In Bizarre Move, ACLU Issues Travel Advisory For... Texas?

A new law has civil rights advocates and police chiefs concerned.

In an unusual but telling decision, the American Civil Liberties Union has declared a "travel alert" for any American planning to visit the state of Texas.

The move comes after Texas governor Greg Abbot (R) signed S.B. 4, a bill that passed the Texas state legislature and will effectively ban "sanctuary cities" in the state of Texas. Within the measure, a provision makes it illegal for local officials to bar law enforcement officials from asking people about their immigration status, regardless of whether that question is relevant to the situation at hand. According to The Dallas News, officials who do ask their officers to refrain from inquiring about immigration status may be subject to hefty fines and criminal charges.

"The law gives a green light to police officers in the state to investigate a person's immigration status during a routine traffic stop, leading to widespread racial profiling, baseless scrutiny, and illegal arrests of citizens and non-citizens alike presumed to be 'foreign' based on how they look or sound," the ACLU wrote. "The travel alert applies to all travelers to Texas, including U.S. travelers from other states and U.S. citizens. In addition, this alert applies to all encounters with federal, state, county law enforcement including local police and sheriffs."

More typically, travel alerts are associated with government agencies warning against potentially risky travel to particular foreign countries. But the fact that the ACLU issued this alert for Texas says a lot about how it views the constitutionality of the bill, which they have vowed to challenge in court, and the risk it poses to Americans. And, apparently, the ACLU is not alone in its ire for the bill: the police chiefs of every major city in Texas have also opposed the law, saying it will sow distrust of law enforcement and stop undocumented immigrants from reporting crimes.

"Violent crime is on rise across our Nation & some would rather men & women in blue go after cooks & nannies, instead of hardened criminals," Houston police chief Art Acevedo wrote on Twitter.



The bill also allows police officers to ask victims and witnesses whether they are or are not a citizen. 

In an letter that was published throughout Texas newspapers in early may, police chiefs in Austin, Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, Fort Worth and Arlington spelled out their opposition to the bill.

"Broad rules, such as those imposed by S.B. 4, that push local law enforcement to take a more active role in immigration enforcement will further strain the relationship between local law enforcement and these diverse communities," they wrote. "Such a divide between the local police and immigrant groups will result in increased crime against immigrants and in the broader community, create a class of silent victims, and eliminate the potential for assistance from immigrants in solving crimes or preventing crime."

Backers of the bill, including Governor Abbot, insist this is what the people of Texas want and that the new laws will protect people from violent crime. Even though the law doesn't go into effect until September 1, the state of Texas has already sued Travis County — which encompasses Austin — to enforce federal immigration law. 

"The ACLU's goal is to protect all Texans and all people traveling through Texas — regardless of their immigration status — from illegal harassment by law enforcement," Lorella Praeli, ACLU director of immigration policy and campaigns, said. "Texas is a state with deep Mexican roots and home to immigrants from all walks of life. Many of us fit the racial profile that the police in Texas will use to enforce Trump's draconian deportation force."

Cover photo: Shutterstock / Mike Focus

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