Texas lawmakers last month approved Senate Bill 4, an immigration law that would allow Texas police to arrest people for illegally crossing the border from Mexico.
SB 4, which Gov. Greg Abbott has said he will sign into law, has sparked intense debate, with opponents saying it will lead to racial profiling by police and supporters saying Texas needs to step in because the federal government isn’t doing enough to stop illegal immigration.
When Abbott signs the bill, it’s scheduled to take effect in early March.
Abbott has taken a series of actions since March 2021, such as sending troopers and National Guard members to the 1,200-mile-long Texas-Mexico border to apprehend immigrants crossing the Rio Grande.
According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection data, federal agents encountered nearly 2.5 million migrants at the southern border in fiscal year 2023, which ended in September, breaking the record set in 2022. Those encounters included migrants who went to ports of entry to request asylum.
It is already illegal to enter the U.S. without permission under federal law. Without a state law against illegal crossing, state law enforcement has been charging migrants with trespassing when they cross the Rio Grande into private property.
Here’s what you need to know about the proposed new state law.
What is Senate Bill 4?
The bill would make it a state crime to cross the Texas-Mexico border between ports of entry. If a police officer has probable cause to believe a person crossed the Rio Grande, that person could be charged with a Class B misdemeanor, which carries a punishment of up to six months in jail. If the person has been previously convicted of entering Texas illegally under SB 4, the charge could be increased to a second-degree felony, which carries a punishment of two to 20 years in prison.
The bill allows a judge to drop the charges if a migrant agrees to return to Mexico.
If the migrant is convicted and has served their sentence, a judge would be required to issue an order for police to transport them to a port of entry — and they could face a felony charge for refusing to return to Mexico.
SB 4 prohibits police from arresting migrants in public or private schools; churches and other places of worship; health care facilities; and facilities that provide forensic medical examinations to sexual assault survivors. The bill doesn’t prohibit arrests on college or university campuses.
According to a state House report on SB 4, police are allowed to turn over migrant families to Border Patrol agents to avoid separating children from their parents instead of arresting them.