STATEMENT: TOP Applauds Houston for Joining Lawsuit to Stop SB4

Houson skyline

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

Abstaining:
At-Large 5 – Jack Christie

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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 organizetexas.org.

Statement in Response to Mayor Turner’s SB4 Comments

SB4 Austin

The following is a statement by Mary Moreno, director of communications of the Texas Organizing Project, in response to Mayor Sylvester Turner’s comments today at city council:

“The Mayor is right that we need to be in Austin during special session protesting SB4. We were there during the regular session and will return.

“And he’s right when he says that he doesn’t have the power to repeal SB4. But that is not what the community has asked of him.

“All the people who speak so passionately about SB4, as he acknowledged, have a clear ask: file a lawsuit to stop SB4. We make this ask of him because he is our mayor. We want him to show he is on our side, that he will do whatever is in his power to make sure that the rights of all Houstonians are protected.

“We need him to show that he will stand up to Gov. Greg Abbott when he signs laws that effectively encourage and legalize racial profiling.

“Mayor Turner should join Texans fighting against discrimination and file suit to stop SB4. And when we do go to Austin, we’ll do so confident that back home, our mayor has our back.”

Civil Rights Groups, Fearing Racial Profiling, Sue Texas Over SB 4

Houston members

And so it begins: Civil rights groups and local government leaders have sued Governor Greg Abbott and the great state of Texas over the so-called “show me your papers” bill, Senate Bill 4.

Alongside El Paso County and its sheriff, Richard Wiles, the Texas Civil Rights Project filed the federal lawsuit on behalf of the Texas Organizing Project Education Fund, alleging that SB 4 is a discriminatory, unconstitutionally vague bill that encourages racial profiling and violates protections against unlawful search and seizure. The plaintiffs have also named Attorney General Ken Paxton and Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw as defendants.

“For over a quarter-century, TCRP has successfully challenged discriminatory laws targeting immigrant communities in Texas. SB4 is no different,” Efrén C. Olivares, the racial and economic justice director with the Texas Civil Rights Project, said in a statement. “All Texans, regardless of their immigration status, deserve to live free of harassment and discrimination. The ‘show me your papers’ law targets communities that have been attacked by both the state and federal governments already, further upending the lives of immigrant families throughout Texas.”

Slated to go into effect in September, SB 4 prohibits law enforcement agencies from adopting any policy that “discourages” officers from asking people about their immigration status. Police can ask about immigration status not just during an arrest, but while detaining someone for any purpose. The law also requires all sheriffs and police chiefs to honor ICE detainers, which are requests that suspected undocumented immigrants be held in the county jail until federal agents can pick them up. Should police leaders fail to “enforce immigration law,” they can be removed from office and charged with a crime; their jurisdictions can also face a steep civil fine. As the plaintiffs argue, “immigration law” is too vague for such a high price to be paid. The law even says police can’t “endorse” policies that conflict with SB 4, which seems to indicate that even just voicing a dissenting opinion publicly can cause police to lose their badge. Plaintiffs argue this chills First Amendment rights.

The real crux of the lawsuit, though, is its focus on how SB 4 could invite racial profiling, therefore violating the equal protection clause of the Constitution.

TCRP pulled no punches in introducing SB 4, saying that “SB 4 invites racial profiling, permitting officers to demand ‘papers’ from virtually any person in Texas at any time. History and logic supports that all Texans will not be equally subject to this harassment: Texans of Hispanic heritage and immigrants and their families, particularly those from Mexico, Central America and other Spanish-speaking countries, will be targeted.”

“We’ve joined this lawsuit because SB4 would be destructive and hurtful, not only to the people of color who will be subject to increased racial profiling, but to the state’s economy and safety,” said Michelle Tremillo, executive director of the Texas Organizing Project. “It seems everyone in this state, except the white men who voted for SB4, is aware that nothing good will come from this law.”

In El Paso, more than 82 percent of residents are Hispanic, according to the lawsuit. As police leaders from El Paso, Houston, Austin, San Antonio, Dallas and Arlington have made clear to lawmakers, they believe that SB 4 actually poses a public safety threat given that it will erode trust between police and immigrant communities, possibly causing them to fear reporting crimes and cooperating with police as witnesses. (Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo, in fact, railed against the law during an impassioned speech last month.)

“It is insulting to the people and leaders of El Paso that the Texas Legislature continues to erode the policy decision-making and sovereignty of local communities based on irrational, unfounded ‘fears’ of immigrants,” TCRP wrote in the lawsuit. Taking away local police leaders’ ability to create their own policies related to immigration, TCRP also argues SB 4 violates separation of powers.

Last week, city leaders from all of those cities announced their support for litigation, indicating that they would be launching a coordinated protest against SB 4 through lawsuits and organized action this summer.

Like every highly controversial piece of legislation that comes out of the Texas Lege, be it voting rights restrictions, reproductive rights restrictions or LGBT rights restrictions, the legal battles are bound to extend for months or years.

This time, in fact, Paxton was, oddly, the first to take legal action regarding SB 4, asking a federal court to declare the law constitutional so that advocacy groups would have to settle down. Apparently, that hasn’t slowed them down.

This story originally appeared 5/23/2017 in the Houston Press.