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City Of Austin Joins San Antonio In Lawsuit Against 'Sanctuary Cities' Law

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon
Protesters demonstrate against the new "sanctuary cities" law at the state Capitol on Monday.

The City of Austin has filed a legal challenge to the state's new "sanctuary city" law, joining a suit filed Thursday by the City of San Antonio.

“Elected leaders across the state are following the leadership of community members who have called for a Summer of Resistance against the immoral and unconstitutional SB 4,” City Council Member Greg Casar said, referring to the law, Senate Bill 4. “Today Austin is proud to join San Antonio, El Paso, and El Cenizo in challenging SB 4 in court for threatening the safety and constitutional rights of our community.”

San Antonio filed the lawsuit Thursday, along with the Workers Defense Project and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF). El Paso County and the city of El Cenizo filed challenges last month.

"For far too long, the Legislature has been playing political football with the safety of our city and other cities in Texas," Austin Mayor Steve Adler said. "And now we get to move to a different forum."

Austin City Council members voted last monthto pursue litigation. 

The lawsuit alleges SB 4 violates the First, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution. It names the State of Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton as defendants. 

"[SB 4] violates the equal protection clause of the Constitution by unlawfully having a very vague requirement that police departments not give any guidance to their police officers as it relates to how to deal with issues of immigration," said Casar, who was arrested last month during a sit-in to protest the bill. "It violates my First Amendment right to endorse policies and to disagree openly with state leaders. It violates peoples' Fourth Amendment right to not be held without a warrant."

The lawsuit calls SB 4 discriminatory and alleges it will lead to racial profiling. It specifically references an incident on the House floor Monday in which State Rep. Matt Rinaldi, R-Irving, said he called U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement on protesters with the Workers Defense Project, who were demonstrating against SB 4. 

"Make no mistake about it: Greg Abbott picked a fight with Texas families when he signed SB 4," Jose Garza, executive director of the WDP, said on the conference call. "That is not a fight he's going to win."

Attorney General Paxton filed a federal lawsuit last month in a pre-emptive attempt to head off legal challenges. The City of Austin has filed a motion to have that lawsuit thrown out. On Thursday, Thomas Saenz, president and general counsel of MALDEF, called the state's lawsuit "frivolous" and said the plaintiffs in the San Antonio suit have real injuries and would suffer if the law is implemented.

"The case that's filed this evening is the only appropriate venue to determine the constitutionality of SB 4," he said.  

The law, which would go into effect Sept. 1 if it passes legal hurdles, requires city and county law enforcement to comply with all requests from Immigration and Customs Enforcement to hold people suspected of being in the country illegally. It also allows law enforcement to ask a person’s immigration status during a routine detainment, such as a traffic stop, and punishes elected officials and law enforcement officials for noncompliance.

"This law provides that an elected official, such as myself, could be removed from office for endorsing a policy that is contrary to Senate Bill 4," Adler said. "Lest there be any question, I am today endorsing a policy that is different from that set out in Senate Bill 4."

This post has been updated.

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