Border police chief, Bexar County sheriff weigh in on new law making illegal border crossings a state crime

Senate Bill 4 enforcement is leaving local agencies with questions

Senate Bill 4, recently enacted into law after being signed by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, will give local law enforcement the authority to arrest people suspected of being in the country illegally. However, enforcing the law will be up to each law enforcement department.

In Bexar County, Sheriff Javier Salazar isn’t a fan of the new law and questions how it’ll work.

“I think this is going to be just a bullet point on someone’s campaign literature in the future. I don’t think any actual thought was given,” said Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar

In the Rio Grande Valley, Chief Cesar Torres of the Mission Police Department, just west of Mcallen, said his officers would enforce the law only if, for example, someone was being stopped for a separate offense.

“Our job is not to like or dislike or agree or disagree with laws. Our job is to enforce Texas laws,” said Torres. “Stopping people based on how they look could raise the issue of racial profiling, and that’s something we will not allow our officers to do.”

Sheriff Salazar said his research and planning team are looking into the laws for more clarification but adds he has other priorities.

“We’ve got actual violent crime occurring in our county every day. I don’t know if we want to put a whole lot of time into chasing people because they look like they might be here illegally,” said Salazar.

Both the sheriff and chief admit crossing into federal issues is uncharted territory.

“Part of the law does allow them to show paperwork showing that they are accepted under asylum. The average law enforcement officer here in Texas, a Texas peace officer, is not even going to know what they’re looking at,” said Salazar.

Torres agrees, saying more education is needed, “We got to have classroom instruction so we can set the boundaries.”

KSAT asked the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement if the new laws would change training requirements. It issued the following statement:

“Senate Bills 3 and 4 [88th (4)] do not specifically task the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement (TCOLE) with developing training. TCOLE will be amending the current licensing course for peace officers and the in-service legislative update training to include the sections of the Texas Penal Code and Code of Criminal Procedure that are amended by these bills.

“No determination has been made at this time as to additional training, if any, required to properly scrutinize Federal immigration documentation such as visas or Permanent Resident Cards (green cards). TCOLE constantly researches environmental changes that require review and revision of peace officer, jailer, and telecommunicator training curricula with the intent of updating training to meet the changing demands on Texas law enforcement. Should new training be required, TCOLE will work with our federal partners, law enforcement agencies, and constituent groups to develop such training.

“The new legislation goes into effect in March; but it could face legal challenges. Several state and U.S. lawmakers have asked the Department of Justice to intervene, and the ACLU and El Paso County have filed a lawsuit. They argue the law encourages racial discrimination, can lead to family (separations), and can deny migrants the chance to request asylum.”

About the Author:

John Paul Barajas is a reporter at KSAT 12. Previously, he worked at KRGV 5 in the Rio Grande Valley. He has a degree from the University of Houston. In his free time, he likes to get a workout in, spend time on the water and check out good eats and drinks.