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After the UC Regents decision to delay the implementation of the Opportunities for All Campaign in late January, recent legal action in Texas can be seen as an indicator of the current state of immigration policy across the border states. The Texas legislature was denied implementing Senate Bill 004, which grants local police to arrest and detain migrants suspected of illegally crossing the border from Mexico in attempts to further bolster Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) reach beyond 100 miles of the border. Political pressure from conservative voters in border states is unfairly and disproportionately criminalizing the undocumented community, which is rather alarming for immigrant rights organizers.

The U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ultimately decided to restrict the state’s ability to pass legislation that would supersede the supremacy clause and is slated to hear arguments to decide on the constitutionality of the law on April 3. During an election year, the political energy rallied for SB004 is especially worth considering the platform that Republican candidates will continue to run on. Yet the real question is why this measure was introduced to appease Republican voters on border security issues is noteworthy, especially during an election year. 

The supremacy clause has been used in the past to establish that power over national immigration and security should be reserved for the federal government. Therefore, one can assume that these deliberate attempts towards attempting to unactualize laws like SB 004 serve as fear tactics toward undocumented migrants in border communities. The 2012 Supreme Court decision, Arizona v. US, presented a very similar law that was struck down when they attempted to increase the scope of state-level crimes for immigration offenses. Local police, in this case, were also granted additional powers as an immigration enforcement body and enabled the increase of traffic stops if people were suspected of being immigrants — basically coded for more discriminatory practices. 

Texas’s move towards expanding its police state ultimately leaves California to respond. The California legislature can be complacent and allow the federal government to step in, or it can be proactive and attempt to pilot programs that mitigate the conditions at the border.

Through a political lens, it’s clear Republican candidates in border states have an incentive to run on hardline immigration policies. Recent figures further bolster this, showing a 64% interest in enforcing more border security and immigration among primary voters in Texas. Since negative public sentiment towards immigrants in neighboring border states like Texas is high, the pressure falls on California to take a more firm stance on border-related legislation.

Recently, the shift of supporting immigrants in California, such as Medi-Cal expansion to include undocumented people, can be considered a band-aid solution. Regardless of whether this new program will face cuts or not in the legislative session, the moral imperative to advocate for border reform is high. 

Considering a scenario where SB004 would actually be allowed to exist, and local agents act as de facto ICE agents to further criminalize BIPOC communities, the adverse effects on immigrant communities would be shocking. The language in the Texas bill allows for new sentencing standards that are overtly punitive, enforcing 2 to 20 years in prison for unlawful entry. Previous attempts to enforce tough-on-crime rhetoric in the U.S. have done more harm than good, and exploring new avenues to support immigrants through grassroots support networks leads to meaningful change.

Over half of sheriffs that partner with ICE express inhuman federal policies, according to an ACLU report. This indicates that SB004 fosters fear-mongering towards the immigrant community. Countless immigrant blue-collar workers want an opportunity to navigate their work environment without fear of being discriminated against and face grounds for deportation. To prepare for the possibility of SB 004 being implemented in Texas, nonprofits in Houston have already instructed undocumented folks to micromanage their behavior, like checking car information and always carrying any form of identification, anticipating an increase in traffic stops.

SB004 is a direct attack to criminalize the undocumented community, and California needs to take action rather than comply with short-term solutions. Our state needs to listen to immigrant rights organizers and take a bold stance on pro-immigration bills that shift away from the prison industrial complex models of criminalization. 

*The writer of this piece is the Co-President of Providing Opportunities, Dreams, and Education in Riverside (PODER), the undocumented student advocacy organization at UCR.