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Mayor Ivy Taylor said it was “premature” for the City to join the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) in a lawsuit challenging Senate Bill 4, the “sanctuary cities” law slated to go into effect Sept. 1.
City Council decided to pursue litigation 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 County, Maverick County along the U.S.-Mexico border, and the city of El Cenizo south of Laredo.
“In this case, the prudent course would be to wait until a decision has been made on whether a special session will be called,” Taylor said in a statement Thursday. “Additionally, I believe that any decision to join this lawsuit should be made in coordination with other major Texas cities, which is why I have consulted with Mayors Adler (Austin), Turner (Houston), and Rawlings (Dallas).”
MALDEF is expected to file a lawsuit in San Antonio federal court Thursday, said Councilman Rey Saldaña (D4), and his hope is that other Texas cities or counties will consider joining the effort. Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff told the Rivard Report Thursday that he spoke to the district attorney’s office, and “they will be making recommendations to see if [Bexar County] should join” the suit as well.
“The fact is that MALDEF is covering all the legal costs for the proceedings, and the City is a client to them, so we are not utilizing any tax payer dollars to go into a lawsuit,” Saldaña said in response to Taylor’s statement. “[Taylor] has not recognized the need for urgency, and if the majority [of council members] agree with this, it is a sense of urgency. You can’t just wake up in September and say we are going to file a lawsuit and then we are going to stop it before coming into effect – this takes several months and time is not our friend.”
SB 4 would allow police officers to ask about the immigration status of anyone they detain – not just during a lawful arrest. It would also punish constables, police chiefs, and other law enforcement officials who don’t cooperate with federal immigration authorities.
“I have been a vocal opponent of Senate Bill 4, and I will not back down when my community is under attack,” Saldaña said in a statement Wednesday. “It is my hope that other small and large Texas cities stand shoulder to shoulder with San Antonio and join the lawsuit.”
On Thursday, Council members Shirley Gonzales (D5), Roberto Treviño (D1), Ana Sandoval (D7), and Alan Warrick (D2) – as well as a representative from Ron Nirenberg (D8)’s office – joined Saldaña and members of pro-immigrant organizations such as RAICES, Unite Here!, and the Texas Organizing Project for a press conference in support of the City’s lawsuit.
Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran (D3) and Councilman Ray Lopez (D6), who were not in attendance, also support the suit.
Councilmen Mike Gallagher (D10) and Joe Krier (D9) agree with Taylor. Gallagher said he is “strongly opposed” to San Antonio’s involvement in the lawsuit.
“We should join other major cities with a unified position,” he told the Rivard Report via text message Thursday. “At a minimum, Council should vote in open session before any action is taken.”
Councilman Joe Krier (D9) has called for bringing the matter to a Council vote, according to Saldaña.
“I’m hearing people’s talk about bringing it to a vote and I think that’s a delay tactic,” Saldaña said Thursday. “You need to be able to count to six and if you have a majority of council who supports a movement then it’s got a consensus. The community is behind us on this.”
San Antonio Police Chief William McManus and Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar have voiced their opposition to the law on several occasions, saying it would push immigrants into hiding and discourage them from interacting with police officers.
“We should be certain that litigation is the measure of last resort and that the City is bearing its fair share of any legal burden,” Taylor said. “None of these conditions have been satisfied, which is why I continue to oppose City Council’s decision to join this lawsuit.”
Saldaña disagrees with Taylor’s view on postponing a decision on the lawsuit until a possible special session in the Texas Legislature.
“Even the faintest approach at trying to amend this so that it does not affect children was rejected by the Legislature, so they have showed no appetite to soften the attack that this is going to put on our community,” Saldaña said. “We need to take control of this, which is we are asking an impartial judge to come up with an answer on its constitutionality.
“It shouldn’t hold us back that the State controls the budget … they can’t buy us off and force us not to file a lawsuit against a discriminatory law.”