List of local governments planning to fight Texas over sanctuary bill growing

By Julián Aguilar

The list of cities and counties planning legal action to stop the state’s "sanctuary" law from taking effect continues to grow.

Leaders from El Paso County and the cities of Dallas and Austin confirmed on Tuesday during a rally at the State Capitol that they intend to move forward with resolutions or litigation next week.

The controversial measure, Senate Bill 4, was passed earlier this month and signed by Gov. Greg Abbott on May 7. It is scheduled to go into effect Sept. 1.

The bill allows peace officers 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. Abbott and Republican supporters have said it’s needed to deter people who are already in the country illegally from committing more crimes, but Democrats and other opponents fear it opens the door to racial profiling.

On Tuesday, which organizers said was the beginning of a “summer of resistance,” Austin City Council member Delia Garza said the city will move this week to take formal action to stop SB 4 in the courtroom.

“I am proud to announce today, with much gratitude for my colleagues, 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 said at Tuesday's rally, which was organized by the Austin City Council, Texas Organizing Project and United We Dream.

The announcement comes after the League of United Latin American Citizens, Maverick County and the city of El Cenizo filed suit to stop the bill.

Austin and Travis County are defendants in a lawsuit Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed as a pre-emptive measure. His lawsuit specifically asks a U.S. District Court to rule that the law is constitutional and does not violate the 4th or 14th amendments to the U.S. Constitution and is not pre-empted by federal law.

On Tuesday, Austin and Travis County welcomed an ally on that fight.

“I have to preserve the work of these brave leaders in Austin,” said Philip Kingston, a member of the Dallas City Council. “We will be discussing intervening in the case, coming to the aid of Austin because we have a large city attorney’s office and we have lots of legal resources.”

Later, El Paso County Commissioner David Stout said the Commissioners Court there voted 4-to-1 to move forward with a federal lawsuit in the Western District of Texas.

“We feel that it’s discriminatory and unconstitutional, but also we have a settlement agreement ... from back in 2006 that basically states we’re not able to have our law enforcement officers to enforce federal immigration law,” he said. “So [SB4]will in effect put us in noncompliance.”


Stout was referring to a 2006 legal settlement that El Paso County agreed to after a local resident sued, accusing sheriffs' deputies of conducting unlawful immigration checks at roadside checkpoints. The parties reached an agreement: The sheriff’s office had to “memorialize in writing its policies that prohibits Sheriff's Department Deputies from enforcing civil immigration law.”

Paxton has since said that El Paso County would be in compliance, but local leaders disagree. The El Paso Times reported that County Judge Veronica Escobar said the county would allocate about $150,000 for litigation costs.

The list of litigants could grow. Leaders from other local governments hinted they are also considering taking local action.

“The fight is now in the courtroom and San Antonio stands shoulder to shoulder with Texas cities in that fight,” San Antonio City Council member Rey Saldaña told the crowd.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune.

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