Mexico City (CNSNews.com) – The Mexican government says a controversial law requiring local law enforcement in Texas to cooperate with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers has resulted in “unprecedented levels of anxiety in the Mexican community.”
Calls to a 24-hour hotline set up by Mexico’s government to its nationals in the United States have increased by more than 800 percent since the law known as Senate Bill 4 (SB 4) was passed by the Texas state legislature earlier this year.
According to a legal brief filed by the Mexican government, the number of Mexican nationals seeking legal representation at Mexican consulates in Texas jumped 29 percent from May to August compared to the previous four months.
“The concern and uncertainty caused by SB 4 is so significant that it deterred Mexican nationals living in Texas (irrespective of their immigration status) from seeking assistance from state and local officials during Hurricane Harvey,” says the brief, filed on behalf of the Mexican government by a Washington, DC law firm.
“Mexico is deeply concerned that SB 4 will be applied in a discriminatory manner, and fears that its enforcement will lead to harassment and intolerance towards Mexican citizens and individuals of Latino appearance.”
Passed by the Texas state legislature and signed into law by the governor last May, the legislation prohibits local law enforcement officials, including campus police, from refusing to assist or cooperate with federal immigration officers.
Local law enforcement officials who don’t cooperate could be charged with a misdemeanor.
The law says local law enforcement may not adopt policies that limit the sharing or exchange of a person’s immigration status with other law enforcement officials.
Local officials are also required by the law to “comply with, honor and fulfill any” detainer request by the federal government and to permit federal immigration officials to enter local jails.
While exempting places of worship and individuals who are reporting or witness to a crime, the law allows local law enforcement officials to ask any “lawfully detained” or arrested person about their immigration status.
The legal brief, filed by attorney Leon Fresco, also claims local law enforcement officials don’t have the training to understand the complexity of the different immigration permissions available to Mexicans in Texas.
“Mexican nationals in Texas also often have special immigration statuses that are unique to Mexicans such as border crossing cards, F-3 student commuter visas, and TN visas.”
(F-3 visas allow Canadian and Mexican nationals to enter academic programs in the U.S. TN visas allow Canadian and Mexican nationals who are NAFTA professionals to work in the U.S. in prearranged business activities for U.S. or foreign employers.)
“It is difficult to conceive of a scenario where Texas’s state or local law enforcement officials can, or even should, be trained to understand and recognize all of these statuses and documents.”
Mexico also argues that separate state laws on immigration would force it to negotiate with 50 different states when defending its nationals in the U.S.
“That is why we have 50 years of case law on why immigration needs to be a federal priority,” Fresco told CNSNews.com.
A challenge to the law in federal district court resulted in most of it being struck down.
But an appeal to a federal appeals court by the Texas state attorney general resulted in most of the law being restored while the court considers the case, Fresco said.
Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, said after the first ruling that the court had acted correctly in striking down “virtually all of this patently unconstitutional law,” which he said “would have led to rampant discrimination and made communities less safe.”
Ira Mehlman, media director at the Federation for American Immigration Reform, rejected the argument that the law is unconstitutional.
“The federal government asks local jurisdictions to cooperate with federal authorities all the time,” he told CNSNews.com.
“We believe that local law enforcement should cooperate. It’s not their job to go out and do ICE’s work for it, but they do cooperate with federal police all the time,” he said. “The claim they make that this will destroy community trust is simply not the case.”
Mehlman said many police chiefs are political appointees and that those who are elected by the voters “are just fine” with the law.
In a Dallas News op-ed earlier this year, police chiefs from several major cities in Texas said the law would strain relations between officers and the communities they serve.
“Legal immigrants are beginning to avoid contact with the police for fear that they themselves or undocumented family members or friends may become subject to immigration enforcement,” they wrote.