Anti-Immigrant Texas Law SB 4 Heads to SCOTUS 

The Supreme Court has signaled its intent to weigh in on the contentious legal battle between Texas and the Biden Administration over Senate Bill 4, a controversial new law that vastly expands state authority over immigration enforcement. SB 4 is “one of the most extreme anti-immigrant laws ever passed by any state legislature in the country,” according to the ACLU of Texas. 

SB 4 criminalizes entering Texas outside of designated ports of entry and empowers state and local police to arrest and prosecute anyone suspected of entering the country illegally within the past two years, even far from the border. Individuals could face misdemeanor charges on the first offense and felony charges for repeat offenses. The law also creates a parallel state-level deportation procedure. If convicted of illegal entry under SB 4, state judges would be required to order a person’s removal to Mexico regardless of whether that person is eligible to seek asylum or other humanitarian protections under federal law. Individuals ordered to leave the country would face further prosecution if they refuse or have the state charges dropped if they agree to return voluntarily, amounting to de facto deportation. 

Immigration advocates and civil rights groups strongly oppose the law, warning it will lead to racial profiling. They also fear it could criminalize those fleeing persecution and disrupt the established federal process for handling asylum seekers. 

The legal fight began when U.S. District Judge David Ezra in Austin blocked SB 4 in response to a lawsuit by the federal government, immigration advocates, and civil rights groups, ruling it violates federal law and the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution. He emphasized that Texas would likely lose the case on its merits and expressed concern that the law could obstruct legitimate asylum claims. Texas argued SB 4 is necessary to combat rising illegal border crossings and invoked an “invasion” clause in the Constitution to justify its actions – an argument Ezra dismissed. 

In response to Ezra’s ruling, Texas appealed, and a panel of the conservative Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals allowed the law to take effect while the legal challenge continues without explaining its ruling. This prompted the Biden Administration to petition the Supreme Court to overturn the appeals court’s ruling and block implementation of the law, arguing that SB 4 undermines federal authority over immigration. Justice Samuel Alito temporarily halted the law until March 13, allowing the Supreme Court time to consider the federal government’s request. Texas has until March 11 to respond. 

If allowed to take effect, SB 4 could fundamentally reshape immigration enforcement, undermining the federal government’s authority on immigration matters and creating a chaotic patchwork of state-level enforcement mechanisms. The outcome of this legal battle rests with the conservative-leaning Supreme Court, which has the potential to either reshape national immigration policy or reaffirm the federal government’s jurisdiction over these issues. 

Educator Objections to SB 4 

As educators and school employees, we are deeply troubled by the implications of SB 4.  

Legislation such as SB 4 is fueled by hateful rhetoric targeting communities of color regarding the supposed “invasion” of our country by immigrants. This rhetoric and the enforcement of SB 4 likely will have a chilling effect on mixed-status families, making children feel less safe and negatively impacting their ability to learn or socialize with their peers. 

SB 4 was amended to prohibit the arrest, removal, or detainment of a person on the grounds or premises of a public or private primary or secondary school (also places of worship and hospitals). However, nothing would stop a law enforcement officer from arresting a parent or guardian traveling on their way to or from the school their child attends. 

When the life of a child is disrupted by the arrest or deportation of a close family member, they experience trauma that impacts their lives both inside and outside their home. Outside of the home, children spend much of their time at school. As a union of professional educators and school employees entrusted with our students’ well-being, Texas AFT is extremely concerned about the impact of SB 4 on students and schools. 

Texas AFT urges the Supreme Court to uphold the lower court’s decision and block SB 4 from going into effect. We believe that this law is harmful to our communities and would not be effective in addressing the complex issues of border security and “illegal” immigration.