Sanctuary cities bill protest draws hundreds downtown

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As the so-called sanctuary cities faced scrutiny inside a federal court downtown Monday, hundreds including elected officials and the area’s leader of the Catholic Church, gathered outside to protest Senate Bill 4.

“When you have entire swaths of our community that are afraid to work with out police departments … that does not advance public safety,” Mayor Ron Nirenberg told the crowd. “That makes it more likely to have an intolerant community where people are afraid to talk to the police and we have a broken down community relations.”

As least 100 people had queued in front of the John H. Wood Federal Courthouse awaiting entrance to U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia’s court for the hearing on a preliminary injunction request on Senate Bill 4, which punishes local governments who prevent police from asking about immigration status and requires jails to honor immigration detainers

Outside the courthouse, about 750 protesters were addressed throughout the day by various organization leaders.

Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller prayed to the crowd and then addressed the protesters.

“We are already divided. There is a lot of violence and a lot of anger,” Garcia-Siller said in an interview after the prayer. “A law like this, SB4, it just deepens the scenario.”

The hearing to block SB4, which Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law last month, might take up to two days for oral arguments, according to a judge’s order in the case.

The United States, which filed a request late last week to be heard, will have 30 minutes to present its statement. The City of Dallas may have 15 minutes to make a statement and proposed intervenors the City of Houston and Texas Association of Hispanic County Judges and County Commissioners will have 10 minutes each to make a statement, the judge’s order said.

Nirenberg was joined by other officials including Austin Mayor Steve Adler and Austin Councilman Greg Casar and Houston Councilman Robert Gallegos.

Councilman Rey Saldaña and Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff were inside testifying against the bill, Nirenberg said.

A few people occasionally chanted “Hey-hey, ho-ho, SB4 has got to go!’ as a stage was set up for speakers, with rain dousing the crowd at around 11:30 a.m.

At one point, a man identified only as Alex, who wore a “Trump 2020” campaign t-shirt caused an uproar when he began chanting “No illegal immigrants!”

San Antonio Alliance union organizer Katy Bravenec shouted in response “I’m an immigrant,” as he chanted.

The man tried to get around her, but she would not move when he put his hands on her shoulders and slightly attempted to push her back.

The man was escorted out of the area by Department of Homeland Security officers, who said he was agitating the crowd. They added that he could be escorted away because the group protesting there had a permit for use of the area.

Michelle Tremillo, executive director of the Texas Organizing Project, recalled Proposition 187 when it was introduced to California legislation in 1994.

She said the bill was introduced in response to Latinos gaining influence in the area.

“They thought (Latinos) would leave the state and retreat into the shadows,” she said, comparing it to the bill . “That is why SB4 was passed. That is why it was an emergency item.”

During his prayer, Garcia-Siller asked for God to help all sides involved in SB4.

“We ask you to hear our prayer for reconciliation, that the separation between us may be overcome,” he said.

State and local organizations addressing the audience included the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, MOVE San Antonio and La Union del Pueblo Entero.

State Sen. Charles Perry, author of SB4, released a statement Monday afternoon saying that the law is not about taking on a federal immigration role, but partnering with law enforcement to keep those who commit dangerous crimes off the streets.

“The public understands that law enforcement officials should not help those found guilty of serious crimes, such as sexual assault and burglary, evade immigration detainers,” Perry said in the statement, saying there is much misinformation and fear-mongering surrounding the bill.

During the rally, state Senators Diego Bernal and José Menéndez said members of the senate voted no to amendments that would narrow down the scope of SB4 such as exempting victims of domestic abuse, giving a border patrol exam to law enforcement, and exempting crimes of traffic stops and jaywalking.

“We asked for compliance with the civil rights act, what do you think they said?,” Menéndez asked. “No,” the crowd responded.

“This bill is really a law that’s looking for a solution,” Menéndez said.

This story originally appeared 6/26/2017 in the San Antonio Express-News.

Protesters Surround Courthouse as First Major SB 4 Hearing Begins

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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.

STATEMENT: TOP Applauds Houston for Joining Lawsuit to Stop SB4

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The following is a statement by Mary Moreno, communications director of the Texas Organizing Project, on the vote by the Houston City Council to join the lawsuit to stop Texas’ show-me-your-papers law, SB4:

“We applaud Mayor Sylvester Turner and the council members who voted to join the lawsuit to stop SB4.

“We also thank Council Member Robert Gallegos for asking for a roll call vote so that people know what side each council member stands on: with the people or with Gov. Greg Abbott and President Donald Trump.

“And we thank all our state representatives and senators who took time yesterday to testify in front of the council to urge them to join the lawsuit. It was inspiring to hear their stories that connect them to this fight in such a personal way.

“We are proud of our city today for standing up to a law which if enacted will only serve to encourage and legalize racial profiling. We are proud of our Mayor and council members who remembered that they represent all Houstonians, and who understand that just because a law is passed does not mean it is just. And that we shouldn’t depend on someone else to fight for us.

“Houston joining the lawsuit sends a strong message to Gov. Abbott and President Trump. We will not be coerced or intimidated into being a party to their campaign of hate and division. We will not let their dog whistle politics that aim to criminalize and marginalize people of color go unanswered or unchallenged.

“We still have a long road ahead in defeating SB4. But today was a good day for justice.”

Yes votes:
Mayor Sylvester Turner
District B – Jerry Davis
District C – Ellen Cohen
District D – Dwight Boykins
District H – Karla Cisneros
District I – Robert Gallegos
District J – Mike Laster
District K – Larry Green
At-Large 2 – David Robinson
At-Large 4 – Amanda Edwards

No votes:
District A – Brenda Stardig
District E – Dave Martin
District F – Steve Le
District G – Greg Travis
At-Large 1 – Mike Knox
At-Large 3 – Michael Kubosh

At-Large 5 – Jack Christie


Texas Organizing Project organizes Black and Latino communities in Texas’ three largest counties with the goal of transforming Texas into a state where working people of color have the power and representation they deserve. For more information, visit