AUSTIN – Gov. Greg Abbott sought to dispel fears that the new sanctuary cities law will prompt profiling, as a growing group of communities promised to join in challenging the law in a “summer of resistance.”
“As the husband of the first Hispanic first lady in the state of Texas, I want to make sure that neither she nor her family is going to be stopped and detained inappropriately,” Abbott said Tuesday when asked about concerns over the law, known as Senate Bill 4.
“If you are Hispanic — or, frankly, anybody from any other country — you are not going to be stopped and required to show your papers unless you are suspected of having committed some serious crime,” said Abbott.
He spoke to reporters after a memorial service for fallen peace officers at the Texas Department of Public Safety, and he accommodated a request from a Univision reporter to deliver his message about the sanctuary cities law via a Facebook livestream.
Opponents are unwavering.
“The governor and the other cynical supporters of SB 4 know this law has nothing to do with public safety and everything to do with scapegoating immigrants for their political gain,” said Austin City Council member Greg Casar.
Casar was among leaders from Austin, San Antonio, Dallas and El Paso County who gathered at the south steps of the Texas Capitol on Tuesday with promises to fight the law in court. The rally was organized by the Austin City Council, United We Dream and Texas Organizing Project.
The sanctuary cities law is touted by Abbott and other supporters as a public safety measure meant to crack down on local entities that provide safe harbor to people who are here illegally and may commit crimes.
It has drawn an onslaught of criticism from civil rights activists, immigrant advocates and Democratic lawmakers, including Latinos who say that people who look like them will be unfairly targeted.
Top law enforcement officials including San Antonio Police Chief William McManus opposed passage of the law, saying it will erode trust and reduce cooperation of the community with police.
Particular concerns have been raised about a provision that gives law officers the authority to ask people who are detained about their immigration status, regardless of what their chiefs may prefer.
The law requires local governmental entities and law enforcement officials to comply with federal immigration laws and detainer requests for people in custody. It includes a Class A misdemeanor charge for sheriffs, police chiefs or constables who don’t comply with federal immigration detainer requests. It provides for removal from office for elected or appointed officials who don’t abide by the law.
Maverick County and El Cenizo, a small town south of Laredo, already have filed a lawsuit saying the law infringes on the rights of city and county officials.
The state has taken a proactive position in court. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed a motion for declaratory judgment a day after Abbott signed the measure into law, seeking a ruling that the ban is constitutional and can be implemented as scheduled on Sept. 1.
“They weren’t listening to the police chief, they weren’t listening to the city council,” said San Antonio City Councilman Rey Saldaña of Republican officials. “At this point, the other step is to ask, ‘Are there elements of SB 4 as it passed that are unconstitutional?’ The fact that there are pieces that force local police officers to enforce federal laws is something we believe is unconstitutional and will not stand up in court.”
Saldaña said he is hopeful the San Antonio City Council will file a resolution by the end of this week or next week to provide direction to the city attorney, and join other cities in the lawsuit against the law.
Delia Garza, an Austin council member, said the law ignores the fact that the federal immigration system is broken and that most undocumented immigrants that cross the border for a better life lack the resources to navigate the federal immigration system.
The law criminalizes an entire ethnicity, she said, and confirmed Austin would move forward this week against SB 4 in court.
“This Thursday, we are poised to approve a resolution that directs our city legal team to take any legal action necessary to challenge this awful law,” she said.
The El Paso County Commissioners Court voted Monday 4-1 to file a lawsuit.
Rep. Rafael Anchia, a Dallas Democrat who is chairman of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus in the House, called for continuous marches, rallies and protests against what he called the “show-me-your-papers” bill. He said opponents will target Abbott’s re-election effort next year.
“To the governor I say, that’s just this summer, because in 2018 we are coming for him,” Anchia said. “We will resist with our votes and we will allow our votes to speak in November 2018 to make sure Greg Abbott is the last governor who is going to be anti-Latino and use our community for his political gain.”
By Peggy Fikac and Elena Mejia Lutz
This article was published in the San Antonio Express-News May 16, 2017.