In the News

Austin, Texas Cities Promise Legal Fight Against SB 4

Tuesday, May 16, 2017
MARY TUMA
The Austin Chronicle
Wilmarie Ríos Jaime Phone: (202) 754-8811 Email: wilmarie@latinainstitute.org

This article was originally published on austinchronicle.com

Local leaders from across Texas banded together Tuesday (May 16) on the Capitol‘s south steps to announce joint plans to file suit against the anti-immigrant Senate Bill 4 (signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott earlier this month) on grounds that the impending law violates the U.S. Constitution.

Joined by advocacy groups, elected officials from Austin, Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, and El Paso made clear Tuesday that they aren’t backing down – and instead plan to coordinate a “Summer of Resistance” to challenge SB 4. The legislation punishes cities that don’t cooperate with U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement detainer requests and allows local law enforcement to ask for citizenship status during routine traffic stops – an invitation to racial profiling. SB 4 is set to go into effect Sept. 1, however, a legal challenge from a number of eager cities and immigrant-rights groups could stall its enactment.

“The governor and other cynical supporters of SB 4 want local elected officials like those standing behind me to cave in at the end of the summer and betray our communities,” said Austin City Council Member Greg Casar. “But we are sending a strong message today that instead of caving in, the governor is going to get a summer of resistance.”

In response to local leaders’ calls to file suit against SB 4, Attorney General Ken Paxton pre-emptively sued the capital city of the state he oversees, as well as Travis County, City Council Members, Sheriff Sally Hernandez, and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) merely because they voiced opposition to the legislation and concerns about its constitutionality – an unusual move for a state AG. Paxton has said that his suit is meant for one federal court, instead of several cases, to clear up the law’s legality.

During the event, Dallas City Council Member Philip Kingston announced that city would provide legal aid to Austin. “I have to preserve the work of these brave leaders of Austin,” said Kingston. “We will discuss intervening in the case because we have a large city attorney’s office and we have lots of legal resources.” Additionally, MALDEF and the Lawyers for America offered up their legal help to any city or public official punished for violating SB 4.

Austin Mayor Steve Adler and council members Ann KitchenLeslie PoolJimmy FlanniganAlison AlterDelia GarzaKatie Tovo, Travis County Constable Stacy Suits, and County Judge Sarah Eckhardt joined the event. Garza derided Paxton‘s lawsuit as “very bizarre” and riddled with factual errors regarding the actual powers of a city council.

“Our state has enacted a racist and hateful law that will tear families apart and make our communities less safe,” said Garza. “If the goal of [the Texas] suit is to intimidate Austin City Council then they don’t know about our Council.”

Eckhardt said SB 4 hampers the county’s ability to protect its residents and hold people accountable. “It is not about public safety,” she said. “It’s a bill about fear, retribution, and control. It does not help me; it does not help my sheriff; it does not help my judges.”

Council is poised to approve a measure (Resolution 45) this Thursday (May 18) that directs the city’s legal team to take any action necessary to challenge the problematic law. County Commissioner David Stout of El Paso announced he and his colleagues yesterday voted to hire a law firm to represent the county in an SB 4 suit. Last week, the small border town of El Cenizo (Maverick County) and the League of United Latin American Citizens were the first to file suit against SB 4.

San Antonio City Council Member Rey Saldaña and Houston Council Member Robert Gallegos pledged their support for potential litigation against SB 4, while Mexican American Legislative Caucus Chair Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, and state Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, promised to stand with the immigrant community over the summer to ensure the courts rule on the right side of justice. “It may just start with a broken tail light, but it will lead to a broken family and eventually, broken faith in our system,” said Garcia.

Speakers from groups including Grassroots LeadershipICE Out of AustinUnited We DreamTexas Organizing ProjectWorkers Defense ProjectMALDEF; and the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health spoke to the law’s dangerous effect on the immigrant community and vowed to fight the law to the end. “SB 4 is illegal; it’s unconstitutional; and fundamentally flawed,” said Marisa Bono, counsel with MALDEF before the crowd. “Frankly this bill is like a bad law school exam where students have to find as many constitutional violations as possible – trust me, the bill is that bad.”