Friday, June 2, 2017 by KUT News

Updated: City of Austin joins San Antonio in lawsuit against ‘sanctuary cities’ law

By Stephanie Federico

The City of Austin has filed a legal challenge to the state’s new “sanctuary city” law, joining a suit filed Thursday by the City of San Antonio.

“Elected leaders across the state are following the leadership of community members who have called for a Summer of Resistance against the immoral and unconstitutional SB 4,” City Council Member Greg Casar said, referring to the law, Senate Bill 4. “Today Austin is proud to join San Antonio, El Paso, and El Cenizo in challenging SB 4 in court for threatening the safety and constitutional rights of our community.”

San Antonio filed the lawsuit Thursday, along with the Workers Defense Project and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF). El Paso County and the city of El Cenizo have already filed challenges to the law.

“Soon after Gov. Abbott signed this disgraceful law, community groups announced a summer of resistance against (Senate Bill 4), calling on elected officials to file challenges against the law in court,” Casar said. “City leaders have responded swiftly. Upon filing suit against the State of Texas tomorrow morning, El Paso, El Cenizo, San Antonio and Austin all will have responded to the community’s call.”

The lawsuit alleges SB 4 violates the First, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution. It names the State of Texas, Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton as defendants. El Paso County and the city of El Cenizo have already filed challenges to the law.

The lawsuit calls the law discriminatory and alleges it will lead to racial profiling. It specifically references an incident on the House floor Monday in which state Rep. Matt Rinaldi (R-Irving) said he called U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement on protesters with the Workers Defense Project, who were demonstrating against SB 4.

“Make no mistake about it: Greg Abbott picked a fight with Texas families when he signed SB 4,” Jose Garza, executive director of the Workers Defense Project, said on the conference call. “That is not a fight he’s going to win.”

Austin City Council members voted last month to pursue litigation. Casar, who was arrested during a sit-in to protest the bill, has called it “anti-immigrant.” He has said it also would jeopardize relations between the Austin Police Department and immigrant communities.

Paxton filed a federal lawsuit last month in a preemptive attempt to head off legal challenges. The city of Austin has filed a motion to have that lawsuit thrown out. On Thursday, Thomas Saenz, president and general counsel of MALDEF, called the state’s lawsuit “frivolous” and said the plaintiffs in the San Antonio suit have real injuries and would suffer if the law is implemented.

“The case that’s filed this evening is the only appropriate venue to determine the constitutionality of SB 4,” he said.

The law, which would go into effect Sept. 1 if it passes legal hurdles, requires city and county law enforcement to comply with all requests from Immigration and Customs Enforcement to hold people suspected of being in the country illegally. It also allows law enforcement to ask a person’s immigration status during a routine detainment, such as a traffic stop, and punishes elected officials and law enforcement officials for noncompliance.

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This story has been updated. It was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT. Photo by Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon/KUT.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Austin City Council: The Austin City Council is the body with legislative purview over the City of Austin. It offers policy direction, while the office of the City Manager implements administrative actions based on those policies. Until 2012, the body contained seven members, including the city's Mayor, all elected at-large. In 2012, City of Austin residents voted to change that system and now 10 members of the Council are elected based on geographic districts. The Mayor continues to be elected at-large.

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