The City of San Antonio sued the State of Texas Thursday afternoon in an effort to block Senate Bill 4, the controversial “sanctuary cities” law.

San Antonio City Council members gave direction to pursue litigation over the objections of Mayor Ivy Taylor. Amid a tense local election season, Councilman Ron Nirenberg (D8) – Taylor’s opponent in the June 10 mayoral runoff race – sided with the majority of council members.

The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) is representing the City in the lawsuit, which declares that the law – slated to go into effect Sept. 1 – is unconstitutional.

City Councilman Rey Saldaña (D4) and several nonprofit organizations – the Texas Association of Chicanos in Higher Education, the Workers Defense Project, and La Unión Del Pueblo Entero – also are plaintiffs.

SB 4 would allow police officers to ask about the immigration status of anyone they detain – not just during a lawful arrest. It also would punish constables, police chiefs, and other law enforcement officials who don’t cooperate with federal immigration authorities.

The lawsuit alleges that SB 4 violates the First, Fourth, and 14th Amendments of the United States Constitution, as well other constitutional and statutory provisions. The State of Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott, and Attorney General Ken Paxton are the named defendants in the litigation.

Read the lawsuit here and the legal summary here.

The City of Austin will join the lawsuit on Friday, said Austin City Councilman Greg Casar during a press call Thursday. “Expect more cities and counties to soon follow,” he said.

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. MALDEF President Thomas Saenz said Thursday he hopes most of the cases will be consolidated into one.

“Consolidation is the most efficient and effective way of addressing constitutional claims against SB 4,” Saenz said.

San Antonio City Council decided to sue on May 25 during executive session, a meeting not open to the public. Outgoing Councilmen Joe Krier (D9) and Mike Gallagher (D10) sided with Taylor in opposition of the lawsuit and urged for a Council vote on the issue.

“I believe it was premature for the majority of City Council to give direction for city staff to join in a lawsuit against the SB4 legislation,” Taylor said in a statement Thursday. “…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.”

Gallagher said there will be “unintended consequences” by joining the lawsuit, including the possible withholding of State grant funding for public safety.

“Our city often applies for grant funding from the State to support local departments and projects,” Gallagher said.” To jeopardize the approval of these grant funds would be detrimental to supporting our efforts to strengthen our police department, our parks, our highways, our historic monuments and various other projects.”

(From left) City Council members Alan Warrick (D2), Roberto Treviño (D1), and Ana Sandoval (D7) show their support for the City’s effort to join a lawsuit with MALDEF against SB 4. Credit: Rocío Guenther / Rivard Report

MALDEF is covering all the legal costs for the proceedings, Saldaña said during a Thursday press event outside City Hall, so no taxpayer dollars will be used. Other Council members were present at the event in support of the litigation, including: Shirley Gonzales (D5), Roberto Treviño (D1), Ana Sandoval (D7), and Alan Warrick (D2).

“If Taylor would go forward now [with her stance] it would be to stop the lawsuit we already entered … and I’ll vote against that,” Saldaña told the Rivard Report after the lawsuit was filed. “The best thing for the mayor to do is to recognize there is a consensus in the Council and as the leader of our team she should recognize that and let it play out in the court.”

San Antonio City Attorney Andy Segovia said during the telephone conference Thursday that the main reason for joining the suit was to maintain local control of city operations and resources, especially when it comes to public safety.

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“The community should have full confidence in the police force and the passage of SB 4 undermines that,” Segovia said. “SB 4 is discriminatory – it requires enforcement of immigration laws, local participation, and targeting of minorities.”

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. Salazar, however, has said he complies with immigration detainers, requests from the federal government to hold arrested people in the County jail for possible deportation.

“Families are returning to their countries of origin because of fear, taking their children out of school because of the fear to come out of their homes, attend to their education or health care,” said Juanita Valdez-Cox, executive director of La Unión del Pueblo Entero.

Rocío Guenther

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...