yourself
- Stay calm. Don’t run, argue, resist, or obstruct the officer, even if you believe your rights are being violated. Keep your hands where police can see them.
- Don’t lie about your immigration status or provide false documents.
- Ask if you are free to leave. If the officer says yes, you have the right to calmly leave the area. If you are under arrest, you have the right to know why.
- You have the right to remain silent and do not have to discuss your immigration or citizenship status with the police. Anything you tell an officer may later be used against you in criminal proceedings or immigration court.
- You have the right to tell the officer that you are choosing to remain silent and that you want to consult a lawyer before answering any questions.
- Texas requires people to give their name, address, and date of birth if lawfully arrested, detained, or if a police officer requests the info and has good cause to believe the person is a witness to a criminal offense, including while the person is driving. Refusal to do so is a crime.
- If a police officer asks if they can search you, you have the right to say no. Officers generally do not have the right to search you or your belongings without your consent or probable cause.
- If you’re over 18, consider carrying your proof of citizenship or immigration status with you at all times.
Additional steps you can take to prepare ahead of travel to the state of Texas
- Prepare for the possibility of unjust arrest, detention, and even deportation. Make sure you have a plan in place for someone to take care of children, pets, home needs, etc. if you are apprehended.
- Develop a communication plan with your family members, employers, and anyone else involved with your travel to Texas. Share your travel plans with them, stay in touch while you are in Texas, and let them know when you have safely left the state of Texas.
- Keep relevant immigration documents easily accessible.
- Protect your digital privacy by disabling face or fingerprint authentication on your cell phone or other devices. Instead, use passwords or PINs to keep your devices secure.
- Memorize the phone number of a licensed attorney.
You can find additional information on how to protect your rights when stopped by law enforcement in various languages here: https://www.aclu.org/know-your-rights/immigrants-rights
New Mexico residents who are subjected to racial or ethnic profiling or other rights violations are encouraged to report these concerns: https://www.aclu-nm.org/en/get-legal-help
Oklahoma residents who are subjected to racial or ethnic profiling or other rights violations are encouraged to report these concerns: https://www.acluok.org/en/publications
Arkansas residents who are subjected to racial or ethnic profiling or other rights violations are encouraged to report these concerns: https://www.acluarkansas.org/en/get-help
Arizona residents who are subjected to racial or ethnic profiling or other rights violations are encouraged to report these concerns: https://www.acluaz.org/en/about/ask-help
Texas residents who are subjected to racial or ethnic profiling or other rights violations are encouraged to report these concerns: https://www.aclutx.org/en/request-legal-assistance
San Diego and Imperial counties residents who are subjected to racial or ethnic profiling or other rights violations are encouraged to report these concerns: https://www.aclu-sdic.org/en/request-legal-assistance
Louisiana residents who are subjected to racial or ethnic profiling or other rights violations are can find relevant resources at: https://www.aclujusticelab.org/legal-resources/