Goodman: SB4 Damages Law Enforcement In Texas

Aug 13, 2017

Credit peter goodman

  Commentary: Texas limits deer-hunting to certain seasons, but is making it open season all year long on Latinas without papers. 


SB4 makes it criminal for a police chief or sheriff to direct officers not to ask for people's papers.


Latinos and law-enforcement are united in opposing this bill.


The Legislature ignored State Rep. Mary Gonzalez's moving plea not to pass this vicious and misguided bill. She too had been raped. A painful public admission. She made the obvious point that discouraging victims from reporting rapes and other crimes tells anyone contemplating such conduct that he probably can get away with it.


Already, reports of rapes have declined significantly among Latinas, while reports from others are increasing. And it's not just rapes. A group of teenagers confessed (or bragged?) that they targeted Latinos because “they don't call the police.”


Since potential criminals don't necessarily know who has papers, crimes against Hispanic citizens, legal residents, and illegal residents will all increase. But so what? They're brown, and they're in Texas. 


As the Texas Major Cities Association (TMCA) argues, cops “work extremely hard to build and maintain trust, communication, and stronger relationships with minority communities through community based policing and outreach programs. [Laws like SB4] that push local law enforcement to take a more active role in immigration enforcement will further strain the relationship between local law enforcement and these diverse communities.” 


This at a time when distrust and poor communication between cops and minorities is literally killing members of both groups. Why would a witness without papers answer questions about a cop-killing in Dallas? They know the cops aren't protecting them. Cooperating could not only spark retaliation by the killers but get them deported. (Would the cops actually deport such a person? They 'd not want to; but would a witness take the chance?)


SB4 exposes Republican “law-and-order” talk as empty rhetoric. The TMCA op-ed added, “if we don't arrest criminals who victimize our immigrant communities, we allow them to remain free to victimize every one of us.” Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo tweeted, “Violent crime is on rise across our Nation & some would rather men & women in blue go after cooks & nannies, instead of hardened criminals.” TMCA suggested that a real effort at decreasing immigration would go after businesses that hire immigrants. 


Although Governor Abbott says it's about public safety, law-enforcement officials are nearly unanimous in strongly opposing this bill. Cops know how things work on the street. SB4 adds to their problems and dangers. But it fits the anti-immigrant hysteria, and the Republican ideology. Who cares about the people it hurts? 


Who cares about anything sensible when hysteria takes over? 


The famous wall, if ever built, would accomplish little, but would hurt the economy and ecology along the border, divide communities, and cost a fortune. Just the threat of it may be dampening cross-border trade.


Smart folks outside the U.S. are already trying to replicate Silicon Valley, hoping that tech-savvy folks from other countries will feel more comfortable bringing their talents to somewhere that isn't in a panic against “furriners.” 


I understand Trump's position. He was never as popular as he wished, and now he's screwing up all over the place. In traditional fashion, he's distracting us with convenient scapegoats. The same tactics work well in Texas. 


Studying facts and making reasoned decisions was never as popular in government as it should have been; but Trump's legendary disdain for truth and facts seems to work, so why wouldn't small-minded Texas legislators emulate him. I hope New Mexicans won't.




[Here's part of what State Rep. Mary Gonzalez said:  "To my friends on this floor, if you ever had any friendship with me, then this is the vote that measures that friendship. That you can vote for this amendment, then you think it’s OK for women, for children not to be able to go to law enforcement and be protected in their most vulnerable time in their lives. That you’re willing to take that risk, then I hope you never talk to me again, because this is people’s lives."There’s been a sharp drop. In rapes and sexual assaults alone, the reduction has been 42.8 percent, while the rest of the community, the numbers have gone up. The same holds true, to a lesser extent, I think about 13 percent increase, with a decrease for all violent crime.

"And, you know, that’s the unintended consequence. When you start trying to create the perception that front-line law enforcement officers, who should be focused on public safety, are now going to become ICE agents, you cannot argue with the fact that it’s going to have an impact. Perception matters. And the perception that SB 4, and the debate leading up to this law, has created is that we are going to be required to be immigration agents, which that’s not the truth. I mean, that’s not a fact, but it doesn’t matter. You cannot—we just can’t seem to convince the immigrant community that they need not to fear us."]


[Here's a link to Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo's press conference.  (I'm proud of my former law school classmate, Houston Mayor Silvester Turner, for whatever part he played in making this guy chief.)


The New Yorker quotes El Paso County Sheriff Richard Wiles as saying, “It’s kind of amazing that, during the initial hearing, the senators had all these chiefs and sheriffs from across Texas speaking against the bill—and they totally ignored the people in law enforcement,” adding that his alread overworked officers are  “too busy to waste their time doing another agency’s work.”  He also noted that the new law made this "[T]he only area where one of my officers could now be allowed to go out there and ignore his own bosses is on immigration. It’s crazy.”


Republican supporters of SB 4 are doubly hypocritical: they're not only interfering with police when they're the loudest at screaming "Support your Local Police," they always preach "decentralization," but only practice it when they feel like it.  As Acevedo told The New Yorker, “Texas politicians always complain that Washington is trying to dictate to them how to do things.  Now they’re turning around and doing the same thing to the cities in their own state.”  Further, since police in most of these cities already asked about immigration status if it was material to an investigation or with regard to someone arrested, the effect of the change is to specifically targets witnesses and people reporting crimes.  Victims.  I'd sure appreciate that if I were a criminal in Texas!]