Austin Wages Legal Battle Against SB 4 in Court

Austin filing argues SB 4 violates U.S. Constitution

Mayor Steve Adler makes good on his promise to fight SB 4 in court. (Photo by John Anderson)

As promised, the city of Austin has begun its legal battle against the constitutionality of anti-immigrant Senate Bill 4, signed by Gov. Greg Abbott in May.

The law, set to take effect on Sept. 1, would force local police to comply with voluntary U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainer requests and allow law enforcement to inquire about the citizenship status of residents arrested or detained. It would also remove public officials who endorse policies contrary to SB 4’s provisions. Meant to punish so-called “sanctuary cities,” it’s widely regarded as racist legislation that will divide families, instill fear in immigrant communities, and drain local resources.

On the night of Thursday, June 1, the city of San Antonio, represented by Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), the Workers Defense Project, and city attorneys, filed suit against Texas over SB 4 – Austin intervened in that case as an interested party in a separate filing this morning. (Austin and San Antonio join the tiny border town of El Cenizo and El Paso County, which both filed suit in May.)

“Make no mistake about it, Governor Greg Abbott picked a fight with Texas families when he signed SB 4,” said Jose Garza of Workers Defense Project, during a press call on June 1. “And it’s a fight he’s not going to win.”

The suit challenges nearly every part of SB 4, claiming it violates the Fourteenth, Fourth, and First Amendments of the U.S. Constitution and pre-emption of federal immigration law, explained Thomas Saenz of MALDEF during the June 1 press call. “Each and every provision of SB 4 will cause real and immediate injury,” he said. The bill intentionally discriminates against the Latino community and requires individual police officers to engage in racial profiling, the suit charges.

“We want our day in court because for far too long the Texas Legislature has been playing political football with the safety of our city and now we get to move to a different forum,” Mayor Steve Adler told press Friday morning, June 2. “One of the main impetuses behind the city filing suit is the keen and earnest desire to keep this community safe.”

Austin’s filing makes note of Texas’ long history of passing laws that discriminate against Hispanic communities as well as Gov. Abbott’s threat to “hammer Travis County” and his payback on county services for Sheriff Sally Hernandez’s ICE policies. The threat of SB 4 negatively impacts the local community and has caused a “break down in public trust,” Austin city attorneys wrote, as affected individuals feel they can’t contact municipal and nongovernmental agencies out of fear of immigration enforcement. They provide the example of members of community organizations running out to get “milk and diapers” for immigrant families now living in the shadows, too scared to leave their homes. City services that typically see Hispanic clients have reported a “sharp drop” in people showing up for services. As SB 4 looms, crime victims and AISD students are also feeling the impact:

“In recent months, the Austin Police Department has encountered crime victims, or close relatives of crime victims, who are unwilling to engage in the criminal justice system out of fear that they or their close relatives will be at increased risk of immigration enforcement and deportation,” the 18-page filing reads. “At the Austin Independent School District, students have missed class due to fears that ICE agents will capture undocumented residents on the way to or from school.”

Mayor Adler, Council Member Greg Casar, and Police Chief Brian Manley, have spoken out publicly against the damaging effects of SB 4 on numerous occasions, and Casar led a sit-in at the Governor’s office to protest the future law. In retaliation, Attorney General Ken Paxton filed suit against the city and its Council just one day after the bill signing. Adler slammed the Texas suit as “bogus” to press while Saenz called it “frivolous” especially in comparison with the actual harm SB 4 will cause immigrant families living in Texas cities. City attorneys are currently asking a federal judge to toss out that suit on a handful of legal grounds. If not dismissed, the A.G.’s lawsuit would set a “dangerous precedent” allowing the state official to file suit against public officials for “potentially raising their voice or potentially filing a lawsuit,” noted Casar to press on Friday.

Despite the legal challenge from the state’s top attorney, Austin City Council passed a resolution last month to initiate its own suit against Texas to protect local law enforcement and immigrant families. Other Texas cities are expected to follow this summer.

When asked if he would violate the law if it does go into effect in September, a steadfast Alder responded: “I can’t imagine a situation where I would stop enforcing what I thought is right for the city of Austin – that’s why I was elected.”

Read a copy of the Austin court filing against Texas here.

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Immigration, Mayor Steve Adler, Senate Bill 4, Greg Abbott

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