Travis County Judicial System Prepares for Enforcement (or Not) of SB 4: Judges are urged not to deport people – News

Texas’ new immigration law is highly controversial (image via Getty Images)

Adeola Ogunkeyede, Travis County’s chief public defender, is asking the county’s judges to consider how they would respond to a frightening prospect: the possibility that federal courts approve Texas’ anti-immigrant law, Senate Bill 4.

SB 4 would allow the Texas judicial system to take control of U.S. immigration by authorizing the arrest of people suspected of having crossed into the country outside a port of entry, bringing them before a judge, and summarily deporting them. It’s widely considered unconstitutional (a federal judge in Austin ruled so) and is currently on hold. But it actually went into effect for eight hours on March 19, after the Republican majority on the U.S. Supreme Court refused to extend an injunction placed on the law in federal district court in February. That decision was quickly overridden by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which will hear arguments on SB 4’s constitutionality on April 3. But the fact that Republicans on the nation’s highest court turned their backs on one of our country’s foundational principles – that federal law supersedes state law – surprised those still capable of such a reaction. Ogunkeyede is not one of them.

“I don’t know that anything surprises me anymore,” Ogunkeyede said. “Certainly nothing out of the Supreme Court.”

Ogunkeyede told us that one of the biggest problems with SB 4 is that those subject to deportation are not guaranteed the right to an attorney. Judges acting under its authority may also ignore U.S. and international law requiring anyone entering the country to be allowed to apply for asylum.

However, SB 4 does not require judges to deport people – they may exercise discretion, Ogunkeyede said. On Feb. 29, she asked the county’s judges to take advantage of that power. “We write to urge the magistrate judges of Travis County not to exercise their discretionary power to order people to leave the United States under this new law,” the letter stated. “Additionally, we urge magistrates to ensure that all individuals facing the immigration-related offenses created by SB 4 are afforded counsel and, as necessary, adequate language access services at their magistration appearance.”

“I don’t know that anything surprises me anymore. Certainly nothing out of the Supreme Court.”  – Chief Public Defender Adeola Ogunkeyede

In the letter, Ogunkeyede quoted Supreme Court precedent guaranteeing the right to an attorney for those subject to deportation and quoted passages describing it as a particularly severe penalty that may result in “loss of both property and life, or of all that makes life worth living.” She noted that deportation separates parents from children and may subject migrants to torture, starvation, and political repression in their home country. And she pointed out that SB 4 can be enforced anywhere in Texas, not just at the border, and could lead to the deportation of people who were brought to this country as young children.

Ogunkeyede’s letter was directed particularly at Austin’s appointed municipal court judges, known as magistrates, and their boss, Judge Sherry Statman. These magistrates would be most likely to preside over SB 4 cases, should they occur. They are unable to comment on the law, lest they violate ethics rules, but Ogunkeyede said she believes none have received any guidance from the state on how to handle SB 4 cases because such guidance might further highlight the law’s unconstitutionality.

Aside from Ogunkeyede, other actors in the local judicial system are expressing opposition to SB 4. After the Supreme Court allowed the law to go into effect, the Austin Police Department issued a statement saying that its officers would be unlikely to make warrantless arrests under it. “APD respects and serves the whole Austin community,” the statement read. “It is vital for the community to understand that APD will continue to follow its policies and state law that prohibit racial profiling.” County Attorney Delia Garza released a statement saying, in part, “A law that subjects such a large portion of our community to potential racial profiling and fear is incredibly misguided, cruel, and discourages victims and survivors from coming forward to engage with law enforcement.”

Ogunkeyede said that SB 4 heightens the need for the county to provide counsel at first appearance – free attorneys for impoverished people appearing before a judge for the first time after arrest. Right now, no one in the county has a lawyer in the room during these initial hearings. She noted that community members expressed fears about SB 4 at a March 21 work session of the Travis County Commissioners Court, which examined the state of indigent defense.

“Ten to 15 different community members spoke about counsel at first appearance and the exposure of people in our community to not being represented by lawyers at that appearance,” Ogunkeyede said. “They’re concerned particularly in light of SB 4. Which is one of the asks in our letter: We want the Public Defender’s Office to provide counsel and support on SB 4. If a magistrate is presented with a charging instrument that includes an SB 4 offense, call us. We will be there.”

Related Posts