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Westwood Horizon

The student news site of Westwood High School.

Westwood Horizon

The student news site of Westwood High School.

Westwood Horizon

Texas’ SB 4 is Incentive to Reform Immigration

Valerie Zhang
On March 19th, the Supreme Court allowed Senate Bill 4 into effect. However, hours later, a lower court of appeals issued a preliminary injunction, blocking the ruling on basis of unconstitutionality. This event is an opportunity for the U.S. to reflect on the current state of the immigration crisis and rebuild the broken system.

For the past decade, the United States has struggled with immigration and border security. Most notably, Texas, which shares a border with Mexico, has been the source of much debate. But what is not up to questioning are human rights. These universal fundamentals that inherently belong to each individual cannot be limited within the borders of the United States. 

Most of these migrants are refugees who seek asylum in a foreign land, and the U.S. must extend compassion in securing their safety and preserving their freedom. 

The U.S. Border Patrol recorded that since 1998, at least 8,000 migrants have died attempting to cross the Southwest border. Some die drowning in the Rio Grande, others suffocate from heat exhaustion. Migrants are aware of the treacherous dangers that may befall them, yet they choose this path because the outcome is still brighter than what it would have been if they’d stayed in their home countries. Most of these migrants are refugees who seek asylum in a foreign land, and the U.S. must extend compassion in securing their safety and preserving their freedom. 

In order to admit refugees and also prevent incentives for illicit activity, the U.S. must focus on restricting the border for the right purposes. This entails sealing the gaps where migrants are able to illegally enter and expanding the capacity of legal ports of entry for orderly processing. We must also invest in resources to restructure the asylum process more productively, such as increasing the number of officers and advisors so that migrants are aware of all components of the process, and are able to have their cases resolved faster.

Among the millions of migrants flooding the border, how do we know if an asylum claim is valid? The process of seeking asylum entails meeting with asylum officers with a credible claim to determine if they will refer the case to an immigration judge. Next, the asylum seeker will fill out an application for court. In 2018, a report from the U.S. Justice Department showed that about 22% of asylum claims were granted, 42% were denied, and 5% were closed by the administration leaving 31% closed due to abandonment, withdrawal, or other reasons. Meaning, that many credible claims were dismissed because an application was not submitted. In an interview for Politico, Jennifer Gordon, a law professor at Fordham Law School, noted that many migrants are unable to achieve asylum not because of the merit of their claims, but because of procedural misunderstandings or underrepresentation in court.

In December 2023, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed Senate Bill 4 (SB 4) into law. This will allow Texas law enforcement to detain suspected illegal migrants and charge them with a first-time misdemeanor if there is sufficient evidence of a crime being committed. When a person has served their sentence, they will be escorted back to the Mexican border even if they are not from Mexico. Mexico confirmed with a press release on March 19th that they will not be accepting illegal migrants back into the country. It will be unfair for the migrants to be prosecuted for re-entry into the US as it is out of their control, so the U.S. and Mexico must find middle ground. 

Due to this new law, The State of Texas is currently tangled in a legal battle with the federal government, sparking nationwide controversy. After two weeks of hearing requests from immigrant advocacy groups and the Biden Administration, the Supreme Court voted to let SB 4 go into effect on March 19th. However, hours after the ruling, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, issued a preliminary injunction, putting the law back on hold. 

It is likely that Texas will appeal the decision, but SB 4 will still be preempted by federal law due to the precedent of similar laws that have been blocked due to constitutional concerns. This was seen in Arizona with Senate Bill 1070, a bill that aimed to prevent illegal immigration through increased law enforcement personnel. According to federal law, the removal of non-citizens should be a civil legal procedure while Texas asserts it should be criminal. Because of the Constitution’s supremacy clause, the sovereignty of a state cannot overrule the federal law. Immigration affairs are under federal authority, and by attempting to pass SB 4, Texas is bypassing its parameters. 

Texas Attorney Ken Paxton defended the new bill to the Supreme Court, stating that Texas has the right to defend against violent transnational cartels equipped with fentanyl and weapons. Many U.S. citizens voice the same concern, worrying about security risks the migrants could pose.  

But is it the migrants that are the predominant smugglers of drugs? According to an annual report released by the U.S. Sentencing Commission, in 2022, 88% of offenders found with fentanyl were U.S. citizens. The U.S. government must not give in to prejudice and focus on measures to highlight the true perpetrators instead of proliferating stereotypes.

One of the other main concerns is the economic burden. Between 2005 and 2019, illegal migrants cost state and local governments $21.4 billion. Additionally, migrants work in lower-paying sectors, putting downward pressure on overall wages. Yet, more workers means more revenue and a boost for the economy. The Republican anti-immigrant stance argues that because international trade borders are steadily decreasing, and with the use of automated production, the need for migrant labor has lessened. However, short-staffed career fields such as nursing, farming, and construction are in desperate need of workers and could be another solution for migrants gaining citizenship. 

On the other side, the Biden Administration has expressed their distaste for the Supreme Court ruling, arguing that Republicans are not coming up with feasible solutions. This sentiment was expressed by President Biden in a statement on the issue writing, that the White House will continue to call on Republicans in Congress to pass the Bipartisan Senate National Security Agreement, calling it “the toughest and fairest set of border reforms in decades.”

The Bipartisan Senate National Security Agreement would grant the federal government and Homeland Security the authority to block all migrants from entering when the average daily threshold rises above 5,000. In turn, the standard for asylum seekers will be raised, organizations involved in fentanyl trafficking will be sanctioned, and governments and non-profit groups that provide aid for migrant families will be funded. Essentially, it would help the U.S. tackle the root of the problem — increasing regulation, capacity, and funding of admission at the border in periods of influx. 

This immigration system will not be fixed through intrastate conflict, and can only progress through a bigger entity — federal congressional action.

This immigration system will not be fixed through intrastate conflict, and can only progress through a bigger entity federal congressional action. The U.S. must combine the best of both worlds. By continuing to enforce security and eliminating gaps in the border, possible illegal activity such as drug trafficking will be limited. However, we must also remember that many migrants are fleeing from poverty, war, and persecution. We must prioritize these migrants by setting more humanitarian standards than in the past and emphasize tightening the asylum process while providing refuge and aid. The U.S. must build an effective system to discern migrants from the masses that are in need of asylum and pour resources into the immigration federal judiciary to prevent migrants from having to wait years to hear back from the court. 

The fate of SB 4 will be decided in May when it will be reheard before an appeal court. 



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About the Contributor
Valerie Zhang
Valerie Zhang, Reporter
Class of 2024
Because of writing, the spontaneity of ideas that pop into my head in the middle of the night has transformed me into a night owl. Throughout the late hours, I cultivate my obsession with period dramas, sports animes, and pictures of swim practice sunsets. Other hobbies include learning languages, lifeguarding, and sleeping!

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