Attorneys representing Texas state and the plaintiff coalition of Texas cities, counties, social justice groups, and local officials took to court to begin oral arguments on the constitutionality of Texas State Senate Bill 4 (SB4). Meanwhile, outside the courthouse, hundreds of protesters gathered to express their dissent against the new immigration law.
Texas SB4 is a law intended to stop so-called “sanctuary” cities—those that refuse to cooperate with the federal government’s efforts to deport undocumented immigrants—and prevent new ones from forming within the state. Several questionable provisions within the bill would be employed to coerce cooperation towards this end, including economic sanctions for local governments as well as potential jail time for sheriffs and public officials refusing to comply with the feds’ anti-immigrant efforts.
Among its most concerning effects are faulty law enforcement and racial profiling. Upon the law’s implementation, immigration rights advocates predict that law enforcement officials would practice arbitrary immigration status check-ups and arrests largely based on skin color. This, sheriffs and police officers themselves claim, would create an environment of distrust for law enforcement – ultimately leading to a degeneration of peace and security in the community.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed the bill into law in May, placing it as an “emergency item” in legislative sessions leading up to its passage. The lawsuit against the new law was filed primarily by the town of El Cenizo, but quickly got the support of other cities including San Antonio, Austin, Houston, and Dallas.
According to Austin City Councilman Gregorio Casar, “A historic number of cities have responded to the people’s call. We hear you, we support you, and we are here in this fight today.”
Speaking to the protestors present, Casar affirmed that “The message we are sending Trump and Abbott and their cronies today is clear: Your hatred is no longer welcome in Texas.”
Despite the protests, courthouse business went on as usual with lawyers on both sides arguing their points for hours to presiding Judge Garcia – key to previous landmark civil rights cases.
The plaintiff side pursued its “unconstitutionality” approach, citing the preemption of federal law to SB4 and the bill’s evident violations of the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments. The defense, however, retorted that the bill was in line with a precedent ruling at the Supreme Court.
Responding to the accusations of SB4 resulting in selective justice, state attorney Darren McCarty argued that there would be consistency on the state level, saying that “[SB4] ensures that there is a complete uniformity in the application of immigration law.” He adds that “what Texas wanted to do is to ensure there’s not a patchwork of immigration policies throughout the state.”
Such an interpretation of the law was not satisfactory to the ACLU’s Lee Gelernt. He argues that local law enforcement may assume that the law requires them to inquire into the immigration status of all employees they may encounter.
Another SB4 case is set for oral argumentation in Federal Court on Thursday.
For further updates on SB4, be sure to follow this blog. If you or anyone you know has been a victim of profiling and questionable detention because of your immigration status, talk to the legal team of the Lyttle Law Firm. Contact our offices to speak with Austin immigration attorney Daniella Lyttle.