San Antonio & Austin Fight Texas Immigration Law 

AUSTIN, Texas (CN) — San Antonio and Austin have joined a “summer of resistance” against Texas’ new law that bars sanctuary cities and punishes with jail and stiff fines law enforcement officials who refuse to comply with federal immigration holds.

Senate Bill 4 subjects state and local government officials, including college campus police, to Class A misdemeanor charges, punishable by up to a year in jail and fines of up to $25,000 a day, if they refuse to comply with detainer requests from immigration officers.

A detainer, or immigration hold, is a request from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement that local law enforcement refuse to release a prisoner even though there may be no state or local charges pending against him.

SB 4 also allows officers to question the immigration status of any “lawfully detained” person, including people stopped for minor offenses such as jaywalking or running a stop sign.

Elected or appointed officials who endorse or adopt policies that violate SB 4 could be removed from office under the law, which is to take effect Sept. 1.

Officials and activists have pledged a “summer of resistance” to the law, kicking off with a protest at the Capitol on the last day of the legislative session, May 29, which also saw a scuffle on the floor of House, after which a Republican member of the House allegedly threatened to shoot a Democrat.

In San Antonio’s June 1 federal lawsuit against Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton, the city says the impact of SB 4 would be “devastating” to local governments and universities because it “hijacks” their authority to enact policies to protect and fit the needs of their communities. It calls the monetary, civil, criminal, and ouster penalties imposed by SB 4 “draconian.”

“While purporting to protect the State of Texas from the negative impact of undocumented immigration, SB 4 robs local jurisdictions of their ability to supervise officers and ensure public safety, and coerces law enforcement to dedicate limited resources to a job that is supposed to be performed and funded by the federal government,” San Antonio says in the complaint.

It seeks declaratory judgment that SB 4 violates the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause, Contracts Clause, the First, Fourth, and 14th Amendments, and Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

SB 4 creates a system that allows individual police officers to exercise their discretion on how to enforce immigration laws, which invites racial profiling, San Antonio says.

“By forbidding municipalities and colleges from creating any limiting guidance … untrained and unsupervised local police officers will disproportionately detain foreign-born and Latino individuals, especially those that do not have a Texas driver’s license,” according to the lawsuit.

Nearly 64 percent of San Antonio’s 1.49 million residents — about 936,000 — are Latino, according to city-data.com. San Antonio is Texas’ second-largest city. Austin, which filed a motion to intervene on behalf of San Antonio on Friday, is the state capital and fourth-largest city. Thirty-four percent of its 913,000 residents — 301,000 — are Latino.

SB 4 also prohibits local governments from limiting police officers from providing enforcement assistance to ICE officers.

“This provision could result in police officers deciding sua sponte to carry out ‘enforcement assistance’ in sensitive locations, such as schools and funerals, where federal immigration officers will not conduct enforcement,” San Antonio claims.

San Antonio has not declared itself a sanctuary city, but says it fears it will be prosecuted for violating SB 4 because of its “modest restrictions” on ICE access to detainees, and its policy that instructs police officers not to question the immigration status of an arrested person.

“San Antonio is convinced that the immigrant community will no longer cooperate with police to the extent they did before SB 4 passed and that SB 4 will discourage immigrants from reporting crimes and participating in health and social service programs, such as WIC,” the city says.

Gov. Abbott already has punished Austin for its policies, withholding $1.5 million in state grants for Travis County, of which Austin is the seat. Citing a report from the Department of Homeland Security, Paxton said that Travis County declined more detainer requests than any other local jurisdiction in the country between Jan. 28 and Feb. 3 this year.

Texas filed a preemptive lawsuit against Travis County, Austin and several local officials on May 7, asking a federal judge in Austin to declare SB 4 constitutional.

Austin Mayor Steve Adler criticized the state for its preemptive lawsuit on Friday.

“We have filed our own action this morning in San Antonio, where we raised the questions that people are allowed to raise prior to a law going into effect, to challenge the constitutionality of that law,” Adler said at a news conference.

In its motion to intervene, Austin said that increased ICE raids combined with SB 4 would have dramatic social impacts, including decreased attendance at schools, decreased cooperation between police and community members, and fewer people participating in social service and religious programs due to fears of arrest and deportation.

“Across the city, community organizations that provide for the needs of immigrant communities find themselves assisting families that are afraid to leave their homes, making grocery runs to ensure children have diapers and milk,” Austin said in its motion. “Organizations that serve Hispanic clients report a sharp drop in people showing up for services.”

Austin added that SB 4 would hurt trade, tourism and investment, and that several national organizations have already threatened to boycott Texas because of the law.

Adler said at the new conference that he was eager to have a court consider SB 4 on the basis of facts and law rather than politics, and that the main impetus of the suit was a “keen and earnest desire to keep” his community safe.

San Antonio Mayor Ivy Taylor, who faces a runoff election June 10, said in a statement that she did not support her City Council’s decision to sue the state.

“I believe it was premature for the majority of City Council to give direction for city staff to join in a lawsuit against the SB 4 legislation,” Taylor said. “We should be certain that litigation is the measure of last resort and that the city is bearing its fair share of any legal burden. None of these conditions have been satisfied, which is why I continue to oppose City Council’s decision to join this lawsuit.”

Adler, however, said he expects more counties and entities to join the lawsuit this summer, and the goal is to get a court to rule before the law takes effect.

The border cities of El Paso and El Cenizo brought constitutional challenges to SB 4 in May. El Cenizo was joined by Maverick County. El Paso is the sixth-largest city in Texas. Nearly 80 percent of its 679,000 residents — 542,000 — are Latino.

Counting only San Antonio, Austin and El Paso, cities containing 11 percent of the state population have lined up against Texas and SB 4.

Joining San Antonio as plaintiffs are City Councilman Rey Saldaña, the Texas Association of Chicanos in Higher Education, La Union Del Pueblo Entero, and the Workers Defense Project.

San Antonio is represented by Marisa Bono with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and by its Deputy City Attorney Deborah Lynne Klein.

It seeks “declaratory judgment that SB 4, in its entirety, is unconstitutional,” and an injunction against its enforcement, plus costs of suit.

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