© 2020 Texas Public Radio
Real. Reliable. Texas Public Radio.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Lawyers Convention Leaves Texas Over State's New Immigration Law

Massive protest engulfs the Capitol Rotunda as anti-SB4 protesters rally on May 29, 2017.  It's the last day of the 85th Legislative session on Memorial Day.
Massive protest engulfs the Capitol Rotunda as anti-SB4 protesters rally on May 29, 2017. It's the last day of the 85th Legislative session on Memorial Day.

A 15,000-member association of attorneys and law professors said on Wednesday that it is relocating its 2018 convention out of Texas in response to the state legislature passing Senate bill 4, a sweeping and controversial immigration enforcement measure.

The  American Immigration Lawyers Association was scheduled to hold its 3-day event in Grapevine next year, but said the bill’s “dangerous, destructive and counter productive proposals” go against the group’s mission. About 3,000 people were expected to attend the convention.

“One of the issues that drove the board’s decision was concern on behalf of quite a number of our members that they might not be willing to bring themselves or their families to Texas,” AILA president Bill Stock told reporters during a conference call. “Our members are US citizens and green card holders but many of them come from ethnic communities where they felt that they [would] being unfairly targeted.”

SB 4 allows law enforcement to question the immigration status of people they legally detain or arrest and punishes department heads and elected officials who don’t cooperate with federal immigration agents by turning over immigrants subject to possible deportation. Gov. Greg Abbott signed the legislation last month and it is scheduled to go into effect on September 1.

Abbott and other supporters of the measure say its needed to make Texas safer and crack down on illegal immigration but opponents argue the bill's vague language will lead to racial profiling and other discriminatory practices.

The AILA Grapevine conference was booked years ago. The organization could face financial penalties for relocating, Stock said, but the group chose to cancel the event anyway due to the new law.

The association's announcement comes the same day that U.S. Sens. Bob Menedez, D-New Jersey, and Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nevada, asked the organizers of Austin’s popular South by Southwest conference to move out of Austin after decades of calling the capital city home.

The mega-event is one of the state’s signature attractions and includes weeks-long activities that include conferences on education and interactive developments, as well as film and music showcases.

“In its 31 years, SXSW has been a beacon of consistency, standing with artists and participants regarding equality, tolerance, and safety during events,” the senators wrote. “SB4, however, would not allow SXSW to be a safe place for immigrants and Americans alike to visit, participate, and enjoy; the culture and safety of the event would be greatly diminished if your attendants are faced with the humiliation and harassment that this new law would inflict.”

But SXSW co-founder and CEO Roland Swenson said the conference is staying put, but he and his supporters will continue to speak out against the law from home base.

“We stand by the City of Austin in their challenge against SB4 and will continue to speak out against it, and all discriminatory legislation,” he said in an email. “We agree with the Senators that the law stands diametrically opposed to the spirit of SXSW and respect their call to action. We understand why, in today’s political climate, people are asking us to leave Texas. For us this is not a solution. Austin is our home and an integral part of who we are. We will stay here and continue to make our event inclusive while fighting for the rights of all.”

Several local governments, including the cities of San Antonio, Austin and El Cenizo and both El Paso and Maverick counties, have filed lawsuits to stop the bill from taking effect. The state of Texas has also filed its own preemptive action and has asked a judge to declare the bill legal and constitutional.

The Texas Tribune provided this story.

Copyright 2020 KERA. To see more, visit .