State Rep. Christian Manuel questions Senate Bill 4’s reach while in Port Arthur

Published 3:16 pm Friday, January 19, 2024

Immigration experts and two state representatives are worried about Senate Bill 4, saying it has the potential to impact the daily lives and livelihood of people in Texas.

Kristin Etter with Texas Immigration Law Council said the law has far reaching ramifications.

One issue, she said, is the human smuggling statute. There will now be a 10-year minimum prison sentence for a person driving another person with the intent to conceal them from law enforcement.

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“Law enforcement has presumed intent to conceal if you’re driving with an undocumented passenger,” Etter said. “You may not even know they’re undocumented but they’re in the car and that’s considered concealed.”

Etter joined State Representative District 22 Christian Manuel, State Representative District 102 Ana-Marie Ramos and J. R. Gonzales of the Texas Association of Mexican American Chambers of Commerce for a Lunch and Learn event at Lamar State College Port Arthur Gates Library Friday.

The event was to inform the public on the potential impacts of SB4 may have on residents and business.

Manuel presented an example of the implications of the law — a soccer mom giving her child’s friend a ride home. She doesn’t know the child is undocumented but she could be jailed for smuggling.

Etter explained, the new law creates a new state criminal immigration offense; illegal entry challenge, reentry charge and failure to comply with an order to return to a foreign nation.

The only exception to the law is it cannot be enforced in public or primary schools but the exclusion does not include college campuses. It cannot be enforced at a church, synagogue or place of worship and excludes a person in a health care facility receiving treatment. But, she said, it could affect an undocumented mother who is with a child receiving health care treatment.

The illegal reentry clause affects the obvious, an undocumented person but would also negatively affect anyone who has ever been removed or denied entry even if they now have lawful permanent status, she said.

In relation to businesses, Gonzales said employers are always careful of who they hire but should someone present a false Social Security card and the employer fill out the I-9 employment eligibility verification, the employer could be held for a criminal offense.

SB 4 goes into effect in two phases; the human smuggling portion goes into effect in February and making illegal crossing a state crime goes into effect in March.