This Small Border Town Is Suing Texas for Enacting Controversial Anti-Immigrant Bill SB 4

Lead Photo: Commons "Greg Abbott, Governor of Texas” by World Travel & Tourism Council is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Commons "Greg Abbott, Governor of Texas” by World Travel & Tourism Council is licensed under CC BY 2.0
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On May 4, the Texas Tribune published a piece titled, “lawsuit over sanctuary cities bill is just a matter of time.” Less than a week later, League of United Latin American Citizens attorney Luis Vera proved the article correct by filing a lawsuit on behalf of border town El Cenizo to challenge Senate Bill 4 (SB 4) – a law that intends to quell sanctuary cities. Opponents argue that the bill will make the state of Texas more dangerous and unwelcoming for undocumented immigrants. Despite the protests – including a more than nine-hour sit-in on May 1 – Greg Abbott signed SB 4 into law on Sunday night, blindsiding immigration activists and families across Texas.

By Monday morning, activists began preparing to fight SB 4, which goes into effect on September 1. In turn, Abbott’s government took precautionary measures – it preemptively sued to stop lawsuits that aim to derail SB 4. By the end of the day, Vera filed the lawsuit so that the El Cenizo – which has now been thrust into the spotlight – population of 3,800 could continue being a “safe haven,” an ordinance the local government established in 1999. The ordinance bans city employees from inquiring about immigration status, according to the Associated Press. El Cenizo has a 99 percent Latino population. For the city’s mayor, Raul Reyes – who has served in the role since 2004 when he was – the suit is about giving those who live in the city peace of mind.

“These are people who we’ve gone to school with, these are people who we’ve shared a hot meal with at one point in time, people who we sat next to in church services,” he told the Dallas Morning News. “Now all of a sudden, to say we’re going to turn our backs on them just because they don’t have a piece of paper is un-American.”

SB 4 will force all officials to carry out anti-immigrant policies. Failure to comply with the provisions laid out in bill could result in a penalty of $1,500 for the first time, and then $25,500 for a subsequent offense.

The bill – which has earned comparisons to Arizona’s “show me your papers” law (SB 1070) – would allow police officers to ask children about their immigration status, encourage racial profiling because of a “show me your papers” clause, and give law enforcement permission to target the most vulnerable undocumented immigrants at homeless shelters and domestic violence centers.

Abbott claims that SB 4 will keep Texans safe – something that plenty dispute – and is confident it’ll hold up in court. But groups like the Mexican American Legal Defense And Educational Fund (MALDEF) are ready to take on SB 4. “MALDE will do its level best, in court and out, to restore Texas, the state where MALDEF was founded, to its greater glory, and to help Texas overcome ‘Abbott’s Folly,” MALDEF president Thomas Saenz said, according to The Dallas Morning News.

Marisa Bono, a staff attorney with MALDEF, said recently that there are many ways they can challenge SB 4, including questioning how much leeway states even have to make their own immigration laws, as well as demanding clarity on some of the language.

“We consider the wind at our backs because of the way the bill is worded,” she told the Texas Tribune. “But certainly the state’s history of intentional discrimination – and specifically recent targeting against the immigrant community – will be helpful in the narrative.”