NEWS ARTICLE FROM María Cortés González may be reached at 546-6150; firstname.lastname@example.org; @EPTMaria on Twitter.
El Paso County will file a lawsuit against the state challenging the enactment of Senate Bill 4, also known as the “anti-sanctuary city” or “show me your papers” bill.
On Monday, the County Commissioners Court voted 4 to 1 to hire a San Antonio-based law firm, Garza Golando Moran PLLC, to represent the county in the lawsuit.
“We have stood with local law enforcement leaders. Not just locally, but law enforcement leaders across the state have been vocally and vehemently opposed to this legislation because of the amount of discretion it removes from them,” County Judge Veronica Escobar said before taking a vote.
“Local law enforcement leaders will not be able to draft their own policy for their own deputies and officers. They will not be able to discipline their own people as a result,” she said.
Commissioner Andrew Haggerty voted against hiring the firm.
“I think there’s a lot of fear mongering going on by different organizations trying to say that this now gives police the authority and ability to arrest anyone and everyone for being of color or to stop and search people at any time,” Haggerty said. “All SB 4 says is that we have to work with officials that we are already working with.”
He added, “to spend a lot of money to fight something for the fear mongering factor that I feel is there, I don’t agree with.”
Escobar said the county expects to allocate about $150,000 for the legal proceedings.
Senate Bill 4, which was signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott May 7, requires local police to cooperate with federal immigration agents and allows them to ask people they’ve detained for immigration documents. It’s set to go into effect Sept. 1.
”We actually have an agreement in federal court that says our officers will not enforce federal immigration law. Not only does the law signed by our governor take away our local law enforcement’s discretion, but it would cause us to immediately be in violation of a federal agreement,” she said.
She referred to a 2006 federal court settlement in which the county agreed to bar sheriff’s deputies from enforcing immigration law after a lawsuit alleged they were conducting checkpoints in an attempt to trap and arrest undocumented immigrants.
On Tuesday, the El Paso City Council will discuss joining a lawsuit to challenge SB 4 in court, but city attorneys last week would not confirm if it was the county’s suit they’re considering joining or others being drafted across the state.
The council will meet behind closed doors to talk about the legal implications of the law and share information on current litigation across the state, City Attorney Sylvia Borunda Firth told the El Paso Times last week.
The council has formally opposed the legislation, and in a March letter to legislative leaders Mayor Oscar Leeser said SB 4 puts a financial burden on local law enforcement and could keep victims of crime from calling police.
The League of United Latin American Citizens and the small border community of El Cenizo, Texas, have filed a lawsuit against the state’s so-called sanctuary cities ban.
In a preemptive move, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has filed a federal lawsuit in an attempt stop pro-immigrant rights groups such as LULAC and local officials from challenging the law.
Supporters of the bill say the measure was needed to adequately protect Texans from undocumented immigrants who commit crimes while in the United States.
Fernando Garcia, director of the Border Network for Human Rights in El Paso, and others against SB 4 cheered after the motion was passed by the commissioners on Monday.
“We are happy. This is a great day for El Paso communities. Historically, El Paso has been leading the charge against racism. The county started the proceedings to start a lawsuit against SB 4. That is exactly what the community wants,” Garcia said. “We just turned in a petition of more than 900 signatures commending them for taking this step.”
After the meeting, Escobar said it’s important for the county to take the lead and act aggressively against a bill that she called clearly racist.
“This community has a lot at stake. We have been very proud for many years about the fact that we are one of the safest communities in America,” she said. “Once it becomes law, we run a tremendous risk of losing an important part of our identity and who we are.”
María Cortés González may be reached at 546-6150; email@example.com; @EPTMaria on Twitter.