19 Jul It’s time for McAllen to join the fight against SB4

By Ricardo Garza

The tide is turning on Texas’ “show me your papers” law. Every major metro area in Texas and several Valley cities including Brownsville, La Joya, and Palmview have voted to join the legal fight against the measure.  

With Houston, San Antonio, Austin, Dallas, El Paso, and Brownsville opposing SB 4, one of the largest missing metro areas is the one anchored in McAllen, an area of more than 840,000 people. Despite the Upper Valley’s status as a center of Mexican-American culture and life, made up mostly of immigrants and their descendants, this anti-immigrant law has not met resistance from McAllen’s leaders.

Instead, Upper Valley police chiefs and politicians did just the opposite. In May, Sheriff Guerra, McAllen Police Chief Rodriguez, and most Hidalgo County police chiefs co-authored a misleading pro-SB4 editorial in the San Antonio Express-News with Governor Abbott to drum up support for the law. McAllen Mayor Darling sparked controversy by ignoring locals’ calls to oppose the law and deciding to honor SB4-supporter Ted Cruz at the city’s Fourth of July parade instead.

Unlike what Abbott, Cruz, and his local supporters say, SB4 is not about simply “enforcing the law” on immigration. Instead, it creates a whole set of new crimes while trampling on the free speech rights of all “local entities,” a term so broad it includes officials from the county sheriff to employees of South Texas College.

If SB4 goes into effect on Sept. 1, sheriffs could no longer set local policies prioritizing our safety. UTRGV campus police would be forced to act like ICE agents, making our local immigrant students afraid to report serious crimes at school ranging from theft to sexual assault.

Beyond this, SB4 will lead to arbitrary racial profiling based on appearance and accent. In a bilingual and bicultural region like ours, we can’t leave it to untrained local police officers to guess at who to pull over to ask about immigration status.

With more than 180 different types of immigration visas which often don’t give their holders a simple “green card” indicating legal status, immigration law is notoriously complicated. Local and campus police simply don’t have the training to make these technical determinations.

These types of requirements of SB4 pose special dangers for the Upper Valley, with McAllen alone receiving about a third of its sales tax from Mexican nationals. Although officials have tried to reassure Mexican tourists that McAllen remains welcoming through their recent “Amigos Always” campaign, SB4 threatens to undo any goodwill this has recouped.

In an instant, SB 4 would remake relations between police and the public with profound implications on Valley natives and our visiting Mexican neighbors. It is simply irresponsible for our elected officials to take a “wait and see” approach and stay silent on this issue.

Of course, officials may understandably be wary now that SB4 has passed. Shockingly, SB4 makes even speaking out against the law a crime for local officials, who can even be removed from office. While this is extreme and concerning, SB4 is not yet in effect, and the time is now to oppose it.

In a few short decades, McAllen has grown into the urban anchor of one of the largest metro regions in our state. With that status comes a special responsibility to defend our shared bicultural values, especially when a reckless law puts them under attack. With all other major cities on board, let’s not get left behind.

Ricardo Garza is a law clerk at the Texas Civil Rights Project in the South Texas office.