People hold a banner during a protest against Operation Lone Star after members of the Texas National Guard shot and wounded a 22-year-old near the Bridge of the Americas in El Paso, Texas, September 1, 2023. © 2023 REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez

Supreme Court Opens Door to Chaos, Abuse in Texas

Allows Law Letting Police Deport Migrants to Stand, For Now

(Austin, March 19, 2024) – The US Supreme Court ruling on March 19, 2024, that allows Texas state police to arrest and deport people Texas officials claim have entered the US illegally while federal courts consider the constitutionality of these powers puts people fearing persecution into immediate danger, Human Rights Watch said today.

It also gives disproportionate and overreaching immigration enforcement powers to state and local law enforcement officers. The ruling allows the law to go into effect while the court challenge proceeds through the federal courts.

“National governments are entitled to regulate their borders so long as they comply with international human rights and refugee law,” said Bob Libal, Texas consultant at Human Rights Watch. “But allowing Texas to run with its draconian system of criminalization and returns of asylum seekers is a recipe for chaos and abuse.”

SB 4, the Texas law the Supreme Court will be reviewing, allows state and local police to arrest migrants entering Texas between official border crossings and charge them with either improper entry, punishable up to 1 year in prison, or improper re-entry, punishable by 2 to 20 years. The law allows the state to order the removal of migrants in lieu of a criminal penalty, even if they have a claim to asylum due to fears of persecution or other serious harm if deported.

The return of asylum seekers to a place where they fear persecution or other serious harm violates US federal law as well as US obligations under international human rights and refugee law, Human Rights Watch said.

The new law applies throughout Texas and is likely to increase racial profiling, clog state courts, and fill jails. It is also likely to distract police from other public safety work by requiring them to instead focus on arresting and prosecuting people seeking to rejoin family, find protection, or make a better life. Civil rights groups and the US federal government have challenged the measure on constitutional grounds.

Another new Texas state law that went into effect in February creates a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison for people found guilty of smuggling or running a “stash house.” Human Rights Watch found the vast majority of the thousands of people booked for smuggling under existing Texas laws were young

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