Grassroots leaders and local officials wasted little time organizing a coordinated campaign to fight SB 4, a new Texas law that targets cities, towns and sheriffs that don’t cooperate with federal immigration enforcement.
Only nine days after Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott signed the legislation, formally known as Senate Bill 4, into law, grassroots advocates announced a “Summer of Resistance” campaign May 16. The statute allows police officers, sheriff deputies and Texas state troopers to ask about a person’s immigration status – whether they are here legally – during a routine stop.
It also permits putting sheriffs and police chiefs in jail if they don’t cooperate with federal immigration agents.
It’s been called the anti-sanctuary law because it targets cities and towns that, in general, do not cooperate with agents from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Courts have ruled that immigration enforcement is the responsibility of the federal government. Over the years, though, some local law enforcement agencies have entered into agreements to cooperate with the U.S. government, especially to hold an individual until federal immigration agents arrive.
The new measure has sparked an outcry among families, grassroots advocates and some politicians, who say it will unfairly target immigrants.
Critics say SB 4 will lead to racial profiling in a state in which nearly 40 percent of its 28 million residents are Latino, strain local law enforcement agencies and make cities and towns less safe by eroding community trust with local authorities.
“We are going to fight tooth and nail until SB 4 is 6 feet under the ground,” El Paso County Commissioner David Stout said during a media briefing. “This law makes all Texans less safe.”
El Paso County Commissioners already voted to authorize legal action, San Antonio is discussing possible action, and Dallas is poised to talk about it on May 24, according to Austin City Council Member Greg Casar. The Austin City Council is expected to vote on a measure that would allow the city’s legal team to challenge the law, The Austin Chronicle reported.
In addition, sheriffs and police chiefs from five big cities in Texas have come out against the plan, according to The Center for Popular Democracy.
The campaign’s legal strategy is emerging, though lawyers will collaborate about where and how to move forward rapidly in May, Casar added. A legal challenge to SB 4, which starts on Sept. 1, can occur at the state and federal levels.
Abbott signed SB 4 into law on May 7 – a Sunday – with no advance notice to the public. His office broadcast the signing on Facebook Live.
Since then, immigrants and social justice advocates have held vigils, including ones in the Rio Grande Valley and Austin, opposing it.
“Abbott had his say, now it’s time for the people of Texas to have theirs. We are moving this fight from Abbott’s backyard to our home turf – where Texas communities fight for their families every day,” said Jose Garza, executive director of the Workers Defense Project.
A day after the signing, Terri Burke, executive director of the ACLU of Texas, voiced opposition to SB 4, saying it’s an affront to the values of the Lone Star State.
“This is also about unraveling democracy,” she said during a media briefing. “People elected by voters can be removed from office through a mechanism of this bill.”
She also pointed out concerns with SB 4 and possible actions by troopers with the Texas Department of Public Safety, which reports to the governor.
If people are stopped under SB 4, she added, the ACLU of Texas suggests they follow requests by law enforcement officials but contact an attorney as soon as possible.
Abbott has said the statute upholds the law, echoing a broader push nationally by Republicans who want local law enforcement to help crack down on undocumented immigrants who are also criminals.
“We will defend the most vulnerable, and we will defend the voiceless who often times get used (for political purposes),” San Antonio Council Member Rey Saldaña said during a media briefing.
Immigration rights advocates in Texas point to successful legal and grassroots challenges in recent years that stopped similar laws in Arizona and Alabama.
In recent weeks, Texas state lawmakers also have approved or considered other bills that social justice advocates are calling anti-immigrant and anti-family.
One is an approved bill that permits family immigration detention facilities, in this case one run by the GEO Group, to be classified as child care providers.
The other bill, under consideration as of May 17, would end work-study aid to students attending public universities in Texas and who have status under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
Paul Nyhan is the senior writer for Equal Voice News. Brad Wong, news editor, for Equal Voice News contributed to this report, which includes information from The Associated Press. The top image is from Texas Organizing Project.