Democrats press to weaken or repeal Texas anti-sanctuary cities law
Cheers from more than 100 pro-immigration advocates wearing red T-shirts echoed off the north face of the Texas Capitol on Monday afternoon as a speaker read aloud a number of priorities for the legislative session. The final, loudest roar came in response to a call to repeal Texas’ law banning so-called sanctuary cities, known as Senate Bill 4.
“Immigrants are the ones who built this community, who built this country. They’re the ones who make America great,” state Sen. José Menéndez, D-San Antonio, told the crowd.
The Forza Texas rally was organized by a handful of liberal advocacy groups and was part of a daylong push of their immigration priorities to legislators at the Capitol.
Most of the discussion at the hour-long rally centered around the sanctuary cities ban. Members of the crowd launched into chants in English and Spanish between speakers, including “sí, se puede.”
Inside the Capitol, a number of immigration-related bills have already been filed, including S.B. 672 by Menéndez, which would entirely repeal Texas’ sanctuary cities ban.
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“S.B. 4 is a thinly veiled act of discrimination against people of color that erodes the trust between law enforcement and the community,” Menéndez told the crowd.
Foes of the sanctuary city law have long warned that it would hinder police investigations by making immigrants less likely to come forward as witnesses or victims of crime. The bill includes a provision allowing police to question immigration the immigration status of people detained or stopped — an invitation for law enforcement to profile people, opponents say.
Republican lawmakers say S.B. 4 simply requires local governments to help federal officials enforce immigration laws, and that cities and counties should have been doing so all along. Polls show immigration and border security are a big concern for Texas voters, with 37 percent calling them the most important matters facing the state, according to an October University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll.
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In December, the San Antonio Police Department became the target of the state’s first lawsuit to enforce the anti-sanctuary cities law when Attorney General Ken Paxton accused Chief William McManus of hindering federal immigration enforcement by releasing a dozen people suspected of being in the country illegally. They were found in the back of a tractor-trailer by police, who questioned and released them. The truck driver was arrested on a charge of smuggling of persons, but no charges were filed. District Attorney Nico LaHood blamed the police department for leaving his office without enough evidence to prosecute the driver, who went free.
While a repeal of the law is unlikely in a Legislature only two years out from first passing it, Menéndez said he filed the bill to show his displeasure with the law as it is, even if it might not be successful.
“You can’t just give up or let folks know you’re OK with the status quo,” Menéndez said. “I have to file things because they matter to me, they matter to (my constituents). They need to know there is someone who cares about how bad and how unjust and how discriminatory S.B. 4 is.”
A number of other bills that target specific provisions of the sanctuary city law have already been filed, including three measures from Sen. José Rodríguez, D-El Paso, that would water it down by repealing provisions that require local law enforcement to cooperate with federal immigration officers.
At the end of the rally, some of the youngest members crowd smashed a piñata reading “No S.B. 4” while rallygoers shouted encouragement.
“We don’t need it, and we don’t want it,” Menéndez said. “This bill doesn’t make us any safer.”