‘Don’t talk to the cops’: An immigration attorney worries about SB4′s impact on immigration cases

Supporters of SB4 say migrants will still be able to apply for asylum from a Texas prison

SAN ANTONIO – One San Antonio immigration attorney is warning people of the impact of a new bill set to go into effect.

Senate Bill 4, which is set to go into effect on March 5, would allow state and local police to arrest people suspected of illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.

Gov. Greg Abbott signed it into law in December.

Under the new law, migrants who decline to return immediately to Mexico would serve their sentence, then be transported by police to a port of entry — and they could face a felony charge for refusing to return to Mexico at that point.

“Every local police officer will be treated like an ICE officer, and every state judge will be treated like an immigration judge,” said San Antonio immigration attorney Gerardo Menchaca.

He believes it could lead to discrimination.

“If you look like you might be an undocumented immigrant and whatever that means, right --because they look like everybody else. If you happen to look like one, you might be forced to prove that you were not here without permission,” he said.

Under federal law, migrants are entitled to seek asylum.

Menchaca worries it could put immigration cases in jeopardy, which is why he has a grave response to people who have asked him for advice about SB4.

“My answer is real simple,” he said. “Don’t talk to the cops.”

In December, Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar told KSAT in a statement that the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office is analyzing the potential impact the law could have on law enforcement but has not made or planned for any changes.

“Although this bill potentially does not take effect until March of 2024, we are currently analyzing the impact it will have on law enforcement and the community we serve,” the statement reads. “We do not anticipate any changes in the way we protect and serve Bexar County. Currently, there are limits on local officers’ authority to enforce immigration, as well as rules governing racial profiling. We will be mindful of both as we craft our policies moving forward. Any victims or witnesses of crime can always call upon the BCSO for help, regardless of immigration status.”

The San Antonio Police Department on Monday said they do not intend to make any changes.

“We are aware of the Governor signing SB4 into law effective March 2024.  Given the stated goals and implementation parameters discussed in the State legislature, we will comply with the law and do not expect to make any substantive changes to SAPD policy or practice,” SAPD said in a statement to KSAT 12.

Still, Menchaca personally feels his advice isn’t too extreme.

“So for any crime, you’re telling your clients not to go to the police?” asked reporter Daniela Ibarra.

“Yeah,” Menchaca replied. “The police is no go. Court is no go. If you’re old child support for you’re a U.S. citizen child, don’t go to court.”

“That’s pretty serious,” responded Ibarra.

“It is very serious,” said Menchaca. “It is creating a permanent underclass of people who are vulnerable to crime that may not access the police.”

A federal judge who presided over a hearing of the bill said he would try to make a decision as soon as possible and well ahead of then.

Some larger organizations, like ACLU Texas, are advising people to know their rights.

For migrants in abusive relationships, even if you don’t go to the police, you can always call Family Violence Prevention Services -- who will not turn you away.

If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, there is a long list of resources on KSAT’s Domestic Violence page which includes a breakdown of what abuse is, and how it builds gradually.

If you are in crisis, you can:

- call or text 911

- call the Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233

- call the local Family Violence Prevention Services, which runs the shelter (Crisis Number: 210-733-8810, Programs and Administration: 210-930-3669)

- call the Bexar County Family Justice Center at 210-631-0100.

About the Authors

Daniela Ibarra joined the KSAT News team in July 2023. This isn’t her first time in the KSAT newsroom– the San Antonio native spent the summer of 2017 as an intern. Daniela is a proud Mean Green alum, earning her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of North Texas.

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