The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) filed suit last Thursday in U.S. District Court asking for a federal block on Texas’ Senate Bill 4 (SB4), the “sanctuary cities” law.
The plaintiffs include: District 4 City Councilman Rey Saldaña, the City of San Antonio, the Texas Association of Chicanos in Higher Education, the Workers Defense Project and La Union Del Pueblo Entero. They state that the law allegedly violates the First, Fourth and 14th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution, as well other constitutional and statutory provisions.
They join Austin, El Paso as the other Texas cities challenging the constitutionality of the statute.
MALDEF alleges in the lawsuit that SB4, which names Governor Greg Abbott and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton as defendants, will result in racial profiling and violate the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause. Latinos and other minorities would be subject to discriminatory stops and questioning by law enforcement officials with little to no immigration law training; and would not be subject to limits when they question individuals about immigration status.
“The constitutional violations in this law are substantial and multiple,” said Thomas Saenz, MALDEF president and general counsel. “The lawsuits challenging SB4 should prevent its threatened unleashing of arbitrary and inconsistent law enforcement practices within cities and counties across the entirety of Texas.”
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. San Antonio, the largest city in Texas to date to challenge SB4 in court, has more than 1.4 million residents according to the U.S. Census; and nearly 64 percent of its population is Latino.
The Texas Senate passed SB4 on Feb. 8 by a 20-10 vote, while the Texas House passed the bill on April 27 by a 94-53 vote. The Senate then re-passed the House version of SB4 on May 3 by a 20-11 vote.
The lawsuit comes nearly three weeks after Gov. Abbott sued MALDEF, the City of Austin and Travis County for rejecting the “sanctuary cities” law. The bill was signed by Gov. Abbott on May 7 and goes into effect on Sept. 1. City Councilman Saldaña (D4) assures the community that this is the right step to take, as well as one where it will not cost taxpayers any money as the lawsuit is funded by MALDEF.
“We want the community to know that San Antonio is not going to allow any law to pass in Austin dictating discrimination down to the police department,” Councilman Saldaña (D4) told La Prensa. “We do not have to live with a law that is written poorly and will hurt the trust the community has with law enforcement. There was no doubt that this is a law cooked up by people who see immigrants as harmful as well as criminals. But, [immigrants] add value.”
Also on board with the MALDEF suit are Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1), Councilman Alan Warrick (D2), Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran (D3), Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales (D5) and San Antonio Police Department (SAPD) Chief William McManus. They have expressed that the city must fight to keep the community safe without any reservations.
“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 Chief McManus.
Although a presumptive majority of City Council is ready to move forward, there are some that have their reservations including Councilman Mike Gallagher (D10). He has stated that the SB4 lawsuit decision is premature and is costing taxpayers money.
“I am strongly opposed to our city’s involvement in a lawsuit against the State of Texas over the passage of SB4,” expressed Gallagher (D10). “Mayor Taylor is working closely with the leaders of the other major cities, and we need more time to fully evaluate the potential impact of SB4 and a lawsuit. We must consider consequences like the withholding of state grant funding for public safety.”
Grant funding from the State provides dollars aimed at strengthening SAPD, maintaining parks and highways, addressing upkeep of historic monuments and various other projects.
“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,” said Councilman Gallagher (D10).
As the legal fight against SB4 begins, it will only be a matter of time until MALDEF and Gov. Abbott sees if this legislative challenge will include more Texas cities as plaintiffs.