SB 4 on Campus

How will campus policing change when the anti-immigrant law goes into effect?

Photo by Jana Birchum

Barring a court injunction, this fall semester will mark the first in which college and university police departments will operate under the new standards set in the anti-immigrant Senate Bill 4 – but what exactly that means for those agencies remains unclear on local campuses. Since the bill passed in May, its inclusion of campus police departments has caused concerns for undocumented students, like Berenice Ramirez, a junior at UT, who said she became hyperaware of the presence of UT police on campus in May as she walked to class and studied for finals.

Even though students in the organization network Sanctuary UT collected about 400 signatures for a petition asking to make UT a "sanctuary campus" in response to SB 4 last spring, the school's administration and campus PD both failed to issue any official response. Charles Holm, a graduate student and group member, said UT officials should take a position against SB 4 the way other local leaders have. "Perhaps there hasn't been as much discussion [about SB 4 on college campuses] because people assume that DACA would protect the students that were here," he said, in reference to the Obama-era program that grants two years of protections to undocumented immigrants who came to the country as children. "But Texas is also now leading the charge to have DACA rescinded." (Attorney General Ken Paxton has vowed to sue the federal government if DACA is not rescinded by Sept. 5.)

The bill creates “a situation in which people on campus may feel at risk. If they have any encounters with police, they might be less likely to report crimes or other behaviors they maybe witnessed.” – Denise Gilman, UT Law School

UT's International Office, which helps advise undocumented students, said it had not heard concerns from UT's international population about the looming threat of SB 4. Fiona Mazurenko, a marketing manager at UT's International Office, said the office would "continue to monitor the rollout of SB 4 and address concerns as they arise." She reminded that even if students contact UTPD for immigration-related emergencies, as instructed on the International Office's website, students do not need to disclose details about their immigration status.

In February, St. Edward's University issued statements supporting DACA and immigrant students. Asked about SB 4, communications director Mischelle Diaz said campus police procedures concerning immigration would not change: If a federal law agency has a warrant for "somebody on campus, our police will now cooperate and will continue to cooperate – because our interest is the safety of our campus."

Huston-Tillotson University, which does not employ its own police department, said it was still reviewing how SB 4 could affect its security officers. Austin Community Col­lege also said it was reviewing the law, but that ACC campuses have hosted DACA and "Know Your Rights" information sessions to help its 362 international students and 1,139 undocumented students.

Denise Gilman runs the immigration clinic at the UT School of Law. She said she doesn't think SB 4 should alarm college students, but understands how the law may cause confusion on college campuses. The bill encourages police to ask about immigration status, which creates "a situation in which people on campus, whether they're students, faculty, or researchers, may feel at risk," she said. "If they have any encounters with police, they might be less likely to report crimes or other behaviors they maybe witnessed."

SB 4's requirement for police departments to hold individuals with ICE detainer requests will rarely apply to campus police, since those detainments fall under the purview of the county sheriff. But Gilman reminded how in 2009 a UT student named Raul Zamora nearly got deported after UT's police transferred him to Travis County Jail for an unpaid ticket arrest warrant. "So it can happen, and it requires some really careful understanding by all involved about the fact that campus police are not required to be involved in immigration enforcement and really should not be," said Gilman. "So I would certainly encourage conversations about the best way for campus police to operate in the current climate after adoption of SB 4."

For Ramirez, who plans to participate in citywide anti-SB 4 protests on Sept. 1, the general messages of inclusion and support for students from universities are "hard to really take into consideration when I feel like [immigration issues] are not really being addressed. They're really not being talked about."

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SB 4, Back to School 2017, Denise Gilman, Mischelle Diaz, Fiona Mazurenko

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