San Antonio City Council instructed the City attorney to pursue litigation against Senate Bill 4, the State’s controversial immigration law also known as the “sanctuary cities” law.

Councilman Rey Saldaña (D4) said Wednesday that the City will join the lawsuit with Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), which is planning to file in San Antonio federal court in the effort to block SB 4.

“San Antonio joining now means this is the largest Texas city to join in fighting this discriminatory law and we should not be the last,” Saldaña told the Rivard Report.

The decision was made on May 25 during executive session, a meeting not open to the public. Similar lawsuits to block the law have been filed by El Paso CountyMaverick County along the U.S.-Mexico border, and the city of El Cenizo south of Laredo.

“We fought Senate Bill 4 at the Legislature, and now we will fight it in the courtroom,” Saldaña stated in a release. “I am pleased to know that the City of San Antonio will no longer stand by and allow our community to be bullied by the threat of this unconstitutional and discriminatory law.

“Let us see how Senate Bill 4, the most draconian anti-immigrant law in the country, stands up to the Texas cities ready to defend their communities and the toughest litigators in the nation from the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF).”

Saldaña has been a staunch objector of the law and joined other State and City officials on May 26 in Austin to call for a “summer of resistance.” The bill was passed earlier this month and signed by Gov. Greg Abbott on May 7. It is scheduled to go into effect Sept. 1.

SB 4 allows police officers to question a person’s immigration status during a detainment – not just during a lawful arrest. It also punishes constables, police chiefs, and other local leaders who don’t cooperate with federal immigration agents.

Councilman Rey Saldaña (D4) Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

“MALDEF is spearheading this as they are the litigators,” Saldaña said. “MALDEF chose San Antonio for a specific reason and we’ve got the best chance at injunctive relief if it’s out of San Antonio. Basically, we’re going to ask for a decision from a judge to see if we can stop the law” from being put into effect.

Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales (D5) said last week she looks forward to joining MALDEF in the lawsuit. Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) also supports joining the suit.

“We have been discussing as a council at what point the city would join the lawsuit but there was just an issue of timing and we’ve been waiting for some clarity,” Gonzales said. “… I’m ready to join the lawsuit.”

Saldaña’s hope is that other cities come on board with MALDEF to consolidate all the cases against Senate Bill 4.

“I think that if we’re going to go into litigation against the state it should be a coalition of cities,” Saldaña said. “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.”

MALDEF, a national nonprofit, has been working to secure and strengthen civil rights for Latinos in the U.S. since 1968.

“We welcome any jurisdiction that wishes to join the effort to defeat SB 4 in court. Once all the cases are filed we anticipate the court will consolidate it into one case,” Marisa Bono, a staff attorney with MALDEF, told the Rivard Report Tuesday.

Abbott and other supporters of SB4 argue the law is needed to keep Texans safe from criminal immigrants that haven’t been deported and aren’t turned over to ICE. They also claim it will deter people who are already in the country illegally from committing more crimes. As to concerns about racial profiling, Abbott has argued those fears are unwarranted and that SB4 only targets immigrants who are suspected of committing a crime.

“Governor Abbott’s statement is simply not true,” Bono said. “The bill doesn’t only apply to people with criminal record or those who have been arrested, it applies to anyone lawfully detained by a police officer, so that’s almost any situation pre-arrest, be it you were jay walking or pulled over because you were speeding or have a traffic violation or you are at a party and an officer is responding to a noise complaint – under the law they’ll be able to ask you about your immigration status.”

Just one day after Abbott signed the bill, Attorney General Ken Paxton filed a pre-emptive lawsuit asking a federal court to declare the law constitutional. Among the defendants are Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez, all of Austin’s City Council members, Austin Mayor Steve Adler, Austin Interim City Manager Elaine Hart, and MALDEF.

San Antonio Police Chief William McManus has voiced his opposition for the law on several occasions, telling lawmakers it could drive immigrants into hiding and make them afraid to report crime.

“Our largest objective is to make sure we can continue to keep our community safe,” Saldaña said. “I’m not an expert on how to do that, but our police chief is and he’s told us several times and has testified in Austin that passing SB 4 and having laws that change our policies of not asking for immigration status if you’re wearing an SAPD uniform would hurt public safety.”

Amy Fischer, policy director for the nonprofit RAICES which offers legal services to immigrants, said “the fight is just beginning.

“We are applauding the work of the San Antonio City Council,” Fischer said. “… We expect the San Antonio City Council to do the job they were voted in to do, which is one; to protect the communities they are tasked with protecting, and two; to stand up for their own ability to make the best decisions for that community.”

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Rocío Guenther

Rocío Guenther worked as a bilingual reporter and editorial assistant for the Rivard Report from June 2016 to October 2017. She is originally from Guadalajara, Mexico and holds a bachelor's in English...