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This Week in Texas: San Antonio and Austin Sue Texas, While Texas Sues Everyone

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San Antonio and Austin sue Texas over SB 4

This week in Texas, San Antonio and Austin sued the state over the anti-immigrant and discriminatory​ “show me your papers” law, ​SB 4 . The Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) formally filed the lawsuit on behalf of San Antonio as well as the Texas Association of Chicanos in Higher Education, the Workers Defense Project and La Union Del Pueblo Entero, arguing that SB 4 would violate the First, Fourth, and 14th Amendments to the Constitution. Austin joined onto the San Antonio suit today after the City Council voted to sue two weeks ago.

Two other lawsuits against Texas have already been filed, one from the city of El Cenizo and Maverick County on May 9, and one from El Paso County and the Texas Organizing Project in mid-May. ​​The pressure continues to mount for other cities, especially Dallas and Houston, to join existing or file their own lawsuits against SB 4.

The various lawsuits are likely to eventually be consolidated. As San Antonio City Councilman Rey Saldaña said:

I think that if we’re going to go into litigation against the state it should be a coalition of cities. Texas cities need to band together in fighting back a legislature that has lost sight of problem solving and is wholly consumed by the politics of manufacturing fear and anger towards the most vulnerable in our community.

Austin City Councilmember Greg Casar and other advocates today said they hoped that more cities and organizations would continue to join the legal effort, pointing out that cities around the country joined a San Francisco lawsuit against Trump on sanctuary cities up until the day a ruling was announced.

There may be an immediate political consequence related to the San Antonio lawsuit: the city’s current mayor, Ivy Taylor, opposes the suit, and she is facing lawsuit-supporter Councilman Ron Nirenberg next week in a run-off for her reelection.

Texas is suing everybody

In an effort to preempt and intimidate cities, counties, and organizations that oppose the state, Texas is suing everyone involved in any lawsuit against SB 4.

That list ​includes Travis County, Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez, the city of Austin including its Mayor and all of its City Council members (including the lone Councilmember who opposed suing the state over SB 4), El Paso County, Sheriff of El Paso County Richard Wiles, the city of El Cenizo; El Cenizo Mayor Raul Reyes, Maverick County Sheriff Tom Schmerber, the Texas Organizing Project Education Fund (TOPEF), MALDEF, and the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), and more.

Texas’ effort started on May 8, just hours after Gov. Greg Abbott signed SB 4 into law over Facebook Live. The state announced its preemptive lawsuit asking the US District Court for the Western District of Texas to uphold the constitutionality of SB 4 and targeted the city of Austin, its elected officials, and MALDEF. This week, Texas amended its suit to add every party that has, to date, sued to stop the law.

Texas is trying to intimidate cities and organizations from joining the legal effort against it, in addition to attempting to force a pro-SB 4 ruling from a jurisdiction that is friendly to its arguments.

​Civil rights attorney Mimi Marziani of the Texas Civil Rights Project, which is representing TOPEF in their lawsuit​, called Texas’ efforts an “abuse of the federal court system” and a “waste of taxpayer money”, noting that its claims against the defendants do nothing more than state the fact that the defendants are suing the state.


(It should be remembered that Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott, and courts in Texas have already done grave harm to immigrants in their families — it was Texas, Abbott, and District Judge Andrew Hanen in 2014-15 who blocked President Obama’s DAPA program, which would’ve provided millions of immigrants with relief from deportation.)

Rinaldi DID call ICE, and that’s bad for Texas

On Memorial Day, more than a thousand protesters rallied outside the state Capitol against SB 4 — while Republican state Rep. Matt Rinaldi lost his temper, threatened to shoot another lawmaker, and said of protesters who appeared Latino, “fuck them, I called ICE.”

ICE confirmed that a call was logged around the right time — and that may be bad news for Texas’ legal efforts. Jose Garza, one of the attorneys in the El Paso suit, said the incident will “almost assuredly” be used to help establish in court that the Texas legislature passed SB 4 with “discriminatory intent.”

Garza continued: “This was a peaceful protest and many were citizens, and Rinaldi sicced ICE on them because they were brown.”

That would make Rinaldi’s episode a Trump-level mistake, considering the multiple lawsuits the president has lost in part because courts used his own words against him. Rinaldi’s comments also drew protests this week from advocates who wanted him to know they’ll be working to oust him in 2018.

Important reads this week in Texas

Victoria DeFrancesco Soto, NBC, “Calling Immigration on Latinos Protesting SB4 is Racial Profiling”:

Siccing ICE on people who annoy you, now that’s a new low in politics. What Rinaldi did is especially troubling in light of the signing into law of SB4, which allows individuals to be questioned about their citizenship status while detained, including during traffic stops. The new law of the land in Texas, which takes effect Sept. 1, encourages racial profiling…

Would Rinaldi have called immigration authorities if the protesters were white women or African-Americans? He called Immigration authorities because the crowd was overwhelmingly Latino.

Four out of 10 Texans is Latino.

SB4 essentially puts a cloud of suspicions on close to half of the state’s population.

Jonathan Blitzer, New Yorker, “Why Police Chief Oppose Texas’ New Anti-Immigrant Law“:

Police chiefs have been speaking out against the bill since it was introduced in the State Senate, last fall. “It’s kind of amazing that, during the initial hearing, the senators had all these chiefs and sheriffs from across Texas speaking against the bill—and they totally ignored the people in law enforcement,” the El Paso County sheriff, Richard Wiles, told me this week. He said that his staff is overworked as it is. “My officers are too busy to waste their time doing another agency’s work,” he said. “If there is an officer who wants to do this, we can’t stop him under the new law. The only area where one of my officers could now be allowed to go out there and ignore his own bosses is on immigration. It’s crazy”…

Art Acevedo, the Houston police chief, saw an irony in this. “Texas politicians always complain that Washington is trying to dictate to them how to do things,” he told me. “Now they’re turning around and doing the same thing to the cities in their own state.”

Debbie Nathan, Austin Chronicle, “DPS Troopers Push Undocumented Immigrants Into a Deportation Pipeline“:

Texas Department of Public Safety troopers are rounding up undocumented immigrants on the state’s highways and roads and pushing them into a pipeline for deportation – but no one knows how many people are being affected. DPS’s system for counting the detainees is grossly flawed and inaccurate. A Chronicle investigation suggests that the department is undercounting, missing most handover incidents in the statistics it compiles for the public…

State Sen. José Rodríguez, D-El Paso, earlier this year requested an enumeration of incidents from December 2015 to March 2017 in which DPS agents on roads and highways referred detained Texans to the Border Patrol. DPS sent Rod­rí­guez a county-by-county, month-by-month chart indicating fewer than 300 incidents, but the Chronicle has obtained documentation for several handover incidents unrecorded in the data given to Rodríguez. The omission suggests that the number of actual incidents is far higher than the DPS is saying. Outside of that agency, and possibly even inside, no one knows how many immigrants’ lives are being damaged or ruined because of these stops and handovers, along with the lives of their families – including their children, who are typically American citizens.