By Matt Simpson
ACLU of Texas Policy Strategist
Don’t Mess With Texas may have started as a slogan for an anti-littering campaign, but we adopted it as a badge of honor because it hit a nerve: no one hates being bossed around or intimidated more than a Texan.
This week, we are battling two very un-Texan bills in the legislature. House Bill 12 and Senate Bill 11 would let police officers stop you to ask about your immigration status. It’ll make it impossible for police chiefs and sheriffs to supervise their officers and will divert the energy cops should be putting into fighting crime into immigration witchhunts.
It will surely be a shock to our Texas way of life when, while we’re driving to work, walking to the park, or headed out of a football game, we’re stopped and questioned by police for no other reason than being there. “Did I do something wrong, officer?” If HB 12 and SB 11 became law, the answer will be, “It doesn’t matter.” Cops would be entitled to question us simply because we are out in public.
There is a third bill circulating – Senate Bill 9 – that is just as bad. Maybe worse because it would give cops the right to set up checkpoints to stop drivers and make them show driver’s licenses and insurance information. For no reason. Without probable cause.
Taken together, these bills mean cops could detain you – even if you’ve done nothing wrong, you have no unpaid parking tickets, you were going the speed limit – until you’ve proven your immigration status and shown your vehicle registration papers. Throughout history, we’ve looked down at governments that wantonly stop their citizens and demand, “Papers, please.” We associate this kind of government intrusion with communist-era Russia or totalitarian regimes around the world, not with life in the United States of America, and certainly not in Texas.
These bills open the door to harassment based on a person’s skin color, spoken language, or national origin. Big cities will have their hands full trying to ensure that officers respect the legal and civil rights of residents. You could be questioned because of the way you look or talk. SB11 even extends to school officials and school cops, who could stop and interrogate students on their way to class.
Texas isn’t Arizona. And when it comes to laws like this, we don’t want to be. Texans don’t want or need a bill like Arizona’s SB 1070 that already has cost the state so much in image as well as untold numbers of dollars and cents.
This would create a number of problems: inconvenience and delay while sitting in a checkpoint line; wasting law enforcement’s precious time and resources; and assaulting the Constitution by making racial profiling the law of our land.
Being free to go about your daily business is a hallmark of democracy. Sometimes, the sweetest right is the one to be left alone.