A number of San Antonio organizations and groups Thursday morning presented a united front against legislation signed into law Sunday that bans “sanctuary cities” and allows law enforcement officers to ask about the immigration status of those they detain.

Each of the nearly 20 speakers who took to the podium in front of San Fernando Cathedral echoed the same message: that the law is anti-immigrant and anti-democracy, and that they’re ready to resist it together.

“We’re here to send a message out that San Antonio is a compassionate city and as strongly as we can say we are saying ‘no’ to [the law] … because whether our San Antonians know it or not this law … is going to affect everyone,” said former City Councilwoman Maria Berriozábal.

She was joined by representatives from RAICES, MALDEF, San Antonio Alliance of Teacher and Support Personnel, the P.E.A.C.E. Initiative, the Esperanza Peace & Justice Center, Vecinos de Mission Trails, the Archdiocese of San Antonio, Unite HereDomesticas Unidas, Our Lady of the Lake University, and the San Antonio Progressive Alliance, among others.

The law does not officially go into effect until Sept. 1, and local leaders opposed to it want the community to work together to ensure that authorities do not begin enforcing the law before that time.

Under the law, police can inquire about immigration status when detaining someone, even in a traffic stop. Immigration officials can request local law enforcement to detain and hold undocumented people in their facilities. Officials who fail to do so are subject to Class A misdemeanor charges and fines that could go up to $25,500.

The legislation was one of the top priorities this session for Gov. Greg Abbott. Before signing Senate Bill 4, he cited the case of a California woman who, in 2015, was shot and killed by a Mexican man who had been deported from the U.S. numerous times. He called the incident “gross negligence by government policy” and that “Texas will not be complicit in endangering our citizens” in the same way.

A group gathers in protest of Senate Bill 4 in front of San Fernando Cathedral.
A group gathers in protest of the pending sanctuary cities law in front of San Fernando Cathedral. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Immigrants rights groups and local law enforcement and elected officials have pointed out that the legislation will likely deter undocumented people from seeking help from police in a time of need, and could encourage racial profiling by officers.

A group of San Antonio officials, including SAPD Chief William McManus and Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar, gathered on the front steps of the Bexar County courthouse last week to publicly urge Abbott to veto the legislation, which they said also would bring serious costs to local taxpayers for holding individuals for immigration officials.

Leaders involved in the SB4 resistance said they are organizing a local sanctuary network with various organizations, businesses, and churches to ensure the safety and protection of undocumented people and other at-risk communities such as LGBTQIA individuals.

They will host a meeting about the sanctuary network on May 24 at the First Unitarian Universalist Church of San Antonio at 7150 W. IH-10, from 7-8:30 p.m.

While organizing the sanctuary network, RAICES, which provides legal aid and housing to immigrants, will continue to host informational events for undocumented people and others to know what their rights are, the parameters of the new law, and how they can protect their families.

“We shouldn’t let our fear freeze us,” said Barbie Hurtado, an organizer with RAICES who was previously undocumented. “We should let that fear turn into energy and passion to fight for our rights and for ourselves.”

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Camille Garcia

Camille Garcia is a journalist born and raised in San Antonio. She formerly worked at the San Antonio Report as assistant editor and reporter. Her email is camillenicgarcia@gmail.com