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Demonstrators arrested after staging sit-in at state office to protest ‘sanctuary’ bill

Tuesday, May 2, 2017 by KUT News

State troopers began arresting demonstrators who had staged an all-day sit-in at a state office building to protest legislation banning so-called “sanctuary” jurisdictions Monday. City Council Member Greg Casar was arrested and cited with a Class B misdemeanor for Criminal Trespassing among nearly 20 other protesters.

Dozens of people staged the sit-in at the Texas State Insurance Building, calling for Gov. Greg Abbott to reject Senate Bill 4, which would require cooperation with warrantless detainer requests from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Minister Jim Rigby of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church was among the first to be taken into custody. A crowd outside the building chanted, “We stand with you.”

Abbott made the issue an emergency item for the legislative session and has publicly criticized Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez’s policy regarding the warrantless requests. Abbott also pulled $1.5 million in criminal justice grants from the county because of the policy, which honors requests only if someone has been charged with murder, human trafficking or aggravated sexual assault.

Casar, Austin Community College Trustee Julie Ann Nitsch, Rigby and other religious leaders joined the sit-in, which was organized by the immigrant advocacy group Grassroots Leadership.

Casar described the bill, known as SB 4, to KUT’s Audrey McGlinchy as “unconstitutional” and “anti-immigrant.” He said he believes the bill, which would allow law enforcement to inquire about an individual’s immigration status during detainment, not merely after an individual is arrested, would jeopardize relations between the Austin Police Department and immigrant communities.

“This law basically wants to turn our police officers into folks asking to show me your papers,” Casar said. “(Abbott) wants to force local jails into holding immigrants without a warrant for deportation. And, I think this law is unconstitutional, and we’re going to fight it to the end.”

Around two dozen of the demonstrators blocked off entrances in the building lobby, chanting refrains of “We will not be moved” and “This entrance is closed.” Protesters say they intend to stay in the lobby until Abbott agrees to veto the bill or until they’re arrested by police.

In a Facebook Live video with Lone Star Politics, Cristina Parker, an immigration projects coordinator for Grassroots Leadership, said a judge was brought in to issue citations. If protesters still refuse to leave, they will be arrested and charged with trespassing.

Following his arrest, Casar released a statement. It read, in part:

“Today, a group of clergy, elected officials, community leaders and I staged a sit-in at Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s office. We demanded that Governor Abbott veto the unconstitutional and anti-immigrant bill known as Senate Bill 4, instead of signing it into law. I did not, and do not, expect that Governor Abbott will do the right thing. Communities across Texas have worked tirelessly for months to stop Senate Bill 4. We will only defeat this dangerous and discriminatory law if we continue to fight it every step of the way.

“Senate Bill 4 is just one more example of racist and unconstitutional mandates enacted by Texas’ top leaders and turns local law enforcement into Trump’s deportation force. By requiring sheriffs to hold immigrants in their jails for deportation and by allowing police across the state to conduct ‘show me your papers’ searches, the Governor and his cronies are sending a clear message to non-citizen families: ‘we’re coming for you.’ This is the most dangerous legislative threat to immigrants in this country…

“In an authoritarian manner, Senate Bill 4 also empowers the Attorney General to remove elected officials, like myself, from office, if we refuse to go along with their unjust mandates. Today’s action was proof that many of us across Texas, despite the State’s coercion, have drawn a line in the sand and declared that we refuse to betray our community. Instead, we fight. We will fight them in the courts, in our halls of government, and by organizing in our communities.”

Story by Andrew Weber, with reporting by Audrey McGlinchy. Photo: City Council Member Greg Casar joined a protest at the Texas State Insurance Building to protest Senate Bill 4, which would regulate so-called “sanctuary” jurisdictions. Photo by Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon/KUT This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT.

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