The city of La Joya became the first in the Rio Grande Valley to join other cities around the state in a lawsuit against a senate bill that would ban so-called sanctuary cities.
Set to go into effect Sept. 1, Senate Bill 4 aims to outlaw local governments that don’t enforce immigration laws by requiring local police officers to cooperate with federal immigration authorities and allowing police to inquire about the immigration status of people they lawfully detain. Under SB 4, local authorities are forbidden from adopting policies that prevent a peace officer from asking about a person’s immigration status.
So far the cities of Dallas, El Paso, San Antonio, Austin and El Cenizo have joined a lawsuit against Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton seeking to prevent the law from taking effect arguing it violates several provisions of the U.S. Constitution, the Texas Tribune reported.
The La Joya City Commission met June 29 to vote on a resolution to join the lawsuit, which passed with a 4-0 vote as Commissioner Victorio Salinas was not present for the vote.
“Requesting or investigating immigration status during interactions is a federal matter outside the City’s jurisdiction,” the resolution states. “The city of La Joya seeks to maintain the right to self-governance, particularly on matters relating to public safety.”
The resolution directs the city manager “to prepare, pursue litigation against, and defend litigation from the state of Texas as appropriate in order to provide relief to the city of La Joya and the people of Texas from Senate Bill 4.” The resolution also directs the city manager “to explore coordination with other municipalities and entities engaging in similar litigation.”
Each city commissioner took turns criticizing the bill before they voted as audience members, including members of the local immigrant rights group, La Union del Pueblo Entero, watched.
“SB4 reeks of discrimination, racism and some undertones of hatred,” Mayor Pro-Tem Mary Salinas said. “The ultimate goal of this bill is to separate families, hurt children and bring grief to our Hispanic community. We cannot stand for that. Why would anyone that is placed in a public position to serve his people come up with this heartless scheme of hurting the people they’re supposed to be protecting?”
La Joya Mayor Jose “Fito” Salinas delivered a speech against SB4 recounting instances of racism he experienced throughout his life, instances he said could happen again with the passage of SB4.
“We’re not voting to violate the law, we’re saying we’re against it,” Salinas said. “If it passes and becomes law this September, we’ll follow it. But until then we will fight to get rid of this.”
Palmview city council members approved a similar measure later that day at a special meeting during which they accepted their city attorney’s recommendation to support the lawsuit against the bill through an amicus brief.
Palmview City Attorney Rick Perez said the Mexican American Legal Defense Organization, which is spearheading the lawsuit, isn’t accepting more plaintiffs in the case. However, Perez said the group would welcome the city’s support with an amicus brief stating the city’s opposition to the bill which would be on record when the bill gets to appellate court where Perez said the lawsuit will probably end up at.
“Something that’s litigated like this is going to end up in the appellate court one way or the other,” Perez said. “That’s how they’ve asked us to join the lawsuit, in that capability.”
Interim City Manager Leonardo Olivares recommended the city file an amicus brief after finding several provisions under SB4 he said “concerned” him.
“It’s an encroachment on this body’s free speech rights,” Olivares said. “This law says you can’t even support a policy that’s against enforcing immigration laws and can’t even speak out about it. That is harmful and should be opposed at all costs.”
The motion was approved in a 4-0 vote with Mayor Pro-Tem Joselito Hernandez absent.
City Councilmember Joel Garcia said he agreed with Salinas the city should seek to thwart SB4 before it takes effect.
“This is unnecessary, it will do more harm than good,” Garcia said of the bill. “There’s a time and place to ask for citizenships, such as checkpoints and port of entries. But I don’t think it’s the place of a police officer, especially if they’re untrained in immigration law, to handle matters of citizenship when we have federal agents who already do that.”