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Protesters Surround Courthouse as First Major SB 4 Hearing Begins

More than 100 activists flooded the federal courthouse in San Antonio Monday to voice opposition to the state’s new ban on “sanctuary cities” as the first major hearing on the new law gets underway.

Dozens of reporters, Democratic lawmakers and attorneys waited in line for about an hour Monday morning in front of the courthouse, which is expected to be packed. Groups including the Texas Organizing Project, Unite Here and LULAC rallied, chanting “Si, se puede” and “Hey hey, ho ho, SB 4 has got to go.” Several demonstrators carried signs reading “SB 4 is Hate.” Speakers including Austin City Council member Greg Casar, who was arrested in protest of the law earlier this year, rallied the crowd in English and Spanish.

Initially, courthouse security staff said they would only allow 15 of about 40 reporters present inside to cover the hearing. After reporters complained, security let in seven more members of the media.

Senator Jose Rodriguez, D-El Paso, said he showed up to the courthouse more than two hours before the hearing was scheduled to begin.

“Why? Because this is the most important lawsuit in the state and the country at this time,” Rodriguez told the Observer. “It’s anti-immigrant, racist, discriminates against Latinos.”

San Antonio — where Hispanics make up nearly two-thirds of city’s 1.4 million residents — is one of several cities, along with El Cenizo, Houston, Austin, Dallas and El Paso County, that are suing the state of Texas over Senate Bill 4.

At Monday’s hearing, national attorneys with the ACLU will argue that U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia should issue a preliminary injunction that would block SB 4 from taking effect on September 1 until the case is resolved. An immediate ruling isn’t expected and several attorneys have told the Observer they expect the case to end up at the U.S. Supreme Court.

The law would ban any local police agency from adopting “patterns or practices” that limits cooperation with federal immigration agents, and threatens to fine or jail elected officials who run afoul of its provisions. The law will also allow police to question the immigration status of anyone being detained — not just arrested — thanks to what’s called the “show me your papers” provision.

Critics of the law say it violates the First, Fourth and 14th amendments and that it is discriminatory against Hispanics and other racial minorities.

Legislative debate on the highly controversial topic brought tears and even death threats on the House floor this session. The measure is Governor Greg Abbott’s crackdown on “sanctuary cities,” a term that broadly refers to communities who choose not to prioritize deporting undocumented immigrants.

Garcia is a Clinton appointee who in 2014 overturned the state’s same-sex marriage ban. The hearing is being held in the the facility’s largest courtroom and electronics are not allowed.

Attorney General Ken Paxton is set to get a hearing on his pre-emptive suit over SB 4 that he filed in Austin on Thursday.

For more on the ins and outs of the case, read our comprehensive explainer on SB 4 and the legal battle in English and Spanish. Check back for more of the Observer’s continued “sanctuary cities” coverage.

This story originally appeared 6/26/2017 in The Texas Observer.