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Critical context missing in broadcast news reports about Texas’ unconstitutional racial profiling bill

SB4 is the type of immigration legislation that the Supreme Court already said violates the U.S. Constitution, and it offers a preview of Trump’s promised mass deportations

As the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court wrestle with Texas’ blatantly unconstitutional immigration law, it is crucial that media report that it is the type of racial profiling legislation that has already been struck down by the court and that the bill represents a small-scale preview of former President Donald Trump’s promise to implement mass deportations throughout the country. 

Senate Bill 4 takes the worst of both the infamous SB 1070, or the “show me your papers” Arizona law that the Supreme Court largely struck down in 2012, along with former President Donald Trump's campaign promise to round up all possible undocumented migrants in concentration camps and mass deport them. 

Though each prime-time broadcast news show on NBC, ABC, and CBS led with the story on March 19, with roughly three-minute segments, they did not provide this context, mentioning racial profiling only briefly and ignoring the potential for Texas to use the law as a test run of mass deportations on a local level. The shows aired additional segments on March 20, and while some of them briefly mentioned that the bill would allow deportations, only ABC’s World News Tonight with David Muir mentioned the risk of racial profiling. 

None of the segments mentioned that the bill could deny migrants the right to seek asylum, granted under international and domestic law.

  • Texas’ Senate Bill 4 would allow officials to perform mass deportations on a local level, practice racial profiling, and potentially prevent asylum claims

    • SB4, which is currently blocked from enforcement, would allow the state to arrest and deport migrants and asylum-seekers suspected of entering Texas anywhere other than a legal port of entry. Shortly after the Supreme Court decided 6-3 that the law could go into effect while an appeal is considered, the 5th  Circuit Court of Appeals blocked enforcement. [Texas Tribune, 3/18/24; The Washington Post, 3/20/24]
    • The Justice Department has argued that the bill is “clearly unconstitutional” and “impedes the federal government’s ability to enforce entry.” [, 1/3/24]
    • Immigration experts say the bill would allow law officials to racially profile suspected violators and potentially interfere with asylum claims. Alan Lizarraga, a spokesperson for the Border Network for Human Rights, has stated that SB4 will “increase racial profiling” because the bill allows law enforcement to question immigration status for any reason. Migrants seeking asylum could also forcibly be deported from Texas before the federal government is able to hear their cases. [NPR, 3/20/24; BBC, 3/20/24]
    • SB4 also bears similarity to Arizona’s controversial immigration law SB1070. Before the Supreme Court largely struck down parts of the law in 2012, Arizona’s bill allowed officials to “investigate and detain anyone suspected of being in the country illegally” as well as requiring immigrants to carry documentation. [The New York Times, 3/19/24]
    • Immigration experts and law enforcement warn that the bill would allow a state-level experiment in mass arrest, detention, and deportation. A civil rights group told The Washington Post that “79 different law enforcement agencies — from constables to schools resource officers — in the Houston area alone would have the authority to arrest undocumented migrants,” creating a mass arrest force whose ability to detain on that level is questioned by the officers themselves: “Many law enforcement agencies, including Houston police, have expressed concern about enforcing S.B.4. Some are worried that making arrests under the law could jeopardize their relationship with immigrant communities. Others have also expressed doubt about whether they’d have space to potentially detain dozens or hundreds of migrants.” [The Washington Post, 3/19/24]
  • Broadcast news aired segments on SB4 but failed to provide ample context about the bill

    • A lead story about the bill on NBC’s Nightly News with Lester Holt mentioned civil rights groups’ worries about racial profiling, but it neglected to mention mass deportations and migrants’ right to seek asylum. Holt noted on March 19 that the bill “allows for state judges to order deportations,” and correspondent Gabe Gutierrez’s reporting stated that “civil rights groups worry the law will lead to racial profiling,” but his report did not explain why the bill’s language is causing these groups to worry about racial profiling. The following night, another lead story on the show briefly mentioned that judges will be allowed to deport migrants but did not mention racial profiling or asylum. [NBC News, Nightly News with Lester Holt, 3/19/24; 3/20/24]
    • ABC’s World News Tonight with David Muir aired a lead story on the bill which made no direct mention of racial profiling, mass deportations, or preventing asylum claims. However, the March 19 segment did briefly state that SB4 will allow Texas “in some cases ... to deport” people suspected of illegally entering the country and it quoted Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor's opinion that the law will “frustrate the protection of individuals fleeing persecution." The following night, the show mentioned deportations with correspondent Mireya Villarreal reporting that “the law that would allow Texas to arrest, deport, or imprison anyone they believe may have entered the US illegally." The segment also mentioned concerns about racial profiling, but not asylum. [ABC News, World News Tonight with David Muir, 3/19/24; 3/20/24]
    • A CBS Evening News with Norah O’Donnell segment on March 19 mentioned the potential for racial profiling under the bill but not mass deportation or changes for asylum claims. Correspondent Ed O’Keefe stated that the “potential for racial profiling across Texas is what concerns migrant activists,” and showed a clip of immigration activist and Hope Border Institute director Dylan Corbett, who said, “It’s not just against recently arriving migrants, migrants who are coming to the border today, but this really goes after Texans throughout the state.” The following night, a lead story on the show quoted the American Civil Liberties Union’s Spencer Amdur saying that the bill is unconstitutional but did not mention racial profiling, mass deportation, or asylum. [CBS News, Evening News with Norah O’Donnell, 3/19/24; 3/20/24]