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This Week in Texas: Attorney General Ken Paxton Wants Trump to End DACA, San Antonio Hears SB 4 Case

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Texas AG to Trump: End DACA or we’ll sue you

The big breaking news of the week involved a letter from Ken Paxton, the Attorney General of Texas, and the AGs of nine other states. The Attorneys General (and one Governor) threatened to sue Donald Trump unless he repeals Obama’s deferred action for childhood arrivals (DACA) program — an incredibly spiteful move apparently designed to underscore how much Texas and these other states hate immigrants.

As we all remember, the state of Texas and federal judge Andrew Hanen are already responsible for killing the deferred action for parents (DAPA) program, and Paxton now seeks to bring an anti-DACA suit to Hanen’s court.

As we (and others) have pointed out:

  • DACA is an incredibly successful program that has helped 750,000 immigrant youth succeed. The Trump Administration said just this month that DACA would continue for the time being. There’s no lower low than for Paxton, Texas, and the other states to go so determinedly after Dreamers.
  • DACA is popular. In a November 2016 poll, 58% of respondents wanted to keep DACA, with only 19% saying they felt strongly about its repeal. Perhaps for this reason, 15 out of the 26 states that originally joined with Texas against DAPA did not join this week’s letter to Trump.
  • Ken Paxton should mind his own business. The Texas Attorney General appeared in court this week to face his criminal court judge for the first time; he is charged with two counts of felony securities fraud.

Major Texas cities argue in favor of blocking SB 4 to federal judge in San Antonio

On Monday, leaders and attorneys from Austin, San Antonio, Houston, El Paso, MALDEF, LULAC, the Texas Civil Rights Project squared off against representation from the state of Texas and the state Attorney General’s office, as well as two Department of Justice lawyers. Meanwhile, advocates from all over the state demonstrated outside the courthouse, showing off signs and speaking out about the damage SB 4 would do to immigrant communities.

The advocates argued that SB 4 should be blocked until court cases against it are resolved, as it violates federal preemption, the 4th Amendment, and equal protection rights. They said that local police should not be forced to do the job of federal ICE agents and pointed out that the police and other officials could be jailed for deciding not to follow the anti-immigrant law. They also stressed the deeply harmful consequences of SB 4, which has already dissuaded immigrant families from participating in food programs and discouraged sexual assault victims from reporting crimes.

Texas and the attorneys from Trump’s Department of Justice, for their part, acted like they were defending a completely different law. They claimed that the effects of SB 4 are moderate and that the law is not mandatory. They said that the intent of SB 4 was to encourage local police to work more closely with ICE, but that it was OK if local police were too busy to do that. Judge Orlando Garcia was reportedly skeptical; it is not yet known when a decision on the injunction should be expected.

Court hears Texas’ preemptive case against Austin

On Thursday, attorneys from both sides actually squared off again on whether Texas’ preemptive lawsuit against Austin has any standing. The hearing was held at Austin’s United States Courthouse in front of US District Judge Sam Sparks. The state argued that since it was the first to file a lawsuit regarding the constitutionality of SB 4, the lawsuits AGAINST SB 4 should be consolidated and brought to court in Austin rather than San Antonio. Advocates against SB 4 argued that Texas’ preemptive lawsuit should be dropped because the state cannot prove any injury or damage for standing because the law goes into effect Sept. 1. Judge Sparks also provided no timeline on his decision.

Op-eds this week in Texas

This week, the Washington Post published an op-ed entitled “Texas’ new law on immigration policy is a blow to good policing”, which highlights how SB 4 will make all communities less safe by discouraging immigrants from interacting with the police. Below is an excerpt:

In addition to endangering community policing efforts, the law is a blow to social cohesion in a state with an estimated 1.7 million undocumented immigrants, many of whom have been in the United States for more than a decade and have children or other relatives who are U.S. citizens.

Now, police chiefs and sheriffs determined to cultivate closer ties with Hispanic communities would be hamstrung in dealing with freelancers on their forces who might prefer to detain day laborers for loitering. Powerless to prioritize more serious crimes over immigration violations, local police chiefs and sheriffs would be stripped of their authority.

Many Texas sheriffs, especially in rural counties, support the new law, which they say imposes uniformity on enforcement statewide. In fact, it does the opposite: The law does not require officers to inquire about immigration status; it blocks their superiors from prohibiting it. The effect is that even within the ranks of a single police force or sheriff’s office, commanders would be powerless to enforce consistency.

Meanwhile, San Antonio business leaders published an article called “SB4: A Bill That Takes the State Backward” at the San Antonio Express News. The article highlighted the price SB 4 will cause the state to pay, in its reputation, in legal expenses, and via the contributions that immigrants make:

Cheap political rhetoric comes at a high cost that Texas may now have to pay as a result of Senate Bill 4. Instead of Texas being regarded as a multicultural state that welcomes businesses, international students and visitors alike, our leaders have taken us backward, to the ugly racist past of our state.

Depending on how dirty our jeans are or how sweaty we look, Hispanics in Texas — and even foreign visitors — will be forced to produce proof of citizenship after being stopped by police on our way to Home Depot for gardening supplies, even if our families have been here for more than a century…

We also must respect the immigrant community that has sustained our economy for decades. There is no shame in that. We are better as a state because of their contributions to our communities.

SB 4 is now in the courts. Texas taxpayers will have to foot the bill for another expensive round of litigation in which the state will try to prove this law is constitutional and that prejudice was not a motivating factor. Federal courts have already ruled that the Texas Legislature showed discriminatory intent when it passed a voter ID bill and a redistricting map that diluted the voting strength of minorities. SB 4 will suffer the same fate.

In other SB 4 news

Dreamers from Fort Worth, Texas have called upon Mayor Betsy Price to join the lawsuits against SB 4. Major cities including Austin, San Antonio, Houston, Dallas, and El Paso — representing a quarter of Texas’ population — are already involved in the legal efforts against the state. As they wrote:

Cities in Texas — including Fort Worth — have a legal pathway to oppose laws that are unconstitutional and will negatively impact local communities. Doing so may require utilization of some tax payer dollars. But remaining neutral on this litigation is a higher price to pay.

When it comes to SB 4, too much is at stake for a wait-and-see approach.

Mexico has filed an affidavit against Texas and SB 4, saying that the law could “create a climate of persecution” among the state’s Mexican-American population. The affidavit was written by Mexico’s Secretary of Foreign Affairs and noted the highly “uncertain situation” faced by Texas Latinos.

The Harris County Voter Registrar is conducting the first-ever Spanish language Voter Deputy Registrar Training. The Texas Civil Rights Project published a statement saying it ”applauds this and any effort to ensure that all Texans can participate in our democracy, and we encourage other counties to follow Harris County’s lead.” In 2016, TCRP and a coalition of ten groups sent a letter to the then-Secretary of State requesting that Texas take immediate steps to comply with the federal Voting Rights Act by providing voter registration training materials in Spanish. Under the Texas Elections Code, it is a crime to handle a completed voter registration form in any Texas county without being trained as a deputy registrar for that county.

Read more about SB 4, Texas’ anti-immigrant law, here.