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This Week in Texas: SB 4 Opponent Becomes San Antonio Mayor, Texas Civil Rights Project Releases Report on Voting Problems

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SB 4 opponent becomes San Antonio mayor

Earlier this week in Texas, San Antonio City Councilman Ron Nirenberg defeated incumbent Ivy Taylor to become the next mayor of San Antonio in Saturday’s runoff election. Taylor’s defeat is proof of the growing momentum against SB4, Texas’ anti-immigrant “show me your papers” law, as she opposed San Antonio’s city council vote to sue the state of Texas. Nirenberg, on the other hand, strongly opposed SB 4 and campaigned in favor of legal action.

Councilman Nirenberg said of SB4 during the campaign:

I’ve said from the beginning I agree with local law enforcement that SB4 is bad legislation. I don’t think the state government should punish local law enforcement for the federal government’s failure to do its job.

Texas Civil Rights Project Report: Thousands had problems voting in 2016

Hundreds of Texas voters, particularly minority voters, faced problems during the 2016 election cycle, according to a new report from the Texas Civil Rights Project released yesterday. Also involved in the project were the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the Texas Organizing Project Education Fund and Texas Common Cause.

The report on Texas voter issues was the first of its kind and was informed by more than 4,000 complaints, from voter delays to confusion with Texas voter ID laws. But officials at TCRP said it’s safe to assume that many more Texans experienced similar obstacles but did not know who to report their story to. Not every voter who spoke to the organization identified their race, but over three-quarters did, and more than 70% of those said they were Hispanic or African-American.

Among the problems highlighted in the report:

  • Hundreds of voters (of the 4,000 TCRP spoke to) who were not on voter rolls because of slight discrepancies in their names or addresses
  • Voters during both early voting and on Election Day who called to report confusion about voter ID requirements, often prompted by misleading information at polling locations or inaccurate information from poll workers
  • 57% of calls were related to polling location problems, for example because polling sites were changed or eliminated. Most of these complaints came from predominately black areas of Houston
  • Many voters reporting wait times in excess of one hour, due to there being too few poll workers or too many inoperable or underutilized machines

As the Houston Chronicle noted:

The report comes nearly a year after a federal appeals court first ruled the state’s strict voter ID law passed in 2011 discriminated against minorities and the poor...Texas routinely ranks at the bottom of voter turnout nationally and critics have long blamed the state’s laws for keeping 4 million potential voters from participating in elections.

Dallas News: SB 4 is symptom of Texas Republicans’ extremism

At the Dallas News, state government reporter James Barragán recapped the story of how SB 4 came to be passed. Part of the story, he says, involves Texas’ business community, which in previous years had fought stridently against SB 4. This year, they were preoccupied with defeating a bathroom bill that may still come up in the legislature’s July special session. But part of the story, Barragán writes, has to do with the increasing extremism of Texas’ Republicans. Here’s an excerpt:

Some Democrats say that business leaders stuck with them, but their business-minded Republican colleagues abandoned them. Those lawmakers, they said, capitulated to Republican primary voters who rabidly pursued a crackdown on sanctuary cities despite possible economic repercussions to the state.

“This Legislature has dealt with this kind of policy over and over again, and we always made the decision that this is bad policy for Texas and stopped it one way or another,” said Manny Garcia, deputy executive director of the Texas Democratic Party. “They no longer held up their end of the bargain.”

Democrats had previously found allies in House Republicans who worked with them to delay the bill in committees or kill it through other procedural moves. This time around, he said, that was different.

The leadership of [Lt. Gov. Dan] Patrick, a staunch conservative and early Trump supporter, in the Senate and the rise of the tea party-inspired Freedom Caucus in the House were signs of that shift, which prioritized social issues popular with grassroots conservatives over business ideals. It was Freedom Caucus members who reintroduced some of the toughest provisions in the law after they had been stripped during the committee process.

Democrat leaders said the willingness of Republicans in the Texas House to allow those changes showed that the party had drastically changed.

“Those who participate in Republican politics are, it seems to me, increasingly harsh and shrill and intolerant of diversity and immigrants,” Turner said. “You have people like Donald Trump, people like Dan Patrick who have been eager to feed into that phenomenon. All those factors came together to create the environment to pass a very harsh bill.”

Abbott declined to comment for this story, but in a New York Times interview seemed to agree that Texas voters have changed.

“It’s very palpable that the people in the state of Texas are more conservative than they were decades ago when I first got elected” as a state Supreme Court justice and later as attorney general, he said. “And the conservatives are more organized.”

San Antonio Archbishop on SB 4: “Bad laws have bad effects”

Finally, the Valley Morning Star published an op-ed from Archbishop Gustavo-García-Siller, who leads the Archdiocese of San Antonio. The Archbishop writes about SB 4’s demonization of immigrants, the pretext the law creates for asking immigrants about their status, and the fear it engenders within the community. “Bad laws have bad effects,” the Archbishop writes, and opponents of the law must go on fighting to ensure that those bad effects are minimized. His op-ed is below:

During the legislative debate, the rhetorical pitch of anti-immigrant sentiment reached high levels.

As we now know, enflamed rhetoric engenders enflamed rhetoric.

And, as has happened on the national level, this new Texas state law encourages the notion that the immigrant community is defined by the criminals in our midst — instead of defined by the fact that most immigrants are working families with children.

These things generate fear in the immigrant community.

The public debate often makes it sound as if all immigrants are criminals because they are here without proper documentation.

Overstaying a visa is not a criminal offense; it is a civil offense against a federal statute.

To be an immigrant without valid documentation does not make you a criminal.

Yes, immigrants without valid documents have infracted federal statutes; but they are not justly lumped together with human traffickers, drug dealers and murderers.

The Catholic Bishops of Texas opposed SB 4 as it was making its way through the Texas Legislature, and at the time of its passage encouraged the governor to veto it.

The law obscures the jurisdictional boundaries between enforcement of federal statutes and enforcement of state and local laws.

The law now explicitly says that local and state police “may ask” about immigration status at any point, beginning with routine police stops.

It was the inclusion of these “field enforcement” provisions in the law that was most vehemently opposed by the bishops as injurious to community trust in local law enforcement.

It is not the case, as the governor and others argue, that only criminals need to fear SB 4. This law promotes uncertainty and ambiguity.

People are now afraid that pretexts will be invented so that they can be stopped and asked about their immigration status.

Yes, the law prohibits discrimination and profiling, but the immigrant poor are not likely to have the resources or the counsel needed to defend themselves.

People get stopped, and they are desperately afraid. They immediately wonder about their children, and about their own safety if deported.

It is this uncertainty and potential panic at the moment of questioning that breeds fear and that hurts the community fabric.

And what happens, then, when some local and state police forces are inevitably more aggressive than others in exercising this “may ask” option?

Are they not encouraging immigrants to distrust all “potential askers”?

And does not such uncertainty make it less likely that crimes will be reported?

The Legislature passed the bill and the governor signed it into law, and so the whole state will have to deal with the ongoing consequences.

We are a nation of laws, as the governor says; unfortunately, not all our laws are good laws.

Bad laws have bad effects. For the Catholic bishops, this means we will step up our efforts to inform persons of their rights, including the right to remain silent, and to make available the best advice about what to do if you are stopped and are without valid documentation.

We will also work to repeal SB 4, or correct the most injurious aspects of this law. And we encourage all who oppose this law to work together in strenuous and peaceful ways toward this same end.