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San Antonio Files Suit Against Sanctuary Cities Law

Joey Palacios
Texas Public Radio
From top left to right, Councilmembers Shirley Gonzales, Alan Warrick, Ana Sandoval, Roberto Trevino, and Rey Saldana attend a small rally outside San Antonio City Hall Thursday hours before the lawsuit was filed.

The City of San Antonio is suing the state of Texas to stop the implementation of the newly passed sanctuary cities ban. City officials claim it will prevent local police authorities from protecting their communities.

Outside San Antonio City hall, five city council members – Rey Saldana, Alan Warrick, Shirley Gonzales, Ana Sandoval, and Roberto Trevino - joined a rally in support of the city’s lawsuit on Thursday. District 4 Council member Saldana says the sanctuary cities ban would lead to racial profiling.

“Is this law constitutional?,” Saldana asked the crowd. “No,” they responded. “Does this law discriminate against members of our community?” “Yes." “Very soon, it will not just be the voices of San Antonio, it will be the voice of a judge who tears this down this law that is discriminatory against our community ... San Antonio will be the tip of the spear in this fight and we are asking other Texas cities to join us,” Saldana added.

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Under the new law, police and sheriff’s departments in Texas can no longer prevent officers from asking about someone’s immigration status when they’re detained, even if it’s for something as minor as a traffic stop. Some Texas cities like San Antonio have polices that forbid asking about immigration status, because officials believe it will lead to immigrants refusing to report crimes. 

The sanctuary cities ban would also expose local officials and agencies to fines or criminal charges if they don’t cooperate with federal immigration requests.  The law takes effect in September.

Andy Segovia, the city attorney for San Antonio, says that’s just one of the reasons San Antonio is suing the state. “If [public officials] advocate a position that could be characterized as challenging SB4, they would potentially face removal from office,” he said.

At least three city council members, Mayor Ivy Taylor, Mike Gallagher and Joe Krier either oppose the lawsuit or say filing it is premature. Councilman Ron Nirenberg did not issue a statement, however, a staff representative was present at Thursday’s rally.

Marisa Bono is the southwest regional counsel for MALDEF, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund.  MALDEF is suing the State on behalf of San Antonio and three non profits.

“SB4 is morally reprehensible and legally indefensible and we stand proudly with San Antonio where MALDEF was founded and the organizations that have stood up today in defense of their members.

San Antonio’s suit isn’t the first to be filed against the legislation. El Paso and Maverick Counties filed similar suits last month.  And other Texas cities could join the litigation.

The City of Austin is expected to file a similar suit with MALDEF and the City of San Antonio today.

Below, you can read several statements issued by some council members before the lawsuit was filed Thursday.

Ivy Taylor; San Antonio Mayor.

“I believe it was premature for the majority of City Council to give direction for city staff to join in a lawsuit against the SB4 legislation. In this case, the prudent course would be to wait until a decision has been made on whether a special session will be called. Additionally, I believe that any decision to join this lawsuit should be made in coordination with other major Texas cities, which is why I have consulted with Mayors Adler (Austin), Turner (Houston) and Rawlings (Dallas). 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.”

Mike Gallagher; District 10

“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. Additionally, not all major Texas cities have made their decision yet on whether to join the lawsuit. By taking action now, we are placing San Antonio in a vulnerable position. Mayor Taylor is working closely with the leaders of the other major cities and collectively, we believe that we need more time to fully evaluate the potential impact of SB4 and a lawsuit."

Shirley Gonzales; District 5

"Although no formal action has been taken, I support joining the Mexican American Legal and Defense Educational Fund in a lawsuit against Senate Bill 4 because it is vital that we maintain trust between communities of immigrants and local law enforcement. This law will overwhelm police resources by expecting them to enforce federal immigration laws, and it will also discourage people from reporting crimes that can be a threat to their safety."

Rebecca Viagran; District 3

SB 4 does nothing to protect San Antonio residents and, in fact, will make us less safe. This bill targets the most vulnerable individuals in our population and creates a state of fear where people won’t go to the police for help when they witness, or worse, are the victim of a crime. Law enforcement officials from across the state have strongly voiced their opposition to this bill because it will make ALL communities less safe. This bill goes against everything San Antonio and its residents have valued for 300 years. In plain language, SB 4 and its intent are unjust and immoral. And we are confident that the courts will show it to be unconstitutional.

Alan Warrick; District 2

“As a young African American, I know from firsthand experience that racial profiling exists.  We will not stand for discrimination in any form.  Public safety should be our number one priority.  We need every officer working on fighting local crime not enforcing federal immigration law.  I support a lawsuit against SB 4 and would like to see public discussion and vote on the issue.”

Joey Palacios can be reached atJoey@TPR.org and on Twitter at @Joeycules