Hundreds of people rallied Monday against the State’s Senate Bill 4 outside the Federal Courthouse, where a judge heard a motion that would halt implementation of the immigration enforcement law while a suit challenging it makes its way through the court system.

The crowd held up signs and chanted, “The people united will never be divided!” Several civil rights groups co-organized the rally.

U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia heard arguments Monday morning in the federal lawsuit over the contentious “sanctuary cities” law, which allows law enforcement officials to question the immigration status of anyone they detain or arrest and is scheduled to go into effect Sept. 1. The City of San Antonio and Bexar County joined the lawsuit, which is being led by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), at the beginning of June. Austin, Dallas, and Houston also have joined the suit, which argues that SB 4 violates the Constitution by threatening guarantees of free speech and equal protection.

San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg, Austin Mayor Steve Adler, and other state and local elected officials spoke to the crowd and media following the rally.

“We are united in seeking a temporary injunction on a law that would divide our community, divide communities across the state of Texas,” Nirenberg said. “Anti-immigrant policies are harmful. … When you have entire swaths of our community that are afraid to work with our local police department, with our local law enforcement, that does not advance public safety.”

(from left) Austin Mayor Steve Adler, San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg, and Austin Councilman Greg Casar (D4) approach the protest outside the John H Wood United States Courthouse.
(from left) Austin Mayor Steve Adler, San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg, and Austin Councilman Greg Casar (D4) approach the protest outside the John H Wood United States Courthouse. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Adler said SB 4 was never about public safety, noting that police chiefs and sheriffs around the state opposed the legislation.

“The Legislature doesn’t listen,” he said. “We have spent six months when the safety of cities has been tossed around like a political football.”

El Cenizo Mayor Raul Reyes, whose tiny border city was the first to mount a legal challenge against the immigration enforcement law, said he was cheered by the protesters’ show of support.

“Today, we hope to send a very clear message to Gov. [Greg] Abbott that here in Texas we embrace diversity, we don’t suppress it,” he said. “Any law that poses a threat to our constitutional rights and hinders and discriminates against a certain segment of our population will be fought.”

Speaking during the rally, Juanita Valdez-Cox, executive director of La Union Del Pueblo Entero, called SB 4 unconstitutional because it puts immigrants at a legal disadvantage.

“Our communities are safer when all of us have access to due process and equal justice,” she said. “Gov. Abbott and [President] Trump have taken the stances that immigrants are bad for Texas and bad for our nation. They know they are wrong. They know our economy depends on immigrant labor.”

José Garza, executive director of the Workers Defense Project, said SB 4 critics stood together at a May rally at the state capitol and called for “a summer of resistance.” He called SB 4 an anti-family law that will increase racial profiling and make communities less safe.

“We called on communities across the state to resist SB 4, which is Gov. Greg Abbott’s declaration of war against Texas families,” Garza said. “When Gov. Abbott signed SB 4, he didn’t just pick a fight with Texas families. He didn’t just incite a legal fight. A spontaneous, organic movement opposed to his brand of politics and policies has taken hold.”

Astrid Dominguez, ACLU of Texas‘ policy strategist for immigrant rights, said SB 4 is “an insult to our values and our freedom.”

“We’ll continue to fight until this racist, undemocratic law is dead,” she said.

Adler and Austin City Councilman Gregorio Casar joined the protesters to show solidarity with the SB 4 critics in San Antonio.

“Here in Texas, local governments stand alongside grassroots movements today in this fight,” Casar said.

After gathering at the courthouse, the protesters marched to the nearby Grand Hyatt Hotel. There, in a small room, they sat and cheered as fellow organizers offered poetry, dance, and speeches in support of social unity, diversity, and justice.

Rosie Castro, mother of U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro and former Mayor and HUD Secretary Julian Castro, addressed the crowd at the Grand Hyatt, recalling her own struggles as a leading Mexican-American activist in the 1960s and ’70s. She told the group that political victories take a long time and patience to gain, but that persistence and a united front are crucial.

“It takes while, but you win,” she said. “But if you’re not here, you don’t win.”

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Edmond Ortiz

Edmond Ortiz, a lifelong San Antonian, is a freelance reporter/editor who has worked with the San Antonio Express-News and Prime Time Newspapers.