Texas Defends Law Criminalizing Migrant Sheltering in Court

Court Gavel

The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) and the State of Texas are fighting it out at the Fifth Circuit. Texas House Bill 11 is being challenged by open border advocates who say that it improperly targets illegal alien shelters and those who rent to illegal aliens. Oral argument is being conducted Wednesday.

As reported by Breitbart Texas in April 2016, U.S. District Court Judge David A. Ezra issued an order stopping a Texas law criminalizing the harboring of illegal aliens.

Texas officials assert that House Bill 11 was aimed at those who traffic humans and smuggle them into the country illegally for money. The law criminalizes harboring or shielding an illegal immigrant with the intent to obtain a pecuniary benefit, and harboring illegal aliens that are members of a street gang.

The bi-partisan bill, signed into law by Texas Governor Greg Abbott on June 9, 2015, gives power to the Texas Department of Public Safety, relates to military and law enforcement training, and the investigation, prosecution, punishment, and prevention of these offenses, it increases a criminal penalty, and authorizes fees.

Plaintiffs David Cruz of San Antonio and Valentin Reyes of Farmers Branch, Texas, and Jonathan Ryan are landlords who did not check whether their tenants were legally in the country. Jonathan Ryan is the Executive Director of the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES).

The federal civil rights lawsuit states that “In his role as Executive Director of RAICES, Plaintiff Ryan provides shelter to immigrant women and children who are not authorized to be present in the U.S. and lack lawful immigration status. Many of the immigrant women and children sheltered by Plaintiff Ryan are asylum-seekers from East Africa and Central America who entered the U.S. without authorization and are in federal removal proceedings.”

Texas House Bill 11 became effective on September 1, 2015. The plaintiffs say the pertinent sections of the bill are unconstitutional because they violate the Supremacy Clause and attempt to regulate matters exclusively reserved to the federal government. They argue that only the Congress has authority over these areas and the state law conflicts and interferes with the implementation and enforcement of federal laws and regulations.

The plaintiffs also claim that the law deprives the plaintiffs of liberty and property interests without due process of law and the H.B. 11 provisions are “void for vagueness” in violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. They also urge that the law deprives them of the equal protection of the laws in violation of the Equal Protection Clause.

The penalty for a harboring violation is a third degree felony and carries a possible sentence from two to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000. If the harbored illegal alien is under the age of 18, or the harboring creates a substantial likelihood that the migrant will suffer serious bodily injury or death, the offense is a second degree felony that carries a possible prison sentence of life, or two to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000. If the person becomes a sexual assault victim, or suffers other serious bodily injury or death, it is a first degree felony and the possible penalty is five to 99 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.

The lawsuit was filed in January 2016 against defendants: Texas Governor Greg Abbott, the Director of the Texas Department of Public Safety Steven C. McCraw, and members of the Texas Public Safety Commission.

The harboring provisions are part of an $800 million border security effort by the Texas Governor and the Texas legislature. The border package is said to be the toughest and most comprehensive border security plan of any state in the United States.

Lana Shadwick is a writer and legal analyst for Breitbart Texas. She has served as a prosecutor and associate judge in Texas. Follow her on Twitter @LanaShadwick2.


Please let us know if you're having issues with commenting.