The City of San Antonio joined Austin, El Paso and three non-profit organizations in asking a federal court to block Texas from implementing Senate Bill 4 (SB 4), arguing that the controversial law is unconstitutional, according to a lawsuit filed recently.
MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund) filed the suit in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas on behalf of the City of San Antonio, the Texas Association of Chicanos in Higher Education, the Workers Defense Project and La Union Del Pueblo Entero, alleging the law violates the First, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution, as well other constitutional and statutory provisions.
“The full scope of permanent harms to all Texas residents from the planned implementation of SB 4, on September 1, compelled the filing of this lawsuit,” said Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF president and general counsel. “The constitutional violations in this law are substantial and multiple, and the lawsuits challenging SB 4 should prevent its threatened unleashing of arbitrary and inconsistent law enforcement practices within cities and counties across the entirety of Texas.”
The lawsuit comes nearly three weeks after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott sued MALDEF, the City of Austin, and Travis County for denouncing the so-called “sanctuary city” law and for announcing their intention to ask the federal court to stop SB 4’s scheduled implementation on Sept. 1, 2017.
At issue are several provisions of SB 4 that would allow individual law enforcement officers to decide on their own whether and how to question individuals about their immigration status, while simultaneously stripping sheriffs and police chiefs of any authority to set policies to guide officers on immigration checks.
That provision of the law, MALDEF alleges in the lawsuit, will result in racial profiling and violate the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection clause because Latinos and other minorities would be subject to discriminatory stops and questioning by law enforcement officials who have no training and would not be subject to limits on when they question individuals about immigration status.
More than half of all Texans under the age of 18 are Latino, Asian American or Arab American, and 44 percent of the state’s total population falls within one of these three groups, with African Americans accounting for an additional 11.5 percent of residents. San Antonio – the largest city in Texas to date to challenge SB 4 in court – has more than 1.4 million residents. Nearly 64 percent of the City population is Latino, according to the U.S. Census.
The lawsuit also challenges Texas’ attempt to force cities, counties and elected officials to comply with any federal immigration requests to assist in the enforcement of immigration law or be subject to steep fines and criminal prosecution.
“We believe this law impedes our ability to work with the community to provide public safety, is discriminatory and unnecessarily inhibits the ability of local officials to articulate and develop policy,” said San Antonio Police Chief William McManus.
LUPE is a community union that advocates for the issues and factors that impact low-income communities.
“We firmly believe that the law violates the Constitution,” said Juanita Valdez-Cox, executive director of La Union del Pueblo Entero (LUPE). “We know that thousands of Latinos across Texas will be subjected to racial profiling by police who do not have the training needed to enforce federal immigration laws. And finally, we know thousands of families will be devastated by the detention and deportation of immigrants who will be singled out for the offense of Driving While Brown. The behavior of State Representative Rinaldi on Monday is a clear demonstration of what the majority of the Texas Legislature intends for immigrants in particular and people of color in general. No person of conscience can remain silent in the face of the racism that is the foundation of SB4.”
TACHE is a professional association committed to the improvement of educational and employment opportunities for Chicanos in higher education.
“The Texas Association of Chicanos in Higher Education is a professional association that has advocated for the historically underrepresented in higher education for over 42 years,” said Belinda Saldaña Harmon, Texas Association of Chicanos in Higher Education state president. “When policy is detrimental to college faculty, staff or students or threatens to increase inequities in higher education, we must speak out and take action.”
The Workers Defense Project (WDP) was formed in 2002 to address the problem of unpaid wages for Austin’s low-wage workers.
“SB 4 will result in increased racial profiling for Workers Defense members and all Latino families in Texas,” said Jose P. Garza, executive director of the WDP. “Today, Workers Defense members are making good on their promise to fight Greg Abbott’s ‘show me your papers law’ in court. This unconstitutional attack on Latino families will not stand.”
Yet as MALDEF prepares to challenge SB4, a flurry of statements from city leaders indicates a more measured tone asking for further investigation into the long-term repercussions of facing off with Abbott administration.
In statement by District 1 City Councilman Roberto C. Treviño, he supports looking into further actions against the legislation and does not rule out legal action.
“I am in full support of taking definitive action against this discriminatory law as it promotes mistrust between the community and law enforcement officers, which prevents our police officers from effectively performing their public safety duties. Each time my colleagues, City officials and I testified in Austin against this legislation, we did so alongside a diverse range of communities. In fact, many communities throughout South Texas look to San Antonio for leadership on such issues. I am confident that as San Antonio constructs a measured course of action, our involvement will influence other communities to stand united against SB 4. As we saw on the floor of the Texas Legislature, this bill can be used maliciously to target minorities. We cannot allow that vitriol to seep into our communities.”
Other members of the City Council who have supported legal action include District 5 City Councilwoman Shirley Gonzalez, District 3 Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran and District 2 Councilman Alan Warrick.
Yet District 10 City Councilman Mike Gallagher is far from supportive of any action that could jeopardize any state funding received by San Antonio.
“I am strongly opposed to our city’s involvement in a lawsuit against the State of Texas over the passage of SB4. We must consider the potential unintended consequences of prematurely taking this action, including the possible withholding of state grant funding for public safety. Our city often applies for grant funding from the State to support local departments and projects. To jeopardize the approval of these grant funds would be detrimental to supporting our efforts to strengthen our police department, our parks, our highways, our historic monuments and various other projects. Never in our recent history has the City of San Antonio sued the State of Texas. Our City Council should reconsider rushing into this lawsuit and should have an extensive public discussion and schedule a formal Council vote on the issue.”
As the legal battle begins, the state faces a lawsuit that could spread to other cities if the challenge is successful.