Immigrant Texans and Border Organization Sue to Block Extremist Anti-Immigrant State Law

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 12, 2024

CONTACT
Emily Morris, National Immigration Law Center, [email protected], 213-457-7458
Julie Gallego, MALDEF, [email protected], (714) 932-2025

Immigrant Texans and Border Organization Sue to Block Extremist Anti-Immigrant State Law

AUSTIN, Texas — Texas residents and a local nonprofit organization are challenging the state’s new anti-immigrant law, known as S.B. 4, in federal court as unconstitutional. 

MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund) and the National Immigration Law Center (NILC) filed the federal lawsuit on behalf of border-based nonprofit community organization La Union del Pueblo Entero (LUPE), its members and four individual Texas residents. 

The lawsuit argues that Texas is violating the U.S. Constitution by stepping into the federal role to regulate immigration, and that S.B. 4 also violates the Fourth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution. 

The new lawsuit is being filed as the Supreme Court prepares to issue a decision as to whether to allow a lower court’s injunction of the law to stay in place. 

“S.B. 4 is the most extreme anti-immigrant state law in the last 50 years, bar none,” said Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF President and General Counsel. “Not only does the law seek to establish the state’s own deportation and removal apparatus using untrained police officers and judges, in doing so, S.B. 4 seeks to impose the wholly outdated criminal punishment of banishment; however, as much as its leaders may wish otherwise, Texas remains one state of 50 in a modern United States, so S.B. 4 must fall.”

S.B. 4 includes criminal penalties for entering Texas from a foreign country other than at a lawful port of entry. The law also makes it a crime to be present in the state of Texas after previously being removed or ordered removed from the United States. S.B. 4 also requires Texas courts to order the deportation of immigrants convicted under the law and makes it a crime for a person to refuse to leave the U.S. after a Texas court orders that person’s deportation. 

Attorneys argue that the law will impede the ability of immigrant service organizations such as LUPE to fulfill their missions and will put pressure on the group’s resources.

“As a membership-based organization, our ability to adequately serve our low-income and immigrant members is our number one priority,” said Tania Chavez Camacho, Executive Director of LUPE, an advocacy organization that provides legal services and humanitarian support to individuals in their immigration cases. “S.B. 4 will place unjust stress on our members because of where they were born, even if they are actively going through a legal process to adjust their immigration status and have the legal right to live in the U.S. This law promotes racial profiling and blanket permission for law enforcement to criminalize our community. Just like we’ve done for decades, LUPE will continue to advocate for the rights of all our members and our right for our staff to provide critical services to the more than 8,000 people we serve every year.”

“S.B. 4 is another unconstitutional attack by Texas on the civil rights of Latinos and all immigrants,” said Fátima Lucía Menéndez, MALDEF Southwest Regional Counsel. “MALDEF is proud to represent LUPE in the challenge against S.B. 4 and will continue to fight against misguided laws fueled by xenophobia.”

The lawsuit is the first to challenge S.B. 4 filed by individuals personally affected by the law.

The four individual plaintiffs, as well as some LUPE members, have available pathways or pending immigration applications with the federal government that could lead to permanent lawful status and citizenship. Even so, under Texas’ new law, these individuals are subject to state criminal charges and a state judge’s order that they return to the country from which they entered.

“Whether or not the Supreme Court decides to lift the stay on the injunction, we will stand with Texans and continue to fight this racist, immoral, and illegal law,” said Kica Matos, President of the National Immigration Law Center. “S.B. 4 is a shameless political ploy. It is yet another attempt by Governor Greg Abbott, Attorney General Ken Paxton, and Texas legislators to take federal immigration law into their own hands for personal political gain, at the expense of Texas families and communities. S.B. 4 will do nothing to solve this nation’s immigration issues but will instead lead to racial profiling of immigrants and U.S.-born residents alike, while wasting billions of Texas taxpayer dollars. For the sake of all Texans, and in support of basic human decency, Abbott and Paxton should abandon their defense of S.B. 4.”

“I am a Texan and the United States is my home,” said Mary Doe, a native of El Salvador who has lived in the U.S. for more than 30 years and has permission from the federal government to be here, yet could still be prosecuted and removed under S.B. 4. “My kids, my parents, and my whole life are here. I have permission to work, and I work hard, I pay taxes, and I am proud of my job as a government employee. This is what immigrants do, they work hard and contribute to the country and raise their children to do the same. I am standing up to fight this law because what Texas is doing is wrong. If I were removed from my home and sent away to a country I barely know, it would be devastating not just for me, but for everyone in America who my life is connected to.”

S.B. 4 was scheduled to take effect on March 5, 2024. The Biden administration filed suit to challenge S.B. 4 on January 3, 2024. Two legal services organizations, Las Americas and American Gateways, and the County of El Paso, also filed suit to challenge the law, on December 18, 2023. The cases have been consolidated into U.S. v. Texas.

A federal court in Austin held a preliminary injunction hearing in U.S. v. Texas on February 15, and issued an injunction preventing S.B. 4 from going into effect on February 29. The state of Texas appealed to the Fifth Circuit, which administratively stayed the injunction and would allow S.B. 4 to go into effect. That decision is being reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court.    

Today’s complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, Austin Division.

The newly-filed lawsuit is also the first to raise claims that S.B. 4 violates the Fourth and the Eighth Amendments. These claims, solely brought by MALDEF on behalf of LUPE and its members, assert that every arrest under the illegitimate power of S.B. 4 is an unconstitutional seizure, and that Texas’ imposition of a criminal penalty of banishment constitutes cruel and unusual punishment under the Constitution.

The complaint is available at: https://www.nilc.org/wp-content/uploads/2024/03/Complaint_SB4.pdf 

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