One of the core criticisms of Texas’ Senate Bill 4, the so-called “sanctuary cities” law, is that the legislation will become a conduit to racial profiling of Latino communities by law enforcement. Concerns about the law’s economic and psychological impact on immigrant communities in Texas also have been raised by local organizations and nonprofit groups.

Signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott, SB 4 gives the state the power to penalize cities that don’t cooperate with federal immigration authorities. Set to take effect Sept. 1, SB 4 also allows local Texas law enforcement to request proof of legal residency during any routine detention such as a traffic stop.

Both San Antonio Police Department Chief William McManus and Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar have publicly denounced SB 4. McManus’ criticism of SB4 also stems from his concern that members of the immigrant community will stop reporting crime.

Advocates of the bill insist the measure will improve public safety by mandating that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainers be honored by local law enforcement for violent criminals, thereby strengthening cooperation among agencies and promoting public safety.

Clashing perspectives on the purpose, impact, and outcome of SB 4 continue to shape public debate and legal controversy as several major Texas cities, including San Antonio, have filed a lawsuit against the state challenging the law’s constitutionality.

While a federal judge in San Antonio considers the plaintiffs’ request for a temporary injunction against the legislation as the lawsuit makes its way through the courts, the Rivard Report explored plausible impacts of the bill on the San Antonio community.

Lingering Questions about Racial Profiling

In 2016, SAPD filed a Racial Profiling and Data Analysis Report in compliance with House Bill 3389. The report found no evidence that the department had engaged in a pattern of racial profiling among city or non-city residents in San Antonio. In the report, Hispanic or Latino drivers made up 55.01% of the traffic stops made by SAPD in 2015, while white drivers made up 32.42% and black drivers 10.01%. The percentages, according to the study, reflected the breakdown of ethnic populations in San Antonio that year.

The study stops there, acknowledging that “Given the complexities associated with how and where police officers are deployed, racial and ethnic segregation patterns in metropolitan areas and other factors, it is not possible to suggest a pattern and practice of racial profiling existing in any of these departments.”

In other words, there are too many variables to consider in order to carry out an in-depth racial profiling analysis, according to the report’s author, Brian Withrow.

Withrow, an associate professor of criminal justice at Texas State University, highlighted other major barriers to analyzing racial profiling among law enforcement in Texas. The biggest one, he said, is that the state has defined racial profiling in a way that cannot be measured. Texas mandates that police must act with “racial animus,” or racial hatred, towards an individual in order to be legally accused of racial profiling, which cannot be determined from what police are currently required to report after a traffic stop or detainment.

“The solution to this doesn’t lie in who gets stopped. The solution to finding the problems with racism and discrimination in police stops should be based on what happens after the stop,” Withrow said.

New tools and methods are available for identifying racial profiling in routine traffic stops that explore the outcome of an incident, such as the threshold test developed last year by Stanford University researchers.

This test examines how frequently a police search during a traffic stop actually uncovers contraband and correlates the outcome with the driver’s race. Analyzing 4.5 million traffic stops across 100 cities in North Carolina, empirical analysis revealed that while blacks and Hispanics were more likely to be searched, those searches were less likely to uncover contraband than searches of vehicles with white or Asian drivers. The academic paper describing the threshold test can be accessed here.

Using data from the Racial Profiling and Data Analysis Report, the Rivard Report found that about 88,822 Hispanic or Latino drivers were stopped in 2015. San Antonio’s unauthorized immigrant population is approximately 85,000, according to a recent Hispanic Trends report by the Pew Research Center. The unauthorized immigrant population is about 9% of the larger self-identified Hispanic or Latino population, which in 2015 was 937,607, according to U.S. Census data compiled by DataUSA.

Given these ratios, and assuming random likelihood that a Hispanic or Latino driver is undocumented, more than 8,000 local undocumented immigrants may be exposed to detention as the result of a routine traffic violation, regardless of whether racial profiling occurred. If racial bias did occur, this number would be significantly higher. SAPD officers report having previous knowledge of a driver’s ethnicity for 0.88% (or about 1,421) of traffic incidents in 2015 according to the Racial Profiling and Data Analysis Report.

SB 4 May Slow Local Economy

Immigrants who fear deportation as a result of SB 4 may be deterred from joining or continuing to participate in the workforce.

For Ramiro Cavazos, president and CEO of the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the economic value of immigrants to the United States is undisputed.

“One out of every 10 jobs in the U.S. are jobs that are created by a company that is owned by an immigrant,” Cavazos told the Rivard Report. “A big part of our GDP is driven by businesses as small as a food truck.”

Louis Barrios, owner of Los Barrios restaurant chain and board member of the San Antonio Restaurant Association, highlighted the positive impact the service industry has on both the youth and immigrant population.

“We get people on the right path. Without the service industry, there’s nobody there to do the job,” Barrios said.

The top Texas industries employing unauthorized workers in 2014 included construction (24% of the state’s total undocumented population), hospitality (16%) and business services (13%) that provide ongoing routine services in support of businesses, including administrative support or waste management. Business services and hospitality are the fourth and fifth largest industries in San Antonio.

Source: U.S. BLS, Current Employment Statistics

In a 2010 study by the Texas A&M University School of Law, researchers demonstrated that local anti-immigration laws, including those that allowed local law enforcement to enforce federal immigration laws, led to an average 1%-2% drop in employment or 337-675 lost jobs across counties with similar characteristics, such as population density, immigrant population, and economic conditions. On average, payroll for both authorized and unauthorized workers dropped between 0.8% and 1.9%. These findings were statistically significant at the 1% level.

With a large number of undocumented workers employed in the business services and hospitality industries, it is possible that San Antonio could see a reduction in employment as a result of legislation targeting unauthorized immigration such as SB 4. Were SB 4 to have the kind of impact illustrated by the Texas A&M study, Bexar County could suffer significant job loss and payroll reduction.

Psychological Impacts of Anti-immigration Legislation

Stress and anxiety associated with anti-immigration legislation like SB4 may take a toll on San Antonio’s majority Latino community. In 2014, Texas’ total population of unauthorized immigrants ranked second behind that of California, according to the Hispanic Trends report.

The San Antonio-New Braunfels metropolitan area also has the 13th-largest population of undocumented immigrants across Texas cities, according to the same study.

Source: Pew Research Center, Hispanic Trends

These groups are likely to experience damaging psychological symptoms as a result of their immigration status, according to a recent study in Psychological Trauma. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms like severe anxiety, insomnia, or feelings of detachment were significantly higher for children of detained or deported parents compared to children whose parents had permanent legal status. An estimated 34,000 children have an undocumented parent in Bexar County. Correlations also have been found between perceived discrimination among Latino communities and anti-immigration legislation.

Sources: Migration Policy Institute (MPI) analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data from the 2009-13 American Community Survey (ACS) pooled, and the 2008 Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) by Colin Hammar and James Bachmeier of Temple University and Jennifer Van Hook of The Pennsylvania State University, Population Research Institute.

Questions remain as to the impacts of SB 4.

At the June 26 federal court hearing to debate the bill, First Assistant Attorney General Darren McCarty downplayed the effects of the bill.

“It is a moderate law that fits hand in glove with federal immigration policies,” McCarty said.

But El Paso County Attorney Jo Anne Bernal, representing the plaintiffs, expressed concern that immigrants would stop reporting crimes for fear of deportation.

“We can’t effectively protect citizens if local law enforcement makes the immigrant community reluctant to come forward. This [creates] a less safe community.” McManus shared that sentiment in a press conference the day Abbott signed the bill into law.

Still, in Barrios’ eyes, San Antonio’s immigrant community is resilient.

“Immigrants may have fear, but I don’t believe they are leaving just yet,” he said.

Emily Royall is the Rivard Report's former data director.