Harris County Attorney Ryan Files Court Brief Seeking to Stop Senate Bill 4

"Bill will harm our children" says County Attorney Ryan

Declaring that Senate Bill 4 could significantly harm Texas’ children, Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan has filed a “friend of the court” brief in the lawsuit seeking to stop this bill from becoming law.

SB 4 prohibits a policy, pattern or practice that would prohibit or limit the enforcement of immigration laws. Ryan contends that the proposed law conflicts with the responsibility of county attorneys to serve Texas children.

County Attorneys represent the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services when it is necessary for the State of Texas to petition for custody of children who have been subjected to abuse or neglect. The primary goal of the child protection system is to serve the best interests of the children involved and to prioritize efforts to rehabilitate and preserve the family unit, including by placing children with relatives and those close to a child’s family, in order to lessen the trauma children experience when they are removed from their home.

County Attorney Ryan explains in his brief that by mandating that county attorneys cooperate in the enforcement of immigration laws — prioritizing immigration over other duties — SB 4 creates an irreconcilable conflict between the priority given by the State to the preservation of the family, and the requirement that county attorneys engage in efforts which will lead to deporting parents — including those of citizen children — and the destruction of families.

“Plainly, children will suffer as a result,” said Ryan.

The brief explains that SB 4’s harm to children will occur in a variety of ways.  The bill will discourage reporting of child abuse in immigrant communities.   Investigations into the neglect or abuse of a child begin with a report which triggers the Department stepping in to ensure the child's safe care.  The Department depends on relatives, neighbors and friends coming forward to report abuse.  But a fear of being deported may make some immigrants hesitant to speak out.

County Attorney Ryan warns that if undocumented parents are deported, even children who are well-cared for could be forced into the foster care system, which is already over-burdened.  SB 4 could discourage relatives of these children from coming forward to take them in because they fear deportation themselves.

An average of 1,400 cases a year are filed by the Harris County Attorney on behalf of the Department, each of which may involve several children who have been subject to abuse or neglect in their homes.  The State has made clear through its laws and through the policies promulgated by the Department that a primary consideration in child protection cases is to serve the best interests of the children involved.

Yet, as outlined by County Attorney Ryan’s legal brief, SB 4’s requirement that county attorneys engage in efforts which will lead to deporting parents — including those of citizen children — will lead to the destruction of families.

County Attorney Ryan asks that the Court stop SB 4 from taking effect in order to prevent the irreparable and incurable trauma the bill will impose on Texas children.