Opponents of Texas’ Senate Bill 4 banning so-called sanctuary cities delivered a 23,574-signature petition to Gov. Greg Abbott on Friday afternoon, with a rowdy news conference on the Capitol steps meant to show that opposition to the law isn’t going away.
“We cannot let SB 4 stand in Texas because we know it could spread across the country,” Austin City Council Member Greg Casar said.
He joined with leaders from Dallas, New York, Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Seattle, San Francisco, Minneapolis, Portland, Ore., and others to vow to continue fighting the measure.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sued Austin, Travis County and local officials just hours after Abbott signed SB 4 into law in May, seeking a ruling on the state’s right to punish localities for declining to cooperate with immigration authorities. Numerous Texas cities and counties, including Austin, Travis County, San Antonio, Houston and Dallas, countersued.
SB 4 set civil and criminal penalties for police and elected officials — including arrest or removal from office — if they block cooperation with federal requests to detain jail inmates suspected of being in the country illegally.
The new law also allows officers to inquire about a person’s immigration status during routine police encounters, such as traffic stops.
Proponents of the law say it will promote public safety by keeping criminals off the streets and preventing them from evading immigration hearings that would lead to deportations. Opponents say SB 4 will lead to racial profiling and break apart immigrant families over minor infractions.
Activists have kept up their protests amid immigration raids in the area in recent months. Casar spoke of residents in his North Austin district taping sheets over their windows, keeping their children home from school and being afraid to report sexual assaults.
Friday’s news conference was part of a two-day convening of the liberal municipal association Local Progress, which brought nearly 150 local officials to Austin, the organization said. Members are meeting Friday and Saturday on topics centering on how to resist policies like SB 4 and build progressive local power for 2018 elections.
“It’s a disgusting time in this country’s history that we are living,” New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said.
As the crowd stood outside in over 100-degree heat, state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, joked that it was a cool day for Texas but a time to keep the heat on politicians.
“I will not work on behalf of, I will instead fight, any distortion and degradation of the law and the Constitution that some of the people in this building are setting aside, even as they swore to uphold it,” Watson said.
The rally ended with guest of honor Jeanette Visguerra, an activist who spent three months living in a Denver church to avoid immigration authorities.
“Your fight is my fight,” Visguerra said. “Today we are delivering a petition to Gov. Abbott signed by 23,500 people who couldn’t be with us in person, so they’re sending their names, because their hearts are with the people of Texas to say no to SB 4 and other anti-immigrant laws.”
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