News Law and Policy

Texas Cities Fight State’s Anti-Immigrant Law

Tina Vasquez

“This law is reckless, dangerous, and discriminatory,” El Cenizo Mayor Raul Reyes said.

Seven cities and counties are pursuing lawsuits against Texas, challenging the constitutionality of the anti-immigrant law known as SB 4.

San Antonio, Bexar County, Austin, Travis County, El Paso County, El Cenizo, and Maverick County are plaintiffs in three lawsuits against the Republican-backed Texas bill, signed last month by Gov. Greg Abbott (R).

The law bans so-called sanctuary cities and authorizes Texas police officers to investigate immigration status during routine traffic stops. The law, which goes into effect September 1, penalizes law enforcement officials who don’t comply with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainer requests.

Houston may soon join the fight against SB 4. The city’s mayor, Sylvester Turner, tweeted Thursday that he will ask Houston City Council to join the lawsuits.

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Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which issued a travel alert for Texas last month, has deployed five attorneys who successfully fought President Trump’s travel ban. On Monday, they filed “the first motion for an injunction of SB 4 in an attempt to stop the law from going into effect,” the Texas Observer reported.

El Cenizo may be the smallest jurisdiction to join the fight against SB 4the border town is half a square mile, has fewer than 4,000 residents, and eight city employees. El Cenizo Mayor Raul Reyes has been one of the law’s harshest critics.

“This law is reckless, dangerous, and discriminatory,” the mayor told Rewire in a phone interview, in which he expressed disappointment that so few jurisdictions have moved forward with litigation. “I understand it’s not an easy step to take. It requires a lot of guts, especially when you’re up against the state of Texas, but it is disappointing it’s taken this long for others to come on board. If you’re an elected official representing an area with many Hispanics, you should be doing something.”

When Abbott signed SB 4 last month live on Facebook, the governorlike President Trump—called his attack on sanctuary cities a public safety issue. Abbott referenced Kate Steinle, the woman allegedly shot and killed by an undocumented person in San Francisco in 2015, blaming sanctuary city policies for her death.

“This law cracks down on policies like the Travis County sheriff, who said she would not detain known criminals accused of violent crimes,” Abbott said during the broadcast.

The governor is referring to Sheriff Sally Hernandez, who prohibited deputies and jailers from inquiring about someone’s immigration status and limited how closely they work with ICE.

GOP officials’ framing of SB 4 as a public safety issue is “laughable” to Reyes, especially because Republican legislators are ignoring how laws like SB 4 make some people less safe.

Trump’s sustained political attacks on sanctuary cities—he has attempted to pull federal funding from jurisdictions that limit how closely they work with ICE—have had a “chilling effect” on crime reporting, with undocumented immigrants becoming fearful of interacting with local law enforcement. In cities with large undocumented populations, like Los Angeles and Houston, reports of sexual assaults and domestic violence plummeted and undocumented people are refraining from reporting crimes they experienced or witnessed.

“This whole notion that SB 4 is about public safety and isn’t discriminatory is nonsense,” Reyes told Rewire. “If we really want to talk about public safetylet’s be honest, we need to talk about how this law does nothing but hinder the relationship between the community and local law enforcement and it mandates police officers to undertake an additional responsibility and role that isn’t relevant to what they signed up to do. Police officers are here to protect our community, not ask our nationality.”

The mayor told Rewire that racial profiling in border communities like El Cenizo is “already the norm.” Laws like SB 4 “open the door” for further discrimination, he added.

“Republicans who passed this law have never stepped foot in a border community, they don’t know what it’s like here,” Reyes said. “If this law goes into effect, it will only get worse.”

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