“The harboring provision does not protect public safety. It only targets landlords and shelter directors,” said Nina Perales, MALDEF lead counsel.
Perales and two of the plaintiffs in the case were among those speaking out Tuesday in front of the Federal Courthouse.
Landlord David Cruz said, “As long as my tenants take care of the property and respect the neighbors and pay me my rent, I don’t have a problem.”
Jonathan Ryan, executive director of RAICES, a legal advocacy group that operates two shelters, said, “We say that we welcome refugees and we reject any law that cause fear and confusion among the community.”
However, the primary sponsor of the bill that became law last September, State Rep. Dennis Bonnen said, “It’s a gross exaggeration within their lawsuit. Their lawsuit is political theater. It’s all it is.”
A Republican from Angleton, Bonnen who represents District 26 in the Houston area, said the provision does not call for immigration status checks by landlords or shelter operators.
Perales said similar legislation in the past banning landlords from renting to undocumented immigrants were declared unconstitutional in Texas and elsewhere.
Bonnen said HB 11 is not the same.
“As long as the landlord is not in cahoots on a continual and regular basis with the cartels from Mexico and South America, they have nothing to be concerned with,” Bonnen said. “This is about whether you are smuggling individuals in and out of the country.”
A major problem has been stash houses crammed with undocumented immigrants left there by smugglers until they pay up or they’re moved elsewhere.
The language in Section 15 reads, “a person commits an offense if the person ... encourages or induces an individual to enter or remain in the country in violation of federal law by concealing, harboring, or shielding that person from detection.”
Asked whether that could still trigger fear among immigrants if DPS troopers show up at a renter’s door to investigate, Bonnen said, “Only if they buy into MALDEF’s propaganda.”
Bonnen said it would be impossible to make a case under HB 11 if a landlord happens to have a tenant in the country illegally.
“If they didn’t fear it before the bill was passed, there’s no reason to fear it today,” Bonnen said.
Perales said other state and federal laws already exist against smuggling and trafficking.
“We know what the standards are under federal law. We know federal law is supreme,” Perales said.