AUSTIN - City and county leaders from across Texas say they are ready to take legal action against the state's so-called ban on sanctuary cities. They held a rally outside the Capitol Tuesday where some Senators and Representatives expressed their support.
"It may just start with a broken tail light and getting stopped, but it will lead to a broken family and eventually it will lead to broken faith in our system," said Senator Sylvia Garcia (D-Houston) about Senate Bill 4 (SB4).
"Our police chief tells us that for the serious crimes likes rapes and homicides, reporting is down," she added. "It is because people have that fear and it is real. It doesn't matter if I go to the cleaners, I go to the grocery store, at church; everywhere I go there's one question people are asking me and it's about this bill. It's bad, it's horrible and it will hurt our communities."
SB4 requires all Texas law enforcement honor detainers from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The detainers are voluntary request to hold someone in jail while their immigration status is investigated. Being in the United States without proper documentation is a civil offense.
Under SB4 if an elected official violates the law they will be removed from office and face criminal charges.
The day after Governor Greg Abbott (R) signed the bill into law, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed a lawsuit against the City of Austin, Mayor, Council Members, and other area leaders to ask a judge to rule on the constitutionality of the bill.
"It's a very bizarre lawsuit," said former attorney now Austin City Council Member Delia Garza (District 2). "There's lots of speculation as to the purpose of it, it's riddled with factual inaccuracy after factual inaccuracy. If the goal of that lawsuit was to intimidate our council, they know very little, he knows very little about our council."
"This Thursday we are poised to approve a resolution that directs our city legal team to take any legal action necessary to challenge this awful law," she told the crowd.
And Austin will have some backup in the legal fight.
"Next week out in the Dallas City Council, we will be discussing intervening in the case, coming to the aid of Austin," said Dallas City Council Member Philip Kingston. "Because we have a large city attorney's office, we have a lot of resources and the fight is now in the court and it's time to all stand together."
Kingston added SB4 is expected to put a strain on Dallas' already taxed police force. He said there is a shortage of officers, partly because of the issues the city is having with state pensions, and Dallas PD cannot also act as immigrant officers, especially when they've placed such a strong emphasis on working with immigrant communities.
"We can't actually answer all the calls for police help that we're getting right now ," Kingston said. "We're in a public safety crisis and the governor is making my city less safe. I can't have that."
Several city and community leaders have said there is fear within the immigrant community that they will be deported. While the bill offers protections for victims and witnesses of crimes, many say that point is lost by the overall fear.
Another concern is a section of the bill that allows officers to ask about the immigration status of anyone who is detained, which includes being pulled over for a traffic violation. SB4 critics say this will lead to racial profiling.
"If you target our most vulnerable, we will defend the defenseless," San Antonio City Council Member Rey Saldana said to the crowd. "If you attempt to paint and profile members of my community as criminals, we will fight back."
"And the fight, la lucha, is now in the courtroom," Saldana added. "And San Antonio stands shoulder to shoulder with Texas cities in that fight."
Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt added the bill does not represent Texas values and the county will also fight it.
And elected officials who are concerned about the legal ramifications will also have some assistance.
"The Lawyers for America has offered any public official who faces prosecution under this bill will be represented pro bono by Lawyers for America," said Kingston.
The new law is set to go into effect September 1, 2017.
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