Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
Continuing its 88th national convention this week at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center, LULAC officials utilized the press conference to update attendees on the legal challenge to the state law, which would allow local law enforcement officers to question anyone they detain or arrest on their immigration status and would punish local officials who do not comply with federal immigration authorities.
Police chiefs and sheriffs statewide have criticized SB 4, saying the law is unnecessary, adds to burdens faced by local law enforcement personnel, and threatens already fragile police relations with minority communities.
Proponents of the bill argue it does not require mandatory immigration checks and that the measure would promote public safety. Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick have stated that the bill is about rule of law. Criminals who are in the country illegally should be deported before they are able to commit more crimes in the United States, they said.
McManus did not mince his words about SB 4.
"SB 4 is wrong for so many reasons – I know I'm only supposed to talk about how it impacts police resources," he said. "Our primary mission at the San Antonio Police Department is to handle calls for service and work with the community to prevent and solve crimes. That is it. It's not to chase people around and ask for their immigration status."
McManus said SB 4 essentially would make local police enforce federal immigration laws.
"For every second an officer spends dealing with an immigration matter, that's a second ... responding to your emergency calls [that's] twittered away," he added. "When you're dealing with emergency calls, every second matters, and if we're tied up on immigration matters, our response time will increase."
McManus said local police is not trained to enforce federal immigration laws, adding that SB 4 supports racial profiling even though verbiage in the bill does not permit its use by law enforcement agencies.
"That is laughable. How else do you determine to ask someone for their papers other than their skin color, their accent, or their lack of ability to speak [English]," McManus said. "That, ladies and gentlemen, is racial profiling in its purest form."
The police chief thanked LULAC, the first organization to file a lawsuit against SB 4, which would take effect Sept. 1 unless a federal court intervenes. SB 4 is the State's way of imposing itself into local matters, McManus added.
"I don't know what road we're headed down. It sets a dangerous precedent," he said.
LULAC General Counsel Luis Roberto Vera, the San Antonio lawyer who was honored with the Mexican government's prestigious Ohtli award at the conference Wednesday , said his organization had an obligation to represent the small border town of El Cenizo, the first community to formally oppose SB 4.
Vera said Texas state leaders are using SB 4 to realize President Donald Trump's vision of restrictive immigration laws that are primarily aimed at Latinos.
"This is what this is really about. The administration has chosen to declare war on the Latino community, specifically Mexicanos," he said.
Vera compared the challenge to SB 4 to the Biblical parable of David and Goliath. He said LULAC and its partners are buoyed by the defiance showed by El Cenizo. LULAC National President Roger Rocha agreed.
"It's El Cenizo, the little guy, standing up and saying, 'No, this is wrong and we're not going to take this,'" Rocha said. "We are on the side of right in this issue."
El Cenizo Mayor Raul Reyes said he and fellow residents have spent years growing their town from a mere colonia with no running water or paved roads into a diverse incorporated city with improving infrastructure and public safety.
In order to dispel myths and narratives concerning immigrants and public safety, Reyes said crime in El Cenizo is below 10% with "not one homicide committed by undocumented immigrants."
"That's because everyone who lives in our community knows this is their place, this is their home," Reyes said. "This is where they grew up and this is where they want to leave a better future for them and for generations to come after."
Several speakers said SB 4 could have negative effects in terms of money and resources spent by local law enforcement, police-community relations, and family dynamics. Economic and diplomatic repercussions from entities boycotting the state or moving events and conventions to other locations have also been an ongoing concern.
"It's going to create an economic strain on communities. It's going to create an economic strain on you, the taxpayers," Rocha said. "When someone says it doesn't affect, yes it does."
When asked what would happen if LULAC and its allies lose the SB 4 lawsuit, Vera pledged that another legal challenge would be mounted.
"[Losing] never enters my mind. It can't. I won't even think that we wouldn't prevail," he asserted. "We don't have a choice. Do you have any idea how many children who are American-born would be left behind by their parents?"
Vera praised organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union and Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund for joining LULAC in the legal fight against SB 4. He urged other groups representing people of color to become allies.
"LULAC can't do it alone, neither can any one group ...," he added.
Rocha said LULAC would stand with anyone opposing SB 4 because if the law is upheld in court, it could set a precedent for other states seeking to impose a similar law.
"Why do you think the federal government asked the attorney general to send in attorneys? It's not to win, but they know that Texas is ground zero for this type of law," Rocha explained.
"If it passes in Texas, other states will follow. It has to be defeated in Texas. Otherwise, it could completely change our way of life across the country."